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IMG_1493Our move to Houston had a number of priorities on our relocation list.  The normal items of finding a home, establishing myself in my new job, finding a new job for my bride and of course, finding a new home church.  This last item was not the lowest on our priority even though it comes last on my list.

During our visits to Houston we not only shopped for a place to live and find a house to buy in the area that we chose to be our home, I asked a lot questions about church recommendations.  My list for churches that others were excited about was growing longer.  Now, it was time to systematically make our visits and trust God to lead us where He wanted us to serve.

Essentials on our list for a church to call home were simple.  There was doctrinal alignment.  Worship vibrancy was on our list.  Most importantly we wanted a church home where we would be able to love our pastor, support him and his family and be a couple that he could count on as the church moved forward.

We seemed to visit churches forever.  Each time we like so much of the many very good churches in Houston.  Yet, we just could not connect with our list of essentials.

Then, we met Pastor Gregg Matte of Houston’s First Baptist Church.  He was on Sabbatical the first time we visited HFBC.  In the meantime we roamed the city visiting all of the churches that people recommended to us.

When our list ran out we heard that Pastor Gregg was back from his sabbatical.  We chose to visit.  We were blown away!

It is like meeting an old friend and connecting right off the bat.  We met for a Dr. Pepper break, he invited us to their Christmas Celebrate and after a short decision discussion, my bride and I went forward in December 2012 and joined the church.

After years of serving as a pastor, cheering on other pastors, encouraging broken pastors, standing by the side of besieged pastors we are solidly in our Pastor’s corner and doing everything we can to honor his life and ministry.  Often our friends in far away states in California, Oregon, Washington, Michigan, Tennessee ask how we like living in Houston.  Our response always includes the great reality that we love our church and our pastor.  That’s the way it should always be.

photo credit: yvonne fong photography

 

10659299_1484825341773231_7789587565489362610_nFaith Bible Church has called its next pastor.  He will be able to begin shepherding this wonderful group of believers in a couple of months.  In the mean time someone needs to help the church family prepare to welcome and follow their new shepherd.  That is the role of an interim pastor has been given to me.

This congregation in Spring,Texas has called me to be their Interim Pastor.  I relish the privilege and look forward to being their temporary pastor.  My job is to preach the Word, love the people and prepare them to cheer on their new pastor.  He will bolster God’s vision for the church..

Preaching is key.  I will open up the Bible each Sunday and consistently give these Christians a straight message from God’s Word.  Practical application consistent with His message will be the steady diet that all of us at FBC will feast on each Lord’s Day.

The church family gave their new pastor a 100% affirmation during the call.  That is such a thrill for the new pastor as he changes his job to take on the role of shepherding this special group of people.  A great celebration is on the horizon.

In the mean time I take over the helm for the interim time.  My job will be to prepare the people to be shepherded again.  Leadership, vision, encouragement and a clear clarion call will be a part of my responsibility.

Pastors love to love their people.  They want to nourish their people with excellent teaching from the Word of God.  Each Sunday the people want to look forward to coming and hearing a challenge from the Scripture and practical ways to navigate life through the trials and tribulations of a daily routine.

I will get them used to this kind of oversight in the next couple of months.  From the Word I will remind them of how a pastor’s heart soars when the people receive the Word with enthusiasm.  They will impact the joy of the pastor and his family far more than they have ever suspected.

When they smile and take notes, the pastor is encouraged in his preaching.  As people in the congregation grow spiritually, their pastor will be motivated to serve with joy and enthusiasm.  When the people bring guests, their pastor will marvel at God’s favor on the congregation.  Is this the picture that you had of an Interim Pastor?

photo credit: www.faithbiblespring.org cover photo

FullSizeRender-1Our church is full of variety and surprises.  Worship is never predictable or ever run-of-the-mill or boring.  Instead, a vibrancy emanates from the gathering of the saints.

Joy erupts and delight is our common experience.  It is not just an emotional release but a cheerful expression of our worship of our God.  When Jesus changed us forever our hearts are now grateful and overflowing with gratitude to Him.

