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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.  

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Shalom

The Hands of Jesus

 Below are a few thoughts about the hands of Christ.

Seeing The Hands

Mary gave birth to a son, her firstborn, who was quickly absorbed by her love and warmth. She couldn’t stop gazing at his hands, those tiny hands, that curled sweetly around her fingers. She marveled that the hands of her son were also the hands of God’s Messiah. “How could that be,” she wondered? She knew his hands would one day help his father with the wood and stone; becoming rough and calloused. She knew his hands would one day help his Father in his Temple and Kingdom; becoming kind and caring. 

Those hands would cradle infants, bless children and touch lepers. They would comfort the grieving and soothe the broken. They were shepherd’s hands that gathered the lost  of Israel. They were healer’s hands that gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf and strength to the lame. They were strong hands that lifted Peter from the stormy waves. They were righteous hands that shredded the money-changer’s tables. They were gentle hands that wiped the tears of Mary and Martha, and then his own.

His gentle hands lightly pushed the branches aside as he walked among the olive trees. In Gethsemane, were his hands raised in joyous praise or lowered to ease his body to the ground? He three times prayed, “Not my will but yours be done.” On a dark, cold night his sweat dripped like blood, were his hands red from wiping his brow? Did he reach out to the angel who came on his behalf? 

Then his hands helped him to his feet to face all that was next.

Perhaps he waved the disciples closer as the soldiers grew nearer. Perhaps he offered Judas a hand when he kissed his rabbi’s cheek? Perhaps he grasped the sword Peter used to attack the enemy?

His hands were bound by the hands of criminals. Could there have been a bigger farce than to bind the hands that built the world? Could the soldiers have known that ropes, shackles and chains were useless? Sure, go ahead, clap him in irons, lock the chains and use all the rope you can get. But, it won’t matter. Could atomic sized power ever be contained by a plastic bag?

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How could he surrender to those men? Those lesser men impassioned by hate, immune to truth and lacking humility. But surrender he did, for it served their mission well, their mission of murder. Why did he do it? Because he knew who he was and why he was there and what he came to do. And what he came to do requried their violence. 

So, see the hands. Rough and calloused from the wood and stone. Scarred and gnarled from the hammered steel and splintered with shards from the old rugged cross.

Jesus hand nailed

See the hands that removed the cloth and rolled away the stone. See the hands of Jesus, and be absorbed by his love and warmth.

empty tomb blog

Happy Easter

The Town Garbage Dump?

I don’t know why but boys between the ages of six and eleven love a good pile of junk. It’s the stuff people set out to be collected or the free treasures found in a town’s garbage heap. I would joyfully take junk home to our garage. Dad understood but not for long.

“Ricky, what are you going to do with all that junk,” Dad would ask? “I don’t know, maybe tear it apart and build something?” ” Throw it away by Friday,”  he would say.

Throw it away? I just got it from someone who threw it away. 

OUTSIDE OF TOWN

All kinds of things can be found on the edge of towns, outside city limits. There are small town trash heaps, unwanted stuff at the dump, and all manner of dilapidated sheds and crumbling barns filled with rusted but interesting stuff. 

You know what else you could find outside of town? Well, if you were in Jerusalem around 33 AD you could find Jesus on a cross. It was Passover and the important people who deeply resented and passionately hated Jesus were busy getting the Romans to kill him. They succeeded.  

“And so Jesus also suffered outside the city to make his people holy through his own blood. Let us then go to him outside the city, bearing the disgrace he bore.” Hebrews 13:12-13

He was crucified outside the city so as not to contaminate the Jews with dead bodies and Roman rituals. They wanted to remain undefiled in order to participate in their most holy feast: Passover. 

Here is a favorite of mine by George Macleod:

“I simply argue that the cross be raised at the center of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a Cathedral between two candles but on a cross between two thieves; on a town’s garbage heap.

At a crossroad so cosmopolitan they had to write his name in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek; at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble. Because that is where he died. And that is what he died for. And that is what he died about.”

