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.
Day Four: The Twelve Days of Christmas
In 1992, a relatively unknown singer named Darlene Love recorded a Christmas song that went on to be one of her all time greatest hits. It’s called,
“All Alone on Christmas”
It’s more popular today than it was 25 years ago, as is the artist. The song isn’t known as well as, “The First Noel” or as nostalgic as “White Christmas.” It lacks the Jesus centric message of, “Away In A Manger.”
However, it is a song about love, family and the heartache of being alone on the biggest day of the year. It’s a rock and roll song and one of my holiday favorites.
“All Alone on Christmas”
I’m told that the entire grandparent world revolves around their grandkids, and perhaps never more so than at Christmas. I remember one when grandma visited. I remember because she gave me my first skateboard, a present I treasured for years. Nope, no socks from grandma.
Well, did Jesus have grandparents? It’s hard to say. But we know that he had a grandfather, his name was Jacob. From Matthew 1:16:
“Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus”
Jesus had a grandfather, and although I’m just speculating, it’s reasonable that he had a grandmother, and perhaps grandparents on his mother’s side as well. I like to think that Jesus grew up with grandparents who were connected with him and a big part of his life.
AND CHRISTMAS DAY?
Well, his grandparents didn’t celebrate Christmas. There wasn’t a beautifully decorated tree, or candles, or a little wooden box with a little wooden baby. There weren’t any stockings hanging from the fire place and there wasn’t any eggnog.
Obviously, the celebration of “Christmas” was way off in the future. His birth would be globally observed, but not then. On his birthday, Jesus’ parents weren’t celebrating with brightly wrapped gifts and the grandparents may not have been able to visit. Why? Because Mary and Joseph were not in their Nazareth home to be surrounded by adoring family. They were hiding in Egypt and striving mightily to keep him alive.
From Mathew 1:13
“Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him”
Is there anything better than a house full of family on Christmas? Anything more enriching than a house full of love and holiday warmth? But for the first few years our little messianic family were probably separated from their family.
Can you imagine them huddled together; loving, caring and alone.
I think Darlene was right, nobody wants to be alone on Christmas.
Day Three: The Twelve Days of Christmas
The Wizard of Oz is one of my favorite movies. I’m guessing you’ve either seen or heard of it. The film has an iconic phrase that Dorothy, the main character, repeated three times so she could get back to her family in Kansas:
“There’s No Place Like Home”
OFF TO SEE THE QUEEN
In 1958 my Air Force father received orders for England, so off we went. I was just a toddler and don’t remember much. But what I do remember is how excited we were when it was time to go back. Why? Because:
“There’s no place like home.”
AND FOR JESUS?
Nazareth was Mary and Joseph’s ancestral home and it would be home for Jesus too, but not in the beginning. It would take a couple of years to get there. We know that he wasn’t born there, but in the small village of Bethlehem. Not long after his birth they escaped to Egypt to flee from King Herod’s intent to murder their infant son, the new King of Kings.
The strategy was to get out of Palestine and away from Herod’s clutches. But Egypt? I wonder how Joseph made a living? Did he speak Egyptian? Did they live off the treasures presented by the Magi? Was there a Jewish community, or a Synagogue? Could the grandparents visit? Hiding in Egypt must have been scary, difficult and lonely. But when it was safe, they returned to their family home in Nazareth, and so Jesus would be known as, “The Nazarene.”
THE GREATER GOOD
The world needed him to die, to be sacrificed, but not as an infant and not in Egypt, Bethlehem, or Nazareth. At the right time it would happen in Jerusalem. But until then, Jesus was protected by two courageous people of faith who loved and cared for him.
Thank you Mary and Joseph.
At the right time Jesus died for us. He died because he came to die, he was born to die. In this holiday season we give thanks and praise for Emmanuel, our God who came near. For like Jesus in Egypt, this world is not our home.
Dorothy was right, “There’s no place like home.”
Day Two: The Twelve Days of Christmas
I like small towns; they tend to be charming, friendly, and peaceful.
Life in a small town can be a blessing, an answer to prayer and a place to escape urban noise, city crime, and high pressure. However, they have little to offer in terms of their significance to the world.
