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1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices† so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other,

“Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe† sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

6“Don’t be alarmed,”

he said.

“You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified.
He has risen!
He is not here.  See the place where they laid him.
7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter,
‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee.
There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ”

Mark 16.1-7 NIV84
narrative arrangement by Bruce Fong

 

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33 At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice,

“Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”

—which means,

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said,

“Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

36 One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink.

“Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,”

he said.

37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. 38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said,

“Surely this man was the Son of God!”

Mark 15.33-39 NIV84
narrative arrangement by Bruce Fong

 

IMG_1824The garage is a mystery to us all.  For some reason it was originally designed for the housing of motorized vehicles.  Gradually, over time this treasured space became the default storage center for the All-American family.

So many boxes and seasonal items were stacked inside that eventually the cars stayed on the driveway outside of the garage.  It is only the determination that comes during the Spring cleaning feelings of guilt and procrastination that this designated space can be reclaimed.  When space is organized and items are visible and accessible, something special happens inside of our soul; we experience gratification.

The trick to getting the garage organized is the uncompromising commitment to freeing up floor space.  Stacks of stuff that are allowed to pile up on each other will grow like a weed.  It will be subtle growth but over time, stacks attract more things and then more stacks are born.

I sat on a chair and thought through how I could organize my garage, reclaim floor space and reduce the clutter.  One wall in my garage was clearly underutilized.  I imagined shelving and a long clothes rod.

A trip to the hardward store on my day off was all that I needed to get started.  I picked up the supplies that I needed.  I was concentrating on the plan.

Once back in my garage I did a little demolition.  This required a crowbar and hammer.  However, after a little elbow grease and grunting, I was able to clear the wall of all previoous hooks, shelving standards and limited storage options.

In place of everyting that I took down, I put up a lot more.  Multi-level shelving grew on the wall.  Variations of the  available space made room for odd shapes and oversized items.  Once the shelving standards were up, I placed custom cut common 1×12 boards.

Standing back I gazed all of the space to store necessary items.  With great delight I stacked and stored items on the newly designed space.  Now, there was more storage space than items that I needed to find a home.  How weird is that?

I sat down.  My back was hurting from climbing the ladder, lifting things on to the shelves and twisting in odd directions in order to install the shelving brackets.  My jackets no longer had to lay on tables in piles.  Now, they could hang in the air and breath.

IMG_1832My childhood days were back in the days when a technological phenomenon forever made its mark on human history.  Both the engineering sector and the entertainment world were ecstatic about the invention and development of this game-changing industry.  It was dubbed television.

Now, the world of media could beam actual images into the homes around the world.  People could have their imaginations stirred, stimulated and manipulated.  Human creativity was unleashed on the fertile imaginations of the public.

Brilliant minds began to create stories to accomplish those purposes.  They invented characters and scenarios in the world of fiction that terrified the minds of any who saw their show.  Even in black and white, one of those movies left a lasting impression on my mind.

The title to this story was simply The Birds.  Alfred Hitchcock was the creator.  His stories etched their presence in my mind and in the memories of so many.

In a small town a weird phenomenon occurred.  For some bizarre reason the birds began to attack humans.  They were countless in number and relentless in their pursuit.

Terrified people ran for cover.  They took shelter in cars, shops and telephone booths.  If you do not know what the last place is, ask your grandparents.

Birds smashed windows, sacrificed their lives to break into havens of safety sought by people in order to give their counterparts access to wreak havoc on the town’s population. In one horrific scene the birds attacked one of their victims and gouged out his eyes.  That was shocking TV back in its day.

Now, I arrive in the parking lot of a neighborhood store.  When I step out my mind is reliving that movie in real life.  The IMG_1833trees that line the parking lot are alive.

No it is not just that they are green and growing. Rather, they serve as a perch for hundreds of birds.  These large black birds with long tails have gathered.

These feathered animals are not quiet.  Instead, they fill the evening air with a cacophony of their calling, chirping and cawing.  It is loud, nearly deafening and reminiscent of The Birds.

A small chill races down my spine.  It is a momentary remembering of the scenes still so vivid in a child’s mind now toying with the reality of a real moment.  Time to shake it off and find safety in a building with few glass windows and solid brick walls.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_1826Procrastination is an ugly word.   Who ever invented that nasty term?  It must have been someone with an evil sadistic streak in them.

There are people out there who get their jollies making other people squirm.  No, it is not that they feel joy in their spirit when they inflict pain on others.  That would be too normal.  The rest of us like the sensation of delight that comes from do something that helps others, gets ticked off as a project-well-done or leaves a legacy for others coming after us to enjoy.

Sadistic types like to hurt others.  They feel that what they have done is “right”.  It must have been someone like that who invented the word procrastination.

