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26788125528_645c2d09b1_n-1It’s another “Christian movie.” Uh, oh…is that the “kiss of death”? Descent story with horrible acting, confusing complicated  back-stories, odd-ball mini-sermons, low-budget directing, even budget-driven minimal talent on the camera-work unfortunately have been common features of the Christian movie scene for generations. This movie, “I Can Only Imagine,” was very different from those previous religious offerings.

The song has captivated a massive audience since its debut. That fan base was primed for a successful run on the silver screen. Many Christians are cheering on the effort to produce quality movies for this entertainment industry and with this submission were hopeful for something much better.

The true story of Bart Millard’s composition is the backbone of this dramatic presentation. His life story with an abusive father is the riveting narrative that makes this movie so appealing. This movie delivers.

In a memorable dialogue, Bart reveals that it took on ten minutes to write the lyrics and another ten to write the music. Yet, those around him correct him saying that it didn’t take a matter of minutes, it took a lifetime.

Excellent theatrical performance was turned in by Dennis Quaid. He played Bart’s father. Those moments of anger, domination, and abuse were realistic, believable, and heart-wrenching at the same time.

How Bart managed to live through those dark days and discover a passion in life was marked by special people in his life. Some friends, some teachers, and some pastors all had a part in weaving a tapestry that paved the way for the composition of music that would touch millions around the world.

The world of music and the dream to make a living at it is not kind to those who attempt to make that climb into rarefied air. This film makes you feel the details of that “Mercy Me” discouraging journey. Yet, God’s amazing grace through special people is an astounding story to behold.

Forgiveness and the love that paves the way for it to germinate and grow is the message of this film. Through this powerful story you open your memories of your own father, your past struggles through forgiveness, seeing the faces of those who hurt you, and the wonder of God’s grace through it all.

If you go, remember and bring some tissue with you. There must be a lot of dust in the theater that makes your eyes water. That’s so annoying when you are experiencing a solid movie.

 

 

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IMG_0823He used to be so strong. When the clan gathered, he was at the center of the family photo. His smile was broad enough to claim six children, six in-laws, a passel of grandkids, and a growing number of great grand children.

Now, life was catching up with him. Age was held at bay for decades. Once he was resilient for the crazy, noisy family reunions.

The world races by outside. It is oblivious to the inevitable march dominating the building that was home for an ever-expanding brood. 93 years have passed under his bridge.

Lines on his smile carried stories that filled those years. Busy activity around him showed the care of his children who handled business, studied medical options, listened to his waning memories of stories from years ago and far off places around the world. Sadness crept in for us all.

The light of life was growing dimmer. Energy from his perpetual youth was slipping away. Once a proud man, now we would help him to do the very basics of life, ignoring the cry for personal dignity.

With humility needed for the many of life necessities his head dipped and the functions were performed without fanfare. Old is a merciless shadow that drains even the strongest from the pedestal of zest. Aging bodies cannot do what it was designed by the great Creator to do.

Now, younger lives, children return the favor of a parent. The child is now the one who gives what once was lavishly given. Life roles have now changed.

Processing the dramatic reversal of energy, independence, and animation made sense in my mind. Sensing it and reacting to it was very different. Getting old is not kind.

Aging is brutal. Life should not be so painful, agonizing, and difficult. Inconsolably sad was how I was feeling.

Reaching out my hand and lifting a once proud man up from his cushioned chair just to make a move to the dining room table required a conscientious effort. The loss of mobility rang a hollow call from the emptying spirit of the head of this home. The sadness grabbed me deeper in my soul.

May God’s mercy sustain all who feel the constant creep of aging stealing so much from their lives. Keep looking up, dear ones. The God of the Ages is watching over you and promises to give back so much for all eternity for those who know his son, Jesus the Christ.

14390852_10153329810707614_4178438488173353845_nOur flight to see our loved ones took the whole day with a stop along the way.  But, the anticipation was just too exciting to worry about the weariness of travel.  We talked about some of our great memories from past visits.  Now, we looked forward to making more.

When our plane touched down, we caught each other beaming with delight.  Soon we would cuddle little lives in big grandparent hugs, shower these little ones with love and drink in endless moments of laughter.  The rendezvous with our kids vehicle went smoothly but our warm hugs were limited to our son-in-law.  Grandchild #1 was sound asleep in his car seat.

Grandparents are not easily disappointed.  Instead of raucous hugs, laughs and presents we just gazed at the face of a sleeping angel all the way home.  When peepers finally popped open, smiles erupted and the long anticipated hugs flooded the afternoon.

Gifts of toys, new clothes, treats and fun little knickknacks filled our day.  Unbounded gratitude from these little lives warmed our hearts.  Isn’t it amazing how so much love is generated and shared when so little grown up conversations have been exchanged?

Hugs from these little ones are fabulous.  The warmth and unconditional affection melt the well protected hearts of adults who have shielded so much after so much of life has been hard and tough.  God has a way of rewarding the perseverance of lives lived in complete devotion to Him.

Soon we were taken by our hands and followed running little feet and our granddaughter was engulfed into the reunion.  Celebration took another half step higher. Oh, yeah, our daughter was there too!

Happy Thanksgiving to one and ALL!

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

 

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Anticipation grabs the human soul like no other electrifying experience.  So, I played it cool when we boarded the plane in anticipation of spending time with our first granddaughter, our second grandchild.  Everyone took their turn while I gave my attention to my I-phone.

Eventually, just as I suspected, someone asked, “Do you want to hold her?”  I looked up surprised and acting detached and other-worldly occupied, “What? Oh, sure.”

This little life was carefully handed over to me.  She was so tiny.  The warmth of her little body felt good in my arms.

With attention I cradled her in the crook of my arm and caught her in the palm of my left hand.  There was no weight to this little package.  It wasn’t long before I melted into her world.

Her soft breathing made me sigh with joy.  Carefully I took her little hand in between my finger and thumb.  The tender skin, perfectly formed appendage broadened my smile.

It was natural to rock the newest member of our family.  Gently I hugged her.  Then I kissed her.

Babies smell so good.  They wiggle in grasp of their grandfather.  Surely, they love the comfort of protection, affection and admiration of their favorite relative.  It is instinctive.

In this small world between granddaughter and grandfather, the other people around us faded away.  Now, for all time a bond was forming that would be everlasting.  Nothing could break was being established at this moment.

I was falling in love with another human being with whom I have not yet had a single intelligible conversation.  Nevertheless, no one would dispute its reality or its beauty.

There is nothing comparative about a Grandfather’s love for his grandchildren.  Love is never about such small distractions of others.  Instead, Grandfathering is only about concentration on the blessings in the arms at the time.

Favorites are not allowed when love is completely pure, unselfish, giving and overwhelming.  We who wear the badge of Grandfather can’t be bothered with attention hived off to total strangers.  Love is fully devoted to a the little life at hand.

That’s what the touch of a granddaughter  will do.  It melts the strongest of men, the most accomplished of me into a bowl of gelatin ready to be molded into whatever this little life desires.  That’s why God created little ones with little fingers; just the right place to wrap Grandpa around.

photo credit: KJB photography

11178203_10152408615652614_555981716271583104_nWe are an extension campus.  Our Dallas campus is the headquarters of this amazing ministry.  Yet, our Houston operation is growing by leaps and bounds.

We have 34 graduates this year.  They are mostly local to the great city of Houston and its surrounding region.  Most of their friends and family will have a tough time making the journey to Dallas to celebrate their commencement achievements.

To give local family and friends the chance to be a part of this substantial celebration, our extension campus has a Graduation Chapel one week prior to the central festivities up north.  We honor each graduate with a brief description of what their plans and destination is after they receive their sheep skin.  We fill the chapel service with great worship, intimate prayer, laughter, memories and special recognition of those who stood out with academic and service demonstrations.

I scanned the crowd many times during this chapel service.  The smiles were a mile wide and the tears were free-flowing.  Trying to imagine all of the answered prayers for the many years represented by these graduates is mind-blowing.

Photographs with special people were endless.  The four sheet cakes disappeared as the party spread into the foyer.  Guests drank sweet punch, returned endless times for refreshing chilled water and stopped many times along their course of walking to congratulate and exchange hugs with fellow classmates.

Previous graduates returned to cheer on their friends.  Current students marveled and told me that they had something even more to anticipate.  Relatives were overcome with the joy of reaching this end.

Children were laughing with their parents.  One mom told me that she was rehearsing her Hebrew vocabulary flash cards while in labor for the little one that she hugged next to her leg.  Life and success cannot get much more precious than this.

photo 4Gratitude is over the top on this event.  Conversations about calling, dreams about the ministry to come and deep gratitude of God’s faithfulness were common in the crowd.  With pride I watched out once students now shine as Masters of Theology, Masters of Arts and Over-comers in all sorts of adversities.

Faithful too are the staff and faculty that I am privileged to call “Team Houston”.  They are selfless, persevering and godly men and women who live to serve others.  Here on a Saturday, they are going above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that these graduates always remember this day.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Every news media outlet was buzzing over the release of the movie “American Sniper”.  Some touted it as a fantastic portrayal of patriotism, liberty and American pride.  Others vehemently condemned it as an exploitation of war or a misrepresentation of snipers as heroes when in the warped opinion of the critic they were in fact cowards. A few even claimed it was of such poor cinema quality that it did not deserve any attention at all.

Admittedly, I was shocked by the animated negative opinions.  Now, I believe that in a nation that protects the freedom of speech, these critics have a right to their opinion.  What was stunning to me was that these vicious views would be directed to oppose such self-sacrificial lives.

I was reading the book when the movie debuted.  Through each chapter I was tracking with Chris Kyle’s life, moments of maturing, struggles with family and horrific episodes in the battlefield.  War was not glorified but devotion, commitment, family and country were.

Clint Eastwood directed the film.  I thought that he captured so many moments of fear, frustration, courage, conflict, joy, encouragement and family.  In a matter of seconds Eastwood told the story of many pages with a single take in the film.

Despite the critics I learned about a man whose sacrifice and skill keeps my liberty safe.  My life has been protected by Kyle’s service.  I for one am very grateful to him and to his family.

I am left wondering how a movie theater in the second week of its release is so full.  If there are pundits out there who insist that we believe and adopt their negative and critical spirit, then why are so many turning away from their stinging words and going to see the movie?  In my mind there are many Americans who love this country and lift up the military with respect and appreciation.

It was not just  the courageous deeds of Chris Kyle on the battlefield.  His wife Taya sacrificed too.  Her steady care for their family during Chris’ deployments were a testament to the family courage.

She was there to help Chris find a way to let go of the war.  It had so captured him that the commitment to let it go and really return home was a much a part of the message of the book and film as was his faithful service.

I heard Taya’s moving words at Chris’ memorial service.  They touched  me as did the movie.  Thank you to the Kyle family for your service and sacrifice.  God bless you and God bless the USA.

1237515_10152571662945975_7245741172097343646_nWe are two thousand miles away from our grandson, our only grandchild.  Ministry is my calling and profession, which does not allow for a lot of extras for frequent flights across the country.  When we do go it is a treasured journey filled with invested moments of smiles, laughter and deepening love.

The marvel of being a grandparent pushes my personal spiritual pilgrimage as a follower of Christ to a new dimension.  For years I soaked in the intricate lessons from the Scriptures about a three generational legacy, a vertical legacy.  Pouring into our children was a blessing but now considering being a part of the spiritual vitality of a third generation is mind-blowing.

For sure when God gave us the great news of each child being conceived and then born, they were sensational moments.  Adding “parent” to our resume is an unparalleled delight and privilege.  The next step to sharing in the next generation is one that we are far removed yet deeply engaged.

Playing with our grandson stirred new moods in my soul.  How could be that I could be so much in love with a human being with whom I have never even had one measurable conversation?  When our grandson first hugged my knee, I  knew that affection could be immeasurably more stunning than the joys of marriage or parenting.

Now, every day while thousands of geographical miles away, my bride and I look hungrily into cyberspace for new pictures and videos of our little guy.  We are always tickled when we receive and email invitation to “Skype” with our grandson.  This latest one was a memorable treat.

He has learned sign language along with his growing months toward conversation.  On this cyberspace conversation our kids asked our grandson to show the sign of a “baby”.  He cradled his two hands palms up together and rocked them back and forth.

It was cute.  Each time he has communicated with sign we have been impressed.  But, we were not prepared for the next presentation.

