True Calamity

I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish (Luke 13:3, 5).

Sometimes bad things happen – not because we’ve sinned – but because we live in a world corrupted by sin.

Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor of Palestine from 26-36 AD. He was known to be arrogant, stubborn, and insensitive in a place where Jews and Romans lived in constant conflict.

On Pilate’s first day on the job, he marched Roman troops into Jerusalem carrying standards. A standard was a tall pole with a banner and carved image on top. The Jews considered any carved image to be an idol and violent rioting immediately broke out across the city.

We aren’t told the details, but in Luke 13:1-5, Jesus spoke of an event where Pilate slaughtered a group of Galilean men at the temple as they offered their sacrifices. The word on the street was that these Galileans were killed because they were more sinful than anyone else at the temple that day.

Popular Jewish theology of Christ’s day taught that suffering is always a sign of God’s judgment for sin. Catastrophes are always evidence of God’s displeasure.

Sometimes God judges individuals and nations because of their sin; but disasters can also be the consequence of living in a fallen world.

The man who thinks he’s in control of his liquor, drives home, and kills another driver has his own sin to blame for the accident; the sober man who was killed was not being punished by God.

Each day God spares the lives of guilty sinners because He is patient and compassionate. Really, that’s the only reason any of us are alive right now.

True calamity, Jesus said twice, is death apart from a saving faith in Him. Unless you repent you will all likewise perish (Luke 13:3, 5).

Repentance is two-fold. First, it’s a God-caused change of mind about your sin. It’s acknowledging that you’re a sinner far from God, separated from Him by your personal disobedience to His law. Second, repentance is acknowledging and trusting in Jesus as the only Saviour from your sin (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10).

He is Good

The Lord is good … (Nahum 1:7).

God is good and only does good, but our concept of good is seldom the same as God’s. The same rain we pray for to grow our food floods another man’s house; the sun that warms our home also burns our flesh. What God says is good can be met with skepticism, but we are unable to see the long-term goal of God in His works.

Second Samuel 12 records that when King David’s newborn son became ill, he pleaded, fasted, and humbled himself before the Lord. Seven days later the baby died. Jewish babies were always circumcised on the 8th day after birth (Leviticus 12:3), which means David’s son went both unnamed and uncircumcised, separated from God’s earthly covenant people (Genesis 17:13-14).

When David realized the baby was dead he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped (2 Samuel 12:20). He wasn’t callous; he knew that God in His wisdom and grace caused the baby to die and there was no more he could do or pray. He was surrendered to the will of God and David knew that it was his own sin that worked death in both him and his family. God’s will is always good and best. If we question God’s goodness, it’s not God who has done wrong, but us, because our sin blinds us to truth.

The circumstances of David’s life didn’t change who God was; He was good. David was confident of God’s continued fellowship and grace. He did what every person of faith does in distress: David worshiped the merciful, gracious, ever-worthy sovereign God, whose every act is one of goodness, justice, holiness, perfection, and love.

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

Innocent Until Proven Guilty

innocent-until-proven-guiltyThe American judicial system deems every accused person “innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.” Everyone accused of a crime is automatically declared innocent of every accusation until the government proves otherwise. You do not have to prove your innocence.

The Bible says, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Are you guilty of sin? or has God falsely condemned you?

Jesus set the standard of righteousness very high. He said, You shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48). Are you perfectly sinless like God the Father?

Jesus gave a few examples of such perfection. He mentioned murder and explained that murder is not just an act of violently taking the life of another person; murder includes the thought and intention of being angry with his brother (Matthew 5:22). Ever been angry toward someone? You’re guilty of murder.

How about adultery? Again, Jesus said that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:28).

Sin dives far deeper into you than your outward actions. Sin includes your thoughts, motives, and intentions. For example, if you have considered taking something that doesn’t belong to you, you are guilty of stealing.

Jesus also said that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37). Do you love God with all of your being? Does He come first in every decision and choice? Is pleasing Him your only goal in life with never a hint of selfishness?

The Bible not only declares that you are guilty of sin as charged, but also declares your sentence: The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

In His mercy and grace, God also provides this great hope: The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23). Jesus died in your place. He took your sin and guilt upon Himself as your Substitute before God. Trust Him as your only Lord and Saviour.

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

Our Refuge

our-refugeWhen Israel conquered the land of Canaan, six special cities were chosen as cities of refuge (Joshua 20:1-9). Each city was spaced throughout the land so that it could be reached within a day.

A city of refuge was a place where anyone who accidentally killed another person could flee and be safe from vengeance by the family of the deceased. As long as the guilty man remained within the city of refuge, the city elders were obligated to protect him at all cost until a fair investigation and trial could be held.

If after investigation, the fugitive was found guilty of premeditated murder, he was executed; if innocent, he was given a place to live within the city where he would be protected from the avenger. When the sitting high priest died, the fugitive was free to return to his home.

The Bible says that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) and all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We each are guilty and deserving of the just wrath of God. However, the Father has appointed Jesus as the Saviour of mankind (Acts 4:12). Every sinner who comes to Him by faith will be saved and Jesus will by no means cast out (John 6:37). The guilty who have fled for refuge (Hebrews 6:18) in Christ are saved.

Christians don’t deny our guilt of sin. Instead, we throw ourselves upon the mercy of the Judge. We run to Jesus, our city of refuge, who took our sins upon Himself so that we might be declared righteous before God (Romans 4:24-26).

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

God Remains

Unlike my friend Butch drinking his cup of coffee as the sun peeks at the new day on a Florida beach, I’m sipping a cup of orange spice tea, nursing a pesky summertime cold, and peering back at the 50 years of my life.

There are many picture-perfect images of life framed in my mind, but many others that could only be described as nightmarish. None of these are accidents of time or space. Each was part of a perfectly designed plan of a loving, all-knowing, and always good God.

Thinking about it, few of my steps through life have been what I’d describe as light or easy. Even now there are challenging dangers ahead known only to me, my wife, my son, and my God. At the same time I see how every footstep in my journey has been crafted and guided by the unseen hand of my Shepherd walking alongside me.

At times He warned of obstacles ahead, and I pushed forward instead of slowing down to wait and watch. Still other times I blissfully strolled along neatly manicured pathways, unable to conjure up even the slightest hint of worry or care. In both, He never left my side.

One hundred years from now, only one in a billion of us will be remembered. You will be forgotten – and much sooner than you think. How miserable and meaningless must be the life that knows no greater and divine eternal purpose in life than simply: “I am. I was. I am no more.”

Yet my God remains ever faithful, ever present, and ever my reward.

Since his days are determined, the number of his months is with You; You have appointed his limits, so that he cannot pass (Job 14:5).

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).