The Truth Will Set You Free

The following is a transcript of the message preached at the First Baptist Church of Bristol, VT on 8 January, 2017.


Psalm 25;  John 8:12, 25-47; 14:5-31; 16:7-15

Good morning!  And Happy 2017!  

Last month, I visited and talked a bit about the power of story.  How the stories that we tell ourselves play into our perception of reality, and how we are participants in the one overarching Gospel story.  

This morning, I would like to dive in a little further and dig into the concept of Truth, especially as it pertains to those who follow Jesus.

Miriam Webster’s Dictionary defines Truth as fidelity, constancy, sincerity in action, character, and utterance; the state of being the case, fact, the body of real things, events, and facts; actuality, a transcendent fundamental or spiritual reality, a judgment, proposition, or idea that is true or accepted as true, the body of true statements and propositions; the property of being in accord with fact or reality, true, fidelity to an original or to a standard; or capitalized Christian Science :  god.

Jesus defines truth as follows:  “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples (Another translation puts it: “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings”).  32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8: 31-32), and “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14: 6).  

Here’s the thing:  Jesus’s teaching isn’t just about how to think.  And it’s not just about our personal salvation.  Though both of those things are parts of his teachings.  

Jesus’ teaching is about how to live.  

And to be a disciple isn’t something that is set aside for a few holy folks.  

To be a Christian is to be a disciple of Jesus, to be seeking after Him, to be learning to follow Him.  

Jesus doesn’t just tell us, “Here is how to think about things, sit back, relax, ponder long and hard, come to know all the right things, all the facts, and all will be well, let the clergy take care of the Kingdom work…”

No, Jesus shows us how to live.  He places us in the midst of an experimental classroom that is our life.  We see who God is, come to know His truth, through who Jesus is.  

Being a disciple isn’t merely head learning.  It’s learning how to transform one’s life, and thus, how to transform the world.

The Truth isn’t information.  

The Truth is in formation.

So, what does Jesus mean when he tells us that this truth will set us free?

Dallas Willard writes, in his book, The Divine Conspiracy, “he is saying that we will be liberated from all of the bondage that is in human life through sin, and especially from that of self-righteous religion.  Positively, we will be liberated into life in the kingdom of God” (DC, p296).

Well, I think there are a couple of things to glean here.  

Going back to the first half of the 20th Century, there are subtle differences in the notion of being free from something, or negative freedom, and being free to do something, or positive freedom.  

Being free from something is saying that there is nothing stopping me from doing something.  No one is telling me not to, so I can… Or you may be telling me not to, but I really don’t care, so I can anyways.

We are free from having to live up to some cultural image of what a man or a woman should be.  We are free from the worldly definitions of success.  We are free from having to fit into a particular pigeon-hole.  

Being free to do something is saying that “I make myself, and answer to no one else, I am free to become who I want to be.”

We are free to live our lives for the Kingdom.  We are free to sacrifice.  We are free to love. We are free to live well, to live a life that is actually worth something.  We are free to come truly alive while we yet live.  

The typical example to portray these two versions of freedom, and to tease them apart a bit is an analogy where you are driving your car, and heading down the road.  You come to a four way intersection, and are able to go straight ahead or turn either direction; you are free from any roadblocks keeping you from choosing any of the directions before you, thus exhibiting negative freedom.  So you turn one direction.  Then you make another turn.  Now consider that the reason you made the turns you did was because you were suffering an addiction, and you ended up at the drugstore to buy cigarettes, a liquor store to make a substantial purchase, or a parking lot to meet a dealer to pick up a bag of heroin.  And furthermore, making the turns you did, brought you away from another important appointment that you were supposed to keep.  The addiction was what was really driving the vehicle, thus exhibiting a lack of positive freedom  (The Art of Manliness Blog).  

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to reduce my sugar intake.  As part of doing so, I have cut out sweetening up my coffee.  Now, I could look at this as being freed from having to put sweetener in my coffee, or I can look at it as being free to taste the more nuanced flavors in my coffee without covering them over with sugar.  

And I would add a secondary layer to Positive Freedom, which is being free to live for a greater purpose than ourselves.  When I know the Truth of Christ, I’m not just free to be the person I make myself to be, but I am free to become the person I was made to be.

One of the things that causes a roadblock to non-believers coming to know Christ, or even for those of us on the path to knowing Christ to knowing him more deeply is a simple, juvenile version of negative freedom.  

We often find people thinking, “Well, if I can’t still do x, y, and z, there’s no way I’d ever want to be a Christian.”

It is possible to view certain freedoms as imprisonment based on our perspective.  Based on the lenses we are looking through, those stories we tell ourselves, whether true or false, because the very nature of making choices is that other choices become no longer within our grasp.

And then we fret over the cost rather than the value, missing the bridge from negative to positive freedom, if we realize we have any freedom at all.  

We see this in our relationships.  To look at the current state of marriage in our country as one such example:  Rather than viewing marriage as the freedom to truly be yourself with another individual, to be loved for who you are, to love that individual for all they are, because of it and in spite of it, to be able to live out God’s love at it’s most intimate.

The lies of the enemy, embedded in our contemporary culture, would tell us that we are giving up our freedoms, that you are not able to see other people, you’re not able to do this, that, or the other thing, that you will no longer be able to have fun, that you are stuck.

