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mrB4PXHJQn2p3WjskrVNyAThe weather could not have been more perfect. In the Northwest, when it is not raining, you hold your breath and wonder what the weather is about to do. That day, however, it was an ideal balance of sun, warmth, and breeze; yes, perfect.

Business took me back to my alma mater. I showed up early. It was the perfect scenario for a stroll down memory lane. New buildings stood in places where I only knew woods in the past. But, the old structures that housed my early days as a collegiate were still standing, sporting fresh paint, and reorganized walls.

PV101 is the corner classroom where I was trained in my theology. My systematics were formed right here. This is where it had its genesis. OPPdv4mKTB6u51N+TKkKYQ

Then, there was life in the dormitory. Great friendships that lasted a lifetime found adventure, conversation, laughter, wonderment, and fellowship in those halls. Now, the building houses the offices of a growing faculty and modern classrooms.

Naturally, I headed to the overlook that takes in the Vistas of the Willamette Valley. Many nights on a bench afforded me an audience of One. I prayed and asked God to use me, give me the discernment to see that path qaLKMNtaQcOBJqlWyxBwYAhe wanted me to walk, be stirred with courage to face the troubles with faith, and help as many along the way to find their peace with God, embrace the joy of sharing his love, and satisfaction of serving the body of Christ in the church.

Decades later, the iron rail is rusty, the overlook is crumbling, CLOSED signs surround this overlook, keeping visitors from enjoying the stunning landscape.  It evokes memories of many prayers, hopes, and dreams. God has been very good to me through these years and I have been honored to still be in his service.

SoGmUXUCSFWTJk0k3vkucgOne last memory was on my checklist. It is a hallway. In the main administration building, my classmates would find ourselves gathering for the favorite meal of the week. It was Sunday afternoon.

After church we would line the hall waiting for the cafeteria to open. Many of my friends were amazing singers. Someone would start a song and our voices and hearts would fill that hall with sounds of praise. I loved those spontaneous concerts. Memories like that are special when they imprint themselves in my mind. Come to think of it, I can still hear the singing.

photos by brucefong photography

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When Christianity does something right, there is not a lot of coverage. Do something wrong and it is all over the place. There is no shortage of slams and “there they go again” opinions.

This picture is one of the right things done. These are seminary leaders who are higher education leaders in Houston. Several different seminaries are represented. Their doctrinal beliefs have distinctive differences.

Nevertheless, we meet annually to build our friendships and cheer each other on in the name of our common Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We don’t argue theology, we don’t water down our beliefs or convictions. Instead, we eat Texas BBQ and deepen our friendships. That’s allowed.

Advancing our conversation and camaraderie, precludes what is too easily done. We have dispensed with throwing critical stones. It is tough to slander a friend.

Perhaps our quiet and enjoyable fellowship will help our churches and future leaders to engage in the most important of Christian virtues: love. That option is certainly much more invigorating and edifying than other options. Antagonism is left behind. Judgmental attitudes do not get any fuel out of our time together.

Maybe this kind of seminary engagement will not only bring our participants personal satisfaction but also stir the pot of Christians showing the way to be civil, edifying, and compassionate toward one another.

Who knew that Texas BBQ could be the emissary of the Gospel of Jesus. This is good news. Again the Savior shows us how powerful his redeeming work is.

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

We don’t have time to add concerts into our jam-packed calendar. But, we make time. It is worth it.

Getting up close and personal with gifted artists is the focus on experiences that enrich life. There’s no use staying busy if there is no room to enjoy the life that we are living. Just to exist has its merits. But, experiencing life beyond just existing is sensational.

IMG_2700Andrew Petersen came to town. He was our guest artist for our seminar students at DTS-Houston. This was a gift for our hardworking students as a respite in the final semester of the academic year. 

It was a closed-audience concert. We were able to get very close to the performance. None of us left with any disappointment. Rather, we unanimously sensed the satisfaction of an intimate ministry served to our souls.

Peterson wove his personal story into his songs. He interacted with the audience, asking for favorites. His personal banter made this concert extra special. 

Then, Steven Curtis Chapman also came to town. That was an open concert. He took the stage trotting on to an enthusistic ovation. 

Unknown-3His story unfolds in his songs too. What God has taught, provided, and enriched his life were episodes pervasive in his music. All of us laughed, wept, and wondered as he spoke as much as he sang.

On the drive home, my wife and I conversed not just about SCC’s music but even more about his story. We felt the deep challenge. Live music is so effective. Listen and live is the beautiful impact from the stage.

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.

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_0007[1]On August 22, Wednesday from 430PM to 630PM at Houston’s First Baptist Church there will be a Meet the Author gathering in the Fellowship Hall. Many of us who have had the privilege of putting words to paper will look forward to shaking hands, meeting you, signing books, and having some fabulous fellowship. If you are close by, then I hope to see you there.

photo by bruce w. fong photography

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

fullsizeoutput_1ad3Stepping off the carousel of life is risky. Who knew it was spinning fast? The stationary ground grabbed my feet. The abrupt change was startling.  Left knee smashed my right knee. Yeow! That hurt.  I stumbled but with cat-like reflexes, my landing was like sticking an Olympic gymnastics landing.

The spinning world of work, obligations, deadlines, and meetings faded away.  Family and friends came into view.  Our plane landed with a little bounce on the Oakland International Airport tarmac.  My bride and I gathered our belongs and stepped into a busting metropolis that many would find hectic, chaotic, and even unfriendly.  But, we grew up here.  It was familiar.  This was home.

A chance to catch our breaths came at the curb.  Our shuttle to the car rental pickup area was running slowly.  We cashed in on our first chance to run through the schedule.  It was like looking at our work planners.  There was tons to do just like our careers back in Houston.  The activities were just different.

Old friends from decades long ago were part of our Christmas season.  Relatives on the other side of the family were on our calendar.  Each evening we rehearsed where we would be the next day.  Soon we couldn’t remember where we had been or who we had seen.  Now, it was just about who we would see the next day and where we would meet them.

It was sheer fun!  Old friends had eyes that had not changed over the decades past.  Their smiles were filled with eagerness to share.  After all we had tons of moments to relive together.  Our miles apart had stolen those times to share together.  Introductions needed to be made.  Children and old friends needed their lives filled in and colorized.  There was an occasional pause when we told of sad news, deaths, or abandonment.  Why does life always have to include pain?

We talked on and on.  Time was no friend to these interchanges.  My watch reminded me that we had to be off to the next gathering.  We smiled. We frowned. We hugged and shook hands.  Promises to keep in touch flowed freely.  Hope made us optimistic.  Maybe this time we would keep those promises.

Old friendships never die. They never stay the same.  Over time life keeps on getting richer and richer.  Miles separate us but friendship keeps us together.

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!”

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