RICK’S BLOG


IF YOU FEED THEM, THEY WILL GROW

IF YOU FEED THEM, THEY WILL GROW

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For the first time in my life (since my graduation from college) I’m planning for the rest of my life, which means I’m looking at my retirement years.  And by “retirement years” I mean the years during which most people would retire, but I will be working & BEHAVING like I’m retired.

The boys, MY boys, are now grown and in their twenties/thirties.  They live close by, but in separate homes, creating new lives.  Just when and how did all that happen?

As I look at my boys, at their maturity, and as I listen to them speak, I realize that they have become strong, able, somewhat wise, and grown quickly beyond anything I would be able to teach them or show them…how did that happen? 

How does ANYONE “grow”?  My boys grew.  But they didn’t grow because their mother and I stood over them every day and COMMANDED them to grow.  They grew and matured because we focused on their NURTURE.  We fed them, made sure that they got enough rest.  We educated them and made sure that they were surrounded and protected by educators who reflected and taught what we believed to be the truth.  We gave them extra protection and help when they were weak.  We gave them space to walk and run when they were strong. As a result, they grew.

Their growth was, and is, a result of being nurtured.

Church growth is a subject of thousands of books and even more theories.  In my congregation, we face the question that many other churches ask: how can we survive without growth?  Some churches and pastors believe that focusing on growth itself is the answer, with an effort to push and pull people into the pews.  Unfortunately, some congregations focus so much energy on reaching outside the congregation that they neglect, or forget, the people that are currently in the pews, and neglect their true purpose: Worship.  It’s true in commerce and it’s true in church:  all of the best, cleverest, and most expensive, advertising available to a restaurant won’t do anything but get customers in the door…ONCE…but if the “food” is lousy, no advertising available will get them to return.  Good food is its best advertisement.

My philosophy, which is probably flawed and lacking because I just don’t know everything, is that NURTURE causes growth, even in congregations.  People will be naturally and supernaturally drawn to a place where there is love, where they are fed, where they in turn have an opportunity to feed, and where they are accepted and have a place.  When God’s presence is sincerely felt, no one can help but advertise.

“By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” JOHN 13:35 


EDWARD

EDWARD

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On warm summer evenings I enjoy the small luxury of reading, either on my front or back porch, but usually the front.  As a person who sometimes believes he needs to constantly be “doing something”, reading is one of those exercises that can be both relaxing and “doing something” for me.  The miracles of technology have made it possible to read a backlit book in whatever font size I need.  I sit with a cold drink, a good book or two, and the music of insects and frogs in my neighborhood.

I was sitting in that spot a few weeks back when some movement caught the periphery of my vision, and I looked up.  Now, I always need to check every possible flicker because I am at that age, and have the condition, where I get lots of “floaters” in my eyes; what seems like a flying bug is often just a moving spot in my eye.  I have made the mistake of swatting (in public and in front of family) at things that aren’t there, risking early incarceration in a guarded care facility.  But on this evening what caught my eye was a frog on the brick wall some twelve feet in front of me.

It was not yet sunset, but almost.  We see many little tree frogs from the nearby river, in and around our porches.  They love the plants in the back, and often sit on the fence watching me grill.  But this guy was at least three times the size of the small, green, frogs I was used to seeing.  We exchanged the male “head nod” and he progressed up the wall to the outdoor lamp on the wall.  He remained there.  I continued reading Greek philosophy in the original language.  (I’m kidding, it was probably Agatha Christie).

The next evening found me out there again.  Same chair, same book.  Once again, at around the exact time as the night before, my friend came back to the wall.  I decided, since this was going to be a regular meeting, he (head-nod told me he identified as male) needed a name.  I christened him, Edward (named after American realist painter, Edward Hopper). This night, Edward made his way, once again to the lamp on the wall.  On the way, however, he paused.  When he did, I saw two other smaller (of the sort I’m used to seeing) frogs come up the wall behind him.  He continued until he was securely behind the lamp and the other two frogs (Sons? Daughters? Grandkids?) secured themselves nearby.

I was puzzled by this routine, which seemed to happen every late afternoon/evening at the same time.  Until I witnessed it a third time.  You, who are probably quicker and wiser than I am, have already figured it out.  On the third night I observed the same routine, gave the head-nod to Edward and his family and watched them take their places and then it happened.  The sun went down, the lamp (connected to a sensor) came on.  Suddenly that little spot became a “Frog Smorgasbord” as every bug in the county came out.

Edward knew where the food was.  He went to it.  He led others to it.

Naturally, at that moment, I made a note of the event.  Here is one of God’s creations.  Edward, as bright as he may be, is still a frog.  He is not at the pinnacle of creation, that place is held by humans, but he is a “brother creation”.  Through his tiny frog brain he deciphered enough to know this: God, his Father, will provide what Edward needs.  But, as with everything in the Kingdom, it requires some cooperation, some partnership, from Edward.  Not only that, once provided for, the Kingdom requires Edward to fulfill the miracle of provision, by providing for others. 

My brain may be bigger, but sometimes I revert to the belief God will provide for me by bringing things directly to me when I ask. The Spirit doesn’t teach that, neither in the Scripture nor in day-to-day life.  What the Spirit teaches me, Edward, and you, is the KINGDOM of God is a cooperative.  We work WITH God in all things, taking a first step in faith (like hopping up a wall to the light) to prove we are willing, THEN our Father provides.  Once that happens, we have, in effect, committed to be someone else’s miracle (“Much will be required of everyone who has been given much.” LUKE 12:48). It’s in our KINGDOM CONTRACT (The Lord’s Prayer): “…give US (not ME) this day OUR daily bread…forgive US OUR debts (together, because) …WE forgive OUR debtors…” 

This KINGDOM of God IS progressing, despite what it may seem (depending on where you get your news, or what YOUR world may look like).  It grows slowly and steadily, like the mustard plant.

As the KINGDOM grows, I continue to learn, and carry, these Truths:

Every spiritual Truth has a physical metaphor.
God’s Truth is revealed on and off the pages of Scripture.
Look and listen for the Spirit.  You only find what you seek.
Prayer is a partnership, not a passive request to a “metaphysical genie”… 

…and, even Edward the frog knows enough to hear God, and share God. 


POTHOLE SEASON

POTHOLE SEASON

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I don’t know if you’ve seen the “11 Seasons of Indiana” (here they are, for your information):

  1. Winter
  2. Fool’s Spring
  3. Pot Hole Period
  4. Second Winter
  5. Spring of Deception/Pot Hole Season 2
  6. Third Winter
  7. Actual Spring/Pot Hole Season 3
  8. Summer
  9. False Autumn
  10. Second Summer (1 Week)
  11. Actual Autumn

 …but POTHOLE SEASON seems to hang on (like a bad cough) through the entire cycle of seasons in a year.

Potholes; the inevitable result of cold and moisture slowly, insidiously, working its way into the pavement and breaking it apart (there’s a sermon right there!). Some years ago I replaced not one, but TWO tires due to those “satanic land-mines of doom”.

However, since I do believe that all Spiritual Truths have a Physical Metaphor, I looked (as I was standing by the side of the road last year waiting for AAA) for a lesson in the pothole. Actually, I didn’t have to use a lot of imagination.  The picture was pretty clear.

POTHOLE SYMBOLISM – If one looks at a Pothole as the inevitable obstruction along the road of life – caused by whatever reason – then some metaphors immediately come to mind:

  • Take Potholes seriously. If I hit one, it’s not just hole in the road, it could cause enough damage to hurt me, hurt YOU, AND make it impossible for me to get anywhere down the road.  Sometimes I don’t take “pitfalls” seriously enough.  Humans make mistakes. Life deals cards that are sometimes a good hand and sometimes not.  But if we don’t prepare for obstacles (before they happen), we don’t take the consequences seriously enough and are hit twice as hard.  Let’s not get so secure in our protection from God that we forget what life around us is like…and prepare for it.  Again, like the Apostle Paul says, “put on the whole armor…SO THAT WHEN THE DAY COMES…”
  • I may not be able to prevent them, but I can sometimes avoid them. When it comes to poor choices or “walking close to the edge”, how many pitfalls in life could I avoid if I just avoided getting close?  Temptation not in my control is one thing (and, since we know Jesus was tempted, and Jesus didn’t sin, then temptation alone is not a sin), but what I call “tempting temptation” is MY responsibility completely.  The Apostle Paul tells us to avoid anything that would tangle us up and cause us to “lose the race”, that’s not always “sin”, it could be anything that slows us down from our primary objectiveWhen possible, avoid using the roads with potholes…WHEN YOU KNOW ABOUT THEM.

  • Potholes are easier to see in the daylight. But some folks just don’t understand what the concept. Jesus and the teaching in the letters of Paul, John, and Peter remind us to “walk in the light”, so that we don’t stumble.  It seems obvious, but some of us tend to like the danger of living on the edge, pushing the boundaries and find ourselves walking (driving) in the dark…unable to see the approaching danger.  Stay in the light.

  • Don’t travel too fast. There is a fine line between confidence and recklessness.  By not recognizing, ignoring, or not caring about the danger of obstacles/potholes I get complacent and start driving too fast.  Although I am personally guilty of driving my body and my life at reckless speeds sometimes, I preach (to myself and others) that to not be “in the moment” is to miss out on “God moments”.  I have a “mantra” I try to live up to, and one I preach/teach:

Every moment has its time.
Every person has their place.
Do not brush away either.
In doing so, you may brush away God’s wish
For you to either ENJOY or BE a miracle.”

I will keep my eye on the ultimate goal, but I also need to consistently be aware of my current surroundings, not just because I’ll miss out on something good, but also so I can recognize obstacles as they approach and see them for what they are.

