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People are quick to assign blame. Especially, when they are emotionally experiencing trauma themselves, humans tend to strike out to relieve the pressure of their own mood. Those who are in positions of authority are easy targets for this emotional release. Unfortunately, there is little retaliation that is spiritually acceptable at such times.

Every leader knows about taking a hit in the role that they are filling. It is painful. People that we serve and lovingly sacrifice for their benefit suddenly forget and turn as if they are enemies. They lay the blame for their current agony at our feet.

Jesus heard from Martha about the grief she felt when her brother Lazarus died. She told Jesus that his death was total Jesus’ fault. If he had been there, Lazarus would not have died. That is a load of guilt she was pushing on to the Lord. Mary piles on with an identical blame on Jesus.

In the context of this blame game, Jesus gives one of his most powerful words, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” John 11.25

Lazarus is called from the tomb in which he was buried. Jesus had to call him by name or all of the dead would have been restored. This restoration to life brought many people to put their faith in Jesus. Stunning. Jn11

So often we humans think that when something bad happens to us it is God judging us. We assume that we have done something wrong. Yet, in a world that is corrupted by sin, sometimes God is glorified through an episode of illness or other misfortune.

That makes sense since we are all sinners and would deserve horrible experiences or trials, right? Since difficult is universal in a fallen world, there has to be another option when difficulties come our way. Jesus gives all people hope.

Lazarus is taken ill. Jesus loves this friend. He knows that the physical death of Lazarus will bring grief. But, he assures us that the grief is temporary. Jesus even “procrastinates” going to his friend. Physical death takes over Lazarus and sorrow crush Mary and Martha’s lives.

Jesus comes and restores Lazarus to physical life. This is a miracle to demonstrate the truth of the coming Resurrection. It is a stunning miracle to verify that Jesus is telling the truth about eternity. That’s good stuff! Jn11

UnknownWork days fill my calendar for most of the year. Long 10-12 hour days define my work week. When the work week has surpassed reasonable tally, more time is poured into writing, studying, preparing for weekend ventures that support my work.

I am one of those few who loves what I do for a living. That old adage, “Find something that you love to do and you will never work a day in your life,” applies to me. I love going to work.

But, there is something that gnaws on my soul.  I, along with my wonderful wife, sigh often when we are getting ready to leave church and head back home. There are many around us who weekly gather their brood and head out for a family lunch.

We watch them laugh together, hug one another, tease each other, and agree to rendezvous for a shared meal. Sometimes, not often, they wave to us as they leave. We toss them a polite wave and nod our heads. Our smile is envious.

Can you feel the longing that we feel so deeply? We miss our family. But, the Good Lord has given me an assignment far away from our children and grandchildren.

Every chance we get, we sock away a few dollars here and there. We look long into our calendar and plan our next vacation to travel to meet them thousands of miles away. The bank savings account grows slowly but steadily so we can enjoy meals, gifts, and treats together.

Christmas is a great time to gather. The tiring air flight is worth the weariness and very-early-fisherman style wake-up time to catch the plane.  Early departure tickets are less expensive.

What else will get us up at 3AM to load luggage and make the hour-long drive to the airport? Waves of sleepiness waft over my consciousness. One helpful reward: the notorious Houston traffic is very light that early in the morning.

Air travel does not rank any where in sight of my favorite things to do. Sore from sitting too long, cramped aggravating conditions, and the nerve-wracking sneezing, coughing, and wheezing in recycling air sends chills up and down my spine can be held at bay as long as I concentrate on the embraces that are soon to come.

All is forgotten when squealing grandchildren call out our names. Enthusiastic hugs are welcomed to linger long. Words of love, affection, and delight soothe my mind. Family!

3BBF66A7-0E19-4B0B-A614-F1AB3F2B1647_1_201_a.jpegThe video played a series of clips, telling various stories of people who possessed a unique item but had no clue how valuable it was. One man had a massive pearl that he kept under his bed as a “good luck” piece. It was worth millions of dollars.

