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31531388_2135635573119502_1994887011911073792_nEducation has fallen on hard times. Enrollment is one of the non negotiable items in the world of higher education. Administrators lose sleep over declining numbers with each passing academic year.

Private institutions of higher education are feeling the tightening belt even more. That magic number attached to enrollment makes heads spin, competent employees to panic, and media sites to attack the topic in a feeding frenzy. Education finds its identity in the numbers census of bodies in desks.

This is my world too. Education is my field of specialization. There have been hours and days and weeks and months that I have discussed, studied, and pursued students to enroll into our institution.

Here is a lesson that has helped me: Work hard to do all you can. Then, trust the final results to God.

In 2 Kings 6 Israel and Aram were at war with each other. The Arameans were making a killing by robbing Hebrew caravans of rich cargo. Their king secretly plotted ambush and ambush and absconded with great wealth.

Finally, the man of God, Elisha intervened and told the King of Israel all of the Aramean plans. His prophetic foresight thwarted further Aramean raids. Irritated, the King of Aram first tried to blame one of his own officers for leaking their top-secret plans.

A quick thinking officer plays his “get out of jail card” and informs the king that Elisha the prophet tells all of Aram plans to his king in Israel. The Arameans send an army to surround Elisha. His servant sees the enemy threat, panics with desperate fear, and exclaims, “What shall we do?”

Elisha is the portrait of calm. He simply prays that God will open the eyes of his servant and allow him to see what God has done to protect them. In answer to Elisha’s prayer, the servant sees that there are angels and fiery chariots from heaven surrounding Elisha. The words of this amazing prophet are worth remembering: “Those who are with us are greater than those who with them.”

Remember: God will often have a solution ready before we even realize that we have a problem. Use eyes of faith to see what God has already done. Fear not, even with huge problems like enrollment.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_0007[1]On August 22, Wednesday from 430PM to 630PM at Houston’s First Baptist Church there will be a Meet the Author gathering in the Fellowship Hall. Many of us who have had the privilege of putting words to paper will look forward to shaking hands, meeting you, signing books, and having some fabulous fellowship. If you are close by, then I hope to see you there.

IMG_3208My family rendezvoused at a beach house on the Pacific Coast. After I climbed out of the car, I was captivated by days long ago. This wonderful journey was once common on my schedule, when I lived in the West.

This is a special treat. It brings back great memories. My plans changed with this nostalgic vacation.

Once the family was settled with luggage and rooms, I grabbed my book and stepped out on to the balcony of the second floor. Naturally, I paused for a moment to remind myself why I was there. The sight was gorgeous; but there was more.

A comfortable chair beckoned me with silence but with a promise. The ease would be much more than just what I felt. I even caught myself smiling.

Settling into the comfortable cushioned chair, my legs naturally lifted on to the equally as comforting ottoman. My book opened to my furthest progress. There was no diminishing of my smile.

While the words begged to be read. I instead lifted my eyes to watch the rolling surf. Synchronized with that sensational view was the sound.

Hearing the roar of the mighty Pacific was hypnotizing. It was instant relaxation. Nothing demanded concentration, intentional planning, or obligatory activity. Just listen and the rhythmic beating of the surf melts away all concerns.

I remember loving this amazing atmosphere. It is a wonder that I had forgotten how relaxing this phenomenon is. No wonder this is a fixation for vacationers around the fruited plains.

Need to relax? Go visit the Pacific Coast. Take a good book, drink in the sounds at God’s 24-7 free spa.

Actually, let the sounds engulf your tension-filled life. It will unknot your soul and smooth out your spirit like few experiences can. The Mighty Pacific promises to mellow you out.

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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I was not interested in anything extra at our Big Box store. My resolve, however, was not resilient enough. My head snapped to the left, both of my feet came to a halt, and I moved our shopping cart out of the busy aisle.

Whoa! It was a 60″ one piece bathroom vanity. The price was very attractive. A display piece had smooth running drawers, well-thought-out storage, granite counter top, quality craftsmanship, sharp-looking colors, and dimensions that would fit in our Master bathroom.

Our house is a fixer upper. Six years ago we knew that we would have to inject large doses of love in order to make this house a winner. Each year we pick a major project and transform this dwelling into our personal home little by little.

Upgrading our Master Bathroom was clearly on the upgrade list. A twin vanity came with the house. The counters were plastic. Counter space was very limited. My bride’s faucet leaked. Craftsmanship on the wood cabinet was non-existent.

We made the leap. This year we would buy that new vanity and have it installed. Professional installers were contracted to do the work.

Yes, I could have done the work myself. In my youthful past plumbing projects were always something that I personally tackled. They did not turn out well.

More than once I surrendered and called a pro to fix the problems. This time I started with the pro. Wow! What a smart choice.

His van was filled with all of the extras. I would have made five trips to the local hardware store to pick up what I did not know that I needed the first several trips. My jobs ended up taking over a week since small challenges would crop up and I would have to read and ask questions to get it right.

These pros are aware of the possible issues in advance. New unseen problems were not an issue. They had the parts and the expertise to keep on working.

On top of that I am getting a lot of my ministry work done while two experts are getting all of the plumbing work done. Most importantly, the job is getting done right. I like it when the professionals come in and together we all do our own thing.

IMG_0823He used to be so strong. When the clan gathered, he was at the center of the family photo. His smile was broad enough to claim six children, six in-laws, a passel of grandkids, and a growing number of great grand children.

Now, life was catching up with him. Age was held at bay for decades. Once he was resilient for the crazy, noisy family reunions.

The world races by outside. It is oblivious to the inevitable march dominating the building that was home for an ever-expanding brood. 93 years have passed under his bridge.

Lines on his smile carried stories that filled those years. Busy activity around him showed the care of his children who handled business, studied medical options, listened to his waning memories of stories from years ago and far off places around the world. Sadness crept in for us all.

The light of life was growing dimmer. Energy from his perpetual youth was slipping away. Once a proud man, now we would help him to do the very basics of life, ignoring the cry for personal dignity.

With humility needed for the many of life necessities his head dipped and the functions were performed without fanfare. Old is a merciless shadow that drains even the strongest from the pedestal of zest. Aging bodies cannot do what it was designed by the great Creator to do.

Now, younger lives, children return the favor of a parent. The child is now the one who gives what once was lavishly given. Life roles have now changed.

Processing the dramatic reversal of energy, independence, and animation made sense in my mind. Sensing it and reacting to it was very different. Getting old is not kind.

Aging is brutal. Life should not be so painful, agonizing, and difficult. Inconsolably sad was how I was feeling.

Reaching out my hand and lifting a once proud man up from his cushioned chair just to make a move to the dining room table required a conscientious effort. The loss of mobility rang a hollow call from the emptying spirit of the head of this home. The sadness grabbed me deeper in my soul.

May God’s mercy sustain all who feel the constant creep of aging stealing so much from their lives. Keep looking up, dear ones. The God of the Ages is watching over you and promises to give back so much for all eternity for those who know his son, Jesus the Christ.

What to do? My bride and I were in our old home state for the holidays.  She was off for the day with her sisters for a girls day out.  What to do?

Aha! The movie website was a quick touch of an app away.  Scrolling through the nearby theaters and the list of current movies solved my dilemma.  Nope, I have seen that one.  Again, that was one that we saw together.  Uh, nope, I am not into scary movies or raunchy ones either. Hmm, now there is an interesting one.

One swift click on my phone and I successfully bought a ticket for the earliest showing.  My GPS beeped, flashed, and then guided me safely to my destination.  The lights dimmed, commercials ran humorously, and then the featured event began.

The lead star was all talent. He danced, he sang, he charmed his way through life overcoming hardship, poverty, rejection, and despair. Love and dreams fueled his life.

He found others who were despised and disrespected.  His dreams found them all a new family, life and love that they could share.  When that world crashed and burned, they pulled themselves up and rebuilt an even better life.

It was a feel good movie from the start until the end.  The music was energizing.  Episodes of people’s lives were engaging.  Memories of The Greatest Showman linger for me.  I liked the movie so much that when my bride was free a week later, I brought her to the showing too.

However, I have read reviews of critics who did not like the movie. Their criticism centered on the “historical inaccuracies.” The movie portrayed P.T. Barnum as a folk hero of sorts, helping the oppressed, coming to aid of victims of racism, and giving a hand to the ethnic people marginalized by the community.  Critics claim that he was just the opposite.  He exploited the victims of race, prejudice, and abuse.  They say he did it all to line his own pockets.

Phooey!  I don’t know much about the history of this man.  But I liked the movie. Claims of racism sure seem to be subjective.  History not only stumbles over the truth about this evil, but contemporary people trip up also.  Just because we accuse someone of racism does not necessarily make it true.

Whatever history validates and whatever opinions fuel more arguments, I am left with the same conclusion.  I liked the movie. I liked it a lot!

If I could go back in time to the first Easter, I hope that my choice would have been to go to the tomb early on Easter Sunday.

Walking the typically rocky road with home-made sandals, I know that I could have felt my heart pounding.  It would have been so loud that I couldn’t hear the women talking about the predicament of moving the stone.  Knowing what I know now, but keeping it secret from those in that day, I would be straining to look ahead.

Maybe the sight of the absent soldiers would have confirmed what I know.  They had been blown on to their backside and been terrified that they would be executed for failure to do their duty.  All they had to do was keep Jesus’ disciples from stealing the body.

Yet, a power so great as to knock these professional soldiers out-of-the-way, disintegrate the Roman seal on the tomb as if it was never placed there, and then to move the stone out of the ditch in one instantaneous episode took place in a blink on an eye.  Like frightened children the soldiers reported to their authorities and rehearsed the lie that they were told to give.  That was better than execution or imprisonment to them.

The women were shocked to see the stone moved away.  Their confusion would have been my excitement.  Hearing the angel conversation would have thrilled my mind.

All the theology that I have learned would be validated through a few words.  As the women wondered what to do, they may have asked me what we should all do.  That’s when I would have let some of today’s Bible knowledge leak out, “Let’s go tell the disciples what we have seen!”

On the jog back to the gathering, I would have left the women, “You go report what we saw.  I’ve got two disciples on the road to Emmaus that I need to see.”

“What are you going to say to them?” they would have asked in surprise.

“I want to hear what their companions will be telling them,” I would smile.  “Don’t worry what anyone else says.  I believe what y’all (Texan for “all of you”) believe.  HE HAS RISEN!”

IMG_3809Yes, I along with most of the humans in the Western hemisphere have seen many movies with exotic scenes of Hong Kong as the backdrop.  Suave and daring secret agents raced through town wrecking havoc as they chased enemy spies or ran desperately away from blazing guns and razor-sharp knives.  Whether it was during the day or night, on land or splashing through the water or flying massive airplanes between tall skyscrapers, this city was the stage for mysteries, adventures and drama.

Now, for the first time in our lives my bride and I are in Hong Kong.  We are seeing sites that we only remember from the silver screen.  They are spectacular when we are in the middle of those sensational scenes.

It is crowded.  Throngs and hordes and crowds of people are going everywhere.  The sounds of so many accompany the masses.

Yet, when it is time for many to board a bus, a tram or a subway train, the people areIMG_3782 orderly.  They queue up and patiently wait in line.  There is absolutely no one cutting into line.  Such order in the middle of such chaos is a stunning sight to take in.

Then, of course the city lights at night has to be a famous feature of this city.  Whether we gazed at Hong Kong island or took the Star Ferry and looked back on Kowloon, the lights of the city were festive in an unforgettable way.  I don’t remember the last time I walked through a city at night and felt no fear, but this was a welcomed experience.

IMG_3877Our hosts told us that we would feel quite secure in walking the city at night.  No pick pockets, no racial unrest, there were no shady characters waiting to rob anyone and no dark recesses that hid nefarious activities.

Man-made buildings and transports were features of the city.  Now, it was God’s turn. From the top of Victoria Peak we scanned the gorgeous islands that made up Hong Kong.  Each protrusion from the waters of the bay were a powerful reminder that God did His handiwork to make this natural harbor a home for one of man’s freest enterprise markets in human history.IMG_3916

Setting aside human structures and stunning vistas the most remarkable feature of this special city are its people.  We have special friends here who call Hong Kong home.  They welcomed us into their hospitality and we thoroughly enjoyed the embrace of love.

photos by brucefong photography

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