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

IMG_4299This stretch of Interstate 10 is part of our daily routine.  It is how I go to work and how we get home to our beloved Katy, Texas.  The sights along the route are becoming familiar landmarks to our progress to our final destination.

We are used to 18 wheelers roaring by with their load of product for the local big box store or the distribution center for small businesses or massive tanker transporting a load of petroleum product to the local refinery.  There are the thousands of personally owned vehicles mixing pick-up trucks, cars and motorcycles.  It takes something unusual to capture the attention of unflappable Texans.

A bright orange tractor trailer rig captured our attention.  There were no sirens or flashing lights.  The driver was simply moving his mighty machine down the freeway with swift aplomb.

His load filled up my rear view mirror.  I could not tell what it was.  All I could be certain was that it was massive.

He came up even to my little pickup truck.  I was holding on to my steering wheel to compensate for the draft and wind suction that was likely to come.  The roar of the truck and sheer size of its load made many cars steer clear out of his space.

Once we were even, I glanced over to see what it was he was hauling.  I did not recognize the vehicle.  It was not your neighbor’s family van.

Five wheels maneuvered this machine around.  Each tire was bigger than my truck.  It had treads that clearly favored off-road travel more than the pavement of an instate.

Someone out there knows exactly what this vehicle is.  I do not.  Someone out there designed this vehicle and knows exactly what it is capable of doing.  I do not.

The picture shows an absence of markings.  There is no white star to show that it was Army.  Yet, it is clearly military.

Maybe the photo that my wife captured on my digital camera is telling.  The building behind the massive machine had its American flag proudly waving 20 stories high.  It became the identifying mark for this vehicle for that point in time.

The US military makes us proud, eh?  Men and women who train to protect our nation and our freedom in a very unfriendly world.  It is a blessing to a citizen of this great land and enjoy a special Wow on the freeway.

photo credit: fong photography

 

IMG_4323My alarm clock was not needed. I picked up my phone and turned off the alarm before it rang.  The morning sun rays leaked heavily through the plantation blinds and brought enough light to rouse me to the new day.

It did not take long to wash up and get dressed.  Then, I stepped out into the morning air and automatically smiled.  The Texas heat was still hours away.  For this slice of the day at least, there was time let creation swallow me into the beauty of the surrounding woods.

For a while I walked while reading the Bible from my I-phone.  Yes, there is an app for that. My soul was refreshed from my morning devotions in His Word.

Suddenly I looked up, I stopped walking.  My pause was spontaneous and inexplicable.  At least I could not remembering making the decision to stop.

Instead, the scenery captivated my total attention.  I suppose thousands of summer campers have walked this route before me.  Maybe all of them stood there in that same spot gazing at the view.

The sun was shrouded in the low hanging cloudy skies.  Its rays were diffused and made the morning horizon glow.  Shadows streaked across the ground like an artists guidelines just before he or she paints a masterpiece.

IMG_4317This morning I saw a portrait of life.  God was shining His light.  The woods were not dark nor threatening as long as the light was shining.

Ahead was the view of the lake.  It was inviting.  Clearly, the sun was spilling out on the path that I would walk to greet the people He had assigned for me to meet.

God leads our lives the same way.  I could not see the end of the trail. However, enough of the trail was lit up by the morning sun right through the woods to the top of the gentle slope.

It was enough to walk with confidence.  Certainty of the next few steps was clear.  I could walk as far as I could see.

This method kept me going once I resumed my walk.  With no fear or hesitation of getting lost my stroll through the woods was made simple by the well marked trail and the light that shone on the pathway.  God does that for all who follow Him.

God’s divine plan is to show us just enough so we know where our next several steps will be.  However, the destination is a long way off.  We trust Him for the next steps and He will handle the final destination.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_4304The movie theater is a Houston refuge.  When the summer months descend on our city, the temperatures soar.  We have learned to take refuge in places where the air conditioning is always guaranteed.

Sometimes we go to the Mall for a walk.  Hordes of people have the same idea.  There is always plenty of parking.

Other times we do our grocery shopping.   For some reason we linger in the refrigeration area.  Even when we do not have to buy any frozen goods we open a door and pretend to be doing some shopping.

When the legs tire we hold out for the movie theater.  Our Senior status makes it an affordable option.  The air conditioning is always on.

Often the Texas way is to walk into a theater with short sleeves and shorts.  But, it is wise to carry a light jacket or sweater.  Yes, it is so cold that Texans go in to put something on.

This time the lights dimmed and the movie The Hundred Foot Journey was showing.  The plot is the adventure of an Indian family who trying to find a new home after they were burned out from bad people in their home country.  It is the father’s patriarchal extra sense that is leading them.

Their wanderings in search of a new home take them to England, Switzerland and finally to France.  It is the life in the flavor of abundant ingredients that keeps them in a small French village.  There they acquire a neglected restaurant and start their business.

Unfortunately, right across the street, a mere hundred feet away is an upper scale French restaurant.  The widowed owner is famous for her one star establishment.  Competition between the two establishments is the tension in the movie.

The talent of Hassan is finally acknowledged by Madame Mallory through painful admissions marred by arson, open impediments and social friction.  Yet, the melting of the cold feelings is the delight of the story.  Enemies become colleagues.  Colleagues become allies.  Allies become deep friends.

Success puts the spotlight on one.  Those who are left behind settle for the best that they can do.  But, love draws the family back together.

Love fills the kitchen.  Joy comes with the love.  You can taste the delight that climaxes the reunion.

The future is bright.  Laughter and achievement abound.  The third star is aptly deserved and appropriately settles in as part of the blended lives of these who treasure amazing taste.  It is an excellent film.

photo credit: brucefong photography

The traffic engineers made their intentions clear.  At the intersection the left lane continues forward and merges on to the interstate freeway.  The middle lane continues straight on the frontage road.  The right lane may turn right or continue on the frontage road.

All of the lines that are painted on the road make these maneuvers clear.  Solid lines indicate that crossing these lines if forbidden.  Drivers learn that solid lines are to be treated as if they were solid walls or barriers.

My wife and I were driving in the entry ramp lane.  It was time to increase our speed from surface street traffic to freeway speeds.  All was fine until a car in the middle lane that was to continue straight on the frontage road decides that he wants to enter the freeway.

He merges into my lane right on my front fender.  If I had not braked immediately, then he would have collided with me. God rescued us with divine protection!

When I braked I also sounded my horn.  I wanted him to know that I was there and he was causing an emergency near-collision.  The adrenaline was pumping.

Instead of speeding up and waving an apology, the driver in the wrong, maneuvering his vehicle without safe margins or yielding to the vehicle that had the right of way, he stops his car.  He is now deliberately blocking the road for me and all of the cars behind me waiting to enter the freeway.  He honks his horn.

Slowly he moves ahead.  He is not accelerating but intentionally driving slowly to show his anger at anyone who would honk at him.  He was wrong but he is unleashing his anger on others whom he has wronged.

Here is a man who cannot admit that he is wrong.  He believes that if he bullies others around him with a critical domineering attitude he can cover up his own error.  It is a distraction from the facts of the infraction.

He is arrogant.  Pride, the bad kind, the wicked kind, the hurtful kind is what his life is.  Pity those who are close to him who get burned every time he makes a mistake.

Finally, he speeds off on the freeway. He has embarrassed himself.  He will spend the next several days justifying his bad behavior. Others around him will be victims of his displaced anger and self-righteousness.  Are you driving out there this week?  Be careful!

My calendar was my reminder of where I needed to be and when.  I am grateful for the non-emotional markers that will positively point me in the right direction.  Without my trusty calendar and cellphone that is linked to my Administrative Assistant I would be spending a lot of time apologizing to busy people that I forgot that we had a meeting.

It is not the tyranny of the urgent or the necessity of the next hour.  Rather it is the mercy of the herder who knows where the flock needs to be heading before disaster unfolds.  Now, it is up to the faithful stead to carry me to my next destination.

Off for a distant location, I frown at my GPS. It guides me to where I need to go, generally.  The first 30 miles goes by smoothly.  But, then I get dizzy driving in circles.

It tells me with all gentleness to exit in 300 yards. 800 yards later there is still no exit.  Now, she tells me to make a left turn.

I am in the right lane of a five lane interstate freeway.  It is loaded with fast moving vehicles and massive construction vehicles that could squash me like a bug.  A quick glance at my watch and my stress level rises even higher.  Now, I am officially late and there is no restaurant in sight.

Finally, I see some hope.  The GPS shows that I am a mere .25 miles from my destination.  When I arrive it is a corner gas station!

Yes, I called my GPS a dummy.  She is.  How could she be so undependable?

25 minutes later and 15 miles extra on my odometer, I pull over on a wide spot on a road.  I was done with driving through construction sites, high end neighborhoods, business complexes and freeway interchanges.  With a swift slap of the power button I turned my GPS off.

I dialed in on my phone.  She spoke clearly to me.  The restaurant was a mere mile away.  But, it was on the other side of the freeway.

When I rolled into the parking lot, my watch pointedly assessed that I was over 30 minutes late!  Oh, it was embarrassing.  But, my appointment took my tardiness in stride.

It took me an hour and 34 minutes to arrive.  He was so grateful that I could come.  He even picked up the tab.

“Boo!” to miles but “Hooray!” for new friendships born out of adversity.

 

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I have enjoyed the thrill of visiting several Presidential Libraries.  The newest one to open is in close proximity to my home.  President George W. Bush’s Presidential Library is located on the campus of SMU in Dallas, TX.

There was a time when I was younger that I thought that the greatest privilege in the world would be to serve as President of the United States of America.  After all I love leadership, I want my life to make a difference for others, my patriotism for this country is off the charts and I have given my whole life to benefit the lives of other people around me.  Over the course of decades I have served others no matter how difficult the challenge.

As I strolled through the exhibits and contemplated the facts of history, it became very apparent to me that the task of running this nation requires something beyond what is humanly possible.  No one in their right mind who cannot stand up against the negative onslaught of unchangeable minds would do this job.  Power and privilege is a difficult match against the constant scrutiny and immense implications of national and international demands.

I stood a long time in the library gazing at this seal.  It stirred in me another level of respect for what 43 did for our nation, the dignity with which he performed it and the class with which he treated the office.  No, I no longer think of wanting to serve in the office any longer.  My youthful aspirations have taken it off my life list.

Yet, what an amazing country the USA is.  What a remarkable honor to be the single representative of this seal of the great nation.  It is a symbol of all that has been exceptional and will continue to be exceptional about this democracy created under God.

Yes, I still love this country.  I relish the privileges that each of us enjoys as citizens.  While this office will never be mine apart from these occasional historic visits, I will long dwell in my thoughts over the burdens that 43 carried for us all.

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

 

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There is a special wall in the Oval Office of our Nation’s White House.  A tradition has followed one U.S. President after the next.  Both parties have found a common ground with the decoration on this wall.

Each elected president is welcome to change the portrait.  It is reserved for the past president that most inspires the current president as he assumes the duties of the most powerful office in the world.  This portrait is a reminder that all are human, all need inspiration from others and that great leaders are standing on the shoulders of others.

One of the most popular portraits has been Abraham Lincoln.  This portrait hung in the White House as an inspiration for President George W. Bush.  The 43rd President of the United States drew from the inspiration of this historic figure.

Lincoln certainly had his share of historical challenges.  The Civil War threatened to tear the nation apart.  Opinionated politicians on both sides of the war fragmented into local factions.

There was no shortage of animus that surrounded Lincoln.  He had to be courageous, shrewd and faithful.  Morals drove him.  Passion fueled him.  Faith directed him.

History paints him as an honest man.  He was honest to a fault.  Whether in public or private he chose not just a cliché to dictate his public leadership but genuine choices.

Once he was the postmaster of a small out-of-the-way post office.  He received word that budget restraints forced the decision to close several post offices around the nation.  His was one of them.

The end date of operations for his little post office was certain.  Lincoln complied precisely.  During his shut down of the office and locking it down, he set aside the remaining funds of a few dollars and some change.

Years later when the post master General caught up with each of the closures, he was pleasantly surprised that Lincoln handed over all of the proper paper work and the exact sum of several dollars and change that was rightfully the property of the US Government.  It had been years between the closure and the accounting.  That integrity followed Lincoln throughout his civil service and political years.

Leaders must be honest.  Every leader doing anything worth doing will run into opposition.  The truth will always be the best course.

