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UnknownWork days fill my calendar for most of the year. Long 10-12 hour days define my work week. When the work week has surpassed reasonable tally, more time is poured into writing, studying, preparing for weekend ventures that support my work.

I am one of those few who loves what I do for a living. That old adage, “Find something that you love to do and you will never work a day in your life,” applies to me. I love going to work.

But, there is something that gnaws on my soul.  I, along with my wonderful wife, sigh often when we are getting ready to leave church and head back home. There are many around us who weekly gather their brood and head out for a family lunch.

We watch them laugh together, hug one another, tease each other, and agree to rendezvous for a shared meal. Sometimes, not often, they wave to us as they leave. We toss them a polite wave and nod our heads. Our smile is envious.

Can you feel the longing that we feel so deeply? We miss our family. But, the Good Lord has given me an assignment far away from our children and grandchildren.

Every chance we get, we sock away a few dollars here and there. We look long into our calendar and plan our next vacation to travel to meet them thousands of miles away. The bank savings account grows slowly but steadily so we can enjoy meals, gifts, and treats together.

Christmas is a great time to gather. The tiring air flight is worth the weariness and very-early-fisherman style wake-up time to catch the plane.  Early departure tickets are less expensive.

What else will get us up at 3AM to load luggage and make the hour-long drive to the airport? Waves of sleepiness waft over my consciousness. One helpful reward: the notorious Houston traffic is very light that early in the morning.

Air travel does not rank any where in sight of my favorite things to do. Sore from sitting too long, cramped aggravating conditions, and the nerve-wracking sneezing, coughing, and wheezing in recycling air sends chills up and down my spine can be held at bay as long as I concentrate on the embraces that are soon to come.

All is forgotten when squealing grandchildren call out our names. Enthusiastic hugs are welcomed to linger long. Words of love, affection, and delight soothe my mind. Family!

3BBF66A7-0E19-4B0B-A614-F1AB3F2B1647_1_201_a.jpegThe video played a series of clips, telling various stories of people who possessed a unique item but had no clue how valuable it was. One man had a massive pearl that he kept under his bed as a “good luck” piece. It was worth millions of dollars.

Another man owned a couple of boxes that he picked up a garage sale. Inside were nearly priceless photographic plates by a famous naturalist photography, long since thought lost in a fire. He learned that his junk was worth millions.

A garage sale shopper picked up a porcelain bowl for a mere $3. It had a saw tooth design that was later identified and validated as an authentic Chinese antique. Yes, it was valued in the millions.

We all laugh at someone’s remarkable fortune. Most of us sigh and realize that we all have piles of junk that define the word “junk”. They are worthless items.

Nevertheless, it is not always treasures measured by monetary worth that make this life remarkable. Instead, people of limitless talents, gifts, and qualities are more valuable to me. I am surrounded by co-workers who are incredible treasures.

I do not have royal jewels, ancient photographs, or antiques in my possession. But, every day I wake up and go to work with a most talented and committed group of people. They are priceless: Will, Erik, Alex, Ekpe, Adrianna, Rachel, Julia, Shannon, Chantelle, Chelsea, Stephen, Tom, Ielene, Josh, Marisa, and Andres.

Not everyone looks forward to heading into work. It is a great privilege to be one of the ones who enjoys that daily experience. Often I marvel when I watch our team in action.

So much gets done when our people are operating from project to project. Students are elated with what they are learning, because our teachers are the best. Our humble campus is always getting better because our operations are on every need.

When we gather and brainstorm we know we can get better. Fantastic ideas get discussed. Better yet, projects launch and finish to the improvement of our entire campus. Teachers are free to teach and education happens at the highest level.

People who are committed are the best treasure on earth. When, each of these is devoted to their Savior, Jesus Christ, they are an endless blessing. We stand shoulder to shoulder while put our shovels into the work. I am surrounded by invaluable treasures of the Almighty’s best.

SarasotaIt is the day before I step on to a stage in a church where I have never been. Most likely I will never return to this church in the years to come. Such is the pattern of this unique speaking circuit.

I am a preacher. There was a calling in my life when I was in college. God moved in my soul to step out in faith to be a teacher of his Word.

Yes, I have always had a day job. More accurately it was a regular job.  Many times it was related to the church or supportive of the church.

