The God Who Is There

The God Who is There      Genesis 28:10-17

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Do you remember the dreams you had last night? Whether you remember them or not, we all dream. The purpose and meaning of dreams is still a mystery. Dr. Ilana Simmons, in an article in Psychology Today, wrote about five theories on why we dream:

*We Dream to Practice Responses to Threatening Situations. Ever notice that dreams have a blood-surging urgency to them? In dreams, we are rehearsing fight-and-flight responses, even though the legs and arms are not actually moving.

*Dreams Create Wisdom. Dreams sort through memories to determine which ones to retain and which to lose. Sleep turns a flood of daily information into what we call wisdom: the stuff that makes us smart for when we come across future decisions.

*Dreaming is Like Defragmenting Your Hard Drive. Dreaming is a shuffling of old connections that allows us to keep the important connections and erase the inefficient links. They are a reordering of connections to streamline the system.

*Dreams Are Like Psychotherapy. In dreams we confront difficult and surprising emotions and sit with those emotions in a new way. We think through emotional stuff in a less rational and defensive frame of mind. We come to accept truths we might otherwise repress.

*The Absence of Theory. Others argue that dreams have no meaning at all —that they are the random firings of a brain that doesn’t happen to be conscious at that time. The mind is still “functioning”, but there’s no conscious sense behind the film.

Philosophical Brazillian author Paulo Coelho wrote:

“We must never stop dreaming. Dreams provide nourishment for the soul, just as a meal does for the body.” ― Paulo CoelhoThe Pilgrimage

What if you had a dream about God that changed your life? In our text today is a dream by one the prominent Old Testament Patriarchs has a dream that shifts his life toward a greater consciousness of God.

Genesis 28:10-17  Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

Jacob’s Dream

It wasn’t a typical dream – there are no other dreams in the Bible just like this one. There are 21 dreams recorded in the Bible – this is the second one.  You can likely recall some of the dreams of the Bible. Old Testament Joseph had dreams of his brothers bowing down to him.  New Testament Joseph had a visit from an angel in a dream about Mary’s faithfulness. These recorded dreams are all different and have varying elements. In the Bible, dreams are not typical of one another. This dream is unique in it’s elements and message.

This dream was a reinforcement of the promise made to Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham.

God doesn’t only give dreams of meaning to the good guys. Nebuchadnezzar had a dream of a giant statue that revealed the periods of history both past and future. Pontius Pilate’s wife had a dream about Jesus and urged him to let him go. Jacob actually wasn’t that great of a man of God either. In fact when Jacob has this dream he is on the run after stealing his brother’s birthright through deception.

We shouldn’t give equal weight to every dream. Jacob was a human being who, like us, had many dreams. Even vivid dreams may not contain any Divine information for us. But if you go to sleep with a rock for a pillow you might have strange dreams.

After his dream Jacob awoke with this thought:

Genesis 23:16 “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place!This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”

What We Learn From Jacob’s Dream

-God keeps his promises. God keeps his promises even when we fail. Sometimes we find this hard to accept. True, there are conditional promises in the Bible, but even then God keeps his word. But if God revoked his promises every time we slip up or when we fail to live up to His word perfectly, then we could never be sure that He was going to keep his promises.

-God is near, even when he seems far away.  I imagine Jacob was feeling pretty lonely about this time in his life. He had betrayed his father and his brother. He had to run for his life. He was uncertain what lie ahead for him and his future. Here is the grandson of the Father of the Faithful, who, with the help of his mother, was nothing more than a liar and a thief on the run. She sent him away to her brother’s and would never see him again. It wasn’t his brightest day.  Someone said, “It must have been tough for Jacob to live with Jacob!” Yet God was near. God is so near that Jacob thinks, “This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven!” In the CEB: “It’s none other than God’s house and the entrance to heaven.” In our times of trouble I pray we can all look around and recognize God’s presence and know that heaven is near.

“Bethel” means “the house of God.” By renaming the site Jacob made a lasting statement about the meeting he had there with the living God. “Bethel” is wherever our Lord meets with us. The hospital bed, the assisted living facility, our living rooms, and especially our places of prayer can be “Bethel’s.”

-God fulfills many of his promises through Jesus. In our accounting we may not understand why God renewed Abraham’s promises with the unworthy Jacob, but we are grateful that he did. There’s an interesting story in John 1 where Jesus called Philip to follow him. Philip told Nathanael that he had found the Messiah. Remember Nathanael’s response? “Can anything from Nazareth be good?” (John 1:46) Philip told him to come meet Jesus and when he did, Jesus gave Nathanael a great compliment. “Here is a genuine Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” We’ve been studying about Jacob who was quite a deceitful character, but Nathanael was not. Though Nathanael doubted at first Jesus won him over and said, “Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.

