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Lion 2019
Chinese New Year has arrived! After a yearlong wait, it is time to celebrate. Take it from generations of those learning how to celebrate, the Chinese are going to whoop it up not just for a day. They don’t celebrate for two days. When the Lunar calendar hits the reset button, it is time to party-on for 3-4 weeks.

Companies in Asian countries plan on shutting down for weeks during this festive time of the year. People plan their budgets and make the long journey to be with family. Together, the bonds of blood draw people together.

They reflect, count their blessings, pour out their savings for the best decorations, delicious meals, loud celebrations, spectacular fireworks, and generous sharing with relatives. It is a picture of the goodness experienced over the year that has gone by and an optimistic look into the future year to come.

This is the year of the Pig. In the legend of the 12 animals representing the lunar calendar, the pig overslept on the day that annual assignments were passed out. The pig arrived last and was assigned the 12th and final year of the lunar cycle. At least he didn’t get volunteered for any dangerous mission.

While the pig may not have the prestige, reputation, or regard as some of the other animals in the West, it is painted in a very positive light. The pig represents prosperity. They have a beautiful personality. Finally, they portray a good and prosperous life. Not a bad portrait at all.

The Chinese have a way of saying something positive about every creature, person, and set of circumstances. If you were born in the Year of the Pig, you have a lot going for you. These years would be 2019, 2017, 1995, 1983, 1971, 1959, 1947 and 1935. Whatever year and under whichever sign, I wish you the Happiest New Year!

photo by BWFong

IMG_3884Do you like hoards and hoards of people trying to do what you are trying to do?  When the sun is hot, the temperatures are soaring and the lines form like a funnel each time you want to take in a special moment on a vacation that you have saved to enjoy after years.  Fuses are short even at the “Happiest Place on Earth”.  Grouchy people come with the program bursting with people on a mission.

A snarly husband with irritation dripping from his steely voice, “What did you lose?”
Desperately slapping her pockets, checking her purse, searching her bag a woman exclaimed, “Hold on.  I’m looking.”
With an escalating volume out of control, the man shouted with a growl, “Tell me!  What did you lose?”
Desperate and trying to find whatever she had misplaced, she blurted out, “My wallet.  I lost my wallet!”

By now everyone around that small patch of shade were looking up.  We were all looking on the ground, checking the bench and even slapping our own pockets.  Clearly there was sympathy for her and a frantic effort to stay the pending eruption written in red on that man’s face.

Just in time she announced, “I found it!”

A wind of crowd relief exhaled.  That man just turned on his heels and stalked away.  The family gathered their personal items, huddled together and followed after the heated furor of the family.

Quickly all of us in the crowd stepped back into our world of ease.  Everyone loses it some time under certain circumstances.  Most of us have the dignity not to hang our laundry in public, however.

We loved our visit to Disney World.  Yet, we encountered a few who were grouchy, a small number who were rude and very few who were pushy.  Humans get a little testy when their circumstances are not  ideal.

When the temperatures soar, so do the frayed tempers.  During the crowded spaces and slow-moving lines people do snap at others.  No matter how broadly Mickey smiles and cheers, someone is going to be unhappy.

Humorously, grumpy people want others to know how unpleasant they are feeling. Broadcasting their ill will seems to be a necessity for them.  Blaming others or making others feel badly is like a calling in life  for them.

Sometimes we are best just to keep quiet.  Other times we can smile back or send a cheerful way.  We cannot change the whole world but maybe we can infect a few with wonderful happiness.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Israel 2014 IFL 310There are high spiritual points along the tour of Israel.  Every day and at every site there are those deeply personal moments that people will always remember.  But, there are also moments of comic relief that brings a smile to every pilgrim whose feet follows the footsteps of the Savior as well.

On every one of my four tours of the Holy Land, there is a common laughable sparkle moment.  It is  part of the land. Also, it is very much a part of the people of the Land.

The first time a camel is spotted it rouses an immediate interest on our bus.  Every picks their head up and asks, “Where?”  Heads are turning and the eagerness in lives both young and old are interested.

Cameras are set on the ready. Smart phones with built-in cameras are held up with photo or video options ready to launch into action.  All conversations are put on hold and the guide helps everyone orient themselves to the first sighting of this remarkable creature.

