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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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IMG_0278High School graduation was part of life.  It was filled with my classmates who were putting their stamp on a season that we shared together.  This special year would be a stake in the ground that we could all look back and remember our beginning, a commencement into life.

Different kinds of classmates were all around me.  My music buddies amazed me at their talent.  When they sang, I was stunned at how well they could captivate an audience.  Others could pick up an instrument and be judged among the best in the state.

Marching Band occupied a lot of my time.  Friendships grew when times were tough.  A new High School opened up and hived off so many of our musical talent.

We were left with a corporal’s guard.  But, we gave it all we had and enjoyed it.  We could not change much about our size.  However, the quality that we produced was memorable.

Some of my history was in sports.  I wrestled in High School.  We had one stand-out who went on to State.  All of us were proud of his achievements.

Athletes wore their block letter “M” on jackets and sweaters.  Winning may have been a rarity among our sports enthusiasts but spirit could never be questioned.  Our cheerleaders were the best.

Spirit at C.K. McClatchy High School was always on a high level.  Cheering together gave us an identity with this special year of a special class.

There were a lot of smart people around me too.  In Elementary Functions, pre-calculus, our brainy math wizards solved impossible problems.  Collaboration on the black board with options to finally solve a problem were a blast.

Science club gathered another kind of “smart” students.  Philosophy and experiments launched us into a world already too big for young lives to tackle.  But, we chased our chemistry, physics and engineering dreams with youthful energy and exuberance.

When Pomp and Circumstance was played for us, we marched in gowned up and eager to head to college.  A world was waiting for us to conquer, serve and make it better.  Since that special year of 1969, my classmates have made a difference in the world.

It was a special year with special people and amazing dreams.  Do you remember that year?  The world has never been the same since, don’t you think?

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

Israel 2014 IFL 366When I was invited to serve as the professor on one of the Insight for Living buses during a tour of the Holy Land, I was ecstatic.  It was an honor and privilege to teach people what it meant to be in the Land of the Savior.  During my early morning hours before work and late night moments after coming home from work, I poured over the itinerary and studied the Scriptures pertinent to the journey.

Then, in the mail my wife and I received a list of names.  These would be the pilgrims who would be travelling with us on Bus #11.  We were designated the Caramel bus.

We scanned the names on the list.  Also, we noted the cities and states that they called home.  During our initial exposure we tried to guess families and individuals by their last names.

There was not much information to go on as we formed in our minds who these travelers were and what they would be like.  Since we had no pictures or descriptions we did what we could do.  We prayed for them.

Everyone needs prayer.  Few people turn down that service by others on their behalf.  Besides when we pray for others we start to remember their names.

Then, the date of meeting arrived.  We were in the hotel at Tel Aviv.  Our team had been there a day in advance.

Hotel hospitality, tour company personnel, bus shepherds and bus professor couples lined up at the entrance.  Guests arrived by the bus load.  We greeted our pilgrims with smiles, handshakes, delicious beverages and sweets.

Most of those who entered were a bit shell-shocked.  They were surrounded by mostly strangers.  These were friendlies but strangers, nevertheless.

Many conversations and introductions were filling the quiet air with laughter, enthusiasm, stories and hopes.  Endless questions were scattered in those moments and answers were plentiful.  We achieved our goal to orient everyone to the next steps and get them situated comfortably in their hotel rooms.

Dinner was exciting.  The travel team expertly had everyone’s attention.  Musicians and worship leaders were brilliant.

The anticipation of a well-run, sharp and spiritually minded lead team was firmly established in all of our minds.  Now, it was off to bed.  A few night owls kept the rumble of new-found conversations and the beginning of new friendships flourishing.

Now, half way through the tour, we knew each others names.  We easily expressed our awe at the places we visited.  Tears, smiles and teasing we now common since we had been transformed from strangers to friends.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_1283In the past three days I have been on the road for a total of ten driving hours.  For professional drivers that’s nothing.  But, for a guy like me, it’s bizarre. 

Today I’m sore in places that I didn’t even know that I had nerve endings.  Flying by plane just isn’t cost-effective.  Afterall, once you get someplace by plane, how are you going to get around?

Necessity and a busy schedule jammed several appointments into a small window of time.  I am not a road warrior.  In fact I would rather not drive if other options were available.

But, as the old saying goes, “You gotta do what you gotta do.”  That is some sort of Chinese saying, I’m sure.  We who are committed to our promises keep them and do whatever it takes to fulfill them.

