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42-Feeling-GreatThere is no greater class of people in the world than pastors.  They work harder for others, make do with less, live by the noblest of values and rack up more hours of work per day than anyone that I know.  Duty does not call, but God does.  Then, every pastor answers.

Nevertheless, pastors are the object of more criticism, more abuse and more attacks than any other class of professional that I know.  Every pastor experiences betrayal, pulls out the darts of gossip, binds up the wounds of slander and humbly accepts a pittance for the faithful work that they do.  The self-righteous hold their private meetings to complain with like-minded malcontents.

Ever the optimist and hopeful servant, the pastor tries to protect his family from the whispers and attitudes of the negative.  Business meetings are more about him getting the business than the management of a local church’s stewardship.  Members act like volunteers, coming late, leaving early or skipping altogether.

The pastor just keeps on smiling and dying a thousands deaths inside.  People make promises that they easily forget or sign up to oversee a project but conveniently procrastinate.  Everyone can count on him but he has very few that he can count on.

Sometimes his own staff are AWOL adding to the stress of running a ministry.  Can you imagine pastoral staff taking breakfast breaks or lunch breaks in excess of two hours and then leaving early from the office because the drain from the hard work?  Or do you find it acceptable when pastoral staff build into their work week a Sabbath rest or include personal work out time as part of their hours posted on their calendar?

The pastor picks up the slack left by others.  He smiles and cheerfully carries on.  His hours of service exceed the expectations of all and his ONE day off is not infrequently compromised with ministry emergencies.

Humor is funny because there is some truth to it.  This poster is funny for that very reason.  It blends the contrast between reality and an alternate reality.

Those who laugh the hardest at this piece of humor are those who pastor.  They erupt with a guffaw that outsiders to ministry can only imagine.  Within the academy of faithful shepherds wink, chuckle and keep on serving just as God called us to persevere in it.


IMG_0766Have ever had one of those moments in a store when you weren’t looking for anything in particular but an idea exploded in your mind and a massive smile erupted all over your face?  My bride and I were wandering through the Halloween costume department.  It was my job to drive the shopping cart and navigate through the crowded aisles.

Costumes, accessories and decorations hung from hooks and lined the shelves.  But, my new granddaughter and 2-year-old grandson came to my mind.  That’s when the imitation wigs and beards jumped out at me.

“This would be fun!” I exclaimed.  Pulling the long black wig package off of the display, I held it up for my bride to see.  “Wouldn’t Eva look hilarious in this?”

“OK, Grandpa,” my bride smirked, “it’s up to you.  It might be too big, though.”

“Naw, it’ll look fine.  Just a moment of fun will be worth it!” I announced with all of the confidence of a far away displaced Grandfather could muster.

Carefully, we put together a “care package” for our grandchildren.  The brown cardboard box was plain and unassuming but the inside gifts would surely brighten up the day of our kids and their children.  The post office received the package and posted it for the long 2000 mile journey.

Busy lives have a way of pushing out of our minds expectations that are limited by long delivery dates.  Thoughts of the glee that would erupt in the home of our daughter and son-in-law for their kids, our grandchildren,  would have to wait for the delivery day.  Work, goals and objectives siphoned off my delight and perhaps the biggest surprise was hearing from an email with the picture of our granddaughter in her new wig.

I laughed.  I kept on laughing as I shared the picture with my bride.  God’s great gift of laughter is a treat!

Together we smiled, pointed out details and marveled at this little life that captures our hearts.  She has never had an understandable conversation with either of us.  Nevertheless, we love her deeply.

Now, that we can have some fun with a simple costume, the expanding options with our family time are multiplying like an explosion of creativity.  I am loving all of it.  Each day I am eagerly looking for more of it.

There is a new dimension to life.  We enter into the world of make-believe.  It is sheer unbridled fun.

IMG_1082A smile spread across my face.  With my razor-sharp pocket knife I sliced open the package that greeted us at our door after a long day’s work.  Weariness disappeared with the awaiting gift in a brown cardboard box.

One of the ways that I keep my blood flowing during the week is stopping by our athletic club and jumping into the pool.  The pool is 25 yards long.  For me to swim one half of a mile I need to swim 36 lengths of the pool.

For anyone who does or has done it, that is a lot of swimming and it is also incredibly boring.  It is not possible to concentrate on technique, lap counting, stroke style or any other related mental feature of swimming.  Some mindless lap counting habit needs to be incorporated so that you don’t think about doing it.

Then, any variety during the laps is a huge help.  I mean ANY variation is a plus.  Some listen to waterproof MP3 players.  Others, sing to themselves, compose while stroking or just tough it out through the tedious task of lap after lap.

I like to throw in some wind sprints.  Take the word “like” very lightly.  Just to break up the monotony, I put on speed fins for about a dozen of the laps that I elect to swim.

