The Church is not a Democracy

where living begins

Jesus said, I will build My Church (Matthew 16:18)

The local news headline said it all: “Catholics Rally to Accept Same-Sex Marriage.” A group of Roman Catholics met to demand the Vatican change its view on homosexuality and allow same-sex marriage.

More and more Americans – including those sitting in a pew on Sunday morning – believe that God’s Word is old fashioned. They argue that God needs to catch up with our enlightened views. What we think today must become the Christianity of tomorrow. Christianity is a democracy that must bend (or break) to the will of the progressive majority, not to the will of God.

Sadly, poll after poll shows that Americans are both ignorant of the Bible and don’t care what it says anyway.

But truth is not defined by people. It comes from the God who declares Himself to be truth (John 14:6). The Church of Jesus Christ is not a democracy, it is a Theocracy. It was created by God the Father, is being built and ruled by Jesus Christ, is empowered by the presence of the Holy Spirit, and is governed by the written Word of God. Truth doesn’t come by taking a vote; it came from God to man through the Bible. We cannot change God’s truth; when we do, it ceases to be truth … and becomes a lie.

Protest and petition till the cows come home, but when people who claim to be Christians oppose the clear teaching of the Bible, it is open rebellion against the God who breathed it.

Jesus prayed, Sanctify them by Your truth, Your Word is truth (John 17:17).

A Father’s Photo

Where Living Begins, pastor, Richard L RiceIt was early and I struggled to get out of bed. I rolled over and smiled, looking at the pictures of Daniel as a small boy. He was, and is, my joy.

Among the pictures is one after Daniel gummed his first licorice stick; his face red and sticky. Another shows an overjoyed Daniel in the bath with a washcloth and a rubber duck on his head. Every photo is of a significant event, person, or place in his early life. There are none of him misbehaving or getting punished.

I wondered to myself, If God had a photo album of me, what kinds of pictures would He keep? What kinds of stories would He tell as angels and saints of old looked at the collection?

Just as earthly fathers take a special pride and joy in their children, our heavenly Father finds joy in us. He doesn’t memorialize our mistakes, but cherishes our growth and significant moments . . . moments that bring Him joy, and maybe even make Him smile.

Child of God, remember that your Father cherishes you, forgives your sins, and rejoices over all those He’s saved.

The Lord your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you in His love, He will rejoice over you with singing  (Zephaniah 3:17).

Happy 18th Birthday, Daniel!

My Meaney Mom

Where Living Begins, pastor, Richard L Rice

My mother set rules for me and my siblings as we were growing up. Chew with your mouth closed. Close the door after you. Don’t leave the lights on when you leave the room. Don’t hit your sister.

I remember sneaking some powered hot Chinese mustard home from a restaurant. I liberally applied it to the tongues of the other kids in the house and was promptly sent to my bedroom to think about what I’d done.

Well, I’ll have you know that I thought about it long and hard! I thought about how angry I was and how unfair my mother was to me. Who did she think she was spoiling my fun?

Now that I’m a grown-up, I know that my mother was shaping my morality and showing her love. She didn’t have rules because she was a meaney, but because I could get out of line and harm either myself or others. She didn’t want to raise a spoiled brat bent on enjoying life at the expense of others.

God’s rules are always rather simple: Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Do not murder. Do not take the Lord’s name in vain, and so forth. Not one of these is a burden meant to ruin our fun but to protect us and those around us. They are actually a revelation of God’s love for us as His children.

For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:3).

What Color is God?

I worked for several years with a single father raising his three children. One day Melvin came into the office where we worked, sat down at my desk and asked, “What color is God?”

Melvin’s young daughter was in a discussion with some classmates at school who insisted that God is a white man. When the girl got home from school, she told her father what the other kids had said and wanted to know the truth. Melvin and his children are black.

After thinking about the question for a few moments, I answered Melvin the best I could: God isn’t any color. The Bible says that God is love.

God is love (1 John 4:7).

 

A New Commandment

two churchesMore than thirty years ago, it was my first stint as a youth pastor and our Youth Extravaganza! was going to be amazing. One of the old-time leaders of our denomination was going to preach a “wing-ding” of a message. There would be special music and ice cream sundaes afterward.

We printed up fliers and posters, and sent letters to every church in our city. We went out of our way to specially invite the other churches of our denomination.

The big night came – but only the youth in our own church showed up.

I was terribly embarrassed. I was embarrassed for myself and my youth who worked so hard to invite others. I was ashamed that no other churches, especially those of our denomination, showed up. I was horrified for our guest who preached to a near-empty auditorium.

Sadly, this wasn’t the first time I experienced this kind of Christian fellowship.

Churches located next to each other, with near identical beliefs, won’t cooperate. Each group is concerned in protecting its own money and attendance figures.

Just as bad, Christians live next door to each other and won’t even speak.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35).

Greased Lightning

Without hesitation or need for further observance, she made her great escape.

Every time the door opened, Daniel’s new kitten Sassy was at the door sniffing the air and longing for adventure. The occasional coyote, mountain lion, and even bears have been known to shorten the lifespan of outdoor cats around here.

Sassy had been secretly taking notes and plotting her escape. The failures of her previous escapes fresh in her memory, she ran from behind me between my legs and was out the door. Like greased lightning, Sassy was gone.

We searched hours for her. When I finally spied her, I had to chase her up and down the street, in and out of bushes, and around several trees before getting a good grasp on the handle God put on a cat’s backside for the purpose of catching it.

