11178203_10152408615652614_555981716271583104_nWe are an extension campus.  Our Dallas campus is the headquarters of this amazing ministry.  Yet, our Houston operation is growing by leaps and bounds.

We have 34 graduates this year.  They are mostly local to the great city of Houston and its surrounding region.  Most of their friends and family will have a tough time making the journey to Dallas to celebrate their commencement achievements.

To give local family and friends the chance to be a part of this substantial celebration, our extension campus has a Graduation Chapel one week prior to the central festivities up north.  We honor each graduate with a brief description of what their plans and destination is after they receive their sheep skin.  We fill the chapel service with great worship, intimate prayer, laughter, memories and special recognition of those who stood out with academic and service demonstrations.

I scanned the crowd many times during this chapel service.  The smiles were a mile wide and the tears were free-flowing.  Trying to imagine all of the answered prayers for the many years represented by these graduates is mind-blowing.

Photographs with special people were endless.  The four sheet cakes disappeared as the party spread into the foyer.  Guests drank sweet punch, returned endless times for refreshing chilled water and stopped many times along their course of walking to congratulate and exchange hugs with fellow classmates.

Previous graduates returned to cheer on their friends.  Current students marveled and told me that they had something even more to anticipate.  Relatives were overcome with the joy of reaching this end.

Children were laughing with their parents.  One mom told me that she was rehearsing her Hebrew vocabulary flash cards while in labor for the little one that she hugged next to her leg.  Life and success cannot get much more precious than this.

photo 4Gratitude is over the top on this event.  Conversations about calling, dreams about the ministry to come and deep gratitude of God’s faithfulness were common in the crowd.  With pride I watched out once students now shine as Masters of Theology, Masters of Arts and Over-comers in all sorts of adversities.

Faithful too are the staff and faculty that I am privileged to call “Team Houston”.  They are selfless, persevering and godly men and women who live to serve others.  Here on a Saturday, they are going above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that these graduates always remember this day.

photo credit: brucefong photography

FullSizeRenderThe sun broke through the rain clouds.  A vigorous storm drenched the ranch just outside of Gonzales, Texas.  The Ranch Boss and I were riding the range on his ATV.

Four wheel drive did not even hesitate at any barricade whether water, mud or wash.  We bounced over the terrain looking for any work that his ranch hands needed to add to their work lists.  In his mind he had a checklist that he made notations on a scouting trip like this.

One alert was his animals.  There were a lot of beasts on his acreage.  Some of the animals were tough and could withstand almost any kind of adversity.

There were other critters, however, that had some vulnerabilities.  They were smaller.  A predator would easily choose one of these animals for a meal than the beasts that could defend itself in woods.

While we scanned the acres for problems from the storm, we also looked for anything unusual.  The “Oh, oh” that the Ranch Boss uttered caught my attention.  When I looked at him, he just pointed up in the sky, “Gotta believe the birds.”

He threw his ATV into gear and spun the steering wheel.  Our casual scout now had a specific objective in mind.  The vultures spelled death and that was never good news to a rancher.

We bounced through the woods.  He dodged fallen logs, bogs and massive trees.  Our forward progress came to an abrupt end.

The muddy ground made us skid for a long stretch. When we came to a halt, the Ranch Boss did not need to say much.  We both were socked in the face with the wretched stench of rotting flesh.

The vultures have been specifically designed by the Creator to clean up the woods.  When an animal dies, they find it.  Together a flock of these powerful creatures eat up the rotting flesh with relish.

The flies and the maggots wrap up the details.  There is no more need for human intervention.  This is one ranch critter that will no longer roam in the fields.

We made a hasty exit.  What God had design to finish up the circle of life we left to operate without disruption.  Fresh air was just a 50 feet away.

The birds signaled other birds in the area to join them.  These feathered scavengers attracted more of their kind.  A great flock gathered and told any who could see that their morbid work was almost done.

