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.




Why We Count

Dave Brisbin 4.7.24
We just finished counting the forty days of Lent that ended with Easter, only to begin counting again, this time to 49 plus one that will take us to Pentecost. Each counting is a time of preparation, but for what?

Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus, and Pentecost the moment his followers engaged the full weight of spirit, but these were superimposed on the Hebrew celebrations of Pesach and Shavu’ot. Originally agricultural festivals, the people would ritually count seven weeks of seven between Pesach at the spring barley harvest and Shavu’ot at the summer wheat harvest. Over time, simple timekeeping between harvests—seven, the number of spiritual perfection, times seven—became the perfect time of preparation between Pesach/Passover, the physical liberation of the people from slavery, and Shavu’ot, the giving of the Law, a new relationship with God and the spiritual liberation of the people.

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We are now in this count, the time of preparation between Easter, physical liberation from death, and Pentecost, representing spiritual liberation. Jesus told Nicodemus he must be born again, that he was born of water, physical birth, but must be reborn of spirit. Ritually, baptism, represents birth, entry into the tribe, our physical liberation, but too often the story ends there.

Many of us spend entire lives in this count, this time between physical and spiritual liberation, never experiencing another liberation that can only be realized after a descent that strips us down to as basic an existence as if being born all over again. For Jesus, the descent is represented in the wilderness and his time in the tomb. For Jesus’ followers, it is the shock and awe of Calvary that strips them bare of everything they thought they knew, leaving them counting the days to their individual Pentecosts, the moment they break into new relationship, their own spiritual liberation, second birth.

Our journeys have this same shape, and Calvary is the threshold between two liberations. The way to Pentecost begins at Calvary…the moment we think we’ve lost everything is the beginning of our ascent. It’s why we count.

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Life in Motion

Dave Brisbin 3.31.24 Easter Sunday
Ever wonder why the resurrection accounts in the gospels are written the way they are? We crave details and explanations for the event itself, but the gospels are uninterested in satisfying our obsession with certainty. The central event takes place offstage, and the story picks up after it happens, following Jesus’ friends, their reactions and choices. The gospels are focused on the effect of the resurrection on Jesus’ first followers, not on the resurrection itself.

This is a huge distinction that shows us where to look…not at the miracle, but at how the miracle affects our lives. It’s fascinating that no one recognized the risen Jesus at first sight. We wonder if Jesus looked different or whether he was miraculously hiding himself for some reason, but the truth is that the followers’ minds, like any human mind, were not yet prepared to see what they considered impossible. The gospels are telling us that seeing the risen Jesus is more process than event, a process of becoming ready to see beyond the limitation of our programming. We focus on the external event. The gospels focus on the interior process.

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In every gospel story of eventual recognition, the smallest, most intimate and familiar gesture breaks the spell our minds cast over our seeing. Mary hears her name called as she heard it a thousand times, Clopas sees the breaking of bread at supper in Emmaus, Peter feels the pulsing weight of fish in his nets after a catchless night. Intimate connections experienced over and over show us who we are, and those same tiny details prove our identity to each other, not big events. If we want to see the risen Jesus—the focus of Christian spirituality—where do we look? The women who come to find Jesus in the tomb are asked why they seek the living among the dead. What a question.

Life is defined by motion. No motion, no life. If Jesus is alive, he’s in motion too, not among the static dead, among set beliefs about past events. We will always find the risen Jesus in the center of all our motion. Among the living. In all the tiny, familiar, intimate movements of our own lives or not at all.


Jesus Saves

Dave Brisbin 3.24.24
Western Christianity has largely failed us in its primary responsibility: to preserve Jesus and his teaching and help us engage. Focused on law and punishment to the point of legalism; ritual to the point of superstition; scarcity to the point of passive petition; outcome to the point of dismissed herenow, an authentic Jesus and his message have been left behind.

One little passage sums it up. “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.” Lest we take the English too literally, in Aramaic, eye/aina means a person’s entire way of seeing, their worldview. Clear/p’shitta is clear in the sense of simple and sincere. Light/nuhrah is illumination, intelligence, order. Bad/bisha means unripe, immature, not fully formed. And darkness/heshuka is chaos, disharmony.

