The Message of the Cross

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).

Nothing in the history of the world has ever divided people as much as the cross of Christ. The cross separates the saint from the sinner, the saved from the unsaved. To the saved man the cross is the power of God, to the unsaved man it is foolishness. And God has chosen the message of the cross found throughout the Scriptures to proclaim salvation to sinners.

What is the message of the cross? Simply that sin separates the sinner from a holy God; but God has undertaken the forgiveness of sins through the death of Jesus in the place of sinners. Every sinner whose trust is placed in Christ alone to free them from the death-knell of sin will be saved.

The cross was rejected by the Jews as foolishness, who insisted that their ancestry, self-works, rituals, and traditions were enough to make them right with God.

Greeks demanded explanations based in science and reason. To them, a crucified Christ wasn’t a winner and His death wasn’t an evidence of triumph.

The message of the cross is foolishness to the world, but it is the full and tangible expression of God’s power to one who is being saved.

The Answer to Hate and Racism

Looting. Murder. Rioting. Stealing. Theft. Destruction. Anger. Burning. Violence. Fear-mongering. Hatred. Racism. Disregard for the rule of law. Race-war. Rage. Tearing down statues. Injustice. Inflammatory name-calling. Lawlessness.

These are all summed up in one foul word: S I N.

Whatever else you may want to call it – these are all acts and attitudes of evil men whose hearts are filled with the darkness of sin. Sin perpetuating more sin and then used as an excuse for even greater sin.

Don’t be mistaken. Don’t be detoured from what the Bible says. The answer is not found in tearing down monuments to the past, making laws restricting free speech or free assembly, violent attacks, or in shaming certain beliefs and political movements. Don’t look to laws or protests or penalties for answers to hate and racism. These same tools can be used to silence your beliefs … even your Christian beliefs.

As Christians, we are convinced that the answer to the evil in the heart is in the transformation of the human heart through the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Light has coming into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the Light and does not come to the Light, lest His deeds should be exposed (John 3:19-20).

A Father of the Fatherless

Richard and Moses at Family of God Celebration Center, Mutalia, Kenya

Sunday was no different than usual. Moses is always one of the first to run to me when I arrive in the church in Mutalia.

I always make a careful effort to preach in a way so that everyone present – including the children – can understand the gospel message. When I finished my sermon, I was immediately rushed by the children, many of whom I’ve watched grow up these past four years. These children love me and I dearly love them. Half of this congregation consists of young children.

After a few minutes of hugs and fist-bumps, Moses, pulled me down and whispered in my ear, May I speak to you in private? His eyes were serious.

We walked to a secluded spot outside and I knelt in the dirt so this 9-year old boy and I could talk eye-to-eye. Will you take me back to America to live with you? I’ve asked my Mother and she says it is okay. What message shall I return to her?

A few hours later I met Moses’ humble and quiet mother. She and her two children live in the only place they can afford, a small room not bigger than the typical American’s bathroom. There they cook, eat, wash, play, sleep, do school work, and carry on the lives of a family.

I know my wife wouldn’t have minded had I arrived at the airport in Portland with Moses and another thousand children like him, but it was impossible. I’m thankful however, that God has given Moses and his little sister a godly mother who loves them, and that He watches over them when I cannot.

A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy habitation (Psalm 68:5).

The Lord of the Flies

lord of the fliesWilliam Golding’s book, The Lord of the Flies, is the story of a group of well-monied, well-bred, and well-socialized boys who become stranded on an island during a war. Left to themselves, they very quickly descend into evil and their sin natures take full control over every aspect of life. The boys inflict every evil imaginable upon each other. Without an outside, redeeming influence, they become wicked savages.

The Bible reminds us who have trusted in Christ alone for salvation: Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day of Christ’s return approaching (Hebrews 10:24-25).

No one can live the life of faith alone. Christians need other Christians, just as the finger needs the hand if it is to function and live (First Corinthians 12:14-27). God has attached each one of His people to another for support and strength; but when we are separated from the body into which He joins us, we become weak, discouraged, and even lifeless. It’s not that we lose our salvation and revert to spiritual savagery, but we lose the encouragement, growth, and life which Jesus provides to us through His body (Ephesians 4:15-16).

As the Christian husband nourishes and cherishes his believing wife in her faith and life (Ephesians 5:29), so Christians do to one another through our Head, Jesus.

** Please keep us in prayer while we minister in Kenya. Thanks!

My 5-Year Plan

Pastor, Richard L Rice, where living begins

A newly installed first-time pastor asked me, “What’s your 5-year plan?” The first thought in my mind was: “He sounds like a communist”, but then I realized this greenhorn wasn’t even alive when there was a Soviet Empire, so I tempered my response. “I plan to be serving the Lord wherever He has me.” He wasn’t amused.

There is nothing wrong with planning. It can be wise, but it can also be folly. We plan, create unrealistic expectations, and then fall into despair or crazed anger when those expectations don’t materialize as we imagined. Our plans can be so narrow and strict that we leave no room for the spontaneous or the unexpected. This is true in government planning, ministry, or daily life.

I have a general idea of what I need to accomplish today. Other than that, I’m open to whatever God does or brings. A 2-hour drive for an ice cream cone on Saturday? A long text conversation with my sister? Staying home and caring for my sick wife? All are acceptable. Life in God’s kingdom is about the journey. It’s along the journey that He builds our strength, stretches our faith, tests our integrity, and expands our horizons. None of these happen in the destination.

God does His most awesome work in us outside of our plans.

There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the Lord’s counsel – that will stand (Proverbs 19:21).

Saved by Love

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

The preacher’s message was brimmed with sentimentality as he talked about his visit to a dog shelter. As he and his little girl peered into each kennel, they were overcome by the number of dogs waiting to either be adopted or euthanized. His daughter petted and called to each animal one-by-one. Crying, she begged her father to be allowed to take them all home. Just as tearfully the pastor explained that it was only possible to save one of her furry friends.

As he reached the conclusion of his sermon, there was nary a dry eye in the congregation. Reaching the height of hopey-changey theology, he quoted John 3:16. He reminded us of how his love for his daughter and compassion for the dogs moved him. He could only save one dog, but God’s love reached down out of Heaven to save everyone present.

Asking for every head to be bowed, he invited all those who wanted to know God’s love to raise their hand. Several raised their hands, and after repeating a prayer, the congregation applauded these new Christians.

But the Bible doesn’t say that God saves anyone by His love. John 3:16 says that God so loved that He sent His Son. His love sent Jesus; His love doesn’t save.

The salvation offered by God in Jesus has only ever been realized in one way: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

John 3:16 describes God’s motivation for sending His Son; it was the death of Jesus as your Substitute that saves.

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved (John 3:17).

The Lord’s Day

the-lords-dayI was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet (Revelation 1:10).

Cult groups harp on the idea that the Roman Catholic Church changed the day of Christian worship from Saturday to Sunday; but the accusation is neither historical nor Biblical.

God gave the Jews the 7th day of the week for rest. Saturday, the Sabbath Day, commemorates God’s completion of Creation (Genesis 2:1-3) and God commanded Israel to observe Saturday as a time of rest from their labors (Exodus 20:8-11).

Christians, however, held Sunday as our day of worship from the very beginning of the Church (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2). The Church began on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1), which always falls on a Sunday, exactly 50 days after the Passover Sabbath.

Jews found the rest from their physical labors in a day on the calendar, Christians find their spiritual rest in the Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus  (Matthew 12:8; Hebrews 4:9-11). He called everyone tired of struggling to keep the Law of Moses to Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).

Sunday is the first day of the week. It was the day God began His creation of the universe (Genesis 1:5). Sunday, the day of new beginnings, was the day He created light (Genesis 1:5) and the day Jesus, the Light of the World, was raised from the dead (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1-2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1).

As Christians, we worship God every day of the week, but Sunday is our primary day for corporate worship through teaching the Word, prayer, taking the Lord’s Supper, and giving thanks.

On Sunday Morning

JFK

Nearly a decade before I was born, President John Kennedy said in his Inaugural Address: My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.

In America, this attitude has become a platitude. Kennedy’s words are long forgotten as people routinely fight each other to get more rather than to consider what they may freely contribute.

Sadly, this same mentality pervades the church set. We ask: What can I get by going to church? What will God, or the church, or the pastor, or the musicians, or the people there give to me today?

People attend church for the social experience. They seek a smiling face, friendship or a handout. They want heart-stirring music, an emotional charge, or a platform for income equality and gender-fluid politics. Others make it a cover of godliness to hide a lust for material possessions or a place to lurk after vulnerable, hurting people.

The Bible portrays the Church as a spiritual organism in a material world. It pictures the Son of God coming to Earth to reveal the Father and be the redemption for man’s sin. Christ’s mission wasn’t social engineering or political revolution, but ending sin and death. Jesus is eternal life rather than health or wealth here and now.

Few ever arrive Sunday morning and ask, “What will God receive from me here today?

The Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him (Habakkuk 2:20).

 

Bible Preaching

where living beginsAnd 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 hearts burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:27, 32).

I visited a local church where the sermon was about the godly use of money. At the end, the pastor asked the congregation to bow their heads and close their eyes, and then said, “… and if you want what we’ve been talking about today, raise you hand.” They were asked to repeat a prayer and each person was then counted as a new convert.

I sat amazed. “If you want what we’ve been talking about today.” What had the pastor talked about? Getting money, spending money, and saving money. Who doesn’t want those things? I can understand people wanting to use their money in a better fashion, but the sermon was about the listener and not about who Jesus is or what He has done.

This weekend many of you will sit in a church service. The pastor will use a Bible verse or more as the basis of the sermon. It may be the story about Peter walking on the water and how you can make faith-based decisions. Maybe it will be a message about Joshua marching around the city of Jericho and how you can persevere through difficulties by patience or praising the Lord. Even John 3:16 becomes a talk about what you can do, instead of what God through Christ has done.

Bible preaching centers on Christ Jesus. He and His works are the focus and heart of Scripture, not you the listener. Biblical preaching glorifies Jesus, the Creator and Saviour, rather than you, the creature and sinner.

Sealed with the Holy Spirit

Not too long ago, letters and documents were sealed with wax or clay in which was placed an imprint. The “seal” secured the document and identified its owner.

When a person hears the gospel and believes it, the Father seals the believer with the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 1:22-23). The Spirit is the symbol that we belong to God in Christ, and our salvation is fully and eternally protected until the redemption of the purchased possession (Ephesians 1:14). The Spirit in the believer is God’s guarantee to keep us saved and to present us as a glorious and holy bride to His Son (2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25-27). The Spirit ensures that the Church will be a godly and virtuous bride to be given in marriage to Christ Jesus at His return.

The word guarantee is the Greek word arrhabon, meaning down-payment. It’s the modern Greek word used for an engagement ring, which is a down payment or promise that a marriage will take place. The down-payment God has given us is the indwelling Holy Spirit Himself (Romans 8:9, 16) guaranteeing that every promise Jesus has made to His Church will be fulfilled in Heaven.

In Christ you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:13-14).