You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2012.

butterfly exhibit Houston Dec 2012 052When I passed the end display in our local office supplies store, I paused. It was the clearance section. Yeah, I’m a sucker to see what bargains I can pick up.

This bin was full of day planners. Most were based on a weekly format or at least included that as an option. Long ago I switched to an electronic planner on my PDA and computer but these pocket planners still fascinated me.

The first thing that caught my attention was the weekly format. Every one of the planners from multiple companies all began their week on a Monday. The end of the week was clearly reserved and identified as the weekend gathered Saturday and Sunday together.

I don’t live my life like that. That kind of calendar would disrupt the flow of my thinking. The first day of the week will always be Sunday for me.

Often in my prayers I thank God for Sunday. The activities that fill that day focus my attention on the Lord, His people, His grace, His goodness, the hope to live today and prepare for tomorrow.  It is the historic day that celebrates the Resurrection of Jesus from His death three days earlier on the cross.

When Christians gather for worship on the first day of the week, they can be challenged in their pursuit of holiness, grow deeper in their faith and strengthen their fellowship with fellow grace recipients.  Inspired and fortified they can then enter the week with determination and initiative to make a difference for eternity.  When they drive out of the church parking lot, they can set their hearts on representing Christ well in whatever walk of life that occupies their days.

The New Year is not so much about making resolutions as an expression of putting off good things to do, rather it is about gratitude for a good year and anticipating another year to see His grace unfold again.  His goodness is unending.  If you know Him personally, then you are familiar with this endless generosity of mercy.

Should you not know Him and happen to be reading this entry, please consider His offer.  His name is Jesus Christ.  He died on the cross for your sins. 

You feel badly about your sins.  But, He can clean your life and give you a gift of forgiveness that will be your guarantee of life in heaven with Him forever.  Believe in His Resurrection and you will know real love.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

Advertisements

IMG_1474There are masterpieces of literature from world human history that touch most of our lives.  Les Miserables is one of those incredible works of art.  Victor Hugo served the entire world well when he penned this novel in the 19th century.

It became popularized as a musical.  Perhaps this adaption can be argued to be one of the best musical productions of all-time.  The songs are riveting and lyrics stir the souls of so many.

This movie has captured the story of these lives caught up in the ugly circumstances of life where poverty, oppression and wickedness offend the good senses of humanity.  Themes of grace and legalism form the backdrop of this story.  Javert is the obsessed inspector who personified legalism, representing people who judge others with the sharp edge of the law with no measure of mercy or leniency.  In contrast is Jean Valjean who is the recipient of grace and turns his life into giving that grace away as often as he could.

The cast is brilliant.  Anne Hathaway plays Fantine.  Her performance is Oscar-worthy. 

You are swept along through each tragedy that she suffers in sacrifice for her daughter, Cosette.  Poverty and the inevitable abuse that women endure grips your soul.  Throughout time this story pleads for mankind to end the plight of women mired in the grips of economic woes.

Hugh Jackman deserves an Oscar for his role as Jean Valjean.  From his life as a survivor in prison to the desperate bitterness of the life lived as a convicted felon to the transformation into a life that values grace, he delivers a powerful in-character role that could easily be his signature professional performance.  He makes you see and believe every turn, twist and struggle in his life that is doggedly pursued by the vicious judgemental legalistic ire of the self-righteous Javert.

Samantha Barks plays the role of Eponine.  It is a support role from every perspective but when she is center stage, she delivers.  Each expression of her soul is gripping, heart-rending and soul-searching. 

The child actors are ideal.  They sing with bravado and stir your spirit.  Hang on to your tissue when one young life ends at the shots of the French army and another cowers under that abuse of a would-be benefactor.

Too many lives ended in sadness.  But, life has its greatest meaning when it is captured and passed on to those of us who keep on living.  As long as God is seen in life and the life hereafter, then we can live for Him today with the lessons learned about grace and law.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

No one likes a braggart, no one.  Yet, they are not uncommon in our daily routine, no matter where we go.  They populate our schools, our businesses, our clubs and even our churches.