Or we see the exact opposite lies masquerading as the truth:  you’re free to leave whenever you want, for any reason that you want; marriage should be easy, if you don’t feel head over heels in love anymore, you’re free to throw in the towel, call it quits, get a divorce and move on.  

And yet the truth of the matter is something so much deeper by far.

We are free to commit ourselves to one another.  

That is a far different thing from slavery.  

We are free to sacrifice, to live simply, to not have to try to live our lives in a manner predetermined by society to be successful.  

We are free to be bound, rather than bound to be free.  

This doesn’t only apply to marriage, but can extend to so many other layers of our lives- to being part of the Church of Christ, to our realms of employment, to simply being rooted in our communities.

Isn’t it ironic that, especially in a consumer culture, we can get caught up in being slaves to freedom?  Bound to having an open way out?  We think we’re free to pursue the next great thing, and yet, we are mindlessly enslaved to always pursuing the next big thing, constantly on the move, never resting, seemingly never-ending.  Until it does, and we lie there in our last moments wishing we had better heeded the words of Christ, and followed his teachings, and grasped onto the freedom to truly live while we were yet alive.  

Let’s take it back to Dallas Willard’s Divine Conspiracy for a moment  Willard comments, “dwelling in his word is not just intensive and continuous study of the Gospels, though it is that.  It is also putting them into practice.  To dwell in his word we must know it:  know what it is and what it means.  But we really dwell in it by putting it into practice” (DC, p296).


So, yes, we have to be regularly entering into the Scriptures, and we have to be allowing the Scripture to regularly enter into us!  And we have to put the things that we learn into practice.  Immediately.  Don’t put it off until next week.  Don’t even put it off until tomorrow.  


Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  

How do we live out this Truth with our lives as well?  How do we learn to follow the man-God, Jesus with our every breath?

One thing that we can do is to enter into the Word daily.  To intentionally set aside some time every day to dive into the Scriptures, and to commune with the Lord in prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal the Truth of Christ in our lives and through our lives, that we may come not just to know the right things, but to live the right things.  

When we follow the teachings of Jesus faithfully, Truth seeps out from our very core.

It is oh so important that we don’t follow the freedom of culture, and become slaves to “facts”, to the news, etc.  

The reason for this is two-fold.  Firstly, we end up letting circumstances dictate our emotions, and letting our emotions take control of our lives.  Secondly, we end up entrenched in a worldview that says we need all the facts.  We need to know all the things that are factually accurate, that are true, in order to know anything.  

And yet, that’s not what Jesus tells us.  Actually part of Jesus’s teaching, part of the Truth, is that we are to embrace mystery.

Jesus tells his disciples, speaking about the end times, in the books of Matthew and Mark: “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (MT 24:36, MK 13:32).  And continuing in Matthew, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (MT 24:42).

Mystery has its place in the Truth.  

And yet, we get caught up in things that may be true all the time, which actually serve to draw us away from living out the Truth, putting into practice the sum of Jesus’ teachings.

Oh, what are the sum of his teachings, by the way?  Jesus offered a rather succinct definition in Matthew 22:38-39:  “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.”

It all revolves around love.

To be truly following Christ, is to be truly and utterly dependent upon Him, to die to ourselves to come to life in Christ.

Jesus tells us that as we are going, we are to make disciples.  We are to love one another.  As we follow along the Way, we are to bring others along for the journey with us.  

We are not just to hand someone a book, and tell them, here, go read this and figure it out.  We are to live out, model, and exemplify our lives in accordance with the Word and Will of God, and invite others into that life, into the life of a community.

Our lives ought to be lived in such a manner that others notice a marked difference from the lives of people in our secular world, not to stand at opposition with those lives, but to stand as alternative, as welcoming, all-inviting, loving, counter-culture.

With this, as with all things, there is an importance of practicing good communication.  With our words and with our lives.  

We live out much of the truth of the Gospel through communing with others, through communicating with others; through our shared lives, together.  


Speaking the truth of our situation to each other brings us to a freedom we may have long been avoiding.  

The truth will set you free.  

The truth of it all is that we are individually and collaboratively disciples of Christ, that we are not perfect, and yet we are perfect in Him.

When we internalize the truth of Christ, we are freed from our slavery to our fear, and particularly our fear of admitting our fears.  It takes great strength and courage to admit our weaknesses, fears and anxieties to others.  

We have to speak to truth in order to see the truth, and to live in the truth.  We have to delve back into the teachings of Jesus, to pick up His cross and follow Him once more, to put each other before ourselves.  

Even when we’re tired, even when we’re grumpy, even when we’re hangry…

Communicating our our weaknesses, actually serves to free us from those very same weaknesses, and allows us to bear our burdens together rather than alone.  

And like any good thing, this takes practice.


Which leads me to one, final analogy:  Some of you know that I practice Historic European Martial Arts, or Historical Fencing.  As with practicing any martial art, it takes a lot of time to learn the rudimentary pieces, and then to build upon those and to build upon those with new maneuvers, new techniques, new hand-works, and footwork, and body mechanics, and then to tie it all together.  And much of this feels really strange at first, moving your body in ways it has literally never moved before, and connecting those motions together fluidly.  

We study and train our techniques from interpretations of 14th-16th century fencing manuals.