One of the occasional events that spurs our variety of worship is the generational service.  Our worship people bring in the children.  They are highly rehearsed and trained.

When the majestic music begins and the children pop in with their parts of a solo, an ensemble or a choral presentation, it is easy to smile.  Their energy and devotion overflows.  Teachers and parents have brought many of these children to faith and their exuberance for their Savior is obvious.

My bride is a second grade teacher at the First Baptist Academy.  She has established a wonderful loving relationship with her little tykes.  Several of them were in the gathering of youngsters to sing at the worship service.

Eagerly each of her students took a chance to invite her to sit up front to watch and listen as they sang their hearts out to the Lord.  That is an invitation that cannot be turned down.  In fact I was given clear instructions to photograph the events with my camera phone.

Our energetic worship leader invited us to worship.  The auditorium filled with hearts that stirred to bring a gift of praise to the Lord.  All of the adult vocalists and instrumentalists were in fine form.

When the experienced and gifted lead the way for the young and neophytes there is confidence that is built into the lives of these young ones.  Like a large family surrounding the fireplace, we joined in with song and adoration of the One who has given us everything.  We felt lifted up and engulfed in something much bigger than what we could ever create ourselves.

The Spirit carried us along as we were invited and then whisked away.  Lost in the joy of expression and appreciation was this moment.  Young and no-longer-young blended voice, soul and spirits into one presentation to our solitary audience.

Eyes of those we knew on the stage was a part of a special sharing.  We were included.  Mutual appreciation was our bond before the great throne above.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone 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

 

IMG_4366Friday night was reserved on our calendar.  When we approached the weekend we talked over our plans, reviewed the events and talked about how meaningful these days would be.  Then the making of a wonderful blessing began.

Friday night was a highlight for us.  We headed out on time to beat the traffic.  Our destination was a simple eatery on the other side of the freeway from our church.

Tonight we were going to the celebration of the ten-year anniversary of our pastor and his family at our church.  It is amazing to consider an entire decade of service for our pastor and his family.  He even stuck around when he succeeded a three decade stint by his predecessor.

Thousands of cheerful supporters filled the church building.  The worship was powerful.  Love was all over the place.

When our pastor was invited up to the platform, the applause was enthusiastic and sustained.  His smile was broad.  His family was basking in a massive display and expression of love.

For a moment I felt for all the pastors who have never experienced that outpouring of devotion.  They have served faithfully only to be beaten down by those who criticize, hold secret gatherings, complain anonymously and mete out miserly compensation.  Do not be one of those.

Nevertheless, these shepherds tirelessly serve, constantly study and face heartbreaking moments where they were the sole source of encouragement.  Their faithfulness slipped by the notice of most and was remembered in detail only by God.  He knows all and never forgets.

There are always those who point to bad ministers.  However, those few are small in number compared to the neglected in ministry.  Encourage your pastor, give your heart to him.  Yes, discern wisely but embrace him with love and encouragement.

We had great conversations with people around us that evening when we honored our pastor.  His personality has been pervasive in our lives.  Warmth, welcome and cheer are ways that he addresses us and so we do the same with each other.

God is blessing our pastor with a powerful ministry in our city and beyond.  His teaching is Biblical, balanced and practical.  People take notes and live what they taught.

Gifts of affection were bestowed.  Flowers filled the arms of his wife.  Each of his children enjoyed holding on to a special memento.

Humility, humor and honesty marked his words.  We love our pastor and his family!  Encourage your pastor and watch what God will do.

photo credit: brucefong 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_3078Once we were total strangers.  Our paths had never crossed.  Each of us had lives that were being lived completely without each other.

Then, something changed.  It was not fate or the realignment of the stars nor was it even the meal that we had eaten that night.  Instead, it was the blessing of God that rearranged our lives to connect at church.

We were all ardent followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.  As men we each had a wonderful wife who stood faithfully by our side.  Then, independently of one another, we sought our Savior for not only our faith but also for our devotion in life.

I was their pastor.  They were men in the church who showed great initiative, maturity and passion for the truth of the Scriptures.  I watched as they lived our faithfulness, availability and teach-ability.

