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What to do? My bride and I were in our old home state for the holidays.  She was off for the day with her sisters for a girls day out.  What to do?

Aha! The movie website was a quick touch of an app away.  Scrolling through the nearby theaters and the list of current movies solved my dilemma.  Nope, I have seen that one.  Again, that was one that we saw together.  Uh, nope, I am not into scary movies or raunchy ones either. Hmm, now there is an interesting one.

One swift click on my phone and I successfully bought a ticket for the earliest showing.  My GPS beeped, flashed, and then guided me safely to my destination.  The lights dimmed, commercials ran humorously, and then the featured event began.

The lead star was all talent. He danced, he sang, he charmed his way through life overcoming hardship, poverty, rejection, and despair. Love and dreams fueled his life.

He found others who were despised and disrespected.  His dreams found them all a new family, life and love that they could share.  When that world crashed and burned, they pulled themselves up and rebuilt an even better life.

It was a feel good movie from the start until the end.  The music was energizing.  Episodes of people’s lives were engaging.  Memories of The Greatest Showman linger for me.  I liked the movie so much that when my bride was free a week later, I brought her to the showing too.

However, I have read reviews of critics who did not like the movie. Their criticism centered on the “historical inaccuracies.” The movie portrayed P.T. Barnum as a folk hero of sorts, helping the oppressed, coming to aid of victims of racism, and giving a hand to the ethnic people marginalized by the community.  Critics claim that he was just the opposite.  He exploited the victims of race, prejudice, and abuse.  They say he did it all to line his own pockets.

Phooey!  I don’t know much about the history of this man.  But I liked the movie. Claims of racism sure seem to be subjective.  History not only stumbles over the truth about this evil, but contemporary people trip up also.  Just because we accuse someone of racism does not necessarily make it true.

Whatever history validates and whatever opinions fuel more arguments, I am left with the same conclusion.  I liked the movie. I liked it a lot!

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I have enjoyed the thrill of visiting several Presidential Libraries.  The newest one to open is in close proximity to my home.  President George W. Bush’s Presidential Library is located on the campus of SMU in Dallas, TX.

There was a time when I was younger that I thought that the greatest privilege in the world would be to serve as President of the United States of America.  After all I love leadership, I want my life to make a difference for others, my patriotism for this country is off the charts and I have given my whole life to benefit the lives of other people around me.  Over the course of decades I have served others no matter how difficult the challenge.

As I strolled through the exhibits and contemplated the facts of history, it became very apparent to me that the task of running this nation requires something beyond what is humanly possible.  No one in their right mind who cannot stand up against the negative onslaught of unchangeable minds would do this job.  Power and privilege is a difficult match against the constant scrutiny and immense implications of national and international demands.

I stood a long time in the library gazing at this seal.  It stirred in me another level of respect for what 43 did for our nation, the dignity with which he performed it and the class with which he treated the office.  No, I no longer think of wanting to serve in the office any longer.  My youthful aspirations have taken it off my life list.

Yet, what an amazing country the USA is.  What a remarkable honor to be the single representative of this seal of the great nation.  It is a symbol of all that has been exceptional and will continue to be exceptional about this democracy created under God.

Yes, I still love this country.  I relish the privileges that each of us enjoys as citizens.  While this office will never be mine apart from these occasional historic visits, I will long dwell in my thoughts over the burdens that 43 carried for us all.

photo credit: brucefong 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_32202012 was a year that many remembered for a brief moment.  Destined to be a forgettable moment of temporary horror, we languished in the feeling of helplessness.  The emotion drove us all to ask what we could have done to prevent the loss, but we were impotent.

None of us had the power to stand against the apparent tide of the inevitable. Had the time for this step into the future a resignation of a necessary loss? Who was to blame for this iconic devastation of Americana?

Yes, the “Twinkies” was going the way of the Gooney bird.  News of this demise blanketed the news broadcasts.  Sadly, parodies of this passing gave the comedic voices plenty of material in the month of November.

There was no outcry from the health industry spokes persons.  Quietly, their march toward an organic-only society was swallowing up every mom and pops operation in the nation.  This was a major swipe at forced health bias in recent current events.

