RICK’S BLOG


YOUR JESUS, MY JESUS

YOUR JESUS, MY JESUS

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When people think of my “home state”, Washington, (especially those NOT from Washington) more than likely the iconic image of tall evergreen trees, mountains, the Puget Sound and the bustle of Seattle are the first things that come to mind.  However, I grew up on the other side of the state, the east side, east of the cascade mountain range that traps clouds and separates the lush green coastal forest from the fertile high plateau that covers the rest of the state.  Where I grew up is dry, filled with sage brush and low-lying, wind-blown bluffs (or what Hoosiers call, “mountains”).  So, you see, to define Washington as “Seattle” is ridiculous…it is a small part of a state that is twice the size as Indiana.

When I used to travel to Washington to visit my now-deceased parents, it always took a little time to adjust to the inevitable fact that we all had aged.  One time I arrived, my Dad was standing in the airport as I walked right up to him…he didn’t recognize me until I spoke.  As for them, I had a certain picture in my mind as to who my parents were and what they looked like…that picture in my mind didn’t change at the same rate they did…so there was always a period of adjustment for me, at each visit, to realize that they were the same people.  They were still the fine, deeply-faithed, salt-of-the-earth characters they had always been…but more.  To have only known them in their 40’s or 50’s would be the same as meeting them in their 80’s…they were more than they were then, and (as they would admit) a little less.  In the same way, I, even as their son, didn’t really know them wholly…I didn’t know them like their congregation knew them, or like their friends knew them, or the young couple of neighbors who would come over every-once-in-a-while and fix, visit, keep in touch.

States and people are simple concepts compared to God, they are finite entities compared to the infinite, they are “local” compared to omnipresent…so why do any of us arrogantly claim to have exclusive knowledge of Him?

Is the majestic Mt. Rainier the definition of Washington State, or the life of a retired Postman the definition of Tom Vale?  Of course not, but those definitions are sometimes the limit of person’s perception and knowledge.  You may see the Space Needle as Washington and I see the Columbia River…we are BOTH wrong if we think those things totally define the great state.  You may have known my mother as a good cook, and known her as my Mom…we are BOTH right, yet neither of those things really and truly define her.

God is beyond description, and to complicate matters even more, He deals with each of us individually, specifically and without prejudice.  To the blind who came to Jesus, He is the Healer…although He healed one through touch alone and another by spitting in the dirt and putting mud in his eye.  They both saw a different part of Jesus, but to divide the believers by claiming that Jesus ONLY heals through mud or ONLY heals through touch is to make God smaller than He is and to deny His greatness.

And for all that…the Church does that all the time: one congregation claiming that the God who does “this or that” is the only God, and any other definition is heresy.  If people and places are complex enough that one-hundred people might describe them one-hundred ways, then isn’t it just possible all of us only have a glimpse of what we try so desperately to define…not so that we will KNOW GOD (our one purpose on this earth) but so that we can claim “right” against the “rights” of people who are not like us?  In doing so, we offend our Heavenly Father.

The best part is this…when we open minds and hearts to the possibility that someone might have discovered a part of God that we have not seen, then the hunger and thirst in our souls that longs to know Him and be known by Him grows; we are satisfied and stretched at the same time.  To narrow the personality of God is to narrow life to only the “possible”.  To judge another according to their perception of how God works is to dismember the ONE Body of Christ.

There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.  EPHESIANS 4:4-6

 


PIE CRUSTS & PROMISES

PIE CRUSTS & PROMISES

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I’m going through a “mantra” in my head right now, a “vow” that I made this winter.  I’m saying the words in my mind, and sometimes out loud, as I step into the sunny day and the moist, hot air that wraps around me like a warm wool sweater (not so much, THIS week).  I’m keeping the promise I made as I stood looking at my poor ice-and-snow-covered Suzanne (my Buick).  I’m keeping the promise I made when I received my invoice from THE VECTREN NATURAL GAS COMPANY and passed out on my kitchen floor from the shock…I promised then and say now…I will not complain about the heat this summer, no matter how hot it gets. 