Westerners have often joked that the best illustration of what a committee can produce compared to that talented executive is a camel.  The skilled and gifted individual can come up with a plan to build a Chevrolet Corvette but a committee can never be efficient or productive beyond a hodgepodge of connected good ideas or aesthetic appeal and end up with a camel.  That would be a little too rugged of a commentary on this amazing beast.

Israel 2014 IFL 319When God created this animal, He designed endurance like it existed no where else in the animal kingdom.  The camel can go and keep on going even through the roughest of climates.  In the desert this animal is the king.

With its agile movements, personal water reservoir and massive hoof displacement it can travel with a burden through the desert and keep on living.  Caravans learned of this quality and maximized its potential.  Through the arid and sparsely scattered water sources, these animals deliver their cargo over and over again.

Today our guide told us that there are no wild camels.  Even in the desert a camel is owned by someone.  These creatures are highly prized by those whose lives are in the sandy dunes.

Look at the face of a camel.  Do they not have a face that only a mother could love?  They are gentle yet independent.  With their water hump, they always make us pilgrims smile.

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

IMG_3434We had a half of a day left in Tel Aviv before our pilgrims arrived for their Once-in-a-lifetime tour of the Holy Land.  My bride and I had heard of an open air market that was just blocks from our hotel.  We were in an adventuresome mood.

With a not-to-scale map in hand, we got general directions from our hotel concierge and set off on a hunt for the open air market.  After a short six block foray we started seeing people coming from a common direction.  Each was carrying a plastic bag filled with produce.

That brought a smile to our faces.  We just went in the opposite direction.  We dodged a few cars, stopped a bus at an intersection and froze as a motorcyclist zoomed around us.  Then, the market came into sight.

The hustle and bustle of people foraging for necessitates and ingredients for the evening meal was fun.  I am not a crowd IMG_3435person but the experience of being in such a lively place pushed aside my inhibitions.  We clasped our hands tightly together and got jostled about and found ourselves having to step out of the flow to get a flavor of modern Israel.

A huge display of Turkish Delight made us smile.  Surely, the Chronicles of Narnia popped into our heads.  The powdered sugar jelly morsels made my mouth water.

Just ahead a brilliant display of baklava gave us more reason to salivate.  The honey aroma filled the market place.  That was
a temptation.

IMG_3436My attention was arrested again with the sight that is not common back home.  Fresh and smoked fish lay on open display for shoppers.  Fish farming is a huge success in Israel.  This selection had my jaw on the floor.

Food is a big attraction in this market place. Of course it is why people come.  Vendors hope to sell their foods to those who come here by the thousands.

But it is the crowds that ultimately fill my mind.  People are not bothered by the throngs.  Instead, they are focused.  A list is in their minds.

They are limited in what they purchase.  Most are walking, travel by bus or have a bicycle.  A big box store does not exist IMG_3433here. What someone can carry is common among the shoppers.

Bartering is going on all over the place.  Not only do people only buy what they need, no one wants to pay more than they have to in order to fill their shopping bags. Quality and bargain prices trumps quantity that will always be purchased tomorrow.

photo credit: brucefong 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_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_2948Yep, I am a guy.  As a guy I have an unofficial official “man-card”.  With this card we males can function with impunity when it comes to certain social practices or lack thereof.

There are several categories where these male operations occur.  Some are audible.  Yes, certain sounds are allowed and expected as natural.  They might embarrass the fairer ones of God’s fine creation.  Nevertheless, they are noises that the Good LORD designed in these amazing bodies of ours.  Instead of engendering frowns, gasps or the consummate rolling of the eyes, a smirk, chuckle or knowing nod are perfectly appropriate.

Then, of course the category of visual enhancements is a dominant part with approval by male card holders.  While there is a large margin for flexibility for men when it comes to aesthetics, certain options are universal.  Men love camo.

Recently, I sent a camo outfit to my grandson.  He is four months old but his overalls are perfect for any of his outings.  Of course I sent him a bib in camo to match his outfit.

Other than camo, combinations of black, grey or khaki work great as well.  Bold steps in color include blue, navy and maroon.  Pattern colors work as well as long as they are utilized in plaid.

This is a good time to correct the misunderstanding that a man card permits or approves of poor grammar.  It does not.  However, it does not disapprove of it  either.  After some snickering is released, then there can be some effort to correct any agreements, replacement of colloquialisms or sentence structure alterations.

