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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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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

The drive from the South area of Bangkok to the North area where our hotel is situated is a long drive.  That lengthy commute is extended when it is rush hour traffic.  But, the views are sensational and leave an indelible impression on my soul.

Mid-rise dwellings abound in Bangkok.  These small uniform apartments collect human beings in family units throughout the landscape of this beautiful country.  I will meet very few of these people face to face.

When our commute took us off of the tollways system and plunged us into the streets of the city, faces attached themselves to the masses of this countries millions.  The Thai people are famous world-wide for their cheerful smiles and clasped hands and bowed head.  There were countless people sharing that interchange along our route.

Yet, I would know very few of their names.  I would know less about their lives.  Even less would ever cross my path as a friend.

Millions of people scurried about, shopping, eating, commuting, conversing and laughing. Some were making a living selling, cooking, driving, delivering, guarding, guiding and an endless list of other activities of a city.   How many human brains would it take to know each one and follow each of their lives?

Yes, that’s definitely an impossible human task.  Yet, it gave me a chance to realize how BIG God is.  He knows all of their names.

Not only does God know each of their names, He knows each of their lives.  There are no overlooked issues.  Even the smallest of details of all of our lives are known by God.

He doesn’t stress over an overload of information.  He is never threatened by a limit of His knowledge.  Nor does He become so busy that He doesn’t have time for us.

The God of the Bible is the God who is not just attentive to our needs, He is fully engaged in inviting us to be in His family.  He makes that possible through His Son’s sacrifice on the cross.  Jesus died for everyone without exception.

Do you feel left out?  Are you overwhelmed with matters of life?  Has life become so troubled that you feel forgotten and ready to give up?

God loves you.  He knows every detail about your life and circumstances.  Not only is He aware of your situation, He controls all of them as well.  Turn to Him in faith; it will be the best decision you have ever made.

 

 

FullSizeRender-2This was going to be a particularly difficult day.  Pressures at work, a long line of demands had been queuing up for months, responsibilities were pushing the limits of our sanity.  My bride and I were comparing notes and it was going to be a tough day to start the work week.

On top of our regular routine we have a major trip coming up in a matter of weeks.  Details of overseas travel are horrendous!  We had to find time to invest in that preparation.

Departure times and dates are already getting tangled in our scheduling.  Today we would have to make sure we made those adjustments.  Double booking ourselves is an inconvenience for everyone and could easily undermine our efforts to be effective at all of our responsibilities.

We both heaved a deep sigh of dismay, loaded up our car with our bags for our day and drove off into the dark morning for our long commute.  My thoughts were lost in our need to get over the financial hump of needed changes, travel expenses and time investments.  If I could I needed to think about relieving my bride of the pressure she was feeling.

Now, we discussed possible drastic changes in our circumstances.  What dramatic changes could we live with if that meant the relief of life pressures?  There were no easy answers.

Then, we rounded the arching on ramp to the Interstate freeway.  The Houston eastern skies were waiting to cut short the threatening discouragement.  In front of us the Creator was putting on a show.

Clouds burst out of the east, pointing to the west.  Behind those finger shaped clouds were the indescribable colors of the divine palate, splashing reds, oranges and yellows in balanced effect.  Blue skies in the background were pushing the loud colors , pressing the daylight splendor.

We both smiled at the interruption to our concerns.  The God of all gods was breaking into our worrisome souls.  It was sensational sunrise.

He was starting the day off with a splendid artistic masterpiece.  In massive swathes of colorful strokes that were changing by the minute, we could only watch as He finished up the waking of a new day.  No words but just splendor.

We got the message.  What did we really have to worry about if He was in charge?  Now, we had a day to look forward to instead of dreading.

photo credit: yvonne fong photography

 

IMG_2165When I checked the weather, the data took my breath away.  Today was a scheduled bicycle ride day.  In Houston the weather for bike riding makes year-round peddling a possibility. This news, however, could toss a wrench in my day-off plans.

The temperatures were down to 45 degrees.  In Houston terms that is very chilly.  A 5 mph wind calculates into a wind chill of 42 degrees.  On a bicycle with the increased riding speed of 15mph that would feel more like 40 degrees. Brrrr!

Now, it was time to think and remember where I stored my cold weather riding clothes.  40 degrees is about my limit for comfort when it comes riding a bicycle outdoors.  Anything colder means that I have to carry an ice pick and stainless steel flask filled with hot chocolate.

My base layer was set.  All of the gaps for exposed skin were closed up.  Good socks fit into my riding shoes.

My riding jacket was ideal for this kind of weather.  Of course my long finger riding gloves were essential.  My last item, however, eluded my searching.

That is one of those rarely used items that you relished on your last cold weather ride.  But, my short term memory was no better than my long term memory on this search mission.

I looked in boxes upstairs, downstairs, garage, closets and miscellaneous containers.  There sure are a lot of miscellaneous containers around our house.  Each one is filled with really useful and valuable stuff.  One of these days I am going to sort out and organize all of it.

So, I paused to think.  Where would I have put that one last cold weather piece of clothing.  Ahah! With a quick step into the garage and a look inside my gear for motorcycle riding, I pulled out that special items, Balaclava!

No, it is not a Middle Eastern dessert.  There are no nuts or honey with this piece.  Instead, it is made from bamboo, making it tough.  It is light weight and just enough coverage to make it comfortable for my head not to freeze during a cold weather ride.

Now, I was ready.  I pushed off and settled on to my bicycle seat.  Soon I was getting into a rhythm for riding.  The exposed parts of my face felt the chilly temperatures bite into my tender skin.  But, the specialty clothes that I wore kept me very comfortable.

It was a reminder that the world that the Creator gave to us has its down sides.  But, with some great choices a careful pattern of dress could easily protect us against the elements.  Keep on enjoying His presence and the good feeling of a brisk morning ride.

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

 

 

 

IMG_1504So many of us have been surprised by the Minions of Despicable fame.  They aren’t even the star character in the Universal Pictures animation movie.  In fact they are extras that have risen to stardom almost by accident.

Now, in toy stores and pictorial renditions of favorite characters, the Minions surpass the original stars of the film.  Felonious Gru was a star but his character doesn’t stick in the memory like his little Minions.  The morphing of the super villain from interstellar thief to nurturing parent is enhanced with the supporting cast of innumerable minions.

Margo, Edith and Agnes are adorable.  While I was watching the story, I wanted to adopt those three wee ones! But, there was something about those Minions.

Vector was the ideal villain of villains.  He was dastardly.  You didn’t like him.

It felt good to root against him.  When he succeeded it was disappointing.  His achievements made you cheer on Gru!  But, still there were the Minions.

Didn’t those little guys make you smile?  Their jabbering made you chuckle.  Sometimes laughing out loud was just the right response.

The first time I saw them on the screen, I they reminded me of Hostess Twinkie.  Since then I haven’t met a soul who thought the same thing.  Oh well, maybe I’m a little out of touch.

There’s something about characters who make you react the way we do.  Real humans could pay attention to a life truth here.  Too many people miss this.

In each of our lives we will influence other people.  Those people will rarely remember the words we speak or the deeds we do.  However, they will almost always remember how we made them feel.

The same wisdom comes from that ancient adage, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Some of us who are educated beyond our moral capacity to implement that information productively, sometimes forget this truth.  Instead, if we impress others, embarrass others, win arguments at others’ expense, then we feel a measure of satisfaction.

The Minions are a great reminder of just making others feel good because we have come into the lives of others.  Influence people for good.  It is a great way to live.

photo credit: brucefong photography

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