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Jesus’ whole ministry was to show us how we can sincerely allow the order and clarity of ultimate reality penetrate the chaos of the immature thought-worlds we have created for ourselves out of fearful survival needs. And in following this only Way, to see the Good News of our reality—that we are already as loved and approved as we want to be. When Jesus rolls into Jerusalem on his last week before the crucifixion, his followers, the people, the Jewish and Roman authorities only see him through the filter of their own wants and needs. For those at the margins, he is savior. For those invested in the status quo, a threat to their powerbases.

Is Jesus a savior or a threat? We reflexively say savior, have grown comfortable with that image, but if we don’t also see Jesus as a threat, we will miss how he saves. The next day, Jesus overturns the money tables in the temple. If there is anything in our thought-worlds we have built up and rely on, if we let him anywhere near, Jesus will overturn it that our eye may be clear. It’s up to us to be outraged or intrigued. This is how Jesus saves—by showing us how to clear our eye. But until we accept his threat, he can’t save us.

Jesus is our savior and our threat. But not necessarily in that order.

Feeling God’s Pleasure

Dave Brisbin 3.17.24
What do humans look like when they break through their own thought-created worlds—all about survival, controlling competition—and become present to the real world around them?

I remembered the movie Chariots of Fire, based on a true story set around the Paris Olympics, 1924. It contrasts two runners, a British Jew, Harold Abrahams, and a Scottish Christian, Eric Liddel. Abrahams has been embittered by the prejudice he’s suffered as a Jew, and runs for revenge, driven to win and prove superiority over those who despised him. Liddel, China-born to missionary parents, has been preparing to return to the mission field even as he gained stardom in rugby. His sister, Jenny, just as driven as Abrahams in her religious zeal, is dismissive and critical of his athletics; they distract from God.

Liddel tells Jenny, “I believe God made me for a purpose, for China…but he also made me fast…and when I run, I feel his pleasure. To give it up would be to hold him in contempt.” Abrahams runs for revenge. Jenny runs for duty and obligation. When Liddel runs, he feels God’s pleasure.

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Liddel stands apart. Principled to the point he won’t run his 100M race because it falls on a Sunday, he withstands withering fire from his elders including the Prince of Wales himself. Yet, when able to run the 400M instead, as the fastest runners in the world are tensely preparing to run, Liddel casually walks the lanes, sport coat over his running shorts, smiling, shaking hands, wishing each the best of luck.

Liddel was only 22 years old. How’d he do that?

Running was just another place where he felt God’s pleasure: sheer oneness and connection. But seems he also felt God’s pleasure when he greeted his fellow runners, unconcerned at that moment for the race itself, until that became the source of God’s pleasure. Twenty years later, he was still feeling God’s pleasure in China, working with children in the WWII internment camp where he died. Wherever he went, whatever he was doing, he felt God’s pleasure, changing everything.

I don’t know how he felt all this at 22. But with intention and a bit more time, we can all feel it too if we wish.


When Down is Up

Dave Brisbin 3.10.24
The reality we believe is the reality we endure.

We don’t see reality as it is. We see reality as we are. Our minds are a necessary tool for survival, but keyed to survival, they are fear-based, making our thoughts overwhelmingly negative as they literally create the world in which we live. As long as we’re thinking, we’re enduring a world we believe we must control to survive. We’ll need our minds as long as we’re drawing breath, but our mistake is to take them literally. To believe our thoughts are true is to live in the anxiety of our own personal hell.

Jesus is acutely aware of the grip our minds have over us, that our minds can’t tell the difference between the thoughts it generates and sensory input coming from the outside. Always trying to engineer breaks in our stream of thought to allow something really real to break in, he never answers a question except with another question, a story or parable. He knows an “answer,” received as part of the mind’s drive to control the fear of uncertainty, is the problem. The solution is to take our thoughts by surprise so we can step away, become free of their self-created, fear-based world.

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Sometimes Jesus doesn’t use words at all. When he washes his followers’ feet, he is breaking into their fear-world in the most intense way possible. As his followers jockey for positions of power in Jesus’ kingdom as they think it will be, Jesus shows them, through the most humiliating and disgusting act of service in ancient Jewish culture, the meaning of true power. The highest position is the lowest, because only in service, in laying down our lives for another, is the reality of love ever expressed.

Jesus is a footwasher.

He says that he and the Father are one, which makes our Father a footwasher too. We have placed God high over our thought-worlds in positions of power and control. But if we really want to find our God, we have to look down, not up—not in the clouds, but in the standing height of a child, the kneeling height of a servant.

Can you honestly accept and respect a God who washes your feet? And if not, what will it take to break into your thought-world?


