How Do You Say “Merry Christmas!”?

I’ve had a few questions loitering in my mind this Christmas week. How do you say “Merry Christmas!” when your friend lies suffering, her body destroyed by cancer? How do you say, “Merry Christmas!” when a child loses her mother or a mother her child just as they should be unwrapping presents together? How do you say, “Merry Christmas!” to the married couple who is barely civil to each other these days or the one who spends their first Christmas alone? The pain cuts deep and there is little merry about any of it. Really, each is the same question asked a different way–how do we say “Merry Christmas!” in the midst of misery? It seems so flippant and insufficient.

The answer is found when I open my Bible. But first, there are more questions. Why did Mary’s spirit rejoice in God her Savior at the angel’s news that she would give birth to the Son of the Most High (Luke 1:32, 47)? When the angels came to the shepherds and proclaimed the Messiah’s birth, why did the shepherds proceed with such haste to see him and leave glorifying God (Luke 2:8-20)? Why did the wise men travel so far seeking the king whose star they had seen (Matthew 2:1-2)? Why did Simeon, righteous and devout, wait so expectantly to see the Lord’s Christ (Luke 2:26)?

The indication is that they all knew what God had said about his salvation. The prophets had foretold of a king who would come humbly, setting free the prisoners of hope, reigning from sea to sea, and speaking peace to the nations (Zech. 9:9-12, Micah 5:2-5). The condition of people and their world was just like it is today. They longed for freedom from bondage, relief from heavy labor, healing from sickness, the end of war, and gladness instead of mourning.

There is no faithfulness or steadfast love,
and no knowledge of God in the land;
there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery;
they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed.
Therefore the land mourns,
and all who dwell in it languish, (Hosea 4:1b-3a).

They had spent their lives hearing of and waiting in eager anticipation for One who would come and bring them salvation. They had heard the words of Isaiah promising the birth of a child who would end oppression and injustice.

“The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light; […]

they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken […]

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given; […]

and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.” Isaiah 9:2-7

And then the sky lit up, the angels sang, the baby had been born, the promised One had come! How could they help but rejoice? No longer would they languish, but their eyes would see salvation! The birth of this baby, called Jesus (Yahweh is salvation) and Immanuel (God with us), brought new hope, restoration, peace and reconciliation with God. It was the fulfillment of God’s promise going all the way back to sin’s entry on the scene. When Adam and Eve chose to ignore God, wanting instead to BE God, they brought the curse of death upon all mankind. But even then, God promised to send from a woman one who would bruise Satan’s head (Gen. 3:15). And now God’s salvation had arrived!

Isaiah had prophesied God’s hope to the people. A hope that kept their weary eyes lifted and looking for its fulfillment. They were ready to see and believe God’s salvation. They went with haste, they kneeled before him, they sang songs of worship, and glorified God, testifying that God was with them. Immanuel, God with us.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. Isaiah 61:1-3

And Jesus said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21) He is the one proclaiming good news, setting captives free and opening blind eyes. There will be an end to fear, tears, pain and death, wiped away forever in His presence (Rev. 21:3-5).

That’s our expectant hope, and why we say “Merry Christmas!” It’s how we can say “Merry Christmas!” when we feel like crumbling. We know that Christ has come, conquered through his death and resurrection, and will return again for a final reckoning. We know that he has already brought salvation. There’s an end to our pain and sadness! So no matter our circumstances, we REJOICE in celebration at the thought of Christmas. Jesus birth brought God to us!

Perhaps an even more meaningful exclamation would be, “Immanuel! God is with us!” (Matthew 1:23). There will never be anything flippant or insufficient about that.

                 Come, Lord Jesus                                                                                            Come, Lord Jesus, to this sadness,                                                                         To our pain and to this madness.                                                                                Lift our weary eyes to see You                                                                          Humbly born but King of all.

Sent to reconcile us to You,
God with man on earth to dwell.
Bearing God’s full wrath in anguish,
Perfectly you took our fall.

