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Mix assassins, espionage, secret police, the Kremlin and IMF with betrayal, lies, murder, mayhem and explosives and you have the makings for an entertaining movie.  The IMF team led by Nathan Hunt are on the verge of pulling off an incredible act of international data theft when they are victims of a massive frame.   The Soviet bastion of socialism crumbles at the enormous charge of explosives.

Soviet leaders accuse the USA of an unprovoked attack on its sovereign territory.  In order to prevent an uncontrolled escalation, the US President initiates “Ghost Protocol” which disavows the entire IMF.  Secretly, Hunt is allowed to escape  in order to find the real culprit behind the Kremlin bombing.

A Russian Swede is discovered to be the conspirator directing a plan to destroy the world by starting a nuclear war.  He wants a new start of human evolution by wiping out what exists.  The Kremlin was destroyed in order for him to obtain the nuclear launch codes, essential for sending Russian missiles into America.

Hunt’s team not only faces a powerful enemy and does so without support, they also discover dynamics among themselves that fuel the tensions in the chase scenes, mortal combat and new-found loyalties.  The intricacies of the story fragment into nearly uncontrollable details but are held together by the impending danger of worldwide disaster.  This team of four heroes find their rhythm, battle to the limits of their human ability and discover how well-suited they are as a fighting thinking unit.

Chase scenes are a staple in action movies.  This film gets creative.  Besides the flying through the air with no wings, using trademark IMF disguises and pumping up horsepower, there is even the part of a natural sand storm to join in the chase.

The stunts in this movie are amazing.  Rapidly, sequences are heart-pounding, mentally engaging and stunningly filmed.  If you like a story that is told well and moves across the silver screen with blazing speed this movie is for you.

Yet, the action is balanced with the human element of personal and emotional burdens that these agents are carrying.  The forces are so deep that they bleed into their determination to overcome an opponent, embrace a colleague or forgive a past infraction.

When the smoke filters away and the loud explosions die down and the gunfire silences, powerful human issues linger.  Guilt discovers relief.  Loneliness finds a home.  Obscurity is showered with significance. Love enjoys a lasting smile.

photo credit: google image


Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without getting ready for Christmas.  It is the signal for gearing up for one of the busiest times of the year. Oh, don’t get me wrong, Christmas will always be one of my favorite times of the year.  In fact  the busyness is one of the elements that makes this favored time of the year very special. 

My mind finds every opportunity to give me pause in a very busy life to enjoy this special season and the reason for it.  It is also a time to reconnect with family and friends.  Letting special people know how much they mean to me and how I value them in my life is a treat. 

One of the regular stops during the holidays is the U.S. Post Office.  I need to mail some items to family and friends in distant places.  Yvonne wrapped up some items and I was off to mail them.

I go the this government facility infrequently enough that I was trying to guess their holiday hours.  On a hope I showed up at the post office at 8:45AM.  My heart sank when I saw a line of people waiting to get in.

When I strolled up to the end of the line, I could tell that the office was not yet opened.  I asked one of the line standers and she told me that the office opened at 9AM.  Wow, I was more interested in making my way to my office and running one more errand before I would just wait in line.

Off I drove, finished an errand and stopped at another Post Office branch nearer my office.  There I had to feed the parking meter.  When  I walked into the federal building the line was massive.  I had left money for 8 minutes in the meter. 

Assessment was easy.  There was no way that 8 minutes would cover me so I returned the meter and bumped up my time to 22 minutes.  When I returned to the line in the Post Office, only one more customer had been added to the already lengthy number of unhappy impatient customers.

There was a lot of grumbling in the line.  People were not in the Christmas spirit.  I smiled at a few of the Grinches who only returned my cheer with an uninterested glower of apathy.

I finished with my transaction, thanked the clerk and cheerfully expressed, “Merry Christmas!”  She looked like she was going to go into shock.  Stammering back, “Uh, oh…yeah, same to you.”

photo credit: google image

This Christmas and New Year season has been a blur of activity.  We looked over our jammed calendar and were breathing heavily just looking over all the places that we needed to be and places we promised we would go.  Carefully, we timed events and strategized scheduling to fit everything into a cozy two-week period of our lives.

There were relatives to visit, shopping to be done, meals to plan, meals to eat, people to touch, letters to be written, gifts to be purchased, gifts to be wrapped, more food, more meals and more gifts.  It was one event after the next.  Shopping for more groceries was always our fallback filler when we had a few hours with nothing planned.

If we had a spell when we weren’t rushing some where or didn’t know what we were supposed to be doing we sat in a minor panic wondering if we had forgotten something.  Yvonne juggled backing, cooking and grocery shopping like a professional entertainer on the Las Vegas strip.  This is not a complaint; just the opposite.

For decades Yvonne and I were away from family.  We would dutifully send our regrets.  There was a long list of gathering that we missed over the years just because we were too far to make it.

