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Unknown-1.jpegGung Hey Fat Choy! Happy 4717 Lunar New Year. May your new year be prosperous!

Chinese New Year is going to be celebrated all around the globe. Everyone who is of Chinese descent is getting ready. This is the biggest celebration on the calendar.

Plans have been made to travel to be with family no matter how far the journey might be. China is a huge country so a day or more of travel is common. Mass transit will be jammed and people measure progress by the inch when they are waiting for their turn to board the train.

Festivities at home begin on Friday night. That’s New Year’s Eve. It will be a feast that traditionally took weeks for a family to prepare. Family, food, friends, and fortune fill everyone’s thoughts.

The temptation is high to snitch some of the delicious fare. Duck, chicken, pork, beef, fish are just the basic points of a beginning. Each is transformed into a long family recipe filled not just with flavor but also with meaning.

Don’t let anyone catch you taking samples. The aromas are sensational. But, the feasting never begins until that last family member has made it home. Let the anticipation define your appetite.

I have added a golden mouse to my office decor. It is the year of the rat, the metal rodent is in keeping with the five philosophies of the ancient thinkers: water, fire, earth, metal, and wood. Many still think that all in life is linked to the influence of these basic elements in our world.

So much beauty and wonder fill these days celebrated by my ancestors. There is intrigue between the flavor-filled bites from grandma’s and momma’s cooking. Great conversation and catching up with cousins, siblings, uncles, aunts, and new friends fill every home with joyous sounds.

At the same time, while anticipating this cultural celebration, my heart beats with another kind delight. This indescribable joy is beyond this earth. It is heavenly.

Amazingly, a new family has welcomed me into their hearts, as I sojourn on this earth. Thousands of separating miles don’t affect this new fellowship. Instead, they are reminders that this world is not my home, I’m just passing through.

Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior. He reached out to me with his amazing love and caused me to be born again. Now, that’s a reason to celebrate.

UnknownWork days fill my calendar for most of the year. Long 10-12 hour days define my work week. When the work week has surpassed reasonable tally, more time is poured into writing, studying, preparing for weekend ventures that support my work.

I am one of those few who loves what I do for a living. That old adage, “Find something that you love to do and you will never work a day in your life,” applies to me. I love going to work.

But, there is something that gnaws on my soul.  I, along with my wonderful wife, sigh often when we are getting ready to leave church and head back home. There are many around us who weekly gather their brood and head out for a family lunch.

We watch them laugh together, hug one another, tease each other, and agree to rendezvous for a shared meal. Sometimes, not often, they wave to us as they leave. We toss them a polite wave and nod our heads. Our smile is envious.

Can you feel the longing that we feel so deeply? We miss our family. But, the Good Lord has given me an assignment far away from our children and grandchildren.

Every chance we get, we sock away a few dollars here and there. We look long into our calendar and plan our next vacation to travel to meet them thousands of miles away. The bank savings account grows slowly but steadily so we can enjoy meals, gifts, and treats together.

Christmas is a great time to gather. The tiring air flight is worth the weariness and very-early-fisherman style wake-up time to catch the plane.  Early departure tickets are less expensive.

What else will get us up at 3AM to load luggage and make the hour-long drive to the airport? Waves of sleepiness waft over my consciousness. One helpful reward: the notorious Houston traffic is very light that early in the morning.

Air travel does not rank any where in sight of my favorite things to do. Sore from sitting too long, cramped aggravating conditions, and the nerve-wracking sneezing, coughing, and wheezing in recycling air sends chills up and down my spine can be held at bay as long as I concentrate on the embraces that are soon to come.

All is forgotten when squealing grandchildren call out our names. Enthusiastic hugs are welcomed to linger long. Words of love, affection, and delight soothe my mind. Family!

3BBF66A7-0E19-4B0B-A614-F1AB3F2B1647_1_201_a.jpegThe video played a series of clips, telling various stories of people who possessed a unique item but had no clue how valuable it was. One man had a massive pearl that he kept under his bed as a “good luck” piece. It was worth millions of dollars.

Another man owned a couple of boxes that he picked up a garage sale. Inside were nearly priceless photographic plates by a famous naturalist photography, long since thought lost in a fire. He learned that his junk was worth millions.

A garage sale shopper picked up a porcelain bowl for a mere $3. It had a saw tooth design that was later identified and validated as an authentic Chinese antique. Yes, it was valued in the millions.

We all laugh at someone’s remarkable fortune. Most of us sigh and realize that we all have piles of junk that define the word “junk”. They are worthless items.