LeRoy Garrett: Scholars agree that Jesus is thinking of the Genesis story in making this statement. If so, that means that Jesus sees himself as the ladder in Jacob’s dream that reaches from earth to heaven. He, as the risen Messiah, would be the access to heaven for all mankind. It is one more instance of the Old Testament anticipating the future Messiah…  He is the ladder to heaven!. Nazareth is not all that bad after all!

Conclusion

Surely God is in this place and I did not know it. When do we need to recall this significant statement of faith? It needs to remain on our minds as we face the battles of life. Jacob is a reminder of the words Paul wrote about himself in Philippians 3:14, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” His dream at Bethel was just one marker on the journey.

LifeGroup Questions

1. Can you recall a dream that was either touching … scary … or that was so vivid it remains in your memory? Or are you one of those who never remember any dreams? If you could choose to dream about something what would it be?

2. Jacob is a moral mixed bag in his life story … like most of us. Some take the view that if we disappoint God by failure He will no longer keep his promises. What do you think about that?

3. God keeps his promises. Can you name some of the promises of God … especially any promise that is very meaningful to you? Twelve Promises: A promise from God is a statement we can depend on with absolute confidence. Here are 12 promises for the Christian to claim.

God’s presence—“I will never leave thee” (Heb. 13:5)

God’s protection—“I am thy shield” (Gen. 15:1)

God’s power—“I will strengthen thee” (Isa. 41:10)

God’s provision—“I will help thee” (Isa. 41:10)

God’s leading—“And when He putteth forth His own sheep, He goeth before them” (John 10:4)

God’s purposes—“I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil” (Jer. 20:11)

God’s rest—“Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28)

God’s cleansing—“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9)

God’s goodness—“No good thing will He withhold from them that work uprightly” (Psalm 84:11)

God’s faithfulness—“The Lord will not forsake His people for His great name’s sake” (1 Sam. 12:22)

God’s guidance—“The meek will He guide” (Psalm 25:9)

God’s wise plan—“All things work together for good to them that love God” (Rom. 8:28)

From Our Daily Bread, January 1, 1985, Posted HERE

Or

If it is possible, watch THIS BRIEF VIDEO that touches on the more than 3,000 promises in Scripture. Which one or two really catches your attention?

4. The setting of today’s text begins in the previous chapter when Rebekah led her son Jacob through a deception of his father. What deceptions do you see at work in Genesis 27:1-4, 15-22?

5. Jacob named the place of his dream “Bethel” which means “house of God” … what are some “Bethel” places in your life … some places that you connect with God’s presence?

6. In spite of the sketchy character of Jacob at certain points of his life, over 22 times in Scripture God is described as the “God of Jacob.” In Matthew 22 Jesus is talking about the resurrection. In your view, what point is Jesus making when uses the term “God of Jacob”?

Matthew 22:31-33 But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” 33 When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.

7. What dreams do you have for your life with God?

Bonus: Jacob’s Dream statue on the campus of Abilene Christian University

Next Week: Exodus 2:23-25; 3:1-15; 4:10-17 – God’s Name is Revealed

 

Resources

Dreams in the Bible infographic

What Do Dreams Do For Us? 

Jacob’s Ladder: The Messiah, essay by Leroy Garrett 

Introduction to God

 

INTRODUCTION TO GOD   Genesis 1

It’s my theory that Genesis 1 may be one of the most read  chapters of the Bible.  When we decide to read Bible, that’s where we start. When we think about Bible stories to teach our  children, the days of creation are a natural. When we think about the sin in our world / lives, we  often think back to the story of the fall. 

People use Genesis 1 for many purposes. Discussions of day/age theories. Finding scientific explanations between the lines. Doctrinal teachings about the origin of God or Trinity. All of that is fine but to me that is not what Genesis 1 is  about. To me, it is an introduction to God. 

It doesn’t explain everything about God or try to answer  any question we can conjure up.  St. Augustine wrote, “We are talking about God. What  wonder is it that you do not understand? If you do  understand, then it is not God.”  I think we would all be willing to admit that we have a  lot more questions about God and for God than we do  answers. So, what we DO know is even more important.  The revelation of God who is our Father.   If we were opening up the Bible for the first time,  what would we learn about God from the first  chapter?

1. GOD CREATES ORDER OUT OF CHAOS 

Genesis 1:2-3 (AMP) The earth was formless and void or a waste and emptiness, and darkness was upon the face of the deep [primeval ocean that covered the unformed earth]. The Spirit of God was moving (hovering, brooding) over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

I don’t know what that chaos was like, even with the pretty  vivid description. 
 We were born into a world of order.  Seasons change pretty much on time.  Weather patterns are somewhat predictable. Gravity keeps us well grounded. 

But what about when the orderly life falls apart?  When things get out of control, out of our hands? When our power to create new realities is nonexistent. Christians find peace that passes understanding in  those storms. It comes from God who creates order out of chaos and  is always powerful enough to do it. 

2. GOD TAKES HIS TIME TO ACCOMPLISH HIS WILL. 

Genesis 1:3-5 (AMP)  And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good (pleasing, useful) and He affirmed and sustained it; and God separated the light [distinguishing it] from the darkness. And God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was [f]evening and there was morning, one day.

I could be wrong, but I think God who can create order in  the chaos over six days could have actually created it all  in one day. One word.  An artist who had a vision for what they desire to paint,  and who enjoy the painting of it, God took his time.  Six days of speaking, seeing, proclaiming that it’s good.

We assume God with his power can make things right  –  and that he ought to do  it … now.  When we’re broken hearted and we’ve prayed and cried  our eyes out we just can’t see through our own chaos  what God is doing. Or Why.

Ravi Zacharias writes about God calling him the Grand  Weaver. Life can be like an embroidery … on the  underside it is a mess. You can’t imagine that there is  anything of value there. But when you turn it over you  can see what was not revealed previously. Do you think the angels wondered if this creation of the  world was going to turn out to be a mess? Then suddenly verse 20 bursts into color:

“Then God  said, ‘Let the waters swarm and abundantly produce  living creatures, and let birds soar above the earth in  the open expanse of the heavens.’”

A wow moment. 

God doesn’t make prodigals come home and he doesn’t  clean up addicts and he doesn’t afflict tyrant world  leaders … on our time table. But that doesn’t mean he  isn’t at work. Patiently. Creating. Beauty.

3. GOD LOVES IN COMMUNITY

Genesis 1:26a, 27 (AMP) Then God said, “Let Us (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) make man in Our image, according to Our likeness … So God created man in His own image, in the image and likeness of God He created him; male and female He created them. 

God didn’t make humans because he was lonesome.  He lives in community. We call it a Trinity.  The Bible doesn’t use that word but a good word.  It is striking that of all the beautiful things God made,  he only made one thing in his image. And that was us.

“You weren’t an accident. You weren’t mass produced.  You aren’t an assembly-line product. You were  deliberately planned, specifically gifted, and lovingly  positioned on the Earth by the Master Craftsman.” –  Max Lucado 

There’s something about every human being that when  God sees them it’s like looking in the mirror.  Humanity can be pretty crummy sometimes but God  made each one in His image.  He made humans to live in community.  Even though they were different in some ways, they  were able to live together as one.  And even make more humans.

4. GOD RESTED.

Genesis 2:1-3 (AMP) So the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts (inhabitants). And by the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested (ceased) on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. So God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it [as His own, that is, set it apart as holy from other days], because in it He rested from all His work which He had created and done.

Now if you ask me, that’s weird. God … rested.  Resting implies tiredness, but does God get tired?  He was done, and he stopped working. For a day.  And he wants us to rest on a day.  

There are Sabbath resisters!  Jesus didn’t command Sabbath rest, but he did practice  it. And there is a Sabbath rest in heaven. But I’ve heard that idea abused…as if to say if we rest  we are somehow letting God down.  Quite the opposite.  Before Moses ever walked down Sinai with the  tablets of stone God blessed and sanctified that  day. So rest with God.

Do we ever need that  message today…in our nonstop world.

Conclusion

This chapter is beyond our imagination. It doesn’t answer every question – even some basic ones. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople in the  end of the fourth century wrote:

“Let us accept what is  said with much gratitude, not overstepping the proper  limit nor busying ourselves with matters beyond us”. 

Genesis 1 introduces a God who creates order out of chaos,  takes time to accomplish his will, loves in community,  and rests. Read the Bible to get to know who God is. Then we’ll know  how much he loves us. 

“Creation discloses a power that baffles our minds and beggars our speech. We are enamored and enchanted by God’s power. We stutter and stammer about God’s holiness. We tremble before God’s majesty… and yet, we grow squeamish and skittish before God’s love.” ― Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

LifeGroup Discussion Questions

1. When you introduce yourself to a stranger, what is the first  thing you tell them about yourself?  Genesis 1 is presented today as an introduction to God. How would you introduce yourself to God, if he didn’t know you?

2. What can we know about things that preceded the events in Genesis 1:1? What does Genesis itself teach us about God’s plan before the earth existed?

3. Chapter 1 shows that everything began with God creating and ordering. How is this different than other explanations you have heard of how the world began? How might knowing that life has purpose and direction affect your daily decisions?

4. What do think it means to be made in the image of God?

5. Part of the meaning of being made in the image of God is that we were made for relationships and community. When sin entered the world relationships were destroyed. Describe the change in relationships that occurred between the following:

* God and mankind

* Adam and Eve

* Mankind and the rest of creation

* Mankind and everlasting life

6. Light is a familiar theme throughout Scripture. How do the references to light in Genesis 1 set the stage for the way light is used later in God’s Word? What does it mean that God Himself is light? Read John 1:4–5. What does this passage reveal about light?

7. Why is it important that God calls His creation “good”? How  does that affect the way we ought to treat it? How well are Christians caring for God’s creation today? In what way is it  possible to strip away the political from the spiritual when it comes to caring for the earth?

8. What is distinctive about the seventh day of the creation week? Why did God make this a day of rest? What precedent  does it set for His people? What message does it give us about God’s own character?

9. Reflect on Brennan Manning’s thought here…and comment on why some are reluctant to believe God loves them.

“Creation discloses a power that baffles our minds and beggars our speech. We are enamored and enchanted by God’s power. We stutter and stammer about God’s holiness. We tremble before God’s majesty… and yet, we grow squeamish and skittish before God’s love.”  ― Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

10. Read Psalm 8 and explore our place in God’s creation and purposes.

Whoever Wants to Be My Disciple

Whoever Wants to Be My Disciple   Matthew 16:21-28

Audio:

Introduction

Iranian actress Aideen Strandson quietly renounced Islam while still living in her homeland. After seeing footage of a woman being stoned to death, she recalled, “I decided at that moment, I don’t want to be a Muslim anymore.” Shortly after, she said, “I had a dream about Jesus. He was sitting near me, and he took my hand.” In 2014, Strandsson fled Iran for Sweden, where she applied for a work visa, petitioned for asylum and asked for a public baptism to confirm her embrace of Christianity. But recently, the country’s migration board rejected Strandsson’s asylum request. She was ordered back to Iran, where as an “apostate,” she could face prison or death for leaving Islam for Christianity. Now, Hungary has responded by opening its doors to her. Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjen said, “Taking in persecuted Christians is our moral and constitutional duty.” More Christians are being persecuted today throughout the world than during the reign of Roman Emperor Nero.” -Bence Rétvári, Hungarian Government Official.

We don’t experience persecution in the US, but a good question for people around the world is, “Who would want to be a Christian?” It is not an easy question – though I would guess all of us would say “ME!” Even to his disciples Jesus would say, “Whoever wants to be my disciple…” Being a disciple of Jesus is not easy- it calls for a great commitment. Yes, it’s a grace-covered experience. It is also a life that is filled with many decisions – some are uncomfortable. If we are looking for easy, comfortable, natural Christianity, don’t look in the Bible.

How does Jesus describe his disciples? What is He calling us to be?

1. Disciples Follow A Risen Savior (21)

Matthew 16:21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

He is a teaching Savior – Jesus began to explain – disciples are committed to listening and learning from our Master! He is a suffering Savior – at the hands of the religiously powerful, rejected by men, he would suffer on the cross, die. He is a Risen Savior – on the third day … Look for this pattern in the life of Discipleship … learn, suffer, rise. Look for this pattern in this text. In what ways are you learning? Suffering for your faith? Focused on eternity?

2. Disciples Have the Concerns of God (22-23)

Matthew 16:22-23 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

There is always a danger when we object to the teaching of the Master. We clearly do not know as much as Jesus. We take a step out of discipleship when we object to Jesus. We can have the concerns of the Enemy, not the Father. 

