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Green BookCuriosity drew me to see this film. The trailer caught my attention several times. It was odd that no one in my circles had been talking about it.

Nevertheless, my far-from-perfect instincts would prove worthwhile on this occasion. I saw the movie on an outbound business flight. It moved me.

During a typical working weekend, I found myself reminiscing over episodes from the story between Dr. Shirley and Tony. Some of those thoughts were reflective. Others were humorous. Yet, others found me marveling.

I deliberately chose to watch the movie a second time, just a day later, on my homeward bound flight. Certain that my initial reflections were reenforced, I recommended it to my wife. We watched it together. That was my third viewing in a week’s time.

When the key characters lived through many life moments, tension ratcheted up. Each individual, except Dolores, had glaring shortcomings. Bigotry was layered in both men. Insecurity leaked out in triggered scenarios. Scarred personal identities became more apparent over time.

Comic relief eased the natural uncomfortable crescendo in this racially charged story. Repeated moments similar to these took a quiet but powerful tone. Relief emerged as transformation. Personal prejudices genuinely eased as friendship emerged. Acceptance was easier than could be imagined. Courage was shared, winning respect. Long suffering grew stronger.

We could only wish for this story line to be repeated as a national or international phenomenon. At least it was true for these two men. It was after all a true story.

Maybe the truth in story on film will touch others to wonder about the possibilities. Perhaps more friendships will stir because of it. Friendship is a powerful human link. There are subtle movements of love, Christmas, letters, and romance that add dynamic texture to the narrative.

I for one could applaud this film and highly recommend it. The story is sure to touch the souls of many. Quite possibly could it shrink the ugly tide of racism to a noticeable degree?

Obviously a film cannot do much to transform the landscape of wicked human behavior. But, people might be attracted to the hope of such change and join in it themselves. Who knows what miraculous moments can happen when genuine friendship discovers true love and righteous people mix it up with a true story.

photo credit: Google image

Baby JesusA young couple fell madly in love during their college years. A prominent company in her field recruited her and signed her to an exciting multiyear offer. He, on the other hand, needed to continue on to graduate school for both his MA and PhD – and needed to purchase a powerful, expensive personal computer. Mutually, they wanted to be married. However, he knew that he could not afford both her engagement ring and the computer. She understood, even though her sadness was obvious. Not long after that hard conversation, he invited her out to their favorite restaurant, the one reserved for special occasions. She excitedly talked about her day. When he got down on one knee next to the table, she gasped. The crowd in the restaurant got quiet. He pulled out a black velvet ring box from his pocket and opened it to reveal the sparkling gem that melted her heart. With tears she smiled, “Don’t you have something you want to ak me? He put the ring on her finger and begged her, “Sweetheart, I love you with all my heart. Will you please buy me a computer?”

This surprise ending certainly grabs your attention. During this Christmas season, we celebrate a surprise story that the world has been enjoying for centuries. Psalm 45 details the beautiful story.

The psalm describes the details of a splendid wedding. The groom is the resplendent king. He has accomplished great feats, rules a powerful kingdom, and has the admiration of all who know him. Honor is heaped on his name and reputation.

His bride is the height of beauty and grandeur. She and her beauty capture the king’s attention. The wedding to join them is fitting of a royal celebration.

Scripture combines this promise with the fulfillment that begins with the Christmas birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ. His eventual bride is us, His church. Redemption is the royal beauty of sin being forgiven and our destiny to be presented to Him forever in eternity. That’s a Christmas gift to look forward to in our future. Merry Christmas!

photo by bruce w. fong photography

(a reprint from Psalms for the Season, a “Dallas Theological seminary 2018 Christmas Devotional”)

IMG_1402We have guests coming to our home soon.  All of us are getting into the Christmas spirit.  Our fault and staff along with their families are converging on our home to celebrate this very precious season commemorating our Savior’s birth.

My wife and I are incredibly busy so neither of us can wait until the last minute to decorate and set up to entertain our nearly 40 guests.  Days in advance I have mapped out the errands that need attention.  Each day I knock off a chunk of that list.

High on that to-do schedule is setting up the Christmas tree.  It is a long-process.  Yet, without the tree everyone would know that something is missing.

Over a week ago I was in the closet pulling out from storage our decorations.  The tree was in a box.  That tree has been set up and taken down in three different states of the Union.

Each time it has been surrounded by joy and cheer.  It is a part of this favorite time of year.  So many symbols and memories and reminders of the reason for the season is represented on this central decoration.

I fluffed up each of the branches.  Once the tree was presentable I decked it with a multi-colored string of lights.  The lights were tested and approved.

