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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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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?

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

 

IMG_1504So many of us have been surprised by the Minions of Despicable fame.  They aren’t even the star character in the Universal Pictures animation movie.  In fact they are extras that have risen to stardom almost by accident.

Now, in toy stores and pictorial renditions of favorite characters, the Minions surpass the original stars of the film.  Felonious Gru was a star but his character doesn’t stick in the memory like his little Minions.  The morphing of the super villain from interstellar thief to nurturing parent is enhanced with the supporting cast of innumerable minions.

Margo, Edith and Agnes are adorable.  While I was watching the story, I wanted to adopt those three wee ones! But, there was something about those Minions.

Vector was the ideal villain of villains.  He was dastardly.  You didn’t like him.

It felt good to root against him.  When he succeeded it was disappointing.  His achievements made you cheer on Gru!  But, still there were the Minions.

Didn’t those little guys make you smile?  Their jabbering made you chuckle.  Sometimes laughing out loud was just the right response.

The first time I saw them on the screen, I they reminded me of Hostess Twinkie.  Since then I haven’t met a soul who thought the same thing.  Oh well, maybe I’m a little out of touch.

There’s something about characters who make you react the way we do.  Real humans could pay attention to a life truth here.  Too many people miss this.

In each of our lives we will influence other people.  Those people will rarely remember the words we speak or the deeds we do.  However, they will almost always remember how we made them feel.

The same wisdom comes from that ancient adage, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Some of us who are educated beyond our moral capacity to implement that information productively, sometimes forget this truth.  Instead, if we impress others, embarrass others, win arguments at others’ expense, then we feel a measure of satisfaction.

The Minions are a great reminder of just making others feel good because we have come into the lives of others.  Influence people for good.  It is a great way to live.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Houston commute sunriseThere is never a repeat or warm up or left-over sunrise.  Like snowflakes there are never any two that are identical.  Instead, each one is a unique combination, a mysterious blend that spreads the picture around and makes each one tailor-made for that particular day.

This time it was not only the colors that were sensational, it was also the perimeter features that made the sunrise pop out of the horizon. It was not only about the colors but it was also about the clouds in the sky.

Do you see the contrast?  God gives the sky texture.  The clouds are close by but the sunrise is a long way off. The light of the morning is overtaking the clouds that ruled the night.

The world was once shrouded in an uninviting frightening stillness of aloneness, abandonment and anxiety.  But, it is quickly dissipated.  It is diluted to the point where we wonder how we ever were fearful or hopeless.  Life is just like this.

Someone may have hurt you deeply.  Your sorrow was unrelenting and excruciating.  Inside you were about ready to give up.

Yet, something gnawing in your soul urges you to press on.  A light glimmered in your spirit reminding you that God was still there.  When people failed you, God was powerfully present and He chased away the darkness.

Once the light comes you feel rejuvenated.  Courage was restored.  Those who had done their worst were no longer capable of doing any more.

It is time.  Get up.  Dust yourself off.  Wipe away your tears.  Leave those who have done evil behind.

God is not finished with you yet.  The truth has kept you buoyed up and now that the night has expired you are still standing. Yes, there will be other tough moments in life.  God has told us that trials will come.  They are designed for correction or edification.  Maybe there will be a little of each.

Whichever the case God does not hurt for pain’s sake.  He is ready to lift you up and carry you along. God is about blessing not hurt.

When my day starts and a gorgeous sunrise greets my commute into the office, I receive it a testimony of God’s greatness personalized just for me.  You can do the same.  Every sunrise is new, different and big enough for all who will accept it.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_5318Word of my friend Michael’s passing still makes me shake.  It was a total shock and surprise.  Someone so special in my life now gone.

For some reason I thought that I could reflect on that life-change for at least a little while.  Yet, life as meted out by the Great Administrator does not always coincide with human assumptions.  Instead, more friends are spending massive amounts of time in the examination room as doctors poke and prod.

An email alert came from Becky.  One of my buddies, her husband, and I have shared many moments in the woods open to whatever the wonderful world of the wilds had in store for us.  Hiking, gazing and exploring were filled with conversation and laughing.