Houston commute sunriseThere is never a repeat or warm up or left-over sunrise.  Like snowflakes there are never any two that are identical.  Instead, each one is a unique combination, a mysterious blend that spreads the picture around and makes each one tailor-made for that particular day.

This time it was not only the colors that were sensational, it was also the perimeter features that made the sunrise pop out of the horizon. It was not only about the colors but it was also about the clouds in the sky.

Do you see the contrast?  God gives the sky texture.  The clouds are close by but the sunrise is a long way off. The light of the morning is overtaking the clouds that ruled the night.

The world was once shrouded in an uninviting frightening stillness of aloneness, abandonment and anxiety.  But, it is quickly dissipated.  It is diluted to the point where we wonder how we ever were fearful or hopeless.  Life is just like this.

Someone may have hurt you deeply.  Your sorrow was unrelenting and excruciating.  Inside you were about ready to give up.

Yet, something gnawing in your soul urges you to press on.  A light glimmered in your spirit reminding you that God was still there.  When people failed you, God was powerfully present and He chased away the darkness.

Once the light comes you feel rejuvenated.  Courage was restored.  Those who had done their worst were no longer capable of doing any more.

It is time.  Get up.  Dust yourself off.  Wipe away your tears.  Leave those who have done evil behind.

God is not finished with you yet.  The truth has kept you buoyed up and now that the night has expired you are still standing. Yes, there will be other tough moments in life.  God has told us that trials will come.  They are designed for correction or edification.  Maybe there will be a little of each.

Whichever the case God does not hurt for pain’s sake.  He is ready to lift you up and carry you along. God is about blessing not hurt.

When my day starts and a gorgeous sunrise greets my commute into the office, I receive it a testimony of God’s greatness personalized just for me.  You can do the same.  Every sunrise is new, different and big enough for all who will accept it.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

FullSizeRenderWhen my alarm clock starts its gentle marimba tune, our bedroom is very dark.  Our human activity kicks in and we share our bathroom to get ready for the day.  Like preprogrammed robots we move about the house with a well-planned and well-rehearsed routine.

While it is still dark outside we load our vehicle and start our 40 minute commute.  We travel down I-10 and join 100,000 other vehicles who are also starting their day.  Our journey is so much easier than so many since the two of us qualify for the High Occupancy Vehicle lane.

All of the vehicles have their headlights on.  At this early hour it is like driving at night.  There are plenty of street lights but having lights on is a safety measure so that others can see us.

But, the night never lasts forever.  Instead, as certain as we are about life’s most important standards and guarantees, a sunrise is going to happen.  When it shows up, it will chase away the darkness as if it was melting butter on a hot pan.

The sky first becomes lighter.  Shades of grey appear as if the sky is being diluted from its pitch black domination. Then, on the horizon there is a beacon of orange light.

Our commute is progressing well while the show on the horizon stage is unfolding.  There is no stopping it now.  Day is on its way.

Grey skies burst into an orange pallet of brilliant color.  Fiery red blazons the horizon.  Rays of yellow blast out from where the sun is moving with deliberate unhurried speed.

When darkness shrouds a spirit to hang with gloom and doom, the light is overpowering.  Hope is restored.  Smiles have a reason to emerge with determination.

Headlights from so many vehicles no longer dominate the scene.  Instead, every driver, even the grumpy ones, have to gaze to the horizon and at least appreciate it if not mentally breaking out into a happy dance.  The Creator who repeats this performance with grand elegance never charges a fee.

Can you imagine?  The most splendid show is absolutely complementary.  Seating is never a problem.

When life gets tough and circumstances get rough, remember how you began your day.  Love the promises and the truths that are wrapped up in the grandeur of that stunning light show.  God did that to remind you that He is real, He is here and His love for us is unending.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

FullSizeRenderAustria is a country with a rich history and filled with a people proud of their nation.  History took a horrible turn for the worst with the rise of the Nazi’s who put an unspeakably ugly grip on the European continent under the brutal demagoguery of Adolf Hitler.  Jews in the nation were persecuted, slaughtered and robbed of their personal possessions.

