Unknown-8We still are in an age when Christian films fill spectators with fearful expectation. All of us who are people of faith want Christian films to do well. However, we have come to expect a low-budget embarrassment that is a step backward from hoping a transformative message can work its way into the lives of people who are in desperate need to discover a redeeming message for their eternity.

After comfortably settling into my reserved reclining seat, the film “Running the Race” began. Slowly, my anxiety of expecting embarrassment melted away. Very respectable acting won the day. Good!

Character development of key roles and fascinating curiosities unfolded. Fun moments, good humor, anxious developments, clever dialogue, tension building choices, wise words from smart people, and a surprising hero all made the movie worth seeing. Even more so, this is a movie I am pleased to recommend as one worth seeing.

Brother loyalty is a powerful narrative. This film captures it well. Eternity is an unparalleled dynamic in human life. This film represents it attractively. Tragedy in life is a reality from which we must all emerge. This film develops it effectively. Choices turn our lives from loss to gain. This film captured this in the heart of its message.

This is a movie worth seeing. Bring a friend. Then, recommend it to others.

photo by bruce w fong photography

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Unknown-1How long does it take for a local church to plan an annual Missions Conference?

Clear Lake Chinese Church of Webster, TX first reached out to me in July 2018. Their pastor told me that they had been planning their 2019 Annual Missions Conference for March, nine months away. I had to keep scrolling through my calendar to see if I was free to accept their invitation as their keynote speaker.

Before I accepted the invitation, I have several decided practices that must always precede my official answer. I don’t mean to sound super spiritual but I do pray about such invitations. Really.

My prayers for God’s guidance are not new. Regularly, I am praying about opportunities to serve the Lord who gave me a life-long calling for ministry. During these times of intercession I am asking for peace, enthusiasm, and guidance.

Then, I seek the counsel of my personal team. These are a collection of amazing and godly people who help me with varying perspectives. We discuss details. For example, where is the venue? How many times do they want you to speak? What is the purpose of the gatherings? Does the theme fit within your area of specialization? What is the demographics of the expected audience? Do the logistics lend themselves to your current obligations and commitments?

The final decision to accept or reject speaking invitations is ultimately left in my hands. However, I know that when I include these others in my decision, it automatically garners a huge amount of prayer support when I do accept these engagements. To end God’s sovereign administration never ceases to amaze me. He knows when my calendar if open. By far I accept more invitations than I send my regrets.

UnknownOver nine months I read with interest how the church was formulating their Missions Conference objectives. They wanted to have their church family challenged to “Reach the Nations in their City.”  Wow! That theme captured my heart.

Plotting out my study time in the course of fulfilling all of my current duties as the Dean of DTS-Houston, I made notes, studied exegetical issues, considered theological lessons, matched clarifying illustrations, and prayed for a powerful and clear presentation for this conference. During the course of our communications, I ascertained the receptivity of the audience, imagined definitive niches of people types, wondered at how the challenges of the Mission objectives could be presented to each season of life.

The time came. The introductions were given. I stepped up on to the platform and months of preparation unfolded. We connected. By God’s grace some amazing life-changes will be new habits of life for many.

UnknownIf these “smart” devices are what they say they are then how come they don’t even know the difference between Senior citizens and Millennials? We think differently. Our destinations are different. My generation would never go to that part of town.

I will admit that the GPS in our car is easier to use than my truck. It types easier. Notice I said “type” not “key”.

The screen on our car GPS is huge compared to my truck’s tiny one. But, my truck GPS is familiar to me. I know how it works, what its quirks are, and it has my confidence. When we travel in the car, I exit the house a few minutes early just to figure out how to program the GPS.

Last week we suddenly realized en route that we did not know how to cancel the navigation when we did not need it any more. I had a Millennial in the car with me later that week and I asked him if he could figure it out. NOPE. My wife and I tried to do a joint “bail out” while traveling home. FAIL.

On a solo run I figured that I had to resolve this mystery. I pulled over in a parking lot. No, I didn’t pull out the owner’s manual. My wife and I tried that twice but couldn’t find out which volume to use. After looking through all three to no avail, we gave up.