Richard was in and out of the hospital.  Doctors could not figure out what was not right.  Yet, Richard knew something was off kilter.

We play tag on email as he keeps me up-to-date with the latest medical guess.  He is in pain.  Something is wrong and we are praying that the wonderful world of medicine can figure it out.

Then, another email flashed across my screen.  Frank was in the hospital.  I picked up my phone and gave the hospital a call.

Frank laughed, “Yep, I am in the hospital.  I had a few strokes last year and led to a visit to the doctor.
“THREE strokes? Doctor? Like are you for real?”
“Yeah, now the doctors tell me I need a quadruple bypass.”
“Good grief! Dude, you sure know how to surprise your friends.”
“Ha. I told Cindy to trade me in for an upgraded model.  She told me she was happy with what she has.  Cool, eh?”

The telephone visit was brief but encouraging all the way around.  Friendship among guys is like that.  There was no denial, no worries, no whining.

Another email alert raced across my screen.  This time it was Duane.  He was in the hospital.

I picked up the phone and called him.  He just got to the hospital that very morning.  His internist had been treating him for pneumonia but the treatment was not making Duane feel any better.

When the antibiotic schedule was done, Duane went in to see his doctor.  The stethoscope told a very different story.  Immediately, the doctor admitted Duane into the hospital.

Duane needed a new heart valve.  Yikes! My friends are hurting.  I am praying for them, texting them and hoping that next week all will be better, much better.

photo credit: brucefong photography

FullSizeRenderThree years ago I made this same flight. It was exciting then and exciting now to anticipate hanging out with great friends. There is something extraordinarily special about friendships that defy the test of time.

The last time we gathered to tell stories, laugh heartily, eat voraciously and tease mercilessly I was taking a break from a fabulous but rigorous work in San Francisco. This time I was snatching a respite from the fast-paced quickly-growing ministry in Houston.

As miles passed behind me, I could feel my spirit unplugging while the turbo prop plane flew over the night light lit skies of Laramie, Wyoming. Not even a dozen travelers disembarked the aircraft to be greeted by family and friends. One other couple waited with me outside of the airport terminal, laughing that this was the first time any of us had closed an airport.

My buddy drove up in the official Western rig of the outdoor world, a pick-up truck. We were all smiles and in constant conversation on the drve back to his cabin. I had experienced amazing Wilson hospitality many times in the past and knew that I was in for a treat.

Those who cheerfully serve others are less and less common. To make friends feel at home and enjoy a time away from busy responsibilities is a gift. Ron and Roxanne are very gifted at it.

When I walked into their cabin the conversation that filled the room with laughter and cheer paused with a welcome that warmed my heart. An addition was coming. Friendship among the guys is not real unless it is peppered with merciless teasing and revisions made on our past historical exploits and mistakes in the most exaggerated style.

Years had separated us. There were very rare telephone calls, occasional text messages, sparse e-mail and a Christmas card may have been exchanged. Nevertheless, real friendship picks up where it left off.

Friendships would deepen during the next several days of our reunion. We caught up on old news. Most news we laughed through but some we listened with soberness when life was at risk and trouble was lurking.

Good friends enjoy life better because of whom they have a chance to share it. When the atmosphere of joy is created through the wonderful mechanism of hospitality, something supernatural happens. Joy expresses itself with fellowship that can withstand the test of another set of years apart.

Thanks, Ron and Roxanne. You used the wonder of hospitality just as God showers blessing on those whom He loves. We who have received your expressions of love are grateful and call you, “Blessed!”

photo credit: brucefong photography

Joshua 23
Part 1 of 6

There are humorous words spoken by people trying to make a career in business. Mistakenly, they were not prophets and guessed wrong on the future of their field. Those in the world of science, technology and music all let words fly. Later, they would likely have preferred not to be remembered by those attempts at prophecy.

The chairman of a major technology company estimated, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
The President of a major digital equipment company in 1977 declared, “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”
A memo in a major communications company in 1876 concluded, “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.”
An Ivy League professor in management responded to a paper by Fred Smith, eventual founder of FedEx, on a reliable overnight delivery service, “The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C,’ the idea must be feasible.”
A major recording studio rejected a contract with the Beatles in 1962 concluding, “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.”

