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42-Feeling-GreatThere is no greater class of people in the world than pastors.  They work harder for others, make do with less, live by the noblest of values and rack up more hours of work per day than anyone that I know.  Duty does not call, but God does.  Then, every pastor answers.

Nevertheless, pastors are the object of more criticism, more abuse and more attacks than any other class of professional that I know.  Every pastor experiences betrayal, pulls out the darts of gossip, binds up the wounds of slander and humbly accepts a pittance for the faithful work that they do.  The self-righteous hold their private meetings to complain with like-minded malcontents.

Ever the optimist and hopeful servant, the pastor tries to protect his family from the whispers and attitudes of the negative.  Business meetings are more about him getting the business than the management of a local church’s stewardship.  Members act like volunteers, coming late, leaving early or skipping altogether.

The pastor just keeps on smiling and dying a thousands deaths inside.  People make promises that they easily forget or sign up to oversee a project but conveniently procrastinate.  Everyone can count on him but he has very few that he can count on.

Sometimes his own staff are AWOL adding to the stress of running a ministry.  Can you imagine pastoral staff taking breakfast breaks or lunch breaks in excess of two hours and then leaving early from the office because the drain from the hard work?  Or do you find it acceptable when pastoral staff build into their work week a Sabbath rest or include personal work out time as part of their hours posted on their calendar?

The pastor picks up the slack left by others.  He smiles and cheerfully carries on.  His hours of service exceed the expectations of all and his ONE day off is not infrequently compromised with ministry emergencies.

Humor is funny because there is some truth to it.  This poster is funny for that very reason.  It blends the contrast between reality and an alternate reality.

Those who laugh the hardest at this piece of humor are those who pastor.  They erupt with a guffaw that outsiders to ministry can only imagine.  Within the academy of faithful shepherds wink, chuckle and keep on serving just as God called us to persevere in it.

Joshua 12-14
Part 1 of 6

A traveling salesman was on a routine drive through his Southwestern region.  His territory included the vast and sparsely populated area of New Mexico.  During his journey from one population center to the next, he spies a lonely Native American woman walking along the highway.

Not only was it odd to see anyone walking in the harsh desert, the notion of a woman walking alone was very curious.  As he drew closer, he was even more surprised that she had a burden.  In her arms she was carrying a saddle.

He pulls over and offers her a ride.  She climbs in and after a few moments he comments, “That is a very nice saddle.”
“Thank you…got for husband.”
Smiling while running her hands on the finely tooled leather works she nodded and then continued, “… good trade.”

More later…

 

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

 

BookCoverImage-2

For those who are followers of Jesus Christ, it is not a matter of what we know.  Rather it is more important that we know what we believe.  What we believe is not a matter of what we say.  Rather, we live what we believe.

This book series “Real Life” is about our daily living.  When we embrace and express our faith in our Savior, we live differently.  The Holy Spirit makes it possible to live each day differently because of what we believe to be true.

This volume Always Hope is about living each day after the bottom falls out from underneath us.  No one like tough times.  Trials are not our choice.  But, they happen in all of our lives.

When they come, each day keeps on coming, one after the next. They do not slow down or stop or disappear.  How we live those days when trouble has slammed into our lives is what this volume relives.

I was hurt by others and difficult circumstances.  Each day I got up and struggled through the subsequent days.  By God’s wonderful grace and the love of His finest, I kept getting up, day after day.

If you read this book and the words inside cause you to smile, laugh, hope or reflect on good things, then it was worth the effort it took to write it.  May your hope forever be a part of your new days to come.

It is available on Kindle for all e-book readers.  Or you may order a hard copy from http://www.createspace.com/4190780. Thank you and enjoy your reading!

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_3403Hey, where are all of the men?  There are no masculine types in the photo. After a quick scan of the store, there were no men in the store.

Did you notice the product line?  Yep, they are purses, bags, handbags and of course matching accessories.  Nearly all of the designs are flowery, bright colors and other difficult to describe patterns.

It is close to camouflage but also not close at all.  Urban camo does not fit the description either.  Some of the items are monochrome but they are rare.

Yes, this is a store designed for the fairer of the human race.  Women flock into this boutique shop.  They enter the store with enthusiasm, touch every item on sale, try them over their shoulders, in their hands or clasp a clutch purse.

I am hiding in a corner near the exit.  Oh, yeah, it has a bench that gives me a place to relax.  It is also a haven for two other men who are waiting.

There are no mannequins in the store but the three of us could serve that purpose.  We are still.  No sounds emit from any of us.

A moment of truth stares at me.  My bride comes up to me with arms loaded down and both hands filled with accessories.  She asks me for my opinion.

I gaze into her eyes and attempt to discern a clue, any clue.  “Which ones do you like?”

Inside my soul I bolstered up the enthusiasm and pointed to one of the items that she held.  “How about that one?” I managed to blurt out.  “Hmmm, but that would mean that I would have to find another purse to match it.” Guessing again, “Maybe that one?”  Again she thoughtfully commented with clear aesthetic skills that were foreign to me, “Oh, I don’t know if anything matches that bag,” she responded, obviously puzzled by my suggestion.

Of course if those two random choices of mine did not match anything else, I wondered why she showed them to me in the first place.  That is a dangerous question to contemplate for very long.  At least I was bright enough not to verbalize that inquiry.

It is enough that did my manly duty and offered a suggestion.  She put those bags back on their respective shelves.  I had successfully contributed to the shopping experience and moved us closer to the check-out line. Yay!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_3314It is Stephen’s 50th birthday.  Being a half centenarian means maturity, experience, impact, establishment, success, promise, hope and joy.

Very special gifts must be carefully planned.  No one “needs” gifts when they turn 50.  Adding to the collection of other stuff does not need to be the focus.  However, what’s a party without gifts?  This day calls for a personal work of creation that is fitting of the new season of life.  It is that special.  Such a gift must be thoughtful, fresh and full of meaning.

I had those inspiring stimuli in my mind when I visited our local discount store.  There I roamed in the various departments collecting items that would form into a sculpture worthy of this once in a lifetime landmark.  If an item lit up my face, added to the vision forming in my mind, and especially made me laugh, then it passed the sniff test and went into my shopping cart.

“Back at the ranch” I unpacked my discoveries and went to work on the assembly of the unique presentation.  First, the heart and soul of this sculpture was the cane.  It was a red, white and blue telescoping deluxe model.  Certainly, it would depict the patriotic spirit of this newly minted 50 year-old.

Close to the cane’s handle was a combination bell and compass.  The bell can easily be operated with his thumb.  It serves as a friendly sound to signal friends and neighbors, a cheerful “Good-day!” sound.

Next, a rear view mirror is attached.  Of course it is multi-directional with unlimited adjustments.  The glass is a fish-eye style to help aging eyes focus on oncoming traffic.  Hanging on the stem of the mirror is the headlamp.  It really is a “head” lamp.  With the elastic band, he can strap his light around his forehead for night-time walking.

Just below the mirror is the advanced emergency warning system.  Some might think that it is just a horn.  But, they would be wrong.  When traffic is slowing him down a single blast of this instrument will clear the obstacles for a clear hobble home.

Finally, there is a sports bottle for a single dose of Ensure.  A bear bell hangs in a sack on the bottom of the stack.  Once it’s popped out it will jingle with every movement so that his wife will always know where he is.  The combination chain lock will keep this unique and practical sculpture safe for his own secure use.  Happy Birthday, Stephen!

IMG_3319On the road, when the tummy is calling for a refill, it’s easy to look for a familiar sign and pull in and grab something satisfying.  Naturally, eating healthy is also a big draw.  When it tastes good, it is even better.

One of our choices has been a sandwich chain.  It has a national presence and our far and wide travels makes it a common choice.  No matter where we have been it seems as if one shows up when the hungries make their call.

They had ads for a month-long sale. Every sandwich was marked down.  “Hey,” I exclaimed, “let’s pick up a couple of their sandwiches for dinner tonight.”  “Sure,” my bride smiled back, “I can grab them on my way home.”

With honest expectations of a delicious meal my day went along with its normal brutal pace.  But, I had the anticipation of a fun dinner with my bride over bargain priced sandwiches.  It was a satisfying drive home.

My phone rang.  It was my bride, “I’m at the shop. What kind of sandwich would you like?” “Get one of the deluxe ones since they are all included on the sale.” “Does cheddar bread sound good?” “Sure!  At this price we can go all out!” I exclaimed and garnered a laugh from her.

Not only could I taste the dinner but I could smell it as well.  Naturally a smile broke out on my countenance.  It was going to be a pleasant evening.

There is something very gratifying about earning a good day’s wage from hard work and then relaxing at home with the love of my life over a shared meal.  My home was in sight.  I parked my rig and entered our retreat with an appetite ready to be satisfied.

Together we sat at our dining table.  Each of us had our sandwiches still wrapped and sitting in front of our seats.  We gave thanks for our meal.

We rehearsed our day to each other.  The blessings of people and circumstances were shared with delight.  Together we sliced our sandwiches in half and ate while we talked.

Then, as if on cue we both slowed our munching.  We looked at each other and then at our meal.  Each of us set our sandwiches on the table and opened up the bread.  The same quizzical look came over both of us, “Where’s the meat?”

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_3300The film Saving Mr. Banks is a movie about making a movie.  This literary technique helps tell the story’s lengthy intricacies in a movie-span of time. The choice of this double-layer of literary art also reveals the story of a story writer reliving her own past through the creation of a highly imaginary character, Mary Poppins.  The complicated life of the fictional character is being lived out in the star of the movie, Emma Thompson, whose performance is magnificent.

Walt Disney, Tom Hanks, has been pursuing the film rights of Pamela Travers’ stories for twenty years.  Travers, however, is stoic, staid, and stubborn.  She view the overly friendly Americans and the whole Disneyland style as unrealistic and highly improper.  Yet, her own financial woes force her to journey to Los Angeles to meet Disney and explore the possibility of a screening of her character, Mary Poppins.

Travers is at odds with every person she meets.  Her snobbery and unpleasantness rub people the wrong way as they cater to her every whim in hopes of securing the rights to make Mary Poppins into a film.  Slowly, the creative team realizes that Travers’ stubborn spirit is a protective attitude toward characters that are real people in her life, including her.

Trust is gained through creative efforts by Disney and his team.  She begins to see the happiness that can be realized in life.  Cautiously and surprisingly she is being won over to believe.

A deep offense, however, erupts when Travers hears of an animated sequence that is planned in the film.  She angrily departs back to England with her screen rights papers in hand.  Disney follows her across the Atlantic.

In one of the most powerful sequences of the movie, Disney talks candidly to Travers.  He tells her that she can trust him to handle her stories well but she needs to let go of her own past.  Then, he reveals his own disappointments as a child but how his art has set him free.

She releases the rights to her Mary Poppins to Disney.  It is a release that continues.  While watching the premier, Travers repeats her sequence of life, written on her face.  Offense by the jocularity of the film moves into emotional release as she witnesses the redemption of Mr. Banks, the personification of her own alcoholic father.

This was an amazing film.  I highly recommend it.  It was a deeply thoughtful and entertaining experience.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

 

 

IMG_3063My hand was aching while I took feverish notes.  I did not want to miss a thing. This was more than a formality to me.  I really wanted to learn.

Our instructor threw in a humorous anecdote.  The one place that you really don’t want to ride your motorcycle is to Costco.  Everyone laughed.

It made so much sense to all of us newbies to motorcycle riding.  Who comes out of the big box store and does not need a pick-up truck?  Two saddle bags that have a combined capacity of a few gallons does not fit the average trip to this store known for quantity.

That little quip many years ago came to mind.  I stopped at Costco with my pick-up truck.  Of course I was checking my wallet to make sure that I had enough money for the adventure.  Then, I laughed when I saw the motorcycle parked in the Costco lot.

The national motorcycle standard for safety is embodied in the certified safety course taught in most states around the country.  When I enrolled in the course, I was living in Oregon.  The waiting list stretched into at least three months.

We were welcomed to come to an earlier class and wait to fill in a “stand-by” slot if someone who did not show up left an open slot.  I tried that one time but their were five others ahead of me. There were four “no-shows” for that class.

This was a popular offering.  People wanted to earn their safety endorsement.  The statistics were clear.  90% of those who were in a motorcycle accident did NOT take this course.

Insurance companies supported this avenue of training.  They offered a discount policy for anyone who successfully passed the course.  The incentive is very attractive.  Paying less for the privilege or riding has a strong appeal.

This course taught me the right way to mentally enter the wonderful world of riding.  It also taught me the basic skills to handle my machine on the road.  Constantly my mind was focused on the instructors and the introduction to new ways of thinking and abilities.

In the classroom we went over the laws and the advice to keep riding safe.  We watched videos and heard from lifelong riders.  A helpful workbook kept us on track.

Life is a blessing when we can laugh at the small things in life.  God has not forgotten us.  Even a little laughter is a gift from above.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

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