Monday, January 31, 2011

Victorious Living through Christ pt3 "A Greater GPS in Life", First Congregational UCC, Rock Springs, WY

Victorious Living through Christ:
“A Greater GPS in Life” part 3
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
First Congregational UCC, Rock Springs, WY 1/30/2011

This last week I was in New York City attending a workshop on “Finding the Preachers Inner Voice”. For those of you who are not familiar with NYC, the city in general is very easy to navigate around. Once you understand how the city is laid out, you can pretty much get around and not use a lot of brain power trying to figure out directions. Needless to say, there is a world of difference between NYC and Rock Springs; especially when it comes to navigating around town.
The majority of NYC is platted in a grid, running North to South and East to West, with most of the streets being named in numbers. For instance, my hotel address was 59 W. 35th St. It was between 5th and 6th Avenue. Have I already confused you? Once you learn that 5th Avenue is the dividing line between East and West, you are on your way to easily getting around town. You also have to know that Avenues run north to south and Streets run east to west. With this amount of information, you will be able to navigate.
Growing up in Kansas, where almost all the cities were laid out in a grid, it is pretty easy for me to understand the system that NYC has. Growing up in Kansas, I was also privileged to have full view of the sun, so I could always look up to the sky, knowing what time of day it was and know which direction was east, west, north, and south. I also grew up learning that each block has its own “100” series of numbers; meaning the dividing line would start out with 0-99, the next block would then be 100-199, and so on.
In NYC there are very, very tall buildings, which block out the direct view of the sun, so understanding the numbering system is very important, since you can’t just look up and use the sun to figure out if you need to go to the left or right, or up the street or down the street. Another thing I learned as a child in Kansas, is that blocks are generally even in length. In NYC, they have long blocks and short blocks! When walking north and south on the Avenues, you are walking the short blocks. When walking the streets, which are east to west, you are walking the long blocks. This being another thing different than what I grew up learning. Finally, the other interesting thing in NYC is that each block doesn’t necessarily hold to the numbering system that I understood. I discovered that both on the Avenues as well as on the Streets that you might have two or three blocks with the same “100s”.
For example, using the corner of 5th Avenue and W. 35th Street and I want to walk south on 5th Ave to an address of in the 1300 block, and I was in the 1500 block, you would assume that I would be walking only two blocks south. Not true, I actually would have walked 6 blocks south, for the “100” block ran for three of their blocks before changing. Now luckily these were the short blocks. But if I were needing to get to an address that was on an Avenue, I could not use my understanding of distance based on the length of a Street, because Streets are longer in distance.
Okay, once I have all this new information stored in my and I have tested it by walking a number of miles on the sidewalks, able to judge my estimated time of arrival, not only by foot, but had gain sufficient knowledge to be able to judge timing by using taxis as well, I then decide to rely on my newly adjusted internal GPS and get onto the subway system. From my hotel, I decided I wanted to go to the north end of the theater district, and walk back to the center of the Times Square area. I get off at 53rd Street, walk in the correct direction to Broadway (an exception to the numbering system of Avenue/Street) and then on Broadway down toward 42nd Street, allowing me to view many of the theaters that not only lined Broadway but also those off Broadway. After lunch I took the subway back to the 34th Street station, which was just three building from my hotel.