Sometimes, even now, a few years into training, I will read a passage, and think I know what it’s telling me to do.  Then I go try to pull it off, only to find out I didn’t have the slightest idea what it was telling me to do, especially when trying it out with someone else.

And often, it seems the things we feel least comfortable with are the things we need to do the most.

It takes putting the words into practice, and doing so in the context of others, to truly know what they mean.  

The same is true for following the teachings of Jesus.

So, read the words of Jesus.  And then get together with a small group of people to experiment with those words, to learn to put them into practice.  

If you need a great place to start, head over to Matthew 5 and read and reread and reread again Jesus’ teaching in his Sermon on the Mount.

Knowing the Truth without living the Truth is actually killing the Truth.

Much of the reason that Christians often fail to connect evangelism with discipleship is that, unfortunately, that is exactly what they have had modeled to them: a lack of connection between the two.  There is a faith that exists alongside Christianity, which also calls itself by the same name, and is basically used to reinforce how the individual is already living, without focusing on drawing the people therein closer to Christ, to transformation, to resurrection.  Instead of surrendering ourselves to Christ, we are often content surrendering Christ to ourselves; our whims, our wills, our desires.

So, when Jesus teaches us to love our enemies, to abstain from judging others, to live out our faith openly, to be merciful, to hunger and thirst for justice, to work for peace, to reconcile ourselves to one another, to commune with Him through prayer, worship, and fellowship, and to make room for his commandments to be written on our hearts and on our lives, we ought to be listening.  

And not only listening, but actively participating.  

Light overcomes darkness. Not the other way around.  

Now, go forth, and be the light.


The Power of Story

Here is a copy of the message I shared with the First Baptist Church of Bristol, Vermont a few weeks ago, on Sunday, December 11th.  My apologies for the lateness in getting it posted up and on here.  I haven’t been as active online lately as I once was.


Good morning!  Happy third Sunday of Advent.  Welcome to Joy Sunday!

So, we’ve got the wreath, and the candles; but what does it all mean?  Why do we do what we do?

This morning, I want to talk a bit about Story, and the role that stories play in our lives, particularly the stories that we tell ourselves about God, and the stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves.

I thought it appropriate to begin with a brief telling of Mary’s story, including the story she tells herself and Elizabeth regarding who God is and how he interacts with the world.

Luke 1: 26In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

46 And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
   of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49     for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
   holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
   from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
   he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
   but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
   but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
   remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
   just as he promised our ancestors.”
56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

The stories we tell ourselves form who we become.  They form our actions, our thoughts, our desires.

How do we enter into God’s story, which leads us to joy? To hope, to peace, to love, even as we are in the midst of waiting.  Sometimes painfully so.

What is the story behind Christmas?  And how do we let ourselves get drawn out of that, and into a different story arc altogether, one that says we have to buy, buy, buy, be here, be there, rush to and from, check off all the little boxes on our lists, stress ourselves out entirely, and miss the actual spirit of Christmas?

We become who we are through the stories we allow ourselves to enter into, as individuals and as the Church.

I love reading science fiction and fantasy novels.  And I see glimpses of Jesus in them all the time!  We’re reading the Fellowship of the Ring with the girls as our bedtime story right now.  Here are a few lines:

“There was more than one power at work. … there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker.  I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker.  In which case, you also were meant to have it.  And that may be an encouraging thought.”  –Gandalf, to Frodo.  

“The wide world is all about you:  You can fence yourselves in, but you cannot forever fence it out.” –Gildor, to Frodo

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”
Gandalf’s letter left at the Prancing Pony for Frodo

Wow.  That’s powerful stuff, right?

And as Christians, the greatest of all stories is the story of Scripture, the Christ story.  It’s on a different level altogether.  This is the one story that all good stories point us back to.

John 1: 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and[b] is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

The Church calendar walks us through the central story contained therein, beginning with Advent.  

The first week of Advent is actually the beginning of the Church’s calendar.  It all starts here.

And it all starts with a story.

We all know how it goes.  We’ve heard it once or twice before.  But have we really allowed ourselves to enter into the story?  Have we allowed the story to come alive in our hearts?  Have we allowed Christ to be born again, anew, in us?

What does it mean for us to enter into a story where the Creator of the Universe took on human flesh and entered into the mess of human life to live among us?  What does it meant that in doing so, he chose not to enter into some illustrious, powerful family, but came into a young, soon to be married couple and turned their world upside down?  What does it mean that he didn’t enter into the gates of the world through a pristine, sanitary hospital, but rather through a messy, dirty, animal barn, to lay in a feeding trough?

What does it mean that he did not come riding a chariot, mowing down his enemies, but rather came, choosing to depend on a specific people in a specific place and time, calling us to love our enemies?  

Okay, okay… I know… I’m getting a little ahead of myself here.

What does it mean that His people had to wait for his coming once, and we find ourselves here, waiting again?

This is the story we are not only to remember, but the one we are living in the midst of.

We tell stories to remember, to learn, to grow, to see things differently.  Stories allow us to approach topics we are trying to keep buried down and hidden away.  Stories have the power to allow us to approach and address issues we sometimes might rather keep hidden and tucked away in the dark.

Scripture reminds us repeatedly to remember:  Remember what the Lord has done for you, Remember the Lord, your God, Remember how the Lord brought his people out of bondage, Remember, remember, remember…

And how do we remember?  We tell and retell and tell again the story of God rescuing His people, the story of Scripture, our story, His-story.

