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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Satisfied People

Dave Brisbin 9.11.22
How many people do you know who seem satisfied with their lives? Are you? Every ad and commercial you see is betting that you’re not. Betting they can get between you and your money by hammering your dissatisfaction with your haves or have nots, your looks, your health, your work, your ride, and a million other issues.

What does it even mean to be satisfied with your life? Should you be satisfied? Isn’t there always something to work for, something that needs fixing, a hole that needs filling? Wouldn’t life be meaningless, purposeless, boring if we were satisfied with the way things are? I read an article that compared our lives to trees that shed their leaves in the fall, changing their priorities for the winter by deciding what to protect. Leaves take a lot of energy to maintain, and in the winter when energy is scarce, there’s only enough to protect the tree’s inner essence, to survive until spring. The tree is a lesson in choosing what to protect.

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I’m thinking that’s what being satisfied with life is. Knowing what to protect. How much of our energy is spent protecting our leaves—the outer, material accessories of life—at all costs and despite what changing circumstances should teach us about changing priorities? Of course it’s not so simple because some of these “accessories” are vitally important—family, job, career, vocation. But they are still leaves in the sense that without protecting our essence, how do they survive?

Being satisfied with life is not complacency. It is the successful balance of now and not yet: working hard to build what needs building and fix what needs fixing, but never at the expense of protecting our essence, which can only be experienced now, this moment. Realizing the most productive our work will ever be is when, disregarding outcome, we fully allow the working moment to be enough, an end in itself. Seeing significance in the smallest of things, and seeing our deepest identity apart from the leaves of our roles and accomplishments.

To allow a moment to be enough for us, to love it for itself while still amid the scaffolding of work undone makes us look a lot like trees.

 

Don’t Go Back to Sleep

Jesus’ Way, the practice of presence, of stepping away from the verbal use and abuse of the mind, is impossible to put into words. Since we are putting words aside in order to experience real presence, words can never detail what we find there. At least not directly. One of the best attempts to describe a transcendent, contemplative experience is a poem of course, A Great Wagon by Rumi, a 13th century Sufi mystic. It’s the one with the famous line: Out beyond ideas of rightdoing and wrongdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

Though that line gets all the attention, each line and metaphor points toward a going beyond everything we think holds life in place. Beyond law, morality, ethics, logic, theology, doctrine, material possessions, even the laws of physics and any illusion of certainty, there is a field. When we lie down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase each other doesn’t make any sense. As humans, even after having such an experience of being, we will still wake the next day empty and afraid. But if we don’t fly back to our words, if we keep playing the music, even the breeze at dawn has secrets to tell. The poet then warns us three times: don’t go back to sleep.

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It’s all about awareness, about waking up inside our waking lives. Most of us are sleepwalking, barely conscious of the unseen unity at the core of life, the perfect love that alone has power great enough to cast out fear. Fears that make us crave those word-based enemies of presence: law, logic, material possessions, whatever makes us feel powerful and certain. But waking up takes time and a persevering desire for more than physical life seems to hold. As Rumi says, the music of a desire as widespread as Spring begins to move like a great wagon. Drive slowly. Some of us walking alongside are lame!

Waking up is a slow process, and we all go back to sleep at one point or another. Life is too traumatic at times to always keep eyes open. But to lie in the grass of that field out-beyond even once, is to have found the awareness and desire to wake again, eyes open longer each time we do.

Out Beyond

Dave Brisbin 8.28.22
Ever been frustrated by Jesus’ communication style? Get in line because even his first followers throw their hands up in the gospels and ask why he doesn’t just speak plainly. Why always in parables and figures of speech. Jesus is a poet. One of the best. He knows he can’t express spiritual truths directly, but only through stories and metaphors that point without limiting.

I’m sure this is a big part of the allure of Buddhism in the West: Buddha is more engineer than poet, giving us Three Universal Truths, Four Noble Truths, an Eight Fold Path, all interconnected and breaking down into further sublists. Something to hold on to. Jesus never gives us lists or interlocking structure. He points toward the experience of top-level concepts and principles, what it feels like to live them. Frustrating, because he is always challenging embedded thought, always introducing paradox and mystery, attempting to take us beyond. Beyond where we are, beyond where we think we can go, even beyond what we think proper.

