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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.

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_5341The 2015 Houston Rodeo was in full swing.  Saturday was all about the Finals.  Champions were being crowned in all of the classic Rodeo events.

Not only did the champions perform at their highest level, they were rewarded with the grand prize of $50,000!  Thanks some great prize money for these cowboys and cowgirls.  Lives were being changed with a single check that came because these winners were two tenths a of a second faster than their nearest competitor.

Friends and family were huddled together in the stands cheering on their loved ones until they were hoarse.  Tears and hugs were shared all around when the final scores were displayed on the jumbotron.  This was the climax of a yearlong season for many of these cowpokes.

Yet, everything paused for a special introduction.  In a spontaneous moment of an unplanned introduction, the announcer informed the audience that he had just been informed that a special guest had arrived among them.  The cameras trained in on the special couple.

Nothing in the program gave a hint that he would be a special guest.  No script had his name on its list.  Camera crews were acting serendipitously.

President and Mrs. George H. Bush were in section 110 in the first row, closest to the field.  The camera broadcasted their smiles as they pointed at each other and their cheer were sincere and full of joy.  The entire stadium was on their feet and applauding with enthusiasm.

I was surrounded by people of all ages.  Young adults and retired folks as well were all sharing in a special moment of honoring a man who had led them as their President.  Guys were whistling and girls were screaming.

This unplanned moment of tribute was memorable.  No one demanded a counter, an explanation or another  view.  Instead, the announcer chimed in, “Now, there is an honorable man.”

41 was smiling and waving to the appreciative crowd.  There was no false humility or arrogance in his countenance.  I saw a man who loved the people he once led and an appreciative leader who just enjoyed the moment of being admired and loved by the people of Texas.

That is a rodeo for you.  The people here not only love God, they love their country and the people who serve it.  If you miss the love of country and the joy of the God who has blessed our country with extraordinary favor, then go to a rodeo and enjoy it all over again.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_5218People go to libraries for books. They go there to read.  Serious visits to specialized libraries is all about research.  Who goes to a library because of a view?

The graduate students of DTS-Houston will come to our new library for a view.  Long hours mark every visit to our research destination library.  Eyes grow weary, souls tire and spirits need to be revitalized to press on to the next journal, the next volume or the notation corollary.

Libraries have beaten many a young scholar into submission.  But, with a cheerful environment, excellent climate control and yes, a special view to lift up a person’s eyes and rest the huge task of intellectual research could make the difference between a completed paper or a stirring footnote or a well argued logical presentation.  Our new library has that unique element of an outstanding view.

An atrium is at the center of our new campus building.  It is decorated with flora that is well designed and beams the textures and shades of life-giving green.  Tall tree trunks reach up to the sky that will always point to where our dependence should be.

IMG_5223The low-lying shrubs and bushes have variety and balance.  Palms show a delicate side of the plantings while also allowing the bark dust on the ground to highlight the color of life.  A gravel walk way invites people to come outside and enjoy a stroll around the grounds.

This is a protected garden.  The well designed building and heavily smoked windows reflect the sky, the garden and the rest of the building.  It is an oasis in the middle of busy living.

Our seminary campus extension will house only 25% of the facility to start.  It is an increase over our last location by thousands of square feet.  Parking, interior space and most importantly, a dedicated space for our library mark the improvements in our anticipated campus.

Generous donors, vision-driven leadership and talented operations people are making this event happen.  It is always expensive to move in this kind of educational scheme.  Tuition can not cover the bill.

When we put the word out regarding this vision, special people stepped up and wrote out checks.  Frugal planners kept the costs as low as possible.  Visionaries brainstormed what needed to happen and what needed to stay on the shelves.

Now, the vision is becoming a reality.  When I saw the view from the library, I could not stop smiling.  Our dream of a destination library are coming into view and we are thanking God and loving it!

photo credit: brucefong photography

Christmas 2014 078There is an amazing blend among brilliant engineers, skillful craftsman, highly trained pilots and a country that stands behind them all.  I had read about President Ronald Reagan’s Air Force One as a part of his Presidential Library display but I had no idea that it was on the inside.  When the doors opened and there it was I was impressed.

The wing tip was just out of reach.  But, the marvel of aeronautical physics was not elusive.  To imagine that so much metal and so much weight could actually fly was mind-blowing.

In this aircraft the President of the United States and his first family would swiftly travel from one key event to the next. Those who designed this aircraft did a great service to the Reagan’s.  Safety and efficiency are all over this airliner.  Its sleek appearance was also reflected inside in the accommodations.

What we do not see are the marvels of structure under the skin of this powerful airplane.  The electrical maze alone that was carefully crafted so that it would not only be dependable but also durable makes me shake my head in wonder.  Men and women who were very good at what they do, implanted their pride in the construction of this fine product.

Pilots and their crew were meticulously trained.  They would after all be the frontline to serve and protect the President of the United States of America.  Each of these personnel would be trustworthy, diligent workers and loyal to the nation and its highest office.

Jelly beans were prominent in the plane.  There was a cheer in Reagan’s life and those around him felt it, joined in on it and appreciated it.  For him personally the jelly beans helped President Reagan stave off the cravings from the habit of cigarette smoking that he had overcome but kept on keeping at bay.

Whenever I am in a jetliner and that massive amount of weight with equipment, structure and passengers takes off, I continue to marvel at the laws of physics.  God established them.  They are dependable.

When a special passenger is on board, we trust those same laws and the skills of those who follow those laws for a safe flight.  This display of Air Force One is a reminder of how important safety is, how trustworthy are the laws of God and how those who depend and obey Him will be blessed.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Christmas 2014 077

My life has been embroiled with leadership roles for most of my adult life.  The challenge to unite people, square off with great threats, achieve great gains for the organization and to resolve to press against the ever-present vehemently vicious critic are all a test of the metal that a leader is made.  Reading and watching great leaders in action inspires me to keep leading with determination.

One of the great leaders in my life time has a Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.  Visiting this museum and library of this leader was on my life list.  I was able to check it off with great satisfaction.

After entering the gorgeous grounds with breathtaking views, I remember pausing long at a portrait of President Ronald Reagan as he walked down one of the halls of the White House.  There is something special about leadership that can never be taught and this President possessed it in generous quantity.  It is called “leadership presence.”

There is very little about “leadership presence” that is external.  Instead, it is what exists in the soul of the man or woman who drives their choices, directs their initiatives and most of all manages the values the define their leadership commitments.  Reagan’s beliefs marked his life and leadership.

When a leader faces pressures and attacks, he or she must be able to draw from their own convictions to make choices and decisions to protect and advance the best interests of the organization that they lead.  That is what leadership is.  Anticipation and reaction based upon a consistent set of values that others can follow and embrace.

The influence of this President was also balanced with a whimsical ability to engage the lives of international leaders from around the globe.  His control of power was never carelessly dismissed but blended with discernment, resolve and vision.  He thought the best of this nation and devoted himself to lead it to become better and more positively influential in the world.

If blessing is accompanied with responsibility, then this great leader acted well in light of the extraordinary blessings given to the nation by Almighty God.  He could win the respect and cooperation of the opposing party, sooth the angry critic or stand stalwart against the belligerent opponent.  President Ronald Reagan was a uniquely effective leader and one of the most remarkably gifted Presidents in our nation’s history.

photo credit: brucefong photography

The grounds of the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley were warmly welcoming.  All of our now adult children joined us for this first-time experience.  Our first grandchild added a lot of joy to this visit.

It was breathtaking to take in the expanse of the 100 acre mountainous Southern California setting.  The land for this special memorial center was a private donation.  We paused several times to enjoy the vistas before we ever entered the library.

Our family gathered around the elevated bronze sculpture of President Reagan that greeted all guests.  His cheerful smile made me smile with all of the confidence that he poured into his leadership of our great land.  I remember the confidence that I hoped my children would someday sense as young Americans.

Inside of the museum we sat down to view a welcome video with words spoken by Ronald Reagan himself.  He told us of his intentions when he first stepped into the office of the President of the United States.  They were historic inspiring words.

His hope was to restore the American spirit.  He knew that the problems facing the USA were grave.  Our national economy was in trouble.

American morale was dangerously low.  Hope in the American dream was waning. Our national election gave Ronald Reagan our trust to change things back to the exceptionalism that was woven into the very fabric of this great country.

At the inauguration ceremony Reagan’s swearing in was done using his mother’s Bible.  Today that Bible is encased in the library opened up to 2 Chronicles 7.14  ”If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal the land.”

