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Have you ever wondered what kind of spiritual life we need to live in order to capture the attention of God’s chosen leaders?  Our pastors who lead us and know God so closely, what kind of Christian life encourages them among the many who are in their congregation?  No, it’s not like we are trying to gain any selfish attention, instead how can we encourage them by our lives?

Paul gives us a clear picture of what captured his attention as an Apostle.  As a shepherd of God’s people the lives of other believers that became part of his prayer routine is what captured his attention.  Wouldn’t it be a wonderful wind under our wings to have our spiritual leaders praying specifically for us not because of need but instead due to our lives being an encouragement to them?

In verse one Paul acknowledges his resolve that Jesus is God as is the Father.  From that conviction he greets the Thessalonians with the salutation of divine grace and peace.  God’s covering in our lives through these two blessings brings all of life into balance.

What follows this greeting is mind-blowing.  The Apostle Paul is grateful for the lives of the Thessalonian believers.  This impression isn’t just a casual afterthought rather their living examples have impacted so much that his prayer life begins with them.

Paul is amazed at the work, labor and endurance of the Thessalonian believers.  Yet, it is essential to note that these productive lives did not accomplish these feats by human strength.  Rather, each was a generated by a link to spiritual discipline.  The work is connected to faith.  Their labor is an expression from their love.  Finally their endurance is fueled by hope.  All three focus on their relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

There is nothing about Paul’s attraction to these saints that is easy for anyone to copy.  That is he is not speaking about a walk in the park or a time to sip a pleasant beverage under an umbrella.  Instead, he is highlighting their hard work.  They are diligent in living their faith.  Toil does not cause them to shrink back.  Instead, he marvels at their work ethic as it is an expression of their rigorous faith.  He commends their tireless effort.  Faithful living is rarely easy; rather, it is energetic, hard toil and calls for a kind of exertion that causes the body to ache.

Nevertheless, this kind of spiritual lifestyle is encouraging to our leaders.  We can capture the attention of our spiritual leaders with our fervent life of faith, love and hope by how passionate we are in our service.  Work hard for the Lord.  Put you shoulder to the wheel.  Let your faith be rigorously spent each day that God gives us as a gift.  This active faith life will encourage our spiritual leaders so much that their prayer life will be adjusted by it.

1 Thess. 1.1-3

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IMG_1749It was a good day to pop out of bed.  The weather report was great.  Temperatures were in the mid 50’s, no precipitation and no wind.

Before I started in on a busy work day at my desk, I would hit the road with my two-wheel human-powered machine.  It is a Fuji road bike, designed to ride the roads and be as efficient as possible over a short period of time.   I love my bike!

I picked up the Buffalo Bayou Bike and Hike trail a couple of mile south of my home.  My last trip on this road was exploratory.  Now, I was ready to make it a planned route for a faster 20 mile tour.

Naturally, I am alert to wildlife.  Along the way the signs warning me not to feed the alligators

IMG_1753always make me smile.  There have never been any gators on the route since I have been looking for these reptiles.  The

 signs always make a great prop for a photo-op.

 

 

 

There is a long bridge on this route just before entering into George Bush Park.  It captures all of the geometry lessons that I learned in past years.  I see the triangles embedded in the structure to give it strength.Long lonely strips of pavement stretch for miles.  Whoever designed these trails did so many of us in our neighborhood a great service.  I am enjoying the exploring, the views, the expanse, the solitude of each ride I take.

 

This engineering project spans the waterway that is ready to direct any rain deluge away from our community.  It is a simple structure, nothing compared to the creation around it. Yet, in its unique way it is a marvel.

IMG_1759On and on I pedal.  Someday I should mount a computer on my bicycle.  I try to estimate my distance by time.

Roughly I must be travelling around 12 mph on an average.  That includes the stops for lights, pictures and massages that reinvigorate my circulation.  After returning home after 1 hour and 45 minutes, that calculates to 21 miles.  Hooey! No wonder I feel a little tired.