It’s difficult to KEEP that promise through the sweat and the “spring fever” that makes you just want to lay down in front of a fan and sleep!  It’s difficult to keep that promise when the deceptive nature of TIME makes this winter seem years away.  It is difficult to keep that promise when it seems like a silly thing now…did I really mean that? 

What did my old Aunt Lena from Arkansas say“Promises are like piecrust: easily made, easily broken.”  Is that really what promises, even silly ones like the aforementioned, are all about?  Should I expect that the couple standing before me at a wedding are going to BREAK their promises as easily as they are SPEAKING them?  It seems like a very cynical attitude.  And many say that promises need to be “curbed”, perhaps used only occasionally, so that everyone understands the weight that words carry.

Perhaps.  But I’d rather think that we, as Travelers of THE WAY, should be following the Architect of THE WAY since He is our Father and Creator…we are models of Him…and He is a PROMISE MAKER and a PROMISE KEEPER.  Because of that, I believe we should be extravagant, bold, and scandalous PROMISE MAKERS…with the intent of KEEPING those promises, with God’s strength and our own flesh and spirit.

“Easily said, Rick.” I can almost hear you saying.  “Aren’t YOU divorced?  Didn’t YOU break at least one promise?”

Yes, I am divorced, I’ll take that hit.  But the point IS that promises ARE broken, it happens…how do we deal with that?  I can only speak for myself and give the lessons from God through His varied witnesses, but I don’t believe that broken promises are any reason to stop MAKING promises (when at first you don’t succeed…etc.) and for each life lesson, good or ill, we grow, we learn, we expand, we “become”.  The person who promised NOT to complain about the summer heat is not the same person who made promises one, two, ten or twenty years ago…I’m evolving, “becoming”.  Although I’ve been a citizen of the Kingdom of God since He first initiated the charter in Bethlehem, I’ve grown more each day, month and year to SEE the Kingdom that I hold membership to, and walk in.  As I recognize God’s voice more and more, see His work more and more, live with His Spirit more and more I am able to be more like Him.  I have the ability (if not the will) to make and keep promises…as we all do.

In this Kingdom of God we are almost REQUIRED to make promises.  What does God say, “Let your YES be YES and your NO be NO.”  Every word from our mouths should be, by definition, a promise.  We carry THE TRUTH in these fragile bodies and our bodies may fail us…in THIS age, but with each day we walk in THE WAY we get stronger, more peaceful, more like HIM: the Founder of The Promise.  Let us make them freely and keep them gladly. 


ALLEGIANCES

ALLEGIANCES

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Well, it looks like it’s going to be a beautiful and WARM Independence Day (with a chance of showers and storms…isn’t that typical?).  I’m singing tonight (Tuesday) with THE INDIANAPOLIS JAZZ ORCHESTRA, some patriotic music inside, thankfully.

In celebration of The Fourth, I like to watch “patriotic” movies, like “PATRIOT” or “INDEPENDENCE DAY” (OK…that one’s really about aliens, but it’s still a good movie).  One of my favorite movies was on TV the other day; “NATIONAL TREASURE”.  In this movie, the minor point that stuck out to me was how our Founding Fathers were, in fact, traitors…at the time they rebelled against the established government.  At the end of the “Declaration of Independence” they pledged each other their “lives, fortunes and sacred honor.”  Most of the signers lost all three of those things before the end of the Revolution.

But the point was that to pursue what they knew to be the truth, they had to buck the establishment.  Like Martin Luther, who said that the church was wrong (according to how HE read the Bible) and had been wrong for hundreds of years.  He was a monk and he MARRIED A NUN!  You can imagine what the church thought of Him!  Good grief…even Mary (mother of Jesus) was an un-wed mother!  That’s truly bucking the system.  The Church itself has stated that there is one thing all the saints have in common; they said “no” to the established church, they bucked the system.  They called the truth the truth, no matter what the status quo was and how long it had been established.