Another man owned a couple of boxes that he picked up a garage sale. Inside were nearly priceless photographic plates by a famous naturalist photography, long since thought lost in a fire. He learned that his junk was worth millions.

A garage sale shopper picked up a porcelain bowl for a mere $3. It had a saw tooth design that was later identified and validated as an authentic Chinese antique. Yes, it was valued in the millions.

We all laugh at someone’s remarkable fortune. Most of us sigh and realize that we all have piles of junk that define the word “junk”. They are worthless items.

Nevertheless, it is not always treasures measured by monetary worth that make this life remarkable. Instead, people of limitless talents, gifts, and qualities are more valuable to me. I am surrounded by co-workers who are incredible treasures.

I do not have royal jewels, ancient photographs, or antiques in my possession. But, every day I wake up and go to work with a most talented and committed group of people. They are priceless: Will, Erik, Alex, Ekpe, Adrianna, Rachel, Julia, Shannon, Chantelle, Chelsea, Stephen, Tom, Ielene, Josh, Marisa, and Andres.

Not everyone looks forward to heading into work. It is a great privilege to be one of the ones who enjoys that daily experience. Often I marvel when I watch our team in action.

So much gets done when our people are operating from project to project. Students are elated with what they are learning, because our teachers are the best. Our humble campus is always getting better because our operations are on every need.

When we gather and brainstorm we know we can get better. Fantastic ideas get discussed. Better yet, projects launch and finish to the improvement of our entire campus. Teachers are free to teach and education happens at the highest level.

People who are committed are the best treasure on earth. When, each of these is devoted to their Savior, Jesus Christ, they are an endless blessing. We stand shoulder to shoulder while put our shovels into the work. I am surrounded by invaluable treasures of the Almighty’s best.

CA21CBB4-FFA4-4F38-B4B2-5D4B31BB3479_1_105_c.jpegChristmas is a hands down favorite time of the year. It is crazy busy, no doubt. Normally, I shy away from busy, especially if crowds of people are involved.

Once in a while, however, the stop-and-go, pushing, shoving, long lines, and stifling absence of oxygen is worth the minimal discomfort. Our Christmas program at our church, Houston’s First Baptist Church is one of those “worth it” evenings. “Celebration” is an annual gala with a repeated storyline with amazing variations. I love it!

This year, the silk acrobats deftly spinning and twirling and climbing to brilliant orchestral music had me mesmerized. How do they do that? Is that safe? Are they in danger? Oh, yeah, I remind myself, my daughter-in-law, Breanna, does that. She loves it! These artists had me entertained, putting visuals to familiar Christmas music.

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Angels are a favorite feature of our annual program. These stars are suspended from a high, very high, ceiling. Their costumes flow in the air. Yes, they are not the real heavenly ones, but surely give us a sense that they are very close to portraying the real McCoy.

Their role accomplishes a special purpose. Christmas is not about an earthly event, populated by earthly beings, and added among a myriad of earthly stories. Rather, it is what it is, a supernatural story of true history, giving testimony for all generations that the one and only Almighty God visited the earth to give the most precious gift he could as an expression of his love for all people.

This sensational Christmas program is full of entertainment. I laughed, smiled, sang along, remembered childhood moments, and found myself wondering about the story that gave it to us all. It is a true story of a little baby born 2,000 years ago in a country far away, today locked into great controversy. God knew that mankind was in trouble with sin.

D8E6ED1F-526C-43C4-B253-43AEAC002682_1_105_c.jpegJesus was born to die. Odd, isn’t it? In a similar sense we are all born and will some day die. Yet, Jesus was born specifically to die on behalf of all people. His death, as the one and only perfect one, paid the price of our sin.

The climax of Christmas is not opening presents tucked under a splendidly decorated tree. Nor is it family time with relatives traveling from parts unknown. Instead, the crescendo of Christmas is Easter, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, a gift of eternal life to all who believe.