Life is busy.  Computers occupy so much of my time.  People fill in the gaps of life.  Road time restores so much balance.

I do pray during this moments.  Talking to my Heavenly Father reinvigorate me, cheers me and bolsters my confidence.  Away from busyness and swallowed up in solitude I enjoy the deepening that nourishes my soul.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

 

 

We were ecstatic to receive the news from our realtors that a closing appointment had been rescheduled.  It was a minor miracle after all of the delays.  So many on our team were working tirelessly to make this event happen.

Our realtors were the directors of this episode.  They are a family of three.  Each member has their expertise in the real estate scheme. 

One does the initial contact and sets up the plan.  Another does the showings.  Then, another runs the paperwork down.

Together the last two also oversea the gathering of people needed to close the deal.  We had loan officers, loan assistants, mortgage lenders, legal beagles, notaries and bankers.  Everyone was a consummate professional.

But, minor players in far away places had to be a part of the picture too.  Some were just messengers.  They told the powers-that-be when a document was needed.  Only one missing document kept us in the dark.

Amazingly, that solitary document gummed up the entire process.  The request had been made several times over as many weeks but there was no response.  This missing document brought the entire process to a halt.

We prayed and then far away good friends jumped in and helped.  They made sure that the document would be tracked down, signed and sent to our team in Texas.  Before we could submit the materials to underwriters, our entire file needed to be complete.

One tardy document meant days of delay and expense.  Unfortunately, by the time that simple fax was received the underwriters did not have enough time to complete their work.  We missed our closing date.  Everyone groaned!

Also, as a result of the delay, several other documents were timed out and had to be redone.  We were worn out.  One simple document took the wind out of all of our sails.

Then, deadlines forced our team to redo another document then another.  The weekend played havoc on the bankers.  They promised to get their procedures in line but were thrown off by the time schedule.

We had to book ourselves into a hotel for a third extension.  The rates went up so we had to relocate to another hotel.  Moving to temporary quarters meant that we had to re-pack suitcases, all because of one missing document.

Sometimes it is the big thing that stops progress.  At other times it is the little thing that impedes progress.  Careful attention to details by our  entire team and the extra effort by far-away good friends made the difference so that we could finally close and enter into our new home.  Ah!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

The state of my birth, California, has fallen on very bad times.  No one in my home state are ignorant of the troubles that are surrounding us.  Most are just hoping for a turn-around.

Economic hits are all over the sunshine state.  Businesses have been steadily moving out to friendlier parts of our great nation.  With the loss of business is the loss of countless jobs.

When the jobs leave so does the talent.  Both experience and potential follow the jobs.  When the jobs leave along with the bright people who do those jobs, there is a steady drop in the revenue that runs the state.

Illegal immigration plays into the Golden State travail.  Many lives make it to the “Golden Mountain” with hopes of finding a better life.  Their numbers strain the public system, vie for political loyalties and divide reasonable people desperate for a solution both for freedom and sensibility.

All of these stresses fuel the crime problem.  While Silicon Valley keeps pumping out some amazing productivity and creativity the Central Valley leads the nation in vehicle grand larceny, home foreclosure and gang-related juvenile offenses.  Both extremes are here in the state of California.

Government agencies are running out of money to throw at the problem.  Law enforcement officers are doing double and triple watches as their numbers are dwindled by shrinking political revenue.  Pundits for political, special interests and social agencies are crying gloom and doom.

But, quietly, systematically and miraculously there are pockets of light in the darkness.  Men who have convictions firmly rooted in the truth beyond this earth are making a difference.  They gather openly and without fanfare to cheer each other on. 

These men form a remnant of sorts.  They still believe.  Men of like commitment and generosity live beyond their own comfort and channel their success to impact the cities that they call home.  Instead of blaming others they take responsibility themselves. 

