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My telephone rang.  It was during the historical days before cellphones, caller ID or automatic voice mail transfer.  In those days I would pick up the telephone and answer it.

“Hello,” I half-heartedly gave my greeting.  After all, I was busy.  My desk was full of open books, my writing pad was half used. Pages of  lined canary paper were filled with my writing as I prepared a Bible lesson.

“Hey, this is your old Prof.  I don’t want anything.  I just want you to know that I love you.” There was a click when he hung up the telephone.

He was one of our generations most celebrated motivators.  During my seminary years he poured his life into our lives as his students.  Over the decades of subsequent service, he kept in touch and cheered me on.  His influence in my life is immeasurable.

Previously, the Apostle Paul made it clear that the salvation of the Thessalonian believers was a result of His sovereign election.  We were helpless and He acted to save us.  One of the purposes of our salvation is that we would share in the glory of Christ.  This means that as Jesus is in the presence of the Father and basking in the fellowship of all that God is, we too will enjoy that celebration someday as well.

All of the intricate theological mysteries of this epistle are a result of what God has done for those He loves.  This love is complete, devoted and firm.  It is real and will not diminish over time nor lose any of its sensational details.

While Jesus and the Father are identified separately, it is clear that the Apostle views them as one.  In the expression of love, this separation actually enhances the intensity of love for believers.  Both persons of the Godhead agree about this love.  Further, while they are one, their love is manifested in double capacity.

Emerging from God’s amazing love is His gift of grace to all who follow Him through faith.  Emphasize the word “gift”.  The grace is what is given.  God initiated the giving and He chose the gift to be given.

Grace is God’s amazing favor generously poured out into our lives.  When we would never have chosen Him, He still chose to love us.  Not only were we incapable of choosing God, we actually hated Him.  We rebelled against His laws, acted selfishly disrespecting His name.

In spite of our woeful treatment against God, He counted our sin with His gift of grace.  We did not earn His grace.  Nor did we deserve it through some kind of mysterious merit.  Rather we should have by all standards of justice; we should have been judged and judged severely.

Instead of treating us as we deserved, He showed us His mercy.  He did what we should never have expected.  God loved us first, before we ever loved Him.

Then, He gave us even more.  Not only did He resolve the issues of sin from our past, He did more.  On top of the relief of forgiveness, He also gave a new hope for the future.

The word encourage is the same term for the Holy Spirit when He was referred to as the Comforter.  This suggests that the idea of “comfort” is in the Apostles’ mind.  Having a sympathetic companion gives anyone who is facing difficult trials encouragement to persevere.

Metaphors continue during hard times.  The reference to “hearts” is that part of our being that is in touch with our feelings and desires.  If we can be cheered on in that place of our lives then we can make it through troubles.

Facing trials successfully does not mean that we merely rest or take it easy.  Rather, we who follow Christ should still be about doing what He has called us to do.  Our activities express our obedience to Him.

Furthermore, the words we speak reflect our true faith.  If we are claiming to be faithful but are constantly whining and fussing, then something is clearly amiss.  Instead, our words ought to be a display of confidence in the Lord and hope in Him.

Never allow your prayer life to become perfunctory.  When our prayers our only a part of our routine or religious habit, then we have not been paying attention to the Spirit in our lives.  Have a meaningful conversation with the Lord in your prayer life.

Pay attention to your prayers for others. This is especially true for those that you grow as disciples.  Trust God to deeply touch their lives when they enter into trials.  They will face difficult times.  It is inevitable.  However, God’s help through you will be just as certain.

LAPP (Life Application): Keep hope alive with a vital real relationship with Jesus Christ.  He is not so far away that He is not as real to you as your closest friend.  This reality will serve you well when you face trials.

Then, come alongside a friend who is under stress.  Bring them comfort through your loyal presence, encouraging words and God will you both.  Too often we forget that as we walk in obedience to the Lord, we could very well be God’s answer to someone else’s prayer.