Tables and Trees

Dave Brisbin 3.3.24
Decades ago, I met a Christian who converted to Judaism, eventually becoming a first century Jewish follower of Jesus. He spoke of his personal theology, a stated set of personal beliefs. I’d never considered such a thing. Growing up Catholic, theology belonged to the church, as if God had written it, and the church discovered it, parceling it out each Sunday. Unquestionably true, the idea of a personal theology was blasphemous. We had no permission to think personally.

Yet here’s Jesus overturning tables in the temple and cursing a fig tree for having no fruit. Both stories pointing to the fact that the Jewish system of his day had become bankrupt, fruitless, unable to guide its people to authentic spiritual encounter. Jesus gave himself permission to explore his own beliefs, lived and taught out of that conviction, exposing the defects of his tradition. And where did that tradition come from? If you roll back any religion to its inception, you get to one person. A person who had life changing spiritual experience, which they lived and taught and people followed.

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All theologies begin as personal theologies—attempts to express an inexpressible experience of the infinite in a finite life. But when we come to that religion as a follower, what we experience first is the expression as it has been handed down, not the experience. Heresay…which won’t be useful unless or until it guides us to our own experience. Once theology becomes institutionalized, it becomes a closed loop, no longer pointing to life changing experience, but to its own law and ritual, as if they were such experience themselves.

Any theology only become useful once it has become personal.

Once you’ve memorized the phone number, you can burn the slip of paper. Once the law is written on your heart, you can forget the rules. The purpose of theology is to catch God. Once God is caught, theology can be forgotten—we can meet God without a middleman. But we’ll never know this until we give ourselves permission to get personal. Permission will never be granted to overturn our tables of old thinking or kill our trees of unfruitful action.


Listening to Rocks

Dave Brisbin 2.25.24
When Jesus rolls into Jerusalem the week of his execution, there are major mixed emotions in the crowd of onlookers. The common folk are chanting and cheering as the authorities, both Jewish and Roman, hang back, concerned over any shift in power. Jewish leaders tell Jesus to quiet the crowds, but Jesus replies that if these were silent, the very rocks would cry out. Just pretty poetry? Something deeper?

He seems to be echoing both King David and Paul who said that all creation testifies to truth and can’t be silenced or ignored. More poetic license? Astronomers say they have heard the sound of a black hole singing: a massive black hole in the Perseus cluster is emitting sound centered on a tone 57 octaves below middle C. And microwave background radiation, radiation from celestial bodies and nebulae can also be heard as sound, as music. Creation is singing. We just have to be tuned to the right frequency.

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Obviously not being so technical, Jesus is recognizing that there is unceasing music, an expression of truth emitting from everything around us…all nature, even the rocks. How can we tune in? Paul calls it unceasing prayer, but as if knowing we’d misunderstand, couples his directive to pray with rejoicing always and being grateful in all circumstances. These three directives together create the context for understanding the nature of unceasing prayer. Not prayer of words or thoughts, but a state of awareness so tuned to each moment that we can participate at a level beneath words, thoughts, and the judgment that objectifies and separates.

To engage our moments at this level is to become aware of the deeper connection that is experienced as a sense of wellbeing, a metaphysical ok-ness for which the automatic reaction is gratitude. When you feel the smile spreading across your face without your permission or thought, when you suddenly see in the smallest detail you may have seen a thousand times, the thrill of something deeper, you are praying this prayer. Significance in insignificance. Divine truth in the most ordinary moment when your prayer is your awareness—tuned to hear the rocks sing.



Dave Brisbin 2.18.24
We’re still in the first days of Lent. If you didn’t grow up in a liturgical church, you may not know about ashes on foreheads, confession and penance, fasting and giving up candy bars or some other treat for forty days. And even if such memories are part of your past, you may have as much to unlearn as others have to learn about Lent.

For nearly 1,800 years, the forty-day period before Easter is meant to be a time of preparation. Originally the preparation for baptism of new converts, it was ported over to Easter as an annual time of preparation for the new life of rebirth. Mirroring Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness, the deprivation and suffering of Jesus’ experience is emulated, but why? As children, we understood it as punishment and penance for our sins, wiping our slates clean for God, but this relatively passive and vicarious approach is not what Jesus experienced during his fortyness.

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Forty in the bible means a difficult time of trial and testing leading to a transformative rebirth. Think Moses on Mount Sinai, Noah in the ark, Hebrews wandering in the desert. Jesus faced three trials in the wilderness that correspond to every human’s biological needs for security and survival, power and control, affection and esteem. Jesus’ three temptations symbolize the unconscious drives every human must transcend far enough to gain the emotional regulation and awareness the rest of Jesus’ Way requires.

The fortyness of Lent is meant to be a similar, ritually difficult preparation for transformation. But if that’s our intent, we need to reframe it: not as a negative punishment or penance, but as positive, affirmative action we intentionally take to clear out distractions, take a dive into our shadow selves, and create an ideal interior environment for spiritual breakthrough. The fasting and deprivation of Lent is not punishment, but an opportunity to lower our egoic guards and awareness threshold—allow God’s presence to show through. We can use Lent as a crash course to silence and simplify enough to see what is really meaningful in our moments and any interior limitations keeping us from that meaning.

Training Wheels

Dave Brisbin 2.11.24
What churches and religion inevitably forget—as does every human group—is that their laws, doctrine, and practice are not ends, truth in themselves, but pointers, guides to non-rational truth that must be personally experienced, never bestowed.

Thomas Huxley said that new ideas begin as heresy, advance to orthodoxy, and end in superstition. Belief systems practiced for a length of time follow this curve, and Christian thought is no exception. The practices that Jesus taught and his followers called the Way, heretical to most, were understood as a way of life that prepared individuals to experience the paradoxical truth of God’s love. But as the movement matured and institutionalized, life practice became ritualized, and the theological ideas that had grown around them were legalized into orthodoxy. Eventually, law and ritual were believed to have supernatural power, ends in themselves rather than pointers to spiritual experience.

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The original Hebrew meaning of law—torah—was instruction, guidance, like training wheels on a bike. But that in no way diminishes its importance. Jesus said he was not abolishing the law, but fulfilling it—that even the smallest letter and stroke would remain until heaven and earth pass away, which in Aramaic means to cross a boundary. We need the guidance, restriction, and discipline of law and ritual until the oneness of heaven merges with the individuality of life on earth in our own hearts. When heaven and earth merge in us, we no longer need law and ritual as training wheels, but will live them from the inside out as expressions of the love we have experienced along the Way.

Jesus is teaching us that law is not fulfilled in obedience or righteousness in ritual practice. Legal compliance and ritual observance mean nothing in themselves, but everything when they have become the deepest purpose of a transformed heart. To believe otherwise is to miss the Way entirely, remain focused on conformance rather than transformance…as if training wheels are permanent, the highest expression of riding a bike, and not a limitation—the outward badge of an inward inability to fly.


Radical Forgiveness

Dave Brisbin 2.4.24
Some things are too big to grasp all at once. Like those Nazca lines in Peru…geoglyphs laid down on a windless plateau around the time of Christ—so big you can only see them from the air. Other things are too big to grasp within the limits of rational thought. You need greater perspective to see, not altitude, but a step outside conscious thought to the wordless awareness of pure presence. You still can’t grasp the thing intellectually, but you can experience its reality.

God’s radical, degreeless, indiscriminate love is just such a thing. This is why Jesus doesn’t give us a theology. More things to think about. We can understand the words that describe perfect love, but not its reality from words alone. So Jesus gives us a Way of living, the only way to experience the reality of a love so alien that it can’t be rationally understood. Alien. I hope that word is uncomfortable. Only if we are experiencing something uncomfortably unfamiliar at first, or even frightening or amoral according to our sense of justice, are we even in the neighborhood of God’s radical love.

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Nowhere is this paradox more apparent than with the concept of forgiveness. Forgiveness is greatly misunderstood. We equate forgiveness with condoning the past, making restitution, even reconciliation, but it has nothing to do with any of these. Neither does it have anything to do with the person who hurt us…we can forgive the dead. In Aramaic, forgiveness descends from the same root word as freedom. To those who wrote the gospels, to be forgiven is to be set free from any victimization or unbalance that has occurred, to be restored to our original state.

This is a completely interior process that only we can do for ourselves. No one, not even God can do it for us. God doesn’t forgive; God is forgiveness as much as God is love. God can’t withhold his own nature; it self exists. All we will ever get from God is love and forgiveness, but we will never know this reality until we live the Way, until we love and forgive those who haven’t earned it. Then we’ll know how real it is, how it had to first be given to us before we could ever give it away.


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