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Looks Can Be Deceiving

“She looks just like you!”

I said that to someone I had recently started working with, about her daughter. Then she told me their daughter was adopted.

An Adoption

My sister was adopted. It was public and well known. Most adoptions are not that way, but this was different.

  1. They adopted when I was 10, my brothers were 13 and 12.
  2. When you show up for church one Sunday with a baby, it gets noticed.
  3. Everyone knew my parents didn’t have a baby girl.
  4. And she didn’t resemble either parent.
  5. She was from Viet Nam.  

The Resemblance

No, she obviously didn’t favor either parent. But when she learned to talk, she talked like us. Her mannerisms reflected those of our family. She ate what we ate, did what we did, and went where we went. She was ours and we were hers. We belonged to each another. We were the same, we were family.

How That Happened?

Here are some things that made her one of us:

  1. She had our name.
  2. She had our values.
  3. She was believed as we believed. 
  4. She was loved equally and in the same way as her brothers.
  5. She was a Fyffe, through and through.

A Spiritual Adoption 

Paul wrote in Ephesians that God adopted us into his family, 1:5. That we are the Father’s workmanship, the result of his divine will, 2:10. That we were given his name, 3:14. And that we grow to become like him, 5:1-2.

We were created in the image of God, but that wasn’t about appearance. My sister didn’t look like my parents, but they were her parents, she was our sister, and we were one.

Our spiritual identity comes from God. We wear his name, reflect his values, and share his purpose. We became one with him.

  1. Identity
  2. Name
  3. Character
  4. Purpose
  5. Family

It all came from him, it all points to him.

To Close

We look different, but we were adopted and fitted into God’s family. It’s not about who you look like, but who you belong to.

I said to my friend, “She looks just like you!” Spiritually, we all look like the Father.  

familyworship-750x500

Shalom

A Woman and a Well

People make attachments, it’s in our nature. Some things that I’m attached to:

  • The couch in the tv room.
  • The right side of our bed.
  • A morning cup of coffee.
  • An old pair of slippers.
  • The tv in our tv room.
These things don’t define me, they don’t determine who I am or establish my value. But I love them. I’m attached.
The question is: Are there attachments in my spiritual life? Are there ideas and beliefs with which I have made secure connections? The answer: Of Course!
  • A New Testament that I’ve used for 42 years.
  • Some traditions that I hold sacred.
  • Close friends with whom I share spiritual affinities.
  • Worship that feels secure, comforting, and expected.
  • Certain verses of scripture that reinforce my beliefs.

There are many, many more.

AN EXAMPLE

Jesus once spoke to a woman with attachments. He asked her to give him some water from a well. She reacted with surprise, if not shock because men didn’t speak to women in public unless they knew them. She had no idea who he was.

Jacobs well

Their conversation moved into the spiritual. When the woman grew uncomfortable, she claimed that the well belonged to the Patriarch Jacob, who was Abraham’s grandson. And in her day, the land they were standing on was Samaritan, not Jewish. To her, the well was a physical manifestation of a sacred heritage.

Consequently, she didn’t need to listen to Jesus. Her faith and religion were well established by Jacob’s well. She was attached to the well, not for its water, but for its spiritual value.

However, he was the Messiah, and when she realized that he was, she went back to her village and told everyone that she had found the Lord’s anointed. She led them to Jesus, and they asked him to stay, and he did, for two days, and many of them believed.

Does it seem silly that she was so spiritually attached to a well? Or is it only a matter of time, place, and culture? Are we connected to anything that defines our faith and spirituality?

  • Sitting in the same seat every week.
  • An unchanging order of worship.
  • Needing to hear specific phrases and words in sermons.
  • How we look, what we wear to church.
  • An inflexible expectation regarding our traditions.
  • Unwillingness to distinguish tradition from the truth.

IN CLOSING

The woman didn’t wake up that day, knowing she would encounter the Messiah. She went to the well to get some water, but what she really needed couldn’t be carried in a bucket. He gave her living water, springing up from within, a wellspring of the Holy Spirit that would never run dry.

