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Branch Rickey was the team executive of the Brooklyn Dodgers. He loved the game of baseball. At least he used to love the game. He wanted to restore that passion again.
Rickey made the decision to bring an African-American into the game. That would be the first time that the all white All American pastime would experience a break in the unspoken code of the game. He knew that it would take a special player.
He and his executives went through piles of names. They wanted a player who could hit, run and field. This pioneer against the racist limitations of the day could not be soft, too nice or out-of-control with his temper.
They chose Jackie Robinson. His baseball skills were excellent. He had a fire in him that could be the strength he would need to survive the hailstorm of abuse hurled at him from baseball’s constituency.
In a featured dialogue between Robinson and Rickey, Jackie declared, “So you want someone who is strong enough to fight back.”
“No,” Rickey retorted, “I want someone who is strong enough NOT to fight back.”
This is a revealing conversation. It is at the heart of a truth in life that only a few understand. Fighting back is the world’s way. It is not the revealer of truth. Rather, in the hands of what is genuine, what is real fighting back rarely gains ground against prejudice. Instead, it usually loses ground because that reaction feeds biased opinions. It fuels hate and perpetuates bigotry.
When Jackie is being stitched up from a vicious spiking of his leg, he asks Rickey why he chose to break the color barrier in baseball. Branch recounted his school years. An African-American teammate took a lot of abuse for his ethnicity. He had convinced himself that he had done all that he could to make a difference in that situation, but truthfully he had not.
Now, he could make a difference in baseball. He could see that his decision was making a difference. Baseball was his love and now he could love it again.
This was more than about a sport. It was about one of the world’s ugliest blights, racism and bigotry. If you have been a victim of this base practice, watch the movie and be inspired.
photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography
Two special colleagues and I have planned a retreat. We serve together as the Executive Team of the Dallas Theological Seminary, Houston Campus. Willie is our Executive Director of Church Relations & Chaplain. Ben is our Associate Dean. I have the honor of filling the role as Dean. Together we run the institution.
It has been a fast and furious year. This has also been our first year together. Now, after the commencement season we are going to take a deep collective breath, count our blessings, shore up our mistakes and plan for the future.
A wonderful couple who great friends of the seminary have welcomed us to their ranch. We will stay their in a pristine environment and talk, pray, evaluate and plan. There will be fun times for play too.
We drove to the ranch in the rain. Yes, after a long drought God decided to have us remember our first retreat with the first day of rain for this parched land. We would not be going fishing after all. The firing range would have to wait for another day too. All outdoor activities would be curtailed.
Every item on our program would be ticked off. It made for some outstanding discussion. I could feel our team growing tighter as time passed.
One thing that we did not scrimp on was food. We went out to Denny’s for breakfast before launching our venture. Together we shared what we were currently studying in our personal devotions from the Scriptures. It was a rich time of sharing.
We hit the road and Willie prayed for God’s blessing on our retreat while I drove the route. God was hearing our united souls while on the road. He is the best co-pilot.
Once we arrived at the ranch, our hosts greeted us with warm smiles. They also had laid out a wonderful fare of snacks and beverages that kept us well fed until it was time to head out for dinner.
We are getting very tight as brothers-in-Christ. Our analysis of the past year held nothing back. We rejoiced and puzzled. Our spirits were lifted and burdened as well. Together we experienced something remarkable. This is what team is all about.
photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography
The weather in Texas has now passed the winter season. The low temperatures no longer visit the 30′s. Instead, they hover in the 70′s for a low. It is a sign that swimming in the neighborhood outdoor pool is a welcomed activity.
When I drove into the parking lot, all was quiet. No one else was swimming. That has been the pattern during my visits last year.
That beats the washing machine pool environment at the YMCA in Michigan that I so often laughed about in the past. There were regularly shared lanes with other aqua lovers. Collisions were common.
Here the only sounds are the birds starting their morning flight. Occasionally, I hear a vehicle drive by the activity center. It was time to slip into the water for my season’s first swim.
Like all swimmers, I dipped my foot in to test the temperatures. It was surprisingly pleasant. Nothing like cold waters to wake you up in the morning.
The outdoor shower was a different story. Rules dictate that all swimmers must shower before entering the water. I am a respecter of rules.
No one will ever convince me that the hot water indicator on the shower faucet is actually connected to any hot water source. It is cold! I jump in, holler, shiver and shake. Once I am layered I jump out and chatter my teeth.
