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IMG_1504So many of us have been surprised by the Minions of Despicable fame.  They aren’t even the star character in the Universal Pictures animation movie.  In fact they are extras that have risen to stardom almost by accident.

Now, in toy stores and pictorial renditions of favorite characters, the Minions surpass the original stars of the film.  Felonious Gru was a star but his character doesn’t stick in the memory like his little Minions.  The morphing of the super villain from interstellar thief to nurturing parent is enhanced with the supporting cast of innumerable minions.

Margo, Edith and Agnes are adorable.  While I was watching the story, I wanted to adopt those three wee ones! But, there was something about those Minions.

Vector was the ideal villain of villains.  He was dastardly.  You didn’t like him.

It felt good to root against him.  When he succeeded it was disappointing.  His achievements made you cheer on Gru!  But, still there were the Minions.

Didn’t those little guys make you smile?  Their jabbering made you chuckle.  Sometimes laughing out loud was just the right response.

The first time I saw them on the screen, I they reminded me of Hostess Twinkie.  Since then I haven’t met a soul who thought the same thing.  Oh well, maybe I’m a little out of touch.

There’s something about characters who make you react the way we do.  Real humans could pay attention to a life truth here.  Too many people miss this.

In each of our lives we will influence other people.  Those people will rarely remember the words we speak or the deeds we do.  However, they will almost always remember how we made them feel.

The same wisdom comes from that ancient adage, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Some of us who are educated beyond our moral capacity to implement that information productively, sometimes forget this truth.  Instead, if we impress others, embarrass others, win arguments at others’ expense, then we feel a measure of satisfaction.

The Minions are a great reminder of just making others feel good because we have come into the lives of others.  Influence people for good.  It is a great way to live.

photo credit: brucefong photography

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_5677It has been months since construction has started on a key building at our headquarters campus.  My travels bring me up to Dallas on occasion and I look with expectation at the progress of the building that has captured center stage for Dallas Seminary promotional materials.  Watching a key project take shape is fun to do and gives prayers something tangible to press on to new heights.

There were many of disappointing glances in the past.  I do not know the engineering answer to those seemingly many visits when not progress was happening.  Someone mentioned that the sandy ground required a lot of shoring up and foundation strengthening.

Apparently, the foundation construction was done precisely to give not only the inspectors new confidence but also all of the Seminary constituency certainty about the future.  Now, whether earthquakes or storm or prophetic cataclysmic episode this building is built to withstand them all.  That is a good place to be in a seminary world of Biblical prophecy.

A structure is in place.  Progress is now something that we can all see.  After months and months of planning, promoting and raising the funds to make this building happen, it is finally taking shape.

Foundations are understandable.  So much is necessary to make a building last that is unseen.  Most of us get that.

But, it is human to want to see something happening.  Visual evidence makes the mind soar to greater heights of faith and belief.  On the one hand we live by faith.  On the other hand we live by sight.

Massive steel girders are connected and permanently locked into place.  Soon the building will be weather tight and the functional part of the user-friendly parts of the building will be skillfully installed.  Visually it will no longer be the appetite for a massive presence but then it will shift to quality aesthetics and brilliantly designed space.

The past is a testimony of God’s favor on this institution.  This building is a promise that there is more yet to come.  We are thrilled to be a part of that plan.

I am looking forward to walking in to this building.  When the dedication service happens, I will make the pilgrimage north to Dallas from Houston.  This will be HQ’s new digs and I among many am looking forward to seeing what God has provided.  That will be a time to rejoice and celebrate God’s generosity and goodness.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

FullSizeRender-1Our church is full of variety and surprises.  Worship is never predictable or ever run-of-the-mill or boring.  Instead, a vibrancy emanates from the gathering of the saints.

Joy erupts and delight is our common experience.  It is not just an emotional release but a cheerful expression of our worship of our God.  When Jesus changed us forever our hearts are now grateful and overflowing with gratitude to Him.

One of the occasional events that spurs our variety of worship is the generational service.  Our worship people bring in the children.  They are highly rehearsed and trained.

When the majestic music begins and the children pop in with their parts of a solo, an ensemble or a choral presentation, it is easy to smile.  Their energy and devotion overflows.  Teachers and parents have brought many of these children to faith and their exuberance for their Savior is obvious.

My bride is a second grade teacher at the First Baptist Academy.  She has established a wonderful loving relationship with her little tykes.  Several of them were in the gathering of youngsters to sing at the worship service.

Eagerly each of her students took a chance to invite her to sit up front to watch and listen as they sang their hearts out to the Lord.  That is an invitation that cannot be turned down.  In fact I was given clear instructions to photograph the events with my camera phone.

Our energetic worship leader invited us to worship.  The auditorium filled with hearts that stirred to bring a gift of praise to the Lord.  All of the adult vocalists and instrumentalists were in fine form.

When the experienced and gifted lead the way for the young and neophytes there is confidence that is built into the lives of these young ones.  Like a large family surrounding the fireplace, we joined in with song and adoration of the One who has given us everything.  We felt lifted up and engulfed in something much bigger than what we could ever create ourselves.

The Spirit carried us along as we were invited and then whisked away.  Lost in the joy of expression and appreciation was this moment.  Young and no-longer-young blended voice, soul and spirits into one presentation to our solitary audience.

Eyes of those we knew on the stage was a part of a special sharing.  We were included.  Mutual appreciation was our bond before the great throne above.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone 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

FullSizeRenderAustria is a country with a rich history and filled with a people proud of their nation.  History took a horrible turn for the worst with the rise of the Nazi’s who put an unspeakably ugly grip on the European continent under the brutal demagoguery of Adolf Hitler.  Jews in the nation were persecuted, slaughtered and robbed of their personal possessions.

One of the many families that felt the excruciating oppression of the Nazis were the Altmann’s.  They were torn apart by the Nazi take-over.  As a family, survival meant some stayed behind while others fled for their lives.

While the Altmann’s fled the Nazi took over their home and stole their art treasures.  The portrait of Aunt Adele by Klimt was the center piece.  She was the sparkling painting decked in gold leaf throughout, a thorough masterpiece.

Maria Altmann has aged into her senior years when she discovers that she may have a chance of recovering her family paintings through an intricate series of hearings.  She taps a relative, he is a young inexperienced lawyer.  She trusts him and chases her dream of being reunited with what was once her family’s property.

It is an arduous legal battle. The venue for the grinding litigation starts in Austria, moves to America and finishes with arbitration in Austria.  Justice is ultimately served.

Strong performances by both lead actors drives the story.  Even the supporting roles of the Austrian patriot trying to make amends for his father’s unexplainable choices adds to the story.  The viewer is treated to a long story which is unfolded in a short movie.  It is a true story that makes anyone who is a real human being cheer for the little person.

When a wrong is corrected, then I am riveted to the story.  Set up a Goliath and his brother against a little David and I am paying attention.  Maybe governmental bureaucracy and the smug attitude of arrogant people will always get my goat.

Certainly, this one bright story among so many that are still hoping for redemption makes this victory shine so brightly.  I liked this movie.  In fact I really liked this movie and I am glad that I saw it and I recommend it to you.

Helen Mirren is a favorite. Ryan Reynolds was splendid.  Bruhl and Holmes were great supporting roles.  Now, I would take that opportunity to see the painting for myself if I am ever in the area.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_5353Tractors and stadium workers worked the soil that the Rodeo tore through for the last four hours.  It was fun.  The Houston Rodeo made the American pride in every citizen swell to where we were popping buttons.

Now, the announcer re-energize the crowd, “Get ready, folks because Brad Paisley is in the house!”  The thunderous roar reverberated throughout the stadium.   Teenagers to my right screamed with a high shrill while senior citizens to my left applauded vigorously.

Stage hands rolled out the stage on to the Rodeo dirt floor.  Clearly this was masterminded by gifted engineers and rehearsed several times by set-up crews.  Still it was a wonder to behold a rodeo arena transformed into a premier concert stage in a matter of minutes.

The lights of the stadium were dimmed.  A hush fell over the 70,000 fans.  Expectation could be felt all over.IMG_5394

There were musicians on the stage.  It rotated so that everyone in the stadium could sense the pulsation of the Country beat that began to rock the great venue.  A black crew cab pickup truck rolled out on to the floor and drove right up to the stage.

It was not hard to guess what was coming.  Brad Paisley got out the truck, donned his guitar and trotted up to the stage.  The huge ovation was louder than a jet plane that had just delivered a high-profile package.

The concert began with one great Paisley song after the next.  From one great hit to the next the band played whatever modulation was necessary to get into the next key and never wasted a single quarter note between songs.  Paisley was vintage!

His singing was the familiar voice that all of us played over and over on our music machines.  On top of that were the instrumental interludes where his virtuoso guitar skills are becoming legendary.  The energy hit a maximum human effort and never let down.

IMG_5415The rotating stage never paused.  Paisley hopped off and ran to be next to the fans.  People went nuts!

Selfies were popping, hand slapping was firecrackers and hugs were the preferred expression as applause from those too far away thundered with the music.  Security ran along with this Country Western superstar.  The crowds were excited but very respectful.

Then, the climax came with his final song.  The pickup truck rolled up to the stage and Paisley stepped into the bed and rode in the back while waving good-bye to the crowd.  Fireworks exploded and he threw his hat to an adoring fan.

This side of heaven entertainment by gifted people is amazing.  With tens of thousands of excited music lovers, the show is stunning.  Some day heaven will be even greater, I am sure.  In the meantime, “What a show!”

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_5313No, it is not Chinese.  Yes, it is in Chinese restaurants located in the USA.  No, restaurants in China do not offer these cookies for dessert.

Yet, the iconic fortune cookie makes its way into ethnic lore.  Sometimes it appears in movies.  Iron Man 3 the Mandarin waxes eloquent on the history of this crunchy tasty morsel.

He acknowledges what is generally accepted as true.  The ethnic identity is associated with Chinese.  Yet, few Americans realize that their assumptions bear little influence on the world stage.

The Mandarin reflected, “A true story about fortune cookies. They look Chinese. They sound… Chinese. But they’re actually an American invention. Which is why they’re hollow, full of lies, and leave a bad taste in the mouth.”

This monologue was true.  American ingenuity seems to have been at the forefront of this invention.  Originally, the cookie and fortune seem to have Japanese roots. This cookie announcement many say it all: “originated by the Japanese, exploited by the Chinese, consumed by Americans and entertained by all.”

Regardless of the real history of this conversation piece the fortune cookie is fun.  They offer a tasty end to a delicious meal. Further, they bring most people to a cheerful moment as the evening comes to a close.

Recently, I was out with friends.  We all ate a delicious Chinese restaurant.  The evening was delightful.

Our menu was well-balanced.  Chicken, fish, pork and tofu gave us our protein.  Green string beans, carrots and choy gave us our vegetables.

Flavors from Cantonese style foods were delicious. There was a wonderful blend in each of our plates.  Rice and noodles soaked up those taste bud sensations and satisfied every hungry soul at our table.

Without a second thought or expectation fortune cookies were delivered with the final bill.  We were laughing, joking, reminiscing and doing a lot of talking.  Pictures filled the climax of the meal as well.

Then we passed out the fortune cookies.  I opened mine and announced the delightful revelation.  It simply read, “Hallelujah!”

Our gathering of redeemed souls picked up a special enthusiasm.  Everyone wanted a cookie to explore “God’s will” and we all laughed.  Some of the fortunes were philosophical.  A few were nonsensical.

That special one-word declaration of “Hallelujah!” was unmatched. It was short, fun and true all at the same time.  That after all is what a fortune cookie is all about, eh?

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

Christmas 2014 052

I was on a walk.  Yes, I had a specific destination.  However, I did not have an appointment.

There was no hurry to get where I was going.  The ease of no promises to keep or schedule to drive my hours felt very good.  My mind was taking in the journey.

That is when I paused.  My eyes picked up a bright colorful splash near my feet.  It was appropriate to stop.

Flowers decked the foliage below.  I do not know what kind of plant was there but the blooms were wonderful.  Of course the plants were green making these bright yellow flowers pop.

The Creator’s design of these flowers was simple.  Like a round marshmallow in the center, the flower puffs delicately.  Pedals radiate out from this center.

The slightest breeze made this tiny display rustle and shake.  Its beauty and fragile nature suggest that it will not be long on this earth.  There will be a short lifespan devoted to the propagation of the plant, then it will whither and fade away.

Splendor in a bloom is as marvelous due to its temporary nature as its actual color and bright display.  Value increases with the brevity of existence.  Humans have long loved flowers for this very reason.

This flower was too small to harvest for any indoor display.  It was perfect for the great outdoors.  A myriad of similar flowers covered the ground.

Yes, insects are attracted to these blooms to help pollinate the plant for propagation.  But, the human eyes, at least mine, were drawn to them enough to place my journey on pause.  I was enjoying this special display of life.

Maybe I was too long in admiring these little splashes of color.  Near to the ground I felt like a giant peering into a world where I was only allowed as a short-term visitor.  Yet, these colorful blooms were welcoming.

They were like tiny suns shining up into a big world.  Or they could be flash bulbs snap photos of the humans that pass by.  Then, again they could be the tiny worlds way of smiling up at the big people.

In any case no matter how goofy our imagination, it is worth the effort to pause.  Then, look down.  Never be in so focused on the destination that the journey is not a part of the life of joy that we have been given as a gift.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_4761The beginning of every new semester is packed with familiar routines.  Alarms go off early in the morning.  Lesson plans fill each of our rolling bags.

As two teachers our minds are racing through the highlights for the day.  Particular students are on our prayer lists. Specific skills dominate our intention as we think about the teaching process for the day.

A full day of teaching and engaging the lives of our students drains us both of our energy.  Each of us glances up at the clock several times, looking forward to the end of the day.  Our second wind for the semester has not yet kicked in.

I picked her up at her school.  Gratefully, we merged into the High Occupancy Vehicle lane.  The sluggish rush hour traffic for tens of thousands of Houstonians were standing still to our right while we whizzed along at a very comfortable pace.

The routine commute home was relaxing and welcomed.  But, the remarkable display that lifted our spirits was stunning.  We drive west, so the sunset is a part of our journey home.

The long tiring day was now forgotten due to an emblazoned sun splashing massive sunbeams through the clouds.  Like a torn curtain unleashing light across the shadow of the ending day, the sun’s beacons reminded everyone that the One who made the earth could dazzle us all with a free display.  Was it a divine wink?

Maybe instead of a wink it was a flash of His smile.  Perhaps He wanted to remind us all that our tiring busy day was in fact a purposeful blessing where He wanted to touch the lives of others through us.  Can you imagine that our lives can be the answer to someone else’s prayers?

God smiles when we serve and obey Him.  Our defining moments of a productive day may in fact be touch points of eternity for someone else.  Now, that thought can make me gaze at a sunset and smile back in return.

If life is not about us but instead being a blessing to others, then our days have been lived well.  With the end of each day maybe instead of breathing a sigh of relief, we can smile as we review the lives of people that we had the chance to touch. Today when you end your day, lift up your eyes and take in a sunset of day lived well.

photo credit: brucefong photography

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