 

A Cave In Canaan

Cemeteries have existed for as long as man has been on the earth. Every culture has its customs and burial traditions. Some are rooted in religious beliefs while others are based on mysticism, folklore, and superstition.

cemetary

Regardless of the cultures and customs, we have always required a place for the dead to rest. Cremation is a type of burial, whether the ashes are kept intact or scattered to the winds, its an ancient and modern approach to how we manage our dead.

A BURIAL STORY

Abraham lost his wife. Her name was Sarah and when she died he realized that he had no place to bury her. He had moved his family to Canaan and had yet to face the prospect of death in his family.

So, Abraham met with the Hittites who were the owners of where he had pitched his tents. He asked to purchase a piece of land that had a cave, the cave of Machpelah. He paid them 400 shekels of silver and then laid his Sarah to rest in what became the family tomb.

Eventually, Abraham was buried there as were Isaac and his wife Rebeckah, and Jacob and his wife Leah. Rachel was not buried in the tomb. She had died in childbirth while in the vicinity of Bethlehem and buried there.

THE TOMB

The Tomb of the Patriarchs became sacred to the Jewish people, it was the final resting place for their greatest forefathers, especially Abraham.

The Jewish Mystics believed that the cave was also a portal to the garden of Eden–where Adam and Eve were buried. So, the cave of Machpelah symbolized the creation of man and then the line of the heritage through the patriarchs.

cave-of-the-patriarchs

Jacob’s wife Leah was buried in the cave, she had given birth to a boy named Judah.

From the tribe of Judah came a shepherd boy who would be anointed the King of Israel, his name was David. From David came the lion of the tribe of Judah, the one we call Jesus, the King of Kings.

From Adam to Abraham. From Abraham to Isaac, Jacob, Judah, David and the Christ, the Son of David, the Son of God. From Jesus to you and to me and to all who believe.

IN CLOSING

Cemeteries and burial places can be fascinating places. For those who believe, a cave in ancient Canaan became a tomb representing the beginning of time and the fulfillment of the ages, the Messiah’s arrival.

He came to offer salvation to the world.

It was just a cave, a burial tomb, but for every believer, it represents our spiritual roots and the beginning of our blessings in Jesus Christ.

I Never Knew Buzz

Action figure toys have come a long way since I was a child. Back then, the closest thing to an AFT was a G. I. Joe doll. Did we call them “dolls” back then? Probably not since boys didn’t play with dolls.

Joe was released from the Hasbro Company on February 2, 1964, I was eight years old and that makes Joe 56 years old. He wasn’t a small, green army man, but a full 12″ tall. The commercials tagged him as, “A life like action soldier.” He was  tough, well trained, and a hero. Boys could imagine being like him.

I remember wanting one, but not asking, because I knew my older brothers would tease me about playing with dolls.

G.I. Joe Action Figure
Always wanted one, never got one. 

SUNDAY MORNING

Yesterday morning, at church, a little boy had an action figure toy with him. It was a Buzz Lightyear toy. Buzz is super-cool. If you aren’t aware, Buzz is a central figure in the “Toy Story” movie franchise consisting of four movies. They are so great.

Buzz Lightyear
Action figures have come a long way since I was a child.

He held Buzz up to me and I played with him for a moment, making him fly in the air with his jet pack and making the kind of noises that a young child can imagine. It was fun. I handed him back with a smile because just for a moment I was transported to when I was his age.

I guess there is a little boy or girl in each of us.

CHILDHOOD TOYS

My Favorites were:

  • A Tonka Truck
  • Lincoln Logs
  • Johny Seven Army gun
  • My big-boy bike

I’m older now and I don’t play with Action Figure Toys, not even life like action soldiers. But I have other, more sophisticated, things that I enjoy, not toys exactly, but kind of.

OTHER GIFTS

As a believer I have received gifts from God, from his Son and his Spirit. These aren’t Buzz or Joe toys, in fact, they aren’t physical or anything that could be held.

My Favorite Christian Gifts

  • forgiveness
  • grace
  • mercy
  • love
  • peace
  • joy
  • salvation
  • and many others

IN CLOSING

I never had a G. I. Joe or a Buzz Light Year. But I have the most precious gift of all,  the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Toys come and go, but receiving every spiritual blessing in Christ has proven to be the best of all!

