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2 Thessalonians 1.1-4

Harvest is special.  There is nothing else like it.  After a season of hard work and caring for crops, this is time when the fruit gets picked or the plants get collected.  It is a grower’s delight.

There is a river of sweat and toil to get to this point.  When the Good LORD then gives great weather to bring in the harvest, farmers can celebrate with this special work.  Plants have grown tall, strong and healthy for months since planting.  Now, it is autumn and the crops can be brought in to market.

The first fruits are part of the evening meal.  Freshness is central on everyone’s palate.  Smiles and humor mark the meal.  Conversation, memories, retelling of key moments for this particular season meld everyone’s minds on the greatest part of this first meal of the harvest.  Everyone is grateful, thankful and satisfied with God’s bountiful harvest.

Three godly men penned the second letter to the Thessalonians.  They had every intention of encouraging the believers there in light of the coming prophetic hope centering on Christ’s return.  Authority for this anticipation was based upon uncompromised certainty in God’s relationship with all those who are His.  The Godhead here is acknowledged as the Father and the Son equally each divine.

Grace is worth a long and deep pause.  It is God’s incredibly generous favor given to all in the church and the resulting peace from the reception of that grace.  While the terms share so much in common, grace describes God’s favor and mercy is His application of grace into our lives

Once God gives us His amazing gift, we spend the rest of our lives not trying to re-experience that historic moment. Rather, we enjoy the satisfaction that comes from the result of grace applied into our lives.  That is the peace that these emissaries of God have delivered.

The spiritual growth of Christians elicits a very similar reaction.  Maturity is something to celebrate.  It is not only good for those who are growing but also fantastic for those who helped others nurture their spiritual development.

Thanksgiving is an integral part of being a follower of Christ.  This spiritual journey with Christ begins with celebration and continues with many other landmark moments of elation as well.  Gratitude is constant as God nurtures, protects and provides the energy and circumstances to advance our faith.

Testifying over the spiritual advancement of others is a part of our own Christian journey.  Selflessness is what spirituality is.  We serve others, help others and rejoice in the growth and advancement of others.

Faith and love are both dynamic realities.  Neither stays static.  They are not real if they do not change.  Both fuel our interest in others.  When they each continue to increase and grow, then there is good reason for gratitude to be energetically expressed.

There is a special feature among gathered Christians.  It is all about story.  Together we share what God is doing in the lives of other believers.  We detail the story of the growth and expression of their faith.  When God blesses their acts of trust and belief and favors their lives we find massive encouragement from testifying to His goodness to others in the body of Christ.  Functionally, when God blesses one part of the gathering of believers, we all are benefitting.

The local church is the central gathering of these followers of Jesus.  It is not exclusive, but it certainly central.  The heartbeat of the Lord Jesus Christ is personified in the local church.

Here is where Christians can experience a righteous pride.  It is not selfish.  There is nothing in it for personal gain.  Instead, it is totally directed toward God and for the benefit of others.  There is a special beauty in this feature of humanity, redeemed humanity.

Remarkably, this celebration is not playing out just in good times.  Rather, it is especially highlighted during difficult times.  The Thessalonian believers were suffering during times of persecution.  Trials were replete and painful.  Nevertheless, they endured not just with gritted teeth but with a faith that was growing and a love for each other that was increasing.

Essential to Christian living is our vested involvement in the lives of others.  This is far more than being friends with those whom we find are just like us.  Rather, it is all about helping others grow in their faith.

This relationship of discipleship is not difficult at least it does not have to be.  When we help another Christian grow in their faith and love during difficult times, we are immersed into the heart of discipleship.  Then, when we are intentional about it, we obeying the Lord’s Great Commission.

Church should be a place where this kind of thanksgiving celebration is common.  Believers gather for mutual encouragement.  This fellowship breeds perseverance.  Christians with a strong connection to other believers who encourage them this way can look back and see that they have endured well

LAPP (Life Application): Choose three lives and build a discipleship relationship with them.  Commit to them and invest into their spiritual growth in love, faith and perseverance.  When the tough times come and they will, stick with them and cheer on their spiritual vitality and you will both grow stronger.

Thanks for joining me on this journey through the Scriptures.

Roberts’s ears were not happy with what his eyes were also seeing.  There were a half of a dozen young men, college students.  Five were laughing together by the steps of one of the entrances to the library.  A friend, at least it looked like they knew each other came walking up with a cheerful disposition.  Obviously he, like Robert, was heading into the library.

The group of guys had a louder-than-the-others boisterous type.  You have heard them before you have seen them in your lifetime.  He was calling the strolling student by name and gesturing for him to come over.  Almost anticipating some friendly interchange, Robert’s mind sneered as the five berated the supposed friend, mocking him because of his appearance, size and pedigree.  It was not funny no matter how much they laughed.

Robert called his name only because he had heard the bullies use it.  “It is great to connect with you.  We are chemistry lab partners.  Are you ready to get started on the assignment?”  Without even slowing down, Robert snatched this total stranger’s arm and led him into the library.

“Thanks,” whoever you are, “I did not know how to get out that mess.  Are we really chemistry lab partners?”

“Nope,” Robert chuckled, “you would not want me for a Chem part.  I don’t know one end of a test tube from the other.”

“Well, then,” smiled the victim of the bullies, “get ready to get your first A in the class because this is one my specialties.”

Do you remember being surprised by very bad circumstances that did not seem to have a way out?  Have you experienced a surprise solution that was a total relief?  Prophecy for Christians will be like that.

Not all people on the earth are the same.  Some are of the darkness while others are of the light.  Those who are in darkness are lost in sin.  They have no knowledge of Jesus Christ as Savior or they may have even rejected the news of Jesus’ death and Resurrection as personal gifts to them.  Without a redeemed soul they live in sin, hurt other people, take advantage of others for their own gain or in this story their own sport.  They are dastardly types.  These are people of darkness.

Paul distinguishes the Thessalonian believers as in total contrast to them.  They will not be shocked or surprised when the Day of Lord comes.  Instead, as sons of light, we who belong to the Lord will be alert not asleep.

Linked closely with those who are of the light and those who are in contrast with those who are in the darkness is the characteristic of self-control.  Selfish people, like bullies and those who insult others are not of God.  Those who are of the light control the self-absorbed.

Unbelievers are in trouble when it comes to the Day of the Lord.  Like those who are asleep and not sensing any personal dangers that are about to consume them, they are in a pitiful situation.  It is not a set of circumstances which they are just innocent victims.  Rather, their spiritual choices, personal pride and unbelief are the reasons that they cannot see any spiritual truth.

Getting drunk is a metaphor that describes their lives.  Something external pushes closer to spiritual disaster.  Yet, they chose that life just as those who get drunk choose to imbibe in excess.  They do this habitually.  The solution is spiritual but they do not move in that direction but chose to dull their senses temporarily rather than consider eternal options and solutions through Jesus Christ.

People do not have to wonder if they are in the light if they so desire to be prepared for the Day of the Lord.  Lives in Christ are in the light.  Their lives validate truth by the faith, hope and love that they live

The solution for being prepared for the inevitable Day of the Lord is to enter into a permanent and personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  When a person does that by faith God appoints him to enjoy the benefits of salvation forever.  That appointment includes a bypass of the suffering to come.

The suffering does not seem to be general difficulties that all humans experience.  Instead, the context suggests that this is Tribulation that is introduced by the Day of the Lord.  Those who are believers are not appointed to experience this horror on earth.

Salvation has one objective.  It is about life.  Life is gained by Jesus giving Himself as our substitute.  He died for us so that we could live.  That new life will be forever with Him.

Christians who know this truth about prophecy should live their lives encouraging each other.  Tearing each other down is not an option for those who are Sons of the Day.  Building each other up is the way that true believers live.