Nevertheless, it is not always treasures measured by monetary worth that make this life remarkable. Instead, people of limitless talents, gifts, and qualities are more valuable to me. I am surrounded by co-workers who are incredible treasures.

I do not have royal jewels, ancient photographs, or antiques in my possession. But, every day I wake up and go to work with a most talented and committed group of people. They are priceless: Will, Erik, Alex, Ekpe, Adrianna, Rachel, Julia, Shannon, Chantelle, Chelsea, Stephen, Tom, Ielene, Josh, Marisa, and Andres.

Not everyone looks forward to heading into work. It is a great privilege to be one of the ones who enjoys that daily experience. Often I marvel when I watch our team in action.

So much gets done when our people are operating from project to project. Students are elated with what they are learning, because our teachers are the best. Our humble campus is always getting better because our operations are on every need.

When we gather and brainstorm we know we can get better. Fantastic ideas get discussed. Better yet, projects launch and finish to the improvement of our entire campus. Teachers are free to teach and education happens at the highest level.

People who are committed are the best treasure on earth. When, each of these is devoted to their Savior, Jesus Christ, they are an endless blessing. We stand shoulder to shoulder while put our shovels into the work. I am surrounded by invaluable treasures of the Almighty’s best.

CA21CBB4-FFA4-4F38-B4B2-5D4B31BB3479_1_105_c.jpegChristmas is a hands down favorite time of the year. It is crazy busy, no doubt. Normally, I shy away from busy, especially if crowds of people are involved.

Once in a while, however, the stop-and-go, pushing, shoving, long lines, and stifling absence of oxygen is worth the minimal discomfort. Our Christmas program at our church, Houston’s First Baptist Church is one of those “worth it” evenings. “Celebration” is an annual gala with a repeated storyline with amazing variations. I love it!

This year, the silk acrobats deftly spinning and twirling and climbing to brilliant orchestral music had me mesmerized. How do they do that? Is that safe? Are they in danger? Oh, yeah, I remind myself, my daughter-in-law, Breanna, does that. She loves it! These artists had me entertained, putting visuals to familiar Christmas music.

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Angels are a favorite feature of our annual program. These stars are suspended from a high, very high, ceiling. Their costumes flow in the air. Yes, they are not the real heavenly ones, but surely give us a sense that they are very close to portraying the real McCoy.

Their role accomplishes a special purpose. Christmas is not about an earthly event, populated by earthly beings, and added among a myriad of earthly stories. Rather, it is what it is, a supernatural story of true history, giving testimony for all generations that the one and only Almighty God visited the earth to give the most precious gift he could as an expression of his love for all people.

This sensational Christmas program is full of entertainment. I laughed, smiled, sang along, remembered childhood moments, and found myself wondering about the story that gave it to us all. It is a true story of a little baby born 2,000 years ago in a country far away, today locked into great controversy. God knew that mankind was in trouble with sin.

D8E6ED1F-526C-43C4-B253-43AEAC002682_1_105_c.jpegJesus was born to die. Odd, isn’t it? In a similar sense we are all born and will some day die. Yet, Jesus was born specifically to die on behalf of all people. His death, as the one and only perfect one, paid the price of our sin.

The climax of Christmas is not opening presents tucked under a splendidly decorated tree. Nor is it family time with relatives traveling from parts unknown. Instead, the crescendo of Christmas is Easter, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, a gift of eternal life to all who believe.

Merry Christmas!

 

fullsizeoutput_381cA severe thunderstorm is sweeping past my adopted city of Houston, Texas. My Director of Operations and I exchanged a flurry of e-communications sharing our changing opinions of what to do. We were evaluating for over 24 hours what our decision should be on keeping operations going or to shut down our seminary for the safety of our students and staff.

Timing, forecasts, current computer models of the surging storm, and plenty of prayer are all ingredients necessary for a learned decision. We have students who travel long distances to make into classes and we want to notify them ASAP if they don’t have to risk a drive in this horrible weather.

The streets around the seminary are flooding quickly. The rains poured on our part of town so fast that the storm drains couldn’t keep up. Drivers are taking too many risks.

One car tried to pull out of the neighboring parking lot. When it got to the curb, all of us in our building kept saying, “Don’t do it! Go back! It’s too deep!” The water level reached the bottom of the car. Then, it rose up to the bottom of the door.

When the tires were almost totally immersed, it was too late. A full-size SUV went driving by. The wake hit the sedan and you could see the car lurch backwards. It was over for the car.