The garland added color and sparkle.  Ornaments made us reminisce over the years of happiness and great memories that have passed by.  Special people, amazing moments and deepening love are all a part of what those ornaments point to.

Of course the tree topper is a climax.  Over the years we have had different tops to finish off our tree.  But, we often favor the Precious Moments angel.  She smiles down on all of our guests as they fill our home with more laughter, cheer and memories.

Love is a big deal this time of year.  Sure, it takes a lot of planning and effort.  But, that is all lost when I stand back, turn off the lights in the house and turn on the lights of the Christmas tree.

A moment of pause fills my spirit.  Smiles linked with special people ooze into the night.  Our musical clock chimes out a Christmas carol.

Love dominates the moment.  Family and the devotion of treasured ones rises to the surface of life.  Warm embraces will soon come.  It is all about love from family and friends so close they are family.

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

IMG_1968It is a whirlwind of traveling for us.  For months we have been in touch with on-line travel, hotels and scheduling.  Adjustments to our itinerary, purchases and plans built up to the anticipation which so much of the season.

We landed with luggage that was loaded.  Our rental car held it all.  Mile after mile we rendezvoused with as many relatives as we could.  Still, sadly we had to miss some.

On the road we sent an email with our personal season update letter.  They were scattered around the country and the world.  We do not remember how many we sent but we hope that we delivered more than we missed.

Touching base with our family and friends is a treasure to us.  We would never want to miss anyone who shared their love with us.  Sending a note of our love to others is a blessing for us.

It was an endless journey from party to the next.  Yet, the growing joy of the reason for the season was growing inside of us.  There was no temptation to “Bah, Humbug!” anyone or anything.

Instead, the JOY of the season was glowing brighter and brighter.  Love from family and friends was producing a smile on us both.  During the journey from one gathering to the next was a time to reminisce over past wonderful gatherings.

We talked about special people who have meant so much to us over the years.  Many of our closest friends are too many miles away for us to enjoy this year.  Maybe during another year we can embrace, love on them and build more memories.

Tonight we will enjoy worship, praise and celebration at the heart of the season.  We will gather with a body of Christian believers that we do not know but share so much in common.  Jesus will be there and that is what truly counts during this season of His birthday celebration.

Gifts will be shared with loved ones.  Laughter and pictures will be recorded in our spirits and on digital memory cards.  Delicious meals will be consumed.

Soon after the celebration we will make the long journey back home.  We will both smile often remembering a smile, a touch and many words.  God has blessed us with great wealth with wonderful family and loyal friends.

Merry Christmas!

photo credit: KJB photography

 

IMG_4873Christmas is way too busy for us.  We are juggling work, travel, gifts, letters, projects, bills, parties and life so fast that jingling bells are hard to hear.  A lot more silent night and still the night would be welcome in our souls.

A balance is struck from a familiar favorite place.  For many Americans and world-wide Christians this is a shared respite during this hectic season.  This place is featured on Christmas cards, television shows, screen savers and ornaments.

Sometimes the scene is a snow shrouded clearing in the woods.  Horse drawn sleighs are parked in front.  Multi-colored lights transform a living tree just off to the side.IMG_4875

Often the Nativity scene is partnered with this place of comfort.  Joseph and Mary watch over the newborn baby Jesus while animals quietly look on to the miraculous scene.  Visitors flock to the sound of music coming from inside of this haven.

It is the picture of a church building.  Inside the alive church of followers of Jesus are celebrating this anniversary birth.  A Savior has been born.

IMG_4878Our busy lives pushed all of those demanding stress-causing matters out in our POV (personally owned vehicle).  I shut the doors and locked them in.  Then, my bride and I carried our Bibles and hand in hand we walked into church.

Gifted decorators decked out a tree that was gorgeous.  We did not rush by it.  Instead, captivated we stopped and admired it from several angles.IMG_4879

Once inside the auditorium the orchestra and choir and worship team blew us away.  Our spirits soared with the familiar Christmas carols.  Then stunning orchestral and choir supported anthems took our spirits and we worshipped together.  It was awesome!

A soloist made the rafters shake with her rendition of “Do You See What I See?”  We rose to our feet with great applause.  All of us could see!

IMG_4880Pastor Gregg Matte delivered an encouraging word from the Word.  He has a gift of making the truth practical.  The Spirit used it to touch so many lives.

In the end the choir and orchestra dismissed us with a majestic finale of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.  With a family like serendipitous moment the choir motioned for Pastor Gregg to join them in the loft for that final song.  All of us sounded not just “good” but “glorious” as we gave our Almighty God our collective gift of worship.  Merry Christmas!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

 

IMG_3159This night is a highlight for our hard-working team.  For several it will be their first gathering with us.  Our faith and our fellowship drive us together.