 

 

 

 

It’s a Love Story

A MODERN MIRACLE

It’s a miracle that anyone can keep a class of kindergarteners engaged for 45 minutes.

Our Children’s Sunday School program has a teacher and an assistant in each class, but one of the classes was without an assistant and since I was friends with the teacher, I stepped in to help.

The kids knew who I was and said, “Hi Mr. Rick.” They were happy to see me and the teacher allowed for the moment and then deftly reacquired their attention.

We have some very cute and adorable kids in our church! 

I pulled up a chair and sandwiched myself between two kids. I am 6′ x 1″ tall and sitting with them made me look like the world’s largest 5 year old.

Preschool
Some very cute kids. But not the class I sat in. Close, really very close, but no. 

THE LESSON

It was an excellent class. She taught about Israel’s battle with the Amalekites and how Moses kept his arms lifted with the staff. If his arms lowered then Israel faltered, so, Aaron and Hur supported him to keep his arms up until Israel won.

“Hands were lifted up to the throne of the Lord.” 

Exodus 17:16

THE DISTRACTION

They impressed me with their answers to the teacher’s questions. They made me laugh. They made me proud. However, they were at times distracted by the presence of the world’s largest five year old. So, they would talk and ask me things.

Here is a sample…

  • “Why do you wear glasses?”
  • “Have you ever had acne?”
  • “I pray at bedtime for breakfast so I don’t have too in the morning.”
  • “Do you like my wheelchair picture?”
  • “What number comes after 19?”
  • “Can I have some more water please?”
  • “Do you have kids?”
  • “Do you have a brown crayon?”
  • “Are you coming back next time?”

The teacher knew how to manage them. She affected their behavior with affirmation and encouragement and was loving, gentle, and kind.

After the class, I had to quickly transition to 2nd service where I preached to hundreds of people, some of whom were parents of the kids in class. I can do that fine.

Teaching a class of five year old kids, not so much!

TO CLOSE

The Goldfish Crackers they had for a snack: less than $1.00

The paper copies of the lesson: less than $1.00

The green construction paper they used to make a prayer book: less than $1.00

The crayons they used to decorate their prayer book: maybe $5.00

A teacher affirming them and filling their hearts with God’s love: Absolutely Priceless 

 

 

 

 

The Best of Times

I was wondering about the going rate for an outed tooth. What’s the Tooth Fairy doing these days in regard to gifting children with cash for teeth?

Tooth Fairy

In my day it was a quarter, maybe. Sounds rather paltry. On the other hand here’s a sampling of what things cost in 1961 when I was five years old.

  • New house:            $17,200
  • Stamp:                         $0.04
  • Gallon of gas:             $0.31
  • Dozen eggs:                $0.57
  • Gallon of milk:           $0.49

Compare those prices with today’s market:

  • New house:         $300,000
  • Stamp:                        $0.55
  • Gas:                             $2.50
  • Eggs:                           $2.82
  • Milk:                             3.27

I’m thinking about this because yesterday, in our 2nd service, I was talking with a five year old who had lost a tooth. I asked if she got any money for it. She smiled her beautiful smile, sans the tooth, and offered, “Yes, I got $5.00”.

CONSIDER…

The cost of housing increase from 1961 to 2020 is 1744%.

The Tooth Fairy increase from 1961 to 2020 is 120%.

“Sure, but what about wages and income,” you ask?

Average household income in 1961 was: $7,500

Average household income in 2019: $75,133

Wow, parents are making 1000% more than they did 58 years ago.

But the Tooth Fairy pillow gift has risen only 120%. Hardly seems fair. At the increase of 1000% that precious child should have awakened to a bundle of $250, cash.

Tooth fairy 1

TO CLOSE

Okay, not going to happen. And it’s likely that my math is skewed if not entirely wrong.

Either way, I’m representing for the kids.

 

Love Being a Dad

THE ASK

My daughter asked me to go car shopping with her. She is smart, capable and confident but still, she wanted her Dad to go with her. She had a car to trade in and quite a lot of cash to put down. She knew the style of car she wanted and was looking forward to driving models from two manufacturers.

I of course said, “Yes”.

We went on the last Friday of 2019. We met at a dealership about 9:00 and I asked her,

“Before we get busy with a salesman, tell me your goal, is it driving home in a new car?”