Some people consider the commandments of God like rules for prison life meant to keep us from having fun and experiencing all the joys of freedom. That’s a lie! For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:3).

Just as a mother has rules for her child, God’s commandments are the expression of His love for His children. They are rooted in relationship and help us understand life and our purpose in life. His will isn’t to crush our dreams, but to protect us from physical and spiritual harm. God gave us commandments out of love; we obey out of love.

For the remaining years of her life with us, Sassy never again tried to leave the house where she was safe.

Love is Blind

love-is-blindThe English poet Geoffrey Chaucer wrote that love is blind. Chaucer knew that we willingly distort truth in a mistaken idea of love. Our rose-colored glasses blind us to others so that we feel better about them and ourselves, but such blindness is dangerous to everyone involved. Overlooking sin is neither loving nor beneficial to anyone.

God’s love for you isn’t blind. The Father couldn’t ignore the wickedness of your sin. His love couldn’t put shades over his holiness. Instead, His equalled love and justice sent Jesus to die in your place. The Innocent for the guilty.

Jesus willingly paid the debt you owed for your sins. Justice was served upon Him so love could reign toward you.

When we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly … but God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6, 8).

Ma and Pa’s Love

SalHillbillyCouple

Billy Bob and Martha Ray got hitched one spring afternoon in their little Ozark hamlet. The tiny church was packed with their friends and family, which were the same group.

The couple got right to business and over the next fifty years, Billy Bob and Martha Ray raised 8 boys and girls, all named “Billy.” Neither had more than a third grade education, but made sure their children each continued in school until the sixth grade. Holidays were especially wonderful as the family dined on raccoon instead of the usual squirrel or possum.

Husband and wife never traveled more than five miles from the village they’d always lived in.

Work always came early; they were up and busy before dawn. Enjoying the last few minutes of the evening before bed, the two sat on the porch of their humble shack, Ma puffing on her corncob pipe and Pa chewin’ a wad a tobaccy. Martha Ray broke the silence. “Pa, how come in fifty years ya ain’t never told me ya love me?”

Billy Bob sat quietly, the only sound was the squeak of his rocking chair on the splintered floorboards. After a minute or two, he spit against the white oak tree he’d planted as a child. “Woman, I said I loved ya the day I married ya. If I ever change ma mind, I’ll tell ya.”

The Bible says that God is love (1 John 4:8), and if God never changes (Malachi 3:6), then His love for you will never change. Nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of Christ (Romans 8:35).

The Lost and Found

Image result for girl with fatherHome was a place of laughter and love. Memories of Christmases, birthdays dancing with Daddy, summer days swimming in the drainage ditch, and parents so proud of their youngest daughter all seemed as fresh as the morning sunlight.

Unexplained tragedies change the course of life. Why those things happen isn’t for us to know, but they do happen, and soon the little girl was thrust into a life unplanned.

Questions without answers, feelings without an outlet, emptiness without a bottom, brokenness without anyone to bind the pieces together. Kim was lost in the darkness of her own soul.

Mom remarried, but no one could replace the love and admiration of her departed Dad. Kim ran through her teenage years looking for meaning to the past and purpose for tomorrow. Both eluded her.

And God? Where was He? He’d really been the problem all along, she thought. He could have saved her Dad. He could have kept the tragedy for someone else. He could have let her grow up like all the other little girls. She didn’t “hate” Him, but she didn’t understand Him.

Spring days slipped into years and Kim made choices, knowing that God was watching, but she made them anyway. If she wasn’t looking for Him, maybe He’d stop looking for her. But that wasn’t His plan.

One day, for reasons as unexplained as her father’s death, she read in the prophet Isaiah: He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him (Isaiah 53:3). The words parted her heart like the opening of a curtain and Heaven came down and glory filled her soul. Purpose pointed where there had been wandering, peace settled the questions, everything believed became known, and the lost was found.

Jesus is the Lover of her soul.

(Dedicated to my wife Kim, and her forever Valentine: Jesus!)

I Really Didn’t Like You

I sat in a small Bible study where the discussion turned to a tearful time of memories about the closing of the church. One of the ladies shared through her sobs her first impression of her pastor when he arrived at the church seven years earlier.

“I didn’t like you. No, I mean I really didn’t like you. You didn’t do what pastors are supposed to do. You weren’t what I was used to in a pastor. You were weak. You were normal. You were just like me.”

After that first Sunday service, Maria called her sister and wondered aloud what to do with the new pastor. She visited a few other churches to figure out what to do with a pastor who readily admitted that he wasn’t perfect, struggled with life like everyone else, and needed Jesus for everything.

A few weeks later she returned to the church with the new pastor. Each week she heard the Scriptures taught verse-by-verse and was told, “isn’t this how God gave us the Bible?” She heard that she was a sinner in desperate need of a Saviour every moment of every day. She learned not to rely on a pastor but to rest in Jesus. She discovered that the power of God was in the gospel of Jesus Christ alone and not her own efforts. After a lifetime of church attendance, she understood the true condition of her sinful soul and the promise of God alone to save her by faith alone in Jesus alone.

Her tears turned to laughter as she described how her life had changed: her words, thinking, politics, loving, giving, and living – everything changed including her opinion of me; I was that pastor!

Christianity is about trusting in Jesus, being fully and solely dependent upon Him.  It’s only in our weakness that we find Him strong and only by a knowledge of our sin through the Bible that we find Him a Saviour. Jesus is where living begins.

For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes … for it in the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, “The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:16, 17).