Satan’s power has been banished,
Crushed, and conquered soon to vanish,
He no power has to shake us!
Blood-bought children You remake us.

Cause your Spirit to possess us
That we triumphantly might dwell.
Fill us with your might and power,
With hope, joy, peace our fears to quell.

Come, Lord Jesus, bring your gladness,
Ease this pain and end our sadness.
Lift our weary eyes to see You
Humbly born but King of all.


©Erika Rice


A Covering

I need a covering. After a string of dismal, rainy days in December, very unusual for my part of the world, the view is depressing. The sky hangs dark and gray. My yard is strewn with the debris of three dogs, two of them still puppies. Deer hides and bones dragged in from the fields after hunting season, leftover corncobs from harvest, and bits of plastic and tin cans salvaged from my recycling bins litter the backyard’s open spaces. The holes the dogs dug have become mud pots for rolling in before wanting in the house.

This bitter, ugly landscape mortifies me every time I look out my windows. The scene carries reminders of the past, embarrassment over the current state of things, and shame at my inability to bring lasting improvement to the situation. Oh, how I long for it all to disappear.

I need a covering. A good blanket of pure, white snow would do the trick. It would wipe the ugly from view and make it a distant memory.  The forgiving layers of clean ice crystals would wipe away the stark evidence of the past and dying season.

It’s not just my view of the backyard that needs help, though. It’s my view of my heart. I am constantly mortified by what I see if I dare to look closely. Too often, I barely give it a cursory glance, like the way I avoid looking out the window this week because I know what I’ll find. I’m much less likely to see the extent of my need.

I need a covering, a covering for my sin. One that blots out its memory and offers forgiving relief from the painful reminders and evidences of the destruction I leave in my wake. One that hides the raw and bitter ugliness that makes itself visible too often. I need a covering that remains until newness of life springs eternal.

God has given just that–a covering for my sin. In the birth of his son as a little baby He offered forgiveness and healing. His son, Jesus, would ultimately take my punishment, give me His life, and cover me in the pure white of His perfection. I fail, too often, to remember that I am already purified. “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD; though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow…” (Isaiah 1:18). This covering is not whimsical like weather. It remains and brings the relief I long for.

I have a covering! My heart is clothed in Jesus’ righteousness and my yard is blanketed in pure white, for the snow has begun to fall.


“In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation [atoning sacrifice, covering] for our sins.” 1 John 4:9-10

“He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” 1 John 2:2

“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” Psalm 32:1


©Erika Rice

Today, I’m Working on My Heart.

Today, I’m working on my heart. Oh, but that was yesterday, too, and for sure the day before that. I seem to be in an ongoing battle for the consistent joy I desire. Some days its easy to have an attitude of gratitude. Some days simply waking up is enough to start me complaining. As the days shorten, the rain and snow fall intermittent, the dogs bring the dirt and drizzle dripping through the door, shoes litter the entry and pile neglected underfoot, I come to a realization. I have not kept a quiet heart, but find myself living in a place of unrest. I have been ignorant of the level of my discontent until I listen to my own voice time after time, unrelenting in its disapproval. Oh, I can make a very decent list of things I’m thankful for at the end of the day, and I repeat the words “thank you” to my husband and children, with sincerity, many times a day, but know that the peace of a grateful heart is not in me. It’s as if the words are needed as proof of what I’d like to be true.

