Audio recordings of messages from Sunday and some Tuesday Recovery Gatherings are archived here for downloading or streaming. You can browse messages below in reverse chronological order, or view the "boxed sets" above by themed series.
dave brisbin | 6.12.16
Speaking of the contemplative way of spirituality in conceptual terms is necessary at the outset, especially for those of us from the West, who are so intellectually based, but it is in many respects, a contradiction in terms. The contemplative way is not intellectually based at all—it is by definition a stepping away from the intellectual in order to non-judgmentally experience the lived moment. But how do we do this? How we step away? There is prayer and there is suffering that can guide us in intensive and specific ways, but there is another. Br. Lawrence called it the Practice of the Presence of God. Instead of specific times of prayer and devotion, there is a constant awareness of God’s presence that we can cultivate through all the daily details of our lives, an awareness that will give us the continual prayer, the constant contact that Paul speaks of. Today, this is sometimes called mindfulness—but mindfulness without the awareness of Presence may still not take us where we want to go, so it’s a blending of the two that Br. Lawrence is showing us. How do we do it, what are some day to day exercises we can use to bring us another step closer to kingdom?
audio [ mp3] | duration: 48.14 size: 9.8mb
dave brisbin | 6.5.16
One of the words ancient Christians used to describe the contemplative way was the word “apophatic.” From the Greek, it literally means to deny speaking or saying. In Latin, it is sometimes called the “via negative” or negative way—negative in the sense of emptying the mind of words, images, ideas in order to rest in God’s presence. In our contemporary culture, this seems somehow perverse in terms of coming into a connection with God. But as we look as Jesus’ time in the wilderness, his staring down the temptations of the adversary from a place of emptiness, his wild, paradoxical sayings of accomplishing by letting go, finding our lives by losing them, his insistence in the Beatitudes of the centrality of “negative” aspects of poverty of spirit, mournfulness, meekness, hunger and thirst as characteristic of kingdom, we see the apophatic way illustrated. To sell all we have and give to the poor in order to follow Jesus into the father’s presence is a letting go of all we think we have and know and believe in order to stand like children in the father’s presence and see what is really before us again for the first time.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 50.40, size: 10.3mb
a contemplative how
dave brisbin | 5.22.16
As we dig deeper into the contemplative way of spirituality, we need to break down religious and cultural barriers. Contemplation, as we’re using it, is a stepping away from the all the thoughts, worries, concerns, and noise in our minds that keeps us from mindful presence right here and now—the only place we will ever meet our God: here and now. Modern Western Christian churches have expressed concern over contemplative practice, labeling it occult, but there is nothing occult about Christian contemplative practice that dates all the way back to the earliest generations of Jesus’ followers, and of course to Jesus himself. How did Jesus practice contemplative prayer and life? Where do we see this practice in scripture, and how do we enter into such practice in our lives today? We need to know more about a contemplative how.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 50.43 size: 10.3mb
dave brisbin | 5.15.16
Jesus is often seen, from a modern, Western viewpoint as a social reformer, a radical revolutionary, the founder of a new religion, working to tear down existing systems in favor of the poor and marginalized. Though Jesus was revolutionary in his expression of his relationship with God/Father, to see him as a social reformer or radical is to misunderstand his message, mission, and Jewishness. Jesus wasn’t trying to start a new religion, but purify the one he was already in. He was an observant Jew to the core, but his sense of oneness with his Father, our Father, made him one with everyone and everything else in creation, including those his religion had excluded. When you look at Jesus and his way of life from a Jewish point of view, what you see is someone so immersed in life and relationship and the lived moment as to be truly radical, but the radicalness is only accidental, a by-product of purposeful immersion in life.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 50:07, size: 10.3mb
only a mother could love
dave brisbin | 5.8.16
On Mother’s Day, we look at the role of mothers and fathers in ancient Hebrew society as illustrated in the language itself. Father in Hebrew means “strong house” and mother means “strong water,” that when understood in context means the “glue that holds the family together.” Strong house and strong water speak to the necessity of both doing and being, of accomplishment and relationship that undergird human life as a whole. We won’t find meaning and purpose without both father and mother in our lives, and we won’t find God either. God is neither masculine nor feminine and is both at the same time. Hebrews understood that their God carried the qualities of strong house and water in perfect balance, and that though God as king was indeed the strength of the house, we always experience him first as mother—the compassion, mercy, and wisdom of the glue that holds everything together. That Jesus always led every encounter, every relationship with compassion and mercy shows us the Way of God, loving first no matter how unlovely we may be—loving as only a mother could love.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 45:20, size: 9.2mb
dave brisbin |4.24.16
Continuing to look at the method and approach to spirituality at theeffect, one of the hallmarks is the contemplative life and contemplative prayer. How to understand contemplation? Simply stated, it’s the letting go of habitual thoughts, feelings, and behavioral patterns, letting of what we think it means to be ourselves, our ego-self in favor of what really is here and now present in the form of God’s spirit. What does that feel like? It feels like waking up inside your dream, to realize you’re dreaming, that the dream isn’t real, and that you can make a different choice than the one your habitual thoughts and triggered feelings have always dictated. How do we do this? Through contemplative prayer and practice, the constant practice of presence, stepping away from all our mental activity to find that Paul called prayer without ceasing, not unceasing words, but the unceasing presence and awareness of someone who has awakened in waking life.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 47:20, size: 9.6mb
dave brisbin |4.17.16
We continue the thread started in the last message, which summed up the approach of theeffect ministry as working to help each individual find acceptance, get involved, build trust, and live theeffect of God’s love. Now what was that second point, again? Getting involved is really all about participation. Participation in what? Faith? Well, a much better way to put it is that participation is faith and faith is participation. Biblical faith is always action, not thought, but biblical faith is also not obedience. Obedience is not faith because it is based in fear of punishment, and the moment obedience is no longer based in fear of punishment, but love of the one to whom you’re submitted, then obedience is no longer obedience, but the action of trust. How do we get there? By diving into relationship headlong. But then relationship is only as good as our participation in it, so it’s really all about participation.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 53:21, size: 10.8mb
who, what, why
dave brisbin |4.10.16
As we near our ninth anniversary as a ministry, seemed time to step back redefine what theeffect was founded to be and what we work to do each day in the minds and hearts of those with whom we connect. Our approach can be summed up as a working to help each individual find acceptance, get involved, build trust, and live theeffect of God’s love. That love, the Good News, Kingdom, the quality of life lived steeped in the awareness of and participation in the Father’s presence is theeffect we seek and without which there is no purpose to a spiritual life.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 47.38, size: 9.5mb
dr. rocco errico | 4.03.16
Renowned international Aramaic scholar Dr. Rocco Errico, founder of the Aramaic Institute and long time student of Dr. George Lamsa, joins us to present Jesus’ model prayer, what we call the Lord’s Prayer, from a deeply Aramaic, Semitic point of view.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 45:53, size: 9.1mb
least of these
dave brisbin | 3.20.16
On Palm Sunday, we look again at our expectations and biases and try to pry loose all we think we know of Jesus: from what he looks like to what we believe of his mission and teachings to test whether we, like those greeting Jesus along the streets of Jerusalem would miss the moment of our visitation. What we think we know limits what we see and are willing to accept as truth. Jesus rides into our lives on the back of the foal of a donkey, bringing a message and truth that unless we have conditioned ourselves to see with the eyes of a child, we will miss completely.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 53:04, size: 9.7mb
heartbeat of life
frank billman | 3.13.16
Our recovery pastor, Frank, takes the mic to work through the essentials of a spiritual walk, pulling from Matthew, John, II Corinthians, and even his own dreams to show us the shape of the journey from descent to ascent—the heartbeat of life.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 40:27, size: 8.1mb
dave brisbin | 3.6.16
As we look at religion and church practice, it all looks so polarized, so black and white, right and wrong—so binary, as if all our spirituality comes down to a choosing of sides. Which side is right and has the power to save and which does not. A young poet writes about why he hates religion and lists all the evils for which religion is responsible. Religion is bad; Jesus didn’t do religion; Jesus ended religion. Really? Jesus didn’t do religion? Truth is, Jesus was more religious than most of us could ever imagine or approve. He followed the written tenets and practices of his faith to the letter, but within that practice, he cleared a path to the freedom that actually fulfilled the intent of his religion. Jesus didn’t choose sides, and though he revered and followed his religion, he never put mere religious practice above the pure relationship his religion was meant to convey. When we study Jesus carefully, better, when we live Jesus carefully, we realize it was never about choosing sides, but about seeing both sides as one whole: each side contributing the structure, discipline, mercy, and compassion that is kingdom.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 43:40, size: 8.6mb
accepting the ride
dave brisbin | 2.28.16
James Series 8: In this final session on the book of James, James makes the transition from more commentary on harmful practices and attitudes among those in his community—speaking ill of each other, arrogantly believing one’s own capacity to control circumstances independently of God, swearing—back to prayer and submission to God. And in this transition, he comes full circle from the acceptance of life’s difficulties and challenges with which he began, to the acceptance of our most basic relationship with life. From the endurance created by accepting life challenges and working through them to the realization and acceptance of our complete dependence on God for the life we lead. From acceptance to acceptance. James has taken this journey himself, and he is inviting us to take the journey as well. Only one question remains: we will accept the ride?
audio [ mp3] | duration: 48:57, size: 9.7mb
dave brisbin | 2.21.16
James Series 7: James continues to hammer on the theme of making our actions match the ends we seek in Kingdom. He points to counter-kingdom practices and action he witnesses in his community—the fights, quarrels, covetousness—and harshly admonishes his people. But again, we need to resist the temptation to just see more rules to follow here. James tells us to draw near to God, humble ourselves, submit, and allow ourselves to let go and descend into a kind of mourning, a sense of loss of all the things we held dear in order to find what is really dear in life. We have built the idea that kingdom is achieved by following rules, when what Jesus and James are telling us is that kingdom is realized by falling in love—in love with a life that looks like kingdom, so that our behavior matches the kingdom we seek. We need to let the rules fall away so we can fall…into the embrace of the Father.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 52:08, size: 9.6mb
starting with heaven
dave brisbin | 2.14.16
James Series 6: Continuing to develop his theme of the law of liberty, James is determined that we understand how fully becoming the law as Jesus framed it—the fulfilling of law as opposed to mere rule following—was the embodiment of faith. His famous passage about the power of the tongue comparing it to rudders on ships and bits on horses is a colorful way of restating Jesus’ teaching that it’s not what goes into man that defiles him, but what comes out. It’s tempting to see these admonitions as more rules to follow, but James is trying to convey that we must use the same means as the ends we seek. If we wish to live in the unity of the Father, then we must begin practicing that unity and connection first. Sounds like a catch-22, but only if you think of heaven, understood as God’s ultimate acceptance, as the end of the journey. What if, as Jesus says, the kingdom, God’s acceptance and love is already within? What if heaven isn’t the end of the journey, but the beginning? That would be really Good News.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 47:57, size: 9.5mb
law of liberty
dave brisbin | 2.07.16
James Series 5: James launches into another major theme of his book, the law of liberty. At first glance, his phrase seems to be an oxymoron—joining two completely contradictory terms. Isn’t law the opposite of liberty? But its very definition, law limits and restricts freedom for the greater good of the group. So what is a law of liberty? James speaks of being a doer of the word and not just a hearer, that action is necessary, that hearing without doing is just another way of saying faith without works is dead. James is zeroing in on the essential point that though law as we understand it, restricts, and such law is not what Jesus or James are teaching. When we follow a law with which we have no connection in terms of purpose and highest good, then our freedoms—things we desire to do--are restricted, but when our purpose and highest good in life has become the same as the law’s purpose and highest good, then in what way are we any longer obeying? We and the law have become one and what we desire to do falls entirely within the code. And when that code fully expresses God’s purpose and highest good, then we are completely free to live life abundantly without restriction…and without ever restricting the liberty of others.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 44:33, size: 8.8mb
dave brisbin | 1.31.16
In the aftermath of our good friend, Lenny Rosenbaum’s suicide, we have felt an onslaught of the usual questions, anguish, and second guessing as well as those specific to each of us…depending on our relationships with Lenny, our last contacts with him, and a million other factors. The realization dawns that as long as we draw breath, we will be faced with loss in life—the loss of people and things dear enough to cause the questions and anguish and second guessing. In a very real way, we are defined as a people by how we handle the losses we experience. Facing loss brings our deepest beliefs into question, strips life down to its essence—in effect, shows us what we really believe and trust regardless of what we may say to ourselves and others. What Jesus seems to be telling us in his Good News is that nothing of value is really ever lost--it just changes form. Just as the stars that disappear at dawn are still right where we left them in our blue sky, everything we need and love remains as well. The changing is painful, but if we really believe the Good News, it is also temporary.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 41:55, size: 8.2mb
dave brisbin | 1.24.16
James Series 4: James was Jesus’ brother or close relative or friend—the language of the New Testament can mean any of the above—and perhaps because of such closeness, James teaches in much the same style as Jesus. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins with the Beatitudes, a picture of the finished product, an end view of the process of kingdom. James also first presents the big, general principles that function the same way. But as does Jesus in the Sermon, James now begins to break down the big concepts into day to day details. How do these principles play out moment by moment? How should we be treating each other in home and synagogue in light of the principles of discernment and judgment? But following the Way is not about following rules, and though James gives us rules, directives for our comportment, he couches it in his concept of the “law of liberty,” a seemingly oxymoronic phrase until you realize that this law is not a law of conformance, but of transformance and moves in an entirely different direction—toward an experience of a completely degreeless love.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 50:42, size: 10.0mb
the gospel: a call to arms
pat boone | 1.17.16
Our friend Pat Boone, an American music and entertainment icon joins us to speak this Sunday morning. It may seem counterintuitive to view the Gospel as a call to arms, Pat tells us, but in this world today, with such uncertainty and fear on a global scale, it is the Gospel that can prepare us for the adversity we may find on all levels of life. What is this Gospel, what are its main points and the length of its narrative in the New Testament, and what is it really telling us? To be able to embrace the fullness of the Gospel is like putting on the protective armor that will allow us to take the risks that perfect love requires.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 53:17, size: 10.6mb
dave brisbin | 1.10.16
When a beloved friend and integral member of a community dies, it sends shockwaves through each connected life. But when that friend has taken his own life, the shockwaves compound and merge with deeply human questions and the added remorse and even guilt that frustrates healing both individually and collectively. With Lenny’s Rosenbaum’s death last week, we find ourselves in just such a moment, with just such questions and shock. How could a person like Lenny, who was one of the most intelligent and humorous individuals you could meet, who was a fixture at our gatherings and meetings, always bringing such life to each event have gotten to a point of such hopelessness right under our radar? Is his suicide forgivable by God despite what we may have been taught in our religious circles? How do we move through the grief and pain and perhaps the guilt and remorse as well? The beautiful irony of Lenny’s life is that even though he was the one who has caused our immediate grief, he is also the one who is showing us just how to move through it and beyond it back to a healed whole, back to Jesus’ Kingdom of God.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 44:44, size: 8.9mb
dave brisbin | 1.3.16
James Series 3: Coming back to the book of James after Christmas and the start of a new year, we are reminded that time, all we know of time, the passage of time, is circular. The only reason we know time is passing is because earth and moon, planets and stars turn in their circles. The movement of circles is the movement of time. Life is circular too—circles within circles, and James’ book, taking us on a journey to define life on Jesus’ Way moves in circles as well. His topics don’t neatly lay out along a straight logical line, but recur in circular patterns. At first glance, it seems chaotic and disordered, but as a metaphor for life, it makes perfect sense. Starting with the initial theme of endurance, the acceptance of life on life’s terms, he moves on to wisdom and faith and then patience: the waiting for completion as a gardener waits for rain and soil to do its work, once all the work he can do is done. The serenity of this kind of patience, rooted in the endurance, acceptance, and wisdom of a faith defined as steadfastness brings us full circle, but only in preparation for the next circle to begin.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 46:05, size: 9.0mb
no room at the inn
dave brisbin | 12.27.15
As Christmas moves into the rearview, there is one more look we should give the birth narratives to see what they may have for us herenow. It’s always the tiny details of a story that give it its authenticity, show that the storyteller was fully present to the moments described. And in Jesus’ birth narratives we have some details that shouldn’t be missed: wrapped in cloths, lying in a manger, no room at the inn. These details have graced millions of nativity scenes for two millennia, but do we have them right? What do the swaddling clothes and manger tell us about our God that we can use to experience him right herenow? And was there really an inn in the way we think of an inn? And if not, what would a more accurate translation tell us about Jesus’ family and our families and character and nature of those, like the Magi, who see through the details to the God they travel so far to worship.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 36:24, size: 7.3mb
the star of bethlehem
dave brisbin | 12.13.15
In the run up to Christmas, one of the more striking elements of the Nativity narrative in the Gospel of Matthew is the story of the Magi and the Star. What was this star and who were these Magi? Was this a miraculous event or the good timing of a supernova, comet, conjunction, or some other celestial event? But if it were there in the sky for all to see, why were the Magi the only ones to see it? Why did Herod and his court have to be informed? And as we examine the possible true nature of the star, what is its significance for us today? Is it just a miracle story foreshadowing the miraculous ministry of Jesus, or is there more? When we look at the nature of the Magi, the lifelong dedication to their astronomical science, their passionate desire for a king who would usher in a new age, their courage in taking the long perilous journey to greet that king…we are still not prepared for their seeming naïve openness in accepting a poverty stricken infant as the figure for whom they worked so long to find. Whatever our expectations in life, truth rarely presents itself as we expect. If we, like the Magi have not prepared ourselves to see truth exactly where and when it appears in our night sky, we will miss the opportunity to greet our king.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 41:50, size: 8.6mb
the effect of endurance
dave brisbin | 12.06.15
James Series 2: James tells us in the opening verses of his book that we should count it all joy when we encounter various difficulties because the testing of our faith produces endurance and the endurance produces a perfect result in which we lack for nothing. James then moves on to talk about asking for wisdom, asking without doubt, persevering to reward, the nature of temptation and presence. If we look at these verses from a Western point of view, we will have a complete misunderstanding of what James is saying in his Eastern way to an Eastern audience. We in the West rely on our eyes rather than our hands looking to form over function; we see life through an intellectual, passive lens rather than an active, experiential one; we see life broken into separate, dualistic compartments and time as a linear segment between endpoints rather an a holistic whole. Unless we can begin to understand that James and his fellows always saw function over form, active experience over passive mental concept, and everything existing in a now moment, we won’t see how “asking” only exists in endurance as a working definition of faith, and how doubt and temptation are not evil or weak but the very elements that make our choices and our faith real, and how reward is never delayed in time but is the experience of enduring through the trial to God’s presence in every moment. We need to see James and Jesus from an Easter point of view—it only changes everything when we do.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 43:22, size: 8.6mb
the beauty of brokenness
dave brisbin | 11.29.15
James Series 1: James, the brother of Jesus, the man who led the early Jerusalem church for the first thirty years after the crucifixion was the pillar of the Eastern Church and yet is relatively unknown in the West. Western tradition portrays Peter as the head of the early Jewish followers of Jesus, but the East has always maintained James in that position. The book that bears his name was quite possibly a catechism for early Jewish followers and converts and is beautiful in its clarity and brevity and focus on the big questions as well as the essential details of life. Moving nearly verse by verse, we’ll take a look at how James led his brother’s followers through those first difficult years, trying to follow Jesus’ Way through persecution from both Jewish and Roman authorities. And because of that persecution and the religious and cultural upheaval of trying to follow Jesus and Judaism at the same time, it’s no coincidence that the first issue James addresses is that of suffering—of how we are to face the trials and difficulties of life. But to count it all as joy when we are confronted with our challenges speaks to a necessity of the descent into brokenness that precedes the ascent into wisdom and reward. James is telling us there is a beauty to brokenness that we must understand if we’re really to take any further steps along the Way.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 43:51, size: 8.7mb
dave brisbin | 11.22..15
Scratch the surface of just about anyone, and the issue of suffering will most likely be one of the first you will encounter. We all have these questions: why is life so hard, why does God allow the suffering we see and experience, is God angry, are we cursed? Why is pain and suffering such a big part of life? Is it supposed to be or are we just doing it wrong? If Jesus is our model, what part did suffering play in his life and is that analogous to ours? The shape of Jesus’ journey and every journey expressed in the Bible is the same. The church has called Jesus’ last week on earth the paschal mystery, which relates to the descent into death and the grave that preceded the ascent into resurrection and new life. Jesus’ birth was described as another descent, or as Paul described it, an emptying of all Jesus had in order to ascend into human life. The emptying and filling, the descent and ascent, suffering and joy are patterns that recur all throughout scripture and throughout life. It is somehow a God-shaped journey that is essential and is intimately related to our meaning and purpose in this life. We must be emptied before we can be filled with anything we really want to have.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 45:19, size: 9.0mb
dave brisbin | 10.25.15
The Fifth Way Series 31: The Way of Jesus is not what you think. It never is. It’s not what you think it is, and it’s not what you think at all. Our minds can never make this journey alone, they need our bodies, our hearts as vehicle. This Way to unseen Father is paved with unseen stones; if we think we see them, understand and map them, we eventually learn it’s only because we’re no longer on Jesus’ Way, but one of our own—one that will never lead where we really want to go. Following Jesus’ Way is much more like falling in love than following a plan. It’s breathtaking and exciting; it feels risky and even disturbing, but it makes us smile and laugh and really live in a way a plan will never provide. How will you know if you’re on the Way of Jesus? When you reach your smilepoint. When your spiritual and physical lives become one in such a real way that the line between duty and delight dissolves into one impossibly wide grin…telling you and the rest of the world that you’ve finally begun to enjoy the ride through your Father’s kingdom.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 45:17, size: 9.0mb
dave brisbin | 10.18.15
The Fifth Way Series 30: This Way of Jesus, this only Way to unseen Father, this unseen path…what can we know about it? We know that Jesus identified himself with this Way, so it is not just a path that we walk, but a way of life that walks within us. Somehow, in some unseen way, we and the path become one, just as Jesus and the Father are one. This is so hard for us to understand, and that’s our problem: the path is not meant to be understood; it is meant to be traveled. We assume that since we can look back on our lives and see the path taken all in a line like flagstones in a lawn, that we should be able to look forward and see our future stretching out with the same clarity if only we could see what God sees for us. We use law and ethics and morality and religion to try to define that future path for us. But what Jesus is really saying is that the Way is not a thing; it’s a person. And truth is a person, and so is life. You don’t define them, figure them out—you relate to them, live with them, love them into a knowing that is at once greater than and less than understanding them. We think of our passage through life as a path through the woods, well-worn and visible, but Jesus is showing us it’s more like a ship at sea. We can see the wake of our passage behind, but ahead is all trackless ocean. One choice at a time we create our wake, but will never see it coming. Learning to love this is learning to live the Way.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 40:25, size: 8.1mb
dave brisbin | 10.11.15
The Fifth Way Series 29: Like breeds like. You won’t get olives from fig trees. So the means we use must match the ends we seek because the ends we produce will always match the means we use. It’s so simple, yet we miss the significance daily. If the Father we seek is unseen, then the Way to him, the path we follow, must be unseen as well. How can a visible path lead to an unseen God? But we so crave a visible path, one we can see and plan and control that we put away our common sense. It gives us a sense of security to see the path, minimize the risk. But a visible path can only lead to a visible god, and that’s alright with us, because in our fear, we’d like to control and contain God too. And our fear remains. But Jesus says we can be completely free. Free to live and love without fear, which only occurs in the presence of his unseen Father. If that’s what we desire, then there’s only one Way to the unseen Father—Jesus’ unseen path.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 48.55, size: 9.8mb
dave brisbin | 10.04.15
The Fifth Way Series 28: At the core of all our searching, as the purpose of our search, one question keeps surfacing: Is what we see around us all there is to life or is there more? Which leads to another: When we die, is that all there is to life or is there more? And ultimately: what must I do to enter into eternal life? That’s it. That’s what we really want to know, because if we knew that, we could do everything right and live without fear. But the very way we ask the question tells Jesus we’re missing the point, and he redirects, tells us what we have to let go of rather than what we have to do. Because to an Aramaic speaker, eternal life is not life that goes on forever, but life that is forever new, abundant, vibrant and alive—life right here and now lived in complete presence and fearless love. This life is not being withheld until we perform according to some standard, but is freely open and available, and once we sell all we have, let go of our judgments and preconceptions, we will begin to see for the first time the eternal quality of the life our Father lives among us right here and now.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 43:02, size: 8.5mb
bread and blood
dave brisbin | 9.20.15
The Fifth Way Series 27: It’s possible that the collision between head and heart, between the intellectual and experiential is no more pointed than at the eucharist, communion, Jesus’ parting gift to all of us. What is the eucharist really? Jesus first followers had a very difficult time with Jesus’ jarring imagery of eating his body and drinking his blood—so much so that many stopped following him. But beyond a literal understand is a metaphorical one and then a mystical one, and we continue to fight over meaning and symbol and reality. The truth, as always, seems to be in a radical middle, pulling all essential meaning from different understandings. And when we do that, we find Jesus inviting us to take into ourselves all that he is—all that he provides, all that animates him, all that forms his essence and life force—and make it our own, assimilate it into our very cells and literally become who and what he is in the most intimate imagery a human can imagine. That is real communion, timeless and beyond mental understanding.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 48:02, size: 9.7mb
dave brisbin | 8.9.15
The Fifth Way Series 26: Some words and concepts are just too big to apprehend all at once. We need to steep a bit in them, let them really absorb before they help reshape our basic attitudes toward life. Forgiveness is just such a word and concept. Understood as the liberation from victimization, to loosen, let go, return to our original state before the hurt took place is a beginning. To realize that the freedom of forgiveness to return to shalom, the perfect balance and unity of God is a gift we can accept whenever we’re ready is a start. But what does that look like in life and in scripture? How does it play out and how will we know it when we see it? How will the relationship between freedom, forgiveness, truth, deliverance, salvation, and even judgment from an Aramaic point of view help us to drive this concept down to a place where we can really use it day to day? From the pages of scripture and current newspapers we get clues and cues that may help.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 50.21, size: 9.9mb
freedom and forgiveness
dave brisbin |9.6.15
The Fifth Way Series 25: What is forgiveness really? An apology extended and received? An absolution from the consequences or penalties of sin? When God forgives us, has something occurred that restores a relationship that was broken and now is not? But if God is love, isn’t he forgiveness as well? When Jesus says that when we forgive others, our Father in Heaven will forgive us, but if we do not forgive others, neither will our Father in heaven forgive us, then is forgiveness just a chip in the big game? All of this confusion can be cleared up when we look at what forgiveness means from an Aramaic perspective. Turns out the word for forgiveness and the word for freedom is the same word. To an Aramaic speaker, to be forgiven is to be set free and to be set free is to be forgiven. Forgiveness is about being liberated from the victimization, resentment, bitterness, fear, and paralysis of a hurt or trauma in life. Being set free has nothing to do with an apology or amends or another person at all. All these things, though they may help, are not what sets us free. What Jesus is telling us is that the only power in heaven or on earth that can set us free is our own willingness to accept the freedom and forgiveness that is God’s presence right here and now every moment of our lives.
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sin and shalom
dave brisbin | 8.30.15
The Fifth Way Series 24: We tend to look at everything legally. It’s in our nature to do so. Just as we turned good an evil into a legal standard from a simple experience of what is functional and dysfunctional, we’ve done the same thing to our concept of sin. Sin is literally missing the mark, but of what? We think of missing perfect adherence to statutes of law, and sin itself as unlawful behavior. But not all unlawful behavior is sinful and not all lawful behavior is righteous. Something deeper than mere law is at work here. Shalom is the Hebrew expression for the fullness and completion of all health, provision, maturity, unity in relationship, and everything that is good, taba, ripe, preserving life. Anything that misses that fullness is hataha, sin. But sin isn’t behavior, sin is the state of being less than shalom, separated in some way from that complete unity. We say that sin leads to separation, but here, sin is separation itself. Any behavior that leads to separation is sinful and any that leads to unity is righteous. Once again, take off the legal lens and looking at our state of being tells us all we need to know.
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good and evil
dave brisbin | 8.23.15
The Fifth Way Series 23: Words as seemingly simple as good and evil, words we’re sure we intimately understand, take on a completely different cast when translated back not only into a language like Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, but also into the worldview of the people who spoke it. We think of good and evil as being on opposite ends of a standard of behavior, mutually exclusive and opposing forces facing each other across an ethical, moral, or legal divide. To an ancient, agrarian people living from crop to crop, good was ripe and evil was unripe. What preserved and nourished life was taba, good and what did not was bisha, evil. To see the world and those of us in it, not judged against an imposed standard or ethics or justice, but somewhere on the journey from unripeness, immaturity, inability to perform as designed to ripeness, completeness, fulfillment, maturity makes all the difference in the world. How we see and love others and how we understand God sees and can love us even in the midst of our unripeness is contained in these two little words.
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law and effect
dave brisbin | 8.9.15
The Fifth Way Series 22: The second pair of big words we need to bring back into a first century Hebrew worldview are law and effect, or more specifically, law and obedience. How are we to understand the law? The law isn’t going anywhere. Jesus told us that until heaven and earth pass away, the law would be necessary, but what does that mean? He also said that obedience to law was not enough, the unless we exceeded that notion of righteousness, we would never enter kingdom. So what are we to do? How are we to understand the importance of law and the place of obedience in our lives of faith? From a legal point of view, Jesus’ teaching makes no consistent sense, but first off, Jesus is not looking at kingdom from a legal point of view. The clues go all the way back to Deuteronomy. When we begin to understand what it means to write the law on our hearts, we’ll have the first notion of how can conscientiously keep the law and throw obedience out the window at the same time.
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mercy and justice
dave brisbin | 8.2.15
The Fifth Way Series 21: Not approaching the New Testament from a first century, Hebrew point of view is worse than reading a bad translation…it gives you the impression you know what you’re reading when what you’re reading is in English. But from Jesus’ lips to our ears, the only thing that can really guide us now is the mind of a first century follower of Jesus. What they would have understood from Jesus’ words—in their time and context and worldview is the closest we can get to Jesus’ original intent. There are six pairs of really big words—not in size, but scope—that if we can clear up any misunderstanding, will help us essentially decode the rest of the Gospels. The first of these pairs is mercy and justice. Learning what these terms meant to first century Jews, and then realizing that they must be placed in their defining contexts—the micro and the macro—in order to make sense will clear up more misunderstanding that you can imagine.
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dave brisbin | 7.26.15
The Fifth Way Series 20: The concept of kingdom as Jesus taught and lived it is so vast and all-encompassing, so ground breakingly foundational, that it is almost impossible to take it all in at once. Like trying to see the entire grand canyon, you have to take in bits and bites until you start to piece together the scale of what is really there. As the last of four messages dealing with kingdom, we take a last look on the main themes of Jesus’ kingdom. From Jesus’ point of view, the Kingdom of Heaven is the how of unity, the quality of here, the immediacy of now, and the force of action. Looking at passages in the Gospels and working through each of these descriptors gives us one more vantage point from which to see how kingdom will radically change the experience of our lives if we really enter in and become it.
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dave brisbin | 7.12.15
The Fifth Way Series 19: What is the goal of the spiritual journey? Love? Goodness? Morality? Peace and serenity? Traditionally here in the West, it seems to be finding reward in the next life: get to heaven, avoid hell. As soon as the spiritual journey is relegated to mere behavior and behavior is separated from reward and punishment in time, it all comes down to law and obedience. And if our spiritual journeys are all about obedience, then our lives are based in fear. Jesus is telling us and showing us in every way he can imagine—in details preserved in the gospels—that his Way to kingdom has nothing to do with obedience. Obedience to law may be the training wheels on the bike that keep the community in one piece, but for any of us to really experience what Jesus is modeling, we must go far beyond obedience…all the way to a transformation we’ll never see coming as we begin.
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unity and herenowness
dave brisbin | 7.5.15
The Fifth Way Series 18: When Jesus speaks of Kingdom, from a Hebrew/Aramaic point of view, he is speaking about a quality of life that can only be experienced in the midst of God’s presence, which can only be described as unity or oneness, which can only be accessed here and now. We see time and space stretched out linearly and spatially along one, two, or three dimensions as the basic reality of life. The Australian Aborigines also see time and space this way, but also have the concept of “dreamtime” or all-at-once time…everywhen. It describes the experience of past, present, and future all occurring here and now. And further, they believe that dreamtime is the actual, objective reality of the universe, not linear, spread out time, which is the illusion. In his description of Kingdom, Jesus is trying to show us that we can learn something from the Aborigines. That our Father is all-at-once in our lives or not at all, a complete unified whole that we will never experience anywhere or anywhen else but right herenow.