Well, when I got up to the street level, I discovered that I wasn’t on 6th Avenue but rather on 7th Avenue. I walked to the opposite end of the block realizing that I was now at 8th Avenue. Not sure by this point which way was east so I could get to 35th Street, I did the cardinal seen for men, I asked a woman for directions. I followed her direction for one block and realized she sent me in the wrong direction. But, I had gained enough wrong information to correct my internal GPS and headed back to my hotel without incident or needless walking.
This morning’s Gospel on the Beatitudes is a bit like my experience in New York City. I was raised with a set of foundations designed to help me navigate in my environment, and based on those foundations, should I find myself lost in a wilderness area, I could use to help me become un-lost. We call those foundations, “Conventional Wisdom”. Be when I found myself in New York City, I easily became confused and going in the wrong direction because my conventional wisdom wasn’t large enough to help me find my way. I was needing a greater GPS than what I was operating with.
So, what does conventional wisdom give us to help deal with life experiences? Conventional wisdom tells us that the wise person, will be happiest when they have amassed great wealth, for you can buy anything with want with enough money. A wise person should possess power, for then they will be in control of their environment and they will not get pushed around. A wise person will have independence and should be clever enough to get what they want out of life, even at the cost of others.
This is the conventional wisdom we are being bombarded with on every level, every day of our life. T.V. ads tell us, that we will be happier if only we own this type of cell phone, to be able to receive information at 4 g. We will be more comfortable if we only live in a Mac Mansion, where we have more bathrooms than we do bedrooms. Reality shows like Donald Trump, tell us that stepping on people to climb the corporate latter is not only acceptable but desirable.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul states, “For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise… For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.’” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught this same lesson. The word “blessed” translate into “bringing happiness”. Hear how Eugene Peterson helps in translating this challenge to conventional wisdom. Matthew 5:
 3"You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
 4"You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
 5"You're blessed when you're content with just who you are—no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought.
 6"You're blessed when you've worked up a good appetite for God. He's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever eat.
 7"You're blessed when you care. At the moment of being 'care-full,' you find yourselves cared for.
 8"You're blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
 9"You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family.
The next step toward a Victorious Life in Christ, is to turn our will and our lives over to the Care and understanding of God! When we turn our lives over to God, we are allowing for a greater GPS to become internalized. With the wisdom found in turning over our will to God, even though it goes against the conventional wisdom of the world, we will become blessed, we will be “happy”. For we only find closeness to God when we are in need, we only recognize that we are in need, when we have become empty; empty of what the world teaches will make us happy. The truth is, we are always looking for something, to fill the void in our internal life. We can either continue the chase by listening to the GPS that is standardized by the foolishness of the world, or we can look to a greater being, to the one who has greater wisdom than ourselves, the one who can provide a greater happiness if we chose, but it means giving up what we’ve been taught and listening to God’s teachings and letting go of the old and letting God become our guide, our map quest, our ultimate GPS. Amen.

Victorious Living through Christ pt 2 "What Are You Looking For?", First Congregational UCC, Rock Springs, WY

Victorious Living through Christ, part 2
“What Are You Looking For?”
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
First Congregational UCC, Rock Springs, WY 1/16/2011

This morning’s Gospel reading tells us how Jesus begins gathering his disciples. It all seems very innocent with John the Baptist declaring every time he sees Jesus, to be the “Lamb of God”, suddenly two of his own disciples leave him to go and follow Jesus. I wonder what John was feeling when Andrew and the other unnamed disciple left him to follow this Jesus.
How would you feel if this happened to you? Lets say for example, two families, we will call them the Smith’s and the Jones, had found their way through the front doors here at First Congregational. As a congregation, we receive them in, we extend our emotional support to them, we spend time teaching them the lessons of scripture, since neither of these families have ever been to a church before, we baptize them, invite them to become members of our faith community; in essence they have become a part of us.
Then one Sunday morning I announce from the pulpit that a new church has been started down town and that the minister there seemed to be doing a good job in preaching the “Good News”. A few weeks pass by and there is a community gathering of praise being held in this church. The guest speaker just happens to be the new minister of this new church, named The Church of What’s Happening Now. I introduce the new minister as a person who is one who “understands” the word of God and that this new church specializes in healing ministry. After the service is over, the Smith’s and the Jones become acquainted with the new minister. The next week we don’t see the Smith’s or Jones in church. It isn’t long before we find out that these two families, who had been so warmly nurtured by us, have left First Congregational and are now attending the services of the newly formed Church of What’s Happening Now.
Our first response might be one of anger, not toward the new minister, but rather of the Smith’s and Jones for leaving us for that new church and following that new minister. And these thoughts would be logical from the stand point of the amount of time and emotional energy that we as a congregation invested into them. Our negative thoughts would stem from a sense of betrayal and of rejection; rejection because we had opened ourselves up to them, making ourselves vulnerable. It brings up questions like, “what’s wrong with us”, or possibly “why aren’t we good enough for them” and maybe even deeper questions might be asked such as: “aren’t we preaching the gospel here?”
I think this particular segment of the Gospel that is being shared with us today, is probably one of the most important that we will ever find in scripture. It is important because it asks a question that not only sets the stage for Jesus’ ministry, but is the basic question that all of humanity continues to ask itself, day in and day out. After John the baptizer has pointed out the man who was walking by as being “the Lamb of God”, Andrew and another disciple of John’s start following Jesus. Jesus stops, turns around and asks the question of all questions, “What are you looking for?”
When we personalize this question to be “What am I looking for”, we begin to ask one of life’s most challenging question, which seems to have plagued human kind since its origins. Andrew and the other disciple didn’t leave John for Jesus because John was not preaching “truth”, but rather because they saw that in Jesus, they would find more than what they already were experiencing. Andrew is like most of us, we are looking for something that will bring more meaning into our lives!
Last Sunday, I presented the first of a number of steps that we need to recognize and then work through in order to experience the most out of ourselves and life, which God would wish for us. That first step was to: recognize that we are powerless of the sin within our lives, and that through that sin, our lives are unmanageable. The second step that I would suggest in our journey to seeking a Victorious life through Christ is, to come to believe in the love of God, who forgave us and accepted us in spite of all that we are and have done.
The Apostle Paul puts it this way in Romans by saying, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” I like the way Eugene Peterson puts it, “But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.”
After we admit that we are by nature filled with sin, the next step then, is to seek out that which is pure love. A love that is more radical than that which we have most likely experienced. The Greeks have three differing words for love: Eros, Phileo, and Agape. Eros is the lowest form of love, as it deals with the physical. It is the physical passion that comes when two people are attracted to each other. Phileo love is what we normally think of the words "brotherly love". Phileo love is about feelings, and is what friendships are built upon. Agape love is about how we act toward others, it is also the type of love that we attribute to the actions of Jesus and of God.
Agape love is the type of love that is “unconditional” as opposed to conditional love. Conditional meaning that there is some condition that must be met in order for something to happen. If we are talking about love, then it means that there is some sort of action that must be taken in order to receive that love which is given conditionally. A large number of the people have been raised with some degree of “conditional love”, which affects how they will react to both receiving love and acceptance, or in how they give love and acceptance.
The love that Paul is sharing in today’s text is about God’s “unconditional love” for us. “…when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” In the 1990 American thriller film, Flat liners, starring Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, William Baldwin and Oliver Platt as medical students using physical science in an attempt to find out if there's anything out there beyond death by conducting clandestine experiments with near-death experiences, a common experience occurred with all five medical students. They all encountered a person whom they had done something bad to as a child, and all of the victims were still living, except for the beautiful Julia Roberts experience. She was experiencing an encounter with her father who had committed suicide when she was a child. Ultimately the story line presented its self as the reason for these events were due to the fact that each of these medical students was holding onto the “action” or the “guilt” of their action toward the person they encountered.
This is the thought that I want to leave you with this morning. It is the burdens that we carry around with us, that keep us from fully accepting the loving forgiveness that comes through Christ. These things have already been forgiven, but even once we ask for forgiveness we often do not turn loose of that action. We walk around carrying it and eventually, it bogs us down. This is where the second step comes into play, we must come to believe in the love of God, who forgave us and accepted us in spite of all that we are and have done. Until we turn loose of all those hurts, of all those lost dreams, of all the wrong things that we have done toward others, then we really are not trusting, not believing in the forgiveness that God has already given us. If God has forgiven us of our offenses, then who are we to tell God that we want to carrying them around with us?
This believing in the love of God in a personal way leads us to the word we speak so freely, the word being “grace.” What is Grace? Without over simplifying it too much, it is “forgiveness of our sinful nature, by God.” Coming to believe in the love that God has toward us starts as we accept God’s forgiveness of our less than perfect lives, and the believing is demonstrated by our willingness to let go of that which we have been forgiven. “What are you looking for?” Jesus has responded with, “Come and you will see!” Amen