I have met many of these men.  Together they gather with fresh ideas.  Creatively they take a bite that is reasonable for their time, energy and resources. 

By example they touch the lives of people at risk.  One by one they turn lives that are on the wrong path and they show them how to live significant lives.  Instead of chasing limited appetites or fallacious dreams, they set them on course to find true satisfaction.  Together they are doing something good and their prayers are being answered.

photo credit: google image.

Early on Tuesday morning there was a gathering in San Francisco.  It wasn’t a “normal” gathering for this city.  People around the world would have raised eyebrows if they were told.

This was not a secret meeting.  It was advertised on the world-wide web.  Those who came freely told others about the event and invited others to attend.

Some of our city’s notable names were there.  I don’t know any of them but I was told that they were there.  My circles are a lot different from these.

This was not a political caucus.  Nor was it an off-beat agenda expose.  Rather it was a city prayer meeting.

Yes, you read that correctly.  It was a public gathering for prayer in the city of San Francisco.  Stunning, eh?

I only knew a handful of people at the start.  My guests showed up and our fellowship was just great.  But the real treat was the networking that happened during the gathering.

First, I introduced one of my guests to a key leader.  They sat together for the breakfast and talked up a storm.  There was an instant connection.

Next, I introduced another one of my guests to a successful business executive.  I like both of these men.  After a few short minutes they were liking each other too.

On our table a stranger smiled and seated himself.  We introduced ourselves and struck up a great conversation.  I just heard from him by email so I connected him with the CEO of another operation that will make a great link.

A new friend came up to greet me.  We heartily shook hands and then a company president came into view.  An introduction between those two was a natural.

There was a smile that caught my eye.  We had never met until that moment but were headed in different directions in the room.  Naturally, without any coercion we both paused and easily introduced ourselves to each other. 

That meeting was important.  He was looking for work.  Once his profession was clear in my mind, I saw a friend in his field out of the corner of my eye. 

“Do you know him?” I inquired gently?  “No, I’ve never met him,” came the reply.  “Wait here.  You’ve got to meet him,” I assured my new acquaintance.

My buddy came over.  These two connected.  There are no coincidences.  God divinely orders our meetings and it is so pleasing to be used by Him.

photo credit: google image

Thursday night I returned home late from a meeting at church.  That is usual but this last Thursday was different.  I turned on the news as I wound down from a busy and long day.  What was on the broadcast news was riveting and shocking.

This was not fiction.  Even the typical disaster fiction movie doesn’t grip a human being like the scenes being received from Japan.  I was in disbelief.

The 8.9 earthquake off of the NE coast of this island nation had severely rocked the nation.  That tremor alone was devastating.  However, the aftermath that swept over the coastal regions has left the world in shock.

Japan has perhaps the best educated, best prepared, best equipped population when it comes to earthquake readiness.  Over the generations, strict building codes and seawall protection has given rise to an awareness that they must be prepared for the inevitable.  The shaking will come many times and in powerful measure.

But, no one can prepare for the tsunami.  One of the by-products of the earthquake is the tidal wave.  This March 12, 2011 shaking of the earth’s crust happened just off the East Coast of Japan near the town of Sendai. 

The epicenter of the quake was so close to this port city and so near the surface of the ground that the resulting tsunami only gave the town residents 15 to 20 minutes to scramble for higher ground.  It was not enough time.  As prepared as the people were, the 30 foot tall wall of water swept into the town, engulfed everything in its path.  So we pray for them. 

Living human beings were caught in the torrent of water.  Hundreds of bodies have been seen in the following devastation.  Reports of tens of thousands of people who are missing have filled the airwaves.   So we pray for them.

Each missing person has lives of others, relatives, friends and loved ones who are desperate to find them.  So many of them will be grief-stricken when bad news finds them.  So we pray for them.