All year we work diligently at our jobs and produce very well-trained and educated seminary students ready for a lifetime of effective ministry.  Each one of our posts contributes to the whole of what we see march across a stage and grasp on to their sheep skin, a testament to their academic prowess and personal spirituality.

Along the way, we look forward to our team gathering for fun, food and fabulous fellowship.  This is our annual Christmas gathering.  The expectations were high.

IMG_3160When we entered the cool air was left outside and the warmth of welcome engulfed us.  The aroma of the meal was filling our senses.  We could already taste the delicious meal that was waiting for us.

Colorful decorations, bright twinkling lights and the sounds of Christmas music topped off our welcome.  More and more colleagues arrived.  Each was caring a contribution to our shared meal.

Laughter and teasing were as bountiful as any feature of our party.  Smiles erupted with the good-natured banter.  Children were a part of our gathering as well.  Families are welcome on our team.

IMG_3161Suddenly the audio disappeared.  Our host announced the 3 minute warning for the food.  But, with that came the panic.  Before we would pray each guest was invited to recite a Bible memory verse.

It was the fastest I have ever seen cellphone whipped out and team members quickly scrolling through “apps” and minds refreshing themselves with the specific combination and order of words.  We laughed. We teased.

Lengthy verses were not the norm.  These had to be some of the shortest IMG_3162verses in all of Inspired Scripture.  Yet, they were good words.

Nearly forty of us shared a sample of the Living Words from the Living Word.  In the midst of the frolicking, I marveled at this collection for fabulous people.  Each one is precious and dearly valued.

Together we make up the heart and soul of what happens on the campus of DTS-Houston.  Selfless, hardworking, cheerful, helpful, energetic and trustworthy people are growing into a wonder of God’s presence in one of the newest Global cities on earth.

IMG_3163Of course we ended with some raucous fun.  We played the game Taboo: Men vs. Women.  It did not take long for the women to pull ahead in points while the men teased and made bold false claims to egg on their competition.  Merry Christmas, everyone!  You are loved!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_3164Every parent of little ones knows the charm of the Church Christmas pageant.  With video camera and SLR in hand, eager parents stake out seats close to the front.  It really does not matter what part their child has in the annual thespian performance.  In their minds their offspring is the star.

Parents take turns popping up and capturing their legacy leaving an Oscar-deserving or Grammy-deserving presentation that left everyone speechless. Or at least the average person could relish the raw talent that was on display.  These images captured on digital cameras would be fodder for the grandparent machines or distant aunts and uncles.

Yet, there are additional roles filled by those who will still the show just because they are amazingly IMG_3167cute. Their personalities and soft pet-table demeanor give them the advantage to steal the show every time that they are folded into the Christmas extravaganza.  These supporting cast members are the livestock.  Yes, they are real live animals that make the Christmas story have a reach out and pet me warmth to it.

On my way out of the church from our morning men’s study, I saw the temporary corral in the courtyard.  Inside there were creatures stirring and moving about their grassy turf.  How can you not smile when you see these animals on display?

IMG_3166The donkey was the biggest of the four-legged stars.  He was being protective of the other critters in his enclosure.  With one wary eye on me, he walked a sentry line making sure that all of the resting animals were under his watchful eye.

Donkeys are legendary as protectors.  They and their half offspring, the mule, have long been added to herds of grazing cattle and horses to ward off coyotes, wolves, bear and other nuisance predators.  This totally cute brute was living up to his reputation as the protector of the beasts.

Nuzzling together while lounging on the grass was a ewe and its single lamb.  Their sides were IMG_3165rhythmically beating with their heavy breathing.  They must be high-strung.

In the center of the corral were the most adorable young goats.  Their small horns had pierced the tops of their heads and were minuscule compared to their heads. Yet, their faces were the perfection of young, new and full of life.

Each of these barnyard animals was docile.  They were calm and enjoying a good lounge on the lawn.  When the program kicks off, they will be hopefully just as serene when they walk into a building full of music, thousands of humans and followed closely by the pooper scoopers.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_3130My busy life at the office has very few gaps in a tightly wound calendar.  It is a place where I engage people, planning, personnel issues and programming that challenges patience, problem-solving skills and perpetual glitches along the road of progress.  However, I love doing what God has called me to do.

There was a moment to breath.  It is right after Thanksgiving and just before a busy Thanksgiving weekend of service.  That is when I climbed the stairs of our home on a search for a special box.

A few years ago I found that box in a store.  It was on sale.  For my purposes it was perfect and cheap too.

I brought it home and unpacked its contents.  This was a three foot tall Christmas tree.  Not only was it tiny but it was also easy to assemble.  I had it put together and standing on its own without even looking at the instructions.

