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IMG_1936Air travel tests the creative resolve of all who live part of their lives in the air.  There are forces that seek to drain every brain cell from your cranium as soon as you schedule a flight into your smart phone.   As remarkable as efficiency experts have arranged parking, mass transportation, check-in, food courts, shopping options and even airline travel clubs, the waiting, the lines and the loading do very little to advance the human spirit.

I enter a travel mode and bring several tools to make a trip productive.  My laptop is always with me.  If I can find a desk, then I pour in a couple of hours of writing.

Then, I bring my e-book.  It is loaded with several reading options.  Some are recreational, like great fiction.  My favorites are Westerns or espionage.

Of course I bring my list of e-books on Leadership, History, Bible and Biographies.  I try to make sure that my Kindle is powered up to last the entire trip and back.  The many miles of travel is matched by the many pages that have been read.

My ancient i-pod still makes trips with me.  It has my music.  I sprung for a folding noise cancelling headset.  Once I turn it on the drum of the loud jet engines is nullified.  It is so relaxing.

Nothing beats the mind that God the creator gave to us.  The observations of the unique and the curious abound in air travel.  If we let the numbness of travel wear us down, we miss some fascinating visions for the sponge features of our brain.

My gait was focused.  I was on my way to catch the train that took all of us passengers to the terminals where our waiting jetliners were being serviced.  Other passengers were crowded around the corner in front of closed doors.

I paused at the wall that they had all passed.  It had a window that looked down the track of the rail system that scores of travelers were waiting to board.  The train was not there yet.  I then was in no hurry.

Instead, the light played on the glass.  Designers seemed have known that this would happen so they added a simple piece of artwork with two concentric circles.  Soon the perfectly balanced vision of man-made etching on glass and the sun’s presence was engulfed by a robot train arriving to pick us up.  It was a fun moment of a routine picture, tunnel vision.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

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Always Hope front coverWe enjoy the blessings of life even more when we have contrasting days of bitter pain.  Sometimes those hurtful days are caused by people, sometimes by circumstances.  Those moments take our breath away.  They threaten our will to live.

When those inevitable moments brashly intrude into your life, one indomitable lifeline gives us a reason to keep on living.  It is hope.  Never give up hope.

Yes, I know.  People can be very cruel.  Sometimes that even justify their reasons to be hurtful.  Do not focus on them.  Revenge will never give you lasting satisfaction.  It is the very essence of the motive of the bad people who heaped pain in your life.  Instead, look beyond and hold on to the hope that is there.

Sometimes it is the hope to be with the people whom you love.  Or it may be to return to a place where you enjoy life at its best.  Never give up.  Hope will give you what you need to persevere.  Here is a look at this book that is one its way:

One of my writing projects tracks through the days when life was tough.  Here is a description.  It is going to be released soon.  I hope that it will give you a reason to always hope.

Abandoned? Betrayed? Fired? Victimized? Disillusioned? Disappointed? No one plans for these painful moments in life.  They happen no matter how much we try to live a life that is free from troubles.  People are a part of the problem.  Sometimes we are tempted to think that life would be great if it were not for people.  Yet, life is all about people.  We need them and want them.  It is just certain ones that we could do without.

Then there are troubles that put a hitch in our step.  Circumstances beyond human control crowd into our lives, uninvited intrusions of the painful type.  Sometimes it is loss.  Other times it is missed opportunity.  We watch as good things happen to others.  Now, we purse our lips and wonder why we could not be the fortunate ones just once.

One treasure in life that we who have lived through the agonies of life can know better than anyone who has never had difficulty is hope.  We can choose to search for the bright side.  By sheer determination and unabashed faith we can resist the urge to quit and choose to never give up.  Instead, we optimistically keep going and believe.  Life will get better.  Never give up.  Always hope.

Real Life front coverSimple living is a blessing.  Yet, life does not always allow that lifestyle to exist for very long.  Each of our lives is complicated with the lives of other people, circumstances that pressure normal living or troubles that need to be addressed.  Thankfully, in between disasters, horrific strains or disappointing people many of us live lives that are quietly uneventful.  Those common days captured my curiosity.

I lived each day trying to capture how special it was just to be alive.  No day is wasted when we pay attention to how valuable it is .  We can touch the life of someone else and give them a bit of a boost.  Afterall, we are all on a journey to eternity and we can cheer each other on that pilgrimage.