One of the many families that felt the excruciating oppression of the Nazis were the Altmann’s.  They were torn apart by the Nazi take-over.  As a family, survival meant some stayed behind while others fled for their lives.

While the Altmann’s fled the Nazi took over their home and stole their art treasures.  The portrait of Aunt Adele by Klimt was the center piece.  She was the sparkling painting decked in gold leaf throughout, a thorough masterpiece.

Maria Altmann has aged into her senior years when she discovers that she may have a chance of recovering her family paintings through an intricate series of hearings.  She taps a relative, he is a young inexperienced lawyer.  She trusts him and chases her dream of being reunited with what was once her family’s property.

It is an arduous legal battle. The venue for the grinding litigation starts in Austria, moves to America and finishes with arbitration in Austria.  Justice is ultimately served.

Strong performances by both lead actors drives the story.  Even the supporting roles of the Austrian patriot trying to make amends for his father’s unexplainable choices adds to the story.  The viewer is treated to a long story which is unfolded in a short movie.  It is a true story that makes anyone who is a real human being cheer for the little person.

When a wrong is corrected, then I am riveted to the story.  Set up a Goliath and his brother against a little David and I am paying attention.  Maybe governmental bureaucracy and the smug attitude of arrogant people will always get my goat.

Certainly, this one bright story among so many that are still hoping for redemption makes this victory shine so brightly.  I liked this movie.  In fact I really liked this movie and I am glad that I saw it and I recommend it to you.

Helen Mirren is a favorite. Ryan Reynolds was splendid.  Bruhl and Holmes were great supporting roles.  Now, I would take that opportunity to see the painting for myself if I am ever in the area.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_5318Word of my friend Michael’s passing still makes me shake.  It was a total shock and surprise.  Someone so special in my life now gone.

For some reason I thought that I could reflect on that life-change for at least a little while.  Yet, life as meted out by the Great Administrator does not always coincide with human assumptions.  Instead, more friends are spending massive amounts of time in the examination room as doctors poke and prod.

An email alert came from Becky.  One of my buddies, her husband, and I have shared many moments in the woods open to whatever the wonderful world of the wilds had in store for us.  Hiking, gazing and exploring were filled with conversation and laughing.

Richard was in and out of the hospital.  Doctors could not figure out what was not right.  Yet, Richard knew something was off kilter.

We play tag on email as he keeps me up-to-date with the latest medical guess.  He is in pain.  Something is wrong and we are praying that the wonderful world of medicine can figure it out.

Then, another email flashed across my screen.  Frank was in the hospital.  I picked up my phone and gave the hospital a call.

Frank laughed, “Yep, I am in the hospital.  I had a few strokes last year and led to a visit to the doctor.
“THREE strokes? Doctor? Like are you for real?”
“Yeah, now the doctors tell me I need a quadruple bypass.”
“Good grief! Dude, you sure know how to surprise your friends.”
“Ha. I told Cindy to trade me in for an upgraded model.  She told me she was happy with what she has.  Cool, eh?”

The telephone visit was brief but encouraging all the way around.  Friendship among guys is like that.  There was no denial, no worries, no whining.

Another email alert raced across my screen.  This time it was Duane.  He was in the hospital.

I picked up the phone and called him.  He just got to the hospital that very morning.  His internist had been treating him for pneumonia but the treatment was not making Duane feel any better.

When the antibiotic schedule was done, Duane went in to see his doctor.  The stethoscope told a very different story.  Immediately, the doctor admitted Duane into the hospital.

Duane needed a new heart valve.  Yikes! My friends are hurting.  I am praying for them, texting them and hoping that next week all will be better, much better.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_5353Tractors and stadium workers worked the soil that the Rodeo tore through for the last four hours.  It was fun.  The Houston Rodeo made the American pride in every citizen swell to where we were popping buttons.