The debris litters what once were well-manicured village streets, neat crops growing in the field and tidy postage stamp yards.  Automobiles, ships and planes are out-of-place, piled on top of each other, mangled and damaged beyond repair.  Homes, buildings and storage containers are smashed together like rubble pushed and shoved by the powerful surges of misplaced ocean water. So we pray for the people of Japan.

photo credit: google image

The clock reminds me that it is time to get ready for bed. I feel sleepy. My bronchitis has worn me out all day long. But, I’m reticent to go to bed. The dread of coughing and keeping myself awake is a discouraging anticipation.

It has been weeks since I remembering sleeping through the night. Usually, I lie down and immediately start coughing. The reflexes are not modest but violent.

I down the prescription cough syrup but it doesn’t seem to help. Instead, there is a metallic taste in my mouth and of course no relief from the bucking bronco stuck inside of my lungs. Long days and nights with this malady and I was exhausted. I wanted to sleep!

Washing up at least put me in the mood of sleeping. Maybe if I acted like I was going to get some slumber I could just drift off into dreamland. The elusive rest could be complicated by my trying too hard. NOT!

Purposely, I waited for Yvonne to drift off to restful repose. I didn’t want to disturb her sleep any more than I had done already. Once I was sure that she was out for the count, I slipped into bed as gently as possible. That was the last bit of ease for the night.

I felt a cough trying to erupt from inside of my chest. It was no good fighting it back. The cough bubbled up.

At least this time the bed did not shake. My ears perked up. Yvonne was still sleeping soundly.

Oh, the pain. I cleared my throat and checked my clock. It had been a mere fifteen minutes since I tried to go to bed. Groan.

My earlier prayers were up for a repeat. “God, if you would be so kind (cough!) please give me a good night’s sleep (cough). There’s a lot to do at work (cough, cough). I can’t afford to skip a day. I can’t afford to be sick (cough, cough, cough). Please, make me well. In Jesus name, Amen.” I waited, then, “cough, cough.”

God had a plan. After tossing and turning, coughing and gagging, I woke up and it was morning. But, it was late. I slept way past my normal wake up time.

I grabbed my computer. After booting it up, I sent a quick email to my office and claimed a sick day. Then, I swayed back down our hall and fell back into bed.

photo credit: google image

My Friday was a full day.  Every hour was packed with studying, meetings, people, emails, text messages, writing deadlines, standing meetings, impromptu meetings, one on one clarifications, et cetera.  By the time my smart phone dinged for the next session, I was pooped.

When I arrived at home Yvonne and I sat together to enjoy a decompress hour.  Then, it was time to head back to church for another meeting.  But, this meeting included dinner.

We were scheduled to join the session of one of our twenty-three small groups.  Both of us were looking forward to connecting with more of our people during a personal and intimate venue.

Once at church we made our way to the designated room.  The food arrived and the aroma made our heads turn.  Soon collective grace was offered and we all wandered into the kitchen to load up our plates for a great meal.  Tomato beef chow mein, baby bok choy and fish fillet with corn sauce were as Rachel Ray says, “Delish!”

The meal served as a facilitation.  Busy families don’t have time to add a meeting at church.  But, when it is a gathering around a meal that is catered, it makes busy lives enjoy the evening.

Little children accompanied moms and dads.  Their laughter and squeals were delightful. Friendships were special for the children who suddenly blended into one mass of rambunctious humanity.  Their tastes for the meal was imperceptible but their joyful delight made the evening.

Soon, they was escorted next door for an evening of babysitting.  The adults gathered.  Together we talked, laughed, explained and prayed.  It was parent time, time to grow together, grow deeper with each other and to learn more about each of the amazingly varied lives that we live.

We talked politics, child rearing, history, life preferences, et cetera.  It was fun, informative and helped us get to know each other better.  Christ had His common impact on our lives was the focus on our conversation.