We missed weddings, birthday parties, new baby parties, showers, picnics, bbq’s, banquets and shared meals.  After so many years of missing these celebrations we are doing everything that we can to make it to them all.  It has been fun!

At our Christmas family party on Yvonne’s side I was enjoying the antics of my niece’s son.  He is a character and full of energy.  It suddenly hit me that I was a Great Uncle!

No wonder I have an ache in my back.  My knees have learned to moan when I push on them too hard.  I’m celebrating with two generations behind me. 

Nephews and nieces who were once infants that I held in my arms are now productive adults with whom I have delightful conversations.  It is stunning to see their talent, hear their laughter and listen to their memories.   Being in the generation that is down the road a lot further is comforting.

We pack up and head out the door.  There are hugs, smiles and handshakes that warm our hearts.  We would stay longer but another party calls. It’s busy but we would always choose this over being lonely.

photo credit: brucefong photography

I love this time of year.  The Christmas season is full of cheer.  In my mind I rehearse all of the lives of people who are special in my life.

When Yvonne and I get a moment we compare our notes and make our lists.  We start our shopping with the goal in mind to get what we can give to those lives that mean so much to us.  These are family and friends who have had a special part in making our lives rich with the joy of living.

First, of course is family.  We set our budget, do our shopping and buy the right gifts for those who are in the selection lottery.  Yeah, one side of my family draws names.

Our family on that side is close enough that we do the transparent bold Santa asking, “What would you like for Christmas?”  The surprise isn’t quite there but neither is the disappointment.  Delight is almost always certain.

Buying for Mom and Dad is a divide and conquer.  Yvonne buys for her mom.  Then, I give Yvonne a list of options for her dad.   As a team, we knock the list in systematic fashion and celebrate when our “mission is accomplished.”

But, there is a final task to this gift giving season.  We love the giving of gifts.  It is normal for us to live out “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Our list for simple gifts as a token of our appreciation is a highlight.  Here we don’t spend much but the gifts are always fun, tasty and numerous.  Special candy and unique candles always seem to work well for this time of year.

luxury candies are suitable to most tastes.  People like the colorful sparkle that decks the packages.  The fabulous stuff inside is wonderful, but the seasonal wrapping adds to the festive season.

Just for a change-up we enjoy giving out candles too.  Lighting candles around the house not only gives off a great fragrance but gives superb mood lighting as well.  Just like the candy it is a disposable gift and people appreciate that.

We don’t give gifts in this expression of gratitude that have to be kept for years on end.  Instead, pop the top or strike a match and gift is enjoy, appreciated and then it is gone.  The message that we send with each gift is what lingers, “We appreciate you!”

photo credit: google image

The birth of Jesus was a major event.  All that occurred to usher in that special life is documented and validated by the faith lives of multiple generations.  It spawned great music, transformed lives, dedicated service and indescribable hope.

After His birth the stunning list of amazing moments continued.  One of the most remarkable was the visit of an entourage from the East.    Tradition claims that there were three.  But, that is not recorded in Scripture.  Since they brought three gifts some may have assumed that there were three.

Nor is the name “wise men” Biblically accurate either.  Again that is as much of a greeting card and Christmas carol tradition than it is a Biblical one.  Calling them Magi, star observers,  seems to be the best that we can do.

A star caught their attention.  When they compared their sighting with what they read they traveled to Jerusalem to seek out the King of the Jews.  Herod was a paranoid neurotic who was given the position of King.  He was jealous of his title.  The idea of a baby King who attracted dignitaries was a threat.

The devious plan of Herod to use the Magi to get rid of the baby was a reflection of his wicked heart.  Symptoms like spying, deception, jealousy, guilt, lies, paranoia and suspicion are all indicators of a life steeped in sin.  But, this one person could not thwart the plan of God. 

Herod spoke good words or at least words that sounded good.  Yet, they were a cover to evil that was in his heart.  That’s like someone today who would claim that they love someone but be working behind the scenes to betray that trust of their prejudice.  Christmas is so powerful that the evil of the wicked is supplanted with His amazing grace.

The miracle star apparently appeared in the East to the Magi who were in the East.  Therefore, it did not lead them to Jerusalem which was in the West but their studies of prophecy showed them where to go.  Once they were in Jerusalem the star appeared again but this time it moved, leading them to Bethlehem where Jesus’ family was now living in a house.  We might as well separate the facts from tradition in this story.

Who were these special Magi?  I guess no one really knows for sure.  As far as I’m concerned, they were from the Far East; China sounds good to me.

photo credit: google image

We drove two hours to get to our destination.  Once we arrived we checked into the hotel.  Then, with an adventuresome spirit, we drove to the ranch and began our exploration. 

