IMG_2417Mt. Carmel is a “holy site” in Israel.  It is one of the first stops on a Holy Land tour for many agencies and tour groups.  On top of this Mountain, just on the south-western edge of the Valley of Jezreel.

On this special mountain top the events of 1 Kings 18 took place.  The great contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal and Asherah. Whose deity was real?

Elijah was in the minority.  He stood alone in a challenge against Ahab’s priests who numbered in excess of 800.  The size of the crowd that came to witness the challenge is never identified, but it could certainly have been sizable.

The ground rules were simple.  Each contesting party was to build an altar for a burnt sacrifice.  The designated priests were to then call on their deity to accept the offering by fire.

The priests of Baal went first.  They went through every plea and dance they could. For hours they begged their Baal to send fire and accept their offering.

After an embarrassingly lengthy time, Elijah began the trash talking.  He urged them to shout louder since their god was likely on a long journey and couldn’t hear them.  Or maybe he was busy with necessary activities.

Finally, after exhausting themselves, Elijah’s turn came.  He simply prayed.  God answered with fire that not only consumed the offering but the water that Elijah had dumped on the offering.  Even the stones which made up the altar were also consumed.  It was a powerful show of who was the real God and which was the fake.

A church sits on this site today.  Situated on the pinnacle of the church is a cross embedded on an original spherical stone.  However, it is now a hemisphere since lightning struck a few years back and split the sphere in half.

It is a powerful reminder not to forget the demonstration of history of who the one true God is.

 

IMG_1493Our move to Houston had a number of priorities on our relocation list.  The normal items of finding a home, establishing myself in my new job, finding a new job for my bride and of course, finding a new home church.  This last item was not the lowest on our priority even though it comes last on my list.

During our visits to Houston we not only shopped for a place to live and find a house to buy in the area that we chose to be our home, I asked a lot questions about church recommendations.  My list for churches that others were excited about was growing longer.  Now, it was time to systematically make our visits and trust God to lead us where He wanted us to serve.

Essentials on our list for a church to call home were simple.  There was doctrinal alignment.  Worship vibrancy was on our list.  Most importantly we wanted a church home where we would be able to love our pastor, support him and his family and be a couple that he could count on as the church moved forward.

We seemed to visit churches forever.  Each time we like so much of the many very good churches in Houston.  Yet, we just could not connect with our list of essentials.

Then, we met Pastor Gregg Matte of Houston’s First Baptist Church.  He was on Sabbatical the first time we visited HFBC.  In the meantime we roamed the city visiting all of the churches that people recommended to us.

When our list ran out we heard that Pastor Gregg was back from his sabbatical.  We chose to visit.  We were blown away!

It is like meeting an old friend and connecting right off the bat.  We met for a Dr. Pepper break, he invited us to their Christmas Celebrate and after a short decision discussion, my bride and I went forward in December 2012 and joined the church.

After years of serving as a pastor, cheering on other pastors, encouraging broken pastors, standing by the side of besieged pastors we are solidly in our Pastor’s corner and doing everything we can to honor his life and ministry.  Often our friends in far away states in California, Oregon, Washington, Michigan, Tennessee ask how we like living in Houston.  Our response always includes the great reality that we love our church and our pastor.  That’s the way it should always be.

photo credit: yvonne fong photography

 

IMG_2165When I checked the weather, the data took my breath away.  Today was a scheduled bicycle ride day.  In Houston the weather for bike riding makes year-round peddling a possibility. This news, however, could toss a wrench in my day-off plans.

The temperatures were down to 45 degrees.  In Houston terms that is very chilly.  A 5 mph wind calculates into a wind chill of 42 degrees.  On a bicycle with the increased riding speed of 15mph that would feel more like 40 degrees. Brrrr!

Now, it was time to think and remember where I stored my cold weather riding clothes.  40 degrees is about my limit for comfort when it comes riding a bicycle outdoors.  Anything colder means that I have to carry an ice pick and stainless steel flask filled with hot chocolate.

My base layer was set.  All of the gaps for exposed skin were closed up.  Good socks fit into my riding shoes.

My riding jacket was ideal for this kind of weather.  Of course my long finger riding gloves were essential.  My last item, however, eluded my searching.

That is one of those rarely used items that you relished on your last cold weather ride.  But, my short term memory was no better than my long term memory on this search mission.

