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).

 

Living the Puzzle

childs-puzzleLike most children, my son played with puzzles as a small child. You may remember the kind from your own childhood.  The pieces are colorful, large, and often cut from thick slabs of paperboard or even wood and fit snugly within the boundary of an 8 by 11 inch frame.

Daniel would sit on the floor and I’d hand him one piece at a time. He wasn’t a stupid baby, but I’d hand him the pieces one-at-a-time to keep him from being overwhelmed by so many choices.

Have you ever considered that this may be how God works with us?

Most often, God reveals only one step of our faith-walk at a time, like living a puzzle. People who trust God are satisfied with His method of direction. We even find a joy in each unexpected step because it allows a glimpse into the mystery of God’s ways.

Others want to know every step, stumble, and secret in advance. They long to be prepared, but knowing every scintilla of the future is not only overwhelming, it’s burdensome.

While the children of Israel wandered on their way out of Egypt, God led and protected them by a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire throughout the night. He also gave them an insatiable supply of manna for each day. All Israel had to do was daily follow Him.

No matter how we try, we can’t out-plan God. We must focus on obedience to the heavenly vision rather than our own daydreams. And instead of praying for more data, we should be praying, “Lord, whatever Your will is for today, let it be done in me.”

Give us this day our daily bread (Matthew 6:11).

Critical Thinking

the-mindYour mind is continually soaks up information, even when you’re not aware of it consciously. God has made us to learn by what we experience, hear, and see.

My wife crochets while watching a movie. She says she can pay attention to the words and images on the television screen while counting her stitches and looking at her hands move.

Many years ago I was preaching on a Sunday night and rhetorically asked, “Do anyone care?” I paused as a tiny voice from the back of the church said, “I do Uncle Richard.” Elias was only 3 or 4 years old and laying on the floor under the pew coloring pictures. He was the last person in the room anyone would expect to be listening and learning.

And who hasn’t seen children playing, who are fully aware of the secret conversation between parents in the other room? They hear every little detail … even the ones we don’t want them to hear. No one had to sit them down at a desk for them to repeat those words you shouldn’t have said.

God marvelously created your mind. Like a sponge, it subconsciously absorbs every message, even the subliminal one that bombards it. The mind is the greatest battlefield. Everything conveys a message; from the nighttime sky declaring God’s glory to the song on the radio planting a seed that sin is acceptable; from the product placement in a movie to the names daddy calls mommy. Everything is teaching you something – whether you are aware of it or not.

This fact demands that as a Christian, you must be a critical thinker, looking for every message, and comparing it to God’s Word.

Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you (Philippians 4:8-9).

The Controversy

shepherds 1The angel said to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people” (Luke 2:10).

The rocky plains around Bethlehem were (and still are) used as grazing land for sheep. Located only a short distance from Jerusalem, Bethlehem was a popular place for raising sheep for the sacrificial slaughter at the Jewish temple.

Shepherding was not a prestigious job in the ancient world. The task was always pawned off on the youngest son (1 Sam 16:10-11) or daughters. Farmers and city dwellers detested shepherds (Gen 46:34), and by the time of the prophets, shepherds were considered fully both second-class and untrustworthy.

Shepherds suffered from cruel stereotypes, and shepherding was even outlawed in Israel except on desert plains. The Jewish Mishnah (commentary on the Law of Moses) refers to shepherds in belittling terms, describes them as “incompetent” and notes that if a shepherd was found hurt or injured, there was no legal or moral responsibility to help him. They were unable to hold public office, forbidden to testify in court, had no civil rights, and were considered worse sinners than tax-collectors and prostitutes.

Yet, strangely, it was to a group of shepherds that the Father chose to announce the Incarnation of His Son.

We are most impressed with the message of someone rich or famous, powerful or successful. They are paraded before crowds at churches and evangelistic events and given time on Christian tv. What fools we are!

When God had chosen His man to be king of Israel, Samuel’s prejudice came out. God had to remind him to be careful in his judgments, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart  (1 Samuel 16:7).  And who did God choose? A young shepherd named David who would later write, The Lord is my Shepherd  (Psalm 23:1).

Hide but Not Hidden

hide-but-not-hiddenChildren love to play hide-and-seek, and my son Daniel was no exception. He and I would play it often. One time he hid himself so well in a kitchen cupboard that he fell asleep before I found him.

When he was first learning to play the game he’d place his hands, a blanket, or a box over his eyes or head, thinking that if he couldn’t see me, I couldn’t see him. He was hiding but not hidden.

The Bible says, Thy word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You (Psalm 119:11). The word “hidden” doesn’t mean that God’s Word was kept secret, but that it was put in a safe place. God’s precious revelation was kept in the safety of the writer’s heart and mind where it could be easily accessed.

Hiding the Scriptures in our hearts doesn’t necessarily mean having them memorized, but knowing them well enough to draw from their richness for any reason at any moment. People should know that you’re a Christian by your frequent use of God’s wise words and instruction. It should be so ingrained in your thinking that it guides your every step and decision in life.

Hide God’s Word, but don’t let it be hidden.

Give Thanks to the Lord

thanksgivingSome like the white Christmas with family. Others enjoy the cemeteries, haunted houses, and monsters of Halloween. For me, my favorite holiday is Independence Day.

My hometown, Hillsboro, Oregon, puts on the largest Fourth of July parade west of the mighty Mississippi River.

I’ve attended the parade nearly every year of my 50 years. I’ve seen high school marching bands, politicians shaking hands, senior citizens strumming old washboards, horses in hats, clowns with squirting umbrellas, dogs pulling carts, policemen doing tricks on motorcycles, boy scouts riding bicycles, rodeo and dairy queens, old cars, and war veterans proudly marching alongside the American flag.

I enjoy sitting on the side of the street with my family, scanning the crowds for someone I might know, and watching the children. There’s something close to magical about children and parades.

In recent years, many entrants in the parade have taken to tossing candy to the crowd. Even adults have been known to dash into the street, elbowing five-year olds to get their hands on that mini-roll of Smarties.

The funny thing is that as the parade nears the two hour conclusion, so much candy has been thrown that the crowd begins throwing it back to the parade participants! There is so much candy that we stop appreciating the generous gift.

The solution to ingratitude is to give thanks. In America, we live in a place and a time when we have much, much more than we need or really want. We quickly become ungrateful for our bounty. When we realize how much we really have, and how easily it can be taken away by robbers or tornadoes or our own carelessness, we learn to be grateful.

Society says, “Easy come, easy go.”  I prefer to say, Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! (Psalm 106:1).

HAPPY THANKSGIVING DAY!

Tea for Every Mood and Morning

teaIn my kitchen cupboard are more than 30 different flavors of tea. I can choose between lemon, mango, peach and orange pekoe. There is a British decaf, English breakfast, Earl Grey, a Chinese oolong, an Indian chai, and my present favorite, Moroccan Mint. Some days there is a preference for the smell of apple cinnamon, caramel and coconut, or pumpkin spice. There is a different flavor of tea for every mood and morning, but variety can also distract us.

The Bible is much like my tea cupboard. In the pages of the Bible are love stories, but you can also find stories of war and gore. There are poems about pain and loss, and wise sayings to help you make good choices in life. There are tales about children who have fallen into crime and kings who didn’t cut their hair and ate grass like a wild animal. There are songs about nature and sermons about justice. Every page of the Bible has something different – yet one thing ties them all together. It’s something we often miss in all the variety.

Jesus said, These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me. And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures (Luke 24:44-45).

If we read the Bible and miss Jesus, we’ve missed the whole point.

Rumpelstiltzksin

rumpleDuring the summers as a very young boy, we’d attend various performances at the Rose Test Garden high in the Portland hills. The night might feature the Salvation Army band, a troupe of ballet dancers, bag pipers, or a Shakespearean play. One night we watched a production of Rumpelstiltskin.

Decked out in colorful Elizabethan costumes, I watched as a poor woman was forced to spin straw into gold to gain her freedom. Each night a tiny man appeared in her prison cell, and for the promise of giving up her firstborn child, he spun the straw into gold for her. All was well until the woman guessed the identity of the tiny man named Rumpelstiltskin and he lost his hold upon her. At that point in the story the actor ranted and raved around the stage, stomping his feet until with a flash of smoke and loud bang he disappeared from sight beneath a trapdoor in the stage.

All the drive home I wondered where Rumpelstiltskin had gone. When we got home, I knew the angry dwarf was hiding in my bedroom closet. I knew it!

These many years later I can assure you that Rumpelstiltskin was not in my closet. He wasn’t even in my house. It was a well-performed stage trick. But to that little boy, it seemed so real.

Fear is real and there are many things in this world to be frightened about. The news is full of scary events around us each day, yet the Bible repeatedly tells us not to be afraid.

A portion of the Twenty-Third Psalm reads, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me (verse 4).

The valley is real. The shadows and death are real, but there is no reason for the child of God to fear. Why? God, your Shepherd, is with you. He doesn’t take away the things that frighten us, but He does promise to stay with us, protect us, and bring us comfort in the face of the dangers we face each day.