Ground squirrels were everywhere.  They scattered  at the sound of our mighty 4×4 Bubba rolling through the fields of their colony.  It was an amazing sight to see tuffs of grass or a pile of dirt clods come alive and scamper off to a burrow in the soil.

We toured the gentle terrain from the campsite to the rolling hills to the North.  Everything to the West easy enough to negotiate.  But, the 9,000 acre ranch was calling us to explore it all.

I headed our 4×4 beast to the South.  Across the flat field we saw the earth rise sharply to the steep terrain far above the valley floor.  The two-track trail led up the Razorback.

At the base of the hill, I paused, “Hmm…looks kinda steep.”
“It sure does,” my bride peered up the hill.

I tested the angle with one short burst in 4×4 high.  That’s when I felt that discretion was the better part of valor.  Backing off the ascent we were content to further explore the gradual inclines in to the North.

That night I rehearsed in my mind our retreat.  My contact told me it was not only doable but he recommended it,  “The Razorback is dangerous but you can negotiate it without any problem in your truck.”

The next morning, I was determined.  We went back.  At the base of the Razorback, I set Bubba in 4×4 LOW and we climbed the steep trail without a problem. 

When we reached the top of the first hill, I breathed a sigh of relief.  We celebrated our accomplishment.  Then, we drove on up the road.

To our surprise several more hills challenged our progress.  Those subsequent hills were steeper than the first.  The drop off on either side of the two-track were sheer cliffs down into the valley below. 

NOT looking down seemed like a good strategy that I followed.  One peak along the way was so steep that I couldn’t see over the hood.  All that was ahead of me was blue sky.  I got out and looked around the truck to see where the trail was.  Relieved, we were on top of the mountain, now thousands of feet up with a spectacular view, the reward for four wheelin’ fun!

photo credit: brucefong photography

Are you ready to have your  mind engage your entertainment funny bone?  Would you like a mixture of mystery along with swashbuckling adventure?  Does a challenging jigsaw puzzle and developing characters make up the list of prerequisites of a novel worth reading?

If you find an appeal to these inquiries then you must see the movie Sherlock Holmes, game of shadows.  It is a winner with these interrogatives as a movie review.  The story keeps you engaged, the action is stunning and the mystery generously lubricates the plot to keep you guessing.

Holmes finds a number of apparently separate crimes all associated with Professor Moriarty.  This criminal mastermind is assassinating a prominent European businessman, consorting with shady dealing with an international arms dealer and spying on Holmes’ own activities.  Intertwined in these investigations is romance, blackmail and murder.

Throughout the story Holmes dons his speciality of disguises.  They are not simple props for the film but clever intrusions into the lives of people that will give the great detective clues to deduce a conclusion to Moriarty’s devious plans.  Stay sharp or you will miss the nuances that will tie the story together in the end.

A massive explosion is assumed to be the work of anarchists.  Holmes deduces differently.  The explosion is merely a diversion to cover up a killing to advance Moriarty’s masterplan. 

The professor has Holmes tortured.  It looks bad for the hero but Watson defends himself against a sniper and succeeds in rescuing his friend.  Nevertheless, a massive chase scene ensues; it’s fun, exciting and full of intrigue.

These two brilliant minds are locked in chess game high in the mountains.  On a balcony overlooking a massive waterfall their game of skill turns into a mental chess match of checks and challenges overshadowed by Holmes unfolding all that he knows about the Professors evil plans.  Fresh wounds keep Sherlock from allowing personal battle between him and his opponent.

Instead, Holmes distracts Moriarty.  Then, he locks him in a hold and with his last physical efforts throws them both over the rail and into the falls that is thousands of feet high.  Presumably, both are killed

The world mourns the loss of a great hero.  His friends grieve.  But, is this second brush with death validated or an early presumption?  Only a question mark will answer the question.

photo credit: google image

It was nearly 9AM.  Laughing at my day-off slothfulness I pulled on my bicycle riding gear.  Down at the lake I pulled my bike off the rack and started the ride with a stretch and deep yawn.

There was an overcast sky.  That’s par for the course in Daly City.  Ocean breezes drove the moisture laden clouds close to the ground with a steady space over the earth.

My quads were feeling the joy of picking up speed on the bumpy asphalt.  Several quick gulps of air reminded my lungs that this was work-out time.  This was normal, sorta normal.

At first I knew that it would be a morning to feel the last two-week break from travelling.  But, I wasn’t expecting things to be so far out of whack as they were already beginning to feel.  My lungs were burning earlier than normal.

I abused myself for taking too much time off since my last ride.  The burn was turn on way too soon.  I would have to consciously pace myself or my five-mile route would be a nightmare rather than a morning dream.

Through the early rise of my familiar route, I was gearing down more than usual.  My breathing was labored very early.  I was surprised.