There is so much in life that is better left for others to say.  Yet, the desire by certain ones among us to announce their own feats and accomplishments is seemingly an unstoppable force.  Common among humanity is a social courtesy where we conclude that we silently agree that this expression is distasteful.

On the other hand, the Apostle Paul finds that this practice has at least one useful purpose.  As he fights to gain the attention of believers who are enamored with false teachers and “supeapostles” he reluctantly uses this approach of self-aggrandizement.   Yet, to be clear he calls the method foolishness.

Through this self-aggrandizement he reveals truth that is personal, solitary yet amazing.  He experienced a translation into heaven.  It was a moment in ecstasy that gives him a kind of spiritual qualification trumping every rival. 

Paul claims in this braggadocio mode that God alone knows the details although he himself only knows of the episode itself.  While the precise aspects of that epiphany are a mystery to him, he recalls the things he heard; but they are forbidden from being revealed to men.  The experience is worth bragging about only because it qualifies the Apostles’ credentials.

Personally, the Apostle turns his attention to his personal weaknesses.  He is determined not to pretend that he is something that he is not.  Rather, he sees his spiritual experiences as a privilege that give glory to God not him. 

This servant of God is more concerned that he avoid becoming conceited.  In this regard he knows that God has given him a thorn in his flesh, a physical reminder to keep himself humble.  Whether it is a painful physical ailment or a set of circumstances no one really knows; however, the effect is his lowliness in life.

As a humble man he is committed to the grace of God as his sufficiency. That mercy in his life is all he needs to be satisfied. Choosing humbleness is the path to genuine and lasting strength.

2 corinthians 12.1-10

Through Facebook I noticed a flurry of conversations among my five children.  They were doing their normal bantering, which was as usual full of language that was elusive to me.  One time,however, I caught on to a conversation about Pinkberry. 

At first I thought that they were talking about a store for girl clothes.  Afterall, my two daughters were dominating the conversation on this topic.  Pink certainly seems to a girl matter more than it is anything else. 

Then, the guys would pipe into the cyber-blather.  They too seemed to not only know about this pink stuff, but they seemed like they shopped there too.  That made my face scrunch up, mouth to purse and eyes to squint in disbelief.

After several interchanges I noticed that this colorization matter popped up on occasion again.  Everyone seemed to like whatever it was.  There were even plans to make it a destination.

Finally, out of sheer curiosity, I asked my bride what in the world is this Pinkberry.  She nonchalantly interjected, “It has something to do with frozen yogurt.”  Shazaam, now my kids were into off-the-wall health foods.

“No,” my bride explained, “it’s like a dessert shop, something like ice cream only healthy.”  Hmmm, I began to get more curious.  Afterall, a healthy dessert could be a good thing.

Months have transpired since those original forays into the world of 20’s and 30’s.  After a dinner out, we were taking a stroll in a nearby city strip mall.  Suddenly, in bright lights and pink lettering, Pinkberry, was right in front of us.  It was  a God thing!

Inside the store we got acclimated.  The cheerful menu with accompanying pictures looked very inviting.  We made our choices.

At the register the young man asked if we were a part of the Pinkberry on-line frequent buyers club.  Puzzled, I just responded that this was our very first time into this establishment.  His smile broadened.

Please take one of these cards and we will keep track of your purchases.  When your card is filled we will give you a free order.  “How much dies it cost?” I inquired with great suspicion.”  “There’s no cost, sir.  It’s freed.”

Now, I am a Pinkberry fan.  Not only is it a healthier dessert, I am earning an eventual free one.  Yum at a very good price!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

2 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole empire should be registered. 2 This first registration took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. 3 So everyone went to be registered, each to his own town.

4 And Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family line of David, 5 to be registered along with Mary, who was engaged to him[d] and was pregnant. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 Then she gave birth to her firstborn Son, and she wrapped Him snugly in cloth and laid Him in a feeding trough—because there was no room for them at the lodging place.

The Shepherds and the Angels

8 In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people:11 Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. 12 This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a feeding trough.”

13 Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:

14 Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and peace on earth to people He favors!

15 When the angels had left them and returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see what has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”

16 They hurried off and found both Mary and Joseph, and the baby who was lying in the feeding trough. 17 After seeing them, they reported the message they were told about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary was treasuring up all these things[j] in her heart and meditating on them. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard, just as they had been told.