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dave brisbin | 6.28.15
The Fifth Way Series 17: Some concepts are so big, so all-encompassing that you can’t see them all at once. You have slowly walk around and get bits and views and try to piece together the whole—like trying to view the Grand Canyon. Jesus’ Kingdom is like this. The concept of kingdom is foundational to his teaching, and without understanding what he means by the term, we’ll never understand his message at all. But Jesus’ view of kingdom is so fundamentally challenging to our modern, Western worldview, that we can only take it in bit by bit. Starting with some basic parameters, what does the kingdom of heaven really mean? Is it different than the kingdom of God? When is it? Where is it? How do we “enter?” Why is there behavior that will take us in or keep us out, and why is a child the emblem of kingdom to Jesus? If entering into the magical world of a child is somehow the same as entering kingdom, then we need to crouch down and start seeing the world from a viewpoint three feet high and see how that changes things.
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from ab to abba
dave brisbin | 6.21.15
Fathers’ Day: On Father’s Day, it’s only right talk about Father. The ancient Jews always understood their God as Father and king, and the Hebrew word for father is ab. But Jesus called his unseen Father “abba,” a word children used for their daddy. Jesus was signaling a movement, a progression of relationship, the gaining of a spiritual intimacy that had been bled out of the institutional Judaism of his day. Our situation is no different: how do we move along Jesus’ Way of intimacy from Ab to Abba? The story of Jacob comes to our rescue here. In Hebrew, Jacob means supplanter, schemer, trickster, and that characterized Jacob’s life until in trying to bring his clan back to Judea after self-imposed exile, he finds himself wrestling with an angel of God or God himself all night long until in the morning, a dislocated hip finally causes something in him to break, and clinging to his wresting partner, he is renamed Israel, which means one who contends and rules with God. Jacob had to run out of his tricks and schemes and come face to face with his own dependence and powerlessness. It was only then that he could throw his arms around his daddy for the first time and know what real connection meant. It is the contending, the wrestling with Ab that finally brings us to Abba’s embrace.
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reading the silence
dave brisbin | 6.14.15
The Fifth Way Series 16: When we ask whether it is lawful for a person under the age of 21 to drink in the state of California, what are we asking? Drink what? Water? We all know to mentally add the two missing words, “alcoholic beverages,” without which the question is nonsensical. Likewise when the authorities come to Jesus and ask whether it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife, what we don’t realize is that the question is just as nonsensical if missing words are not added, and when they are, that to know what they meant at the time Jesus gives his answer is critical if we’re to have any chance of understanding either question or answer. The ancients didn’t write something down if it was common knowledge any more than we do. So if we’re to understand what is written in scripture, we have to learn to read the silence every bit as well as we read the words.
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dave brisbin | 6.7.15
What happens when we move through the void between the two baptisms of water and fire? When everything we expect and identify with is stripped away, what we’re left with is the utter simplicity of what is. The journey seems very complicated at first—it’s in dealing with the complexity that we can move back toward simplicity. The trick is not getting stuck in the complexity or actually beginning to idolize it. In complexity there is the illusion of control—of being able to understand and categorize and diagram and dissect. Getting past all that, letting it run its course in our lives is what the spiritual journey is all about. The ancient desert fathers and mothers fled the complexity of their communities and cities for the deserts of Egypt and Judea in order to find simple. From their stories, we can find principles that can help us to find our simple even in the midst of the numbing complexity of modern life.
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water and fire
dave brisbin | 5.31.15
What actually happened on Pentecost? What was it that allowed the disciples to exercise a power and boldness that they’d never displayed before? John the Baptist and Jesus speak of two baptisms, one of water and the other of Spirit and fire. We speak of baptism in the spirit today…is that what happened on Pentecost? What are these two baptisms and how do we move from one to the next? There seems to be a pattern: between the two baptisms is a void, a wilderness, a loss of all expectation and identity. The space between the crucifixion and Pentecost was a traumatic time for Jesus’s closest followers. They lost everything they had built their lives around in a single day and had to slowly begin to recognize how it was that Jesus was still alive. Maybe the second birth, the second baptism of spirit and fire is the moment of breaking through the void that strips us of everything we expect, so we can finally see what really is.
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tongues of fire
dave brisbin | 5.24.15
Pentecost Sunday: Most of us know the Pentecost story. Fifty days after the Resurrection, Jesus’ disciples were all in one place together and Spirit roars through the room like a wind and tongues of fire appear over each head. But the point of Pentecost is that a power and a confidence and a boldness finally blew through the disciples that had not been there before at any time since they began following Jesus. It’s so easy for us to place this in an ancient past and hold it conveniently at arm’s length, to say we’re waiting for Spirit to rush through our lives at some point in the future and anoint us with fire. But the truth is and always has been right here and now. We won’t find the boldness, confidence, and power we seek anywhere else. What Pentecost is telling us is that the tongues of fire we desire are already poised over each of our heads right now and have always been. Pentecost is about breaking through the fear and mindset that keeps us from seeing that the power is ours whenever we’re ready to accept it.
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dave brisbin | 5.17.15
I know it’s not canonical, but Jesus says in the Gospel of Thomas that “those who seek should not stop seeking until they find. When they find, they will be disturbed. When they are disturbed, they will marvel and will reign over all.” This sounds very strange to our ears because we’re not used to hearing it phrased this way. Surely Jesus doesn’t want us to be disturbed, does he? Yet he says at Luke 14—canonical Luke—“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” Well, that’s pretty disturbing. Even after we realize this statement doesn’t mean what it seems to mean in English, there is still at core the truth that this journey will and is supposed to disturb us. If we’re not disturbed, we’re not really seeking and certainly not finding what Jesus’ Way, the only Way to Father, is meant to uncover.
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through mother's eyes
dave brisbin | 5.10.15
It’s Mothers’ Day, so we really should talk about mom. But we’re supposed to be talking about God on Sunday, so what to do? How about talking about God as Mom? Is that even possible? Spent so much time talking about God as Dad, anything else just sounds wrong. But the Jews who wrote our scripture understood that God was both and neither at the same time, yet they also understood that though God was Dad—creator, king, provider, deliverer—in fact…we experience God each moment first as Mom—compassionate, caring, embracing, forgiving. If you pay attention to how Jesus relates, you notice he sees each person through Mother’s eyes first. He leads with compassion and moves to deliverance later. Makes all the difference.
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dave brisbin | 5.3.15
To speak of love in an objective or academic sense is to miss the point entirely. Jesus didn’t say we needed to love him to enter kingdom, he said we needed to know him. But what does it mean to know him? To a Jew like Jesus, it meant to have as intimate a relationship as humanly possible; it meant to fall in love, make love, live long together in love, experience every nuance of life with the beloved. It meant to know things without necessarily understanding them or being able to articulate them…to know in such a way that the only possible expression that comes close to the lived experience is music or poetry—an expression that evokes but doesn’t explain, that remains full of imagery and paradox without attempting to resolve or harmonize, remains clear and ambiguous at the same time.
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vulnerable and fearless
dave brisbin | 4.26.15
Vulnerable and fearless are two words we normally don’t put together. In fact, as we understand and experience the terms, to be vulnerable is to be fearful, afraid of imminent harm. So how can we be both vulnerable and fearless at the same time? Why would we even want to try? Jesus said that there’s no greater love than to lay down our lives for a friend. To love someone more than your own life is the greatest love because it brings pure liberation. From what? From the fear of everything on both sides of death that keeps us in a defensive crouch, keeps our shields up and us at arm’s length from anyone and everyone we believe will hurt us. We can’t love like Jesus without first being vulnerable, connectible, and we can’t be vulnerable as long as we’re fearful. And we will always be fearful until we realize that God first loved us more than his own life, that he had to be fearlessly vulnerable himself before we could ever try.
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most grateful guy
bob beauchamp | 4.19.15
Bob Beauchamp, known to all of us as "Bubba," is one of theeffect's founders and most dedicated supporters. A long time member of AA, Bubba found his sobriety late in life, but has come through one of the starkest and most miraculous transformations and recoveries we've seen. Here, Bubba tells us a bit about his life story and the journey that has made him the most grateful guy in the room.
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dave brisbin | 4.12.15
A friend tells our group about how a major crisis has passed in his family at least temporarily, and he feels as though he’s come out of the dark woods into a meadow, a clearing of all the tension and fear. On one hand he’s still fearful, waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the woods to engulf him again; on the other, he’s trying to just enjoy the meadow. We all do this: try to enjoy the meadow moments that come to us as a surprise clearing in our journey, but fear remains if we assume that meadows come and go of their own accord, that meadows are made of circumstances. What Jesus is really telling us, the good news, is that every moment can be a meadow moment. Every moment always contains everything a meadow means; we just have to learn that God is in the forest too…that to learn to see him there is to be sunning in the meadow at the same time.
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dave brisbin | 4.5.15
Easter Sunday: That none of Jesus’ best friends recognized him when they first saw him after the resurrection, that they went looking for him first in the graveyard speaks to the power of their expectations. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” questions the static nature of their beliefs. Life is motion—as soon as our expectations become set, motionless, they are dead. We won’t find movement and life in static beliefs. When Jesus tells Mary, “Don’t cling to me,” he is echoing the angel’s earlier question. When we cling to old beliefs that cease to describe life-in-motion, when we can no longer see the changing form and movement of Spirit, we will not recognize that our Lord really is still alive and in our midst.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 26:26, size: 4.8mb
when is god?
dave brisbin | 3.29.15
Palm Sunday: The tragedy of Palm Sunday is that the people did not recognize the moment of their visitation by God. It was enough to make Jesus weep…that their failure to see truth coming to them from a completely different direction than they expected—on a donkey no less—would put them on a path that would lead to the complete destruction of their culture and statehood. The lesson for us is the same. When is God? When is the moment of our visitation? If we don’t begin to see that in every moment we live, no matter how insignificant it may seem, God is with us, if we continue to search for the spectacular while missing the sacred, what Jesus calls Kingdom remains stillborn within us. Every moment is Palm Sunday. When will we stop looking past it for what is already here?
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life without edges
dave brisbin | 3.22.15
The Fifth Way Series 15: When you first begin to see that the words of scripture have no edges because the Spirit they are evoking and trying to describe has no edges either—nothing that limits…you are faced with a choice. You can pretend that there is no further relationship between words without edges and the decisions, activities, and attitudes of daily life, or you can begin to see that life as Jesus lived it has no edges either. Our fearful attempts at control, at analyzing life, domesticating it, making it safer and smaller come at the expense of never experiencing trust: the sensation of living life without edges.
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words without edges
dave brisbin | 3.15.15
The Fifth Way Series 14: When you think about it, the only way we can distinguish something visually is by its edges. We see the edges that outline, define, limit, separate one thing from another. Without edges, how could we say we are seeing anything at all? And when it comes to what we can think about, can conceive of, it’s the same: hanging on to edges…definitions, memories, beliefs, biases, hopes, fears, expectations all form the edges of what we can possibly imagine. We love edges, crave them and cultivate them. They give us something to cling to, a sense of belonging and cozy comfort. The challenge of living spiritual lives is to learn to see the infinite embedded in our finite moments. But the infinite has no edges. By definition. An edge limits, and once limited, is no longer infinite. Jesus’ message is about the good news of an infinitely loving Father living among our moments. So to really show us Father, he had to use words without edges. Without limit. There is something beautifully disturbing about Jesus’ teaching. Beautiful because it hunkers down right at the fire of an infinite love; disturbing because there are no edges to which we can cling. We either freefall with him into an infinite space or we do not. Fearing the disturbance, we redraw edges around Jesus’ words through sheer familiarity or the pretense they’re at least contained in a book with edges, but if we leave the book fully open for even a moment, Jesus’ edgeless words escape their confines and re-expand to show us the truth. The freedom of clinging to nothing that limits—the experience of a love without edges.
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why we are here
dave brisbin | 3.8.15
The Fifth Way Series 13: Just saw an Academy Award winning movie about a jazz drummer trying to make world class status at a music academy. Reminding me of my time as a music major playing in jazz big bands in Chicago, I could feel again the pressure and the practice and the pecking order of a musical caste system based on talent and technique. This is what we’re used to. The world revolves around reward and punishment based on performance and the compulsive ambition to carve a place for ourselves that is never freely given. It’s no different in religious circles: the details change, but the song remains the same. This is exactly the pressure point where Jesus puts his thumb—questioning the very foundations of what we believe about our purpose in life. Why are we here? To make a name for ourselves? To become the best in something? To become an object of admiration for people we’ll never meet? Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms that until we get off this wheel, kingdom will always elude. And kingdom is why we are here—to learn that living the experienced reality of the deep connection of everyone to everything does not require acquisition…only the realization that even as we work hard for excellence, we were all born with everything we’ll need to be fully successful in life.
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a shift in perspective
frank billman | 2.29.15
Our recovery Pastor Frank takes us through rethinking our daily activities of life. Quoting Joyce Meyer, “You cannot give away something you don't have in you. How can someone love another person if they don't love themselves? We all need to accept ourselves, embrace our personalities and even our imperfections, knowing that although we are not where we need to be, we are making progress. Jesus died for us because we have weaknesses and imperfections, and we don't have to reject ourselves because of them.” Most of us are pretty hard on ourselves, and those who’ve suffered the most often have the most broken self-image. If we can shift our perspective from how we view ourselves to how God views us, a brand new attitude can begin to grow…one based on love and acceptance. It’s not until we believe we are loved and accepted—as we are right now—that we’ll be able to give that gift to another.
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falling in love
dave brisbin | 2.22.15
The Fifth Way Series 12: “Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.” I think Father Arrupe is dead on here. The Fifth Way is as different from the four ways as falling in love is from following traffic laws or the tax code. Laws and codes may keep us safe and secure, but will never get us to the thrilling, out of control-ness that we really desire in life. If you strip away everything we think we know theologically and legally and religiously, what is left at the bottom of the dogpile is Jesus simply asking us to fall in love as he has fallen in love—with life, with each other, with him and Father and spirit and the entire cruel, crazy, beautiful world.
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dave brisbin | 2.15.15
The Fifth Way Series 11: Reacting to a statement made in a sermon the previous Sunday, a woman told me it was the first time she had not been “completely won over” by what I had to say, that she and her husband had had a very “lively” discussion about it on the way home. I told her that was great! That I would much rather have her disagree and think on it and discuss it rigorously and research it, than just say it was a “lovely sermon” and never think on it again. Truth is, approaching the Fifth Way of Jesus is only possible as more and more of our four ways mentality is stripped away, as we become willing to “sell” everything we think we have, think we know, in favor of the radical truth to which Jesus beckons. That means, if we’re not being disturbed, we’re not approaching the Fifth Way, but are still traveling the other four. The Fifth Way is never familiar, never settled, and never boring. Like the true adventure it is, it gives no guarantee of safety and flatly defies agenda and itinerary. Our sense of risk and anticipated loss is the disturbance that precedes the letting go of all to which we cling that will forever keep us from kingdom and presence and the Father Jesus knows so well.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 47:39, size: 9.7mb
the five ways
dave brisbin | 2.18.15
The Fifth Way Series 10: When most people hear the title of this book, The Fifth Way, most immediately want to know what the first four ways are. Pretty insightful, because we really can’t know the nature of Jesus’ Fifth Way without understanding the nature of the first four. The four ways, like the cardinal directions of the compass rose point out the sum of all the ways we as humans go about acquiring the things we need. They are rooted in the four “philosophies” of first century Israel, but they are as old as humanity’s birth and as active today as then. The four ways are about our means of acquisition, whether physical or emotional, and begin at the assumption of need, of emptiness. The Fifth Way moves in a completely different direction and turns the four ways inside out, downside up, and backside front. Instead of beginning at the point of need, it begins at the point of abundance--that everything we really need is already here—within, among, and in the midst of every moment of our lives. To see the abundance in the midst of very real physical and emotional need is the purpose of the Fifth Way…training ourselves to see the Father’s presence, which makes each moment perfect despite our needs, and makes each of us perfect too…despite our flaws.
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expressing the inexpressible
dave brisbin | 2.1.15
The Fifth Way Series 9: Chuang Tzu, a 3rd century BCE Chinese philosopher said: The purpose of a fish trap is to catch fish. Once the fish is caught the trap is forgotten. The purpose of a rabbit snare is to catch a rabbit. Once the rabbit is caught, the snare is forgotten. The purpose of words is to convey ideas. Once the ideas are grasped, the words are forgotten. Where can I find a man who has forgotten words? He is the one I want to speak with. To that I add: The purpose of theology is to catch God. Once God is “caught,” theology can be forgotten. To find a person who has forgotten theology is the goal of the Fifth Way of Jesus. Theology is our best attempt to express the inexpressible truth that is God, ultimately. Any theological truths we find along the Way can point to God, but are not God themselves, and in the light of God’s presence, if they are not forgotten, then we are not really seeing the light.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 48:24, size: 9.7mb
making it personal
dave brisbin | 1.25.15
The Fifth Way Series 8: A friend writes of his “personal theology,” and I’m stopped In my tracks because I was raised in the “one true church” and there was nothing personal about theology. The church owned our theology, drilled it into us as children, reinforced it as adults. But I saw how my friend’s theology guided him, made sense out of his circumstances, and filled him with meaning and purpose. Truth is, all theologies begin as personal theologies—individuals trying to express their intimate relationship with God and life—and even though we are introduced to faith through the group’s theology first, no theology is useful until it becomes personal again. This is our journey; no one can take it for us, and it always feels dangerous, outside our security zones. Jesus tells a story of two sons who are asked by their father to go work in the family vineyard. One says yes but doesn’t, the other no, but thinks better and goes. Making our theology personal, making it an agent for transformation in our lives may begin by saying yes to a creed, but then graduates to deed, an intimacy that speaks to an audience of one—personally.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 44.29, size: 8.9mb
dave brisbin | 1.18.15
The Fifth Way Series 7: One really ancient view of cosmology was of a flat earth resting on the back of an enormous turtle. What was the turtle standing on? Well, it’s basically turtles all the way down. As our minds struggle with the impossibility of an infinite stack of turtles, we are seeing the problem of theology. How can we possibly use finite language and physical rules of logic to describe something that by definition stands outside everything we can use to describe it? We long for one more turtle on which to stand, but eventually there is only the unseen God. We can’t prove God to one another, we can only prove him to ourselves…once we’ve moved beyond theology, once we realized that understanding theology is not knowing God. Jesus tells the story of workers who come to work first thing in the morning with a contract for a certain amount of pay and workers who come later in the day with no contract at all, just a promise of fairness. When all are paid the same, the contractual workers are outraged, as we are with our theology, our implied contract with God, our entitled understanding. Until we move beyond all that, we will never understand the goodness of the Good News.
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between heaven and earth
dave brisbin | 1.11.15
The Fifth Way Series 6: The ancient Hebrews who wrote our scriptures envisioned us humans living our lives between heaven and earth—between the pure connection and unity of God and the individual form and separation of the material world. And our job as humans was to bring heaven to earth and earth to heaven: to merge the two, bring the unity and connection of heaven into our daily lives while retaining the individual form by which we are recognized. To live this radical reality is not an intellectual task as much as an experiential one. No one can give us the answers, we must live with such purpose until we know truth. Jesus tries to illustrate just this way of living with unity and disunity in one embrace in his parable of the wheat and the tares, because life between heaven and earth is much less about learning to pull weeds as it is about learning to accept the imperfections in life and ourselves and not allowing them to keep us from moving toward the harvest.
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dave brisbin | 1.4.15
Called to lead a study group at a treatment facility, I found myself in front of about 20 women I’d never met before to talk about the intersection of faith and life and scripture. Immediately I saw a few who were not interested at all, another few who were interested for while then mentally checked out, some who seemed animated throughout, and others who wanted to talk afterward about next steps. I realized that I was seeing all of the four soils that Jesus described in his parable of the sower and the seed. To take some time with this parable in its Hebrew setting can really bring it home as we begin a new year, because we normally think of Jesus as depicting the difference between people, between believers and non-believers when he’s really portraying different parts of ourselves. Who among us is completely integrated and whole, has no weak or dissenting parts of our psyche? The truth Jesus is trying to convey is that each of us has all four soils within, and if we’re not carefully aware, we’ll miss the opportunity at this time next year to realize how much we’ve grown.
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dave brisbin | 12.28.14
Heading into a new year, there seems to be a lot of fear about the direction of the world in general and our country and our lives in particular. Jesus said he came to bring life and life abundantly, but where is that abundance in the fearful attitudes being displayed? Victor Frankel said that the last of human freedoms is the ability to choose our attitude in any given set of circumstances. Paul of Tarsus said he’d learned to be content in all his circumstances. How did they do this? How do we? There are three songs that I believe convey the heart of the life toward which Jesus is calling: Crazy World, Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World, and for the new year, Auld Lang Syne. To first understand and then to begin to live the crazy contradictions and disparate themes played out in these songs is to again glimpse talya—the attitude-word Jesus used that means both child and servant at the same time—the means to find that we can live with abundant trust even if we lack the clarity of a risk free world.
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theotokos and immanuel
dave brisbin | 12.21.14
The birth of any child is a big deal. So the birth of Jesus is a very big deal. But why? Any answer to such a question that is merely historical or theological, may be true, but leave us personally untouched at the same time. In a theological fight that consumed much of the 5th century, church fathers debated and excommunicated over whether Mary should be called theotokos—“God bearer” in Greek. Some didn’t believe that a spirit God could take material form, but eventually the church rallied around the belief that Mary really did bring God into this world. In the Gospels, Jesus is called immanuel—“God with us” in Hebrew—the reality of God’s presence in our midst. When we remember who we are: sons and daughters of God’s image—when we live as if that is true, we become theotokos too. Bearing the image of God into our moments is the very experience of immanuel, of having God with us right here and now this Christmas.
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the gift of the magi
dave brisbin | 12.14.14
Approaching Christmas, what do those ancient wise men who traveled so far to reach Jesus have to say to us today? Is there any significance to those three famous gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh? In the midst of the crush of modern Christmas gift-giving, is there a gift or an attitude of giving that speaks to us from a deeper place? In his famous short story, written over a century ago, O. Henry writes of a young couple, down on their financial luck, who sell their most prized possessions to buy Christmas gifts for each other that have no purpose once the prized possessions are gone. Have you ever loved someone like that? Nothing you wouldn’t sell, lay down for him or her? Anyone so dear that the thought of not giving was simply intolerable? The gifts of the Magi have great significance as we look at them through the lens of ancient culture and sacred writing, but we’ll never know what they really mean until we’ve loved someone, anyone, like that.
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dave brisbin | 12.7.14
The Fifth Way Series 5: Ancient Chinese philosopher said you cannot speak of ocean to a wellfrog, the creature of a narrow sphere. We may think it’s safe to ignore or minimize the enigmatic musings of a man dead over twenty three hundred years half way around the world, but this truth lies at the heart of our search for truth. Whatever we think we know about life, reality, faith, spirituality can only take form in our minds after having traveled through the filter of our beliefs about life and reality and faith and spirituality—whatever really is, is limited by our belief of what really is. Like the wellfrog in his narrow cylinder of water, we will never see the vast ocean of Father and love Jesus is trying to show us until we first acknowledge we have a filter, worldview, and second, work to let it go—see just how radical Jesus is and how deep the rabbit hole goes.
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the process of kingdom
dave brisbin | 11.30.14
The Fifth Way Series 4: Do you want to know the meaning of life? I assume that’s why you’re here, at least in part. But if you’re looking for an answer to a question, a solution to a problem, any answer to the question of meaning will itself be meaningless. Life is not a question to answer or problem to solve…it’s more like a magic trick: as soon as you know how it’s done, you’re no longer interested. The irony is that the very answers we seek of life would kill the experience of life if we ever got them. But we won’t get them. We can’t, because as Jesus is trying to tell us, life is not a concept to understand, but a person to experience. Once we realize that life is a person, we realize that the meaning of life is to fall in love with the person who initiates life. This is what Jesus calls Kingdom--the process of approaching life, truth, and the Way between the two as we would a relationship with a beloved person—because that’s exactly what it is.
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spiritual common sense
dave brisbin | 11.23.14
The Fifth Way Series 3: A seventeen year old boy asks his father, an elder in his church, whether what he believes is really true or just what he believes. What a question! The central question. We have come to equate doubt with a lack of faith. But faith without doubt is no more possible than courage without fear—doubt defines our faith, makes it possible. Common sense tells us this, but once we’ve agreed to a certain set of beliefs, drunk the kool-aid, we set our common sense on the shelf if it leads to a different conclusion than our beliefs dictate. Our religious institutions have been especially good at beating common sense out of us in a headlong attempt to maintain our faith by maintaining our ignorance of the things toward which common sense points. If we’ve never doubted, we haven’t taken our faith seriously enough. If we’re unwilling to ask the hard questions, the ones our seventeen year olds are asking, we will never be able to follow Jesus, who asked all the hard questions of his own religion on his Way to oneness with our Father.
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warriors and gardeners
dave brisbin | 11.16.14
The Fifth Way Series 2: Having looked at our relationship with God, God’s nature, and the nature of our attitude toward God, what should be the primary metaphor for our spiritual lives? Most critically, the metaphor we choose, chooses us, shapes us, but most often, we have not consciously chosen the metaphor. It was chosen for us by our parents, teachers, pastors, church, and society at large. And the primary metaphor of Western Christianity seems to be that of the warrior. We speak of being soldiers for Christ, taking the land for God, organize ourselves in paramilitary fashion. We speak of spiritual warfare and face daily life as an emotional and psychological battlefield. Jesus on the other hand, never uses the image of the warrior to describe life in his kingdom, favoring that of the gardener or farmer. To work diligently day in and day out in rhythm with wind and weather, carefully planting and tending—never coercing—is the model Jesus presents. If the means we use must match the ends we seek, then we need to carefully examine and question our most basic attitudes toward life or they will shape us in ways that will never fit along Jesus’ Way.
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the gospel according to lou
dave brisbin | 11.09.14
The Fifth Way Series 1: First in a series presenting the main concepts and themes of Dave Brisbin’s book, The Fifth Way: A Western Journey to the Hebrew Heart of Jesus. The book traces the journey to the journey, the fundamental changes in worldview necessary for a modern Westerner to approach the ancient and Eastern message of Jesus. The New Testament has been amazingly preserved for us in the modern world—we have the right words, we just don’t know what they originally meant. Words such as heaven and hell, good and evil, sin, faith, salvation, and especially kingdom all mean one thing to us and another to those who first listened to Jesus. To step back into the sandals of Jesus’ first followers and see Jesus and his Way of living life as he first presented it, is the goal of The Fifth Way. In this first message, we look at the fundamental relationship we have with our Father in heaven through the eyes of an old man dying of diabetes and his last words to Dave and his wife. Is God an angry God? Does God have to be angry with us in order to be perfect? How does Jesus’ attitude toward life show us how we’ve been designed to live and love and be in love?
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the joy of living
dave brisbin | 11.2.14
Step Twelve of AA: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs. Coming to the end of the Twelve Steps, we see again the cyclical nature of these steps as a human journey of spiritual self-discovery. The twelfth step only leads back to the first step, but though the steps remain the same, we are changed for having traveled them. Arriving at the first step the first time—admitting our powerlessness—was a frightening, devastating, and humiliating admission. But coming back to it again through the twelfth step, having now experienced a joy of living in powerlessness, a full acceptance of our human condition, and the real dynamics of our relationship with God, we can see it now as the ultimate liberation we had always sought through our own efforts. To mask our vulnerability and imperfection while seeking power over our circumstances was the very action that kept us from the truth of Jesus’ Kingdom. Kingdom, recovery, transformation, rebirth in spirit is and has always been a free gift that we have no power to obtain, but which takes all the effort we can muster to be ready to receive.
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the word becomes flesh and spirit among us
shirley boone | 10.26.14
Shirley Boone, wife of singer/entertainer and American cultural icon, Pat Boone, joins theeffect to weave her life stories from over 60 years of marriage and life in the national spotlight. Daughter of country music legend Red Foley, Shirley was no stranger to celebrity even before her husband’s music career took off in the mid-fifties. But through the ups and downs of celebrity life and marriage, what kept bringing Shirley back to earth and balance and sanity was the connection she established between her faith and God’s word. Key verses of scripture have punctuated her life at times when they were needed most and truly became part of her physical and spiritual life. In each inspiring story, we can hear more and more how the Word can become just as real in our lives as well.
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praying in circles
dave brisbin | 10.19.14
Step Eleven of AA: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out. A friend commented recently that we really don’t do the 11th Step of AA—not in the sense of a task that has a beginning, middle and end. Prayer is something we can and should do always and not so much as a “step.” That’s completely true, but just as if you want to preach to a starving man, you must feed him first so he can even begin to concentrate mentally, the first 10 steps “feed” us in such a way that we can begin to really practice the presence of true prayer. The nature of the 12 Steps is circular—a neverending series of cycles, and the prayer within the 11th Step can be viewed as a series of circle too. Three circles of prayer that take us deeper and deeper into conscious contact with God: spoken prayer, wordless meditative prayer, and the unceasing prayer that we don’t say as much as it says us, assimilated into every thought and action of our daily lives.
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grateful and amazed
dave brisbin | 10.12.14
Step Ten of AA: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it. Abraham Heschel wrote that his greatest talent was his ability to be surprised. G.K. Chesterton wrote that we see things fairly when we see them first. Both quotes point toward a need to continually see life and ourselves as if for the first time. The tenth step is the practice of waking up in our waking lives to see ourselves in each day as if for the first time, be surprised again, see things fairly--not simply cataloging character defects and making amends for daily injuries, but maintaining an awareness of daily miracles as well. Seeing the miraculous in the commonplace, the gifts and presence of God that only seem insignificant because they are familiar. The opposite of taking something for granted, of not seeing it for sheer familiarity is to be surprised again, to be grateful for each day’s details. The tenth step is our chance to maintain an internal attitude toward life that always includes being grateful and amazed.
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clearing the path
dave brisbin | 10.5.14
Step Nine of AA: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. It is sometime difficult for us to separate amends from the notions of forgiveness, restitution, reconciliation, or even the good feelings of reconnection. But the making of amends with someone we’ve hurt doesn’t always yield any of these. So if not, are there still amends being made? What are amends really? For our purposes, beyond the attempt at restitution or apology, they are a gift that a perpetrator gives his or her victim to help clear a path to freedom from resentment and bitterness, a path out of their victimhood. We can never know how a gift will be used or whether it will even be accepted, but if we created a victim, it falls to us to remove as many barriers to forgiveness as we can, which sometime requires us to do nothing at all. Separating our own needs, guilt, and remorse from the pure giving of the gift is the key: our amends are not made for us…always for our victims.
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the end of isolation
dave brisbin | 9.28.14
Step Eight of AA: Made a list of all person we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all. Much more than merely making a list of the people who found themselves in our blast zones, the list making creates an awareness of our utter interconnectedness. As John Donne wrote nearly four hundred years ago, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is piece of the continent, a part of the main.” Our obsessive, compulsive, addictive behavior borne out of fear isolates us from each and every person we harm along the way. To create awareness of the intimate connection we share with each other and become willing to make what we can right again is the beginning of the end of our isolation. But as Jesus asks the infirm man laying at the edge of the pool for some thirty-eight years, “Do we wish to get well?” Do we really wish to end our isolation and begin to live in connection with each other? The answer isn’t as obvious as it sounds.
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asking in action
dave brisbin | 9.14.14
Step Seven of AA: Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings. Once again, it sounds as if our part in this removing is completely passive—apart from the humility of our petition. But as with all steps along the Way of transformation, it is in active partnership with God that we really move. To humbly ask is to understand the true nature of humility—a seeing of life from God’s point of view, a realistic and working knowledge of the dynamic of the relationship with God and us. That is, that we are completely dependent, vulnerable, and imperfect and yet at the same time perfectly accepted, loved, and cared for. From that position, true asking becomes suddenly possible. Jesus tells us to ask, seek, and knock and we will be given, find, and have doors opened to us. In the Aramaic of Jesus’ native language, these are radical and active verbs that carry with them the risk of great failure. It is in marrying radical asking to the blessed assurance of humility that risk is overcome and shortcomings really removed.
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designed for contentment
dave brisbin | 9.7.14
Step Six of AA: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. How do we know when we’re entirely read to do anything? When I went skydiving, after eight hours of training on the ground learning about the gear and the falling, the pulling and the landing…standing at the open door of the fuselage two miles up in the air, when was I entirely ready to believe that the chute on my back would brake my fall, that everything I’d been taught was sufficient to save my life? When I pushed off and started an irrevocable chain of events that would end at the ground one way or another. We are entirely ready when we act as if something is already true and not a moment before. It sounds as if God is doing all the work in removing our defects, but the truth is God the source of the power that allows us to begin living as if the defects are already gone. We are designed for contentment, for the shalom of good relationship, but we’ll never really know that until we prove to ourselves in the soft landing of actually experiencing the contentment we seek.
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part of the herd
dave brisbin | 8.31.14
Step Five of AA: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. At our treatment center, we decided to add equine therapy as part of the monthly offerings to our clients. But to be responsible about it, we felt the staff should go and experience a session before sending clients to the stables. A chance to go and play with horses had nothing to do with that decision. We didn’t ride horses, we just walked into their area, let them come and greet us, check us out. The idea was simply to become part of the herd and experience life from the horse’s point of view. Our fears and the dysfunctional behavior they drive in us, our moral failings all isolate us. They take us out of the herd. To make the inventory of Step Four is just the beginning of a process. To admit to another person the exact nature of our wrongs is to risk everything, the realization our greatest fear: that we really are alone. When it is proven to us that relationship still exists after a sharing of the truth about ourselves, we can first begin to see life from the herd’s point of view.