The evening wasn’t over.  A wonderful climax was about to ensue.  Enoch was whisked into our room by his parents.  Closely in tow were all of the other children.  Today he was turning two

We had a birthday party! Cake and ice cream was the center of our evening dessert.  This is real life, when friendships start, deepen and last for years.

photo credit: google image

sunsetThis is New Year’s Eve. The last hours of 2008 is a mere few hours away. It’s been meaningful to reflect over an amazing year.

Family rates up at the top of my favorite memories. Long talks, serious discussions, and fervent prayers pepper those relationships. Decisions that alter the lives of my children have not been uncommon this year. Each time the Lord has blessed, guided, and given affirmation when we have sought His wisdom together.

One of my hardest decisions was saying Good-bye to our Lhasa Apso, Dusty, after fifteen loyal years. He was such a character. But, in the end cancer won and a mercy decision was the right thing to do.

Friends shape and mold my soul more than any other situation in life. Laughter, provision, help, encouragement, advice, consolation, warning, smiles, tears, hugs, surprises, gestures, unspoken gazes, cheers and prayers are all a part of deepening what already exists between hearts knitted together with eternal threads. What would any of us do without our friends?

2008 was the year for privileged travel. My frequent flyer miles took me to Israel, South Korea, Quebec and South Africa. In those very special places I walked the land and met great people and experienced the blessing of God that before I only thought would be in my dreams.

I was also back in one of my favorite places in the world, Oregon. The beauty of the NW was refreshed in my soul. Visions of hikes below towering Douglas fir, gazing at majestic Mt. Hood, skipping along the shores of the vast Pacific Ocean, combing for sea shells on the endless beaches and smiling at jet skis spouting up giant rooster tails on the mighty Columbia River all contribute to the serenity that fills up my senses.

Back at home I love thinking about the lives of special people. Joint Heirs are members of the Adult Bible Fellowship that I teach. It is a treat to be their teacher.

Michigan Theological Seminary was a highlight. It’s an amazing collection of great people who are all deeply devoted to the Lord and determined to make a difference with their lives. God’s transformation of lives is a regular occurence in this place.

When it comes right down to what made 2008 special, it was all about people. I am grateful for those people that I love. Of course it is a blessing to also be loved by them. Happy New Year!

One morning I rearranged my schedule. It wasn’t hard to do. When I can schedule a meeting during breakfast, I will. That is my favorite meal of the day. Besides, I am always ready to meet with a friend.

He wanted to eat breakfast late. Our rendezvous time was 8:30AM. Since my usual wake-up time is 5:30AM I had three hours to assign for other projects. That’s not too difficult.

First, I spent a chunk of time writing. Then, I spent my usual time praying. Have you plugged-in time spent for prayer as a key part of your day? It will change your day to be both productive and satisfying.

Finally, I had some bank business, planning and organization to do before I was off to breakfast.  A big clock in my office kept me on schedule.  My internal clock for promptness kept me on schedule.

My buddy picked the restaurant. It surprised me. I had been past that location many times but I never remembered the restaurant. But, once I rounded the corner, there it was. He arrived first.

We had the usual pleasantries.  There were a lot of laughs.  Good natured teasing is a part of what men do.

It wasn’t long before we were into the meat of life and its challenges.  My friend is alone.  His marriage disolved officially in this past year.  I watched him travel down that painful road.  It is a horrific experience.

The process of a marriage coming to an end is ugly.  Two who know each other closely and now have rigid lines of bias against each other is painful to watch.  Knowledge used to cause pain in the life of another is a sad experience.  Intimate knowledge used to inflict deep agony is unimaginably excrutiating.

All I could do was listen.  He talked.  He talked some more.  Then, he talked even more. 

Breakfast was served and we both poked at our food.  We stirred our eggs around and nibbled on our breakfast meats a bit.  But, the real reason for meeting was for one to talk and another to listen.  There was no great advice to be given.  So, I didn’t give any.

He picked up the tab.  We shook hands.  He smiled.  With his smile he expressed his appreciation for our time together.  He wanted to do that again, soon.  I watched him drive away.  Loneliness is the pits.

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