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IMG_0841-1Stress is a modern-day downer.  It creeps into everyone’s life.  At first it is subtle and only modest in occupying our routine.

That’s why it’s a beast.  Slowly, incrementally this small influence grows into a controlling behemoth.  The rheostat keeps turning up the heat and before you know it we have been overwhelmed.

Busy people snap.  We fold under the constant pressure.  Our health is compromised and our well-being slides into the realms of darkness.

Wise living means that we manage our stress.  We can never get rid of it.  It is a part of living to those who live to make a difference.

Fishing helps me cope.  There are very few activities that I totally rest my mind from the heavy responsibilities on my daily plate. Some how this activity takes my soul to another place where I can recuperate, rejuvenate and restore.

Karl invited me to enjoy his ranch.  I planned it into my schedule with delight.  That kindness was one that I gladly welcomed.

This visitation was marked on my calendar and I protected it with administrative dexterity.  Deftly I redirected other appointments and demanding issues around those dates.  My smile grew wider as those days drew closer.

Finally, with my duties complete I drove West.  My gear was neatly stowed in my pickup truck bed.  The scenery of the civilization melted behind me.  Now, the country engulfed me.

The next morning Gary and Klark picked me up in an ATV.  We talked fishing all the way down to the lake.  Strategy, tackle, technique and ideas flourished.  The only noticeable thing missing were any promises. There is a reason why this activity is called “fishing” and NOT “catching”.

When we stopped on the shore, it was involuntary to pause.  The view was captivating.  Mirrored on the stone stilled lake water was the skyline of jade green trees, sparkling blue sky and lazy puffy cumulus clouds.

Stress-slaying relaxation was taking over.  The kind of smile that emerges at such a moment is soulish. Deep within a revived spirit sings.

My tackle box offered many options.  Scanning with experienced eyes I remembered that my quarry from a distant state had found a black and white rattletrap tantalizingly appetizing.  Trying to read the waters I chose to retrieve my offering along a submerged tree.

The pull and tussle were familiar.  An arching throbbing fishing rod tip was electrifying.  Finally, after the catch the release showed domination and gratitude. Ah, so relaxing.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

11178203_10152408615652614_555981716271583104_nWe are an extension campus.  Our Dallas campus is the headquarters of this amazing ministry.  Yet, our Houston operation is growing by leaps and bounds.

We have 34 graduates this year.  They are mostly local to the great city of Houston and its surrounding region.  Most of their friends and family will have a tough time making the journey to Dallas to celebrate their commencement achievements.

To give local family and friends the chance to be a part of this substantial celebration, our extension campus has a Graduation Chapel one week prior to the central festivities up north.  We honor each graduate with a brief description of what their plans and destination is after they receive their sheep skin.  We fill the chapel service with great worship, intimate prayer, laughter, memories and special recognition of those who stood out with academic and service demonstrations.

I scanned the crowd many times during this chapel service.  The smiles were a mile wide and the tears were free-flowing.  Trying to imagine all of the answered prayers for the many years represented by these graduates is mind-blowing.

Photographs with special people were endless.  The four sheet cakes disappeared as the party spread into the foyer.  Guests drank sweet punch, returned endless times for refreshing chilled water and stopped many times along their course of walking to congratulate and exchange hugs with fellow classmates.

Previous graduates returned to cheer on their friends.  Current students marveled and told me that they had something even more to anticipate.  Relatives were overcome with the joy of reaching this end.

Children were laughing with their parents.  One mom told me that she was rehearsing her Hebrew vocabulary flash cards while in labor for the little one that she hugged next to her leg.  Life and success cannot get much more precious than this.

photo 4Gratitude is over the top on this event.  Conversations about calling, dreams about the ministry to come and deep gratitude of God’s faithfulness were common in the crowd.  With pride I watched out once students now shine as Masters of Theology, Masters of Arts and Over-comers in all sorts of adversities.

Faithful too are the staff and faculty that I am privileged to call “Team Houston”.  They are selfless, persevering and godly men and women who live to serve others.  Here on a Saturday, they are going above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that these graduates always remember this day.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Joshua 11
Part 6 of 6

The test of leadership is the satisfaction that we achieve what God wants done, nothing more and nothing less.  If we are greedy or steal His glory in the process, then God will not let that theft go unpunished.  Leaders are as much about stewardship as they are about courageous initiative.

A confidence among spiritual leaders is self-evident.  Leaders know that when God clearly directs He also makes it possible to achieve what He asks us to do.  It is never about our assessment of the likelihood that a task can be done; rather, it is discerning what He wants us to do then stepping out in faith to do that specific task.

Mixed in with spiritual leadership is the high level of concern that leaders have for those that they lead.  Caring for our troops reflects the heart of God in every leader that He chooses.  Motivating others when they know that we love and lift them up is a combination for success.

God loves peace.  Ultimately, discern that His values are consistent with this.  When we know what He wants then we can practice great insight into what He wants to accomplish in our lives and those who are His.

Thanks for joining me on this journey through the Scriptures.

IMG_2977Long memories of wheel barrels, shovels, hoes, tillers and rakes come to mind.  Back breaking work moving loads of gravel, sand, top soil and bark dust still make me grimace.  Tons of reading on how grow a lawn.  Weary moments of organizing and reorganizing the growing supplies, tools and library to do gardening right.

I drew and redrew master plans for our yard.  Endless trips to the DIY store filled up my one precious day-off a week.  Experiments with clever borders, creative materials to make the yard look customized, fencing to help contain everything occupied my mind.

Spending time in the earth was spiritual. It reminded me that for a man to toil in the ground is part of the consequences of original sin.  Labor for man is part of our existence, we cannot escape it, we must align ourselves with this as inevitable for us all.  Rats!

There is some redemption if I may so selectively use this term in the results of gardening.  When soil is freshly tilled, it has a fragrance that is spirit-stirring.  After hours and days of preparation, to plant a lawn by seed and to watch it germinate is deeply satisfying.

Organizing flowering bushes and mixing in annuals to accent color, height and depth is very rewarding when God does His creative work with the palate of colors and textures popping out just as each plant is genetically responding to water and sun.  A full garden with amazing colors that form a wall of a living lush display pulls a smile from my spirit.  But, I am older now.

I still appreciate the orchestration of a Master Gardener who plants, waters and nurtures the flora to make their planned appearances.  When my bride and I take a stroll through a city park and the flower gardens are in full bloom, I appreciate the effort and artistry that is there.  Not infrequently we will enter a large greenhouse with plants from around the world and our cameras are snapping away, logging scores of pictures.

The biggest difference is that I do not like the work any more.  I have given away most of my garden tools in the various moves from one state the next.  Our vagabond days have drained my dreams of sitting among my plants with a pleasant ice-cold glass of tea.  These days, I keep my values of a beautiful garden but cast my ovation to others who do the work and earn the praise.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_2819For years I took it as a challenge.  Every man does.  There is something about being the backyard BBQ meister that is a part of the man-card validation.

With an open flame, smoke, danger around burning hot metal and of course the constant presence of plenty of  sauce every man dons his apron and grabs his tools.  A turning fork with long tines is a must.  The bigger the basting brush, the better.

It helps to have a football game on in the background.  Baseball will do.  Here down in the south when there is plenty of comfortable weather in the winter, ice hockey will do too.

In the early days I would get the briquettes ready.  Lighting up the charcoal was a matter of timing.  Firing up these morsels needed time to prepare.  Nothing happened quickly.

Once the briquettes were covered with white ash, they were ready to cook up the dinner.  The challenge was chicken.  They always dripped grease while cooking that caused flare ups and inevitably the chicken was served totally black, burned to a crisped.  I have dumped more than one meal in the garbage.

Gas grills were not much better for me.  The grease from cooking chicken pieces always caught fire.  Again, the crispy burned and totally blackened chicken was not uncommon.  It was always frustrating.

If I took the chicken out too early, it wasn’t always cooked thoroughly.  Trying to get them back on the grill or surrendering to the microwave just added to the annoyance.  I really wanted a solution.

Enter the Traeger grill.  These are the smokers designed to burn wood pellets.  The same inventor who came up with the wood pellet stove for heating homes transferred the same concepts of temperature control to a smoker/grill.

I thought through the years of frustration when it came to grilling chicken.  It was time to test our new grill with chicken.  We had already enjoyed beef and lamb.  Now, it was time for my main grilling nemesis.

We had well seasoned chicken legs with lemon and herbs.  They looked great, smelled even better.  Once on the pre-heated grill, I closed the lid.  It was time to trust the indirect heat.

After the time rang, I headed out the backyard with eager anticipation.  The smoke was pumping out of the grill vents.   Wonderful aroma was increasing my anticipation.

Deftly I opened the lid.  When the smoke cleared, I was ecstatic!  The chicken was cooked perfectly!  Yay!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_2116Owning a home has some very quiet but powerful forces that strengthen the human spirit.  Imbedded in our soul is a personal healthy pride when something is cared for well and beams with value and satisfaction to the entire neighborhood.  No, it is not being braggadocious or selfishly prideful.  Rather, it is the great sense of satisfaction that the Creator instilled in us long ago.

Just as in the creation account, God created and then Moses writes repeatedly, “God saw that it was good.”  This sense of of the divine may be similar to us standing back and admiring our well trimmed yards, well-maintained homes and washed and waxed vehicles.  It is not even close to being comparative with the neighbors.  It is the joy of home ownership.

I like it when we can have our front trees pruned and six months later they are healthy and vibrant.  Now, they have a IMG_2115beauty that adds to the property aesthetics.  The shade that they provide is light and airy.

When the lawn is managed, it is like a natural carpet.  It is inviting to walk on and gives brilliant color to the house.  The eye is drawn to the even and healthy color.

Here in Texas the humidity wreaks havoc on man-made buildings.  Spores of various vegetation cling to the brick and discolor the house.  We had the house power washed and treated to counter the natural course of mold and mildew.  Now, our home glistens.

Plants have become hearty.  They are blooming with the season.  It cheers my spirit watching fruit appear and testify to health and vigor.

Without even knowing that I was doing it, I found myself smiling.  This is our home.  It is our retreat.  We love being here.  Our house has become our home.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_1824The garage is a mystery to us all.  For some reason it was originally designed for the housing of motorized vehicles.  Gradually, over time this treasured space became the default storage center for the All-American family.

So many boxes and seasonal items were stacked inside that eventually the cars stayed on the driveway outside of the garage.  It is only the determination that comes during the Spring cleaning feelings of guilt and procrastination that this designated space can be reclaimed.  When space is organized and items are visible and accessible, something special happens inside of our soul; we experience gratification.

The trick to getting the garage organized is the uncompromising commitment to freeing up floor space.  Stacks of stuff that are allowed to pile up on each other will grow like a weed.  It will be subtle growth but over time, stacks attract more things and then more stacks are born.

I sat on a chair and thought through how I could organize my garage, reclaim floor space and reduce the clutter.  One wall in my garage was clearly underutilized.  I imagined shelving and a long clothes rod.

A trip to the hardward store on my day off was all that I needed to get started.  I picked up the supplies that I needed.  I was concentrating on the plan.

Once back in my garage I did a little demolition.  This required a crowbar and hammer.  However, after a little elbow grease and grunting, I was able to clear the wall of all previoous hooks, shelving standards and limited storage options.

In place of everyting that I took down, I put up a lot more.  Multi-level shelving grew on the wall.  Variations of the  available space made room for odd shapes and oversized items.  Once the shelving standards were up, I placed custom cut common 1×12 boards.

Standing back I gazed all of the space to store necessary items.  With great delight I stacked and stored items on the newly designed space.  Now, there was more storage space than items that I needed to find a home.  How weird is that?

I sat down.  My back was hurting from climbing the ladder, lifting things on to the shelves and twisting in odd directions in order to install the shelving brackets.  My jackets no longer had to lay on tables in piles.  Now, they could hang in the air and breath.

The weekend was packed full of preparations.  Friday was a full day at the office working hard for Sunday’s sermon.  That night was capped off with a group dinner filled with raucous laughter.

There is something special about fellowship with the people from Sunset Church.  That specialness is particularly exciting when these saints know how to have fun, laugh and tease.

Their food is spectacular.  So many outstanding cooks are a part of this small group.  Wild and wacky personalities make this a fun time.  Yvonne and I attend whenever they invite us.

Saturday came early.  I was hitting the books hard to wrap up the message.  Studying the Bible is a treat but it is energy-draining.

Sunday came early too.  The morning was filled with two services followed by a Church business meeting.  Talking and listening to people occupied my attention in between obligations.

I love the ministry.  It is fulfilling, exciting, life-changing and exhilarating all at the same time.  People with great challenges whisper reports in my ear, slip me that special handshake or give me a wink when they want to show that God is blessing their lives.

Monday was filled with errands.  But, that day ended with a great gathering of seven men.  It was high-level dream dialogue about enormous possibilities.

Our conversation went past 10PM.  We had to break it off.  Men had to get home for a busy next day.

Early Tuesday morning I was on the road.  A 630AM appointment brought me back into the city.  Breakfast was just  an excuse.

People connected with other.  Prayer was a priority.  Networking was central.

Fellowship meant so much.  Phone numbers, email addresses, cell phone numbers and websites were exchanged.  But, duty called.

I drove across the city to my office.  It was time to hang out with my team.  We had an appointment to meet with the leaders of a strategic church down the peninsula. 

We peppered the pastor and his administrator with questions.  It was obvious that we wanted to learn.  As we see God’s hand blessing the ministry that He has appointed for us, we want to do better and better at what we do.

A quick lunch, a fast drive back to the office and it was time to prepare for another meeting.  This time is was with our executive task force.  My eyes were heavy, stinging with weariness, but there was a deep smile that emerged from my soul.

photo credit: google image