IMG_4413Thursday was not unusual for Houston, weather wise.  The clouds overhead were dark and overly pregnant with moisture.  Meteorologists had forecast heavy rains and sent out flash flood warnings.  I listened but did not hear.

I was shocked when I entered my usual surface street route to my office.  It was flooded.  Water covered the road from the side ditches all of the way over the center line.

Ahead of me several cars were driving slowly through water.  Each vehicle left a wake behind it.  I had never seen such high waters in my three years of Texas driving.

At the end of the road was a mandatory right turn.  Normally, it is a round intersection with plenty of turning space for 18 IMG_4412wheeled rigs.  Now, it was a lake with no name.

One car made the mistake of driving the perimeter of the waters.  It was so deep on the edges that the little car stalled as water crept up the side of the car and was surely seeping into the car cabin.  My pickup truck was blessing me with high ground clearance.

Nevertheless, I felt incredibly vulnerable.  There was no relief in sight.  As far as I could see the road ahead of me was a muddy river.

People had pulled off the roads and parked in strip mall lots.  They stood under umbrellas and watched us ford our way through the waters hoping to find higher ground.  An emergency vehicle was with them standing by to lend a hand.

IMG_4411They were not looking at me.  A small subcompact car was stranded.  The driver had tried to make it into the strip mall lot but the water depth on the sides of the road are especially deep.

The driver had his emergency flashers on.  His car was flooded.  It was a sad sight.

I rounded the last turn to my office.  After several attempts I drove into our lot from the back.  That’s when a driver and a Good Samaritan were pushing his stalled car through the deep water and up into a parking lot to assess the damage.

Floods make little humans feel very small.  Our expensive vehicles are easily made vulnerable when the waters rise over 12 inches on our roads.  I made it safely and breathed a sigh of relief and thanked God for the high ground clearance that He made possible for me to purchase three years ago.

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

IMG_4382Tuesday night there was more than thunder rumbling through my adopted city of Houston, Texas.  Michigan buddies rode their motorcycles into town for a visit.  That is over 1,000 miles of road warrior travel just for the sake of the ride and good memories.

These residents of the Motor City were introduced to a metroplex with a penchant for individual vehicle transportation.  Everyone drives in Houston.  You cannot live here very easily without a vehicle, preferably a pickup truck.

Some have even assessed our city culture and suggest that a vehicle equals or in many cases surpasses the choice of a place to live.  Is that extreme?  Most of us who live here would at least suggest that there is some merit to that assumption.

My motorcycle buddies at least have that thought planted in their minds.  They were introduced to Houston traffic after a long day of riding.  Add to the stop and go traffic of I-610 a major thunder-storm and it really gets dodgy.

IMG_4380Not only was the rush hour traffic horrendous and the thunderstorm unpleasant but construction with narrow lanes and debris added to the tricky negotiations of motorcycle riding.  Of course those occasional out-of-state transplants who speed and cut annoy everyone.  Too many in traffic jams are on their phones texting and drift over their lane lines and squeeze a motorcyclist.

Aside from the hazards of riding our fellowship was amazingly fun!  The rain kept pouring down so we parked the bikes under the hotel eave and piled into my pickup truck for a tour of the NASA Johnson Space Center.  It was a perfect day to visit.

Schools were not bringing in bus loads of children and the tourist season had already ended.  Without the crowds we could see everything and did not wait in lines.  The displays  and historic moments were easy to enjoy and take in for our easy riders.

IMG_4407Standing next to the massive 747 and Shuttle we felt our diminutive size but also sensed our enormous pride in what our nation has able to do.  Our smart phones have capacities that old computers in the past could not do.  Yet, our nation launched men into space, landed them on the moon and brought them safely home.

Our little band of bikers took in the size and sights of NASA’s greatest accomplishments.  Mostly, our time was about our journey through life, friendship, past rides and fun adventures.   Ron, Richard and Scott are great friends and even greater buddies with shared memories.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_4366Friday night was reserved on our calendar.  When we approached the weekend we talked over our plans, reviewed the events and talked about how meaningful these days would be.  Then the making of a wonderful blessing began.

Friday night was a highlight for us.  We headed out on time to beat the traffic.  Our destination was a simple eatery on the other side of the freeway from our church.

Tonight we were going to the celebration of the ten-year anniversary of our pastor and his family at our church.  It is amazing to consider an entire decade of service for our pastor and his family.  He even stuck around when he succeeded a three decade stint by his predecessor.

Thousands of cheerful supporters filled the church building.  The worship was powerful.  Love was all over the place.

When our pastor was invited up to the platform, the applause was enthusiastic and sustained.  His smile was broad.  His family was basking in a massive display and expression of love.