Then, the invitations came. Churches needed a retreat speaker. Pastors needed a Sunday pulpit supply. Conferences needed a keynote speaker. Organizations need someone to speak at their annual convention. Every request was an honor.

By far the most were one-off invitations. The friendships that were begun ended with an email exchange, an occasional Christmas card, and once in a while a renewal gathering in some city far away from home.

This weekend is another one of those special honors. Hundreds of men are gathering at a church tomorrow. They are hungry for a word that will stir their souls. Many will come searching but will not have the words to express that longing. It will be up to me with the help of the Holy Spirit to put words to those feelings.

I am looking forward to that task. It is the greatest privilege to be a part of the eternal work of the Spirit of God and to realize that it is happening at the moment that it is. Nervous? Eager is more like it.

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Unknown-1How long does it take for a local church to plan an annual Missions Conference?

Clear Lake Chinese Church of Webster, TX first reached out to me in July 2018. Their pastor told me that they had been planning their 2019 Annual Missions Conference for March, nine months away. I had to keep scrolling through my calendar to see if I was free to accept their invitation as their keynote speaker.

Before I accepted the invitation, I have several decided practices that must always precede my official answer. I don’t mean to sound super spiritual but I do pray about such invitations. Really.

My prayers for God’s guidance are not new. Regularly, I am praying about opportunities to serve the Lord who gave me a life-long calling for ministry. During these times of intercession I am asking for peace, enthusiasm, and guidance.

Then, I seek the counsel of my personal team. These are a collection of amazing and godly people who help me with varying perspectives. We discuss details. For example, where is the venue? How many times do they want you to speak? What is the purpose of the gatherings? Does the theme fit within your area of specialization? What is the demographics of the expected audience? Do the logistics lend themselves to your current obligations and commitments?

The final decision to accept or reject speaking invitations is ultimately left in my hands. However, I know that when I include these others in my decision, it automatically garners a huge amount of prayer support when I do accept these engagements. To end God’s sovereign administration never ceases to amaze me. He knows when my calendar if open. By far I accept more invitations than I send my regrets.

UnknownOver nine months I read with interest how the church was formulating their Missions Conference objectives. They wanted to have their church family challenged to “Reach the Nations in their City.”  Wow! That theme captured my heart.

Plotting out my study time in the course of fulfilling all of my current duties as the Dean of DTS-Houston, I made notes, studied exegetical issues, considered theological lessons, matched clarifying illustrations, and prayed for a powerful and clear presentation for this conference. During the course of our communications, I ascertained the receptivity of the audience, imagined definitive niches of people types, wondered at how the challenges of the Mission objectives could be presented to each season of life.

The time came. The introductions were given. I stepped up on to the platform and months of preparation unfolded. We connected. By God’s grace some amazing life-changes will be new habits of life for many.

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.

 

 

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.

photo by bruce w. fong photography

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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.

photo by bruce w. fong photography

FullSizeRender-1Yes, I was thinking about work when my friend was driving me around for a tour of his longhorn cattle.  When he pointed out a feature of his beasts, I could tell that he was proud of them.  Moving in and out of his conversation was something I do all of the time.  Some call it multi-tasking.

The bright sun made me squint.  Turning my head away and raising an open hand to block the almost painful splashes of light gave me pause.  These massive animals suddenly captured all of my attention.

One of them stood up.  It was huge!  We drove our ATV right next to it and she turned her head to take in what she already sensed was near.  The massive horns deftly avoided hitting anything or hurting anyone.

She shifted her position, unfazed by the presence of human beings.  For now she looked around for some other position to take and then laid down again.  Her cud was keeping her casual and completely relaxed.

That was what arrested my busy mind.  She was totally and completely relaxed.  There did not seem to be a care in the world that would make her alert, nervous, anxious or concerned.

She had a calf that was exploring the world.  It was only days old.  Maybe Mama was recuperating from giving birth or maybe she took the down time that she was due.

Who knows what cows are thinking?

I was surprised by the conversation going on in my head.  But it dawned on me that I had not been thinking about work for the last several moments.  Her relaxation was having an impact on me.  I liked it.

Several other cattle were taking her lead.  They too had found a comfortable place in the pasture to lie down.  Their blood pressure levels seemed to be as casual as hers.

I was enjoying the warmth of the sun.  Easy moods seemed to multiply for me.  In that pleasant Texas morning it was easy to “chill” and take in the ease of being alive and stress-free for the moment.

A slow pace, relaxed atmosphere, simple style and basic comforts of the area were all that I needed.  Some how the busy face paced life back in the city melted away.  Who knows what cows are thinking?  I do.  They are thinking about nothing at all.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

FullSizeRender-5Busy men always discover the elixir of a momentary break from the heavy responsibilities of their work.  Getting away into the country, the woods or the lake can do wonders to rejuvenate the male soul.  Hardworking men also learn that joining other men to find that relief is very effective.

It has been three years since I have been able to pal around with a special group of Michigan friends.  My life took a surprising turn when I was recruited to my present position of higher education.  The newness of the position and the long list of responsibilities were great so I stayed close to my job for two years.  Finally, it was time to reconnect with great guys.

Describing the men that I shared a few days of adventures on the plains, in the mountains and through the woods is simple.  They are a collection of different kinds of bucks.  A men’s retreat described like a herd of wild animals is saying that they are just a bunch of guys.

There are the young bucks who hurried into the cabin.  They are a lot of fun, full of energy, always moving, taking on new challenges no matter what the risks.  When it is time to eat they have a voracious appetite that defies the possible space of a normal human stomach.

FullSizeRender-6Then, there  are the seasoned bucks.  Their greying hair or loss of it identify them.  They move slower.  But, their deliberate speed is not to be confused with weakness.  There is an ancient Chinese proverb: “Age and treachery will always win over youth and inexperience.”

The dominant buck is the one who speaks and everyone stops to listen, both young and seasoned alike.  He gives direction, outlines the rules and cheers on the accomplishments of the recent activities.  While dominant he is the hardest working, doing whatever it takes to insure that all of the other bucks enjoy their time away from busy lives.

Then, there is the most favorite buck of all. All of the bucks know him. He gives fodder for years of stories to be retold and redacted.  He is the “little buck”.

From him comes the lesson for all men going to retreat with other men: Don’t make a mistake or the other bucks will never let you live it down.  It is all in good fun.  God has given each of us His amazing grace and the joy of being eternally forgiven so we in turn give that gift of forgiveness to our brothers from different mothers.

photo credit: brucefong friend photography

Our drive up north is becoming a familiar journey.  Every other month I schedule a trip from Houston to Dallas.  A face to face with key personnel is a small price to invest in our ongoing communication with the mother ship.

Dallas Seminary is branching out.  It has several locations around the nation and overseas.  I have the privilege to serve in the Houston Campus.

Part of my long list of responsibilities is to give oversight to the educational endeavors of our fine institution in the fastest growing city in the USA.  Emails, text messages, Skyping and phone calls are countless.  But, nothing beats 30 minutes of smiles, conversation, immediate feedback and details of initiatives with instant approvals.

Most of the time I drive up from our megalopolis to this gem in the heart of Texas. It is a four-hour drive compared to the 3.5 hours of commuting, checking in and flying via commercial airlines.  That comparison does not even include getting from the airport to the campus once I arrive in Big D.

When I arrive my credentials and permits get me to a safe parking spot and on to the campus without any delay.  A list of people are on my mind and I head for my first location.  Invariably, I see someone and we stop and talk.

It is the unplanned spontaneous serendipitous meeting in the parking lot, in the foyer, in a walkway or along a stairwell that makes for strategic initiatives.  Ideas are born.  Personalities meld into operational plans.

During the day I am taking notes.  When I end my day, I am at my computer rehearsing ideas, making notes, recording thoughts and linking those thoughts with people.  The future is born out of those providential gatherings.

The sun is now setting.  As I scan the changing hues and marvel at the city lights, the long trip has been worthwhile.  Questions are answered and relationships with key people are deepened.

On my long drive home I will rehearse every one of those discussions.  In my spirit certain thoughts will seal into further plans.  Others will keep the back burners simmering until the time is ripe.

Sixty days will pass before I make my journey north again.  But, by then several initiatives that were discussed today will be in the history books.  I intend to make good ideas into real results in the near future.  Tomorrow is all about today’s conversations.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

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