Dropping the coffee cup got my attention. What happened next got my respect.
“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.
My sister was adopted. It was public and well known. Most adoptions are not that way, but this was different.
- They adopted when I was 10, my brothers were 13 and 12.
- When you show up for church one Sunday with a baby, it gets noticed.
- Everyone knew my parents didn’t have a baby girl.
- And she didn’t resemble either parent.
- She was from Viet Nam.
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:
- She had our name.
- She had our values.
- She was believed as we believed.
- She was loved equally and in the same way as her brothers.
- 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.
It all came from him, it all points to him.
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.
On March 8, the Southeast church held its last in-person services until yesterday. That was twenty-six-weeks ago, or call it six months or half a year.
When the Corona Virus pushed us to close, I predicted that it would last no more than six weeks. I was close, really very close, missing by only three and half months. But, it finally ended.
Yesterday was “Southeast Reopens Day.” Here are a few impressions:
- Even with face-coverings, it was apparent that everyone was happy and excited. It was in their eyes, and their eyes were sparkling.
- The numbers indicated that half the congregation attended the live services, while the other half watched the live stream from home.
- I wonder if our national circumstances have permanently altered the idea that “church” can only happen in one large building?
- Preaching for six months to a empty worship center was a sad and lonely substitute for a live and joyful congregation.
- The worship was rich and robust. The prayers full of gratitude and faith. The Spirit was with us. Now, let me tell you about the biggest impression of all.
The Biggest Impression
We have a children’s contribution every week to help hundreds of Haitian kids receive a Christain education. For twenty-six weeks, our children have been saving their money in jars and cans. Yesterday, they finally got to give it. Their jars and cans were stuffed and overflowing. Child after child waited their turn to pour money into a large basket. It was beautiful and it overwhelmed me to tears.
It will take some time to determine where we are as a church. But that’s okay. It took twenty-six weeks to get us to yesterday; perhaps another twenty-six weeks will reveal our new normal, if there is such a thing. Meanwhile, its full steam ahead, its time to get back to the furture.
I will close with this:
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him and have been called according to his purpose.”
“What then shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can stand against us??
“No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
” Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
(selections from Romans 8)
Lately I have been faced with lots of decisions. Here are some of them.
- To enter restaurants or not.
- To vote Republican/Trump or Democrat/Biden.
- To stay put during hurricane Laura or evacuate.
- To shake hands or not.
- To judge those who disagree with me or not.
As for the decisions I am thinking about, I’ll make the following comments.
Honestly, I have frequented them more than I thought I would. An important aspect to my ministry is being available. Often, availability is defined by my fitting in to other people’s schedules. Their schedules are often restricted to breakfasts and lunches. Do I go or not go? It is a decision I have to make every day.
I was born here. As an American citizen, am I guaranteed the right to privacy? Does the Bill of Rights provide a right to privacy? I don’t believe it does. But who I vote for, or whether I vote at all, is no one’s business but my own. It is a decision I get to make. Please stop pushing me to agree with your decision, whatever it is.
Last Tuesday morning the best information was that the storm would become a category 4 and track towards Houston. So, we evacuated. By Wednesday evening the storm did intensify but then tracked easterly instead of westerly. There was little rain or wind in Houston that night. I felt silly for having left. I guess it is better to be safe than sorry. It was a decision I had to make.
We were warned that to keep America safe we needed social distancing, no person to person contact. At first, we were told that face coverings were not a deterant. Now, it is the law. Some have rejected these warnings, suggesting that true beleivers trust God, and that the Lord will keep us safe if we trust him. What decsion have you made? Is shaking hands still a risk? How much science and/or media coverage is involved? To touch or not touch is a decision I make every day.
First of all, let me confess. I like judging others and I am good at it. How about you? My biggest judging challenge is how quick I am to judging others who are judgmental. It’s like saying, “I despise prejudiced people,” or “I hate those who hate,” or “I am so biased against those who discriminate.” Each day it is a decision I have to make. Someone once said this:
“Those who say that they can take it or leave it are usually taking it.”
As for judging, I’m usually “taking it,” meaning I’m doing the judging. It’s poor form, and it’s wrong.