FROM SCRIPTURE

If you read your Old Testament you’ll discover that the Kidron Valley, between the Temple Mount and the Mount of Olives, was Jerusalem’s garbage dump for idols and all things related to idol worship. It’s where idols were crushed, broken, and burned. It’s where unwanted things were thrown away. 

ARCHAEOLOGY

In 2013 and 2014 archaeologists from the Israeli Department of Antiquities did some excavation in the Kidron Valley and discovered a massive rubbish site dating back to the Roman occupation of Israel. The Kidron Valley was Jerusalem’s garbage dump.  

The Bible

IN CLOSING

Jesus died outside the city and it was possibly in or near the Kidron Valley. It would make sense because his enemies thought him a false teacher, false messiah and a blasphemer.

To them, Jesus was a piece of unwanted trash to be thrown out with the garbage. 

Was he?

Shalom

A Text Message

Here is the text I received from my daughter.

“Congratulate us Dad, we own a house!”

They do indeed. My daughter and Son-in-Law have been looking for some time. As it often happens, they fell in love with the first house they found but waited too long to make an offer. They lost it. Lesson learned.

Then they couldn’t find another house that measured up to the first one. I think they got discouraged. She texted me:

“We will never find another house we like as much as the first house.”

But they did.

In fact, they liked it better. They moved forward quickly, their agent made an offer and it was accepted. She texted me:

“Dad, I’m so excited but starting to feel a lot of anxiety, is that normal?”

She asked if we could have lunch. “Of course we can,” I replied. They live in Houston, as we do, at least we have a Houston address. They live in an area known as the Heights and their new home is in the Heights. She had questions about house inspectors, closing procedures, and so forth. I like it that my daughter still looks to her dad for such things.

They’ve been married for a few years and I got to officiate their wedding. They are happy but in no hurry to start a family. It’s surprising that she isn’t at all receptive to my comments regarding their child bearing rate of speed.

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That was a good day. It was an emotional day. You are never finished being a parent to your kids.

She is a therapist with a successful practice and he is in commercial construction management. Their house is newer and nicer than our house and costs twice as much. She has already declared that this year’s Christmas will be at their house. I texted her:

Maybe we will sell our house and move in with you.

I haven’t heard back.

IN CLOSING

Like all good fathers I love my kids beyond human communication. To see the depth of my love you would need to listen to my heart. I’m am so proud of my kids.

Today, I congratulate my daughter for reaching this milestone. Way to go kid, nice job.

“Congratulate us Dad, we own a house!”

 

 

It Was Super-Cute!

I’ve got to tell you about last night. 

WHAT?

It was our preschool’s annual Spring Sing and Fund Raiser. Melissa McAdams, Director of “The Vine Preschool,” and our Preschool Minister, did her usual amazing job of producing a great event. 

The silent auction was so much fun, the bidding intense and the competition fierce. I saw my name on several bid sheets which I thought was odd since I didn’t put my name on them. Someone was having some fun I think!

There was cake, pie, cupcakes and ice coffee and it was all so delicious. The gym walls were covered up with art work from each class of children. It was beautiful. 

THE PROGRAM

The kids gave a fabulous presentation in the worship center! Their songs were full of God’s love. The students who said prayers, quoted verses and helped lead the songs were well prepared. I wondered how long they had rehearsed. 

The worship center had hundreds of parents, grandparents, and friends in support of their favorite little one. Seeing 60 or 70 two, three and four year olds on stage filled my heart with hope.

THE BIG AUCTION

For the third year I was asked to be the auctioneer. There are two kinds:

  1. Those who have completed professional auctioneering training programs
  2. Those who haven’t

I’m in the, “Haven’t” group but I do the best I can and it ends up being fun and funny and profitable. Actually, it’s an honor to help. 

IN CLOSING 

As I watched the super cute “Year in Review” video, which took about a year to finish, I felt a few tears forming. As Senior Minister it gives me such joy knowing we are investing in the spiritual future of young minds and hearts.

What’s the value of filling a young child’s heart with Jesus? 

It was a great night and I salute Melissa and her fabulous staff for another successful year and a highly entertaining program.

Good job everybody and thank you!