I had parked in the back of our campus facilities. Since I did not park in the front the Navigation did not conclude itself but kept on running during my next venture out. It kept trying to direct me back to my office.

In some business parking lot I did what I do best. I started touching buttons. My peripheral vision caught the destination icon with a slash through it. Ah! I touched it and the GPS asked if I wanted to cancel the Navigation. “YES! YES! PTL! YES!” I exclaimed.

NOT good enough. I had to TOUCH the button to initiate the cancellation. Smart device? Not so smart operator. Sigh.

 

Version 4

Courtesy on the road is a Texan marvel. I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could.
The past state of my birth and many historic life chapters is also known for its aggressive drivers. It is not a casual activity on the Left Coast. Rather, driving is a demonstration of status, a way to flaunt social success, and to make sure that attention is arrested from the common folks.
To use the turn indicator is an invitation to be victimized. It’s a consistent habit for me. Of course I check my mirrors before I use it. I have experienced the consequences it too often.
When I merge or change lanes and use my turn indicator, I have seen traffic behind me actually accelerate to crowd my move. Once in my chosen lane, the driver behind me often is growling aggressively at me. My move apparently inconvenienced him.
I have observed that many vehicles on the road have broken turn indicators. Those drivers move with dominant intent. Small gaps, barely a car length, become targets for the pushy drivers.
Here is my most peculiar observation. One of the more expensive auto makers doesn’t even install turn indicators in their vehicles. Of course I would never want to disrespect that brand but the common initials of these premium automobiles make them the choice of a person wanting to shout “success”.
They power their way down the freeway, dodging the rest of us as if we are a nuisance. Some times we all wonder or at the very least wonder if those drivers want us to see their brand while being cut off or passed while we motor our way at posted speeds.
Texans are very different. I remember my first days on Lone Star freeways. When I engaged my turn indicator, cars slowed down to let me in. I was shocked. Then, I smiled.
Now, I enjoy the pride of a people who are all plagued by heavy traffic. My neighbors still use courtesy to let other drivers make their way through our ribbons of asphalt. All y’all use your turn indicators out there.
photo by bruce w. fong photography

UnknownMy adopted home town of Houston is huge sports city. After all, we have 6 million people who call Houston “home”. It’s also the fourth largest city in the USA. Our fair city only trails New York, L.A., and Chicago in population count. It leaps to second place as an entertainment center, just behind New York City.

In addition Houston leads the nation with its harbor, amassing more international tonnage than any other port city in our great country.  Houston is also the most ethnically diverse cities in the USA. Add to these notable items, one of the leading medical centers in the entire world and the city rises as a world-class city.

Can you imagine all of the related conversations that fill up the air space in city limits? Nevertheless, like the rest of the country, honest, helpful, edifying conversations have taken a massive hit. Argument and disagreeable conflict have replaced honest dialogue. People are readily offended and quick to disagree.

Sports is an enjoyable alternative. Within the massive geographical region of Houston, there is a camaraderie supporting our sports teams. At least that is true as long as they are winning.

Right now, is professional basketball season. The Houston Rockets are doing well at the moment. Superstar, James Hardin, just tied the legendary Wilt Chamberlin for 40 successive games with over 30 points. That’s just “Wow!” Basketball is not even my favorite sport, but I marvel at such skill and of course smile when a Houston team is making that kind of international news.

May I observe a contrast on these two arenas of conversation? Politics and related issues generates anger, even hatred. We can’t carry on a descent conversation in that realm because the ire erupts into insult, offense, and bitterness. At least in sports within a fan-base there is a collective and collaborative interchange of delight, agreement, and celebration.

To keep this spirit of cheer alive I keep my personal minion close by and decked with an appropriate sport cap. Right now, my smilin’ minion is sporting a Houston Rockets cap. He makes me chuckle whenever I see him, hear his buddies over the media, or read a cartoon. My smile reminds me to always keep conversations civil, helpful, and edifying. Let’s hear it for uplifting conversations!

photo by bruce fong photography

Lion 2019
Chinese New Year has arrived! After a yearlong wait, it is time to celebrate. Take it from generations of those learning how to celebrate, the Chinese are going to whoop it up not just for a day. They don’t celebrate for two days. When the Lunar calendar hits the reset button, it is time to party-on for 3-4 weeks.