 What I learn from this is we (or maybe I should just speak for myself) need to be true to what I believe IS TRUTH, no matter how long the “establishment” has said something else.  I need to be strong enough to pledge my “life, fortune and sacred honor” to that which I believe is true, even when it flies in the face of what my contemporaries may believe.  I’ve done that. I’ve lost much. It’s not fun, but God is the final judge, and it is to HIM that I truly owe my life, fortune and sacred honor…as we all do.

As a Pastor, I pray for courage to be bold in speaking what I believe to be the Truth.  And the congregation needs to be free to speak boldly about the Truth as well, and so I encourage that, in all realms of our lives.

As citizens of the Kingdom of God, our PRIMARY allegiance should not be to the establishment, nor should it be to the State, but to Him and to the Truth.  It is truth, not the establishment that gives us freedom!

“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed!” – And to that Truth, and to the Kingdom, I will pledge my life, my fortune, and my sacred honor…will you?


KING RICHARD

KING RICHARD

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Yesterdy, in 1486, King Richard III took the throne of England…only to die in a battle over that same throne some 2 years later, ending the famous “War of the Roses” and ushering in the house of Tudor for the next 117 years.

Richard, my namesake, had his hasty grave discovered only a short 5-years ago.  Archeologists discovered the floor and some foundation of a Medieval church in Leiscester (under a parking lot) and discovered the small grave of one of the most controversial rulers in history of Great Britain.  He was literally dumped, naked & hands tied, like trash, in a grave that was hastily dug and forgotten years later.  The last king to die in battle, Richard had assumed the throne in controversy and survived one prior revolt…but the Tudor family succeeded in the next.  After being killed, he was stripped, bound, his body “humiliated” and put on display for 3 days…then dumped.

Such is life.  We scramble for honor, money, power, acceptance, respect and love…all of which are transient and deceptive.  Fame and power are fickle, as public acclaim is as well.  And yet all of us seem to have the desire for power, for respect, acceptance and love…do we learn?

Jesus knew exactly how to handle this part of humanity.  Don’t deny it, every human is hungry for all these things, they are a natural part of our created selves.  Unfortunately, like children, we believe that WE have all of the information necessary to satisfy our cravings with “food” we see around us.  Like a child who is hungry may not be able to reason that his or her body is in need of a specific thing whose nutritional value will encourage growth, we also only know that we are hungry.  A child may think that eating ice cream will satisfy the hunger as well as a boneless chicken filet…so why not eat ice cream?  We seek power and think that working our way to the top of the food chain, in whatever business we are in, will satisfy that hunger.  Jesus knows that hunger, He placed it there at the dawn of creation…it isn’t a bad thing, just a misguided thing.  As certain “anti-nutritious” foods will only cause the body to keep craving, causing an addiction, so will constant searching for that which does not truly satisfy will cause a vicious cycle of brokenness, envy, jealousy, bitterness and death.

Power?  We are heirs to the Kingdom of God, royalty.  All that we see is within our grasp.  Money?  A childish mind can tell you that the “love of money” is not simply the “root of all evil” but also a substitute for a deeper need…since many who have all the money any one person could possibly crave…are not happy, and crave MORE.  Fame?  When one tries to please everyone around, they instantly become a slave to all of them…and people will choose arbitrarily who to follow and “worship” at any given time, based on their own cravings.  The King of the Universe thinks you are the most beautiful, precious and important of all his creations…He holds your tomorrow and your todays…He is the ONLY person worth pleasing.

King Richard’s life, short reign, bloody death and forgotten grave is a lesson to everyone about the realities of human life.  What we seek, to satisfy a created hunger and thirst, is usually unsatisfactory…God and God alone quenches the thirst for honor, money, power, acceptance, respect and love.

