message archive

Audio recordings of messages from Sunday and some Tuesday Recovery Gatherings are archived here for downloading or streaming. You can browse current year messages below from most recent to oldest, or select a category for specific years or one of our “boxed sets,” message series on specific topics.

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Three Sixteen

Dave Brisbin 2.5.23
For God so loved… First phrase of what may be the most famous verse in the bible. At least in Evangelical circles. Even the bottom of In-N-Out soda cups have John 3:16 printed on them. Why? For many Christians, this verse is the gospel in microcosm: For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.

Problem is, we won’t investigate a premise we think we already understand. But how much of what this verse originally meant has survived being translated from ancient Aramaic to ancient Greek to modern English as interpreted by modern Westerners and eventually…Americans? Every phrase in this verse can mean something radically different in Aramaic, but since the whole thing points to eternal life, we can start there. The concepts of both world and eternity are conveyed by the same Aramaic word: alma. Ancient Hebrews saw both the world and life around them as generations of never ending cycles of newness and diversity, so eternal life, hayye d’alma, was not life that goes on forever hereafter, but life that is eternally alive, new, exciting, abundant—herenow.

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This originally Eastern, Aramaic gospel is not about passively and mentally agreeing to believe in a savior who guarantees life after death, but actively trusting the child of God’s unity to the point of risking our first steps toward making sure the life we’re already living is spiritually alive. And the key to being able to take those first vulnerable steps lies in that first phrase: God so loved. When we hear so loved, we think how much. Quantity. But the Aramaic word, hakana, means thus, in such a manner. Quality. Answers how, not how much. How could it? If God’s love is perfect, infinite, it has no degree, can’t be measured. Anything that can’t be measured always looks the same no matter who’s looking.

Filling in the blanks: God loved all creation by birthing his own unity in human form, that whoever trusts, follows, and fulfills that unity in themselves will not fall away, but will have life that is always new, abundant, and alive.

That’s a gospel worthy of the bottom of a billion soda cups.

 

Come and See

Dave Brisbin 1.29.23
Jesus will never give anyone a straight answer to a question. Even when simply asked where he’s staying, he replies: Come and see. He’s not trying to be difficult. He just knows that with an answer in our heads, we will stop looking. A map is not the territory, and no answer made of words is true enough to make us free. Truth with the power to make us free can only be experienced, never agreed upon.

A rich young man asks how to find eternal life, and Jesus tells him to sell everything he has and follow. Poor fishermen who have nothing to sell, simply drop their nets and follow. Come and see: a pattern is forming. Nicodemus, a ruling member of Israel’s governing body, a Pharisee, comes to Jesus under cover of night to get answers. Jesus says he must be born again to see the Kingdom of Heaven—that it’s not enough to be born of water, he must also be born of spirit, which is like the wind that blows where it wishes. He won’t know where this spirit is coming from or going to—he’ll never see it, but he’ll hear it and see its effect. Nicodemus is confused.

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Jesus has brought two metaphors together. Being born of spirit is seeing the kingdom of heaven, moving beyond obedience to physical rules and ritual law to the freedom of uncertainty, following spiritual movement that we will never understand, but will know is true in its effect on life and relationship. It’s this movement that allows us to “see” kingdom. But there’s a rub. We think of seeing as remote, something we can do from a distance. For Jews, it is intimate. Psalm 34 says, taste and see that the Lord is good. Taste, ta’am in Hebrew, is also to perceive. See, ra’ah, is to enjoy, experience, discern, perceive. Taste and see, come and see. There is no other way.

We want to bring a gun to a knife fight—view from a distance, safely think about what can only be ingested. To taste is the most vulnerable thing we can do. There is no safe distance or way to see Kingdom, to be born anew. We can’t answer the question; we can only come and see. All defenses down. Like a newborn. Or not at all.

 

What Do You Seek?