IMG_3080Over time I heard them teach, carry on mature conversations, and express their convictions with wisdom and insight.  I was convinced that these men could do more.  We talked about pushed a new envelope in spiritual productivity.

I wanted to teach these men how to preach.

As I explained the plan, they each responded as I expected.  They wanted to think it over and prayerfully consider the opportunity.  Of course as wise men they would talk it over with their wives.

One by one they agreed.  They were looking forward to our times together. It was exciting to teach good men the skills to pass on spiritual and eternal truth to others.

Of course the proof is in the pudding.  Each of these men were assigned dates to preach in church. I was right there with them when they did.

The receptivity was powerful.  People could see that there was a reason that they respected these men.  The words that they spoke were organized, powerful and sincere.  What human ears heard was something spiritual.

Our souls knitted together as we studied God’s Word.  It was not adding to our human prowess.  Rather our time was deepening our devotion to our Savior and to each other.

Time took us in separate directions.  Yet, a reunion was born in heaven.  We reunited and a special meal was the excuse.

Like the return of the Magnificent 7, we gathered without hesitation, without a loss of words and no shortage of good blessings to report.  Time slipped by and the evening grew late.  Soon, too soon we said our farewells as devoted friends and committed followers of our Savior.  I love these guys!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

2 Thessalonians 1.1-4

Harvest is special.  There is nothing else like it.  After a season of hard work and caring for crops, this is time when the fruit gets picked or the plants get collected.  It is a grower’s delight.

There is a river of sweat and toil to get to this point.  When the Good LORD then gives great weather to bring in the harvest, farmers can celebrate with this special work.  Plants have grown tall, strong and healthy for months since planting.  Now, it is autumn and the crops can be brought in to market.

The first fruits are part of the evening meal.  Freshness is central on everyone’s palate.  Smiles and humor mark the meal.  Conversation, memories, retelling of key moments for this particular season meld everyone’s minds on the greatest part of this first meal of the harvest.  Everyone is grateful, thankful and satisfied with God’s bountiful harvest.

Three godly men penned the second letter to the Thessalonians.  They had every intention of encouraging the believers there in light of the coming prophetic hope centering on Christ’s return.  Authority for this anticipation was based upon uncompromised certainty in God’s relationship with all those who are His.  The Godhead here is acknowledged as the Father and the Son equally each divine.

Grace is worth a long and deep pause.  It is God’s incredibly generous favor given to all in the church and the resulting peace from the reception of that grace.  While the terms share so much in common, grace describes God’s favor and mercy is His application of grace into our lives

Once God gives us His amazing gift, we spend the rest of our lives not trying to re-experience that historic moment. Rather, we enjoy the satisfaction that comes from the result of grace applied into our lives.  That is the peace that these emissaries of God have delivered.

The spiritual growth of Christians elicits a very similar reaction.  Maturity is something to celebrate.  It is not only good for those who are growing but also fantastic for those who helped others nurture their spiritual development.

Thanksgiving is an integral part of being a follower of Christ.  This spiritual journey with Christ begins with celebration and continues with many other landmark moments of elation as well.  Gratitude is constant as God nurtures, protects and provides the energy and circumstances to advance our faith.

Testifying over the spiritual advancement of others is a part of our own Christian journey.  Selflessness is what spirituality is.  We serve others, help others and rejoice in the growth and advancement of others.

Faith and love are both dynamic realities.  Neither stays static.  They are not real if they do not change.  Both fuel our interest in others.  When they each continue to increase and grow, then there is good reason for gratitude to be energetically expressed.

There is a special feature among gathered Christians.  It is all about story.  Together we share what God is doing in the lives of other believers.  We detail the story of the growth and expression of their faith.  When God blesses their acts of trust and belief and favors their lives we find massive encouragement from testifying to His goodness to others in the body of Christ.  Functionally, when God blesses one part of the gathering of believers, we all are benefitting.

The local church is the central gathering of these followers of Jesus.  It is not exclusive, but it certainly central.  The heartbeat of the Lord Jesus Christ is personified in the local church.