AS FOR JESUS
He chose not to judge but instead to love. Jesus wasn’t political, but honored the Law of Moses and even taught his disciples to pay their taxes. When reminded that people in Jerusalem were going to hurt him he stayed where he was for a few days. When crowds got unruly he went into the mountains. Did he not trust his Father? As for touching others, yes, he touched the sick and the lepers. But he had something that I dont, he was the Son of God, and was never going to die from disease or leprosy. His appointment with death was already fixed, it was on a hill far away.
Jesus had to make decisions every day, and so do we. Let’s make good ones.
Some of you will remember a sixties TV show called “Get Smart.” It starred Don Adams as Maxwell Smart, A.K.A. Agent 86, his partner Barbara Feldon known only as Agent 99, and Edward Platt who was always referred to as, “The Chief.”
It was a comedy spoof that ran from 1965-1970. I thought it was cool and funny. Max had secret-agent gizmos that he struggled to operate, but one that he used every week was his shoe phone. Yes, Agent Maxwell Smart had a phone in his shoe.
Each episode was about a Washington agency named CONTROL doing battle with an evil empire known as KAOS. Agents 86 and 99 were sent to thwart whatever plan of tyranny KAOS had derived for the week. Of course, each mission was dangerous, and the intrepid agents would come close to falling or failing, but they never did.
Control and Kaos
Somebody once said that chaos and order aren’t enemies, only opposites. That they live side by side and are connected as if one couldn’t exist without the other.
Is there evil that results in chaos? Is there goodness that produces order?
By chaos and order, I’m not referring to organized versus unorganized. I’m referring to the conflicts and destructive impact of a life lived sinfully versus the peace and constructive value of a life lived in the Holy Spirit.
Unrighteousness leads to chaos while righteousness leads to divine order.
Jesus, our Messiah, said this:
“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness how great is that darkness?”
Darkness and light or chaos and order. How are your eyes today? Have they allowed the light of Christ to shine within, or are they closed to keep your heart in darkness?
Are you living in the light of divine order or in the darkness of sinful chaos?
We live in a world that is referred to as fallen and broken. How did it fall? What broke it? Are we also fallen and broken? Is the darkness within us a great darkness?
Either we exist in chaos by our separation from God or in order by a divine connection. Either in darkness by sinful disobedience or in the light by divine holiness.
CONTROL and KAOS were elements of a thirty-minute show in the sixties. The light of holiness and the dark of sinfulness are elements of life today, of divine order versus human chaos.
Perhaps we all need some kind of shoe phone—something heavenly to keep us connected with the divine. Actually, we do. It’s the Messiah, it’s Jesus, our Lord, and Savior.
Have a blessed day.
This past Saturday, I was at an event that was full of love, compassion, and generosity. We partner with a nonprofit called Hope Active. They exist to serve those in need, and their goal is to alleviate some of the sufferings of despair and poverty in Jesus’ name.
Some events that we have partnered:
- A basketball camp for autistic children with Houston Rocket’s players
- An annual day to give backpacks and school supplies to families in need, typically serving over 700 children each year.
- An Angel Tree, gift-wrapping event to bless families for Christmas
- Three times in the last two years, we have hosted Hope Active events in our gym.
- Many Southeast members volunteer for these events.
- Janel Hopper, our Children and Family Minister, is on the Hope Active board.
What I found most gratifying was how they served in the name of Christ. Because of Covid, the people who came remained in their cars, and when they reached the gift station, volunteers gave them the backpacks and supplies. It was a drive-through event.
Janel, along with her family, were outside serving. She told me this story.
A car pulled up with a woman and her five grandchildren. As I greeted her, she became emotional and began to weep. She talked about losing two of her sons, one a few years ago to a gunshot wound and one to leukemia last year. She was the sole care-provider for her grandchildren, and money was tight, and life was hard. But she was thankful that her son passed before the pandemic because it would have been so much harder with him being in isolation. I offered to pray with her and she immediately said yes. I asked God to help with her grief and anxiety and for her grandchildren.
She left with five new backpacks with school supplies. But also having been touched by the blessing of someone who cared. Someone who cared enough to pray for her.
Jesus said that we will always have the poor with us, John 12:8. It’s a verse often misquoted, misapplied, and misunderstood. I have heard Christians reference the verse to justify not helping the poor, as if to say,
“Well, there’s no shortage of poor people, we can always help later.”
Not at all sure that is what Jesus meant.
