IMG_5772It is only a scratch.  It is only a scratch? Why would anyone do that and not leave a note to fix it?

My truck is important to me.  It is very important to me.  I take very good care of it and want it to last for many years.

Yes, I even have a name for my truck.  His name is Yoda.  As its manufacturer is Toyota, hence its name is Yoda.

This is my third truck over the years that I have been on this earth as a legal driver.  It is my second Toyota.  Of all my trucks this one is my favorite.

It can take me anywhere I want to go.  This truck will move anything that I need to transport.  As far as personal rigs go this one not only is amazingly functional, it is also well designed and aesthetically sharp-looking.

My bride and I came out of the grocery store.  As we approached our steed of faithful miles, it was standing where I had left him.  But, my approach was mixed with shocking disbelief.

FullSizeRenderThere on the side of my truck was someone’s signature.  No it was not a name.  It was a long deep scratch.

The depth of the scratch was not something that I could rub out like a scuff mark.  This one was so deep that it took the paint off and gashed my door so uneven that the white paint highlighted the dark underbelly of the layers of paint.

I was not sick over the discovery.  It was just one of those, “Oh, well, what can you do?”  It is not worth the expense to report for insurance coverage.

Gently, I stoked my hand across the wound.  My head shook with disgust.  “What a waste,” I surmised.  Some people just are careless and don’t give a rip.

If someone does not care about keeping their car up then I do not judge them.  Nor do I intrude on their lives and shame their irresponsible behavior.  But, if I am victimized by someone’s misstep then at least leave a note with the pertinent information.

Do people really just assess damage for others and conclude what they need to do or not do?  Are they objective and concerned about the victim’s assessment?  Are they really happy with leaving and blowing off the episode as “no big deal”?  This is annoying but, what can a person do?

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_5685The pomp and circumstance were in the air.  Families and friends rolled in from miles around.  Some even landed after a long plane ride.

Each graduate had a lot to celebrate.  Graduate and post-graduate education takes a lot out a person’s soul.  It is more than just an education.

The hallowed halls of a seminary set a course for every student to master a theological theme that will prepare them for a lifetime of ministry.  They leave the seminary with skills to preach, teach and guide the lives of every kind of person that they will likely meet as a pastor or church leader.

Each one has even been trained to deal with the unruly, the unlikable and the trouble-maker.  Yes, in the ministry those kinds of unpleasant people lurk among the pews.  They have a self-imposed calling to make life difficult for the leader who shepherds the flock.

Most have even studied foreign languages, both alive and dead.  Their skills in the grammar and art form of language was won over countless nights of studying, hard disciplined memorization and endless hours of rehearsing and thinking.

Before they could graduate they had to stand in front of peers and professors and speak sermons, teach lessons and debate issues.  The spoken word is now their friend and greatest avenue of communication.  They are orators of the best kind; they speak on behalf of Almighty God, who called them to service.

Each one felt the relief when the final paper was turned in.  Smiles replaced pensive feelings of uncertainty.  Finally, the Registrar’s office gave them the good news: they were qualified to graduate!

Faculty gathered with resplendent regalia.  The colors of their robes showed off the universities where they graduated.  A variety of alma mater represented the world.

The auditorium was massive enough to have open seating and a completely free invitation.  Cheering sections formed.  Excitement filled the air with a prelude of videos and music.

But, the familiar song began the service as the faculty marched in.  The graduates were right behind them.  Everyone in the audience “ooh’ed and ah’ed” with the traditional display.

Each hard-working graduate was treated to an earful of sounds, an eyeful of ceremony and a heart-full of challenge to no longer fill a classroom.  Now, it was time to put all of that learning into action.  It was time to COMMENCE!

Congratulations, DTS Class of 2015!  God bless each and everyone of you.  Now, get going and tear it up for Jesus!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_5688Today we honored the “mothers” in our life.  That is a special calling.  They experienced so much pain and trouble over the years of practicing motherhood.  Yet, they covered it up with the joy of pouring into our lives.

Now, on this special day of our year, we treat them with celebration and delight.  Flowers, candy, presents, service, spoken words, time for a phone call, treating them to a special meal and an endless number of ways to bring her honor.

Our children are all far away, thousands of miles away. They would all contact her with excellent expressions of gratitude.  But, she would miss them all.

The planning of a special day was up to me.  My smile and my mind were in synchronized harmony.  There were no surprises, just delightful fun.

It all began with making her breakfast.  The menu was not fancy but it was special.  We enjoyed the delectable meal and of course, I did the dishes.

She had some free time.  Then, I took her to a movie.  The film was an action adventure with a special twist to honor a late actor who passed away during the filming.

We talked about it on the way home.  Both of us remarked about how well done the honor factor made the film special.  As people of faith we connected immediately to this actor’s reputation of faith as well.

The special day came to a close in church.  We love our church and pastor.  The worship was encouraging and the sermon was very up-lifting.

She elected to make dinner.  It was her standard offering: fantastic, delicious and filling. This woman has done a brilliant job with all of her chosen duties to family.

We who have been blessed by her service and love.  Looking back and recounting her contribution into all of our lives seems endless.  Our children especially have rehearsed her mothering now that they are adults.

Instead of looking for ways around her watchful eyes, they now see the values that she was pouring into them.  Now, their values that they have chosen to live by have many roots in what their mother had taught them.  They are amazed, pleased and also grateful for what mom invested in them.

On this day, Happy Mother’s Day, Yvonne.  You have done a faithful job of rearing our three little ones into taking their place as outstanding adults. Well done!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

FullSizeRender-1Our church is full of variety and surprises.  Worship is never predictable or ever run-of-the-mill or boring.  Instead, a vibrancy emanates from the gathering of the saints.

Joy erupts and delight is our common experience.  It is not just an emotional release but a cheerful expression of our worship of our God.  When Jesus changed us forever our hearts are now grateful and overflowing with gratitude to Him.

One of the occasional events that spurs our variety of worship is the generational service.  Our worship people bring in the children.  They are highly rehearsed and trained.

When the majestic music begins and the children pop in with their parts of a solo, an ensemble or a choral presentation, it is easy to smile.  Their energy and devotion overflows.  Teachers and parents have brought many of these children to faith and their exuberance for their Savior is obvious.

My bride is a second grade teacher at the First Baptist Academy.  She has established a wonderful loving relationship with her little tykes.  Several of them were in the gathering of youngsters to sing at the worship service.

Eagerly each of her students took a chance to invite her to sit up front to watch and listen as they sang their hearts out to the Lord.  That is an invitation that cannot be turned down.  In fact I was given clear instructions to photograph the events with my camera phone.

Our energetic worship leader invited us to worship.  The auditorium filled with hearts that stirred to bring a gift of praise to the Lord.  All of the adult vocalists and instrumentalists were in fine form.

When the experienced and gifted lead the way for the young and neophytes there is confidence that is built into the lives of these young ones.  Like a large family surrounding the fireplace, we joined in with song and adoration of the One who has given us everything.  We felt lifted up and engulfed in something much bigger than what we could ever create ourselves.

The Spirit carried us along as we were invited and then whisked away.  Lost in the joy of expression and appreciation was this moment.  Young and no-longer-young blended voice, soul and spirits into one presentation to our solitary audience.

Eyes of those we knew on the stage was a part of a special sharing.  We were included.  Mutual appreciation was our bond before the great throne above.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

11178203_10152408615652614_555981716271583104_nWe are an extension campus.  Our Dallas campus is the headquarters of this amazing ministry.  Yet, our Houston operation is growing by leaps and bounds.

We have 34 graduates this year.  They are mostly local to the great city of Houston and its surrounding region.  Most of their friends and family will have a tough time making the journey to Dallas to celebrate their commencement achievements.

To give local family and friends the chance to be a part of this substantial celebration, our extension campus has a Graduation Chapel one week prior to the central festivities up north.  We honor each graduate with a brief description of what their plans and destination is after they receive their sheep skin.  We fill the chapel service with great worship, intimate prayer, laughter, memories and special recognition of those who stood out with academic and service demonstrations.

I scanned the crowd many times during this chapel service.  The smiles were a mile wide and the tears were free-flowing.  Trying to imagine all of the answered prayers for the many years represented by these graduates is mind-blowing.

Photographs with special people were endless.  The four sheet cakes disappeared as the party spread into the foyer.  Guests drank sweet punch, returned endless times for refreshing chilled water and stopped many times along their course of walking to congratulate and exchange hugs with fellow classmates.

Previous graduates returned to cheer on their friends.  Current students marveled and told me that they had something even more to anticipate.  Relatives were overcome with the joy of reaching this end.

Children were laughing with their parents.  One mom told me that she was rehearsing her Hebrew vocabulary flash cards while in labor for the little one that she hugged next to her leg.  Life and success cannot get much more precious than this.

photo 4Gratitude is over the top on this event.  Conversations about calling, dreams about the ministry to come and deep gratitude of God’s faithfulness were common in the crowd.  With pride I watched out once students now shine as Masters of Theology, Masters of Arts and Over-comers in all sorts of adversities.

Faithful too are the staff and faculty that I am privileged to call “Team Houston”.  They are selfless, persevering and godly men and women who live to serve others.  Here on a Saturday, they are going above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that these graduates always remember this day.

photo credit: brucefong photography

FullSizeRenderThe sun broke through the rain clouds.  A vigorous storm drenched the ranch just outside of Gonzales, Texas.  The Ranch Boss and I were riding the range on his ATV.

