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Unknown-10Many of my years on earth have been lived without a pastor. It wasn’t that I did not embrace my Christian faith or was out fishing on Sunday morning. Many years of my adult life was being the pastor.

During those countless weeks of giving my soul away to others, I have great memories of spiritual renewal, lives changed for all eternity, and deep-seated friendships. Oh, there were trying times, goofy people, and strange “Christian behavior” but why linger on those rare terrible moments?

After so many years of living without a pastor, I am relishing being a part of a healthy church with an outstanding pastor. Pastor Gregg Matte handles the Word very well, he is a godly leader, and he loves God as well as his people. It is easy for me to give my heart to him.

(By the way, every Christian that is committed to doing church the right way, should give their heart to their pastor. Just saying…)

During these horrible and scary days of the world-wide pandemic, putting my shoulder to the wheel of whatever wagon Pastor Gregg identifies is very satisfying.  For us as a church we all are passionate to make a difference in our great city of Houston. Our church body is incredibly active in our city, our country, and around the world.

Has this national quarantine disrupted our involvement? No. Our church has gone online so that we are in compliance to the guidelines of our authorities. Nevertheless, our church’s active ministry keeps going on under our pastor’s tireless leadership.

Pastor Gregg Matte is studied up and fired up as he teaches the Bible to us. His leadership applications and challenges are spot on and invigorating. Worship is engulfing. Sure, I miss the smiles, warm handshakes, bright eyes of friends, and the sounds of many people gathering. But, those times will eventually return. We will get through this.

Then, God will show us what he has been doing all this time. The products of these world-wide moments of sequestering will likely surprise us. Then, the whole world will better know that he is truly Almighty.

photo by brucefong photography

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_2af3Radio has blasted into cyberspace with a wide-ranging number of options for the listening public. The antennae range is no longer the defining limits of broadcast choices. Instead of turning your radio dial, you can now turn on your computer.

Go ahead and turn on your favorite search engine. Now, type in your favorite radio station from decades in your memory filled past. It won’t take long. Your website promotes the web address of your long-ago listening enriched favorites.

I have run into people who have relocated miles from one city to the next. Some have retreated to the rural regions. Others have found their new home across the great plains of the USA. But, they still hang on to their favorite radio station via the internet.

For the month of May, every Wednesday at 10AM, on KHCB FM105.7, I will host Prayertime. If you’re in the listening area you can tune in the tried and true way. But, never fear, if your outside of the broadcast range, boot up your computer.

KHCB means “Keeping HIM Close By”. Cool, eh? The radio station is all about the Bible. Here the Bible is the center of all that happens in this broadcast hub. God’s Word is loved, taught, and treasured.

In the Prayertime broadcasts, the Bible is presented as the basis of the prayer to follow. I love teaching the Bible in preparation for communing with God. Please join me. We are going to have a great time in the Word and then praying.

Here is the address to listen into the program. It is only available LIVE. Join me at 10AM Central Time at

Online Listening

See you on the air!

photo by brucefong photography

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.

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”)

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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.

 

 

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.

photo by bruce w. fong photography

If I could go back in time to the first Easter, I hope that my choice would have been to go to the tomb early on Easter Sunday.

Walking the typically rocky road with home-made sandals, I know that I could have felt my heart pounding.  It would have been so loud that I couldn’t hear the women talking about the predicament of moving the stone.  Knowing what I know now, but keeping it secret from those in that day, I would be straining to look ahead.

Maybe the sight of the absent soldiers would have confirmed what I know.  They had been blown on to their backside and been terrified that they would be executed for failure to do their duty.  All they had to do was keep Jesus’ disciples from stealing the body.

Yet, a power so great as to knock these professional soldiers out-of-the-way, disintegrate the Roman seal on the tomb as if it was never placed there, and then to move the stone out of the ditch in one instantaneous episode took place in a blink on an eye.  Like frightened children the soldiers reported to their authorities and rehearsed the lie that they were told to give.  That was better than execution or imprisonment to them.

The women were shocked to see the stone moved away.  Their confusion would have been my excitement.  Hearing the angel conversation would have thrilled my mind.

All the theology that I have learned would be validated through a few words.  As the women wondered what to do, they may have asked me what we should all do.  That’s when I would have let some of today’s Bible knowledge leak out, “Let’s go tell the disciples what we have seen!”

On the jog back to the gathering, I would have left the women, “You go report what we saw.  I’ve got two disciples on the road to Emmaus that I need to see.”

“What are you going to say to them?” they would have asked in surprise.

“I want to hear what their companions will be telling them,” I would smile.  “Don’t worry what anyone else says.  I believe what y’all (Texan for “all of you”) believe.  HE HAS RISEN!”

This is almost incomprehensible.  I actually am living and I am 65 years old.  For many years I will openly admit that I thought that this was not just a number, this was a symbol for OLD.

There was plenty of warning for this landmark in life.  The US mail service started it.  In each of my daily deliveries there were invitations to join old people’s groups.  Retirement plans, parties, investments and “special” products took up most of my mailbox space.

Maybe being frugal was finally an asset.  Discounts were mixed into this onslaught of advertisements.  Businesses wanted to attract loyalty to the almighty discount for Seniors.

The Feds were in on this too.  They kept sending reminders of Social Security.  The not so subtle message was work longer before drawing on your retirement funds.

Clearly they were running out of money and wanted to kick the old people can down the road before paying up.  OK.  I’ll work a few more years longer.

Uncle Sam doesn’t know it but I love doing my job.  Every day it is not about how to survive on a fixed income but on how I can make a difference in the lives of other people.  In fact I am privileged to make an eternal difference in the lives of other people.

I get to expand the everlasting news in the lives of people with the hours that I put into my daily job.  Calling it a “job” is a misnomer.  It is a ministry where I have the joy of teaching truth and loving well.

That’s the motto of my occupation.  I teach the Bible.  No it’s not old worn out religion.  It is lively and delightful joy.

Jesus Christ is at the center of all that I do.  He is not fiction or imaginative “good luck”.  Instead, He is the real deal.  Jesus brings love and forgiveness into the lives of people.

My “job” is to pass that good news on to as many people as possible.  Retirement is not in the picture.  As long as God gives good health, I will keep on doing this “work”.

Maybe it’s this life that keeps me feeling young and going strong.  Even at 65 I have my eyes set on making the next 5 years the best years of my life.  Want to join me?

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