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We live in SE Texas. Images of cowboys rounding up cattle, oil donkeys pumping crude, and Bluebonnets decorating miles of rolling hills may be the images that dance in your mind’s eye. For others they have a personal experience and a vivid memory: HOT HUMID summer days of August may come to mind.

This unrelenting summer weather hits visitors in the face when they come out of hiding due to obligations of work, meetings, or life necessities. Texans joke about this weather, “It’s great for your complexion.” “But, look at the other 10 months of the year…PERFECTION!”

It is the wrong time of year for our refrigerator ice maker to go out of commission. We had come home from a West Coast vacation where the cool Pacific Ocean allowed us to bask in its daily refreshment. Then, the Texas heat and humidity welcomed us home.

Inside our air-conditioned home, we dropped our bags and went straight into the kitchen. Our 1.5 year old refrigerator would give us the relief of ice-cold water, right? Wrong! The slowly grinding gears of the ice machine delivered nothing. We tried over and over to coax just a few ice cubes from the relief maker. Nothing.

Laying hands on the unit, prayers, and promises did nothing.

Finally, it was time to read the owner’s manual. Nothing. Even when I found the English version of the instructions. Nothing.

For days we purchased bags of ice from the market. We would make the journey into the garage freezer to collect the ice and have our refreshing beverages. Multiple times during the day, I would think and think more about my options. Warranty? Repair? Purchase?

Finally, one night I stumbled on to several YouTube.com entries. Multiple videos of fixing this problem were listed. Victory! Success! ICE!

The sweet celebration of fixing a problem shared by others online was satisfying indeed. Now, the Texas heat and humidity are at bay once again. It was a close call but refreshing ice is again waiting to be collected in our glasses for a refreshing beverage at our convenience. Voila! ICE!

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photo by BWFong

Our morning stroll abruptly stopped. The brisk cool air was heating up fast. Houston is like that.

In our minds the destination was paramount. Add some steps to our day and then head home before the temperatures got into the bake-range. Houstonians survive the summer that way.

This moment was different. We could add a few minutes to our new-day stroll for this purpose. “Cute” is an easy choice to prolong our walk, even on a day when temperatures threatened to soar into the record books.

A ring-tailed lemur was catching its morning rays. It must be still be “ok” temperature-wise since he has a permanent fur coat and we humans were created with a water-cooling system for such days as this. I much prefer the “dress-for-it” option than the “one-clothing-fits-all-weather” designation.

The lemur big eyes met ours. There was no fear indicated on its end. We were just filled with curiosity on our end. What a fascinating creature the Creator formed in this special animal. Better than a picture or video, seeing one of these special animals face to face makes me appreciate the wonder of creation.

It spied some of its fellow lemurs. There was some chatter going back and forth among them. Maybe they were talking about the humans who paused in front of their paddock.

Do lemurs have a sense of humor? Ha! I chuckled thinking that they may be telling jokes about the Homo sapiens. Maybe “cute” or “wonder” never made it into the lemur conversation.

The sun shifted as it kept climbing to its apex for the day. Uncomfortable heat drenched my bare arms and legs. It was time to head home.

Our visit to our zoo was coming to an end. The lemurs comical look was our finale. Smiles lingered with thoughts of these comical creatures in uncomfortable fur coats on another hot Houston day.

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.

IMG_1547Landing in Quad-cities Moline, Illinois seemed like ages ago. In truth it was a mere two nights ago. Iron Sharpens Iron, a men’s ministry had targeted the region for an inspirational and learning gathering of local men who are followers of Christ. It was my pleasure to be invited to be one of two keynote speakers.

 

It is March. For Texans like me, that means it is Spring time. Temperatures are moderate, sunshine is dependably warm, and flowers are blooming to add amazing color to the landscapes.

The forecast for Davenport was 8″ of snow for the Saturday of the conference. SNOW in March! Skepticism of the weather Springtime warning was rather high for a man of faith. I dismissed the odd report as if it were some kind of oddball joke.

Saturday morning my ride was on time. We drove to the gathering where 900 men greeted us with enthusiastic expectation.  These men from 83 different churches jumped into worship with gusto even though it was snowing relentlessly outside.

After the events were concluded the men bundled up against the snow and streamed out of the auditorium and headed home. I patiently waited for my ride to the airport. Once we arrived at the terminal and said our good-byes, my eager feet to go home took over.

At the counter the bad news hit like a freezing cold snowball smacking me on the side of my head filled with forecast skepticism. The agent was apologetic. Weather induced delays would not allow me to make my connecting flight.

The best she could do was book me on the same flight 24 hours later. My! Smile and accept the inevitable.

My hosts were great. They covered the extra night at the Iowa hotel.  The invitation to attend church the next day was delivered with enthusiasm.

It was all great fun.  Unexpected fellowship breeds celebratory fun. Meeting others and worshipping with a new body of believers was an elixir.

Now, I am at the airport and have a six-hour wait for my flight. What to do? Easy!

My computer booted up easily.  Next to it was my recharging I-pad.  Of course I had a wonderful conversation with my bride.

Every hour, I took a walk down the concourse.  Maybe a few extra steps will make the day flow smoothly. Now, it’s up to the airlines to have a do-over.  I hope they have a great day of flying me home very soon.

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.

 

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.

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