His mother inscribed in her Bible a thought for the day: ”You can be too big for God to use, but you cannot be too small.”  Did she have some inclination that this would help chart the course for her son?  It is a valuable piece of wisdom for any who would enter a position of notoriety and influence.

With every display and around every corner there were insights into what made this man into a remarkable leader.   Reagan would realign America with the great blessings in its founding.  He would also influence the world to find a better course toward peace.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_4620Pastor Gregg Matte sensed a deep-seated burden from the Lord.  He has been challenged by the Spirit to make prayer a reality in his personal daily practice for over the last year. In his intercession God impressed on his heart a rallying of the pastors of our city to gather and to pray.

He sent out an invitation for pastors to meet for prayer in his office on a Thursday in November.  The simple agenda was to prayer together for the city of Houston.  Remember this gathering for pastors and ministry leaders was planned a month and a half in advance.

The week of the pre-planned event, the city of Houston became world news.  Houston’s mayor had sent out a subpoena to five local pastors.  Each of these ministers were ordered to hand over all sermons that spoke on homosexuality or mentioned the mayor.

The Christian community was shocked.  But, they were not shocked into compliance or frightened into submission.  Instead, the pastors rose up and stood together.IMG_4619

Senator Ted Cruze joined the pastors who gathered in Pastor Gregg Matte’s office.  He never knew that this was part of God’s providential plan.  But, the time was perfect.

The media came to cover this galvanizing event, historic in American church history.  Pastors normally humbly compliant and supportive of our God-ordained governmental officials, drew a line in front of their pulpits.  No governmental intimidation or control over the message of God delivered in the name of His Son would be tolerated.

IMG_4621Over 50 pastors packed into Pastor Gregg’s office.  He directed the prayer session to pray for our mayor, protect the church and move on the local government to rescind their directive of control over the pulpits of the city.  We broke up into groups of 4-6 and prayed up a powerful time of intercession and supplication.

After an hour of prayer we moved downstairs to stand in solidarity before the news cameras as Senator Cruze addressed the media.  Clearly he spoke courageous words of freedom, liberty and religious autonomy. God’s servants had a right to speak the words of God without governmental oversight or control.

God’s calling was the sole directive in the words spoken in American pulpits.  Furthermore, it was a liberty written in our own Constitution.  The scene of pastors from different denominations, various ethnic backgrounds and multi-generational was powerful.

They stood together with the common bond of Christ among them.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_4366Friday night was reserved on our calendar.  When we approached the weekend we talked over our plans, reviewed the events and talked about how meaningful these days would be.  Then the making of a wonderful blessing began.

Friday night was a highlight for us.  We headed out on time to beat the traffic.  Our destination was a simple eatery on the other side of the freeway from our church.

Tonight we were going to the celebration of the ten-year anniversary of our pastor and his family at our church.  It is amazing to consider an entire decade of service for our pastor and his family.  He even stuck around when he succeeded a three decade stint by his predecessor.

Thousands of cheerful supporters filled the church building.  The worship was powerful.  Love was all over the place.

When our pastor was invited up to the platform, the applause was enthusiastic and sustained.  His smile was broad.  His family was basking in a massive display and expression of love.

For a moment I felt for all the pastors who have never experienced that outpouring of devotion.  They have served faithfully only to be beaten down by those who criticize, hold secret gatherings, complain anonymously and mete out miserly compensation.  Do not be one of those.

Nevertheless, these shepherds tirelessly serve, constantly study and face heartbreaking moments where they were the sole source of encouragement.  Their faithfulness slipped by the notice of most and was remembered in detail only by God.  He knows all and never forgets.

There are always those who point to bad ministers.  However, those few are small in number compared to the neglected in ministry.  Encourage your pastor, give your heart to him.  Yes, discern wisely but embrace him with love and encouragement.

We had great conversations with people around us that evening when we honored our pastor.  His personality has been pervasive in our lives.  Warmth, welcome and cheer are ways that he addresses us and so we do the same with each other.

God is blessing our pastor with a powerful ministry in our city and beyond.  His teaching is Biblical, balanced and practical.  People take notes and live what they taught.

Gifts of affection were bestowed.  Flowers filled the arms of his wife.  Each of his children enjoyed holding on to a special memento.

Humility, humor and honesty marked his words.  We love our pastor and his family!  Encourage your pastor and watch what God will do.

photo credit: brucefong photography

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