Memorial services played out in every region of the nation.  The farewells were sincere.  Many adults recalled fond memories of their childhood lunch bucket having the golden snack prominently placed on top of the PB&J sandwich.

Then, like the passing of familiar friend, life returns to normal.  Presence turns into memories.  Memories fade into living with adjustments.

However, the world was awakened to entrepreneurs who captured the meaning behind the memories.  Within the next year there was a major move to buy the brand.  Clearly the brand had demonstrated its universal impact on this nation and the world.

No other competitive product rose to fill the void.  How strong can a brand actually be?  This was historic!

Details of the sweeping acquisition brought back nostalgic smiles.  Eyes sparkled at the news.  Conversations shifted and talked up the change in events.

Comedians found more material for their late night sets.  People laughed.  Yet, with so much “good” humor, everyone knows that there is truth behind the punch line.

It is back.  The Twinkies, not unlike the animated Minions on the despicable silver screen, is back on grocery shelves.  In my duties as the motor behind the grocery cart, I paused and gazed at the golden sponge cakes with the creamy fillings and paid a moment of cheer at their return.

In a respectful gesture, I picked up a package.  Then, I turned it over, read the ingredients, put it back on the shelf and kept on moving.  I felt good that the Twinkie had returned.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_1780Several people gave us directions to our faraway destination.  We politely listened to everyone’s contribution.  There was no shortage of advice on what route to take.

Getting us out-of-town was not much of a problem.  All of the directions had similar turns, landmarks and freeway numbers. I have lived in Houston for 8 months and know which way to go to leave town.

Arriving at the precise destination was a little more tricky.  People gave us three different towns to enter into our GPS.  I tried all three.

My GPS did not recognize any of those addresses, nor did it link any of those towns with is store house of geographical sites. I was getting a little confused.  Finally, we opted for an intersection that we knew we needed to find and make a Westerly turn.

I was thoroughly enjoying our country drive.  We were travelling in a Northerly direction toward Livingston on Highway 59.  The Houston flat lands transformed into undulations.

Pine Forests grew with every passing mile.  Wildlife began to make their appearances.  The sun danced between the boughs of the trees.

We turned on to a Highway just like the primary instructions guided us.  Our Texas paper map matched our bearings.  Soon we would see our destination on the left, the Southern side of the road.

Our arrival time left us with a lot of extra time.  Knowing that we had time to enjoy our surroundings, we continued West.  That is when I dramatically slowed down, safely coming to a halt in the tiny parking lot of a peculiar building.

It was like we were thrown back in time.  I fully expected that a hitching rail for horses once was out in front of this U.S. Post Office.  A blue drop box was on the corner of the highway, giving locals a landmark to get ready for the turn.

Of course Old Glory flew proudly on the flag pole.  She waves over every US Post Office building.  It is as much a landmark as a symbol of our great nation.

The rustic clap boards that gave this historic building its Western charm show the weather from decades gone by.  Now, a modern ramp to satisfy A.D.A. requirements is part of the facility.  The front covering is warped giving personality to this structure.

Maybe the barred windows tells of its wilder days.  Without any fanfare or neon signs, it has a business sign and its obligatory zip code.  Charming, simply, charming.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

Back through the courtyard the sculpture was dominant.  Some where in the back of my mind I had seen a photo of this artwork but couldn’t quite place the significance.  Once we were done inside, we would return and take it in; right now it was too hot to be outside.

Do have those moments when your memory just can’t seem to sift through all of the data that is in its storage cells?  It keeps whispering little chuckles with looks of surprise that you can’t recall the information immediately.  Even going through the alphabet doesn’t jog your memory.

We entered the George H. Bush Library in College Station, Texas.  It was a first for us both; it was our very first visit to a Presidential library.  The entrance into the rotunda was grand.

Overhead was a spectacular hexagon skylight.  Flooding the entry and opening gallery floor with natural light, it welcomed all visitors.  I sat in that area while my bride spent some time in the gift shop.

I struck up a conversation with one of the volunteers.  He was eager to join in a conversation. I saw my chance to satisfy my curiosity about the sculpture.

Casually, I remarked on the horse statues as striking and spectacular in capturing movement in static time.  It memorialized the determination and vigor of stallions on the run.  The fixation of the monument needed satisfaction in my mind.

He smiled and started on a helpful discourse that awakened my memory.  This statue commemorated the coming down of the Berlin wall.  The leaping and running steeds captured the spirit of those who were suppressed in the East now leaping over the crumbled wall and speeding toward freedom.

Then he added, “Did you know that there is an identical piece in Germany?  Two of the same in both countries so none of us will ever forget.”  That fact is powerful.

At the end of our tour of the inside of the library and museum, we exited the building and walked over to view the statue.  Our cameras were popping photos and we marvelled at all that the symbols were portraying.  We were in Scotland when the wall came down.

Our vivid recollection was captured with news reports and constant stories of the celebration around the world.  That was a moment in history when everyone from every nation marvelled at that historic expression of liberty.  We should always remember.

photo credit: brucefong photography

General Houston raised his sword. Hundreds of courageous men, all volunteers, waited for his order. Sam barked his word, “Advance” and the battle began, quietly.

Finally, the army of Texas could finally fight.  They had retreated time and time again.  Houston was desperately trying to train his men, build resources and seeking the right opportunity to engage in a strategic battle that he could win.

On the fields of San Jacinto, just East of modern-day Houston, over 900 Texans marched in silence toward Santa Ana’s highly experienced, well-equipped, battle-hardened troops.  The Mexican President and General was on a rampage to squash the rebels of Tejas.  Fresh off a series of victories, he was determined to end the rebellion.

However, burning deep in the souls  of the Texas army were bitter memories of their fallen comrades in the Alamo.  This was further emblazoned by the news of the massacre at Goliad.  This fierce band of individuals were hardened in their determination to avenge their fallen fellows.

It was just after 3 PM in the afternoon.  The Mexican troops were relaxing during their siesta.  Overconfident they did not even post any sentries.

The Texans fired their two cannon, bombarding the Mexican encampment.  Total pandemonium erupted in the Mexican camp.  At nearly point-blank range the Texans fired their weapons, swung their tomahawks and slashed with their knives.

Santa Ana had perceived himself as the Napoleon of the West.  His army was trained according to the European firing their muskets simultaneously from straight ranks.  Broken up and scattered, their habit of warfare couldn’t even form let along become organized.

Houston’s forces stormed the placement of the Mexican army.  Once the cannon fire was launched, the Texans deluged their opposition with cries of “Remember the Alamo!” “Remember Goliad!”

It was mayhem from the beginning to the end.  Mexican soldiers panicked without  their normal formations.  As individuals they fell quickly at the hands of the Texan onslaught. 

Twenty minutes into the battle, it was over.  Over 600 Mexicans had died.  Only 9 Texans lost their lives.

Santa Ana was defeated.  The Republic of Texas was born.  Subsequently, the United States gained the lands that doubled its size, expanding its borders to the Pacific Ocean.

I learned this stunning chapter in American history, in Texas history when I visited the San Jacinto monument.  It is a must for all Texans, especially we who are new to our adopted state.  Something special stirs in your spirit when you learn of these valiant men so long ago.

Before I moved to San Francisco, I made a mental note to find out about a curious site on the map in front of me.  It identified a place called China Camp.  I wondered about this place.

I am now well into my second year as a Cali resident, but I have not yet had a chance to explore China Camp State Park.  Then, a friend invited me to join him and his friends for a motorcycle ride to this very site.  Eagerly I looked carefully into my calendar but was disappointed knowing that I had already committed most of the day to work on the next day’s sermon.

But, the lingering curiosity kept me wondering.  What was this place with the name of my ethnic heritage?  These people who won the name for this location, who were they and what happened in their lives?

The day came when my curiosity would not be denied any longer.  Yvonne and I jumped in our car and headed to this destination that beckoned us to step back into history with people just like us.  It was a beautiful day for a drive.

Signs were clear and directed us to the entrance of the State Park without a single misstep.  It was somewhat odd.  What I first saw was confusing. 