Our town got excited when a stop light was installed. It wasn’t a light with red, yellow and green, just a blinking red light purposed to blink for eternity. But it was a big deal, as if our town had risen in status. Does a blinking traffic light qualify for a rise in status?
But, once in a while a small-town kid grows up to be a world-class athlete, a superstar entertainer, or even President. Every now and then an unknown town produces a well known celebrity.
HERE’S AN EXAMPLE
Guess who came from a small town? It was Jesus! He grew up in the tiny village of Nazareth in central Galilee. It was Mary and Joseph’s home town and a place that never exceeded five hundred in population. It wasn’t prosperous, famous or exciting. Nobody gave Nazareth much thought.
In fact, when Nathanael heard that Jesus was from Nazareth he asked,
“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”
Wouldn’t Jerusalem have been a better choice? It hosted the Temple and the Sanhedrin. It was home for famous Rabbi’s and the city of prophets and kings. It makes sense to me that Jesus would be raised in Jerusalem. But he wasn’t.
No, our savior was a small-town boy who was destined for big-time things.
Nazareth wasn’t anything special, and yet, the world celebrates the Nazarene. Not because of where he was from, but because of who he became and for what he did.
Jesus came for those in big important cities and for those in small unknown towns. He came for us all, he came for you.
I like small towns, they tend to be charming, friendly, and peaceful.
Thank you Prince of Peace
Have you ever misplaced one of your kids? Ever lose track of one or leave one behind? Have you ever had to go and search for one of your children?
WHEN THE KIDS WERE SMALL
On Sundays we took separate cars to church. I usually left early and the family came later. It was a good system and worked fine. But it wasn’t fine one Sunday when my wife drove home after church thinking our son was staying to ride with me. He didn’t. When I walked in without our twelve year old she looked at me, and said,
“Where is Derek, did you leave him behind?”
Fortunately, I knew where he was and wasn’t frantically searching for him. I drove back to the church and found him there in the Father’s house, eating lunch with a Life Group. He knew we would come back to get him.
Culturally, when a Jewish boy had learned the Torah, he was rewarded with his first trip to Jerusalem for Passover. That typically happened at age twelve. Jesus was twelve years old when he traveled south with his parents to the Temple.
Afterwards, while returning home, his parents realized at the end of the day that their son was missing, that he wasn’t with the caravan returning to Galilee. They left him behind. So, Mary and Joseph went to look for him, probably walking all night to reach Jerusalem by morning. Imagine the worry and fear they must have felt with every step.
THEY FOUND HIM
After searching for three days they found him in the temple courts, exchanging questions and answers with the Rabbis, who were amazed with the boy. But Mary and Joseph were less amazed and more exasperated. They were not happy with their first born child.
“Why have you treated us like this? We have been anxiously searching for you.”
“Why were you searching, didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”
But they didn’t understand. They didn’t understand that for Jesus, to be in the temple was to be in his Father’s house, and to be about his Father’s business.
HIS FATHER’S BUSINESS
Before Jesus ascended back to God, there was a resurrection, an empty tomb, a cross. There were Bethlehem, Egypt and Nazareth. There were shepherds, wise men from the East and a violent, ruthless King. There was a virgin birth. All of which were his Father’s business.
His being left behind was upsetting to his parents. But Jesus was never lost and didn’t need anyone to seek or save him. He was only moving towards the day when he would be the one to seek and save the lost.
Day One of Twelve Days of Christmas
Day One of Twelve Days of Christmas
Do you know what time it is? According to the song it’s the best time of the year. Maybe it is. You may be asking, “What’s all the excitement about?” The answer is found with the guys who composed the song so let’s check in with them. Do you know Edward Pola or George Wyle? No? I’ll wager you know their song,
“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”
They wrote and published the song in 1963, and that same year Andy Williams recorded it on what would become an immensely popular Christmas album cleverly entitled,
“The Andy Williams Christmas Album”
Absorb the nuance and embrace the happiness embedded within the words. Of course it’s the most wonderful time of the year. How could it not?
“With the kids jingle belling and everyone telling you be of good cheer,
It’s the hap-happiest season of all, with those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings when friends come to call,
There’ll be parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting, and caroling out in the snow. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”
A WISTFUL SONG?