Here is a look at one of my book projects (coming soon) that observes these common days:

Life has its high points.  There are great episodes that become memories forever.  Nevertheless, we all have the routine days.  Those are the majority days of our existence.  Is it possible to be quite frank about those 24 hour periods?  Can life be taken as it comes and totaled up to hopeful come up with a sum that is positive?

I have been accused on more than one occasion of being too optimistic.  My friends have teased me to take off my rose colored glasses and sulk with them from time to time.  Certainly I do not begrudge my friends to have the luxury of griping once in a while.  We all grouse about something that is unpleasant or uncomfortable.  Yet, I have never seen a good reason to be mostly negative about life. 

That choice to deliberately be positive is not being Pollyannaish.  Instead, if we are cheerful by choice that decision can influence our day.  A good attitude over the same challenging circumstances in life can make our days much more pleasant.  

Being real does not mean that we are required to complain.  Nor does it mean that we have to confess something about our weaknesses.  It is sufficient that circumstances alone will make life “weak-kneed”.  While we cannot change those circumstances we can choose our disposition while living through those moments.

These pages are about those days.  Some of the situations are funny while others are sad.  Some of those are just nothing special at all yet, even as we live those days we can come out of them with a smile and a load of cheer. 

 I invite you to share these pages of life with me. They are pages from real life.  I enjoyed living them.  I hope that you will as well.

1 Thessalonians 2.6b-9

During my seminary days I was watching every penny. My part-time work was just keeping me afloat with my bills paid. Life as a student forced me to be frugal.

When it came time for vehicle repair, I looked for ways to keep the costs down. Instead of heading to the dealership, I went to a guy who had his own shop. He was scary looking and covered with grease. I was never sure if the work was done right, but since my truck kept on running, I was thankful.

After the Lord provided a steady income I felt more confident to head to the dealership for service. When I moved to Texas, I was reticent to trust just anyone. But, the local service manager was amazing.

He talked with me, told me what to expect, gave me an estimate that was accurate, complimented my vehicle and the care that I had given it over the miles and invited me to call him any time that I had a problem. There is something about his gentle manner and welcoming spirit that made me trust him. A gracious spirit wins confidence and lays the ground work for long-lasting trust.

Paul and his missionary companions had needs like any human being has need for food, shelter and lodging. Since believers who benefitted from the Apostles’ teaching should provide these basic provisions. However, such allowances would have strained the meager resources of the Thessalonians.

Knowing that these believers did not have “deep pockets” or vast resources, Paul chose not to burden them with the provision of his daily necessities. Instead, he took every step necessary to encourage them and shower them with gentleness.

Amazing, Paul chooses a metaphor to describe his care for them. He states that as a mother cares for her little children, he has chosen to watch over them. This is a vivid picture and even more remarkable coming from a man using a feminine but universal and timeless illustration.

Some must move a man to have this kind of care for a people. Already the image of a mother providing for her children is active in the minds of his readers. Without any hesitation he boldly announces his motivation. He loves them. Furthermore, his love for them is deep.

There are few images depicting an unselfish spirit more than the picture of a mother caring for her children. All mothers portray that self-sacrificial spirit. They say that they are going to get ready for bed. That has a special meaning.

They get up and fix the lunches for all their children and her husband. Then, she oversees the children washing up. After that she reads them a story, prays with them and tucks them into bed. Then, she cleans up the kitchen, sorts out the trash, checks her list for dinner preparations that next night, adds some items to the shopping list, fixes the missing buttons from her children’s sweaters and then takes care of her own needs. An hour and forty-five minutes after her announcement she falls asleep in bed.

Paul hitches his wagon to this amazing analogy of the loving mother as his own expression of devotion to the Thessalonian believers. He will not only sacrificially serve them, he will delight in doing so. The popular notion that leadership is servant-leadership is a topic many of us repeat. It is chic to talk about servant hood until someone treats you like one. Then, the test of our soul emerges.

The apostle and his team accurately delivered the message of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. As well, they shared their very lives with them. All of us who minister to people give our lives in our service. It is the only way to do ministry well.

In the last several places where I have given my life in service the people reciprocated with love as well. Their outpouring of appreciation was an elixir to my soul. Words, gestures, kindnesses poured out in bountiful forms. They remembered our service and made us feel their love when it was time to leave and move to another part of God’s vineyard.

