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IMG_4855.jpegThe turn into the memorial called up old feelings. We observed the modest speed limit. Clearly we were entering a solemn site.

There was a tower of chimes off to the left. It was the architect’s remembrance of the voices of the 40 heroic lives lost. Our time only allowed for the main visitor’s center.

A park ranger was looking for welcoming ears. I asked her a question. That’s all it took.

She pointed out the expanse of the memorial. Acres and acres of land had captured the vast area to capture our hearts.

Up on a hill, some what far away, we overlooked a slope that led our eyes to a distant pair of white parallel walls. Their placement kept our eyes peering for meaning. A green strip of carefully mowed grass ended at a boulder.

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Our park ranger paused. That’s it, the point of impact. Flight 93 crashed right there.

The tree line was burnt from the explosive jet fuel. Every life on the plane was immediately extinguished. The passengers were heroes.

We are not sure what great disaster their sacrifice averted, but it must have been big.

It was a reflective moment to part ways. Many of us stopped at the visitor center. President George W. Bush words played on a loop, synchronized with slides of the disaster of that day.

His presidential resolve spoke for Americans then; it was clearly resonating with all of us still. A variety of us, very diverse visitors, quietly listened. Few words were spoken among us.

There were nods shared among total strangers. Whispered words from a Vietnam veteran Staff Sgt. broke our silence. We thanked him for his service.

Yes, I recall my promise to never forget. I have kept that promise. It is not possible to forget.

IMG_4872.jpegExperiencing this memorial, feeling the solemnity, hearing Bush 43, and sharing with fellow Americans what words could not capture, remind me not just to remember but realizing what cannot be forgotten. Heroes were among us. Today many still surround us.

A flag flies in front of our home to commemorate this American change from so many years ago. Many of my neighbors have placed a flag to wave along our street so that we can all remember what none of us can ever forget. May God bless America.

photos by brucefong photography 

Unknown-5.jpegCommitment, sacrifice, and duty add up to include some of the finest people in our country. They are our US military. It was my privilege to serve as the keynote speaker at their 2019 Officer’s Christian Fellowship in White Sulphur Springs Conference Center in Pennsylvania.

There was quality all over the center. The best of what America is all about filled our meeting room, dominated the conversations in the chow hall, and electrified the lines for horse-back riding, bowling, hiking, and the shooting range. Each conversation was marked by the serious devotion to Jesus as Savior and Lord.

Included among the service personnel were the families. Spouses that knew the life of military personnel was a part of this amazing family. Hardships due to deployment separation, financial stress, relationship strains, and the like were shared freely and generously soothed with understanding ears and souls.

These devoted lives gave me a welcomed invitation to bring the Word of God to them. It was my humble contribution into their souls that I have prayed and did pray that the Almighty would sear it into their lives. We had a great connection for several days together.

Locking our hearts into prayer for the retreat, several of us met each morning at the throne of grace to entreat God to do the work that only he could. Through tears, laughter, curiosities, and wonderment we discussed the things of God and how they could be a salve, an encouragement, and vision for their future.

Unknown-11.jpegTheir world is so full of different stresses than mine. The choices that demand immediate attention rarely enter into my routine. Change of not only major proportions but frequent visitations flood their lives. These matters alone would drive me crazy!

Pray for our brothers and sisters and their loved ones who protect our nation. Entreat our Father in heaven to undergird them, provide for their needs, give them wise discernment, and surround them with the kind of Christian edification that will make their journey a blessing. Thank God that so few, who do so much, to give the rest of us our liberties, have stepped up to serve.

Not only do they do well in protection our freedoms, they also do so much to keep the spirit of the warrior strong. Each one is flexible and creative in accomplishing so much with so little under remarkable duress. They have my respect. They are in my prayers.

photos by brucefong photography

mrB4PXHJQn2p3WjskrVNyAThe weather could not have been more perfect. In the Northwest, when it is not raining, you hold your breath and wonder what the weather is about to do. That day, however, it was an ideal balance of sun, warmth, and breeze; yes, perfect.

Business took me back to my alma mater. I showed up early. It was the perfect scenario for a stroll down memory lane. New buildings stood in places where I only knew woods in the past. But, the old structures that housed my early days as a collegiate were still standing, sporting fresh paint, and reorganized walls.

PV101 is the corner classroom where I was trained in my theology. My systematics were formed right here. This is where it had its genesis. OPPdv4mKTB6u51N+TKkKYQ

Then, there was life in the dormitory. Great friendships that lasted a lifetime found adventure, conversation, laughter, wonderment, and fellowship in those halls. Now, the building houses the offices of a growing faculty and modern classrooms.

Naturally, I headed to the overlook that takes in the Vistas of the Willamette Valley. Many nights on a bench afforded me an audience of One. I prayed and asked God to use me, give me the discernment to see that path qaLKMNtaQcOBJqlWyxBwYAhe wanted me to walk, be stirred with courage to face the troubles with faith, and help as many along the way to find their peace with God, embrace the joy of sharing his love, and satisfaction of serving the body of Christ in the church.

Decades later, the iron rail is rusty, the overlook is crumbling, CLOSED signs surround this overlook, keeping visitors from enjoying the stunning landscape.  It evokes memories of many prayers, hopes, and dreams. God has been very good to me through these years and I have been honored to still be in his service.

SoGmUXUCSFWTJk0k3vkucgOne last memory was on my checklist. It is a hallway. In the main administration building, my classmates would find ourselves gathering for the favorite meal of the week. It was Sunday afternoon.

After church we would line the hall waiting for the cafeteria to open. Many of my friends were amazing singers. Someone would start a song and our voices and hearts would fill that hall with sounds of praise. I loved those spontaneous concerts. Memories like that are special when they imprint themselves in my mind. Come to think of it, I can still hear the singing.

photos by brucefong photography

fullsizeoutput_2ca0A quick glance at my watch told me that I was early for my appointment. Now was a good time for a stretch along with a brief walk. So, I climbed out of my car and scanned the area for an interesting destination.

It must be normal to look up and away when exploring for a direction. Back forth my head bobbed, gathering my bearing to make a choice. Time to kill was the objective. Nothing earth-shattering here.

Maybe it was random. Possibly it is a habit that I do not usually notice. But, with no real direction and plenty of time to fill in my objective, I happened to look down. It was time for a pause in my searching.

There, in the grass, tiny flowers of different colors spread throughout a small meadow. It was attractive. When I drove up in the rental car I did not notice the display. Stepping out of the car and looking for a way to make my time brief spare time enjoyable this scene did not register.

fullsizeoutput_2d3cMaybe it was the wind. A small breeze sensed my random mood. It whispered that I should look down.

Rustling grass leaves were loud enough for lingering gaze. Maybe I have a soft spot in my soul for the overlooked, the small guy doing his best, or a collection of insignificant memories that are special for reminiscing.

See in the grass, there are hundreds of blooms. Each flower adds their splash of color in the Spring time outdoor extravaganza. Most who pass this way overlook the these little ones. I was almost one of them. Not this time.

Colors, textures, plentiful stages of display are all peeking out for my appreciative eyes to see. In this one spot my entire “spare time” was spent. The Master’s touch of this miniature floral presentation was solitarily mine for a marvelous few moments. It was nice, very nice.

photo by brucefong photography

Unknown-1Walking up on an unsuspecting magnificent beast in the woods is not new in my experience. This has happened for me in many places and many times. But, the moment is never ordinary.

The Texas morning sun welcomed me to a new day. I was up and washed up before the sunrise. This way I could be walking in the woods and feel the splendor of a new day awakening.

It wasn’t long before the vestiges of the human settlement disappeared behind me. A few more steps and the trees and brush swallowed me up. Now, I was alone in the woods.

Something was running through the grass. There was more than one. I stopped and smiled.

The sounds confirmed that the scurrying was a pair of squirrels. They were doing their Spring thing. Yes, Thumper had it right. These little energetic rodents were “twitterpated”. Up a tree they raced. Dodging limbs and knots they disappeared in a thick clump of leaves.

My walk continued. Maybe I was lulled into carelessness. Frankly, even if I were ready, the explosion of a herd of pigs makes most humans quick to jump.

A 90 pound sow raced out of a brush pile. She was slicing through the grass, mowing everything down in front of her. A passel of cute piglets squealed, snorted, and grunted trying to keep up with momma. It made me laugh on many levels.

As that brood of pork disappeared into the tall grass, I froze. Maybe it was experience, maybe providence, or maybe hope made me do it. But, movement to my right directed me peer through the wall of flora.

It wasn’t the wind moving branches. Instead, several brown mounds in the grass a mere 50 yards away came into focus. The movement that started this visual moment was a massive set of antlers on the King keeping a steady eye on his harem. That gigantic crown  swayed gently but powerfully in the shadows cast by the trees.

The wind was in my favor. Plenty of trees gave me good cover. I moved silently to cut our distance in half.

Our creator masterfully designed this great bull, powerful, massive, and courageous. He rolled his head enough to rest his right antler on his back. It gave him a steady rest for his head and powerful neck. He was resting. I had enjoyed him enough. It was my cue to disappear and leave this herd undisturbed.

photo by brucefong photography

 

Unknown-8We still are in an age when Christian films fill spectators with fearful expectation. All of us who are people of faith want Christian films to do well. However, we have come to expect a low-budget embarrassment that is a step backward from hoping a transformative message can work its way into the lives of people who are in desperate need to discover a redeeming message for their eternity.

After comfortably settling into my reserved reclining seat, the film “Running the Race” began. Slowly, my anxiety of expecting embarrassment melted away. Very respectable acting won the day. Good!

Character development of key roles and fascinating curiosities unfolded. Fun moments, good humor, anxious developments, clever dialogue, tension building choices, wise words from smart people, and a surprising hero all made the movie worth seeing. Even more so, this is a movie I am pleased to recommend as one worth seeing.

Brother loyalty is a powerful narrative. This film captures it well. Eternity is an unparalleled dynamic in human life. This film represents it attractively. Tragedy in life is a reality from which we must all emerge. This film develops it effectively. Choices turn our lives from loss to gain. This film captured this in the heart of its message.

This is a movie worth seeing. Bring a friend. Then, recommend it to others.

photo by bruce w fong photography

Unknown-1How long does it take for a local church to plan an annual Missions Conference?

Clear Lake Chinese Church of Webster, TX first reached out to me in July 2018. Their pastor told me that they had been planning their 2019 Annual Missions Conference for March, nine months away. I had to keep scrolling through my calendar to see if I was free to accept their invitation as their keynote speaker.

Before I accepted the invitation, I have several decided practices that must always precede my official answer. I don’t mean to sound super spiritual but I do pray about such invitations. Really.

My prayers for God’s guidance are not new. Regularly, I am praying about opportunities to serve the Lord who gave me a life-long calling for ministry. During these times of intercession I am asking for peace, enthusiasm, and guidance.

Then, I seek the counsel of my personal team. These are a collection of amazing and godly people who help me with varying perspectives. We discuss details. For example, where is the venue? How many times do they want you to speak? What is the purpose of the gatherings? Does the theme fit within your area of specialization? What is the demographics of the expected audience? Do the logistics lend themselves to your current obligations and commitments?

The final decision to accept or reject speaking invitations is ultimately left in my hands. However, I know that when I include these others in my decision, it automatically garners a huge amount of prayer support when I do accept these engagements. To end God’s sovereign administration never ceases to amaze me. He knows when my calendar if open. By far I accept more invitations than I send my regrets.

UnknownOver nine months I read with interest how the church was formulating their Missions Conference objectives. They wanted to have their church family challenged to “Reach the Nations in their City.”  Wow! That theme captured my heart.

Plotting out my study time in the course of fulfilling all of my current duties as the Dean of DTS-Houston, I made notes, studied exegetical issues, considered theological lessons, matched clarifying illustrations, and prayed for a powerful and clear presentation for this conference. During the course of our communications, I ascertained the receptivity of the audience, imagined definitive niches of people types, wondered at how the challenges of the Mission objectives could be presented to each season of life.

The time came. The introductions were given. I stepped up on to the platform and months of preparation unfolded. We connected. By God’s grace some amazing life-changes will be new habits of life for many.

Baby JesusA young couple fell madly in love during their college years. A prominent company in her field recruited her and signed her to an exciting multiyear offer. He, on the other hand, needed to continue on to graduate school for both his MA and PhD – and needed to purchase a powerful, expensive personal computer. Mutually, they wanted to be married. However, he knew that he could not afford both her engagement ring and the computer. She understood, even though her sadness was obvious. Not long after that hard conversation, he invited her out to their favorite restaurant, the one reserved for special occasions. She excitedly talked about her day. When he got down on one knee next to the table, she gasped. The crowd in the restaurant got quiet. He pulled out a black velvet ring box from his pocket and opened it to reveal the sparkling gem that melted her heart. With tears she smiled, “Don’t you have something you want to ak me? He put the ring on her finger and begged her, “Sweetheart, I love you with all my heart. Will you please buy me a computer?”

This surprise ending certainly grabs your attention. During this Christmas season, we celebrate a surprise story that the world has been enjoying for centuries. Psalm 45 details the beautiful story.

The psalm describes the details of a splendid wedding. The groom is the resplendent king. He has accomplished great feats, rules a powerful kingdom, and has the admiration of all who know him. Honor is heaped on his name and reputation.

His bride is the height of beauty and grandeur. She and her beauty capture the king’s attention. The wedding to join them is fitting of a royal celebration.

Scripture combines this promise with the fulfillment that begins with the Christmas birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ. His eventual bride is us, His church. Redemption is the royal beauty of sin being forgiven and our destiny to be presented to Him forever in eternity. That’s a Christmas gift to look forward to in our future. Merry Christmas!

photo by bruce w. fong photography

(a reprint from Psalms for the Season, a “Dallas Theological seminary 2018 Christmas Devotional”)

31531388_2135635573119502_1994887011911073792_nEducation has fallen on hard times. Enrollment is one of the non negotiable items in the world of higher education. Administrators lose sleep over declining numbers with each passing academic year.

Private institutions of higher education are feeling the tightening belt even more. That magic number attached to enrollment makes heads spin, competent employees to panic, and media sites to attack the topic in a feeding frenzy. Education finds its identity in the numbers census of bodies in desks.

This is my world too. Education is my field of specialization. There have been hours and days and weeks and months that I have discussed, studied, and pursued students to enroll into our institution.

Here is a lesson that has helped me: Work hard to do all you can. Then, trust the final results to God.

In 2 Kings 6 Israel and Aram were at war with each other. The Arameans were making a killing by robbing Hebrew caravans of rich cargo. Their king secretly plotted ambush and ambush and absconded with great wealth.

Finally, the man of God, Elisha intervened and told the King of Israel all of the Aramean plans. His prophetic foresight thwarted further Aramean raids. Irritated, the King of Aram first tried to blame one of his own officers for leaking their top-secret plans.

A quick thinking officer plays his “get out of jail card” and informs the king that Elisha the prophet tells all of Aram plans to his king in Israel. The Arameans send an army to surround Elisha. His servant sees the enemy threat, panics with desperate fear, and exclaims, “What shall we do?”

Elisha is the portrait of calm. He simply prays that God will open the eyes of his servant and allow him to see what God has done to protect them. In answer to Elisha’s prayer, the servant sees that there are angels and fiery chariots from heaven surrounding Elisha. The words of this amazing prophet are worth remembering: “Those who are with us are greater than those who with them.”

Remember: God will often have a solution ready before we even realize that we have a problem. Use eyes of faith to see what God has already done. Fear not, even with huge problems like enrollment.

 

 

26788125528_645c2d09b1_n-1It’s another “Christian movie.” Uh, oh…is that the “kiss of death”? Descent story with horrible acting, confusing complicated  back-stories, odd-ball mini-sermons, low-budget directing, even budget-driven minimal talent on the camera-work unfortunately have been common features of the Christian movie scene for generations. This movie, “I Can Only Imagine,” was very different from those previous religious offerings.

The song has captivated a massive audience since its debut. That fan base was primed for a successful run on the silver screen. Many Christians are cheering on the effort to produce quality movies for this entertainment industry and with this submission were hopeful for something much better.

The true story of Bart Millard’s composition is the backbone of this dramatic presentation. His life story with an abusive father is the riveting narrative that makes this movie so appealing. This movie delivers.

In a memorable dialogue, Bart reveals that it took on ten minutes to write the lyrics and another ten to write the music. Yet, those around him correct him saying that it didn’t take a matter of minutes, it took a lifetime.

Excellent theatrical performance was turned in by Dennis Quaid. He played Bart’s father. Those moments of anger, domination, and abuse were realistic, believable, and heart-wrenching at the same time.

How Bart managed to live through those dark days and discover a passion in life was marked by special people in his life. Some friends, some teachers, and some pastors all had a part in weaving a tapestry that paved the way for the composition of music that would touch millions around the world.

The world of music and the dream to make a living at it is not kind to those who attempt to make that climb into rarefied air. This film makes you feel the details of that “Mercy Me” discouraging journey. Yet, God’s amazing grace through special people is an astounding story to behold.

Forgiveness and the love that paves the way for it to germinate and grow is the message of this film. Through this powerful story you open your memories of your own father, your past struggles through forgiveness, seeing the faces of those who hurt you, and the wonder of God’s grace through it all.

If you go, remember and bring some tissue with you. There must be a lot of dust in the theater that makes your eyes water. That’s so annoying when you are experiencing a solid movie.

 

 

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