Another correction that must be recognized with the application of the man card guidance is the matter of the color pink.  Pink is not the enemy.  There are plenty of pink camo patterns that are just fine.

Several items have pink highlights that only serve to enhance a product.  For example, there are rifles that have pink highlights.  Roll bars for 4×4 rigs are sometimes in pink. The list goes on.

It is not the color but the overall aesthetic motif.  Yep, real men have no fear even of the color pink.  In fact you can go to one of the major outdoor stores on-line and type in the word pink and pages of products come up including pink compound bow, pink folding knife, pink molded pistol case, pink monofilament, pink box of ammo…

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_2929Our radio interview was completed.  We exchanged greetings with our on-air hostess.  She is a consummate professional in her world of broadcasting.

Even though the total time at the station is relatively brief, the intensity of the interview is taxing.  Concentration is high. Messaging is concentrated.

We record two different spots to be aired in the next two weeks.  Trying to sound spontaneous, animated and fresh is mentally challenging.   At the same time we keep our subject matters focused so that there is very little duplication.  We need to sound like we are a week apart even though the recordings are back to back.

Everyone was happy with the final product. We smiled, exchanged our pleasantries and concluded with our farewells.  When we left the studio we knew that we were hungry.  I let my staff member choose the lunch destination.  We were heading for Middle Eastern cuisine.

During my travels I have enjoyed walking the lands of Israel.  Feasting on the table fare of that ancient land was always an adventure.  I was looking forward to scanning the menu from lands on the other side of the planet.

When we arrived, the little eatery was filled with people from that part of the world.  The aromas that wafted throughout the establishment were wonderful.  I could see the roasting meats on slowly spinning carousels behind the counter.

Slowly the line of customers melted and soon it was our turn to order.  I tried to steal glances at what the other patrons were eating as we passed their tables.  Then, a fast glance down the overhead menu made me smile.

There in featured position was the meal of choice: LAMB!  I love lamb.  Since I was a youth this has always been a favorite.

We sat down to wait for our order.  It came in a timely fashion with the an aroma that made me salivate.  Roasted to perfection the lamb was waiting eagerly for me to dive in.  I did not let it cool down much before wrapping it in bread and enjoying the wonderful flavors satisfy my palate.

The procedure is part of the experience.  There are a lot of fingers and few utensils.  Just tear a part of the bread that meets your approval.  Tuck in a few pinches of greens, chunk of grilled tomato and finally include several delicious pieces of lamb.  Eat away and enjoy the company and conversation with your table friends.  Social interaction with good people just add to the delectable table fare.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

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We are in the class of people who still finds it difficult to hand our car keys over to a total stranger, a valet.  Ingrained in us is the value of our vehicles and the undercurrent of fear of ever losing one of these special parts of our existence.  Yet, tonight would be a gathering at a special place with very special people making it possible to let someone drive off with our chariot.

The short walk to a special elevator put us in an intersection with people heading in toward the same destination as us.  We smiled, joked together and bid each other a pleasant evening.  Texas hospitality and culture is delightful.

We arrived at the destination floor.  The Express elevator speedily brought us to the gathering that had us eager with anticipation.  Our hosts welcomed us with greetings, photographs and cheerful words.

This was an evening about Missions.  We were capturing God’s heart for the lost. IMG_2999Together we prayed, were inspired and deepened our commitment to be a part of what God was doing with His Gospel in the world, our nation and in our city.

Perhaps the most moving part of our evening was turning around, away from the stage and joining hands.  The house lights were dimmed and we gazed at the city lights that fought off the night.  We prayed for our city.

The prayer that night was more than a religious rite.  It was a genuine expression to the Father to impact the city for eternity, for Jesus’ sake.  We asked God to save many, make Houston known for where Jesus was doing a special work and to show each of us how to be a part of His great love for the millions who called this place their home.

IMG_2997In the panoramic view of Houston, skyscrapers were lit up like tall Christmas trees.  Sprawling sites of historic relevance were spread out as far as the eye could see.  The curvature of the earth showed the limitations of our view.

Dark spots of the poorer and more desperate areas of the city were easily set apart in the vista.  We prayed especially for those areas.  The vision of the city has carved a unique spot in all of hearts.  It is a city that we loved on that night because we all love our city in Jesus’ name.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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