The Bible describes the Christian life as a race that needs to be run with endurance (Heb. 12:1) and in such a way as to win (1 Cor. 9:24). So I determine that I have been coasting and that is no way to win. I need to pick up the pace and leap this hurdle and finish victorious. I run what feels a frantic pace into a gale force wind that leaves me striving and exhausted but having gained no ground. The only marker I’ve reached is labeled Frustration and Failure. And agitation seems to be all I can muster. I know I need the strength of another, and I think He is the One I’m pursuing. He is the reason I’m running. I keep calling His name and reaching for His hand, but feeling it all lost in the wind. Then suddenly it comes to me, and my falling frame is lifted. I am not running the race to find Him. He is already holding me. (Psalm 63:8 & 73:23). “Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you [God] hold my right hand.” And He says to me, “‘Be still, and know that I am God […]’ The Lord of hosts is with us…” (Psalm 46:10) Just like that the wind has subsided. I am at rest. The race has not ended, but I am no longer running with my legs. Like one who runs and won’t grow weary, I am lifted on the wings that also are my shelter (Isaiah 40:31 & Psalm 91:4). I do not need to frantically strive to overcome my character flaws. It never gets me anywhere. I simply need to ask Christ. Christ is my salvation and my champion. He fights the battle. He runs the race. He carries me in His arms, and someday it will be across the finish line, complete in Him.

This changes everything. I can’t help but be thankful. The attitude of gratitude comes without effort when my eyes are fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith (Heb. 12:2). Tomorrow, I will not be perfect, but I will be forgiven; and my heart will be known by God, who will lead me in the right direction. (Ps. 139:23-24). Tomorrow, by God’s grace, I will rest in His unfailing love and His purpose that He promises to fulfill for me. (Psalm 138:8). Tomorrow, God is working on my heart, just as He has been all along. (Phil. 1:6).


©Erika Rice 2015

Remembering my Father

Yesterday was Father’s Day. When I think of fathers, I always think of my own, for obvious reasons. I remember his tenderness, tears, love and prayers. I remember the gentle way he always made it okay to be weak or wounded and needing some consolation, yet never allowed me to indulge in self-pity. I remember the way he diverted my attention from my suffering to better things or told me to pick myself up and start over when I fell or failed. He loved to infuse tense moments with humor and was quick with a smile or hug. He was always willing to listen, offer wisdom where he had it and pray for wisdom where he lacked it. He taught me to pray and search God’s Word for answers.

My father taught me Scripture instead of just telling me what to do. He would give me gentle reminders like these as befit the occasion:

James 1:19-20 “…But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” Anger is rarely ever helpful, but being quiet long enough to hear someone else’s side can change everything.

1 John 4:20 – “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” If I insist that I DO love God then I better show it by loving my brother. And what is love?

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 – “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” It’s hard not to be rude to the irritating people I live with everyday who can’t see that MY WAY is the BEST WAY…So much for love.

Proverbs 15:1 – “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Little explanation is needed here.

Reminders such as these were words from my Heavenly Father not just my earthly father, both of whom I desired to please. In fact, there’s no one it would pain me more to hurt or disappoint. My longing to please my earthly father was greater because he did not demand that I please him, but urged me to do right and loved me in spite of myself. He loved me as nearly like my Heavenly Father as I imagine possible.

My father was safe, strong, wise and upright. He was trustworthy and compassionate. He desired good for his children and encouraged us. He modeled selflessness, hard work, generosity, hospitality, and love for God, His Word and His people. He never turned away anyone in need.

What I do not remember of my father is a harsh tone or words, anger or abuse. I do not remember him demanding work from me that he was not willing to do by my side. I do not remember him burdening me with loads too heavy for his own shoulders or too distasteful to be done by him.

I know he wasn’t perfect. He’d have been the first to admit it. He was good at recognizing his failings and also good at apologizing. What I know is that when I read in the Bible that God is patient and long-suffering, compassionate and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love (Psalm 86:15, Joel 2:13, Nehemiah 9:17, 2 Peter 3:9), I believe it. I believe it because if an earthly father is capable of such things, how much more so a perfect God? Matthew 7:11 says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

As Father’s Day fades away for another year, I want to remember the example of my father every day, parenting as he did; and even more so because he was the visible picture of my Heavenly Father, the Heavenly Father who tells all His children to be like He is.