“…your Father knows what you need, stop worrying.  Aggressively seek FIRST for the Kingdom, and all of the rest will fall into place…” (MT 6:32-33)

Let us at least begin to put life into perspective.

We thirst, we hunger.  God holds the Bread of Life, and the Living Water…satisfaction can be found nowhere else.


ONE SMALL STEP

ONE SMALL STEP

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It’s difficult to believe that 49 years ago (in July) Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, the first to do so?  I remember where I was, I was staring at our black and white TV, trying to discern the hazy and somewhat confusing image, while listening intently as Neil Armstrong spoke the famous words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

That was a great time to be a kid, our heroes were astronauts and the “sky was the limit”…literally.  I had astronaut action-figures, there were a plethora of science-fiction shows on TV which took the imagination to the limit of believability, and what could be imagined seemed to be possible.

What happened?  What happened to imagination?

Years ago, every-once-in-a-while, I’d be asked to come into a Gifted Classroom of kids and teach songwriting.  I had a teacher-friend who taught an accelerated humanities-type program for Elementary Age children of every age, I would come by for a day and have the children, each hour, write a song together (leading them somewhat along) that we would write down and sing (and record).  What was interesting to observe was the children who were under Third Grade had no trouble writing lyrics with fantastic themes, creating scenarios and creatures that didn’t exist, and putting things that DID exist into impossible situations.  Once we started dealing with kids older than that, they only wanted to write about what was possible, and things they had seen or heard before…what happened?

Many of you know that I travelled to the Soviet Union (back when it WAS the Soviet Union) and spent a good month getting to know the folks who hosted me, and observing life in Communist Russia.  It was eye-opening, startling, and not at all what I expected.  One morning, over tea with my friend Misha, I told him that in Moscow at least, I hardly saw a smile…except from the children.  He said something very enlightening, he said, “That’s because they think that anything is possible…you see, once you get to be 9 or 10 your life and work are planned out for you, it’s a sort of caste system, and once you realize what the rest of your life is going to be you stop dreaming.”

You stop dreaming.

As a side-note I have to tell you that Misha’s dream was to move to the United States, marry an American girl and get his green card…then work in a bank and get rich.  He accomplished, after the second revolution, every one of those goals.

Neil Armstrong walked on the moon because somewhere, at some point, one person imagined that it was possible.  Someone had a large dream, an “Impossible Dream”.  Someone checked back in with their God-given imagination.  Someone said, “I believe THAT’S possible.”

Imagination and dreaming are God-given gifts.  When we only see what is possible (with us) our prayers become litanies of grief and whining…not shared dreams between a child and a Parent.  When we see what is only possible with us, then we disrespect the God who says, “With humans it is impossible, but with God ALL things are possible.”(MATT 19:26) AND “…ask in faith without doubting.  For the doubter is like the surging sea, driven and tossed by the wind.” (JAMES 1:6)  AND  “…your old will dream dreams and your young will see visions.” (JOEL 2:28)

God wants you and me to think “outside the box” in all things…why?  Because when we tap into the impossible, we tap into God.  When we see miracles and expect them we truly become His children.  When we stop saying “that’s impossible” and start saying, “why not?” then we start living the ABUNDANT LIFE.

A man in a space suit walking on the moon is nothing compared to the great things that could be accomplished if we knew that “With God, nothing is impossible.”

Don’t stop dreaming.  That one step into the impossible, with God, could be the giant step for humankind that we all need. 


FATHER

FATHER

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I am still my Father’s son.  I carry so many parts of his personality that it’s impossible to escape his influence, even if I wanted to.  My Dad knew no stranger, he was a “friend of the world”…this served him well in the US Army and the US Postal Service where he was a mail carrier.   His letter-carrier days remind me of one of his odd quirks: he hadn’t always been quick with names, but he never forgot an address.  I can remember times when he and I would be out and we’d run into someone who knew Dad and they’d say hi and chat.  As that person moved on I’d ask Dad who it was and, more often than not, he would remember address but not their name.  No matter, it was the “label” he couldn’t remember, not the person.