What would happen if everyone who wrote books in the Christian community only encouraged others?  What if there were no print wars on controversial issues within the church?  This exploration is not to be at all Pollyannaish but to wonder realistically about this amazing passage of Scripture.

Have you heard enough gossip, slander and sanctified bullying in the church?  We all have, right?  Let’s live like the Bible says.  Let us be all about encouraging one another and building each other up.  The Thessalonians were doing it.  They are a great example to all of us.

LAPP (Life Application): We cannot change the bullies or stop those who use words or circumstances to demean others.  However, we can take the initiative to step into the lives of others and press courage into their souls.  Find someone every week to build up with genuine and sincere encouragement.

Thanks for joining me on this journey of living the Scriptures.

IMG_1968My bride and I are members of Houston’s First Baptist Church.  Thousands gather every Sunday to be a part of a this vibrant community.  Our pastor, Gregg Matte is a wonderful blessing to us all.

Have you the fresh memory of looking for a new church?  Perhaps, like us, you relocated.  You said “Good-bye” to your church in the community from which you moved.  Now, everything is new.  Yet, high on your priority of searches is a new home church.

We went through that arduous search.  Farewell to friends who are now thousands of miles away was so hard to do.  Yet, they were so excited for our new adventure.  We love those wonderful friends so much.

In our newly adopted state of Texas, in the greater Houston metropolitan area we began our search.  New friends helped us with their recommendations.  We systematically visited church after church.

There are so many good ones here.  Yet, we were looking for that subjective “click”.  We almost decided then the pastor announced his resignation.  Rats!

The search began again.  We journeyed from place to place, then everything came together.  The pastor reached out to us.  We were warmed.

Christmas won us over.  It was a spectacular celebration.  A few introductions and conversations and the “click” made its presence known.

Before the calendar year concluded, we went forward to join the church.  We were blessed to make our commitment.  As the weeks roll by we find ourselves trying more and more opportunities to serve.

Sunday we joined hundreds of others for a leadership lunch. There we met more who have stepped forward to join the masses who are serving at our church family.  May calendar has two Sundays booked as a substitute Life Bible Study Fellowships.

When I teach, those who oversee the adult program will sit in and see how I do in the teaching realm.  The church leadership takes great care when giving a person the responsibility to teach God’s Word to their members.  That is a wise precaution.

In the meantime we were all inspired to hear how hundred of volunteer staff can keep our World Mission initiative alive.  Pastor Gregg laid out the big picture of how each of us can keep the Mission focus alive with systematic monthly reminders.  While the massive room was  filled with so many lives, we all could find ownership in this massive endeavor.  We are all a part of something special, something big and it is exciting!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

 

IMG_1727It had been a very long weekend.  A group of five churches had been in a long time planning for a Missions Conference and they invited me to be one of their speakers. I was very pleased to accept their invitation.

I would speak four times.  Once on Friday night, once Saturday morning and then two different times on Sunday morning.  Of course this much speaking in a compact span of time called for some advanced preparation.

There is a full-time job that keeps me occupied during the week.  My speaking on weekends is part of my job.  This  means long days, tiring hours and bleary-eyed moments.

The first speaking session was an hour-long.  The conferees were very responsive.  They stayed with me the entire session.  It was very gratifying.

Then, Saturday morning came early.  My commute to this first venue was nearly an hour.  There is no direct route and traffic was merciless.

Once the Saturday session was over, we drove home and I immediately began studying for Sunday morning.  I would be speaking two different messages.  They would be back-to-back separated by a mere 10 minute break.

This marathon speaking session would be in a different venue.  It was an hour’s drive away from our home but in a different direction.  Saturday night went late as I wrapped some intense studying.  Sunday morning I was up early doing a final preparation.

After the two speaking sessions I was visiting with many people.  I sat down exhausted.  Looking over my options we could have easily gone home.  Instead, we made it to our home church in time for the 5:30 PM service.

Some would have said that it was overkill after our long and busy weekend.  We looked at it differently.  We love our new church and our new pastor.  It is a privilege to go to worship and be refreshed and learn from his challenge from the Word of God.