At the crest of the hill my spirit lifted knowing that the down hill reward for a hard work of a climb was going to be enjoyed.  But, I had passed another biker on the climb.  He would be looking for making things even.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw his legs pumping.  He wanted to catch up.  I wasn’t going to let him.

I stepped up my pace, looking to increase my lead on the downward side of the hill.  My early-lungs-burn was not getting any relief.  Why was this workout so much harder?

Around the back side of the loop, the other rider had disappeared.  I smiled.  Smoked that dude and left him in the dust. 

Now, the home stretch.  It was a gentle climb before the finish.  I mounted my bike back on the rack and headed for home. 

I dismissed my fatigue to trying to step up and keep ahead of that other rider.  But once I arrived home, I was in a for a laugher.  My back wheel was out of alignment and the rim was rubbing against the right brake pad.  Yes, I rode the entire route with the brakes on… groan.

photo credit: google image

Our family faces adversity just like anyone else.  We panic.  Then, we fuss a bit.

Once our first reactions are out of our system we tackle whatever stands in front of us with determination.  We do not quit.  There is always a way to overcome.

Our son is in Physician Assistant Graduate School.  He gives me a clue once in a while about how tough it is and I just fill in the blanks.  Afterall, I have been through graduate school too and the academic challenge pressed my soul like a relentless vise.

But, I did not whine.  Neither has my son.  Instead, we acknowledge the hardship and look for the positives.  Honestly, we love learning.

Every week we would get a bit of a report.  Months slowly passed.  Then, just before Christmas good news flashed on my text message reader.

Our son announced with enthusiasm: “I finished my first semester!”

Yvonne called me on the phone.  We joyously chattered about the good news.  “Should we go across the bay and celebrate and take him out to dinner?”

Quickly, I glanced at the clock.  It was 3:30PM.  The traffic would be horrendous, but “Oh well…”

I shut my office down and headed home.  Yvonne had already called our son and made arrangements.  We would have to negotiate the San Francisco rush hour traffic, pick up our son by 5:45 PM, do dinner and get him home in time for his party with his friends. 

The journey across the bay is normally a 45 minute drive.  During traffic it would be at least twice that long.  We mentally set our minds on our goal and did as little fussing as possible.

Can angels give flight through the worst of San Francisco traffic?  You betcha!  We arrived with smiles and the party began.

We headed over to a well-known eatery in Berkeley.  They serve some very good BBQ.  Yelp gives it a four star rating.  We would heartily agree!

Yvonne and Jeremy ordered BBQ prawns wrapped in bacon.  When it was presented, the aroma alone made our mouths water.  All of us followed the plates that were set on the table.

I went for their signature dish: T-Rex Beef Short Rib.  When that was brought to me my eyes were wide open.  It was perfectly roasted, ideally presented and colored with mouth-watering meat that had been smoked to perfection.

Our family motto was our clear directive that night: any reason for a party!

photo credit: brucefong photography

All of us in the ministry knows the unsettled feeling in our hearts when opportunity for ministry is in conflict with unexplained concerns with our co-laborers.  Paul sensed that.  His heart to bring the good news to others was his passion.

God had shown good favor to the apostle by opening up Troas to receive the gospel of Christ.  It was clear that God had gone before him and made the  preparations necessary to begin an evangelistic thrust.  However, he was distracted.

Titus was to rendezvous with him in Troas.  But he failed to show up.  This disrupted Paul’s peace of mind.  It was enough for Paul to let go of this ministry and seek out his colleague.

Priorities and wisdom help us to discover God’s mysterious ways.  Obedience to His leading is vital even when the present situation seems to be very attractive.  As good as any opportunity might seem, God may lead us to even better ministries if we just trust Him.

No matter how strange circumstances may be, giving thanks to God for changes and adjustments is always a good sign.  Wherever we go, the impact of sharing the Gospel is a plus.  Ministry never has to be geographically limited.

Ministry is never about what we are able to generate ourselves.  God chooses people for service who are very capable. If we are not careful we can think that our effort accomplishes the results.

Rather, we must see ourselves as a conduit through which God does His work.  God gives us the privilege to be a part of what He is doing.  If He is receive all of the glory for any ministry successes then He is the One who is actually giving whatever increase that we see.

Our lives must be the incarnation of Christ.  He is the reason for eternal changes in the lives of people.  Our part is to reflect Him as the aroma of something very appealing.

As the procession of ancient generals coming into the city after a successful campaign, the incense used in the celebratory parade was a reminder of the victory for those who won in battle.  But, the same aroma was a reminder to the vanquished and defeated that they had lost and my die by execution.

A symptom of doing ministry well where God is honored is the right attitude toward money.  Personal profit cannot be a part of the agenda of those who serve.  Has God sent you in His name?  Then, go and smell good for Him.

2 corinthians 2.11-17

photo credit: google image