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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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We loathe hurtful people.  We have a particular distaste remembering when hurtful people turn their hate on us.  What normal humans relish in being reviled?

Maybe for you it was during a family gathering and the whispering started when you walked into the house.  Small groups of people stopped their conversation.  Some stared at you with that smile of mockery.

Or perhaps it was at the office.  Across the way near the water cooler three co-workers were whispering as they stole a glance or two in your direction.  When you stared back they acted as if nothing was happening.

Worse yet, possibly it was at church when you were tortured with piercing words.  They made you the victim of their gossip.  To top it off they had the audacity to consider themselves and their fellow slanders the righteous ones.

Anyone who has led or anyone who has tried to accomplish anything knows what it is like to have a chunk of their heart torn out by those who practice hate.

What if that pain in your past could be removed as if it never happened?  If a wave of a hand could make it all disappear, scars and all?  Jesus did that for us when He died on the cross.

We needed miracle in our lives.  The pain was so excruciating that we sinned in response.  We traded insult for insult.

Now, tired and weary of the pain we looked for redemption.  Jesus gives it to us through His sacrifice on the cross.  The guilt and pain are placed on Jesus.

He takes it all and pays the price to get rid of it all forever.  Do you feel the relief?  But, there is more!

He not only made our hurt from others disappear it was so powerful He took away the act of the gossips go away too.  All of the world’s sins were taken on by Jesus on to Himself as He died on the cross for them all.  That is a good sacrifice.  That is why the Friday commemorating Jesus’ death is called Good.

While the Savior hung on the cross, people mocked him.  They spit on him.  They threw things at him.  He felt the hate for us.

He was beaten with angry hands.  A whip tore his flesh.  Worst of all the Father abandoned him because that was the price of sin.  He felt all this for us.

The darkness of separation from the Father did not last for the Son.  It was over.  Jesus declared, “It is finished!”  Good words on our Good Friday.

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?

The drive from the South area of Bangkok to the North area where our hotel is situated is a long drive.  That lengthy commute is extended when it is rush hour traffic.  But, the views are sensational and leave an indelible impression on my soul.

Mid-rise dwellings abound in Bangkok.  These small uniform apartments collect human beings in family units throughout the landscape of this beautiful country.  I will meet very few of these people face to face.

When our commute took us off of the tollways system and plunged us into the streets of the city, faces attached themselves to the masses of this countries millions.  The Thai people are famous world-wide for their cheerful smiles and clasped hands and bowed head.  There were countless people sharing that interchange along our route.

Yet, I would know very few of their names.  I would know less about their lives.  Even less would ever cross my path as a friend.

Millions of people scurried about, shopping, eating, commuting, conversing and laughing. Some were making a living selling, cooking, driving, delivering, guarding, guiding and an endless list of other activities of a city.   How many human brains would it take to know each one and follow each of their lives?

Yes, that’s definitely an impossible human task.  Yet, it gave me a chance to realize how BIG God is.  He knows all of their names.

Not only does God know each of their names, He knows each of their lives.  There are no overlooked issues.  Even the smallest of details of all of our lives are known by God.

He doesn’t stress over an overload of information.  He is never threatened by a limit of His knowledge.  Nor does He become so busy that He doesn’t have time for us.

The God of the Bible is the God who is not just attentive to our needs, He is fully engaged in inviting us to be in His family.  He makes that possible through His Son’s sacrifice on the cross.  Jesus died for everyone without exception.

Do you feel left out?  Are you overwhelmed with matters of life?  Has life become so troubled that you feel forgotten and ready to give up?

God loves you.  He knows every detail about your life and circumstances.  Not only is He aware of your situation, He controls all of them as well.  Turn to Him in faith; it will be the best decision you have ever made.

 

 

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_1426We were created to live according to a cycle of work that takes a break from the daily routine and then rests.  God designed creation to function with a Sabbath rest included in our weekly routine.  There is no legalistic basis to rigidly observe a specific day of rest any longer but the principle of a day of rest has never been rescinded in the Bible.

My calendar is typically very full.  My normal work week starts early and ends late.  A two digit-hour work day is more usual than not.

Most of my colleagues rarely see my routine.  I will pass multiple shifts in a single day.  Often when I see them, I simply flash them a smile.

My years on this earth have taught me a lot about myself.  I can actually feel the need to find a respite.  An urgency of the soul whispers that I must look for a break and get away.

Once I scheduled time-off in my calendar, I guard it.  Just committing to an appointment gives me the final measure of endurance to finish my schedule.  Then on the appointed day I am packed and off to a destination to rejuvenate my soul.

