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!

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

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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.

 

 

We live in SE Texas. Images of cowboys rounding up cattle, oil donkeys pumping crude, and Bluebonnets decorating miles of rolling hills may be the images that dance in your mind’s eye. For others they have a personal experience and a vivid memory: HOT HUMID summer days of August may come to mind.

This unrelenting summer weather hits visitors in the face when they come out of hiding due to obligations of work, meetings, or life necessities. Texans joke about this weather, “It’s great for your complexion.” “But, look at the other 10 months of the year…PERFECTION!”

It is the wrong time of year for our refrigerator ice maker to go out of commission. We had come home from a West Coast vacation where the cool Pacific Ocean allowed us to bask in its daily refreshment. Then, the Texas heat and humidity welcomed us home.

Inside our air-conditioned home, we dropped our bags and went straight into the kitchen. Our 1.5 year old refrigerator would give us the relief of ice-cold water, right? Wrong! The slowly grinding gears of the ice machine delivered nothing. We tried over and over to coax just a few ice cubes from the relief maker. Nothing.

Laying hands on the unit, prayers, and promises did nothing.

Finally, it was time to read the owner’s manual. Nothing. Even when I found the English version of the instructions. Nothing.

For days we purchased bags of ice from the market. We would make the journey into the garage freezer to collect the ice and have our refreshing beverages. Multiple times during the day, I would think and think more about my options. Warranty? Repair? Purchase?

Finally, one night I stumbled on to several YouTube.com entries. Multiple videos of fixing this problem were listed. Victory! Success! ICE!

The sweet celebration of fixing a problem shared by others online was satisfying indeed. Now, the Texas heat and humidity are at bay once again. It was a close call but refreshing ice is again waiting to be collected in our glasses for a refreshing beverage at our convenience. Voila! ICE!

IMG_0007[1]On August 22, Wednesday from 430PM to 630PM at Houston’s First Baptist Church there will be a Meet the Author gathering in the Fellowship Hall. Many of us who have had the privilege of putting words to paper will look forward to shaking hands, meeting you, signing books, and having some fabulous fellowship. If you are close by, then I hope to see you there.

IMG_3208My family rendezvoused at a beach house on the Pacific Coast. After I climbed out of the car, I was captivated by days long ago. This wonderful journey was once common on my schedule, when I lived in the West.

This is a special treat. It brings back great memories. My plans changed with this nostalgic vacation.

Once the family was settled with luggage and rooms, I grabbed my book and stepped out on to the balcony of the second floor. Naturally, I paused for a moment to remind myself why I was there. The sight was gorgeous; but there was more.

A comfortable chair beckoned me with silence but with a promise. The ease would be much more than just what I felt. I even caught myself smiling.

Settling into the comfortable cushioned chair, my legs naturally lifted on to the equally as comforting ottoman. My book opened to my furthest progress. There was no diminishing of my smile.

While the words begged to be read. I instead lifted my eyes to watch the rolling surf. Synchronized with that sensational view was the sound.

Hearing the roar of the mighty Pacific was hypnotizing. It was instant relaxation. Nothing demanded concentration, intentional planning, or obligatory activity. Just listen and the rhythmic beating of the surf melts away all concerns.

I remember loving this amazing atmosphere. It is a wonder that I had forgotten how relaxing this phenomenon is. No wonder this is a fixation for vacationers around the fruited plains.

Need to relax? Go visit the Pacific Coast. Take a good book, drink in the sounds at God’s 24-7 free spa.

Actually, let the sounds engulf your tension-filled life. It will unknot your soul and smooth out your spirit like few experiences can. The Mighty Pacific promises to mellow you out.

56A1F9B7-8AD7-4FB0-A758-5D3D3BEE675E-1 2It is not an incurable disease. Nor is it a terminal illness. It is not even a malady deserving of immediate emergency room attention.

There is a special aisle in the pharmacy to deal with this problem. It is marked “motion sickness” on the aisle signs of your local drug store. Nausea is the technical description.

All of us who have experienced it just simply refer to it as “nasty”. When it hits, you feels most awful and the average person would consider dying. There is no rationale for this conclusion, just a desperate desire to make it end, something needs to end.

The boat is moving, tossing, turning, rocking and shifting up and down, never-ending. Then, there is the addition of diesel exhaust that adds to the stench of what is coming, what is coming up. Past meals erupt and spew over the deck.