Now, the announcer re-energize the crowd, “Get ready, folks because Brad Paisley is in the house!”  The thunderous roar reverberated throughout the stadium.   Teenagers to my right screamed with a high shrill while senior citizens to my left applauded vigorously.

Stage hands rolled out the stage on to the Rodeo dirt floor.  Clearly this was masterminded by gifted engineers and rehearsed several times by set-up crews.  Still it was a wonder to behold a rodeo arena transformed into a premier concert stage in a matter of minutes.

The lights of the stadium were dimmed.  A hush fell over the 70,000 fans.  Expectation could be felt all over.IMG_5394

There were musicians on the stage.  It rotated so that everyone in the stadium could sense the pulsation of the Country beat that began to rock the great venue.  A black crew cab pickup truck rolled out on to the floor and drove right up to the stage.

It was not hard to guess what was coming.  Brad Paisley got out the truck, donned his guitar and trotted up to the stage.  The huge ovation was louder than a jet plane that had just delivered a high-profile package.

The concert began with one great Paisley song after the next.  From one great hit to the next the band played whatever modulation was necessary to get into the next key and never wasted a single quarter note between songs.  Paisley was vintage!

His singing was the familiar voice that all of us played over and over on our music machines.  On top of that were the instrumental interludes where his virtuoso guitar skills are becoming legendary.  The energy hit a maximum human effort and never let down.

IMG_5415The rotating stage never paused.  Paisley hopped off and ran to be next to the fans.  People went nuts!

Selfies were popping, hand slapping was firecrackers and hugs were the preferred expression as applause from those too far away thundered with the music.  Security ran along with this Country Western superstar.  The crowds were excited but very respectful.

Then, the climax came with his final song.  The pickup truck rolled up to the stage and Paisley stepped into the bed and rode in the back while waving good-bye to the crowd.  Fireworks exploded and he threw his hat to an adoring fan.

This side of heaven entertainment by gifted people is amazing.  With tens of thousands of excited music lovers, the show is stunning.  Some day heaven will be even greater, I am sure.  In the meantime, “What a show!”

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

Israel 2014 IFL 055The Bible makes a detailed notation about the stone that was positioned to seal Jesus’ tomb.  No one knows where that stone is today.  Yet, it is described as one of specifics in the language of the New Testament that should encourage the hearts of all who follow Jesus.

When Jesus was crucified there is undisputed evidence that He died on Good Friday.  His suffering and beating was excruciating.  The ignominy of His death was torturous.

The Roman soldiers declared Jesus dead and therefore saw no reason to break His legs to expedite what they concluded had already been accomplished.  Just to be sure, a spear was thrust into his side and confirmed that He was deceased.  Jesus did not pass out, He did not fake His death, His body was not stolen by His disciples.

Those who loved Jesus mourned over His death.  Like a loving family they laid His body to rest in a tomb hewn out of rock.  Once His body was there a large stone was rolled in front of the opening, sealing it.

As an added measure to insure that no one would tamper with the body a professional pair of guards were posted in front of the tomb.  The seal of Rome was added to the stone so that no one would tamper with the stone upon sentence of death.  Rumors of a resurrection in three days had the unbelieving authorities guarding against any foul-play.

Then the Scriptures declare that on Sunday, the first Easter the stone was rolled away.  Grammatically, the Bible could have said that the stone was rolled away in one single definitive act.  That could have shown the power of God to counter the human measures to resist the Resurrection.  But, the Bible does not say that.

The Bible could have said that the stone was rolling away capturing the continuous action of the stone moving without any resistance against human endeavor.  But, it does not say that either.

Instead, the Bible uses language to say that the stone was rolled away and stayed that way.  Once the opening to the tomb was reopened, the Resurrection could not be stopped and the grave would never hold the Savior again.  He died and now is alive forever!

