You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘grace’ tag.

FullSizeRender-1This special and favorite topic has found its way in my writings many times.  It is my favorite time of day.  Sunsets are great but if I am forced to choose, I would cast my ballot for a sensational sunrise.

When the morning breaks, long before the sun rises I smile and often mouth my greeting, “Good morning, Lord!”  It is a reminder of grace.  No matter what we failed to do the day before or how we might have messed up or the wrong choices we made, we get a “do-over” with every new day.

When it is time, an agreed departure moment on the clock, my bride and I load into our transportation machine.  It fires up on command and moves at adjusted speeds just like it was designed to do.  Soon we join tens of thousands of other commuters on the asphalt arteries leading into the city.

Darkness fades.  Other vehicles and buildings along the way come into view.  Dawn is upon the city of Houston.FullSizeRender-3

Yet, like so many mornings, the rising sun announces its coming with a warm up act.  The horizon glows as if a massive fire is spreading across the sky.  Brilliant colors mix in perfect harmony not according to fashionistas but according to eternity planned schemes of the spectrum of light.

Yellows, oranges, reds and purple blend into each other.  All during our route into our destinations, the sky is brightening up.  Like the climactic lever controlling the lights on a stage, a masterful performance takes over.

This is not about what is to come.  No one rushes the presentation.  There is no hurry to finish this show.

FullSizeRenderNor is there ever a boredom because of familiarity.  A repeat is never identical.  Shades, shadows and sparkle are always in different proportions.

It is impossible to be bored with something that is new every morning.  The variety defies human understanding and results in human marvel.  Beauty from the hand of the Creator never ceases to stir the wonder of the created.

The sunrise is the beginning of every new day.  Every sunrise is a marvel of God’s creative hand.  Each one is new in shades, combination and sensation.

Capture the soulful joy of every new day with a one-of-a-kind sunrise.  Each one is tailor-made for what the Almighty has customized for the day for everyone who draws breath to live one more day. Bask in His reminder that He starts the day, rules the day and ends the day.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_3562There is a tree in Israel that everyone knows.  It has a name that stops conversations, bows heads, infuriates the righteous and saddens the majority.  Everyone knows the Judas tree.

Of all who walked with Jesus and all of us who are following Him today know the name Judas.  It stirs feelings of disdain in all humans.  Even those who are outside of the faith know the dastardly deed of the most infamous of traitors.

After two thousand years of history no one has surpassed Judas in recognition of the worst of betrayers.  When trust and love are given in bountiful doses, he turns on his benefactor and betrays Him for 30 pieces of silver.  No one believes that any amount of anything justifies betrayal, but mere monetary gain makes a despicable deed even more repulsive.

Life is difficult for most of us.  Each one of us has our own story of excruciating pain that came from a betrayal.  It is the kind of life experience that takes a chunk out of our hearts.

Israel 2014 IFL 386Warm tears soak our pillow at night.  Nightmares of imagining the hideous gossip, slander and conspiracy efforts of these wicked people tear into our minds.  It is impossible to escape the surprise moments when this pain resurfaces at the oddest moments.

Yet, there is relief.  The haunting of these who hurt us can be made impotent.  No, those people never change.

Instead, we can change towards them.  Jesus showed us the way.  He forgave Judas and all those who turned on Him.

The ignominious death of our Savior is a portrait of how ugly sin is.  Judas’ betrayal triggered this awful event.  How could someone turn against pure love?

Yet, for every betrayal in all of our collective lives we have felt a small dose of that personification of evil.  The hurt is unimaginable.  Discovery of this kind of vicious human wickedness is shocking.  Trying to describe the abandonment, the astonishment or the bizarre nature is for want of words.

We see it.  Our mouth turns up in frustration.  Our head shakes in disgust.

Betrayal when only trust and love have been given is the worst of sins.  Have you trusted someone who went behind your back and conspired to betray you?  Did you get blindsided when a trap was sprung by those that you thought were in your corner?

See this tree?  God understands.  He has felt that ugliness and is ready to bring you the salve of His grace and mercy.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Israel 2014 IFL 213Joshua has a special place in the hearts of every man in pursuit of godliness.  This Old Testament hero had few recorded flaws and faced enormous challenges.  His life in the book that bears his name is a great example of obedience fueled by faith in the God that he chose to believe.

Launching his leadership career, Joshua faced the formidable fortifications of Jericho.  It was infamous in its day as the gateway to Palestine.  God would bring His people into the Land of promise by way of a miraculous victory over a seemingly impregnable city.

Rahab the harlot played a key role in making this victory possible.  Her life and the walls of the city clashed.  At God’s appointed time through the oddest of military strategies Israel conquered this bastion of Jericho and began military campaign that left 31 defeated kings in the wake of God’s people obeying their divine authority.

My previous three trips to the Holy Land were frustrated because Jericho was closed to visitors.  The closest we Israel 2014 IFL 217could get was on the out skirts looking over the valley from miles away.  This ancient city that began the opening of the Land was closed to the eyes of a very eager pilgrim.

Now, I could walk on the grounds that Joshua had led the people.  Here they marched around the city walls for seven days.  On the seventh day the marched around the walls in silence as before a total of seven times.

I must have been an eerie feeling that week to be a defender on the walls of that city.  The growing panic that then must have erupted when the walls fell down was no doubt horror of the greatest kind.  God’s power shines while man’s best efforts just crumble.

Israel 2014 IFL 226Now, centuries after this cataclysmic miracle, rubble is all that still remains on this site.  No one has rebuilt a lasting fort on this location.  God declared a judgment on this people for their rebellion against Him and the penalty has been permanent as He said.

We saw the remains of the entry switchbacks at the gate to the city.  Archaeologists have uncovered key foundation stones of this ancient city.  Fertile fields surround the site but the remains of the destruction still remind modern pilgrims of the wrath of God against sinful lives.Israel 2014 IFL 225

When Rahab was saved from the city, her choice to follow the one and only true God was the right decision.  She was embraced by the people of God.  God included her in the line of the Messiah, a beautiful picture of the meaning of grace.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Israel 2014 IFL 045There is a captivating view from the top of Mt. Carmel.  It is the transition from that amazing Biblical site to one of the most startling prophetic sites.  When our minds, bodies and spirit clash with the tranquil present and the inevitable future, we feel the weight on our soul.

Once the all of the past Old Testament history of Elijah was climaxed and the oohs and ahs were completed, it was time to re-frame the  beautiful view from on top of the mountain.  The Jezreel valley is a testimony to the diligence, entrepreneurial spirit and creativity of the Jewish people.  It is a lush valley of highly prized agricultural productivity, state of the art fish farming and multi-crop annual harvesting.

IMG_3448This peaceful world-class horn-of-plenty land will play a featured role in the divine plan of God.  One day a man identified as the Anti-Christ will rise up and win a level of popularity on the world stage that defies the imagination of all of human history.  He will politically and economically exercise dominion over the whole earth.

Loyalty to him will eclipse normal explanation and spill into the realm of unabashed worship.  That political religious furor will erupt into open defiance to Jesus Christ.  A battle will ensue in this valley, the Battle of Armageddon.

Just to the Southeast of this location is the ancient town of Meggido.  It stands as the sentinel over this valley.  Hence, the name Armageddon.

In all of my trips to the Holy Land, this is one of those locations that I must pause in a moment of reflection over this eventual battle.  Man will attempt to fight the Savior, the Son of God with armor, man-made weapons and a defiance that reveals their spiritual bankruptcy.

IMG_3449Jesus will merely speak a word and the battle will be over.  Those who defied Him and embraced their sin and their human leaders will die.  Divine judgment will end the march of sin in  a horrific moment of tragic loss.

Light will rule.  Darkness will fall.  The world will be awakened to the blindness that corrupted the lives of many.

Yet, God grace and mercy through the Savior will win the lives of many.  Through the faithful witness of faithful believers, those who choose to believe will be granted mercy and forgiveness forever.  This is the end of the time of Tribulation.  The new beginning will usher in 1,000 years of joy in which the world will relish.

photo credit: brucefong photography & cellphone photography

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo credit: brucefong photography and cellphone photography

2 Thessalonians 1.1-4

Harvest is special.  There is nothing else like it.  After a season of hard work and caring for crops, this is time when the fruit gets picked or the plants get collected.  It is a grower’s delight.

There is a river of sweat and toil to get to this point.  When the Good LORD then gives great weather to bring in the harvest, farmers can celebrate with this special work.  Plants have grown tall, strong and healthy for months since planting.  Now, it is autumn and the crops can be brought in to market.

The first fruits are part of the evening meal.  Freshness is central on everyone’s palate.  Smiles and humor mark the meal.  Conversation, memories, retelling of key moments for this particular season meld everyone’s minds on the greatest part of this first meal of the harvest.  Everyone is grateful, thankful and satisfied with God’s bountiful harvest.

Three godly men penned the second letter to the Thessalonians.  They had every intention of encouraging the believers there in light of the coming prophetic hope centering on Christ’s return.  Authority for this anticipation was based upon uncompromised certainty in God’s relationship with all those who are His.  The Godhead here is acknowledged as the Father and the Son equally each divine.

Grace is worth a long and deep pause.  It is God’s incredibly generous favor given to all in the church and the resulting peace from the reception of that grace.  While the terms share so much in common, grace describes God’s favor and mercy is His application of grace into our lives

Once God gives us His amazing gift, we spend the rest of our lives not trying to re-experience that historic moment. Rather, we enjoy the satisfaction that comes from the result of grace applied into our lives.  That is the peace that these emissaries of God have delivered.

The spiritual growth of Christians elicits a very similar reaction.  Maturity is something to celebrate.  It is not only good for those who are growing but also fantastic for those who helped others nurture their spiritual development.

Thanksgiving is an integral part of being a follower of Christ.  This spiritual journey with Christ begins with celebration and continues with many other landmark moments of elation as well.  Gratitude is constant as God nurtures, protects and provides the energy and circumstances to advance our faith.

Testifying over the spiritual advancement of others is a part of our own Christian journey.  Selflessness is what spirituality is.  We serve others, help others and rejoice in the growth and advancement of others.

Faith and love are both dynamic realities.  Neither stays static.  They are not real if they do not change.  Both fuel our interest in others.  When they each continue to increase and grow, then there is good reason for gratitude to be energetically expressed.

There is a special feature among gathered Christians.  It is all about story.  Together we share what God is doing in the lives of other believers.  We detail the story of the growth and expression of their faith.  When God blesses their acts of trust and belief and favors their lives we find massive encouragement from testifying to His goodness to others in the body of Christ.  Functionally, when God blesses one part of the gathering of believers, we all are benefitting.

The local church is the central gathering of these followers of Jesus.  It is not exclusive, but it certainly central.  The heartbeat of the Lord Jesus Christ is personified in the local church.

Here is where Christians can experience a righteous pride.  It is not selfish.  There is nothing in it for personal gain.  Instead, it is totally directed toward God and for the benefit of others.  There is a special beauty in this feature of humanity, redeemed humanity.

Remarkably, this celebration is not playing out just in good times.  Rather, it is especially highlighted during difficult times.  The Thessalonian believers were suffering during times of persecution.  Trials were replete and painful.  Nevertheless, they endured not just with gritted teeth but with a faith that was growing and a love for each other that was increasing.

Essential to Christian living is our vested involvement in the lives of others.  This is far more than being friends with those whom we find are just like us.  Rather, it is all about helping others grow in their faith.

This relationship of discipleship is not difficult at least it does not have to be.  When we help another Christian grow in their faith and love during difficult times, we are immersed into the heart of discipleship.  Then, when we are intentional about it, we obeying the Lord’s Great Commission.

Church should be a place where this kind of thanksgiving celebration is common.  Believers gather for mutual encouragement.  This fellowship breeds perseverance.  Christians with a strong connection to other believers who encourage them this way can look back and see that they have endured well

LAPP (Life Application): Choose three lives and build a discipleship relationship with them.  Commit to them and invest into their spiritual growth in love, faith and perseverance.  When the tough times come and they will, stick with them and cheer on their spiritual vitality and you will both grow stronger.

Thanks for joining me on this journey through the Scriptures.

IMG_1474There are masterpieces of literature from world human history that touch most of our lives.  Les Miserables is one of those incredible works of art.  Victor Hugo served the entire world well when he penned this novel in the 19th century.

It became popularized as a musical.  Perhaps this adaption can be argued to be one of the best musical productions of all-time.  The songs are riveting and lyrics stir the souls of so many.

This movie has captured the story of these lives caught up in the ugly circumstances of life where poverty, oppression and wickedness offend the good senses of humanity.  Themes of grace and legalism form the backdrop of this story.  Javert is the obsessed inspector who personified legalism, representing people who judge others with the sharp edge of the law with no measure of mercy or leniency.  In contrast is Jean Valjean who is the recipient of grace and turns his life into giving that grace away as often as he could.

The cast is brilliant.  Anne Hathaway plays Fantine.  Her performance is Oscar-worthy. 

You are swept along through each tragedy that she suffers in sacrifice for her daughter, Cosette.  Poverty and the inevitable abuse that women endure grips your soul.  Throughout time this story pleads for mankind to end the plight of women mired in the grips of economic woes.

Hugh Jackman deserves an Oscar for his role as Jean Valjean.  From his life as a survivor in prison to the desperate bitterness of the life lived as a convicted felon to the transformation into a life that values grace, he delivers a powerful in-character role that could easily be his signature professional performance.  He makes you see and believe every turn, twist and struggle in his life that is doggedly pursued by the vicious judgemental legalistic ire of the self-righteous Javert.

Samantha Barks plays the role of Eponine.  It is a support role from every perspective but when she is center stage, she delivers.  Each expression of her soul is gripping, heart-rending and soul-searching. 

The child actors are ideal.  They sing with bravado and stir your spirit.  Hang on to your tissue when one young life ends at the shots of the French army and another cowers under that abuse of a would-be benefactor.

Too many lives ended in sadness.  But, life has its greatest meaning when it is captured and passed on to those of us who keep on living.  As long as God is seen in life and the life hereafter, then we can live for Him today with the lessons learned about grace and law.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

During my vacation I sorted through the collection of DVD’s and called the two grandpups to join me in the living room.  The three of us were going to watch Les Miserables starring Liam Neeson as Jean Valjean, Uma Thurman as Fantine and Geoffrey Rush as the obsessed policeman driven by a legalistic attitude that defies grace or goodness.

I have given considerable thought to this story.  While I was watching the movie, I knew that I would write about it.  But, how do you blog in a few hundred words what Victor Hugo did in 1200 pages? 

These characters draw you into their individual lives.  Their lives are engrossed in struggle, conflicting values and plagued with circumstances beyond their control.  It is a mixture of inhumane travesty and generous mercy. 

I have chosen one theme to consider for this piece.  It is the struggle between Valjean and Fantine.  He is a convict in hiding but his promise to God to change is his new motivation in life.

Valjean helps Fantine, a local prostitute forced into desperate measures out of love for her daughter.  No one else would help her but just the opposite took advantage of her.  She lived to provide for her daughter entrusted to the care of selfish, cruel and greedy tavern owners.

Javert is the local police inspector.  He sees an episode that makes him suspicious of the Mayor.  He is self-absorbed and obsessed suspicious that the Mayor is in fact Valjean. 

The crime was stealing bread.  He was hungry and his family was hungry.  Not only did he pay for the crime in prison but also served for many years more for attempted escapes.  No thoughtful spectator could keep from shaking their head at the injustice of such a penalty long paid but still dogging this man from true freedom.

No matter how much grace Valjean displayed, Javert would not let up his self-justification of applying the law.  It is a common scenario of passion that far exceeded a not-so-mortal-an-offense.  The display was a hatred under that guise of justice.

In the end Javert is unable to come to grips with his desire to administer the law which was in conflict with Valjean’s constant display of goodness.  He takes his own life to end what he considered a pure devotion that had no place in life where grace instead should abound.  Redemption came when grace overcame law and death was the ultimate price.

photo credit: google image

Church is a very special destination for me.  It is not just where I work.  Rather it is the center of most of my life.

I love the people who gather on Sunday.  The lives that gather are full of both blessings and trials.  Each one has stories that make every life very special.

Every local church where I have been to serve or to help has had its challenges.  People are people.  As special as each one is, they sometimes get sideways with each other. 

The difference is that at certain churches there is a presence that is beyond normal. No, it isn’t weird poltergeist stuff. Admittedly, however, it is supernatural.

Challenging moments don’t make otherwise good people bad. It does, however, make them appear to each other as off-center. Out of a sinful nature people judge others. That’s the beginning of division.

Division in churches is inflamed by gossip and slander. Assumption and suspicion fuels the divide. Rational or spiritual thinking is hard to find in those moments.

Unfortunately, we all know the drill. It seems like every church has this unhappy chapter in its history. Coming out of that dark tunnel of despair is excruciatingly difficult.

Would you like to visit a church that God has blessed with a generous measure of His grace?  Does the idea of walking into a building where a church on the brink of deep heartache, came through with humility and love, sound very inviting?  Even though no one is perfect, do long to see Christians live out grace with strength?

It is not difficult to find a gathering of believers who believe in grace, practice grace, live out grace and do so humbly.  No one is winking at sin or overlooking flaws.  Everyone has them, so we might as well admit it.

But, once sin is confronted, then get on with living.  There are a lot of hurting people around us.  They need grace too.

When Christians get on each other’s wrong side and put the spotlight on differences a wrong course has been taken.  Instead, we should emphasize what we share in common.  The most important common denominator among Christians is Christ. 

Knowing that we are all sinners, grace should be our banner.  We who are among the redeemed must be as gracious to each other as we know God has been to us.  Be a champion of grace.

photo credit: google image

Christopher spoke to a packed house.  I couldn’t see many empty seats.  A couple of empty single chairs were scattered throughout the auditorium. 

An excitement and energy were in the air.  I could see it in the animation of our youth.  Afterall, it was a high school crowd.

Our youth group had invited a few other youth groups to join us for a night of fellowship.  We would feature a young man sharing his journey out of darkness and into the light.  My youth pastor had sent me the transcript of the testimony and when I read it I was blown away.

When a human being lives his life on earth without the Savior, there is a closed heart toward spiritual things.  Guilt is justified and embraced with good answers, or at least answers that sound good.  An animosity forms and keeps building a wall, hardens the heart and the enemy feeds the awful character of pride.

As Christopher unfolded his testimony, it was real.  He was frank with his past, life lived for himself and his spiraling downward into a world of crime and lawlessness.  All who were listening were spiritually quiet.

Angela is his mother.  Her story added the perspective of maternal anguish but also a mother’s persistent prayers.  I was astonished with her tenacity.

Leon is his father.  Dad’s involvement and spiritual determination became a key feature in his story.  His own battles with marriage and disillusionment were stunning.

But it was Christopher’s humble spirit that amazed me the most.  He was not bragging about his sins.  Rather, he traced just enough of his past to convince us of his need for God’s mercy and grace.

I had read the testimony before I heard it.  Over the weekend I heard from “the horse’s mouth four times.  It sealed in my spirit the need to offer more often a word of invitation.

Yes, I want to have fewer and fewer people who have to say that they were alone.  When life is futile I don’t want to be perceived as aloof, uninterested or too busy.  By God’s grace I want to be there for those who are secretly hurting, quietly drowning in their helplessness or too afraid to ask for help.

The power of a testimony that was not exaggerated, gratuitously brash or colorized with shock value touches life.  It invites others to be as open.  It is the beginning of mercy.

photo credit: google image

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