Climbing down the steps into the pool is a welcome warm-up exercise. Then, I fall in just to take the immersion all at once. My goggles fit into place and the world becomes clear again. Prescription lenses make swimming much more enjoyable.
I push-off the wall. My aging body loves the sensation of floating without the pain aggravated by gravity. It has been months since I have swum. Now, like riding a bike, the motions of each stroke come alive as if they had never been dormant for a long winter.
Oddly, I feel strong. The water is parting easily in front of me. Each stroke comes with neither pain nor fatigue. I am liking this sensation.
Slowly, my heart rate is increasing. It will be sustained shortly. My breathing is timed with each of my strokes. The coordination between kicking and stroking does not need any concentration. It is a habit from years of being a water dog.
The laps peel away as the sun rises in the East. Warm rays fill the pool and the temperatures rise noticeably. Finally, it is time to hit the shower. It is a very good beginning to another season in the pool of Cinco Ranch.
1 Thessalonians 3.1-5
When our children went off to college it was a time of celebration. They had reached a benchmark life stage that would be a memory and strategic time in their lives. It was a big deal for all three of our children. Expensive things like that have a way of searing our memories. Of course their mother’s emotional moments these “Good-byes” into tough episodes that sear in another kind of way. We fathers react to the economic impact of great life events and realize a few moments too late that we have been calloused and void of appropriate feelings.
At the same time while burying my embarrassment, I also began to ponder the spiritual side of matters as well. Driving away from those drop-off times afforded me many long moments of wondering. Had I prepared them spiritually to now face the world on their own? Did I help them develop enough convictions that most of their choices would be good ones? When they unpack their bags and sit down in their classes, would the family work ethic kick in? Finances are a big deal for everyone; would our children handle those issues well?
I tried to relax about these thoughts. There was no way that I wanted to be helicopter parent, hovering over my children. It was release time. I knew that it was coming. God graciously gave me 18 years to invest in their lives. Now, it was time to see if they would fly on their own.
Admittedly, I devoured every letter, email and telephone call that came my way. Any news of their life away from home was fair game. However, I wanted to know how they were doing in their walk with Jesus. It was a desire that needed to be satisfied.
Paul felt these pangs of his insatiable appetite. His investment into the lives of the Christians in Thessalonica was not just a part of his job description. He loved these Christians like they were his own family. Their spiritual well-being was very close to his heart.
Not knowing how these Christians were fairing in the faith was intolerable to Paul. He was not worried just deeply concerned. In a world that knew very little about speedy communication, he finally decided to be left alone while sending Timothy to go back to Thessalonica and bring back a firsthand report on the spiritual condition of these dearly loved saints. It was a sacrifice that Paul was willing to make for it meant that he would be left alone. That is how much he hungered for information about those he loved.
Timothy was introduced by Paul’s writing with noticeable fanfare. Perhaps Timothy was young for such a responsible task. Paul assured these Christians that Timothy was sent to strengthen their faith. He would minister to them and firm up their commitment to their belief in the Savior. Also, he would help them find the courage to fight their spiritual challenges well.
Paul also had assigned Timothy to aid these Christians along the path of endurance. Trials plagued their faith walk. The apostle did not want the persecutions to “shake” their faith. This is an old word meaning to wag the tail or beguile. That is as a dog wags its tail, trouble has a way of making person question their faith, going back and forth, wondering about what is true and what is not.
Instead of doubting where they were in God’s plan or His will, believers can look at trials from a different perspective. Difficulties usually come into our lives because of a corrective or additive measure. God may want to correct a sin, disobedience or wayward direction. If that is the case, then confess your sin, apply 1 John 1.9. Or if there is no sin or disobedience, then He may want to add something in our lives. Growing requires strengthening. That does not always feel good. In fact like an athlete in training, to get stronger includes pain.
Whatever the case for the trials in their lives, Paul wanted to discover how they were doing. He did not just wonder or worry. Instead, he acted to find out and sent help to them through Timothy.
There are several inevitable guarantees in life. We joke about the two: taxes and death. However, for Christians it is certain that trials will visit our lives as well. As one comedian once quipped, “Life is just one darn thing after the next.” His words were not as polite as my adjustments. Nevertheless, the point is the same. We cannot escape trials. Instead, we should persevere, make sure that any sins are confessed and then let the struggles help strengthen our faith.