Thanks for joining me on this journey to live the Scriptures.

photo 1My host smiled after he invited me to wander in the woods and enjoy everything that there was to see.  “You will be perfectly safe,” his assuring words gave me confidence.  Still, there was that lingering hesitation of what was hidden in the scrub brush, mesquite and cacti of the Texas ranch.

Armed with my cellphone camera and good hiking boots, the trappings of civilization faded behind me.  The ranch bunk house, chuck wagon, ranch house and resident cowboys could no longer be seen.  I was alone.

Yet, that aloneness was not the comfort or solitude that I was expecting.  Instead, I felt that I was the object of other eyes.  Someone or something was watching me.

I stopped walking.  It is one of those human moments when you strain all of your physical senses to assess your unshakable feelings of a breach in your personal security.  There was no room for rational thinking as my first line of defense.

Slowly, I scanned my surroundings.  I knew that I was being watched.  Finding outphoto 2 who or what was now my highest priority.

My systematic peering into the tall grass paused at a toppled tree.  Underneath the fallen branch something that was not vegetation was there, on the other side.  I cocked my head to get a better look.

Whatever it was, it was big.  No, adjust that conclusion.  It was huge!

On the one hand, my city instincts told me to escape. On the other hand, my curiosity made me want to get closer and identify my source of ill-at-ease-feeling-of-being-watched.  Curiosity won.

Our eyes were locked on to each other.  It had the advantage of spying on my first.  Certainly there was no fear in its eyes.  I did not want it to sense mine.

Slowly I stepped behind a tree.  Out of sight I rapidly made up ground between us.  It was a precaution that was unnecessary.

When I peered around my hiding tree, the creature was no longer where I had left it.  It too was closing ground between us. Curiosity won in its spirit too.

Face to face, the giant Watusi from the land of Africa stared at me while I carefully took its picture.  What an amazing creature that God has created in this breed of cattle.  Its massive headdress of horns is like none other we humans have ever seen.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_2885Dawn was crowding out the night.  The hazy horizon was becoming clearer as the rising sun was lighting up the eastern tree line.  My early morning walk started out in the dark but the skies were rapidly erupting into a new day.

A pond appeared over the rise.  It made me pause and drink the sounds of the awakening day.  Birds were chirping, frogs were croaking, fish were splashing and a family of deer caught my scent and peeled off to run away from their morning drink.

Now it was to time to breath.  After weeks and weeks of six-day schedules and long hours in each of those days, I was looking forward to a break.  Serenity is a place to recharge for the next round of frenzied activity.

My hosts smiled.  They pointed me to the bunk house where I set up a couple of days of my retreat.  One of the ranch hands commented, “Best place for some peace and quiet and a good dose of relaxation.”

I sat by the pond and watched it come awake.  The smooth water surface burst into countless puddles of feeding fry.  A turbulent splash and side of a feeding fish broke the surface.

Then, a shadow above caught my attention.  I froze to let whatever bird make its entrance to the pond feel safe. IMG_2888 A lone Egret glided to the ponds edge.

It landed in the water and immediately struck out with its bill to snag a single minnow in its bright yellow beak.  Then, this perfect fishing machine tilted its head back and flipped the fish into its mouth and swallowed it.  God designed this bird perfectly for this task.

None of the bird’s movements were fast or quick, that is, until it was ready to strike.  Then, it was acted with blazing speed.  Until then, however, it moved with slowness, cautiously, carefully, watchfully.

When it walked it moved deliberately.  Slowly it picked up one foot at a time and placed it into the water with very little disturbance.  You could see its eyes concentrating on the next lung of its long neck and needle sharp beak snapping up a morsel for its progressive meal.

Some times the Egret would crouch low, getting a better angle on the highly reflective water surface.  It looked like a panther on the prowl for a wily prey.  This was hunting perfection, a perfectly created creature in pursuit of its daily bread.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_2831For a year I have been doing a systems dance.  I came to my new position with decades of PC use.  The new job is Apple-centric.

