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42-Feeling-GreatThere is no greater class of people in the world than pastors.  They work harder for others, make do with less, live by the noblest of values and rack up more hours of work per day than anyone that I know.  Duty does not call, but God does.  Then, every pastor answers.

Nevertheless, pastors are the object of more criticism, more abuse and more attacks than any other class of professional that I know.  Every pastor experiences betrayal, pulls out the darts of gossip, binds up the wounds of slander and humbly accepts a pittance for the faithful work that they do.  The self-righteous hold their private meetings to complain with like-minded malcontents.

Ever the optimist and hopeful servant, the pastor tries to protect his family from the whispers and attitudes of the negative.  Business meetings are more about him getting the business than the management of a local church’s stewardship.  Members act like volunteers, coming late, leaving early or skipping altogether.

The pastor just keeps on smiling and dying a thousands deaths inside.  People make promises that they easily forget or sign up to oversee a project but conveniently procrastinate.  Everyone can count on him but he has very few that he can count on.

Sometimes his own staff are AWOL adding to the stress of running a ministry.  Can you imagine pastoral staff taking breakfast breaks or lunch breaks in excess of two hours and then leaving early from the office because the drain from the hard work?  Or do you find it acceptable when pastoral staff build into their work week a Sabbath rest or include personal work out time as part of their hours posted on their calendar?

The pastor picks up the slack left by others.  He smiles and cheerfully carries on.  His hours of service exceed the expectations of all and his ONE day off is not infrequently compromised with ministry emergencies.

Humor is funny because there is some truth to it.  This poster is funny for that very reason.  It blends the contrast between reality and an alternate reality.

Those who laugh the hardest at this piece of humor are those who pastor.  They erupt with a guffaw that outsiders to ministry can only imagine.  Within the academy of faithful shepherds wink, chuckle and keep on serving just as God called us to persevere in it.

FullSizeRender-4NASA is a bright spot in Americana pride and joy.  It never ceases to make me marvel when I walk on to the campus of this collection of very bright and dedicated scientists, engineers and astronauts.  Something precious about life and exploration meet on these grounds and stir the soul of every visitor.

There in the parking lot, far too massive for an inside display is a Boeing 747 carry the Space Shuttle on its back.  Before you ever buy your entry ticket, you are drawn to this scene-stealing display.  Everyone stops by for a look, pictures and a moment of awe.

Inside the Visitor Center NASA has made a spectacular display of their historic achievements.  Every American is a  part of it.  The spirit of the USA pervades every part of the exploration of space.

One of the permanent displays shows off the Gemini program.  Tiny capsules that crammed two astronauts into tight quarters and orbited them around the earth hang from the ceiling.  But, the display is set in the stars of our galaxy.

Countless stars twinkle and serve as an amazing backdrop for this space flight.  It is full scale and the dark hall makes you feel like you are orbiting with these heroes of old.  How clever were these scientists, how skillful were these engineers and how courageous were these astronauts.

Our space exploration seems out-of-this-world to us.  Yet, it is only touching the edge of the vastness of space.  Can human technology thrust us even further?

When the Creator made the heavens He did a spectacular job.  Its vastness speaks of His amazing power and greatness.  We can only marvel and worship.

When Orion launches, maybe I will still be among the millions on earth that will marvel at what America can do.  The greatness of our nation may consume me like all who will be riveted to their televisions, computer monitors and live stream radios to cheer on each inch of movement toward the next great objective in space.

America’s best is exemplified with these achievements.  Putting a man or woman on Mars is next.  Maybe the Orion module will hang from the ceiling in another part of this great exhibit some day.

Perhaps my grandchildren will bring their children and friends to this special place, gaze and marvel together.  Space is the last frontier.  It calls all who have adventure in their souls.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_0841-1Stress is a modern-day downer.  It creeps into everyone’s life.  At first it is subtle and only modest in occupying our routine.

That’s why it’s a beast.  Slowly, incrementally this small influence grows into a controlling behemoth.  The rheostat keeps turning up the heat and before you know it we have been overwhelmed.

Busy people snap.  We fold under the constant pressure.  Our health is compromised and our well-being slides into the realms of darkness.

Wise living means that we manage our stress.  We can never get rid of it.  It is a part of living to those who live to make a difference.

Fishing helps me cope.  There are very few activities that I totally rest my mind from the heavy responsibilities on my daily plate. Some how this activity takes my soul to another place where I can recuperate, rejuvenate and restore.