Knowing that this dynamic happens in all of our lives, we should encourage those people that we disciple. Check in on their faith. If they are not in trials now, they will be soon enough. Keep cheering them on and encourage them to trust in the Lord and keep their faith rock solid. It will be an investment that will return remarkable dividends. This is how a genuine relationship functions.
LAPP (Life Application): Think about the lives of people in whom you have considerable spiritual investment. How are they doing? Check up on them. Pray for them and let them know that you are. Seek out a tangible way to encourage and strengthen their faith.
It has been a few days since the celebration of Mother’s Day. Normally, it is a family and fun day filled with partying and joyous expressions of appreciation for Mom. She deserves it. For years under great duress she has stuck by us, warned us, protected us, healed our wounds and cheered us on to greater heights.
In the back of my mind are another group of mothers who were sad because of that special day. It marks the memories of painful moments. Those warm tears return too often and are compounded on Mother’s Day. There is an incessant ache in your heart as if there were a hole there that leaks love, dreams and smiles. Will you let these simple words soak up some of that pain?
Those special moms on my mind are single moms. They became moms because of some man but for one reason or another he is no longer in the picture. I do not know of a good reason or a happy reason for him being gone but he is nevertheless left her to be mom and find some way to fill in for dad.
She works at least two jobs, sometimes three to make ends meet. Somehow she can cook up dinner, help the kids with their school work, referee fights and make a dollar both pay the bills and feed the family. Once the children are tucked into bed, she finds enough energy to tidy up the place, prepare the sack lunches for school the next day, do a load of laundry, brush her own hair and then sob herself to sleep out of sheer exhaustion and sadness.
This solitary life has its downsides during the day. She is terrified that the phone will ring and an emergency with one of her children will call her away from work again. In her spirit is a work ethic that will not let her cheat her colleagues when she cannot pull her own weight.
Church is a different story. People have treated her with distance ever since she found herself alone. Married women give her that look, almost hiding their husbands.
She has heard the cloaked criticisms, “That’s what social agencies are for. They should help her.” Or the veiled harsh spirit, “Our church will help that family some day. I heard that they are starting a used clothes closet and food pantry for just this thing.” All she really needs is a friend, true Christian love of acceptance and a real word of acceptance.
Single moms, I salute you. A very happy Mother’s Day to you. You are amazing!
photo credit: brucefong photography
My attention was arrested with the commotion adjacent to the library. On the front lawn of the seminary workers were finishing the final touches of connecting the temporary corral. It was a small enclosure with a lot of interested people watching the progress.
The trailer parked on the street said it all. It was covered with pictures and paintings of the travelling petting zoo. I was drawn over like a magnet had it grips on my soul. Animals attract us humans especially when the little critters are cute.
By cute I mean soft and cuddly. There are corresponding very cute sounds as well. Calves moo quietly. Horses whiny. Piglets oink. Lambs bleat. Goats sound very close to sheep.
His head was a mass of fur. His eyes were dark brown and showed total relaxation. He seemed to welcome the many little humans coming up to pet him, pat his head and talk special children language with them.
His pony pal was in the same corral. They shared the food for the day. Colors, shiny coats and gentle faces made the children squeal with delight.
Cautious parents watched over their brood carefully. They prompted hesitant children to reach out and touch the animals. They often set the example.
The corral master was funny, “Welcome, one and all! Children, touch and pet our extra friendly animals. Be careful not to pick up anything on the ground. Those are not chocolate candy pieces.”
Over to my right was a black bunny. Even though people and animals towered over him, he seemed totally relaxed. He was stretched out on the lawn taking in the massive stimuli around him. His nose was wiggling at a rapid pace, but you could see the peace in his eyes.
The only stressed animal in the pen was the piglet. For some reason the children all wanted to pet him. Parents tried to restrain the little porker to make it easier for the children to touch him. But, he was squealing for freedom. His only objective was to get to the food trough. Once there he was content to feed away and the children could pet away. It was an opportunity to have a symbiotic moment of food and feelings all at the same time.
These animals were a delight. Well cared for and expertly groomed they created a lot of smiles. They were all so cute!
photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography
Commencement services touch different people in different ways. This was my first Dallas Seminary graduation service since joining as a member of the team. It was overwhelming, electrifying and deeply encouraging all at the same time.