Has someone in ministry given their lives and you were a beneficiary? Show them that you appreciate that devotion. You will never know how much it means to a servant of God when you tangibly demonstrate what you have deeply valued in your life.

LAPP (Life Application): Do something tangible for someone who has served you in the name of the Lord. Write them a letter of appreciation. Take them to dinner. Send them on a cruise. They have given you their life for the cause of Christ. Now, show them how much you appreciate what you have received.

IMG_1968My bride and I are members of Houston’s First Baptist Church.  Thousands gather every Sunday to be a part of a this vibrant community.  Our pastor, Gregg Matte is a wonderful blessing to us all.

Have you the fresh memory of looking for a new church?  Perhaps, like us, you relocated.  You said “Good-bye” to your church in the community from which you moved.  Now, everything is new.  Yet, high on your priority of searches is a new home church.

We went through that arduous search.  Farewell to friends who are now thousands of miles away was so hard to do.  Yet, they were so excited for our new adventure.  We love those wonderful friends so much.

In our newly adopted state of Texas, in the greater Houston metropolitan area we began our search.  New friends helped us with their recommendations.  We systematically visited church after church.

There are so many good ones here.  Yet, we were looking for that subjective “click”.  We almost decided then the pastor announced his resignation.  Rats!

The search began again.  We journeyed from place to place, then everything came together.  The pastor reached out to us.  We were warmed.

Christmas won us over.  It was a spectacular celebration.  A few introductions and conversations and the “click” made its presence known.

Before the calendar year concluded, we went forward to join the church.  We were blessed to make our commitment.  As the weeks roll by we find ourselves trying more and more opportunities to serve.

Sunday we joined hundreds of others for a leadership lunch. There we met more who have stepped forward to join the masses who are serving at our church family.  May calendar has two Sundays booked as a substitute Life Bible Study Fellowships.

When I teach, those who oversee the adult program will sit in and see how I do in the teaching realm.  The church leadership takes great care when giving a person the responsibility to teach God’s Word to their members.  That is a wise precaution.

In the meantime we were all inspired to hear how hundred of volunteer staff can keep our World Mission initiative alive.  Pastor Gregg laid out the big picture of how each of us can keep the Mission focus alive with systematic monthly reminders.  While the massive room was  filled with so many lives, we all could find ownership in this massive endeavor.  We are all a part of something special, something big and it is exciting!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

 

IMG_1729A new store opened up in our neighborhood.  Everyone was excited because the reputation of this store was fresh produce. Who doesn’t love to have a ripe bowl of strawberries or a crisp plum to finish off the day?  Ads were in our mail.  Coupons filtered in every week.

We drove over to the store but skipped all of the fanfare of contests and prizes.  Still the parking lot was jam-packed.  We followed another car into the lot.  That was an unfortunate piece of timing.

That customer stopped right in the middle of the entry.  She was hoping to grab a parking spot that another couple was just getting to their car with a cart full of groceries.  He angel blocked all the cars trying to leave the lot and all of the cars, including me right behind her, from getting into the lot.

Hovering for a parking spot is fine if other vehicles can get around.  However, if placement blocks all other traffic, something is wrong with the driver.  Yep, I honked at her as a representative of everyone else who was trying to negotiate the Grand Opening.

She couldn’t stand the collective pressure of the peering eyes so she slammed her car into DRIVE and drove away angrily, looking for another parking lot.  I was a hero to my fellow neighbors.  One blast of my horn was all that it took.

Inside the store we grabbed a buggy and began the quest for food.  It was a delightful experience.  We spent most of our time in the produce section.

Bag after bag found their way into our cart.  Bananas were ripe and colorful.  Plums were perfect in color and softness.  Apples were ready to come to our home.  Nectarines were calling to us.  Of course the mangos had to join the party.

The biggest challenge is that there are just two of us.  These fine specimens of fresh fruit have a short shelf life.  We enjoyed our selections initially.

Then, two busy lives forgot, came home tired and went to bed early.  After a week we remembered something vaguely in our past.  We checked the fruit basket and the produce bin in the refrigerator.  Oh well, our loss and back to the store for more.

God is into fresh.  However, He gives it a due date.  It will be fabulous but only for a time.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_1917My special place for surprises is the grocery store.  When I have a low-level of expectations, something surprises me in one of the departments or inside of one of the many aisles.  This last trip to the store was no exception.

Again my duties as chief buggy pusher were being fulfilled with splendid skill.  Deftly I followed my bride through the aisles and expertly dodging other shoppers and displays.  Casually, I would be observing things around me.

Suddenly the great disappointment of November 2012 had an amazing resurgence.  Do your remember the historic sadness that gripped our nation?  It was a loss of enormous impact on the American people.  Even the world would feel the reverberations of this catastrophic failure.

Hostess shut down and the Twinkie was no more.  This creme filled delight for decades was now a museum piece.  In a flash across the screens of American TV, this icon of children’s lunches was no longer an option

In my childhood I remember my mother buying the quantity box with individually wrapped Twinkies.  When I received one of those treats in my sack lunch, I saved it for dessert.  When it was time, I tore open the cellophane wrapper.

In my hands was the fluffy yellow cake.  It had a fragrance unique to this Hostess morsel.  Who knew that some day nutritionists would tell about color chemicals and dyes that would cause us to worry about poisoning our bodies for an early demise.

IMG_1918Now, as a child, the smile on my face was real.  The first bite was just as my expectations had recalled.  Flavor was unmistakably sweet, soft and highlighted by the cream-filling.  Most importantly, the treat was all mine.

When the news of Hostess shutting down and the inevitable demise of the famous Twinkie, I felt a twinge of sadness like all of America.  There were jokes about it, legends about special moments and of course the all time favorite satire skits on TV.  This was a brand that everyone knew but it was going extinct.

That’s the surprise!  Right there in the store I abruptly stopped.  On a prominent display, Sara Lee was introducing their individually wrapped yellow cakes with a cream center.  Also, they were advertising their chocolate cupcake as well.

Someone in this company had better receive a bonus.  Maybe they should get a promotion.  Someone had the brilliant idea to take what was a treasure now up for grabs.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_1966Saturday was a highlight day for my week. I suppose everyday that I rise and draw breath means that any day is a  blessing. My point however, is that this Saturday was a day that I was looking forward to with a great deal of anticipation.  This was the day that my first class that I have ever taught at Dallas Seminary were coming into our home for lunch.

We had only one free Saturday before the semester ended.  This was that day.  When only one day would fit into our schedule then, the conclusion was obvious.  My bride and I marked it on our calendar and I announced the date in class.

Naturally, there were conflicts. Two students had Saturday classes and had to miss the gathering. Two more had to work and couldn’t adjust their hours. Several others had ministry obligations and could not come.  Nevertheless, we were going to have a ball with those who could make it.

The day before our gathering I had a day off.  I worked to get the house ready.  Hospitality is fun yet it does require some tidying up around the old homestead.  My bride was at work so I had the chores listed for my day-off and it was time to work like a Buc-ee Beaver, a Texas Buc-ee Beaver.

Most of the chores were easy.  I washed the dishes and put things away that were occupying the counter space in the kitchen.  Next, the Living Room needed to have some attention.  Finally, the common areas needed some TLC.

Friday afternoon I drove over to the China Cottage Restaurant.  Mary, the owner, was there.  She invited me to sit with her while she finished some paperwork.  Then, she smile, “What may I do for you?”

I laughed when she asked if I was dining alone.  “No,” I returned her smile, “I am having some very special guests over to our home tomorrow for dinner.  What would you suggest I serve?”

“Oh, this will be important to select some wonderful items from our menu,” Mary glowed.

“OK,” I joined in on the anticipation, “Let’s have a variety of beef, chicken, pork and seafood.”

“Very good,” Mary chimed in.

“I was thinking of your delicious chicken chow mein.  Then, everyone likes your sweet and sour pork tenderloin.  We need some vegetables, so how about an order of your green beans with beef?”  my suggestions had come from thoughtful preparations.

“Come back tomorrow at 11.15AM and it will be ready, ” Mary assured me. This was going to be a fantastic gathering.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

 

 

1 Thessalonians 2.1-6

Do you remember when you strongly believed in something but hesitated to speak about or act on it because of opposition?  Maybe it was in a college classroom and your teacher made a comment that you raised your hand to ask for clarification.  Then, you were shut down for questioning his viewpoint.  Others looked at you and mocked silently.  Your convictions shrank under the pressure of hostile looks, attitudes and vitriol.

At other times you remember admiring someone who acted courageously for their beliefs.  They withstood those who opposed them and kept championing their views.  You admired them but also felt the pressure of the ugly onslaught against them.

Most of us automatically follow the self-imposed behavior modifying reaction.  When we get hurt doing or saying something we don’t repeat doing or saying that thing.  Naturally we do not like pain and avoid what brings pain.

Paul experienced horrible opposition when he preached the gospel in Philippi.  What torment he experienced at the hands of those who hurt him hoping that pain would make him stop may never be fully understood by us so many centuries later.  He was not a whiner yet he still called the mistreatment suffering.

Nevertheless, he reminded the Thessalonian believers what they all remembered.  They knew for certain that in the horrific chaos of the Apostle’s ministry there was a good and lasting result.  This aftermath was not imagined or hearsay, it was real and the Thessalonians knew it.

While many would recant after facing horrific treatment for expressing their faith, Paul and his team reacted in just the opposite manner.  They became more determined to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Make no mistake about the circumstances of the experience; it was torture.

What Paul’s enemies inflicted on him was not merely an inconvenience.  Nor did the missionary team simply get the cold shoulder.  They were abused.  Each of them suffered.  Yet, they found courage to speak louder.

Their exemplary faith was fueled with the confidence that their motives were pure.  They were not charlatans.  The source for their desire as proclaimers of the Gospel was without any guile.

These proclaimers acted according to God’s approval of them.  He alone was their sole audience.  God was the only one that they wanted to please.

Comparing God’s approval to man, these courageous missionaries knew that He could see their hearts.  The common motives of men who are spurred on with financial riches or popular appeal did not pollute Paul’s life.  He confidently called on God as his witness.  Human opinion or popularity did not have any place in his life or ministry.

Fame is an ugly motive in life.  Gaining a name among people, while selfishly accruing position or influence, is totally incompatible for a godly life.  The rewards of this direction may or may not succeed.  If it does it only lasts for a lifetime.  All that is gained in this world is left in this world.

Never let fear dissuade you from living a life of courageous obedience.  Faith will lead the way through any hazard thrown against you by men.  Live a righteous life; do what is right in God’s eyes and take whatever the world throws at you.

God will give you endurance, fortitude and strength.  Joy will be yours.  The Word of God makes that promise boldly.

IMG_1935Whoever is building the city of Orlando has a very good idea and it is clearly working. I landed in the town of theme parks for work but was captivated by the endless visual feasts and attractions.  My host was driving and I was trying to pay attention to our conversation but I kept getting distracted by the fun outside the car windows.

Every time we passed by a pond or bayou or inlet of water, I was straining my eyes to spot an alligator.  Some how seeing wild creatures in the wild gets me very enthused.  When the environment is concrete, plastic and milled lumber, it is amazing to think that animals could possibly be roaming free.

I snap back into our conversation.  He never noticed that I was gazing out the windows hunting with my eyes.  My tourist activities were done with great stealth.

Our travels took us through the city freeways and byways for about 12 miles.  Eventually, we were headed to the CoCo Key Hotel and Water Park.  There was plenty to see during that short commute from the busy Orlando Airport.

Eager families were pouring out of the terminal into shuttles.  Their enthusiasm for their vacation was on their sleeves or I guess I should say, sandals.  Parents were trying to contain their rambunctious legacy minions.

Families who were heading home sported some sort of attire that frequently had Mickey Mouse ears, some Disney character or accessory that was held tightly in their clutches.  This is really a happy place.

IMG_1927One of the oddities that I stared at unashamed was an upside down building.  Not on was the building resting on its roof but the landscape was hanging upside down too.  Yep, palm trees growing from the sky toward the ground.  It was funny!

Once we arrived at the hotel  the visuals were constant.  Children were mostly wet.  They giggled and squealed down slides, through tubes, racing through showers and sliding into pools of water.

Giant water cannon added to the activity.  Music was piped in at decibel suite to this younger generation.  Teenagers flooded into the elevator.  Politely they pushed each other aside with a welcome gesture for me to join them, “Going up?  Come on, Mister, you can get in to this elevator too.”

Comfortably settling into my room, I spied an amazing piece of artwork.  It was like origami but the artist used towels.  It was shaped into a little stingray.  What a cool place to be, full of visual treats that make a face smile.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

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