Monday Morning Blessings

Good morning and welcome to a new week and a fresh Monday morning. There are things to do, places to go, and kids to get to school. It’s a new week but I’m not sure I’m finished with last week.

Here are some things that were going on:

  1. Chemical storage tanks were on fire in the Houston Ship Channel and air quality warnings were issued for several communities.

“Oil byproducts from a damaged storage facility contaminated the Houston Ship Channel and created a cloud of cancer-causing benzene over the waterway, the latest mutation of one the worst Gulf Coast chemical disasters in more than a decade.”

cd4ef0c2-02c8-4e33-b1e2-7fb40bddbcd9-AP_Petrochemical_Fire_Texas

 

2. Yesterday morning, Sunday, we all came in for church to find that the A/V system was down and was not going to be up. We used a portable sound system and sang from something called a song book. Wow, I’ve seen them in museums. 

3. I got to take a friend to lunch, a precious 10 year old who I’ve known since she was a baby. I have a picture of her sitting in my lap in church when she was a year old. She is one of my favorites. We went to Outback Steak House and shared ribs, fries and a brownie covered in fudge and ice cream. I love kids. 

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Such a sweet girl and such a good friend. 

4. I got to see a movie with one of my kids. He is 34 and we like going to movies together, always have. I’m never happier than when I’m doing something with one or both of my kids.

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He is a visionary. Also the leader of our annual Christmas family nerf war.

TO CLOSE

Last week was scary, dangerous, frustrating, sweet and fun. I’m guessing this week will have its own ups and downs, its own heart beat. There will be people to spend time with and the likelihood of something unforeseen, a surprise that may or may not be welcome.  

However, I love life. I love my family and I love my church family. On this fresh Monday morning of a brand new week I am feeling especially blessed. God be with you!

Shalom

 

Big Things, Small Packages

Let me begin by saying that big things do indeed come in small packages. 

WHO

I meet with a group of men every week. There are seven of them and they are high functioning, bright and motivated men. They are also strong believers. The goal of the group is encourage, instruct, and mentor them. I hold a strong belief that each will go on to serve our church with distinction. They already do. I’m just trying to encourage more. 

Funny how often they end up encouraging and mentoring me. 

WHAT

Several years ago I was in Jerusalem, on a Holy Land tour, and our group stopped to shop at a store that sold hand-carved olive wood figures of Bible characters and motifs. 

I saw one that I fell in love with, it was Jesus with an outreached arm grasping the hand of Simon Peter to lift him out of the water. He was in the water because he had taken his eyes off of Jesus and began sinking in the churching waves of the Sea of Galilee. 

It resonated deeply because in many ways I am Simon Peter.

 

peter-walking-on-water
Not exactly the way it was that night, but close, really very close.

WHY

Because I, like Simon Peter, yearn to walk on the water with Christ. I start off with faith and good intentions but often falter through self-determination and self-dependency. What happens? I sink, every time. 

The olive wood figure spoke to my soul, not only because I identify with Peter’s sinking, but because like Peter, Jesus always lifts me up, every time. 

WHEN

I didn’t buy the figure because it was way out of my price range, but I never forgot about it, and have spoken of it often. I’ve even “drooled’ over it on subsequent Holy Land trips, but again, its price was always over my head. (no pun intended) 

Then yesterday a small package came to the church office. Inside was the very figure. Actually, I had held it again three weeks ago in the store in Jerusalem. Some friends who were with me on the tour gathered around to say that my men’s group had arranged for its purchase and delivery to Houston. They had even recorded a video message that I saw in the store on a cell phone.

I wept with tears of joy and overwhelming gratitude.  

TO CLOSE

I’ll conclude with the beginning. Big things do come in small packages. You know what else comes in small packages? The bits and pieces of time, trust and fellowship that form great friendships with great friends. 

Shalom

 

 

“It’s Like Camp For Kids”

It’s been one and a half weeks since returning from the Holy Land. My sleep seems to have readjusted. My daily routines have resumed and the bad cold I caught on the last day of the tour is almost gone!

BACK TO NORMAL?

What hasn’t returned to normal is the levels of enthusiasm and excitement regarding what I learned. This was my fourth trip to the Holy Land and yes I am still learning, still receiving new thoughts about God and his word, and it’s thrilling. 