The service is held at the Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, TX. I had been there one time in the past. It is an enormous facility!
Just the lobby is big enough to hold many small churches many times over. It seems fair that ushers need to be posted every 50 yards to redirect lost visitors. At least lighted directories could be a key points just like a shopping mall pointing out clearly “you are here” designations.
The faculty gathered in the Fireside room. All of us were donning our academic regalia and it was a colorful sight of brilliant past academic achievement at world-renown Universities. Styles and colors represented academic disciplines, institutional emphases and traditions unique to specific postgraduate programs.
We were lined up to match the seating predetermined by someone’s gifted administrative details. The music started. Our procession began behind our beloved President.
Just like a well-laid plan we all ended up in seats on the platform and then watched an amazing picture unfold. Nearly 400 graduates filed in to the sounds of celebration. Each one had years of hard work, outstanding performance and lasting relationships buried in their minds. Now it was time to celebrate their diligent achievement.
Like clockwork someone’s plan to flow from detail to detail actually occurred. It was an amazing synchronization of many details. All of the pomp and circumstance has a reason and it fit together like a well-oiled machine.
On cue from our Academic Vice President, he gave the signal for all friends and family to cheer on their favorite graduate. The entire auditorium erupted. It was exhilarating. Then, the grads in turn expressed their appreciation for their family and friends. Smaller in number by comparison was almost insignificant when it came to measuring decibel levels.
The commencement speaker was spot on. Special music was wonderful. Every little piece of the event was stunning.
Then came the climax. We all sang the seminary hymn, All Hail the Power of Jesus Name. This is the version that is sung to the diadem tune. Check out this version at http://youtu.be/i3-SwidavfU. It stirs the soul.
Each time that I sing this version I feel the commitment to this wonderful institution. Now, as a faculty member I am touched by the faithful lives that have gone ahead of me in the legacy of DTS. What an honor to serve here!
photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography
Mothers, if it were not for them, none of us would be here. To be quite frank, we would not be nearly as far along if it were not for them either. They cajoled disciplined and terrified us into knowing what was right and what was wrong.
It was no many of us who did not decide that what was right was what Mom wanted us to do. Furthermore, we also knew perhaps even stronger than the first was that wrong was whatever Mom did NOT want us to do. Of course it did not make any philosophical sense at the time, but it sure made sense in the seat of our deepest understanding.
By in large Mom was right. Now that I am older and older still, I find that those values that were instilled in me so long ago are still very much a part of what I am doing now and how I am living now.
Mom taught me in no uncertain terms to never be ashamed of my ethnic heritage but to be proud of it. When I had a chance to identify with it I should. She led the way by example.
If she were ever confronted by a threat to her ethnic identity, that threat was rebuffed in no uncertain terms. I felt sorry for those that drew the ire of Mom because of a snide comment, openly racist slur or a devilish sneer.
On the positive side my identity in my ethnic heritage was paraded among festive holidays, community events and even the presence of art and literature in our home. She signed me up for a community drum and bugle corps experience that our whole family embraced.
Ethnic food was more than just doing what was familiar. It was a wonderful and prefered option for all of us. She was a masterful cook of Chinese cuisine. Her skills gave to all of us a standard to measure the best in Cantonese food.
Mom of course was our perpetual chauffeur. She drove us from one event to the next. She was also my primary typist for papers in High School. It became her reason to send me to typing school just to get a respite from the pounding keys.
I was a late bloomer. She never had much to celebrate in my early years. But, in college and graduate school, she had a reason to smile. Mom being there made those special events very special. Thanks MOM!
1 Thessalonians 2.13-16
The contemporary issues that swirl through every current news report do not merely test the fringes of decency. Instead, they barge right into the middle of moral and spiritual benchmarks and declare a new definition to the basics of life. It is unsettling to most in our country.
Conversations that address these modern-day redefinitions are not friendly. Relativism permeates the discussions. In particular when historical values are jettisoned in the name of evolutionary thinking, common sense citizens are deeply puzzled.
A priori truths are choices that have been made in the past with the acceptance that they would never have to be made again. This is like a foundation for a building. Once it is laid, it will not be changed or adjusted. It is locked in place.
Matters of our faith and morality are like these. They are not open for adjustment when someone decides that they want to change what is wrong and declare that it is now acceptable behavior. God made the rules. The pot still may not tell the potter what to do.