Now, this little tree has followed me around the country.  I put lights on it, ornaments and even have a tree topper.  Over the years it has brought cheer to me and my office staff.

This year it has made its appearance again.  When I found it in our storage closet, I picked it up with care.  The years had worn out the box.  If I picked it up without holding it together, the cardboard box would pop open and dump that contents on the floor.  It is probably time to find a more permanent storage container for this little guy.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving I brought it into my office.  It only took moments to set it up.  Since it is so small a single strand of lights is all it takes to trim this little pine tree.  Then, I hand a bag full of ornaments.  The tree topper is a moose, my favorite wild animal.

There are special moments in life for everyone.  Plugging in the lights and throwing the power switch is one of mine.  I am no longer a kid but this special moment never ceases to make me smile.

Standing back and gazing at my little tree captured my imagination and plunged it into my memories of Christmases long long ago.  My office lights were off and the only source of light was from this single strand of Christmas lights.  The ornaments were reflecting the lights and magnifying their effect.  Such a little tree, making a big splash in my office and in the soul world of memories.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_3147Thanksgiving was really fun.  We had laughter, great food, fun football, new friends, old friends and time to relax.  But, it was also the best time to look forward to Christmas.

We went shopping for some of basic life needs.  Christmas decorations are basic life needs.  Putting up just a few little features makes Christmas to be enhanced.

We have two outside lights, one on either side of the garage.  I replaced the bulbs with holiday red lights.  They are low-wattage lights, a mere 25 watts each.  However, when I turn them on at night they give off a celebratory glow.

Just below each light I hung a plastic bow.  It too, like the lights, are a bright red with glitter.  At night the lights enhance the bows and the bows reflect the light and magnify the glow.

On our front door we hung a beautiful wreath.  It is a circle of greenery decorated with Christmas features.  Anyone who comes to our home will sense the living spirit of Christmas is present in our home.

Once the wreath was hung, I stood back and smiled.  It is all part of the anticipation.  Looking forward to the celebration to come is a symptom that the meaning of Christmas is a very real part of our lives.

Next, I walked into my garage and flipped on the decorated outside lights.  With a smile of anticipation I walked out to take a look at my handiwork.  I was not disappointed.

My grin broke into a wide smile.  Christmas is coming.  This special season of the year to count our blessings, celebrate Jesus’ birthday and consider the most amazing gift ever given.

Our decorations are simple this year.  One wreath here, a few lights there, a bow here and a small, a very small tree in my office is all we have put up so far.  Every one of our family is else where in this vast country.  Once we had a house full of children and we decorated together to make our home festive.  Now, they each have their own homes and are off doing their own Christmas celebrations.

Yet, it is not just about the children.  When I turned on our modest Christmas lights, I smiled.  After I stood back and gazed at our glistening bows, wreath and my humble little office tree, I loved that moment and the pleasure of anticipating the celebration of my Savior’s birthday.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_2989The Big Box Store was our destination.  We were on a mission.  It was time to get a replacement watch.  When we arrived, there was nothing too interesting to capture our attention.

We had allowed an hour to shop but we were done in 9 minutes.  That was the perfect time to laugh with each other.  “Now what do we do?”

Our evening church service did not start for an hour and a half.  There was no place else that we wanted to go.  Being opportunists, we decided to walk around the store where we were and see if something inspired us or jogged our memory of something that we needed to pick up for our home.

My bride checked out the books.  I wandered around to see what new things IMG_2986there were to see.  It was the middle of October and the displays set up in the store made me smile.

Is it really time for Christmas?  Could we be nearing that most special time of the year, already?  It seems that we just entered into the Autumn season.

According to my calendar, Halloween is not even here yet.  That Harvest Festival time is still weeks away.  Still the brightly colored light, theme colors of red and green are generously on display.

Toys and decorations, special candies, splendid ornaments and seasonal beverages are stacked for the shoppers’ delight.  At first the hurried season was a bit shocking.  Then, I stared at a Christmas moose and smile.  He made me chuckle.

Hmmm…maybe it is never too early for Christmas.

This is the favorite time of year after all.  God made a promise of a Messiah and He kept it by giving us His Son.  That is the heart and soul of the meaning and beginning of Christmas.

IMG_2987Life has been tough for wonderful friends.  There have been painful disappointments for them.  Hardships have brought trouble into their lives.  Hope and mercy from God are great comforts during the Christmas season for them and all of us who have been praying and cheering them on until the  Father chooses to grant them better days.

Christmas and the real meaning of this season peak back into our lives with the simplest of brightly colored ornaments.  These shiny globes push a smile back into our hearts.  We remember better days and restore the hope in the days of His promises still to come.  It is never too early for Christmas.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

 

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