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Three days lay ahead of us.  Driving is not a favorite pastime of mine, so I have to plan and endurance schedule.  15 hours of driving make me pause long and hard.

Now it was time to get out my internet map planner and figure out reasonable distances to travel up to my final destination.  If I could drive an average of 5 hours per day, then I could manage.  My travels would target Westcliffe, Colorado.

We left Houston and planned to arrive in Ft. Worth, TX.  It was tough for me.  I got so sleepy when we started.

Then, I got sleepy after lunch.  Rats!  I should have eaten less or even skipped that noon day meal.  Now, I broke a lifelong habit of fasting from coffee.

Twice in my life I had consumed a cup of coffee.  Once was when I was in finals week during college.  Late night studies strained my consciousness.

Another cup was downed during graduate school finals week.  Yuck!  It tasted so bitter.  I didn’t like it.

After those two episodes, I did not try java again.  People have always looked at me in disbelief.  All five of our children drink coffee but neither my bride nor I do.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.  Sleep drove me to pull into the Golden Arches.  I stared at the menu not knowing what kind of coffee to order.

Finally, my eyes landed on “iced coffee”.  Hey, maybe that’ll be a good option for me.  When the McDonald’s worker asked me what I would like, I took a stab into the dark and order some flavored iced coffee, regular size.

We hit the road again and I sipped the beverage.  Yuck!  Memories of the same bitter flavor came flooding back.  The good thing was that I did not like the drink at all but the reaction was strong that I wasn’t sleepy any more!

That hotel was a great sight.  Sleep and a restful stay gave me renewed stamina to start driving the next day.  With one day of struggle under my belt the second day came easier.

Texas scenery changes every hour.  The elevation and the flora and fauna give the journey an amazing kind of fascination. Early struggles of tough driving moments were behind us and now long hours of driving was part of my conditioning.  Our road trip planning was paying off as a great journey.

 

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FullSizeRender-3My perch was comfortable and safe.  A modern well-running ATV would speed me away from any hard charging Texas Longhorn.  All of my experience with these creatures is very limited.

Rawhide, the TV black and white cowboy series of cowboys driving herds of beef to the railroad loading points was my first and roughly the limit of my exposures to these fascinating critters.  They did not seem nearly as big on the TV screen as they did now that I was in the pasture hanging out with them.  Now, they were huge and their horns were massive and seemed incredibly large and pointed in the innocuous direction of anything or anymore who needed a piercing.

It was mid afternoon in Texas.  The temperatures were warming up and most of the herd decided to lie down in the pasture and casual chew a cud.  One little calf seemed to have different ideas.FullSizeRender-1

Can you see it in his face?  “Come on you guys!  Let’s do a little jousting.  At least let’s do a few head buttes just to exercise our bones and stiffen up our neck muscles.  Anyone game?”

He is alert and raring to go, while the rest of the herd and his fellow calves yawn at all the noise of a monologue.  I loved the life in his little frame.  His DNA lay right behind him but what did not yet have in girth he clearly had in a rambunctious spirit.

Then, his sister pulls herself up from her lounging and walks away, “Mom, can’t you tell Johnny to pipe down?  He is jabbering about this and that without ceasing.  Then, he deserves a time out of butting whenever I am not looking.  If he keeps it up I am going to shove him into the lake.”

FullSizeRender-2“Now, Penelope, don’t get your tail all in a tizzy.  He is your brother.  Unless you want him caught of in the roundup and becomes someone’s veal dinner, love him while you have him.  Be his best friend.  You are family and that counts for a lot more than just a few inconveniences now and then,” her mother mothered.

“Good afternoon,” Elsie. “I hear your offspring are keeping the herd entertained for the day.  You handle those feisty calves with wisdom straight from the Creator.”

“Well,” she replied between cud chews, “we all had our day of snorting too much fresh air and forgetting that we are all someones’ dinner.  In the meantime get all cleaned up for the rodeo tonight.  The boss has a contest for us all to enter.”

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

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

IMG_5223How do you pump enthusiasm into an entire student body?  How do you get a group of hundreds of people from completely different backgrounds to get excited about the same thing?  When we live in an age where hopelessness is the common thread on the news channels, how can you direct people’s attention to something encouraging?

We are experiencing the miraculous move of a miracle where I work and serve.  It is not a renovation that has everyone a buzzing.  Nor is it even a new building that is underway to serve our growing student body. Instead, we are soon to move into a totally new campus!

After many discussions, brainstorming sessions, prayerful considerations we are leaving our cramped facilities and IMG_5215moving to another location.  Instead of having all of our operations for our seminary extension scattered through two separate buildings, we are relocating everything into a single building.  Everything that we have now will be accommodated in the new campus PLUS much more.

Our age-old problem of limited parking will be resolved.  We will no longer have a parking challenge in our new facility.  There will be no more necessary street parking or walking through dark sidewalks to get to your vehicle.

As our staff continues to expand there will be no more problems of giving personnel a working office space.  Every faculty member and executive will have a place to study, prepare their classes and meet with students.  Our new facility will be prepared to grow our faculty here in Houston.

The library that has tripled in size will no longer have to be separated into separate rooms.  Now, the entire collection will be housed in one room with a generous number of study carrels and quiet places IMG_5217for students to do their research.  As a bonus, the library will now have an open view to the gorgeous atrium, adding to a great environment for students to read, relax and write.

Our entire team has visited the construction site.  The demolition is done.  Now the build out has begun.

We can see the long hallways leading to state-of-the-art classrooms, faculty and administrative offices, student lounge and library.  The space that we have now has been wonderful.  We just outgrew it.

Now, the Lord has shown us great favor.  We will be able to stretch, serve our students well and equip more to be servant-leaders and bring the Gospel to the world.  All of us are jazzed!

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_5191Most of what I do in my profession is deeply satisfying.  Sometimes what I do professionally goes beyond deeply satisfying and enters the world of unbelievably splendid.  This especially happens when people invite me to a location that makes me marvel.

Some friends and I gathered at a ranch not far from Houston.  Busy men rendezvoused over a six-hour span of time.  Some drove a great distance while others just knocked off an hour or so from their office.

The first day of a short retreat was having its intended effect.  Men were relaxing.  De-stressing was happening faster than anyone thought possible.

One after the next men talked about the easing of pressure.  “Just what the doctor ordered,” passed the lips of men carrying major responsibilities.  This ranch was easing the weight of a lot of life.

Once breakfast satisfied our hunger, we strolled outside.  The sun was warm for a February Texas winter.  59 degrees and sunshine is a blessing.

Together we piled into a four person ATV and went for a ride.  Our hosts introduced us to their livestock.  A nice herd of Texas Longhorns took center stage.

Satisfying words described their prize bull, pregnant cows and newborn calves.  Steers looked longingly through their pen fences hoping beyond hope for a better future than the auction yard.  Ranching is a tough business calling for cold calculating decisions.

Then, we rolled up to some of the personality of the ranch.  Three donkeys were grazing lazily at the perimeter of the cattle.  Their role in this menagerie of beasts is fascinating.FullSizeRender

While some poke fun at these creatures, the rancher was seriously elevating their part in the ranching dynamic.  These three critters naturally took on the overwatch duties of the grazing cattle and horses.

I learned that if a coyote or a pack of coyotes entered the pasture and stalked a newborn calf, these tenaciously loyal and protective animals will confront the predators.  If a battle ensues, the donkeys will win.  The predators that would normally frighten off many living creatures have learned to steer clear of these adorable comical creatures.

We received the welcome greeting.  Even though these animals all muscle and fierce protectors, they only showed us their warm and humorous side.  Humans often laugh but rarely learn that these four hoofed beasts are just the opposite of the end of so many jokes.  Hee haw!

photo credit: brucefong photography

Every news media outlet was buzzing over the release of the movie “American Sniper”.  Some touted it as a fantastic portrayal of patriotism, liberty and American pride.  Others vehemently condemned it as an exploitation of war or a misrepresentation of snipers as heroes when in the warped opinion of the critic they were in fact cowards. A few even claimed it was of such poor cinema quality that it did not deserve any attention at all.

Admittedly, I was shocked by the animated negative opinions.  Now, I believe that in a nation that protects the freedom of speech, these critics have a right to their opinion.  What was stunning to me was that these vicious views would be directed to oppose such self-sacrificial lives.

I was reading the book when the movie debuted.  Through each chapter I was tracking with Chris Kyle’s life, moments of maturing, struggles with family and horrific episodes in the battlefield.  War was not glorified but devotion, commitment, family and country were.

Clint Eastwood directed the film.  I thought that he captured so many moments of fear, frustration, courage, conflict, joy, encouragement and family.  In a matter of seconds Eastwood told the story of many pages with a single take in the film.

Despite the critics I learned about a man whose sacrifice and skill keeps my liberty safe.  My life has been protected by Kyle’s service.  I for one am very grateful to him and to his family.

I am left wondering how a movie theater in the second week of its release is so full.  If there are pundits out there who insist that we believe and adopt their negative and critical spirit, then why are so many turning away from their stinging words and going to see the movie?  In my mind there are many Americans who love this country and lift up the military with respect and appreciation.

It was not just  the courageous deeds of Chris Kyle on the battlefield.  His wife Taya sacrificed too.  Her steady care for their family during Chris’ deployments were a testament to the family courage.

She was there to help Chris find a way to let go of the war.  It had so captured him that the commitment to let it go and really return home was a much a part of the message of the book and film as was his faithful service.

I heard Taya’s moving words at Chris’ memorial service.  They touched  me as did the movie.  Thank you to the Kyle family for your service and sacrifice.  God bless you and God bless the USA.

IMG_4727Moping around for days about my smashed I-pad glass seemed right to me.  Remorse calmly tempers my foolish actions that caused the broken control panel on my high-tech machine.  It was that similar feeling that comes when repenting from sin.

On my next day-off I stopped in the nearest Apple store for a repair estimate.  This branch store was located in the middle of a major shopping mall.  Parking was the biggest challenge.

The crowds in the store the store were shocking.  This was a week day and in the middle of the day.  Does everyone get a Friday off from work?

Patiently or at least appearing patient I waited my turn.  Besides the drive into town, the parking, the long walk and now the standing in line, my day-off had lost nearly two hours.  Finally, it was my turn.

The associate or whatever they call these triage workers in blue shirts had a mini-i-pad in hand and had to be a least a decade younger than my own children.  She smiled and asked how she could help.  I showed her my broken screen.

I was taking it out of my messenger bag to show her but she asked a horrible, terrible most despicable question, “Sir, do you have an appointment?”  My heart sank.  That thought had never even crossed my mind.

“No.”  Undeterred, she made several motions on her screen and said that the earliest appointment that was open was in two hours.  Rather than spend my entire morning chasing down options, I asked for an appointment at the end of the day so that I could come back on my way to run my afternoon errands.  We settled on a time.

Of course I was prompt for my 4pm appointment.  They whisked me right into the shop and seated me at a table.  A young, very young associate called my name and I raised my hand.

She assessed the condition of my broken glass screen all of the time entering data on her own mini I-pad.  “What’s the cost for the repair?”  After I picked myself off the floor, I then asked how much a new unit would cost.  It was the same cost as a repair!  I thanked her for her help and left the shop.

A google search led me to a repair shop near my office.  They repaired my I-pad for a third of the cost.  I also bought from them a protective case, easier to hold and set up.  Now, I am back in action.

FullSizeRenderGetting up and getting going to depart for our workday commute takes a lot of gumption.  There is the inevitable magnetism of a comfortable bed that is tough to escape.  The ease of staying put all curled up and tucked in is very inviting.

Nevertheless, will power and responsibility win the day and soon we are washed up, fed and loaded up for our 24 mile commute.  Rolling into traffic reminds us that we are glad that we did not procrastinate.  Already, traffic beginning to build up.

The vast majority of Texas drivers are polite and safe.  Usually, there are a few who got up late and are in a big hurry.  They take advantage of everyone else as they zip in and out lanes.

So, the rest of the courteous drivers, shrug their shoulders and drive on to their destination.  Maybe that is why the Lord blessed so many of us with a sensational sunrise.  It began slowly but steadily.

In the East there was a glow on the horizon.  Someone could have mistakenly thought that a massive fire was lighting up the sky.  In some ways the sun is a fire-ball but off of our planet and orbiting in space far away to keep us from burning but close enough to provide light and warmth.

The Creator was amazing in the proportions of distance and angles to best show earth how His design was stunning.

With more and more miles falling behind us, the glow ahead grew and splashed against the dark sky of the receding night.  Like the dismissal of an undisputed champion, the night is not even missed.  Instead, the crowds of commuting humans have to smile at the free light show that is capturing the skies.

Bright yellows lick away the night.  Then, glowing oranges take the broad brushstrokes of the low hanging clouds.  Reds trim the front assault of the orange strokes.

There is nothing human about this display.  Everything about it is heavenly.  Both in expanse as well as in dynamic shifts the hand of God shows off His creative display.

For all that we commuters tolerate for the sake of life and duty, we do get this occasional treat.  The Texas skies seem to be prepared canvas for the intricate creative strokes of the Almighty.  It both takes your breath away and gives you a reason to keep on breathing at the same time.

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

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

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