There was another time in human history when the flurry of contemporary opinion attempted to sway the moral and spiritual moorings of truth. The Apostle Paul in the aftermath of Jesus’ betrayal, humiliation and crucifixion sensed the popular attempt to get rid of His followers. However, there was a church at Thessalonica that was resilient in their faith.
Courage to hold to their faith became their reputation that spread throughout the world. When the gospel of Jesus Christ was brought to them they recognized it as truth and received it. They discerned that while preachers spoke this good news, the message was not from men. Rather, they saw that it was the word of God.
This was not a decision that was easy or comfortable. In fact as a result of their faith in the gospel they suffered persecution. Paul likened their painful experience to the Jesus followers in Judea who suffered at the hands of the Jews.
Faith is not necessarily proven through the crucible of painful trial but it certainly is not stranger to it. History has proven this. Furthermore, the Lord Himself experienced this same violent reaction
Paul is the author of the difficult words laying culpability at the feet of the Jews. They did kill Jesus. However, Paul is not being ethnically negative here. It was not a matter of a people or nation that the Apostle is finding offensive. It was the rejection of the gospel that he feels so deeply burdened.
No one can deny that Jesus was crucified. Those who were responsible for His arrest, trial and execution are a historical fact. Nevertheless, the heart of the story is the rejection of God’s Son and the unbelief in the sacrifice for man’s redemption. This is true. What is morally right is the acknowledgment of God’s great gift to man for his salvation.
The offense of Jesus’ followers being persecuted is horrific by itself. However, God is offended by a greater disaster. When Christians are persecuted for their faith, then bystanders see it and refuse to believe for fear of the retribution as well. The displeasure of God is even more on the effect of treating believers with antagonism.
Hurting others as an intimidation to prevent faith from spreading is a serious spiritual crime. God calls it sin. He is keeping track of these sins. They are piling up.
It is bad enough when a person chooses disbelief over faith when he is presented the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, when he goes beyond his own rejection and attempts to keep others from believing he will be judged by God most severely. This judgment was certainly felt when Jerusalem was destroyed by Rome. At the same time, Israel as a nation would lose out on the blessings of being a faithful nation of God, when the church comprised of all, both Jew and Gentile, who put their faith in Christ.
Paul wanted the Thessalonians to keep strong in their faith. In the same vein he wanted those who opposed the faith of believers would be in grave spiritual danger. Humans easily excuse their rejection of the gospel by distracting their culpability with their dislike for the messenger.
LAPP (Life Application): Look beyond the human preacher and hear the message that God has given him. Never get in the way of the gospel being presented to people who need to come to faith for their eternity through Jesus Christ. Believe yourself and then be a part of spreading the good news.
Still they shake their heads. I can not see them shake but somehow with family you can always feel the gyrations. Decades of experience gives you an extra sense with relatives, right? Without hearing, we have learned to know.
To help the belief system I post pictures for them to examine. Still, doubt is a very strong human reaction. Personal experience can overcome the swells of doubt in the minds of others.
My sister and her husband were prime applicants to our new world of Texas living. They are world travelers but that weird idea that her brother lives with alligators in his neighborhood is a little far-fetched. This would take some personal experience for them.
All of us like bicycle riding. That made it an easy option for them on their road trip to the South. Once they were settled into our home, we made plans for a bicycle road trip.
That Friday was a crisp beautiful day. We did a spot check on our bicycles and found them all roadworthy. The pavement in our neighborhood invited our peddle machines to roll freely.
A few miles into our ride I led our trio of cyclers on to the Buffalo Bayou trail. It is scenic and free of motorized vehicles. Birds of all different kinds landed near the water’s edge to fish for their morning breakfast. These cranes, egrets and black birds were entertaining.
We paused at a viewpoint platform and enjoyed the water in a pond. It had terrapins, bass and frogs to entertain us. Nothing very large dominated the view.
Along a lengthy stretch of the paved trail a sign was posted. I had seen it many times on my own. Now, it was time for a “photo-op”.
My sister and brother-in-law came rolling into view. I waved them down. Curiously, they looked a bit bewildered. That is when I pointed out the sign. It’s time for a picture!
They parked their bicycles and positioned themselves by the sign. It was a great proof of the clash between the West and the South. Now, they have biked the terrain. They have seen the habitat. Finally, they have seen the sign that bears witness to the roaming of these reptiles in my neighborhood.
photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography