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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.

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IMG_5685The pomp and circumstance were in the air.  Families and friends rolled in from miles around.  Some even landed after a long plane ride.

Each graduate had a lot to celebrate.  Graduate and post-graduate education takes a lot out a person’s soul.  It is more than just an education.

The hallowed halls of a seminary set a course for every student to master a theological theme that will prepare them for a lifetime of ministry.  They leave the seminary with skills to preach, teach and guide the lives of every kind of person that they will likely meet as a pastor or church leader.

Each one has even been trained to deal with the unruly, the unlikable and the trouble-maker.  Yes, in the ministry those kinds of unpleasant people lurk among the pews.  They have a self-imposed calling to make life difficult for the leader who shepherds the flock.

Most have even studied foreign languages, both alive and dead.  Their skills in the grammar and art form of language was won over countless nights of studying, hard disciplined memorization and endless hours of rehearsing and thinking.

Before they could graduate they had to stand in front of peers and professors and speak sermons, teach lessons and debate issues.  The spoken word is now their friend and greatest avenue of communication.  They are orators of the best kind; they speak on behalf of Almighty God, who called them to service.

Each one felt the relief when the final paper was turned in.  Smiles replaced pensive feelings of uncertainty.  Finally, the Registrar’s office gave them the good news: they were qualified to graduate!

Faculty gathered with resplendent regalia.  The colors of their robes showed off the universities where they graduated.  A variety of alma mater represented the world.

The auditorium was massive enough to have open seating and a completely free invitation.  Cheering sections formed.  Excitement filled the air with a prelude of videos and music.

But, the familiar song began the service as the faculty marched in.  The graduates were right behind them.  Everyone in the audience “ooh’ed and ah’ed” with the traditional display.

Each hard-working graduate was treated to an earful of sounds, an eyeful of ceremony and a heart-full of challenge to no longer fill a classroom.  Now, it was time to put all of that learning into action.  It was time to COMMENCE!

Congratulations, DTS Class of 2015!  God bless each and everyone of you.  Now, get going and tear it up for Jesus!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_2915It is in my blood.  The halls of academia have a powerful pull on my spirit.  When the lives of quality young people gather to learn from those who are gifted at teaching, it is a confluence of humanity that reflects the quality of the Creator’s touch of His image.

When I get a chance, I take the opportunity to walk the grounds of educational institutions.  Some times when those opportunities prove to be elusive I make the opportunity happen.  Grabbing a visit to a well-known institution at the invitation of someone who already loves that University, college or seminary is a cause for a smile.

Lee and I had a fabulous time of fellowship around great food.  Our initiation intoIMG_2917 each other’s lives is on the beginning.  There is no doubt we will meet many more times.

When our time together was done, he gave me directions to the Rice University book store.  He showed me on the campus map where I wanted to go.  In addition he suggested a longer route.

With a smile of a proud Rice Alumnus he said that I would enjoy walking through the campus quadrangle.  He was right.

IMG_2919I made my way through the tree-lined grounds.  Mature and stately trees had years of careful management.  Those who know about nurturing these slow-growing flora sentinels had done their jobs well.

The campus grounds were beautiful.  Gardeners had planted annuals in the flower beds to splash spectacular color for adoring eyes and weary students alike.  Large expanses of lush carpets of grass made breathing an easy task.

A long outdoor corridor invited me to continue my stroll.  In the shadow of aged IMG_2920arches I had my first glimpse of the quadrangle.  Students scurried about.

I joined the mass movement of learners and lecturers.  Conversations in foreign languages surrounded me.  Books were everywhere.

From the map in my hand I hoped to walk through the library as a shortcut.  I was denied.  Since I was a visitor without credentials, I was not admitted to the library.  I walked around that building.

Inside the student activities building, the aroma of franchise food options filled the air.  Students poured over books, imputed data on laptops and grabbed a few z’s until their next class.  Learning was in full swing.

I stepped into the store and shopped.  A mission was about to be fulfilled.  My bride had requested a Rice University T-shirt and I was going to comply.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

 

IMG_2015Slowly but excitedly, guests began to arrive.  This was a very special day for our graduates.  Today was the day of their Graduation Chapel.  Something in my chest felt odd; it was a bit of pressure.

Their official commencement takes place in Dallas.  But, here in Houston is where families reside, their friends are here and their church family is here. Most of their support team will not be able to make the trek to the main campus.  This is our purpose: to give families and friends a reason to celebrate together.

I love graduation events.  There is such a celebration of the human effort and the counting of blessings from the Lord.  When graduates gather to commemorate their achievements there is everlasting relief.  But, besides relief there is an unmistakable note of rejoicing.  Those two features are joined by an intense resolve to enter into their new life of ministry and discover all that God wants them to do.  That chest feeling was still there and seemingly growing.

There were times when students thought it was too hard.  They were demoralized.  It would have been easy to quit and they almost signed the papers to end their enrollment.  However, their presence at the graduation chapel proved that they stuck it out.  Now, there is a huge smile on their faces.  It was genuine.