The hazard light went on, the headlights dimmed, and the driver waded out of his car and sloshed over to the sidewalk. We could all see the dejection on his face. Someone remarked quietly, “That was a nice car too.”

We have an emergency text message system for emergencies like this. We used it to let students know that the seminary was closed due to inclement weather. There wasn’t a single email of complaint.

Now, my whole team who was here for a full day’s work are going to staying until the water subsides enough to escape and scatter for home. Until then, they have gathered in the library and are watching a movie: The Incredibles.

I walked by and heard plenty of laughter.

As long as everyone is safe, we can deal with the closure, the make up day for classes, and the inconvenience of postponing important meetings. Everyone is safe. For that I am very grateful.

photo out of my office window with filters to remove as much reflection as possible

IMG_4855.jpegThe turn into the memorial called up old feelings. We observed the modest speed limit. Clearly we were entering a solemn site.

There was a tower of chimes off to the left. It was the architect’s remembrance of the voices of the 40 heroic lives lost. Our time only allowed for the main visitor’s center.

A park ranger was looking for welcoming ears. I asked her a question. That’s all it took.

She pointed out the expanse of the memorial. Acres and acres of land had captured the vast area to capture our hearts.

Up on a hill, some what far away, we overlooked a slope that led our eyes to a distant pair of white parallel walls. Their placement kept our eyes peering for meaning. A green strip of carefully mowed grass ended at a boulder.

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Our park ranger paused. That’s it, the point of impact. Flight 93 crashed right there.

The tree line was burnt from the explosive jet fuel. Every life on the plane was immediately extinguished. The passengers were heroes.

We are not sure what great disaster their sacrifice averted, but it must have been big.

It was a reflective moment to part ways. Many of us stopped at the visitor center. President George W. Bush words played on a loop, synchronized with slides of the disaster of that day.

His presidential resolve spoke for Americans then; it was clearly resonating with all of us still. A variety of us, very diverse visitors, quietly listened. Few words were spoken among us.

There were nods shared among total strangers. Whispered words from a Vietnam veteran Staff Sgt. broke our silence. We thanked him for his service.

Yes, I recall my promise to never forget. I have kept that promise. It is not possible to forget.

IMG_4872.jpegExperiencing this memorial, feeling the solemnity, hearing Bush 43, and sharing with fellow Americans what words could not capture, remind me not just to remember but realizing what cannot be forgotten. Heroes were among us. Today many still surround us.

A flag flies in front of our home to commemorate this American change from so many years ago. Many of my neighbors have placed a flag to wave along our street so that we can all remember what none of us can ever forget. May God bless America.

photos by brucefong photography 

Unknown-5.jpegCommitment, sacrifice, and duty add up to include some of the finest people in our country. They are our US military. It was my privilege to serve as the keynote speaker at their 2019 Officer’s Christian Fellowship in White Sulphur Springs Conference Center in Pennsylvania.

There was quality all over the center. The best of what America is all about filled our meeting room, dominated the conversations in the chow hall, and electrified the lines for horse-back riding, bowling, hiking, and the shooting range. Each conversation was marked by the serious devotion to Jesus as Savior and Lord.

Included among the service personnel were the families. Spouses that knew the life of military personnel was a part of this amazing family. Hardships due to deployment separation, financial stress, relationship strains, and the like were shared freely and generously soothed with understanding ears and souls.

These devoted lives gave me a welcomed invitation to bring the Word of God to them. It was my humble contribution into their souls that I have prayed and did pray that the Almighty would sear it into their lives. We had a great connection for several days together.

Locking our hearts into prayer for the retreat, several of us met each morning at the throne of grace to entreat God to do the work that only he could. Through tears, laughter, curiosities, and wonderment we discussed the things of God and how they could be a salve, an encouragement, and vision for their future.

Unknown-11.jpegTheir world is so full of different stresses than mine. The choices that demand immediate attention rarely enter into my routine. Change of not only major proportions but frequent visitations flood their lives. These matters alone would drive me crazy!

Pray for our brothers and sisters and their loved ones who protect our nation. Entreat our Father in heaven to undergird them, provide for their needs, give them wise discernment, and surround them with the kind of Christian edification that will make their journey a blessing. Thank God that so few, who do so much, to give the rest of us our liberties, have stepped up to serve.

Not only do they do well in protection our freedoms, they also do so much to keep the spirit of the warrior strong. Each one is flexible and creative in accomplishing so much with so little under remarkable duress. They have my respect. They are in my prayers.

photos by brucefong photography

Unknown-2Summer marks the time when vacations, house-projects, hobby-advancements, and sleep-ins can finally be entertained. We all work hard for 9 months and need a break or at least a change of pace. Variety is the spice of life that rejuvenates our soul, right?

Nevertheless, I found a number of amazing souls that challenge that kind of schedule with mind-boggling productivity. They are the summer school students of DTS-Houston. Each one is pursuing their graduate degree with the strategy that deliberately includes summer-time classes into their agenda.

Are you impressed? They don’t let the infamous Houston heat slow them down. When the average person realizes that these budding scholars are not only in hot pursuit of their Masters degree, but they also otherwise occupied, they are taken-back. Often they have family obligations, many with careers where they must interweave their courses with their work schedule, some are intensely occupied with children and spouses, and all are actively volunteering in their churches.

My hat’s off to them. Each one is collectively on my mind as I pray for their academic and spiritual success. My work calls for a very active schedule to undergird the structure that makes their academic pursuits a possibility. It is my delight to do so. I love my job!Unknown-1

We have a world-class collection of faculty to pour their expertise into their lives. These are men and women who choose underpaid positions be they believe in the potential of these bright lights. Our faculty have my undying respect.

With purpose I will leave my office and mingle among the students during their breaks. A smile, a brief exchange, some laughter, occasional prayer, and plenty of conversation reminds me of the importance of my responsibilities. They are vital for them.

Well done DTS-Houston Summer Student Scholars. Keep on living by faith, engaging in the diligent work of your programs, and always remember there are many of us who are diligently praying you through your exercises.

photos by brucefong photography

Every time I start my day and end my day, my calendar planning is a priority. Major events and daily habits are all included in this ritual. A small part of my planning is keeping interesting upcoming sports events in mind. The NBA championship made me pay attention while our Houston Rockets were in the mix. Once they were out a lot of my attention waned.

Houston Astros are playing very well. Even with key injuries the team comes up with substitute players that keep the winning ways rolling. They are a fun team to follow.

I am keeping a close eye on the US Women’s National Team in Soccer. They are in Group F of the World Cup. Sweden, Chile, and Thailand are their F Group opponents. 24 teams from around the world are competing for the championship. The USWNT are the defending champions and the look dangerous.

My day at the office and in the field were very productive. The next several weeks are also jam packed with travel, teaching, administration, and strategizing. After a ten hour day and an hour commute in both directions, I am ready for some relaxation. My bride and I had in mind to watch the first match USWNT.

I was so disappointed when I stepped into our house only to notice a news flash on my cell phone. It announced the final score of the USWNT over Thailand. On the one hand I was bummed that the game was already over. On the other hand I was thrilled that WE had won. The bewilderment set in. “I was sure that I had planned to watch the 7PM CT broadcast of this match. Everything was correct except the broadcast was technically a RE-broadcast. Bummer!

The individual talent on this year’s team is breathtaking. Teamwork was consistently astounding. Coaching the match strategy was tactically a winning approach. Durability and endurance showed how well prepared this team was.

Sure, there is some talk about “running up” the score. But, that is really a conversation for the sports pundits. We will just let that debate happen until the next story formulates itself on this world stage.

Meanwhile, I along with many others, marvel at the domination of the USWNT. It was amazing to watch how many touches in a row the team accumulated. Their patience and explosive athletic ability were stunning. Go USA!

photos by brucefong photography

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The kitchen by no means favors me in its room to ply my culinary art. My skills are definitely in the limited category: primarily survival food. Now, on occasion I can read the directions, follow them, and proudly present the final product. Thank God that His providence functions efficaciously and directs it to be edible!

When the grandkids were en route for a long stay, a menu popped into my mind. It included sweet desserts. One was “Rice Krispie” treats.

They always look inviting. Taste is a big win. Of course there is the sticky gooey fun of eating them.

On a recipe skill level, this dessert treat is EASY. Measure this, melt this, stir this, press it down, add fun sprinkles and let it cool. By the time our grandkids roared through the front door, it was waiting to welcome them.

Our oldest grandchild buzzed over to the colorful tray with a smile as wide as the Gulf of Mexico.

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“May I have some?” he questioned with the politeness that made me want to hand over the entire tray.
“You better ask your parents first,” was my safe Grandfatherly response.
“Daddy?” he looked with a longing hope.
“Sure. Which piece to you want?” his father asked.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, the second photo shows the results of his request. It was the deepest part of the tray. He knew where to drop his line for the biggest fish in the lake.

I laughed. He smiled. His munching away was off-the-charts cute!

photographs by brucefong photography

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