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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

Time For A New Filter?

“Mr. Fyffe, your AC will work better with a new cabin filter.”

Cabin Filter?

Cars have a “cabin filter” that catches dirt, leaf matter, and insects. It cleans the air coming through the climate control system. He showed me the filter, it was dirty, it was overdue.

dirty filter
Not my car’s cabin filter, but close, really very close.

I Asked

Is it free? “No, it isn’t free, but the installation is.” Free installation? They took it out to begin with. I knew they weren’t free. Just thought I’d ask.

A Dirty Cabin Filter

  1. I don’t want to breathe dirty air.
  2. Even if I can’t see the dirt, its there.
  3. Its wise to keep your car up to date.
  4. It needed replacing.
  5. I’m worth it. 

The Flood: Other Dirty Things 

  1. Moldy, wet carpet had to be pulled up.
  2. Water-saturated Sheetrock had to be removed.
  3. Wet Insulation had to come out.
  4. Spraying the studs to kill the mold was a must.
  5. Contaminated furniture and personal items had to go too.

Looks Can Be Deceiving

Sometimes the sheetrock looked fine, but invariably, there was standing water on the inside, with wet insulation, and mold already spreading. The furniture looked fine, but had absorbed the rancid water. Looks can be deceiving

Now Jesus

“Woe to you, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside, are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.”

Strong words. But we get it, right?

Hypocrisy isn’t having sin in our lives, it’s pretending we don’t. It’s an act, it’s playing the actor to present ourselves as spiritually beautiful, morally unblemished, and religiously pure. When we know it isn’t true.

To Close

The rancid, filthy things had to be removed. Even if the outsides seemed okay, they weren’t, they were contaminated and would only get worse with time.

Paul said,

“Let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit….”

Perhaps its time for a new filter?

Shalom

How Are You Doing?

I greet a lot of people and a lot of people greet me.

Still Asking

What is it we ask when we greet one another, often without intentional thought? O yes, “How are you doing?”

What is it we say in response, often without intentional thought? O yes, “I’m fine thanks, and, how are you?”

This morning, here is my answer with intentional thought:

I am:

  • Spiritually sustained
  • Mentally depleted
  • Emotionally thin
  • Physically worn out

How Come?

  • Three weeks after Harvey and still a lot of misery.
  • Our multi-million-dollar church building is stripped to the studs.
  • My dining room ceiling was destroyed, and one of its walls.
  • Decisions, choices, insurance adjustors, repairs, and more.
  • So many friends got flooded and lost everything.
  • And probably some other things too.

trash to the curb

Really?

I know. I’m the Senior Minister of a fine church. My family is safe. My house received minimal damage compared to many. I’m blessed and healthy.  Why should I be tired, weary, and discouraged? What reason would I have?

Someone who is strong and a true winner in life once said:

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going!”

Sure, Amen! Yes, to that. No doubt about it. That’s what tough people do. I think I’ll get going to Colorado. Call me when it’s over.

fast driver

No, just kidding.

However

There are some things that lift my spirit, fill my heart, and renew my energy:

  1. Work crews arriving from all over the country. They are taking time away from their families and jobs to help us. 
  2. Churches, individuals, and organizations donating money, materials, and labor to dig us out and build us up.
  3. The stories of heroism, from the first responders to everyday people, have encouraged and inspired me.
  4. And lastly, the Lord my God will not let me down. He will have the final word and his word will be good.

To Close

There are reasons to rejoice, to keep trying, to keep going. No, I’m not minimizing anyone’s pain or suffering, or suggesting the hardships and heartaches of Harvey are easily resolved or left behind.

But there are spiritual truths, values, and blessings to help us. As Paul wrote,

“Rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances.”

“How are you doing Rick?” “Actually, I’m doing better thank you!

 

Trouble After The Storm?

“Not everyone bounces back, some just keep bouncing.”

What?

It’s a quote, regarding the emotional impact of experiencing a major storm like Harvey or Irma. While most people can pick up the pieces and get back to normal, others  struggle, sometimes for months.

Struggling?

  1. General anxiety
  2. Post-traumatic stress
  3. Inability to sleep
  4. Gnawing sense of fear
  5. Depression

Studies reveal that 25% of people experiencing a severe hurricane can still be struggling six months later, or longer. It’s especially true for those affected by the worst aspects of storms: flash floods, loss of home and property, witnessing injuries, drowning’s, and storm related deaths.

 An Example

I read about a woman who was trapped on a roof with her three children. They huddled together as she shielded them from the rain and prayed to be rescued.

During the eight hours they waited, she witnessed four people die. She watched a woman and child trapped in a car as the water rose over and swept them away. She saw a woman clinging to a tree who lost her grip and quickly drowned. She watched as a man was being rescusitated, but died in the attempt.

Those images emerge whenever she closes her eyes. It’s why she’s hardly slept since she and her children moved into a downtown Houston shelter.

people waiting to be rescued

Other Challenges

People traumatized can feel overwhelmed to restart their lives. There’s frustration with contractors, insurance companies, and government agencies, and with basic needs like medical support and food and water.

Storm victims often lose their jobs due to devastation of businesses. They face financial trouble and then the shame of finding help from government agencies or the community. They know the feeling of standing in lines for help instead of being the one helping. 

Here’s some gently offered advice:

  1. Find a good church, faith and spiritual family will help.
  2. Join a support group, sharing your story could be beneficial.
  3. Resist the urge to feel like you’ve failed, you haven’t.
  4. Pursue positive short term goals, moving forward is healthy.
  5. Find a good counselor or mental health professional. You may need it.

To Close

“Not everyone bounces back, some just keep bouncing.” So, please try to remember these words from Jesus in John 16:33,

“In this world, you will have much trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.”

Shalom

Luck or Providence: You Decide

“Give luck a chance,” someone said.

Faith & Hope?

Outside a conscious awareness of God, and his divine presence, there is only chance, luck, and happenstance. A vague randomness that is ultimately meaningless, not of faith and offers no hope.

The Work of God

Is more obvious in times of great crisis and deep need. Do you remember the man born blind? (See:  The Storm of the Centuries ) The belief was that God had punished him due to sin.

But Jesus said no, neither he or his parents sinned that he was blind, but his blindness would provide an opportunity for God’s work to be displayed. Jesus healed the man and magnified God’s glory in doing so. God works to demonstrate his presence.

Some Harvey Examples

  • One of our members called saying she knew an older couple in Dickinson who was flooded, could anybody help? All our work crews were helping others. But five minutes later, another member called to say, “I’m in Dickinson, is there anyone I can help?” He went to their home, talked and prayed over them, and a family volunteered to go and help.
  • A family from our church recently moved to Dallas. He was praying about how to help in Houston. He came down and offered the use of his house while it was for sale. Shortly after, we got a call from someone bringing workers but needed a place to stay.
  • Our Pre-School Minister was working with a crew, one of whom had a brother on staff with a church in Alabama. She encouraged her to contact him, and she did. He approached his leaders, asking them to help. They sent someone to meet with us, he bought us $1200 of tools to use,  stayed for two days to helping with flooded houses, and then recommended to his elders that they help with a large donation. They gave $70,000.
  • A member called saying she was flooded, and needed a mattress. Ten minutes later another member called saying she had a mattress, did anyone need one?

God’s glory was displayed throughout the storm, over and over, and then after the storm, over and over. The Holy Spirit prompted many to serve, help and give. 

People found themselves:

  • Shoveling mud out of homes
  • Tearing down water soaked walls
  • Listening, praying, and weeping with flood victims
  • Opening their homes to those who no longer had one
  • Offering their homes to workers
  • Serving lunch to work crews, day after day
  • Buying and delivering supplies
  • Helping flood victims with insurance and FEMA.
  • Delivering dinner to victims
  • Watching other people’s kids so they could help
  • Doing laundry for those who no longer could
  • Ripping up soured, water soaked carpet
  • Giving out gift cards
  • Packing boxes
  • Doing grocery shopping for those in need
  • Asking and obtaining donations
  • Fixing plumbing problems
  • Climbing on roofs to fix leaks
  • Sweeping and mopping floors
  • Showing up in each other’s lives
  • Day after day, all day long, getting it done

god lending a hand

To Close

No, not chance, luck, or happenstance. Not fate or coincidence. Just the work of God. It’s the Holy Spirit inspiring and leading us to make a difference.

“Give luck a chance.”

No thanks. I’ll choose the divine providence of God every time.

“Though Poor, Yet Are We Rich”

It was a thoughtful gift, and came from their own money.

What?

It was Father’s Day, and my kids gave me a card and my gift was inside. The card offered the sentiments frequently expressed on such occasions. And the gift?

Seven Lottery Tickets

I Was Touched

It was fun. The tickets had to be scratched off and each had a potential of $1000. I was moved. I was impressed. I was hounded to get scratching.

Lottery Tickets
Not my Father’s Day lottery tickets, but close, really very close. 

As I slowly scratched, they hovered with rapt attention, like baby vultures waiting to be fed. They asked, “Dad, since we bought you the tickets, if you win, can we have some of the money?”

Uh Huh.

Had I won, I would have gladly shared, for I would have an abundance. I don’t know why that story comes to mind. Except for this.

Crisis Relief

Hurricane Harvey flooded our church building and the homes of fifty of our members. Donations have come in from all over the country, even internationally, from individuals and churches. The donations have been generous and will go a long way in helping our members and our community.

Except for one.

The One?

Well, it’s the amount. Every dollar counts but it wasn’t much. It wasn’t $10,000 or $1,000. It wasn’t even $500.

Now Jesus, Mark 12:42-44

But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples, Jesus said, “I tell you, this poor widow has given more than all the others. They gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

The Gift

The gift came from the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, it came from Haiti, from the Delmas Church of Christ in Port-au-Prince. Our church partners with Hope For Haiti’s Children, sponsoring a school in Cite Soleil, a Port-au-Prince slum community.

When they learned about our flooding they took up a special contribution.

With extreme poverty, from people who can barely feed their families, and with Hurricane Irma breathing down their necks, they raised $250 for us. And prayed for us, and pray for us still.

We were moved to tears, to joyful humility, and gave praise to God and gave thanks for our Haitian family, and we still do. They gave all they had to live on. They gave everything.

“Though poor, yet are we rich.” 

To Close

Never underestimate what the love of God will do in the hearts of believers. Never doubt how the Holy Spirit will stir believers into action, everywhere, from all over the world.

“It was a thoughtful gift, and came from their own money.”

Shalom

Time To Say Thanks

I’m taking the time to say thank you.

To My God

  1. For bringing us through the storm.
  2. Because we are still alive.
  3. For my house not flooding.
  4. For your presence when the storm was darkest.
  5. For eleven days of sunshine.

To My Friends

  1. For checking on us every day through the storm
  2. For texting all night, the night the storm was most frightening
  3. For coming over, getting on the roof, and sealing it
  4. For calling, emailing, and texting us after the storm 
  5. For continuously praying for us

To My Church

  1. For going out every day to help others.
  2. For doing the nastiest, smelliest, and dirtiest jobs
  3. For delivering supplies, dehumidifiers, fans, tools, and support
  4. For your faith, compassion, smiles and prayers
  5. For helping every day when you were sore and exhausted

To Other Churches

  1. For offering your building because ours was flooded
  2. For partnering with us in the clean-up process
  3. For encouraging your Youth Groups to partner with ours
  4. For giving the much needed funds
  5. For your prayers, encouragement, and support

To The Rescuers

  1. You placed yourselves at risk for us
  2. The boats & helicopters, lifting us up and off our roofs
  3. For coming from other states to help us
  4. For working day and night and never giving up
  5. For saving so many lives

And Now

god lending a hand
“Father, can you lend them a hand?”

Dear Heavenly Father,

Please help the people of Florida, and the 7,000,000 who are in harm’s way. Please send them all they need: the rescuers, supplies, the funds, the sacred community, and your divine grace to see them through the storm and back on their feet.

Amen

It’s A Sweet Flowing Wine

It’s a beautiful thing.

What is?

The giving and doing, and helping someone, for someone in need.

It’s the hardest thing.

What is?

The receiving of the giving, doing and helping when we are in need.

Why Is That?

  • We think others need help more than we do.
  • We fear it will make us look weak.
  • “I do it myself,” is what we’ve said since age three.
  • It’s humbling and breaks our pride.
  • We don’t want anyone to think we can’t handle it.

“I need help”

Its tough to admit, hard to accept, and difficult to ask.

Consider

We aren’t marbles in a jar, independent, tough, clicking off each other’s hard surfaces. No, we aren’t marbles, but grapes. Grapes come from the same vine, branch, and stem. They are a community, living and growing together.

They aren’t independent, tough or hard. Grapes are pliable and willingly release their beauty and sweetness, flowing together and becoming something more than any one grape could ever be. Grapes exist in community.

Now Jesus

“I am the true vine and you are the branches. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands you will remain in my love. My command is this: Love each another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay his life down for his friends.” John 15

Harvey

For a week, Harvey captivated and captured us. If frightened us. It submerged much of our city, and a week later, much remains submerged. Harvey damaged everything it touched.

trash to the curb

It destroyed homes, apartments, and businesses. It soiled furnishings, putrefied carpets, and infested walls with mold. Everything had to be discarded and everyone needed help, maybe a little or maybe a lot, but help was a necessity. We needed community.

helping truck get out

To Close

So, we’ve helped, and we continue to help, because it’s the right and decent thing to do. They are our neighbors, and with compassion and concern, we give them a hand. 

We help because he first helped us, because he laid his life down for us. Our helping is the sweet flowing wine of the sacred community of Christ.

And it’s a beautiful thing.

 

 

 

Picking Up The Pieces

“Don’t worry, it’s only things and things can be replaced.”

It’s Being Said

That statement has been said over and over ever since Harvey did his hit and run. His running was more like crawling, and excruciatingly slow.  

There’s been a sentiment suggesting that flooded homes, businesses and their contents were only things, as if things meant nothing.

I Get It

Measured against the loss of life, then yes, things are only things and can be replaced. But the people can’t and Harvey took some people. However, let’s not be quick to judge what else people have lost. 

Jesus Our Messiah

Do you remember when Jesus blessed the loaves and fish and fed the multitudes?

Mark 6:42,

“Then he gave them to be set before the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish.”

two-fish-and-five-loaves

Twelve Basketfuls

  • A sign that he could feed everyone 
  • A message to never doubt him
  • Then there’s John’s account:

“Gather the pieces that are left over, let nothing be wasted.”

Sure, it was only things, just bits of bread and fish. 

They picked up the pieces, so nothing was wasted, the pieces held value.

It’s more than things when:

  • The mechanic loses his tools and can’t work for days or weeks.
  • The business loses its building and there’s no income for months.
  • Photo albums are destroyed, decades of family pictures ruined.
  • Heirlooms passed for generations are gone.
  • Medicines are destroyed, leaving people vulnerable.

If you still aren’t sure, then go spend some time with a family who got six feet of water in their house. Carry to the curb all their mold covered furniture, clothing, keepsakes, appliances, and beds. Then pull up the stinking, rotting carpet, and tear out all the mildew infested sheetrock. Then tell them, “Don’t worry, it’s only things.” 

wet houston

To Close

Jesus made sure the pieces got picked up. Yes, he could turn stone into bread, he could always make more bread, but that wasn’t the point. Those pieces had value.

No, not the value of human life, but value for life.

Things that are lost may just be things, but things with value for life.

Shalom

It Felt a Little Gilligan

It was a rough and bumpy ride.

What Was?

Sitting in the back of a boat, in Galveston Bay, when a threatening storm stirred up. We were determined to beat the rain, lightening, and rising waves so our brave captain pushed the motor to the stops. The bow slapped and bounced and the spray flew back and drenched me.

