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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.

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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!

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.

14390852_10153329810707614_4178438488173353845_nOur flight to see our loved ones took the whole day with a stop along the way.  But, the anticipation was just too exciting to worry about the weariness of travel.  We talked about some of our great memories from past visits.  Now, we looked forward to making more.

When our plane touched down, we caught each other beaming with delight.  Soon we would cuddle little lives in big grandparent hugs, shower these little ones with love and drink in endless moments of laughter.  The rendezvous with our kids vehicle went smoothly but our warm hugs were limited to our son-in-law.  Grandchild #1 was sound asleep in his car seat.

Grandparents are not easily disappointed.  Instead of raucous hugs, laughs and presents we just gazed at the face of a sleeping angel all the way home.  When peepers finally popped open, smiles erupted and the long anticipated hugs flooded the afternoon.

Gifts of toys, new clothes, treats and fun little knickknacks filled our day.  Unbounded gratitude from these little lives warmed our hearts.  Isn’t it amazing how so much love is generated and shared when so little grown up conversations have been exchanged?

Hugs from these little ones are fabulous.  The warmth and unconditional affection melt the well protected hearts of adults who have shielded so much after so much of life has been hard and tough.  God has a way of rewarding the perseverance of lives lived in complete devotion to Him.

Soon we were taken by our hands and followed running little feet and our granddaughter was engulfed into the reunion.  Celebration took another half step higher. Oh, yeah, our daughter was there too!

Happy Thanksgiving to one and ALL!

FullSizeRenderEach time God moved me from one ministry to the next I made the same petition through prayer.  I asked God to give me a love for the city and direct my steps to encourage others and impact the lives of people. Now, He has had me here in Houston for three years.

Our prayer was the same.  When my bride and I drove in from the West, we asked God to give us a love for the city.  As time has progressed we are falling in love with Houston more and more.

Each day as I began my hectic schedule I pray again that He would direct my steps to encourage others and impact the lives of people in this fastest growing city in the USA.  Over 2,000 people move here every week.  The prosperity of the state and the flourishing business climate of Houston attract thousands.

Some of the largest churches in the nation are here in Houston.  They span denominational lines as well.  When attendance exceeds 2,000 we all stand amazed!

Now, each morning my bride and I make our commute into work.  On one of the off ramps we are often greeted with a great view of the Houston skyline.  It reminds us to pray for and love this city where so many people reside.

In the greater metropolitan area 6 million people call this city their home.  Truly this massive population  represents a great field that is white and ready for harvest.  The Gospel is not just a fad for people who concentrate on talking, this is a place where the Good News is shared and lived out.

As the sunrise lights up the city, I rehearse my duties.  People fill up my calendar.  Students, colleagues, visitors and guests are spaced apart from each other’s appointments so that I can give them the attention that their interests deserve.

His brush strokes are colorized, better than the real buildings of colorless concrete and dull building materials.  It is as if the Creator is blessing the city with a touch of His creative hand that man cannot come close to matching on his own.  That contrast is fine by me.

A new beauty is ready to bloom in our city.  When the Father decides to bless our city with a special touch of His gracious hand, Houston will forever be changed.  Lives will take a new eternal course and the new life in their hearts will spread to family, friends and colleagues all because of love.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

wildlife by Bruce 038February 19 is the start of this year’s Chinese New Year.  Of course everything really unleashes on New Year’s Eve, Wednesday February 18.  The firecrackers and lion dances will signal the beginning of the biggest party of the year.

This is the most important celebration for Chinese families in China and in countries dispersed all around the world.  For many in countries where it is recognized, workers enjoy 8 days off of work.  In the western calendar the dates are February 19 to March 5.

Officially work stops for the first three days of the Spring Festival.  However, practice has evolved into including New Year’s Eve and the following three days as well.  Naturally, the following or closest weekends are included.

Central to the festivities is a family time with relatives and the closest of friends.  This is the holiday when families convene for a feast and reunion.  Multi-generational gatherings are the standard.

It is the year of the goat.  Do not laugh.  The goat is highly regarded among the Chinese, especially ancient Chinese.

This 8th animal from the Chinese Zodiac embodies many wonderful qualities.  Those who are born in the year of the goat are calm, gentle, creative, thoughtful, amicable, persevering, frank and honest.  It is suggested that being born in the year of the goat makes someone most suitable to become pediatrician, actor, teacher, interior designer, musicians and editors.

It is also speculated that these persons are tough on the inside, quiet yet powerful in performance.  While they enjoy quality in the things that they buy they are by no means snobbish or ego-centric.  In fact they are often withdrawn, lost deep in thought.