Luke 2.1-20 HCSB

IMG_1304The Nativity of the Messiah

18 The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way: After His mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit. 19 So her husband Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly.

20 But after he had considered these things, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is by the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”

22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

23 See, the virgin will become pregnant
and give birth to a son,
and they will name Him Immanuel,

which is translated “God is with us.”

24 When Joseph got up from sleeping, he did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. He married her 25 but did not know her intimately until she gave birth to a son. And he named Him Jesus.

MERRY CHRISTMAS, everyone! 

Matthew 1.18-25 HCSB

IMG_1382Our final charge was stimulating, thought-provoking, challenging and gave us all lingering ideas. It was powerful enough to make us forget our eagerness to bolt to the exit door and catch the shuttle to the airport and our flights home. This work for all of us, but good work, very very good work.

Think about the shrinking number of our population entering college. Then, consider the even smaller number of college graduates who are going further and tackling graduate education. Finally, slice the numbers of those who venture into the world of postgraduate education in pursuit of their doctorates.

Of course that is not the end of my tracking. Now, consider that exclusive bunch who earn the credentials and amass the talent to teach those in higher education who pursue masters and doctoral degrees. Finally, wonder at those very few who have the honor to lead that faculty as Deans.

That was our group for three days in the wonderful city of Pittsburgh. Cloudy skies and drizzle shrouded the city of Steel. But, intellectual and scholarly conversation was flowing on the inside.

Heady ideas of the changing environment of our country entered our discussions. Challenges with trademark characteristics of our entering millennial students left us wondering. Collegiality of new friends expanded our thinking beyond our familiar ecclesiastical moorings.

Now, the airport stood before us. Thousands of travelers flooded the terminal. I didn’t see many who were carrying on our philosophical themes. But, these were without exception the very people that we were training seminary students to serve.

Then, a link appeared. First, it was beautiful sound. A youth choir was in the balcony singing, “God rest ye merry gentlemen”. Next, it caught my eye because of the sparkling lights. It was a beautifully decorated Christmas tree. Finally, the checker rang up my purchase at the news stand and smiled at me, “Merry Christmas!” she sparkled.

Traveling dulls the senses.  It pushes us into a bizarre state of fatigue that few of us really understand and none of us enjoy.  It has clear symptoms: sad affect, slow physical reactions and grumpy attitudes.

Yet, a Christmas tree with all of its sparkling lights, a clear sound of Christmas carols being sung by a choir and of course the cheery greeting of “Merry Christmas!” from a complete stranger makes the routine of a tiring travel day wonderfully special.  Merry Christmas, everyone!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

 

My field of specialization is theological education.  All of my professional career has been spent helping future and current leaders think critically, reason objectively and then apply their decisions to real life.  This is my world: graduate education.

When a person enters the rigorous world to earn their Masters degree, they are intentionally pursuing a remarkable level of formal education.  Learning will be a massive hurdle and intense challenge to their sou.  Their objective is to then serve others with that heady background.

This is in large part, why it is frustrating to hear monologues, read blurbs or join in conversations where the basis of reasonableness, logic or theological coherence are void or corrupted.  Why would people accept error that is obviously nothing more than flawed human opinion?  How could good people settle for trite explanations or dismiss solid rationale with the mere wave of someone else’s loud opinion?   Are humans so vulnerable?

In the daily struggle for human survival and the pursuit of truth how can we protect what is true?  How can we listen to opinions and choice wisely what we will embrace?  Even further, can we keep from parroting falsehood and spreading the empty words that mislead the minds of  others?

Paul felt this very struggle.  He lived in a day when false apostles gained popularity with their eloquence.  They fed on the audience’s applause.

The Apostle called it foolishness when someone chose the path of a pompous self-centered egotist.  Boasting is opposed to the humility that righteousness accompanies, always.  Yet, Paul was making a facetious point with his method of writing to the Corinthians.

Since they were so caught up with the elocutionists of the day and their self-claims of credentials, he would play their game with the bravado of clarity that this was all foolish.  By pedigree alone, Paul was superior to any of these braggarts. His life experience was so vast in his service for Christ that these competitor teachers had no reason to be even compared to him.