Colossians 3:12-14 – “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”


©Erika Rice 2015

Masterpiece at Our Feet

High on a hill north of Nazareth in Galilee stands a partially restored Roman mansion and Crusader citadel.web-size IMG_5418_edited-2

The restored portion of mansion is not huge, but impressive nonetheless. Impressive due, mostly, to the large inlaid mosaic tile floor. The great room of the house is entirely covered by this large, colorful, intricately designed artwork depicting scenes from the life of the god Dionysus. web-size

The mosaic’s most special feature is a woman’s face, known as the “Mona Lisa of Galilee.”web-size

Down the side of the hill from the prominent dwelling are the remains of a city, Zippori, or Sepphoris. Much of the city is still being unearthed, and is not as spectacular as others in terms of massive structures or marble pillars.web-size



Zippori is believed to have been a center of commerce in Galilee, containing many administrative buildings. What I found so remarkable and worth reporting is the flooring. These floors were meant to impress. And impress they did.web-size





A pavilion-style structure has been erected over a large portion of what has been recovered in order to protect the mosaics from the elements. Many are amazingly well-preserved. web-size




There is no evidence of wall adornment in this city, though it may have existed. If not, it’s not for lack of taste or artistic ability. Every room contained a masterpiece at our feet.web-size



The art is not limited to indoor flooring, either. The sidewalks were once wide and beautifully covered in the same tiny tiles.web-size

In this city that Herod conquered in 37 B.C. which later became the seat of the Jewish council, the Sanhedrin, feet were meant to step on style. No dusty gravel or chintzy paths in this town where Herod Antipas ruled and lived before founding Tiberias. From floors to sidewalks to cart-rutted streets, all were meant to impress. And impress they did.web-size






©Erika Rice


Jerusalem with Jesus

My husband and I teach the 7th and 8th grade class at our church on Wednesday nights. The last few weeks we’ve been turning the room into a big map of Israel, adding significant locations each week, telling some of the stories for which each place is known.

Two weeks ago, we visited Mt. Carmel. The students worked on their improvisational skills, acting out Elijah’s confrontation of King Ahab and defeat of the 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah as I read straight from 1 Kings 18. After reenacting the story once, they switched characters and went through the story again from memory. That’s when I became a bull sacrificed on the altar, so that I, in my sons words, “could be as embarrassed as the rest of them.” With an evil king, dancing, fire from heaven, laughter and a mountain made of real caramel to eat afterwards, I hope it’s one Biblical event they won’t soon forget. On Mt. Carmel, God showed Himself real in a powerful way that no one present could deny. The other gods were shown not just to be weak, but non-existent.


Views from the top of Mt. Carmel
Views from the top of Mt. Carmel
Monument memorializing Elijah's slaughter of the false prophets
Monument memorializing Elijah’s slaughter of the false prophets
View of the brook, Kishon, from Mt. Carmel - where false prophets were slaughtered by Elijah
View of the brook, Kishon, from Mt. Carmel – where false prophets were slaughtered by Elijah

Last week we walked through Jerusalem with Jesus. We highlighted twelve significant events leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels. As we read the passages of Scripture, we looked at photos of the locations today. Sometimes, it helps to have a visual image of what we read and hear.