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dave brisbin | 8.24.14
Step Four of AA: Made a fearless and searching moral inventory of ourselves. The danger of the 12 Steps or any program of spiritual formation is that the process remains external, something we do but fail to become—a list to check off as if to get approval from someone else, against some standard in the sky. Spiritual formation and any process of true transformation is really a serial surrender, a taking off layer after layer of what we think we are and what we think is so in favor of what really is right in front of us. To make a fearless inward search of our moral failings is only useful if it doesn’t stop there, but moves into a fearless facing of ourselves, of the things we really fear. To identify our real fears, to begin to actually know ourselves is the first step away from the victimhood of unawareness. To be unaware of our fears and the dysfunctional behavior they drive, is to live them over and over every day.
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if you want your dog
dave brisbin | 8.17.14
Taking a break from the 12 Steps because a life moment intervened… I was asked to speak to a cancer patient who had just learned his condition was essentially untreatable. He was too weak to come of our offices, so I went to his home. On the way over, acutely aware of the significance of such a conversation, I began to plan the conversation, then forced myself to stop, to just show up and respond to what he actually had to say instead of my imaginings. He was strong at first showing little emotion until I asked him pointedly how he was really feeling. He just said “tough.” That the hardest part was the thought of leaving his family—wife and two small boys. Then he stopped and out of the blue asked, “Do you believe in guardian angels?” And his voice broke, and I saw that everything he was, all emotion and hope lay in that one question. Would his family be protected, guarded, guided? Would he, could he possibly be assigned to that task? I said yes I do believe, though I don’t know how it works. But I remembered a moment in first grade Catholic school when a girl asked the nun if she would have her dog in heaven. The nun responded, “If you want your dog, you’ll have your dog.” See, that’s it. We don’t know how it works, but in God’s presence there is no felt need. If you want your family protected and guided, they will be--in ways we just can’t know right now.
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dave brisbin | 8.10.14
Step Three of AA: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him. The steps in general, but the first three in particular represent a serial surrender of who we think we are in favor of who we really are in God’s care. Something as big as our imagined identity can’t be surrendered all at once. It takes time and surrender comes in layers, and these three steps represent the process. When have we really turned our will and lives over, when has that event actually occurred? As before, it’s more of a process, but one with discernable events along the way. The first two steps prepare us for the third by marking the awareness of our essential powerlessness and the opportunity to hitch our wagon to the only power that really exists. It’s like a man hanging for dear life to the end of a rope over a cliff, only to find when he finally lets go, the drop is only eighteen inches; he was almost there, and there was really no risk at all. God is like that, but we have to find out for ourselves lessening our fear with each step along the Way.
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a greater power
dave brisbin | 8.03.14
Step Two of AA: Came to believe a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Often in Christian circles, the 12 Steps are disregarded as a sort of denial of God’s power—that the true Way is not a process at all, but an event. That recovery or transformation is not a 12 step process, but a one step process: give yourself to Jesus and become a new creature in Christ. But if you really analyze the Way of Jesus described in the New Testament, you see that it’s both event and process, and each would not exist without the other. The 12 Steps wisely break down the process into bite-able sizes, and here, the second step is really dealing with two issues: belief in God and the nature of God. Coming to the realization of our powerlessness in step one is only liberating if the one choice remaining to us is to believe not only in a power greater than ourselves, but a power that actually has the power to know us as ourselves, restore our lives to sanity, and cares to do so.
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seeing the truth
dave brisbin | 7.27.14
Step One of AA: Admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageale. We begin a series on the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, taking one step each Sunday. Before you tune out because you’re not an alcoholic, please stop and consider something of which we’ve become painfully aware: We are all recovering from something. To the extent that we still have unfinished business in our lives: past hurts, traumas, character defects, unforgiveness, deep emotional triggers, we are experiencing the dysfunction of patterns of choice and attitude that hurt our relationships and keep us outside Jesus’ Kingdom. Whether we use drugs, alcohol, or patterned behavior to ease our pain, the way through is always the same—the Way of Jesus back to the Father. The 12 Steps are a process and a structured way of living Jesus’ Way, and apply to us all. This First Step, that we admitted we were powerless over our drug of choice and that our lives had become unmanageable, is the ground zero of all the steps. Until we can see the truth of our powerlessness and the simultaneous truth of our victimlessness—that we still retain a choice—we go no further along the Way.
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the way of descent
dave brisbin | 7.20.14
We don’t value the way of descent much these days—we don’t even generally recognize it as a viable spiritual formation. The ways we typically approach God in our churches today: intellectually, emotionally, liturgically, and legally, all point to ways of ascent toward God. But there is another way, the contemplative way that comes to us from our most ancient Christian traditions. Contemplation—understood as being present to God’s presence, the practice of a content-free mind directed toward awareness of God as a living reality—really points to a stripping away of everything that blocks God’s presence from our moment, a descent that must precede ascent. This way of descent complements and completes the other four for as Jesus said, “If you cling to your life you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it.”
audio [ mp3] | duration: 50:36, size: 8.9mb
dropping the mask
jon okinaga | 7.13.14
Guest speaker, Jon Okinaga, pastor and recovery specialist talks about his personal experience and dropping the masks we all wear in search of our true identity, who we really are in God’s presence.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 27:25, size: 4.8mb
the general dance
dave brisbin | 7.6.14
With several deaths occurring or being memorialized in the same week, it’s easy to get lost among the dead, lose our presence among the living, mentally dwelling on the realm of the mysterious into which they’ve entered. What are they doing? What do they know that we don’t? Does God keep secrets? Withhold vital information? Maybe if we apply ourselves hard enough, we can gather enough information to keep from being afraid. Truth is, of course God has secrets. But he doesn’t keep secrets. Thomas Merton wrote that “the Lord plays and diverts himself in the Garden of his creation, and if we could let go of our obsession with what we think is the meaning of it all, we might be able to…forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the wind and join in the general dance.” God keeps no secrets. We have all we need to dance.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 37:21, size: 6.6mb
two minds, one heart
dave brisbin | 6.22.14
After Pat Boone had delivered his message, someone remarked to me, “How are you going to follow that?” It was a formidable task, but Sundays keep coming, and I would have to follow that. I was fascinated by Pat’s vision of the eucharist, of communion as a point of contact traced physically through our bloodlines. Pat can trace his lineage through to Daniel Boone and beyond, while I, as an adopted child, have no ties by blood to anyone except my three biological children. It’s a very different life experience that colors my view of the meaning of family. Who is our family, how do we define, and do we need to agree on such things as we walk together along this journey. The beauty of our lives is that we do see the same things differently, colored infinitely by infinitely different experience. It’s still the same truth, expressed by two minds can still meet at that truth and move on with one heart.
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pat boone | 6.15.14
We were very grateful on Father’s Day to have true American cultural icon, Pat Boone with us to deliver a message on Fatherhood from its widest application. Just as we relate to our earthly fathers, we can begin to understand how we can relate to our Father in heaven by watching how Jesus relates to his Father as preserved for us in the New Testament. The oneness and unit of purpose, the connection of blood all funnels down to the moment of communion—how the meaning of Fatherhood crystalizes in our understanding of family, bloodlines, and connection.
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dave brisbin | 6.8.14
The basis of our worldview is a meritocracy—that in order to get the things we need, we need to perform to someone’s expectations and standards, that the twin systems of reward and punishment exist to modify our behavior in ways that will make sure that the powers that be from parents to employers to God will grant our needs and requests. When applied to our spirituality, this meritocracy breaks down in the three ways we typically approach our spiritual journeys: the intellectual, emotion, and legal. Jesus is trying to show us in every way possible that our very premise is wrong, so our approach is necessarily wrong as well. There is no meritocracy with God, because there is nothing to gain with God. Everything God has is already ours; nothing is ever withheld, so reward and punishment is meaningless except in our own minds as we hang on to the worldview that keeps us from the simple seeing of the truth.
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dave brisbin | 6.1.14
I have made the comment off and on that I’ve become unoffendable in matters of theology and doctrine—that I’ve gotten to the point that I can really live and let live in the midst of inevitable disagreement. In saying this to someone recently, he shot back, “Not possible.” A made up mind is like a made up bed, you really don’t want to mess it up, so I let the comment pass. But I can tell you that I really am unoffendable in these areas, and my goal is to become unoffendable in all areas. I’m surprised that this is controversial, but the concept of righteous anger, of the need to be offended by sin, that God himself is offended at much of our behavior keeps the goal of being unoffendable off most radar screens. But taking offense is just a form of defense, and defense is a function of fear, and when John says that perfect love casts out fear and Jesus says perfect love loves the enemy too, I believe they are telling us that the evidence of Kingdom in our lives is when we can say with confidence that we’ve become unoffendable in all things.
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dave brisbin | 5.25.14
It can be argued that the spiritual life is really the search for identity. Who are we? By the time we undertake our journey, there is usually so much false identity packed on—all the things we think we are—that the journey must become an unlearning, a stripping away of everything that is false to get to what is true. Ancient peoples understood this, and many aboriginal cultures still do in their practice of rites of passage. We have no rites of passage in our culture today; we don’t revere the way of descent that Jesus is really teaching if we pay close attention. The Walkabout of the Aborigines of Australia can teach us much about the Way of Jesus tuned for a church that has become so familiar with Jesus, that it has stopped seeing what is really there.
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dave brisbin | 5.18.14
In two days, theeffect will be seven years old. Our first Sunday gathering took place May 20, 2007. Much has taken place since then, both planned and unplanned, intended and not. Taking some time to recount the story of theeffect from the vision of first planning meetings to the vision and direction we see today as we look forward brings us to the question of what we may have learned along the way… We’ve learned to pay attention to every moment; that every moment is sacred if we are aware and present to it; that every moment contains a choice that can prove itself life-changing only in retrospect. We’ve learned that without daily rededication to the principles with which we began, we will slowly become what we never intended. And we’ve learned to accept the powerlessness of our human condition: that our story and life can’t be controlled; that the beauty of life is its wildness; that while we rededicate ourselves to the way we live, the outcomes of our lives follow their own path. And that acceptance of and gratitude for our powerlessness is the key to Kingdom.
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dave brisbin | 5.11.14
It’s Mothers’ Day, so in looking at the importance of a mother’s role in the ancient Hebrew family takes us no further than the word for mother itself in Hebrew. Coded right into the roots of em/mother is the meaning “strong water,” or the glue that binds the family together. Mother is the central figure keeping relationships intact. By extension, God was understood as having the attributes of both ab/father, “strong house” and “strong water:” the roles of both creator and nurturer, lawgiver and lover. But as infants and children, we experience the nurturing of mother before the discipline of father, and as we watch Jesus move through the New Testament, we also see him lead with mother first as he approaches each relationship: acceptance first—love, compassion, forgiveness first--before healing, repentance, restitution. We can only be healthy and balanced in this order. Unless we know mother first, that we are loved first, life will be too frightening to live without dysfunction no matter how strong father makes our house.
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be still and know
dave brisbin | 5.4.14
Recently saw a sweet movie about the effect a young boy’s near death experience in heaven has on his pastor father, family, and church community. People are flocking to this movie and the book that preceded it as a spectacular vision of hope for the next life. The question of whether the boy’s vision was real or not will never be answered and, to me, is the wrong question to ask. A better question is whether such visions are necessary for faith in the first place or should be sought out to deepen our faith. Our culture is built around the spectacular: the highest, fastest, biggest, loudest, most expensive or exotic. We naturally approach our religion and spirituality in the same way. But spirituality does not operate on cultural principles, and everything we value culturally keeps us constantly looking right past the God who silently occupies every present moment. When Elijah hid in his cave from the soldiers of Jezebel, even in his fear and distress, as the earthquake, firestorm, and whirlwind pass by, he knows his God in not in those spectacular events. But when he senses a soft blowing at the back of his awareness, he simply pulls his mantle over his head and goes out to meet his Lord. It will take some time and practice, but we need to learn how to listen and where to look if we really want faith that will move our mountains.
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dave brisbin | 4.27.14
Most Christian arguments, large and small, don’t really revolve around doctrinal or ritual differences. They really center on our interpretation of scripture. At the bottom of every doctrinal or practical scuffle is the interpretation of the biblical passage from which it came. We revere the book so much that we’ve lost its purpose and point in our lives. Paul tells us that God’s word is written not with ink, but with the spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts. Another way of saying that if Scripture really reflects the spirit of the living God, then it wasn’t meant to be read—it must be performed to really hear God’s voice. In the last 500 years since the Reformation and Enlightenment, the view of scripture by the Western Christians has changed dramatically to match the scientific method and mindset of the Modern age. But ancient Jews and Christians alike had a very different view of scripture and how to understand it. A view that held scripture in a gentler grip that allowed God to really sing in all his depth and complexity in any given moment or passage. It’s time to revisit the method we use to interpret the book we use to guide our lives, because to paraphrase Jesus: scripture was made for man, not man for scripture.
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seeking the living
dave brisbin | 4.20.14
Easter Sunday: this meditation focuses on the indelible scenes between Jesus and his friends that first morning after his resurrection. Even after all the years of following him, living, eating, laughing with him, not one of his friends recognizes him when they meet him after the crucifixion. Was his appearance changed or was there something else in play? When the women come to the garden to finish the anointing of his body, they are met by an angel who asked them why they seek the living among the dead. This is a huge clue. The women expected Jesus to be in the tomb; they were not prepared for any other reality. They were not prepared to see anything other than what they expected and believed to be true. It’s the same with us today. Until we’ve moved far enough along Jesus’ Way to be reborn, we won’t see God’s kingdom in the midst any more than we could see a living Jesus among the graveyard dead.
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invitation to see
dave brisbin | 4.13.14
Palm Sunday, the kickoff of Holy Week, liturgically celebrates the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem during the feast of Pesach--Passover. One of the three shalosh regalim—Pesach was a pilgrimage festival for which, while the Temple stood, required all Jews to travel to Jerusalem to participate in the ritual festivities. As Jesus rides through the crowds and palms and shouts of hoshia-na, save us now, he is seen not as he ever expressed himself or lived his life, but through the lens of each person’s expectation and desire. The common people saw a savior coming to free them from Roman oppression, the Roman and Jewish leaders saw a threat to their power base, Jesus’ follower saw an opportunity to rise with their master to seats of power. All this as Jesus weeps over the city because its people did not recognize the hour of their visitation—the moment and opportunity to bring God’s essence into their lives. Jesus does not ride into any life to meet expectations and desires, but to bring an invitation to see what is really true. Every moment of our lives is Palm Sunday, an invitation to see. Are we willing to let go of our own expectations and desires long enough to recognize the hour of our visitation?
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conformance v transformance
frank billman | 4.6.14
In a mix of personal life stories and scripture readings, Pastor Frank walks us through what it means to be truly transformed as opposed to merely conformed. Working the spiritual life from the inside out rather than from the outside in; from simple obedience to the law and precepts of our faith to the real embrace of God’s deepest purpose.
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not with ink
dave brisbin | 3.30.14
Have you noticed that Christians fight a lot? There has never been a time in the history of the church that we haven’t fought over this doctrinal issue and that from the first century on. And when we say fight, we don’t mean heated debates. We’re talking excommunication, exile, seizing of property, torture, execution. In the 14th century, the church was still so doctrinally angry at John Wycliffe that it dug up his bones 44 years after his death to burn them at the stake. When you analyze all this, what we’re really fighting over is our understanding of Scripture. Every doctrinal issue that seems so important is rooted in how we interpret the Bible, so it’s there we need start if we’re going to understand why in the world we can do these things to each other in the name of the Prince of Peace. What does it mean that the Bible is inspired by God? How is it inspired and how do we interpret its meaning? How is it living and active in our lives and how should we respond to its message? Stepping out of our own doctrinal bubbles into the larger world of Christian thought can help open us up to the reality Paul tries to convey in 2 Corinthians, that God’s word was written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but tablets of human hearts.
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submitted in strength
dave brisbin | 3.23.14
Of the three vows I was to take upon entering a religious order after high school—chastity, poverty, and obedience—the one that was the hardest for the short time I was there, was obedience. I didn’t think so at the time, but it seems I had a problem with authority, an inability to submit. It’s that way with many of us, and our society and culture celebrates the lone individual standing firm against just about everything. In the midst of our daily routines and obligations, we romantically imagine freedom and meaning and purpose in that defiance and untethered apartness. Explains why we pass so lightly over the clear emphasis on submission in Jesus’s life. Submission equals doormat in our minds: weakness, helplessness, co-dependence. But Jesus submitted gracefully to everyone in his path: his parents, Roman and Jewish authority, his friends and followers, his Father in heaven. Even when he stood firm and opposed the abuse he came to alleviate, he did so from within a poverty of spirit that kept him close to the ground and deeply connected and submitted to his community. If we’re really looking for freedom and meaning and purpose, we won’t find it outside Jesus Way. And we won’t find Jesus’ Way outside of a life rooted in the strength of real submission.
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a question of emphasis
dave brisbin | 3.16.14
Sometimes I’m asked why I don’t routinely preach sin and repentance. The answer is because I know who I’m preaching to. Broken people know about their sin, their dysfunction, and what they need to hear is the hope of a Father’s love that is absolute—right where they stand breathing. It’s not that we don’t need to recognize sin and repent—change the direction of our choices—it just comes down to a question of emphasis. Jesus came to heal the Jews afflicted in his time by the elitism of an asphyxiating religious caste system. He emphasized the intimacy that was possible with his Abba, his Aramaic daddy. Paul was called to the Gentiles and emphasized freedom from the Jewish legalism being forced on them as intrusively as the circumcision that law required. But as they rocked the boats in their respective worlds, Jesus and Paul remained good Jews, never abolishing, always fulfilling. And we too, can remain good Christians, never abolishing the essentials of our faith even as we rock our boat with the emphasis needed to coax our people back to their God.
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a playful nazarene
dave brisbin | 3.9.14
What would Jesus really have been like? What was his personality? What did he look like? We can’t help wondering, but there are so few clues in scripture. Ancient Hebrews were much more focused on how something or someone functioned rather than physical appearance. Now, Jesus’ appearance doesn’t really matter in terms of our knowing him herenow, insights to his personality could give us clues as to how we could live our lives more as he lived his. And though we won’t find them explicitly stated, the clues are there if we’re willing to look. It’s all there: Jesus was a playful Nazarene. Finding in the Gospels that Jesus was light-hearted, playful, bold, vulnerable, and integrated can make a huge impact on those of us who are really serious about playfulness, about following after.
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father forgive them
dave brisbin | 2.23.14
One of the key aspects of Jesus’ Way to the Father—the only way—is forgiveness. We talk about forgiveness almost as much as we talk about love. And with about as much misunderstanding. What is forgiveness? We often associate it with an act of contrition, feeling sorry, an apology, restitution, amends, even restoration. But forgiveness really has little or nothing to do with any of these. It has nothing to do with the person who hurt us at all. The Aramaic language that Jesus spoke come to our rescue once again when we realize that to the ancient Jews, forgiveness is the same as freedom—they share the same word roots and so the same meaning. To be forgiven is to be set free and to be set free is to be forgiven. We would say that God is free, therefore he is forgiveness too, in the same way that he is love. God’s forgiveness is absolute—we are as forgiven as we want to be. A statement like this begs many questions: isn’t there an unforgiveable sin? Didn’t Jesus say that his Father would only forgive us if we forgave each other? Answering these questions from an Aramaic point of view will help us to really see forgiveness from God’s point of view, which will take us a long Way towards the Father.
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dave brisbin | 2.16.14
Jesus said if we followed his commandments—his Way—that we would know the truth and the truth would make us free. Free of the fear that necessitates all the obsessive-compulsive behavior we use to self-medicate the pain our fear causes. But the truth he speaks of, at root, is really a person, not a thing or a thought, and that person is love, perfect love, infinite love and acceptance. Trouble is, we can’t just inch up to an infinite anything using finite tools and methods. We want to cozy up to perfect love in a completely risk-free environment, clinging to all the security blankets we’ve accumulated to quell our fears. Perfect love is infinitely too radical for a safe, familiar approach, and Jesus’ Way shows us that straight out. At some point along Jesus’ Way, we get right up to the precipice, the edge of everything we think we know, and we’re presented a choice. Will we take the leap into the unknown of a perfect love or holding on to something less, remain in familiar territory? If we don’t leap, we’ll be loved just the same, because our God—truth--is love and can’t be changed. But we’ll never know that love or let it change us until we do.
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for clarity's sake
dave brisbin | 2.9.14
From time to time people have differences of opinion on matters of faith, theology, and doctrine…have you noticed? Except that when it comes to items of faith, differences of opinion tend to have more the force of a nuclear food fight. It’s ironic that in the name of Unity—Jesus and the Father are one—we practice disunity and division as almost a rite of passage into the mysteries of our faith. And so, from time to time, it seems to be a good idea to lay out the criticisms that have been leveled at us as a faith community, line them up alongside the beliefs and values that have incited the complaints, and see where there may be overlapping unity in the middle. Or at least get some clarity over the method behind the madness of our approach to Jesus’ Way. Beginning with the essential concept and experience of perfect love, four pairs of tension points form the structure of our approach: fear/love, intellectual/experiential, legal/relational, and passive/active. Understanding Jesus’ approach to each of these pairs drives us to first consider, then experience the possibility of a love so outrageous as to invite open resistance.
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dave brisbin | 2.2.14
When we, like Thomas, ask to be shown the Way to the Father, we’re typically thinking in terms of “what.” What are the details of this path we need to travel. But Jesus replies in terms of “how.” How we can live to create moments of experience that will take us beyond mere intellectual understanding. For Jesus, the experience of the lived moment is the key to Kingdom—far more important than mental concepts. How do we know he really believed that? As with all of us, it’s our emotions that show us what we really believe. The New Testament records two instances in which Jesus wept. The first is with Mary grieving the death of her brother. In the previous thirty-four verses of this story, Jesus is telling his followers that Mary’s brother is not dead—that he will rise. He knows he will raise him…so why does he weep? Jesus’ emotions show him and us what he really believes: that his moment with Mary is Mary’s moment, not her brother’s. That Jesus’ deep connection with Mary requires and moves him into mourning with her even though he knows that in a few more moments, in Lazarus’ moment, grief would turn to joy. Jesus is showing us with his tears the “how” of the Way. That it’s not what we think we know that matters, but the deep experience of each moment that draws us in, fires our emotions, and shows us who we really are.
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show us the way
dave brisbin | 1.26.14
Ultimately, we all ask the same questions. However we ask them, what we really want to know is the way to meaning and purpose in life. In whatever age we live, we humans are always looking for the way. In one of the most instructive passages in the New Testament, Jesus is asked these age old questions by two of his followers: Thomas wants to know the way, and Philip wants to see the unseen Father. This passage is instructive because in Jesus’ answer we begin to see both way and unseen God. To both questions, Jesus answers with identity. Jesus is the Way and Jesus and the Father are one. Identity is at the root of all the really important questions we ask, and ever relevant, Jesus is always answering with identity. Knowing the Way is not to know a thing, but a person—a person who is at once both Way and destination, journey and outcome, process and event. When we begin to value identity, we begin to realize that the experience of the unseen Father in all our lived moments is the only Way to know who we ourselves are. And to begin to say with Jesus that we and Way are one.
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the how of now
dave brisbin | 1.19.14
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus leaves two directives ringing in our ears: not to worry--not to judge. At the same time, as the world heats up in terms of political and economic turmoil, religious leaders and movie makers are increasingly focused on the end times, end of the world scenarios of biblical prophecy. But who decides that we have interpreted biblical prophecy correctly? How do we know we have it right? And how, in the fear and anxiety stirred up in all the speculation, can we continue not to worry or judge? Truth is, as a people, we keep focusing on the "whats" of life: what is going to happen, when, in what order. But God is focused on "how," how we live our moments. When we look at the prophetic and apocalyptic books of the bible--when they were written and to what purpose--a new perspective begins to emerge. When we realize that the main metaphor in both Old and New Testaments for God's "how," how we are to relate to our God and to each other, is contained a seemingly unlikely place: the deeply embedded customs and practices surrounding Hebrew weddings...and when we finally realize that apocalyptic prophecy and the Hebrew system of wedding customs overlay each other to create a meaning Jesus' first hearers wouldn't have missed, we can finally begin to see how God is showing us we can live without worry or judgment in any time--even the end ones.
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dave brisbin | 1.12.14
Red Letter 48. Closing off the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus leaves us with another stark image: that of houses built on rock and sand. Both illustrating the previous passage and summing up the entire Sermon, he tells us that hearing and acting on his words are as far apart as houses that survive storms and those that are destroyed by them. What are we really convinced of? We can convince ourselves we’re convinced of something intellectually until the storms of life come and we fall apart. It’s in the storm that we realize how deep our conviction resides. Everything Jesus has told us in the three chapters of his Sermon are absolutely true—and absolutely worthless if we don’t act on them—find some way to bring them physically and viscerally into the moments of our lives. What we are really convinced of is not what we think, but what we do. What we are willing to bet on, risk on, is what we really have faith in. And what we experience through those actions and choices becomes the deep foundation of our conviction. Conviction that will withstand even the worst and stormiest moments of our lives. [Mt 7:24-29]
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dave brisbin | 1.5.14
Red Letter 47. Following on the theme of knowing prophets by their fruit, Jesus brings it home. The discernment he has been teaching us all of chapter 7—to see beneath outward forms to whether real interior life flows—is now being trained inward on each of our own lives. But we still misunderstand when he says that not everyone who calls “lord, lord” will be recognized in kingdom. That regardless of professed faith or great accomplishments, “on that day” it may be that God still doesn’t know us. Immediately we think “that day” is judgment day or at least the day of our death, and we think that God is doing the rejecting by not recognizing us or our faith. Once again, the Aramaic understanding comes to our rescue. To remember that kingdom is always herenow, means that “on that day” refers to every day, every moment—it’s a call to continue entering into the experience of the Father right now. And to remember it’s not the Father doing the rejecting. If our God can say “I never knew you,” it’s only because we never really knew him…never moved beyond creeds and deeds to the connection of real relationship. [Mt 7:21-23]
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wolves and sheep
dave brisbin | 12.29.13
Red Letter 46. Beginning his life as a child of poverty, there is a sense in which Jesus never grew up. He continued to use the image of the child as the requisite attitude and vantage of Kingdom—life lived in awareness and connection. And if he preached it, we can bet he lived it--lived life with the best qualities of child and servant. When he tells us to beware of false prophets, those wolves dressed as sheep, he’s speaking to a deep part of our human nature. It’s our nature to chase greatness, both in ourselves and others. We work entire lives to accomplish great things and run to be near those who have. In a celebrity-drenched culture both then and now, Jesus is saying to be careful to discern what is really great—and sacred—by what that greatness produces. Not to be fooled by outward forms. It’s in our nature to walk right by the child of poverty who brings life as we chase the greatness that does not. Can we be born again as a child of poverty ourselves? To see life in such a way that even the most insignificant moments become sacred is entrance to the narrow gate and way to Kingdom. [Mt 7:15-20]
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three feet tall
dave brisbin | 12.22.13
Christmas. For at least 60 years, we’ve realized that in the crush of what Christmas has become, as a society, we’ve been losing what Christmas really means. But beneath the obvious answer—commemorating the birth of Jesus—there’s a deeper meaning implied by the few details preserved for us in the Gospels. Jesus was born as an infant and laid in a manger. To be born a child, a child of poverty… How do those details affect the Christmas story? How should they affect us? If you really want to connect with a child, you need to lower your face to their level, look in their eyes, enter and see the world from their point of view. The world looks very different from a vantage three feet off the ground. And to understand true humility, we also need to enter the world of those who suffer whatever through whatever impoverishes them. This deeper meaning of Christmas is that God held nothing back from us; lowered his face to our level, entered our world in order to perfectly connect with us and show us with his life what he was willing to do for love’s sake…and what we need to do when we’re ready to accept the fact of that love in our lives.
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the way to the gate
dave brisbin | 12.15.13
Red Letter 45. My sister once did a paint-by-numbers of Da Vinci’s Last Supper that my mother had hanging on her wall for at least two decades thereafter. Try to imagine the different experiences: my sister following the numbered shapes, matching the number to little vials of paint, staying within the lines, number by number—Da Vinci stepping into the scene as he imagines it, seeing every shape and detail, each person and relationship and expression; making his own pigments, mixing them into shades and shapes never seen before or since. If you can imagine that difference, you can begin to imagine the difference Jesus is trying to get across when he speaks of the narrow gate and way. We who live a paint by numbers life believe that gate and way describe more lines and numbers we must follow faithfully or face the fires of hell. But from an Aramaic perspective, the language points to an immersive experience of this lived moment, stepping into a living painting in which we awaken to all that is available and possible right herenow in Kingdom. To become a person merely trying to color inside the lines, but who sees the little, overgrown gate for what it really is: a Person living an original life never seen before or since. [Mt 7:13-14]
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falling to heaven
dave brisbin | 12.8.13
Red Letter 44. A story from the ancient Christian monastics of the third and fourth centuries advises that if you see a young monk by his own will climbing to heaven, take him by the foot and throw him to the ground, because what he is doing is not good for him. Why not? Why is climbing so bad? We get the “by his own will” part—his own will as opposed to God’s. But still, he’s going in the right direction… How could God’s will be that much different? The truth is that most of us and the church itself make a virtue of climbing to heaven every time we elevate obedience above relationship, every time we speak of theology and religious practice as litmus test for acceptance. We call Jesus’ statement of connection in action, the “golden rule,” twisting it into another law as we climb to heaven in a million different ways, never noticing that it’s our own will that propels us. And as with the young monk, it’s not good for us either because Jesus is telling us his Way is not about the exertion of climbing. It’s more like a nine year old boy standing with his toes gripping the edge of a pool; arms outstretched, eyes closed, leaning back until gravity takes him back-slapping into the cool water. If we really want to follow Jesus, we need to stop climbing and start falling to heaven. [Mt 7:12]
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snakes and stones
dave brisbin | 12.1.13
Red Letter 43. We are not saved by the mind…by what we think. If that’s true, then what saves us is not rational or logical. It’s much deeper than that. After all, what’s rational about absolute, perfect love? Yet we cling to thoughts in our heads as if they form the walls of our salvation. And yet, rational thought is essential to human life, so the question becomes which of the things we cling to are necessary and which are holding us back from all that Jesus intends? When Jesus asks which of us, when our son asks for a loaf of bread would give him a stone or if he asks for a fish would give him a snake, Jesus is making two points at once. The obvious one he tells us straight out: that if we would give good things to our children, how much more will our Father in heaven give good thing to us when we ask. But more deeply, the commonly baked loaves of 1st century bread and the common, smoothly-worn stones of the Galilee had a similar appearance from a distance. Water snakes and fish could be mistaken through rippled water. But though similar in appearance, one can preserve life and the other takes it away. We need to test the things to which our minds cling: do they really bring us life or are they slowly drawing us further from its source? [Mt 7:9-11]
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seeking what is found
dave brisbin | 11.24.13
Red Letter 42. How do we market what is inherently unmarketable? How do we communicate that which has never been intellectual and remains stubbornly experiential: communicated to exactly and only one person at a time—he or she who experiences? Marshall McLuhan is famous for saying that the medium is the message, but when the medium is pure experience, the message is at the very least, non-verbal. This is the problem with which Jesus was faced as he attempted to teach us his Way. It was easier just to live it and show us, but he tried with words as well, shaped into stories and parables and koan-like, paradoxical sayings meant to turn reason inside out. So when he tells us to ask, seek, and knock, we characteristically think of the petitions and tasks and agendas necessary to go out and acquire whatever we feel God is intending us to possess. We need to beware our intellectual understandings. Jesus’ words always point to an experience, never an agenda; a process and never an outcome. Until we realize that asking, seeking, and knocking sets us after something we always and already possess, we’ll always be traveling in the wrong direction. [Mt 7:7-10]
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dave brisbin | 11.17.13
A three day silent retreat in the desert outside Tucson this past week leaves an impression. It is alien in our society to seek or value silence, and it is a culture shock to live, eat, and pray with people who after three days remain strangers without names or stories. Men and women in all spiritual traditions have sought silence and solitude for as long as there have been men and women. Why? What is valuable about silence? What is the point of seeking and maintaining it? The story of my first day at the retreat—a saga of picking a hermitage, torn jeans, and taking the air out of a long time spiritual hero—help me to understand what silence does in our lives. In silence, there is nowhere to hide. In silence, the illusions we hold about others or ourselves are laid bare, and we can begin the work of knowing what really is. Jesus tells us at Luke 14 that anyone who does not give up all he has cannot be my disciple. Silence is the beginning of that process: seeing clearly what it is we still cling to that disallows us to follow after.
