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Unknown-10Many of my years on earth have been lived without a pastor. It wasn’t that I did not embrace my Christian faith or was out fishing on Sunday morning. Many years of my adult life was being the pastor.

During those countless weeks of giving my soul away to others, I have great memories of spiritual renewal, lives changed for all eternity, and deep-seated friendships. Oh, there were trying times, goofy people, and strange “Christian behavior” but why linger on those rare terrible moments?

After so many years of living without a pastor, I am relishing being a part of a healthy church with an outstanding pastor. Pastor Gregg Matte handles the Word very well, he is a godly leader, and he loves God as well as his people. It is easy for me to give my heart to him.

(By the way, every Christian that is committed to doing church the right way, should give their heart to their pastor. Just saying…)

During these horrible and scary days of the world-wide pandemic, putting my shoulder to the wheel of whatever wagon Pastor Gregg identifies is very satisfying.  For us as a church we all are passionate to make a difference in our great city of Houston. Our church body is incredibly active in our city, our country, and around the world.

Has this national quarantine disrupted our involvement? No. Our church has gone online so that we are in compliance to the guidelines of our authorities. Nevertheless, our church’s active ministry keeps going on under our pastor’s tireless leadership.

Pastor Gregg Matte is studied up and fired up as he teaches the Bible to us. His leadership applications and challenges are spot on and invigorating. Worship is engulfing. Sure, I miss the smiles, warm handshakes, bright eyes of friends, and the sounds of many people gathering. But, those times will eventually return. We will get through this.

Then, God will show us what he has been doing all this time. The products of these world-wide moments of sequestering will likely surprise us. Then, the whole world will better know that he is truly Almighty.

photo by brucefong photography

CA21CBB4-FFA4-4F38-B4B2-5D4B31BB3479_1_105_c.jpegChristmas is a hands down favorite time of the year. It is crazy busy, no doubt. Normally, I shy away from busy, especially if crowds of people are involved.

Once in a while, however, the stop-and-go, pushing, shoving, long lines, and stifling absence of oxygen is worth the minimal discomfort. Our Christmas program at our church, Houston’s First Baptist Church is one of those “worth it” evenings. “Celebration” is an annual gala with a repeated storyline with amazing variations. I love it!

This year, the silk acrobats deftly spinning and twirling and climbing to brilliant orchestral music had me mesmerized. How do they do that? Is that safe? Are they in danger? Oh, yeah, I remind myself, my daughter-in-law, Breanna, does that. She loves it! These artists had me entertained, putting visuals to familiar Christmas music.

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Angels are a favorite feature of our annual program. These stars are suspended from a high, very high, ceiling. Their costumes flow in the air. Yes, they are not the real heavenly ones, but surely give us a sense that they are very close to portraying the real McCoy.

Their role accomplishes a special purpose. Christmas is not about an earthly event, populated by earthly beings, and added among a myriad of earthly stories. Rather, it is what it is, a supernatural story of true history, giving testimony for all generations that the one and only Almighty God visited the earth to give the most precious gift he could as an expression of his love for all people.

This sensational Christmas program is full of entertainment. I laughed, smiled, sang along, remembered childhood moments, and found myself wondering about the story that gave it to us all. It is a true story of a little baby born 2,000 years ago in a country far away, today locked into great controversy. God knew that mankind was in trouble with sin.

D8E6ED1F-526C-43C4-B253-43AEAC002682_1_105_c.jpegJesus was born to die. Odd, isn’t it? In a similar sense we are all born and will some day die. Yet, Jesus was born specifically to die on behalf of all people. His death, as the one and only perfect one, paid the price of our sin.

The climax of Christmas is not opening presents tucked under a splendidly decorated tree. Nor is it family time with relatives traveling from parts unknown. Instead, the crescendo of Christmas is Easter, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, a gift of eternal life to all who believe.

Merry Christmas!

 

IMG_0007[1]On August 22, Wednesday from 430PM to 630PM at Houston’s First Baptist Church there will be a Meet the Author gathering in the Fellowship Hall. Many of us who have had the privilege of putting words to paper will look forward to shaking hands, meeting you, signing books, and having some fabulous fellowship. If you are close by, then I hope to see you there.

photo by bruce w. fong photography

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

 

FullSizeRender-3My calendar is full and getting fuller as the fall season picks up momentum.  Work responsibilities move like a rising tide with appointments, meetings, reports, problems and initiatives.  Woven inside the fabric of the ministry is life at church, home, friends and the events of the season.

Did you catch that last one?  Halloween is coming.  Or for many of us it is the Harvest Season.

Not long after that Thanksgiving is waiting to get us even more busy than ever.  Family events, travel, food and reunions line up for attention.  Home decorations increase as the fall season moves deeper toward winter.

Of course, Christmas is the zenith of all events as the calendar year closes out.  The decorations are the pinnacle of everyone’s planning.  Just about everyone looks forward to Christmas.

Organizing our lives to make room for each of these calendar events crowds even the most gifted of administrators.  Unless we get a jump on the forecast we will miss out or even overlook important opportunities.

Our church, Houston First Baptist has a spectacular Christmas program called “Celebrate!”  Note the exclamation point.  It is fitting.

FullSizeRender-2Getting tickets for this sensation production is not difficult but it calls for a little planning.  Ticket sales opened up on Saturday October 17 at 8:00AM.  When I saw the notice, my lips pursed tightly.

I could make it to church to buy tickets that day, but I needed to be an hour away for a speaking engagement that very morning.  My mind was organizing that morning carefully.  If I showed up at church by 7:30AM and got my tickets by 8:45AM I could hurry to my speaking engagement in time for a 15 minute early arrival.

In my mind I was certain that I could be one of the earliest in line on a Saturday morning.  Who wants to get up early on a Saturday to buy tickets for a Christmas program that is months away?

That strategy was way off the mark.  The conversation that spawned that plan had no clue about the interest of Christmas even in October.  Hundreds of people who were in line before I showed up testify to my tactical limitations.

At least I made it to my 10AM speaking appointment on time.  But, the wait for Christmas tickets sure shows the joy of the season.  Merry Christmas, even in October!

photo credit: brucefong photography

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