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At the Wailing Wall, The Western Wall of the Temple. I’m the one on the left.

Thoughts About Meeting With God

  1. God calls me to the desert to meet with him. 
  2. He always has a message I need. 
  3. It may be personal or a new insight, or an assignment.
  4. It begins the moment I arrive and is completed by the time I leave.
  5. He calls me there to get my attention. 

Jerusalem's Wailing wall

DESERT EXPERIENCES?

If you read your Bible you will find examples of people receiving messages from God while in the desert. There are many. 

No, I didn’t go into the wilderness as Jesus did and certainly not for forty days. I didn’t go up on a desert mountain as Moses did. I didn’t spend time in the Arabian desert like Saul of Tarsus. Just the same, I was there, by His invitation, and he spoke to me. 

Did I hear him audibly? Yes, but probably not in the way you think. I heard him through the teaching of our Jewish guide who is a strong believer, a Messianic Jew. I heard him through Moshi, a brilliant Orthodox Jew who is open to Christians and Christianity and had an understanding of the New Testament that was impressive. I heard his voice through Joseph, and Muslim who converted to Christianity through the example of his believing wife.

I heard his voice while walking in the Desert of Zin, a place the Israelites camped on their journey to Canaan. I heard him while on a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. I heard him while standing on the stone floor of the Capernaum synagogue where Jesus taught and healed. Frankly, I’ve been to those places, and many more, several times. But they never fail to connect with me. 

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The Canyon In The Desert Of Zin, Possibly Where Moses Struck The Rock For Water

I heard him through the voices, comments, and insights of those who joined me on the tour. I heard him while communing with them in the Garden Tomb. I hear him every day I am there.

TO CLOSE

No, I don’t think God speaks to me only when in Israel. But the Holy Land is like how one of my friends on the tour put it,”The Holy Land is like camp for kids. It’s where we slow down, disconnect from daily life, and finally listen to God.”

She was exactly right.

Shalom 

 

 

The Past Pushes Us Forward!

HOLY LAND TOUR-FINAL DAYI’ve not blogged as much as intended. Some of the lapse was the internet and some was me.

There’s been many powerful and overwhelming days, as if God himself invited me to meet with him in the desert so he could speak with me. He did and he has.

FINAL DAY

On this last day we will visit Jerusalem’s Holocaust Museum, then spend some in the Garden Tomb, have an early dinner and then go to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport. It’s a light schedule but an emotionally heavy day. Glad to be going home. Sad to be leaving.

UNDERSTANDING

Visiting the Holy Land, and this is my 4th visit, you begin realizing that there is nothing divinely powerful in the ruins, the sites, or the ancient synagogues.

The power isn’t found in ancient stones of the past but in Jesus the living stone. The blessing we seek isn’t in the stories of great men and great events, but in the the sacred scriptures.The resurrected Messiah has power, the places and people of past events have none. But, they remind us of who does, and vividly.

I’ve walked where Jesus walked. Iv’e stood where Abraham lived. I’ve stepped through the ruins of King David’s Palace. I’ve sat in the temple courtyards where Jesus taught his disciples and healed and people.

It’s inspirational, and life affecting, to see it and imagine it happening. But there is not a single once of divine power in the ancient ruins, the Jordan River, or the Temple Mount. It’s all in Jesus and it all points to him.

TO CLOSE

Visiting the Holy Land is about understanding how the Kingdom of God, in one form or another, has always been here. It’s embracing that God has been with his people since time began, that he is with us still, and will continue to carry out his purpose for all time to come.

God isn’t finished with Israel, he is still here, still working, as he is everywhere and with everyone. 

Shalom

Taking The Plunge

HOLY LAND TOUR
If you feel that you’ve missed some blogs you aren’t wrong. I’ve had internet issues and my blog has been wonky to say the least. However, here is something we learned a few days ago. 

MIKVEH 

Some of you know this word and some of you have heard me speak about it in lessons. It’s a Hebrew word meaning to cleanse, or cleanse for ritual purification.  