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pearls and rings
dave brisbin | 11.10.13
Red Letter 41. A well-meaning pastor tries to “save” the women who manage a nutrition center in Mexico that feeds over 100 children a day by leading them to Christ, but all he manages to do is insult them, they tell me later. They are all staunchly Catholic and express their love for God by feeding those children and their families and in a hundred different ways each day. What did the pastor miss? Why did his love for the Gospel result in a loss of relationship in the field? When Jesus tells us not to cast our pearls before swine or give what is holy to dogs, he sounds condescending, as if there are people who are beneath the pearls of wisdom or spiritual Way of living we could offer. But what he is really saying is that wisdom and Way are not commodities that can be air dropped from 30,000 feet indiscriminately. They are deeply about relationship and require deep relationship to be communicated. If we are not present, if we do not really see the person we wish to help, how can we possibly know what to offer? If we have not learned through wisdom and Way how to live in relationship ourselves, how will we ever foster it in another? [Mt 7:6]
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dave brisbin | 11.3.13
Red Letter 40. Jesus now paints for us what a world without the borders of judgment looks like. His humorous picture of someone trying to pick the speck out of another’s eye with a plank stuck in his own is both memorable and revealing: the most important things in life are not transferrable, which means we can’t ever change anyone except ourselves. The most important things in life are experiential, not intellectual or physical, so they must be lived through to be acquired. It’s why we’re here—to live through. When we turn our attention to the only person we can change in the only way we can change, we actually start to live our lives with meaning and purpose and begin to enjoy the ride…allowing all those others to do exactly the same without the slightest objection from us. [Mt 7:3-5]
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the reality you believe
dave brisbin | 10.27.13
Red Letter 39. When Jesus tells us not to judge at the top of Matthew 7, we immediatelyl think in terms of another rule to follow. And when he says that if we judge, then we will be judged as well, we think of punishment for disobedience. And when he says that the standard we use to judge will be used on us, we think of the method of punishment or karma, but we typically miss his real meaning. What Jesus is really trying to convey is that the reality we believe is the reality we endure. As soon as we adopt a worldview that includes a standard that allows us to see others as other, as object, as less than us—or even more—we are already living the separation and insecurity of that “reality.” Jesus is trying to show us that a world without judgment is also a world without the borders that keep us alone. [Mt 7:1-2]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 40:53, size: 7.0mb
dave brisbin | 10.20.13
Red Letter 38. The most radical concepts, the ones that can really change our lives, are so big, often so alien to our current worldviews, that they take a long time to sink in. Kingdom is just like this. To know Jesus’ Kingdom is a life changer, but long after we understand the real meaning of the words, our lives remain unchanged. Why? Jesus says that unless we can become like children, we can’t enter Kingdom, and of all the things children are, what they are most is vulnerable and dependent. We spend our whole lives from childhood on, vowing never to be vulnerable again—to be strong and perfect and independent. It’s pure irony that the fear of our vulnerability is exactly what keeps us from the love that casts out fear. We are all vulnerable whether we see it or believe it or not. To accept our vulnerability, to embrace it and share it, to realize it’s what makes us beautiful and lovable is literally to enter the connection of Kingdom. [Mt 6:31-34]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 42:36, size: 7.3mb
dave brisbin | 10.13.13
Red Letter 37. At the end of Matthew 6, Jesus tells us not to worry. Easy to say, yes? I remember a friend reacting to my sense of urgency on a task by saying that it was a sin to worry. Is that what Jesus is doing? Giving us another rule or law to follow? A state of worried anxiety is the polar opposite of the state of Kingdom: focused on an imagined future outcome, incapable of enjoying the promise of completeness in the present moment, we simply can’t go where Jesus is trying to take us. Jesus gives us four images to work with—two masters, birds of the air, an inch of stature, and lilies of the field. Each of these images points to a principle…not a law or rule, but a way of seeing and living life that will take the worry out of our moments and allow Kingdom to take root. [Mt 6:25-30]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 40:12, size: 6.9mb
dave brisbin | 10.6.13
Red Letter 36. Jesus is relentless. Never lets us rest in old ideas. Constantly tearing down set patterns and attitudes that limit us and keep us from Kingdom, Jesus is like a personal trainer always spurring us on to do one more rep because he knows that real breakthrough is just right there… Jesus’ image of the eye being the lamp of the body and the clear eye illuminating every dark place inside is his renewed call to let go of every last belief and attitude that maintains the darkness, the chaos and confusion that is our fear’s soil and sustenance. When our eyes are clear, when we can stare straight into another’s eyes withholding nothing, hiding nothing, our minds are untroubled by the conflict of old attitudes that burst like old wineskins when more truth comes pouring in. [Mt 6:22-24]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 39:46, size: 6.8mb
no victim here
dave brisbin | 9.29.13
Red Letter 35. We're all victims from time to time. Children are always victims of the adults in their lives. A victim is someone who doesn't have a choice, can't change present circumstances. But circumstances do change, and often our emotions do not. Our programs for survival through trauma survive the trauma itself and become part of who we are: people without a choice, a passive people looking for someone to save them. When Jesus talks about how we should give, pray, and fast, he’s trying to move us out of a passive mode of doing something nice in order to get a reward, and into an active role in our relationships that is its own reward. When he tells us to store our treasure in heaven—the unity of God’s presence--he’s telling us that unless we’re willing to let go of everything we cling to as security against fear, including our victimhood, we’ll never grasp the freedom that is always within our reach. [Mt 6:19-21]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 42:14, size: 7.3mb
dave brisbin | 9.22.13
Red Letter 34. How confusing is it to speak of the Father's unconditional love in one breath and then read in Mt 6 that if we forgive, then our Father forgives us, but if not, then not? Is forgiveness then conditional once again depending on our behavior? And if forgiveness is conditional, then how can love be something other or more? If we start from the wrong premise, we get the wrong answera: and we naturally start everything from zero sum--that there is only so much love and forgiveness, and if we get some, then it comes from someone else's share and vice versa--that all God does is move forgiveness and love around from person to person. But Jesus is telling us our Father is not zero sum. God is always creating, always making things new, and always pouring out all he has and is. If we can't move to a radically different premise, a new way of looking at life and love, we'll never understand a passage like this that speaks of a profound truth within the Good News of Jesus' message. [Mt 6:14-18]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 37:45, size: 6.5mb
too big to grasp
dave brisbin | 9.15.13
Red Letter 33. Some things are just too big to grasp all at once, so we return to the topic of prayer. Reimagining the Lord’s Prayer, after two thousand years of continual recitation, not as verbal expression but a way of living life moment by moment will only gradually dawn on us through repeated experience. What is prayer really? We think of it as mental or verbal communication with God, usually for the purpose of asking for things, but is that its primary purpose? If Jesus’ model prayer is really a process of knowing our Father in order to live as one with him, then prayer becomes a method of identification with God. Seeing prayer as Jesus did—as being one with the Father—puts us on a course toward knowing the truth of our Father’s life and love, a truth that certainly makes us free. [Mt 6:5-13]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 47:07, size: 8.1mb
teach us to pray
dave brisbin | 9.8.13
Red Letter 32. Moving from the practice of charitable giving to prayer, Jesus decries the Rabbinical practice of praying in public, to be noticed— encouraging everyone to retire to their prayer closets to pray in secret…again to remove any motive of reward beyond the connection with God’s spirit itself. In Luke’s account, Jesus’ followers ask him to “teach us to pray.” In Matthew, Jesus simply directs them to “pray this way,” and gives them the five lines of what we know as the Lord’s Prayer. But until we peek under the veneer of translation and see the Hebrew/Aramaic intent underneath, we’ll never understand that the prayer is not to be recited as much as it is to be lived, and these five lines form a five-step process of knowing our Father in heaven: to clear a space, match God’s desire, immerse in the moment, release from the past, and realize in the present, form the basis of Jesus’ one and only Way to the Father. [Mt 6:5-13]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 46:23, size: 8.0mb
giving like wind
dave brisbin | 9.1.13
Red Letter 31. Moving into chapter 6 of Matthew, Jesus turns from redefining Law to redefining righteousness, which the Rabbis of his day measured in terms of giving to the poor, prayer, and fasting. The Rabbinical practice of doing all three of these publicly as a form of self-aggrandizement is the focus of Jesus’ redirection as he tackles each area of righteousness. Separating the act of giving from any hint of obligation or investment, to simply flow with the wind of God’s spirit into connection with the person in our path is the first step toward giving like wind, like spirit, as God gives—without any thought of return, or better, to realize that the return, the reward, is the connection itself that precedes the exchange. [Mt 6:1-4]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 44:33, size: 7.7mb
sun and rain
dave brisbin | 8.25.13
Red Letter 30. In finishing his redefinition of the Law, Jesus makes his final point: that though Jewish custom allows and even commands that we should hate our enemies, Jesus of course asks us to love them and pray for those who persecute us, that our Father in heaven causes the sun and rain to rise and fall on each of us equally without regard to our behavior or status. It's the hardest lesson we will ever learn, but until we do, the Good News and Kingdom itself remain just out of reach. God's love, like sun and rain, is an indiscriminate outpouring, an unfair, unjust, unmerited showering upon friend and enemy alike. Until we learn to pour out as indiscriminately and unfairly, we'll never understand, never believe, and never experience the love already showering us. [Mt 5:43-48]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 54:12, size: 9.3mb
dave brisbin | 8.18.13
Red Letter 29. In the fifth of Jesus' great "antitheses," his redefinition of the Law, Jesus looks at retribution and revenge. You have heard it said an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, he says, but instead of strict reciprocity under the law or social custom, he tells us that if we're slapped on one cheek, we should offer the other; if asked to go one mile, we should go two; and if sued for our shirt, should give our coat as well. Is Jesus asking us to be pacifists and doormats? Once again in the shift between the macro context of the law and the micro context of personal relationship, the first mile--the one we are obligated to travel--teaches us nothing of Kingdom. It's in the voluntary second mile that the truth that sets us free is revealed. [Mt 5:38-42]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 42:38, size: 7.3mb
dave brisbin | 8.11.13
Red Letter 28. Jesus now addresses swearing as he continues redefining the Law in Matthew 5. Contrary to popular belief, Jesus is not talking about profanity here, but the taking of oaths or vows in court or commerce. As the religious leaders of his time had set various loopholes in place in order to both break a vow and avoid taking the Lord's name in vain at the same time, Jesus sets about putting the intent first as always and tells us never to swear at all, to let our yes be yes and no, no. In order to get his point across alll through this chapter, the entire Sermon on the Mount, and in general through the New Testament, Jesus uses huge language, outrageous words to get points across that comes to us from the vicinity of perfect love. In an imperfect world, nothing any less outrageous will ever take us back to the Father's perfection. [Mt 5:33-37]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 36:07, size: 6.2mb
lindy boone michaelis | 8.4.13
Guest speaker Lindy Boone Michaelis was born into an entertainment environment as the second daughter of singer/entertainer Pat Boone, and she and her family toured all over the U.S. and internationally. The Boone Girls recorded several Christian albums, including the Grammy award nominated "First Class," but on June 19, 2001, Lindy's life changed forever. Her oldest son Ryan stepped through a skylight on the roof of his apartment building and fell three stories to the concrete below. For the last 10 years she has learned a lot about traumatic brain injury (TBI) as well as understanding the faithfulness of God during our deepest need. The Boone family started a foundation in Ryan's name, called Ryan's Reach, to help survivors of brain injury and their families, and Lindy has written a book, Heaven Hears, about her and her family's journey through Ryan's ordeal. Here, she recounts her journey and the faith that keeps the smile on her face.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 50:33, size: 8.7mb
what god has joined
dave brisbin | 7.28.13
Red Letter 27. After tackling murder, Jesus moves on to adultery and divorce. In the same parallel construction, Jesus states that if we think we're safe under law because we've not committed adultery, we need to know that just a lustful stare is adultery in the heart. And if we we think that we've legally divorced our partner and are free to remarry, that we may still be guilty of adultery when we do. Once again, Jesus is challenging us to move beyond legalities and look at our relationships as the precious things they are. But looking at these Scriptural passages from an ancient Hebrew point of view also reveals secrets that can change two millennia of church teaching on divorce and remarriage. [Mt 5:27-32]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 43:48, size: 7.5mb
dave brisbin | 7.21.13
Red Letter 26. After stating his purpose as one who would never abolish the Law, but one who forever fulfills it, Jesus launches into just how that fulfillment is accomplished. Tackling six major sections of law and human life, Jesus begins with murder saying that if you think you're safe under the law because you didn't kill anyone, think again. Even an angry thought condemns you under the same court. Is a thought and action really the same in God's eyes? Jesus is trying to help us see that until we learn that obedience is not enough, that Law will never take us where we want to go--we'll never see how God breaks all the rules in order to love each one of us with a perfectly unjust love. [Mt 5:21-26]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 39:07, size: 6.7mb
the slightest touch
dave brisbin | 7.14.13
The death of our friend and co-founder, Jeff Jones, brings up the question and power of chronic depression in a pointed way. To oversimplify and overspiritualize depression is to remain ignorant of its true nature and to unwittingly abuse those suffering from it. And yet, even in depression, there is a way through if we are mindful and diligent. From an unexpected corner, the story of a bleeding woman healed by the slightest touch of Jesus' garment brings insight as we realize that her main malady wasn't a physical condition, but the loneliness, disconnection, and depression her condition caused. Her faith saved her, but it was what she did in faith that brought her into the presence of all that heals.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 41:07, size: 7.1mb
coincidence of opposites
dave brisbin | 7.7.13
Remembering our co-founder, Jeff Jones, who died on July 4th. Jeff taught us in life and continues to teach in death what it means to live this life in the alternation of light and dark, connection and loneliness, hope and despair that is the human condition--a condition resolived only in the presence of our God, who embodies the coincidence of opposites.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 37:56, size: 6.5mb
dave brisbin | 6.30.13
Red Letter 25. The point Jesus is making about Law at Matthew 5:20 is so big, so counterintuitive, it takes another look just to begin to understand. Jesus is trying to show us that thought God is just, that justice exists in the macro, for the good and survival of the group. But God doesn't relate to us in the macro, but in each one on one micro embrace. Here in the micro, justice is not the highest good. Compassion and mercy are...love is. God's love exists beyone justice. God's love is not just--just perfect. God's love deliberately unbalances the scales of justice in order to give each of his beloved children what they need most and could never earn under Law. [Mt 5:20]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 40:17, size: 6.9mb
dave brisbin | 6.23.13
Re Letter 24. Jesus lays out his mission in a major transition in Matthew 5 at the opening of the Sermon on the Mount. After showing us the picture of a Kingdom resident in the Beatitudes and the effect of a Kingdom resident on surrounding community in his salt and light metaphors, Jesus turns our attention to the Law. He has not come to aboliish but fulfill, and until heaven and earth pass away the Law remains. But until we understand that the Aramaic meaning of "pass away" is to cross a boundary or threshold--until heaven and earth merge in unity--we'll never understand what he means when he says we must exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees--move beyond following the letter of the Law all the way to becoming Law itself in love. [Mt 5: 17-19]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 38:40, size: 6.6mb
light of the world
dave brisbin | 6.16.13
Red Letter 23. When Jesus says we are the light of the world if our hearts reside in Kingdom, he says that our light can't be hidden any more than a city on a hill. It's apparent to all who come near. But light in Jesus' original language means much more than just visible light. The light of creation was actually the order and harmony of God imposed upon the chaotic darkness of the void. In addition to preserving and vitalizing life as salt, we also bring order and balance to unmanageable lives as we move into Kingdom. [Mt 5:15-16]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 41.39, size: 7.2mb
salt of the earth
dave brisbin | 6.9.13
Red Letter 22. Coming out of the Beatitudes, from the vivid picture of the final product of a life lived in Kingdom, Jesus goes on to describe the effect that life has on those in the surrounding community. He calls that effect being salt and light, but until we fully know what salt and light meant in that culture, the message is lost. Before refrigeration and antibiotics, salt was nothing less than life to the ancients, life preserved, fertilized, and vitalized--and so is each life lived in Kingdom. [Mt 5:13-14]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 41:28, size: 7.1mb
dancing with alcohol
frank billman | 6.02.13
Recovery Pastor Frank Billman tells his story that leads from Texas to California and from seemingly hopeless alcoholism beyond sobriety to transformation, full recovery, and ordination as a pastor. A true miracle story bolstered with Frank's thoughts on how we can all join in the transformation.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 36:05, size: 6.2mb
dave brisbin | 5.26.13
Red Letter 21. Recapping all the Beatitudes, but focusing on the last two, we get the insight that the Beatitudes are not rules or standards to obey or meet, but a quality of life to become, that God's Kingdom is a state of being in resonance with the King. If we're merely following rules, we're not in Kingdom, but how do we enter Kingdom if we don't follow the rules? Breaking through this catch-22 is also part of the Way. [Mt 5:8-12]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 47.24, size: 8.1mb
the way to the way
dave brisbin | 5.19.13
Red Letter 20. Continuing with the Beatitudes from a first century, Aramaic perspective we begin to see the stark difference between Jesus' and the Father's values of humility, dependence, vulnerability, and compassion as compared to the power, fame, wealth, and influence that we as a society and even as a church celebrate. The first step on the way to Jesus' Way is the unlearning of all that animates us in order to recenter on what is really important. [Mt 5:4-7]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 39.46, size: 6.9mb
dave brisbin | 5.12.13
On Mothers' Day, we look at the meanings of mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister from an ancient Hebrew context. The nature and roles of each family member encoded in the language itself describes the nature of the relationships, the meaning and purpose and centrality of family--and the intended nature of our relationships today.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 38.39, size: 6.6mb
poor and blessed
dave brisbin | 5.5.13
Red Letter 19. The Sermon on the Mount is complete microcosm of all Jesus' teaching and the summation of his Way to the Father. Most likely and early catechism for first century converts, it is breathtaking in the sweep of its language and very difficult for Western ears to understand. Looking at the Sermon from a first century Aramaic point of view is the only way to see the intensely practical and grounded Way of life it depicts. Here, we begin with the first Beatitude, itself a source of great misunderstanding. [Mt 5:1-3]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 43.36, size: 7.5mb
outside the box
dave brisbin | 4.28.13
Red Letter Series 18. In healing a leper, forgiving a paralytic, and calling Levi, Jesus violates social and religious codes of his day, crosses boundaries in order to touch, forgive, and accept the person in front of him. In response to this unconditional acceptance, the central question becomes, "What then must we do?" The answer from Jesus and his cousin John is to step wildly out of our religious, social, and ethical boxes to find a God that exceeds all expectation. [Lk5:29-35]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 42.45, size: 7.3mb
good people, bad things
dave brisbin | 4.21.13
When bad things happen to good people, when a bomb at the Boston Marathon kills and eight year old boy and devastates a family, how are we to react, understand the nature of our lives and our God? What can we ask that Job didn't ask? And what answers can we expect that Job didn't get?
audio [ mp3] | duration: 40.25, size: 7.0mb
dave brisbin | 4.14.13
The death of Brennan Manning, former Franciscan, alcoholic, writer, and pioneer of God's grace in our culture prompts a look at just what it means to approach life and faith from the point of the Father's love--the radical shift that occurs when we realize that Jesus didn't come to save us from sin, but from the shame that causes the sin.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 36.23, size: 6.2mb
dave brisbin | 4.7.13
After the Resurrection, in the garden, on the road to Emmaeus, on the lakeshore...what keeps Jesus' closest friends from recognizing him? How are we all limited by what we think we know and see only what we already believe?
audio [ mp3] | duration: 35:18, size: 6.1mb
touch me not
dave brisbin | 3.31.13
Easter Sunday--When Mary finally recognizes Jesus in the garden and runs to him, he stops her saying touch me not, don't cling to me. Why shouldn't she? And why shouldn't we?
audio [ mp3] | duration: 35:09, size: 6.0mb
riding the donkey
dave brisbin | 3.24.13
Palm Sunday, beginning of Holy Week--Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem and the unmet expectations of the people. How are our expectations any different and how do they color our expectations in life?
audio [ mp3] | duration: 44:36, size: 7.7mb
patches and skins
dave brisbin | 3.10.13
Red Letter Series 17. The calling of Levi, acceptance, and the eradication of shame. [Mk 2:17-22]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 45:26, size: 7.8mb
a hole in the roof
dave brisbin | 3.3.13
Red Letter Series 16. Breaking more boundaries as paralytic brought through a hole in the roof--what lenghts are we willing to go to get to the place of healing?. [Mk 2:1-12]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 46:37, size: 8.0mb
dave brisbin | 2.24.13
Red Letter Series 15. Breaking ritual boundaries in healing a leper--acceptance before healing. [Mk 1:35-45]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 43:29, size: 7.5mb
dave brisbin | 2.10.13
Red Letter Series 14. Jesus teaching at the lakeshore--calling fisherman into deeper water. [Lk 5:1-11]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 41:52, size: 7.2mb
today in our ears
dave brisbin | 2.3.13
Red Letter Series 13. Jesus at Nazareth, promise of Kingdom fulfillled this day in our ears. [Lk 4:18-21]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 42:16, size: 7.3mb
dave brisbin | 1.27.13
Red Letter Series 12. Jesus at Nazareth breaking down spiritual journey to one sentence. [Lk 4:21-30; Jn 8: 31-32]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 47:38, size: 8.2mb
answering the call
dave brisbin | 1.20.13
Red Letter Series 11.Jesus returns home to teach at Nazareth after "hero's journey." [Lk 4:14-20]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 35:28, size: 6.1mb
spitting at fences
dave brisbin | 1.6.13
Red Letter Series 10. Sabbath violations and methods of healing. [Jn 5:1-9]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 42:06, size: 7.2mb
tale of two healings
dave brisbin | 12.30.12
Red Letter Series 9. Healings at Bethesda and man born blind. [John 5:1-15; Jn 9:1-34]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 39:46, size: 7.0mb
lying in a manger
dave brisbin | 12.23.12
Christmas message 2.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 32:18, size: 5.7mb
star of bethelem
dave brisbin | 12.16.12
Christmas message 1.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 40.35, size: 7.1mb
barriers to belief
dave brisbin | 12.9.12
Red Letter Series 8. Miracle at Cana and healing royal official's son. [Jn 2:1-11; Jn 4:46-54]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 42:28, size: 7.5mb
clarity, control, co-dependence
dave brisbin | 11.25.12
Red Letter Series 7. Jesus and the rich young man, Nicodemus, and Samaritan woman together. [Mt 19:16-21]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 46:01, size: 8.1mb
dave brisbin | 11.18.12
Red Letter Series 6. Jesus and the Samaritan woman a the well. [Jn 4:3-34]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 38:53, size: 6.8mb
dave brisbin | 11.11.12
Red Letter Series 5. Jesus and Nicodemus--Aramaic meaning of John 3:16. [Jn 3:16]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 40:23, size: 7.1mb
come and see
dave brisbin | 11.4.12
Red Letter Series 4. Jesus and Nicodemus--the nature of spirit. [Jn 3:1-8]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 40:04, size: 7.0mb
what do you seek?
dave brisbin | 10.21.12
Red Letter Series 3. Jesus calling his first disciples. [Jn 1:35-51]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 38:43, size: 6.8mb
dave brisbin |10.14.12
Red Letter Series 2. Temptation in the wilderness. [Lk 4:1-13]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 40.05, size: 7.1mb
waiting is over
dave brisbin | 10.7.12
Red Letter Series 1. Jesus and the meaning of Kingdom. [Mk1:15]
audio [ mp3] | duration: 41:10, size: 7.2mb
dave brisbin | 9.23.12
audio [ mp3] | duration: 35:54, size: 6.3mb
child servant bride
dave brisbin | 9.16.12
audio [ mp3] | duration: 38:54, size: 6.8mb
dave brisbin | 9.2.12
audio [ mp3] | duration: 48:56, size: 8.6mb
no notice of wickedness
dave brisbin | 8.19.12
audio [ mp3] | duration: 39:08, size: 6.8mb
dave brisbin | 8.12.12
audio [ mp3] | duration: 47:23, size: 8.3mb
dave brisbin | 8.5.12
audio [ mp3] | duration: 38:20, size: 6.7mb
dave brisbin | 7.29.12
audio [ mp3] | duration: 46:02, size: 8.1mb
what ought to be
dave brisbin | 7.22.12
audio [ mp3] | duration: 38:30, size: 6.8mb
many are called
dave brisbin | 7.15.12
audio [ mp3] | duration: 42:46, size: 7.5mb
dave brisbin | 7.1.12
audio [ mp3] | duration: 48:24, size: 8.5mb
pushing the envelope
dave brisbin | 5.20.12
audio [ mp3] | duration: 42:35, size: 7.5mb
dave brisbin | 6.17.12
audio [ mp3] | duration: 38:13, size: 6.7mb
in pursuit of happiness
dave brisbin | 5.20.12
audio [ mp3] | duration: 40:36, size: 7.2mb
what change may come
dave brisbin | 5.27.12
As a pastor if I didn't believe people could change, I couldn't do my job. But getting older, I'm realizing that I may be using the wrong word. Anyone who's raised children knows that there are little personalities set in each little body as early as six or seven years old that you as parent had absolutely nothing to do with implanting. In the Gospels, Peter and Paul are practically psychological case studies. Peter is impetuous, headstrong, acts first and thinks later. He was the same before and after Jesus called him; before and after finding his faith. Paul is passionately loyal to the institution of his faith as a Jew, persecuting and killing the Jews he believes are heretically following Jesus. After his conversion he is passionately loyal to the institution of his faith as a Christian; he was the same before and after his Damascus visions; before and after finding his faith. Maybe people can change, maybe they can't. But we all can be transformed. Peter's impetuousness and Paul's passion never changed, but those traits were absolutely transformed, channeled in completely different directions once they began to understand who they really were. Free from fearful obsessions and compulsions, impetuousness was transformed from irresponsible to inspiring and passion from persecution to perseverance. Do people really change? It's the wrong question. Are you transformed? Has the heat and abrasion of your passage along the way removed enough of what is not really you to let the seven year old come out and play? At the moment of transformation, our greatest liabilities become our greatest strengths, our greatest ability to hurt another becomes our greatest ability to bless. At the moment of transformation, the question of change is moot.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 41:50, size: 7.4mb
dave brisbin | 5.20.12
We all have our notions of what is pointless in life. Substandard jobs, disabilities, birth defects contribute. What is a pointless life? One that doesn’t lead to the outcomes we desire? Is life all about outcome? We live that way. All our moments lined up and pointed at distant outcomes that define our experience herenow, defer our experience of anything at all in favor of ever receding expectation. When Jesus’ followers berate a woman for pouring expensive perfume over Jesus’ head, wasting what could have been sold and given to the poor, Jesus berates them back saying: You will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. Is caring for the poor pointless because there will always be poor among us? Is there any value to acts that begin and fully end herenow and don’t point to discernable outcomes? If we can’t find value apart from outcome, we will never find contentment. Never enter Kingdom. Never breathe from our heels or smile from our ears because we get to drive a car forty feet across a parking lot. We’ll never learn that moments don’t point or lead anywhere, only our minds do that, taking us with them out of the only perfect place we’ll ever occupy: this here, this now. We need to redefine pointless. Pointless is not a life that doesn’t lead to expected outcome. Pointless is never once living as if you’d rather be a Down Syndrome boy driving a freshly washed car than a frustrated pastor on the way to a gig.
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dave brisbin | 5.13.12
Can two contradictory things be true at the same time? Reflexively and logically, we say no, of couse not. But more deeply, while there may be just one true thing at the bottom of the dogpile, we often experience that truth in different ways that all feel true at the time...and more importantly, that give us more of a sense of the scope and nature of that one truth. The Scriptures speak of God as Father and yet also as spirit. We don't have much trouble accepting this seeming contradiction as we simply spiritualize our understanding of Father and move on. But less famously, these same scriptures speak of God as Mother, and two thousand years of paternal programming makes Mom very hard to swallow--even emotionally blasphemous for many. We know the earth is round, but we experience it as flat and build our homes and lives on that plane. Viewing God as Father, we see the majesty of creation and the depth of his abundance, but only through God as Mother is the distance between us and Father bridged, finding ourselves held in intimate embrace. And just as an infant relates first to mother's care and caress and grows into the world of father's accomplishment, we may believe we believe our Father in heaven, but we'll never know him and trust him until we experience him as her. We need to lose our fear of our Mother in heaven, the feeling that somehow we betray or blaspheme Father's name by expanding his role. At the bottom of the dogpile, God is one non-contradictory thing: spirit, and as such is neither male nor female, father nor mother. But standing on our flat earth, he is all these things functioning as one, with each thing pointing back to the unity of his truth.
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what god wants
dave brisbin | 5.6.12
I've often heard pastors and televangelists talking about what God wants. What he wants us to do or feel or say or [mostly] give. I've always thought it fairly presumptuous to claim to know what God wants from our perch on the little blue ball way over there on that edge of the second galaxy to the right...but then I hear myself asking a study group what they thought God's highest value is, and when they don't come up with exactly what was in my head, telling them exactly what was. And if my hypocrisy didn't sink in at the moment, the next week one of the attendees pulled me aside to say that he'd related the exchange to another pastor who told him that it was pretty presumptuous to think I had any idea of God's highest value. Karma is a witch. Is what God wants and his highest value the same thing? I guess we can suppose God would also want his highest value, but I think there's a distinction as well. The difficulty lies in the way we ask..what God wants. It may well be presumptuous to ask what God wants. How could we possibly know? But I don't think it's at all presumptuous to ask how God wants. Turns out that God's most distinguishing feature, the one that changed the course of the Hebrew nation and the world's history, is not a what at all--not an outcome or event or object; it's a how: a way, a process with attitude, a motivating characteristic or essence. With the right how, any what will do. With the right how, we can face our own burning bush moments with the trust that only unity--multiple things functioning as one--can muster. That's a distinction worth making, an expression of an experience worth presumption.
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playing the music
dave brisbin | 4.22.12
When you're holding a sheet of music manuscript in your hand, we commonly call it the music. But what are you really holding? Music? The staff, barlines, noteheads, and all those other glyphs are a system of conveying certain intentions to vibrate--nothing more. You have to play the music to have the music; you can't keep it in a drawer. It's yours only as long as the last vibrations hum in your ears, after which you hold mere intention once again. Same with Scripture. Is the Word of God really the ink dried into the pages of the book you hold? Or are those glyphs merely the ancient record of someone's intention to vibrate at the frequency of God? It's all about presence after all. Presence is all we have to work with. It's the needle in the groove of the vinyl record, the laser point on the CD that is present to the moment of unfolding, that unfolds the moment by its presence--or not. It's fascinating to me that on the cross, drowning in his sea of pain, Jesus refuses the mixture of wine and myrhh soaked in the sponge at the end of a stick. I can't be sure, but I think it's because even though it would have dulled the pain, it would have also dulled his needle, his presence to the moment. And it was an important moment. All moments are...if we're present. We keep trying to think our way through--considering the meaning of words and music we've never played. Thinking about something is not being present to it--the moment we reduce anything to a glyph in the mind, it stops being the thing itself; stripped of presesence, all that's left is intention, possibility. Jesus said to win your life you first had to lose it. Let's get lost. Good and lost. Let's stop thinking and start practicing presence...stop reading notes and start playing the music.
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the difference it makes
dave brisbin | 4.15.12
On the first Sunday after Easter, it's not too soon to ask how the Resurrection has affected our lives. Has it made a difference? As people of professed faith, it's not enough to ask ourselves what we believe. We need to know what difference it makes that we believe. If faith without works is dead, then Resurrection as cause without effect may as well never have happened--and for any of us without such effect, it hasn't happened...yet. To see the Resurrection as an event that happened at a certain place and time in the classical past, is to miss the significance of a deeper truth. When Mary and the women come to look for Jesus that Sunday morning, they find God's messengers instead asking, why do you seek the living among the dead? That question is the central question of our lives. Mary is looking for Jesus where she expects him to be--in a graveyard. We all do that. We look for things where we expect them to be, and in our search for the merely plausible, we miss what's entirely possible. Our beliefs limit what we are capable of seeing. The moment we settle on a belief, set it in stone, let it become static and unmoving, that belief is dead, no longer among the living--and Jesus is not there. God's spirit, ruach [wind, breath, spirit], is always described in motion, just as wind and breath are by definition always in motion or no longer function as wind and breath. If we look for Resurrection only in the past, in the pages of Scripture, in church, in religious practice, we are looking for the living among the dead. Jesus is always in motion and where there is motion there is life, and where there's life there is Resurrection--the living Jesus. If we can't find the living One in every face and embrace, then we have missed the difference it makes when we finally stop looking for things only where we expect them to be.