“Putting something off for a better time” is this the definition of that horrid term?  Stop laughing, you and I, we feel the scourge of this word.  Give us a reason to achieve a goal and we will get it done . . . eventually.

What is  wrong with relaxing while planning on getting a project done? The I.R.S. is busy too.  No use stressing our Federal Employees.  They work for us, after all.

So, if the deadline is filing our tax returns by midnight on April 15, what is the big deal about turning them in early?  Oh, some tout the amount of interest that you do not give up to Uncle Sam while he is getting free use of our tax dollars for three and a half months.  Sure, there are bright people who can figure that kind of stuff out while the rest of us are trying keep our bills paid each month.

Aside from that miniscule financial picky detail, why else do we make everyone feel badly who haven’t yet turned in their taxes?  When we were in school and taking a test, no one got extra credit for turning their examination early.  In fact our teachers told us to take our time.  If we happened to finish early, then we should go back over the test and check our answers.  Is not this April 15 just like that?

We could actually make a game of it.  We could plan our filing, plot out the local post offices just in case the lines are too long at one or the other, then make a final dash just before midnight to grab as much “our time” as possible.  No, I am not of that stripe either; I already finished my taxes too.

Israel 2007 197When they approached Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany near the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples and told them, “Go into the village ahead of you. As soon as you enter it, you will find a young donkey tied there, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here right away.’”

So they went and found a young donkey outside in the street, tied by a door. They untied it, and some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the donkey?” They answered them just as Jesus had said, so they let them go. Then they brought the donkey to Jesus and threw their robes on it, and He sat on it.

Many people spread their robes on the road, and others spread leafy branches cut from the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed kept shouting:Israel 2007 289 - Copy

Hosanna!
He who comes in the name
of the Lord is the blessed One!
10 The coming kingdom
of our father David is blessed!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!

Mark 11.1-10 (HCSB)

photos of modern-day Jerusalem and the road from Bethany to the city by brucefong photography

IMG_1782We were walking on the grounds of a campsite three hours to the north.  The sun welcomed a friendly stroll through the woods.  Tall pines shaded us from the afternoon sun.

There was plenty of scenery to entertain us along the way.  There were tiny little children, giggling and laughing during their afternoon play time.  New friends stopped to exchange a few words here and there.

Large beetles climbed over stones that were in their way to wherever their destination lay in the distant grounds around us.  A green chameleon darted around a rocky gathering of stones and scampered up a wooden post, trying to hide from human eyes.  Wasps buzzed overhead looking for the entrance to their latest nest site.

Then, we passed a car port.  It had a covering and a rail along the sides to mark boundaries.  That’s when I had to stop and laugh.

Juxtaposition is the term that describes oddities or poignant comparisons.  Very few words are necessary.  Visually, the proximity of a pair or number of items make the point both vivid and self-evident.

Some times it is a matter of ideas.  Other times words make the comparison.  Yet, a photograph serves the purpose.

This time for me it was a picture.  Parked inside of this car port was a Chevrolet Corvette.  This is a prime car making many a person salivate and dream of revving up the engine and peeling rubber on the nearest straight away.

It is a vehicle that harnesses legal power in a performance automobile that has been a favorite of car lovers for generations.  The first word that comes to the mind of many desire this machine is power.  A Chevy Vet boasts 430 horsepower in its standard engine.

Now, in this photo, juxtaposed together is a reason to chuckle.  A very powerful stock car with is high performance engine is resting.  Next, to it on the rail of the car port is a single saddle also resting.

What an amazing comparison.  Both give rides.  One is just very fast and the other is very versatile.  Together the make an almost comparison.  That is the fun in juxtaposition.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_1780Several people gave us directions to our faraway destination.  We politely listened to everyone’s contribution.  There was no shortage of advice on what route to take.

Getting us out-of-town was not much of a problem.  All of the directions had similar turns, landmarks and freeway numbers. I have lived in Houston for 8 months and know which way to go to leave town.

Arriving at the precise destination was a little more tricky.  People gave us three different towns to enter into our GPS.  I tried all three.

My GPS did not recognize any of those addresses, nor did it link any of those towns with is store house of geographical sites. I was getting a little confused.  Finally, we opted for an intersection that we knew we needed to find and make a Westerly turn.

I was thoroughly enjoying our country drive.  We were travelling in a Northerly direction toward Livingston on Highway 59.  The Houston flat lands transformed into undulations.

Pine Forests grew with every passing mile.  Wildlife began to make their appearances.  The sun danced between the boughs of the trees.

We turned on to a Highway just like the primary instructions guided us.  Our Texas paper map matched our bearings.  Soon we would see our destination on the left, the Southern side of the road.

Our arrival time left us with a lot of extra time.  Knowing that we had time to enjoy our surroundings, we continued West.  That is when I dramatically slowed down, safely coming to a halt in the tiny parking lot of a peculiar building.

