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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.

 

 

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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.

26788125528_645c2d09b1_n-1It’s another “Christian movie.” Uh, oh…is that the “kiss of death”? Descent story with horrible acting, confusing complicated  back-stories, odd-ball mini-sermons, low-budget directing, even budget-driven minimal talent on the camera-work unfortunately have been common features of the Christian movie scene for generations. This movie, “I Can Only Imagine,” was very different from those previous religious offerings.

The song has captivated a massive audience since its debut. That fan base was primed for a successful run on the silver screen. Many Christians are cheering on the effort to produce quality movies for this entertainment industry and with this submission were hopeful for something much better.

The true story of Bart Millard’s composition is the backbone of this dramatic presentation. His life story with an abusive father is the riveting narrative that makes this movie so appealing. This movie delivers.

In a memorable dialogue, Bart reveals that it took on ten minutes to write the lyrics and another ten to write the music. Yet, those around him correct him saying that it didn’t take a matter of minutes, it took a lifetime.

Excellent theatrical performance was turned in by Dennis Quaid. He played Bart’s father. Those moments of anger, domination, and abuse were realistic, believable, and heart-wrenching at the same time.

How Bart managed to live through those dark days and discover a passion in life was marked by special people in his life. Some friends, some teachers, and some pastors all had a part in weaving a tapestry that paved the way for the composition of music that would touch millions around the world.

The world of music and the dream to make a living at it is not kind to those who attempt to make that climb into rarefied air. This film makes you feel the details of that “Mercy Me” discouraging journey. Yet, God’s amazing grace through special people is an astounding story to behold.

Forgiveness and the love that paves the way for it to germinate and grow is the message of this film. Through this powerful story you open your memories of your own father, your past struggles through forgiveness, seeing the faces of those who hurt you, and the wonder of God’s grace through it all.

If you go, remember and bring some tissue with you. There must be a lot of dust in the theater that makes your eyes water. That’s so annoying when you are experiencing a solid movie.

 

 

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.

24129915_10154330375522614_4886734873588727424_nThe detour from our normal carpool route home was not much trouble at all.  It gave us a respite from the stressful torrential traffic escaping downtown Houston and flowing like an endless flood to our home in Katy.  My momentary duty was simply to serve my wonderful bride of 40+ years.

A second grade teacher is always on the look out for “stuff” to enhance the learning experience of these little tykes.  Colleagues are constantly sharing discoveries that bring vivaciousness into the classroom. Then it’s off to discover where to acquire the props, visuals, and inter-actives for my lifelong educator soul-mate.

We found the store.  It was still open.  The Texas cool breeze was kicking up.  I zipped up. Then, I opened the car door for my wife.  He arm slipped around mine. We huddled against the cooler temperatures and trotted into the store.

She as on casual exploration.  Like many teachers, she was into browsing not only for her objective but also ready to pounce on any other curiosity along the way.  I was content.  That night I was just the chauffeur.

Wandering the aisles was just a time-filler.  When I fancied a longer look at something, I did. Often I would just stroll the aisles.  The SALE sign, however, drew me close.  I didn’t make it that far.

A smile arrested my attention. Automatically, I stopped and turned my head.  It wasn’t a mistake.  I smiled back.

With gentle hands, I lifted that creature up close to my face. It was the most adorable puppy in the world.  Carefully, I turned him around and around.  Soft, cuddly, and pleasurable.

Of course, the price tag was missing.  I carried my new friend to a salesperson. How much? Let’s check.  He was no help. I went back to the display counter and found his twin.  The price is the price. Sold!

At the register, the fast-moving clerk paused to hold the puppy and express her feelings, “Awww…” Snapping back into reality, she smiled, complemented our choice, and went back to ringing up our total.

The walk back to the car was my chance. “Here, this little guy is for you.”  I passed the cutest puppy in the world to my bride.  Her look was delight with wonder. “Just-because” I grinned, “Just because.”

That’s what love its.

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!”

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

 

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