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blinded by expectation
dave brisbin | 4.1.12
At the beginning of holy week, we take a look at Palm Sunday from the point of view of all the different groups of people who watched Jesus enter the city that day. Riding through Jerusalem's gates on the foal of a donkey not only fulfilled certain prophetic scriptures, it also unmistakably signaled to the watching cultures that Jesus came in peace. To bring war or insurrection, he would've ridden a horse. The symbolism was unmistakable, but everyone mistook it anyway. The waving and laying of palms before a king [the symbol of triumph throughout the ancient world] and the hosanna that was being shouted by the people [literally: hoshiiah na--save us we beseach you] was enough to set both Jewish and Roman leaders' teeth on edge. For everyone understood that this was how the common people and the Zealots were seeing Jesus--as a political and military messiah come drive out the Romans and re-establish the promised Hebrew throne. So the Romans and Jewish authorities both saw him then as a threat to their respective power bases and planned accordingly, regardless of Jesus' teaching and the symbolism of his entry that day. And what of Jesus' closest followers? What did they see? They were still fighting over their own positions in the coming Kingdom, and mistook the unmistakable Jesus as well. The most important question we can ask ourselves is what we expect of Jesus as he rides into our lives each day. Is he the one we expect to wipe away our obstacles and difficult circumstances in life? Is he a threat to our power base, our sense of who we are and how we survive? Are we looking to ride his coattails into some greater position for ourselves? Jesus was very clear about who he was and who he still is. We need to make sure we're not mistaking his unmistakable signs, and blinded by our expectations, seeing only what we wish to see.
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water and wind
dave brisbin | 3.25.12
What does a middle way between religion and spirituality look like? Religion without authentic spirituality is empty at best, abusive at worst. But Thomas Keating wrote that though the spiritual life doesn't need to be felt, it does need to be practiced. The daily practice of our spirituality is our religion, whether personal or denominational, but as we become increasingly disenchanted with our religion, we are taking an increasingly passive role in our spirituality, letting the religious structures that have stood for centuries around Christianity fall away. Jesus has two critical conversations back to back in John 3 and 4. One is with a Pharisee named Nicodemus and the other with an unnamed Samaritan woman. Both Nicodemus and the woman have questions for Jesus about the nature of God and worship, and both are so limited in their thinking that the symbols Jesus uses to break them free--water and wind--completely escape them at first. For Nicodemus, Jesus presents the water of baptism as the cleansing and practice of an active spirituality, but one that must be based in the wind, the constant and unknowable movement and breath of spirit. For the woman, water becomes the living water that like wind and spirit is always flowing, in motion, and will usher in true worship that knows no mountain or limited space. To follow the middle Way is to be born again: to drink living water, to blow about without needing to understand every principle and process--yet at the same time, following a daily practice, a worship in spirit and truth that constantly brings God's presence into sharp and active focus. It's the only Way to the Father: the middle way of water and wind.
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the middle way
dave brisbin | 3.11.12
A 17-year-old challenges his father by asking whether what he believes is really true, or just what he believes... It's a question each of us should be asking ourselves. The 17-year-olds among us are asking... If our older generations don't ask as well, they become increasingly irrelevant to the journey. A new video that has gone viral on the internet, gathering millions of views in an astonishingly short period of time, raps out to music that at least one young poet hates religion, and by the way, Jesus does too. Our young people know there's something wrong with the institutional church--that the emperor has no clothes, and though religion in this poem is standing in for the hypocrisy, corruption, and impotence of our institutional faith, we still need to be careful with our words. Did Jesus really hate religion; does it serve no purpose? Actually, today, Jesus would shock us with his absolute devotion to his religion. By any reading of the New Testament, he followed every ritual and code of 1st century Judaism to the letter. He didn't come, as he said, to abolish the Law (the religion of his day and people), but to fulfill. It's not that religion has no purpose or place in our lives, it's that we always tend to do it badly. Reforms come and go, and in between generations lose their way and leaders lose their integrity. Once the corporate expression that is religion becomes separated from the personal experience that is spirituality, I suppose we can all say we hate religion. But spirituality without the structure and daily practice that religion can provide quickly becomes just as dry. The truth is never at the extremes. The middle way that brings the extremes into unity is exactly what Jesus meant by fulfilling instead of abolishing.
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dave brisbin | 3.4.12
Watching the faces at Liz' memorial gathering, the blizzard of emotions, the interaction, I began to think about healing, the process of it, how we may help or hinder. There are no words to take away the pain of loss we feel at times, and any words we try end up only trivializing the depth of grief. Grief is another journey, a process that can't be thought through--it must be lived through. And the end of the journey is the acceptance we call healing. Whenever Jesus healed a person in the Gospels, such as the paralyzed man lowered through a roof by his friends, Jesus always had a curious way of announcing healing. He would say, your sins are forgiven or your faith has made you well or some such variation of passive voice or emphasis on the faith a person brought in the door--or through the roof. He nevers says I heal you or I forgive you. He recognizes that there is a part that we play in our own healing and forgiveness. What is that part? Jesus says again and again it is our faith--but faith properly understood. To a Jew, faith is not what you think or mentally agree to believe, it is what you do over and over that defines what you really trust in life. If what you do brings you through a roof or a door into the Presence of all healing, then really, your faith has saved you--by bringing our presence into Presence. When there are no words that heal, it is simply our presence to each other that is healing. To let someone soak your shoulder as you sit in silence, to wordlessly soak someone else's shoulder is the beginning of a healing presence that begins with each other and ends in the Presence of our healing God.
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dave brisbin | 2.26.12
Our Liz, in the photo with her husband Leo, died last month. It was sudden, and it was unexpected in a way that takes your breath away. I had no response to the voice coming through the little cell phone speaker and could only listen and let the words slowly wash over. My first thought was the one I always think first when I hear of someone's death: I wonder what she's doing right now... Who is she with? What does she know that we only guess at through the glass darkly? Our reaction to death can't be painted all in one color. It's complex. And the memorial gathering was peppered with every human emotion and expression available to us. What should our reaction be to the death of our loved ones? To anyone? We often tell ourselves we should be joyful and celebrate the graduation of someone who has passed on, but that doesn't always describe our deepest feelings. How did Jesus react to death? The famed shortest verse in the bible is Jesus' reaction to the death of his friend Lazarus: Jesus wept. That's it. Two unimaginably understated words. Yet Jesus knew Lazarus would live again; within a few short verses, he calls him from the tomb. Armed with that knowledge, why did he weep? This is our elegy, our song for the dead...to be so completely connected to each other that even though we know life continues in the next verse, we weep with those who weep and laugh with those who laugh in this verse, this moment. Our full immersion in this verse/moment connects us to the Source of all life and each other in ways that even through our tears, casts out the fears that otherwise trouble human minds.
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dave brisbin | 2.19.12
Eighth and final message in the James series: extending our falling metaphor, James warns us again that judging our brothers and sisters violates the law precisely because judging others is really a judging of the Law itself and ultimately the Lawgiver himself as being inadequate--that we must intervene in God's work. Only pride assumes such a position and violation, and James reminds us that God resists the proud. We imagine God withholding himself from a prideful person, but that is not God's shem--his essence and character. God never withholds himself--never...but a person's pride will also never allow him or her to fall into the presence of God that is never withheld, so the result is the same. James goes further saying that we arrogantly state our intentions in life: that tomorrow we will go to such and such town and do such and such business and make our profit--all while missing our own shem--that we are all desperately dependent and have no idea whether our very lives will extend even as far as tomorrow. James' way mirrors Jesus' Way of course and begins with the humble acceptance of life on its own terms. When we accept our vulnerability and dependence, the foundation has been laid for real change--to be born again. This Way is literally the inversion of all basic human drives: we experience pleasure by giving pleasure to others; we realize power by humbly submitting and empowering others, we find meaning only in losing our sense of self in deep connection with others. James and Jesus are telling us that life is like freefall. Since the moment of our birth, we've been freefalling toward the ground of our death. We're going to hit the ground one way or another, and our only choice in the matter is not whether to jump, but whether to enjoy the ride. Knowing the God into whose embrace we're falling makes all the difference.
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falling in kingdom
dave brisbin | 2.5.12
Seventh in the James series: James now gets to his famous line, you have not because you ask not. For us, images form of a formula for answered prayer, of reliably getting the things we need simply by asking in the proper manner--with proper motives. Once again, it's so easy for us to fall into the trap of thinking that such things are governed by formulas or rules at all: that we can tack in Jesus' name at the end of a prayer and think that fulfills the requirement for effective petition. The word name in Hebrew is shem, which really means character, reputation, essence. To pray in Jesus' shem is to literally pray in his character and essence. That's proper motive... To pray as Jesus would pray, by extension as the Father would pray is the definition of answered prayer. And what is that character and essence? James tells us: submit to God, resist evil, draw near to God, cleanse hands, purify heart, mourn--identify with the pain of others, humble yourselves. It's a list that mirrors the attributes of a person living in Kingdom that Jesus lays out in the Beatitudes (Mt 5). Another list of rules to follow? That would completely miss the point. Living in Kingdom is like falling in love--you can't strive to do it, you just fall into it, uncontrollably at times. We have not because we ask not--but the asking is not a sweaty petition, but a falling into the character and essence, the shem of Kingdom. When we can see Kingdom as a lover to embrace rather than a Law to obey, we'll begin to ask with right motive.
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choosing as if
dave brisbin | 1.29.12
Sixth message in the James series: now James begins talking about the tongue with some brilliant and colorful metaphors to bring his point home. Just as the bit in the horse's mouth can turn the whole animal, as the tiny rudder of a great ship turns the ship, as a single spark can ignite a wildfire, the tongue exerts an influence for better or worse completely disproportionate to its small size. If we're not careful, we'll start hearing rules again--things we need to say or refrain from saying in order to be good followers of Jesus' Way. But Jesus tells us that it's not what goes into the mouth that defiles us, it's what comes out, and we are reminded that our tongue, the words we use, reveal what is already there in our heart of hearts. But what if that is exactly what we want to change? When James tells us that fig trees won't produce olives and salt water won't produce fresh, and that the seeds of unity are sown in peace by those who make peace--he's telling us that the means we use must have the same quality as the ends we seek. We can't work for unity with out first being unified. We can't work for peace in a frantic, obsessive, or even violent flurry of activity. We can't use fear to drive us into the arms of God's love. Like breeds like. Fear breeds more fear and never love. Is this a catch 22? How do we work for any change before it exists in our hearts? By acting as if...choosing as if it already does. A friend of mine is not a dog person and resents the big dog that came with her new husband. One day she decides to simply bath the dog in the shower, getting in and getting wet with it and feeling its pleasure in the suds. The dog follows her everywhere now, and her resentment subsides in budding new relationship. Speaking as if, choosing as if, living as if are the first steps to making it so.
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word, works, faith, freedom
dave brisbin | 1.22.12
Fifth message in the James series: James is talking about being doers of the Word and not merely hearers--that to hear only and not do is like a man who sees his reflection in a mirror then walks off and forgets what he looks like. He then goes on talking about a perfect Law of Liberty, that faith without works is dead, that we can only say that faith exists at all in the presence of works--and we hear with our Western ears a whole lot more things we need to do and obey and strive to accomplish...exhausting. But the Word of God--ha-davar in Hebrew--is not a rule or set of commandments, but like God's will, name, and kingdom, is a reflection of all God is: his essence, character, desire, deepest purpose. Doing God's Word is not obedience as we think of that term, but a becoming one with God's desire and delight, a vibrating at God's frequency from inside out. James can talk of a Law of Liberty only because he has experienced the freedom of graduating from mere obedience to actually desiring what God also desires so deeply that he can't help but act as God acts. God's spirit is always described in motion, as breath and wind: to have faith in God, to be one with him, is to be in motion as well. James is trying to tell us that we don't do works to prove faith, but when our wagon is hitched to God, we are the works themselves just as God is the Word. Law is liberty and not obedience at just the moment we become so completely filled with the Law that we forget the rules.
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dave brisbin | 1.15.12
Fourth message in the James series: just as Jesus does in Matthew 7 toward the end of Sermon on the Mount , James launches us into a discussion of judging others. Avoiding judging others based on appearance is James' particular spin, but in the backstory is Jesus reminding us that to judge another is to submit to the same form of judgment ourselves. Not that God will someday judge us by such standards, but that our standards have already created a mindset, a worldview, in which we must live herenow--one that sees others as different, less than, separate from ourselves. Once we have permitted ourselves to be separated: to feel the condescension, contempt, disgust, or simple indifference to another--that is the quality of life and relationship we must endure. James sounds harsh in his depiction of our responsibility to fulfill the law, but only because we rarely understand the full implications of the law of liberty to which he refers. The Law was never intended to be a burden, a crushing obligation to obey, but a warm guidance to freedom from all the neurosis to which we are prone. God doesn't judge as we judge--according to sets of rules and standards. There is a merciful impartiality to God's judgment that admits no favorites even while discerning quality of character for better or worse. To begin to practice such merciful impartiality with each other herenow gives us the only glimpse of God's standards of judging and loving that we'll ever get.
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gardeners and shepherds
dave brisbin | 1.1.12
Third message in the James series: on New Year's Day, coming to the completion of our annual cycle of months, we look at James' ongoing theme of endurance through life's challenges. James piles on the imagery as he says we are blessed when we persevere under trial--there are crowns of life to be won...and we in our legal, western minds imagine some sort of cosmic athletic event where we run the race gritting our teeth and fighting our way to the reward beyond the finish line. Then James tells us to patiently endure as the gardener, the farmer, nurtures and waits on soil and seed, for the early and late Judean rains to do their seasonal work. And we get a very different picture. Rather than the athlete or the warrior grinding through the contest, there is the image of the gardener patiently preparing soil, planting, and tending--always with an eye toward sky and coming weather. It's not a battle, contest, or even an event, but a cyclical process always leaning toward God's wisdom and unity and only fulfilled in its due course. Jesus tells us in John 10 there is no other way, no shortcuts no workarounds, portraying himself as the door to the sheepfold--the only way to pasture and fulfillment. Jesus is the door and the way, but Door and Way are a person and a relationship. Not a contest or battle. And to travel Jesus' Way is to live right past life's contests and battles in the ongoing, patient endurance of gardeners and shepherds.
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the gift of the magi
dave brisbin | 12.18.11
During this last week before Christmas, it's always good to consider the nativity of Jesus. The danger is that in rehearsing these accounts from the Gospels each and every year since our childhood, we learn them so well, become so familiar with them, that they cease to have real power in our lives. Or we tend to see them through a historical lens--events reaching us from the distant past like light from the stars reflecting some reality long since gone and utterly untouchable. But such accounts weren't meant to sit under glass and be thoughtfully considered; they are proclaiming a truth meant to be lived each day if they are to be true at all. The account of the Magi is just such a story. What does it tell us that we deserately need to know right herenow that is so important it has been preserved in manuscripts for over two thousand years? What was the real gift of the Magi? To gain an understanding, we consider the O. Henry short story, The Gift of the Magi--the story of a down on their luck young couple in turn of the century New York struggling to find the perfect gifts for each other at a personal cost that changes their lives. That willingness to bear any burden or cost to bring the perfect gift is the perfect gift itself. Beyond gold, frankincense, and myrrh, the greatest gift of the Magi was simply their presence. The desire to be with their king that drove them halfway across a continent was the true gift they brought, and is always the greatest gift we can ever give our God or each other at Christmas and every moment of our lives.
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endurance and effect
dave brisbin | 12.11.11
Second message in the James series, we're still in the first verses of the first chapter. You may have heard the axiom that in trying to get a message across to people, you first tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them. That first section, giving the overview and most importantly, the concrete benefits of the material to follow is an effective way to lengthen attention spans as the message unfolds. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus does exactly this: with the Beatitudes and the passage on salt and light that follows, he gives us a picture of the finished product--what the life of a person living in Kingdom looks like from the inside out. The first verses of James essentially do the same. Beginning with the overall theme of endurance, not merely persevering through life's difficulties, not merely accepting their inevitability, but actually befriending them--counting them as joy--is our goal, because they are the very means of the effect of Kingdom on our lives. Grateful acceptance produces endurance which produces wisdom, freedom from doubt and temptation, and the reward of the awareness of true Presence in our herenow moments. But even these effects need to be viewed through the lens of the Hebrew mindset to fully understand what it is our endurance is producing--and continue to count it all joy.
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just crazy enough
dave brisbin | 12.04.11
First message in a series on the book of James. One of my favorite, and I believe most important, books of the New Testament is the book of James. Along with Matthew, it is the most Jewish book of the NT, and along with the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew, forms the crux of all of Jesus' teaching. If you know well the Sermon and James, you've got the essence--the rest is commentary--good commentary, of course... So this message is the first in a series to cover the book of James from a Hebrew point of view. Who was James? Why should we listen carefully to what he has to say? When he opens this letter telling us to count it all joy when we are faced with difficulties and hardships in life, what is he trying to tell us? You'd have to be crazy to actually take pleasure in the painful circumstance in your life, wouldn't you? James, as a good Jew, is fully involved in the herenow of this life and our faith as a practical function of this herenow life. As Scott Peck has written, "Life is difficult"...but once we accept that fact, it is no longer difficult. James is telling us that coming to terms with reality and life as they are and not as we wish them to be is where the joy begins. A new study has shown that certain mental illnesses, especially mania and depression, can actually prepare people for intensely creative pursuits and for leadership in time of crisis. The flood of pure ideas, the compassion, empathy, and realism that these conditions present create abilities not found in "normal" people. In dealing with the difficulties life poses, an unexpectedly positive result occurs, which can always be counted as joy. We don't have to be crazy to become complete and mature, we just have to be crazy enough to see the process for what it is.
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dave brisbin | 11.20.11
Jesus tells us over and over to live as talya--as child and bond servant. That those qualities of dependence, vulnerability, and submission are the only attitiudes in life that allow Kingdom to flourish. But we don't value dependence, vulnerability, and submission in our culture and our lives. In fact, we work our entire lives to avoid them in our quest for independent survival, and we cast Jesus as we need him to be: king and savior and healer and anything but dependent, vulnerable, and submitted. But if Jesus practiced other than he preached, we have a word for that...hypocrisy. And if Jesus was no hypocrite, then we need to radicallly revise our image of him and as Thanksgiving nears, realize that one result of our inability to see Jesus as he actually presents himself is to continue to value giving over receiving. We can't give what we don't already have free and clear, so receiving becomes the more important and primary act. But to acknowledge there is a gift given to us that we couldn't give ourselves is to admit our dependence and vulnerability--to submit ourselves to the giver. Most often, we're simply not ready. But until we can and do, as long as we think we're actually earning such gifts ourselves, the liberty and release of gratitude will forever elude. We must learn first to become good receivers before we can ever be good givers, which means we must first acknowledge the dependence, vulnerability, and submission that precedes the most precious gifts--the ones we could never give ourselves.
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dave brisbin | 11.13.11
We sometimes seize on a word and overuse it to the point that it becomes meaningless--like too much printed money, inflation kicks in and makes it worthless. One word such word is radical. It now means just about anything...a synonym for awesome. But returning to the original meaning of words can restore their meaning and power--and usefulness in conveying ideas. Radical comes from the Latin word radix, which means root--same word that gives us radish. Something that is radical is something that goes to the root, to the foundation of things. To be radical is to take something as far as it can go. In terms of the ongoing discussion of God's nature as perfect love, I've sometimes been accused of going too far, being too radical. But I know my only danger is in not going far enough, not being radical enough. Taking God's love to its almost impossibly radical conclusion is something very few of us have ever really done. And those who have, have followed a similar path to that conclusion because we can only have one set of roots, and in order to radically change our roots we have to first pull up the roots we have that, as deep as they go, don't go deep enough. Pulling our roots is painful because without anything but the promise of something better, we experience a kind of death of all that was. Jesus emptied himself, pulled up everything he was to become everything his Father intended...he said it was like becoming talya--both child and bond servant. Jesus comes to us from the standing height of a child, the kneeling height of a servant to show us just how deep the roots go. To look up to Jesus, we must actually look down--to the impossibly radical lengths perfect love will go to find its beloved.
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dave brisbin | 11.6.11
It's Saturday afternoon after a Friday of rain. Need to run some basic errands--bank, post office--and I ask my seven year old if he wants to come. He does, so we climb into the van and head out into a royal blue sky littered with the remnants of the storm. Brilliant sunlight playing through clouds that look literally pulled off a stick of cotton candy: dense, with softly torn edges as light and shadow play over streets and houses along the way. The errands are mundane, but the bagels at the little shop near the bank are calling, and we take them to a courtyard near a fountain to eat them with the birds and the clouds. I watch the scene through my son's eyes--questions and constant comments between mouthfuls of cream cheese. And I rest my head on the chairback and just look up at that sky lit from within and remember when, at my son's age, I would lay in the grass and watch for hours. When it's all done and we're home, the details of the afternoon already seem so insignificant--errands and some bagels. Hardly a headline worth reading. In the ancient story of the Autumn Floods in China, notions of great and small are realized to be meaningless against the vastness of the universe. We attach importance, greatness, to some things and not others using standards that generally have no categories for clouds and bagels. But in the story of the raising of Lazarus, by delaying two days after hearing of his friend's illness, Jesus is showing us that moments watching clouds and those raising the dead are of equal importance. It's not the moment itself, but our presence in it that makes it great or small.
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i can't make you love me
dave brisbin | 10.30.11
Driving home from northern California through the endless San Joaquin Valley, radio stations fade in and out as we drive through their broadcast ranges. Scanning for the next signal, I hit on a clear channel just as a song I haven't heard in years is starting...turn down the lights, turn down the bed, turn down these voices inside my head... Her voice brings long dormant memories flooding back with the music, and by the time she gets to the chorus: I can't make you love me if you don't; I can't make your heart feel something it won't--I'm fully involved. The uncanny thought strikes that this song, passionately about unrequited romantic love, could so easily be sung by God to each one of us. Our relationship with God, though obviously not sexual, has always been portrayed in intimately human terms. There's the prophet Hosea, told to take an unfaithful woman for a bride as extended metaphor for the tenuous relationship between God and Israel--God and us. Did God personally risk anything by creating us with the capacity to refuse his love? Can his heart break like ours do when we sing, I will lay down my heart, and I'll feel the power--but you won't, no you won't...? Maybe God could make us love him, but maybe he won't, because if he did, we would no longer be us, and love would no longer be love: deprived of the one thing both need to be what they are...a choice freely made.
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dave brisbin | 10.16.11
Friend of mine tells me how she was so angry at someone that in that moment she felt literally beside herself, watching herself escalate the fight even while her mind was telling her the whole time there was a better way. Powerful emotions do this to us, sweep us up and carry us along overriding, as Lincoln said, the better angels of our nature. Paul writes to the Romans: what I am doing I don't understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate... Sailing back from burnt-out Troy, Odysseus and his crew approach the island of the Sirens--mythic bird-women who sing songs that no man can resist. Odysseus knows that every sailor who has heard the Sirens' song, overcome with passion, has turned his ship toward the sound and the rocks to be lost. Curious to hear and know whether he can resist, Odysseus orders his crew to lash him to the mast, stuff beeswax in their ears, and no matter what he says or orders, not to release him. And as he rages and curses and pleads, they do not respond until out of earshot, Odysseus returns to himself. In those moments when the Sirens are singing, when we are helplessly watching ourselves do the things we hate, how do we contact the better angels of our nature--make a different choice? Once the music is playing, it is too late; we are already on the rocks. But awareness and acceptance of our frailties can help us beforehand to lash ourselves to the mast of connection to the presesence of God and each other.
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string of pearls
dave brisbin | 10.09.11
Character in a movie tells another: you'll never believe what happened. Reply: if it's bad news I generally do believe it. And we do, don't we? We have been programmed and have programmed ourselves to believe and prepare for the worst even while praying for better. Jesus is trying to bring us good news, but we can't quite believe it. Our heads go up and down in supposed agreement, but remembering the betrayals of the past and anticipating those of the future, this news is just too good to be true enough to change the moment right in front of us. When I was in college jazz band a lifetime ago, the director, realizing we always sped up one particular jazz standard called String of Pearls, had us put down our instruments and imagine a long conveyor belt. As the conveyor moved by us at a set speed, we were to imagine setting each note on the belt...waiting for the right spot to reach us before placing the note gently down. It was a graphic lesson in playing the rests as well as the music. Not to strain forward or back, but remain firmly planted right where future becomes now and good music and news can be heard, tasted, and trusted. String enough such moments together, and like a string of pearls around a woman's neck, an unseen dimension of beauty emerges to change everything about everything.
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dave brisbin | 10.02.11
When a young Jewish girl in a movie asks her mother who it is hanging on the crucifix of a Catholic friend, her mother asks back--what would you say if I told you that was their God? Little girl replies, wow, they're lucky, they can see their God! Are we lucky if we imagine we can see our God? Has it helped at all? John's Gospel tells us that no one has seen God, but at least the son makes clear what God is. Have we really connected the dots between Father and Son? Phillip, one of Jesus' followers asks Jesus to show him the Father and that will be enough to quell his fears. Jesus is astounded--and not in a good way. After all the years of walking and living every moment with him, dots remain unconnected. If we want to see the unseen God, then we first have to really see the clues right before our eyes. There is a radical reality in Jesus that is hard to process because it requires the complete jettisoning of all we think we know in order to see it--and its significance. What does a man really look like who holds humiity, service, and submission as highest virtue? What does he look like who actually spends most of his time and talent on those who can least repay or further his goals. What does he look like who paints exhiliration and childlike exuberance as hallmarks of a fully lived moment? To close our eyes and really see such a man and the implications of a life lived in such a way is the first glimpse of our unseen God.
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dave brisbin | 09.25.11
Ever had a lucid dream? A dream in which you awakened enough to know you were dreaming, but not so much you awoke from the dream? Until awakened within the dream, the dreamer does not know he is dreaming, and all the arbitrary rules and conditions of the dreamscape--no matter how fantastic or overwhelming--apply as if in real life. But once awakened within the dream, dreamer remembers that dream conditions are as fluid as thoughts, and can be changed at will, different choices made. There are people who have trained themselves to create lucid dreams by constantly questioning the state of awareness in the waking state in order to be able to detect the dream state. What works in dreams, works in life. In Mark 10, Jesus presents two views of waking life: that of the child and of the rich young man. Children naturally bring nothing to the table of each moment of life and let the moment define itself before their eyes. We, like the rich young man, bring our predefined notions of reality to each moment, and not knowing we're dreaming, those arbitrary rules and conditions define us and become our prison. Jesus is asking if we will sell those notions--whatever they are--give them away and follow him to the place of the child, of different choices, the place of lucid life.
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fear and freedom
dave brisbin | 09.11.11
I remember exactly where I was and how I first heard that the towers were burning in lower Manhattan ten years ago today. I remember the bald unwillingness to comprehend what I was seeing as I watched the blurred wings slip into the face of the second tower and that impossible ball of fire. Yesterday, at a 9/11 ceremony we attended as part of our six year old son's scout troop, feeling the pride and emotion of being reminded that we really are a nation with more in common than that which separates; breathing in the crisp uniforms of the Marines of the two-five regiment and not so crisp uniforms of the scouts, wailing bagpipes, flags lowered to half staff, the crowd jumping at the first crack of the twenty-one gun salute--except for rock-steady Marines at attention, aging veterans, the mayor's speech, hot dogs grilling...it all added up to something hard to put into words: a lump in the throat, sting in the eye. This connection--felt powerfully but abstractly in the group--does it correspond at all to a personal connection with each other? How? Jesus urges us to move from the abstractions of group identity--strong as they may be--to concrete identity with each other. To let go of the fear that keeps us identified with the imagined safety in numbers, in group, to find the freedom of unbounded identification with each other. The relief from fear that we find immersed in the group is temporary and as nothing compared to the freedom from fear we find when truly immersed in each other.
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made of the same stuff
dave brisbin | 09.04.11
Who are you? If asked, can you answer? Do you know what the question means? What would you say? Would you itemize the relationships you occupy: father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, friend, wife, husband? The roles you fulfill: banker, gardener, teacher, student, counselor, business owner, caregiver? Attributes: honest, hardworking, loyal, friendly, angry, self-centered, lazy, religious? Skills you've acquired or passions you follow: writer, runner, swimmer, musician, sports fan, dog lover, cat hater? But are any of these who you really are? And if any of these answers shift over time--change a job, lose a spouse, lose a business or an arm or leg--does that mean you are no longer who you were? Viktor Frankl wrote that a search for meaning is the primary drive in human life...and real meaning can't be separated from who we really are. How did Jesus answer the question? He said simply that he and the Father were one. So, who we are, [meaning], can't be separated from ultimate reality, [who the Father is]--and until we begin to know the Father, we can't begin to know ourselves. Jesus told us we can become one with him just as he is one with the Father. Meaning--knowing who we are--begins with first realizing we're all made of the same stuff.
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snakes and chains
dave brisbin | 08.28.11
A woman running on a wilderness trail encounters a snake lying right across her path, blocking passage between snake and dense brush on either side. Her worst fears realized, what can she do? Calls her husband on cell phone who proceeds to give her all the best advice he can muster: just go around; poke it with a stick to make it move; run really fast and jump over it...all of which are both perfectly good solutions and perfectly miss the point. Same woman is with her children on a snowboarding outing in the mountains when the snow starts really coming down. Freezing and trying to put on the chains, again calls husband and gets a detailed lesson on how to install tire chains. Strike two. Apart from underscoring the difference between men and women, these stories show us how easy it is to miss a person's basic needs...all the woman really needed was assurance and connection--the rest she could figure out on her own. It's our basic insecurities that cause us to cry out to spouses and to God--that need to be addressed first. Jesus said that he longs to gather us as a hen gathers her chicks under wing. After the frantic call, all we have to do is come and shelter. The invitation is standing if only we're willing.
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loving the one you're with
dave brisbin | 08.21.11
The story of a young Vietnamese girl apparently orphaned during the Vietnam war and adopted by an American couple caught my attention because the girl spent the next thirty years of her life looking for and eventually finding her mother who was still alive. Her mother was living in France at the time and the reunion included several French-speaking siblings and a deep cultural divide. Being adopted myself, my fascination with the story was not so much with the reunion, spectacular though it was, but with the tacit dismissal of thirty years with adoptive parents. Sometimes we long so much for those not present, we forget to be present to the ones we're with. When Jesus was told that his mother and brothers were waiting to speak to him, he was shockingly rude, asking who his mother and brothers were--then pointing to those around him to illustrate that those who chose to follow were really his mother and brothers. It's actually not rude to recognize that there are deeper bonds than blood and that those who choose to be with us are more closely related than accidents of birth. As we try to live this life between heaven and earth, each moment contains all we need to be wholly and completely in God's embrace. But we'll never feel that embrace if we aren't at the same moment embracing and loving the ones we're with.
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dave brisbin | 07.31.11
The young boy, tormented by bullies at school, asks the karate master to teach him to fight, and the master says sure, come here and wax my cars...but do it like this: wax on, wax off. And when that task is finished, sand the floors of my deck, but do it like this... Then paint the fence: up and down, side to side. The boy becomes frustrated and angry. I'm not here to be your slave, when are you going to teach me to fight? Then comes the great lesson. That he's been learning what he needs all along, that without even realizing it, the movements of his work had been etching into muscle memory everything he needed to defend himself. When we are focused on outcomes, we miss the very moments that would take us there. And even then, every outcome is itself only a moment that passes like any other, leaving us to obsess over the next desired outcome--missing the moments in between that define the span of our lives. Jesus is pointing to another way of living life. Where each moment is its own outcome--not leading forward, but inward. When we can see each moment as self contained, requiring no other moments or outcomes to supply meaning and purpose, the moment becomes alive--and we become alive inside it.
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an unassuming heaven
dave brisbin | 07.24.11
When talking about heaven, we're often really talking about salvation--criteria for getting into heaven. Serious business--a minefield of intransigent beliefs. But how should we understand heaven and all its implications in light of the Father's love? Scripture speaks often and long about God's choices: the Jews as chosen people, David as God's beloved, Jesus choosing his disciples. If God chooses one, does he unchoose another? Some think so--that God has always/already chosen who is saved and who is damned, that all is predestined. But destiny is a slippery thing, all wrapped up in choices, both God's and ours. And looking at God's choices in light of his love, we start to realize that God has already chosen every one of us. Always. But that choice is only consummated when we choose him back. And who is it we are choosing? A God who prizes humility and service above all. A God who exists to serve, not to be served, who cares for us to the point of actually washing our feet. An unassuming God. Wouldn't such a God inhabit an equally unassuming heaven? We imagine a spectacular heaven with pearly gates and golden streets, but maybe our lives here are really all about learning to see with unassuming eyes: to simply see God as he is and love him for it. And maybe salvation is the process of learning to value an unassuming heaven--to become a person who will not walk right past heaven's unassuming door, never knowing what was missed in a continuing search that defines a personal hell.
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finding god's face
dave brisbin | 07.17.11
If there were just one message that I could take with me before being marooned on that proverbial desert island, what would it be? I can answer without a beat, because there's really only one message I've been trying to convey for the past 15 years or so...the only message that Jesus ever tried to convey as preserved in the pages of the New Testament. If I could just get this one message across, I could die happy or retire at least. A glimpse of God's face... Every ounce of Jesus' time and energy was directed at showing us his Father's face. Jesus and the Father were one, so the Father's nature, his essence, what makes him happy were on constant display in Jesus' presence. And that was the message. Using words only where necessary, Jesus simply lived out his Father's life for all to see. He called it Good News because the Father's face is filled with a love that can't be bought at any price, can't be earned, and can't be lost. It is a love that Brennan Manning says is already and so completely ours that we don't have to change, give up sin, or even have a conversion experience to possess. As shocking as that may sound, the necessary fact of life is that God's love costs us nothing. It is simply ours. But learning to accept that love and its radical conclusions costs us everything. Everything we think we are and think we know. Finding God's face is the laying down of arms, the sweet surrender, the yes to good news, the first step on our Way.
