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UnknownThis movie, Unplanned, was one that I anticipated. Trailers popped up periodically for months. The story was very compelling.

I will admit that I have a strong attraction to movies based on a true story. Real lives, real drama, and real transformation win my attention. Weave in a message that is important to life and I am ready to buy my tickets.

A good person enters into the world of Planned Parenthood. Her personal saga is uncovered and adds to the intricacies of the story. Family and friends and faith all play a part in this narrative.

The movie portrayed the presence of extreme protesters and terse rants on the part of the right to life crowd. The obnoxious ones were a small minority but they were clearly identified in the story. At the same the majority of the life side were depicted as kind, gracious, and helpful.

Thankfully, the side of Choice were also depicted well. They were portrayed largely as good people albeit surrounded in a volatile atmosphere. Desperate young women with few apparent alternatives come to the clinic seeking a solution.

The chief adversary was left unexplained. Thoughts of greed, power, bitterness, and the like were introduced as possibilities. But, more questions than speculation were presented.

The one antagonist was cast well. She displayed and portrayed the intent of the Choice side. It was unlikable.

I liked the movie. Prayer works. Christians need to persevere. Unborn babies need to be protected.

When abortion happens, it is ugly. An innocent life that ends because of human intent, it is heartbreaking. The movie wrencheed my soul.

Reflecting over this film, I have good thoughts that sometimes justice prevails in the courtroom. Family is a genuine support group. Husbands can do well. Forgiveness from a merciful God is wonderful.

brucefong 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.

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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.

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

IMG_1493Our move to Houston had a number of priorities on our relocation list.  The normal items of finding a home, establishing myself in my new job, finding a new job for my bride and of course, finding a new home church.  This last item was not the lowest on our priority even though it comes last on my list.

During our visits to Houston we not only shopped for a place to live and find a house to buy in the area that we chose to be our home, I asked a lot questions about church recommendations.  My list for churches that others were excited about was growing longer.  Now, it was time to systematically make our visits and trust God to lead us where He wanted us to serve.

Essentials on our list for a church to call home were simple.  There was doctrinal alignment.  Worship vibrancy was on our list.  Most importantly we wanted a church home where we would be able to love our pastor, support him and his family and be a couple that he could count on as the church moved forward.

We seemed to visit churches forever.  Each time we like so much of the many very good churches in Houston.  Yet, we just could not connect with our list of essentials.

Then, we met Pastor Gregg Matte of Houston’s First Baptist Church.  He was on Sabbatical the first time we visited HFBC.  In the meantime we roamed the city visiting all of the churches that people recommended to us.

When our list ran out we heard that Pastor Gregg was back from his sabbatical.  We chose to visit.  We were blown away!

It is like meeting an old friend and connecting right off the bat.  We met for a Dr. Pepper break, he invited us to their Christmas Celebrate and after a short decision discussion, my bride and I went forward in December 2012 and joined the church.

After years of serving as a pastor, cheering on other pastors, encouraging broken pastors, standing by the side of besieged pastors we are solidly in our Pastor’s corner and doing everything we can to honor his life and ministry.  Often our friends in far away states in California, Oregon, Washington, Michigan, Tennessee ask how we like living in Houston.  Our response always includes the great reality that we love our church and our pastor.  That’s the way it should always be.

photo credit: yvonne fong photography

 

Israel 2014 IFL 055The Bible makes a detailed notation about the stone that was positioned to seal Jesus’ tomb.  No one knows where that stone is today.  Yet, it is described as one of specifics in the language of the New Testament that should encourage the hearts of all who follow Jesus.

When Jesus was crucified there is undisputed evidence that He died on Good Friday.  His suffering and beating was excruciating.  The ignominy of His death was torturous.

The Roman soldiers declared Jesus dead and therefore saw no reason to break His legs to expedite what they concluded had already been accomplished.  Just to be sure, a spear was thrust into his side and confirmed that He was deceased.  Jesus did not pass out, He did not fake His death, His body was not stolen by His disciples.

Those who loved Jesus mourned over His death.  Like a loving family they laid His body to rest in a tomb hewn out of rock.  Once His body was there a large stone was rolled in front of the opening, sealing it.

As an added measure to insure that no one would tamper with the body a professional pair of guards were posted in front of the tomb.  The seal of Rome was added to the stone so that no one would tamper with the stone upon sentence of death.  Rumors of a resurrection in three days had the unbelieving authorities guarding against any foul-play.

Then the Scriptures declare that on Sunday, the first Easter the stone was rolled away.  Grammatically, the Bible could have said that the stone was rolled away in one single definitive act.  That could have shown the power of God to counter the human measures to resist the Resurrection.  But, the Bible does not say that.

The Bible could have said that the stone was rolling away capturing the continuous action of the stone moving without any resistance against human endeavor.  But, it does not say that either.

Instead, the Bible uses language to say that the stone was rolled away and stayed that way.  Once the opening to the tomb was reopened, the Resurrection could not be stopped and the grave would never hold the Savior again.  He died and now is alive forever!

That emphatic piece of grammatical detail is a thrilling notation to the glory of Easter.  He is Risen.  He is Risen Indeed!

photo credit: brucefong photography

Israel 2008 445It was an ancient city with people living ancient cultures.  The problems were enormous.  Political figures were greedy, power-hungry, egotistical and full of self-centered pride.

Entertainment at the expense of the people was rampant.  Hostility was waiting for any excuse to erupt.  Military incursions were a daily affair.

Good people were losing hope.  Power was in the hands of officials who bent the law to satisfy their personal agenda.  Anger and intimidation overpowered reason, righteousness and love.

The world had sunk to a level where authorities would murder children to cover their own infractions and advance their influence.  Might was the premier.  Yet, the immoral posture of those in power had massive doubt.

To ameliorate the uncertainty and unrest among the population, appeasement was common place.  Bargaining to keep the general population below their boiling point was a part of the “passing the buck” and shifting blame and destroying the truth with bribery and false testimony.  Was any hope to be found for the human race so long ago?

Hope sprang eternal with a single sacrifice.  One died on behalf of the many.  It was not just a volunteer who stepped forward.

Rather it was the only one who could be a substitute for all.  Even the very wicked were represented by the perfect sacrifice of love.  Jesus, the Christ, willingly gave Himself as a substitutionary death for all.

That is Good Friday.  An ignominious death so long ago has impacted the eternity of all forever and ever.  His one submissive act to have His blood shed gave all mankind hope through the amazing grace of God’s redemption.

Yes, that is a mouthful.  However, it was that magnificent.  It was such a phenomenal act of mercy that even the world’s worst had a chance to turn, repent and believe.

That is why Good Friday is good.  It was a horrible day because of the death of the only perfect One.  Yet, it was the best event for mankind in anticipation of the new life to come.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_5337Spring Break should be a special time of adventure and relaxation for two hard-working teachers. But, this year my bride is burdened with the preparation of her state certification exam and I was in middle of preparing our federal tax returns.  At least I had an ace in the whole.

For the first time since moving to Houston we were going to the Rodeo.  It is billed as the Largest Rodeo in the world.  This claim is one that I have means or interest in validating.

I just reserved our tickets and looked forward to attending.  My time on the internet got us ready with transportation plans via the shuttle system, free parking and discounts on food.  What I could not plan was the weather.

Rain was the forecast for the day we had tickets to the Rodeo.  The precision of this forecast was amazingly accurate.  It poured on this gathering of folks.

Getting into the stadium was a relief just to get out of the rain and dry off.  We were soaked to the bone and thought that a repeated venture was not too favorably received.  But, the show began and our interest was piqued.

The announcer was in fine form.  He was clearly connecting with people who knew about rodeo.  At the same time, he also formed a bond with all of us newbies.

He introduced a rodeo tradition.  It was the Grand Entry.  All of the participants rode out into the stadium and received a rousing ovation from the crowd.  70,000 people were beginning to fill the seats.

Leading the way into the stadium was a trio of riders.  One queen carried the American flag.  Another the flag of Texas.  Yet a third the Houston Rodeo flag.

Once the great cast of riders reached their spots amid great music and fanfare, the announcer introduced the Invocation.  One of the participants prayed for God’s blessing, His protection and presence and with gratitude thanked God for His wonderful blessings.  He prayed this all in Jesus’ name.

There was no apology, no hesitation, no explanation, no equal time for false religions or any protests.  It was all done in stride.  Faith in the Almighty God was a part of the lives of people at a rodeo.

Then the National Anthem was sung.  Everyone stood.  All of the men removed their hats and caps.  People sang with their hands over their hearts.  There were no protests, complaints or apologies.

God, Country and Family.  These three values are embraced and proudly promoted by the Rodeo constituency.  I like Rodeo!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_4873Christmas is way too busy for us.  We are juggling work, travel, gifts, letters, projects, bills, parties and life so fast that jingling bells are hard to hear.  A lot more silent night and still the night would be welcome in our souls.

A balance is struck from a familiar favorite place.  For many Americans and world-wide Christians this is a shared respite during this hectic season.  This place is featured on Christmas cards, television shows, screen savers and ornaments.

Sometimes the scene is a snow shrouded clearing in the woods.  Horse drawn sleighs are parked in front.  Multi-colored lights transform a living tree just off to the side.IMG_4875

Often the Nativity scene is partnered with this place of comfort.  Joseph and Mary watch over the newborn baby Jesus while animals quietly look on to the miraculous scene.  Visitors flock to the sound of music coming from inside of this haven.

It is the picture of a church building.  Inside the alive church of followers of Jesus are celebrating this anniversary birth.  A Savior has been born.

IMG_4878Our busy lives pushed all of those demanding stress-causing matters out in our POV (personally owned vehicle).  I shut the doors and locked them in.  Then, my bride and I carried our Bibles and hand in hand we walked into church.

Gifted decorators decked out a tree that was gorgeous.  We did not rush by it.  Instead, captivated we stopped and admired it from several angles.IMG_4879

Once inside the auditorium the orchestra and choir and worship team blew us away.  Our spirits soared with the familiar Christmas carols.  Then stunning orchestral and choir supported anthems took our spirits and we worshipped together.  It was awesome!

A soloist made the rafters shake with her rendition of “Do You See What I See?”  We rose to our feet with great applause.  All of us could see!

IMG_4880Pastor Gregg Matte delivered an encouraging word from the Word.  He has a gift of making the truth practical.  The Spirit used it to touch so many lives.

In the end the choir and orchestra dismissed us with a majestic finale of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.  With a family like serendipitous moment the choir motioned for Pastor Gregg to join them in the loft for that final song.  All of us sounded not just “good” but “glorious” as we gave our Almighty God our collective gift of worship.  Merry Christmas!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

 

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Every Thursday morning at 6:30AM I need to be at church for a gathering called Warrior’s Heart.  Several men volunteer to do the parking signs, breakfast food, coffee, table setup, name tags, registration and greeting.  My part is to teach the Bible lesson.

Since I live a good distance away, I have to leave for our gathering point by 5:25AM.  That means I need to wake up by 4:45AM.  If I do not go to bed early the night before I am going to suffer.

Many times I go to bed at the proper time but I experience a restless sleep.  My mind is going a mile a minute thinking about the lesson and making sure that I have all of my thoughts clearly sorted out.  Of course my computer for projecting the lesson on the two huge screens is essential.

When I choose to use my computer, I have to remember my power cord, my projection adapter, my remote control. Of course I need to bring my reading glasses along as well.  I wake up periodically in a fitful fog wondering if I have forgotten something or worse, if I have overslept.

Finally, I am wide awake at 4:40am waiting for my alarm clock to start its early morning chiming.  Impatient, I just reach over and shut it off.  The next thing that I realize is that I am in the shower and do not remember getting into it.

Glancing at the clock I smile.  At least my routine has me on schedule and ready to fend off the anxiety from running late.  My wonderful bride is ready to go.  We enjoy the commute together.

We carry on a great conversation on the way to work.  It is a 23 mile drive.  Neither of us remember what we talked about but it was fun while we drove into town.

I am the first to stumble walking across the street.  No, neither of us have ever been drunk but this is what it must feel like.  That is when I tell myself to pick up my feet, point my body in the direction of choice and then I can begin putting one foot in front of the other.

No one in my situation even bats an eye at this sleep walking.  We catch up on at least three extra winks before engaging people for the day. God helps me to forbid myself from signing any important papers until the weekend.  Are my eyes open or closed?

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

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