I wasn’t outside in the heat ministering to those in need. I was inside with air-conditioning doing data entry. It’s okay, it all has to be done. But I was one of four who were doing the data entry. The other three were women, African American women, and Hope Active is their primary ministry. They volunteer a lot, they want to help.
I spent a couple of hours with them and was blessed by their conviction. They genuinely desire to help the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters.
It was an event full of love, compassion, and generosity. I was blessed just to be there.
Perhaps it’s time that I own up to the truth. Or maybe it’s not? Just the same, I feel compelled.
Most of you know me as a mild-mannered minister that has, for the past twelve years, served as Senior Minister of the Southeast Church in Friendswood, Texas. But there is another side to me.
Have you squirreled out my secret? If not, then I’m going to tell you. But please, don’t go berserk. Tell yourselves, “I will not stage a nutty.” As a good friend often tells me,
“It’s okay, it’s fine, everything is going to be fine.”
Well, here it is.
For the past thirty-seven years, I have been the owner and CEO of the Fyffes Pineapple Company. Also known as Fyffes Gold or Super Sweet Gold. My product from Costa Rica and my global business center is located in Ireland:
The Ramparts, Dundalk, Co. Louth, Ireland
I appear to be just another neighbor in a middle-class neighborhood, but actually, I’m far more, and I’m worth millions.
Anyway, since my product is now in major grocery chains across America, I figured it was just a matter of time until someone put it together.
The horizontal “5” on the right stands for something, but I don’t know what. Also, we call it Fyffes Gold, but as you know, pineapple is more yellowish. Not sure why we went down that golden avenue. As CEO, I should probably look into such things, but hey, who has the time?
Well, there you have it. The cat is out of the bag. I don’t know who put the cat in the bag, or why, but the hairy little fur-ball is out now.
Of course, none of the above is true except for my being the Minister of the Southeast Church of Christ.
Hey, you should visit us when we return to live on September 13. As always, we will offer two services for your convenience, 8:30 and 10:45. Consider it a personal invitation. Wasn’t that slick how I worked that in?
You’ll be glad you came, and that’s not one of Slick Rick’s stories. It’s the truth.
From William Blake, “Great things are done when men and mountains meet; this is not done by jostling in the street.”
From Anatoli Boukreev, “Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve; they are cathedrals where I practice my religion.”
From Julie Andrews, “Climb Every Mountain”
From John Muir, “The mountains are calling, and I must go.”
John Muir was a Scottish/American engineer, environmentalist, and author. He wrote 300 articles and 14 books about enjoying and protecting the great outdoors. His writing was instrumental in Yosemite and Sequoia becoming national parks. He founded the Sierra Club serving as its president until he died. The primary purpose was to preserve Yosemite National Park for future generations.
Well, I’m somewhere between John Muir and Julie Andrews. Not quite a bonafide mountain man, but a mountain lover to be sure. What is there to love?
- The clean, purified air
- Trees: Blue Spruce, Bristlecone Pines, Ponderosa Pines, and Aspens
- Rivers, streams, and waterfalls
- The majesty, grandeur, and beauty
- God’s magnificence abundantly displayed.
Sometimes I dream of living among them, in a simple cabin next to a trout-filled stream. Its simplicity wouldn’t preclude running water, electricity, indoor plumbing, central heating, and a towering fieldstone fireplace. I’m willing to surrender some of society’s comforts and conveniences but come on, I am not an animal.
I’ll definitely require a toaster oven, espresso maker, and an excellent juicer.
The Spiritual Part
Some Biblical References
- Israel made their covenant with God at Mt Sinai.
- It’s where Moses received the tablets.
- At Mt Nebo, Moses saw the Promise Land that he would never enter.
- David wrote that God’s power formed the mountains.
- Psalm 121:1 says to lift our eyes to the mountains for help.
- The prophets mention mountains more than seventy times.
- Jesus climbed the mountains to pray, teach, and be transformed.
- Psalm 98:8 mentions that the mountains sing together for joy.
The poetry of the Psalms has such imagery, the mountains singing for joy. I have heard their joyful song and their calling.
I cherish sitting on a fallen log, or a rock in a mountain stream, to listen for the music. It’s a beautiful and peaceful melody, soul-soothing, and heart-healing. The soft breeze will flow with the river, and I’ll sense the presence of God’s spirit coming to fill me with joyful peace. The Spirit will see my troubles and struggles and take them before the Father to express the words I cannot find.