The Triumphal Entry – Luke 19:28-40

The Plot to Kill Jesus – Luke 22:1-6; Matthew 26:1-5, 14-16

Jesus Foretells Peter’s Denial – Matthew 26:30-35

Jesus Prays in Gethsemane – Matthew 26:36-46

Judas’ Betrayal – Matthew 26:47-50

Jesus Before The High Priest (Caiaphas) – Matthew 26:57-68

Peter Denies Jesus – Matthew 26:69-75

Jesus is Mocked – Matthew 27:27-31

The Crucifixion – Luke 23:26-38

Jesus Dies – Luke 23:44-47

Jesus is Buried – Luke 23:50-54; Matthew 27:57-61

The Resurrection – Matthew 28:1-10

Jerusalem from the top of the Mount of Olives
Jerusalem from the top of the Mount of Olives
The Mount of Olives from Old Jerusalem
The Mount of Olives from Old Jerusalem
The Eastern Gate, blocked in by Muslim conquerors because the Jews believed it was the gate through which the Messiah would enter the city
The Eastern Gate, blocked in by Muslim conquerors because the Jews believed it was the gate through which the Messiah would enter the city
The Garden of Gethsemane
The Garden of Gethsemane
St. Peter in Gallicantu Monastery, erected on the former site of Caiaphus's palace, where Jesus was taken to be tried after Judas' betrayal
St. Peter in Gallicantu Monastery, erected on the former site of Caiaphus’s palace, where Jesus was taken to be tried after Judas’ betrayal
Dungeons under the high priest's palace
Dungeons under the high priest’s palace
Depiction of Peter denying Jesus three times, in the courtyard of St. Peter in Gallicantu Monastery, formerly the courtyard of Caiaphas
Depiction of Peter denying Jesus three times, in the courtyard of St. Peter in Gallicantu Monastery, formerly the courtyard of Caiaphas
Remains of Roman pavement under the Convent of the Sisters of Zion, probably dating to Emperor Hadrian. On the stones are seen the remains of the "Game of the King" played by Roman soldiers.
Remains of Roman pavement under the Convent of the Sisters of Zion, probably dating to Emperor Hadrian. On the stones are seen the remains of the “Game of the King” played by Roman soldiers.
Some believe this is Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, due to its resemblance of a skull as well as its location outside the city walls where three roads converge to enter the city; a location of high visibility warning visitors to Jerusalem not to break the law.
Some believe this is Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, due to its resemblance of a skull as well as its location outside the city walls where three roads converge to enter the city; a location of high visibility warning visitors to Jerusalem not to break the law.





Upon seeing the ledge for rolling the tombstone in place, one of our students said, “That doesn’t look so hard to move.” Imagine my excitement that he noticed the details! Sometimes, visuals are great aids to our understanding. It makes sense of Matthew 27:62-66, where the chief priests request that the tomb be sealed and guarded so no one could steal Jesus body and claim He had risen from the dead.


And yet, the tomb was empty when the women visited it at dawn on the first day of the week! The stone was rolled away and Jesus himself met the women and spoke to them, proving what the angels had just told them… (Matthew 28:1-10)

web-sizeHe is not here, for He is RISEN!  Matthew 28:6

Just as on Mt. Carmel, God showed Himself real in the most powerful of ways. No other god, or world leader, or prophet has done what Jesus did. No other god has humbled himself to become a man, has died a criminal’s death though completely innocent, and then risen again to live forever. Many have tried to deny the reality of the resurrection ever since (Matthew 28:11-15), but all who believe have received grace upon grace from His fullness (John 1:16).

“He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,”  John 1:12

This is great news! If our students learn anything from our mapping of Israel and telling its stories; the best and most important lesson they, or any of us, can learn from Mt. Carmel or a walk through Jerusalem with Jesus is that God is the only God and Jesus the only Savior. Life is given to all who believe in His name.


©Erika Rice

First Glimpses

When we peaked out the window at dawn’s early light, it was to rain-soaked streets and gray skies, a dampening first glimpse.web-sizeI was immediately thankful that my good man convinced me to pack both raincoat and umbrella. We were headed for a long stretch outdoors along the sea at a place built by Herod to impress Caesar Augustus – Caesarea Maritime.