She said,

“No, I want to decide on the car I want and then shop online for the best price.”

I said, “Okay, good plan”.

Nine hours later she drove home in her new car.

THE TEST DRIVES

She drove the first model and liked it a lot. Then she drove a similar model and liked it less. Then we went to a different dealership. She gave their model a thorough test drive and talked with the saleswoman at length. We left and went somewhere to eat a quick lunch and process the next move.

She wanted to go back and drive that first car again. They still had a copy of her insurance card and license and so the salesman did a smart thing, he handed us the keys and said, “Go have fun”.

We did.

IMG_0049

By the time she finished negotiating their price and her trade it was late afternoon. After arriving at an acceptable deal she called her husband who was at work. They went back and forth for over an hour discussing all sorts of things. Once they finished she signed the paperwork.

He left his office and stopped to pick up the title to her car and then came to the dealership, arriving about 6:30. They hugged and we hugged, and then I said good bye. I was happy for her and proud of her, but I wasn’t ready for the day to end.

Kelsey and Me

Top Ten Things I Love About Helping My Daughter Buy a Car:

10. Her smile when she drove that first car.

9. Her resolve in getting the deal she wanted.

8. The questions she asked me throughout the day.

7. The way she looked at me when she wanted me to weigh in.

6. The things girls care about that boys don’t when it comes to cars.

5. The amazing array of stuff in her trunk that had to be collected.

4. How sweet she was on the phone with her husband.

3. The way she hugged me when it was finally finished.

2. Telling me how glad she was that I was her dad.

1. Getting to be a Dad to such a wonderful girl.

TO CLOSE

Drive thru coffee during a test drive: $8.79

A quick lunch to talk and process: $18.53

A late model hard-top convertible: $32,000

Getting to spend the whole day with my daughter: PRICELESS

The Final Voice: The Shepherds

NOTE: This narrative is based in scripture and imagined by fiction. It’s the Christmas story as told by those who were closest to it. Please read accordingly.

The Last Voice of Christmas

Part Twelve

A shepherd knows some things: peace of mind, serenity of soul and moments of divine presence. He knows about new life coming into the world. He is acquainted with extreme heat, bitter cold, and the pain of loneliness. He suffers through sleepless nights.

He fends off predators, both animal and human. He mends injuries, treats illness, and grieves over death. He worries about leaving his flock so he can search for a lost lamb.

He is the pastor of his sheep, and the Lord is his shepherd.

ONE NIGHT: It was a silent night, a holy night, when the stars were brighter and the air was crisp and cold. A few of us huddled around a small fire when suddenly an angel appeared in light so brilliant that it hurt our eyes.

He came to give good news of great joy, that a savior had been born, that Emanuel had come to help the people. He said that the infant king was only a short distance away and that God has chosen us to see him. Then, we fell to our knees as the night sky exploded in splendor with the angelic host praising God’s name.

cole-angel-shepherds

SEARCHED: We left our flocks to go and find him, and we did, and not in a Jerusalem palace but a Bethlehem stable. We were confused by his birthplace, that the newly arrived Messiah would be so low born. The stable smelled worse than we did, which is saying a lot since shepherds reek of sheep smell.

We were surprised that his mother was so young, barely of age to marry, and even then was only betrothed to a young man from Nazareth. But Mary and Jospeh shared their story, telling us how Gabriel approached them and all that he said. It was thrilling.

We left the stable praising God for all we had seen and heard. As we joined our flocks we remembered the prophecies, that the Messiah would not appear kingly, or be recognized as special. He came to give good news to the poor, to bind the brokenhearted, and to set the captives free. He came to forgive the sins. He would need to come from among us.

His ministry, purpose and compassion will be extraordinary, but he won’t be. He won’t be adorned in royal robes or ride in golden carriages, instead he will walk the dusty roads of Palestine. He began in a stable, and speaking symbolically, he will never leave it.

nativity-baby-jesus-christmas-2008-christmas-2806967-1000-5581

GRACE: It was a night of nights and beyond special, it was incredible. We had been granted the amazing gift of amazing grace.

It was a silent night, a holy night. A night for God to come near.

May the nations rejoice at his birth, for it was most merry.