The song paints a picture of a Christmas I’ve never had. The lyrics ring out in joyous rapture about holiday parties, friends greeting you with good cheer, and gay happy meetings when friends stop by. Remember when “gay” meant having a merry time?
The people sure seem happy. With caroling in the snow and toasting the marshmallows, how could they not be happy? It sounds wonderful and it should, it’s the most wonderful time of the year!
Frankly, Christmas isn’t like that for me. I’m often rushed and stressed with deadlines to meet, events to attend, and things to plan and produce. Kids aren’t jingle belling, nobody drops by and there isn’t any snow for caroling.
Nope, I love Christmas. But the song elevates an experience beyond my reach. Maybe it’s the Christmas you always have, but not me. No, for me the joy of Christmas is found elsewhere: it’s in the Messiah’s birth.
All year, I’m about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. But in the holidays, I’m all about his birth. I lift him up, high and exalted, for coming to our world. As the angel said,
“I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a savior has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord.”
I live in Houston, so there probably won’t be snow for caroling. Instead, I’ll be thinking how the universe shivered in awe as Emanuel came as an infant King.
For the next twelve days, I’ll blog about the Christmas story, beginning with his childhood and moving each day towards his birth. Please join me.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
It’s all natural. No, not food or food additives, but of the natural way of life, that it ends.
MY WEEK SO FAR
Sunday: I took a gift from a family at church to another family from church who very recently lost a child. I knew the gift would richly bless the family who will soon gather around their Christmas tree with their two children, but not three.
Monday: I had coffee with one of our ministers and the conversation wandered onto the topic of death. I shared about our stillborn child. Our baby boy never saw the light of day. But he was perfectly formed, perfectly whole and perfectly beautiful. During labor there was a complication. He didn’t make it.
Tuesday: I attended a Christmas Party for our group of retired seniors. One of the couples I sat with brought their beautiful baby granddaughter Just a few weeks ago I had the honor of conducting the “Baby Blessing” for her and her family. It was lovely.
Wednesday: Today I’ll attend the “Celebration of Life” service for the father of one of our members. This family has experienced a long, cold season of grief and loss. I can’t recall another family who’s endured so much. It’s heartbreaking and it continues this morning at 10:30.
IT’S ALL NATURAL
We know that life doesn’t last forever. But we hope it lasts a very long time. And when it does it’s still a soul crushing event. When life doesn’t last a long time, but comes all too early, it’s even harder. People say, “No parent should outlive their children” True enough. But it still happens.
The writer of Hebrews wrote that it’s appointed once for man to die. Solomon said, “There is a time to be born and there is a time to die.” I think He was right.
Our minds tell us that death is just a part of the human experience. True enough. But the experience of saying goodbye to a loved one is altogether more difficult than chalking it up to the human experience.
So far this week I wept with a family who has lost a child. I got emotional in the memory of losing our baby boy. I’ll attend the service of a friend saying goodbye to his dad. And I got to experience the exquisite joy of a radiant infant filled with beauty, light and life.
We say goodbye to those we lose.
We say hello to those we gain.
And We Say Blessed Be The Name Of The Lord
It’s All Natural
(This blog is an encore to the six topic, “Overcoming Series” concluded earlier this week)
Despair is hopelessness and hopelessnes is despair. To be in despair is to be without hope. To be without hope is to be in despair.
Despair encourages surrender, not like pride for humility, but of surrendering to the fatalism that all is lost.
DESPAIR WANTS YOU TO BELEIVE THAT:
- You will never succeed.
- There will never be another chance.
- No matter what you do, you will fail.
- Giving up and quitting are the only things you know.
- Life has past you by and you’ll never catch up.
- Keep Fighting: failing, falling, and finishing last can be habit-forming. So, no matter what, don’t give in to hopelessness, refuse to believe in it. Some days you won’t have the strength or will to keep fighting, but keep going and keep trying. Persistence will ultimately win the day.
- It’s How You Know: the struggle can be overwhelming, but we strive to overcome what’s overwhelming. If we quit struggling then we accept losing. Battling tough temptations, or the conflict in relationships, or the heartaches of life can threaten to defeat us. If we keep going then we know that we haven’t quit.