The worship refreshed me.  I was afraid that I was so tired that I would drift off during the service.  God gave great stimulation, raptured me in worship and challenged me with the Word from Pastor Gregg’s preaching.

In my weariness I sensed the joy of worship.  I sang from deep in my soul.  Before I was spent.  I could not give any more.  Now it was time to let our amazing worship team and pastor fill my empty reservoirs.  They led me to the throne for renewal.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

York, Pennsylvania is a place to watch.  My plane landed in Baltimore Washington International.  It was a three-hour flight after an hour drive from my home in Katy, Texas.

This was a trip that I tagged on right after returning from a trip to San Francisco the night before.  Preaching is an honor that comes with a divine calling to ministry.  No, the money is not the reason for this busy life, of that I can assure you.

But, when there is a divine call, it is Heaven’s agenda that must be acknowledged.  It isn’t scary.  In fact is a thing of wonderous beauty.

Thank about it.  How can you get over 1,000 Pennsylvanians to agree on one thing together?  Most would never take on that kind of challenge.  It has to be something close to a miracle.

But, to be fair, when over 1,000 Pennsylvanians have a common need, there is a potential for a supernatural event.  This group needed a new pastor.  One pastor was free to answer the call.

A pastoral search is not a simple task.  Usually a search committee compiles opinions and shape a profile together.  Then, they set out on a journey to gather potential names that match that profile. 

When there are some hits, a conversation begins.  Some of these interchanges end early.  Others linger longer.

Eventually, there is one that all believe is promising.  Dialogues ensue.  There is growing depth with each new step that is taken together.

I talked with several on this search committee.  They told me that they entered their interviews with a battery of questions.  But, before they could ask them, Mike, answered them all in his informal conversation with them.

After that discovery, Mike continued talking.  He was ministering to the lives of these on the committee.  It was a touching moment.  Tears testified to this connection.

One by one, family by family and committee by committee could sense a union was forming.  It wasn’t a matter of voting but recognizing a shepherd whose voice was easy to recognize by those in the church family.  Mike and his family sensed the same blending of hearts and souls together.

I was graciously introduced to deliver the Sunday message of the installation service.  Everyone was expectant.  Speaking to a gathering like that is a treat. 

The smiles abounded.  Hope overflowed.  Love marked this assembly of Christ-followers.  It is a match made in heaven.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

 

IMG_1284On Thursday I left the office early.  Travel back home then back into town necessitated it.  We had an appointment for the evening that we did not want to miss.

A new friend had invited us to the Christmas program as the church that he called home.  We were curious.  Both my bride and I love this time of year; who doesn’t love Christmas?

Our expectations were totally dismantled.  We have never experienced anything like this.  The program engulfed us.

IMG_1291The house lights dimmed and then colors, music, action exploded on the stage, in the aisles, on the walls and above from the ceiling.  Anchoring the music was the choir.  It was full, powerful, full-ranging and lifted the audience to heights rivaling the best of theatrical performances.

But, something else added to the evening.  The story, the simple story, the real story, the eternal story, the personal story of Christmas was unfolded.  Here the Bible underpinned something spectacular for all but most importantly for each individual who would listen and believe.

IMG_1290Isaiah’s words came from the prophet in word and song.  It was both haunting and hopeful.  Powerful and personal that part of the Christmas story resonated deeply in my spirit.

Fulfilling the words of his prophecy, history unfolded with the birth of the Savior, the very Son of God.  Simeon’s exclamation of his hope fulfilled was so clear.  Shepherds, angels, live sheep, a live donkey added to the remarkable testimony.

Christmas was relived and experienced in real-time.  I could not just see it but feel it, sense it and live it.  The floor vibrated, the air was filled with sound and fragrance.

The Magi from the East came.  Their entourage was resplendent.  Besides the rich wardrobe of nations from exotic IMG_1307realms came the star of the show, an elephant, a real elephant.

It walked royally down the aisle that we had used to get to our seats.  The gasps in the audience were in unison.  This cast member was both stunning and fun.