Dave Brisbin 1.23.23
Think of the best teachers you’ve had in your life. Not just in classrooms. Friends, coaches, parents, bosses, leaders, anyone who showed up at the critical moment when you were ready to listen to a voice outside your own head. Didn’t they always seem to ask the perfect questions? Directing you where you didn’t even know you needed to go? This is the way of good teachers. Creating the best environment for change, providing tools, getting out of the way.

Two followers of John the baptizer peel off to follow his cousin Jesus as he walks along the banks of the Jordan. Jesus sees them, asks: What do you seek? What a loaded question. You’re following me, do you know why? Do you know what you want? What you’re about, your purpose? That’s a lot to process in a first meeting. They can’t answer, simply ask: Where are you staying? Jesus’ classic non-answer: Come and you will see. Beautiful dialog. So simple yet real. Translation: What is your deepest desire and purpose? If you can’t say, come; we’ll find out together. Invitation as answer.

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Jesus enters Jerusalem, sees a man lying by a pool believed to have healing properties for the first one in when the waters stirred. Ill for thirty-eight years, Jesus asks the man: Do you wish to get well? What seems almost insulting, condescending, is actually the very same question: What do you seek? What is your deepest desire? The man can’t answer; makes excuses, justifies why he can’t get to the pool in time. But Jesus has moved far beyond physical healing: the waiting is over, the kingdom—wholeness, completeness—is here…just pick up your pallet—the form of your victimhood—and walk. Leave your nets—the symbol of your former identity—and follow the direction of wellness.

Jesus is the best of teachers. Always asking the same first question. Are we ready to listen? Do we know what we really desire, our deepest purpose? If not, are we ready to leave our nets—everything we think we know, pick up our pallets—all our reasons why not, and come and see where Jesus is staying? Far beyond physical location, it is always exactly what we seek. Long before we can find the words.

 

Undivided Presence

Dave Brisbin 1.15.23
Nicolas Herman was an uneducated peasant in seventeenth century France, impressed into the military where he was assigned the most menial tasks. When he was released, he decided to enter a Carmelite monastery and there became Br. Lawrence of the Resurrection, and was assigned the most menial tasks. But after years of practice, even working in a noisy kitchen, he found a presence of God that sustained and transformed any task, no matter how small, into a sacred act.

A friend of his wrote down everything he remembered of his conversations with Br. Lawrence—recorded him saying that all the thoughts that crowd in on us spoil everything, so we must be careful to reject them as soon as we become aware that they are not essential to our present duties. When he was assigned a task, he didn’t think or worry about it at all beforehand, because when the time came for action, in God’s presence he knew clearly what he must do. He didn’t remember the things he did afterward and was almost unaware even when he was doing them. On leaving the table, he couldn’t tell you what he had eaten.

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With no worrying beforehand, no remembrance after, completely immersed wherever he was, whatever he was doing, he had learned to integrate mind, body, soul—thought, action, intent. Aware without judging, thoughts and choices flowed through an undivided presence. When Jesus was twelve, he came of age in a family pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Separated from his parents for nine days, they found him in the temple immersed in his sh’eilot u’teshuvot, a formal QA, testing with the elders. When his mother scolds him for scaring the gehenna out of them, he responds almost casually that of course he would be in his Father’s house, undivided in his Father’s presence—until the moment he leaves with them, just as undivided in their presence on the way home.

Jesus’ concept of Kingdom is the rosetta stone, the decoder key to all his teaching. Get kingdom, get it all. But until we understand kingdom as the undivided presence of a poor Carmelite monk and equally poor Jew during his bar mitzvah, we’ll always be waiting for the next bus.

 

Waiting is Over

Dave Brisbin 1.8.23
The first line of a book has always fascinated me. May not always be significant in content, but it establishes the author’s voice—manner, personality, mood—the nature of our link with the storyteller. Call me Ishmael…Moby Dick. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…A Tale of Two Cities. The first line Jesus speaks in the book of Mark is a simple proclamation and an appeal:

The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.