It felt a little Gilligan’s Island. Me? I was Gilligan and feared the Minnow was lost. It was a rough and bumpy ride.

We barely made it. Relieved to escape the storm, we trailered the boat and left for friendlier places.

Now Jesus: Luke 8

One day, Jesus and his disciples got into a boat and headed across the lake. Here’s what happened:

As they sailed, he fell asleep. A storm came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. 

The disciples woke him saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and was calm.

A Week Ago

Last Saturday night we too were in a raging storm with constant lightening, cannon like thunder, and rapidly rising waters. 

wet houston
It Was A Frightening Storm And We Felt Great Danger

We were afraid, and like his disciples, we were in great danger. We wondered if our homes were about to be swamped.

Some Perspective

  1. Jesus was in the boat and he was in our home.
  2. At the darkest moment, they asked him for help.
  3. Do we wait till the moment is darkest before asking?
  4. He calmed the storm, the boat didn’t sink, and they didn’t drown.

I know. In Houston, thousands of homes flooded and over forty people have drowned.

man walking in storm
When Do We Call On The Name of the Lord For Help?

My point is this: the disciples took on water and were in great danger. They experienced the same fear as we do. And they had Jesus in the boat, didn’t we have him in our home? 

two men in raft
Is Jesus Still In The Boat?

People of faith have storms, know danger, and experience fear. Sometimes the water rises even on the strongest beleivers.

After calming the storm Jesus asked, “Where is your faith?” Isn’t that the point of the story? Where is your faith? Faith isn’t about God keeping the hurricanes from forming.

To Close

It was a rough and bumpy ride. I was wet, miserable, and glad to not get struck by lightening. I got home and was thankful.

In the storms of life we learn to say by faith, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Shalom

“Why Live There?”

Why would you live there?

A Question

 “Why live in a place that gets hammered by storms every few years?” I’ve been asked that question by people who live some place else.

It’s true. The Houston area, and the Texas Gulf coast, gets significant storm damage from time to time. Nevertheless, there are good reasons to live here.

  • People are needed here, more so than many big cities.
  • The nation depends on Houston’s energy production.
  • So does the state of Texas.
  • Its has world class hospitals and medical support.
  • Houston typically has a healthy if not a booming economy.
  • And many more reasons.

Houston12

The same could be asked of the cities and towns around the Gulf Coast. It could be asked of Florida’s 20,000,000 people.

Same for the eastern sea board including the 20,000,000 people who populate the New York/Newark metropolitan area. 

And how about Oklahoma, the Texas panhandle, and other regions that suffer destructive tornados?

The question could be asked of the 39,000,000 Californians living in an earthquake zone.

Why Live There?

How many people would need to relocate to avoid the earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, and tropical storms? Roughly 90,000,000? More? And  move to where?

Now Jesus

Jesus used an illustration about two houses being built. One was built in a dry river bed and the other on rock.

Two questions could be asked:

  1. “Why did you build your house in the sand?” Answer: “Because I’m a fool.”
  2. “Why did you build your house on the rock?” Answer: “Because I’m wise.”

The fool built in a dry river bed. The wise built on the rock, up out of the river bed. In the rainy season, the dry bed became a roaring flash flood and the fool’s house went, “Splat!” The wise man’s house withstood the storm because he didn’t build in the river.

Houston didn’t build in a dry river bed. Neither did Corpus Christi, Oklahoma City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, or New York. Neither did New Orleans.

Foolishness: letting your kids play on a busy road, making bad decisions, choosing foolish things. Living only for self, without faith, and without God.  

Wisdom: being careful, making good choices, making wise decisions, and loving God and others as we love ourselves. 

To Close

Jesus illustrated what it meant to embrace or ignore his teaching. When it pertains to his Word, don’t build your house in the middle of a river. Be wise, be smart, embrace his word and live on a rock-solid foundation, in a house that will stand for eternity. 

Houston is my home, and home for millions of people. It’s a wise choice.

And storms are a part of life, everywhere. 

Shalom