recovery messages

In our Recovery Gatherings, many speakers have joined us to share in either their personal stories of recovery or to teach about the process. Here are some selected messages of all types and styles including messages on each of the 12 Steps of AA from a spiritual and scriptural point of view. Speakers include Pastors Dave Brisbin, David Hickman, Jeff Jones, and Chuck Smith Jr.

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Breathless Brides

Dave Brisbin | 2.12.17
Why try to understand Jesus’ message from a first century, Hebrew point of view? What will that change? There’s a question I get a lot. The answer is: mostly everything. Whatever we say about Christianity being a relationship rather than a religion, the truth is that Western Christianity has become heavily focused on an intellectual understanding of theology and a rational/literal understanding of scripture, a legal view of our relationship to God, a dualistic view of life—especially the separation of the spiritual and physical, and an emphasis on the afterlife as opposed to life herenow that sharply defines our view of and attitude toward life and spiritual practice. 

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From a Hebrew point of view, the intellectual gives way to the experiential, the literal to the metaphorical, the legal to the relational, dualistic to holistic oneness, and therethen to herenow, which changes everything about our view of life and practice of faith. One of the primary metaphors Jesus and the Jewish authors of scripture use to describe this way of seeing and living life is the ancient Hebrew wedding tradition, in which a bride waits up to two years between the kiddushin/betrothal and nissu’in/wedding for her groom to come unannounced to claim her. Knowing the details and significance of the wedding tradition, how it shaped everyday Jewish life, how a young bride lived between betrothal and wedding, between the life she’d only and always known and the radical change of a new one to come, between heaven and earth—the present embrace of a too-short experience of love and life mixed with the excitement and anticipation of sudden newness at any moment—points us toward the rich experience of living kingdom as breathless brides.

From Here To There

Dave Brisbin | 2.5.17
Growing up, my church taught me to believe that a savior was coming—someone out there who would change me, save me from myself and my sin. I just had to believe and obey and wait. And that belief ordered the understanding of my faith, dictated day to day choices and attitudes. But reading through Hebrew eyes, Jesus is teaching something quite different…that no one is coming to save us. No one is coming because everyone and everything we’d ever need has always been and is already here. He says the waiting is over, the kingdom is here; he says we won’t find it by looking out there somewhere–it’s within and among. He really couldn’t be any clearer that the salvation, the transforming change we seek is already right here in our midst. 

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One of the problems with what Christianity has become in the West—primarily an intellectual understanding, a theology and a moral code, belief and obedience—is that there is little talk of the process of change. Fundamental change is what Jesus’ message is all about, but if change is seen as an event coming from outside in, we miss the essential participatory process moving the other way: from inside out. When Jesus tells us to repent and believe in the Gospel, that really translates to change direction and trust in the truth of the Father’s love. If our faith remains an intellectual understanding, we will miss the journey, the process of transformative change as we wait to be changed. But…if everything and everyone we need is already here, how to we get from here to there? Repent and believe, change and trust points us to the only tools we have to get from here to there, to kingdom living: awareness and choice. We don’t choose just once to follow Jesus. We choose every moment of our lives, again and again to be present to the Presence that precedes us. The spiritual life is really about developing awareness of Presence in each moment. And with awareness in hand, spiritual discipline is about then choosing where Presence leads: from here to there.

Amiable Uncertainty

Dave Brisbin | 1.29.17
Just last week I was asked why churches and religions have to “always say that they are right and everyone else is wrong?” Great question from a young person looking at church from the outside in, trying to figure it all out: why the exclusion, the judgment. Why indeed? What is it about us that needs to build tall walls, delineate us from them, make our spirituality, which is inherently mysterious, an absolute certainty. In a word, it’s fear of course, and when we’re afraid that we may not be worthy of acceptance, love, or belonging, then we immediately begin the exhausting task of removing any pain, imperfection, and uncertainty from our near vicinity. We need to be right, be flawless, be certain, because the alternative is just too terrifying or at least uncomfortable to entertain. 

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And in the making of all uncertain things certain, there has to be winners and losers–a zero sum game in which there are haves and have nots, the elect and the damned. But it was not always so in Christian thought, and certainly Jesus never taught so. To begin to understand the transforming message that perfect love casts out fear is the beginning of a journey that will lead to an embrace of mystery and a faith based on trust and not certainty…to a living of life that once again makes friends with the unknown, finds contentment and adventure in an amiable uncertainty that admits that while we don’t have all the answers and may not be right about everything, we know we are loved in such a way that mere clarity becomes a footnote.

Kingdom Presence

Dave Brisbin | 1.22.17
We all want to be happy, don’t we? All our choices are arguably made in order to be happy, either in this moment or one further down the road in this life or the next. We’ve learned that certain things or activities make us happy so, we pursue them over and over looking to repeat the experience of happiness. One young man told me that happiness was opening a new can of Folgers coffee and just smelling that smell. Another person said that laughing made her happy. But if you really think about it laughing and fresh coffee don’t really make us happy, they make us present…and that makes us happy. Happiness is the feeling we get when we are completely present to a moment intense enough to clear away all the thoughts, emotions, expectations, and judgments that distract us from what is right in out midst. 

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When we chase the things we think make us happy, we’re chasing the effect instead of the cause. While laughter can lead to presence, presence doesn’t lead to happiness; presence is happiness itself. And we can have presence anytime we want, if we’re willing to practice it, whether we’re laughing or not, whether there’s any coffee in sight. To realize that happiness is presence and presence is always available right here and now is to finally begin to hear Jesus’ words, because kingdom is presence, which means kingdom feels like happiness too.