These words establish Jesus’ voice and link with us and significantly encapsulate his entire life and teaching. But these words, strung together in English can only create a meaning that is the sum of what those words mean to us now at a time and in a culture and language utterly alien to the time of the telling. What happens if we take this simple first line and translate it back into the original Aramaic and reconstruct it through all we know of the ancient culture and worldview in which it was uttered?

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In Aramaic, zavna/time can mean a season or passing instant in which an opening appears, an opportunity to be seized—focused here not on a clock running out, but a person becoming ready to be completed. Malkutha/kingdom, not a place but the principles by which the king reigns, and Alaha/God, the essence of unity—so the kingdom of God can be understood as the presence of unity. Meta/at hand is really to reach, attain—to have already arrived, herenow. Tab/repent, not remorse, but to return or answer, change direction in mind and body. Haimanuta/believe is confidence, firmness, integrity, all that leads to trust. And sebharta/gospel, to hope, endure, declare. Putting these concepts together, a line in Aramaic can become a paragraph in English…

Waiting is over. God’s presence is fully formed, herenow. The door to the very life God lives every moment is open wide. Wherever you’re going, stop, turn this way, through this door. Remain hopefully steadfast until you trust that the way is sure.

A creative paraphrase. Absolutely accurate? Of course not. But much closer to an Aramaic Jesus. Close enough for now.

Perfectly Imperfect

Dave Brisbin 1.1.23
First apartment Marian and I rented was near a nature reserve, and a colony of turkey vultures roosted in the tops of the eucalyptus all around us. Most people complained about the mess on the sidewalks, but I loved them. Waiting every morning for the sun to heat the updrafts that would take them aloft, like business people waiting for the train, they went to the office every day, all day, back home with the lowering sun. Day after day, seasons, weekends, holidays made no difference. No sense of time or the arbitrary lines we draw to mark our calendars.

On New Year’s Day, we celebrate an arbitrary line. A line drawn differently in different cultures at different times in history. In the West, we think of time as a series of line segments, but the new year we celebrate is really a circle. The universe is made of circles. Circles within circles. Stars, planets, orbits, rotations, all scribing the circles we call days, months, years, seasons. The earth has no more sense of time than a turkey vulture, but we do, and in the language of Jesus, when a circle is completed as on New Year’s Day, it is g’mar, perfected. 2022 is now a perfect year. Complete. Fulfilled.

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Hard to imagine any of us calling 2022 a perfect year because we think of perfection as without fault or blemish. No year is without blemish, but they all come full circle. None of us are without fault, but we can come full circle too. James says it best at the top of his letter: “Let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” When Jesus says, “Be ye perfect” and his brother James says,” be perfect and complete,” they are urging the perfection of homecoming after a difficult journey.

Perfection is not about working a process to a perfect result, but about the effect that process has on us…even if the result is imperfect. Outcome is irrelevant to the perfection of Jesus and James. We are perfected when we come full circle, home to our eucalyptus, having learned to be more fully present and aware, to more perfectly embrace whatever and whomever shares our homecoming. No matter how imperfect.

 

Risking Small

Dave Brisbin 12.11.22
Woke up out of a dream in which a couple agreed to adopt triplets, but as soon as the adoption was final, found out all three infants were blind. Doctors told of a procedure that could repair the optic nerves, but no guarantee. Husband was furious, accused the bio-father of fraud, wanted to annul the adoption or add contingency for successful surgery. His wife turned to him—said when you have a baby, you don’t know what’s coming and whatever arrives is yours and you can’t give it back. She reminds him that he’s built businesses from the ground up, that he should know that a life being lived without risk is not being lived at all. Then I woke up.

How do our minds come up with this stuff? My wife wanted to know the end of the story, but I suppose that wasn’t the point. The non-ending leaves the choice midair. What would we do? What place does risk hold in our lives?

