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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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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.

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

IMG_3107Have you ever stumbled across a world-wide website that gave you a grand idea?  Did you, like me, disparage the novel thought with skepticism?  I have dismissed many good ideas that captured my attention in cyberspace.  This time I thought that I would give it a try.

Many of us who have very busy lives know by experience the crush of the morning rush.  We are trying to pull everything together that we need for a productive day.  If we can answer some emails, text messages and social media inquiries that we squeeze them into to packed first-light-of-day.  A quick glance at the keeper of time and we realize that we lost track of time.  It is time to grab what we can and drive to work.

We are clothed, brief case is packed and the vehicle is ready for the commute through heavy traffic.  There is that last moment of thought: breakfast.  If I only had a hardboiled egg to take with me.  That little morsel of food would tie me over until my lunch engagement.

That’s when we triple check the clock and realize that time will not allow for a boiling of an egg.  Mentally we make a note to boil several eggs in the evening, store them in the refrigerator and further hurried mornings would be served well.  Of course like many of you that kind of mental note is lost several times over.

Even when I have remembered and boiled a half a dozen eggs, then I try and figure out how to separate them from the fresh eggs.  Is it one of the worse things in life to grab a seemingly hardboiled egg and crack it only to realize that it is a fresh egg?  Gross!

Now, thanks to the www tip, I now put however many fresh eggs into a pot of tap water  and turn it on to high.  Then, I add the skin of a brown onion to the water and cover the pot.  Once the water heats up into a rolling boil, I set the timer for 5 minutes.

When the timer goes off, I turn off the heat but leave the cover on the pot.  After about 15 minutes I flood the pot with tap water, remove the onion skins and place all of the hard-boiled eggs that all have brown shells into the fresh egg containers ready to leap into my hands on those very rushed workday mornings.  Yay for the WWW!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_3128Plans for this work-related road trip were on the calendar.  Promises to a student for a personal appearance while he preached at the church where he serves were made.  My word is my bond and my joy.

It took some planning.  The church where he serves is a two-hour drive away from my home.  That is when the traffic is not an issue.  In Houston traffic is ALWAYS and issue.

My home is in Katy, Texas.  The church is in Galveston, Texas.  Houston is in between these two locations.

Before I could leave on this road trip, I considered the traffic flow.  The good news is that I would not be able to depart until Saturday evening.  I was already scheduled to teach an all-day class on that Saturday.

It was possible to leave for the church on Sunday morning.  But, my assistant discovered that the church service started at 830am.  Yes, that is AM.  That would require a 630am departure.  At least the traffic would not be a problem on an early Sunday morning drive.

The other dynamic is that we would have been exhausted from a long eight-hour day of teaching, followed by an early morning wake-up call and a longish two-hour drive.  Who wants to go to church when they are already tired and sleepy?  Would I ever lived down an episode of falling asleep in church while representing the seminary? Yipes!

It was time to come up with a new strategy.  Instead of trying to wake up early we would travel down to Galveston after teaching my class.  It would be two-hour drive when I was tired but at least we would make the journey during the waning daylight hours, camp out in a comfortable hotel and then get up at a reasonable hour and go to church.

The plan was ideal.  We were able to enjoy a pleasant meal, get a good night’s rest and then make easily to church on time.  Church was worth it too!  The worship was exhilarating and the preaching by my student made me as his teacher very proud!

Our fellowship after the service was only about commendation and encouragement.  The people in that church are blessed to have a man with solid convictions, outstanding preaching skills and a heart that will love on his people as if Jesus the Savior Himself was there doing the loving.  In fact when pastoring is done right, He is there loving through His servant.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_3097Some people make a living by studying Jesus.  Over 2,000 of them gathered in the Hilton of Baltimore this past week.  I was privileged to be among them.

For days we gather in multiple locations to hear our colleagues read papers of their latest research.  It is stimulating, challenging, provocative and encouraging.  We hear about the latest in debates over theological issues.

The brain power that occurs at this convention is mind-blowing.  Publishers come and set up their booths.  Sure, they want us to buy their latest books but just as importantly they are seeking acquisitions.

Plenary sessions gather the thousands in a huge hall.  One presenter captures our attention.  While we are all from different parts of the world, we share in common a huge passion for the Bible.

Some look at the Bible as a mystery or the “Good Book” or a lucky charm to keep in the house.  None of those views are held by my fellows at the Evangelical Theological Society.  These conferees are all serious scholars and academics who treasure the Scriptures.

With learned skills and endless peer reviews on millions of words both written and spoken, these colleagues have served as the guardians of truth.  They are driven by conviction and commitment.  Among them they share a devotion to their craft and do not allow room for sloppy research.

IMG_3098Besides the intellectual stimulation there is amazing fellowship here.  Several times I heard my named called out.  I stopped walking and turned to see an old friend from many years in the past.

Sporting huge smiles we clasp hands, hug tightly and laugh uncontrollably.  Quickly we exchange a thumbnail sketch describing years of God’s faithfulness in our lives.  We exchange our latest contact information, wave farewell and head to our next chosen meeting.

For breakfast I awoke early.  Once I had washed up, planned my day and headed out, breakfast with our seminary alumni association was waiting.  Graduates from DTS gathered.

The room was packed.  Breakfast was good.  Reunion celebration was unparalleled.

We heard about God’s favor on our ala mater.  It was marvelous to see the numbers, hear the reports and see pictures of the past and the future.  Excitement has a way of stirring the spirit and show our connection with this massive historical privilege.

I have come home smarter just by hanging out with very smart Jesus followers.  They sharpened me.  Iron does that in the honing process with other iron.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

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

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