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IMG_3445The modern Israeli freeway signs pointed to Caesarea Martima, a national park just north of Tel Aviv.  It was our destination on our tour of the Holy Land.  Geographically and historically, it was a good place to begin our exploration of the Land.

This city by the sea was built by Herod the Great in honor of Caesar Augustus.  The archaeologically rich site is the only place where Pontius Pilate is given a place in history outside of the Bible.  He is the one, as governor, sentenced Jesus Christ to death by crucifixion.  His name is written in stone as one of the governors of this amazing city.

Our intimate tour group of 800 strong, transported by 18 buses, piled into the ancient amphitheater.  We experienced our first of several phenomenal worship services.  Powerful songs knitted our hearts together.

Israel 2014 IFL 020A gifted thespian donned ancient garb and delivered a rendition from King Herod.  We reflected over the visits to this regal city by Peter and Paul during the church’s early beginnings and initial missionary journeys.

When the morning message started, so did the weather.  The wind kicked into high gear.  Umbrellas went up to shield us against the rain.

Israel 2014 IFL 028The swirling gusts upturned many umbrellas.  We huddled together and survived the distraction.  All of the lead worshipers were spared electrocution.

Then, we walked.  Our guides called their groups of 40.  Through the world of personal electronics and varying frequencies, we each tuned into our assigned guides and walked through the ruins of this ancient city.

Peter once was here.  Perhaps it was here that he baptized Cornelius.  Maybe here the Apostle Paul boarded a ship that launched the missionary journey that forever marked how Christianity was constantly broadcasting the good news of Jesus to the entire world.

Israel 2014 IFL 041Long ago thousands lived in luxury and were introduced to God’s plan to bring salvation and joy to a world that needed hope for the eternity that awaited each one once their days on earth were done.  Paul may have suffered the humiliation of imprisonment here.  A ship may have picked him up in this very port city and brought him to his final days in Rome.

While lives of the first church were once active here and her enemies may have tried to resist this new faith born out of the Resurrected Jesus, the Gospel began and would explode around the world at this very port.  This is very well where the church ignited a worldwide lifesaving movement.  It is still growing today.

photo credit: brucefong photography and cellphone photography

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Israel 2014 IFL 009Tel Aviv is not just a port city for vacationers.  It has all of those amenities without a doubt.  Walk to the beach from your hotel and sunbathers, joggers, fitness fanatics are all over the boardwalk in huge numbers.

The road along the seaside is filled with traffic.  Cars, trucks, buses fill the main traffic lanes.  However, there are plenty of bicyclists, skateboarders, scooters and walkers.  The broad sandy beaches could distract the unknowing eye from the historical significance of this site.

Look south from the shores of the Mediterranean.  Yes, the clean sand and gazebos capture your attention.  A well designed border sets the path off from the beach.  Look further.

Off in the distance there is a hill on the horizon.  A number of structures build out the land mass.  Clearly it is a village of sorts.Israel 2014 IFL 010

A thin tower rises into the sky.  Every time I have been to the Holy Land I return to this same vantage point.  That distant site is the ancient city of Joppa.

Jonah made that location famous.  More accurately, it was made infamous.  This disobedient prophet of God did not like his assignment from above.

God wanted Jonah to preach against Nineveh.  Instead of obeying he tried to run away from the Lord.  Oddly we learned that he hated those people.

He believed that if he preached against it, the people might repent and God would naturally spare them with His grace.  Rather than give them that eternal chance, he ran from God.  That was a choice of poor theology.  God is omniscient and omnipresent.

IMG_3416While sailing to Tarshish, God sent a special giant fish to swallow the wayward prophet. He repented, went to Nineveh and preached against the city.  God’s Word powerfully brought the people to repentance and Jonah pouted.  His fear of God’s mercy on these people whom he hated came true.

God teaches Jonah and all of us that His great mercy for 120,000 lost souls is more important than our selfish biases.  We never know if Jonah “got it” or not. The Scriptures never tell us.

I gaze at the ancient city of Joppa and wonder if I can be more faithful to God’s leading in my life as His servant.  Can I obey Him and overlook the people who I dislike?  Do my selfish merciless feelings circumvent God’s grace that He wants to give to the sinful?

photo credit: brucefong photography and cellphone photography

Israel 2014 IFL 002Aching bones and worn out bodies disembarked from our luxury airliner.  I was a part of that entourage of Americans gearing up for a ten-day tour of the Holy Land.  At least I was part of the former.  The “luxury” part only applies to first and business class.