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Between Jesus’ poetic lines, we find him taking us beyond obedience—to realize that law can only frame the door to life; walking through is experiencing law being fulfilled in relationships that are no longer contractual, that live and breathe in the freedom to break the code whenever love requires. Beyond certainty—to realize that certainty is an illusion, that re-introducing mystery and paradox is to thrive in grateful unknowing, in faith. Beyond belief—to realize that ideas don’t transform us until we act on them, risk losing everything we believe will save us to experience what really does.

Our codes and beliefs, our need for certainty, our conscious minds are hardened targets. They have to be to sustain us through the fears of physical life. But Jesus is taking us beyond physical life, to the life that exists beyond our fears. Like Abraham, asked to kill his miracle son and promise, Jesus is taking us beyond all the defenses we build around what we believe will save us…to experience that we already are.

Sign of Jonah

Dave Brisbin 8.21.22
Suffering is evil and wrong, isn’t it? The price we’ve been paying since Adam blew it in the garden? A sign of God’s disapproval, that something is wrong in our lives, that we need to repent and pray for God’s relief. How we view suffering has a lot to do with how much it hurts. I was taught to view suffering as evil, but what if I was misinformed?

Jesus makes a cryptic statement that you don’t hear many pastors or priests discussing these days. When people were asking Jesus for a sign to prove his power came from God, he tells them they will get no sign but the Sign of Jonah. How to understand? Jonah is the Hebrew prophet swallowed by a big fish while trying to escape God’s command to save a city and people he hated as enemies of Israel. After three days and nights in the fish, Jonah reluctantly goes to them. The people repent, saving the city, but Jonah sulks outside the city walls praying for death. The story ends with God asking whether Jonah is doing well to be angry, and why shouldn’t God—and he—pity these people who “do not know their right hand from their left?”

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Jonah’s descent into the belly of the beast is the same as Jesus’ descent into the tomb. The sign of Jonah is the same as Jesus telling all who would follow him to pick up their crosses daily, to fall to the ground like planted grain, to die to our existence as human seeds in order to grow into fruitful human plants. But dying in any form is not pleasant. Only great suffering and great love have the power to strip away the defenses and illusions meant to keep us safe, but also keep us apart.

Suffering a death to everything we think keeps us safely in control is the necessary suffering that precedes our ability to begin to love as God loves—even those we don’t like, the enemy. If we allow, suffering leads to greater love, just as love always leads back to suffering. Suffering is half of the only Way to the Father.

We don’t get to see Jonah’s response, so God’s question remains open to him and all of us down through the millennia. Will we accept the necessary suffering life presents to open us to a love we won’t see until we do?

 

Ducks and Swans

Dave Brisbin 8.14.22
Most of us have heard the phrase, “ugly duckling,” but most of us no longer know the story from which it comes. We may think it refers to a face only a mother could love, but The Ugly Duckling was a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale published in 1843. After a mother duck’s eggs hatch, there is one duckling unlike all the rest, who is verbally and physically abused because of his looks. He goes through a series of isolating and humiliating incidents until, when fully grown, throws himself into a flock of swans preferring death to further rejection. He’s amazed that he is fully accepted until he sees his reflection in the water and realizes he’s been a swan all along.

When Andersen was asked if he’d ever write his autobiography, he said it was already done. A tall, ugly boy with a big nose and feet, he was cruelly mocked and teased, but in addition to his musical and writing talents, there was evidence he was the illegitimate son of the king of Denmark. The swan was not just metaphor for inner beauty and talent, but also for royal blood.

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Beyond ugly ducklings, there is Cinderella, The Frog Prince, and numberless stories on the same theme from ancient times to today. Luke Skywalker is secretly a Jedi knight. Neo in The Matrix is secretly “the one” who can wake humanity from slavery. Jesus is an ugly duckling too. A Cinderella born into abject poverty, raised in Nazareth—of which Nathaniel asks, “can anything good come from Nazareth?” He is unrecognized, despised, ultimately killed, but not before he finds his true identity, his royal blood and the power to wake humanity to the good news. What news?

That we’re all swans. The slipper fits. We’re knights, secret royalty. That the journey Jesus took to truth is a journey we can all take. That when Jesus says “you will do the things you see me do,” he means that whenever we wish, we can take up the human task of realizing that though we don’t yet see it in ourselves, as children of our Father, the king, royal blood flows in us as well. That even in the admission of our powerlessness, this good news alone can wake us from the slavery of our fears.

