Rappin’ With Rick

Christmas Bells

Bonnie recently mentioned how much she enjoyed still seeing Jack’s picture on the bulletin board. It’s there along with pictures of Nancy Montgomery, Joe Carter, and Jim and Mary Sexton. We lost the physical presence of all five within the last year or so, and their absence is keenly felt. Especially during the holidays.

I recently read that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was likewise feeling the loss of a wife who died in childbirth, a second wife who died when her dress caught fire, and worrying about a son who was clinging to life after being wounded in the Civil War when, during the Christmas season, he wrote “Christmas Bells.”

I heard the bells on Christmas Day Their old, familial carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men.
And in despair I bowed my head; “There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

An empty chair at the table, gifts no longer shared, and an empty stocking are painful reminders of lost loved ones. But the gift we received on that first Christmas brings with it the promise that if the babe of Bethlehem is received as our mutual risen Lord, the separation is only temporary. The tears we shed will one day be wiped away, the wrongs we suffered will be made right, and peace will actually become a reality.

Longfellow believed that to be true, and reminding himself of it, went on to write one more verse.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Merry Christmas & God Bless, Rick

Sisters and Sermons

One of the most controversial things the Apostle Paul ever wrote can be found in I Timothy 2:11-12. “Let a woman quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet,”

He expands on that in I Corinthians 14 when teaching on how the church was to receive prophetic messages. “Let the women keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak… And if they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home;”

The way these verses have been interpreted have gone from one extreme to the other. Some say women are to teach no one, and to say nothing in church. Others dismiss this as simply being cultural, and that it has no bearing on us today. I’m not comfortable with either understanding.

I tend to settle somewhere in the middle, and see this as primarily an instruction for women not to seek positions of authority over men in the church, and to not challenge them when they are preaching. My understanding does not, however, keep me from soliciting questions about a sermon or the accuracy of something I’ve said from anyone. And thankfully I’ve recently been given the opportunity to restate a couple of things in my archived sermons.

In class, a sister graciously questioned the absolute nature of a statement I had made about God no longer giving direct marching orders to those He wishes to use to deliver his people from oppression. I adjusted that to note He may no longer do so. The following week another sister called to my attention something I had forgotten; that the disciples did anoint with oil as well as heal people when they were sent out two by two.

I am so thankful for brothers, and sisters, who keep me on my toes.

God Bless, Rick

He is God, and I am Not

We began Wednesday night’s Bible study with a look at a song in Isaiah that pictured God’s people as a vineyard God had planted, cared for, and protected. He expected it to produce good grapes, but it only produced worthless ones, so He removed its hedge and allowed it to be trampled. The hedge was a wall of thorn bushes or trees, like the hedge rows that were planted on farms to contain and protect livestock before barbed wire was invented.

The mention of a hedge led us to a couple of other passages where hedges can be found. In Job 1:10 Satan insisted that Job only served God because He had made a hedge about him to protect him. And in Hosea 2:6 we’re told that God hedged up Hosea’s unfaithful wife with thorns so she would no longer sin against him. These verses have led some to believe we should pray a “hedge of protection” to keep us safe from all harm, or a “hedge of thorns” to keep those we love from being tempted by sin.

In Psalm 91 David does say that God will keep plagues from the tents of His people, protect them in battle, and that no evil will befall them. His confidence in God’s protection is held up as a promise of what God will do for us if we’ll just trust Him, and pray a “hedge of protection.”

Is it wrong ask God to protect us from COVID, war, and evil? Of course not. Is it wrong to ask God to help someone resist temptation? Of course not. But did He promise to do so if we’d just pray a special prayer? I don’t think so.

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, He did teach them to pray “lead us not into temptation” and “deliver us from evil.” But He did not give them a prayer that would guarantee they would be given whatever they asked for.

As I said in Sunday’s sermon on playing God, I think we should all regularly remind ourselves that “He is God, and I am not.”

God Bless, Rick

Divine Therapy

We took a break from our study of Living Spiritually in the Material World last Sunday night to look at an article from Touchstone that addressed the need to make certain our thoughts and songs about God include an adequate picture of His glory and majesty. We had spent a couple of weeks being reminded how important it is to keep God in the forefront of our mind, and the chapter we’ll be going to this Sunday is on how God speaks to us, but it’s very important that our picture of God is accurate.

In a culture that focuses on individual needs, and views the purpose of life as having our felt needs met and feeling good, it’s tempting for churches to begin focusing more on what God can do for us than on who He is.

Religious freedom allows us the freedom to worship, but it also means we have the freedom of religious choice. And when religious choice is available, there’s a tendency for churches to become little more than spiritual boutiques that present themselves as the answer to needs and desires. And there is a tendency to sing songs that focus more on what God does for us than who He is.

The author was especially critical of a popular religious song that makes it possible to view God as nothing more than a therapist, a reassuring friend, or even a boyfriend who is always there and who never says no. While that may be true, it’s obviously not wrong to think of God as our friend.

In fact, we sang What a Friend We Have in Jesus on our hymn singing Sunday. That wasn’t, however, the only hymn we sang. Carol informed me that we actually sang 22 hymns, and Duane made sure we sang the hymn he always asks for, Holy, Holy, Holy!

Abraham was known as a friend of God, and by His grace we can all be. But we must never forget that our friend is more than a friend. He is the Lord God Almighty!

God Bless, Rick

Missions Giving

It has long been the goal of our elders to send around 25% of the offerings we receive to missions and other benevolent or ministry related organizations. When we make our annual projection of financial needs and planned giving to others, we try to plan accordingly.

This past year, however, the amount we had planned to send to Andrew Sexton for his work with Casas Por Cristo was not utilized because he resigned his position. When we asked Dave to let us know the current percent of giving that was going to others, he informed us that it is just over 17%, and that even after adding the James Project we would probably end the year at 20%. To bring our percentage closer to where we want to be, the decision was made last week to send special offerings to a couple of our missions for relief work.

As you know, Haiti was recently struck by a devastating earthquake that killed thousands and left more than a million homeless. Fortunately, Haitian Christian Ministries, which we have supported for several years and is in the northern part of Haiti, was not directly impacted by the earthquake. They are, however, sending resources and teams to help those in the south. To assist them in ministering to those who are in even more need than they are, we have sent HCM $5,000.

We also recently learned that Ati Yangmi is distributing much needed food and supplies to villages that have been shut down due to covid restrictions. She has also been working with Jesse’s daughter and husband to set up water filtration systems in villages that must boil or buy the water they need. For $300 they can provide clean drinking water for 200-300 people. Fifteen villages that are ministered to by graduates of LBI have requested such systems, and we are sending $5,000 to meet needs and to help make that possible.

God is obviously blessing us so we can bless others.

God Bless, Rick