Happiness Is…

Dave Brisbin | 1.15.17
Just completed the move of our family home of 17 years to a downsized house closer to work and faith community, and just about every nightmare scenario that I could imagine and project on to moving day and was working and praying to avoid came to pass. Escrow was delayed so that new flooring was only half completed when moving crew arrived with all our belongings in the hardest driving rain that southern CA has seen in years with cable and internet crew arriving in the middle of it all to add to the chaos. 

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Trying to just stay out of the way and survive the day, I slowly became aware of the undaunted moving crew taking the rain as an adventurous challenge: to keep our stuff dry and keep their schedule intact while being unfailingly energetic and personable. Then arriving at the new house, the Hispanic crew laying the floor was blaring their music in Spanish and singing along as movers stepped over them with wet shoes and furniture… What is happiness and how and when is it experienced? Does it come from circumstances matching our expectations and prayers or as Jesus is trying to tell us, from a completely different direction, a direction we can choose anytime, even in a driving rain watching muddy footprints trailing off on newly laid floor.

Strange Beauty

Dave Brisbin | 1.8.17
The beginning of 2017 also marks the first anniversary of a dear friend’s death—his suicide to be truthful. Can’t help the re-flooding of mental images and emotion imprinted almost exactly a year ago on a rainy Wednesday night when I got that first phone call. And yet, a year later, an email from his sister says that after a year, having now been put into contact with me and all of us as result of her brother’s death, to lose a brother but gain new friends that have become so important in her life carries its own “strange beauty.” That phrase, strange beauty, sticks with me like flypaper on the brain, and I realize that she had captured so much of what life is really about. 

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Seeing the strange beauty all around us that is always present, but disguised or invisible because of the mental judgments we make on what is good or evil in the narrow window of our emotional vision. To breathe through the hardest times and keep breathing until the strange beauty of watching new life always following any ending, any death—giving it time to coalesce, trusting that it always will– is another hallmark of Jesus’ Kingdom.

Remaining Resolved

Dave Brisbin | 1.1.17
The beginning of each new year, with its imaginary line in time, has also become, or has always been, a time for reassessment and for resolutions for the new year. We all have made them and break them almost as quickly. Stats show that 97% of new year’s resolution won’t be kept and 30% will be broken in the first week. Why is it so hard to keep new year’s resolutions? Because they are lifestyle changes that can’t be kept solely in our minds. No matter how resolved we may be mentally, it’s only in living, day to day, in new directions that we remain resolved. And this is why it’s also so hard to follow Jesus. 

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We’d like to believe that our spirituality is really a mental affair: a one-time pledge of allegiance to a creed or the correct reading of scripture leading to a permanently correct theology and doctrine, but Jesus’ Way is really a radically different lifestyle that can only be followed with ongoing movement. All day every day. Remaining resolved has to do with letting go of our fascination with “bucket lists,” those things we want to do once before we die. Jesus’ Way is not a bucket list and salvation is not what we do once. Because we are not defined by what we do once, but by what we do over and over, all day, every day.

Mangers and Inns

Dave Brisbin | 12.11.16
In the run up to Christmas, what does the infancy narratives in Luke and Matthew have to tell us that is relevant to our day to day lives and choices? Especially, what are the details in those narratives that, understood from a first century, Jewish point of view, can not only make the story real, but clue us in to the central principles the authors were trying to convey? When we know what the word that has been translated as “inn” really means—start erasing our modern western concepts—the story takes on new life. 

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The essential details of mangers and inns begin pointing us in the right direction: toward the personal character and circumstances of Jesus and his family, their status as “anawim” those so destitute that they have only God as their provider…dependent, vulnerable, yet fully grateful and present even to their poverty. Francis of Assisi, who 800 years ago returned himself and his followers to the state of anawim, was also the first to recreate a nativity scene, a full nativity play, in order to recreate the experience of mangers and inns in a truly life-transforming way.

The Micro Life

Dave Brisbin | 12.4.16
With all the big news happening constantly, especially leading up to and from the presidential election, it’s easy to get caught up in the all these pressing macro events and even obsess over them, become the stereotypical political junkie, environmental junkie, or whatever. But regardless of what is happening in the macro, our lives are always lived in the micro—one moment and one person at a time. Often, focus on the macro becomes a way of avoiding our real life’s work in the micro. What is our basic purpose in human life?

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What does Jesus have to say about our priorities and where our emphasis should be placed? If he’s really telling us that the quality of our lives is always determined by the quality of our micro relationships and our ability to be fully present to them, then questions and choices become much sharper in focus.

Circle Dance

Dave Brisbin | 11.27.16
Coming off Thanksgiving and probably the loudest family gathering ever, I realized that the gratitude we all felt and hadn’t quite put into words, was being expressed through sheer volume: through the day long dance of family members moving in and out of conversations and laughter and food and games. It was a constant motion, a giving and receiving that blurred into one thing that I suppose we could describe as family or love or long-familiar relationship. When we look at God from a Christian point of view, we’ve been asked to see three persons in one God, but what does that mean, and why is it important? What does it offer each of us day in and out? 

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The early church fathers come to the rescue here, giving us the word that for them came closest to what they saw when they looked at God: “perichoresis.” It literally means “circle dance” in Greek, and when we think of the ancient Greek traditional dances, whirling and turning so fast that individual dancers blur into one constant motion, we begin to see the point. Love needs a beloved; giving needs a receiver. If God is love, then God is already and has always been a blur of motion where love and beloved, giving and gratitude blur into one thing, one God. And in that notion of constant motion, we can see where we fit in, where we can enter the dance and be one with the blur.

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Everyone is recovering from something… Admitting this is the first step in spiritual life, because any unfinished business in our lives–trauma, unforgiveness, fear-based perceptions–fosters compulsive behavior and keeps us from connecting spiritually and emotionally.

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