Here is where Christians can experience a righteous pride.  It is not selfish.  There is nothing in it for personal gain.  Instead, it is totally directed toward God and for the benefit of others.  There is a special beauty in this feature of humanity, redeemed humanity.

Remarkably, this celebration is not playing out just in good times.  Rather, it is especially highlighted during difficult times.  The Thessalonian believers were suffering during times of persecution.  Trials were replete and painful.  Nevertheless, they endured not just with gritted teeth but with a faith that was growing and a love for each other that was increasing.

Essential to Christian living is our vested involvement in the lives of others.  This is far more than being friends with those whom we find are just like us.  Rather, it is all about helping others grow in their faith.

This relationship of discipleship is not difficult at least it does not have to be.  When we help another Christian grow in their faith and love during difficult times, we are immersed into the heart of discipleship.  Then, when we are intentional about it, we obeying the Lord’s Great Commission.

Church should be a place where this kind of thanksgiving celebration is common.  Believers gather for mutual encouragement.  This fellowship breeds perseverance.  Christians with a strong connection to other believers who encourage them this way can look back and see that they have endured well

LAPP (Life Application): Choose three lives and build a discipleship relationship with them.  Commit to them and invest into their spiritual growth in love, faith and perseverance.  When the tough times come and they will, stick with them and cheer on their spiritual vitality and you will both grow stronger.

Thanks for joining me on this journey through the Scriptures.

1 Thessalonians 5.12-15

Sunday is the day for the family to come home from church and drink in the wonderful aroma of mom’s roast beef baking away in the oven. Aunts, uncles, cousins and of course immediate wild family members filled the house with conversation, laughter and teasing. When it is time for supper, the matriarch of the family calls all guests to the table. Conversations that were begun go on pause and are itching to continue.

Grace is spoken to the Lord over the food. All heartily join in the unison of “Amen!” Loud clamoring and clanking of utensils follows as food is passed and requested. Some in the family try to revitalize earlier conversations.

“I didn’t get anything out of  today’s message,” crows one cackling voice.
“Today’s message?” retorts the sarcasm at the other end of the table.
“Pastor has been on 1 Corinthians for two months. Enough already! Finish the book and let’s get on to something else,” a clearly thinking-highly-of-his-opinion voice chimed in.

Father had been listening patiently, now he gently knocked his spoon against the glass of water. “Enough. We have just thanked God for His generous provision of food. That is after we have earlier feasted on the Word prepared by our pastor. I ate well this morning. Now, stop the criticism.”

The doorbell chimes.

“That,” explains the Father to the long table filled with family, “will be pastor and his wife. I invited them to enjoy supper with us today.”

The church as a whole is addressed as the Apostle Paul directs their common behavior as members of the local assembly of believers. He zeroes in on the attitude that these Christians are to have toward their pastor or elders. Their disposition has nothing to do with their preferences, how the pastor lives his life or style of presentation and certainly not how one pastor compares to another.

Paul identifies one description for the pastor, he works hard. Not all do but the assumption is clear. This is expected of a man who is a shepherd. Taking that at face value, there is to be a respect that members of the church are to give to him. That is a simple instruction that has no qualifications to it
Over the generations that have filled up the church, not all who claim to follow Christ can confidently claim to have done this. Criticism, gossip, slander are not consistent with demonstrated respect. Yes, it is dangerous to mistreat God’s called servants.

God has given a pastor spiritual oversight in the lives of their church members. Bucking God-given authority is not just offensive to the pastor but to the God who authorized that leadership responsibility. Sometimes a pastor even makes church members uncomfortable with righteous admonition. God wants them to do that and members must realize that this is from God.

Church members have a decision to make. It is a matter of volition, not feeling. Are you a follower of Christ? Then, with regard to your pastor you must also decide.

Make the decision to hold your pastor in the highest regard. Do so because you want to love the pastor that God has put into your life. Their work that benefits you is difficult enough as it is. When difficulty people add to the task of pastoring, God is not pleased.

However, when a Christian chooses to live a life of love, then, this choice to honor their pastor comes naturally. A further outcome is the pursuit of peace. No matter how different people might be, strange or odd, deciding to live at peace with them is God’s way.