Companies in Asian countries plan on shutting down for weeks during this festive time of the year. People plan their budgets and make the long journey to be with family. Together, the bonds of blood draw people together.

They reflect, count their blessings, pour out their savings for the best decorations, delicious meals, loud celebrations, spectacular fireworks, and generous sharing with relatives. It is a picture of the goodness experienced over the year that has gone by and an optimistic look into the future year to come.

This is the year of the Pig. In the legend of the 12 animals representing the lunar calendar, the pig overslept on the day that annual assignments were passed out. The pig arrived last and was assigned the 12th and final year of the lunar cycle. At least he didn’t get volunteered for any dangerous mission.

While the pig may not have the prestige, reputation, or regard as some of the other animals in the West, it is painted in a very positive light. The pig represents prosperity. They have a beautiful personality. Finally, they portray a good and prosperous life. Not a bad portrait at all.

The Chinese have a way of saying something positive about every creature, person, and set of circumstances. If you were born in the Year of the Pig, you have a lot going for you. These years would be 2019, 2017, 1995, 1983, 1971, 1959, 1947 and 1935. Whatever year and under whichever sign, I wish you the Happiest New Year!

photo by BWFong

Baby JesusA young couple fell madly in love during their college years. A prominent company in her field recruited her and signed her to an exciting multiyear offer. He, on the other hand, needed to continue on to graduate school for both his MA and PhD – and needed to purchase a powerful, expensive personal computer. Mutually, they wanted to be married. However, he knew that he could not afford both her engagement ring and the computer. She understood, even though her sadness was obvious. Not long after that hard conversation, he invited her out to their favorite restaurant, the one reserved for special occasions. She excitedly talked about her day. When he got down on one knee next to the table, she gasped. The crowd in the restaurant got quiet. He pulled out a black velvet ring box from his pocket and opened it to reveal the sparkling gem that melted her heart. With tears she smiled, “Don’t you have something you want to ak me? He put the ring on her finger and begged her, “Sweetheart, I love you with all my heart. Will you please buy me a computer?”

This surprise ending certainly grabs your attention. During this Christmas season, we celebrate a surprise story that the world has been enjoying for centuries. Psalm 45 details the beautiful story.

The psalm describes the details of a splendid wedding. The groom is the resplendent king. He has accomplished great feats, rules a powerful kingdom, and has the admiration of all who know him. Honor is heaped on his name and reputation.

His bride is the height of beauty and grandeur. She and her beauty capture the king’s attention. The wedding to join them is fitting of a royal celebration.

Scripture combines this promise with the fulfillment that begins with the Christmas birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ. His eventual bride is us, His church. Redemption is the royal beauty of sin being forgiven and our destiny to be presented to Him forever in eternity. That’s a Christmas gift to look forward to in our future. Merry Christmas!

photo by bruce w. fong photography

(a reprint from Psalms for the Season, a “Dallas Theological seminary 2018 Christmas Devotional”)

IMG_0836We all share a common experience during election season. How many political groups have my phone number? A number of those irritating calls have those toll-free numbers. The area code gives them away.

Sure, we were taught by our moms to be polite at all times. Politeness and manners wear thin after the rat-ta-tat force of words that stream from the mouth of a volunteer don’t give us room to breathe let alone give a thoughtful response.

Within seconds they have dumped a well-design load of words into our ears. It was just a prelude for them to ask for a financial donation. Yes, they specify an amount. Any hesitation on our part is met with a lesser amount. Of course the desperate need for our hard-earned dollars is vital to the cause.

This midterm election surprised me. The “other” party called and asked me for a donation. They were polite but just as forceful. I was also polite in my refusal and I asked them to remove my name and number from their list.

I did try to lay my telephone receiver down on my desk while I carried on with my work. Their constant barrage of words and salesmanship went on for several minutes before I heard them ask, “Are you there? Hello! Hello!” They hung up. I felt a little guilty.

Enough is enough. No more annoyance. No more guilt.

I went out with my bride as soon as our schedule allowed and we voted EARLY. It was amazing. After that the relentless political ads were no longer troubling. Further, the phone calls started to fall away.