 

Sacred Routine

Dave Brisbin 8.7.22
What’s your first reaction to the words religious ritual? Positive? Negative? Typically, it’s a one-two punch of negatives: religion and ritual—both of which many people now denigrate, ridicule, as empty, meaningless, even cultish. Those criticisms are valid if ritual is performed thoughtlessly, without knowing the meaning of the symbols involved, as mere obedience or conformance to a group, to gain approval or status…but what if it isn’t any of those things?

A sacrament is a religious ritual that we define as the outward expression of an inward transformation. When a person offers a transformed heart, with understanding of how the ritual expresses their transformation to the community, it’s filled with meaning—a shared experience and celebration that binds people together. We need ritual, but we need to expand it beyond the confines of church. In my twenties, as some point I realized that I always fell into deep depression on Sunday afternoons. Like clockwork. Not until my thirties when I had started going to a church again, did I realize the depression was gone. Growing up, my family went to mass every Sunday. Got up, dressed up, drove on the same streets to church, pancakes after at Paris’ restaurant every time.

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Here was ritual expanded beyond the religious experience, but not the spiritual. As humans we find connection in what is reliable and repeatable—acts regularly repeated in a set manner. In other words, a routine. Another word we don’t like. But routine is what our lives are made of. It’s what we do over and over that defines us to ourselves and others, not the exceptions no matter how exciting.

Routine may feel like a four letter word, but it gives us the time and times we need to connect and bond with life. Even so, routine is also meaningless if done thoughtlessly with no understanding of what it symbolizes in our lives. But routine becomes ritual if we bring our awareness and fully participate, and it becomes sacramental the moment our transformed hearts can see the deeper implications of our presence meeting God’s presence in the connection it creates.

 

The Rite Rituals

Dave Brisbin 7.31.22
I was recently asked why we don’t do altar calls at our church. It’s not that we don’t do them, but we don’t do them publicly. As de facto sacraments, altar calls have become every Sunday rituals at many Evangelical churches in the past hundred and fifty years. Named from the practice of calling people to the front/altar of a church to declare their conversion, the ritual has become encapsulated in saying the “sinners prayer,” which includes admission of sin, request for forgiveness, statement of orthodoxy, and intention of repentance.

It’s a beautiful first step of vulnerability and intention, but which over time has culturally become the proof of salvation itself. If the saying of a prayer made of words, no matter how beautiful, could trigger the flow of God’s grace and approval where it was previously withheld, as Marcus Borg said, it would be “salvation by syllables.” Mere superstition—in the way carrying a rabbit’s foot brings good luck.

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Jesus was very clear. He’s not superstitious. Though he carefully kept all the non-rabbinical rituals and practices of first century Judaism, he missed no opportunity to show and teach that obeying laws and practicing rituals can never magically gain God’s favor…we already have that and always will. But by engaging a radically different Way of living life, we come face to face with the truth of God’s pre-existing favor, freeing us from the fear of punishment right herenow. Salvation realized, not earned.

Doesn’t mean we stop doing altar calls, but any sacrament is an outward expression of an inward transformation. The ritual itself is meaningless. A transformed heart is what brings meaning to the ritual, and the ritual conveys that meaning to the community and binds us together in shared experience. We need that. But salvation is less an event and more a process of becoming, punctuated by events like our first admission of willingness to submit to a power greater than ourselves. Both are absolutely necessary. It’s a question of emphasis—which means we all have to decide, individually and communally, how best to keep that balance.

 

Every Moment, Every Person

Dave Brisbin 7.24.22
A dear friend and colleague suddenly diagnosed with stage four cancer brings everything to a halt. Not just in her life, but in ours as well—at least for a time. And when we start breathing again, I know what I’m thinking, but wondering what she’s thinking in the dark hours. Her voice sounds strong; she’s talking about fighting and treatment plans, but also logistics and last wishes for her children and all of us.

She’s striking a strange balance between hope for life and admission of the possibility of death, the preparation for it. But isn’t that just a statement of the human condition? Don’t we all live out our lives, plan and dream, laugh and embrace, under the shadow of a death sentence? As long as there’s no date attached, no end in sight, we can pretend, but at times like these it all comes hissing in like a leak in a submarine.

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Her family is now experiencing an intensity they haven’t in some time. We all do this. Why do we wait until the possibility of losing someone becomes imminent before we feel and express their value to us? With our own lives, with the moments that make up our time here—why do we allow the urgencies of life to masquerade as important and distract us from the only moment that exists? This one that we’re in right now. What is urgent is not necessarily important and what is important rarely feels urgent. Relationship and connection, like life, appear open-ended—and without deadline or urgency, they feel reschedulable. Until times like these.

None of us wants to think about death approaching out of the dark at unknown speed and distance. But the value of life can only be experienced in the acceptance of death. In accepting that there are no answers to the deepest questions of life, to stop searching for meaning in the darkness of what we can’t know, we can see again what we’ve always known in the light of each living moment. To stop trying to import meaning into our moments with thoughts made of words and see that each moment is already just enough for us is the gift we can receive at times like these.

 

Questions as Answers

Dave Brisbin 7.17.22
We are fixated on answers. Our collective intolerance of uncertainty feeds a deep need to find absolute answers to all our questions, to be right while pointing out those who are wrong, to pretend that life can be made risk-free if we just know enough of the right stuff. Our minds become the tip of the spear that we believe will save us from our fears. This may work well for the physical sciences and train schedules, but when it comes to matters of spirit, we need to think again.

Do you know how many questions Jesus asks in the gospels? It’s amazing that people actually count these things, but nice that we can look them up. Jesus asks 307 questions. More importantly, 183 questions are asked of him. Of those 183, he directly answers…three. Just three. For every question Jesus answers directly, he literally asks a hundred. He answers every question of course, but most often with another question. Sometimes with a story or an object lesson. But every answer is geared to stop questioners in their tracks, stop the logical flow to which they are addicted by challenging the often unconscious assumptions that drive the questions themselves.

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Jesus is much more interested in questions than answers and is perfectly comfortable with questions serving as answers. Life is made of uncertainty. The questions we most profoundly want answered are unknowable in this life. Jesus knows that the life he lives and envisions for each of us doesn’t flow from answer to answer, but from question to more incisive question. Direct, declarative statements as answers don’t take us on journeys, and Jesus is all about engagement in a process of questioning that constantly refines the scope of what is true.

Every indirect answer Jesus gives, every story and non-sequitur, every question-as-answer is an opportunity to see into a world based on love instead of logic, where the rules of our assumptions about life are exposed as roadblocks to the life we long to live. Even when Jesus is simply asked where he is staying for the night, his answer, come and see, is an invitation to experience what can never be expressed in an answer made of words.

 

The Feel of Freedom

Dave Brisbin 7.10.22
What is the goal of our spiritual journeys? How would you answer for yours? Peace, love, enlightenment, wisdom, salvation? It’s unfortunate that we haven’t been clearer about Jesus’ answer to the question: that following his Way to the Father allows us to know the truth, and that truth will make us free. Freedom is the ultimate goal, because without freedom from the fear that is part of human nature, we will never risk dropping all our defenses—the only way to experience Father, love without degrees or prerequisite.

There’s a catch: what is this freedom? What does it feel like? How do we know we’re talking about the same freedom Jesus tells us comes from knowing truth? In our culture, freedom is unencumbrance from anything that would limit our ability to say and do whatever we want, whenever we want. Our movie heroes are the antithesis of the modern middleclass—burdened by mortgages, debt, desk jobs, families, grinding daily and weekly routine. Movie heroes appear and disappear, ride into town, save the day, then ride back out with us looking wistfully after. Unencumbered by any responsibility other than their own code of conduct, they can never put down roots, become tied to relationship, family, place. To tie them to anything would make them just like us.

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The scriptures paint a very different picture. Over and over, spiritual freedom is not tied to unemcumbrance, but its opposite: slavery and servitude. To be set free by truth is to become a slave of God and everyone in our path—in that culture, an indentured servant or bond slave who voluntarily pledges life and freedom as repayment for a debt. Spiritual freedom is not unencumbrance, but the freedom to submit gratefully and fearlessly, to lay down our lives for another’s life and welfare, to know we are free because we can give our freedom away just as freely.

To be completely unencumbered is to be completely alone. The freedom to which Jesus is leading, comes from experiencing the truth that all that matters in this life is the connection our freedom buys when it allow us to lay down our defenses and experience what happens next.

 

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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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