While there are over 4,000 years behind this tradition, the pathway to real life solutions is not found in country or position.  Earthly wealth is not the key and certainly a life warding off evil spirits leaves a lot to be desired for any kind of personally satisfaction.  Yet, the attempts over the 4,000 years of this celebration reveal a telltale sign.

Everyone wants hope.  But, this appetite is not found in superstition or good luck charms. Instead, real hope can be found in the Lord Jesus Christ.

He is real while so much of the Chinese New Year Celebration is built on human imagination.  Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again so that He could show His victory over death.  Put your faith in Him.  Accept Him as your Savior and you will be blessed.  That will be a real reason to celebrate for eternity.

photo credit: brucefong photography

1237515_10152571662945975_7245741172097343646_nWe are two thousand miles away from our grandson, our only grandchild.  Ministry is my calling and profession, which does not allow for a lot of extras for frequent flights across the country.  When we do go it is a treasured journey filled with invested moments of smiles, laughter and deepening love.

The marvel of being a grandparent pushes my personal spiritual pilgrimage as a follower of Christ to a new dimension.  For years I soaked in the intricate lessons from the Scriptures about a three generational legacy, a vertical legacy.  Pouring into our children was a blessing but now considering being a part of the spiritual vitality of a third generation is mind-blowing.

For sure when God gave us the great news of each child being conceived and then born, they were sensational moments.  Adding “parent” to our resume is an unparalleled delight and privilege.  The next step to sharing in the next generation is one that we are far removed yet deeply engaged.

Playing with our grandson stirred new moods in my soul.  How could be that I could be so much in love with a human being with whom I have never even had one measurable conversation?  When our grandson first hugged my knee, I  knew that affection could be immeasurably more stunning than the joys of marriage or parenting.

Now, every day while thousands of geographical miles away, my bride and I look hungrily into cyberspace for new pictures and videos of our little guy.  We are always tickled when we receive and email invitation to “Skype” with our grandson.  This latest one was a memorable treat.

He has learned sign language along with his growing months toward conversation.  On this cyberspace conversation our kids asked our grandson to show the sign of a “baby”.  He cradled his two hands palms up together and rocked them back and forth.

It was cute.  Each time he has communicated with sign we have been impressed.  But, we were not prepared for the next presentation.

Our kids then asked him to show where the baby was.  He immediately pointed to our daughter’s womb.  Oh, yeah!

Grand baby #2 is in the oven.  By God’s wonderful grace the third generation legacy will expand next summer.  Words will never express the joy of this anticipation.

The depth of blessing from our Heavenly Father are too generous.  The breadth of blessing is so great.  I am a very happy grandfather.

photo credit: KJB photography

FullSizeRenderWe were out for some fun and running errands.  From location to location we steadily kept up our pace and systematically checked off all of the items on our Texas check list.  The setting sun gave us the signal that the day was coming to an end.

Our low growling stomachs reminded us that we had been depleting our energy reserves.  It was past time for dinner and we had not planned anything for the evening meal.  We looked up at the new strip mall where we were finishing up our day of errands and saw an interesting looking restaurant.

Adventure and hunger are two fascinating appetites of life to partner up for a new moment of exploration.  This was a Japanese food eatery.  “Let’s give it a try.”

The ambiance of the restaurant was splendid.  Lighting was subdued but inviting.  The decor was ethnic specific and well apportioned.

Friendly smiles welcomed us and the receptionist led us to a comfortable table. The menus were fresh, sprinkled with pictures and the prices were acceptable.  From a familiar list of options we placed our order.

Pleasant conversation had us reviewing our day.  We shared our reactions to specific events as we talked over this feature and that episode.  Reliving what we had just lived that day is a part of what fun marriages do.

The waiter showed up and presented my bride with her order.  It was not just amazing.  Instead, it was spectacular.

We both pulled out our phones and began snapping pictures.  Carefully, we turned the bowl at the best possible angle.  Then, we checked the pictures and began moving glasses of water, napkins, salt shakers and other distracting items out of the shot.

All through the process we shared our results with each other.  Together we marvelled at the presentation.  It made the event fun.

Presentation, fun and taste were now combined for a wonderful meal.  A new restaurant was being added to our favorites list.  What an enjoyable day this turned out to be.

Life is like that.  At least it should be.  When God the giver of life graciously gave us the gift of life through Jesus Christ, He had every intention that it should be a splendid.  Like any gift we would give, we look forward to the beneficiary to use the gift and thoroughly enjoy it.

Are you loving life?  God wants us to.  That is why He gave us Jesus.

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

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