The mountains aren’t a bad place to get deeply personal with God.
For me, a gentle mountain stream is a nearly sacred thing. Whatever amount of time I get to spend is never enough. But whatever I get is time spent with my creator. It’s like reaching up and touching the face of God.
Mr. Muir was right; the mountains are calling.
To God Be The Glory
I stand in my usual spot. Some call it a stage, and some have called it the pulpit. Either way, it’s where sermons are delivered, lessons taught, and messages shared.
My usual spot is where I preach on Sunday mornings. Two sermons a week, one for each service. But not lately. The last Sunday that we had two live services was March 8.
Now I deliver my sermons on Wednesday afternoons. That’s when they are recorded and then live-streamed from our website. Each Sunday, 800-1000 people will watch the service on their phone, computer, or big screen TV and do so from the comfort of their homes. I see none of them.
My spot is in the Worship Center designed for hundreds of people. But instead of looking at a congregation of familiar faces, I look into a camera lens. It’s a hard thing to do, to record in a big, dark, empty space. Looking into a lens is not warm and fuzzy; it’s lifeless, and it gives nothing back, not a warm smile or rich laughter. It is an empty experience, unrewarding, and unfulfilling.
It’s the way it has to be. We call it the Corona Virus, or just virus, Covid-19, or the pandemic. Twice we have planned to reopen the church, and twice we have canceled due to an upsurge of new cases in the greater Houston area. So, we record a worship service with the praise team, prayer leaders, and commuion.
But it’s not the same, is it?
Church family, I miss you. I miss shaking hands and hugging and seeing you love each other. I miss our Youth Group and all of our kids and sharing the Lord’s meal.
You are prayed for and lifted up before the Father.
I’ll end with the following hope:
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
Philippians 4:4-7, 13
Someone once said that Jesus was color blind. Was he?
From an unknown source:
“Jesus didn’t see color. He only saw people. He saw everyone as a person first and then the other things second, if at all.
In his presence, people felt empowered by a love that was freely given, that wasn’t based on their appearance. People were his invention, made in his image, from every race and color.”
I was raised to give respect and kindness to everyone, regardless of who they were. So, it was quite a surprise the first time I witnessed racism, and it affected me deeply.
It affected me like it did the first time I saw kids hurt another kid because he was different. It was at school.
Years later, I would see Christians offend other Christians because they were different. It was at church.
I discovered that people could be cruel to those who were different.
AN OLD PROBLEM?
Some say that racism is something that happened long ago and no longer exists.
Last week a friend told me that while serving a church in Alabama, her husband baptized an African American woman. The elders ordered the baptistry drained and scrubbed. Then he was fired.
I vividly remember the KKK marching close to the church I was serving, it stunned me.
Perhaps racism isn’t as widespread or as overtly violent as it once was, but it still exists, there is still violence, and it’s still a problem.
IS RACISM CHRISTIAN?
It isn’t Christian, but that hasn’t stopped it from happening. Here’s a question:
Is racism more of a social issue or a moral issue?
Racism often gets parked in a social context, which can hinder believers from connecting it to Christ-centered truth.
An Illustration: Most Christians believe that abortion is sinful. They view it as a national stain and stand against it on moral grounds.
Other Moral Issues:
- Sexual immorality
- Abuse of women and children
These are identified as moral issues, but not racism.
It’s a sensitive and prickly thing, with plenty of piercing thorns that many preachers try to avoid. I’ve been preaching for forty years and have never delivered a sermon about the sin of racism. Why is that? Have I been afraid? Has it not been relevant to the churches I serve?
Perhaps I’ve never accepted it as truly immoral. As a Christain leader, I’m to stand against immorality. If racism is sinful, then it’s a moral issue, and I should stand against it on those terms.
“Rather than build a bridge of connection, I created a bubble of silence.”
I’ve sympathized with African American people, but not empathized. Sympathy allows me to feel bad, but not have to do anything. Empathy allows me to feel bad, and then to engage in their experience, to come alongside and be part of their story.
It can be complicated. Both sides eagerly list the sins of the other and willingly point the fingers of guilt and shame. It can be confusing.
I’m asking, “What would Jesus do, and what would he want me to do?”