For me the driving was a simply a means to a great end.  Getting there was an opportunity to do what builds integrity, keeping my word.  Neither circumstances nor opposition will prevent me from making good on my promises.

But, no one ever said that the journey has to be boring or painful.  Resourceful minds can make the drudgery of driving a pleasant experience.  For me one of the creative additions is music.

My rig is equipped with satellite radio, a 6 CD player, external port for an iPod.  We have a long list of favorite songs that we have purchased on i-tunes.  My Country with my brides’ Pop makes for a splendid combination.

But, for this special time of the year, it’s Christmas music that we line up in our sound system to float the hours of travel away.  Carried in the air of snow, tinsel and family we sing-a-long with classic favorites.  Some are funny like “I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus” that is always a smile endorser.

Of course there are moving ones like “Christmas Shoes” that I posted a few days back.  But, our most favorite Christmas songs of all tell the real story of Christmas, the birth of our Savior, Jesus born in a manger.  That story gives real meaning to the celebration around the world.

I have my favorite artists from years-gone-by as well as modern composers and musicians.  But, the ancient story is the true story and never gets old.  Christmas is my favorite time of the year and the genuine story makes it so.  Merry Christmas! 

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

My bicycle route was now in the return mode.  I had passed the half-way point and turned my wheels toward home.  The steady turn brought me across four lanes of traffic during an ideal time when there were no vehicles any where in sight.

Then, my eyes caught an unusual sight.  The last time I rode this route, just a few days ago, did not have these landscape highlights.  My pedals stopped rotating.

I glided to a halt and smiled.  It was time to dismount and check out this sight.  A grin broke out on my countenance and thoughts of Fantasia played through my memory.

Dancing mushrooms to Asian music long live in my mind.  On the Disney silver screen that image highlights the surges of a classical musical and animated masterpiece.  Now, these wild mushrooms brought back those favored moments.

The shape of these little guys stood out on the lawns of my neighborhood.  While green grass spread out for thousands of square feet, a few fast growing mushroom are a striking contrast with their stunning bright white caps spread out.  Each one is textured with soft skins speckled with decorative brown spots.  Almost like a lightly barbequed marshmellow, these fungi make most people look who drive by.

The caps of these shrooms have come full spread.  Underneath, the gills have opened up and spores are being released.  Another generation of these fast growing, suddenly-appearing unique life-forms will appear in the future.   

These subjects for my cellphone camera were cooperative.  They did not move nor did  they wave or flutter in the morning breeze.  But, they live very low to the ground.

Modestly, they hold their skirts low on the lawn.  Nothing underneath these mushrooms was visible to my lens.  I took as low a posture as was physically possible but there was no new perspective to be gained.

I stowed my camera  and mounted my bicycle.  Pushing off and gaining ground toward home, my memories remained fresh.  There is something special about the world of God’s creation around us.

He is the Master creator.  There is variety in His design.  Beauty in the greenery of man-manicured lanscape bends to the emerging of fungi, carried by the windborne spores. 

It is a domesticated world in the suburbs.  But, a twinge of wild unscripted growth still finds its way into  the neighborhood.  Gentle, cute, fun are words that surround these tiny forms of life.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

My internet search took place over several months.  It’s one of those “tuck it into the back pocket of your mind” sort of moments.  This would be a great present for my bride.

A friend wanted to play a song for us that he just recently discovered.  He pulled out his I-pod and also pulled out some portable speakers. The speakers grabbed my wife’s attention.  They were panda bear speakers!

My wife’s favorite animal is the cuddly and easily recognizable Panda Bear.  Her girlfriends nicknamed her Panda too.  She has a lot of panda stuff around the house.  This was one that she did not have in her collection.  That’s when it popped into my mind to start looking.

A number of forays into the World Wide Web uncovered a number of sites to bring a special gift home.  There are so many options, but one little guy kept popping up in my mind.  I placed my order and eagerly waited for it to show up.

Proudly, excitedly and cheerily I presented the unopened box to my bride on her special day.  She carefully cut open the box.  We both broke out in smiles!  It is adorable!

But that wasn’t the end.  I sent her a list of three restaurants from which to choose for our two-some party.  Her choices were steak, seafood or Italian.  She chose seafood; it was a great choice.