Our kids then asked him to show where the baby was.  He immediately pointed to our daughter’s womb.  Oh, yeah!

Grand baby #2 is in the oven.  By God’s wonderful grace the third generation legacy will expand next summer.  Words will never express the joy of this anticipation.

The depth of blessing from our Heavenly Father are too generous.  The breadth of blessing is so great.  I am a very happy grandfather.

photo credit: KJB photography

IMG_4335There is a steady feed of videos and pictures that come our way from our daughter and son-in-law.  We never tire of watching the action or taking in the details of the pictures.  The excess of 1000 miles of separation between us and our grandson is salved by these digital exchanges.

We love being a part of his growing up.  Every day he is changing.  His size and his locomotion are the news of the day.

Once we visited and he was a mere infant.  The next time we visited and he was crawling like a spider from one place to the next.  On this last visit he was on the verge of walking.

Progress is a special reason to celebrate every day as he grows.   So much of life is wrapped in growth.  Progress and new developments give us a reason to cheer.

When he was an infant and his little body was all about rest, I looked forward to the day when his smile and laughter would make us all treasure the joy that he was bringing into all of our lives.  Videos give us a chance to be a part of those moments.  His laughter infects the cheer center of our souls.

Whether he is looking at funny birds, entertained by animals at the zoo or taking in the comical otters at the Aquarium, we love to hear him laugh.  He is all boy so his climbing adventures always include spills and falls.  When he takes a tumble, he bounces back with laughter and tries the feat again.

A distraction enters into view and he stops to look.  Curiosity is filling his brain with all sorts of entries into his life experience.  Creation is all about differences and variety.

He is easily amazed at new things.  They make him smile.  His countenance is all about the thrill of experiencing life.

Some day I will give him the Grandpa lessons of life.  I will have the thrill of filling in the details.  When his spirit is stirred and he loves what he is learning, there will be no comparison of satisfaction.

Next, I am dreaming of our conversations.  The questions are on their way.  Those inquiries are moments that I am going relish.

They will be forays about life, reasons for this and how these things work.  That is the world of grandfathering.  I am ready to give my heart to this bundle of smiles.

photo credit: KB photography

IMG_4178A few hundred gathered for an outdoor wedding.  It has been on my calendar for months and we booked our flights early.  It was a nephew who was going to exchange his vows.  Family is important enough to fly half way across the nation to be a part of the festivities.

The temperatures hovered in the eighties.  As a Houstonian the 80’s in July is like a cool breeze.  My friends and relatives laughed about the weather.

We had left Houston and her 90’s temperatures for our flight to the Northwest.  When we stopped in Albuquerque for a transfer the temperatures had reached the 100’s.  Stepping off the plane in Oregon was like a refreshing breather with her 80’s temperatures.

Of course we cannot forget the humidity.  Houston is famous for the trapped water vapors that make the sticky environment test the patience of the most humans.  Oregon was relief.

Ushers seated us on the groom’s side, stage left.  Tall trees cast a broad canopy of shade over half of that side of the seating.  Those who had claimed those seats were parked and did not give any indication of budging.

IMG_4184The rest of the guests left something in their chairs and were crowding in the aisle under the shade.  It made for fun and exuberant reunions.  All of us who had not seen each other for years caught up.

Most were eager to hear about Texas.  We drawled on and on about the weather, the state pride, the Western garb and of course the BBQ.  Some chimed in on outdoors and the wide open spaces.

Finally, the ushers invited us to our seats.  The wedding was about to begin.  I settled into my seat and drank in the beauty of the Northwest.

Tall Douglas fir trees surrounded the patio. Overhead the sun was doing its daily dance through the sky. Its rays felt wonderful, invigorating and comforting.

There was no need for artificial lights or candles.  One bright light shone overhead.  It was sufficient and complete.

God’s creation of the sun was all that this wedding needed to give the perfect ambiance for memories and photographs.  Videographers were  happy with the natural light as well.  The shadows added texture to the images captured in digital form.

The bridal party stepped into view.  Oohs and ahs were abundant.  The creator’s sun came in handy for that gathering.  It was as perfect a setting as perfect can get.

photography credit: brucefong photography

 

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