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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

IMG_0954We arrived home late because we both had so much to do at work.  Now, it was after 7PM so we paused and heated up a simple supper and headed back out on a week night to get a few errands knocked off of our list.  Running around town, we help each other check on projects to finish, lists of things to collect and eventual events to attend.

Our last stop lay ahead.  We paused and looked at each other.  Weariness from a long day and busy night made us both wink at each other.

“Last stop. Then we can go home and get some rest,” we cheered each other on.

“OK, you get this half of the list and I will get the other half and rendezvous back up front,” my administrative hunter skills were kicking in.

My beloved was efficient as she could be.  Yup, distractions begged for her attention.  Several extra stops were  giving her the moment that shopping does to enliven her soul.

For a few moments I was determined to finish my task and be the first one back to the meeting point.  My every intention was mission-oriented.  The task was at hand and I would accomplish it.

Then, the unexpected happened.  It had an immediate effect on my speed, focus and destination.  With time passing by I stopped and slipped into another world.

This is October and a fully decorated Christmas tree stopped me in my tracks.  It was simple, yet grand.  The use of ribbons and bows gave it an elegant look.

Some might say that there was more ribbon than tree.  But, they would be wrong.  The tree shape dominated the silk decor.  Greenery contrasted with the white and gold fabric.

Yet, the tree is not the meaning for me.  This special symbol of the season gives me reason for great pause.  In a couple of months, the birthday of the King will be upon us.

Hope for a world in chaos, a joy that will silence the grit of war, peace that will sooth the hurting and hungry, faith will be anyone’s greatest strength when placed on the Baby and love will be shared with family, friends and fellow citizens of earth.  This tree, this season changes everything in life.  It does. Count on it. Believe it.

It’s Halloween but Christmas is coming!

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_0956Our errand day had us making at least a half of a dozen stops.  I was getting worn out but chores need to get done.  Making the best of a situation is all about being observant and creative in the fulfillment of the necessities of life.

Have you ever been expectant when you strolled into a store but were totally shocked out of your confident disposition?  I surely was.  It is October, Halloween is not even here yet but the store what welcomed us into their showroom was already stocked to the gills with Christmas decorations.

Similar to the pattern of grief, the initial shock was replaced by denial.  “No, no, no, it’s too early for Christmas.  We need to give the Harvest season and Thanksgiving their place in the calendar and in our family celebrations.  Why rush a good thing.

Then, there was a shift.  Anger did not emerge.  Instead, delight began to seep into my mind.  A quick glance around the store and there was plenty of space given to the Harvest season and Thanksgiving.  They had the rest of the year covered.

Now, I lingered longer in the Christmas section.  I was getting into the mood to anticipate this most special time of the year.

My fingers traced the shapes of the musical instruments.  Colorful cartoon characters dangled on strings ready to be hung on trees.  Miniature reminders of the real Christmas story abounded on this wall of decorations.

With a smile I took a moment to hum a favorite Christmas carol.  No, it is not too early to look forward to Christmas. It is never too early to anticipate this time for family, food, fun and fellowship around what the birth of Jesus brings to all of us.

No, I didn’t buy anything for Christmas.  Not yet, any way.  There is plenty of time to do that.  For now, I left the Christmas aisles and chased down all that we needed for our errands for this Harvest Season.

Looking forward to celebrating His birthday, though.  When you love someone you look forward to their special day and the joy that comes with it.  It’s not Christmas yet.  Nor is it the season yet.  But, it is coming and I know that I will be thrilled when it comes!

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_4873Christmas is way too busy for us.  We are juggling work, travel, gifts, letters, projects, bills, parties and life so fast that jingling bells are hard to hear.  A lot more silent night and still the night would be welcome in our souls.

A balance is struck from a familiar favorite place.  For many Americans and world-wide Christians this is a shared respite during this hectic season.  This place is featured on Christmas cards, television shows, screen savers and ornaments.

Sometimes the scene is a snow shrouded clearing in the woods.  Horse drawn sleighs are parked in front.  Multi-colored lights transform a living tree just off to the side.IMG_4875

Often the Nativity scene is partnered with this place of comfort.  Joseph and Mary watch over the newborn baby Jesus while animals quietly look on to the miraculous scene.  Visitors flock to the sound of music coming from inside of this haven.

It is the picture of a church building.  Inside the alive church of followers of Jesus are celebrating this anniversary birth.  A Savior has been born.

IMG_4878Our busy lives pushed all of those demanding stress-causing matters out in our POV (personally owned vehicle).  I shut the doors and locked them in.  Then, my bride and I carried our Bibles and hand in hand we walked into church.

Gifted decorators decked out a tree that was gorgeous.  We did not rush by it.  Instead, captivated we stopped and admired it from several angles.IMG_4879

Once inside the auditorium the orchestra and choir and worship team blew us away.  Our spirits soared with the familiar Christmas carols.  Then stunning orchestral and choir supported anthems took our spirits and we worshipped together.  It was awesome!

A soloist made the rafters shake with her rendition of “Do You See What I See?”  We rose to our feet with great applause.  All of us could see!

IMG_4880Pastor Gregg Matte delivered an encouraging word from the Word.  He has a gift of making the truth practical.  The Spirit used it to touch so many lives.

In the end the choir and orchestra dismissed us with a majestic finale of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.  With a family like serendipitous moment the choir motioned for Pastor Gregg to join them in the loft for that final song.  All of us sounded not just “good” but “glorious” as we gave our Almighty God our collective gift of worship.  Merry Christmas!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

 

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From our home to yours,

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Joy to the world! The Lord is come
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing

Joy to the world! the Savior reigns
Let men their songs employ
While fields and floods
Rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat, repeat the sound in joy

No more let sin and sorrow grow
Nor thorns infest the ground
He comes to make
His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found
Far as the curse is found
Far as, far as the curse is found

He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of his love
And wonders of his love
And wonders and wonders of his love!

Happy Birthday, Jesus! Hallelujah!

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IMG_3159This night is a highlight for our hard-working team.  For several it will be their first gathering with us.  Our faith and our fellowship drive us together.

All year we work diligently at our jobs and produce very well-trained and educated seminary students ready for a lifetime of effective ministry.  Each one of our posts contributes to the whole of what we see march across a stage and grasp on to their sheep skin, a testament to their academic prowess and personal spirituality.

Along the way, we look forward to our team gathering for fun, food and fabulous fellowship.  This is our annual Christmas gathering.  The expectations were high.

IMG_3160When we entered the cool air was left outside and the warmth of welcome engulfed us.  The aroma of the meal was filling our senses.  We could already taste the delicious meal that was waiting for us.

Colorful decorations, bright twinkling lights and the sounds of Christmas music topped off our welcome.  More and more colleagues arrived.  Each was caring a contribution to our shared meal.

Laughter and teasing were as bountiful as any feature of our party.  Smiles erupted with the good-natured banter.  Children were a part of our gathering as well.  Families are welcome on our team.

IMG_3161Suddenly the audio disappeared.  Our host announced the 3 minute warning for the food.  But, with that came the panic.  Before we would pray each guest was invited to recite a Bible memory verse.

It was the fastest I have ever seen cellphone whipped out and team members quickly scrolling through “apps” and minds refreshing themselves with the specific combination and order of words.  We laughed. We teased.

Lengthy verses were not the norm.  These had to be some of the shortest IMG_3162verses in all of Inspired Scripture.  Yet, they were good words.

Nearly forty of us shared a sample of the Living Words from the Living Word.  In the midst of the frolicking, I marveled at this collection for fabulous people.  Each one is precious and dearly valued.

Together we make up the heart and soul of what happens on the campus of DTS-Houston.  Selfless, hardworking, cheerful, helpful, energetic and trustworthy people are growing into a wonder of God’s presence in one of the newest Global cities on earth.

IMG_3163Of course we ended with some raucous fun.  We played the game Taboo: Men vs. Women.  It did not take long for the women to pull ahead in points while the men teased and made bold false claims to egg on their competition.  Merry Christmas, everyone!  You are loved!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_3164Every parent of little ones knows the charm of the Church Christmas pageant.  With video camera and SLR in hand, eager parents stake out seats close to the front.  It really does not matter what part their child has in the annual thespian performance.  In their minds their offspring is the star.

Parents take turns popping up and capturing their legacy leaving an Oscar-deserving or Grammy-deserving presentation that left everyone speechless. Or at least the average person could relish the raw talent that was on display.  These images captured on digital cameras would be fodder for the grandparent machines or distant aunts and uncles.

Yet, there are additional roles filled by those who will still the show just because they are amazingly IMG_3167cute. Their personalities and soft pet-table demeanor give them the advantage to steal the show every time that they are folded into the Christmas extravaganza.  These supporting cast members are the livestock.  Yes, they are real live animals that make the Christmas story have a reach out and pet me warmth to it.

On my way out of the church from our morning men’s study, I saw the temporary corral in the courtyard.  Inside there were creatures stirring and moving about their grassy turf.  How can you not smile when you see these animals on display?

IMG_3166The donkey was the biggest of the four-legged stars.  He was being protective of the other critters in his enclosure.  With one wary eye on me, he walked a sentry line making sure that all of the resting animals were under his watchful eye.

Donkeys are legendary as protectors.  They and their half offspring, the mule, have long been added to herds of grazing cattle and horses to ward off coyotes, wolves, bear and other nuisance predators.  This totally cute brute was living up to his reputation as the protector of the beasts.

Nuzzling together while lounging on the grass was a ewe and its single lamb.  Their sides were IMG_3165rhythmically beating with their heavy breathing.  They must be high-strung.

In the center of the corral were the most adorable young goats.  Their small horns had pierced the tops of their heads and were minuscule compared to their heads. Yet, their faces were the perfection of young, new and full of life.

Each of these barnyard animals was docile.  They were calm and enjoying a good lounge on the lawn.  When the program kicks off, they will be hopefully just as serene when they walk into a building full of music, thousands of humans and followed closely by the pooper scoopers.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_3130My busy life at the office has very few gaps in a tightly wound calendar.  It is a place where I engage people, planning, personnel issues and programming that challenges patience, problem-solving skills and perpetual glitches along the road of progress.  However, I love doing what God has called me to do.

There was a moment to breath.  It is right after Thanksgiving and just before a busy Thanksgiving weekend of service.  That is when I climbed the stairs of our home on a search for a special box.

A few years ago I found that box in a store.  It was on sale.  For my purposes it was perfect and cheap too.

I brought it home and unpacked its contents.  This was a three foot tall Christmas tree.  Not only was it tiny but it was also easy to assemble.  I had it put together and standing on its own without even looking at the instructions.

Now, this little tree has followed me around the country.  I put lights on it, ornaments and even have a tree topper.  Over the years it has brought cheer to me and my office staff.

This year it has made its appearance again.  When I found it in our storage closet, I picked it up with care.  The years had worn out the box.  If I picked it up without holding it together, the cardboard box would pop open and dump that contents on the floor.  It is probably time to find a more permanent storage container for this little guy.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving I brought it into my office.  It only took moments to set it up.  Since it is so small a single strand of lights is all it takes to trim this little pine tree.  Then, I hand a bag full of ornaments.  The tree topper is a moose, my favorite wild animal.

There are special moments in life for everyone.  Plugging in the lights and throwing the power switch is one of mine.  I am no longer a kid but this special moment never ceases to make me smile.

Standing back and gazing at my little tree captured my imagination and plunged it into my memories of Christmases long long ago.  My office lights were off and the only source of light was from this single strand of Christmas lights.  The ornaments were reflecting the lights and magnifying their effect.  Such a little tree, making a big splash in my office and in the soul world of memories.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_3147Thanksgiving was really fun.  We had laughter, great food, fun football, new friends, old friends and time to relax.  But, it was also the best time to look forward to Christmas.

We went shopping for some of basic life needs.  Christmas decorations are basic life needs.  Putting up just a few little features makes Christmas to be enhanced.

We have two outside lights, one on either side of the garage.  I replaced the bulbs with holiday red lights.  They are low-wattage lights, a mere 25 watts each.  However, when I turn them on at night they give off a celebratory glow.

Just below each light I hung a plastic bow.  It too, like the lights, are a bright red with glitter.  At night the lights enhance the bows and the bows reflect the light and magnify the glow.

On our front door we hung a beautiful wreath.  It is a circle of greenery decorated with Christmas features.  Anyone who comes to our home will sense the living spirit of Christmas is present in our home.

Once the wreath was hung, I stood back and smiled.  It is all part of the anticipation.  Looking forward to the celebration to come is a symptom that the meaning of Christmas is a very real part of our lives.

Next, I walked into my garage and flipped on the decorated outside lights.  With a smile of anticipation I walked out to take a look at my handiwork.  I was not disappointed.

My grin broke into a wide smile.  Christmas is coming.  This special season of the year to count our blessings, celebrate Jesus’ birthday and consider the most amazing gift ever given.

Our decorations are simple this year.  One wreath here, a few lights there, a bow here and a small, a very small tree in my office is all we have put up so far.  Every one of our family is else where in this vast country.  Once we had a house full of children and we decorated together to make our home festive.  Now, they each have their own homes and are off doing their own Christmas celebrations.

Yet, it is not just about the children.  When I turned on our modest Christmas lights, I smiled.  After I stood back and gazed at our glistening bows, wreath and my humble little office tree, I loved that moment and the pleasure of anticipating the celebration of my Savior’s birthday.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_2989The Big Box Store was our destination.  We were on a mission.  It was time to get a replacement watch.  When we arrived, there was nothing too interesting to capture our attention.

We had allowed an hour to shop but we were done in 9 minutes.  That was the perfect time to laugh with each other.  “Now what do we do?”

Our evening church service did not start for an hour and a half.  There was no place else that we wanted to go.  Being opportunists, we decided to walk around the store where we were and see if something inspired us or jogged our memory of something that we needed to pick up for our home.

My bride checked out the books.  I wandered around to see what new things IMG_2986there were to see.  It was the middle of October and the displays set up in the store made me smile.

Is it really time for Christmas?  Could we be nearing that most special time of the year, already?  It seems that we just entered into the Autumn season.

According to my calendar, Halloween is not even here yet.  That Harvest Festival time is still weeks away.  Still the brightly colored light, theme colors of red and green are generously on display.

Toys and decorations, special candies, splendid ornaments and seasonal beverages are stacked for the shoppers’ delight.  At first the hurried season was a bit shocking.  Then, I stared at a Christmas moose and smile.  He made me chuckle.

Hmmm…maybe it is never too early for Christmas.

This is the favorite time of year after all.  God made a promise of a Messiah and He kept it by giving us His Son.  That is the heart and soul of the meaning and beginning of Christmas.

IMG_2987Life has been tough for wonderful friends.  There have been painful disappointments for them.  Hardships have brought trouble into their lives.  Hope and mercy from God are great comforts during the Christmas season for them and all of us who have been praying and cheering them on until the  Father chooses to grant them better days.

Christmas and the real meaning of this season peak back into our lives with the simplest of brightly colored ornaments.  These shiny globes push a smile back into our hearts.  We remember better days and restore the hope in the days of His promises still to come.  It is never too early for Christmas.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

 

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