Never doubt my resolve. I love my country and put up with the political wrangling. Yes, I even donated to the candidate of my choosing. But, voting, that is a privilege of great price. Those who fought and died so that I could have my voice heard, I am forever grateful. If we could only put a lid on the political ads, calls and bickering.

photo by bruce w. fong photography

Houston Chinese Pastors.jpg

The birth of a new idea is like the spark that sits in a handful of some kind of fire starter. You see the possibility. You’re shivering in the cold. The temperatures are dropping and you crave the warmth that a fire promises.

Carefully, you cradle the ember and coax it with gentle steady blowing. Slowly tendrils of smoke rise. The spark grows brighter.

Hope for a real fire to warm chilling bones emerges. Your anxious body begins to relax. Small strokes of heat from the newly born fire lick your face. Eagerly, you place the crackling fire into the waiting pile of sticks and gathered wood.

Not long ago an idea for the church came to us at DTS-Houston like a spark that promised a fire. Concerned believers gathered to address a problem. Chinese churches in the USA are facing a major crisis. Up to half of the pastors of Chinese language churches in America have pastors closing in on retirement. Who will fill those pulpits?

But, it’s not just the coming hole of pastoral roles that is looming on the horizon. There is also a vast number of amazing church members with a deep hunger for the Word of God. Every pastor loves having a large portion of these spiritually mature and growing saints in their congregations.

Several conversations ensued about both of these streams of people. Beyond merely a cavalcade of words. real action resulted from these meetings. Most notably, money was donated and scholarships were funded. Parameters for qualifications were designed. It was time to get the word out.

Here at DTS-Houston, pastors from a number of Houston area Chinese churches came. From as far away as College Station and Austin they arrived. After a sumptuous meal we prayed, introduced ourselves, and listened to an amazing presentation of scholarship opportunities for new students.

Qualified students who are accepted at DTS-Houston could apply for several scholarships. If they are preparing for pastoral ministry or desiring to increase their knowledge of Bible and Theology then we have a path for them. As well, if someone knows that God has not called to professional ministry but they are eager to advance their knowledge and skills for lay ministry, then was also have a path for them.

Our prayer is that the pool of generous resources that has been given for DTS students can find a great match with eager students to impact the local church for God’s glory. The gathering of key pastors in the greater Houston area was wonderful.

31531388_2135635573119502_1994887011911073792_nEducation has fallen on hard times. Enrollment is one of the non negotiable items in the world of higher education. Administrators lose sleep over declining numbers with each passing academic year.

Private institutions of higher education are feeling the tightening belt even more. That magic number attached to enrollment makes heads spin, competent employees to panic, and media sites to attack the topic in a feeding frenzy. Education finds its identity in the numbers census of bodies in desks.

This is my world too. Education is my field of specialization. There have been hours and days and weeks and months that I have discussed, studied, and pursued students to enroll into our institution.

Here is a lesson that has helped me: Work hard to do all you can. Then, trust the final results to God.

In 2 Kings 6 Israel and Aram were at war with each other. The Arameans were making a killing by robbing Hebrew caravans of rich cargo. Their king secretly plotted ambush and ambush and absconded with great wealth.

Finally, the man of God, Elisha intervened and told the King of Israel all of the Aramean plans. His prophetic foresight thwarted further Aramean raids. Irritated, the King of Aram first tried to blame one of his own officers for leaking their top-secret plans.

A quick thinking officer plays his “get out of jail card” and informs the king that Elisha the prophet tells all of Aram plans to his king in Israel. The Arameans send an army to surround Elisha. His servant sees the enemy threat, panics with desperate fear, and exclaims, “What shall we do?”

Elisha is the portrait of calm. He simply prays that God will open the eyes of his servant and allow him to see what God has done to protect them. In answer to Elisha’s prayer, the servant sees that there are angels and fiery chariots from heaven surrounding Elisha. The words of this amazing prophet are worth remembering: “Those who are with us are greater than those who with them.”

Remember: God will often have a solution ready before we even realize that we have a problem. Use eyes of faith to see what God has already done. Fear not, even with huge problems like enrollment.

 

 

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