The Ranger station came first.  It was nicely done, clean and backed up with a maintenance yard.  Everything was up-to-date.

But, China Camp was run down, old and neglected.  The few buildings looked more like a ghost town than a historic village.  Even the public restroom was a minimalist building.

Yvonne and I wandered the rocky parking lot and headed toward the small collection of very old buildings.  We knew that we were in the right spot when we saw the historic signs with information of life at China Camp from the past.  Slowly the story of this special off the beaten track historic site.

Chinese families lived here long ago.  They worked hard.  Their cultural family work ethic was reflected in their high productivity. 

Business went very well in their shrimping business for several years.  However, ethnic prejudice shut down the operations.  Those who directed their ethnic prejudice against the Chinese managed to impose severe restrictions on the shrimping season and export limitations.  China Camp went from a productive happy settlement to a vacant ghost town.  It is a story that made me very sad.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Usually we pay careful attention to the last words of significant people.  When their words come at the end of a very productive life, we pay special attention to the insights and wisdom that they want to pass on to the rest of us.  Their experiences can teach us and keep us from painful moments of our own.

But once in while all can do is roll our eyes and laugh.  When people who are limited in their knowledge attempt to sound prophetic, they can easily fall short.   They might be very good at what they are doing now but not nearly as skilled at what they have never done.

Life needs lighter moments.  With a chuckle here and there we can enjoy this life a little more. Here are some that made me laugh.

“Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.” – Popular Mechanics, forecasting the relentless march of science, 1949.

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” –Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943.

“I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year.” – The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957.

“But what is it good for?” — Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip.

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” — Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977.

“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” – Western Union internal memo, 1876.

“The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C,’ the idea must be feasible.” — A Yale University management professor in response to Fred Smith’s paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service. (Smith went on to found Federal Express Corp.)

“Who on earth wants to hear actors talk?” — H.M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927.

“I’m just glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling on his face and not Gary Cooper.” –Gary Cooper on his decision not to take the leading role in “Gone With The Wind.”

“A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides, the market research reports say America likes crispy cookies, not soft and chewy cookies like you make.” –Response to Debbi Fields’ idea of starting Mrs. Fields’ Cookies.

“We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.” – Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962.

photo credit: google image

Knowledge of truth is essential for all those who walk in faith .  Israel for example was under God’s watchful eye.  He protected them with miraculous intervention.

God identified Israel with Moses.  He enjoyed fellowship with both.  That is what the pillar of cloud represented.  God was present with Israel through the desert.  God sealed Israel’s identity with Moses when the nation miraculously passed through the Red Sea.

During Israel’s journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, they passed through some of the world’s most hostile environments.  Yet, God took care of them with miracle food and water.  Jesus Christ was present in that historical journey even though Israel did not know it.

Blessing, however, is not always received with gratitude.  Israel repeatedly sinned and drifted away from Jehovah.  God’s offended holiness called for severe judgment on Israel, even to the point of death for many.

For all of us who follow after in history, we can take note of what has occurred.  The disaster that transpired for the nation is a warning and example to us.  When God gives His instructions and blessings it is wise to live in obedience to those directions.

Following God’s guidelines is beneficial for us.  They prevent our hearts from desiring what is evil.  Here are three lessons.

Idolatry is a sinful desire that humans find attractive.  Israel made idolatry a natural part of their daily routine.  God took issue with their choice to abandon Him for false gods.

Sexual immorality should also be avoided.  It is self-destructive.  Israel had massive die-offs as a result of their selfish indulgent immorality.  Thousands of them died as a result.

Grumbling is a life-threatening sin.  It seems odd to group this matter of fussing in with idolatry and sexual immorality but God sees it as serious.  He will even send His destroying angels to stop this human sin. 

If we are overconfident we are in danger of falling.  Yet, we should not be so intimidated that we forget that to be human is to be vulnerable to sin.  God is watching over us like He was watching over Israel. 

He assures us that He will never allow us to be tempted beyond what we are capable of bearing.  There will always be a providential way to get through every temptation.  He wants us to succeed and will give us the provisions to make that successful end possible.

1 corinthians 10.1-13

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