My parents were both lovers of music and I received the “art-gene” from both, but it is my father who sang, with a rich and deep baritone-bass voice that I can still hear, in my mind’s ear, singing in gospel quartets or as I would accompany him singing, “The Palms” on Palm Sunday at church.  A great appreciator of marches, my Dad could listen to any and all marches and identify them by name because he’d played so many of them in the Army Marching Band…sometimes I’ll listen to John Phillip Sousa as I’m going to sleep (odd, but true)….and can identify by name most every JPS march I hear.

If I’m with my Dad’s family it is obvious in looks and mannerisms that I belong to the “clan”…of course, the same can be said when I’m with Mom’s family as well…hmmmm…I’m not adopted after all!

None of us can escape our family heritage, we carry with us what was given to us.  It is the same with our Heavenly Father:  we can deny it, we can run away from it, we can refuse to believe it…but the bottom line is we are our Father’s children and we carry His breath (“I will pour my spirit/breath on all people”), His features (“let us create humans in our image…”) and His name (“I will call you My own…”).

Some people have problems with this “father-image” thing because THEIR fathers were nothing to brag about…fortunately for many, like me, making the jump from “earthly father” to “Heavenly Father” isn’t all that long a trip.  But for those who are still seeking for a “good” and “faithful” father, our Heavenly Father IS the REAL and TRUE Father, by which all other fathers are merely poor reflections.  He is quick to train, quick to give wisdom, quick to protect and quick to love.  All of His witnesses, the scripture, nature, the congregation, the spirit, His Son, will testify to His “Fatherly” care and love.

On yet another Fathers’ Day without him here, I remember my Dad.  Whatever you may do to honor or love your earthly father, be sure to take some time to acknowledge the reality of your Heavenly Father and His thumb-print on your own life.  Each of us has something to teach the other about God, because we are ALL created in His image and we ALL carry bits of His personality with us…celebrate that truth and you will truly be free to be who you are.


BEHAVIOR

BEHAVIOR

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Last night as I was walking home from work, I noticed two boys and an adult walking along the street.  One of the young boys had a bike which he was “walking” behind the other young boy, who walking was slightly ahead.  The boy with the bike accidently (as it looked to me) ran into the boy who was walking, just a bump, nothing major.  Immediately the boy in front turned around and without so much as a word hit the other boy in the shoulder.  The boy with the bike threw it down and started to pound on the other boy…the adult immediately jumped in and broke up what had started.  Now I don’t know the “back story” I only know what I saw…but these boys were young, very young, and I wondered at what age we all learn to hit back when we are hurt.  Because it IS a “learned” behavior…and not the way we were created…and not the way of the Kingdom we “Followers” call Home.

At whatever age we’ve learned to hit back harder, or repay an equal amount of pain, we also learn to apply that principle to every part of our lives.  We learn the subtle ways of “getting back” or “getting even” and call it “fairness”.  We learn it, and we practice it.  It becomes a part of our politics: whatever happened to simply stating your platform and being polite, without attacking your opponent?  It becomes war: how long have countries fought, simply stating that they are paying back for the attack on them?  It all seems so natural…after all, I have the right to defend myself, don’t I?  I have the right to say that if you hurt me, you deserve pain also…isn’t that the case?

Some people who call themselves “Christian” do the same thing, without a second thought, even though “fighting back”, “getting even”, “causing pain”, “an eye-for-an-eye” is completely, irrevocably, and undeniably against ALL that Jesus, the Christ, teaches in that black book they hold up while screaming curses at those who are different than them.

