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).

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).

 

Flying to Kenya

where living begins, pastor, Richard L Rice, Kimberly Rice, Matthew Ferraro, Kenya

When I make my journey to Kenya in a few weeks, and then home again, I’ll have to fly on 7 different planes and pass through 9 airports. The travel time will be a total of over 68 hours. Total distance by air is 22,990 miles at a cost of 9 cents per mile.

The Bible says that to be absent from the body means being present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8).

For the one whose trust is in Christ Jesus alone, upon death our:

  • Flight time to Heaven is instantaneous;
  • Distance traveled is immeasurable;
  • Cost to us, nothing; cost to God, the death of His Son;
  • Time waiting in airports is nil.

And thus we shall always be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

Nosegay

A 1560 painting of a boy holding a nosegay in his hand.

After the Russian ambassador met King Louis XIV of France (1638-1715), he wrote, His Majesty stunk like a wild animal. King Louis bragged at the fact of only bathing twice in his entire lifetime because it was commonly believed that bathing caused illness.

For more than 500 years, Europeans ignorantly believed that washing the hands, face, and body was the source of illness and death. Superstition advised against bathing – especially in warm or hot water – because it allowed diseases to enter the body through the pores in the skin.

Instead of washing dirt, grime, filth, and disease from the body, wealthy Europeans turned to nosegay, meaning happiness for the nose. The nosegay was a small sachet of flowers and herbs, or cloth dipped in perfume, stuffed in the shirt sleeve or cleavage and sniffed when body odor became overwhelming. Rather than remove the cause of the odor, Europeans tried to cover their own stench.

In the Old Testament, God commanded the Israelites to frequently wash themselves; their hands, faces, feet, and bodies. Washing the dirt, grime, and stink from the body not only prevented the transfer of disease, but was symbolic of God’s forgiveness of sin (Numbers 8:7; Psalm 51:7).

Regular washing with water and soap is necessary for bodily health, but it’s powerless to purge the soul of sin. Christians can’t ignore the moral filth of daily sin, nor attempt to mask the stench with our own works. Instead, we regularly confess our sins to the ever-forgiving God and receive His gracious cleansing.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

Past Feeling

img_20170126_082553572Sorry to show you this, but it’s a callus on the bottom of my big toe. It’s been there as long as I can remember.

A callus forms by repeated pressure or rubbing on the skin. The skin then forms into a hard layer, completely dead and long past any feeling.

This is exactly how the Bible describes the soul of a person alienated from the life of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

In the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart; who being past feeling, have given themselves over to licentiousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness (Ephesians 4:17-19).

Like the body in the graveyard is beyond hearing – no matter how witty your remarks or loud your oratory – only the One who conquered death can speak life where death reigns in the sin-hardened soul.

Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life (John 5:24).

Polishing the Brass

titanicIt was the largest, fastest, and most luxurious ship in the world. Late in the evening of April 14, 1912, the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg only 375 miles from the shore of Newfoundland, Canada. In less than 3 hours, 1,517 of the 2,224 crew and passengers were drowned.

The crew ignored warnings of icebergs in the area because they believed the advertisement that the ship was “unsinkable.” One passenger boarding the ship, Mrs Sylvia Caldwell, proclaimed that God Himself could not sink this ship. 

As the unsinkable Titanic sank, passengers still believed the ship could not go under the icy Atlantic Ocean. Some began playing a game of soccer with chunks of ice on the deck. The ship’s orchestra continued to play as people around them panicked. Millionaire businessman Benjamin Guggenheim took off his life vest and donned his black tie, tails, and top hat while walking the deck saying he would go down with the ship as a gentleman. Hundreds stood around a priest praying that God and Mary would save them yet did nothing to save themselves.

One thing no one did, however, was polish the brass on the sinking ship.

We do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day … for the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal (Second Corinthians 4:16, 18).

 

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!)

Six Months to Live

six-months-to-liveMy wife and I sat across the desk from the very official looking doctor. He bowed his head and said to me, “I’m sorry Mr Rice, but you have cancer. From the test results … you only have six months to live.”

I looked at my wife, stood to my feet and answered, “Then I’d better get busy. I have a lot to get finished in that time.”

I know this was a dream because I come from a long line of stubborn people who will have plenty of time to see a doctor once we’re dead.

Seriously, none of us knows what tomorrow – or the next six months – holds. The fact that each of us has only a certain allotment of time should not come as a surprise to us, though we struggle to make that allotment of time relevant.

Jesus knew that His earthly life was limited for time. Even as a Child He could say, Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business? (Luke 2:49). May you and I have such clarity of purpose!

Original Sin

Original SinI was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me (Psalm 51:5).

We often imagine that the newborn baby is like an empty spiritual slate waiting to be written upon. The Bible reveals otherwise. From conception we are sinners and God’s condemnation rests upon our heads like a lead hat.

Jesus said, “He who believes in Him in not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).

Adam’s one sin was enough to destroy his fellowship with God, cast him from the Garden of Eden, and sentence him to the physical death he’d already experienced spiritually. We are not born innocent, but are already condemned by the sin of Adam, and we spend a lifetime adding layer upon layer of sinful thoughts and deeds to the already filled slate.

There is no magical age when a child becomes accountable as a sinner. No parent has to teach his newborn to sin. From the moment Johnny snatches the ball from his playmate and yells “Mine!” (covetousness) to when Suzy defiantly asserts “No!” (dishonoring her parents), our children are revealed for what they have been since conception: sinners.

Sinners, no matter their age, need a Saviour. Jesus is that Saviour.

As through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift of salvation came to all men, resulting in justification of life (Romans 5:18).

A Shorter Story

a-shorter-story-jpgeIn the process of renewing my US passport at the end of 2016, I learned some terrifying information. In the past 10 years I’ve shrunk an inch! Yes, I’m now only 6 foot 3 inches!

The shorter story is: All the stretching, exercising, eating healthy, and gazing at the height printed on my driver license hasn’t stopped the effects of aging. I’ll continue to get shorter until the day I’m laid out in my coffin.

In writing this blog today, I discovered exercises purporting to make me taller. There are even expensive all-natural supplements promising the same effect. These undoubtedly stretch the truth … or there wouldn’t be any short people in the world. My momma didn’t raise a fool.

I’ve spent more than enough time in my life striving for things impossible. I’ve worried about things beyond my control. My height has never been one of these worries, but there are other temptations. Like everything else, worrying about reality, fighting reality, and bemoaning reality, doesn’t change reality.

Instead of fighting the natural progression of life, instead of worrying about things that only God controls, I’ll pursue things eternal and unchanging; things that never shrink.

Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? But seek the kingdom of God (Luke 12:25, 31).