Karl invited me to enjoy his ranch.  I planned it into my schedule with delight.  That kindness was one that I gladly welcomed.

This visitation was marked on my calendar and I protected it with administrative dexterity.  Deftly I redirected other appointments and demanding issues around those dates.  My smile grew wider as those days drew closer.

Finally, with my duties complete I drove West.  My gear was neatly stowed in my pickup truck bed.  The scenery of the civilization melted behind me.  Now, the country engulfed me.

The next morning Gary and Klark picked me up in an ATV.  We talked fishing all the way down to the lake.  Strategy, tackle, technique and ideas flourished.  The only noticeable thing missing were any promises. There is a reason why this activity is called “fishing” and NOT “catching”.

When we stopped on the shore, it was involuntary to pause.  The view was captivating.  Mirrored on the stone stilled lake water was the skyline of jade green trees, sparkling blue sky and lazy puffy cumulus clouds.

Stress-slaying relaxation was taking over.  The kind of smile that emerges at such a moment is soulish. Deep within a revived spirit sings.

My tackle box offered many options.  Scanning with experienced eyes I remembered that my quarry from a distant state had found a black and white rattletrap tantalizingly appetizing.  Trying to read the waters I chose to retrieve my offering along a submerged tree.

The pull and tussle were familiar.  An arching throbbing fishing rod tip was electrifying.  Finally, after the catch the release showed domination and gratitude. Ah, so relaxing.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

FullSizeRenderThousands of visitors crowded on to the grounds that served as the entryway to one of the Northwest’s most popular tourist destinations: Multnomah Falls.  East of Portland, the city of many bridges, “Rip City”, “Little San Francisco” or other popular monikers, roughly forty minutes down the beautiful Interstate 84, there is a left exit to the parking lot.

It was time to do what we did when we lived in Oregon for twenty years.  Natural shade and misting waters from cold waterfalls popped into our minds.  The drive was fast, short and easy.  Just like many visits when we were locals, now we repeated the familiar journey as tourists.

When we emerged from the pedestrian tunnel, clearly this idea to escape the city heat was shared by many people.  Every piece of shade was crowded with people clutching snow cones, ice cream and heavily iced beverages.  The creek that followed the trail had little children splashing in the clear shallow refreshing water.

But, the real draw is beyond people.  People-watching is fun but something far more fascinating is waiting for any and all who stop at this destination.  Drinking in the natural beauty of this “wide-spot on the road” is beyond memorable.

The sound of water crashing after a tall drop telegraphs the presence of a water feature.  When God carved out the steep cliffs of this mountain side, He knew He was creating a chance for many waterfalls to be formed.  He really took some extra time to make this place special.

My steps on the main trail stopped. I looked up and saw the falls through the trees.  Wonderful!

Cradled in the Douglas Fir trees, the mighty Multnomah Falls sent thousands of gallons of water pouring over the cliff.  The cascading water takes two jumps.  The first step is a 542 foot drop while the second is 69 feet.

Statistics aside, these falls always bring relief from the unrelenting heat of the summer days.  The sun takes its toll on uncovered heads, but if a pilgrim finishes the short walk into the shade of the forest, the cool mist from the never-ending falls feels like a refreshment from the heavens.  The power of gravity and the thunderous sound of crashing waters adds to the wonder of this special place.  Relief and refreshment from this divinely creative design has blessed many heat weary traveler.

Do you have favorite spots to escape the heat?

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_5080There were too many close calls on my freeway commute this afternoon.  Each time a wild and crazy moment verged on turning into an emergency, my knuckles were white while my hands strangled the steering wheel.  I ripped one hand off the wheel to hit the horn.

While I was driving just under posted speeds, I noticed that the traffic up ahead was lighting up their brake lights.   I came up to the car in front of me just as it dramatically weaved to its right on to the shoulder of the interstate.  Appearing right in front of me and taking the entire lane was a riding zero-turn-radius mower.  My brakes groaned vigorously.  Thankfully, I dodged the blockage with a jump to the freeway shoulder.

Someone is going to be very surprised when they get to their destination and look into the back of their trailer.  While most of us who deftly sidestepped the obstacle found that thought humorous, I am sure that someone is going to be very sad.  At least that light thought made me regain my composure, return my blood pressure to normal and clear my head for the rest of my long drive back to my office.

The freeway split ahead with a gentle and wide opening for destinations north and south.  Good signage gave traffic plenty of time for merging into the correct lanes.  But, well-designed traffic patterns do not make up for distracted drivers who make decisions at the last-minute.

A pickup truck heavily laden with a bed full of construction equipment was lumbering along slowly, well below the posted speeds.  No doubt its slow speed was complicated by its payload. Just as I was approaching its driver abruptly pulled into my lane while his truck bobbed and weaved under it strained suspension.

I had to braked vigorously to keep from rear-ending him.  Traffic to my left was heavy preventing any quick lane change.  My horn was sounding the alarm of both an emergency situation and a very irritated driver.  When it was safe to pass him, he was hiding his face in embarrassment.  I was just trying to catch my breath and push my heart back into my chest.

Can you imagine how many close calls fill up all of our lives?  What do you think your guardian angel would say to you when recounting how many times we were protected on any given day?

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

FullSizeRenderA new friend invited me to enjoy a few days on his ranch.  It was a welcoming invitation that my inner pioneering spirit could not refuse.  Life had built up a myriad of stresses to strain the reservoir that was holding back the enormous bulge.

Before the dam could burst I was on the road for some solitude.  As the miles melted behind me the relaxation already began an amazing sense of relief.  Rejuvenating waves of pressure oozed away and a contentment with a smile emerged in its place.

I dropped my gear off in my room and wandered through the muddy path to meet Paul.  He and I smiled.  Even though it had been some time since we first met, we talked about our last adventure together like it was just a few days in the past.

Paul waved me off and told me to go out and enjoy the ranch.  Now, we laid out a quick strategy.  My camera was in my hands and my boots took me to where I would see the wildlife that lived on his land.

The hot Texas sun was dropping low, just caressing the horizon. Diffused light laid a gentle hue on the grounds around me.  In the tall grass I could see trails of animals that knew these woods much better than me.

As if appearing at the wave of a magician’s wand, a beast strolled into view.  It was a fabulous Corsican Ram.  On its head was a 3/4 curl of powerful horns.

Its coat was Palomino over the top but the underbelly was in a contrasting black.  Speckles of black patched its face.  This ram showed no fear.  But, it did not know that i was present, perched on a platform five feet above the ground.

Every part of this male animal was muscle.  Scratches and scrapes on its horn told of past exploits where it had squared off with lessor rams, beat them into submission and carried on with the spoils of the annual rut.  His offspring would someday wander these woods as well.

The Creator designed this fighting machine.  He proportioned it to launch its entire body into a butting of heads.  Now, it was looking for food, to graze on while one human nearby snapped pictures to remember the moment.  I always think of the word majestic when I see and ram with powerful curled horns.  What comes to your mind?

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_5813There is an amazing engineering feature in Houston.  It is called the Buffalo Bijou.  This is a creek for most of its existence, meandering from downtown Houston due West and into the region of Katy.

Katy is my home town and the Buffalo Bijou is familiar to me and my fellow residents.  We appreciate this cavernous grassy canyon snaking through our community because it is a constant reminder that it is ready to take away the deluge of water that visits our part of Texas several times a year.

When there is no rain and the weather has no prediction of precipitation, I along with my fellow Texans overlook this massive amount of real estate.  Green grass lines the banks of this very large creek and overpasses allow traffic to flow unimpeded.  But, it is always ready.

Most of the year a small creek travels through this piece of land.  The slow-moving waters do not cut much of a trail through the dirt.  Most adults could easily leap over the creek without much effort.

I bicycle along this body of water and marvel at its great expanse.  For miles my bicycle wheels roll along the cement trail that lines one of its banks.  Several times I cross a bridge to keep my journey going.

But, then there are those storms, those Texas-sized storms that drench our home with lots of water.  Drains, and canals flow into the Buffalo Bijou.  It comes quickly and flash flood warnings dominate the airwaves to keep people away from flooded areas.

Torrents of water turn a normally calm creek bed into a raging river.  In a short period of time a calm quiet creek fills up that entire flood plain and muddy waters threaten to lap against the massive concrete bridges that gives people safe passage over the rising waters.  I paused for a picture and to marvel at what makes people feel so small and helpless.

When God turns on the spillway of the heavens and stalls the weather front to hold a pattern over Houston, we hunker down and hope for the best.  Neighbor encourages neighbor.  It is the way of the image of God seeping through the desperation of men who find themselves in need of a helping hand.