The solution seemed reasonable to me.  I am not a computer geek.  Nor am I a geek in any nerdy stuff.  I just want to work on my system by turning it on and off.

Life did not cooperate.  My simple solution did not withstand the complications and demands of ministry.  Soon work from work bled over to work at home.

At first I was content emailing myself with attachments that needed more attention.  When you do that too often, it is easy to forget which is the current file.  Yes, I have deleted some very good work in the days gone by.

IMG_2834Then, I was introduced to the cloud.  No, that was not an easy concept to grasp.  What?  Where? How?  When?  My IT support team was very patient.  They have even complemented me several times, saying that I have given them problems that they have never seen anywhere else in the entire universe.  I feel so accomplished!

Finally, the synching between the two systems was breaking down.  My older PC’s were not cooperating.  My much newer Mac was soaring.  The inevitable was at my doorstep.  It was time to retire the PC’s.

As a last-ditch effort I set up all of my units at work.  The IT support came in, took one look and chuckled.  “Time to choose.”

How do you say “Good-bye” to a system that has been a part of my life since the 8088 processor?  My first PC laptop weighed 26 pounds.  It was incredibly portable in its day.

IMG_2833Who cares if I used a wheelie bag to cart it around?  Memory?  Sure!  We did not have color monitors in those days.  Amber was all we needed.

Now, the process of transferring information is steadily part of my days.  Quietly, files are being moved.  Backups are moving to a new direction.  Singular efforts are matching my machines.  After all, my I-pad and I-phone already support my MacBook Pro.

My home office has a new guest.  It is my office MacBook Pro, visiting until I can add my own new machine from the Apple line.  Both of my PC’s are in a drawer.  They whimper once in a while.  I understand.  They have been faithful friends for a long time.  Now, they no longer have to beep, flash or go blank on me when the new demands of complicated software pressure the RAM in their innards.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_2784My bride and I had a designated day to go out on a weekday night for dinner.  Our schedules are busy and in our weariness we look forward to a date in the middle of the chaos.  One night we agreed to head out for Japanese food.  It is a mutual favorite of us both.

We chose a local eatery. It was just a short drive away from our home.  In the past we had eaten there and had good memories.

When we walked in, we were surprised that there were no other customers.  The waitress greeted us with cheer.  Also, the chef waved and flashed a big smile at us as well.

Once we were seated, the waitress handed us the menus and gave us some time to make our selection.  My bride was curious about the special that was written on the chalkboard when we came into the restaurant.  The waitress was more than eager to help.

She disappeared and returned with the live clam in a cloth towel.  Then, she opened the towel and showed off a sizable shellfish the size of man’s open hand.   That is when the waitress, smiled and simply said, “Very fresh!”

I suppose that when a shellfish is alive and taken from the tank in the back, it can not get any fresher than that.  Then, she explained that the chef divides the scallop into two parts.  The tender part is served raw.

That was enough for me. I was choosing something else.  I like fresh.  But, I also like my food hot.  She could have it and I recommended that she order it.

Soon, the waitress came back with a fabulous presentation.  The scallop had been sliced laid on a slices of lime.  People have told me that lime juice is actually cooking raw seafood, so “raw” is not technically accurate.  Whatever!  If it is not hot, then I am not eating it.

With an eager smile, my bride ate her first scallop.  There was an instant smile and glee was all over her countenance.  She urged me to try one.  “No thanks,” I waved off her overtures, “my food is coming, once they COOK it.”  She chuckled and downed the second succulent morsel.

My hot food showed up shortly.  Naturally, I offered my bride a taste.  She gladly accepted. Then, she went back to enjoy her uncooked meal.  For her, fresh was the feast for the night.

IMG_2130The morning was heating up.  I got too wrapped up in other stuff, so my workout started later than I wanted.  That is a tactical blunder in a Houston summer.

When I pushed off to begin my bicycle ride, I could already feel the temperatures heating up.  If I had left and hour earlier, it would have been perfect. Now, I wondered if I should even go at all.