Victorious Living through Christ, First Congregational UCC, Rock Springs, WY

Victorious Living through Christ:
Preface to this series
First Congregational UCC, Rock Springs, WY 1/09/2011

I would like to say at the onset of today’s message that we are going to start a series of messages dealing with our personal growth that comes through Jesus Christ. There are many avenues that one can take in an attempt to grow as a person – mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. But, I think that when we choose to take the path that deals with Christ at the starting point and leads to God as the ending point, we have taken the most complete path possible for total personal growth. For what goes on within us “spiritual” affects every other aspect of our lives. It affects our energy, which affects our willingness or ability to be physically active; it affects our mental abilities, which will guide how we process information, as well as our outlook and attitude toward various things, to name just a few examples.
I hold a strong conviction that we all need to grow within our lives. As we grow from infancy to maturity, we need to work intentionally on our psyche and spiritual maturity. Over the next number of weeks we are going to examine specific steps that can lead us to living a more holistic life; emotionally and spiritually, based on the “twelve step program.” You might be thinking, “I’m not an alcoholic, why would I need to use the twelve steps program?” First off, the “twelve step” program is a “spiritually” based program, this is the reason that so many people over the decades have found recovery from their addictions, and as a “spiritually based” program, we within the church can benefit by studying and working it.
Mainline Denominational churches over the past several decades have been losing not only numbers in membership, but more alarmingly, have found it harder and harder to create a vision of what it’s purpose should be. There is a correlation with the decrease in church attendance with that of the individual Christian not nurturing their personal Spiritual and emotional growth.