Deut 8: 2 Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. 4 Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. 5 Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.

6 Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him. 7 For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; 8 a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; 9 a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness,that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16 He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

Story is an artform that draws us in, it captivates us, it changes us, time and time again.   

One of the strengths of a good Story is that it speaks on multiple different levels, depending on where we’re at in life and who or what we find ourselves connecting to in the story, and thus connects to different people in different ways.

If we think of one of the many stories that Jesus himself told, the Parable of the Prodigal Son, for example, we could read it one time and identify with the younger son; another time, we might find ourselves identifying with the father; and another time still, we might recognize ourselves in the older brother.  

Each of those places we find ourselves, each of those roles, communicates a different truth to us in that moment, though the specific words in the story are all the same regardless of how we listen to it.

With a good story, the content may not change, though the truth it speaks may.

A story doesn’t have to be literal in order to be true.  In fact, some would argue that literality is the lowest form of truth.  

In our information based culture, there is a tendency to want “just the facts.”  We often want the answers, but end up short-changing ourselves on the meaning.  

Story has the power to reveal what is hidden, and at the same time to hide was is known in plain sight.

And yet, this is also the danger with Story.

Sometimes, this is the very thing that keeps us from truly understanding a story.  

We tell ourselves stories all the time.  They don’t have to be from famous authors, either.  

A few weeks ago, for Thanksgiving, we went down to Southern New Hampshire to visit Nicole’s family.  On our ride back up, the girls were asking for their birth stories, which I had the pleasure of listening to Nicole retell at that time.  At three and five years old, they already want to remember where they came from, how they got here, why they’re here, what is the meaning behind this?

How do the stories that we tell ourselves, that we tell each other, that we enter into and share as a faith family, shape our lives, individually, and our life together?

If we tell ourselves that God created the earth to be ours to dominate, to use as we please, and to vacate from and go elsewhere when we die, that story has very different implications from entering into the story that God created us to be in connection with the earth, to be its stewards, to tend to and take care of the earth, and that the earth is a part of His resurrection story, that His will will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.  Each of these stories has major implications for how we live out our lives.

If we tell ourselves that God distances himself from us when we suffer, that he has either abandoned us to our suffering, or that he has created and is inflicting our suffering, it has deeply different implications than if we enter into the story that God suffers alongside us in the midst of our deepest pains, that His heart breaks at the things that break our hearts as well.  

Sometimes, we tell mini stories to explain things.  A single line will suffice:  I love her.  She really cares for me.  He is a child of God.  God is with me.  

Let me turn to my daughters again for a quick example:

The other night, we were having dinner.  Rosie briefly stepped away from her dish, and Maggie scooted right over and started eating Rosie’s food.  Rosie saw Maggie taking a bite, and quickly started to get heated.  But Maggie changed the story.  She let Rosie know that she had taken the bites of Tempeh only, which Rosie doesn’t like anyways.  This story behind the why changed the entire situation.  Instead of Rosie missing out on something, she was actually having her experience improved.  Instead of Maggie being malicious or greedy, she was actually being helpful.

Stories aren’t all good. Sometimes, we do this the opposite way; we tell ourselves stories about things we know nothing about: they must be addicted to drugs, they deserve what they’ve got, If I can do it, you can do it; he’s looking at me funny, she must be angry at me, and on and on and on…

How about the stories we tell ourselves about politicians, whether those we support or those we stand against.  We’ve all seen more than enough of these in the past few months.  I’m sure I don’t need to rehash any to remind you of them all.  Especially if you’re on Facebook.

The final thought I’d like to leave you with this morning is this:  The story that you are listening to doesn’t make a lick of difference if you’re not letting it transform you.  We can hear the right story, and still live the wrong life.

Here’s one last quote from a sci-fi book I’ve been reading by David Wong:

“Look, the way I see it, two people walk in the restaurant, a Methodist and an atheist.  The Methodist says, I’m not going to tip because I just came from church and I’ve already done my good deed for the day.  The atheist says, I’m not tipping because life is meaningless and we’re all just animals.  To me, they’re both members of the same religion, because they’re doing the same thing.  Whatever little story they tell themselves to justify it is irrelevant.  It goes the other way, too– if a Muslim and a Scientologist come in and both leave a tip, they’re on the same team.  It doesn’t matter to me if one did it because of Allah and the other was obeying the ghost of Tom Cruise, what matters is it resulted in doing the right thing.” Zoey, FVaFS, by David Wong

We have the power to change our lives by living out a different story.  

And this isn’t some mumbo jumbo from the Secret, where if you will something hard enough it will manifest itself.  

Entering into a different story isn’t a means to leave pain and suffering behind you, and rid it from your lives forever.  

Entering into the Jesus story, living a life in that story changes everything.  Entering into the Jesus story allows us to recognize Jesus as he is already at work around us.  It allows us to enter into the work with him, to see that he is in the midst of our deepest pains, our deepest sufferings, comforting us even there.  

You are invited to live into a story that is greater than the 9-5 daily grind, perfect home, perfect car, 2-3 perfect kids, and on and on.  

You are invited to live into a story that is changing the world.  You are invited to enter into not only the story that begins in Advent, but the story that follows through …

To Resurrection.