When visiting the ruins of ancient villages it becomes obvious that the Mikveh was an essential part of the home, an essential element of Jewish life. The Mikveh was a square or rectangle shaped hole in the ground that was lined with rock or stone and filled with enough water for an adult to submerge. Kind of like a bathtub, but not. .

The Mikveh was used for ceremonial cleansing and not for washing off dirt. In fact, next to the Mikveh was a clay jar with water used to clean the outer person so then the ceremonial waters could clean the inner person.

Cleansing of this nature was done for many reasons. It was used when you were defiled by touching a dead body or animal or when coming into contact with anything that defiled you. It was used at the Temple in Jerusalem, in fact there were hundreds of them, for no one could enter the Temple unless they were first ceremonially clean.

BAPTISM 

For Christians, the Mikveh is known by a different word: baptism. For us, full immersion in water is done in the name of Jesus, and signifies experiencing the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. It’s where the old is crucified and buried and the new is raised to live life in Jesus.

The word “baptism” doesn’t mean ceremonial cleansing, it can’t be defined that way. Baptism comes from a Greek word that was made into an English word and it means immersion. But translators didn’t want to translate it as immersion for fear of offending many denominational churches who sprinkle or use some other form of “baptism.”

We wouldn’t call John the Baptist, “ John the Sprinkler.” We wouldn’t teach that Jesus went to the Jordan River to be sprinkled by John.

TO CLOSE

Homes in first century Palestine were about community, it was where parents, grandparents, and grandchildren could dwell together in separate rooms but rooms and space that was all connected. But one of the most important things they all shared was the Mikveh. The ability to immerse themselves in the blessing of ceremonial cleansing, to be pure before YHWH. What a beautiful gift to families. What a lovely thought for us all. Thanks you God.

Shalom

The New Way of Old

HOLY LAND TOUR-DAY FIVE
Yesterday was day five of our Holy Land tour. We spent our time viewing the excavations and ruins of some of Galilee’s villages and synagogues. It’s interesting how people who lived 2000 years ago aligns with how people are trying to live today. 

CAPERNAUM

It was a fishing village on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee and was home to several of the apostles. It was well know for it’s synagogue which was built with money donated from a Centurion.

Some Facts 

– Jesus left Nazareth and moved to Capernaum to launch his ministry.

– He lived with Simon Peter and his family for about three years.

– Some of his greatest miracles were performed there.

– He taught, healed, and lived among the people, he was one of them.

CORAZIN

Just a couple of miles from Capernaum was the village of Chorazin and its synagogue. Perhaps not as large a village or as grand a synagogue, but a village that offered a beautiful setting in the hills above the Sea of Galilee.

Some Facts

– Jesus performed many miracles in Chorazin.

– He became displeased with the community for their lack of faith.

– It was obvious that the village was constructed around family.

An interesting observation about the two villages, and others like them, was that their culture totally revolved around family.

– Every family had to make a living

– Few could afford to hire outside help

– They needed a growing work force

– That happened by having many children who married and had many children

– The sons brought their brides home to live with the family

– The daughters married and moved with their husbands to their families

– It was an agrarian culture and deeply dependent on family

An interesting aspect to that culture was how they all lived together. Today, because of prosperity and a different culture, our families separate and live elsewhere. Our children grow up and get married and move away, either near or far, but away from the parents.

Not so in first century Israel. They built their families with a “family dwelling” model. Mom and Dad had a house and as children came they added rooms. As children became men and married, they moved into added rooms that expanded the house with more walls and living space. Over time, the “house” became a community of family, perhaps 50-60 people living together. With such numbers were additional field hands, fishermen, and the workers they needed to expand their fields, reap a greater harvest and so forth.

TO CLOSE

In John 14 Jesus told his apostles that he was leaving to prepare a house, or mansion as some versions put it, and that he would return to take them to be with him.

We think of heaven as mansions on streets of gold. But what Jesus was saying was that he was leaving to go and build a room on his Father’s house for each of them. A place for everyone, a home for everyone to be together, to be a family.

Think about it. It’s the new way of old. We look forward to an eternal dwelling based on how people lived 2000 years ago!

Shalom