Beyond our Yesterdays

Years ago I performed a memorial service for a man whom nobody liked, even his own family. At many funerals, people are given a chance to share thoughts about the deceased, but I feared it would end up being 5 minutes of very awkward silence. I was surprised so many people had something kind to say about a very disliked man.

It’s a shame we have to wait until someone dies before we lay aside the anger, bitterness, and disagreements to find the person’s good qualities. It’s sad death is usually the one event that makes us recognize how much we’re all alike.

When you look at a family member, co-worker, or friend, do you immediately recall her flaws and failures or do you see someone an awful lot like yourself? The specifics may be different, but really she’s the same as you are. We’ve each said and thought and done things we should never have said, thought, and done. We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

One of the great things about the God of the Bible is that when we come to Him in faith and accept His gift of salvation in Jesus Christ, He does more than forgive our sins, He forgets them completely. It’s not that He strains to think of something good about us to improve our self-image; rather, He moves beyond our yesterdays for His own sake.

I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins (Isaiah 43:25).

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).

To Kenya with Love

Matthew Ferraro, Pastor, Richard L Rice, where living begins, Kenya

In a few weeks I’ll be making my 4th, and likely last ministry visit to Kenya.

My wife will stay home in Oregon this time for financial reasons. Her varied ministry of singing, giving guitar lessons, teaching women how to crochet and begin their own home businesses, and speaking to groups of women will go unfulfilled unless I suddenly become very talented. I rely on my wife greatly, but I’ll be joined again by my 21-year old friend and son in Christ, Matthew. I’ll keep him busy again this year to the point of exhaustion each night.

Over the past year I’ve been working hard producing materials to be taught in our Bible school, Berean School of Ministry. I’ve completed 10 separate courses for 123 in-depth Bible lessons. These courses cover the Holy Spirit, water baptism, the nature of sin, the Bible, the end times, and much more.

The plan is for me to teach verse-by-verse through the 12 books of the Minor Prophets in the Bible school, preach in churches, encourage young pastors to be faithful students of God’s Word, speak at home meetings, and go anywhere to meet anyone to preach Christ Jesus. My partner in ministry, Pastor Isaac Mathembe, will make certain there is not a wasted moment of our time.

This blog will continue each weekday with new material while I’m away.

I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words to the believers Rome: I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in your prayers to God for me (Romans 15:30).

Matthew and I will surely appreciate your prayers for us and the beloved people of Kenya. Thank you if you’re able to help finance our trip, provide a scholarship to a Bible school student, or make a gift to needy pastor. Online tax-deductible donations can be made via Paypal at SellwoodChurch@gmail.com, or by check via snail mail to: Sellwood Community Church, 23585 NW Jacobson Rd, #51, Hillsboro, OR 97124.

Click here to watch ministry video highlights from 2016.

Dr Seuss with Bedhead

where living begins, pastor, Richard L Rice

Look at me!
Look at me!
Look at me NOW!
It is fun to have fun
But you have
to know how.” Dr Seuss

When my wife and I married, I often greeted her each morning with a silly song or rhyme of some sort. Think of me as Dr Seuss with bedhead. A few days of my rhymes and she informed me, “I don’t like rhymes in the morning.” I understood and began telling her a rhyme before bed. She doesn’t like those either.

I learned that my penchant for silliness isn’t always appreciated or appropriate. However, I didn’t learn anything about Kim as a person. I learned what displeased her, but not who she was or what she enjoyed.

A popular myth is that we get to know God by “worshiping” Him, and by worship the mythologizer incorrectly means singing songs. So ask yourself, how well do you get to know someone by singing to him? You might discover that he thinks your voice is annoying, but you don’t really learn who he is. To know him, you listen to him.

This seems a crazy question, but how do you get to know the God of the Bible? Not by singing but by reading His words, the Bible.

And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, Jesus expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. And they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us.” (Luke 24:27, 32).

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).

Ambassadors for Christ

Pastor, Richard L Rice, Where Living Begins

My first day in Kenya I wore shorts into the village of Kangundo. When we returned home I noted to my host that I was the only one wearing shorts and asked if it was appropriate in the culture. I’ll never forget Isaac’s reply that everyone could tell I was an American by how I dressed and that they would overlook my offense.

Without thinking about it, I was a representative of my country. I began wondering what I was saying about myself and America to the Kenyan people. Representing America brought responsibilities.

As Christians, the Bible calls us ambassadors for Christ.

To be a Christian is to represent Christ. When we are saved, we become living witnesses of His love and truth and light. Jesus could have used a billion and one different ways to witness about Himself, but He chose to use redeemed men and women. He appointed us to speak and live Him before mankind.

No ambassador makes his own message. He represents his president or king and speaks only the word given to him. In the same way we must be careful that the word we pass along is that which God breathed-out in the pages of Scripture; whether it suits our fancy or not.

When we take the name of Christian, we live for Christ Jesus. We represent His will, honor His priorities, guard His reputation, and submit to His desires.

We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us; we implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Only Jesus

Kenya, Where Living Begins, Pastor, Richard L Rice
My wife and a few of the wonderful people at the Family of God Celebration Centre in Matuu village, Kenya.

Our arrival in the small Kenyan village on Sunday morning was big news. Not only had three mzungus (the Swahili word for a white​ person) come to Matuu, one of them was Pastor Richard returned from America.

I met Albanas on my first visit to Matuu in 2014. A year earlier he had professed faith in Christ and joined the church. There was a mighty turn about in his behavior, but it was short-lived. He returned to alcohol and all manner of ungodly living. He was an apostate, a false Christian.

On Sunday morning, Albanas heard I was in the village and he hurried to see me. With tears and deep emotion, over and over again he cried and pleaded, “Pastor Richard from America, save me. I need you to save me.

All I could answer was, “Albanas, only Jesus can save you. Turn to Him.

My plea fell upon deaf ears and a sinful, stone-cold heart. After a few minutes, I asked two men to chaperone me from the building and a broken man who would not let go of me.

Most people expect too much from a pastor, even one from America. They expect him to do far more than any human being can do. While a godly pastor cares, he rejects the deceit of idolatry by refusing to do for anyone what only Jesus can do. The pastor isn’t Jesus.

An Imperfect Husband

Where Living Begins Pastor Richard L Rice

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9).

What we feel doesn’t always reflect what is true.

Last night my wife was looking at me strangely. I immediately felt that I’d done something to displease her. My mind raced to a thousand and one different possibilities of offense. I know I’m not a perfect husband and my feelings confirmed my every deficiency.

I’d finally taken all I could stand and blurted out, “Whatever I’ve done to upset you, I’m sorry.”

Then I got another look. It was the look of “What are you talking about?” Then the look became audible. “I’m not upset with you. I just have a headache.”

All those hours of feelings were nothing but lies.

Feelings of every stripe can be deceptive. Yes, God gave us feelings, and yes, what we feel is really what we feel. Often, however, we allow our feelings to direct or control our actions and thoughts. This is especially true in spiritual matters, when we should be turning to the ever-accurate Bible. We get caught in a trap of allowing our feelings about something to replace God’s Word as our ground and source of truth.

My flesh and my heart fail me again and again, but neither God nor His Word fail.

My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Psalm 73:26).

A New Puppy

Pastors and presidents have this in common: they are either dearly beloved or vilely hated. There’s never middle ground.

I’ve never been the President of the United States, but I have been a pastor for more than half of my life. I’ve was threatened that the church doors would be locked and the building burned down with me in it. I’ve been warned that my throat would be slit in the middle of the night. I’ve been called a false prophet, a thief, an easily manipulated dolt, an idiot, and much, much worse. There have twice been demands to return all the money people have donated over many years. I’ve overheard a group saying that I should have been fired before I was hired. Sounds like an American president or two.

One Sunday a man pulled me aside after the morning service; always a frightening event for a new pastor. You’re like a dog we used to have, he started.

I nervously smiled and thought of all the bad directions he could go.

That old dog that could do everything, then that old dog got sick and died. We were devastated. We thought about getting a new dog, but we were sure no dog could ever fill the gap in our hearts.

A friend’s dog gave birth to a litter of puppies and we were offered one. We took a look at the puppies and one stood out and we brought her home.

The puppy was a wonderful addition to our family. Right away we learned to love her, and it turned out the new puppy was better than the old dog. You’re like that puppy. 

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver (Proverbs 25:11).

Ask any pastor; it’s a lonely and often thankless job. I’m grateful for the people who not only appreciate me for what I do, but for friends who appreciate me.