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vertical and horizontal
dave brisbin | 07.03.11
A friend asks that if we're supposed to love God with everything in us and our neighbor as ourselves--what does that really look like? How do we do it? Practical question. I like those. I suppose we could look at our relationship with God as a vertical relationship and those with each other as horizontal ones, though in reality all our relationships are horizontal--God is herenow--not upstairs, on the mountaintop, or out there somewhere...but for clarity's sake: vertical and horizontal. We typically think of loving God vertically as worship in a religious sense--the ritual and practice of our faith--and loving each other horizontally as doing good deeds. But in really looking at the words of the prophets and Jesus, we find clues hiding in plain sight telling us that we really don't love God directly...we love him by loving each other. God doesn't care about our rituals and sacrifices unless and until our horizontal relationships are as good as they can be. Loving God and neighbor are not two separate things as we've imagined; they are one and the same as always. Even so, our vertical relationship is not pointless--it's what makes our horizontal relationships possible. But the way to God's heart is through his people, and our horizontal relationships are what make the vertical one real.
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the bread and the book
dave brisbin | 06.26.11
A Catholic priest once told me that at the Protestant Reformation, some 500 years ago, the Catholics took the bread and the Protestants took the book, and they've never been together since. By that he meant that in trying to separate themselves from the Roman church, the Protestants also separated themselves from the traditions and deeply mystical qualities of the sacraments (eucharist/bread) and instead clung to the text of the bible (book) as their sole source of revelation. In reaction, the Catholics did the opposite and what was once one became two...to the thus-far-everlasting impoverishment of two of the three branches of Christendom. The truth is that truth never resides at the extremes, but in a radical middle where there is a balance, a vibrating unity of the very things we tend to see as contradiction. The truth is that throughout Christian history, there has always been a thread of thought and practice of following a middle way dedicated to that balance and unity. And the truth is that until we can bring the bread and the book back into a single embrace in our lives, we will never really experience all that it means to be human and spiritual beings at the same time.
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our own clergy
dave brisbin | 06.19.11
God says to Abraham, kill me a son...God says to Moses go up on that mountain and die there in sight of the Land--because you did not treat me as holy before the people, you will not enter...Jesus says to his followers, it is to your advantage that I go, so the Helper can come. God asking for the sacrifice of a son, forbidding Moses to enter the promised land for a single infraction after forty years of service, Jesus dismissing his followers' grief and fear at his departure...what's going on here? In difficult stories like these where God's very nature as lover is severely questioned, we tend to miss the point. Whenever someone or something is set up as middle man, access point, the line through which promise and provision flow, people relate more to the middle man than to God, become passive--no longer partners. This is our journey. No one can make it for us. It’s our spiritual life. No one can tell us what it is or how it works. There is no lay and clergy. We are all clergy, all men and women of the cloth when we pick up our suitcases and get some miles on. And we’re all lay when we don’t.
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one chalk mark
dave brisbin | 06.12.11
Story of a retired factory worker brought in to consult and fix a problem on the assembly line that no one can figure out. Walking through the plant, he puts a chalk mark on a piece of equipment and sure enough that's it, problem solved. Company receives his invoice for $10,000 and is outraged, asks for itemization. He sends back: One chalk mark--$1.00. Knowing where to put it--$9,999.00. We tend to see our spiritual breakthroughs, salvation itself, as an isolated moment in time, a self-contained event. But the event is just a culmination of the process that preceded it, one pearl in a string of pearls. Jesus invariably says, "Your faith has saved you," or "Your sins are forgiven," not "I have saved/forgiven you." The process, the life experience of the believer that has brought him or her into Jesus' presence is the valuable, essential part. Whatever creates in us the kind of person who can walk into a room and unerringly put one chalk mark right over God's presence in our lives is all the faith and forgiveness we'll ever find.
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dave brisbin | 05.29.11
Some twenty years ago now, a friend and mentor--Franciscan priest--held his hand in my face to stop the flood of words coming out of my mouth. In trying to start a debate with him over some theological point, bible in hand, I was armed and ready when that big hand came around: All I can tell you is what I am convinced of. Go become convinced of what you're convinced of. That was it. Debate over before it started... At that moment, I had no idea what I was convinced of--making it vital to debate--to scratch any victory out of a war of uncertainty. I'm becoming convinced that becoming convinced is why we're here. To become convinced of what Jesus was convinced of. Jesus says that on a certain day, some will cry out Lord, Lord, but won't be recognized because the Lord never knew them. We hear this and see images of last day judgment and an enthroned God sending people away in tears, but looking deeply into the Aramaic of Jesus' words, we realize he's only once again telling us to become convinced. Becoming convinced means coming to trust. Coming to trust breeds the kind of knowing that Jesus is talking about--that the Lord always recognizes.
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that kind of god
dave brisbin | 05.22.11
A friend writes in a blog that she gives up. That understanding Christianity and knowing Jesus is beyond her: she's just not smart enough or spiritual enough to get there. Considering the theological, ecclesiastical, and religious mountains we've piled on top of Jesus and his life and message...no wonder. I've felt exactly what she expresses--haven't you? It's just too much, too difficult, too counter-intuitive. But as we look at the mountains of knowledge and behavior we imagine we much climb to reach God, is this really who he is? What he requires? Jesus gave us no theology--not as we understand that term. He gave us no new religion: simply followed the one into which he was born. Jesus lived to show us a non-religious Way to the Father, a Way of discerning what was really important. And what is important is not cognitive knowledge, but experiential knowing; not religious behavior, but pure identity, connection with each other and God. We don't have to climb mountains; there is a pass that runs straight through to a place where we begin to know that such exertion is unnecessary. And as we begin to know Jesus, we begin to know our Father is that kind of God.
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negotiating the gate
dave brisbin | 05.15.11
A friend tells me she's not much of nurturing person--except with her dog. When I ask her why only the dog, she's not sure, but the answer is obvious: a dog is safe. People are not. In our experience, people let us down, betray us: dogs do not. And that life experience pervades our concept of our God as well. As long as God is not safe, life is not safe, and we live in fear--unable to nurture, to become vulnerable, tender to one another. Jesus speaks of a constricted gate and a narrow way that leads to life and broad gate and way that leads to destruction. We, of course, interpret this to mean another reason to fear our God: another difficult task thrown our way, an obstacle course to heaven. But once translated back into Jesus' own language, his words are showing us--not an external obstacle--but only our own fears and subjective experience that create a fearful notion of our God and life. The difficult gate that leads to the narrow Way is only the obstacle our own accrued fears that won't allow us to become vulnerable enough, nurturing and tender enough to be connected enough to find the Way at all.
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while the music lasts
dave brisbin | 05.08.11
On Mothers' Day, it's only fitting to consider a mother's role in our spirituality. A mother as the glue that holds a family together is the actual meaning of em, the Hebrew word for mother. And as ab, the Hebrew word for father literally means the strength of the house, father and mother together are necessary strength and glue--and so it is with our spiritual parent as well. Ancient Hebrews understood that their God was one, but also encompassed the unity of masculine and feminine. The feminine part of God they called hokhmah or wisdom personified as female. Difficult as it may be for Westerners to see God as both feminine and masculine, the fact remains that though we may conceive of God as father, we experience "him" as mother--as the glue in our relationship. To accept that father God speaks to our heads and mother God to our hearts is to begin to understand the true experience of God in our moments--and the words of the poet who wrote about music heard so deeply that it is not heard at all, but you are the music while the music lasts.
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dave brisbin | 04.17.11
On Palm Sunday, we follow Jesus on the path to Jerusalem, watch him instruct his followers on securing donkey and colt, and breathlessly enter the press of bodies and palm fronds as the city walls come into view. Is this it? Is this the moment we've been waiting for? The reason we've been following this man all these years? Is he--are we--about to finally take our places at the reins of power? In the midst of such excitement, it's easy to miss the man at the center of the storm--to forget all he has been telling us and showing us about himself and his mission. In the crush of all we dearly wish and imagine for ourselves and each other, we place burdens and expectations on Jesus he never accepted or promised. If we remain quiet in all the noise, we may see Jesus' tears at the sight of the holy city and hear him wish out loud that we could have known the things which make for peace...but we did not recognize the time of our visitation. We missed it... But every day is Palm Sunday, and if we're willing to lay down our expectations long enough, we won't miss our next visitation, the next time Jesus rides through the streets of our lives.
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is father angry?
dave brisbin | 04.10.11
Much talk these days it seems about God's emotional state--is he angry or not? About God's attitude toward us as his wayward children--is he vengeful or not? The Old Testament is positively schizophrenic: oscillating between God's furious anger and wrath and his slow-to-anger lovingkindness. Jesus never puts anger or angry and Father in the same sentence, but God's anger is mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament, though much less than in the Old. Are God's love and his anger mutually exclusive or do they work together? One commentator writes that God is angry because he is love--that anything less than anger diminishes his love. All very confusing, but is it important? A God whose holiness drives a righteous anger that burns against us is a God we will relate to very differently than a God whose basic nature is a patient, nurturing guidance through our failings as human beings. Is God never angry? None of us can possibly know, but by understanding the mindset of the writers of Hebrew Scripture, we come to the inescapable conclusion that anger is not the baseline or characterization of our Father's relationship with us.
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dave brisbin | 04.03.11
A friend cries out that she needs to know that God is real and more than just a fictional character in her life. Don't we all? In logic, the straw man argument is a fallacy of relevance (where the conclusion is irrelevant to the premise) in which a person takes the position of another and oversimplifies, exaggerates, or misrepresents it in order to create a second, similar position that is easy to refute and defeat, like a straw man practice dummy that never fights back. In our spiritual lives we do this to ourselves, usually unawares, as we read Scripture and oversimplify, exaggerate, or otherwise misinterpret or misrepresent--creating straw men with which we contend instead of the real God behind all words and arguments. Allowing straw men to creep in between ourselves and God keeps us always at arms length at best, never getting close enough to move him to the non-fiction shelf in our lives.
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dave brisbin | 03.27.11
The recent upheaval and bitter debate among church leaders over a new book on the doctrine of hell and the surpassing nature of God's love has highlighted distinctions that are most often missed in our practice of religion. In the normal course of our religious lives and pursuits, we tend to treat religion and spirituality as the same--they are not. Religion is a systematized expression of spirituality, usually a group expression, but it's not spirituality itself. Religion is only as good as its reflection of the spirituality of its members. Then we tend to treat our spirituality and our ethics as the same, and they are not. The systems of religion include their ethics and morality, but spirituality is made of something much deeper. Jesus said his mission was not to abolish the law but to fulfill it, but the fulfilling was not in keeping the letter of the law, but in becoming law. In other words, spirituality not about behavior, but identity. Jesus came to show us his Father, and he did that by being the Father. He and the Father are one. The whole point of his message is that we need to be as one with him and each other as he is with us and his Father. You've all heard of identity theft, well this is about identity gift. We give our identity to God and he gives his to us. Good trade.
audio [mp3] | duration: 43:42, size: 7.7 mb
where the heart is
dave brisbin | 03.20.11
As Lily Tomlin once said, "The problem with the rat race is, even if you win, you're still a rat." We think that the things we continuously pursue--from careers to sweethearts to material possessions to fame and fortune--will change us, fulfill us, make us happy...but all they really do is reinforce our rat-ness--the part of us that continues to pursue what we already possess. Jesus said that where we place our treasure is where our heart is as well. We think he's talking about behavior and values and morality here, but what he's really pointing us toward is our very identity. He's asking, in effect, who are you? What are the things you pile up in your life that define you? At the end of Matthew 6, Jesus lays out four principles of living life that will not only unmask where we've placed our hearts, but also begin to place our hearts, our identity, where Jesus placed his--in his Father's lap.
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the biggest question
dave brisbin | 03.06.11
When a young man from our community dies in a tragic accident, all the regrets at the bottom of our aquariums are stirred up in terms of what we could have, should have done in our relationships with him before it was too late. I get an email from another young man who feels great regret and guilt that he had promised to teach our mutual friend to surf, but never actually did--that he failed him. He asks me to advise and remind him how best to live for him now and always remember how fragile life truly is. What he's really asking is how to live life without regrets, and I think it's the biggest question we can ask. Jesus said he came that we might have life and life abundantly. Abundant life is life lived without the possibility of regret. Did he also tell us how to do it? You bet. Abundantly.
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dave brisbin | 02.27.11
It's good to come back to the Lord's Prayer from time to time and reconfirm our understanding of it and our commitment to it--not as a prayer to be spoken or even considered verbally--but as a way of life. Jesus' entire purpose, mission, and message was simply to show us our Father...who he is, how he lives and loves. This model prayer was never intended to be read or recited, but to be lived. When understood from a Hebrew/Aramaic point of view, the five lines of the prayer jump out as a reordering of the attitude, process, and priority of our daily moments. To pray continuously is to live as Jesus lived this prayer, and the first step for us as modern Westerners is to break the mental images of our English translations and see the (italicized) Aramaic meaning underneath. (Start with Our Father, 01.30.11)
Do not let us enter into temptation. Deliver us from evil.
Do not let us be diverted from our true purpose,
and deliver us from the inability to become complete and one with you and each other.
For yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever...Amen.
From you comes all purpose, preservation, and awe from age to age. I confirm it. I trust it. I bet my life on it.
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dave brisbin | 02.20.11
Forgive us our debts, just as we forgive our debtors.
Release us from all that binds us and keeps us from your deepest purpose--your Kingdom.
And remind us that it is in our own releasing of the pain and resentment we hold toward others that we find our own release in you.
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dave brisbin | 02.13.11
Give us the bread of our need this day.
Help us see that everything we need for this day, this moment, is contained in this day and this moment
and nowhere else.
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dave brisbin | 02.6.11
Your Kingdom come, your will be done. As in heaven, so on earth.
May your desire and purpose become as real in our hearts and lives as they are in yours.
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dave brisbin | 01.30.11
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Our creator and parent of all--all creation carries the signs of your love, desire, and purpose by which you are known.
We clear a special place for you--for your love, desire, and purpose in our hearts and lives.
audio [mp3] | duration: 41:11, size: 7.3 mb
ready for love
dave brisbin | 01.16.11
A friend of mine tells me that she knows she's forgiven and all, but wonders what God really thinks of her... Is her forgiveness granted with a wrinkled nose and lingering distaste for her past or is there really a tenderness in God's heart when he thinks of her? It seems in the absence of communication, we always assume the worst, and I'm thinking that one way to sum up all of Jesus' message is knowing what the Father really thinks of us. But this news is so astounding, so contrary to our expectation and experience that it's near impossible to get our heads around it. So before we can actually go there, before we're ready to accept some really Good News, Jesus tells us stories--like the sower and his seed. His friends ask him why he's only speaking in parables, and Jesus tells them flat out that the people aren't ready for the love he's trying to show them. Stories are a way to recreate a path, a process--evoke a feeling. Like water seeping into every crack and cranny, stories can penetrate between the thoughts in our heads that shut out the truths for which we are unprepared. Finding out what God thinks of us begins by listening to stories with our hearts until our heads are ready for love.
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dave brisbin | 01.02.11
The start of any new year is an arbitrary line in the sand, but a very human marker that helps us recognize the milestones in our lives, take stock of the past, gird up for the future. And the tensions and challenges of last year, while perhaps no more or less than any other year, have changed and shaped us as we look toward the new--and all the tensions and challenges it will bring. It has always been thus: each human generation looking back, looking forward for cues and clues for interpreting and coping with the present moment. Jesus said that he came to bring abundant life. Is it present in our lives? How can we realize that abundance? Three songs give us clues--with each one pointing to the crazy contradictions in life existing not so much to be understood and harmonized and smoothed over as to be held together, unresolved, in one embrace. Holding tension and release together, moving beyond mere acceptance toward actually learning to love this crazy world and its crazy contradictions is the key to both realizing the abundance of Jesus' life and another crazy year.
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malice toward none
dave brisbin | 12.05.10
I'm often asked what I believe about the great social/political/economic issues of our day and why we haven't taken public stands on such issues as other faith communities or churches have. Issues raging through our newspapers and pulpits such as abortion, homosexuality, immigration, taxation, death penalty, affirmative action, health care, assisted suicide, euthanasia, cloning, stem cell research, corporal punishment, and a long list of others contain both the practical and ethical components that catapult them into moral and religious forums. Beginning with the premise that a pastor's opinions on such issues are no more or less important than anyone else's, the real question becomes, "What was Jesus' attitude toward such issues raging through his world that may be applicable to ours?" When Jesus' answers to such questions are considered, we understand two things: that all such issues inherently divide us--and that Jesus is all about unity. And though we need to decide upon and pursue solutions to these great issues, if we can't start from Jesus' point of unity--of malice toward none--then our response will never be loving, even if it's "correct."
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big questions, small answers
dave brisbin | 11.28.10
Remembering high school Saturday poker nights, one game stands out: Indian Poker. Two cards down, four cards up, and the last card stuck on our foreheads for everyone to see but the player holding it. Now seems the perfect metaphor for life--that there are things we know that know one else knows [our secrets, our personal epiphanies], things that we all know together [our shared reality], and things that others know but we can't see ourselves [our subconscious unawareness and denials]. The spiritual journey is all about finding what is on the card on our foreheads--the things we can't quite see about life and ourselves. Problem is, we all ask these big questions in terms of the cards we can already see--looking for equally big answers that will satisfy us all at once. But Jesus, who sees the cards on our foreheads, answers our big questions with small answers--answers that are much less answers than invitations to new, specific action. If we're willing to say yes to these seemingly insignificant invitations, we open ourselves to new experience and Presence that leads us toward more and more of that seventh card.
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embracing the outrage
dave brisbin | 11.21.10
If there were just one message Jesus could get through to us, what would it be? We really don't have to wonder, because arguably, there's only one message he ever tried to get across in all his teaching and life. If we can't begin to glimpse the radical implications of a Father's love that is completely, unconditionally, indiscriminate, we will never rise above life as crime and punishment, let alone begin to live in Kingdom. Jesus tells us story after story of how his Father's love levels us all, falling on the righteous and unrighteous alike, but a love that indiscriminate is not fair or just--it's just perfect--and perfectly outrageous. Like the prodigal son and his elder brother, our view of such a love will either be mind-numbing joy and gratitude or outrageous indignation...depending on how much we think we've earned that love. Jesus is telling us to drop the entitlement. Embrace the outrage.
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in the key of worship
mike wood | 11.14.10
If you have ever seen a barber shop quartet perform, you no doubt notice that just before they sing, one of them will pull out a small harmonica and play a single note. They all hum that note and begin singing. That one single note sets the key for that song. That one single note orients them to the song, puts them in sync with one another so that when they harmonize, they are truly in tune and in perfect pitch. If having an attitude of worship puts you in tune with God and His purpose and His love, what do you think an attitude of grumbling and complaining puts you in tune with? Compared to the rest of the world, we live like kings and queens--even when compared to other parts of our own country. Here we live in clean cities with clean streets and with nicely landscaped parkways and freeways. Just the fact that we can enter a market place without fear of suicide bombers or that we can come into a church building and worship our God freely without needing to look over our shoulders to see if the police are coming to arrest us, is cause to be extremely grateful for what we have and what we are blessed with. We can choose right now whether to worship or a complain. We can blow a note and choose our key.
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a bigger god
dave brisbin | 11.7.10
A friend of mine has lost his twenty-two year old daughter due to an overdose. As we were talking months later, he tells me how his family's tragedy has caused him to rethink everything he believes about his faith and God and church. He tells me of a friend of his, also working through the loss of a child, who tells him he needs a bigger God. I've not lost a child, but I know times when I've needed a bigger God, when God as I've imagined him was simply inadequate for the moment, the pain of the moment. The image of God we carry around, the one we've been taught or gleaned from church and study, is not God. Theology is not God. As soon as we conceive of God, we have taken a step away from him and limited what he could be, how big he could be when we really need him.
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a muscular love
dave brisbin | 10.31.10
An email criticizing the previous week's message for presenting God's love as too inclusive states that "God is never that kind of liberal nor respecter of all. He's not even a lover of all...Jacob and Esau," referring to a passage in Malachi in which God says, I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau. Does God hate anyone? Is that in his DNA? Or at least, does he love unevenly based on our relationship with him? And if not, then what can we make of such passages? Jesus, practicing the love of his Father, shows us a muscular love--one that can accept the beloved unconditionally while dealing with abusive behavior as needed to protect the abused. There are times we may need to correct, discipline, even disfellowship those who can't yet live in relationship. But if our response to others doesn't begin with the unity of God's love, our response will never be loving even if it's correct.
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dave brisbin | 10.24.10
As a kid, I grew up on the adventures of Mr. Magoo. Today, I find myself increasingly having to explain who Mr. Magoo is--whole generations have already grown up without him. But the image of the old, nearsighted, curmudgeon moving through his life and landscape seeing only what he wants to see, transforming each blurred object into whatever he imagines, oblivious to the chaos he leaves in his wake and those who keep him safe is a powerful metaphor for the spiritual lives many of us lead. Spiritual matters in this life are unseen things, things only glimpsed as through nearsighted eyes, and with that lack of detail, we can imagine whatever we want about them. And we do...in our doctrine, theology, cultural, ritual practices. But believing that our imaginings absolutely and accurately describe those unseen things for us and everyone else creates a Magoo-like wake of chaos that each person we touch is left to clean up after.
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for the promised land
dave brisbin | 10.17.10
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness... It's encoded in our founding document and in our very DNA--we live to pursue happiness, don't we? It's how we were created; we're pleasure-seeking missiles tuned to whatever notion of happiness we currently possess. But there's the rub: what is our current notion of happiness? We all have an image, a concept of what our happiness must look like, just as the ancient Hebrews had a concept of the Promised Land. We can spend our entire lives in the wilderness pursuing the promised land, never realizing that happiness is found not in pursuing or even attaining the land--it's in learning to love the wilderness that we finally realize that the promise has already and always been fulfilled.
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between heaven and earth
dave brisbin | 10.07.10
Life is difficult. So Scott Peck famously began his bestselling book, The Road Less Traveled. But why is life difficult? Why not something else? Something less difficult... For the ancient Hebrews, marriage was the place, the arena, in which we learned how to love. Staying true to the promises and difficulties of married life taught something about the constancy of love we could never learn otherwise. Those same Hebrews saw all humanity as living between heaven and earth--suspended between perfect unity and the illusion of separation--a place, an arena in which we could learn about God and the principles he holds dear. Staying true to the intent of the law, staying the course of life with all its difficulties, also teaches us something we could never otherwise learn.
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dave brisbin | 09.26.10
The untimely deaths of our boys' goldfish, Tommy and Billybob, after only one day in our home was really hard on our five year old. He cried and cried, and the next day wanted us to take them to the doctor to get fixed. Trying to explain life and death to a five year old, we finally offered that we could get some new fish, but he only wailed more. "My heart hurts," he said. "I need a fishy heart before I can get new fish." With his guileless way of saying a healed heart, I realized I was getting another life lesson from my little one. How many of us are walking around with hurting hearts, like ghosts who can't move on to the light, to new fish, new relationships, new hope in life because we don't have fishy hearts? What does it take to heal? What do we need to know about God and what misthoughts about God do we need to release before we can find our fishy heart?
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dave brisbin | 09.12.10
There are terms we use and misuse so much that they become essentially meaningless--or they mean whatever each of us thinks they mean, which is essentially the same thing. Born again. One of the central concepts of Jesus' teaching has become one of those terms. What does it mean? What has it meant over the millennia of church history? Now? More importantly, what did it mean to Jesus when he first used it with Nicodemus? Like so many of the central concepts of the New Testament, it means much less and much more than we think. Much less complex and technical and much more profoundly experiential. And until we actually know what it is to be born again, we'll have a hard time seeing the Kingdom.
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what we really want
dave brisbin | 09.05.10
Having the privilege of an ongoing conversation with a professed atheist was a great learning experience recently. I realized that much of my usual vocabulary was suddenly useless. Speaking to someone outside my own faith tradition, outside of any faith tradition forced me to find neutral words to express non-neutral concepts, to step outside my beliefs in order to try to see the world from another point of view to find a ground zero, and common place from which to start. What are the basic questions of life? Who are we? Why are we here? But maybe before we even go there, what do we really want out of life? What we really want, if we're really honest, can lead us to the other questions. There is a basic human need above all others, that drives all others: we need to know that we are not alone. If we can come to terms with that, we can negotiate all the rest.
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dave brisbin | 08.29.10
In the small hours of the morning, everything we build up in our lives is stripped away, and we're faced with what really is. In such moments, when we look at our lives, what is really there? Is there significance or just movement? What are the most basic things in life that make it meaningful? Sometimes when all else seems gone, there remains in our lives those who depend on us, our children, our family, friends. Sometimes the smallest details of connection are the most significant, the ones to which we can abandon ourselves, and let them fly through us and from us like living arrows. Through them, we can find the meaning we seek and hold our fears at bay.
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learning to receive
dave brisbin | 08.15.10
Embedded in a message outlining the financial state of our faith community, the question of tithing and giving naturally comes up. What about tithing? Are we still commanded to tithe? 10%? Of the net or gross? The dilemma is, as soon as giving becomes a law, a rule, an obligation, a specific amount--it's no longer giving. It's a tax. And if we give because we can "never outgive God", then it's an investment looking for a return. True giving has nothing to do with any of this. Jesus said, "Freely you have received, freely give." True giving is simply a recognition that the provision of God is always in motion--it flows to us, and if we're in tune with God's heart, flows through us to others. All is well until and unless our fears cause us to build dams in our lives and dry up the downstream flow.
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dave brisbin | 08.08.10
As an adopted person, I have realized that I'm not particularly affected by blood ties. In fact, the only blood relatives I know of are my children. And while that may explain some of my pathologies, it also may explain why I tend to see my family as those who care to be with me and not those born with me. This is not virtue, just my particular experience. In the ancient world Jesus inhabited, blood was considered the most important tie binding people in community, yet Jesus took great pains to begin to reveal the basic structure of Kingdom as existing beyond blood. When told that his mother and brothers were waiting to see him, Jesus asks who are his mother and brothers if not those choosing to be around him at that moment. There are many things we hold close to ourselves as security blankets in a scary world. Jesus is taking us beyond security to freedom, beyond blood to true family--and there are many things that need to be rethought and released along the way.
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love is one
dave brisbin | 07.25.10
So often we blithely say God loves us or God is love, but what does that really mean? Does it mean enough to change the relationship between us, change the way we look at our lives and the attitude with which we live them? If God is love then love isn't a thing or even an action...it's a person. Getting to know the person is getting to know love. What is God, then? The ancient Hebrews recited their most central prayer every day: shema Yisrael adonai eloheynu adonai echad--Hear oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. God is one--but not one single thing--many things functioning as one. Beginning here is a path to knowing that lover, beloved, and love itself are all one.
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in god's image
dave brisbin | 07.18.10
Ideas have consequences. As we think, so we do. As we do, so we feel, As we feel, our bodies react physiologically. It all begins with our ideas, our beliefs. And what do we believe of ourselves? Who and what do we think we are? We are told in the first book of the Book that we are created in God's image. What does that mean, and what should it tell us about who we are and how God sees us? Beginning with the idea of ourselves that God had in mind when he created us would seem to be a very good place to start.
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designed for adversity
dave brisbin | 07.11.10
What does God value above all else? When you get right down to it, it seems that God's greatest value is freedom. Without freedom of choice, there is no possibility of love. God created us in his image--with the ability to decide and choose--so that we would be free to choose love. Which means God risked that at least some of us would not choose love. Did/can God risk anything? If we can't answer that one, we certainly know that we can be at risk. To be perfectly free is to be perfectly at risk. We constantly trade freedom for security, but Jesus is calling us to risk everything to find the perfect freedom that leads to perfect love. It's when w are at greatest risk, facing greatest adversity that our purpose is being fulfilled. After all, we were designed for adversity.
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god so loved
dave brisbin | 07.04.10
On the Fourth of July, we revisit the Declaration of Independence to consider inalienable rights and the fact that people would rather suffer, as long as their ills are sufferable, than to go through the necessary revolutions in their lives to make things right. Our greatest inalienable right is God's love itself, and yet we suffer without it, without letting it touch off a revolution within our own hearts that would establish a completely new way of understanding and living life and relationship. Our fear is so great that such a love as Jesus describes and displays can't really be our own inalienable right that we live in a poverty never intended for sons and daughters of God's Kingdom.
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what then must we do?
dave brisbin | 06.206.10
When a young girl in our community dies of a heroin overdose, how are we to react? There are the usual recriminations and regrets and of course the grief, but beyond that, we can only ask as the followers of John the Baptizer: what then must we do? Even as we practice our faith within a community, a group, what we must do is always intensely personal. The core of our faith life is rooted in the tiniest details of our lives; if it is not authentic there, it will never be anywhere else. If our community is built on the lives of each member, if the walls we build around us are flexible enough to live and grow with the growth of the lives within it, then far fewer young girls will ever fall through the cracks of our love.
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dave brisbin | 06.13.10
Our parents and our churches, not to mention schools and other institution have always used comparison with others as a means of modifying behavior. Kind of a wonderful mixture of guilt and unworthiness designed to bring us to God's love. The obvious contradiction in terms has the desired effect of changing behavior, but not of getting any closer to God's love. We often spend whole lives trying to be everyone else but ourselves in some attempt to be better than we think we can be as ourselves--to be someone of whom God will approve. But God's message is simple and straightforward: I love you as you are, just because you're sitting there breathing. We can certainly strive to be the best person we can be, but we never have to try to be someone else.
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camping outside eden
dave brisbin | 06.06.10
In talking about God's call to adventure--the adventure of our lives as he draws us back to himself--there is always the case of refusing to answer the call. At times in our lives, all of us have refused the call and have felt the pain and stagnation that results when we're no longer living our meaning and purpose in life. Having moved outside the Garden, from innocence to self-awareness, we can't go back; the gates are barred. But if we're too afraid to go forward, we remain camped outside Eden's gates, stuck, purposeless. What are the fears that hold us there? Both the micro fears of our personal lives and past traumas--and the macro fears, the increasing tension and breakdown we see in the world around us? Interestingly, the world of the 21st century is not that different from the world of the 1st century in terms of the attitudes and fears of the people living under Roman rule, and the lessons of the first century church can show us how together we can strike our camp and move out in new directions that will ultimately lead us home.
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dave brisbin | 05.23.10
Every character in the Bible is understood through his or her ability to answer the call of God's voice to a new level of meaning and purpose in life: Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Paul all answered their calls. But what if the call is refused as it so often is in our experience of life? Adam and Even were expelled from the Garden and prevented from going back the way they came. Their only choice was to move forward and find another way home. They did, but many of us remain camped outside the Garden, prevented from going back by angels with flaming swords--too frightened to move out into the unknown--living as prisoners in a self-imposed, static kind of hell. The stories of Lot's wife and the Israelites fashioning a golden calf speak of the unanswered call, a looking back at an infantile behavior that can never take us where God is leading.
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dave brisbin | 05.16.10
A wife's tearful concern that her husband doesn't share her desire for a meaningful spiritual life leads a counselor to ask him if he can answer the question, "Who am I?" He has no idea how to answer such a question, which may be avoidable in his twenties, but not in his thirties or forties. That we come to terms with our desire to answer the most basic questions of life: "Who am I?," "Why am I here?," at different times can lead to concerns of being "unequally yoked" in the short run, but the questions will not be denied indefinitely. Living without meaning (who am I) and purpose (why am I here) creates the pain that eventually creates the desire, our heart's desire, to look beyond the life we know, beyond the rainbow, for the truth of our deepest relationships.
audio [mp3] | duration: 38:48, size: 6.8 mb
dave brisbin | 05.09.10
Mother's Day is a good time to weave the Hebrew meanings of father, mother, brother, son with the name of God to reveal the deep relational viewpoint of the writers of Scripture. To understand these human, familial relationships is to understand the nature of our relationship with God. But what happens when our family relationships are less than ideal, less than functional even? And whose family is not dysfunctional in some way? In our culture, we seek perfection as prerequisite for acceptance and love, but what is Jesus trying to tell us? He tells us to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect, yet loves and accepts everyone he meets in the midst of their imperfection. God's love is actually perfected in his love for our imperfection, and when we learn to love our own imperfections and those of others who hurt us and frustrate our desires--we become perfect too. Or at least beautifully imperfect.
audio [mp3] | duration: 36:21, size: 6.4 mb
the beginning of wisdom
dave brisbin | 05.02.10
It's easy to say that we are all God's beloved. Easy to understand the concept, but very difficult to believe in a way that actually changes our choices and lives--especially in the face of the experience of our lives and the fear those experiences engender. And what about that fear? Scripture tells us that perfect love casts out fear, but it also tells us that fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Can both be true at the same time? It's also easy to say that fear of the Lord is really respect, reverence, and awe--all of which are correct, but that would avoid that it really is also fear. Without fear, there can be no respect, but the beginning of wisdom is not to cower at the extended hand of God, but to realize that God will not save us from the consequences of our actions--that respecting those consequences are precisely the rite of passage that will ultimately lead us home to the Father's love.
