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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

The Hands Have It?

To make a point, I used an illustration that may not have hit the mark. It was a pair of questions asked for effect, and here they are:

“Would you hug your children without using your arms and hands?”

“Would you hug your parents without using your arms and hands?”

 The answer to both is no; we wouldn’t. The questions are better illuminated in the context of worship, of how we reach out to God. 

Psalm 63:4

“I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.” 

Psalm 134:2

“Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord.” 

Lamentations 3:41

“Let us lift up our hearts and our hands to God in heaven…”

In his Psalms, King David had a constant emphasis on lifting hands in worship. Did David imagine reaching out to embrace God; perhaps expressing the sentiments of this chorus from Hillsong Worship, 

“Here I am to worship; here I am to bow down, here I am to say that you’re my God.” (chorus: “Here I Am To Worship”)

It’s a picture of arms and hands extended with the heartfelt hope of touching the face of God. King David would never have embraced his Lord without using his arms and hands. So, why would we? 

As odd as it seems, I was raised in a church culture that didn’t believe in emotions— that “emotional worship” created subjective doctrine. So, emotions were kept out. 

One application was that hands in worship were for holding hymnals. There was no clapping or raising of hands, not ever. It was more than frowned upon; it was expressly forbidden. It was such a strong tradition that to clap in worship was considered sinful. Generations were taught to uphold these beliefs. We believed we were more right than other churches who had turned their worship into an emotional freefall of sinful behavior.  

Resulting from more than a century of such teaching were generations of members afraid of clapping and mortified at the thought of raising their hands in worship. 

Odd, isn’t it? While equipping our members to condemn the use of hands in worship, we abandoned the scriptures affirming using hands in praise. Did we cut off our noses to spite our faces? In our sincere attempt to be more right than others, we ended up being more wrong by ignoring what scripture had to say. Traditions quickly become rooted in the soil of our hearts. Once implanted, they become heritage, and heritage becomes a legacy and a defining element in our core beliefs. Those who follow may fail to see the difference between truth and tradition. At that point, something important is perilously close to being lost.

Please read carefully: Choosing not to raise hands in worship isn’t sinful. However, choosing to judge the ones who do is sinful.

Isaiah 55:12

“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” 

This verse reminds me of Jesus in the last week of his life. It was Passover week, and in the temple courts, children were shouting, “Hosanna to the Highest,” in reference to Jesus. The religious legacy types took exception and essentially rebuked Jesus for allowing the children to say such things. They asked if he heard what the children were saying and implied that he should get them to stop. His response was essentially this: “Yes, I hear them, no, I won’t stop them. If they are silent, the stones will cry out.” 

Let’s take note, along with the Isaiah text:

  • the mountains will burst out in song
  • the hills will burst out in song
  • the trees will clap their hands
  • the children will shout Hossana
  • and if not, the stones will shout out praise 

What about us? Will we remain content to sit silently and worship quietly? The heavens proclaim the glory of God, so why aren’t we? For what are we waiting? 

God is waiting for us to get past our hang-ups, our inhibitions, and to put to rest the decades of unfounded rules and judgments. 

Easier said than done? I know. It has been for me too. But I am making progress and enjoying freedom in my worship that I have longed for but been afraid to do. 

TO CLOSE

The stones shouldn’t have to give the praise that God wants from me.

Would you hug your heavenly father without smiling, warmth, or using your arms and hands? 

David wouldn’t.

Where Did My Happiness Go?

People kept saying that things would get back to normal when the elections were over. The elections were seventeen days ago, and other than my phone no longer blowing up with unwanted political texts, emails, and calls, nothing seems normal.

A friend was telling me about some struggles. Some were personal, and some were work-related. The word happy found its way into the conversation. Is happiness a choice; can we choose it or not.

Do some of us choose sadness? 

My friend mentioned there used to be more happy days. Now, there are more sad ones. I agreed with my friend, realizing I felt the same. There is a longing to be happy again, a returning to a time when we don’t feel so heavy- burdened and discouraged. Will it ever return? 

Our world is different. To me, it seems upside down, and I can’t exactly explain what that means.

At the very least, this past year has been challenging. 

  • Covid-19 with all of its ups and downs. 
  • Race riots, social upheaval, violence, and anger.
  • Financial reversals, foreclosures, and bankruptcies. 
  • Joblessness, lay-0ffs, spiking unemployment. 
  • Quarantines, families unable to gather, events canceled.

Just as we hoped for an uptick after the elections, people are now expecting better times in the new year. Will the turning of the calendar coincide with a miracle restoring us to a better whatever? Is that true hope or child-like superstition? We know that the only thing that will genuinely change from December 31 to January 1 is getting a day older.

But that doesn’t stop us from saying things like, 

“I can’t wait for this year to be over; it has been the worst year ever.” 

And yet, 2020 could easily duplicate in 2021. The pandemic is nowhere close to being extinguished or curable. Our social unrest will not suddenly be resloved as if a magic wand had been waved over the issues. We yearn for the economy to improve, but we also know it could deteriorate further.

About now, you are asking,

“Good grief, is there anything positive to offer?”

My answer is yes.

My answer is based on faith. None of us has any power within ourselves to make things better. But believers have power from divine sources. We have the gift of the Holy Spirit as well as the higher will and purpose of God. And that should matter to us. It should provide a living hope.

My challenge has been adjusting to a lesser lifestyle, of accepting fewer choices and smaller opportunities. I want my church to flourish again. I long to see the hundreds of people who stay in their homes on Sundays and watch online. I long for the day when the hundreds who are coming in person to no longer wear masks or be socially distant. 

Our usual is walking into stores, shops, and restaurants without masks or concerns. It’s visiting family and friends in the hospitals and seeing sporting events packed with fans. Normal is getting our jobs back and working to provide for our loved ones.

Yet, our heavenly father knows all this. In some sense, my challenge is less with God and more with being an entitled American coping with the idea of life in the “home of the brave and the land of the free” being a bit harder and less convenient. 

However,

  1. Am I suffering to the point of shedding blood? 
  2. Do I go to bed with an empty stomach? 
  3. Is my home a house of tarps with a mud floor? 
  4. Will my family face the fear of violent, religious persecution? 
  5. Are my loved ones at risk for dysentery, cholera, or starvation?

No, those things I don’t have to worry about.

I’ll finish with the words of one who knew suffering more intimately and immensely than anyone I’ve ever known or heard of. 

Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said, “Naked, I came from my mother’s womb and naked I will depart. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” 

In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

Job 1:20-22

God bless you all. Have a good weekend. 

Do I Look Taller in Person?

She was adorable, cute, and twelve years old. She walked up and said, 

“Mr. Rick, you look taller in person.” 

I wasn’t sure what she meant, so clarification was requested. She offered again, 

“You look taller in person.”

She was smiling when she said it, and hers was a heart-melting smile.

I wondered about the following:

  1. Did I look taller because we were closer?  
  2. Had she seen me on TV in a live stream service?
  3. Was it possible that I had suddenly grown three inches?
  4. Was I wearing my shoes with elevated heels?  
  5. Do I have any shoes with elevated heels? 

I decided the reason didn’t matter. What did matter was that this precious girl felt comfortable saying it. So, I replied with, “Thank you, sweetie.” It was a fun moment.

If you follow my blog, then you know that children are often featured in my posts. The reason is that kids are my favorite people. Over the forty years that I have been in ministry, I have discovered that in much the same manner as Jesus, children have become significant to me. Among other things, they make me smile and warm my heart. 

Yes, I love their parents too, but parents are grown-ups and have lived long enough to become a mess, just like me. There are some excellent reasons that Jesus often preferred kids:

  1. Once they know you, you have a friend for life. 
  2. Innocense is bound in the hearts of children. 
  3. They are buckets of fun. 
  4. Children love to laugh.
  5. The kingdom of God belongs to them. 

From Mark 9:36-37

He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me.”

From Mark 10:13-14

People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

From Mark 10:16

And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them, and blessed them.

In no way am I comparing myself to Jesus. But I am comparing myself with Jesus. Children were essential to him. Not because they were cute and fun and adorable, but because they were the rightful citizens of the kingdom he came to build. 

Finally, from Isaiah 59:21

“My Spirit, who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth, or the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants from this time on and forever,” says the Lord.

Children are the hope of future generations. They were to Jesus, and they are to me too. 

She said I look taller in person. She was so sweet. 

Shalom 

Bad Blood Between Brothers?

A favorite movie has a scene about an embittered man named Ronnie explaining the cause of his bitterness. It had to do with a meat slicer. One day he was slicing some meat when his brother Johhny came in to talk. During the conversation, Ronnie became distracted and sliced off his hand. Tragically, his fiance broke off the engagement wishing not to marry a one-handed groom. He lost his hand, his bride, and his happiness. 

Years later, when Johnny became engaged, he sent his fiance to invite Ronnie to the wedding. The brothers had not spoken in five years due to the slicer indecent, and her conversation with Ronnie did not go well. There was “Bad Blood” between the brothers.

Ronnie couldn’t be happy for Johnny. He said, “Johnny has his hand, he has his bride, and I should be so happy for my brother? Where is my hand? Where is my bride?” 

It’s a good scene and in no way was grisly; no fluids were lost in the making of the film. It’s a romantic comedy about the ups and downs of a New York Italian family. It’s funny, sweet, and heartwarming.

However

In the past two Sundays, I have delivered sermons on fractured relationships due to political differences; and other differences that have torn friendships and families apart. They were not easy to give. 

The religious, racial, and political climate in our country has been quite stormy. We appear to be at an all-time low for patience and tolerance. We have traded empathy and acceptance for judgment and condemnation. I know, not all of us, just most of us. We are tired and beat down. Not our best.

Perhaps the most disagreeable levels have been forged on Social Media outlets where we have taken sides, joined the fray, got down into the mud, and aligned ourselves with those who think as we do. We listen to no other voice but our own and to those who say the same things over and over again. 

Is that the echo chamber? 

We have argued and disagreed about Covid-19, about masks, about Presidential candidates and political platforms. Many of us have felt awkward about the racial divides and the BLM movement. Some think our government has been heavy-handed in diminishing our God-given rights as American citizens. Others say, “No, it hasn’t.” 

Our culture, as of late, has been acrimonious and acidic.  

I spoke with a member yesterday who was in tears about a political disagreement that ended a dear friendship. Like Ronnie and Johnny, they have stopped talking to each other. 

Stories such are becoming too familiar and sad. 

Maybe some of it can be placed on the hook of the disruptions, interruptions, and cancelations from the Corona Virus. Maybe we are becoming a little less human and a bit more something else. I don’t know, but it isn’t healthy.

Have we cast off: 

  • personal responsibility
  • character development
  • basic human civility
  • the pursuit of humility
  • a desire for unity

There are solutions to our problems; that’s not the problem. The challenge is doing it, and it begins with me. Yesterday morning, I confessed to my church that I have struggled with several sinful behaviors and attitudes over the past eight months. In the confession, I also stated that I was repenting of them. 

Here is the list:

  1. gossiping about church members
  2. saying disparaging remarks about others
  3. tearing others down to build myself up
  4. holding on to ill-will towards others related to disagreements
  5. pride & ego that has hardened my heart to God and others
  6. having a sour, negative, and critical spirit 
  7. making poor choices based on selfish desires

These have challenged me in big and small ways, and sometimes every day and sometimes not. I finally reached the end. It needed to stop. 

What would your list be? Be honest. Are you willing to redirect your heart and mind to a God-centered place?

It’s Easy To:

  • ignore our sins
  • focus on the sins of others
  • look if someone is present who “really needs to hear the sermon.”
  • live in denial about our weaknesses 
  • always find ways to make it about someone else
  • condemn behavior in others that we know exists in our lives

In Closing

To my Christian friends, be reminded that we are called to a higher standard, not a lower one. 

“Love one another as I have loved you.” 

“The world will know that you are my disciples by your love.” 

“Pray for one another and carry each other’s burdens.” 

“Love your enemies and do good to those who hurt you.” 

“Be my light in a darkened world.” 

“Serve one another in love.” 

“Make sure no one pays back evil for evil.” 

“As far as it depends on you, live in peace with all people.” 

“Forgive as I have forgiven you.” 

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit.”

Sooner or later, Johnny and Ronnie had to reconcile. And they did. 

What about us?

Shalom

I Love a Good Test

I recently joined the ranks of those who have been tested for Covid 19. I don’t have it. I had many of the symptoms, although not a fever. Perhaps it was just a cold. I’m fine and thankful. 

However, the experience of getting tested was not what I expected. Allow me to elucidate. 

  1. I found a convenient place. 
  2. Their site promoted the following:
  •  online appointments
  • online registration
  •  curbside testing
  • rapid result tests
  • self-selecting an appointment based on their online schedule

All of that was attractive, so I began by setting up an online account that required my driver’s license and insurance card. Then I was prompted to complete the medical forms and provide other bits of information. Okay, ten minutes later, I was done.

Next was selecting an appointment for the curbside test. They had an opening for 11:30, and I took it. Once that was confirmed, a message popped up, instructing me to arrive ten minutes early; I wondered why, but okay, no problem. 

I arrived not ten but fifteen minutes early because that is how I am. I looked for cars in line but didn’t see any. They had no provision for curbside service. I parked, put on my mask, went inside, and joined the line of people waiting to speak to the receptionist. The short line bore no resemblance to a short wait.

When it was my turn, I asked where the curbside testing was located. The receptionist replied, “We don’t have curbside service.” I responded with, “Well, your website features it quite prominently.” She said, “That’s not my problem. Do you have an appointment?” I said, “Yes, at 11:30 for a covid test.” I was then asked to sign in, and doing so required a pen from one of two jars. One had a label that read CLEAN while the other read DIRTY. She noticed that I picked a pen from the DIRTY group, which annoyed her, and she said so. I apologized for not seeing the labels. She said to return the pen to the DIRTY jar, disinfect my hands from a pump on the counter, and then select a pen from the CLEAN jar using my recently disinfected hands. 

Then I was handed a clipboard and told to fill out the pages. I glanced at the first page and said, “Mam, I have already done these forms on your website.” She said, “It doesn’t matter; if you want to see a doctor, you have to fill out the forms.” So I filled them out, returned the clipboard, and then was asked for my driver’s license and insurance card. Once again, “I already scanned these; you already have them.” She said, “It doesn’t matter; if you want to see a doctor today, I need copies of your license and insurance card.” I gave them to her and sat down. Bear in mind that my 11:30 appointment was already ancient history. 

I waited and then waited some more. Finally, at 12:20, my name was called and yahoo for me. The nurse checked my vitals and asked some questions. Then says, “It will be a few minutes; I need to get my thermometer from the other room.” I timed her; it took seven minutes. She checked my temperature, no fever. She said the doctor would be in shortly. Twelve minutes later, he comes in, gives me the deep core drilling swab, and says, you can go to the waiting room; we will have your results in fifteen minutes. 

Not me, but close, really very close.

Twenty minutes later, the nurse tells me it was negative. I was so happy, not about the outcome, as much as being able to leave. Another glance at the time: I had been there for two hours.

I was glad to not have the virus and said a prayer of thanks. I drove home, feeling blessed that I wouldn’t have to cope with Covid’s weird way of being minimal for some and deadly for others. 

To Close

Jesus once told a crowd that they could come to him and find rest for their souls. He said that his burden was light, suggesting that he had few, if any, burdens for others to carry. He taught that following him was simple, and doing so required no forms, no hassles, no I.D. cards, and no waiting. He was right on all accounts.

Thank you, Jesus!

It’s a Shoe Thing

I probably had more shoes when I was a kid than I remember. The shows that I do remember are as follows:

  1. One pair of sneakers.
  2. One pair of dress shoes for church.

As mentioned earlier, if I had more than two pairs of shoes, I don’t remember. My school got the sneakers, the church got the dress shoes, and summer got my bare feet. 

Speaking of bare feet, my church had a Barefoot Sunday yesterday. Our last shoe drive was in 2012, about eight years ago. Maybe we will have another one in 2028. 

For several weeks, people have been dropping off their shoe donations. We started yesterday with more than fifty large boxes of shoes in all sizes. That number will rise significantly once the donations from yesterday get boxed up.

The boxes will go to Fort Pierce, Florida, and then flown to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. On arrival, trucks will haul the boxes to schools in the city and in villages and then given to students who are sponsored for Christian education through a faith-based nonprofit called Hope For Haiti’s Children. 

info@hopeforhaitischildren.org

During the services our members donated the shoes they wore to church. They came with the shoes off their feet and placed them on the stage. Then they were barefoot. We all went home without shoes. Walking from my office to my car was painful. There are always little bits of whatever on a parking lot, and my feet greeted them all. By the time I was in the car I had decided that shoes are a good thing. 

But don’t worry about me, I still have shoes at home, and my collection has grown since childhood:

  1. Golf shoes
  2. Sandals
  3. Sneakers
  4. Dress shoes
  5. Casual shoes
  6. Moutain shoes for Colorado 
  7. Grubby shoes for yard work

I still go barefoot sometimes, but only around the house. 

The kids in Haiti don’t have several pairs of shoes. Some don’t have any. The shoes they do have are likely too big or too small. And none will be in good condition. 

People in Haiti are poor. 

Jesus said in Matthew 25

“I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat.” 

“I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink.”

“I had nothing to wear, and you gave me something to wear. 

“I was a stranger, and you invited me in.” 

“I was sick, and you took care of me.” 

Those to whom he spoke were confused and asked, “Rabbi, when did we do these things for you?” And Jesus replied, “You did these things for me whenever you did them for the least of my brothers.” 

I have been to Haiti many times and seen deep, gut-wrenching poverty. The Haitian people certainly qualify as the least of his brothers. They aren’t the only ones, but they are some of the ones to whom Jesus referred. 

To Close

I know I shouldn’t wait for a shoe drive to donate shoes, clothing, or food. But these events remind and encourage me, and maybe all of us, to be more active in being the hands and feet of Christ. 

I still have plenty to give to those who are the least. 

How about you?

Shalom

Children: Hearts of Praise

To the conservative rabbi’s and chief priests, Jesus of Nazareth was an unabashed liberal. They branded him a false teacher and a blasphemer. 

They didn’t like him. The more public his ministry became, the more people followed him. As the number of his followers increased, so did the jealousy of his detractors.

One of the things that galled them most was his affinity for children. Here is an example. It was Passover week, and he had already come down the Mount of Olives on the donkey. There was much celebration, joyous rapture, and unbounded praise. The people shouted, 

“Hosanna to the son of David! Hosanna in the highest.” 

Hosanna is a Hebrew word meaning save or salvation. It was a word of fantastic adoration and praise. Later, in the temple courts, some children were running about and shouting, 

“Hosanna to the Son of David”

That offended the chief priests and rabbis, and they accosted Jesus for what the children were saying. They wanted him to silence them. But instead, Jesus responded with this, 

“Have you never read, “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise?”

In a culture that told children to sit still and be quiet, Jesus dared to be different. He stood up to those who disliked what the children were shouting and what they were shouting about. He stood up with Psalm 8:2:

“From the lips of children and infants, you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.

King David’s words addressed his enemies, saying that the Lord would ordain the lips of children with praise. In doing so, their words of divine origin would silence David’s foes. 

In quoting Psalm 8:2, Jesus was saying this to the chief priests and rabbis: 

“You want me to silence these children, to have them stop proclaiming praise to me. But I will not, for what they are saying has been ordained by God, and I cannot silence them.” 

YESTERDAY MORNING

At the beginning of 2nd service, a little girl was in one of the isles dancing to the songs. She clapped her hands, waved her arms, and was captured by the praise music. I think she two or three years old. 

I watched her for a couple of minutes and was transfixed by her complete lack of inhibition or hesitation. She was free and was freely expressing her joy, and that was all that mattered. 

She was beautiful.  

IN CLOSING

Jesus lined up on the opposite side of the religious elite on just about everything. And they hated him for it. But their hatred didn’t discourage or even distract him.

Much like the little girl, Jesus didn’t know hesitation or inhibition. He was free, and he freely expressed his joy, and that was all that mattered. And by the way, I beleive those children knew that he loved them, for Jesus loved all the little children of the world.

He was beautiful too.  

The Big of It

I recently attended an event that was held in a charming little town with a beautiful setting. And by little, I mean it was tiny. 

Small towns have an appeal. I’m not sure why, but they do. Maybe it’s the open spaces and easy access. Houston does not offer easy access. When I left my home in Clear Lake, it took more than an hour to get out of town. When I hit the 60-minute mark, the concrete jungle still kept me captive. 

In a city the size of Houston, drive times are determined by distance and accessibility. Sometimes the destination isn’t far in terms of miles, but traffic, road repairs, and impediments can make a short distance a lengthy drive. Or maybe the location is many miles across the city, but the traffic is smooth and unhindered. It’s hard to predict, and it often changes while in route. 

It has the cumulative effect of mounding irritation, frustration, and stress. 

Did somebody say traffic? What traffic? 

The town’s people were friendly and unhurried. They had a casual, almost lackadaisical demeanor that seemed to say, “Welcome to our store, I’ll be here if you need anything. You don’t need anything, do you?” 

The town didn’t have an MLB team like the Houston Astros, or an NFL team like the Houston Texans or an NBA team like the Houston Rockets. They didn’t have an Astrodome or an NRG Center or Theater District or a ton of other things. 

Do you know what they did have? They had clean air, blue skies, and crisp, chilly mornings, and people who were comfortable living in slow-motion. And just in case I forgot to mention it, everything was five minutes away.

However, when the time came to leave, I wasn’t sad but glad to be going home. “Why,” you ask? It is because Dorothy was right; there is no place like home. Home is where I live, love, and work. It’s where I survive and thrive. Houston is my home. Yes, it has smog and smothering summer heat, and months of possibly devastating tropical storms. Houston has ever-present expansion in every direction. Can anyone say, “Urban Sprawl?” 

Do I sometimes feel there are too many people? Yes, I do. Harris County, where I reside, has a population of four million with no end in sight. However, when we moved here 23 years ago, I am sure there were many who felt the city was already overcrowded and wished all the new people would move elsewhere.

We stayed anyway.

Small towns and small-town people often possess a quality that is often missing in our urban jungles. Small towns can be lovely to visit and excellent for slowing down, reducing stress, and feeling better. 

Thank you, small towns, you have my lasting appreciation. 

The Perfect Family

The word “family” is interesting. Here is a definition:

“a basic social unit consisting of parents and their children, considered a group, whether dwelling together or not.”

There are other uses for the word:

  • The First Family, as in the white house
  • The family, as in the mafia
  • An extended group of relatives
  • The staff or employees of an official
  • The offspring of some animals
  • The classification of plants and animals

However, none of those provide a warm, fuzzy feeling. Perhaps they are not intended to.

Families come in all shapes and sizes and reflect their culture, tradition, and heritage. The family dynamics in Japan will differ from those in Sweden, and so on. 

One’s ancestry plays a part, whether large or small, in family development. In other words, where one originates is an influencer of where one is going. We may or may not be aware of such influences, but they exist whether we know it or not. 

I often tease people with a piece of self-deprecating humor:

“My wife and I have similar backgrounds. We both come from horse cultures. Her family raised them, and my family stole them.”

No, neither is real; it is only a joke. But we all come from somewhere and from someone, and none of us had any say in the matter. 

Those who are believers are familiar with these “family” phrases:

  • The Family of God
  • God’s Holy Family
  • Family of Believers 
  • The Spiritual Family

In his letter to ancient Thessalonica, Paul wrote to express his love for the church, and he expressed it well. Every page offered words of love, affirmation, and care. 

I find it interesting that Paul used the family model to communicate how he felt about Thessalonica’s believers. Consider these references from the 2nd chapter:

A Caring Mother, 2:7-8

“Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.”

A Caring Father, 2:11-12

“For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you…”

Siblings

2:9 “Surely you remember brothers and sisters…”

2:14 “For you, brothers and sisters…”

2:17 “But, brothers and sisters…”

Mom, Dad, and the kids were Paul’s choice to illustrate God’s model for the church, the Family model. 

I freely admit that just as families at home have arguments, conflicts, and difficulties, so does the family at church. “Why is that,” you ask? Well, it is simple. It is because families are made of people, and people are messy. People are flawed, sometimes broken, and often demonstrate their imperfections. 

Some say that churches are full of hypocrites. If they mean that Christians sometimes advocate one thing but live something else, then okay, we are occasionally hypocritical. Perhaps those who point out our hypocrisy might pause to measure themselves to a standard of human decency. It might turn out that we are all flawed, imperfect, and in need of divine help. 

In Closing

I love my family. I love the one at home and the one at church. Paul was right. If possible, whenever viable, both families need loving, caring mothers and encouraging comforting fathers.

Families are not perfect, but the divine model for families is, in fact, perfect. 

Back To The Future

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:

  1. Even with face-coverings, it was apparent that everyone was happy and excited. It was in their eyes, and their eyes were sparkling. 
  2. The numbers indicated that half the congregation attended the live services, while the other half watched the live stream from home. 
  3. I wonder if our national circumstances have permanently altered the idea that “church” can only happen in one large building?
  4.  Preaching for six months to a empty worship center was a sad and lonely substitute for a live and joyful congregation.
  5. 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. 

Another Prediction

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)