Once the bad ones are left to history, the honest leaders will ultimately prevail.  Their success is never determined by their manipulation but by God’s directive grace.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_4275What is a man to do when he takes his beloved shopping and there is a long stay in Cosmetics?  It is time of masculine analysis and testosterone boosted creativity.  Do not panic, do nothing that is rash, speak little and remember these pointers.

First, put yourself in “hunt” mode.  This means that a you must have a fixation on your prey.  God created all men with this capacity.

This means that you must always hunt the wind.  Just as you puff your talc bottle to keep your scent from becoming adversarial you must also steel yourself against the overwhelming fragrances that cloud the Cosmetic Department atmosphere.

If you hold your breath you will pass out.  Concentrate on a distraction.  It is possible to overcome with the right desperate focus.

Second, think of your objective.  It begins with knowing your prey.  What is your intended target.  Fixate on that and never let it go.

Your first priority is to find a chair.  Do not worry.  There are always plenty of seats in the Cosmetic Department.

You have to exert great confidence and certainty.  If the feeling surges that you should not be here, arrest that thought.  Own the place and exude your strength as “unchallengeable.”

I sat in a chair that I selected.  It was in an out-of-the-way part of the foo foo displays.  Few of the fairer sex were in that area.

Once I staked my claim, I felt safe.  Using highly tuned and skillfully trained observation skills, I scanned the area for curiosities.  That is when I felt that unmistakable feeling of being watched.

Every hunter knows the feeling of being hunted.  The hairs on the back of your neck stand up.  Your eyes race back and forth, looking for anything suspicious.

That is when I locked on to the source of my feelings.  Two men in bright red T-shirts were looking me over from 10 yards away.  Their shirts announced that they were in-store security.

The game was afoot.  Never show fear.  Do not move unexpectedly.

My eyes locked on them.  They looked away.  With determination I knew that eye contact was aggression in the woods where wildlife thrives. Here in the domesticated section of the population, this same technique operates on the same plane.

There was nothing else to look at so I bore down on my observers.  Caught, they were uncomfortable.  They melted away in the crowd.  I remained in hunt mode until my bride smiled and had finished her priority business.

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

IMG_4213Getting a chance to slip out of Texas during July is a respite from the searing heat and sticky humidity.  Taking a week to see family made sense.  Yet, it did not take long for the soul to be missing the tug from the Lone Star state.

Texas has a pride that grows on you.  I was not born in Texas but I got here as fast as I could.  That is a standard line for all of us transplants.

It usually gets a knowing laugh from native Texans.  This phrase also brings a warm welcome from the locals.  Soon the mystique grows on everyone who emigrates here.

It is not usually the scenery in Houston that conjures up  the spirit.  Houston is flat with no landscape sensations worth mentioning.

Natural beauty takes place in June when the wildflowers burst into bloom.  Blue skies and puffy cumulus clouds add to the flavor of the state.  Green grasses set off the blues, reds and yellow flowers.

Another natural wonder that we see often are the cloud formations.  Since the land is so flat we watch the spectacular thunderclouds roll in and see jagged flashes of lightning across the skies.  Jacob’s ladders form in the clouds as the sun fights to send its rays on to the earth.

People are a strength in Texas.  The people here have a kindness and hospitality about them that is refreshing.  Texans are likable and they like others in return.  God seems to have added a larger dose of cheer in the average Texan.

While I enjoy a variety of cuisine, Texas BBQ is special.  When the smoker is pumping out the white billows of hickory mixed with the aroma of pork ribs, beef brisket, chicken halves or sausage links the mouth waters up cheeks full of saliva that only knows eating as a solution.  This is the Texas spirit.

While away in Oregon, I saw an opportunity to take my family to some BBQ.  An eatery was recommended.  They served BBQ beef ribs.  I did not have to think about that choice; it was off my lips as soon as the waiter greeted us.

The aromas of the grill wafted through the restaurant.  I was looking forward to my treat.  The plate was mounded with ribs and the sides were just like home.

I sank my teeth into the fare.  At first I was happy.  Then, I knew that I was just encouraging my own spirit.  I missed Texas and BBQ was one of the reason I did.

photo credit: brucefong photography

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