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seeking the sacred
dave brisbin | 04.25.10
As we attempt to live the life of the beloved, as we try to seek the sacred in our lives, where are we looking? We form neat categories and compartments in our lives: here is the sacred and here is the not-sacred, the secular. We endure the secular on our way to the islands of sacredness that we see in largely religious terms. What really is a sacred moment? Can we have one or understand one only in the context of church or religious practice? Are our lives only sanctified if they look increasingly religious? The classic confrontation between the religious and sacred occurs when Jesus is asked to the home of a Pharisee for a meal and some questioning. A woman, a well-known sinner, shows up uninvited to bath Jesus' feet with her tears and anoint them with expensive perfume. The reaction of the Pharisee is formed by his religious notions, while Jesus' reaction is embedded in the touch and faith of the woman at his feet. Non-religious, relational, sacred.
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the way of belovedness
dave brisbin | 04.18.10
How are we to follow the way of our God-given belovedness as a true way of life? What should be our attitude and our stance in life as we follow the Way? If we really are followers of Jesus, then we are also questioners--we understand that knowing the way to the Father's love is primarily experiential, guided by our intellect but not mastered by it. And the experience of life as Jesus would have us live it, is clearly expressed in two big New Testament clues: Jesus' notion of Kingdom [no surprise there] and also, perhaps very surprisingly, the Hebrew customs surrounding marriage: the two-part wedding ceremony of kiddushin (betrothal) and nissu'in (wedding). These two parts of the Hebrew wedding, separated by as much as two years, created a watershed rite of passage in the lives of Hebrew men and women. It showed them, and can show us, how we are to live our entire lives as one big rite of passage taking us from our broken, human state of being to the belovedness with which our Father is itching to shower us.
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being the beloved
dave brisbin | 04.11.10
A friend asks whether there are any adults left in our society or only children. It seems that the hurts of childhood and the blurring of lines between adults and children in our culture are conspiring to keep children acting childishly long after their bodies have grown up. Why are we afraid to grow up these days? One reason is that we no longer practice rites of passage--celebrations and rituals that mark the big [and stressful] transitions in life: birth, death, coming of age, marriage, baptism, confirmation in ways that incorporate three essential ingredients...separation, transition, and re-incorporation. When Jesus was baptized, he heard the words, "You are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased." He was immediately driven into the wilderness to find out whether that was really true. His separation from his life and loved ones, his transition through the difficulties of temptation and deprivation caused a deep understanding of the unity with his Father that made re-incorporation into his new ministry the end of a journey that proved his belovedness. To the extent we doubt our belovedness, we will fear the adult world. To the extent that we use big transitions in life to practice our own rites of passage, we can prove our belovedness and gracefully grow up.
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who do you say that i am?
dave brisbin | 03.28.10
Those of us in non-liturgical denominations and churches have lost touch with the liturgy--the annual cycle of common worship that connects each day of worship to the scriptures--events and people that bring meaning and a sense of journey. Each day of Holy Week has deep significance to the liturgy that goes back over a millennium and a half. Palm Sunday begins holy week with the celebration of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. When he rode into Jerusalem and the authorities winced as people cheered, waved palm branches, cried Hosanna, [hoshiia na--save us, Lord] what were they expecting of Jesus? A warrior-king to overthrow the Romans? A threat to the established order of things? A ticket to the big time once his new kingdom was established? Everyone had a different idea of what Jesus would bring them--how he would save them. As Jesus rides into our lives each day, what do we expect? Or as he asked his friends and asked of us, "Who do you say that I am?" Answering that question is the first step toward answered prayer in our lives.
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real life, real faith
dave brisbin | 03.21.10
What happens when real life catches us off guard? When a miscarriage takes the promise and dream of a new child away? When unmet expectations in life bring deep longings to the surface and make old girlfriends and boyfriends on Facebook look much more attractive than a current spouse--the path not taken more alluring than the one we now follow? Is there something in our faith that can inform moments like these or is there a disconnect, where faith plays its role only in the spiritual compartments of our lives, never in the gritty streets where we live. Jesus wept that the death of his friend Lazarus. He felt the grief and sorrow that we all feel, even as he knew that Lazarus would rise again. His faith and unity with his Father didn't absolve him from real life and real sorrow, but carried him through to new life. Our faith is only realized in the heart of real life. And our life is only realized in the heart of real faith.
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dave brisbin | 03.14.10
If we accept the proposition that our lives are fulfilled in service, that our deepest purpose is service--just as Jesus didn't come to be served but to serve--then inevitable questions ensue. What do I do to serve? Will anything I do make a difference? Will I lose myself and everything I've ever wanted to do and accomplish? What about time for me, time to regenerate, refill, recharge. All great questions. To answer is to realize that service is not a program or ministry and especially not an obligation or burden. As soon as we institutionalize service, we've missed the mark. Jesus lived to serve, but took time to go off alone and pray, took time to play with children, and eat and visit with friends old and new. All that is service too. Service is not something out there to to sought and obtained...like kingdom, it's within, among, in our midst. The great sculptor Michelangelo could walk around a raw block of marble and see the finished horse he was to sculpt fully formed as if encased in ice. All he had to do was remove everything that was not the horse. When we've patiently removed all that is not deepest purpose, our lives become effortlessly meaningful, effortlessly serviceful.
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from ruin to rescue
mike wood | 03.07.10
It's been reported that most Americans are just one paycheck away from real poverty, the real possibility of living on the streets after one missed check. But if ruin is a serious possibility for many of us, so is rebound! Any believer can put Isaiah chapter 54 in their pocket and be confident of their future. This passage is an example of how God comes to our rescue no matter what condition we are in or whatever circumstances we find ourselves in. There is a path from shame and humiliation to one of genuine humility before God which then thrusts us into His grace and restoration. Isaiah 54 is a poem that can help us because it tells us that God will not leave His people in a ruined state. If you feel you’ve ruined your life--abused it through hard living or hard antics, derailed it through poor choices in relationships or finances...look at that ruin again. Assure your heart with this poem that God has composed for you. There is a promise of a second life, a good and righteous life. A life full of hope and dreams and a life full of good and pure things. If you can worship your God as an expression of genuine trust... then for you, rebound is just around the corner.
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selling the book
dave brisbin | 02.28.10
There is a wonderful quote attributed to Serapion, a 4th century "desert father" and pioneer of the monastic movement within Christianity: I have sold the book which told me to sell everything and give to the poor. Letting that sink in for a moment begins to do things to our inner selves. When Jesus called the first disciples and they "left everything" and followed, what and how much does that really mean? What are the things, however precious, that we are still clinging to, and how are they blocking us from the full expression of our faith and from the Kingdom life to which Jesus is calling? The Bible, the ultimate expression of truth for a Christian, is pointing us toward the Truth, toward God--and at some level, we know that God is not the book and the book is not God, but until we're willing to sell the book and give to the poor, how will we ever know that we know?
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dave brisbin | 02.21.10
A friend relates to me how he was once asked by a Christian whether he "knew Jesus." Not exactly knowing what that meant at the time, he did know that it meant that he was being qualified--was he part of their group, in their club. He was immediately irritated, but also intrigued. Now many years later, the question remains for him. How do we get to know Jesus, know God? Well, how do we get to know anyone? We find ways to spend time together, and if we don't have that time, we change our habits and lifestyle in order to make time if it becomes important enough. It's no different with God. We call the change in habit and lifestyle by a word we now very much misunderstand: repentance. Far from the mere sense of guilt or remorse that leads to an apology or act of contrition, true repentance is simply a change of direction, a change of habitual life practice in order to get to a new destination. And when repentance is being used to turn back toward our God, it is literally a homecoming.
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falling with god
dave brisbin | 02.14.10
Why are we often so afraid? And what are we afraid of? A novice skydiver feels fear constantly rising during day-long training in preparation for a first jump. Then clutching at the edge of an open door looking out over 12,500 feet of air, the fear is almost paralyzing. But seconds after pushing off, falling freely, the fear dissipates in the knowledge that a series of events have been put in motion that will end at the ground one way or another--that all that is left to do is enjoy the ride. We are all afraid of making wrong choices. We are afraid of the harm we can do to ourselves or others as we stand clutching the door trying to make up our minds. But the real truth we're missing is that ever since birth, we've already been falling; a series of events having been put into motion that will end at our death one way or another. Embracing the truth that the choice to jump was never ours to make is the first step toward making the choice to simply enjoy the ride.
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the breath of god
dave brisbin | 02.07.10
One of the meanings of spirit in Hebrew/Aramaic is breath. Understanding the spirit of God as breath brings his presence as close and intimate as a whisper in our ear. Sometimes it's hard to capture these shades of meaning in our own familiar language and contexts, so are these understandings of God captured in other traditions that can shed new light on our own? Did you know that "aloha" in Hawaiian literally means "in the presence of wind, breath, or spirit?" In an amazing twist, Hawaiian spirituality closely resembles that of the ancient Hebrew. To begin see the breath of God in the slowing of time, love of the land, power of the spoken word, and family and community is to take the first steps toward an intimacy that blows the warmth of God's breath right across our skin.
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wings of the spirit
dave brisbin | 01.31.10
What is the universal image of the Spirit as conveyed by Scripture? The word itself, ruach in Hebrew, ruha in Aramaic means spirit, but also breath and wind. The spirit is moving over the face of the water in Genesis 1, blows through Jesus' imagery to Nicodemus in John 3 and through the house at Pentecost in Acts 2. Spirit is always moving--unseen, but having great effect, known by its effect, carrying life and motion into every corner of our lives. In the most real sense, the spirit of God is actually the motion of God through our lives; if there is no motion, there is no Spirit. We know we are reborn in spirit when we see its effect in our lives and choices and the quality of our relationships. When we see that our lives mirror the motion of the spirit, when our resources and time are also in constant motion, never bottled up, held back, stored away in fear, we know we've been touched by God's holy wind.
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sum of all fears
dave brisbin | 01.24.10
When you take all our negative emotions and compulsive drives and put them together, what do you get? The sum of all our fears. And though all these emotions and drives look and feel very different and play out differently in our lives, they all really boil down to one thing..fear. Fear of what? What are we really afraid of? Though there may be an infinite number of answers here too, when you really cut to the bone, we're simply afraid of being alone, afraid there is ultimately no place for us, no love for us, on one there for us. Everything we do to combat that basic fear is just whistling past the graveyard until we come to terms with what the spirit of God is blowing through our lives. Jesus said that it was to his friends advantage that he would be physically removed from them so the helper and comforter could come. It's only when we stop clinging, just for a moment, to the physical supports--the crutches--we've built up around ourselves that we get the first glimpse of what it means to be free of the sum of our fears.
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calling no one father
dave brisbin | 01.17.10
Our journey, our faith, our lives are intimately our own. No one can live them for us, no one can transfer the results of their journeys and experiences to us. No one should ever try to step between us and our God, and we should never allow someone to do so. Why did God keep Moses from entering the promised land with the people he had faithfully led through the wilderness for forty long years? Why did God call him to die on the summit of Mount Nebo in sight of the land for such a seemingly trivial offense as striking a rock instead of speaking to it in order to produce water for his people? Why did Jesus warn us never to call anyone father or rabbi or teacher? It is human nature to imprint with the physical rather than the spiritual, to place physical people and images between ourselves and God. The story of Moses being removed from between his people and their God and Jesus' warning never to place someone in that position needs to be deeply understood as we move along our own way to the promised land.
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the way of love
dave brisbin | 01.10.10
What is the role of a pastor or a church? Is it to tell people what to believe, what to think, how to understand their God? If so, then why are there so many different ideas about such beliefs, thoughts, and understandings? If there were one, absolute and correct way to understand God, it seems we should be able to agree by now. Recognizing the diversity of theological concepts, we see the pastoral role not in terms of creating unity of thought, but in fostering unity of intent and action. To model and motivate, to help usher people into contact with God by going there ourselves and allowing people the space and time to do likewise; to create a safe place for people to linger with God and begin to know him and his love is the beginning of a lifelong journey that no one can take for another.
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entering the story
dave brisbin | 12.27.09
Stories have been told as long as there have been people to tell them and will be told as long as there are people to tell them because stories draw us into new experiences or connect our own experiences with those of others--or both. But a story is just a story if all we do is listen, no matter how raptly. And when stories, such as those in Scripture, are meant to guide us into new ways of living life in God's presence, listening is not enough--we are meant to enter into the story by understanding how intimately it applies to us right here and now--to live the story ourselves. The story of the Magi coming to visit Jesus as a child is a perfect example of a story we easily stand outside and merely observe until we begin to realize the deep meaning behind the wise men, the star, the journey, and the gifts. When we enter the story, each detail relates directly to our own journeys and illuminates our desire to find the king.
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lying in a manger
dave brisbin | 12.20.09
The birth of Jesus. There is really so little we know about it. A few paragraphs in Luke 2 and Matthew 2...that's it. And yet it's in the smallest details that we can sometimes hear the biggest truths. The small details are the ones that bring a story to life for us--cue us into the fact that the storyteller really experienced the story being told. That the story rings true at all. The small details of Jesus being wrapped in cloths and laid in a manger because there was no place for them in the guest room, is one of those gems that does all the above. Makes the story real, authentic. And more importantly, focuses us on what it means to be laid in a manger, to release any power, wealth, or standing you think you may have in favor of the ring of faces hovering above you. In whom you must now depend. What lying in a manger meant to Jesus is only relevant when we discover what it means to us.
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what we have to be
dave brisbin | 12.13.09
Who do we have to be to be accepted, acceptable to God? To the church? To each other? People ask questions constantly about tithing, divorce, gifts of the spirit, church teaching, and other such theological or social issues all with the desire to make sure they are complying with God's standards for acceptance. But when we look at the teachings of Jesus and writings of Paul in Galatians and Corinthians we see a very different emphasis--liberty. What does it mean to be free in Christ? What did Paul mean when he said at Galatians 5 that "Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you." (Message) To know truth that liberates is to know something much more than mere meeting of standards or of following rules.
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dave brisbin | 12.06.09
One of the accepted truths or threads of conventional wisdom that Jesus disputed with both word and action was the concept that correct ideas, theology, ethnicity, or behavior are essential to God's acceptance of us. That we need to think or act a certain way, be born a certain way in order to be accepted, to be saved. In Jesus' life and teaching, nothing could be further from the truth. When Jesus sits and eats with sinners: with tax collectors and prostitutes, Romans and Samaritans and every other type of person understood by Jews to be unclean and contemptible, it's easy for us to miss the gravity of such actions. Understanding just how hated these people were in Jewish society begins to bring home the extreme, unwavering acceptance that Jesus practiced across the board. But it's not until we confront those we find most contemptible in our own society--child molesters, rapists, racists, drug dealers--that we can we even begin to understand. Would we see any virtue in our pastor having dinner at the home of a registered sex offender who just moved into our neighborhood? Can our notion of acceptance ever be that extreme?
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permission to think again
dave brisbin | 11.29.09
It's often the nature of religion to believe so strongly in its own doctrine or worldview that it becomes the all/only of life. But when such truths are handed down from generation to generation, they become changed if they are not accompanied by the personal experience that brought the truths to light in the first place. We fight quite a bit over our truths: which one is right, that all others are wrong--but are we ever experiencing truth anymore? Have we abdicated our responsibility to seek truth in the first person--become willing to accept the heresay of others? Jesus gave those around him permission to think again, and we need to be fearlessly willing to do just that. Jesus questioned the religious authority of his day in an effort to bring his people out of the slavery of a million accepted truths and into the freedom of one living truth. He gives us the same permission, and carefully reading his teachings shows us how very little has changed.
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god's voice: what, how, why, who
dave brisbin | 11.22.09
A young man asked how he could know whether he was really hearing God's voice, whether the voice he was hearing was really God, or himself telling himself what he wanted to hear. What a question...whole empires, religions, and many personal projects have been launched by a word from God, without a really good answer to that question. Is it just hopelessly subjective? Is there no way to discern whether we are really hearing God's voice? We typically think of God's direction as a "what:" what it is God is telling us to do. But maybe it's more of a "how:" doesn't matter what we do as long as we do it how God would do it. Or maybe the "why" is most important--motive and intent. Or is it the "who" as in who we are following that presides. There may not be hard and fast rules, but there are certainly clues that can help us tune into the sound of God's voice, which once we've learned to trust, even from unfamiliar places, we will never forget.
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the third rail
dave brisbin | 11.15.09
The third rail of an electric train is the rail that carries the electricity to power the train. You can touch the first or second rails and be just fine, but touch the third rail and you fry. Social security has been called the third rail of American politics, and there is a third rail of Christian theology too...the doctrine of hell. Many who have touched it have fried, but here we go anyway. Let any conversation between Christians go on long enough, and they will inevitably end up talking about heaven and hell--the ultimate expression of our faith. But do we have the terms right? The right images to imagine the afterlife? What does our concept of heaven and hell tell us about our God, ourselves? Does heaven really mean the absence of any need? Then why does Scripture talk about serving and reigning--serving whom and reigning over what? Does God really send us to hell and throw away the key? What does his justice say about his love? Did you know the word hell never even appears in the Bible at all? Let's touch the third rail together and find out if we can survive.
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the path not yet taken
dave brisbin | 11.08.09
We have a funny view of the future. Sometimes we call it destiny or fate or God's will. Whatever term we use, we're thinking of the future as a road rolling out before us as completely and fully formed and realized as the road behind that extends into the past. We see our future as pre-existing before us waiting to be stepped into like a new pair of shoes, so we squint and strain and try to get glimpses of that future in order to gain some sense of security over our fears of the unknown. But carefully reading Jesus' teaching gives us another view...that the future doesn't exist at all--until the moment it becomes the present. That what we think of as future is really just a cloud of choices, a set of possible futures radiating from the only time that really exists: this moment. Future isn't waiting for us, we create future with each choice we make in the only moment we ever have.
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when effect is not caused
dave brisbin | 11.01.09
When circumstances or events occur in such a way that we suddenly see significance or even profound meaning in them, we immediately think that God must have arranged everything just so that we would see his hand in our lives. But if that is so, what about all those other times that we don't see such meaning and purpose? Is God busy showing meaning and purpose to someone else? And what about those times of pain or sheer anguish? Is God bringing those moments to us as well? How are we to understand the workings of our spiritual lives in the midst of the physical? Simply because things occur together doesn't mean that one thing has caused the effect in the other. We tend to view things from the outside in, but God is trying to teach us to look from the inside out. And from the inside out, it is up to us to see the significance in meaning in a life through which God is always speaking.
audio [mp3] | duration: 39:49, size: 7 mb
dave brisbin | 10.25.09
We all have questions. But when it comes to questions regarding our faith and theology, there is a common thread to those we most want to ask. Areas of dissonance and seeming contradiction are the ones for which we most want resolution. When the practices of the church or the apparent meaning of scripture contradict the unconditional love and absolute goodness of God that Jesus painted for us, we're left wondering who God really is and what we mean to him. Ultimately there are no answers to such questions that can be framed in words. It's only the direct experience of God's goodness that will convince us, but many questions do have answers that will help us to see past the seeming contradiction, give a clear shot again at the Father's love that will beckon us on to that experience. With that as backdrop, Conversations was an open topic question and discussion session with the entire Sunday gathering.
Let the games begin...
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dave brisbin | 10.18.09
Borders are difficult places to maintain. They are places of transition and transformation; sometimes places of tension. Like a coin landing on its edge, it's much easier to flop down on one side or another rather than maintain the balance necessary to stay upright, to remain balanced on the edges of things. Christian tradition has always taught a middle way, a way of sacred tension that keeps us from extremes--because truth is found never at the extremes. But truth is itself extreme. So the middle way, far from being moderate, is extreme...a radical middle. Between our concepts of good and evil as polar opposites, mutually exclusive oppositions, there is a middle approach that rides the continuum between the extremes and allows us to experience the nature of God's love as it defines the radical middle.
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dave brisbin | 10.11.09
The last line of the Lord's Prayer has always been a difficult one: lead us not into temptation... Does God do that? Lead us into temptation? And whether he does or not, is it possible to pray for no temptation in life at all? Book of James tells us that God tempts no one--that temptations are the vehicles in life that mature us, make us complete. So what's going on? What is Jesus trying to tell us? Once again our concept of temptation and challenge as bad or evil, our concept of good and evil itself mask the message Jesus is conveying. Every figure in the Scriptures was tempted and tested, including Jesus--necessarily so. But when we peer into the Aramaic underpinnings of this prayer we discover Jesus is talking about remaining undiverted from our purpose, from God's purpose, about not being changed or given over to the trial and the test--to be delivered, which to the Hebrew mind was exactly the same as being saved.
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dave brisbin | 10.04.09
In the fourth line of the Lord's Prayer we are introduced to the centrality of forgiveness. Along with Kingdom, faith, and love, the concept of forgiveness ranks as the most essential to our ability to live as Jesus lived--to follow his Way. Unfortunately, we have learned a version of forgiveness that has nothing to do with the forgiveness of which Jesus speaks--in fact it actively opposes it. When we think of forgiveness as a legal term involving apology, restitution, and absolution, we've missed the point entirely. Forgiveness has nothing to do with an apology, or amends, or even restoration of a relationship. It has nothing to do with another person at all. When Jesus says that if we don't forgive, our Father in heaven won't forgive us either, and we think that means God is withholding forgiveness as punishment, we reveal to ourselves that we don't understand what Jesus is talking about. Until we come to understand that forgiveness is as free as God's love, we'll never give up our victimhood, and we'll never know that we're as forgiven as we want to be.
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dave brisbin | 09.27.09
In much the same way that kingdom and God's will are equated in the second line of the Lord's Prayer, the third line shows us the relationship between daily bread and daily needs. Give us the bread of our need this day is a much more literal translation from the Aramaic. Bread in Hebrew/Aramaic means any and all provision and sustenance including the understanding of holy wisdom that will supply the needs of any given day or moment. Everything we need is available to us in this moment--and nowhere else, because all that exists, exists only here in this perfect moment. God is everywhere, but everywhere is just one place: this place, this moment, and we find our needs met in the immersion in God's presence herenow, or not at all.
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dave brisbin | 09.20.09
In the second line of the Lord's prayer, we come face to face with kingdom and find that Jesus is telling us that kingdom and God's will are really just two ways of looking at the same thing. In the peculiar way of Jewish poetry, Kingdom as the herenow quality of life lived in resonance with God's presence and God's will as his pleasure, desire, and deepest purpose are juxtaposed and paralleled to convey that Kingdom is none other than God's deepest purpose actualized, realized. To realize that purpose on earth as it is in heaven is to make that purpose as real in our hearts as it already is in God's. Understood from these deeply Hebrew/Aramaic roots, kingdom come becomes not so much a plea for God to act outside ourselves, but a rallying cry for us to begin the intense work of inner transformation, of aligning our pleasure and deepest purpose with God's own.
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dave brisbin | 09.13.09
As we struggle with mental concepts of faith and theology thinking we must believe in certain ways in order to proceed with religion or church or our spiritual journeys, we sometimes throw up our hands and ask as did the follows of John the Baptist, "What then must we do?" Just as the rich young ruler asked Jesus what he must to do to inherit eternal life. Straightforward questions often do not have straightforward answers if the goal is to transform our lives and not just obtain more information. We've contented ourselves with a legal, passive, and intellectual approach to God for too long. Jesus is calling us to abandon our whole line of questioning and come to a relational, active, and experiential approach that brings us the connection that really is the "answer" we seek regardless of the questions we ask.
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the meaning of purpose
dave brisbin | 09.06.09
Still considering the nature of true faith, we look at Viktor Frankl, a Jewish psychologist who survived the horrors of the Auschwitz death camp during WWII to write the classic book, Man's Search for Meaning, and to found a psychological school on the notion of "logotherapy" or the psychology of meaning. Any suffering, any difficulty or challenge can be overcome as long as and as soon as a person finds meaning in it and a purpose through it. Meaning and purpose are two sides of the same thing, just as are faith and works. Purpose flows from a sense of meaning the way works flow from true faith. Which comes first, meaning or purpose? Does it matter? Can you have one without the other? The answers all lie in the heart of Jesus' teachings if we listen closely.
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what then must we do?
dave brisbin | 08.30.09
As we struggle with mental concepts of faith and theology thinking we must believe in certain ways in order to proceed with religion or church or our spiritual journeys, we sometimes throw up our hands and ask as did the follows of John the Baptist, "What then must we do?" Just as the rich young ruler asked Jesus what he must to do to inherit eternal life. Straightforward questions often do not have straightforward answers if the goal is to transform our lives and not just obtain more information. We've contented ourselves with a legal, passive, and intellectual approach to God for too long. Jesus is calling us to abandon our whole line of questioning and come to a relational, active, and experiential approach that brings us the connection that really is the "answer" we seek regardless of the questions we ask.
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wwjd: republican or democrat?
dave brisbin | 08.23.09
With a tongue in cheek title like that, where do you go from there? As our culture war heats up, with the divide between left and right, red state and blue state is growing in this country. With both sides of the debate quoting Jesus and the Bible and claiming the moral high ground, and Christians becoming deeply divided and fearful of the future of our country and world, maybe the question isn't so facetious after all. God can't be supporting all sides at once--does he have a side? Jesus gives us pointed clues to how he processes the cultural and political divides of his time. Firstly, we need to understand the terms of our current culture war--what do the terms left and right, liberal and conservative really mean? Where do they come from? Why do they think the way they do? Secondly, looking at Jesus' masterful ability to move between the micro and the macro, between mercy and justice--give us the tools to live well in Kingdom in the midst of a contentious society.
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dave brisbin | 08.09.09
Great line from a movie: "We're lost...but we're making good time." Is that possible? To be lost and make good time? We focus so much on destination [and as people of faith, on the afterlife] that we miss the time we're having right now. Making good time is really all we need to do to get to any destination God has in mind. As modern Westerners, we bless space and the things that occupy space. The ancient Hebrews blessed every moment with the presence of God--time. The first thing God blesses at Genesis 2:3 is time. When we can learn to let go of the regrets of the past and the obsession with the future, we can make good time--no matter how lost we may feel at the moment.
audio [mp3] | duration: 37:45, size: 6.6 mb
making good time
dave brisbin | 08.02.09
In English grammar, the difference between first and third person is profound. Both first and second person (I am/you are) deal with ourselves and others directly--necessitate a direct connection and experience between us and another. Third person (he/she/it is) allows space and time to intervene, admits any manner of objective disconnect and heresay. Some things in life are not transferrable--they must be lived, first person, to become real in our lives. In the same way a language or musical instrument learned by one person cannot be transferred to another, our faith cannot simply be accepted from another, learned in a book, pledged in a creed. Faith that will allow us to confidently enjoy the moments of our lives, even the difficult ones, comes only from the direct experience and connection with our God--first person.
audio [mp3] | duration: 35:13, size: 6.2 mb
dave brisbin | 07.26.09
We all have moments when we lose sense of ourselves as separate from each other or nature itself. Moments so full, there is no room for words or thoughts to describe them. We view these moments and church time or prayer time as moments when we are filled up with the spirit of God, and we live our lives as we drive our cars--from filling station to filling station, driving until we run out of gas. But instead of filling stations, each of these moments are really "remembering stations," times when we can remember that each and every moment already contains everything we'll ever need to enter Kingdom. We don't need to fill up, we need to remember that we already are.
audio [mp3] | duration: 37:04, size: 6.5 mb
names of god redux
chuck smith, jr. | 07.19.09
Though there is ultimately just one name of of God, the dozens of names given to him by the writers of Scripture amount essentially to "job descriptions" of how he interacts with us over the course of our lives with him. Who God is to us has everything to do with our experience of God doing his various "jobs" in our lives.
audio [mp3] | duration: 54:01, size: 9.5 mb
names of god
dave brisbin | 07.12.09
What is our faith based on? What kind of faith can withstand the most difficult circumstances of life? What are we convinced of, and why? Is what we believe true, or just what we believe? And how do we know we really believe it anyway? All questions that can only be answered from a direct experience of our God. No second hand heresay will ever do. What happens when people embark on a life of direct experience with God both through the course of their own lives and over generations? The names that the ancient Hebrews gave to their God mark their passage to deeper and more intimate knowledge of who he was in light who they experienced him to be in their lives. From El to Eloah/Elohiym to El Shaddai to Yahoveh to Abba, to the dozens of other names describing the attributes of God, the patriarchs and prophets of Israel show us what it means to experience and know God and to build a faith that can't be shaken.
audio [mp3] | duration: 41:45, size: 7.3 mb
fiddlers on the roof
dave brisbin | 07.05.09
Fiddler on the Roof is a play and a film centering around a poor Jewish husband and father in pre-revolutionary Russia who is caught in the transition between two worlds--the old world of his cultural and religious traditions and the new world of his three marriageable daughters and the coming revolution with its anti-Semitic bent. Struggling to maintain his balance and identity is as precarious as a fiddler trying to play on a steep rooftop. What we may or may not understand is that all of us right now are fiddlers too as we struggle through a similar transition between the world we've known all our lives and the world into which our country and our lives are plunging. As everything familiar and comforting seems swept up in change and storm clouds appear on our horizon, what is happening to our faith, our sense of God's presence? Can we, as did Job, persevere through difficult times with our integrity and faith intact? What was Job's faith based on? What is our faith based on? If it's not based on the same thing, we won't get the same results.
audio [mp3] | duration: 38:23, size: 6.8 mb
fathers and mothers and god
dave brisbin | 06.21.09
On Fathers' Day, it is usual to think of our personal fathers, our relationships with them, their effect on our lives, and effect on our view of our heavenly Father. The ancient Hebrews did the same. They saw their God in terms of the every day relationships around them: their families, tribes, nation. It was natural for them to think of their God in terms of their own fathers and their king, but what we've lost sight of is that they also thought of their God in terms of their own mothers and their high priest who functioned in a different, but necessary and complementary ways. God was both father and mother, not male and female, but embracing the functions of both. Hokhma, holy wisdom or sacred sense, was personified as the feminine agent of order, harmony, and a binding together with the father, especially in the book of Proverbs. But we can experience her today just as our father in faith Abraham did as he finally came to terms with what it meant to be both truly father and mother himself in his binding together with God.
audio [mp3] | duration: 34:47, size: 6.1 mb
brides and grooms and prophets
dave brisbin | 06.14.09
A friend suggested that I teach on Revelation and end times prophecy--something I really prefer to avoid as it tends to be an emotional and interpretive minefield. More importantly, in my experience, emphasis on end times prophecy tends to bring fear and paranoia into people's lives. Before you know it, we're hoarding water and food in our basements and garages. But books like Revelation, Daniel, Ezekiel, Matthew 24 and 25, parts of Thessalonians are in the Bible for a reason. What is the purpose of what we call apocalyptic scripture? What's the difference between it and prophetic scripture? If we know that God is love and never fear, then what are we missing of the message these books offer? One answer comes from a most unusual direction: the traditional Jewish wedding. Until we realize how central these marriage customs were to ancient Jewish life and how they described Israel's relationship with their God, we miss the central point of apocalyptic writings--the encouragement of a people under stress and devastation.
audio [mp3] | duration: 43:19, size: 7.6 mb
insulting the dead
dave brisbin | 05.31.09
Everyone wants to be happy, but seems so few of us really are. We even have a hard time defining happiness or deciding whether the spiritual life really should be characterized by happiness or by sacrifice. We chase after so many things in order to find happiness--things that become piled up in our lives and then begin to define us. What really is the path to happiness and authentic spirituality? Are they in conflict? The same? A story from the ancient Desert Fathers of the 3rd and 4th centuries tells of a young monk who asks his abbot about the best was to please the Lord. The old abbot tells him to go to the cemetery and insult the dead. When he has learned to respond to the insults and praises of men as the dead do, he will have learned something about pleasing the Lord. And so will we.
audio [mp3] | duration: 31:59, size: 5.6 mb
neither great nor small
dave brisbin | 05.24.09
It is natural--and seductive--to think that greater is better than smaller, to place more value in something the more we can make it grow, that if something is good, then it's always better if it's bigger. These are natural thoughts and tend to be true in day to day transactions, and so we port them over to our spiritual lives and our churches and other expressions of faith without further examination. But do they actually apply there? Is bigger better simply because it's greater? To enter the realm of the infinite is to infinitely leave the very meaning of great and small. To continue to pursue greatness when that term no longer has meaning is to miss the point of Jesus' message. And if size doesn't matter to Jesus, what does?
audio [mp3] | duration: 36:38, size: 6.4 mb
dave brisbin | 05.17.09
In realizing that a friend's distress was being made worse because he didn't feel God was listening or speaking or was even big enough to fix his trauma, the larger realization became that we all limit our experience of God in our lives by imagining that God only works through religion and religious symbols. Religion is all about God, but God is not about religion. Religion is our way of expressing our collective experience of God, but over time it unfortunately becomes the substitute for that experience, and the symbols of religion become divorced from the deep meaning they were meant to convey. When we only look for God in religious symbols and forms, we miss the allness of God's presence--working through each one of us, as his hands and feet, to be the miracles of his presence we long for and need in our lives.