“I can do it Myself” part 1
Based on Matthew 3: 13-17 and Romans 7:7-25

Children are a great source of information that as adults, we can learn from, if we take the time to observe and then think upon the lessons that they so unselfishly offer to us. This is one reason why Jack Linkletter’s “Kid’s say the darn-dest things” was such a popular segment of his T.V. program. Children are so full of energy and physical activity; you can almost see them wiggling inside their own skin! More times than not, when a child decides that they want to do something, they just do it, not thinking through how that might affect the world around them. As a parent, this becomes the challenge of how do you let your child grow, experience the things that they wish to do, and yet keep them safe in the process and more importantly, not crush that natural will of “self?”
We don’t have a lot of information about Jesus when he was a child, so it is very difficult for us to know what he was like as a child. Was Jesus a typical boy, getting into fights, throwing stones at birds, playing soldier, those things that we tend to associate in general behavior of little boys; or was he more of the sensitive type, interested in reading, music, overly obedient and polite?
We do have one story that does give us just a little insight about Jesus as a child. It was when his family had gone to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage and as they were journeying home, couldn’t find Jesus. In a panic they retraced their 3 days of journey back to Jerusalem and finally found Jesus sitting with the elders at the temple discussing theology. On the surface of the story, we tend to think highly toward the actions of Jesus, and less favorably about the reaction of his parents as they scolded him for not being with them. Yet, the story implies that Jesus is still under parental care of Joseph and Mary, and that Jesus didn’t tell his parents of his intensions, or possibly, he asked if he could stay and being told no, directly disobeyed. We don’t know what actually happened behind the scenes, but the fact is, Jesus’ actions, created a huge distress to his parents.
Paul gives us a clue as well into human nature when he writes as a confession, “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do: No, the evil I do not want to do, this I keep doing.” We too often think of the disciples as well as the Apostle Paul and others that are mentioned within scripture as being “saints”, which generally translates into an image of a person who never did anything wrong. We know that isn’t true, but from a subliminal thought process, this often is the case. Of course we all know what the true definition of a saint is, “A person who we no longer have to put up with.”
The church has done this with Jesus. We read story after story with the lens of two thousand years of theology and we don’t always detect the “humanist” of Christ and that there were things he said and did that really are not consistent with Christian-Judeo Theology, making Jesus not human. Yet, Jesus himself understood the need to go through the ritual of being baptized, even to the protest of his cousin John. If Jesus was God, and never knew sin, then why would the king of kings need to go through baptism? The reason is, by going through baptism, you are surrendering yourself to a higher power, and this is why we look to baptism as a sacrament.
As Christians, we tend to think that once we have been baptized, especially if we do this as a teenager or an adult, that we will magically become Christ like and that we will not have struggles with those things that we perceive as “negative behavior” or feelings that we previously recognized as the reason to be baptized. Then comes the reality that we still have the old behavior, that old nature within us and we can become dis-allusioned about the saving grace that comes from God.
Again, if we look at the stories about Christ, we can gain insight that after Jesus was baptized, he was confronted with his demons, while he was out in the wilderness for forty days. He had to deal with those things within his grasp that could have turned his mission into self gain and not a greater good. We see time and time again, where Jesus went off into solitude, so he could reconnect with the power that was greater than his; to re-align himself with God.
Paul, who was the early churches most aggressive evangelist, points out in his letter to the Romans, that as Christians, we still fall short of what God desires for us, which is the reason why we need to be in constant prayer with God. The truth that comes from what Paul is sharing, is this, “We all struggle with sin issues – whether we are Christian or not. We all are plagued with not living in harmony with God’s desires for us. Paul asks, “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks are to God … Through Jesus Christ our lord.”
Paul is telling us there is hope and there is a rescue from sin, it is Christ. What we, especially as Christians need to do, is to go back to our first love. Christ! To be able to do this, we first need to admit that we are truly powerless over sin in our life and that our spiritual lives are unmanageable. This is the starting point for us to become healed children of God and live what we call a victorious life.
The first step is confession. One of the acts that the Roman Catholic church encourages is going to the confessional each week. We as protestants tend to resist this action, out of a theology of what we call “Priesthood of believers”, which means that we as individuals can go to God directly and plead our case and not needing to go to a Priest to intercede for us before God. Yet, there is truly a healing value by using a third person in the act of confession.
In AA meetings, the very first step to recovery is to stand up before everyone and admit to all that you are an alcoholic. The success of this first step only comes by admitting this condition before another person. The sin issue that plagues our life is no different than that of a drug addition, healing and growth only starts with admitting that issue, not just between you and God, but by including another person. Many Christians use their pastor as this third person, but it doesn’t have to be; this person could be your best friend, a parent, even your hair dresser. The difference for the Christian is when doing this in prayer, admitting we are powerless over that thing which controls us, that is when Christ is able to enter in and start working in the healing that is promised to come to us, through the holy spirit. “Hi, everybody, my name is Steven and I’m a sinner.” Amen.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Word With Us, Frist Congregational UCC, Rock Springs, WY Jan 2,2011

The Word with Us!
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
First Congregational UCC, Rock Springs, WY 1/02/2011
Based on John 1:1-18 & Ephesians 3:1-12

