Different But Not

A DEAR FRIEND

A friend of mine was at church yesterday. It’s a friendship that was born through Hope For Haiti’s Children (HFHC), a faith based non-profit serving the needs of Haitian children. My friend, who is now Vice President of HFHC, was in Houston over the weekend and came to visit.

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Not me as I am today, but close, really very close.

Between the two services she gave a presentation about HFHC and shared some stories that really touched me. She spoke of a chance meeting with a little girl from Cite Soleil, a horribly impoverished slum of Port-au-Prince. As her story unfolded she shared how she was, of course, wearing shoes but the little girl wasn’t. Holding hands, they walked along  when suddenly the little girl hurt her foot. It was cut by broken glass.  

THE IMPACTFUL PART

She had assumed that since the girl lived in poverty that her little feet would be tough, hardened and immune. They weren’t. She ended her story with this confession. 

“I would never have walked barefoot there, but for her, what did it matter?”

Then it hit her: she actually had a lot in common with the girl. In fact, they were very much the same. We all have a lot in common with one another. We all hurt, grieve and struggle. We know loneliness and fear. We know heartache and heartbreak. Poverty doesn’t toughen the heart or callous the soul. The poor aren’t immune. 

It was a tough lesson to learn but a beautiful lesson to embrace.

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IN CLOSING

Of the many characteristics of Christ the one I respect the most was his ability to see everyone the same: young or old, healthy or sick, rich or poor. It didn’t matter. He saw everyone and sought everyone, for everyone needed him, and we still do. 

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Tonya, thanks for helping us look past the differences to see the similarities.

We are all different, but not!

Shalom 

Throwing Out/Bringing In

INTRODUCTION

We moved a lot when I was in school and as the new kid the others would exclude or treat me different. It was always hard being the new kid.

In high school there was a girl with braces on her legs and used canes to walk. She was often treated mean and cruel, not by everyone, but by too many.

Kids can be mean and cruel. Where do they learn to be like that? 

FIRST CENTURY ISRAEL

The dominant Jewish spiritual leaders were known as Pharisees. They were typically devout and dedicated men of God. But there were Pharisees who were not good men, not all of them but too many.  Some were so extreme in their views they flirted with fanaticism. They could be thought of as radical extremists, and mean. 

They were known, “To throw people out of the synagogue.” It was breaking fellowship by casting out being cast out anyone they didn’t deem suitable. Who would they throw out? Anyone who disagreed with their interpretation of Torah. The sick, diseased and defiled. Those who they pronounced as unclean and unwanted. 

Religious leaders can be mean and cruel. Where do they learn to be like that? 

AND JESUS?

Well, he was altogether different. He was passionate, devout and dedicated too. But his devotion to his message and ministry wasn’t about exclusion, but inclusion. Read this:

“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

While some were busy throwing people out Jesus was busy bringing them in. He came for those who were lost, he came for the sinners: defile and rejected. 

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost.” 

Jesus wasn’t “soft” on sin, just soft on sinners. He taught righteous living and keeping the covenant with Yahweh. He practiced love, mercy and forgiveness. 

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Not the real Jesus, but close, really very close. He practiced love, mercy and forgiveness.

IN CLOSING

Some are expert in shunning sinners and throwing them out. That’s a shame, because Jesus was expert in accepting sinners and bringing them in. 

He had compassionate towards the lost, for they were sheep without a shepherd. 

Sinners are often treated mean and cruel, not by everyone, but by too many.

Shalom

Time For A New Filter?

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

Cabin Filter?

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

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

I Asked

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

A Dirty Cabin Filter

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

The Flood: Other Dirty Things 

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

Looks Can Be Deceiving

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

Now Jesus

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

Strong words. But we get it, right?

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

To Close

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

Paul said,

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

Perhaps its time for a new filter?

Shalom

“Just Outplay Them”

It’s what the coach said.

The Game

It was a non-district game against a school three times our size, who happened to be the reigning 5-A champs. The local papers said we didn’t stand a chance, predicted we would lose and lose big, suggested a thumping of 56-0. The other team had some terribly arrogant trash talk in their local paper. As a team, we were mad and we wanted to play mad. But just before the game, the coach said…

“You show them by outplaying them.”

Sadly, we lost. But not 56-0, it was 14-7, and one trick-play gave them the win. We knew we played hard, and above expectations. They were bigger, stronger, and faster, and deeper in every position. On paper, we should have been annihilated. Instead, we walked off the field with our heads up.