Merry Christmas and thank you for sharing this journey with me.

 

 

 

 

 

A Mother’s Voice

NOTE: This narrative is based in scripture and imagined by fiction. It’s the Christmas story told by those closest to the event, read accordingly. Thanks.

 

The Voices of Christmas

Part Eleven

On the western side of our village is a rocky ledge with a view of orchards and fields in a small valley below. There are olives, figs and pomegranates and acres of wheat reaching up to the summer sun. Every time I go there it fills me with hope knowing that everything has a moment, or a season, of beauty and great worth. Maybe that’s why I go so often, in the hope that I too will realize a moment of beauty and worth.

The daydreams of an ordinary girl living an ordinary life

It’s silly for I am neither beautiful nor have any particular worth. I am an unknown person living in a village where nothing special ever happens. Nazareth is not the place to live if you are hoping for something extraordinary. Well, except for this:

As of today I am eight months pregnant. 

THE DIFFERENCE: It isn’t extraordinary to be pregnant since young wives have babies often enough. But my baby is different. You won’t believe it but I have never been with a man. My purity is my vow to God, it’s how I serve him, and how I honor my family. I am betrothed, but we haven’t been together, I promise before God. But I am with child.

DO YOU BELIEVE? That’s extraordinary isn’t it? A Jewish girl who is pregnant by the power of the Spirit will deliver a son to reign on David’s throne! I have treasured these things and pondered them. But many don’t believe, choosing instead to accuse, scoff and ridicule. Rabbis, Synagogue Rulers, village elders and many others refuse to believe. I’ve explained over and over about Gabriel, but it doesn’t matter, they can’t see it.

I am the Lord’s servant, may it be done unto me as he has said. 

A JOURNEY: Joseph and I leave next week for Bethlehem, the town of David, in compliance with the Census. It will be a difficult journey, and Joseph feels strongly that I should stay in Nazareth, but I believe the Lord wants me in Bethlehem, that there is a purpose for it. Is it the Micah prophecy? Could it be?

My uncle has offered the use of a donkey, so at least I won’t have to walk. Im sure everything will be fine. We will get there, register for the census, and then get back to Nazareth. The whole trip shouldn’t take a week.

But here is a thought I keep having. The Lord has chosen me to bring Emanuel into the world. God is coming and it’s happening through child birth, it’s happening through me.

TheNativity (600 x 300)

The Messiah will arrive as a new born infant, helpless and dependent. I will care for him, nurture him and provide all his needs. I will love and protect him. He will be my firstborn and I will be his mother. I will hold him to my breast and nurse the Son of God.

The Lord has entrusted the salvation of the world to a teenaged girl, to me.

It will be a day of glad tidings, news of great joy, a Merry-Christ birth

Blessed be the name of the Lord

A Carpenter’s Voice

NOTE: This narrative is based in scripture and imagined by fiction. It’s the Christmas story told by those closest to the event, read accordingly. Thanks.

The Voices of Christmas

Part Ten

I work for a stone mason but he doesn’t just quarry stone. He is a builder, he builds houses, store rooms, small buildings and occasionally, a synagogue. Some call him a carpenter, but there are few trees so there is little wood with which to build things.

Actually, I am an apprentice: a learner, a helper and sometimes a builder. But mostly I  do whatever he asks and provide whatever he needs, and stop my mouth before asking questions like,

“When do I get to hammer something?” 

I’m not criticizing, for he started as an apprentice as did the one he apprenticed for, and so on. It’s a time honored tradition for training tradesmen.

It’s also what father’s do for their sons. I apprentice for a highly skilled man named Yacob. He is my father. My name is Yosef and I have been learning for years. My hands are calloused, my skin is rough, and my muscles are strong for building with stone requires much effort.

Something else fathers do is find a suitable bride for their sons. Suitable means a girl of the highest standards, with an honorable reputation and a Godly character. This my father did for me and I am betrothed to Miriam. She was set apart for me and I for her. Like the apprenticeship, our way of marriage is a time honored tradition.

Today is the third day of our journey. It’s been slow for she is late in her time of pregnancy. I won’t explain how she is with child and yet, we have not come together in the fullness of marriage.

It’s okay, hardly anyone believes me either.

I could not have known that she would give birth to the Lord’s anointed. The words still catch in my throat for who am I to be father to Yeshua?  But it matters not, for I must honor God. Today we reach Bethlehem and tomorrow I will register for the Roman census, and then we will travel home to Nazareth.

I have been in constant prayer that God will provide us with good lodging. Miriam is fearless and her resolve is strong. She believes, as a servant of God, that whatever he wills is what will happen. But frankly, I’m worried.

Mary Joseph

Finally, I see Bethlehem in the near distance. We will find lodging with warm food and a good bed for Miriam. Her time of pregnancy is ending, and the baby is coming.

I inquire at a house known for assisting travelers but due to the census they are full. We find an inn but they are also full. Fearing the worst, I enter the only place left, but sadly get the same result. I turn to leave when he says, “Young man, I’m sorry we don’t have a room for you. But If you will accept it, you can stay in the stable. It’s partially covered and has fresh hay. There are some camels and donkeys but I will make a small fire which will keep them from you and keep you warm. We have plenty of blankets and of course, some good food and fresh water. What do you think”?

I went out to Miriam and explained as best as I could. My heart was burdened and heavy. I am responsible for her. I am a builder of buildings and yet, all I could offer was an animal’s stable. I felt ashamed.

But Miriam smiled and said, “Yosef, it’s all right, we will be warm and have food and we will be together and the Lord will be with us. Now, would you please help me down.”

Later that evening she went into labor, I had hoped it wouldn’t happen here in this place. But again, with her customary faith and courage she said,

“Yosef, our son will soon be born, please cut one of the blankets into strips so we have something to wrap him with. And then fold some blankets and place them in the manger so he will have a place to sleep.”

The Son of God is about to come into the world.

It will be a Merry birth of Christ!

 

 

 

A Kingmaker’s Voice

NOTE: This narrative is based in scripture and imagined by fiction. It’s the Christmas story told by those closest to the event, read accordingly. Thanks.

The Voices of Christmas

Part Nine

Some say we are the power. Or that we wield it but from behind the throne. Some suggest we have more power than the one on the throne. This may all be accurate. Our group has been influencing kings, shaping kingdoms, and guiding great events for centuries. We are the Magi, the Wise Men of the East.

wise men 4

THE DIVINE

Mistake us not for common parlor magicians. We are astronomers, scientists, philosophers and counselors to kings and those royal born. Our order isn’t interested in the petty pursuit of wealth or the unbridled acquisition of things. Although we’ve benefited from our labors our purpose isn’t to own the world but to capture knowledge, to gain faith, and a better understanding of the divine.

From a century long past a Hebrew man named Daniel left us knowledge of a king who would be born among his people. A king of kings to rule with the power and majesty of the one God. For hundreds of years our caste has waited for his birth, and while we waited, we taught each new generation of our brothers. Each year we search the skies for the sign of his birth. We exist to worship him and present him with the gifts that have been given to kings in kingdoms all over the East. Seeing this king is our greatest purpose and most glorious resolve.

Tonight it happened, after years, decades and centuries, we have seen his star.

   And now we must go. The gifts are well guarded, as are we, by our warriors sworn to protect us and our divine purpose. It is Jerusalem we seek and it will require many days.

wisemen 5

KING HEROD

We try to imagine how it happened, marveling that a king could be born in Palestine, a vassal state of the Roman empire. We know King Herod is not the rightful king of Judea, but a political pawn, a violent man, and will certainly interfere. We will be careful of him.

Was Daniel truly divine in his dreams and visions? Will there be a kingdom of righteousness with this infant king? For he has come to a world that is ripped and raped by a Roman dynasty intent on enslaving everyone in its path.

HIS KINGDOM

We can only imagine a king that could be known as the Prince of Peace, Everlasting Father and a Wonderful Counselor. How mighty would that king be? Imagine a kingdom built with divine love and ruled by compassion for those in need. A kingdom without wars and pillaging, or the unquenchable desire to destroy all who get in the way.

Could this really happen? Will the infant king be enough: strong enough, loving and good enough to build such a kingdom? We hope and pray that he is. So, we seek him.

For it’s almost as if God himself had come to help us. 

May the name of Daniel’s God be praised.