This morning’s Gospel reading happens to be one of the traditional nine lessons that are read at any “Lessons and Carols” candle light service. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Out of the four Gospels only two, Matthew and Luke give a birth narrative; of Joseph and Mary being told that they were to become a part of the greatest event this world has ever known, the birth of Jesus. The Gospel of Mark forgoes the birth story and start’s with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. The Gospel of John actually starts not with the story of Jesus once he was born or start of his ministry, but actually goes to the beginning of time and talks about the existence of Christ prior to his appearance here in this world.
There is a childhood saying that we all grow up learning, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me!” Of course, we parrot this as a kind of shield, hoping to stop “those words” before they are spoken. Words are in fact very powerful. They have the ability to build up or to destroy, whether they were intended to do so or not. Every child that is born, is born with unlimited potential. This potential is either encouraged and re-enforced or crushed and restricted by the words that are spoken each day to that child.
John shares with us in the opening lines of his Gospel, that the word is truly powerful. The word is an instrument of God, the word in and of itself has no power to do anything until it is spoken. It is in the “speaking” of the word, that God does any creating. John does this interplay with Christ, God, and the Word. All three seem to be a part of each other, yet nothing happens until the Word is spoken. “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” “And the Word became flesh and lived among us…”
So, John establishes that Christ is a part of God and was present in the beginning just as God was present. It is then through the word of God, that of God speaking that brings “life”, and that life ultimately becomes the “light” of all people. Now John throws a new twist into the story by saying, “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh (meaning sexual intercourse) or of the will of humanity, but of God.” It is within this statement that we then find our own reality within the working of God.
What I understand this passage to say to me is this: when we allow God to be born in our heart, we to begin a journey in our life as a part of God incarnate. This is consistent with the teaching of Jesus when he consistently refers to God not only as his Father but also as our Father, or through the parable where he speaks about how the head of the house doesn’t confide with the servant, but rather with other members of the household, and there are the reference where Jesus calls us as his brothers and sisters. It is within the “Word” that we too become the “light” to all people. The “Word” was active through Christ and the “Word” is now active through us! “The Word, then, isn’t an intellectualized, conceptual God but an enfleshed, living, breathing God who shares our sorrows and joys, our sufferings and struggles and hope.”UCC sermon seed 1/02/2011
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he states that he is a prisoner of Christ. This is a significant statement to those who first heard these words, as Paul was stating, even though he was in jail, he wasn’t held captive by Rome, but rather his heart was being held captive by the words, the teachings, by the resurrection of Christ. Paul also states that his ministry is because of this “light”; this mystery of God goes beyond the original understanding that God was god of only the Hebrews, but rather, this “light” is for the gentile world as well.
The reason for Paul constantly landing into prison was because of his devotion, his commitment to God. Do we carry within our hearts this same sense of “imprisonment” as Paul did? What does this ultimately mean to us, this being imprisoned by the Word of God? It means that, “Submission to God’s gift of light carries the obligation to accept and proclaim the inclusion of all people” William Self, Feasting on the word, pg 211
I am always talking about the importance of “the mission of the church”, about the need to have a vision of what this mission is, for without it, then the church will eventually wither and die. “When the church catches the vision and commitment about being a “prisoner” of Christ, its mission is defined, and all that is done is measured by this. This revealed truth is held in stewardship William Self, Feasting on the word, pg 211 What we have: money, charity, grace and mercy, is then in abundance and not seen as something to monopolize and withhold and dispense sparingly.
This means that we will not be able to turn our backs upon “social justice” and “peace” issues. Over the years my focus and involvement on social justice issues has changed widely. Back in Kittitas, I served more on local boards that dealt with issues that directly affected the local population. While living in Seattle, my attention and energies seemed to focus more in public relation type organizations that would address issues that were focused on the GLBT community. Since I have been here in Rock Springs, I see my efforts working at state levels as well as local. This coming Saturday, Jan 8th, a workshop on “The Churches response to Immigration”, will take place in Cheyenne.
Immigration is a core value to us all. As individual’s, we will approach the topic with either a fear based perspective coming from scarcity and monopoly, or we will approach it from an understanding of abundance and sharing, which comes out of an understanding of God’s abundance of grace and giving to us.
I find for myself much in the same state of mind as the Apostle Paul, of being a prisoner to God and of Christ’s teachings. I cannot come to the communion table this morning and not recognize the abundance of which God gives daily in my life. My ability to be sustained in my ministry, whether it was as a lay person or through my vocation, comes because of the vision that I have, my personal mission of what God’s Word is; it is through my submission (this being imprisoned) to God’s gift of light that obligates me to share on many differing levels with all of God’s children.
As we come before God this morning at his table of abundant love and grace, I challenge you to examine your hearts and see where you stand with God. Is God, just an intellectual concept, something that is “outside” of where you live, or is God a spoken word within you, one that is enfleshed, living, and breathing, who shares your sorrows and joys, your sufferings and struggles and hope.
I have shared with many of you about the change in spirit, in this room, that I have felt within the first few months of my coming. It wasn’t long after that, we reached what I call critical mass, which gave us a sense that things were turning around as a congregation. What I am speaking about today, that of allowing “the Word of God” to be spoken within your hearts, will be another turning point for this church. As more people start to experience this depth of imprisonment that Paul speaks about, then this church will begin to capture its own vision of mission, and there will be a new song being sung in the life of this churches life! Amen