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IMG_4873Christmas is way too busy for us.  We are juggling work, travel, gifts, letters, projects, bills, parties and life so fast that jingling bells are hard to hear.  A lot more silent night and still the night would be welcome in our souls.

A balance is struck from a familiar favorite place.  For many Americans and world-wide Christians this is a shared respite during this hectic season.  This place is featured on Christmas cards, television shows, screen savers and ornaments.

Sometimes the scene is a snow shrouded clearing in the woods.  Horse drawn sleighs are parked in front.  Multi-colored lights transform a living tree just off to the side.IMG_4875

Often the Nativity scene is partnered with this place of comfort.  Joseph and Mary watch over the newborn baby Jesus while animals quietly look on to the miraculous scene.  Visitors flock to the sound of music coming from inside of this haven.

It is the picture of a church building.  Inside the alive church of followers of Jesus are celebrating this anniversary birth.  A Savior has been born.

IMG_4878Our busy lives pushed all of those demanding stress-causing matters out in our POV (personally owned vehicle).  I shut the doors and locked them in.  Then, my bride and I carried our Bibles and hand in hand we walked into church.

Gifted decorators decked out a tree that was gorgeous.  We did not rush by it.  Instead, captivated we stopped and admired it from several angles.IMG_4879

Once inside the auditorium the orchestra and choir and worship team blew us away.  Our spirits soared with the familiar Christmas carols.  Then stunning orchestral and choir supported anthems took our spirits and we worshipped together.  It was awesome!

A soloist made the rafters shake with her rendition of “Do You See What I See?”  We rose to our feet with great applause.  All of us could see!

IMG_4880Pastor Gregg Matte delivered an encouraging word from the Word.  He has a gift of making the truth practical.  The Spirit used it to touch so many lives.

In the end the choir and orchestra dismissed us with a majestic finale of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.  With a family like serendipitous moment the choir motioned for Pastor Gregg to join them in the loft for that final song.  All of us sounded not just “good” but “glorious” as we gave our Almighty God our collective gift of worship.  Merry Christmas!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

 

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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

1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices† so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other,

“Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe† sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

6“Don’t be alarmed,”

he said.

“You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified.
He has risen!
He is not here.  See the place where they laid him.
7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter,
‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee.
There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ”

Mark 16.1-7 NIV84
narrative arrangement by Bruce Fong

 

33 At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice,

“Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”

—which means,

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said,

“Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

36 One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink.

“Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,”

he said.

37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. 38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said,

“Surely this man was the Son of God!”

Mark 15.33-39 NIV84
narrative arrangement by Bruce Fong

 

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