- Divine Support: some burdens are too big for one set of shoulders and can lead to deep despair. I can’t carry a bucket of water forever. And what if there’s two buckets? Weighed down, back stooped, neck throbbing, and hands breaking, it’s too much! Prayer and faith can off-load some of the weight. “Cast all your anxiety on him for he cares for you.” I Peter 5:7.
Mahatma Gandhi: “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won.”
Marion Bradley: “The road that is built in hope is more pleasant to the traveler than the road built in despair, even though they both lead to the same destination.”
Despair is hopelessness. And hopelessness is an empty, gut wrenching way to live. Build your life in hope. Believe in the path of truth and love. Do all you can, with divine assistance, to fight against despair!
My son is a film maker and part owner of a production company called
Epoch Filmmakers ( epochfilmmakers.com)
He recently wrote, directed, and produced a short film called:
The story is about a dad who happens to be a minister. He begins to believe that is failing both his ministry and his family. The film portrays “Despair” as a character, an enemy who attacks him and plots to destroy him. Will Despair emerge victorious?
You will be blessed and uplifted by watching the film.
It’s a touchy subject and there are lots of opinions and misconceptions. For example, it’s not unusual to hear someone who has had a bad day say, “I feel depressed.” The word has become an umbrella for almost any emotional stress:
In popular culture the word loses identity, so how do you know if you are clinically depressed? Well, there are medical and therapeutic professionals who specialize in the treatment of depression. Please know that I am neither of those. But as it happens, my wife is a professional counselor and my daughter a practicing therapist. They have helped my understanding. And, I can read.
NOTE: There was a time when church’s wanted ministers to counsel the members. Many of us had little or no training and were unqualified. We meant well but often waded in to waters over our heads. Today we refer to faith based mental health practitioners.
CAUSES & SOURCES
Some of the causes of depression:
- unrealized expectations
- severe criticism
- cumulative effect from many causes
The encouraging news is that those with depression can get better, they can get help. My advice is to seek wellness with a holistic approach to body, mind, and spirit. But as a minister, I’ll limit my advice to the spiritual. Be sure to understand the following:
If you are suffering from depression, or think you are, please seek professional help.
THREE SPIRITUAL ENCOURAGEMENTS
- Replace your self with your God. A healthy step is realizing that God loves you and wants to help. He isn’t a genie in a lamp, there are no wishes for making your life better. But you need to recognize that the Lord is on your side. He is larger than your suffering. You are not alone. Let God into your life and live in your heart.
- Replace your thoughts with God’s truth. Depression produces a negative state of mind, and is a destructive illness. You will want to tear yourself down, to denigrate yourself and constantly play in an endless loop a message of a guilt, failure, and blame. Those debilitating attitudes are not of God. His message for you is that you are loved, wanted, and have great value. Look to replace your destructive thoughts with his message of love.
- Replace your past with God’s future. When flat on your back in the pit of despair, there seems to be no way out and no way for life to be good again. You feel defeated and broken, with nothing to look forward to. But it isn’t true, it’s only true that you feel that way. You can’t relive or rewrite your past, but you don’t have let it define you. It’s what you choose to do each day that determines who you are. Your future is a reality that God has promised. You can trade your past with God’s future.
I’ll share with you that I’ve struggled with depression. It comes and goes. Sometimes my struggle is the crushing weight of life we all experience and sometimes it’s something for which I seek help. I’ve learned to recognize the triggers that push me towards depressive thoughts and have acquired techniques that help me avoid sinking into the pit.
“You can look around and be distressed. You can look within and be depressed. Or you can look to him and be at rest.”
“Why are you so downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Psalm 43
“In this world you will have many problems, but take heart, for I have overcome the world.”
In review, I realize how paltry these efforts, how insufficient my words, and what hubris to think a blog post could help overcome depression. I apologize for my inadequacy.
However, I encourage you to make good decisions. Remember, there is more to depression than the spiritual so seek healing of mind, body and spirit. Don’t suffer silently. Help is available. I got better and you can too.
May God richly bless you as you seek his grace in your time of need.
This Series Has Addressed The Following
- inherited behavior
The final topic for this series is overcoming depression.
Depression is a wide topic with many trails. Generally, we think of depressed people as being sad, discouraged, or defeated. Clinically, the following symptoms are generally recognized as signs of true depression:
- little interest in doing anything
- feeling sad or hopeless
- trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- little energy, always tired
- not eating, eating too much, considerable weight changes
- feelings of failure and guilt
- trouble making decisions
- thoughts of harming yourself, even fatally
When dealing with depression, especially for Christians, there are three flaws we need to acknowledge:
“It’s all in your head, it’s just your imagination.”
“Christians who are depressed just have a lack of faith.”
“If believers are depressed it’s because they are worldly and unspiritual.”
In the past it was suggested that depression wasn’t real, but an invented “illness” to sell over the counter remedies. Maybe so, but not today, there’s just too much evidence.
Today, ample research regarding brain chemical imbalances have eliminated such caveman thinking. Those ideas in the past were mistaken, antiquated, and dangerous.
People have lived with depression and not known what caused so much misery. In the past, people shunned seeking medical or therapeutic assistance due to the stigma of a mental disorder.
CONSIDER THESE EXAMPLES
Job: he lost his children, home, all his wealth and his health, and then his wife turned against him. Imagine him sitting on the ash heap scraping himself with pieces of broken pottery. Does he look depressed to you?
King David: When his baby died that Bathsheba delivered, he spent a week on the floor, weeping and grieving.
Apostle Paul: blinded by the brilliant light he went days without eating as he wrestled with the implications to his future. He faced a total life reboot.
In my opinion, each struggled with levels of depression. If you read the book of Job, or research the lives of David and Paul, you’ll realize they were men of deep faith. Would you tell them that they were weak, worldly or faithless? That it was all in their heads?
Look for Part Two of Overcoming Depression this Wednesday morning. I’ll seek to offer encouragement and suggestions for getting help and coping with debilitating depression.
In Monday’s blog, Overcoming Loss, Part One I mentioned losing my teddy bear Charlie. He would he never be replaced, but there were new things to look forward to. Can we look forward to new things when the losses are more significant?
Loss is when we give our best effort and still lose. It’s about relationships broken by death or conflicts. Another kind is when we lose ourselves.
THREE KINDS OF LOSS
1. LOSS OF PEOPLE
The toughest loss is losing someone: a dearly loved spouse, one of our kids, a heartbreaking divorce.
Recovering is about the stages of recovery. There are five of them and it’s helpful to know about them, take a look:. https://grief.com/the-five-stages-of-grief/
Establishing a new normal will take time, even years, and the first will be the hardest. It’s hard because the person can never be replaced. But maybe there are other people to love and who love you. There may yet be something to look forward to.
2. LOSS OF SUBSTANCE
- Losing a job can feel like death. It’s not unusual for unemployed people to grieve as if someone has died.
- Professionals say it takes one month of searching for every $10,000 earned. If you are tying to replace a $100,000 position then it could take a year to find it. That can be very discouraging and financially difficult.
- The lost job will never be restored. But it wasn’t the only job, there may yet be a new position even better than the last one.
3. LOSS OF SELF
- Losing yourself is losing self-respect, dignity, even integrity and character. Those losses are hard to accept and challenging to repair. It’s because they come out of your soul and ripped from your heart.
- Reclaiming yourself isn’t easy. You may want to consider professional assistance. But there is good news. Unlike the first two kinds of losses, the loss of self can be restored. You have heart, a soul and determination. You can get better!
Don’t give up on God. If you are angry with him then tell him about it and get work to get that relationship where it needs to be. He is a fine companion when we are hurting.
Read/listen to good books. Find encouragement, helpful information and motivation.
Establish a schedule and stick with it. Don’t binge Netflix eight hours a day. Determine each day the time you will spend job searching. Maybe find some friends to have coffee with and socialize. Keep up the house and yard. Stay busy. Be productive. Pray.
THINK ABOUT IT
After Jesus was resurrected the apostle Peter returned to Galilee to fish. Not for recreation but to resume his commercial fishing business. Fishing wasn’t his destiny, but until he figured that out he stayed busy and productive.
A key difference between believers and unbelievers is this: believers hurt and grieve just like unbelievers, but people of faith have someone greater than themselves . I would rather grieve having the Holy Spirit in my life then grieve without him.
Loss is a huge topic. I pray something I’ve written has been helpful. So, from a veteran of loss to those who may be starting:
Don’t give up, keep looking for a better day, it will come.