  • Sometimes you’re the follower. Sometimes you’re the leader.  This year I found myself suddenly on a busy Indianapolis road that was pockmarked with deep potholes.  Having not driven on the road since Autumn I was unaware of the dangers and immediately got behind someone else who seemed to know the way better than I did.  I slowed when they slowed, I dodged when they dodged…it helped to have someone in the lead.  Later in the week I was driving to a notorious minor stretch of road with at least a dozen holes all together.  Behind me, and I mean RIGHT behind me, was a person not wanting to follow the speed limit (in Edgewood where the speed limit is the 11th Commandment) and I came to the place, tapped my brakes and went into the left lane to avoid the dreaded war zone.  I looked in my back mirror and saw the car begin to take the opportunity to pass me on the right…they immediately hit the first hole and stopped (unhurt) and slowly followed me the rest of the way, a safer distance behind.  Sometimes you follow.  Sometimes you lead.

  • It helps if you’ve traveled that road before. Through the obstacle courses that are “Pothole Season” in Indiana, there are a few places I have now come to know and can smoothly turn, swerve, and brake, like a strong slalom skier in the Winter Olympics. Because I must travel that road, and have been there before, I know where the pitfalls are…and I avoid them.  I’ve heard so often, and sometimes say, “I wouldn’t wish what I went through on my worst enemy, but I wish everyone could be where I am now, on the other side.” Another reason to not brush off even the bad moments is that hitting a pot hole teaches us, strengthens us…not only for ourselves, but to be there for someone else who is traveling down the same road.

Pothole Season isn’t one of my favorite times of year in Indiana, but I CAN say that I’m stronger for it.   My prayer is that you avoid the damage done by unavoidable potholes in life, and that you may never be the cause of someone else’s obstacle in life.

Knowing that eventually the potholes will be patched, the roads will be smooth, and all will be well (if only for a short time, till the next winter) also helps me get through.  Another lesson of the season is our constant message and lesson:

“Everything will be OK in the end.  If it’s not OK, it’s not the end.”
FERNANDO SABINO

“Weeping may spend the night, but there is joy in the morning.”
PSALM 30:5b 


RESTING & WORKING

RESTING & WORKING

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WHEN ONE RESTS WHILE DOING HARD WORK by Ken Rickett

“Come unto me ye who are heavy laden, and take my well-fitted yoke upon you, and learn of me, and I will give you rest.”

 “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

 Labor Day is a day, like Sunday, when one “rests from their labors.”  Of course, there are those institutions and persons who must labor anyway because their labor is often of necessity.  Hospitals and nursing staff, farmers and the care of their livestock, public safety personnel, etc. are just mere examples of a rather long list of people who work on Sundays and Labor Day.  

Part of the issue we face on Labor Day is the cultural understanding of “rest” as “time off”, “a day of leisure”, a “vacation”, or any time away from the jobs from which we earn our income.  We who follow Jesus are definitely “missing something” when rest is primarily “a day off from our jobs.” For one, the biblical meaning of “rest” is lost, and secondly, if “rest” is obscured, then so is the meaning of the biblical word “love.” 

When Moses received the Ten Commandments, one of which says, “remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy” (ie, a day of rest), work of necessity still had to be done.  The sick needed care on the Sabbath, livestock needed fed on the Sabbath, public well-being needed protection on the Sabbath, etc.  Back in those days, even a day of rest, the Sabbath, could be interrupted by emergencies, requiring physical work.  In other words, the ox can fall into a miry ditch, and hard work must be undertaken quickly to remove the animal from danger.  Who hasn’t seen videos of animals trapped in a flood or a deer that has broken through the thin ice over a pond?  The animals’ efforts to free themselves from such danger are so quickly tiring; they will perish without help.

Labor Day implies time off from work.  What if the biblical understanding of rest did not refer to the absence of physical labor?  For me, it is not physical work that makes me “tired to my very bones” or “weary unto the very depths of my soul.”  I can work all day in my yard with flowers and lawn upkeep and get quite tired–which is easily fixed by a good meal and a snooze in my recliner.  It’s amazing how fast energy is restored!

So, let me talk about some really hard work!  For a college midterm, the assignment was to write a paper and hand it in on the due date.  I finished my paper a couple of days early.  A friend (on the same floor in the dorm in which I was living) had been struggling with his paper, and so I let him read mine. He disappeared briefly–and unknown to me, xeroxed a copy.  Imagine the anger when I got a “D” with the notation that 4 or 5 papers were exceptionally similar!  Upon confrontation with my friend, he admitted that he had a copy and let “a couple of others see it, too.”  Talk about anger and betrayal!  Even though I had “said my piece” to him, I had the hard work of letting go and moving on.  Every tiny bit of progress was REST.  The hardest job, however, was not with the friend, it was restoring a sense of integrity with the professor.  The final exam was writing several essays, using creative, colorful language and we had a week to write them.  O, how I struggled to get this “job” right, how I worried that my professor’s assumptions would cloud his grading of my papers!  I had to find “rest” with every sentence I wrote, that is, I had to feel that I had done my utmost on one sentence before would I even dare write the next sentence. The work of waiting several days to get my grade was tough; my self-talk went haywire, and each time I could calm myself down, it was rest.  To my relief, my grade was top-notch, with a notation that said, “a joy to read.”   Full rest at last!  And a mistake I didn’t allow to happen again! 

One needs rest while doing hard work.  Run this thinking out. One doesn’t just forgive someone, and it’s over in a second or two.  No, forgiveness is hard work.  It is hard work to avoid making a situation worse.  It is hard work to decide what to say, if anything.  It is hard work to get the relationship back to its previous level of trust.  Each step forward brings its measure of rest.

One needs rest while doing hard work.Coping with a serious illness of ourselves or our loved ones is hard work, and every tiny bit of acceptance and coping is rest.  Grieving is hard work from which we need rest, and every tiny bit of coming to terms with the loss we feel is rest.

 One needs rest while doing hard work.  The tortuous journey from losing a job to finding another job is hard work, and every bit of relief from the self-denigration or the unfairness of company policies and actions is rest.

Let’s face it.  Most of the really hard work we do has very little to do with physical work. The “renewing of our minds” and the softening of hardened hearts is constant work foisted upon us all throughout life, but yoked with Christ, there is rest while doing hard work..

It is when we work the hardest on such life experiences that we who are yoked with Christ, can find rest.  Not rest from the cessation of physical labor but rest that comes in the midst of working hard with life itself. Only when we experience rest in the midst of hard work do we find the deeper meaning of being human in the way that God created us.  In fact, it is in this hard labor that we “learn of Jesus” who gives rest to those “heavy laden”.  Not just any rest, but a rest that results in loving oneself and our neighbor as ourselves. 


TREASURES

TREASURES

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It’s possible that many have never heard of Herb & Dorothy Vogel.  Herb was a Postal Worker in Manhatten (he passed away in 2012), and Dorothy a reference librarian in Brooklyn.  They were a quiet, cute couple (as described by friends) she was “bookish” and he “cuddly”.  They lived for 50 years in a 450-square-foot apartment in NYC, Herb never made any more than $23k-a-year.  And they never used any of his income to live off of…just hers, which was less…minimal.  They lived simply, ate TV Dinners, didn’t indulge in much except for some pets and one other hobby, which they were passionate about…art.

Herb had some training in Art History/Appreciation, as a young man, and introduced Dorothy to the art world (she was a theatre-music gal) on their honeymoon in Washington, DC (1962)Through the years they slowly, carefully, bought art pieces they loved.  They were not investors nor art dealers, they simply found pieces they both enjoyed and made sure that they purchased them at a “good price”.  Along the way they made friends with several of the artists from whom they purchased: twentieth century painters in need of money…for the most part…thus, the “good deals”.  They only purchased things that they would want up on their walls and could transport on the subway.  They also went about their hobby with a plan, they educated themselves along the way, they enjoyed their friendships with the artists…and continued to live quiet, frugal, unassuming lives. 

It was in the ‘80’s that they realized their lifelong passion of collecting could not be housed in their apartment…so they decided to donate.  Herb had already retired, and when Dorothy retired in 1990 they gave their collection to the National Gallery (strikingly, where Herb had first introduced Dorothy to art appreciation) because the gallery was free to the public and has a policy against “deaccessioning”, meaning their art would never be sold.

Workers from the National Gallery came to NYC and unloaded an unbelievable 2400 works from the Vogel apartment in 5 40-foot trucks.  When the gallery realized that the Vogels had not invested, they paid the Vogels an annuity as a “thank you” for their donation…which the Vogels promptly used to purchase more art…they couldn’t help it, it was their passion.

“If we wanted to make money, we would have invested in the stock market.” said Dorothy.

Their collection is now considered to be the most important collection of 20-century art in the United States…and what the curator of the National Gallery calls, irreplaceable, and priceless.

I found this story incredible on many levels, as an artist and a BELIEVER & FOLLOWER.

The VOGELS followed their God-given passion.  Although I know nothing of their spiritual lives except that they were/are by ethnicity, Jewish.  Their story shows that God gave them a passion that they followed – against the odds.  They were not the “type” of people others in the world might view as “art collectors” – they didn’t care.  They did what they believed in and let others think what they would.

The VOGELS made a plan and worked the plan.  They didn’t just jump in “willy-nilly”. They educated themselves in their passion.  They methodically, economically, and prudently enjoyed the fruit of their love of art.  So many BELIEVERS & FOLLOWERS seem to think that God does NOT work hand-in-hand with our minds and heart – that once a passion (a sermon idea, a song, a project) is planted by Him in our hearts that we then just sit back and listen to His instructions and become robots to His suggestions, which is not evident in ANY place in the scripture or ANY life illustration we see today.  

God implants a vision/passion and asks us to partner with Him, to hone our skills, to learn and use our brains, as together we polish and construct what He has given us.

The VOGELS left a legacy of beauty – even though THAT was not necessarily a part of THEIR plan.  In the end they were shocked to hear their small apartment housed the greatest gift of 20th-Century art anywhere in the United States – a gift to be enjoyed by millions for years to come.  Did they understand that their belief in artists who were NOT getting the attention of critics at the time, inspired those artists to more greatness?  Did they write that down as part of their methodical plan…no.  But God-given passion*… 

(*the LOVE/PASSION for all things beautiful, good and true, ALWAYS comes from God – to the Believer & Follower, AND the Non-Believer, alike…God does NOT discriminate…even when some of His children do.) 