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We’re all at risk, even before we take our first breath. The question isn’t whether we can live without risk, but whether we can accept the risk of being alive. Security is an illusion we pile around ourselves in money and material until it dawns on us just how fragile we are. Maybe Christmas can help, understood as the story of small, risky beginnings—Jesus born a helpless infant to a helplessly poor couple, risking being small to reveal a big truth.

We may be willing to risk big, hoping to acquire enough to become risk-free. But there is no such thing. Human control always fails. Jesus was willing to risk small, a child who never grew out of childlikeness. If we want to find something hidden by a child, we must get on our knees to see the world from a child’s height. If we want to find a big truth hidden by a childlike God, we must get on our knees, let humility empty our illusions of control. The story of Jesus’ birth is the story of our rebirth. Jesus, born into the vulnerability of a child, risked the smallness of never growing out of it. The story of our rebirth is to risk growing back in.

 

Patience of Job

Dave Brisbin 12.4.22
We’ve all heard of the patience of Job. Book of James called it to our attention in the West when King James translated it that way in 1611. But the word that James originally used primarily means endurance that is at least a bit stoic if not cheerful; when he means patience, he uses a different word. Question is, how cheerful or patient was Job?

To refresh, Job was a righteous, blameless, and incredibly wealthy man with a large family who, for no reason known to him, is stripped of everything he owns and loves including his children and his health. His wife tells him to curse God and die, but though his heart is broken, his integrity is not. He curses his birth, but not God. Three friends come to comfort him, but end up only debating, maintaining that Job must have done something secretly wrong to have earned such punishment. As their arguments escalate, Job grows increasingly angry, sarcastic, biting as he verbally attacks them, shifting his focus to God, complaining, criticizing, even berating God for targeting him and letting the wicked continue to prosper. He feels and says everything we’d imagine he would, everything we ourselves would and have at times of our own greatest loss.

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When God finally speaks to Job, it’s from a whirlwind—the power, mystery, uncontrolled chaos and uncertainty of everything we can’t understand. In breathtaking poetry, God never addresses Job directly, neither explains Job’s suffering or defends his own justice. He doesn’t respond to Job’s plea of innocence or enter into debate. There is no debate. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Life can only be accepted as it is, not explained or understood.

When Job replies, it is in full submission. But more than that, it’s in full release of his illusion of control—being righteous, pledging allegiance to God, assuming he knows how life works. Accepting what the moment brings is his first step toward trusting what he may never understand. Job had to travel kicking and screaming through pain and loss, through his own impatience to anything that would look like patience to James. Or King James. Or us.

 

That Simple

Dave Brisbin 11.27.22
The older I get, the simpler things look. I used to love complexity. All the words, diagrams, contingencies, choices. Now I love that my wardrobe has come down to one basic uniform—black shirt, jeans, alternating pairs of shoes. And I love that I’m caring less what anyone thinks about my fashion choices. I’m convinced that the things in life that remain complicated are less important than things that don’t. And becoming aware of the complexity to which I remain attached is one way of knowing where my stone is not yet smooth.

Jesus was a master of simplicity. Pared everything down to the fewest possible words. An image or metaphor. We imagine God’s kingdom to be filled with laws, rules, doctrine, rituals, good works. Those are all parts but not the point. Jesus boils it down to one thing. Love. Of God and each other—which in turn become one thing in the act of loving. Seek that and all else will be added. Live that and all else is commentary. And when we do, what does that feel like? Just one thing.

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If I say the word we attach to that feeling, you’ll probably shrug, maybe roll your eyes, yawn. Think you’ve heard it all before, a cliché. How to get across the impact of this word? Maybe look at it’s opposite, the effect of its opposite. Have you noticed people are getting angrier? Anger is affecting every part of our lives, personally and societally. But anger is a top level emotion always driven by something deeper. Expectation, insecurity, envy, victimization sum into a sense of entitlement that fuels our anger. The belief that we’re owed something, the anger when we don’t get it is the complex mix that is the opposite of the simplicity of gratitude.