People can get a burr under their saddle. They get offended, something bugs them, a small statement gets blown out of proportion, they feel rejected, disrespected, overlooked or they experience unhappiness and take it out on the pastor. These are all too common and are too easily dismissed and become self-justified.

There are basics practices for all Christians. These descriptions should be indicative of their lives if they claim to follow Jesus. Not only should they highly respect their pastor but they should be industrious with their lives.

Anyone who is a Christian should not be wasting time. They should be busy about the purpose that God has assigned to them. If they are not, then someone else should warn them.

If believers are timid, then they should be encouraged. If they are unable to do what they must because they are weak, then others should lend a helping hand. All of us should be patient with each other.

Revenge is always wrong. Getting even because someone else has disrespected or hurt us is not an option. Instead, kindness is our universal reaction to how others treat us. Others should sense our consistent behavior of graciousness to them no matter how they treat us.

All of us who have been pastors have many stories that we can tell are clear violations of this passage of Scripture. We know what it is like to have the scoffers in the congregation rolling their, sitting with defiant arms crossed during the sermon, shaking their heads like wagging critics, muttering vile criticism just loud enough for others to hear but not clear enough to be politely challenged. If they are they deny what they have said or laugh it off dismissively.

These trouble makers are in so many churches. They gossip under the guise of expressing deep concern or sharing prayer requests. If they slander it is a prophetic word of warning. Those who divide are not peacemakers but self-righteous renegades. They hurt but do not see the pain that they cause.

A church should feature people who are not easily offended. Instead, they reach out and help, encourage and exercise patience with each other. We who have been eternally forgiven should be as quick to forgive others.

Be an encourager and a helper to others. You cannot go wrong if you have a lifelong reputation of being a blessing to others no matter how you are treated. God has a simple plan for us believers: treat others well.

LAPP (Life Application): Choose love in Jesus name. This decision will inoculate you from the easy path of criticism of your pastor and mistreatment of others. Cause no harm is a good value to practice in our lifetime. Reach out and help. There is never a shortage of people who need a blessing from someone today.

Thanks for joining me on this journey of living the Scriptures.

 

IMG_2126There are fascinating things to see while wheeling my way around Harris County.  There is no shortage of visions to make the ride interesting.   Wildlife is always a treat.

My eyes ripped from the trail.  Over to my right just a dozen feet off the trail was the unmistakable shape of a turtle shell.  It was alive and lumbering away from any human encounters.  He was in for a gentle one.

I dismounted my bicycle and parked it against a tree.  My trusty I-phone was handy and I prepared it to snap a photo.  There is something amazing about these slow-moving amphibians.  Their shape and color give them some camouflage but not enough when they are outside of the water.

He must have felt me coming.  This character did not know if I was a threat so he lowered his shell to the ground and IMG_2128retracted his feet.  His head sank into the shell too.  Nothing but God’s designed armor was left for this humanoid threat.

My I-phone preserved several shots in its digital memory.  The smile on my countenance was long-lasting.   It was just a matter of moments that I had looked away to review my photos.  When I looked up the terrapin was gone.  Scanning the landscape, this “slow” guy had managed to move away over 30 feet.  What a mover this guy is.

At the turn around point of my ride was a sight hidden behind a hedge of bushes and trees.  Locked behind a large gate and barbed wire were several structures that looked like an old western town.  There was a wooden clap board church, a general store and and two homes.  It was a historically preserved town of Barker.

IMG_2129In its heyday during the Railroad’s servicing of the cattle ranches, this was a bustling little town of over 80 people.  These fine folks of Americana actually had two churches.  No doubt one was the church that people went to for worship.  The other building was the church that they used to go to.

It was time to go home.  There were a lot of miles on the return trip.  The heat was beginning to suck out my final ounces of energy.  It was time for a rest.

On a park bench I let my muscles rest.  I was surrounded by the woods of the George H. Bush Bike and Hike Park trail.  It was scenic, beautiful and relaxing.  Time to soak it all in and revive my spirit.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

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