Speed fins are shorter than the typical snorkeling or scuba fins.  To get the best benefit out of them you kick more repetitions than the ease based snorkeling fins.  But, they make a huge difference in my speed.

Besides increased speed, the energy expended is enormous.  It is like to doing wind-sprints.  My lungs are heaving and screaming for oxygen.

I can see the tiles racing by on the bottom of our club pool.  The wake off of my head feels like a wall of water resisting my progress.  Deep breathes are not enough to satisfying my craving for oxygen.

Now, my package is opened.  New speed fins emerge.  I had to try them on and model them for the next visit to the Club.

Today I have retired my old speed fins for these faster and lighter style.  They even fit more comfortably.  They will help me keep the monotony at bay with each workout visit to the club.  Want to give them a try?

photo credit: brucefong photography

FullSizeRender-3My calendar is full and getting fuller as the fall season picks up momentum.  Work responsibilities move like a rising tide with appointments, meetings, reports, problems and initiatives.  Woven inside the fabric of the ministry is life at church, home, friends and the events of the season.

Did you catch that last one?  Halloween is coming.  Or for many of us it is the Harvest Season.

Not long after that Thanksgiving is waiting to get us even more busy than ever.  Family events, travel, food and reunions line up for attention.  Home decorations increase as the fall season moves deeper toward winter.

Of course, Christmas is the zenith of all events as the calendar year closes out.  The decorations are the pinnacle of everyone’s planning.  Just about everyone looks forward to Christmas.

Organizing our lives to make room for each of these calendar events crowds even the most gifted of administrators.  Unless we get a jump on the forecast we will miss out or even overlook important opportunities.

Our church, Houston First Baptist has a spectacular Christmas program called “Celebrate!”  Note the exclamation point.  It is fitting.

FullSizeRender-2Getting tickets for this sensation production is not difficult but it calls for a little planning.  Ticket sales opened up on Saturday October 17 at 8:00AM.  When I saw the notice, my lips pursed tightly.

I could make it to church to buy tickets that day, but I needed to be an hour away for a speaking engagement that very morning.  My mind was organizing that morning carefully.  If I showed up at church by 7:30AM and got my tickets by 8:45AM I could hurry to my speaking engagement in time for a 15 minute early arrival.

In my mind I was certain that I could be one of the earliest in line on a Saturday morning.  Who wants to get up early on a Saturday to buy tickets for a Christmas program that is months away?

That strategy was way off the mark.  The conversation that spawned that plan had no clue about the interest of Christmas even in October.  Hundreds of people who were in line before I showed up testify to my tactical limitations.

At least I made it to my 10AM speaking appointment on time.  But, the wait for Christmas tickets sure shows the joy of the season.  Merry Christmas, even in October!

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_0954We arrived home late because we both had so much to do at work.  Now, it was after 7PM so we paused and heated up a simple supper and headed back out on a week night to get a few errands knocked off of our list.  Running around town, we help each other check on projects to finish, lists of things to collect and eventual events to attend.

Our last stop lay ahead.  We paused and looked at each other.  Weariness from a long day and busy night made us both wink at each other.

“Last stop. Then we can go home and get some rest,” we cheered each other on.

“OK, you get this half of the list and I will get the other half and rendezvous back up front,” my administrative hunter skills were kicking in.

My beloved was efficient as she could be.  Yup, distractions begged for her attention.  Several extra stops were  giving her the moment that shopping does to enliven her soul.

For a few moments I was determined to finish my task and be the first one back to the meeting point.  My every intention was mission-oriented.  The task was at hand and I would accomplish it.

Then, the unexpected happened.  It had an immediate effect on my speed, focus and destination.  With time passing by I stopped and slipped into another world.

This is October and a fully decorated Christmas tree stopped me in my tracks.  It was simple, yet grand.  The use of ribbons and bows gave it an elegant look.

Some might say that there was more ribbon than tree.  But, they would be wrong.  The tree shape dominated the silk decor.  Greenery contrasted with the white and gold fabric.

Yet, the tree is not the meaning for me.  This special symbol of the season gives me reason for great pause.  In a couple of months, the birthday of the King will be upon us.

Hope for a world in chaos, a joy that will silence the grit of war, peace that will sooth the hurting and hungry, faith will be anyone’s greatest strength when placed on the Baby and love will be shared with family, friends and fellow citizens of earth.  This tree, this season changes everything in life.  It does. Count on it. Believe it.

It’s Halloween but Christmas is coming!

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_0956Our errand day had us making at least a half of a dozen stops.  I was getting worn out but chores need to get done.  Making the best of a situation is all about being observant and creative in the fulfillment of the necessities of life.

Have you ever been expectant when you strolled into a store but were totally shocked out of your confident disposition?  I surely was.  It is October, Halloween is not even here yet but the store what welcomed us into their showroom was already stocked to the gills with Christmas decorations.

Similar to the pattern of grief, the initial shock was replaced by denial.  “No, no, no, it’s too early for Christmas.  We need to give the Harvest season and Thanksgiving their place in the calendar and in our family celebrations.  Why rush a good thing.

Then, there was a shift.  Anger did not emerge.  Instead, delight began to seep into my mind.  A quick glance around the store and there was plenty of space given to the Harvest season and Thanksgiving.  They had the rest of the year covered.

Now, I lingered longer in the Christmas section.  I was getting into the mood to anticipate this most special time of the year.

My fingers traced the shapes of the musical instruments.  Colorful cartoon characters dangled on strings ready to be hung on trees.  Miniature reminders of the real Christmas story abounded on this wall of decorations.

With a smile I took a moment to hum a favorite Christmas carol.  No, it is not too early to look forward to Christmas. It is never too early to anticipate this time for family, food, fun and fellowship around what the birth of Jesus brings to all of us.

No, I didn’t buy anything for Christmas.  Not yet, any way.  There is plenty of time to do that.  For now, I left the Christmas aisles and chased down all that we needed for our errands for this Harvest Season.

Looking forward to celebrating His birthday, though.  When you love someone you look forward to their special day and the joy that comes with it.  It’s not Christmas yet.  Nor is it the season yet.  But, it is coming and I know that I will be thrilled when it comes!

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_1031In those days of anticipation, I was just a boy.  Yet, it was easy to get caught up in the NASA exploration of the stars, a sensational exclamation point of God’s mighty hand of creation.  Their adventures captured the imagination of every American and the citizens of the world.

Putting a man in space challenged the comic cartoon dreams of being Flash Gordon.  Describing the thrill and national pride of the stars and stripes on the sleeve of a space suit and following every bit of progress on nightly television news was a part of history that I lived.  Now, I could reminisce even further during my stroll through NASA’s space center.

In the dark exhibit of NASA’s march into space it would be easy to overlook the overhead displays.  Everything on ground level was so fascinating.  Your brain is left spinning with the historical notes, the audio recollection of astronauts and the life-size displays of real space capsules, rovers, space suits and space stations.

Yet, overhead, hanging from the star-studded ceiling is a Gemini space capsule.  The door is open to let the light add to the display.  There on a long tether is a tribute to one of the great benchmarks of space exploration.

An astronaut was out for a space walk.  In my youth when this historic exercise was about to occur, we all doubted that it could be real.  Our life in comic books said it was true but the human imagination has no limits but science makes us think twice.

Yet, right in that historic moment we all marveled.  We were glued to our television sets.  Our minds were memorizing the moments, listening intently to the commentators, trying to sense what it was like to walk in space.

Now, to be in the NASA Space Visitor’s center and to stand in that exhibit was deeply stirring.  The life-sized components including the capsule, space suit and tether makes the adventuresome spirit of any American swell with pride.  America did it!

photo credit: brucefong photography

FullSizeRender-4NASA is a bright spot in Americana pride and joy.  It never ceases to make me marvel when I walk on to the campus of this collection of very bright and dedicated scientists, engineers and astronauts.  Something precious about life and exploration meet on these grounds and stir the soul of every visitor.

There in the parking lot, far too massive for an inside display is a Boeing 747 carry the Space Shuttle on its back.  Before you ever buy your entry ticket, you are drawn to this scene-stealing display.  Everyone stops by for a look, pictures and a moment of awe.

Inside the Visitor Center NASA has made a spectacular display of their historic achievements.  Every American is a  part of it.  The spirit of the USA pervades every part of the exploration of space.

One of the permanent displays shows off the Gemini program.  Tiny capsules that crammed two astronauts into tight quarters and orbited them around the earth hang from the ceiling.  But, the display is set in the stars of our galaxy.

Countless stars twinkle and serve as an amazing backdrop for this space flight.  It is full scale and the dark hall makes you feel like you are orbiting with these heroes of old.  How clever were these scientists, how skillful were these engineers and how courageous were these astronauts.

Our space exploration seems out-of-this-world to us.  Yet, it is only touching the edge of the vastness of space.  Can human technology thrust us even further?

When the Creator made the heavens He did a spectacular job.  Its vastness speaks of His amazing power and greatness.  We can only marvel and worship.

When Orion launches, maybe I will still be among the millions on earth that will marvel at what America can do.  The greatness of our nation may consume me like all who will be riveted to their televisions, computer monitors and live stream radios to cheer on each inch of movement toward the next great objective in space.

America’s best is exemplified with these achievements.  Putting a man or woman on Mars is next.  Maybe the Orion module will hang from the ceiling in another part of this great exhibit some day.

Perhaps my grandchildren will bring their children and friends to this special place, gaze and marvel together.  Space is the last frontier.  It calls all who have adventure in their souls.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography