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.
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.
Today is my birthday. Yep, May 18, 1956, was my entrance to the world. I was born in Moses Lake, Washington, and that makes me a natural-born citizen of these United States.
The math gets harder, so I’ll spare you the trouble. I am now 64 years old. Here are a few of the ideas that I considered, and rejected, for this blog.
- A poem with sixty-four verses
- The highlights of my life
- The lowlights of my life
- Reasons why 64 is better than 63
- The things that hurt more today than yesterday
However, none of those seem interesting, and I’m sure most wouldn’t finish reading. So, instead, I’ll ramble for a few hundred words.
- I’ve been married for forty-one years and a dad for 35.
- I’ve been a minister for forty years.
- Houston has been my home for twenty-two years.
- My favorite thing is fly fishing the streams of the Colorado Rockies.
- Christmas is still my favorite holiday.
Some things I’ve discovered about myself:
- I’m not as smart as I thought I was.
- I’ve been wrong about quite a few things.
- Change is hard, but it is always the right thing.
- I have failed as much as I’ve succeeded.
- Believe me, the mind is the first thing to go.
If age is just a number and we are as young as we feel, then half the time I’m confused about how old I am. But it matters not for whatever number reflects my time on earth; it remains just a number.
I remember when dad bought a color television. It was a massive piece of furniture with beautiful polished wood. I think it was the nicest piece in our living room.
I remember the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and watching Niel Armstrong walk on the moon.
I got my first bike at eight, my first skateboard at nine, and my first car at sixteen. It was 1973 and the car was a 1962 Chevy Bel Air with 1.6 million miles.
The Viet Nam war borrowed my dad and then my brother. My other brother spent a dozen years in the Navy. All three served with distinction.
I’ve learned that life can knock you down, again and again. Life can also present opportunities and open doors when least expected.
In seasons of dark days with unending grief, I’ve learned it’s best to keep moving forward. Life goes on so we might as well go with it. Life rarely stops to let us catch up.
As hard as it is to believe, we are never truly alone. All around us are people who have experienced the same troubles. When I feel isolated, cut off, and alone, it’s usually the way I want it. My suffering seems nobler when I brave it by myself, but it’s not.
I never thought I would get a cell phone, but I did. I never thought I would have more than one TV in my house, but I do. I never thought I would ever drive a convertible, but I am.
I never thought that being a father would be the highest achievement of my life, but it has. I never thought I would live through a global pandemic, but so far so good.
Life’s struggles, trials, and failures aren’t terrible things. Instead, they have shaped me and enhanced my life quality.
Today is my birthday. I think I’ll go out for lunch. Wait, can I? Should I? I better wear a mask. Will that be awkward? Lower it for each bite, then cover up while chewing, and then repeat? Anyway…
Happy birthday to me.
1st STORY: John and Beth were experiencing the greatest moment of their lives. She had been in labor for several hours, and the happy moment was imminent. With a final push, baby MaryAnn introduced herself. Their maternity nurse, Nancy, was happy for them but was unable to avoid the darkness.
2nd STORY: Aaron Bishop was doing well. His business had been touch and go, and he wasn’t always sure it would succeed, but it did. He was fulfilled, at least in his work life. As to his personal life, Aaron was living with a broken heart. The divorce had ripped it apart, causing a canyon sized emptiness.
3rd STORY: Cynthia Anderson landed her whale, a dream job. The interview went great, they called for a follow-up, which went fabulously, and she gladly accepted their offer. On her first day as the managing CPA, while driving to work, she was in a car accident. Cynthia had a concussion, some broken bones, and severe bruising. She would be okay, but it would take a few weeks. The firm rescinded the offer.
4th STORY: Freddy Johnson had been in rehab for thirty days. He had destructive addictions that damaged him and wounded others. When stoned or drunk, he was reckless, and more than once had put his life in danger. But after thirty days, Freddy was ready. There would be support groups to attend, fences to mend, and he was determined to make better choices.
Life can make us feel like we are alone. Make us think that we are the only ones hurting. We wake up groaning because after opening our eyes, it hits us hard that today will be another day of heartache.
Until one day, when it isn’t.
While Beth was resting, John went to the cafeteria for something to eat. He was joined in the elevator by a young woman headed to physical therapy. They struck up a conversation, and he showed her pictures of MaryAnn. She explained her accident, all of it. Hearing her story, John remembered a friend who was looking for an accountant. He gave Cynthia the contact information.
Nancy was still blue. It had been a year since her husband died and the sadness just wasn’t fading. They were deeply in love and had been trying to start a family. One evening, she went to a coffee house to read. She got her Chai Tea and sat down and soon noticed a man who brought his coffee and a book to a table close by. Before long, they were talking about their books and other things. He said he owned a software company, and she said she was a nurse. His name was Aaron, and Nancy thought he was nice. Walking home she realized that she hadn’t felt sad while talking to him.
Cynthia had recovered enough to home. After a few days, she decided to call the man that John had recommended, a man named Aaron Bishop. They had a positive phone conversation, he requested her resume, and the next day asked her to come in. He offered her the job! She was so excited about the company, a rapidly rising software business. Maybe things were turning in her favor.
After a few weeks, John and Beth hosted a “Come Meet The Baby” party. One of the guests was John’s friend Aaron Bishop, who brought a woman named Nancy, whom they recognized as their maternity nurse! Nancy enjoyed holding MaryAnn. John had invited his new friend, Cynthia. She had called to say thanks for helping her, and he invited her to the party. She brought her friend Freddy who seemed to be more than a friend. Once she and Freddy arrived, Aaron was surprised to see his new accountant. “I didn’t know you knew John and Beth,” Aaron said to her. All the dots were beginning to connect.
Freddy got into a conversation with Beth and John, and it was clear that he was in love with Cynthia. He volunteered that he had been in rehab and was doing well. They were supporting and helping each other, both wanted to do well and move forward in life.
Seeing lives affected and changed was joyous to John and Beth. They were basking in the glow of MaryAnn, their miracle baby, for they had been trying for many years. Each of them was grieving over the loss of a parent due to the Covid-19 pandemic about a year earlier.
You see, some were grieving and some were celebrating. One had suffered a car accident. A few were lonely, discouraged, and felt lost. Some had thought that life would never get better. Some believed that no one else was hurting like they were. But somehow, life went on. They eventually found new opportunities and possibilities.
We think perhaps that we are alone. We are not. We are surrounded by people who have struggled just as we have. Maybe different circumstances but the same sad results. But in one way or another the people around us have struggled, hurt, and felt alone, just like us.
I pray that you will still find peace. Don’t give up. We are all the same.
Guess which television show aired from 1959-1964? Need more information? It ran for five seasons and was hosted by the Emmy Award-winning Rod Serling who wrote 80 of the 150 episodes.
Of course, I’m talking about The Twilight Zone, a show that was a mixture of science fiction, horror, drama, superstition, and comedy. It was sometimes scary, and other times thought-provoking, and often it was just plain weird.
I mention this because I feel like I’m caught in the loop of one of its episodes.
For many of us, it’s a bizarre turn of events that we’ve never encountered.
- home quarantine
- social distancing
- face coverings in public
- empty shelves in stores
- global pandemic
Some of What’s Been Closed
- sporting events
Feels like I should wake up to discover that’s it all been a dream. But I haven’t.
It’s all the sadder when we consider all the High School seniors who will not have a prom or a commencement ceremony, not to mention college seniors.
Plans, events, vacations, business ventures, summer camps and all manner of hopes and dreams have been shut down. It’s just hard.
Are we sure this isn’t a Twilight Show episode?
Some Encouraging Thoughts
I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. I Thessalonians 5:16-18
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
No, this isn’t a TV episode, it’s really happening. But this to shall pass. In the darkness, a light will shine. With the heartache will come the tender mercies of God. In the waiting, some surprisingly good things will be discovered.
As a friend of mine pointed this out to me:
“In hurricane Harvey God told us to take care of our neighbors. In COVID-19 God is telling us to take care of our families.”
“With God all things are possible.”
People make attachments, it’s in our nature. Some things that I’m attached to:
- The couch in the tv room.
- The right side of our bed.
- A morning cup of coffee.
- An old pair of slippers.
- The tv in our tv room.
- A New Testament that I’ve used for 42 years.
- Some traditions that I hold sacred.
- Close friends with whom I share spiritual affinities.
- Worship that feels secure, comforting, and expected.
- Certain verses of scripture that reinforce my beliefs.
There are many, many more.
Jesus once spoke to a woman with attachments. He asked her to give him some water from a well. She reacted with surprise, if not shock because men didn’t speak to women in public unless they knew them. She had no idea who he was.
Their conversation moved into the spiritual. When the woman grew uncomfortable, she claimed that the well belonged to the Patriarch Jacob, who was Abraham’s grandson. And in her day, the land they were standing on was Samaritan, not Jewish. To her, the well was a physical manifestation of a sacred heritage.
Consequently, she didn’t need to listen to Jesus. Her faith and religion were well established by Jacob’s well. She was attached to the well, not for its water, but for its spiritual value.