Free Indeed

Free Indeed

We are free to not ingest the lie that the USA is the savior of the world.

We are free to not be consumed by focusing on our “rights;” free to lay our rights, our privileges, our selves down for others.

We are free to take even our time off and turn it toward God.

We are free to be part of something greater than ourselves.

We are free to Love, regardless of national or political identity, even those who dislike or despise us, even those we disagree with, even our enemies.

We are free to work through the difficult times in our marriages, our relationships, together; to not throw in the towel and call it quits at the drop of a hat when things get tough.

We are free to not buy into the Military Industrial Complex.

We are free to be living sacrifices, to make decisions that reflect that we are not the center of our own little, individual universes, but that Christ is, and we are free to emulate His example, to walk in His Way, even when it may often feel as though we’re swimming upstream, against the cultural current.

We are free to lead by serving, to exert power by coming under others rather than to exert power over others.

We are free to simply put others before ourselves.

We are free to approach God.  We are free to pray without ceasing, to pray that God’s will be done, His Kingdom come, on Earth as it is in Heaven.

We are free to open or hearts to God, to allow space for his spirit to work through us.

We are free to actively make peace.

We are free to depend on one another, to submit ourselves to the wisdom and counsel of our Spiritual family.

We are free to confess our sins, our mistakes, and to receive forgiveness.

We are free to forgive others.

We are free to Trust, even if it may hurt.

We are free to hope, always to hope.


Image found at

Milton Night of Worship

Night of Worship


What are you doing this Friday night?

Join us as we gather to pray and worship God at Milton’s Night of Worship (MNOW).



At the United Church of Milton

51 Main street, Milton VT


Our vision is to unite people across denominational, social and cultural lines in order to fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus to “make disciples of nations.”

Our mission is to transform our region and prepare the way for the coming of a statewide United Night of Worship ( in the fall at the Essex Junction Fairgrounds through a grassroots movement.

Insert Content Here

Scriptures to reflect on before reading:
Deuteronomy 6:1-9
Matthew 5:1-12
Romans 12:1-21


This morning, I would like to talk with you about the importance of being content, finding joy wherever we are, regardless of our circumstances.

Though what I am espousing here is simple, it may not be easy.

Let me first preface by telling you a couple of things I am not saying this morning:

First off, do not try to place me on some pedestal.
I am not standing over here, on the other side of discontentment, where I’m always happy-go-lucky, living in a constant state of contentment, but I am right here, on the journey with you, always striving to be a little more content than I am, to be more awake than I am, to be more salt and more light than I am.  I felt God calling me to write on this topic because it is something I am very much in the middle of waking up to in my own life.

Staying awake to the presence of God and practicing gratitude and contentment are lifelong journeys.

I am also not saying this morning that all discontentment is bad, but I would argue that a great deal more than we would like to admit in our own lives is more harmful than it is helpful.

Sometimes, God does call us to be discontent with a particular situation, and He calls us out of that discontentment to take action, to initiate change.

God does not call us to be content with injustice.

If a neighbor is hungry, we should not be content with that.

If a fellow human being is being mistreated, we should not be content with that.

If our eyes have been opened to sin in our lives, we are not to be content with that.

Contentment does not equal complacency.

Yet, it seems, all too often we strive to falsely label our every discontentment as injustice.

Healthy discontentment leads to hope, growth, and resurrection, and is bred out of love.
The Devil’s discontentment leads to exactly the opposite: depression, stagnation, and devastation.

In the prior, we can be content in Jesus, even in our discontentedness, whatever our particular circumstances may be.

In the latter, we are drawn out of contentment and into the more of cynicism, jadedness, of hell on earth rather than the kingdom of Heaven, which is at hand.

The discontentment God is calling us out of this morning is our regular, everyday, run of the mill discontentment.

Some good can come out of being angry occasionally. Yet if you are constantly angry, you should probably seek therapy.

Some good can come of being sad sometimes, yet if you are always sad, it is a difficult and serious clinical diagnosis.

Some good comes when we are afraid from time to time, but if we live in that state constantly, how will that affect our lives?

The same is seen with discontentment. Good things may come out of being discontent occasionally, if God is calling you to action out of that discontentment, but if our baseline is to be discontent, it is not good for any of us, and it’s not good for the church as a whole.


Contentment is not something that just always happens, but it is something that we practice. In the 17th century, Brother Lawrence called what I am espousing this morning practicing the presence of God.

As we read earlier, in Deuteronomy, we are to remind ourselves and remind ourselves and remind ourselves again of God’s true place in our lives.

It is an unfortunate aspect of our fallen nature that we are quick to forget when we are not actively remembering.

When we are not thinking of God, who do we naturally gravitate toward thinking of?


Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

When we love the Lord our God with all of our being, we begin to notice His presence in every good thing in our lives.

Not just most of your heart, most of your soul, most of your strength, but all. And through that fullness of loving God, we end up more fully loving others, and we end up more fully loving ourselves.

Yet, it does not work in the opposite direction. If we focus on ourselves, on what we think we are entitled to, on all that we do not have, we end up not loving God, but rather we end up making ourselves our god.

And doesn’t that bring us right back to the Garden of Eden, when the serpent convinced Eve and Adam that God hadn’t provided everything they needed, that He was for some reason holding something back from them? If they just ate that fruit that God had expressly forbid them to eat, then they could be content.

Discontentment was the Enemy’s first weapon against humanity. And it seems it is still one of his favorites.

Nothing keeps us from entering into the relationship with God that He calls us to like our own discontentment.

So, what is the danger of discontentment?

How much energy do we waste every day on just being discontent?

How many times even in this last week have I fallen asunder to this?

How many times have I been disgruntled with one little thing about my job and asked myself, what if I had this other job or that other job, then everything would be perfect.

What about with our spouses? Oh, man, this one thing she does really bugs me. If I was just with someone else, my life would be great, everything in our relationship would be perfect… Or, Janine, over there, she really knows how to cook… Why can’t Nicole just cook like her?

Our children? Why can’t John just be like his sister?

Our possessions: If only I could afford a Lamborghini, then I’d be on time all the time. I’d never have to wait so long for this old clunker to warm up in the middle of winter. Traffic would move out of the way for me…

These are the types of discontentment I am calling out this morning.

Do you see how dangerous these paths can be?

Let’s bring some modern science into the equation.  Have you ever heard the term, Neural Pathways before? Or brain plasticity?

Recent studies have shown that the brain always retains a level of plasticity, or malleability. Things that we think and do affect change in our brains.

The more frequently we think a certain thought, or we enter into a certain pattern of thinking, the easier it is to think that way again in the future. We create neural pathways or ruts in our mind.

So, if I am constantly angry, I will begin to get angry again more and more easily.

The same goes for being discontent. If I am constantly discontent with where I am in life, the easier and easier it gets to continue to be discontent in the future, even with smaller and smaller things.

Our task is to be brave enough to break this cycle.

We ought not be content with remaining discontent.

If the joy of the Lord is our strength, we probably ought to be strong enough to be content once in awhile.

If we have accepted the invitation the intimately know the author of life itself, there ought to be something different about the way we live our daily lives.

What we practice is what we become.

What happens when we are content? We are able to more fully enter into life in the moment, which really is the only life we know we have. We are able to more actively engage in what God is calling us to in the moment.

Yet discontentment seems to be the air of our culture.

How often are we talking to one another about the good things God is doing in our lives?

Regardless how terrible life may seem in its worst moments—and I know some of you have been through, and some are still in some horrible circumstance—we have the faith that God is not behind the scenes constructing that terror, but rather, he is behind the scenes, making it better than it otherwise would be.

Even in persecution, trials, and tribulations, we have the faith that our steadfastness will be rewarded one day.

Paul reminds us in Romans 8:28: we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  I have heard this verse often distorted and read to sound as though God is the reason and His is the will and purpose behind all things, even all the terrible things in our world.  This is absolutely not the case.  God’s heart breaks as much as ours, and indeed, even more, with every devastating storm, with every school shooting, with every drug overdose.  Yet even in those darkest of places, God enters for those who love him, and he works to bring good out of them somehow.  

So, what happens when we are content, when we are open to seeing the movement and presence of God in the little things?

Let’s look back at our brief examples from before: our job, our spouse, our family, and our possessions.

If I can begin to notice the little ways that the goodness of God is present in my workplace, not only will I come to engage more positively with the work I am doing, but also with the people I am doing it with.

I can stop being bogged down by the three or four things I have to do that I dislike doing and recall the many reasons I came to the job to begin with. I can stop focusing so much mental energy and anxiety on the negative, and begin to create the positive that I am so inclined to be discontent with not having.

Instead of constantly thinking about the next big thing, I will actually invest that energy into where I am today, which in turn, if anything will, will bring me naturally and often even more quickly to the next thing if there is one. And I can give up being upset if there isn’t a next big thing.

What would it look like if we started really practicing being content with our spouses? The divorce rate would drop substantially, that’s for sure. Maybe then the divorce rate among Christians wouldn’t be equal to or even higher than that of the secular average. If I were to practice noticing the little things about Nicole that drew me close to her to begin with, and notice the new things that continue to do so; if I were to stop focusing so much on the negative things, the things that bug me, how much do you think that would affect our relationship? Probably quite a bit.

And with our families, our children, our brothers and sisters, our cousins, our church family, whatever family may look like in your life. What if I stopped focusing on the things that drive me crazy about them, but instead focused on the little things I love about each of them.

What if we took the time to actually notice the things we enjoy about one another? And we let those things trump the things that come between us? What if instead of ostracizing someone for the one thing we don’t agree with them on, we instead focused on the ninety-nine things we absolutely adore about them?

What if when we got a flat tire, we remembered that wow, we have a car with four tires that are able to be flat. That’s awesome! Three of them still aren’t flat! What if the next time we just want to complain about the prices of gas, we remember that we have a tank to put that gas into that is connected to a combustion engine that will transport us 60 miles from where we are right now in one hour? That’s incredible!

This past Christmas, my then 2-year old daughter, Rosie, blessed me with a beautiful example of what it means to be content. We were at our family Christmas gathering, her grandparents were spoiling her with more toys and goodies than she’ll ever need.  Her cousins were all around, and they were opening their presents together.  Yet Rosie exhibited this beautiful contentment that opened my eyes to this.  Every gift she opened, she was present with.  She just wanted to engage in that one gift, to see how it worked, what it did, and offer thanks to her Nana and Pops for it.  We, the “grown-ups,” were encouraging her to open more, and Rosie’s response, was simply, “I don’t want to open more presents, I want to play with these.”

How often do we take our time like Rosie did, to recognize the presents we have already received, to offer thanks in each moment, and to enjoy the beautiful, precious, little moments in life?

Please don’t take me as a Daniel Downer here. All of this is not to make you say, oh, gee, I’m not content enough, and give you just one more thing to be discontent with, but rather, that God does not desire you to merely sulk around, going through the motions, but He desires for you to enter into His joy.

This isn’t to say, oh, this is so horrible, stop being this way, but to remind us all that something better is present and available, and we are all invited into it.

So, how then do we do this? Where do we even start? How do we work contentedness into our lives?

Conversion is not a one time only experience. We do not simply believe in Jesus and them magically live our lives just like he lived. We are on a journey, a path, a Way of life that we walk, step by step, day by day.

Likewise, being content is not something that we just say Voila! and are changed entirely overnight in.

We need to wake up to God’s work.

We abide in Christ continually.

The most important thing about now is God.

Becoming attuned to God’s presence, presently is a spiritual discipline.

To start, trying doing something as simple as utilizing reminders to recall us to God throughout the day.

Things like Post-it notes or changing the desktop on your computer, or the backgroup on your phone.

Put them in places where it is hardest to remember God. Where do you need to be most reminded to notice, recognize, and be thankful for God’s presence in your life? At work? Over your TV? On your iPhone?

If you’re concerned with working in the public sector, and not thinking you are able to post something about God there, think creatively. It can be a simple symbol, something that you will know what it means. Maybe it’s a picture or a painting of an eye, or a cup of coffee, to remind you to stay awake.

I encourage you to think of one way to remind yourselves to stay awake more intentionally to God’s presence in your lives this week, and see what a difference that can begin to make in your life overall.


by Harold Vance III
The above is a message was delivered at the First Baptist Church in Bristol, VT, on February 16, 2014.

The above image was borrowed from

Call Forwarding


What does it mean to be called?

How many different meanings does the word, call, have in our common language?

You can call someone on the phone. You can call out to someone specific, when you see them walking on the other side of the road or just around the corner in Hannaford’s. We may call out to no one in particular if we’re stranded and just need help. We can call someone by their name, or call them something other than their name. We can call someone a nickname out of love, knowing that that’s what they prefer being called, or we may call someone a nickname out of malice and spite. Many animals call out specifically to find their mates.

Someone may be called up from playing junior varsity to join the varsity program. One could be called up from being a cub scout all the way through the ranks to one day being an Eagle scout.

One may call a hand in a game of poker rather than increasing the pot. A sports announcer calls a game. A referee may call an audible. It may be a good call or a bad call who you’re rooting for may be what decides which. The head honcho may call the shots. You may attend calling hours when a friend or loved one passes away. Sometimes we call someone out if they are doing something we think they shouldn’t be doing. We may call someone’s bluff. Or be called into the principal’s office. We may call a meeting, or call it to order. A military troupe may be called to arms. 

Jack London wrote of hearing the call of the wild. And often, we awake to nature’s call.

If we’re spent, worn, tired out and have just plain had enough, we probably ought to call it a day. *

So, what, then, does it mean to say that God calls us? Or that He has placed a specific calling on our lives?

Jeff Iorg points out, in his book, Is God Calling Me?, that the two things the majority of these different usages of the word call have in common are that they bring new information and they bring new responsibility.

Iorg defines a call as “a profound impression from God that establishes parameters for your life and can be altered only be a subsequent, superseding impression from God.”

Paul puts it this way in his letter to the Ephesians:

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.  Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians, 4:1-6, NIV).

What draws all of this together? Love.

We are called to love, every one of us; to exhibit the love of God in our different circumstances and situations.

How? Through being loved.

1 John 4 reminds us that we love because He first loved us.

Some of us need simply to wake up to that love.

Is God just off over there somewhere, thinking thoughts about us, lolly-gagging around, following us on Facebook, and telling us time after time that he doesn’t actually have time to be with us because his schedule is just too busy?


God’s love is not passive. His love is not just lip service.

God’s love is active, and his love is what we are called to model our love on. His love is what we are to take in, to be filled to overfilling with, and to spread forth into our world, our towns, our neighborhoods, our homes and families.

As Eugene Peterson puts it about the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, “The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, MSG).

This is indeed how God is still operating in our midst to this very day, except now, the flesh and blood He becomes is our own.

God is love, and God’s love is displayed through action. God, in his love, calls us to action.

This is a general call that is issued to every individual, to love, to spread the Gospel of Christ everywhere we go, wherever that may be, and not just to spread the Gospel, but to allow ourselves to be overtaken and enveloped in that same Gospel.

God also calls individuals to specific missions and actions, as well as calling specific communities and churches to specific missions and actions, both of which are actually calls that direct us on how we answer His first and foremost, general call to love one another.

God has created and wired us in many ways the same, but in many other ways, He has created and wired us quite differently from one another.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote about how together, we are the Body of Christ, and how it takes many differently abled, and differently active parts to be a fully functioning body.

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.  For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.  Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

And yet I will show you the most excellent way: Love (I Corinthians, 12:12-31, NIV).

Someone’s whole body may be called to play a game of football.