That emphatic piece of grammatical detail is a thrilling notation to the glory of Easter.  He is Risen.  He is Risen Indeed!

photo credit: brucefong photography

Israel 2008 445It was an ancient city with people living ancient cultures.  The problems were enormous.  Political figures were greedy, power-hungry, egotistical and full of self-centered pride.

Entertainment at the expense of the people was rampant.  Hostility was waiting for any excuse to erupt.  Military incursions were a daily affair.

Good people were losing hope.  Power was in the hands of officials who bent the law to satisfy their personal agenda.  Anger and intimidation overpowered reason, righteousness and love.

The world had sunk to a level where authorities would murder children to cover their own infractions and advance their influence.  Might was the premier.  Yet, the immoral posture of those in power had massive doubt.

To ameliorate the uncertainty and unrest among the population, appeasement was common place.  Bargaining to keep the general population below their boiling point was a part of the “passing the buck” and shifting blame and destroying the truth with bribery and false testimony.  Was any hope to be found for the human race so long ago?

Hope sprang eternal with a single sacrifice.  One died on behalf of the many.  It was not just a volunteer who stepped forward.

Rather it was the only one who could be a substitute for all.  Even the very wicked were represented by the perfect sacrifice of love.  Jesus, the Christ, willingly gave Himself as a substitutionary death for all.

That is Good Friday.  An ignominious death so long ago has impacted the eternity of all forever and ever.  His one submissive act to have His blood shed gave all mankind hope through the amazing grace of God’s redemption.

Yes, that is a mouthful.  However, it was that magnificent.  It was such a phenomenal act of mercy that even the world’s worst had a chance to turn, repent and believe.

That is why Good Friday is good.  It was a horrible day because of the death of the only perfect One.  Yet, it was the best event for mankind in anticipation of the new life to come.

photo credit: brucefong photography

B99256315Z.1_20150328132245_000_GKMFLRBV.1-0Mike and I met many years ago.  He and I shared the common denominator of incredibly busy lives.  Maybe we proved that insanely busy lives see what is necessary and do it no matter how busy lives become. Together we poured our souls into the Bible for a study on how to become better men.

On Thursday mornings we would rendezvous at a local Michigan eatery.  The food was good.  But, the service was even better.

All of the wait staff knew Mike.  He was like that.  People would gravitate toward him as if were a human magnetic.

He would introduce me and I would be blessed by more people rubbing shoulders in my life.  Mike, served others, showed interest in others, gave wise advice, listened a lot, and applied his skills of life where and when he could.  As common as snow falling Michigan or humidity rising in Texas, Mike was helping someone, encouraging someone else or guiding another through tough times.

Once his company had discovered the perfect location for a radio tower.  They needed to send someone to a multi-generational farmer to buy a few acres of his family land so the tower could be built.  Who would they send?  Mike of course.

He pulled on a pair of comfortable blue jeans.  Then, he stepped into a pair of Western boots.  Now, he was ready to meet a total stranger and buy a piece of his family legacy for a radio station.

No one really knows how much time it took.  Mike made the sale and a new farming friend.  That is how Mike operates: he gets things done and the people involved are all happy.

Several times I could grab a piece of Mike’s past and put his history together in my mind.  No, he had nothing to hide.  He was just very humble about his accomplishments.

Humble is a word that I would describe Mike.  He never tooted his own horn even though there was a lot to toot about.  Yet, his modesty was as much a reflection on how he elevated others.

Loyal is another word that describes Mike.  He was devoted to his wife, his kids, his friends and to His Savior, Jesus.  No matter what trauma visited the lives of others, Mike was there to lend a hand, share a word of cheer or just to put people together who could help one another.

All of us who knew Mike are living better lives as a result.  He was taken away too early as far as any of us are concerned.  But, when God calls us home, He wants us to begin our forever with Him.  That for Mike Fezzey is a great final calling.  Yet, how I miss my friend.

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