Nevertheless, there is something about setting foot in the Promised Land that invigorates the soul of every follower of Jesus.  Certainly my wife and I were a part of that crowd.  We were now in His Land.

Our host company collected all of us and directed us to board their bus.  Other groups from around the world were forming near baggage claim to experience their once-in-a-lifetime visit as well.  I smiled deep in my spirit, knowing that they would be blown away in their steps that followed the Savior.

Israel 2014 IFL 004The modern city of Tel Aviv whizzed by in a blur.  Freeway speeds blended ancient and modern into one massive blob that needed trained guided to unravel the wonder of events from the distant past from the comforts of modern air travel and air-conditioned buses.  A million thoughts spanned the synapses of my mind.

My duty was to take our extra day in advance of our pilgrims arriving to adjust to the new time zone, rest up and be ready to deliver 25 Scripture presentations for my bus load of 40 travelers.  What an honor it is for a preacher to be able to open the Word of God and explain its meaning right at the location where these miraculous events took place thousands of years ago.  I was jazzed.

Israel 2014 IFL 006Once our bags were unpacked and we relaxed in our high-rise hotel, I opened the patio door and stepped on to our balcony.  It was a totally refreshing experience.  The modern buildings of an ancient city and the expanse of the historic Mediterranean Sea rhythmically lapped on the sandy beach.

There was an unmistakable sense of calling and meaning mixed perfectly in this moment.  My soul anticipated two weeks in a land filled with promises, drama and prophecy.  This view of the city was a postcard snapshot of what was about to transpire.

I had the privilege of adding to the lives of pilgrims gathering from around the world.  This would be a once in a lifetime experience for many.  It made me want to be ready and deliver my best for them.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_3411Glancing at my calendar sent my soul into an excited ascent.  In a few days I would be making another pilgrimage to Israel.  This would be my fourth trip to that special Land but there was no dullness in the anticipation of again walking where Jesus walked or standing where Paul stood or meditating where Peter once had soulful thoughts.

My checklist kept growing.  It was not just the items to pack or the necessities of overseas travel.  On this trip I had responsibilities.

This tour was being sponsored by Insight for Living with Chuck and Cynthia Swindoll.  I had been invited to serve as one of the professors on one of the buses.  800 guests would be converging on the Holy Land, a record number for this tour.

18 buses were secured to transport these eager pilgrims to the various sites around the country.  I was as interested in seeing how the logistics played out on this mega tour as I was visiting the Land.  However, in particular I was to bring the Scriptures to life for our Bus 11 Caramel group of 40 pilgrims.

Each day I was to prepare a devotion to help these very special people to prepare to see, smell and experience all that the Land had to offer.  On top of that early morning privilege I was also to prepare approximately 23 Biblical presentations that pertained to the various sites that we would visit.  If that seems like a lot of presentations then you would be correct.

I still have a job that fills my days with hours of work and extra duties that fill my weekends.  This is by no means a complaint.  In fact I love what I do!  The complication is finding enough time and energy to add this research and preparation into my study time.

For many nights for months I would set aside time to study a passage appropriate to a particular site in the Holy Land.  My assignment was to show the significance of the event and sites and weave it all together.  My personal goal was to make the lessons practical and challenge these pilgrims to a deliberate way of life once they returned home from their pilgrimage.

I suppose that I am a teacher at heart.  Nothing compares to the glow on people’s faces when they have an “Aha!” moment at a site where a special Biblical event occurred.  Was I excited? That is a big 10-4 Roger Wilco!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_3408Some time in my past a revolution took place.  I was completely unaware of this swirling massive historical moment in my culture.  It made me feel out-of-touch.

My awakening took place in a moment in time.  There was a need for me to shop for a new pair of kick-around shoes.  They would be for times when the weather was hot and shorts were in order.

Color was a feature that did not particularly enthrall me.  I just wanted these new shoes to match the colors of Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall.  What surprised me was how much my expectations were to be stunned and shocked.

Normally, aesthetics are not a forte of mine.  I leave color choices to those who have a knack at design and color coordination.  These people never cease to amaze me.

They explain why they chose certain colors to match with others and it perfectly makes sense.  Or least I am so confused I nod in agreement just to expedite the conversation.  After all, grey and black are colors too are they not?  Even fancy color names can handle the never ending conversations around design.  Names like gunmetal, battleship grey or raven black make a lot of sense to me.

My hunt for a new pair of kick-around shoes began at the local sporting goods store.  When I arrived at the Men’s shoe department, what filled up my senses almost took my breath away.  Colors of the rainbow stunned my visual senses.

Frankly, I looked for a sign to verify that these were in fact men’s shoes.  Every color especially bright and pastel selections dominated one shoe or another.  Florescent colors were very evident too.

Maybe the bright colors were to shield your eyes from the prices.  I wanted a new pair of shoes not a second car.  Who on earth can budget for shoe money like these?

Dominant colors were not the only surprises.  Pastels were all over the selection grid as well.  Pink was even a highlight for some shoes.

It took a while for me to find some options.  Two sales personnel asked if they could be of assistance.  They were young kids asking out of obligation.

“Point me to the MEN’S black shoes with silver highlights,” I requested.  They both looked dazed as if I had asked them to solve the problem of world hunger.  Oh well, after poking around I found my new shoes in basic silver with black highlights and in my size off in a lonely section of the store.  They were not on sale.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_3403Hey, where are all of the men?  There are no masculine types in the photo. After a quick scan of the store, there were no men in the store.

Did you notice the product line?  Yep, they are purses, bags, handbags and of course matching accessories.  Nearly all of the designs are flowery, bright colors and other difficult to describe patterns.

It is close to camouflage but also not close at all.  Urban camo does not fit the description either.  Some of the items are monochrome but they are rare.

Yes, this is a store designed for the fairer of the human race.  Women flock into this boutique shop.  They enter the store with enthusiasm, touch every item on sale, try them over their shoulders, in their hands or clasp a clutch purse.

I am hiding in a corner near the exit.  Oh, yeah, it has a bench that gives me a place to relax.  It is also a haven for two other men who are waiting.

There are no mannequins in the store but the three of us could serve that purpose.  We are still.  No sounds emit from any of us.

A moment of truth stares at me.  My bride comes up to me with arms loaded down and both hands filled with accessories.  She asks me for my opinion.

I gaze into her eyes and attempt to discern a clue, any clue.  “Which ones do you like?”

Inside my soul I bolstered up the enthusiasm and pointed to one of the items that she held.  “How about that one?” I managed to blurt out.  “Hmmm, but that would mean that I would have to find another purse to match it.” Guessing again, “Maybe that one?”  Again she thoughtfully commented with clear aesthetic skills that were foreign to me, “Oh, I don’t know if anything matches that bag,” she responded, obviously puzzled by my suggestion.

Of course if those two random choices of mine did not match anything else, I wondered why she showed them to me in the first place.  That is a dangerous question to contemplate for very long.  At least I was bright enough not to verbalize that inquiry.

It is enough that did my manly duty and offered a suggestion.  She put those bags back on their respective shelves.  I had successfully contributed to the shopping experience and moved us closer to the check-out line. Yay!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_3155It was time to bring in my pick-up truck for the dealer’s servicing.  This event has always proven to be extremely reliable and fairly efficient.  Dropping by before work would be just the time frame to get the job done before heading off to my office.

As usual the reception was timely, friendly and informative.  Now, I just grabbed my briefcase and headed into the waiting room to get a jump on my day’s busy schedule.  The virtual traveling office sure is a blessing.

Once my correspondence and reports had all been filed, I took a break to rest my eyes and relax my brain.  I gathered my belongings and slung them all on to my shoulder.  It was not a long walk.

Casually, I looked over a new truck in the showroom.  It was sleek, shiny and souped up with a lot of options.  When I opened the door the smell of a new vehicle captured my attention.

Then, I looked over a new sedan.  It was the flagship of this brand.  Naturally, I loved the lush comfortable feel of the driver’s seat.  The dashboard was well laid out and it sparkled.

My casual spirit quickly disappeared.  Ahead of me was an amazing view.  It was in every sense of the word, Fantastic!

The lines were stunning.  Proportionally, this new car shouted domination.  Fast was all over the display and it was not even moving.

Power was under the hood.  No one would create a masterpiece like this and make it slow.  No doubt the COG was tuned to maintain high speeds around the tightest curves.

Special tires promised the kind of performance that drivers dream about having under their control.  The lights commanded attention.  Details and tolerances boldly claimed in silence and only by sight that beauty here was all about dream driving.

Just when I approached the driver’s side door did the subtle sign bring me back to reality.  This was only for display.  No one was to sit in the very locked up car.

All I could do was admire this creation of man’s great craftsmanship and engineering.  It was beauty at its best.  Eye-candy does not get any better than this machine.

It is possible for man who has been created in the image of God to love a machine.   We humans love our cars.  There is something peculiar about this, yet, truth is truth, even good truth.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

WY 2008 009While straightening out my office I picked up a photo from a great adventure in Wyoming.  Fond memories flooded into my mind. Combine good friends with a challenging adventure and there will always result in a moment to remember.

My quarry was the amazing Pronghorn Antelope.  It was created by God with specific features to survive in the rugged plains our great nation.  Experienced outdoors men marvel at this splendid animal.  I would make an effort to capture these animals on my digital camera.

Each antelope is about the size of a smallish whitetail deer.  The Pronghorn has been nicknamed the Prairie Goat.  It eats just about whatever is available in the Prairie.  Here in the upper elevation of Wyoming the main staple for food is wild grass.

These fantastic creatures have oversized eyes in proportion to their head.  God gifted these prairie critters with this unique feature so that they use superior eyesight as a defense mechanism.  Their eyesight is amazing.  Each pronghorn has the eyesight equivalent to humans using 8x binoculars.

Along with their splendid eyesight these animals were created with blazing speed.  They can easily sustain a 30 mph gallop across uneven terrain.  It keeps these herds of beautiful creatures out of reach from predators.

Unfortunately, it also keeps them far away from photographers, even those who are equipped with a significant telephoto lens.  A tripod steadied my shots, nevertheless I was challenged to get close enough for good photos.  I have deleted many blurry shots, miniature images, and clumsy compositions.

Besides the distance challenges inherent in wildlife photography, there is the Wyoming weather.  The wind blows there with relentless force.  I teased my host that when the wind stops blowing, local Wyoming residents fall over.

Once I was in the field all day.  That camera shoot started with very cold but with a clear sky.  Of course it was windy.  Then, the weather turned sour.  First, the low clouds rolled in and engulfed me in a thick fog.  Then, it cleared in time for the rain to start.  Once I was drenched, the cold weather turned the rain into snow.

I gave up in my fight against the elements.  Once back at the cabin, I dried off and watched the frozen rain fly down and pelt the window of my room like a sandstorm.  It was very nice to pull off my boots and warm my feet.  Maybe another day would be more friendly for me and my shutter.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_3277Soon I will be on a plane and heading for a distant foreign country. I will enjoy myself immensely but I will be working hard too. Each morning I will speak to our pilgrims and give our traveling guests a word of encouragement.

Getting to that special Land and encouraging our pilgrims requires a substantial amount of planning, execution of those plans and oversight of an immense amount of detail.

Paperwork is important.  Identification is essential to this journey.  Photo ID is the ticket.

Clothes need to be selected carefully.  Real wash and wear works best for me.  If I have to I can shower in these amazing fabrics, hang those clothes in the tub over night and wear them fresh the next day.  They are amazing.

Layers work the best.  A tight weave fabric fleece serves both as a secondary or final layer.  Then, an outer shell that both insulates and sheds the rain is worth gold when the weather turns sour.

My parka with lots of pockets works great whether the temperatures drop or rise.  Versatility is the name of the game.  Traveling as light as possible makes sense, so whatever gear I bring needs to effective and easily stowed in very limited luggage.

Of course I have to take my camera.  Who knows when a Pulitzer shot will be captured by my lens?  There’s even a chance that some wildlife photography, my favorite subjects will be around.

My work is my preoccupation, however.  I am debating about paper notes or I-pad notes.  If I decide to go high tech, this will be my first attempt to do so on an international trip.

A few things can go wrong while in a foreign country when it comes to anything e-dependent.  Just charging the unit via proper plugs, adapters and current changes is a big deal.  At least with paper notes any loss of one presentation does not nullify the whole package of presentations.  Humanly, I am leaning toward paper notes.

Our paperless culture will force me to look for paper.  That makes me laugh, since I have a stash of paper in the corner of my office that I have not touched for months.  Paper was such a great invention.

My goal is to be well prepared for my journey.  I want to deliver the best experience for my pilgrims as I possibly can.  My prayer is that this visit will be life-changing for everyone who climbs aboard my bus.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

 

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