But, Christmas is just the beginning of the story.  This program kept the historic episodes flowing.  Everything pointed to the most important climax of Easter.

IMG_1321Our Savior died for our sins and rose again to offer us eternal life.  The resurrection was spectacular on stage and certainly in history and for all eternity.  To see this depicted on the stage was sensational.

But, entertainment was not the end of the performance.  Every detail was amazing but the invitation summed it all the best.  Pastor Gregg Matte walked up to the stage with his engaging spirit and highlighted the key part of faith in the Savior. 

He invited all who wanted the true Christmas story to personally be theirs.  We all prayed.  Eternities were changed that night.  It was not just a brilliant performance, it was an eternally impactful experience.  Merry Christmas!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

A great country is always a generous country.  The USA is still a great county.  Naturally, our nation’s greatness is also bountifully sharing with generosity.

Every year the USA brings into our borders 80,000 refugees.  These are people in danger of their very lives from oppression that raises its ugly head all around the world.  Uncle Sam snatches these thousands from the jaws of death and finds homes for them in the Land of the Free.

Texas does a brilliant job of integrating new guests more economically efficient than any other state in the Union.  Houston is a benefitting city for these lives that treasure freedom, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

One young man was rescued from certain death came to our shores determined to make a difference with his new life.  He prayed that God would allow him to start and pastor a new church for many of his countrymen who were also fleeing treachery in their home country.  Providentially, the LORD answered his prayer in a way that has touched many lives.

An apartment complex is filled with 250 families, many from this new immigrant’s own country.  The owners of the complex have been generous, allowing two apartments rearranged into one.  They allowed the dividing wall to be removed, making a larger space for a church.

Each Sunday people come.  Crowds fill the enlarged apartment.  Still more come.  The patio is filled too.  No one has chairs.  Instead, they sit on mats or stand for the entire service.

More people come.  They keep coming.  Now, people overflow the yard, spread across the walkway and stand under the trees in the yard.

But, Sunday isn’t this young pastor’s only activity.  During the week he is ministering to people.  When he finds new contacts, he wins their trust and serves their needs and spiritual interests.

Since he arrived on the shores of Texas not that long ago, over 75 have accepted Christ as their personal Savior.  He is an effective evangelist as well as caring pastor.

His life is deeply fulfilled through his service.  Our nation is enriched because of the Almighty is doing through this single servant of eternity.  Texas is blessed to have him and many lives who are learning to love this adopted nation where they are making a new life from their second chance.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

My bride and I are new to town.  We have been here for a month and are still trying to find our way around, locate stores and get our bearings straight.  There are more things that need to be done than there are things that have been done.

Scheduling all of the necessities just takes time.  The calendar manages those.  Availability of vendors is another.

But, the spirit of adventure sometimes loses the energy needed to keep pushing forward.  That’s when something special reenergizes the human soul.  It’s called hospitality.

A local pastor sent me an invitation.  He and a number of other pastors wanted to take the two of us out to dinner.  It was a welcome to Houston meal.

This would be our second hospitality dinner from locals.  David and Rachel got to us first.  We were blessed.

The pastor sent us the directions and we confirmed the day.  He even suggested a preliminary menu selection for us.  I was getting hungry.

We had heard that so much of Houston was dominated by Taiwanese cuisine.  That is new to us.  During our San Francisco forays into local offerings, we were introduced to food with that distinctive flavor and presentation. 

Our familiar foods are Cantonese.  There the flavors, aromas and dishes are favorites from childhood days.  Comfort emerges from what I remember as a youngster.

The pastors did a little research.  They read my blogs and determined to introduce us to a Cantonese restaurant.  We were looking forward to our meal with them.

When we were seated, the introductions crowded the waiter’s time.  He was waiting to take our order even while we kept standing to talk with one another.  The fellowship was excellent.

Even in the middle of conversation the food was delivered.  Perfect food choices with the right eye appeal that was as spectacular as the aromas wafting around our table for ten.  It was easy to let the eye take in the presentation before the taste buds had a chance to send happy signals to the brain.