…is like all energy, power that does not dissipate.

The Kingdom Principle of a seed becoming a tree is evident in this story as well. What does this mean for me?  It reminds me to: Follow my God-Given passion, use my God-given mind to carve and polish, and know that love of what is good, beautiful, and true is never wasted once I’m gone.

“What is the kingdom of God like, and what can I compare it to? It’s like a mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the sky nested in its branches.” LUKE 13:18-19 

“Don’t be fooled, my much-loved brothers & sisters; EVERY generous act and EVERY perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights; with Him there is no variation or shadow cast by turning.” JAMES 1:16-17


SIGNS

SIGNS

Written By:

by Pastor KEN RICKETT

Do Signs Tell Us All We Need To Know? 

Matthew 16: 2-3: He (Jesus) said unto them (Pharisees), “When it is evening you say, it will be fair weather because the sky is red, and in the morning, it will be foul weather today for the sky is red and lowering. O ye hypocrites! You can discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times!

Signs from the physical world are all around us. If not around us, then signs are under or over us. No escaping these signs. Here! There! Everywhere we look, signs are there.

For example, signs of autumn’s approach will soon be seen. In the mountains of Western North Carolina, near the Great Smokies, two signs of autumn appear in late July and early August, namely, the leaves of sourwood trees (from which we get sourwood honey!) and the leaves of poison ivy vines (the “untouchable”!) that grow up to the tops of trees are fiery red long before September’s goldenrod begins to bloom. After almost 30 years of living in Indiana, I have observed even while corn stalks and leaves are still green, the full grown ears of corn stand up straight like a minute hand on a clock at the top of the hour, and by the time the corn stalk and leaves are brown, the ears of corn have slowly descended 180 degrees, like a minute hand that reaches the half hour mark. I see the ears of corn in a slow descent long before the green stalk dies. 

Evergreen leaves of rhododendron or mountain laurel can tell the astute observer the temperature on very cold mornings. If the temperature gets around zero degrees, rhododendron leaves are curled up like a little pipe. As a resident of Indiana, it is the appearance of the red winged blackbird rather than the robin that signals the arrival of spring.  

Signs are also under us. Did you know that the ash from the huge explosion of Yellowstone volcano thousands of years ago have been found in archeological digs as far East as Illinois and western Indiana? Signs of old events that can’t be found in history books. 

Signs are over us and the heavens reveal their glory. Black holes, comets that return after several decades or generations, and the likely extension of space forever with many galaxies and stars awe us, and these things are a sign of something incredible!

Many years ago I was in a shop in which a man repaired watches, clocks (including grandfather clocks and other antique timepieces) and he would sell repaired and cleaned clocks from estate sales. He was busy with a customer when I first entered so I walked around. When that customer left and I went to the counter to give him a watch to repair, the man said to me,
“You have seen a lot of pain and grief in your childhood.”

I was shocked. He was right. I lost both parents when I was quite young. When stunned by such a statement as that one, it took me a few seconds to ask the obvious:
“How did you know?”
He said, “when I saw you walking around, your manner of walk told me that you had a lot of childhood stories, even happy stories, but some stories would most definitely be tragic.”
Talk about “signs” that tell all about me! I had no idea! Naturally, I told him a couple of stories that substantiated his observation. But my own intuition surfaced, and I then asked him,
“what is such an astute observer of humanity doing in a watch shop?”
Ah! His story emerged! He was once a professor of medicine in a major university. His philosophy was that doctors needed to hone their skills of observation. But as medical doctors, by insurance rules, etc., were forced to use medical test after expensive medical test to diagnose what should be obvious to an observant eye, he rebelled. Eventually he resigned. He then told me about a customer who came in the shop, and he said,
“I took a good look at him and I told him, ‘your body is fighting a cancer.’”
The customer said, “I just had a physical last month, and all was fine”
to which the watch repairman said, “go back and ask your doctor to check out this and this.”
A few days later, that customer returned and asked,
“how did you know…..? But we caught it early, and I will be fine.”
This “watchman” saw signs of far more than the red sky at night. . .He saw signs of . . Life.

We know signs–like signs of approaching seasons, or even approaching storms. We know signs–like the red sky at sunset promises fair weather, but red clouds in the morning forebodes foul weather. But Jesus said, “O ye hypocrites, you can discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times.” People begged Jesus to tell them “the signs of his second coming.” Jesus refused.  

What signs did Jesus want us to see? I think I have a hunch. Jesus wanted us to see signs of human hope and human struggle. Jesus wanted us to see signs of human injustice and signs of righteousness. Jesus wanted us to see signs, not of the physical world per se, but signs of the world in which a Just and Holy God also has a Heart of forgiveness and redemption is present among all peoples.

Jesus spent his lifetime on earth, but few really knew who He was. They missed the signs. . . .signs that you and I must not miss. . . .of a God, revealed in Jesus, who shows us not only the true meaning of Love, but surrounds us with the deepest experience of Love. Signs that beg to be seen, heard, experienced, celebrated! 