Merry Christmas!

 

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 

IMG_2894.jpegWhen a sight makes my eyes bulge, it’s worth a long look.

My friend’s ranch is a great place to relax and let the anxious feelings that build from perpetual responsibilities drain into the soil of Texas. Burdens concerning the lives of people, choices determining the future of our organization, and little foxes nipping at the grapes in the vineyard reach a critical point early each Spring. My calendar reminds to schedule vital down time in the woods.

The cool of the evening promised a good night’s sleep coming in a few hours. Quiet sounds of the country replaced the constant buzz of people, machines, and city noises. Birds chirping, the breeze soothing, and orange sun settling down on the horizon, performed their excellent massaging of my soul.

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Near the border of the ranch property, I found a perch that was elevated off of the ground about 8 feet. I climbed the ladder and settled into a comfortable folding chair. Now, I could enjoy the theater performance of the creator’s sunset. It was going to be beautiful.

That’s when the heavy hooves trotted in a growing crescendo behind me. Whatever it was, it was big. Slowly, I turned my head toward the thudding sound.

At a lilting quick trot a Watusi cow came into view around a low growing tree. It emerged from the guise of the boughs uninterested in a puny human. Instead, it had caught the fragrance of corn feed laid out for its evening snack.

She was followed by three other cows of lesser stature. They were huge animals with a powerful gait. The earlier decision to ascend to my perch was a very good decision in hind sight.

IMG_2899But, there was more. These four cows were merely the vanguard. The real beast made his way to the corn feed. He was massive.

My guess is that he would weigh in at 1400 pounds. His body mass clearly made him the dominant bovine. He was the bull.

As impressive as his bulk was, I was lost in the size of his massive horns. They were so large that the word “hoax” did enter my mind. When it strolled down the two track, it kept a cadence to the rhythm of his swaying horns.

I had no words. What a sight. I gazed in wonder at these Ankole-Watusi of unusual size. The Creator makes so things really big.

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

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

 

Green BookCuriosity drew me to see this film. The trailer caught my attention several times. It was odd that no one in my circles had been talking about it.

Nevertheless, my far-from-perfect instincts would prove worthwhile on this occasion. I saw the movie on an outbound business flight. It moved me.

During a typical working weekend, I found myself reminiscing over episodes from the story between Dr. Shirley and Tony. Some of those thoughts were reflective. Others were humorous. Yet, others found me marveling.

I deliberately chose to watch the movie a second time, just a day later, on my homeward bound flight. Certain that my initial reflections were reenforced, I recommended it to my wife. We watched it together. That was my third viewing in a week’s time.

When the key characters lived through many life moments, tension ratcheted up. Each individual, except Dolores, had glaring shortcomings. Bigotry was layered in both men. Insecurity leaked out in triggered scenarios. Scarred personal identities became more apparent over time.

Comic relief eased the natural uncomfortable crescendo in this racially charged story. Repeated moments similar to these took a quiet but powerful tone. Relief emerged as transformation. Personal prejudices genuinely eased as friendship emerged. Acceptance was easier than could be imagined. Courage was shared, winning respect. Long suffering grew stronger.

We could only wish for this story line to be repeated as a national or international phenomenon. At least it was true for these two men. It was after all a true story.

Maybe the truth in story on film will touch others to wonder about the possibilities. Perhaps more friendships will stir because of it. Friendship is a powerful human link. There are subtle movements of love, Christmas, letters, and romance that add dynamic texture to the narrative.

I for one could applaud this film and highly recommend it. The story is sure to touch the souls of many. Quite possibly could it shrink the ugly tide of racism to a noticeable degree?

Obviously a film cannot do much to transform the landscape of wicked human behavior. But, people might be attracted to the hope of such change and join in it themselves. Who knows what miraculous moments can happen when genuine friendship discovers true love and righteous people mix it up with a true story.

photo credit: Google image

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