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I stopped and looked at the gorgeous morning of a new work week.  It was Monday and my responsibilities were piled high in my computer inbox.  But, I stacked the deck in my favor before the diligent work began.

First, I hopped on my bicycle and wheeled through my neighborhood.  The temperatures at 630AM are welcoming and pleasant.  Meteorologists predicted that the warmer weather would grip our city with 100 degrees in a matter of hours.

Right now just as the sun is climbing its perch to scorch our city, I was taking in the 71 degrees and allowing my legs to burn off some energy and get my blood circulating freely.  My lungs were inviting me to stretch their capacity.  Keeping ahead of all of the physical limits was my smoothly beating heart.

Houston never allows a July morning to be anything but predictable.  Humidity was stripping away the ease to breathe and feel cool.  Sticky weather was starting to fill up every cubic foot of air space.

Sweat was pouring down my face.  It dripped off of my chin soaking my helmet strap.  A good spot lay ahead and I paused to rehydrate.

Now, the sun was making its grand appearance.  It was a welcome sight this early in the morning.  The quiet pool reflected the light and enhanced the beauty of trees, shadows and puddles in the pond made by hungry fish looking for breakfast.

Tranquility and peace marked this stop.  Cool water reinvigorated my tired body.  But, this was home, my neighborhood.

A smile crept across my face.  For a brief moment, although surrounded by thousands of neighbors and even more commuters getting ready to flood the streets, I was alone.  Serenity was mine to claim and I was relishing in the thrill.

I climbed aboard my road bike, wiped the sweat from my brow, checked my time and knew that I could easily make it home for a shower and then the commute to the office.  God had reminded me that when I take a moment to reflect a His good Word that I had read before my ride, let Him hear my personal worship on the road and relished in what He would privilege me in doing in the hours ahead, then the day, even a Monday, was going to be a grand day.  Do you like Mondays?

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

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IMG_4873Christmas is way too busy for us.  We are juggling work, travel, gifts, letters, projects, bills, parties and life so fast that jingling bells are hard to hear.  A lot more silent night and still the night would be welcome in our souls.

A balance is struck from a familiar favorite place.  For many Americans and world-wide Christians this is a shared respite during this hectic season.  This place is featured on Christmas cards, television shows, screen savers and ornaments.

Sometimes the scene is a snow shrouded clearing in the woods.  Horse drawn sleighs are parked in front.  Multi-colored lights transform a living tree just off to the side.IMG_4875

Often the Nativity scene is partnered with this place of comfort.  Joseph and Mary watch over the newborn baby Jesus while animals quietly look on to the miraculous scene.  Visitors flock to the sound of music coming from inside of this haven.

It is the picture of a church building.  Inside the alive church of followers of Jesus are celebrating this anniversary birth.  A Savior has been born.

IMG_4878Our busy lives pushed all of those demanding stress-causing matters out in our POV (personally owned vehicle).  I shut the doors and locked them in.  Then, my bride and I carried our Bibles and hand in hand we walked into church.

Gifted decorators decked out a tree that was gorgeous.  We did not rush by it.  Instead, captivated we stopped and admired it from several angles.IMG_4879

Once inside the auditorium the orchestra and choir and worship team blew us away.  Our spirits soared with the familiar Christmas carols.  Then stunning orchestral and choir supported anthems took our spirits and we worshipped together.  It was awesome!

A soloist made the rafters shake with her rendition of “Do You See What I See?”  We rose to our feet with great applause.  All of us could see!

IMG_4880Pastor Gregg Matte delivered an encouraging word from the Word.  He has a gift of making the truth practical.  The Spirit used it to touch so many lives.

In the end the choir and orchestra dismissed us with a majestic finale of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.  With a family like serendipitous moment the choir motioned for Pastor Gregg to join them in the loft for that final song.  All of us sounded not just “good” but “glorious” as we gave our Almighty God our collective gift of worship.  Merry Christmas!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

 

IMG_4366Friday night was reserved on our calendar.  When we approached the weekend we talked over our plans, reviewed the events and talked about how meaningful these days would be.  Then the making of a wonderful blessing began.

Friday night was a highlight for us.  We headed out on time to beat the traffic.  Our destination was a simple eatery on the other side of the freeway from our church.

Tonight we were going to the celebration of the ten-year anniversary of our pastor and his family at our church.  It is amazing to consider an entire decade of service for our pastor and his family.  He even stuck around when he succeeded a three decade stint by his predecessor.

Thousands of cheerful supporters filled the church building.  The worship was powerful.  Love was all over the place.

When our pastor was invited up to the platform, the applause was enthusiastic and sustained.  His smile was broad.  His family was basking in a massive display and expression of love.

For a moment I felt for all the pastors who have never experienced that outpouring of devotion.  They have served faithfully only to be beaten down by those who criticize, hold secret gatherings, complain anonymously and mete out miserly compensation.  Do not be one of those.

Nevertheless, these shepherds tirelessly serve, constantly study and face heartbreaking moments where they were the sole source of encouragement.  Their faithfulness slipped by the notice of most and was remembered in detail only by God.  He knows all and never forgets.

There are always those who point to bad ministers.  However, those few are small in number compared to the neglected in ministry.  Encourage your pastor, give your heart to him.  Yes, discern wisely but embrace him with love and encouragement.

We had great conversations with people around us that evening when we honored our pastor.  His personality has been pervasive in our lives.  Warmth, welcome and cheer are ways that he addresses us and so we do the same with each other.

God is blessing our pastor with a powerful ministry in our city and beyond.  His teaching is Biblical, balanced and practical.  People take notes and live what they taught.

Gifts of affection were bestowed.  Flowers filled the arms of his wife.  Each of his children enjoyed holding on to a special memento.

Humility, humor and honesty marked his words.  We love our pastor and his family!  Encourage your pastor and watch what God will do.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_4020My visit to this remarkable place was not brand new.  I had been here once in the past.  A year ago during the opening month, I was here with the pressing crowds.

This time the visit was much more enjoyable.  The lines had shrunk to our scheduled window printed on our tickets.  We wanted to catch a look at the additional wing of the George Bush Presidential Library.

On our first visit the crowds had packed the museum.  We skipped the Oval Office wing due to the very long lines.  This time we got to the museum close to the opening hour.

We skipped the opening sequence of pictures and videos.  43 traces his entry into the White House.  He shares the events that shaped his Presidency.

The next stop was the initial years leading the nation.  Laura’s focus on literacy and George’s past with baseball was fun.  We lingered here again as we did during our first trip.

IMG_4021When we rounded the corner determined to visit what we missed a year ago, our swift walk slowed to an eventual halt.  In the center of the display were some of the twisted I-beams retrieved from the rubble of the Twin Towers destroyed during the 9-11 attack on our country.  Pictures, videos and audio presentations swirled the deep feelings from that horrible day.

The words of President George Bush defined so much of his leadership and one our nation’s rare moments of unity.  Together we drew together as a nation.  Politics were quieted.

Yes, the haranguing between Washington D.C. professional biased parties drummed the cadence of a nation that would stand together against an external threat.  Our nation even gathered for prayer and services that called on the name of God.  Hymns were sung.

Evil people who launched a wicked lethal attack against innocent civilians had polluted the soil of our nation with their dastardly plans.  Terror had taken advantage of a free nation and free people.  There was no bravery or chivalry by these who stole, plotted and murdered.

My eyes scanned these old pieces of twisted steel.  I listened to President Bush speak to our nation and the world.  He spoke on our behalf and promised to do his duty to bring all of our nation’s strength to bear against the cowards who unleashed an ugly cowardly act of war on our country.

Always remember.  This picture of steel will be in my mind forever.  My spirit is stirred.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Israel 2014 IFL 115The remarkable words of Jesus know as the sermon on the mount is a treasure-house of truth, wisdom and comfort.  Followers of the Christ have often meditated on His elocution of these remarkable moments of mediation.  The crowds who heard were large even by modern standards.

Our buses filled the parking lot.  By groups of 40 the pilgrims disembarked.  Each one of us was filled with wonder as we walked the grounds where traditionally Jesus had preached this wonderful sermon.

It was a beautiful sunny day that welcomed our steps on this historic Israel 2014 IFL 097site.  The flowers were in full and radiant bloom.  The scene overlooking the Sea of Galilee was pristine.

Yet, as wonderful as the landscape and sacred church were, it was not the site that stunned us.  It was what occurred here 2000 years ago that mesmerized us.  Our Savior spoke here words that are miraculously preserved in Inspired Scripture for all of us to read.

Israel 2014 IFL 111Steve Green powerfully punctuated our experience with a song that brought to the threshold of worship.  Chuck Swindoll delivered a sermon from the Word that parked us right at the throne of grace.  Each drank in the moment that would forever be in our minds when we revisited that passage in the Gospels again.

Israel 2014 IFL 101On the way out of that worship gathering, I spied a thistle growing out of the rocky ground.  It was in bloom.  Like so many of us as pilgrims living our lives out of ground that wants to challenge every day we awake with heartache and obstacles, life can overcome when we trust in the Savior.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed ar those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute your and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5.3-12

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_1727It had been a very long weekend.  A group of five churches had been in a long time planning for a Missions Conference and they invited me to be one of their speakers. I was very pleased to accept their invitation.

I would speak four times.  Once on Friday night, once Saturday morning and then two different times on Sunday morning.  Of course this much speaking in a compact span of time called for some advanced preparation.

There is a full-time job that keeps me occupied during the week.  My speaking on weekends is part of my job.  This  means long days, tiring hours and bleary-eyed moments.

The first speaking session was an hour-long.  The conferees were very responsive.  They stayed with me the entire session.  It was very gratifying.

Then, Saturday morning came early.  My commute to this first venue was nearly an hour.  There is no direct route and traffic was merciless.

Once the Saturday session was over, we drove home and I immediately began studying for Sunday morning.  I would be speaking two different messages.  They would be back-to-back separated by a mere 10 minute break.

This marathon speaking session would be in a different venue.  It was an hour’s drive away from our home but in a different direction.  Saturday night went late as I wrapped some intense studying.  Sunday morning I was up early doing a final preparation.

After the two speaking sessions I was visiting with many people.  I sat down exhausted.  Looking over my options we could have easily gone home.  Instead, we made it to our home church in time for the 5:30 PM service.

Some would have said that it was overkill after our long and busy weekend.  We looked at it differently.  We love our new church and our new pastor.  It is a privilege to go to worship and be refreshed and learn from his challenge from the Word of God.

The worship refreshed me.  I was afraid that I was so tired that I would drift off during the service.  God gave great stimulation, raptured me in worship and challenged me with the Word from Pastor Gregg’s preaching.

In my weariness I sensed the joy of worship.  I sang from deep in my soul.  Before I was spent.  I could not give any more.  Now it was time to let our amazing worship team and pastor fill my empty reservoirs.  They led me to the throne for renewal.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

Architecture does something to set the mood.  The way a building is put together shows the human spirit where to turn, how to feel and maybe even what to do next.  Ancients knew how to bring together the soul’s longing to sense the presence of God and the building that brought people together for corporate worship.

Here in Houston there is a special place to experience this.  It is out at the Lanier Theological Library.  Along with the amazing collection and remarkable building where it is housed, a chapel has been built.  It is a reproduction of a Byzantine Chapel.

It was a wonderful reminder to me of days gone-by in the hills of Scotland.  There we had visited many castles, stately homes and of course amazing church buildings.  The acoustics alone brought your spirit into a moment of repose and quietness.

The skillful construction made you feel small, lowly in the presence of something much bigger than you.  God’s greatness and power are sustained in the mood of such a structure.  My eyes quickly lifted up and took in the grandeur of the painted domed ceiling.

Artwork blended with architecture was a masterpiece.  It is a testimony to man’s creative hand.  When I spoke softly, my words reverberated throughout the chamber.

I almost felt apologetic of speaking out of turn.  An ambiance of worship, respect and awe were easily felt here.  Once in a while it is good to be quiet before the LORD.

This is not the only kind of worship that there is.  Lively, spontaneous and energetic fits for so many of us.  But, there are times to listen for what can be heard in quietness that has great value too.

Take a moment.  In your loud, busy and cacaphony of life, shut the volume and listen.  God does speak through the thunder but also through the still small voice.

We can try changing our location.  Find a place that shuts out the noise and hear what God says.  It might be the same message but in its varied approach, it could be reenforced to find a more permanent place for our spirit.

Bless you in your quiet moments of your very full lives.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

My wife and I drove home from church today deeply fulfilled.  You probably don’t hear that very often.  Too often the reaction to church is nothing short of sheer boredom, political squabbling or petty complaining.

First, we had a number of laughs with the people that we first greeted.  They were all smiles.  Even though some of them had a tough week with health, economic challenges or stressful situations, they were cheerful and glad to be at church.

Worship was first class.  This was my third Sunday to be with this body of believers and I was again blessed as the music team took to the stage to lead us all in corporate worship.  I have been privileged to experience worship with other Christians all around the world.  It is almost self-evident when the worship enraptured those who participate and bring them before the Father as the Audience of One.

When I speak I am totally focused on the message.  My mind and heart are racing through the details as a rehearsal in solitude.  Often when worship occurs, I am lifted above my human preparation and get immersed in the presence of the Almighty.

Two of the band members knelt to pray on the steps of the platform before they took their positions.  I was touched to see their personal devotion to the Lord leading the way of their use of their talents.  More than a show it was their sincere heart of dependence that knitted my heart with theirs.

The normal tension of anticipating my speaking role eased quite a bit.  There was an ease about the upcoming delivery that I was enjoying.  Now, for a moment I was with the body of believers who were setting their concentration on our Lord.

Briefly, I could simply offer my heart to the God of Creation and not concern myself with trying to do a good job with the speaking.  Now, I could be just as real and sincere before God without any pretense.  I was thoroughly enjoying this moment.

Great worship is the common denominator for believers who follow the Savior.  This church is a long way from where I live now.  But, that moment is repeated so often every Sunday with believers here in the city by the Bay.  Worship ties us all together because of who we worship together, Jesus.

photo credit: google image

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