Good engineers designed a lot of Houston to weather such moments.  I am grateful to those very good planners who looked beyond the pleasant sunny days.  Their planning for these occasional horribly rainy days has given me peace.  I thank God for them!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_5677It has been months since construction has started on a key building at our headquarters campus.  My travels bring me up to Dallas on occasion and I look with expectation at the progress of the building that has captured center stage for Dallas Seminary promotional materials.  Watching a key project take shape is fun to do and gives prayers something tangible to press on to new heights.

There were many of disappointing glances in the past.  I do not know the engineering answer to those seemingly many visits when not progress was happening.  Someone mentioned that the sandy ground required a lot of shoring up and foundation strengthening.

Apparently, the foundation construction was done precisely to give not only the inspectors new confidence but also all of the Seminary constituency certainty about the future.  Now, whether earthquakes or storm or prophetic cataclysmic episode this building is built to withstand them all.  That is a good place to be in a seminary world of Biblical prophecy.

A structure is in place.  Progress is now something that we can all see.  After months and months of planning, promoting and raising the funds to make this building happen, it is finally taking shape.

Foundations are understandable.  So much is necessary to make a building last that is unseen.  Most of us get that.

But, it is human to want to see something happening.  Visual evidence makes the mind soar to greater heights of faith and belief.  On the one hand we live by faith.  On the other hand we live by sight.

Massive steel girders are connected and permanently locked into place.  Soon the building will be weather tight and the functional part of the user-friendly parts of the building will be skillfully installed.  Visually it will no longer be the appetite for a massive presence but then it will shift to quality aesthetics and brilliantly designed space.

The past is a testimony of God’s favor on this institution.  This building is a promise that there is more yet to come.  We are thrilled to be a part of that plan.

I am looking forward to walking in to this building.  When the dedication service happens, I will make the pilgrimage north to Dallas from Houston.  This will be HQ’s new digs and I among many am looking forward to seeing what God has provided.  That will be a time to rejoice and celebrate God’s generosity and goodness.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_5353Tractors and stadium workers worked the soil that the Rodeo tore through for the last four hours.  It was fun.  The Houston Rodeo made the American pride in every citizen swell to where we were popping buttons.

Now, the announcer re-energize the crowd, “Get ready, folks because Brad Paisley is in the house!”  The thunderous roar reverberated throughout the stadium.   Teenagers to my right screamed with a high shrill while senior citizens to my left applauded vigorously.

Stage hands rolled out the stage on to the Rodeo dirt floor.  Clearly this was masterminded by gifted engineers and rehearsed several times by set-up crews.  Still it was a wonder to behold a rodeo arena transformed into a premier concert stage in a matter of minutes.

The lights of the stadium were dimmed.  A hush fell over the 70,000 fans.  Expectation could be felt all over.IMG_5394

There were musicians on the stage.  It rotated so that everyone in the stadium could sense the pulsation of the Country beat that began to rock the great venue.  A black crew cab pickup truck rolled out on to the floor and drove right up to the stage.

It was not hard to guess what was coming.  Brad Paisley got out the truck, donned his guitar and trotted up to the stage.  The huge ovation was louder than a jet plane that had just delivered a high-profile package.

The concert began with one great Paisley song after the next.  From one great hit to the next the band played whatever modulation was necessary to get into the next key and never wasted a single quarter note between songs.  Paisley was vintage!

His singing was the familiar voice that all of us played over and over on our music machines.  On top of that were the instrumental interludes where his virtuoso guitar skills are becoming legendary.  The energy hit a maximum human effort and never let down.

IMG_5415The rotating stage never paused.  Paisley hopped off and ran to be next to the fans.  People went nuts!

Selfies were popping, hand slapping was firecrackers and hugs were the preferred expression as applause from those too far away thundered with the music.  Security ran along with this Country Western superstar.  The crowds were excited but very respectful.

Then, the climax came with his final song.  The pickup truck rolled up to the stage and Paisley stepped into the bed and rode in the back while waving good-bye to the crowd.  Fireworks exploded and he threw his hat to an adoring fan.

This side of heaven entertainment by gifted people is amazing.  With tens of thousands of excited music lovers, the show is stunning.  Some day heaven will be even greater, I am sure.  In the meantime, “What a show!”

photo credit: brucefong cellphone 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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