Instead, Paul elevates the qualities of holiness that should be treasured by believers, namely, weakness.  Taking a lowly position is God’s way.  Yet, even then surrounded by danger, God makes a way of escape for those who are called to His purposes.  Paul is a living testimony to this.  Think and reason beyond human experience.  Analyze well what you hear people say and measure it against what God says is true.

2 corinthians 11.16-33

Family Christmas 2008 065 - CopyOur Christmas celebrations are always highlighted by little lives that give us a kind of joy that we count on each year.  They are the furry bunch in the Fong family.  During this season of celebration these little guys give our Family times a kind of warmth that is immeasurable.

They are Lhasa Apsos.  For our family that was a tradition that began when our children were tiny little guys themselves.  His name was Dusty and filled their childhood with love, laughter and plenty of adventures.

His silky fur soaked up tears, enjoyed hours of stroking and taught them how to take care of a family pet with plenty of baths.  His ears heard many stories and fussing.  That wet nose nuzzled many hurt feelings.

At Christmas he never knew what  the celebration was all about but he knew that the family was together and having a great time.  Our squeals and boisterous conversation must have made him curious.  Of course he was decorated with leftover bows, ribbons and wrapping paper.

Now, we have Oscar and Cooper to entertain us.  Their personalities are immeasurably unique.  Oscar is finicky and fussy.  

This Lhasa picks his times for fun.  No one can convince him easily.  But, if you ignore him long enough he will come and wiggle his way under your arm for a snuggle.

It is nearly prophetic and certainly comical when you stare down at this “too cute” face.  The warmth of a Lhasa hug is a gift of life.  His closeness makes his lovable spirit wonderfully inviting.

Cooper is a feisty active little guy.  He is an alarmist and barks at everyone who has not been a recent contact, recent as in the last 20 minutes.  If anyone is absent for that length of time, then you are strangers once again.

The ignoring routine works well with him.  He will run up to you and growl but just don’t react.  Keep on talking with someone or watching TV and eventually he may climb up on the sofa and look at you with massive suspicion. 

At Christmas he gets his bows and treats too. He barks and announces imaginary dangers.  We keep on celebrating and let his calls of alarm add to the joyous noise.  It is a Fong Family Christmas with family at the heart and center, including our canine cuties.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_1283In the past three days I have been on the road for a total of ten driving hours.  For professional drivers that’s nothing.  But, for a guy like me, it’s bizarre. 

Today I’m sore in places that I didn’t even know that I had nerve endings.  Flying by plane just isn’t cost-effective.  Afterall, once you get someplace by plane, how are you going to get around?

Necessity and a busy schedule jammed several appointments into a small window of time.  I am not a road warrior.  In fact I would rather not drive if other options were available.

But, as the old saying goes, “You gotta do what you gotta do.”  That is some sort of Chinese saying, I’m sure.  We who are committed to our promises keep them and do whatever it takes to fulfill them.

For me the driving was a simply a means to a great end.  Getting there was an opportunity to do what builds integrity, keeping my word.  Neither circumstances nor opposition will prevent me from making good on my promises.

But, no one ever said that the journey has to be boring or painful.  Resourceful minds can make the drudgery of driving a pleasant experience.  For me one of the creative additions is music.

My rig is equipped with satellite radio, a 6 CD player, external port for an iPod.  We have a long list of favorite songs that we have purchased on i-tunes.  My Country with my brides’ Pop makes for a splendid combination.

But, for this special time of the year, it’s Christmas music that we line up in our sound system to float the hours of travel away.  Carried in the air of snow, tinsel and family we sing-a-long with classic favorites.  Some are funny like “I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus” that is always a smile endorser.

Of course there are moving ones like “Christmas Shoes” that I posted a few days back.  But, our most favorite Christmas songs of all tell the real story of Christmas, the birth of our Savior, Jesus born in a manger.  That story gives real meaning to the celebration around the world.

I have my favorite artists from years-gone-by as well as modern composers and musicians.  But, the ancient story is the true story and never gets old.  Christmas is my favorite time of the year and the genuine story makes it so.  Merry Christmas! 

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

Categories