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If I could go back in time to the first Easter, I hope that my choice would have been to go to the tomb early on Easter Sunday.

Walking the typically rocky road with home-made sandals, I know that I could have felt my heart pounding.  It would have been so loud that I couldn’t hear the women talking about the predicament of moving the stone.  Knowing what I know now, but keeping it secret from those in that day, I would be straining to look ahead.

Maybe the sight of the absent soldiers would have confirmed what I know.  They had been blown on to their backside and been terrified that they would be executed for failure to do their duty.  All they had to do was keep Jesus’ disciples from stealing the body.

Yet, a power so great as to knock these professional soldiers out-of-the-way, disintegrate the Roman seal on the tomb as if it was never placed there, and then to move the stone out of the ditch in one instantaneous episode took place in a blink on an eye.  Like frightened children the soldiers reported to their authorities and rehearsed the lie that they were told to give.  That was better than execution or imprisonment to them.

The women were shocked to see the stone moved away.  Their confusion would have been my excitement.  Hearing the angel conversation would have thrilled my mind.

All the theology that I have learned would be validated through a few words.  As the women wondered what to do, they may have asked me what we should all do.  That’s when I would have let some of today’s Bible knowledge leak out, “Let’s go tell the disciples what we have seen!”

On the jog back to the gathering, I would have left the women, “You go report what we saw.  I’ve got two disciples on the road to Emmaus that I need to see.”

“What are you going to say to them?” they would have asked in surprise.

“I want to hear what their companions will be telling them,” I would smile.  “Don’t worry what anyone else says.  I believe what y’all (Texan for “all of you”) believe.  HE HAS RISEN!”

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The drive from the South area of Bangkok to the North area where our hotel is situated is a long drive.  That lengthy commute is extended when it is rush hour traffic.  But, the views are sensational and leave an indelible impression on my soul.

Mid-rise dwellings abound in Bangkok.  These small uniform apartments collect human beings in family units throughout the landscape of this beautiful country.  I will meet very few of these people face to face.

When our commute took us off of the tollways system and plunged us into the streets of the city, faces attached themselves to the masses of this countries millions.  The Thai people are famous world-wide for their cheerful smiles and clasped hands and bowed head.  There were countless people sharing that interchange along our route.

Yet, I would know very few of their names.  I would know less about their lives.  Even less would ever cross my path as a friend.

Millions of people scurried about, shopping, eating, commuting, conversing and laughing. Some were making a living selling, cooking, driving, delivering, guarding, guiding and an endless list of other activities of a city.   How many human brains would it take to know each one and follow each of their lives?

Yes, that’s definitely an impossible human task.  Yet, it gave me a chance to realize how BIG God is.  He knows all of their names.

Not only does God know each of their names, He knows each of their lives.  There are no overlooked issues.  Even the smallest of details of all of our lives are known by God.

He doesn’t stress over an overload of information.  He is never threatened by a limit of His knowledge.  Nor does He become so busy that He doesn’t have time for us.

The God of the Bible is the God who is not just attentive to our needs, He is fully engaged in inviting us to be in His family.  He makes that possible through His Son’s sacrifice on the cross.  Jesus died for everyone without exception.

Do you feel left out?  Are you overwhelmed with matters of life?  Has life become so troubled that you feel forgotten and ready to give up?

God loves you.  He knows every detail about your life and circumstances.  Not only is He aware of your situation, He controls all of them as well.  Turn to Him in faith; it will be the best decision you have ever made.

 

 

IMG_2417Mt. Carmel is a “holy site” in Israel.  It is one of the first stops on a Holy Land tour for many agencies and tour groups.  On top of this Mountain, just on the south-western edge of the Valley of Jezreel.

On this special mountain top the events of 1 Kings 18 took place.  The great contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal and Asherah. Whose deity was real?

Elijah was in the minority.  He stood alone in a challenge against Ahab’s priests who numbered in excess of 800.  The size of the crowd that came to witness the challenge is never identified, but it could certainly have been sizable.

The ground rules were simple.  Each contesting party was to build an altar for a burnt sacrifice.  The designated priests were to then call on their deity to accept the offering by fire.

The priests of Baal went first.  They went through every plea and dance they could. For hours they begged their Baal to send fire and accept their offering.

After an embarrassingly lengthy time, Elijah began the trash talking.  He urged them to shout louder since their god was likely on a long journey and couldn’t hear them.  Or maybe he was busy with necessary activities.

Finally, after exhausting themselves, Elijah’s turn came.  He simply prayed.  God answered with fire that not only consumed the offering but the water that Elijah had dumped on the offering.  Even the stones which made up the altar were also consumed.  It was a powerful show of who was the real God and which was the fake.

A church sits on this site today.  Situated on the pinnacle of the church is a cross embedded on an original spherical stone.  However, it is now a hemisphere since lightning struck a few years back and split the sphere in half.

It is a powerful reminder not to forget the demonstration of history of who the one true God is.

 

FullSizeRender-2This was going to be a particularly difficult day.  Pressures at work, a long line of demands had been queuing up for months, responsibilities were pushing the limits of our sanity.  My bride and I were comparing notes and it was going to be a tough day to start the work week.

On top of our regular routine we have a major trip coming up in a matter of weeks.  Details of overseas travel are horrendous!  We had to find time to invest in that preparation.

Departure times and dates are already getting tangled in our scheduling.  Today we would have to make sure we made those adjustments.  Double booking ourselves is an inconvenience for everyone and could easily undermine our efforts to be effective at all of our responsibilities.

We both heaved a deep sigh of dismay, loaded up our car with our bags for our day and drove off into the dark morning for our long commute.  My thoughts were lost in our need to get over the financial hump of needed changes, travel expenses and time investments.  If I could I needed to think about relieving my bride of the pressure she was feeling.

Now, we discussed possible drastic changes in our circumstances.  What dramatic changes could we live with if that meant the relief of life pressures?  There were no easy answers.

Then, we rounded the arching on ramp to the Interstate freeway.  The Houston eastern skies were waiting to cut short the threatening discouragement.  In front of us the Creator was putting on a show.

Clouds burst out of the east, pointing to the west.  Behind those finger shaped clouds were the indescribable colors of the divine palate, splashing reds, oranges and yellows in balanced effect.  Blue skies in the background were pushing the loud colors , pressing the daylight splendor.

We both smiled at the interruption to our concerns.  The God of all gods was breaking into our worrisome souls.  It was sensational sunrise.

He was starting the day off with a splendid artistic masterpiece.  In massive swathes of colorful strokes that were changing by the minute, we could only watch as He finished up the waking of a new day.  No words but just splendor.

We got the message.  What did we really have to worry about if He was in charge?  Now, we had a day to look forward to instead of dreading.

photo credit: yvonne fong photography

 

13_Hours_posterA lot of anticipation preceded this film. Its public announcement both in the news and through trailers stirred a massive amount of interest. But, I wondered, “Would the film live up to anyone’s expectations?”

It is a very good movie well worth seeing. But, prepare yourself.  This true story will affect you deeply.

On the 11th Anniversary of the unprovoked attack on the United States’ World Trade Center and Pentagon, hostile forces attacked the US diplomatic center and CIA “Annex” compound. A small band of 6 CIA contractors made up of former Navy SeALS, Marines and Army Rangers take the initiative and do all they can to defend the Americans who are in the crosshairs of the terrorists. These 6 faced overwhelming odds yet managed to fend off the waves of attacks.

A historical fact that left me mystified at the outset of the story is that the USA has over 200 diplomatic outposts of one nature or another around the world. Of those there are around a dozen that are classified as severely hostile and dangerous. The two most dangerous are both in Libya: Tripoli and Benghazi.

Every other country had pulled its diplomatic teams out of Benghazi.  The USA was the only country with a remaining contingency.  It was a city torn by military factions and violent extremists yet its two sites were woefully under-protected.

When the US Ambassador to Libya came to town, he had a protective team of a mere two US combatants.  The compound was primarily protected by local police and native personnel who ran away as soon as the attacks began.  No one trusted these local hirelings so there was no surprise when they betrayed their clients and ran for their lives.

As the story developed, the dangers of a planned attack showed heroism in action.  No help was forthcoming but the few did not hesitate to put their lives in harms way to protect those who were in danger.  Even in the face of administrative fear and hesitation, the 6 fought off wave after wave of terrorist combatants.

Respect for the courage of the few Americans skyrocketed.  Sadness sank into fearful desperation when the US government failed to send in the resources necessary to render necessary aid to the brave 6.  Those two words make up my summary of how this story affected me: respect and sadness.

photo credit: film promotion release poster

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_1402We have guests coming to our home soon.  All of us are getting into the Christmas spirit.  Our fault and staff along with their families are converging on our home to celebrate this very precious season commemorating our Savior’s birth.

My wife and I are incredibly busy so neither of us can wait until the last minute to decorate and set up to entertain our nearly 40 guests.  Days in advance I have mapped out the errands that need attention.  Each day I knock off a chunk of that list.

High on that to-do schedule is setting up the Christmas tree.  It is a long-process.  Yet, without the tree everyone would know that something is missing.

Over a week ago I was in the closet pulling out from storage our decorations.  The tree was in a box.  That tree has been set up and taken down in three different states of the Union.

Each time it has been surrounded by joy and cheer.  It is a part of this favorite time of year.  So many symbols and memories and reminders of the reason for the season is represented on this central decoration.

I fluffed up each of the branches.  Once the tree was presentable I decked it with a multi-colored string of lights.  The lights were tested and approved.

The garland added color and sparkle.  Ornaments made us reminisce over the years of happiness and great memories that have passed by.  Special people, amazing moments and deepening love are all a part of what those ornaments point to.

Of course the tree topper is a climax.  Over the years we have had different tops to finish off our tree.  But, we often favor the Precious Moments angel.  She smiles down on all of our guests as they fill our home with more laughter, cheer and memories.

Love is a big deal this time of year.  Sure, it takes a lot of planning and effort.  But, that is all lost when I stand back, turn off the lights in the house and turn on the lights of the Christmas tree.

A moment of pause fills my spirit.  Smiles linked with special people ooze into the night.  Our musical clock chimes out a Christmas carol.

Love dominates the moment.  Family and the devotion of treasured ones rises to the surface of life.  Warm embraces will soon come.  It is all about love from family and friends so close they are family.

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

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Thanksgiving is a fabulous time of the year. The fast break-neck speed of our jobs, responsibilities and challenges can be put on pause for a few days. We take in a dozen deep cleansing breaths.

The mind clears. Our soul warms. Then, our spirit testifies that God has indeed not only watched over us but blessed us with almost overlooked blessings that formulate our spirit of Thanksgiving.

My bride and I were thrilled to take the long journey to visit family for this time of the year. It has been four years since we have been back to our home state and took the time to celebrate “Family” with our relatives from sides. Family roots bring an astounding depth of meaning into our lives.

With a break in the many meals, house visits, telephone calls and hugs we drove out to Land’s End in San Francisco. We had been there many times in our past. This place gave us a moment of repose that set life back into balance.

Our little rental care was safely parked and locked. We stepped out into the powerful winds that regularly pummel the coast. Birds played with the swirling gusts and thermals.

The mighty Pacific lapped the rocky shores of the shoreline. As far as the eye could see echelons of waves marched to throw their power against the rocks below. Clouds raced by overhead driven by the same winds pushing the waves.

In the middle of the sheer power of the West Coast environment we stood together locked arm in arm. Our jackets were zipped up tightly. Each of us pulled our caps snuggly over our heads.

Lost in thought we remembered fondly wonderful years in this amazing city. Outstanding friends and past blessings ushered in by the goodness of God mesmerized our nostalgic respite. He has been very good to us.

Like the bulwark of the rocky coasts standing strong against the pounding surf, the Almighty has stood beside us in ministry and the challenges of life where calling has marked our days. Whether facing joys or trials, He has proven Himself faithful.

For all we have lived and faced together, we are thankful. One this tremendous day of celebration we have counted our blessings, named them one by one and concluded with hearts full of praise. He is very good.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

photo credit: brucefong photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo credit: brucefong photography

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My life has been embroiled with leadership roles for most of my adult life.  The challenge to unite people, square off with great threats, achieve great gains for the organization and to resolve to press against the ever-present vehemently vicious critic are all a test of the metal that a leader is made.  Reading and watching great leaders in action inspires me to keep leading with determination.

One of the great leaders in my life time has a Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.  Visiting this museum and library of this leader was on my life list.  I was able to check it off with great satisfaction.

After entering the gorgeous grounds with breathtaking views, I remember pausing long at a portrait of President Ronald Reagan as he walked down one of the halls of the White House.  There is something special about leadership that can never be taught and this President possessed it in generous quantity.  It is called “leadership presence.”

There is very little about “leadership presence” that is external.  Instead, it is what exists in the soul of the man or woman who drives their choices, directs their initiatives and most of all manages the values the define their leadership commitments.  Reagan’s beliefs marked his life and leadership.

When a leader faces pressures and attacks, he or she must be able to draw from their own convictions to make choices and decisions to protect and advance the best interests of the organization that they lead.  That is what leadership is.  Anticipation and reaction based upon a consistent set of values that others can follow and embrace.

The influence of this President was also balanced with a whimsical ability to engage the lives of international leaders from around the globe.  His control of power was never carelessly dismissed but blended with discernment, resolve and vision.  He thought the best of this nation and devoted himself to lead it to become better and more positively influential in the world.

If blessing is accompanied with responsibility, then this great leader acted well in light of the extraordinary blessings given to the nation by Almighty God.  He could win the respect and cooperation of the opposing party, sooth the angry critic or stand stalwart against the belligerent opponent.  President Ronald Reagan was a uniquely effective leader and one of the most remarkably gifted Presidents in our nation’s history.

photo credit: brucefong photography

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