Now, the Messiah

Jesus didn’t talk much about his power and abilities. He didn’t boast about his greatness. He said in Matthew 5 that he would fulfill the Law and the Prophets and in Luke 24 he said that he had. But he wasn’t arrogant or boastful. Mostly, he just went about serving, helping, and preaching the good news. 

Depending on interpretation, there were 250-300 Messianic prophecies that Jesus fulfilled. He didn’t much mention those either, he didn’t keep a running count. There wasn’t a Prophecy Thermometer Board keeping a total. He didn’t strut about proclaiming, “I’ve fulfilled another one!”

Frankly, I’m comforted by how humbly, gently, and quietly he went about it all.

To Close

On paper, his enemies were bigger, faster, stronger and deeper in every position. They watched him die on the cross. They believed they had won and won big, and they smugly walked away with a 56-0 victory. 

The Bible

Three days later!

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I guess God believed in the, “go and out-play them,” approach. Jesus did.

Shalom

Ghost Steps?

There are things that go bump in the night.

The Setting

I just returned from a trip to Colorado. It’s an annual sabbatical to write, study, and fly fish. It’s about silence, solitude, and hearing God’s voice. Friends arrange places for me to stay. Sometimes it’s with them and sometimes I stay in their cabins when they are gone.

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I Love to Fly Fish!

Bumps In The Night

On one occasion, while alone, I heard a strange sound. It was footsteps. Twice I jumped up, certain there was someone behind me. There wasn’t. I never figured out the sound. The house wasn’t haunted, or have a mysterious guest. But after the first time, I was on high alert. I had ears to hear.

Jesus Said It

Mark 4:9, “Then Jesus said, ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear.’”

A few verses later:

Mark 4:23, “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”

It was important to Jesus to be heard. But not everyone was hearing.   

The Old Testament

What Jesus said about hearing came from the Psalms/Prophets.

  • Psalm 135:16-17“They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear…”
  • Isaiah 6:9-10, “He said, ‘Go and tell this people,’ “Be ever hearing, but never understanding
  • Isaiah 43:8, “Lead out those who have eyes but are blind, who have ears but are deaf.”

Isaiah had trouble getting people to hear God’s word, at times, so did Jesus. Some had  hard hearts, they didn’t want to hear.

When Jesus taught about hearing the word, he used the Psalms and Prophets to do so. In fact, everything he said came from the Old Testament. Which was useful since everyone he taught had a solid understanding of it. 

The Holy Scripture: It’s one message.

To Close

Bumps in the night and strange sounds get our attention. But when we figure out the wind is blowing branches across a window, or the ice maker is just dumping its ice, we ignore it, it’s no big deal.

Is that how it is with God’s word? It’s no big deal?

Just a thought.

May 31, Judgment Day?

It’s the last day of May. 

Month of May

  • My Dad’s birthday
  • My birthday
  • Some close friend’s birthdays
  • May showers
  • Cinco de Mayo

That doesn’t sound like much. But I guess it is. Every month has something that’s good for someone. Every month has birthdays, holidays, or days that are special. 

Last Day of May

  • No one in my family was born on May 31.
  • Are there any holidays happening today?
  • I have nothing exciting to do.
  • June has some things I’m excited about.
  • It’s Clint Eastwood’s birthday, but, that doesn’t do much for me.

It’s just the end of the month, nothing special.

However

It might be special, it could be, I might…

  • Win the lottery! (I have never bought a ticket)
  • Win a sweepstake (I think you have to enter or something)
  • Go someplace exciting! (Nope, it’s a regular work day)
  • Inherit a fortune. (none of my relatives have fortunes)
  • Jesus could come today. (What?)

Yep

Now Jesus our Messiah:

“No one knows about that day, or hour, not even the angels in heaven…”

Some believe that verse refers to the destruction of Jerusalem. Some believe it’s a reference to the coming of Christ. Some believe it’s a double prophecy and applies to both.

Either way, since no one knows, its possible that the final coming of the Lord could be today, May 31, 2017.

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Judgment Day didn’t happen on May 21, 2011. But it could today!

Do I think he will? No, probably not, it doesn’t seem like a day he would come. But he might, it could happen. It behooves us all to be ready. Am I? Are you?

To Close

Today is the last day of May. It doesn’t feel special, it’s just the end of the month. But wouldn’t it be something if Jesus came today! 

Wow, Jesus’ return on May 31! Who would have thought it?

Shalom

A Temple Visit

A DIFFERENT BLOG

Today’s blog will be different. So, for your consideration, here is something different.

A HINDU TEMPLE

Recently, while enjoying dinner with friends in their home, our hosts asked if we had seen the Hindu temple. We hadn’t.

So after dinner we made the very short drive to see what’s in the picture below. It was impressive. The grounds were beautiful, the temple was of gleaming marble, and it was all just pretty amazing.

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir

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THE TOUR

We had intended to just look from the car as we slowly drove by, but a sign at the entrance indicated the temple was open for visitors, so we pulled in.

Their tradition:

  • We had to remove our shoes. 
  • Their were two rooms for removing shoes: men’s and women’s. 
  • Entering the temple, I was asked to wear a cover for my legs, as I was in shorts. In their custom, feet and arms can be exposed, even the bare midriff of women in traditional Indian clothing. But not knees and shins.

We were greeted by a man who gently insisted that he provide us a tour. We said sure, maybe 5 or 10 minutes. It was 45 minutes.  

He was informative, friendly, and interesting. His beaming pride in their temple ran deep. We learned that only five of these major Hindu centers exist within the United States: Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Trenton, and Houston. 

FEELING AWKWARD

I felt a bit awkward. I was essentially wearing a skirt and was the only man doing so. But mostly, I was just out of my element. 

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THEIR BELIEF SYSTEM

Hinduism isn’t easily explained. It’s a faith of consciousness, mediation and prayer. References to God are common, but their belief system allows for many manifestations of him. Formally, Hinduism worships 33 Gods. I couldn’t help thinking about the Apostle Paul in Athens. Remember his reference to the temple of the unknown god, a god for everything and everyone?

 Many of their ancient texts have no recognized authors. There is no identified founder. They firmly believe in reincarnation, in strong family values, and each devotee is free to practice the faith with a wide range of expression.

SOME OBSERVATIONS

  • The people we encountered were sincere, devout, and friendly.
  • They are serious about their beliefs and diligent about their faith.
  • They are proud to have such a magnificent building for worship.

DONT SHOOT ME

Please don’t shoot the messenger, but I saw some similarities.

Like them we are:

  • Sincere, devout and friendly
  • Serious about practicing our faith
  • Proud of our facilities

Although shorts aren’t permitted, they can go barefoot. I’m not sure how I feel about people coming to church bare foot. I probably wouldn’t care. People can wear shorts though.

SOME CLOSING THOUGHTS


As we drove back, my friend, who is our Associate Minister, said to me,

    “We are completely unprepared to talk about Jesus to the people around us.” 

I couldn’t agree more.

What makes us different? I don’t mean doctrine and theology, that’s obvious. How are we  different from any other devout and sincere person of belief?

I’m asking this question:

“If we are worshipers of the one true God and exist as the light of the world, then why aren’t we better at sharing our faith?” 

I’m not even talking about actually converting people, but suggesting that most of us would have no clue how to share Jesus with many of the people of our world.

If someone from one of the world’s religions toured your church building, could you be a friendly, informative, and interesting host? Would you be an effective ambassador for the Christian faith?  

Just a thought. 

Starting Over

TO GET STARTED

Starting over again can be a huge advantage, or a great blessing, or even be a life changer. Songs, poems, novels, plays, and movies are filled with the spirit lifting theme of getting to start over. 

Everyone deserves a second chance, right? 

WHY IS THAT?

I think we like the idea of second chances because we each recognize the none of us is perfect, we all make mistakes, we all sin. Here is a movie quote, “You don’t throw a life away just because it’s banged up a little,” that’s from the film Seabiscuit. 

An artist can start fresh on a new canvas, or reshape the clay, or use a new and fresh color. The songwriter, the author, and the poet can rework the words over and over again until they are perfect. 

It’s a little harder with people. We all deserve a second chance, to start over again. Sometimes its hard for me to extend a second chance when someone’s first chance burned me. Then it becomes about forgiveness and even basic human kindness, and dignity.

IS IT A GRACE THING?

Maybe starting over is about the gift of grace. Offering grace is about giving to someone something that don’t deserve, can’t earn, and shouldn’t get, but you give it anyway. And why? Because they need it. Because we all do. 

It’s egregiously disingenuous of me to beg my God for mercy and grace, receive it, and then turn around and demand justice and hard-hearted perfection from a fellow sinner. In this case, “Fellow,” means equal. 

 GOOD PARENTS GIVE GRACE

Every good parent understands that each of their children will need the opportunity to start over, over and over again. We literally learn to feed ourselves, to speak, walk, and just about everything else, by trial and error. We fall again and again before we learn to walk. Our parents demonstrated tremendous patience and loving support to help us become the people we turned out to be. And as parents, we offer the same to our children.

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We Fall Until We Learn How Not To Fall

THE POWER OF STARTING OVER

Children grow up with it.

Adults mature by it.

Sinners are redeemed by it.

FINAL THOUGHTS

God is the ultimate master in providing opportunity for starting over, for beginning again. 

It’s through the grace of transformation and spiritual renewal that we find ourselves protected in the loving embrace of our heavenly Father.

HAPPY SUNDAY!

Finding Purpose

BAFD9125-03CB-4367-9911-087D7F333428This a picture of my friend Keren and her husband. She is Jewish, lives in Israel, and her goal is to become a tour guide, licensed by Israel’s Department of Tourism. While on a private tour, my good friend and guide introduced me to Keren. I had the very great blessing of spending a few hours with her to hear her story. I’ve met a number of interesting people in Israel, but none quite as intriguing as Keren. You see, she is a survivor of a terrorist attack. While riding home on public transportation, a man got on and detonated the bomb strapped to his chest. Many died and those who didn’t suffered severe injuries. When she regained consciousness, she was lying in the street, disoriented and bleeding. People poured into the street and began doing whatever they could. A man approached Keren and did what he could for her while waiting for emergency services. She was taken to a hospital and in time recovered from most of her injuries. She still suffers from some of the injuries. But that’s not the best part of the story. The Jewish man who attended to her was a believer in Jesus. Over time, this man and Keren built a friendship and eventually she professed faith in Jesus Christ and became a Christian.

I sat there mesmerized as she told her story. Her coming to Jesus seemed a miracle to me, and of course, the best part of her story. But if you talk with Keren, she will tell you that the best part isn’t that she survived, or became friends with a Jewish Christian, or even that she became a Christian, at least not exactly. She will tell you that the best part was coming to know that Jehovah God, Yahweh, loved her and had a plan for her life. She will tell you that God used the hatred of a Palestinian youth to bring about the life her Heavenly Father always intended her to live.

Keren’s hope is to share her story with as many people as she can, with her Jewish friends and with those from around the world who come to the Holy Land and are in need of God.

This week, take a moment to take stock of your life and purpose. Who are you? What has God purposed for you? Ask Keren. She will tell you her purpose wasn’t just to survive a terrorist attack, or even to meet a Christian. She will say that her purpose is to live for God, to praise His holy name, and to boldly share her faith with everyone she meets. My friend Keren, wow.

Choosing Our Altars

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This is the altar Jeroboam built in Northern Israel.

Most of my sins are spontaneous, not premeditated. I don’t typically craft a plan for sinning. Sometimes, but not usually. But Jeroboam did, at least on one occasion. He was the newly crowned king of the newly founded nation of Israel, of the divided kingdom, and he was greatly troubled. What troubled him was the idea of his people going to Jerusalem, in Judah, to worship at the temple. His concern was that they might not come back. So he thought about it and came up with the plan to build two altars: one in the North and one in the South. Having built them, he then needed priests to serve at the altars since all the Levites remained in Jerusalem. So he appointed anyone who volunteered. That was the only qualification for serving. He must have felt confident that he could keep his loyal subjects loyal by making worship convenient. His actions violated the Law of Moses, dishonored the Aaronic Priesthood, and ushered Israel into deeper idolatry, but none of this seemed to bother Jeroboam.

It’s when our hearts are laid bare and our intentions uncovered that the premeditation is evident. It’s the justification for trading what is right for what is popular, pleasurable, or politically savvy. Premeditated sin almost always ends in chaos, conflict, and pain, it happens all the time. I’ve done it and it’s never worked out well for me. I end up broken, seeking forgiveness, and so very grateful for grace.

God told Solomon:

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

Jeroboam wasn’t humble, praying, or turning away from wickedness. Whatever face he was seeking, it sure wasn’t the Lord’s. His plan ultimately failed because his intentions and actions were wrong. It destroyed him and his family, and plunged Israel into ruin. 

It’s never too late to do right. Never too late to turn our hearts back to God. If we are considering how to sin and get away with it, then we need to wake up and turn from our wicked ways. We choose humility and we seek His face. We seek Him still.