When our soldiers across the sea are killed, mutilated, their bodies dragged through the streets…I am not surprised, I am horrified that any human could do that to another, but am not surprised.  That is the kind of behavior I expect from the ignorant and ungodly.  I would hope that is never the kind of behavior any American citizen would engage in…but I know that I’m wishing for something that is probably not to be.

However, we who follow Jesus (and if you’re going to call yourself a “follower of Jesus” you actually DO need to be “following Jesus”…otherwise, you’re just a “fan”) should be behaving in a manner that HE teaches us.  No matter what country we live in, no matter if our bodies live in the USA or somewhere else, we are citizens of the KINGDOM OF GOD, and we simply don’t behave that way.  Not because we haven’t been hurt, we have.  Not because we haven’t been slandered, we have.  Not because we haven’t been humiliated, we have.  But because we simply don’t behave that way…no matter what they do to us.  The minute we hit them back, we become them, we ignore our citizenship in the Kingdom, and we cause God grief.  

If we are going to “follow” Jesus, then we have no other choice but to do as He commands: walk the extra mile, turn the other cheek, love (LOVE) our enemies and pray for them…and be IN the world…but, unlike “them”, not OF the world. 

My prayer is that there will come a time, soon, when others will know we are Christians by our love, and not just because our Facebook status says so.

 


24601

24601

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That number, 24601, is the number the prison gives to identify the man known as Jean Valjean, the protagonist in the book and musical, LES MISERABLES. 24601.  The number is not only given for identification, but also is thrown in the face of a man who carries a name, a family, a history…so that the penal system can remind him that he is “less than a man”…he is only a number.

That is what is what the world does best…it reduces humanity.  The world takes the fullness of life and reminds all of us that we are only a statistic, just a number in a vast sea of like numbers.

Depending on which circle one walks in, they are either one voice-type in a choir, a checking account number, an address, a blonde, a catholic, a poor person, a wacko.  The world will constantly reduce us to the least common denominator.  The world will do what is easiest, most efficient and most degrading.

I flew to my hometown, Richland Washington, some years ago carrying on a heavy medium-sized wooden box in a black bag.  It fit under the seat in front of me on the plane.  In it were the ashes of my father.  Those ashes are all that is left of his body, after the world had its way…that, and a series of forms, two bags of odds and ends, and a few clothes.  This is what the world thinks of him.  This is what the world thinks of you and me.  We may bask in our greatness and popularity, or sulk in our inability to gain what we think we are worth…but either way, the world doesn’t care.  Don’t kid yourself, the world, as God Himself has said, is a prostitute who may flatter and tempt…but in the end you’re nothing more to her than a loaf of bread…if even that.

That’s what the world does.  But the world doesn’t define “life”.  God defines “life”.  And what God does is just the opposite, instead of reducing humanity, God elevates, enhances, and fills humanity.

The scriptures remind us that God has elevated us, crowned us, claims us as children and heirs to the universe.  “Life” is not defined by the things that are left when our breath takes flight.  “Life” IS that breath, the very breath that was given us the day we first cried.  “Life” as God sees it, is something that not only never ends, but is MORE real after we rid ourselves of these bodies and this world.  God does not see my father or mother as “ashes in a box”, but as individual, golden, perennial diamonds.  He knows them as Marge & Tom, the children for whom He would do anything, reach any depth, and fly across the universe to rescue.

We who Believe and Follow are the bearers of THIS torch: that the world will flatter us, tempt us, beat us and try to kill us…but God is “not of this world” and this Age will be cleaned to make way for the next; an Age with homes for each of His children.  An Age ruled by the King who put on our skin so that we might trust Him, believe Him and follow Him…from the manger to the cross and through the tomb back to the Garden.

The only things from this Age that we will see in the next are each other.  Don’t let the world reduce you and define you…and more importantly, don’t be a part of the world’s conspiracy by reducing another person (whom you will likely see again in the Age-to-Come) to something less than they are.

“To love another person is to see the face of God.”
VICTOR HUGO, author of LES MISERABLES