Pressing on, I pedaled down the road to my turnaround destination.  It was 4.5 miles away.  That is far enough to give me a rigorous workout and get me back home in time for our Saturday activities.

At the farthest point on my journey I turned around and headed for home. The morning sun had climbed high in the Eastern sky just like the Creator had designed the heaven’s to function.  It was pouring down heat rays on anyone who was trying to finish off their morning workout.

Two miles from home I approached a red light.  While I was coasting to a stop another cyclist across the street was nearing the same intersection from my right.  Yes, he was eyeing me.  I could feel it.

Quickly he turned right on the sidewalk, heading in the same direction as me.  I was still waiting for the light to turn green.  He turned back to look and see how much separation he could get between us.  Competitive guys are so simple and telegraph their intentions.

The gap between evaporated just because the technology in my ride was superior to his.  He was riding a mountain bike, big tires, heavy frame and rugged components.  The sidewalk was his path. That is where slower riders should be.

I marked his speed by matching his progress: 12 mph.  He turned his head half way to see where I was behind him.  Next, he shifted his gears, trying to find a way to pick up speed.  There was nothing left to pour into his engine.

That is when I shifted.  From 12 mph my carbon fiber Fuji accelerated to 14 mph. Again I shifted and like the wind I passed the would-be challenger.

My fingers deftly shifted once more.  The onboard bicycle computer now leaped to 16 mph.  My engine was pouring in the energy and sailing down the road.  One final shift and my faithful steed and I were cruising away at 18.5 mph.  No, I did not bother to look and see where my competitor was.  My victory shower was refreshing, invigorating and satisfying.

IMG_2819For years I took it as a challenge.  Every man does.  There is something about being the backyard BBQ meister that is a part of the man-card validation.

With an open flame, smoke, danger around burning hot metal and of course the constant presence of plenty of  sauce every man dons his apron and grabs his tools.  A turning fork with long tines is a must.  The bigger the basting brush, the better.

It helps to have a football game on in the background.  Baseball will do.  Here down in the south when there is plenty of comfortable weather in the winter, ice hockey will do too.

In the early days I would get the briquettes ready.  Lighting up the charcoal was a matter of timing.  Firing up these morsels needed time to prepare.  Nothing happened quickly.

Once the briquettes were covered with white ash, they were ready to cook up the dinner.  The challenge was chicken.  They always dripped grease while cooking that caused flare ups and inevitably the chicken was served totally black, burned to a crisped.  I have dumped more than one meal in the garbage.

Gas grills were not much better for me.  The grease from cooking chicken pieces always caught fire.  Again, the crispy burned and totally blackened chicken was not uncommon.  It was always frustrating.

If I took the chicken out too early, it wasn’t always cooked thoroughly.  Trying to get them back on the grill or surrendering to the microwave just added to the annoyance.  I really wanted a solution.

Enter the Traeger grill.  These are the smokers designed to burn wood pellets.  The same inventor who came up with the wood pellet stove for heating homes transferred the same concepts of temperature control to a smoker/grill.

I thought through the years of frustration when it came to grilling chicken.  It was time to test our new grill with chicken.  We had already enjoyed beef and lamb.  Now, it was time for my main grilling nemesis.

We had well seasoned chicken legs with lemon and herbs.  They looked great, smelled even better.  Once on the pre-heated grill, I closed the lid.  It was time to trust the indirect heat.

After the time rang, I headed out the backyard with eager anticipation.  The smoke was pumping out of the grill vents.   Wonderful aroma was increasing my anticipation.

Deftly I opened the lid.  When the smoke cleared, I was ecstatic!  The chicken was cooked perfectly!  Yay!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

2 Thessalonians 2.13-15

During my early leadership days, I was a mere teenager elected by my Boy Scout Troop 255 to serve as the Sr. Patrol Leader.  One of my forays in the role of leading our troop was on a weekend backpack trip to a favorite campsite along one of the many unnamed sloughs in the Sacramento Valley.  Many in our troop were Tenderfeet, not only in rank but also in life.