audio [mp3] | duration: 36:17, size: 6.4 mb
dave brisbin | 05.10.09
Mother's Day. In the language of Jesus, the word for mother is "em" or "emma," as children would call their mommies. In the fascinating root and pattern system of Hebrew/Aramaic, em literally means "strong water." But because strong water to the ancient Hebrews was the sticky residue that rose to the surface during the boiling of animal hides, a residue that was used as an adhesive or glue, em came to mean "the one who binds the family together." When we think about the roles of mothers and fathers, we realize how true this is. When we look at Jesus' relationship with his mother, at first glance we see a constant tension, a seeming backing away from family relationships. But on a closer look, we can see Jesus trying to lead his followers to the understanding that true family is not just those with whom we share blood, but those with whom we share spirit and truth. Realizing who our true family really is, is the first step to becoming the "strong water" in all our relationships.
audio [mp3] | duration: 39:10, size: 6.9 mb
tears in the rain
dave brisbin | 05.03.09
What is it we see when we look at each other? Most often we expect what we think we see in people, and then we begin to see only what we expect. In self-fulfilling prophecy, we only see the reflection of our own expectations until we begin to see each other with our Father's eyes. Jesus was the perfect model of someone who saw everyone in his path as his Father saw them. He moved to them, engaged them, listened to their stories. From the Samaritan woman to the little tax collector, Zaccheus, Jesus sees beauty and promise where others saw only the reflection of their own hatred. In our personal lives, every time we break through our expectations, people reveal the richness of their lives to us in undreamed of complexity and passion--at times in the least likely containers. If we don't take time, if we don't care to see and hear, if we don't learn to see with our Father's eyes, all those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain.
audio [mp3] | duration: 30:46, size: 5.4 mb
a perfect moment
dave brisbin | 04.26.09
Seems that over the last four weeks since Palm Sunday, we've stumbled into a series focused on seeing life and love through the Father's eyes. Jesus tells us to be perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect. What does that even mean? How can we strive for perfection as humans? Well, was Jesus perfect? We answer "yes," without hesitation, but the scriptures tell us that he "grew in wisdom and stature," so that means he had to learn. Being perfect does not mean being without mistake--it means being filled up and complete, able to live our purpose in life. Jesus did that, and we can too as long as we stop looking to the future for our fulfillment and completion. A perfect moment is not a moment without mistakes, it's a moment that is not leading to any other moment; it's a moment that fills up all the space in head, heart, senses, soul. It's a moment so full that there's nowhere else we need or want to be--a complete statement that leaves us perfectly content. String enough perfect moments together, and you really can have a perfect life.
audio [mp3] | duration: 32:11, size: 5.7 mb
dave brisbin | 04.19.09
Looking back at Holy Thursday, the day the church remembers the Last Supper, we dug into the significance of Jesus washing his disciples' feet. This is pretty standard, boilerplate stuff in Christianity, the set piece for humility and servant leadership. But so far removed from the original setting by time and culture, we completely miss the impact of such an act. Putting the ancient eastern custom of foot washing back into it's original context, we see it again as one of the lowest and most disgusting tasks in Hebrew culture. When Peter refuses Jesus' offer, he is operating through all his entrenched beliefs and expectations of Jesus' kingship. He is completely misunderstanding Jesus' message and method, and Jesus tells him he has "no part with him" until he does and can. We are no different. We idolize the powerful and dismiss the lowly, we aspire to greatness and miss so many opportunities to see the value in simple service. Most importantly, we walk right past a God who would wash our feet, serve us, in favor of what we expect greatness to look like.Until we begin to see with new eyes, we have "no part" with God or Kingdom at all.
audio [mp3] | duration: 35:21, size: 6.2 mb
easter sunday '09
seeking the living
dave brisbin | 04.12.09
Probably the most important question that can be asked in terms of the Resurrection is the question Mary and the other women are asked as they arrive at Jesus' tomb early in the morning of the first day of the week: "Why do you seek the living among the dead?" It's a key question because it implies a role for each of us to play in the unfolding drama of the resurrection. Why was it that Mary and every other follower recorded in the scriptures as having encountered the risen Jesus was not able to recognize him until a key moment opened their eyes? The Resurrection wasn't real for them until they learned to see with new eyes, learned to look in new directions. What is it about their, and our, expectations and beliefs that keep the Resurrection from being real for us, keep us looking for Jesus in all the wrong places--among the dead--when he is really right here with us now among all this living.
audio [mp3] | duration: 35:10, size: 6 mb
good friday '09
the shape of our journey
dave brisbin | 04.10.09
Jesus is recorded in the four Gospels as having said seven things as he hung on the cross. Seven is a perfect number in the ancient understanding where every number had a meaning and every word had a corresponding number. These seven sayings form a perfect cycle that gives us a shape to the spiritual journeys of each of our lives...if we read them carefully enough. Looking at each saying in the context of its number-meaning and the action implied in its intent, we find two perfect cycles of three--the three ways God reaches out to us and the three ways we reach out to God--with a choice in the middle that makes all the difference. Although the Good Friday presentation wasn't recorded, you can download and read the script by clicking the link below.
palm sunday '09
in the midst of plenty
dave brisbin | 04.05.09
On Palm Sunday, we looked at the story of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, which kicked off the final week before the crucifixion. Setting the stage in terms of the political and religious unrest of that moment brings into sharp relief all the hopes and dreams and dread and fears that were directed at Jesus in that procession through Jerusalem's streets. What was the significance of the donkey, the palms, of "hosanna" itself? What were the people of Israel, their religious leaders, the Romans, and the closest followers of Jesus thinking and feeling, hoping, and fearing about Jesus and what that would mean to their lives? And most importantly, what about our own hopes, dreams, and fears about what Jesus means as he rides through the gates of our lives? If our vision is clouded by what we want or fear from Jesus, we will miss our opportunity to see the truth that will make us free.
audio [mp3] | duration: 35:10, size: 6 mb
the twelve steps
[01.11.09 - 01.29.09]
the smallest things
dave brisbin | 01.04.09
On the Sunday after our annual Christmas Caravan to Mexico, delivering thousands of toys to needy children there, the realization of how we really experience life begins to sink in. As in the unfolding of the day of the Caravan, we experience our lives one moment, one detail at a time--not in an overview or executive summary where the highlights or the "big story" or the list of accomplishments is the focus. We tend to describe the forest as we think about our lives, but we live them one tree at a time. And as we look for meaning and spiritual significance in life, if we can't find it in the smallest things, then we won't find it at all.
audio [mp3] | duration: 35:37, size: 6.3 mb
sermon on the mount
[09.02.07 - 12.28.08]
At our Christmas Gathering, we took a different approach by dedicating the whole gathering to a look at theeffect of children on our lives and our ability to love in the most difficult circumstances. Starting with Jesus, Mary, and Joseph we peeled back the curtain of time to step into their shoes and see how their lives as parents were not so different than ours--that their dynamics and loves and fears are ours as well. In readings from parents across the country, we glimpsed intimate slices of the lives of parents deeply in love with their children as they worked through the difficulties of their lives. Life is often chaotic. Children are chaos personified. When we learn to see the beauty in the chaos, then we have learned the message of Christmas: that God has come to live among us as a beautiful, chaotic child and when we embrace the child, we find Emmanuel--God with us.
audio [mp3] | duration: 39:15, size: 6.9 mb | text [.pdf]
creatures of a broken heart
dave brisbin | [12.07.08]
If you cannot speak of ocean to a well-frog, the creature of a narrow sphere, then how do you speak of perfect love to a human being--the creature of a broken heart? The well-frog can't comprehend a limitless expanse of water when he's never experienced anything beyond the cloying, cylindrical space of his home. Neither can a human being, who's never experienced anything beyond the broken promises and dreams, betrayals and woundings of his or her home, comprehend the presence of perfect love. And all of us have broken hearts to one degree or another--no one escapes childhood unscathed. But unlike well-frogs, we have a choice as to where we live, and once we have glimpsed the ocean over the edge of our own particular well, everything changes forever.
audio [mp3] | duration: 30:32, size: 5.4 mb
no degree, no regret
dave brisbin | [11.23.08]
We often worry about being too radical when it comes to religion or faith. We fear straying into error or heresy. But when it comes to the nature of God's love, the danger is not that we may be too radical, but not radical enough. The age old question, "What must I do to be saved?" assumes much more than it asks. Why do we assume there is something to do? What do we assume about salvation that we think it's something that needs earning? When we find the nerve to get really radical with God, we begin to understand that everything God has is already ours, that there is no degree to God's love--it's always indiscriminantly flowing at full blast. And that once in the flow of that love there is no possibility of regret.
audio [mp3] | duration: 37:41, size: 6.6 mb
rite of passage
dave brisbin | [11.16.08]
So much of our traditional religious teaching has led us to believe that our spiritual journeys are essentially passive. That we dedicate ourselves to God and wait for our reward in heaven. The romantic notion of "you complete me" in our personal relationships spills over to subconsciously persuade us that something outside of ourselves fulfills and completes as if by osmosis. We say Jesus came to die for our sins, but we forget that he also came to live and to show us how to live in love. The very words for Kingdom in Hebrew/Aramaic show us the nature of the partnership between us and God that is necessary for transformation. There is a coming of age, a rite of passage we all need to negotiate to learn just how fearless we can be, and just how active this journey with God really is.
audio [mp3] | duration: 44:00, size: 7.7 mb
following your bliss
dave brisbin | [11.09.08]
If God's will is not a "what" but a "how," and if with the right "how" any "what" will always be in the center of his will--then what do we do with our lives? All things being equal--follow your bliss. But what does that mean? And isn't that really selfish? Doesn't God require us to sacrifice for him and for others in this life? There are so many cultural and religious barriers to simply living our lives abundantly as Jesus was trying to show us, that few of us every really do. Following our bliss is not in opposition to living in God's will--just the opposite. Following our bliss--the things that we are passionate about and naturally good at and love to do--with the right "how" is the intersection that makes our lives a living prayer.
audio [mp3] | duration: 38:12, size: 6.7 mb
finding god's will
dave brisbin | [11.02.08]
About the most frequently asked question of pastors in counseling is, "What is God's will for my life?" A better question is, "What do we mean by God's will?" Understanding the nature God's will is the first crucial step toward discovering it. Most of us tend to believe that God has a specific plan, a perfect plan for our lives, but for some reason he's not telling, so we must try to find out what that plan is and execute is perfectly or our lives will always be less than he intended. What pressure. Would God play hide and seek with something as important and precious as his will for us? Of course not. God has made his will painfully clear, we're just looking in the wrong spot. What if God's will is not a "what" at all? Not a plan or a thing to do, but a "how" a way of living that will put us in the center of his will no matter what we do? God's will for us is always hiding in plain sight.
audio [mp3] | duration: 37:22, size: 6.6 mb
inside the well
dave brisbin | [10.26.08]
What does it really mean to change one's worldview? Why is it so difficult? A worldview is the hardest thing in our lives to change, because we don't see it as something that needs changing. We see it as reality itself--as just the way things are. Our worldview is the air we breathe and the ground on which we walk. Until we realize that reality itself is being colored by the worldview through which we experience it, we will never see the need to change it. "You cannot speak of ocean to a wellfrog, the creature of a narrower sphere..." Jesus is trying to give us glimpses of what lies outside our wells, the self and culturally imposed limit of our awareness. Understanding there really is another there out there outside our wells is the first step toward the freedom truth will bring.
audio [mp3] | duration: 40:07, size: 7 mb
passionate common sense
dave brisbin | [09.21.08]
Whenever we commit ourselves to a certain school of thought or or invest great amounts of time in a church or religion, often it becomes easy to stop seeing the forest for the trees, to lose sight of the obvious. Sometimes one of the first casualties of our allegiance and faith is our common sense. What is common sense, and what part does it play--should it play--in our faith and spiritual journey? When the Gospels are read from their original context, they and Jesus' message are full of common sense. In a very real way, our common sense is God's gift to us--a trail of breadcrumbs that will lead us back to him, back to Kingdom, if we will not abandon it and will let it do its job in our lives. Once our faith is divorced from common sense, we are capable of any and every inhuman behavior--passionate common sense is at once our way back to God and our checks and balance along the Way.
audio [mp3] | duration: 44:30, size: 7.8 mb
in an instant
dave brisbin | [09.14.08]
The experience during the week of hitting a neighbor's dog who darted into the street as he drove by not only changed the topic of this message, but brought home the fragility of life to Pastor Dave--that the things on which we spend years and countless hours and energy in order to build up desired circumstances in our lives can be gone, wiped away, in an instant. Though we try not to think of life in this way, deep down we know that it's true, and we're terrified of the uncertainty and fragility of life. We spend most of our effort trying to control our circumstances through sheer will and through prayer. But in an obscure Gospel passage in which Jesus tells us that people will not pair off in marriage in the next life, we find Jesus pointing us toward a love that has no degree and no exclusivity: a love that is so consummate that it is almost alien and inhuman. But it is this love, and this love alone, that can allay our fears and allow us to enjoy the ride of a life that can always change in an instant.
audio [mp3] | duration: 36:24, size: 6.4 mb
god and circumstance
dave brisbin | [09.07.08]
Following on from the previous message on Answered Prayer, the prerequisites Jesus lays out to pray "in his name," "according to God's will," and others really mean that we first know who Jesus is--not what Jesus is, but who he is. Who is Jesus really? How did he move through the moments of his life in relationship with those around him? Through clues in the New Testament, especially in the John 9 story of Jesus healing the blind man, we begin to see how Jesus viewed his life and the circumstances surrounding him. And through these clues, we can begin to see how we should view our own, and begin to move into better position to be the light to others that Jesus was to everyone with whom he came in contact.
audio [mp3] | duration: 40:47, size: 7.2 mb
signs of life
dave brisbin | [08.24.08]
With a new puppy as the metaphor for life, we look at life as being warm, wet, squirmy, noisy, messy, annoying, fragile, vulnerable, dependent, heartbreaking and beautiful and precious and vital--all at the same time. What we eventually learn about life is that we either take it all or leave it all behind. There is no picking and choosing of only the parts we like, and life never alters its course or composition for any individual. The secret of life is to see it as it is and make friends with it as it is--live it on its own terms and learn to enjoy the ride. In the famous passage at John 3:16, which we have so often seen as a mere formula for acceptance into the heaven of the afterlife, we begin to see Jesus as not being given only to die, but to live vibrantly and fully, to show us how to love and live fully and perfectly, to give us all the opportunity to scamper after him in that same vitality and completion.
audio [mp3] | duration: 33:13, size: 5.8 mb
parting of the way
dave brisbin | [07.27.08]
Took some time to look at the history of the early church and the split between Synagogue and Church that had completely separated the first Jewish followers of Jesus from the first Gentile followers by the middle of the second century--only a hundred years after the crucifixion. From there, the Western church sank into a gradual anti-Judaism that quickly became an anti-Semitism that fueled the rampant persecution of Jews in Western Europe during the Middle Ages only to resurface with Nazi Germany. Knowing the reasons our church has been completely divorced from its Hebrew heritage and roots explains much as to why we no longer have a Jewish context for the teachings of Jesus and the writers of the New Testament. We then use the example of Jesus' teaching on divorce and remarriage as a prime example of how our reading such passages from a non Hebrew mindset has caused centuries of misery for people living under burdens Jesus never intended.
audio [mp3] | duration: 40:11, size: 7 mb
practicing the presence of God
shining like the sun
dave brisbin | [06.08.08]
Attempting to relate how easy it is to lose focus in the day to day details of life, to get lost in the forest for the trees and miss the important things. I almost passed up the chance to say goodbye to a friend dying of cancer because of the crush of my workload, but my wife brought me back to my senses just in time. It's so easy to forget who we are and why we're here, to miss the connection we all share as humans and children of God, or as Thomas Merton put it, it's so hard to help any of us understand that we're all walking around shining like the sun.
audio [mp3] | duration: 37:30, size: 6.6 mb
dave brisbin | [05.18.08]
Looking at the nature of relationships as they change over time and especially when people move physically in and out of our lives. How are we to understand the permanence of love and relationship when human relationships are so fragile? Looking at Jesus' words in John 14-17 as he is trying to prepare his friends for his death and comfort them in their fears, we get a glimpse into the mind of God--how he sees us and his relationships with each of us, how life and love lives on regardless of whether it is seen or unseen, and how the spirit of God is always unseen and yet as real as our next breath.
audio [mp3] | duration: 32:03, size: 5.6 mb
dave brisbin | [05.11.08]
Since we baptized five people that Sunday, this message took a deeper look at the meaning of baptism and then at the totality of our spiritual journeys. Looking at the differing beliefs about baptism, one question emerged: is our "salvation" an event or a process? Does it come all at once at baptism or some other time or is it "worked out" as Paul wrote. Immediately after Jesus was baptised, the Spirit drove him into the desert for forty day--what was the significance of that time before he began teaching? And what does it mean to our lives and our journeys?
audio [mp3] | duration: 32:44, size: 5.8 mb
back to the garden
dave brisbin | [05.04.08]
Here we picked up the thread of trying to get our arms around the notion of God's perfect love with a new image and different perspective. Often our view of life and its difficulties and pain becomes the standard by which we judge all reality, including God--the notion of perfect love goes out the window and our lives are characterized by the fear of not knowing whether we are accepted or acceptable. But if we put our stake in the ground at the point of the Father's love and interpret everything from that perspective, the character of our lives begins to change. Getting back to the garden, the place where we once walked in the cool of the evening with God, in unity, not even knowing we were naked--to make that choice to be one again is the spiritual journey of Jesus' Way.
audio [mp3] | duration: 40:53, size: 7.2 mb
a friendly universe
dave brisbin | [03.27.08]
Trying to pin down the essence of the Way of Jesus, of the spiritual journey. When Albert Einstein was asked what was the most important question that his work could answer, he replied, "Whether the universe is friendly or not." And he was right--not just about his work, but about each of our lives. If we can't answer affirmatively that the universe is friendly--that there is an intelligence, a God who knows us and cares about us and is on our side--then our lives will always be lived in fear. Only perfect love casts out fear. Without a deep belief in the constancy and unconditionality of the Father's love, we really never set foot on the Way.
audio [mp3] | duration: 28.06, size: 4.9 mb
boxes within boxes
dave brisbin | [04.20.08]
How do we identify ourselves--who and what do we identify with? Our identification with our groups or our roles in life run deep and powerfully direct our paths. They are boxes in which we live--boxes within boxes... We're not always aware of these identities we have for ourselves, and we don't always consciously choose them, but regardless, to the extent we identify with a group or a role, we limit our ability to identify with God as pure spirit, and with each other as brother and sister.
audio [mp3] | duration: 35:49, size: 6.3 mb
the fat end of the telescope
dave brisbin | [04.13.08]
Looking at the age old question of destiny and predestination, and how those concepts are often connected to our notion of God's will in our lives. Culturally, we tend to think of God's will as a specific plan God has for us that is part of our destiny--or at least the best possble use of our lives. If we can't figure out or execute that plan, then our lives are destined to be less than God intended. Obviously this creates a lot of pressure in our lives, but is this really what is meant by God's "will." When we look at Scripture and the essence of Jesus' teaching, a very different picture emerges. What really is God's will for our lives?
audio [mp3] | duration: 35:39, size: 6.3 mb
the fifth way
dave brisbin | [04.06.08]
A follow-up to the previous Sunday's message on hearing the voice of God in our lives and how our expectations drive our experience of that voice. The Fifth Way, borrowing the main thesis from Pastor Dave's book, looks at how the tactics and strategies we use to advance ourselves and manipulate our physical circumstances in this life get mixed in with our understanding of our spiritual lives--compromising both. Seeing the Way of Jesus for what it is--a completely different way of approaching God's presence in our herenow lives--a Fifth Way unlike any of the first four we use daily to cope with life, is the first step along that Way.
audio [mp3] | duration: 35:35, size: 6.3 mb
expectation and effect
dave brisbin | [03.30.08]
What does it mean to hear God, to feel his presence? How does God interact with us? Does God speak louder and clearer to some and less so to others, or is his communication with all of us exactly the same? And what of the heroes of Scripture? Did they have an unfair advantage over the rest of us when God was speaking through burning bushes as opposed to what we get today? We touched on all this and looked at the case of John the Baptist, who lost his certainty of Jesus and his ministry as well. What happened to John, what happens to all of us? And how do our expectations of what and how God speaks affect our experience of him? God is the same yesterday, today, and forever--and that's a good place to start.
audio [mp3] | duration: 35:31, size: 6.3 mb
i have made all things new
The program from the Easter Gathering was not recorded, but if you'd like to read through the script, it is available here. Through a "theater of the mind" production, we looked at the personal emotions and challenges facing the first followers of Jesus immediately following the crucifixion and through to their understanding of the Resurrection. Those stories were then connected to personal stories of transformation and rebirth in those around us.
in our right minds
dave brisbin | [03.16.08]
A famous neuroanatomist has a stroke in the left side of her brain and experiences the sensation of not being able to think about her thoughts, of having no language to describe her experience, of having to live the moments following her stroke rather than think about them. Our left brains, the hemisphere that processes linearly and methodically, thinks in language, is all about past and future, and is the voice that separates us from the present. Our right brains, the hemisphere that processes only the stream of sensations that constitute the present moment, thinks in images, has no filter, no objective capacity, and is always part of the stream of consciousness. We need our left minds in order to be human and to live as humans in a human world. But we will never be fully human until we learn to live the better part of our lives in our right minds.
audio [mp3] | duration: 38:16, size: 6.4 mb
colors of god
dave brisbin | [03.09.08]
Reminding us that there is only one source of physical light in our world--the sun...and only one source of spiritual light as well--God. The difference between a religion and a cult, between an expression of God and an experience of God is always the rebirth of a transformed life. Where we see such transformation, healing, restoration, recovery--we are seeing the effects of the light of God. Each transforming life carries a part of that light and Jesus is teaching us to see the light and hold it close, undistracted by the religious or cultish trappings that continue to separate and divide us as people of God.
audio [mp3] | duration: 33.47, size: 5.9 mb
dave brisbin | [03.02.08]
What was Jesus' view of life and spirituality? Looking at a very difficult passage from MT 11, where Jesus says that "the Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence and violent men take it by force." What in the world is he talking about? How does that square with anything we know of Jesus and his Kingdom? Like forensic detectives, we look for clues through both the Old and New Testaments to find the clues to Jesus' original intent that points us toward living life abundantly--breaking through barriers to find life, challenge, and freedom in open pasture.
audio [mp3] | duration: 26.41, size: 4.7 mb
message in a bottle
dave brisbin | 02.24.08]
In the context of Jesus' teaching on old and new wineskins, we look at the difference between the message (content) and the bottle (container) by examining the way we process information as individuals and as a culture. The youngest among us process information in an EPIC way, that is: experiential, participatory, image-based, and communal--all active and immersive processes. When we understand that the ancients and Jesus were also EPIC, the fact that we in the middle typically process in a non-EPIC, passive way highlights the transition we need to make to fully understand Jesus' message as opposed to any bottle in which it may come.
audio [mp3] | duration: 38:28, size: 6.8 mb
a muscular spirituality
dave brisbin | [02.17.08]
We look at the sum of Jesus' teaching in the first part of Mt 6 and looks at how we as a society and we as a church have allowed ourselves to become passive in our dealings with life--passive aggressive, even. It's this psychological and spiritual passivity that leads to a permanent victimhood where all empowerment to live as Jesus is leading us becomes impossible. When Jesus tells us to put our treasure in the things of heaven, it's a call to actively immerse in those things that draw us and the Father together. There is no substitute for action in Jesus' Way; it's a muscular sort of spirituality..
audio [mp3] | duration: 36:14, size: 6.4 mb
dave brisbin | [01.20.08]
Looking at the definition of peace and the spiritual journey from a different perspective. The Way of Jesus is not meant to imply the absence of tension in life--just the opposite. One measure of really following Jesus is the presence of a "sacred tension," the purposeful balance between what we typically see as opposites, but really are two sides of the same reality. Looked at this way, the borders in life become the uncomfortable places of transition and transformation that are the hallmark of Kingdom. I feel this is a key concept--please take a listen if you missed it...
audio [mp3] | duration: 38:15, size: 6.7 mb
following the star
dave brisbin | [12.30.07]
Continuing the thought from the previous Sunday (The Star of Bethlehem), we look at how we can follow the star of our desire for more perfect relationships with God and each other. Using concrete examples from scripture and life, we discuss how to break through our own insensitivity, uncertainty, and complacency to take a journey as the Magi did to find truth.
audio [mp3] | duration: 41:40, size: 7.3 mb
star of bethlehem
dave brisbin | [12.23.07]
The gospel of Matthew gives us the story of the Magi following the star of Bethlehem. What was that star? Scholars and historians have been fascinated with that question for two milennia now, but no one really knows. Was it a miraculous star, a comet, supernova, conjunction of planets? Others contend it was an astrological alignment that may only occur once in 40 million years. But even more possibly, all this misses the point. What was it that drove learned gentiles from another race, culture, and kingdom to seek a new king in far off land, and to accept that king as a infant in the unlikeliest of circumstances? Following that star has many implications for our lives right herenow.
audio [mp3] | duration: 35:44, size: 6.3 mb
dave brisbin | [12.16.07]
The Sunday messages, "Christmas Truce" and "The Star of Bethlehem" look at Christmas through the eyes of WWI soldiers locked in the trenches of the Western Front and the amazing, spontaneous truce struck by those British and German soldiers--and through the eyes of the Magi who followed a star across the no-man's-land of desert, culture, and religion to lay themselves down before the truth they found in a speechless, poor infant.
audio [mp3] | duration: 40:09, size: 7 mb
three faces of god
dave brisbin | [11.25.07]
"Three Faces of God" looks at the supreme difficulty of changing our worldviews--about the hardest thing a human can do. And yet, Scripture is demanding just that from us--in fact there are three major wordview shifts recorded in the Old and New Testaments that came completely out of blue sky to three towering figures in Scripture. The message is that without a personal, realtime relationship with God, such worldview shifts aren't possible, and without shifting our worldview, we just can't know out God.
audio [mp3] | duration: 38:27, size: 6.8 mb
orange colorblind: micro and macro
dave brisbin | [10.28.07]
Visiting a drug offender in prison, waiting at the window for him to come to the other side of the glass, a young woman a few seats down is speaking to her husband/boyfriend--and the look in her eyes and the animation and smiles as she speaks makes it clear that she is completely blind to his orange jumpsuit. The law can only see the offense, and punishes in the macro according to its standard. A young woman loves in the micro regardless of offenses or macro standards. When we begin to understand that our God is orange colorblind too, we can begin to relax knowing that he looks at us and smiles like a young woman with her man.
audio [mp3] | duration: 41:17, size: 7.3 mb
all i have is yours
dave brisbin | [10.14.07]
Why do so few people reallly see the connection between themselves and others? Often we can connect with those in our own family or club or religion or race, but then see all others as other. How big is our bubble of connection, who does it contain? If it's small, why? Is it fear of limited resources--that we need to secure for ourselves and our own first at the expense of others? When the older brother of the prodigal sons complains to his father for throwing a party for the returning wayward boy, his father simply says that "you are always with me, and all I have is yours." What part of "all" don't we understand? If we already have all there is to get, why are we outraged to discover that everyone else already has all there is too?
audio [mp3] | duration: 30:57, size: 5.4 mb
the problem of evil
dave brisbin | [08.19.07]
The message is called "The Problem of Evil" and it really was something we needed to discuss, since we're exposed to some really difficult and truly evil behavior in our lives and in the media. How do we deal with all this? What does it mean in terms of how we should treat and feel about each other? And what does it say about God's nature and love? How we deal with the problem of evil in our lives and the world has everything to do with how we view God, each other, and the bigger problem of love.
audio [mp3] | duration: 42:27, size: 7.5 mb
dave brisbin | [08.12.07]
Through a connection between Jesus' teaching in the Lord's Prayer and the sixth step of AA, we examine our readiness for change in our lives--to be delivered from evil.
audio [mp3] | duration: 41:34, size: 7.3 mb
dave brisbin | [06.17.07]
Here we look at the Hebrew concept of family roles and relationshps that is actually encoded right into their alphabet and language, and how that understanding of family was used by Jesus to begin to teach about the relationship we have with our Father God.
audio [mp3] | duration: 26:27, size: 4.7 mb
dave brisbin | [06.10.07]
If you want to know the quality of your relationship with God, if you want to know how securely you are living in Kingdom, look no further than the quality of your relationships with others. And not just any others, but those closest to you, those with whom you hang your toothbrush. The innermost circles of relationships tell us all we need to know about our ability to live and love as Jesus lived and loved.
audio [mp3] | duration: 27:28, size: 4.8 mb
starting where it hurts
dave brisbin | [06.03.07]
We think of negative emotions as "bad," but are they really? Anger, envy, jealously, guilt, even anxiety and stress are the indicators that something is wrong. Like a hand on a hot stove, the pain tells us it's time to move. Negative emotions tell us it's time to move too--to make different choices to see things a different way in order to live a different way. When there are so many choices and so much uncertainty, where do we start? Starting where it hurts is the best way to be relevant and prioritized in our life choices.
audio [mp3] | duration: 33:01, size: 5.8 mb
getting god's punchlines
dave brisbin | [05.27.07]
We often take our spiritual journeys very seriously. That's fine to a point, but if we can't see the humor in life, if our love remains all hard work and no play, then we're missing the point of God's nature and Jesus' message. When we can stop white-knuckling through life and start to enjoy the ride, when we realize that there's always another party in God's pocket and he has an infinite number of best friends, we can start to live as if God has whispered a joke in our ear that breaks us into laughter every time it comes to mind.
audio [mp3] | duration: 32:27, size: 5.7 mb
that's why we're here
dave brisbin | [05.20.07]
At our first regular Sunday Gathering, we lay out the basics of what theeffect is all about and what principles and models we intend to follow in order to become recovered and transformed enough to "live theeffect of God's love" in all the moments of our lives.
audio [mp3] | duration: 52:30, size: 9.2 mb
dave brisbin | [02.13.07]
If you're here, you're not anywhere else. Seems such an obvious statement as to be nearly absurd in its uselessness. But really, it makes an all important point. Because we can only be one place at a time, whenever we say yes to one thing, we say no to everything else. Our presence anywhere says that of all the places we could be and of all the people we could be with, we choose you-here-now. The gift of our presence is the gift of our time, which is the gift of ourselves. Understanding the nature of this gift is the first step toward valuing our presence and making our presence valuable.
audio [mp3] | duration: 29:02, size: 5.1 mb
freedom and forgiveness
dave brisbin | [12.03.06]
Freedom, liberation and forgiveness are the same word in Aramaic: sebaq. To really understand forgiveness is to understand that to be forgiven is to be set free and to be set free is to be forgiven, but the real understanding comes when we begin to realize who is doing the setting free.
audio [mp3] | duration: 30:13, size: 5.3 mb
dave brisbin | [11.05.06]
The hero's journey, that story humans have told themselves over and over in all our myths and legends, has a shape to it that mirrors the journey to which Jesus is calling us. Learning something about the shape of that journey can help along the Way.
audio [mp3] | duration: 36:18, size: 6.4 mb
dave brisbin | [08.06.06]
In all the hype, confusion, and maze of interpretation about biblical prophecy concerning the last days, what is real, what can be trusted, and what is really important?
audio [mp3] | duration: 50:36, size: 8.9 mb
many are called--few choose to be chosen
dave brisbin | [07.02.06]
When we begin to understand that we are all being called by God, we begin to understand more about God's love and nature, and that the choosing belongs to us.
audio [mp3] | duration: 52:13, size: 9.2 mb
between expectation and circumstance
dave brisbin | [06.11.06]
Everything we need to be either deliriously happy or abjectly miserable exists in the space between expectation and circumstance.
audio [mp3] | duration: 49:23, size: 8.7 mb
enjoying the ride
dave brisbin | [05.07.06]
Life really is supposed to be fun. What's no longer good enough about the Good News that we're not enjoying the ride.
audio [mp3] | duration: 55:31, size: 9.8 mb
dave brisbin | [04.02.06]
How do we make the hard choices in life, the really agonizing ones? Thinking in different directions about God's will and the nature of prayer, and looking at Jesus' decision-making process can really help.
audio [mp3] | duration: 41:21, size: 7.3 mb
the shape of the journey
dave brisbin | [03.05.06]
Every person's spiritual journey is unique, but every person's spiritual journey has the same shape and the same markers and milestones. Learning the shape of our journey helps us to gauge process and progress along the Way.
audio [mp3] | duration: 45:33, size: 8 mb
the fifth way
dave brisbin | [02.05.06]
There are four basic ways that we as humans navigate through life--trying to get what we need and manipulating circumstances in our favor. But Jesus is showing us a fifth way, completely out of phase with the other four, that will take us everywhere we really want to go.
audio [mp3] | duration: 51:26, size: 9 mb