It was like we were thrown back in time.  I fully expected that a hitching rail for horses once was out in front of this U.S. Post Office.  A blue drop box was on the corner of the highway, giving locals a landmark to get ready for the turn.

Of course Old Glory flew proudly on the flag pole.  She waves over every US Post Office building.  It is as much a landmark as a symbol of our great nation.

The rustic clap boards that gave this historic building its Western charm show the weather from decades gone by.  Now, a modern ramp to satisfy A.D.A. requirements is part of the facility.  The front covering is warped giving personality to this structure.

Maybe the barred windows tells of its wilder days.  Without any fanfare or neon signs, it has a business sign and its obligatory zip code.  Charming, simply, charming.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

Have you ever wondered what kind of spiritual life we need to live in order to capture the attention of God’s chosen leaders?  Our pastors who lead us and know God so closely, what kind of Christian life encourages them among the many who are in their congregation?  No, it’s not like we are trying to gain any selfish attention, instead how can we encourage them by our lives?

Paul gives us a clear picture of what captured his attention as an Apostle.  As a shepherd of God’s people the lives of other believers that became part of his prayer routine is what captured his attention.  Wouldn’t it be a wonderful wind under our wings to have our spiritual leaders praying specifically for us not because of need but instead due to our lives being an encouragement to them?

In verse one Paul acknowledges his resolve that Jesus is God as is the Father.  From that conviction he greets the Thessalonians with the salutation of divine grace and peace.  God’s covering in our lives through these two blessings brings all of life into balance.

What follows this greeting is mind-blowing.  The Apostle Paul is grateful for the lives of the Thessalonian believers.  This impression isn’t just a casual afterthought rather their living examples have impacted so much that his prayer life begins with them.

Paul is amazed at the work, labor and endurance of the Thessalonian believers.  Yet, it is essential to note that these productive lives did not accomplish these feats by human strength.  Rather, each was a generated by a link to spiritual discipline.  The work is connected to faith.  Their labor is an expression from their love.  Finally their endurance is fueled by hope.  All three focus on their relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

There is nothing about Paul’s attraction to these saints that is easy for anyone to copy.  That is he is not speaking about a walk in the park or a time to sip a pleasant beverage under an umbrella.  Instead, he is highlighting their hard work.  They are diligent in living their faith.  Toil does not cause them to shrink back.  Instead, he marvels at their work ethic as it is an expression of their rigorous faith.  He commends their tireless effort.  Faithful living is rarely easy; rather, it is energetic, hard toil and calls for a kind of exertion that causes the body to ache.

Nevertheless, this kind of spiritual lifestyle is encouraging to our leaders.  We can capture the attention of our spiritual leaders with our fervent life of faith, love and hope by how passionate we are in our service.  Work hard for the Lord.  Put you shoulder to the wheel.  Let your faith be rigorously spent each day that God gives us as a gift.  This active faith life will encourage our spiritual leaders so much that their prayer life will be adjusted by it.

1 Thess. 1.1-3

Life is rough.  We all have regrettable moments, scars from unpleasant encounters and nightmares of distant horrible episodes.  Nevertheless, grace changes the focus.

There are no magic pills that wipe out the past from our memories.  History has a way of solidifying facts permanently recorded some where in the recesses of our minds.  That reality, however, does not have to be our focus in life.  That is the option that grace gives to us.

Instead, just as the Apostle urges the Corinthians at the end of his second epistle to them, they can concentrate on a life that rejoices.  It does not matter where we have been, what we have been through or what stresses we are facing rather what is amazing about life is that we can choose cheer over gloom because of what Christ has done for us.

The final appeal for believers is for an optimistic outlook.  This encouraging disposition despite their fragmentation as a church and their divisions as a group of local believers hope never dies.  Grace gives each of them a chance to change the direction of their fellowship.

This Scripture calls for believers to be restored.  That is it is a call to be complete.  Each believer in Christ is on a building project for life, to become mature or complete in their faith.

There are times when we do not have the blessing of others around us to bolster us up.  Instead, we are alone.  Even then with the Holy Spirit it is enough to admonish ourselves, choose to be positive or select a perspective that makes us press on.  Sometimes encouragement is simply a personal choice.

Then, together with other believers we can enter the amazing world of unity.  Sharing the depth of peace with God and His love a strength emerges that will shake the world.  Let that communion be sweet, meaningful and stunning.  Find strength in the larger to which all of us who serve Him are a part, members with each other by His amazing grace.

It is all about grace.  Our humanness, our sin has gotten the way.  It has disrupted and destroyed so much.

Life does not end with our failings. Rather, the grace of God has changed it all.  He changed the inevitable ending.

Love is the new way of real life.  This course is selfless. It is never about ego or title.  God is at the center and it is there where He belongs.

2 Cor. 13.11-14

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