I looked in boxes upstairs, downstairs, garage, closets and miscellaneous containers.  There sure are a lot of miscellaneous containers around our house.  Each one is filled with really useful and valuable stuff.  One of these days I am going to sort out and organize all of it.

So, I paused to think.  Where would I have put that one last cold weather piece of clothing.  Ahah! With a quick step into the garage and a look inside my gear for motorcycle riding, I pulled out that special items, Balaclava!

No, it is not a Middle Eastern dessert.  There are no nuts or honey with this piece.  Instead, it is made from bamboo, making it tough.  It is light weight and just enough coverage to make it comfortable for my head not to freeze during a cold weather ride.

Now, I was ready.  I pushed off and settled on to my bicycle seat.  Soon I was getting into a rhythm for riding.  The exposed parts of my face felt the chilly temperatures bite into my tender skin.  But, the specialty clothes that I wore kept me very comfortable.

It was a reminder that the world that the Creator gave to us has its down sides.  But, with some great choices a careful pattern of dress could easily protect us against the elements.  Keep on enjoying His presence and the good feeling of a brisk morning ride.

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

 

 

 

13_Hours_posterA lot of anticipation preceded this film. Its public announcement both in the news and through trailers stirred a massive amount of interest. But, I wondered, “Would the film live up to anyone’s expectations?”

It is a very good movie well worth seeing. But, prepare yourself.  This true story will affect you deeply.

On the 11th Anniversary of the unprovoked attack on the United States’ World Trade Center and Pentagon, hostile forces attacked the US diplomatic center and CIA “Annex” compound. A small band of 6 CIA contractors made up of former Navy SeALS, Marines and Army Rangers take the initiative and do all they can to defend the Americans who are in the crosshairs of the terrorists. These 6 faced overwhelming odds yet managed to fend off the waves of attacks.

A historical fact that left me mystified at the outset of the story is that the USA has over 200 diplomatic outposts of one nature or another around the world. Of those there are around a dozen that are classified as severely hostile and dangerous. The two most dangerous are both in Libya: Tripoli and Benghazi.

Every other country had pulled its diplomatic teams out of Benghazi.  The USA was the only country with a remaining contingency.  It was a city torn by military factions and violent extremists yet its two sites were woefully under-protected.

When the US Ambassador to Libya came to town, he had a protective team of a mere two US combatants.  The compound was primarily protected by local police and native personnel who ran away as soon as the attacks began.  No one trusted these local hirelings so there was no surprise when they betrayed their clients and ran for their lives.

As the story developed, the dangers of a planned attack showed heroism in action.  No help was forthcoming but the few did not hesitate to put their lives in harms way to protect those who were in danger.  Even in the face of administrative fear and hesitation, the 6 fought off wave after wave of terrorist combatants.

Respect for the courage of the few Americans skyrocketed.  Sadness sank into fearful desperation when the US government failed to send in the resources necessary to render necessary aid to the brave 6.  Those two words make up my summary of how this story affected me: respect and sadness.

photo credit: film promotion release poster

 

 

IMG_1164Tinsel, colored lights, special music, tasty meals and sweet snacks are a part of this special time of the year.  Smiles come with every reunion of family and dear friends.  Shoppers excitedly wrap great finds in stores and shops around town.

People are busy as cash registers sing.  Lines with people dressed warmly for the winter cold wait with expectation, thinking how loved ones will shout with glee when gifts are unwrapped on that special morning.  Young ones and old ones all learn to love this great and wonderful time of the year.

Old memories and new ones too of getting chilled in the playful snow building snowmen, snow angels and snowball fights chase us indoors for hot chocolate and cozy family hug times around a fire.  Colorful stories that make us laugh wonder and imagine fill these special days leading up the most special day of all.

Christmas is the day we celebrate.  It has marked our childhood with joyous memories and happy days.  This special day defines the word JOY.

For all of the sad times in life, the tears and the hardships we somehow find a way to make Christmas a time to smile, laugh and hope.  All of us turn to God in this season because this is the special time in history when He gave us the first Christmas gift, the gift of His Son Jesus the Christ.

The Savior was born on this day of commemoration.  He is the reason for the season.  When we worship Him on Christmas Day and every day that we draw breath we have figured out the true meaning of Christmas:

8And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9An angel† of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.† I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior† has been born to you; he is Christ*† the Lord.† 12This will be a sign† to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace† to men on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2.8-14

Merry Christmas, everyone!

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_1504So many of us have been surprised by the Minions of Despicable fame.  They aren’t even the star character in the Universal Pictures animation movie.  In fact they are extras that have risen to stardom almost by accident.

Now, in toy stores and pictorial renditions of favorite characters, the Minions surpass the original stars of the film.  Felonious Gru was a star but his character doesn’t stick in the memory like his little Minions.  The morphing of the super villain from interstellar thief to nurturing parent is enhanced with the supporting cast of innumerable minions.

Margo, Edith and Agnes are adorable.  While I was watching the story, I wanted to adopt those three wee ones! But, there was something about those Minions.

Vector was the ideal villain of villains.  He was dastardly.  You didn’t like him.

It felt good to root against him.  When he succeeded it was disappointing.  His achievements made you cheer on Gru!  But, still there were the Minions.

Didn’t those little guys make you smile?  Their jabbering made you chuckle.  Sometimes laughing out loud was just the right response.

The first time I saw them on the screen, I they reminded me of Hostess Twinkie.  Since then I haven’t met a soul who thought the same thing.  Oh well, maybe I’m a little out of touch.

There’s something about characters who make you react the way we do.  Real humans could pay attention to a life truth here.  Too many people miss this.

In each of our lives we will influence other people.  Those people will rarely remember the words we speak or the deeds we do.  However, they will almost always remember how we made them feel.

The same wisdom comes from that ancient adage, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Some of us who are educated beyond our moral capacity to implement that information productively, sometimes forget this truth.  Instead, if we impress others, embarrass others, win arguments at others’ expense, then we feel a measure of satisfaction.

The Minions are a great reminder of just making others feel good because we have come into the lives of others.  Influence people for good.  It is a great way to live.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_1426We were created to live according to a cycle of work that takes a break from the daily routine and then rests.  God designed creation to function with a Sabbath rest included in our weekly routine.  There is no legalistic basis to rigidly observe a specific day of rest any longer but the principle of a day of rest has never been rescinded in the Bible.

My calendar is typically very full.  My normal work week starts early and ends late.  A two digit-hour work day is more usual than not.

Most of my colleagues rarely see my routine.  I will pass multiple shifts in a single day.  Often when I see them, I simply flash them a smile.

My years on this earth have taught me a lot about myself.  I can actually feel the need to find a respite.  An urgency of the soul whispers that I must look for a break and get away.

Once I scheduled time-off in my calendar, I guard it.  Just committing to an appointment gives me the final measure of endurance to finish my schedule.  Then on the appointed day I am packed and off to a destination to rejuvenate my soul.

The morning of my single day of revival began long before the sun came up.  All of my gear was stowed where I could retrieve anything that I would need for my day of solitude.  At a rendezvous point, I met my guide.

Robert pointed me to my destination.  He gave me the lay of the land.  Now, I could hike and roam and explore what the Creator had left for us to enjoy.

The sunrise was glorious.  It was like coming alive after a long and arduous workout.  Relief was welcoming like releasing the barbell at the end of a rigorous training session.

Our sun lit up the woods where I wandered.  Green grass, healthy trees and a backdrop of an endless sky with crystalized clouds surrounded me like a canopy easily designed by His creative finger. A natural smile erupts on my face while I pause from my hiking and take in expanse, beauty and wonder of His creation.

If you haven’t been in the habit of working hard for six days and then resting or doing something enjoyable for a seventh, then give it a try.  After a while the rhythm of life will make you far more productive and deeply appreciative of the life you live. Really!

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_1402We have guests coming to our home soon.  All of us are getting into the Christmas spirit.  Our fault and staff along with their families are converging on our home to celebrate this very precious season commemorating our Savior’s birth.

My wife and I are incredibly busy so neither of us can wait until the last minute to decorate and set up to entertain our nearly 40 guests.  Days in advance I have mapped out the errands that need attention.  Each day I knock off a chunk of that list.

High on that to-do schedule is setting up the Christmas tree.  It is a long-process.  Yet, without the tree everyone would know that something is missing.

Over a week ago I was in the closet pulling out from storage our decorations.  The tree was in a box.  That tree has been set up and taken down in three different states of the Union.

Each time it has been surrounded by joy and cheer.  It is a part of this favorite time of year.  So many symbols and memories and reminders of the reason for the season is represented on this central decoration.

I fluffed up each of the branches.  Once the tree was presentable I decked it with a multi-colored string of lights.  The lights were tested and approved.

The garland added color and sparkle.  Ornaments made us reminisce over the years of happiness and great memories that have passed by.  Special people, amazing moments and deepening love are all a part of what those ornaments point to.

Of course the tree topper is a climax.  Over the years we have had different tops to finish off our tree.  But, we often favor the Precious Moments angel.  She smiles down on all of our guests as they fill our home with more laughter, cheer and memories.

Love is a big deal this time of year.  Sure, it takes a lot of planning and effort.  But, that is all lost when I stand back, turn off the lights in the house and turn on the lights of the Christmas tree.

A moment of pause fills my spirit.  Smiles linked with special people ooze into the night.  Our musical clock chimes out a Christmas carol.

Love dominates the moment.  Family and the devotion of treasured ones rises to the surface of life.  Warm embraces will soon come.  It is all about love from family and friends so close they are family.

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

IMG_1390Our realtor was our guide to our newly adopted megacity of Houston, TX.  We had no idea where to live or what to look for in local construction.  A vague budget was in our minds.

She showed us a house with all of the basic room necessities and good curb appeal.  Some of our wants were also on the list.  Most importantly the price was within our target range.

Yet, a price range for a couple like us that was devastated in the housing market crash didn’t have much to put down for a new home.  I looked at the construction issues with the very used home and figured out that the next decade of our life would be saving up to make major repairs on this fixer-upper.

Houston is famous for its heat.  Good windows are a must to fight the blistering temperatures in the summer months.  Keeping our air conditioning system happy was important.

IMG_1396The windows would eventually have to be replaced.  We had that in mind when we made on offer for the house.  Now, it was time to sign a contract and replace the windows with new ones.

Old windows are being torn out.  New well-insulated and excellent guaranteed windows are going in.  The installers are doing a superb job.

Half the windows are now done.  I can see clearly now!  The old broken seals and fogged up windows are going away.

The new glass is clean, clear and firmly mounted with strong heat resistant materials and block out unbearable temperatures. When the fogged up windows of our home make it impossible to enjoy the views it is sad.  The whole house feels ugly.

FullSizeRender-1Now, the improvement has given us a lift.  Looking outside is fun again.  Watching clouds float by and the daylight turn into night is enjoyable.

When we open the windows to let the cool winter breezes flow inside, the windows slide easily.  We don’t have to grunt and tug to get old corroded windows to scrape painfully across worn out tracks.  Figure tip control of well-made locks and well-lubricated tracks bring a great enjoyment to our home like few other purchases could.

Cost? Yes, it must be one of the most expensive home repair options that an owner must face.  We counted the cost, prayed over the options and even took on additional income jobs just for this very reason.  Then, God gave us His favor in an unexpected way.  He is good, all of the time!

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

 

IMG_1287Have you visited the mighty Pacific Ocean?  It is unforgettable.  There is something remarkable about this massive body of water and how it impacts the land that is home for all of us human beings.

Countless people flock to the shores of the saltwater expanse.  They play on the beaches, marvel at the power of the shifting currents, take advantage of the teaming life below the surface and find an incomparable respite every evening when the sun sets with a unique masterful display of color.

There is something else about the ocean that leaves a mark on our human memories.  Along the shores, up in the hills are the vestiges of another power common on the ocean.  It is the wind.

Temperatures shift and start the air moving in powerful layers from one direction to the next.  God set this in motion with the creation of the world, currents not just in the waters but also in the air that keep alternating directions.  It is the wind.

Tall fir trees with trunks gnarled, bent and twisted by the constant blowing of the winds stand in groves along the coast.  They give me pause. Each one has stood against the threats to level them. Storms and daily pressure have left their mark but the trees still stand.

The scars and wounds add to the beauty of the fauna that decorate the hills along the edge of the Pacific.  It is amazing that they have survived.  While many gaze at the vast oceanic vistas, I for one turn away and soak in the scenic sculpture created by the winds and the strength of life in the trees.

This forest of trees almost appears as an army of sentinels slowly making its way to the sea.  The onslaught of the sea winds have taken their toll on the tree features and come to a truce.  Each force standing at the edge of the battle lines respecting the right of the other to be present.

The ocean coughs up its winds and the trees bend their boughs.  Yet, the roots grip tightly to the soil and will not release further ground.  It is a scene of power and persistence.

God created this dynamic picture of life.  Nothing is static when it is truly living.  There is always growth, always movement and always change.

Keep on living and keep on with growing.  Change as necessary.  But, hold on to what is important.

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

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