This was an informal chapel.  We had cheering.  Laughter was encouraged.  No spontaneous eruption for a loved ones was frowned upon. In fact it was encouraged.  A spike inside of my chest reminded me that it was there.

The music was angelic. Each spoken word was challenging.  The awards were stimulating.  People were enjoying themselves.

IMG_2018Applause was common.  Agreement from special people reverberated throughout the auditorium.  Prayers went beyond the rafters and reached the throne of God.

After the program was over the fun was about ready to commence.  People followed the wonderful fragrance.  Caters were putting the final touches on the table fare.  The barbeque meatballs were smelling very good and making us all very hungry.

Now, the real party let everyone be a part of the celebration.  Old and young, locals and relatives from afar joined in the rousing sounds of a room filled with people all talking at once.  It was electrifying.  Kudos to Dr. Bailey, Willie, Evetta, Leonetta, Sherry and a host of student volunteers!

This was a joyous exultation of sheer happiness.  We were all glad to be here.  We were especially glad for our graduates who deserved the occasion to honor their years of faithful work.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_1966Saturday was a highlight day for my week. I suppose everyday that I rise and draw breath means that any day is a  blessing. My point however, is that this Saturday was a day that I was looking forward to with a great deal of anticipation.  This was the day that my first class that I have ever taught at Dallas Seminary were coming into our home for lunch.

We had only one free Saturday before the semester ended.  This was that day.  When only one day would fit into our schedule then, the conclusion was obvious.  My bride and I marked it on our calendar and I announced the date in class.

Naturally, there were conflicts. Two students had Saturday classes and had to miss the gathering. Two more had to work and couldn’t adjust their hours. Several others had ministry obligations and could not come.  Nevertheless, we were going to have a ball with those who could make it.

The day before our gathering I had a day off.  I worked to get the house ready.  Hospitality is fun yet it does require some tidying up around the old homestead.  My bride was at work so I had the chores listed for my day-off and it was time to work like a Buc-ee Beaver, a Texas Buc-ee Beaver.

Most of the chores were easy.  I washed the dishes and put things away that were occupying the counter space in the kitchen.  Next, the Living Room needed to have some attention.  Finally, the common areas needed some TLC.

Friday afternoon I drove over to the China Cottage Restaurant.  Mary, the owner, was there.  She invited me to sit with her while she finished some paperwork.  Then, she smile, “What may I do for you?”

I laughed when she asked if I was dining alone.  “No,” I returned her smile, “I am having some very special guests over to our home tomorrow for dinner.  What would you suggest I serve?”

“Oh, this will be important to select some wonderful items from our menu,” Mary glowed.

“OK,” I joined in on the anticipation, “Let’s have a variety of beef, chicken, pork and seafood.”

“Very good,” Mary chimed in.

“I was thinking of your delicious chicken chow mein.  Then, everyone likes your sweet and sour pork tenderloin.  We need some vegetables, so how about an order of your green beans with beef?”  my suggestions had come from thoughtful preparations.

“Come back tomorrow at 11.15AM and it will be ready, ” Mary assured me. This was going to be a fantastic gathering.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

 

 

In all of life there are repeated simplicities that have lasting value.  One of those basic truths is that the pursuit of a humility is well worth all of the effort required to obtain it.  It takes a lifetime but the satisfaction is constant.

Over the years I have been straining to obtain this measure of life.  Both during the good times and the bad times, the chase for humility is constantly on my mind.  One of the clues left to me by others is that we can gain ground on this elusive treasure by being a student throughout our lives.

When we are constantly learning there is an openness in our spirit.  We submit our lives to others and we grow in knowledge and our spirit is left realizing how much it does not know.  It has been my habit throughout life to regularly put myself in a learning mode.

During the beginning of my professional career I took piano lessons as an adult.  Some of my fellow classmates who excelled beyond my skills were younger than my own children.  But, I loved learning.

When my children were young adolescents they were all learning martial arts.  I joined in with gusto.  It was fun even while I was applying my sore muscle ointments.

I took a class on how to play soccer.  Most of the collegians were faster, had far more endurance than me but I learned.  To this day I appreciate that sport.

Then, I took a class on volleyball.  Most of the other collegians in the class weren’t there to learn.  They obviously already knew how to play and play well.  Others helped the “old guy” and I learned.  It was certainly humbling on many occasions but I did learn a lot.

Photography is an art form.  Others have made an honest living at it.  My fascination of it has put me in a learning mode.  I read, ask, listen and watch.  For sure I am learning.

Each week I pour hours and hours into studying a passage of Scripture so that I understand it.  Then, I shape a sermon, give it life and freshness.  There is never a time when I am NOT learning more and more about what God is saying to us.

An excruciating pain comes from letting truth fillet your spirit. But, out of that extraordinary pain comes amazing discovery.  Nevertheless, I learn.

photo credit: google image

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