Our meal started off with Oysters Rockefeller.  Wow!  They were delicious!  We ate them slowly in order to savor the stunning flavors

Next, her Flounder came.  It was a fresh catch of the day.  Here by the Gulf of Mexico, this is a delicacy of major proportions.

This fish melted in your mouth.  The topping enhanced the sweet flavor and gentle texture.  It’s about the best Flounder I have ever had.

What?  Yes, it was her dish.  Pardon?  No, I did not snitch her meal for myself. She offered it to me and I gladly accepted!

Our meal for this celebration was brand new to us.  We discovered it on Yelp.com.  The recommendations were very high and we concur!

Babin’s Seafood Restaurant in Katy, TX gets our two thumbs up.  It was a splendid atmosphere for a landmark celebration.  The two of us thoroughly enjoyed our visit.

Service was excellent.  The selections on the menu were plentiful.  But, of course the final test was in the eating and we did so with great delight!  Happy Birthday, Panda!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

 

Everyone has their personal taste for music.  The genres are as varied as human tastes.  Some are purists and others are eclectic.

I have tried so many kinds of music.  Over my growing many years on this earth, I have tasted pop, rock, classical, easy listening, jazz and broadway.  Nothing really sticks for any length of time.

But, years ago I suddenly realized that I could understand what Country artists were singing.  It made me think about the story as well as enjoy the melody lines.  Before I knew it, Country was always playing on my radio and iPod.

Then, I moved to California.  Here in San Francisco new acquaintances told me about the local Country radio station.  I tuned in and enjoyed several months of my favorite kind of tunes and artists.

But sadly, the radio station turned its genre from Country music to sports talk.  I was bewildered.  Did we really need another sports talk radio station in the Bay Area?

For the next few months I tried to connect with my iPod.  But my limited song selections eventually left me frustrated.  I resorted to searching for secondary genres on my radio.

Sometimes jazz kept me interested.  Once in a while classical attracted me.  Light rock sometimes occupied my attention.

Then, someone suggested that I try internet radio.  That was a challenge.  I’m not too tech savvy.

Promptly I forgot about the suggestion.  My busy life pushed that passing idea off to the perimeter of my mind.

But, then months later the idea reemerged for no particular reason.  I did a brief search and was surprised how easily it was find a website for free radio.  Quickly my eyes raced down the list of genre options.

Presto! There it was in its proper place in the alphabetical listing: Country.  I clicked on the label and up popped the Country panel.  It invited me to click the arrow to listen.

I moved my cursor to the right place.  Then a swift click with my index finger and the familiar tunes, lyrics that were easy to understand, stories of real life, tunes that made me smile emerged clearly from my computer.  I was happy, elated, joyful again!

What a discovery!  It’s playing now as I write.  All day it was on during my work day in my office.  Old friends from Brad Paisley, Reba, Kenny Chesney, Taylor Swift and so many others are getting acquainted with my routine again.  Welcome back, Country!

photo credit:

On my day off I decided to commit myself to accomplishing something productive.  After all, I knew that if I wanted to play in the evening I would feel so much better if I had done something useful during the day.  I took a deep breath and entered into my office.

With Christmas music on to while away the project, I slid open my closet doors. They slid easily on their tracks and unveiled what I love to ignore for weeks on end.  Piles of boxes of TBCL: to be considered later.

Two boxes with a volume of 1.5 cubit feet were heavy.  They were solid inside with content.  There was nothing soft about the treasures that were hidden away.

I opened each to find what I knew I had to sort, toss or use.  These have a track record of my life’s history.   It was boxes of a my music.

Scores and scores of CD’s.  Music from favored artists: Steve Green, Garth Brooks, Crystal Gayle, Point of Grace, 4 Him, The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, James Taylor, Michael J. Smith, Manheim Steamroller, Shania Twain, Van Morrison, David Meece, Steven Curtis Chapman, Promise Keepers, Avery Stafford, Johnny Cash, Scott Wesley Brown,  Canadian Brass, Chuck Mangione, Wayne Watson, DC Talk and many more.  Can you see my varied taste?

I had to figure out a way to put these all in digital form.  My i-touch could hold them.  But, I have to figure out how to load them. 

Once these are digitally stored I can donate the CD’s to the Salvation Army.  That’ll clear my room of several boxes.  Moving around my office will be much more effiecient too.

At first I thought that I would count all of my CD’s and add up how much money I have spent on them over the years.  But, when I got up to the price of new motorcycle I decided that this was a very bad idea.  Furthermore, great music is never about the money.

Years of tranquility and meditation are represented in these discs.  Fun times of joy and celebration are a deeply embedded in them as well.  How many times have we slipped away into a world of friendliness and cheer just by putting on our earphones and cranked up the volume?

At the same time it’s not the plastic discs that are the memories.  It is the music.  If I can store the same music in a miniature i-touch and free up living space, how sweet is that?

photo credit: google image

A good friend sent me a recommendation.  That’s uncommon but usual in this modern-day of social networking.  Pictures, videos, ideas, conversations and advice are regularly fed to all of us.

There is a ton of stuff that is very good.  Sharing great information makes life full and keeps us all up-to-date on the happenings, news and alerts that are worth our attention.  Then, there are a few standouts.  Here’s one that is one of those.

Check out the song “Where’s the line to see Jesus”.  It is special.  Here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v=OExXItDyWEY&vq=medium

Becky’s 4-year-old nephew, Spencer, was out shopping with his family.  He saw the long lines of children waiting to see Santa Claus.  Very naturally, he asked his mom, “Where’s the line to see Jesus?”

It was one of those memorable moments.  Becky’s sister mentioned this to her father which launched an immediate inspiration.  He jotted the words down, composed music and shared it with family, friends and Nashville.

The song has moved many.  When I was introduced to it this year, I was in the middle of studying Isaiah 40.5 for an upcoming sermon.  My thoughts were already on the focus of Jesus who came not just as a baby but as our Savior.

We need a Savior.  Our sin has us in a predicament that has no solution.  We are lost for all eternity and we need to be rescued.

Jesus came not to give us an addition to a holiday.  Nor did He come to be another reason for a celebration.  Rather, He came to give us hope for eternity with the stunning forgiveness of sin and a new life that is forever redeemed.

Sin has been wiped out.  That is how amazing His grace is for everyone who believes in Him.  People don’t forgive, nor do they forget.

God, our Father in heaven, not only forgives through His Son Jesus Christ, He also declares that Jesus’ redemption for us more than takes care of our sins.  That’s a reason to celebrate.  It is a wonder that lasts longer than a party, open gifts or a credit card payment plan.

Jesus made it possible for us to never despair again.  His gracious mercy has embraced any and all to come to Him by faith and enjoy being clean again.  This is the kind of hope that will never end.  Join me and get in line (it’s short) to thank Jesus for His great gift of hope to us.

photo credit: google image

A good friend included me on an email notice. Raul Midon was coming to town. He was on the concert ticket at Yoshi’s in San Francisco.

This would take a little explanation. I never heard of this artist. But, that isn’t a testament to Midon’s lack of notoriety. Rather it is a revelation that I don’t know jazz.

My friend sent me a short explanation. I was intrigued. Mostly, however, I greatly respect my friends musical talent. He would not give me a recommendation for a night of music if it wasn’t going to be special. I was very very pleased.

Midon is a one-man band. That doesn’t just mean that he does a solo act without accompaniment. It is true that he is on stage without any other supporting musicians. However, the moniker of being a one-man band hints at his versatility and expansive talent.

In his musical presentation he not only plays amazing guitar he also adds brass support, percussion and bass lines all while singing with a soulful velvet voice. During my introduction to Midon I not only thoroughly enjoyed the concert, I kept cocking my head with the reaction, “How’s he doing that?”

Several times during the concert I closed my eyes and imagined what I would be seeing if I didn’t know that this was a single artist on stage. A small ensemble made more sense to my ears than what my eyes told me was happening in my very presence. How can one man add layers of sound and mix those sounds all by himself. It was remarkable.

Midon is a self-proclaimed genre bender. I liked that. There was so much story in his lyrics that I easily tracked with the episodes in life that he was painting for us. I’m not musical purist. So I am attracted to something enjoyable that is also something easy to relate to.

Oh, by the way. Midon is blind. He has been from birth. As a premature child he was a victim of the early light treatment that caused his blindness.

Yet, with this handicap he clearly has a winsome personality. He is positive about life. Humor is a feature in his concert that gives him a great appeal.

Overcoming adversity and demonstrating amazing impact on others is truly commendable. So, the soul inside of me clapped in syncopated rhythm with Midon’s music. My bride and I were transported into one of God’s greatest gifts to His creation, the world of rapturous music.

photo credit: google image

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