For a moment I felt for all the pastors who have never experienced that outpouring of devotion.  They have served faithfully only to be beaten down by those who criticize, hold secret gatherings, complain anonymously and mete out miserly compensation.  Do not be one of those.

Nevertheless, these shepherds tirelessly serve, constantly study and face heartbreaking moments where they were the sole source of encouragement.  Their faithfulness slipped by the notice of most and was remembered in detail only by God.  He knows all and never forgets.

There are always those who point to bad ministers.  However, those few are small in number compared to the neglected in ministry.  Encourage your pastor, give your heart to him.  Yes, discern wisely but embrace him with love and encouragement.

We had great conversations with people around us that evening when we honored our pastor.  His personality has been pervasive in our lives.  Warmth, welcome and cheer are ways that he addresses us and so we do the same with each other.

God is blessing our pastor with a powerful ministry in our city and beyond.  His teaching is Biblical, balanced and practical.  People take notes and live what they taught.

Gifts of affection were bestowed.  Flowers filled the arms of his wife.  Each of his children enjoyed holding on to a special memento.

Humility, humor and honesty marked his words.  We love our pastor and his family!  Encourage your pastor and watch what God will do.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Disney World 2014 191There are popular animals out of every collection of beasts on the earth.  When people crowd into a well designed aquarium, many linger at one display or another.  In a zoo it is easy to spot the popular animals because the lines are longer and they move so much slower.

When God made the animals He unleashed His creative side.  Each animal is a wonder.  However, some just make us gaze longer and smile more broadly.

Whether it is in a zoo, a wild game park or even in the African bush, one animal claims the popular appeal.  It stands out above the rest.  People always look up to this beast of the plains.

The ever tall and gentle-looking giraffe wins the nod.  There is no other animal on planet earth that looks like this.  They have the exclusive view of the Savannah.

Their elongated neck is their distinctive claim to fame.  Anyone in a game of Pictionary or Charades is smiling if they draw the card telling them to draw this picture or mime the name from eager house guests.  This is a slam-dunk winner for children learning about animals from board picture books.

Take those same children to the zoo and they need to file through their memory when identifying animals in real life.  But, the giraffe is an easy association for them.  They simply marvel at how tall these creatures are in real life.

Beyond its unique height and distinctive neck is its patchwork on its hide.  At first the pattern evades our attention.  It does what the Creator designed it to do.

Observers do not focus on the huge animal.  Eyesight naturally sees the breakup scheme and nearly miss the creature that is clearly taking up space.  Camouflage is the purpose and the purpose is achieved so well.

Its long legs give this animal the gait that suits its foraging.  In a gallop the giraffe looks ungainly.  Yet, it covers ground with enormous speed.

Perhaps its best asset with its height is a buffet that no other herbivore can compete.  The delectable leaves in the heights of the trees can only be reached by this tallest of plains animals of Africa.  They not only can eat what none others can reach, they have the vantage point to spot other savory options over great distances.

This is a remarkable animal.  It is not an accident of chance that it is like this.  Rather, it is the smile of the Creator, who knew what He was doing.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_4327The retreat center was bustling with activity. People were pouring in for our annual new semester kick-off.  Some drove a mere hour and a half while others dragged in after a four-hour journey.

Coffee was the mainstay and magnet for human appeal.  Once a few sips calmed the nerves and settled the cravings, many grouped up for laughs and conversation.  But, not everyone was socially inclined.

An agenda was governing our gathering.  Planners and gifted administrators handed us all a packet.  A schedule outlined our activities for the next day and a half.

Before those hours began, I found myself attracted not by people.  There would be plenty of time for them.  Instead, a powerful appeal was a mere score of steps away.

I yielded easily.  Warmed and refreshed, the Texas lakeside view invited me to breathe in deeply.  Exhaling slowly felt very good.

Unaware that I had started smiling, that realization alone made me smile more broadly.  Creation has a way of engulfing us, not threatening our smallness but assuring us of something more secure and satisfying.  It was a little moment of blessing from the great God to a mere mortal.  I liked it.

IMG_4329Softly the wind moved over the waters of the lake.  It left a ripple across the glassy surface and picked up the reflective daylight, broadcasting the morning sky.  Gently there was a lapping of the moving waters on the shoreline.

Green growth of trees and shrubs found a permanent place around the water’s edge.  Roots drank in the plentiful water and gave their lives permanency for years of growth.  They broadcast a strong reminder that it is the water that gives life.

A powerful tree trunk framed the picture of the lake.  While the fluid lake moved and shifted, the healthy tree was stalwart and steady in its place.  The ground held it secure and it crept bigger and taller by incremental changes, adding hidden rings of history in its trunk.

The appeal of water gathered a huge variety of flora around its shores.  There was more than enough nourishment to keep grasses carpeting the surrounding edge.  Here the Master Creator shows off the variety of leaf shapes, textures and shades that on His palate.

Then, the water not only sustains the flora but draws in the fauna as well.  Birds, fish and animals wander in for a drink.  They lap up the sustaining nourishment and live.  There is something special about the appeal of water.

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

IMG_4361Houston, Texas is my home.  This is America’s fastest growing city.  More than 2500 people move here and call this city their home every week.

To keep up with the bulging population of 6 million people the roads and elevated freeways define our city.  We are on the road constantly.  That means that we define our days by where our travels take us.

It is not about the journey here in Houston; it is about the destination.

My bride and I were on a standard 23 mile journey.  Our conversation was at the focal point of our time together on the road.  Suddenly, a flash of lightning made us both look skyward.

Dark foreboding clouds, pregnant with massive amounts of moisture, threatened all of the earthbound creatures with a torrent.  The heavens burst open and we were caught in a thunderstorm of Biblical proportions.  Traffic slowed to a crawl.  No one could see beyond 50 feet.

Just as quickly the rain stopped.  Texas-sized rains unleash themselves and then the world returns to normal.  That is when the experience becomes memorable.

My wife describes the aftermath of a storm with enthusiasm.  I am watching the busy traffic that we are in.  But, she is going on about the sky, the clouds and most importantly the rainbow.

Jokingly she says that I can pull over any time so she can capture a picture of the vivid rainbow splashed across the Houston sky. I laugh.  We have not yet reached our destination.

Yet, the temptation is too great.  With a couple of turns behind us, I capture just a glimpse of the multicolored phenomenon in the sky.  It is stunning.

On a quiet street, I spot a chance.  We pull over to the side of the road and stop before we arrive at our journey’s goal.  It is an unscheduled stop, unheard of in the lives of busy people.

There in front of us on the canvas of thunder head above our city is a rainbow.  It is beautiful.  Both of us focus our cellphone cameras and snap a shot.

By the time we boot up our cameras, the bow in the sky has already passed its prime.  It entered into its fade mode.  The colors were once rich and vibrant.

Even in its farewell phase, this portrait in the sky is a reminder of the Creator’s promise.  He will never destroy the whole earth by Flood again.  Noah heard it and the Bible recorded it for all of us to hear as well.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_4335There is a steady feed of videos and pictures that come our way from our daughter and son-in-law.  We never tire of watching the action or taking in the details of the pictures.  The excess of 1000 miles of separation between us and our grandson is salved by these digital exchanges.

We love being a part of his growing up.  Every day he is changing.  His size and his locomotion are the news of the day.

Once we visited and he was a mere infant.  The next time we visited and he was crawling like a spider from one place to the next.  On this last visit he was on the verge of walking.

Progress is a special reason to celebrate every day as he grows.   So much of life is wrapped in growth.  Progress and new developments give us a reason to cheer.

When he was an infant and his little body was all about rest, I looked forward to the day when his smile and laughter would make us all treasure the joy that he was bringing into all of our lives.  Videos give us a chance to be a part of those moments.  His laughter infects the cheer center of our souls.

Whether he is looking at funny birds, entertained by animals at the zoo or taking in the comical otters at the Aquarium, we love to hear him laugh.  He is all boy so his climbing adventures always include spills and falls.  When he takes a tumble, he bounces back with laughter and tries the feat again.

A distraction enters into view and he stops to look.  Curiosity is filling his brain with all sorts of entries into his life experience.  Creation is all about differences and variety.

He is easily amazed at new things.  They make him smile.  His countenance is all about the thrill of experiencing life.

Some day I will give him the Grandpa lessons of life.  I will have the thrill of filling in the details.  When his spirit is stirred and he loves what he is learning, there will be no comparison of satisfaction.

Next, I am dreaming of our conversations.  The questions are on their way.  Those inquiries are moments that I am going relish.

They will be forays about life, reasons for this and how these things work.  That is the world of grandfathering.  I am ready to give my heart to this bundle of smiles.

photo credit: KB photography

IMG_4332My bride was thousands of miles away.  Before she left she filled the refrigerator with good cooking that I could divide up and enjoy during the days of her absence.  I was not shy.

Her selfless preparation, however, could not last forever.  When her food ran out, I began to wonder how I would fill the void.  What does a man do when he is by himself and it gets close to dinner time?

I am blessed to not only have a wonderful wife but also a large box store just a few miles from my home.  They sell large quantities of what most people need for their monthly staples.  A number of specialty items fill in the gaps.

Someone must be thinking of busy lives with little time to prepare a meal.  So this store stocks several items for hungry people like me.  It is a simple stop on the way home from work.

With my buggy leading the way I head for the back of the store.  Under the heat lamps and packaged in perfectly shaped containers are roasted chickens.  They are browned just right and the juices are oozing out along with an aroma that will not let many skip a smile as they walk by.

I am not one who is a passer-by.  Instead, I stop, select my bird and pick up the hot container and place it carefully in the shopping cart.  Next, I push my way over to the next aisle and see what is next and last on my list: tomato bisque soup.

A four-wheeled cart is really not necessary.  It is just that the chicken is too hot to carry.  Letting the soup sit next to the radiating entrée helps get the bisque ready for serving.

After I arrived at home, the “hungries” hit and hit hard.  It was time to put out a serving of my gourmet meal and enjoy the evening.  One plate and one bowl was all that I needed.

The microwave did its job with the soup.  I cut up the chicken.  It was an efficient serving.  There was not need to worry about presentation just get the edible food on the table.

One fork, one knife and one napkin round out the table setting.  I returned thanks to God for His bounty and I took a picture before digging into the meal.  My wife was proud of my delicious fare with enough in the refrigerator for three more meals, bachelor style.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_4348There is a love affair that many have for the game of baseball.  The diamond, the pitch, the hit, the bunt, the double-play and the stats fuel the imagination.  It is a gathering time for family and friends as well.

This game was special for many.  The Houston Astros and the Texas Rangers were meeting for the second of a three game match-up. It is called the Texas Showdown.

Minute Maid Park was filling up with not just baseball fans but a large gathering of saints from Houston’s First Baptist Church.  Our pastor, Gregg Matte, was scheduled to throw in one of the ceremonial pitches to start the game.  When he was introduced, there was a roar from the crowd.  All of us wearing our blue Houston’s First T-shirts were enjoying our reason for coming to the ball game.

We set aside our popcorn and Cracker Jacks, stood to our feet and applauded our shepherd.  He strolled on to the field holding hands with his daughter, Valerie.  She nearly stole the show with her perfect grade school blond curls and delightful smile.

The national anthem was sung right after that ceremonial pitch.  Houston’s First Baptist Singers took the field and filled the stadium with perfect harmony and stirring words.   Our nation with its countless problems, despondent citizens, world crises needs a large dose of hope and these talented singers gave us a taste of a very good elixir.

Our Astros took to the field with all of the traditions of our national sport.  The Rangers were up to bat first as the visiting team.  They were smarting from the loss they were handed by the Astros the night before.

This night they would have their revenge. They trounced the Astros by a painful margin.  But, that is baseball.

No one wins them all.  When professionals who hit only 250 out of every 1000 pitches are doing well, then disappointments are not uncommon.  Pitchers who can throw a ball over 90 miles an hour and hit within a 12 inch diameter target every time stun the crowd with their talent.

God made everyone of us.  Some sing, some are athletes and other cheer on both while spilling soda and chomping down peanuts.  It is an amazing game for the widest possible audience.

In between innings we visit, laugh at the big screen and let cotton candy melt in our mouths.  Our great country is still pumping out goodness.  The good Lord Almighty is still blessing our Land.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_4312Excitement and trepidation mix together every year at this time of the year.  It is the beginning of a new school year.  No it is not grammar school or high school or even college.  For me it is graduate school.

I am a professor at one of the finest seminaries in the world, Dallas Theological Seminary.  Eons ago I graduated from this splendid institution.  Now I am privileged to be on the faculty.

This scenario is a God-only kind of story.  Some marvel at the miracle of crossing the Red Sea or the leper being cleansed or the raising of Lazarus as stunning miracles.  I understand those, however, God did a customized miracle just for me.

From a shy and uncertain background I was blessed with remarkable touches by God.  He brought me to this pinnacle of a career that still has me shaking my head.  He pushed me into leadership and frightened me into working hard to achieve academic standing just for a position like this.

In my youth I never would have thought that I would make a living speaking before crowds of people.  My struggles through hours of studying and writing never prepared me to see the letters Ph.D. after my name.  Throughout my years of education I read countless books, never thinking that one day a number of books would have my name on them as the author.

God is a miracle maker not of just great events but transforming unassuming, invisible, average people into useful tools for the building up of His Kingdom.  He smiles down on undeserving people and lifts them up.  The only credit for those generous moments is His glory.

My life refreshes itself every time a new academic year begins.  In my mind and soul I rehearse the position of privilege that He has given me to serve Him.  The student’s faces are all new but the story that each share is familiar.

God took very average people, forgave their sins and transformed them into channels where His grace could be spread to others.  In our classrooms these specially called men and women are preparing to serve the lives of others.  My treat is to teach them in the field of my professional expertise, Pastoral Ministries.

The first day of class, back to school, is filled with syllabus shock, deadline due dates and tons of reading.  They will be overwhelmed but it is my joy to not just teach but guide them through the requirements. It is back to school and I am humbled to be here and loving every minute of it.

photo credit: brucefong photography

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