The one thing to which Jesus is pointing feels like gratitude. Gratitude is what love feels like. We can’t be grateful and angry at the same time. Or insecure, envious, victimized. Gratitude embraces the humility of receivership, acknowledges a gift we could not give ourselves. We can’t manufacture gratitude. We become it when we let go of the complexity of entitlement. It’s that simple. And that difficult at the same time.

 

In the Garden

Dave Brisbin 11.20.22
Do you know how many creation stories there are in the bible? Two… Surprised? How many flood stories? Two. There are many “doublets” or repetitions of stories in the bible that scholars attribute to a near literary certainty that, apart from the epistles of the New Testament, the books of the bible weren’t written as an author would write a novel, but compiled as a film documentary would compile sources to weave a story.

These ancient Hebrews books as we’ve come to know them, comprise various sources that scholars have reconstructed using internal clues: the specific name of God being used, language dating from different periods, discrepancies in details. In the Genesis creation story, the two traditions are simply laid side by side with no attempt to harmonize; the differing details weren’t meant to be harmonized. Six days or one day, God hovering over chaos or starting with land and mist, man created last and all at once as a race or first with just one man and woman. We want to resolve these differences into one true story, but the differences themselves tell the truth of the story.

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Until we lose our obsession with literal readings of sacred books, we’ll miss their intent. We can’t know God, how God relates to us until we see God as both transcendent creator speaking the cosmos and all life into existence from on high—and a craftsman getting hands dirty fashioning one man out of mud and clay, breathing life into his nostrils, waiting to see what he will call the animals in the garden…intimately connected. And we can’t know ourselves until we see that we are both the final pinnacle of God’s creation, royal figures, God’s image representing God’s rule on earth, and also vulnerable, fallible servants in the garden who don’t even know we’re naked.

We think only one thing can be true at a time. The ancients knew better. That life is a paradox of seeming contradiction that tells a whole truth. Until we can embrace the mystery at the heart of life, we can’t follow the Way of Jesus, the vulnerable relinquishing in the second half of life that leads us back to the Source. Our first home. In the garden.

 

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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.

Since we’re all recovering, we accept everyone right as they are—no expiration dates or deadlines. We don’t tell anyone what to believe or do. We present points of view that we hope will engage seekers in their own journey; help them unlearn limiting perceptions, beliefs, and compulsions; give opportunities to get involved in community, building the trust we all need to find real identity, meaning, and purpose. In other words, to engage the transforming Way of living life that Jesus called Kingdom…non-religiously understood from a first century Hebrew point of view.

 

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Embedded in the fun and laughter of each of our gatherings and events is the connection and accountability as well as the structure, discipline, and opportunity for service that authentic community is all about. We help create programs for physical support, emotional recovery, and spiritual formation that can meet any person’s needs. Such programs work at two levels: first to address a person’s physical and emotional stability—clinical, financial, relational,professional—anything that distracts from working on the second level: true spiritual formation centered around the contemplative way of life defined by an original Hebrew understanding of the message of Jesus.

Rather than telling people what to believe or think, we model and encourage engagement in a personal and communal spiritual journey that allows people to experience their own worthiness of connection and acceptance, to find the freedom from underlying fears that brings real meaning and purpose into focus.

 

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Seeing ourselves as a learning and recovery community that worships together, the focus isn’t on Sunday morning alone, but on every day of the week as we gather for worship, healing and support workshops, studies, 12 step meetings, counseling and mentoring sessions, referral services, and social events. We maintain a food pantry for those needing more support, a recovery worship gathering, and child care for those with little ones.

Our Sunday gathering starts at 10AM and our Recovery gathering on Tuesdays at 7PM. Both gatherings include worship with one of the best worship bands in the area. See our monthly calendar and our Facebook page to stay in touch with what is happening each week. You can also sign up on our elist for email enews updates.

 

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