REHEARSAL

REHEARSAL

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Time moves on, and CHANCEL CHOIR rehearsals begin once again – THIS MONTH!  I have been singing in a church choir, or playing the piano, or doing plays in church, for as long as I have memories.  Some churches were small, some churches were so big that Christmas productions would last for several performances for several thousand people.

In any situation, as a musician, it’s good for me to step back and remember that musical talent is a gift, but it needs to be paired with “craft”; a craft that requires several levels of learning and, most of all, constant practice.

In music, there is of course the learning of the notes: making sure the notes being played or sung (as far as tones & melody) correspond exactly to the notes written on the page.  Once those are in place it is time to look at how the notes are played or sung: loud, soft, slow, fast, etc.

Once the notes are learned, along with the way they are to be performed, it is a matter of “detailing”; making sure that we are not ONLY singing or playing the correct notes at the correct time and with the correct dynamic range, but that we are communicating the mood and message of the song. 

All of this learning is part of a craft which pairs with natural talent under the direction of a trained ear and trained teacher, like our own John Huntoon. It is the job of the DIRECTOR/TEACHER/COACH to listen not only to the individual artist but to a group, as in the case of a choir or instrumental ensemble. The director determines exactly what type of practice is required at what time; to make sure that the performance is as musical, as communicative and as precise as possible.

We, in the choir, don’t start the first rehearsal knowing everything or giving a perfect performance, it takes time, energy, heart & soul.

It takes practice.

We don’t start making music well simply because we are labeled as members of the choir or handbell choir.

God, our Father, has called us and brought us to a place where we are His children.  We are His children because He calls us His children. He “creates” by speaking the words.  When He “says” we are His children…we are. But becoming (or, a better word might be, “realizing”) who we are, and living like the people He says we are takes time, energy, heart & soul; it takes practice.  A common mistake for a person of God is to believe that once the choice has been made to BELIEVE & FOLLOW, there is nothing more to be done.

That is partially true.  There is much about being in the Kingdom that is out of our hands, God is the “Decider”.  But for us, being named by God is not the end, it is only the beginning of the life-journey.  We realize what it means to truly be a member of a musical group when our individual notes not only fall into place with the other members so that together we play beautiful music, but also when we begin breathing together and thinking together; when we race together and when we rest together. 

After much practice we can perform together without need to concentrate so much on the technical things we’ve been doing over and over, perfecting, polishing…and we start thinking on the true message and the true music.  At that point we begin to understand what it means to truly carry the label, “member of the choir” or “member of the orchestra”.  When we walk with God, together with those around us who also believe and follow (not looking at our feet and path as much as we used to when we first started, but looking up and seeing those around us, enjoying the view, and listening intently to the One who leads us) then we trust the Voice and understand what it means to BE a Child of God.

It is up to the Director (with a capital “D”) to listen and watch US, determining what type of practice would best lead us to that place.  And it takes patient practice to become that disciple with a depth of faith to experience the indescribable peace of the believer.  It doesn’t happen immediately, any more than a musician starts off with perfection.  The notes have to be learned first, then the appropriate dynamic. Then the details…even then, one can’t take their eyes off of the Director/Father…for He alone is in charge of the performance.

So, let us practice, let us be willing to fail, be willing to accept the failure of others, and be willing to go back and do it again.  Let’s get the “notes” into our voices before moving on to something else.  The message of the music is important to those watching our every move and listening to the song we sing.


EVOLUTION

EVOLUTION

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OK, fair warning: This BLOG is probably not what you think it’s going to be about.

Today I moved our beautiful sanctuary piano from the “pulpit side” to the “lectern side” so that the band can use it for this coming JAZZ SUNDAY.  As I did I remembered some years back when we made a significant “shift” in our pianos and organs…we “evolved” the musical use of the building because WE had evolved. 

Since 2007 we have used Schuster Chapel more and more: weddings, funerals, Lenten Meditations, Good Friday, Easter Sunrise, and a Bible Studies (before we “evolved” into using the Theatre Lounge, which didn’t exist at that time.)

For a while, early on – when I was just a young child-pastor – I brought in my little keyboard into the Chapel to use for music.  Some people asked, “Why don’t we just use the organ that is in here?” (Remember, we USED to have an organ in there?)

Yes, we did have an organ in the chapel.  The organ was not the original, but still an antique.  Unfortunately, it had gotten to the point of “un-fixability” as many of the stops “stopped” working, some keys, along with half of the pedals, didn’t play…and at one time while Dr. Randy was playing, the organ reared up like a stallion (musically) and started playing much louder than Dr. Randy intended.  Although amusing to watch, it was yet another sign that it was time to say good-bye to what was probably a donation from a friend or member of the Church Family.

Shortly after that incident, we received a new, beautiful, Concert Grand piano for the Sanctuary.  That meant moving the grand piano that had been in the Sanctuary downstairs to the Choir Rehearsal Room and moving the still very good spinet piano from the Choir Room to the Fellowship Hall to await its purpose.  THEN, eventually, that piano moved to Schuster Chapel to replace the organ that was there….whew! (That organ, by the way, was donated to a local music store and repair shop – for parts.)