This was a first camping trip for a few.  They had overloaded their packs.  If we had a scale it would have screamed for relief with these boulder-weighted loads.

On the trail the inexperienced and burdened scouts were falling behind.  I dropped back to encourage the few and to keep them company.  They wanted to quit and go home.

It was time to urge them on because the destination was going to be worthwhile.  We would swim, dive and feast on great food.  The campfire would bring on Smores, stories and great laughter.  “Keep on, pace yourself,” I assured them.

We all did make it to camp.  The rope on the huge oak tree still swung scouts through the sky and sent them splashing and laughing into the cool waters.  We fished, cooked, ate, laughed and counted the stars at night.  It was well worth the hard hike to get there.  I marveled at how great it felt to lead lives to a destination and see them thoroughly enjoying themselves.

The Apostle and his companions think highly of the Thessalonian believers.  This affection is real and spiritual. It is a thoughtful relationship of gratitude.  Paul acknowledges that this is sensible since the believers are loved by the Lord.

Validating God’s love for His own is clearly seen in the ministry of God’s election process, a salvation experience.  We belong to Him, He saved us, He has a vested interest in us. Our salvation had an eternal price, it was the price of His one and only Son’s life.  He paid that on our behalf.  It was a great expression of love.

God not only arranged for the ransom that was required for the salvation of the Thessalonian believers, He took care of logistics to implement it as well.  The Holy Spirit accomplished the miracle of implementing this amazing gift.

In simultaneous sequence, the Father made certain that we would have the faith in order to believe in the truth.  Sin had affected us to such a degree that we could not even choose to exercise faith in the work of Christ.  God made sure that this key ingredient was also possible.  Everything to make sure that the transaction of salvation occurred; the Father orchestrated a plan to make it a reality.

The mechanism that God chose to make salvation a reality for His people is the gospel.  That it, the gospel is the good news about Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.  People hear the gospel, then by faith respond to its truth and live a new life that is made possible by the regeneration that follows this choice of faith.

There are amazing benefits to taking this step of faith.  Embracing the gospel by faith is more than resolving our past problems with sin.  It is important and it is the beginning.

We must repent of our sins when we come to Jesus Christ through the Good News of the gospel.  Then, we express our faith, we accept Jesus Christ as our personal Savior.  God does a miracle in our lives.  We are regenerated, He is satisfied and then we grow steadily by way of maturity and service.

In addition to resolving our past and giving to us purpose for the present, God also makes provisions in our salvation for our future.  He gives us hope in what is to come.  One of the promises is that we who are born again will share in the glory of Christ when we arrive in eternity.

Since God has made so much possible and available to those who belong to Him, they should naturally respond.  God has invested eternity into the lives of those who follow His Son.  Therefore, they should be determined to be settled with deep conviction.

Choosing to believe and follow in the God who rescued a person is sensible.  There is a determination that is reflected in this exhortation.  In a resolve there is no room for hesitation or a change of mind.  The very nature of this serious decision and the kind of faith necessary to launch mitigate against a fickle spirit.

After a person chooses faith they must also choose their new faith with certainty.  God has made His part clear.  Now, people who benefit from His grace must resolve to hold on to the apostles’ teaching as well.

There are many dangers facing Christians in this lifetime.  False teachers are trying to win their ear.  Satan is actively attempting to thwart their life of faith.  Even their own sin nature is a major distraction and danger.  Holding on to the apostles’ teachings through conversation, teaching or in written form.  These will give them success in their spiritual pursuits.

Any and all Christians should discover in one another the intrinsic value that we all share.  God loves us.  He saved us, made it possible to do so and given us promises to keep us motivated until we are in eternity with Him forever.  If we dwell on all that God did in order to make our salvation possible, then we should be stunned.

He may have given us a task in this lifetime that will at first blush appear to be daunting.  However, He has given us a hope in eternity to motivate us to eagerly live our lives for Him.  We will even be able to share in Jesus’ glory once we get to heaven.