One of the first dishes was a delicately fried fish.  It was shaped to cradle a wonderful medley of vegetables and seafood.  No doubt, it tasted even better than it looked. 

The  entire evening came to an end.  But, the friendships that were forged that night are destined to be the beginning of a lifetime of friendships.  We intend to impact eternity together.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

Shopping for a house was a big deal.  We had a real estate team of three doing the advance search for us.  They were busy, highly productive, professional and produced swift results.

We didn’t need to shop for a bank.  Our California money-guys were big enough that it was well represented in branches throughout Houston and our new home town of Katy.  Once the tellers realized that we were new to town they were very welcoming and accommodating to our needs.

Nor did we have to shop for a new Pharmacy.  Again we have an account with a company large enough to be in many places around town.  The closest shop to our new home is even a 24 hour branch.  Now, that’s convenient.

But, the hardest necessity in life for us to decide upon is a new home church.  This has never been an easy choice.  It is already proving to be difficult for us.

Our “must haves” isn’t long.  It must uphold the Scriptures doctrinal soundness and expository preaching.  We love to have vibrant worship.  Finally, we want to find that the Spirit is actively present in the fellowship of diverse believers.

So far we have visited five churches.  It is amazing how much you can tell about a church when you visit just one time.  No, it’s much more than judging a book by its cover.

Churches are full of people.  After a time the people take on the ambiance of the church.  You can tell if the service is vibrant, if the people are friendly, whether or not a spirit of joy or negativity is prominent, shake the hand of the leaders will tell you a lot, watch if the leader is interested or just perfunctory, sometimes people are too aggressive, worship is a telling sign and of course so is the preaching.

We aren’t into anything too formal.  Relaxed makes sense to us.  Here it is hot in Houston, so expectations of dress are very noticeable to all guests.

Attitude is everything, isn’t it?  People who are warm and loving are wonderful.  Friendly people are a delight. 

So many churches have been wonderful.  We have enjoyed our search.  Almost every place we have thought that a return visit would be worth the effort.

God must be smiling down on the local gatherings of His people in this city.  They are doing a fabulous job of representing Him.  We haven’t found where He is leading us yet, but it will happen soon.

An invitation came my way to speak at a national conference in Spartanburg, SC.  I was honored to have been asked.  So, I prepared and made the long journey across the vast distance of our splendid country.

My hosts brought me to the venue.  The church was stunning.  It was a beautifully designed, spacious and easy to find your way around.

Then, I stepped into the auditorium where I would be speaking.  Wow!  This place is huge!

Those who brought me said that this facility has the capacity of 5,000.  That is a lot of people for a church.  People in South Carolina are serious about their lives of faith.

Of course the challenge is to operate a “volunteer” organization and keep everyone involved.  It is too easy to hide in big churches.  People can get lost in the crowd. 

Some times people want to remain anonymous.  Something keeps them from jumping in and getting into smaller groups to serve and express their faith.  But, at least they come.

What is really special about all of the believers who attend this church share a connection with all believers every where.  There is no doubt that everyone who is a part of this fellowship gives God the glory for this wonderful facility.  Their trust in God is the same God that I trust.

Yes, we are connected.  We are family.  Together we are working in the same vineyard, just at different parts.

When the church is seen in all of its various parts, the big picture is very impressive.  There is no competitiveness.  Comparatives are not pertinent.

Rather, we are united in Christ and one in His Spirit.  We rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.  God is not stressed as He distributes blessings according to His riches in heaven.

“Together” is an amazing word.  It is more than an emotional expression.  This speaks of something way beyond a dismissive wave of the hand. 

Instead, this is a value that is treasured by all who have been born again.  It comforts all.  There is a generous reservoir of mercy that will never run dry. 

Enjoy the immensity of the body of Christ.  Then, tell others how to enter it.  Spread the good news and the Spirit will make the harvest of shared joy a spectacular celebration for us all.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

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