Times change.  Needs change.  The old Chapel organ, which probably fulfilled many needs in several places, went “home” to its “reward”, and is now parts of it are in other organs being used around the midwest.  A grand piano brought new life to our Sanctuary, an older piano is moving from leading worship to accompanying the choir downstairs, and the piano that accompanied the choir will now be leading in worship and providing beautiful music for weddings and services…all because the Kingdom of God doesn’t stand still or move back – it always moves forward.

Like these pianos and organs we, as humans, get stuck in one place.  In the Kingdom and in the Church, the ultimate reason for spiritual gifts and talents is to build the Kingdom, to support one another, and to BE the Body of Christ.  As needs change, as congregations grow, we evolve.  We also remember that God will redesign, or “evolve” us to fit best in the place needed for a specific time and place. 

Some of you have taught Sunday School, but don’t anymore.  Some of you sing but have never sung in the choir.  Some of you have served as Elders and now serve as Deacons, some of you have served as Deacons and now serve as Elders.  We all move upward and outward as the Kingdom of God changes, and that is how it should be.

Sometimes that growth is painful.  We humans tend to like staying where we are, doing what we’ve always done, it’s comfortable there.  The older we get, in body, the less likely we are going to want to do anything that requires change.  But the Kingdom and Central Christian is constantly changing; we aren’t the same church as we were almost 15 years ago when I first stepped to the pulpit, or what we were 163 years ago.  We have different needs and challenges, and some of us have had to step into new places within the church, outside of our comfort zones.  But remember: God never calls us to a new place without going there first, equipping us and teaching us. 

As we step into a new church year, next month, I urge you to once again ask God where He would like you, in this family-community we call Central.  He may confirm your place, He may urge you, through a compelling passion, to move to something new, serve the church in a different way.  Whatever you hear, act upon it.  Listen closely and look around.  Connect with one another and feel that “hunger & thirst” for the right thing. 

And let us thank God that while many other churches struggle with attendance and apathy, we have a growing, thriving, joyful, changing and challenging community of faith, decorated with the many, many voices and colors that make the blue domes of Central Christian Church a fresh voice and vision of God in a city and county that is hungry and thirsty for love.


ALWAYS LEARNING

ALWAYS LEARNING

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It’s “Back To School” time again.  Of course, with every system on a seemingly different schedule, “back to school” could almost be ANY time – and especially with the craziness of last year, some are STILL IN school…or not…anyway…

I always loved new classes and teachers, even though a day or two into a new school year brought the horror of how much homework is possible so early in the year –  AND how lost one can become in a new subject with just a couple of lessons!  Ah, the joys of learning.

One of my favorite quotes, and I collect many, is Michelangelo’s “ancora imparo” (“always/still learning”).  I’ve always enjoyed learning, knowing things and gathering information.  Yet I remember a time (not so long ago, really) when I asked my Mom and Dad when I’d be through “learning” (I think I was in First Grade). My Mom good-naturedly, or sarcastically,  laughing and saying that she had just learned something new that day, and HER mother (a teacher) always said that learning was a life-long lesson.  I believe that, and I look forward to “learning” more every day.

A friend of mine in another congregation, Rollie, was diagnosed with a cancer which eventually took his life.  He was young and his kids were only in College when he left us.  He was a great man and especially fond of new experiences; he had been a missionary in Cairo.  He preached, sang beautifully, and lived life in a big way.  His son told me that on his Dad’s last morning on earth he looked over at his son and said, “Well…this ought to be interesting.”  A few hours later he was gone…to another new and exciting, and “interesting”, experience.

Doctors say that people who have given up on learning, or accepting new things, actually “shut down” parts of the brain that keep the brain healthy…sometimes even warding off Alzheimer’s disease. 

Think about how it feels inside when you learn something new, or something “dawns on you” as you have never seen it before…don’t you feel freer, livelier, more awake?  Of course, because the process of learning gives life, causes you to grow, literally. 

Learning about God, in a faith community, in private study, and in observation, is really only helpful if it leads to the behavioral changes.  Those changes lead to YOUR happiness as you connect more closely to your Creator.  But learning in and of itself is also a “rejuvenation process”, even when the answers can’t always be found. 

The GOOD NEWS of today is that a part of the “full life” Jesus offers is LEARNING.  In the Jewish society where Jesus walked, the “questioner” was always looked at as a “wise” person – questions were encouraged – teaching, by the Rabbis, always involved a question/question debate because it activates the brain of the student to think for him/her-self.  Jesus understands the importance of seeking out answers.  His teaching continuously looks us in the face and says, “What is the core of the law?”, “Why is this important?”, and “You yourself know the answer.”

The wonderful thing about our Heavenly Father and the GOOD NEWS of today is that we can never know Him in His fullness – but the facets of His personality are always there to be observed; in His children, in the scripture, and in His created world.  We can always learn something more about Him, about each other, and about ourselves.

Learning is what we were made to do.  Learning is growth.  Learning is life.

So get those backpacks on and fill your LONE RANGER lunch box…because, in the Kingdom of God, every day is the first day of school.