More remarkable are the words of important leaders who speak memorable words. Joshua’s words are memorable and are captured in the last two chapters of the book bearing his name. Chapter 23 records the words Joshua speaks to Israel’s leaders. Chapter 24 records the similar words Joshua speaks to the people in general.
More later…

Dec 2013 031Everyone in this country is wearing a smile or a frown.  Those who voted for the guy who won are elated.  But, surely everyone must also recognize that there are a lot of Americans who voted for the other guy.

Nearly every sports event that we watch or participate in with all of our energy has both supporters for one side or the other.  No one really enters an athletic event and hopes that their team loses.  Competing is about winning not losing.

Yet losing is an essential by-product of competition.  Think about the other half for just a few moments.  No matter what the event there exists the objective to rally ALL the participants into one unified group in order to move forward and make strides together.

One step toward this objective is for each person to adopt a post-competition perspective.  It is easy on one level.  But, on another level it is very difficult.

Here is the Biblical strategy: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12.15) The last half is easier.  When someone is overwhelmed and beaten down, we can show mercy and encourage them.

The first part to celebrate with someone when they are rejoicing is tougher.  Usually that means we have lost.  Our team came up short, our vote was not added with the winner or our opinion will no longer be germane to the future discussion.

The disposition for those who win and those who lose needs to shift.  Of course the winner enjoys a time of celebration. It comes with the territory.  All of us enjoy those moments.

At the same time when we lose and we all will lose some time in something, need to shift as well.  For a time we will be sad, mourn and even sort out our feelings in solitude.  None of us like those times but we have all experienced them.

If we can learn those dynamics in something as simple as sport, then perhaps we can bring those same feelings to real life moments.  It is too bad that our human spirit crowds out the possibility of experiencing something supernatural.  Our personal bias gets in the way.

When someone we do not like gets a blessing we do not feel like rejoicing with them.  Instead, we are annoyed.  If we had our way that person would be hurt instead of helped.  That is sadly our sinful nature expressing itself.  Leave the natural reaction aside and try the supernatural option instead: rejoice with those who rejoice.

photo credit: kristin  photography

 

Our drive up north is becoming a familiar journey.  Every other month I schedule a trip from Houston to Dallas.  A face to face with key personnel is a small price to invest in our ongoing communication with the mother ship.

Dallas Seminary is branching out.  It has several locations around the nation and overseas.  I have the privilege to serve in the Houston Campus.

Part of my long list of responsibilities is to give oversight to the educational endeavors of our fine institution in the fastest growing city in the USA.  Emails, text messages, Skyping and phone calls are countless.  But, nothing beats 30 minutes of smiles, conversation, immediate feedback and details of initiatives with instant approvals.

Most of the time I drive up from our megalopolis to this gem in the heart of Texas. It is a four-hour drive compared to the 3.5 hours of commuting, checking in and flying via commercial airlines.  That comparison does not even include getting from the airport to the campus once I arrive in Big D.

When I arrive my credentials and permits get me to a safe parking spot and on to the campus without any delay.  A list of people are on my mind and I head for my first location.  Invariably, I see someone and we stop and talk.

It is the unplanned spontaneous serendipitous meeting in the parking lot, in the foyer, in a walkway or along a stairwell that makes for strategic initiatives.  Ideas are born.  Personalities meld into operational plans.

During the day I am taking notes.  When I end my day, I am at my computer rehearsing ideas, making notes, recording thoughts and linking those thoughts with people.  The future is born out of those providential gatherings.

The sun is now setting.  As I scan the changing hues and marvel at the city lights, the long trip has been worthwhile.  Questions are answered and relationships with key people are deepened.

On my long drive home I will rehearse every one of those discussions.  In my spirit certain thoughts will seal into further plans.  Others will keep the back burners simmering until the time is ripe.

Sixty days will pass before I make my journey north again.  But, by then several initiatives that were discussed today will be in the history books.  I intend to make good ideas into real results in the near future.  Tomorrow is all about today’s conversations.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

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