It is one of those times that has a collective effect on other boaters, there is a definitive common reaction. People turn away. This is one of life’s experiences when sight, smell, and sound come all at once and turns every smile upside down.

For years I would find a place by the rail just to keep the deck around my feet clear of the slip and slide. Regurgitated eggs are very slippery. Re-scrambled is not a nice option.

Why? What would cause a normal human being to slip into this awful experience, on purpose even? It is for the love of fishing.

My search for a solution after countless times of the nausea blues has given Pharmaceutical companies their Christmas bonuses. But, they have also rewarded me with Scopolamine  patches. Finally, I can fish on the open seas in peace.

For 72 hours I can enjoy the scenery, pull in my catch, marvel at the bountiful and beautiful life in the salt waters, and taste the delicious harvest at home. Memories of turning green are now history. The curled up disgusted faces of fellow fisher people are a fading memory.

On the equally rocky boat ride back to port, my limit of rock fish stare blankly at me from my bucket. I smile with satisfaction while chomping on my PB&J sandwich. It is a good day to be touched by my patch rather than the blues of seasickness, all for the love of fishing.

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photo by BWFong

Our morning stroll abruptly stopped. The brisk cool air was heating up fast. Houston is like that.

In our minds the destination was paramount. Add some steps to our day and then head home before the temperatures got into the bake-range. Houstonians survive the summer that way.

This moment was different. We could add a few minutes to our new-day stroll for this purpose. “Cute” is an easy choice to prolong our walk, even on a day when temperatures threatened to soar into the record books.

A ring-tailed lemur was catching its morning rays. It must be still be “ok” temperature-wise since he has a permanent fur coat and we humans were created with a water-cooling system for such days as this. I much prefer the “dress-for-it” option than the “one-clothing-fits-all-weather” designation.

The lemur big eyes met ours. There was no fear indicated on its end. We were just filled with curiosity on our end. What a fascinating creature the Creator formed in this special animal. Better than a picture or video, seeing one of these special animals face to face makes me appreciate the wonder of creation.

It spied some of its fellow lemurs. There was some chatter going back and forth among them. Maybe they were talking about the humans who paused in front of their paddock.

Do lemurs have a sense of humor? Ha! I chuckled thinking that they may be telling jokes about the Homo sapiens. Maybe “cute” or “wonder” never made it into the lemur conversation.

The sun shifted as it kept climbing to its apex for the day. Uncomfortable heat drenched my bare arms and legs. It was time to head home.

Our visit to our zoo was coming to an end. The lemurs comical look was our finale. Smiles lingered with thoughts of these comical creatures in uncomfortable fur coats on another hot Houston day.

IMG_1746The world of academics, especially in higher education, climaxes every year with commencement. Every student, faculty member, staff, administrator, family and friend has this same date circled on their calendar. It is the target date to unleash the greatest celebration and ultimate relief all at the same time.

That special occasion is now over. The pomp or circumstance has been completed. Photos now are in high-capacity review.

Graduates are scattering all around the world. Students have geared up for their summer schedules. Faculty has climbed aboard planes for parts un-known to practice what they teach.

A few of us are left on the grounds of our campus. I walked our empty halls. Quiet classrooms lined my walk like hollow cauldrons hungry for purpose again.

This was a wonderful time of personal reflection. God had given a great year. It was the best year in the history of DTS-Houston.

Our largest graduating class in the history of this extension campus walked across the stage this year. We celebrated 58 graduates from our Houston campus. Three of our graduates were lifted up by the entire DTS faculty with Commencement awards. They were the best among all 400 plus graduates from all of our campuses.

In addition this was our 25th year of operation here in Houston. Since 1993 DTS has had classes offered in the 4th largest city of the nation, the most diverse city in the USA, the home of the largest port of America, site of a world-class medical center, and a theater district with seating second only to New York. We who live here love our city and pray that our small part will be a part of making this city a hub for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Names and faces and testimonies swirl in my mind. The graduates whose laughter, tears, conversations, sermons, and prayers serve as a cacophony of memories while I wander our empty halls. This will always be a special class from a special year with a force in numbers that may never be rivaled any time soon.

It has been a privilege, an unparalleled honor to have served these delightful souls. Being a part of their journey to answer God’s call on their lives was a treat. I love them all. This is what God has called me to do and I treasure serving in this ministry.

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