Ancora Imparo “Still Learning.” Michelangelo


THEN & NOW

THEN & NOW

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I had the pleasure and privilege to see some long-time friends this last weekend; some whom I haven’t seen and chatted with, face-to-face, since early college.

Maybe it’s my age, maybe it’s something else, but lately I’ve been thinking about the places my life would’ve/could’ve gone if I knew THEN what I know NOW I’ve been imagining what it would be like to know everything I know now, including my life as it has played out, and go back into my early 20’s body & brain with my 63-year-old mind AND know my future, as it played out once.

Think of the confidence, wisdom, and knowledge that would come from the years of experience that wasn’t there when I actually WAS in High School.

Imagine the differences, and how much better I’d play out my life, framed in of my knowledge and experiences now:

  1. My friendship with God would be much improved, and my confidence in HIS love and sacrifice for ME would be stronger…which would affect everything, and every choice…and chisel my identity.
  2. I would give my parents a break.  I wasn’t a bad kid, but I sure would appreciate them more.  I’d love my Mom more, I’d build things with Dad.  I’d “help”.
  3. I’d love my friends more, and adjust my life to make them happy.  Having no siblings (which I would NOT change, by the way) I counted on my friends too much, without allowing them the ability to count on me.  As I’ve aged I have realized that “relationships are EVERYTHING”.
  4. I would do less “church” stuff and more “school” stuff. I realize now that I allowed my home church to “sequester” me, when Jesus really would’ve had me BE the church myself: to my friends, “salt” and “light”, if you will…as opposed to using the church as a “club” of “haves” and viewing those outside of my church as the “have-nots”. There is a balance. I was younger and needed “discipling”, HOWEVER, Church was used as a “safety net” and not a “charging station” back then.  I know, a strange thing even for THIS Pastor (who is known for his strangeness) to say, but I would’ve gone to church less, and gone to football games and dances more.  At the same time, I would cultivate my personal doctrine, practice my faith and recognize Jesus when I see Him, personally.
  5. I would’ve found one adult, who wasn’t a parent, to trust and open up to. I wanted to be honest about what I felt, and who I was, with someone who was old enough to listen and wise enough to know they didn’t need to fix it…just so that SOMEONE would know me, and hear me talk it out.
  6. I would start lifting weights at age 14, and not stop…wow, I’d look good by this point!  But I’d also not shy away from eating the great junk food that crowds into a teenager’s life…bacon always has, and always will be, a part of my life.
  7. I would learn more instruments and read more books.
  8. I would still buy my first car. (1972 Plymouth Duster, Army Green…slant six, four-on-the-floor).
  9. I would’ve used more hair product (if even humanly possible), grown it longer…and worn my puca shells in my Senior Picture, despite my mom’s warning that it “would make my Senior look too dated, years from then”
  10. I would fall in love more, and allow my heart to break more. I now know that love is everything and heartbreaks heal. (“It is better to have loved and lost….” and all that)

…and then I got to:

  1. I would make different choices…

Hmmm…would I really?  And that’s the point where THIS epiphany happened.

Different choices would mean different consequences, which would lead to different paths, which would lead to a different future, and lead to a different “me”.

Of course.

The choices I was thinking of were things like:

I wouldn’t have jumped into that parking lot fight, to help a buddy, in college (where I walked away bloody and should’ve gone to the campus doctor, but was afraid to because the fight was about something less than legal and we would’ve ALL been suspended) …or…

…I shouldn’t have hooked up with my friend, Mitch, who led me and some others into a world where we were constantly dodging “the law”…

…I wouldn’t have chosen the first college I attended, but rather spent all my years at the college I graduated from…

…I would’ve chosen to be honest about myself and lived my life for God alone to judge.

HOWEVER…It is precisely through (not BECAUSE) of those choices that I am where I am today…which is a GOOD place.

It was THROUGH my choice of colleges that I not only gained much needed “transition-from-home-to-my-own-life” education, but where I discovered God in other denominations, other people, and other ways, and made lifetime friends.
It was precisely BECAUSE of my first school that I landed an acceptance into the Music Institute from which I graduated.

IN FACT, looking at my entire life, even my poor choices (ones that led me to disaster, failure, or at the least, bumpy roads) brought me…

…here.

Here, on the other side of the journey, there is knowledge to be gained, beauty to be appreciated and love to express.  The Spirit never abandoned me, always protected me, and always turned my “straw to gold”.  There are many, many parts of my life I would not wish on anyone, and decisions I would hope no one else would make…but the place I am NOW is a destination I would wish for everyone.   And the Spirit of God has used every person, every moment, and the consequence of every good and bad decision…to get me here and now.

And so, though there are things I wish I knew then, and confidence, knowledge and wisdom I wish I had…the blessings I have received, the life that I have, I would not trade for all the bacon in the mid-west…or all the bourbon in Tennessee.

Again, I say what the Spirit has taught me:

Every moment has its time.
Every person has their place.
Do not brush away either.
In doing so, you may brush away God’s wish for you
to either ENJOY,
or BE the miracle.