I’m reading books about race relations and discussing the problems with people of color. I participated in a webinar on black-white issues. I’ve met with two African American Pastors, saying that I had come to learn and to ask them to teach me.
I don’t have the answers. Frankly, I’m still learning the questions. But I know we must work towards peace. We should strive for the equality that Jesus died to provide, that there be no sides, only his sacred community.
I’m aware of an occasion when a white person refused to take a communion tray being passed by a black person. I’m aware because I saw it.
Folks, if we can’t gather together around the table of communion, how will we ever gather togather around the throne of glory?
I think someone was right. Jesus is color blind.
There is something I’ve heard a lot. It’s a common theme for church members and leaders:
“I can’t wait until we are back to normal.”
I understand the statement. We eagerly await the day the full congregation returns to public worship, and everything members need.
Some things we want to return:
- Nursery care
- Children’s programs
- Youth classes
- Adult classes
- The regular service schedule
- Seeing everyone together
Some things we want to end:
- Face coverings
- Social distancing
- Checking for fever
- Everything wiped down
- Fear of touching or being touched
- The perpetual talk about Covid-19
However, there is a growing awareness that the “normal” we long for may never materialize. Nobody knows for sure, but as churches reopen across the country, we are learning some things. Here are five things that shape a new normal.
- Many churches will not see the attendance they had prior to COVID.
- Some members will choose to remain home and participate online.
- Some worship services and bible studies will continue digitally.
- We became multi-site churches and that will remain on some level.
- A heightened sense of risk may stay with us for a long time.
Church leaders need to embrace the new normal instead of grieving for the church they once knew. Smart leaders will view the differences as opportunities and not as disruptions. It won’t be easy. It feels different and strange. But work through it.
New technology can help the church. Most churches haven’t had a large digital footprint, they didn’t need one, but those days are ending. Churches that upgrade their digital capabilities will be able to meet the needs of their congregants and community. The churches that don’t will struggle to catch up.
Churches that were growing before COVID-19 will continue to grow, even with the new normal. Churches that were declining will probably continue to decline.
Here is a thought.
Proud leaders see something they don’t understand and say, “That’s wrong.”
Humble leaders see something they don’t understand and say, “Please teach me.”
The church culture has changed. But it’s the same gospel, the same Savior and the same Heavenly Father. May he bless and guide us as we navigate through different waters.
Did Jesus dislike families? Did he have any reason to?
John 7 records that his brothers didn’t believe in him. What about his dad, what happened to Joseph? The family would be used as an excuse for not becoming his disciple. His own apostles, at times, were torn between following him and going back to their homes and families.
Here is a particularly difficult text about this in Matthew 10.
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” v. 34-35
“A man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” v. 36
A troubling thing for the Prince of Peace to say.
Matthew 10:34-36 is a quote from Micah 7:6. The prophet spoke against Judah and Israel for abandoning their faith. He condemned them for social injustice, the leader’s abusive behaviors, and how those with power brutalized the poor.
Micah 6:14 says that the leaders were attempting to stockpile for themselves olive oil, wine, and grains. But they would not enjoy any of it, for it would be forcefully taken by their enemies and their swords. Jesus’ sword was a metaphor, to illustrate that his presence and his message would separate the righteous from the unrighteous.
Micah spoke of the tribulation that would soon come upon the people. That a season of desperation would lead them to betray and abuse each other. They would steal from each other, even from the members of their own families.
Such was the context in which Jesus spoke against Israel’s leaders. He was about to send his apostles to preach throughout Israel and Galilee. He warned them about hardships, and about their being flogged in the synagogues. Jesus said that the message of the kingdom would divide families.
As it was for Micah the Prophet, so it was for the Son of David. He would challenge the people to return to God, to love one another, and to eliminate greed, injustice, and intolerance from their hearts.
Jesus’ message wasn’t always received with joy.
So, it makes it all the sweeter when I see families of faith. Yesterday, in both services, we had videos of families at home who led us in prayer, in communion, and in the process, touched our hearts and enriched our souls. It was beautiful.
Jesus wasn’t born to dislike people. He didn’t come to tear us apart or to divide friends and families. But he knew his message would create friction, for even within the same family, some would believe and some wouldn’t.
I thank God daily for our young families at the Southeast church. Thank you for your faith, and God bless you for sharing it with all of us.