The first glimpse of Caesarea, however, is not Roman, but Crusader built, complete with moat.web-sizeAnd first glimpses here do not disappoint.web-sizeNor do second or third glimpses.web-sizeCome with me through the gate of a Crusader citadel-town built on top of the ruins of the Roman and Byzantine Empires.web-sizeA wide angle lens is necessary to capture the scope of this place. For me, that’s a fish-eye. It’s the widest I own.web-sizeJust look at that ceiling! web-sizeAnd the thickness of those walls!web-sizeDid I mention the thickness of those walls? IMG_5081_edited-2After pondering that for a moment, glance down around you. You may just notice big hunks of marble.web-sizeGobs of marble.web-size

web-sizeAnd if that’s not enough to make you wonder, let  me direct you to the Mediterranean Sea and the remnants of King Herod’s amazing engineering feat, a deep-water harbor that welcomed worldwide trade to this Roman province.web-sizeThe south side of the harbor holds new construction on top of the remains of a Crusader tower that was built on the remains of the Roman harbor.web-size

IMG_5111_edited-2Caesarea was built by King Herod beginning in 20 B.C. as he strove to make an impression on Caesar Augustus. He constructed a massive harbor, palaces, hippodrome, and amphitheater, and made his city a thriving metropolis. It became the official residence of governors, including Pontius Pilate and lasted for 600 years under Roman governance. In 646, it fell to the Persians, who left a layer of their own construction on top of remains of the original city. No one built, rebuilt or reinforced Caesarea to the scale that Herod had first created.web-sizeThis photo has nothing to do with all that. I simply love the aesthetic of the sculpture/tree pairing. It’s okay to take a moment to just enjoy it. But then we need to keep moving. There’s so much more to see. Next, you will get some idea of the layers upon layers of construction. These marble columns lay where they were uncovered, under floors and streets.web-sizeTurning back toward the Sea for just a moment, you get a good view of this mosque built in 1809 by Serbian Muslims. The grassy area in the foreground is believed to have been under water in Herod’s day, and a likely place for the Apostle Paul to have boarded a vessel for Rome after appealing to Caesar.web-sizeIf you turn around then, you will see the remains of a Byzantine shop-lined street that stood along the waterfront.IMG_5113_edited-2And this is the photogenic end of that Byzantine street.web-sizeIt ushers us into the layers of Roman construction, with all its fabulous arches.web-sizeIt’s impossible to avoid the arches. And who would want to avoid the arches, given the choice. Not I.web-sizeBut before I get too carried away by arches, you must see this governor’s bath. He was enough of a bigshot to warrant marble-lined tubs and marble columns in his personal space. Just a little aside before we head into the hippodrome, because everyone needs a bathroom break before the big event.web-size As you leave the bathroom, don’t miss the fabulously tiled floor in the next room. Tiny mosaic tiles create this flooring. Art was not just for the walls where Rome was concerned.IMG_5143_edited-2When you get over the intricate detail on that piece of flooring and raise your eyes, you will see it in front of you – the Caesarean hippodrome. The big, open space stretching into the distance was once the scene of thundering chariot races. Up on the rise, you catch your first sight of important government buildings we’ll get to later in the tour. The woman in the foreground is Susan, our brilliant tour guide. web-sizeThis is the turn at the end of that dirt track, a little tight for a thundering chariot pulled by four horses, if you ask me, let alone multiple chariots. I’m guessing it made for some racing excitement, though. The low walls lining the arena were covered in beautifully painted tiles.web-sizeWould you like a seat in the corner of the arena?

web-sizeIt might give an unencumbered view of the start and the horse stalls. (And the aforementioned fabulous arches).web-sizeA close-up of the stalls.web-sizeThe next view is meant to give you a sense of the layer-by-layer excavating that has taken place in Caesarea Maritime. It’s remarkable.web-sizeTake one last look, will you, at all we covered on this history-saturated tour. The Crusader tower built on top of Herod’s harbor rubble is on the very left in the distance. The mosque tower is in the center. Directly behind those fabulous Roman arches you can see on the right, stands the Crusader gate through which we entered Caesarea, and of course, you can’t miss the hippodrome, barely saved from the crashing Mediterranean Sea by a small stone wall.web-sizeThere is much more to see in Caesarea. I have spent hours poring over pictures, written history, and artists’ renditions trying to keep it all straight in my mind. I’m still not always sure that it is. Maybe a little photo tour will only confuse, but I hope it will inspire you to read a little bit more. Sometimes all we need is a first glimpse to usher us through the gate to stand in front of the fabulous arches.


©Erika Rice













But Not Alone

If you saw the title of my previous post, Israel On My Own, I hope you also noticed the very last line, “…on my own, but not alone.” While I set off from home alone, I connected in New York with two of my favorite people, and together we arrived in Tel Aviv.


There they are. Two of the lightest packers in the world. That’s it, folks, right there in their hands – all the luggage they carried across the globe for a two week trip. I’m so happy to call those brilliant packers Mom and Dad, the people who gave birth to that blessed husband of mine. Being with them was the next best thing to holding his hand when arriving on Israeli soil. Together, we passed through customs, met our group and boarded a bus for our hotel.

Here are some early glimpses of Tel Aviv:

web-size, unrestricted

What city would be complete without a car wash? It must be a universal need.

web-size, unrestricted crop

web-size, unrestricted crop



We got to our hotel room, did what any decent traveler would do and made straight for the windows to check out the view.



Looking west toward the sea (Gasp! The Mediterranean Sea!), the world was a bit off kilter and everything was sliding off the edge of the world. Oh…no…I was the one off kilter, hanging out the window like a crazy lady to try and get an actual view of the sea. I think it was effective.

Once I had climbed back inside the room, Mom and I decided our best next move was to make for the sea and put our feet in before dark. We didn’t know if we’d have another chance. What we got was cold toes and a ridiculously lousy picture of our feet.


You’ll just have to take my word for it – we were really standing in the Mediterranean Sea.

See? There it is. Dark, blustery and foreboding on that particular evening.

Mediteranean Sea   web-size

Which, it seems, is perfect for kite-boarding.


Already overcast and dim, darkness was closing in quickly; and the last thing we wanted to do was miss supper, so we turned our steps back toward the hotel.


The hours without sleep and the crossing of several time zones were taking their toll. I have no recollection of what my first meal in Israel was like. But I remember the people and the dining room. And the great pleasure I felt knowing that sleep was on the horizon as the sun went down on Tel Aviv, the city that never sleeps; where I was far from alone.



©Erika Rice 2015




Israel On My Own

Visiting Israel has long been a desire of my husband’s. I never put much thought into it. I didn’t need to. He thought about it, talked about it, and devoured books about the region. I just always had in the back of my mind that I would get there someday, because I’d be holding his hand when he finally arrived on Israeli soil. It didn’t exactly happen the way I expected.

One year ago today, my husband put me on a plane to Tel Aviv without him. His hand didn’t make it to Israeli soil for me to be holding. I squawked a little before leaving about how it wasn’t fair that I was going while he stayed home. I complained that my expectation to have his vast wealth of knowledge whispered in my ear at each new encounter was not being met. I wanted to wait till he had vacation and freedom to travel with me. But he wanted me to go – his parents were going and I wouldn’t be alone. He didn’t know when it would be possible again. He would have come in a heartbeat had he been able. So in the end, I went with eager anticipation and without my husband.

Friends encouraged me to blog about my adventures, posting pictures as I went. I answered with cautious optimism about my ability to do so and good intentions to please. I failed, miserably. I blogged nothing while away. My excuse was the triple-wammy of too many sites, too little internet service, and an over-saturated mind. An information overload that needed processing, and lots of it, judging by the length of time it’s taken me to get to this point. Here, on the one year anniversary of my departure from home, I am finally sharing bits of my excursion through Israel and Jordan.

Stay tuned for the next twelve days or so to walk with me through this terrific journey. Israel on my own, but not alone.


©Erika Rice

Wanted: Servants of the Master

I read an article the other day that left me heavy-hearted. It was taking the church to task for not providing enough ways for women to serve within the body. The author made it clear that the opportunities for service she wanted were in leadership, chances for her intellectual and theological prowess to be exhibited. Don’t give her any more kitchen duty, nursery duty or children’s ministry. By the time I finished reading, I was deeply saddened.

I’ve read many open letters to “the church” complaining about one thing or another that makes each author feel devalued or under-appreciated. Finally, a moment of clarity came upon me. This is all just so much jockeying for position. We’ve become like James and John in Mark 10:35, “Master, we want you to do for us whatever it is we desire.” What was their desire? They asked to be seated on Jesus’ right and left when He was established in His glory. In other words, they wanted positions of honor.  Jesus answer was a far cry from what they had hoped to hear.

“…But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,  and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:43-45

A servant is one who performs duties for another – rarely seen and rarely praised. We all want to be lords of the manor, sought by others for our wisdom and giftedness while we sit in comfort. Meanwhile, the servants are doing the daily work of scrubbing, sweeping, ironing, washing, cooking and polishing in order to make the lord look good. The life Christ calls us to as His followers, The Church, gets lived in the servants’ quarters. How do I know this?

Philippians 2:3-8 gives us two strong directives.

1. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (vs.3-4)

2. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (vs. 5-8)

After the attitude of Christ has sunk in and taken root in our hearts, there is another word from Christ that needs to hit us like a wrecking ball, knocking us off our self-built pedestals. John 13:13-17 is too-little noticed. Jesus rose from supper to wash His disciples feet. (John 13:1-12) First, they protested because they thought it was a job beneath Jesus’ dignity, but Jesus was adamant. When He had finished, He wanted the disciples to get the point of the whole exercise. He spoke the following words,

“You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (Jn 13:13-17).

A servant is not greater than his master.

A servant is not greater than his master. If we catch the full weight of these words following on the heels of Jesus’ actions, and ultimately His death on a cross, it will transform us. What job is beneath us? Why do we worry about being devalued? We must learn to think less of ourselves, to the point of serving in positions that draw the smallest crowds of workers and onlookers. The jobs we least want to do are the ones we should make haste towards. Or do we believe someone else should be required to do what we abhor?

We are so worried that our gifts will go unnoticed. But I believe God, who gifted us and knows us intimately, requires first a faithfulness in the little things. (Matthew 25:21). Matthew 6 tells us to beware of practicing our righteousness in order to be noticed, for if we are honored by men, we will have received our reward in full. In addition, 1 Peter 5:6 admonishes us to humble ourselves that God may exalt us in the proper time. Maybe that won’t be until Heaven, but there the believer’s reward is secure, and far greater than the limited and fleeting notice we will get on earth.

Do you really want to serve? I’ve never been part of a church that had too many willing servants. Diapers always need changing in the nursery, trash cans need to be emptied. If you have no experience with children and fear breaking someone else’s baby while changing a diaper, or your back is too damaged to carry a trash bag, then be the one to offer a ride to an elderly church member, or visit mid-week to read aloud to someone who’s eyes are failing. If you, like the author of the article, are theologically trained and desire to use your teaching gift, start a Bible study in a nursing home. Be the theologian who sits silently beside the broken and mingles your tears with theirs.

Do something that needs doing even if no one else will notice. Just please don’t tell me you are leaving the church because the church hasn’t recognized your gifts and given you a place to visibly serve. The Church is not an organization that bears responsibility for screening and placing each of it’s members in a pre-assigned position. God’s people are The Church; people who are humbling themselves enough to follow their master’s lead all the way to the death of our desires for recognition and prominence.

I’m grieved by all the complaining about how our needs are unmet. Doesn’t God promise to meet our every need (Phil. 4:19 – And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.)? Do we trust Him to do what He says? Let’s use that abundance to meet the needs of another in joyful, willing, unremarkable and often unnoticed service. God sees and will reward His servants in due time.

©Erika Rice 2015

Where the wheels of self-reliance fall off in the potholes of life and I see my need for rescue