However, he was the Messiah, and when she realized that he was, she went back to her village and told everyone that she had found the Lord’s anointed. She led them to Jesus, and they asked him to stay, and he did, for two days, and many of them believed.
Does it seem silly that she was so spiritually attached to a well? Or is it only a matter of time, place, and culture? Are we connected to anything that defines our faith and spirituality?
- Sitting in the same seat every week.
- An unchanging order of worship.
- Needing to hear specific phrases and words in sermons.
- How we look, what we wear to church.
- An inflexible expectation regarding our traditions.
- Unwillingness to distinguish tradition from the truth.
The woman didn’t wake up that day, knowing she would encounter the Messiah. She went to the well to get some water, but what she really needed couldn’t be carried in a bucket. He gave her living water, springing up from within, a wellspring of the Holy Spirit that would never run dry.
Cemeteries have existed for as long as man has been on the earth. Every culture has its customs and burial traditions. Some are rooted in religious beliefs while others are based on mysticism, folklore, and superstition.
Regardless of the cultures and customs, we have always required a place for the dead to rest. Cremation is a type of burial, whether the ashes are kept intact or scattered to the winds, its an ancient and modern approach to how we manage our dead.
A BURIAL STORY
Abraham lost his wife. Her name was Sarah and when she died he realized that he had no place to bury her. He had moved his family to Canaan and had yet to face the prospect of death in his family.
So, Abraham met with the Hittites who were the owners of where he had pitched his tents. He asked to purchase a piece of land that had a cave, the cave of Machpelah. He paid them 400 shekels of silver and then laid his Sarah to rest in what became the family tomb.
Eventually, Abraham was buried there as were Isaac and his wife Rebeckah, and Jacob and his wife Leah. Rachel was not buried in the tomb. She had died in childbirth while in the vicinity of Bethlehem and buried there.
The Tomb of the Patriarchs became sacred to the Jewish people, it was the final resting place for their greatest forefathers, especially Abraham.
The Jewish Mystics believed that the cave was also a portal to the garden of Eden–where Adam and Eve were buried. So, the cave of Machpelah symbolized the creation of man and then the line of the heritage through the patriarchs.
Jacob’s wife Leah was buried in the cave, she had given birth to a boy named Judah.
From the tribe of Judah came a shepherd boy who would be anointed the King of Israel, his name was David. From David came the lion of the tribe of Judah, the one we call Jesus, the King of Kings.
From Adam to Abraham. From Abraham to Isaac, Jacob, Judah, David and the Christ, the Son of David, the Son of God. From Jesus to you and to me and to all who believe.
Cemeteries and burial places can be fascinating places. For those who believe, a cave in ancient Canaan became a tomb representing the beginning of time and the fulfillment of the ages, the Messiah’s arrival.
He came to offer salvation to the world.
It was just a cave, a burial tomb, but for every believer, it represents our spiritual roots and the beginning of our blessings in Jesus Christ.
Action figure toys have come a long way since I was a child. Back then, the closest thing to an AFT was a G. I. Joe doll. Did we call them “dolls” back then? Probably not since boys didn’t play with dolls.
Joe was released from the Hasbro Company on February 2, 1964, I was eight years old and that makes Joe 56 years old. He wasn’t a small, green army man, but a full 12″ tall. The commercials tagged him as, “A life like action soldier.” He was tough, well trained, and a hero. Boys could imagine being like him.
I remember wanting one, but not asking, because I knew my older brothers would tease me about playing with dolls.
Yesterday morning, at church, a little boy had an action figure toy with him. It was a Buzz Lightyear toy. Buzz is super-cool. If you aren’t aware, Buzz is a central figure in the “Toy Story” movie franchise consisting of four movies. They are so great.
He held Buzz up to me and I played with him for a moment, making him fly in the air with his jet pack and making the kind of noises that a young child can imagine. It was fun. I handed him back with a smile because just for a moment I was transported to when I was his age.
I guess there is a little boy or girl in each of us.
My Favorites were:
- A Tonka Truck
- Lincoln Logs
- Johny Seven Army gun
- My big-boy bike
I’m older now and I don’t play with Action Figure Toys, not even life like action soldiers. But I have other, more sophisticated, things that I enjoy, not toys exactly, but kind of.
As a believer I have received gifts from God, from his Son and his Spirit. These aren’t Buzz or Joe toys, in fact, they aren’t physical or anything that could be held.
My Favorite Christian Gifts
- and many others
I never had a G. I. Joe or a Buzz Light Year. But I have the most precious gift of all, the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Toys come and go, but receiving every spiritual blessing in Christ has proven to be the best of all!