V I N E   S T R E E T 
 
 
A Village Of Unconditional, All Forgiving,
Never Ending LOVE.
 
 
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H O W   W E   W O R S H I P

Join Us Sunday Mornings

9:00 A.M. Village

Start your Sunday off in a casual, low-key gathering where we share breakfast and chat about Jesus and life. Small groups for all ages – Nursery Available!
 
 
This ain’t your old fashioned
Sunday School!
 
Join us September – May!
 
 
 

10:00 A.M. Worship

“A little something for everyone and a lot of Jesus” is how we worship. Come as you are and experience our energetic, spirit filled service with moving messages and music ranging from contemporary Christian to traditional hymns.
 
 
This service is geared for all
generations!
 
 

Teaching & Preachings

We teach and preach a Jesus that is real and authentic … Taken straight from the gospels with no biased or politics attached. Whether you’re an active participant or a “fly on the wall” listener, we have something for you.
 
 
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B I G  I D E A 
 
“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15).
 
Pastor Bob
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
C H U R C H   M E D I A

Recent Messages

March 2020

Why Do You Keep Us in Suspense

“SermonAudio_031520_27min”. Genre: Other.


The First Step

“030820_SermonAudio_20mins”. Genre: Other.


Should I Stay or Should I Go?

“030120SermonAudio_30 min”. Genre: Other.


February 2020

The House for All Sinners & Saints

“022320_SermonAudio_26min”. Genre: Other.


The Odd Couple of Jericho: Part I

“sermon021620”. Genre: Other.


Life On Life’s Terms

“sermon”. Genre: Other.


God Says: Let My People Speak!

“SermonAudio020220_30mins”. Genre: Other.


January 2020

Thanks! & Yes!: The Kingdom has Come!

“SermonAudio012620_36min”. Genre: Other.


From The Belly Of The Whale

“011220SermonAudio20mins”. Genre: Other.


Have We Lost Our Enthusiasm for Kindness?

“SermonAudio_010520_23mins”. Genre: Other.




 
 
 
 
 
F R O M   T H E   B L O G

Recent Posts

Pastor Bob’s Neighborhood: “THE FREEDOM WE CRAVE” (Thoughts on rising above injustice, protests, and violence)

NYPD Chief Kneels with Protestors saying, “This has got to end.”

There is a dominant American myth of hitting the open road and finding our freedom. Leaving all the constraints of our everyday life behind and finally being set free to do anything (everything?) we want to. It even sounds good just reading it right now! 

Freedom is a concept at the very core of what our country values. We are a nation built upon the notion of individual freedom as the most important characteristic of our rights as a human. Every person in the U.S. has been ingrained with the teaching that of all the values and principles of our democratic republic that we cherish – the freedoms of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are the ones we will protect more than any. Indeed, we will fight for these rights! 

Those Americans now in the street of the U.S. cities protesting a lack of these freedoms for certain segments of our citizenry – specifically, but not exclusively, African-American men – are acting out of a place inside of them that yearns for freedom and justice for all. That’s what they were promised. And what they’ve never had. After all: No Freedom/No Justice. 

But, the freedoms they are manifesting in their marches and protests exceed the boundaries of the freedoms for others. There is rarely, if ever, a justifying reason for violence, vandalism, and destruction. Yet, our country, like the history of the world itself, is filled with such acts of protest that sometimes bring about change for the better. We cannot argue that the violence and destruction hasn’t captured our attention and at least brought about a personal interest and national conversation about the issues of the relationship between police officers and African-American men. 

But having an interest in these issues doesn’t mean we are getting the answers we need. Each side, or perhaps we should say every side, of this issue in our country will have a prescription to offer to us as the remedy for the problems and/or the response to the injustices. Now here’s the hard but honest truth: the answers to these issues … and all the other conflicts and injustices that confront our country and the world, will never be found outside of the individual and in the world we live in. 

There is no remedy for the problem of sin and selfishness in our judicial system. The hardness of our hearts is not rectified by the keeping of the 10 Commandments. The freedom to protest and petition our government does not result in a spiritual transformation of the citizens so that such issues like discrimination and oppression never surface again. Our young country has a Bill of Rights and an independent judiciary that offers us one of the best legal responses to these kinds of human failings known in the world. But those are responses … not remedies. 

The remedy for sin does not come from the world, but from a power outside of the world, that has intervened into our world to save it from itself. This power is the only thing that can solve the hardness of our hearts and the sin of self-centeredness. We should look for our freedom there!   

Indeed, even the freedom that we think we crave so much — to hop into a 1976 Camaro and hit the highway, cruising out Route 66 to the Pacific – is not really a remedy for the freedom we crave. At best, it’s a temporary fix, not unlike an addict getting a fix he needs for the short term … over and over and over again. 

Yes, freedom is what we crave, but we keep going to the wrong dealer! The American Dream is not so much about our freedoms as it is our constraints. Our culture has created a vision of freedom that works for the economy, for our social and political institutions, and for the stability of families and communities. Or so we’re taught. But it is not working for the freedom of many individuals. Actually, this type of freedom puts us all in a soft and easy confinement – something we can live with but never satisfy our true desire for self-determination. 

We are taught and trained to think that we’re free when we can decide what’s good for us. Sounds right, doesn’t it? If everybody would just stop doing things their way, and do things my way instead, then we wouldn’t have these problems! But therein lays the problem. Our will makes us feel better, at least temporarily, but it only creates more conflict in the end. 

The events of this week in cities across the U.S. are the same as the events that have filled the history of human existence on this globe, each and every day. From Cain and Abel to George Floyd, human sin lays it’s dark and ugly reality on the canvas of the way of life we so hope for. These things are not new, they aren’t temporary, and they aren’t unique. They are in fact, universal and eternal; part of human nature. They are the result of individuals believing that their true freedom is based on their ability to determine what’s good for them. And anything or anyone who gets between them and their freedom is in a danger zone of hate wherein violence becomes an acceptable and not uncommon response. 

And then there is the other way. At some point in the quest for this notion of personal freedom, one finds themselves exhausted … and unfulfilled … and even regretful. A whole life dedicated to a personal freedom that doesn’t and can’t bring the peace and fulfillment that we all truly crave – the freedom to truly be free … free to become the divinely inspired and uniquely created person that God crafted each of us to be … a very particular kind of person in this world … and one who is happy, joyous, and … yes, free! 

There is a way through this. James K.A. Smith sums it up this way: “It is a terrible and terrifying thing to know what you want to be and then realize you’re the only one standing in your way.” It’s at this very point, however, when you can decide to begin anew – to plan your escape from the “you” you have made of yourself and commit to finding a different life that’s based on the “you” that God created you to be. 

Then comes a critical moment when you realize that you cannot go down this new road by yourself. No Camaro is able to take you to this Promised Land. There is no Route 66 that ends in this kind of personal freedom. You need the help that at first seems impossible, beyond human ability. And you’re right! As long as you keep trying to find your satisfaction in the material things of this world you stay caught in a cycle where you are more and more disappointed in those things, but yet deeper and deeper embedded with them. But with God … escape from this treadmill becomes possible. 

A spiritual epiphany occurs when you realize that you can trade your illusion of self-autonomy, and that sense of illusory freedom that comes with it, for a dependence on something greater than yourself … to fully achieve the freedom you are seeking. The Good News is that there is a power stronger and better than your own willpower, and is just waiting for your call. In the rooms of NA and AA we call this our “Higher Power.” Of course, it’s “God.” With God we can take on a posture of dependence that liberates us – a reliance on someone in our life that releases us to be who we really are. When God moves into our own will, we are given the gift of knowing the true good … and now we have not just the desire to pursue it, but the power to achieve it as well. 

Smith says it is at this point that we receive the grace that only God can give us – and has been waiting to give us for so long! When that grace comes, we know it, because it feels like an infusion, a transplant, a resurrection, a revolution within, and it feels like the freedom you have craved your whole life. 

Looking at our nation today … reflecting on our own feelings and emotions … praying for God to come to us and heal us and make us whole … isn’t it time to start with ourselves. All people need and crave the same thing: a freedom that doesn’t produce winners and losers, but instead results in peace and justice for all. Isn’t it time we “put on the Lord Jesus Christ?” The freedom He offers is not a permission to do whatever we want. It’s a freedom that gives us the power to do God’s will … which is exactly what we were created to do. 

And doing exactly what we were created to do is the true freedom that we all crave.

What the world needs now, is love, sweet love; No, not just for some, but for everyone!                                   

Pastor Bob


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WHAT IS SO ESSENTIAL ABOUT CHURCH, IF NOT SUNDAY MORNING WORSHIP? PLENTY!

A member of our Vine Street CC congregation sent me a Facebook post from someone who had posted a message form the Deon Johnson, the Bishop-elect of the Episcopal Church in Missouri. I have re-created the post below. 

All too often in our secularized “American Dream” individualistic self-centered culture, church is seen as one social option among many that the multitudes can choose from in order to fill in their day-to-day lives and hope to bring some meaning to what is often a life of quiet desperation. Let’s see, this week there’s shopping at Wal-Mart, getting the hair done, fixing the car’s air conditioning, planting the petunias, making the special secret recipe lasagna on Thursday, playing cards with the gang, watching the big game on Saturday … and then, oh yeah, we’ve got church on Sunday morning! 

Now that’s a full life! As long as we’re busy, busy, busy … then we’re really living. 

And so, when a nasty invisible virus comes along and takes away this “normal” way of life, we begin to lose our bearings … and we start to wonder, what is life without my to do list? And eventually, we find ourselves more alone at home than we’ve ever been, and we’re just not used to spending so much “quality time” with ourselves. Truth is, we’re not always that easy to live with by ourselves! 

In this kind of lifestyle, the things we do are seen as essential … and when they are taken away we get lost and get antsy, and start to demand that our things to do be given back to us, despite the risk to others. 

Of course, there is another way of life that is offered to us by the church, ironically. Rather than the “full” life of the secular culture, this is called the “abundant” life … and it’s a life of faith and devotion to God each and every day. In this life, going to church is not as important as being the church. In an abundant life, as prescribed by Jesus in the gospels, doing is not as important as being. Instead of having a to-do list to remind you of how full your life is, in an abundant life you have become the living incarnation of the person God has created you to be. The culture no longer gets to define who you are … God does that.

In this type of life of faith, the things that are really essential are shown to us by the Holy Spirit and through the life of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. The truth of the matter is, Jesus never said that the path to the abundant life includes a once a week for one hour every Sunday morning worship service. That’s something the culture came up with. 

Now, I have to admit, I don’t know if anyone likes a good Sunday morning worship service better than me – but I bet a lot of us are tied for that. Still, my life with Christ and in God is what’s essential, not an hour a week on Sunday to worship God and praise my Lord Jesus. Actually, I try to do that every day with the things that I think are really essential. They’re the things Jesus taught me. The things He told me to build my life around. These are the things that I committed to after I emptied out all the things the culture told me I was supposed to be doing. 

I miss everyone on Sunday morning so much! I miss our time to be with each other, and to worship together. And yes, I would say that worship is essential to me life. But as much as I miss the Sunday morning hour, I know that we can worship Jesus every minute of every day. No matter where we are. Alone or together. And I know that’s what “church” really is – being the incarnation of Jesus in the midst of a pandemic American culture that’s deeply in need of meaning and purpose. 

May I suggest the essential work of the Church, as described below by Bishop-elect Johnson?   

From the Bishop-elect of the Episcopal Church in the Dioceses of Missouri,                                   Deon K. Johnson:

“The work of the church is essential.

The work of caring for the lonely, the marginalized, and the oppressed is essential.

The work of speaking truth to power and seeking justice is essential.

The work of being a loving, liberating, and life-giving presence in the world is essential.

The work of welcoming the stranger, the refugee, and the undocumented is essential.

The work of reconciliation and healing and caring is essential.

The church does not need to “open” because the church never “closed.”

We, who make up the Body of Christ, the church, love God and our neighbors and ourselves so much that we will stay away from our buildings until it is safe.

We are the church.

Now let’s go out and be the church today … and soon enough we will gather again in that sacred House of God on the corner of Vine and Park and we will pray, and we will sing, and we will laugh and maybe even cry, but until then – let’s “be” the church until we can again “go” to church.

Stay well and be strong,

Pastor Bob


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THE “GOOD NEWS” ABOUT WHY WE CAN’T STOP SINNING!

I was serving my first church, fresh out of seminary, and still trying to find my groove for my preaching style (something I’m still working on today!). I was hosting a Bible Study class at the parsonage with about 8 church members in attendance. Among the attendees were Jack, the current Board chair, and his wife Sara. Jack and Sara came to the Disciples of Christ from a more literalist and fundamentalist denomination. So, it’s safe to say they were still trying to “figure me out.” 

We were about an hour into the Bible Study when Jack abruptly stood up in the living room, turning a deep shade of red as he did, and began to sharply criticize my preaching style and specifically, message content. His aggressiveness took all of us by surprise as we gave Jack the floor to continue to personally berate me for my sermons. Soon his wife Sara joined in to provide back-up and cover for him. 

The bottom-line of their concern was that I preached too much about “sin.” I was hurting their feelings every Sunday and making them feel bad about themselves because they had a different view of their personal holiness than I apparently had. 

I believe that we are all sinners, and that “sin” is a part of our human nature. Human Beings, among other things, sin. It’s part of being human. No religious conversion or outcome of the cross makes us stop sinning. We can’t stop sinning. But Jesus Christ, through the power of the cross, relieves us of our burden of sin, so that we no longer have to live as sinners in the world, but as people set free from our sin by the power of Jesus Christ on the cross. 

Perhaps your own theology of the cross is like that. Or, perhaps you really haven’t thought that much about it. Jack and Sara’s theology of the cross, as well as many other people, is not like that. They believe that Jesus dying on the cross freed us from being sinful people, so that when we are baptized we no longer have the capacity to sin again. We have stopped being sinners. 

That’s an interesting theology that, once Jack and Sara calmed down that evening in the parsonage, they shared with us. “Why,” Pastor Bob, “do you keep mentioning sin when we are all past that part of our lives and have stopped sinning?” 

Jack and Sara see sin as the evil behavior that results from disobeying God. Sinners do bad things because they do not have God in their heart, or, more specifically, they have not been baptized. Those people go to hell when they die. People who do have God in their hearts, or, more specifically, have been baptized, have stopped being sinners. They go to heaven when they die. 

See how neat and clean that is. Become a Christian and be baptized … and you’re saved. Don’t do that … and you’re not. Jack and Sara are part of a large segment of Christians that come from a fundamentalist theology. Every religion has fundamentalists as part of their membership. They are the ones who believe that they are right in every facet of their religious life and that everyone else is wrong. They are assured of that in their hearts because their own ego demands it to be true. They need to be right because they need to be saved. And they deserve to be saved because they are right. Furthermore, and obviously, everyone who does not believe as they do is wrong. Their ego tells them that it must be that way. 

Not only are all the people of other religions, by definition, damned to hell by this view, but so are the other Christians, like me, who don’t believe the way they do. Fundamentalists end up living in a very small world of people like themselves who condemn to hell most of the people on earth. They are literally creating a living hell without even knowing it! 

As for me, I see no evidence that any fundamentalist theology is correct. I see no evidence for it in the Old Testament, and I certainly do not see any evidence to support it in the New Testament. In the Gospels, Jesus built a ministry and began to build the Kingdom of God with a band of sinners that were rejected by the fundamentalist Pharisees of the day. After deciding to follow Jesus, the Disciples didn’t stop sinning, but they did stop desiring to sin – which means that they started to desire to do God’s will instead of their own will. 

Sin is part of being human. It’s part of our nature that wants to be right, to be in charge, to be exalted and to be divine. We all have that in us. Sin is NOT our bad behavior. Our bad behavior is a consequence of our sin. Thus, as Jesus would say, it’s not just killing someone that’s a sin; it’s the desire to want to kill someone that’s the real sin. Or again, as Jesus says, it’s not just committing adultery that’s a sin; it’s wanting to commit adultery that’s a sin in your heart. 

Sin is whatever separates us from God’s will. For instance, killing someone comes from the desire to kill someone, which comes from evil thoughts projected on to someone, which comes from a part of the person not connected to God’s will but to their own self-well. God, according to Jesus, wants us to love everyone as He loves us; even our enemies. Our self-will wants to hate our enemies and even at some point, kill them. That’s what humans do, and that’s what they’ve done for thousands of years. 

Jesus came to free us of our desire to sin and to change the world once we follow God’s will instead of our own. We don’t sin against each other before we sin against God. Our first sin is always against God when we decide that our self-will is more important than God’s will. So, you see, we never really stop being sinners until we are no longer human. There is not a day that goes by that we don’t feel a desire to “eat the forbidden fruit” and do something that we know is not God’s will. But that’s the “good news!” Because Jesus came to earth specifically to save humans like us. The cross of Jesus is our saving grace and path to righteousness and eternal life. Even for fundamentalists like Jack and Sara! 

In Chapter 9 of the Book of Acts we are told the story of a man named Saul on his way to Damascus to persecute more of the Jesus followers there. Saul was coming directly from having just overseen the killing of Stephen, the first martyr for Jesus. On the road to Damascus, Saul is interrupted by the voice of Jesus, and it says, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Saul asks the voice who it is that says this … and the voice says “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” 

You see, though we may harm and even kill others with our bad behavior, our sin is against God. As Christians, whenever we sin, we persecute Jesus. And we almost always hurt other people on the way. Jesus didn’t ask Saul why he killed Stephen … he knew why. He knew Saul was living according to his own will, ego, self-centered fundamentalist nature. But God wanted Saul to know that his bad behavior was first a persecution of Jesus. It starts in our heart, and then becomes who we are and what we do. Jesus wanted Saul to be someone different … so He changed him into Paul. 

Jesus is God’s remedy for our sin. It’s not a cure that turns you into a sinless human being, but it is a remedy for the sin-sickness of our human nature. Even as we persecute Jesus with our sin, He is forgiving us and cleansing us of the stain of sin, and leading us into a new way of life. In that new life, it’s God’s will that matters most to us, even when we fall a little short. With Jesus in our heart, we become saved from our sin … for eternity. 

Just a human being and a sinner … touched by God,

Pastor Bob


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Address: 249 S. Vine Street Arthur, IL 61911
Phone:217-543-2292