Four wheel drive did not even hesitate at any barricade whether water, mud or wash.  We bounced over the terrain looking for any work that his ranch hands needed to add to their work lists.  In his mind he had a checklist that he made notations on a scouting trip like this.

One alert was his animals.  There were a lot of beasts on his acreage.  Some of the animals were tough and could withstand almost any kind of adversity.

There were other critters, however, that had some vulnerabilities.  They were smaller.  A predator would easily choose one of these animals for a meal than the beasts that could defend itself in woods.

While we scanned the acres for problems from the storm, we also looked for anything unusual.  The “Oh, oh” that the Ranch Boss uttered caught my attention.  When I looked at him, he just pointed up in the sky, “Gotta believe the birds.”

He threw his ATV into gear and spun the steering wheel.  Our casual scout now had a specific objective in mind.  The vultures spelled death and that was never good news to a rancher.

We bounced through the woods.  He dodged fallen logs, bogs and massive trees.  Our forward progress came to an abrupt end.

The muddy ground made us skid for a long stretch. When we came to a halt, the Ranch Boss did not need to say much.  We both were socked in the face with the wretched stench of rotting flesh.

The vultures have been specifically designed by the Creator to clean up the woods.  When an animal dies, they find it.  Together a flock of these powerful creatures eat up the rotting flesh with relish.

The flies and the maggots wrap up the details.  There is no more need for human intervention.  This is one ranch critter that will no longer roam in the fields.

We made a hasty exit.  What God had design to finish up the circle of life we left to operate without disruption.  Fresh air was just a 50 feet away.

The birds signaled other birds in the area to join them.  These feathered scavengers attracted more of their kind.  A great flock gathered and told any who could see that their morbid work was almost done.

Houston commute sunriseThere is never a repeat or warm up or left-over sunrise.  Like snowflakes there are never any two that are identical.  Instead, each one is a unique combination, a mysterious blend that spreads the picture around and makes each one tailor-made for that particular day.

This time it was not only the colors that were sensational, it was also the perimeter features that made the sunrise pop out of the horizon. It was not only about the colors but it was also about the clouds in the sky.

Do you see the contrast?  God gives the sky texture.  The clouds are close by but the sunrise is a long way off. The light of the morning is overtaking the clouds that ruled the night.

The world was once shrouded in an uninviting frightening stillness of aloneness, abandonment and anxiety.  But, it is quickly dissipated.  It is diluted to the point where we wonder how we ever were fearful or hopeless.  Life is just like this.

Someone may have hurt you deeply.  Your sorrow was unrelenting and excruciating.  Inside you were about ready to give up.

Yet, something gnawing in your soul urges you to press on.  A light glimmered in your spirit reminding you that God was still there.  When people failed you, God was powerfully present and He chased away the darkness.

Once the light comes you feel rejuvenated.  Courage was restored.  Those who had done their worst were no longer capable of doing any more.

It is time.  Get up.  Dust yourself off.  Wipe away your tears.  Leave those who have done evil behind.

God is not finished with you yet.  The truth has kept you buoyed up and now that the night has expired you are still standing. Yes, there will be other tough moments in life.  God has told us that trials will come.  They are designed for correction or edification.  Maybe there will be a little of each.

Whichever the case God does not hurt for pain’s sake.  He is ready to lift you up and carry you along. God is about blessing not hurt.

When my day starts and a gorgeous sunrise greets my commute into the office, I receive it a testimony of God’s greatness personalized just for me.  You can do the same.  Every sunrise is new, different and big enough for all who will accept it.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

FullSizeRenderWhen my alarm clock starts its gentle marimba tune, our bedroom is very dark.  Our human activity kicks in and we share our bathroom to get ready for the day.  Like preprogrammed robots we move about the house with a well-planned and well-rehearsed routine.

While it is still dark outside we load our vehicle and start our 40 minute commute.  We travel down I-10 and join 100,000 other vehicles who are also starting their day.  Our journey is so much easier than so many since the two of us qualify for the High Occupancy Vehicle lane.

All of the vehicles have their headlights on.  At this early hour it is like driving at night.  There are plenty of street lights but having lights on is a safety measure so that others can see us.

But, the night never lasts forever.  Instead, as certain as we are about life’s most important standards and guarantees, a sunrise is going to happen.  When it shows up, it will chase away the darkness as if it was melting butter on a hot pan.

The sky first becomes lighter.  Shades of grey appear as if the sky is being diluted from its pitch black domination. Then, on the horizon there is a beacon of orange light.

Our commute is progressing well while the show on the horizon stage is unfolding.  There is no stopping it now.  Day is on its way.

