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The birth of a new idea is like the spark that sits in a handful of some kind of fire starter. You see the possibility. You’re shivering in the cold. The temperatures are dropping and you crave the warmth that a fire promises.

Carefully, you cradle the ember and coax it with gentle steady blowing. Slowly tendrils of smoke rise. The spark grows brighter.

Hope for a real fire to warm chilling bones emerges. Your anxious body begins to relax. Small strokes of heat from the newly born fire lick your face. Eagerly, you place the crackling fire into the waiting pile of sticks and gathered wood.

Not long ago an idea for the church came to us at DTS-Houston like a spark that promised a fire. Concerned believers gathered to address a problem. Chinese churches in the USA are facing a major crisis. Up to half of the pastors of Chinese language churches in America have pastors closing in on retirement. Who will fill those pulpits?

But, it’s not just the coming hole of pastoral roles that is looming on the horizon. There is also a vast number of amazing church members with a deep hunger for the Word of God. Every pastor loves having a large portion of these spiritually mature and growing saints in their congregations.

Several conversations ensued about both of these streams of people. Beyond merely a cavalcade of words. real action resulted from these meetings. Most notably, money was donated and scholarships were funded. Parameters for qualifications were designed. It was time to get the word out.

Here at DTS-Houston, pastors from a number of Houston area Chinese churches came. From as far away as College Station and Austin they arrived. After a sumptuous meal we prayed, introduced ourselves, and listened to an amazing presentation of scholarship opportunities for new students.

Qualified students who are accepted at DTS-Houston could apply for several scholarships. If they are preparing for pastoral ministry or desiring to increase their knowledge of Bible and Theology then we have a path for them. As well, if someone knows that God has not called to professional ministry but they are eager to advance their knowledge and skills for lay ministry, then was also have a path for them.

Our prayer is that the pool of generous resources that has been given for DTS students can find a great match with eager students to impact the local church for God’s glory. The gathering of key pastors in the greater Houston area was wonderful.

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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.

 

 

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.

 

 

IMG_1337It’s a Friday recognized around the nation. In fact this particular Friday is recognized around the world. Nations with very different cultures, certainly with language variations, and economic mixes all acknowledge this special Friday.

Commonly people note that this unique Friday is named, “Good Friday.”

To the uninitiated it is the day that commemorates the day when Jesus Christ died on the cross. He did that so that he could be the sacrifice for the sins of all people at any time. Jesus was not guilty of anything; He had no sin himself.

Yet, the people who lived and ever lived all had sin. Without exception every one is a sinner. That spiritual malady has a consequence. The Bible is clear that “the wages of sin is death”.

Sin disqualifies us from ever entering into the presence of the Father in heaven. To do so means that the price of sin has to be satisfied. Jesus willingly did that for all.

Jesus is the Son of God. He is perfect, sinless. As the perfect lamb, he gave up his life so that our sins would then be paid in full.

He frees us from ever thinking or trying to do good deeds on our own, hoping that those works will earn our way into heaven. Now, if this is true, then what a relief it is! That sacrifice is astounding!

Before you get too excited, however, this is not automatically applied to your eternal account. There is a single simple requisite for us. Each of us, personally, must exercise our faith and accept the gift of Jesus Christ.

The horrible death he died on the cross for the sins of the world was an expression of selfless love. That part of his experience was not “good”. In fact it was horrible, an ignominious death.

However, the fact that it was a gift of love for all, leading to eternal life for any and all who believe, that is what is GOOD. Have you accepted that amazing gift? You can.

Sincerely believe that Jesus died for your sins. Also, accept the fact that he rose again from the dead when the Father directed him to do. Thank him for your salvation.

That is why this day is good. It satisfies God’s wrath against sin. New life through the Resurrection climaxes the Easter season. He is Risen! He is risen INDEED!

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!”

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

Joshua 15-17
Part 6 of 6

This passage of Scripture is about obedience.  When we do what God wants, that is always good.  But, when we fail to complete God’s will that is not good.  Partial obedience is NOT obedience.

When Israel could not remove the Canaanites completely, they subjugated them to serve the Israelites.  That is not what God directed His people to do.  Now, the enemy was living among them with an influence that God never intended His people to have.

God wants His people to assess their abilities and trust Him in total dependence to give us success in our obedience.  He will make possible what we cannot do on our own.  Total obedience is the only obedience that God accepts.

Is there something that you have started for the Lord but have not finished it?  Did you give up too early when a task became too difficult?  Have you been living with the justification that what you have done is “good enough”?

Recall God’s instructions to you.  Pick up the tools and finish what He wanted you to do.  Never quit early.  He will be all you need to accomplish His tasks.

Thanks for joining me on this journey through the Scriptures.

Joshua 15-17
Part 4 of 6

In contrast to Caleb’s securing his borders and expanding his territories, Judah is not as successful. The description for the large tribe is disheartening. Here the Scripture simply says “Judah could not dislodge the Jebusites.”

Some may sympathize and justify Judah’s effort as being their best. Yet, the lingering consequences of this failure impact Israel’s future. Jerusalem as a city is impacted for generations.

The subtle truth is that Judah could not dislodge the enemy. A stubborn enemy is not overcome by our own efforts but how we depend on God to work through us to achieve His objectives. If Judah had come before the Lord and sought His strength instead of depending upon their own strength, the outcome would have been different.

Failure in faith is contagious. What we choose not to do or overlook in our faith efforts discourages others from trying. Remember those who are watching and depending on your initiatives to exemplify faith living.

More later…

Israel 2014 IFL 335There is a narrow road that swing uphill from the Kidron Valley.  The descent from the Walls of Jerusalem are not far behind.  It is natural to look up when the road starts to climb.

The road is narrow and winding.  Modern designers never would have planned the route like this.  It is another indication that today’s roads have simply followed the old roads of the past.

Lining each side of the now paved route are tall stone walls.  You feel penned in.  Yet, the sense of being on the right road is assured by our guide.

Israel 2014 IFL 336Not far along this journey is a gate off to the right.  Many pilgrims are filing in.  The sense of this being a very special place is in the air.

Once inside the gate, our guide gives us quiet instructions to follow the pathway and to speak softly.  People are meditating and this is a sacred site. Those words are just a vanguard of what our spirits have already sensed.

Israel 2014 IFL 338Inside the walls a security fence surrounded the grove of olive trees.  Down the middle gravel pathway stood the largest and apparently the oldest olive tree in the garden.  Its trunk was massive.

Scarred and twisted this old tree was still sprouting shoots into the sky that were dressed in new leaves.  Botanists tell us that this tree could very well be two thousand years old.  It stood tall, solid and unmovable before us.

Israel 2014 IFL 339Maybe it was a mere sapling when Jesus came here at night and wept tears of blood. The agony of the Savior may have soaked the ground with His ignominious perspiration.  Here He accepted the Father’s will to take on the sin of the whole world.

This task meant that He must die.  It is the penalty of sin.  Death is the only option available to bring sin to justice.

Our only redeeming option is to have a substitute that will die in our place. Jesus agreed to take our place.  He died on our behalf.

Israel 2014 IFL 342It meant that He would be separated from the Father.  That reality was what weighed on  Jesus’ heart that night.  Yet, out of love for us, He agreed willingly to do it.

No wonder a church stands next to this garden in commemoration of this great sacrifice.  Nations from around the world contributed to its construction.  Enter this garden, His garden and sense the forgiveness given through the great gift of love.

photo credit: brucefong photography

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