LAPP: Every Christian must operate on the basis of convictions.  Know what is true, what we believe, seal it in our spirit that we will never compromise those value choices.  Instead we will strive to live with determination for Christ.

Thanks for joining on this journey to live the Scriptures.

Motorcycle to Banff 2008 073Patriotism flows through the veins of a special group of Americans. They are very different from each other when it comes to occupation, appearance and personal interests.  Each one is unique, personal and lives at different speeds.  These are motorcycle enthusiasts.

Today there will be thousands who roar through our nation’s capital.  They are drawn to come to the city from all over the United States to remember those who died and fell at the Twin Towers on September 11.  Cyclists from thousands of miles away left family, took time off work and roared down asphalt roads to share in a common belief that this country is still their deepest love.

Along the many miles that drew these riders together, they were cheered on by countless other Patriotic Americans who also love this nation.  Most were non-riders who believed in the cause for this ride.

Not everyone believes in symbolic gestures.  But, these American bikers do.  I do.

There was a glitch along the way.  The organizers of this event did their best to do it right.  They applied for a permit from the city officials to stage a ride through  but they were denied.

Some gatherings in this great country are a protected right.  Americans have the right to publicly gather.  Does that thought sound vaguely familiar from the annals of our historic national roots?

Out of respect for the laws of the land, ride organizers followed all of the proper procedures.  When officials denied their application for a permit, something else took over.  The American spirit emerged.

When the souls of Americans swell and the desire is to honor fallen fellow Americans, who can stop it?  What can thwart the expression of patriotism or love that bursts from the lives of thousands and thousands of Americans who collectively want to honor those who died?

Our nation was hurt that day in history.  We were wounded.  It was a moment when all of us mourned, turned our hearts to God and humbled ourselves before the Creator acknowledging our need  to depend on Him.

Thousands died.  They were innocent lives violently ended because of misled zealots who only knew evil.  So we grieve.

In our grief some have risen with a vision to keep the memory of the lives lost very much alive.  This was a national moment of pain.   None of us Americans should ever forget.  I applaud my fellow riders on 9/11.  Ride on, ride safely, ride well!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_2820We had just finished a wonderful meal at a local eatery.  It had been a very busy week and neither of us had any reserves left to cook the evening meal.  There was not much resistance when the idea of going out to dinner popped up.

It had been a while since we took in the restaurant where we ate.  Each time we liked the food a lot.  We had learned what not to order so our budget would not be blown sky-high.  Sensible choices and our strategy kept the price very reasonable.

Friendly farewells with the staff was followed by a stroll out to our car.  That is when we were surprised.  Outside our steps automatically slowed.  The Western sky was dripping in sunset colors.

Most of the sun was on the other side of the Grand Parkway.  Yet, it was the cause for the night sky exploding with shades of red, orange and yellows.  There was no real focus of the expanse, just amazing colors.

Mixed in the portrait were purples, hues of blue and splashes of pink.  God was putting on a show.  When we paused to take it in we noticed that others were watching too.  Together we were spectators of magnificence.

Streaks of fading sunlight blistered through the sky.  Depending on the layers of clouds fire ignited in different parts of the expanse.  The longer we stood there taking it all in, the Creator kept the showing changing as the sun sank further into the Western horizon.

IMG_2815Then, it was as if someone gave the signal for the climax to begin.  The light show was already stunning but we had not yet seen the Creator in His best form.  Rapidly, speedily, suddenly the sky brightened seemingly by divine command.

If God has a rheostat switch for sunsets then this is what He used.  It was not a bright white light that flash to dilute the colors.  Rather, the colors splashed across the sky engulfing anything that did not have shades of the brighter side of the color spectrum.

Watching this take-over was better than dessert.  It rivaled classic shows on the stage.  This was a live performance at its very best.  The paintbrush of the Master was operating in fast forward.  We lost track of time while we captured the display on digital cellphone cameras.  He is amazing.  This is the One who loves us.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

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