The morning of my single day of revival began long before the sun came up.  All of my gear was stowed where I could retrieve anything that I would need for my day of solitude.  At a rendezvous point, I met my guide.

Robert pointed me to my destination.  He gave me the lay of the land.  Now, I could hike and roam and explore what the Creator had left for us to enjoy.

The sunrise was glorious.  It was like coming alive after a long and arduous workout.  Relief was welcoming like releasing the barbell at the end of a rigorous training session.

Our sun lit up the woods where I wandered.  Green grass, healthy trees and a backdrop of an endless sky with crystalized clouds surrounded me like a canopy easily designed by His creative finger. A natural smile erupts on my face while I pause from my hiking and take in expanse, beauty and wonder of His creation.

If you haven’t been in the habit of working hard for six days and then resting or doing something enjoyable for a seventh, then give it a try.  After a while the rhythm of life will make you far more productive and deeply appreciative of the life you live. Really!

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_1402We have guests coming to our home soon.  All of us are getting into the Christmas spirit.  Our fault and staff along with their families are converging on our home to celebrate this very precious season commemorating our Savior’s birth.

My wife and I are incredibly busy so neither of us can wait until the last minute to decorate and set up to entertain our nearly 40 guests.  Days in advance I have mapped out the errands that need attention.  Each day I knock off a chunk of that list.

High on that to-do schedule is setting up the Christmas tree.  It is a long-process.  Yet, without the tree everyone would know that something is missing.

Over a week ago I was in the closet pulling out from storage our decorations.  The tree was in a box.  That tree has been set up and taken down in three different states of the Union.

Each time it has been surrounded by joy and cheer.  It is a part of this favorite time of year.  So many symbols and memories and reminders of the reason for the season is represented on this central decoration.

I fluffed up each of the branches.  Once the tree was presentable I decked it with a multi-colored string of lights.  The lights were tested and approved.

The garland added color and sparkle.  Ornaments made us reminisce over the years of happiness and great memories that have passed by.  Special people, amazing moments and deepening love are all a part of what those ornaments point to.

Of course the tree topper is a climax.  Over the years we have had different tops to finish off our tree.  But, we often favor the Precious Moments angel.  She smiles down on all of our guests as they fill our home with more laughter, cheer and memories.

Love is a big deal this time of year.  Sure, it takes a lot of planning and effort.  But, that is all lost when I stand back, turn off the lights in the house and turn on the lights of the Christmas tree.

A moment of pause fills my spirit.  Smiles linked with special people ooze into the night.  Our musical clock chimes out a Christmas carol.

Love dominates the moment.  Family and the devotion of treasured ones rises to the surface of life.  Warm embraces will soon come.  It is all about love from family and friends so close they are family.

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

11178203_10152408615652614_555981716271583104_nWe are an extension campus.  Our Dallas campus is the headquarters of this amazing ministry.  Yet, our Houston operation is growing by leaps and bounds.

We have 34 graduates this year.  They are mostly local to the great city of Houston and its surrounding region.  Most of their friends and family will have a tough time making the journey to Dallas to celebrate their commencement achievements.

To give local family and friends the chance to be a part of this substantial celebration, our extension campus has a Graduation Chapel one week prior to the central festivities up north.  We honor each graduate with a brief description of what their plans and destination is after they receive their sheep skin.  We fill the chapel service with great worship, intimate prayer, laughter, memories and special recognition of those who stood out with academic and service demonstrations.

I scanned the crowd many times during this chapel service.  The smiles were a mile wide and the tears were free-flowing.  Trying to imagine all of the answered prayers for the many years represented by these graduates is mind-blowing.

Photographs with special people were endless.  The four sheet cakes disappeared as the party spread into the foyer.  Guests drank sweet punch, returned endless times for refreshing chilled water and stopped many times along their course of walking to congratulate and exchange hugs with fellow classmates.

Previous graduates returned to cheer on their friends.  Current students marveled and told me that they had something even more to anticipate.  Relatives were overcome with the joy of reaching this end.

Children were laughing with their parents.  One mom told me that she was rehearsing her Hebrew vocabulary flash cards while in labor for the little one that she hugged next to her leg.  Life and success cannot get much more precious than this.

photo 4Gratitude is over the top on this event.  Conversations about calling, dreams about the ministry to come and deep gratitude of God’s faithfulness were common in the crowd.  With pride I watched out once students now shine as Masters of Theology, Masters of Arts and Over-comers in all sorts of adversities.

Faithful too are the staff and faculty that I am privileged to call “Team Houston”.  They are selfless, persevering and godly men and women who live to serve others.  Here on a Saturday, they are going above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that these graduates always remember this day.

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

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