Grey skies burst into an orange pallet of brilliant color.  Fiery red blazons the horizon.  Rays of yellow blast out from where the sun is moving with deliberate unhurried speed.

When darkness shrouds a spirit to hang with gloom and doom, the light is overpowering.  Hope is restored.  Smiles have a reason to emerge with determination.

Headlights from so many vehicles no longer dominate the scene.  Instead, every driver, even the grumpy ones, have to gaze to the horizon and at least appreciate it if not mentally breaking out into a happy dance.  The Creator who repeats this performance with grand elegance never charges a fee.

Can you imagine?  The most splendid show is absolutely complementary.  Seating is never a problem.

When life gets tough and circumstances get rough, remember how you began your day.  Love the promises and the truths that are wrapped up in the grandeur of that stunning light show.  God did that to remind you that He is real, He is here and His love for us is unending.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

FullSizeRenderAustria is a country with a rich history and filled with a people proud of their nation.  History took a horrible turn for the worst with the rise of the Nazi’s who put an unspeakably ugly grip on the European continent under the brutal demagoguery of Adolf Hitler.  Jews in the nation were persecuted, slaughtered and robbed of their personal possessions.

One of the many families that felt the excruciating oppression of the Nazis were the Altmann’s.  They were torn apart by the Nazi take-over.  As a family, survival meant some stayed behind while others fled for their lives.

While the Altmann’s fled the Nazi took over their home and stole their art treasures.  The portrait of Aunt Adele by Klimt was the center piece.  She was the sparkling painting decked in gold leaf throughout, a thorough masterpiece.

Maria Altmann has aged into her senior years when she discovers that she may have a chance of recovering her family paintings through an intricate series of hearings.  She taps a relative, he is a young inexperienced lawyer.  She trusts him and chases her dream of being reunited with what was once her family’s property.

It is an arduous legal battle. The venue for the grinding litigation starts in Austria, moves to America and finishes with arbitration in Austria.  Justice is ultimately served.

Strong performances by both lead actors drives the story.  Even the supporting roles of the Austrian patriot trying to make amends for his father’s unexplainable choices adds to the story.  The viewer is treated to a long story which is unfolded in a short movie.  It is a true story that makes anyone who is a real human being cheer for the little person.

When a wrong is corrected, then I am riveted to the story.  Set up a Goliath and his brother against a little David and I am paying attention.  Maybe governmental bureaucracy and the smug attitude of arrogant people will always get my goat.

Certainly, this one bright story among so many that are still hoping for redemption makes this victory shine so brightly.  I liked this movie.  In fact I really liked this movie and I am glad that I saw it and I recommend it to you.

Helen Mirren is a favorite. Ryan Reynolds was splendid.  Bruhl and Holmes were great supporting roles.  Now, I would take that opportunity to see the painting for myself if I am ever in the area.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_5318Word of my friend Michael’s passing still makes me shake.  It was a total shock and surprise.  Someone so special in my life now gone.

For some reason I thought that I could reflect on that life-change for at least a little while.  Yet, life as meted out by the Great Administrator does not always coincide with human assumptions.  Instead, more friends are spending massive amounts of time in the examination room as doctors poke and prod.

An email alert came from Becky.  One of my buddies, her husband, and I have shared many moments in the woods open to whatever the wonderful world of the wilds had in store for us.  Hiking, gazing and exploring were filled with conversation and laughing.

Richard was in and out of the hospital.  Doctors could not figure out what was not right.  Yet, Richard knew something was off kilter.

We play tag on email as he keeps me up-to-date with the latest medical guess.  He is in pain.  Something is wrong and we are praying that the wonderful world of medicine can figure it out.

Then, another email flashed across my screen.  Frank was in the hospital.  I picked up my phone and gave the hospital a call.

Frank laughed, “Yep, I am in the hospital.  I had a few strokes last year and led to a visit to the doctor.
“THREE strokes? Doctor? Like are you for real?”
“Yeah, now the doctors tell me I need a quadruple bypass.”
“Good grief! Dude, you sure know how to surprise your friends.”
“Ha. I told Cindy to trade me in for an upgraded model.  She told me she was happy with what she has.  Cool, eh?”

The telephone visit was brief but encouraging all the way around.  Friendship among guys is like that.  There was no denial, no worries, no whining.

Another email alert raced across my screen.  This time it was Duane.  He was in the hospital.

I picked up the phone and called him.  He just got to the hospital that very morning.  His internist had been treating him for pneumonia but the treatment was not making Duane feel any better.

When the antibiotic schedule was done, Duane went in to see his doctor.  The stethoscope told a very different story.  Immediately, the doctor admitted Duane into the hospital.

Duane needed a new heart valve.  Yikes! My friends are hurting.  I am praying for them, texting them and hoping that next week all will be better, much better.

photo credit: brucefong photography

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