(I’m actually not a fan of football, but since I’ve had to hear so much about football in the past couple weeks, that’s the activity I’ll use as an example. Just know that for my own sanity, I’m actually thinking of rugby in my head and just saying football. You know, that game that football was based off, before they added in all the stoppages of play and pads and things…)

Yet, the individual parts of that body all have specific calls as to how to answer that one, general call. The hands are called to throw and catch a large, oblong ball, and to tackle the players on the other team when they’re carrying the ball.

The feet are called to move, quickly, strategically, to carry the weight of the body and to get the rest of the body where it needs to be and to avoid being where it doesn’t. They’re also called to punt the ball from time to time.

The eyes are called to show the feet and hands where they need to be.

The ears are called to listen to the coach and to the captain, and take in the information of what the play is going to be.

The brain pulls all of this information together and distributes it to all of the many parts of the body.

Even parts we don’t think of as taking part, in actuality are. The stomach, the liver, the intestines, are called to digest last night’s pasta, or today’s breakfast, breaking down the nutrients and energy and distributing that to the rest of the body.

Even the parts of the body we really, really don’t want to think of have to be fulfilling their call. Think back to nature’s call. If that call hasn’t been answered in the last chunk of time, things may get pretty uncomfortable, and if it’s been a long enough time, downright unbearable.

This is how it is with us, the Church. The Gospel is no game, but we all do have a part to play in it.

I apologize for the broken metaphor of a football player, but it’s the simplest way I can think of to explain this.

Now, what if some parts of the body decided not to heed their call?

What if the ears decided not to listen, and instead of going with the plan, the call, that the rest of the team had heard, they end up not knowing which direction to run, whether the ball is going to be thrown long or handed off? Whether the ball is going to be thrown left or if it is just being faked left in order to be thrown right?

What if the hands decided they weren’t going to act on the call they received? They were just going to sit, limp and lazy, and hang by the body’s sides? What’s that going to look like when the ball comes flying their way?

So, these are easy to visualize. Yet, this is exactly what we do to ourselves as the Church when we show up, we hear God’s call, and we make up excuses to ignore it.

What happens if part of the body gets its call wrong?

What if the feet thought that they were called to something else? How many interceptions do you think would be made if the feet thought they were the ones who was supposed to be catching the ball?

How many yards would be run if the hands thought they should be wearing the cleats and hitting the ground running? They may be able to do so, to an extent, but no where near as well as the feet, who in doing so would be answering their specific call in that case. And they would not be able to run as far nor as fast. The endurance would not be there, because the gift that accompanies the call would not be there.

What if the eyes thought they were the ones that should catch the ball? Some serious damage that would affect the entire body could really result.

Last week, Jeff Cornwell was talking about the immediacy of the call; how Jesus called to his disciples, Follow me.

Throughout the book of Acts we see example after example of people coming to faith in Christ, and immediately thereafter, being baptized and becoming active distributors of the Good News of Jesus and his Kingdom near at hand.

What if the hands or the feet knew what they were called to do, but delayed? What if the hands said, I know we have to catch this ball, but I just don’t think I’m trained well enough to do it yet? What if the feet answered the call to run, saying, yes, I have to run, but only between the hours of 9:00 and noon on Sunday mornings?

What if the ears hear the play, but decided they didn’t think they could do their part, and ran the opposite direction? What if they did so with the ball in hand, all the way to the wrong end zone?

Together, collectively, we are the Body of Christ in our world today, in our town, in our neighborhood, on our street, in our home.

In order to be the Body, and to answer the calling of Christ, we need to be each and every one of us doing our part, heeding our call, working cohesively together as One, joined together in our love. Now the feet may never be as passionate about what the hands are doing. The eyes may not ever be as passionate about a sound as the ears. We are not to be uniform to one another, but we are to ask God what is our calling as the specific part of the Body that He has called each of us to be, and we are to do our best to answer that calling.

How do feet love? Well, the feet walk the rest of the body over to the place where it can more effectively love.

How do hands love? They get down and dirty, they collect socks for the homeless, they gather food for the hungry.

How do eyes love, they show compassion. They weep on occasion. They share in joy.

How does an elbow love? It helps to raise the hand up to reach what it needs to reach…

We could go on and on.

So, what are you called to do? How are you called to show the love of Christ today?

For many of us, the first step is still just figuring that out. How has God wired you? What has he made you to be passionate about? What is on your heart? When is it that you feel fulfilled? When do you most feel the Spirit activated and moving through you?

So, go be the hands of Christ. Go be His feet. Go be the elbows of Christ. Go be His spleen.

Find what you are called to do.

Ask Him to show you.

And go do it.

The above is a message delivered at the United Church of Milton on February 9, 2014.

* This section was highly influenced and some examples borrowed directly from Jeff Iorg in his book, Is God Calling Me?  Answering the Question Every Believer asks.

Image borrowed from

Announcing: Rural Church VT Flipboard ‘Zine!


If you know me, and especially if we’re connected on Facebook, then you know that I love sharing links, articles, blogs, music, and a plethora of other things that I find interesting, intriguing, and inspiring. 

If you like that, if you get anything at all out if it, you’ll be happy to hear that I have found a delightful new way to share those links in one unified, visually appealing, easy to navigate location.  

Without further adieu, I’d like to invite you to check out the new Rural Church Flipboard ‘Zine: