Monthly Archives: February 2012

Dinner’s Ready!

“Dinner’s Ready!”  Man, did I love hearing those two words when I was a kid.  My Mom is a great cook, and I loved dinner time.  Most of the time I would drop everything to get to the table.  There were times, however when I might not answer the call right away.  There were two main questions that determined my reaction time: What was I doing at the time?  What was for dinner?

There were times when I’d be playing a game on the computer, and I just needed to finish one more level.  There were times I was watching TV, and just wanted to wait until the commercial.  There were times my buddies and I were playing basketball in the yard, and we just had to finish this game.

If heaven has a smell, I think it is garlic browning lightly in olive oil.

If dinner was spaghetti, it didn’t really matter what I was doing.  I don’t think I ever had to be called twice to come for spaghetti.  Whenever Mom made spaghetti the aroma would fill the entire house.  It took several hours to cook, creating a crescendo of anticipation as I waited for the moment I could twirl that first forkful of garlic bliss.  On those days, “Dinner’s Ready!” were my two favorite words, and there was no delay.

There was one thing however, that I did not like to eat as a kid.  I need to try it again because my pallet has probably matured, but when I was a kid there was nothing worse than navy bean soup.  I’m sure my Mom made great navy bean soup.  It just wasn’t my favorite.  For me, navy bean soup meant one bowl doused in ketchup, and then peanut butter and jelly.  When I knew that navy bean soup was coming, “Dinner’s Ready!” was not exactly a clarion call.

Now that I’m an adult, “Dinner’s Ready” remains two of my favorite words.  Now I’m usually the one calling out to my family.  It is no longer so much the quality of the food that gets me excited about calling out “Dinner’s Ready!”  I get excited because I know that shortly after saying those two words, the most important people in my world are going to be coming.  Shortly after calling out “Dinner’s Ready!” I will hear the toys being put away (or dropped randomly).  I will hear the distinct pitter-patter of my 18 month old daughter, and the much louder stomps of my 5-year-old daughter running into the kitchen.  I know that soon the four of us will sit down together and eat.  We will pray together.  We will talk about our day.  We will tell jokes.  We will correct the baby when she throws her cup.  We will pick up spills.  We will be nourished in mind, body and soul, and we will be drawn a little closer together.  There are few things I enjoy more than sitting around the table with the people I love most in the world.

Today – right now – God is calling out to all of us, “Dinner’s Ready!”  God wants desperately for us to come to the table, sit down and enjoy the feast.  God yearns for a chance to draw us closer together – all of us.  God wants us to laugh, talk, cry, pray, correct each other when needed, forgive each other when needed, and love each other always.  God invites all to the table, but not everyone will come.

Jesus tells a story in the Gospel of Luke about the great banquet.

 Jesus replied, “ A certain man hosted a large dinner and invited many people. When it was time for the dinner to begin, he sent his servant to tell the invited guests, ‘Come! The dinner is now ready.’ One by one, they all began to make excuses. The first one told him, ‘I bought a farm and must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ Another said, ‘I bought five teams of oxen, and I’m going to check on them. Please excuse me.’ Another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’ When he returned, the servant reported these excuses to his master. The master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go quickly to the city’s streets, the busy ones and the side streets, and bring the poor, crippled, blind, and lame.’ The servant said, ‘Master, your instructions have been followed and there is still room.’ The master said to the servant, ‘Go to the highways and back alleys and urge people to come in so that my house will be filled. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will taste my dinner.’ ” (Luke 14:16-24, Common English Bible)

This story tells us a lot about God and how desperate God is to have the table full.  If we are honest with ourselves, it tells us a lot about us too.  God is willing to go to any length to fill the table with God’s children.  The banquet has been prepared, all God needs now is guests.  When we deny the invitation, God might be frustrated, but God will keep sending servants to find someone to come.

We all deny God’s call at some point.  I know that God has called me to the feast over and over again.  There are times when I have responded, and I have tasted grace.  I have tasted forgiveness.  I have tasted reconciliation.  I know what it is like to take a seat at the gospel feast and feel the love of God.  I have had a taste of the power of the Holy Spirit.  I also know that there are too many times when I have ignored the invitation.

I have come up with my list of excuses.  Like a child not wanting to come have bean soup, I have decided I’d rather play another inning of wiffleball, or solve another Carmen San Diego case.  I’ve used lots of excuses to ignore God’s call.  Like the excuses of the men in Jesus’s parable, they all seemed legitimate at the time, but they were all empty.  Who would buy a field or a yoke of oxen sight unseen?  These two excuses are probably just outright lies.  And a marriage? How does getting married prevent anyone from going to a banquet?  The excuses seem good on the surface, yet a closer look at them reveal just how shallow they are.

Some people love navy bean soup. I'm just not one of them.

Aren’t most of our excuses?  What are the reasons we tell ourselves we cannot answer God?  We lack the time.  We lack the training or talent.  We think someone else can do it.  How many excuses do we come up with, but all of them are foolish.  I mean, we’re not talking about an invitation to choke down some liver and onions.  We’re invited to the greatest banquet that has ever been spread.  God is calling to you, “Dinner’s Ready!”

Maybe you’re invited to your first taste at the table.  You are invited.  You are invited even if you are blind, lame, sick, hurting, broken, shattered, worried, fearful, or poor.  If you are human, you are invited.  Maybe you’ve been to the table before, and God is calling you for more.  Maybe God is calling you for greater service, deeper Bible study, healthier living, fuller prayer, or more passionate worship.

Wherever you are on the path of life, whatever you’ve done, no matter who you are, you are invited.  The banquet is ready – and it is ready now.  It’s not ready in some distant and unreachable future.  It’s not ready by and by when we all go to heaven.  It’s ready now.  God is ready now.  The dinner is ready.  Come and get it.

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This blog post is a condensed form of a sermon I preached at Riverside United Methodist Church on February 26, 2012.  If you are interested in CD with the entire worship service, please let me know in the comments, and I will contact you in private email about mailing information.


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Journey to Hope

Where do you find hope?

It is an interesting question, and one that starts an online Bible study produced by  “A Journey to Hope” is a seven-week look at where hope can be found.  Hope can be found in the most unlikely of places.  In the midst of brokenness and disorder, hope can emerge.  Like a lone sprout emerging from dry, cracked ground, hope defies the odds.

For the next few weeks, I am going to follow this study as it looks at relationships, self-esteem, work, money, suffering, and ends with hope.  The study will include questions for reflection and discussion, video presentations and Biblical commentary.  I’m looking forward to taking this journey, and I invite you to take it with me.

The introduction of the study can be found here.  It poses another question: “Is it possible for something on the horizon to transform your life now?”  As you look out into the horizon, what do you see?  As you think about hope, I offer you this quote from Laura Rossbert, one of the online guides of the journey:

“Hope is rooted in the foundation that God prepares the way for us…  There is a Spirit that is at work in our world that is making a difference with us… It is knowing that it is not all up to me.”  Laura Rossbert

Week One: Relationships

Week Two: Self-Esteem

Week Three: Work

Week Four: Temptation

Week Five: Money

Week Six: Suffering

Week Seven: Hope

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My Scale is No Longer a Dirty Liar

Workout.  Step on scale.  Curse.  Repeat.

This has been my pattern for the three years since I dubbed myself “The Fat Pastor.”  This whole blog started in October 2008 when I first stepped on a scale and had to push the little black sliding thingy all the way to the 300.  Since then I’ve done little more than slowly inch the little sliding thingy on the top over too.

Last week at the doctor I weighed in at 329 pounds.  It was an all-time high for me.  And the sad part is, this is in the midst of working out.  I’ve been working out fairly regularly again for about four months.  It has been so frustrating to get on a scale after a hard workout and think, “This scale is a dirty rotten liar.”  It turns out that when I’m working out, I don’t lose weight, I just slow the gain.  When I stop working out – even for a week – the weight starts to pile on.

I know that weight is not the only indicator of health.  My blood pressure remains a solid 120/80.  I also had blood work done, and am interested in what I’ll find about things like blood sugar and cholesterol (they have been high for as long as I’ve been testing them).  I know that it can be unhealthy to obsess over the number on the scale, but I also know that weight is AN indicator.  It is a number I cannot ignore.

There was a time when I could shed lbs easily – without changing anything but my activity level.  Go and play basketball a few times a week, lift some weights for a month or two, pound the treadmill for a few miles a week, and I would shed weight fairly quickly.  Those days are gone.  I’ve realized that I need to do more than adjust the output level.  I need to adjust the input level too – and that has been much harder to do.  I eat.  I love to eat.  I love to cook and eat.  I love to go out and eat.  I am a lifetime member of the Clean Plate Club, and if you’re not going to eat that, I’ll help you join too!

About 10 days ago I decided that it had to stop.  Inspired by my brother (who dropped a toddler about a year ago), and aided by my Nook, I downloaded Lose It!  This app is simple – it provides a quick and easy way to log calories.  Everything I’ve eaten in the last 10 days goes into the log.  Every time I exercise, that goes in too.  So far, it has been amazing.  I get a certain caloric budget everyday.  As long as I stay under that budget, I should drop a pound a week and get back to my college football weight in about a year.

It turns out that if I’m paying attention, it has been fairly easy to keep under my budget.  Six Girl Scout cookies after dinner were bad.  Two aren’t a big deal.  Two Egg McMuffins at McDonald’s aren’t that bad (600 calories), but now I leave out the hash browns.  A bowl of Cocoa-Roos, plus a refill and a half, at the end of the night isn’t a great snack.  A bowl of Frosted Mini-Wheats can usually fit easily under my budget.  I’m avoiding sweets and chips, and really enjoying apples and air-popped popcorn sprinkled with hot sauce.  Will it last? I don’t know, but a little positive reinforcement goes a long way, and my scale has stopped lying to me.

The results so far have been astounding.  Remember the pattern I described at the top?  Today, it went like this:  Workout, step on scale, (see 317) shout “YES!” and pump fist in front of four other guys in locker room.  I pray that this cycle “ends” with repeat too.


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To my daughters, P.S.

Here is my letter to my daughters.

I decided I need to add something.


Girls, I felt like I needed to share this with you too.  There might be times when you find yourself in a precarious situation by no fault of your own.  There are people out there that are simply predators. While I believe that most predators use emotional pain and lack of self-love as a weapon, there are some that use simple brute force.  That being said, I hope to teach you the effectiveness of a well placed kick to the groin.  Or maybe I can let someone like Erin Weed, one of my personal heroes, teach you at a Girls Fight Back seminar.  I’m sure I’ll take you both to one someday.

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To my daughters,

Today is Valentine’s Day, and on this day there are a few things I want you to know about love.

First of all, I love God.  I love God with my whole heart, mind, soul, and strength.  There are times when I fall short of what that means in my life, but I try to make the love of God the driving force behind everything I do.  I know also that God loves me.  God’s love for me is stronger than my failures.  God’s love is steadfast and endures forever.  Because of God’s love, I am able to love.

Secondly, I love your mother.  I have loved her for fourteen years, and everyday that we spend together I love her more.  The love that your mother and I share is strengthened by our love of God.  As we get closer to each other, we get closer to God too.  She and I share a bond that I cannot fully put into words. You are a product of a love that is very powerful, and that makes you powerful.  Right now you are young enough and sweet enough to like it when you see us hug and kiss.  Usually you want to join in and turn it into a “family hug.”  Eventually you will probably think it’s “gross,” but you should know that it will never stop.

I want to raise you as girls that love God, and I pray that someday you will find someone that loves you as much as I love your mother.  It’s my job to teach you what that feels like.

It is terrifying to think of you growing up, because growing up can be so painful. It can be so dangerous, and I want to protect you from all of those dangers.  Yet I know that I cannot protect you by keeping you sheltered.  Right now your Mom and I are the most important people in your world.  I know that won’t always be the case, so I’m trying to make the most of it now.  I know that there will be people coming into your life.  Some will be positive, some will be negative.

Some will love you for who you are, and some will use you for what you can do for them. Some will laugh with you, and some will hurt you.  Some will appreciate your beauty, and others might abuse it.  The only way I can protect you is to teach you how to tell the difference.  It’s my job to teach you that love is never about jealousy, violence, manipulation, lust, or power, and that healing is always possible.

That’s why we have “Daddy-Daughter Date Night.”  That is why I read to you before you go to bed.  That is why we turn off the radio in the car on the way to preschool.  That is why we turn off the TV and play in the evening.  That is why I get home as soon as I can every night.  I want to take every moment I can to teach what it feels like to be loved unconditionally.

I love talking with you, listening to your stories, eating dinner with you, and treating you like you are the most important person in the world.  I love asking you about your favorite books, and teaching you about sports.  I love hearing about your friends, finding out what makes you mad, or happy, or excited.  I love holding you in my arms. I love the smell of your hair.  I love your slobbery, open-mouthed, 18-month-old kisses; and your surprisingly strong five-year-old hugs.  I love when you touch my cheek and smile.  I love to hear you sing.  I love hearing you laugh.  When you dance, I see heaven.


Someday I pray that you will find someone that loves those things too.  But first, you need to love you too.  Love your compassion.  Love your kindness.  Love your courage. Love your imagination.  Love your strength.  Love your dreams.  Love your intellect.  Love your body.  Love mercy.  Love justice.  Love humility.  Love your God.

You’ll never see me wear a shirt like this.  I understand the sentiment.  I understand what it means to want to protect you.  I will always want to protect you, but I hope that someday I will be able to let you protect yourself.  If I ever feel the need to go get my shot gun, it will be because of my own failure, not yours.

Happy Valentine’s Day.  I hope now you understand a little bit more about love.  It is, after all, what we are created for.



P.S. Here


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My hope rests

The United Methodist Church is dying. I have heard the numbers, and they don’t lie. I’m not going to quote them here, but trust me.  The numbers aren’t pretty.  And it’s not just the United Methodist Church.  In the United States, churches of all brands, denominations, theology, and politics are seeing decline.  There are some that celebrate the death of religion.

But I’m here to tell you that the reports of the death of the United Methodist Church have been greatly exaggerated.  Is it the same Church it was 50 years ago?  No – Thank God.  The numbers tell one story, and it is an important story that we need to pay attention to.  There are many reasons why churches have been in decline for the last forty years.  I was reminded this week that the United Methodist Church is about more than numbers.

Today I celebrated the wonderful and holy meal of Communion.  I enjoyed this meal in a conference room of the United Methodist Building in Washington DC.  It is a building that sits at a corner.  Across one street is the Supreme Court building.  Across the other street is the US Capitol.  I’ve spent the last few days amongst leaders in the United Methodist Church with the General Board of Church and Society.  It has been a full week.

It has been full of information, meetings, inspiration, prayer, walking, fellowship, and friendship.  I have met two Congressmen, and a General Secretary.  I have stood in awe of the great monuments dedicated to the history of this nation.  My greatest thrill however, has been the chance to meet the amazing young leaders that have dedicated their lives to serving Christ in the United Methodist Church.  I’ve met real people with hopes, passion, talent, and skill.  I’ve shared stories, ideas, and laughs.

This whole experience has been incredibly uplifting.  Today as I walked toward the bread and the cup, I was filled with hope.  I felt an amazing rush of power – Holy Spirit power.  I looked around at the faces of people that were once colleagues, and are now friends.  I saw Jordan, Becky, Chris, Beth, Chris, Bethany, Jessica, Ann, Andrew, and so many others.  I looked at the faces of these servant leaders, and I felt the power of hope.

I still know all the numbers.  I’m not hiding my head in the sand as the church is in decline.  Even while I’ve been here I have heard the stories of church decline, and of the struggles that we face across the United States connection.  This week though has been a great reminder that our church – the imperfect, troubled, struggling church I love – is about more than numbers.

My hope rests above all in the Jesus’ love and righteousness.  My hope resides also in the leaders that are working to open hearts, minds, and doors in the name of Jesus Christ.


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True Peace


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The Fat Pastor Goes to Washington

The last time I was in Washington DC, I was 12 years old.  Even then I was a history geek and remember the chills when I first entered the Lincoln Memorial.  I remember standing in front of the Gettysburg Address.  I read it out loud, unafraid if anyone thought I was crazy.  It was the first time I read it, and I was in awe.  Now I am 34, and last night when I walked into the Lincoln Memorial, the chills came back.  I stood in front of those words and read them aloud again.  Tears rolled down my cheeks.

My giant head makes it hard to see Abe, but I’m using a pretty old camera phone.

I’m in Washington DC for the 2012 Young Clergy Leadership Forum hosted by the General Board of Church and Society.  It is an awesome privilege to be here among 51 other clergy from over 30 Annual Conferences.  I’ve already met some terrific people.  I got into Washington yesterday afternoon and spent about four hours just walking around the mall.  I think my goosebumps tally was four, and my tears came twice.

I think the most emotional part of my night though, was when I approached the Martin Luther King memorial.  It is set up so that as you come to it from the Lincoln Memorial, you have to walk in between a few huge stones.  The opening between the stones is aligned with the Jefferson Memorial, creating a beautiful geographic juxtaposition.  I stood with Lincoln, the man that helped save the Union, behind me and with Thomas Jefferson, the man that wrote “all men are created equal” directly in front of me.  In between is the rock that reads “Out of the Mountain of Despair, a Stone of Hope.”  It was quite powerful to think about the promises that were offered by Jefferson, the tragic work of Lincoln, and the dream of King.  I paused and read some of King’s quotes that adorn the memorial.  I sat by the water and pondered his dream.  Surely there is much work to be done, but I am awestruck at how far we have come.  The mountain of despair remains daunting, but the stone of hope is sure.

The Jefferson Memorial can be seen through the rocks of the Martin Luther King Memorial

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The Power of a Great Theme Song

“Some times you want to go, where everybody knows your name.  And they’re always glad you came…”

The Rembrandts “I’ll Be There For You” was a number one hit in America in 1995.

“So no one told you life was going to be this way.  Your job’s a joke, you’re broke, you’re love life’s D.O.A… I’ll be there for you (When the rain starts to pour)…”

If you read those lines, it is almost impossible to not start humming the tune.  These, of course, are lines from two of the greatest TV theme songs.  (If you’re interested in getting an hour or more sucked from your life, you should go to his website, with playable videos of the top 40 TV theme songs of all time.)

What makes these great theme songs?  First of all, they were attached to great shows.  The theme song to Veronica’s Closet might have been a masterpiece, but no one is going to remember it.  Secondly, they were truly “Theme” songs.  Meaning, they set the theme for the rest of the show.

The Friend’s theme is upbeat and youthful.  You can clap along to it, and identify with the emotion of starting off in the world.  It captured what was so popular about the show.  It’s lyrics about friendship and being there for each other make the same emotional claim on the viewer that the show was able to make.   The Cheers theme is a beautiful song (ranked number one by that website) that speaks to what made the show great – the desire to be a part of a community.  Lovers of Cheers felt intimately connected to Sam, Norm, Cliff, and Diane, and that connection began with the wistful “Making the way in the world today, takes everything you got.  Taking a break from all your trouble, sure would help a lot.”

The United Methodist Church has a theme song too.  And just like these great TV theme songs, it captures the heart of what the Methodist movement was, and should still be, all about.  The United Methodist Church wasn’t always a church.  In fact, its founders were never members.  John and Charles Wesley were members of the Church of England, and never intended on creating a new church.  Charles, in fact, was adamantly opposed to it.  John saw it more as a pragmatic solution to the problem of a movement that grew too fast for the institution.

“O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing” is the unofficial theme song of the UMC, and it captures perfectly what our church once was, and what it could be again.  It is a song that is about two things – the power of a redeeming God and our only proper response.  Charles Wesley wrote this hymn on the anniversary of the day he found a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  He was deeply rooted in the Church of England, but for most of his life he felt no real connection to the loving, merciful, and gracious God that can transform lives.

The song is a reminder of that experience – the power of knowing a God that makes sorrows cease, makes the sinner clean, and restores us to new life.  Wesley’s hymn captures the joy and excitement that is felt when a relationship with Jesus Christ becomes real and personal.

There are very few things that are more personal than a relationship with Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.  My relationship with Jesus is intensely personal.  It has had its ups and downs.  We have had times when were were extremely close and times when I’ve alienated myself from him.  Jesus knows the inner depths of my soul and can see the blackest parts of my heart.  He has seen me stumble.  He has seen me hide.  He has seen me fall.  He has seen me get knocked down.  But every time I get knocked down he is right there.  He puts his arm around me and whispers in my ear, “Get up, Robb.”

And those times when I have gotten back up, there is nothing that I can do but sing my praise to God.  My only wish is that I had more than one mouth to do it with.  I wish I had more than one tongue to sing my savior’s praise.  O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing my great redeemer’s praise!   You see, transformation in the Holy Spirit is an intensely personal experience, but it is not private.  Authentic faith in Jesus Christ is a personal matter, but it must never be private.

This dual nature of faith as both intensely personal and never private is what our theme song is about.  Knowing our redeeming God brings tremendous joy.  I am convinced that others are in desperate need of this kind of joy.  They are in need of a relationship with the God transforms lives, transforms communities, and transforms the world.  People are looking for something that gives life meaning.  I have found meaning in a relationship with Jesus and in involvement with the United Methodist Church, and if I am to live up to our theme song, then I must share this with others.  It doesn’t mean that I am going to tell others that they are wrong.  It doesn’t mean that I’m going to insert God into conversations where it isn’t warranted or welcomed.  I’m a grown up with grown up social skills, but I’m also not going to hide from the opportunity to share with someone what God has done in my life and what life in the Church means to me.

John Wesley preaching outside (because most churches wouldn’t let him inside). Notice: He’s using words

“O For a Thousand Tongues” is our theme song, and it captured what was great about the Methodist Church.  It was written for a movement that was driven by the Holy Spirit.  It was the song of a movement that captured the hearts of thousands.  It was written for a movement of people that were willing to take risks – to go places others weren’t willing to go.  It was written for those going into the prisons, for those preaching to the working poor that would never enter a church, for those that were meeting in their homes to have hard discussions about how God was working in their lives.  It was written for a movement of people that were on fire with the Holy Spirit, and could not help but tell others.  It doesn’t mean that they were pushy or judgmental or rude.  It was written for a people that had found the good news of Jesus Christ and found that one tongue to share that good news just wasn’t enough.

In our world where we are inundated with bad news, couldn’t the world use a little bit of good news?  Are people really going to think you’re a nut job if you tell them that you find meaning in worship, study, fellowship, prayer, or service?

Today, many Methodists like to quote Francis of Assisi’s “Preach the gospel at all times.  Use words when necessary.”  There’s a lot about that quote that I like.  If it means “Make sure that your actions back up your words,” or “Don’t just talk the talk, but walk the walk,” I can get on board.  For too many though, this quote is used as an excuse to not talk about their faith.  Sometimes words are needed.  Most of the time words are needed.

“O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” by Charles Wesley
O for a thousand tongues to sing,
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace!

My gracious Master and my God,
Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad.
The honors of Thy name.

Jesus! the name that charms our fears,
That bids our sorrows cease;
’Tis music in the sinner’s ears,
’Tis life, and health, and peace.

He breaks the power of canceled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me.

He speaks, and, listening to His voice,
New life the dead receive,
The mournful, broken hearts rejoice,
The humble poor believe.

Hear Him, ye deaf;
His praise, ye dumb,
Your loosened tongues employ;
Ye blind, behold your Savior come,
And leap, ye lame, for joy.

In Christ your Head, you then shall know,
Shall feel your sins forgiven;
Anticipate your heaven below,
And own that love is heaven.

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This blog was written after I preached a sermon on this topic at Riverside United Methodist Church in Moline, Illinois.  If you are interested in a CD of the worship service, please leave a comment below and I will contact you about a mailing address.


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