What are the concerns of God? Certainly the Gospel path of Jesus, Death, Burial, Resurrection. Are we concerned with Heaven’s Desire… In our Homes,  In our Habits, In our Workplace / Community, In our Church? Among our friends? Peter wanted to tell Jesus how things were to be… Jesus stopped him in his tracks. If Jesus could see our motives and ways of living, would He think they were driven by Heaven’s desires? Disciples follow a risen Savior and have the concerns of God.

3. Disciples Practice Self-Denial. (24)

Matthew 16:24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.A. Much of the struggle of the Christian life is self-denial.

The ‘self-focused’ individual has a hard time choosing God’s ways over our own. Our attitude about cross-bearing is usually about small, meaningless things in life that may be unpleasant but they hardly come up to the level of the cross. The Earliest Christians were convicted by the crucifixion of Christ to deny self. Times of fasting and prayer characterized much of the early Christian life.

Romans 15:1-3 We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”

Can you imagine what the world/church/you would be like if this were practiced faithfully? Much of the teachings of Jesus and the apostles lead us toward self-denial.

Barclay: “To deny oneself means in every moment of life to say no to self and yes to God. To deny oneself means once, finally and for all to dethrone self and to enthrone God….The life of constant self-denial is the life of constant assent to God.”

Mitchell Reddish, Feasting on the Word: “The condemned criminal who carried the horizontal bar of the cross to the site of crucifixion would have been subjected to taunts, humiliation, rejection, and shame before finally enduring an agonizing death. The disciple who “takes up the cross” is one who is willing to surrender pride, ego, status, comfort, and even life for the sake of the kingdom of God.”

4. Disciples Have an Eternal Perspective(25-26)

Matthew 16:25-26 For whoever wants to save their life[f] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 

AMP: For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world [wealth, fame, success], but forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 

We have so much to gain …True Life Comes Only from Jesus. 

John 6:35 “I am the bread of life,” Jesus told them. “No one who comes to Me will ever be hungry, and no one who believes in Me will ever be thirsty again.”

John 10:10 A thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.”

John 14:6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

The world cannot give us what Jesus does. Guidance to Heaven’s Desires. Grace so we do not have to be anxious. Mercy so we can move on. Holy Spirit to help us in prayer. Presence to comfort us. Avoidance of many dangerous traps of the enemy. You don’t have to look around long to see  the misery of the world. Even in the lives of Christians who attempt to live worldly lives while clinging to some form of religion. ‘Just enough religion to make them miserable!’

’Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in his wonderful face. And the things of the world will grow strangely dim In the light of his glory and grace.’ (Ravenhill: Will grow strangely grim)

5. Disciples Anticipate the Return of the Master (27-28)

Matthew 16:27-28 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

For them, the resurrection and coming of the church were immanent. For us, the return of Christ may be today, or not in our lifetime, but we anticipate the renewal of all things.

Conclusion

In August of 2003 – the Church of the Holy Cross in Midtown Manhattan, New York City was broken into twice. In the first break-in, thieves stole a moneybox that was situated near a votive candle rack. Three weeks later, the church was burglarized a second time. But this time, the thieves escaped with something much more valuable. They stole a 4-foot tall, 200-pound plaster statue of Jesus from the crucifix, but they left His cross behind. When interviewed by the media, the church caretaker,David St. James, expressed his bewilderment at this. “They just decided, ‘We’re going to leave the cross and take Jesus.’ We don’t know why they took just him. We figure if you want the crucifix, you take the whole crucifix.” In other words, David St. James was saying, “If you want Jesus, you take his cross, too.”

 

Resources:

https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/take-up-your-cross-and-follow-him-paul-andrew-sermon-on-suffering-210568?ref=SermonSerps

https://www.churchmilitant.com/mission

Grief and Trauma Conference

Hear noted Grief and Trauma specialist Dr. H. Norman Wright in two presentations at First West on September 11-12.

Monday night, September 11th, he will speak about “What We All Need to Know About Grief”. This free seminar is open to the public and all who have suffered a loss are invited to attend. Please share with those who have lost a loved one.

Tuesday, September 12th, from 8:30 – 3:00 will be a day-long free seminar for those who encounter trauma and loss on a regular basis. Registration is required (click HERE to register) because a free lunch is provided. The theme is “What to Do When…” and focuses on first responders, medical personnel, police, veterans, hospice workers, counselors, pastors, teachers … anyone who deals with trauma, PTSD, suicide, grief, disasters, accidents, crime and assault.

Among many community sponsors, Forsythe Church of Christ participated in bringing Dr. Wright to Monroe. Please share with anyone you think may be interested.