Help support the vision of Woodland Hills Community Church!

Help support the vision of Woodland Hills Community Church!
For those of you who would like to support the vision & ministry of Woodland Hills Community Church (the faith community I serve that continues to encourage me to minister outside the box), please click on the link just above.

September 8

Today’s reading from Ezekiel (Ezekiel 4:1-17) energized me to the core of my being for it showed the kind of faith life I’ve been compelled to follow for myself. In the passage, the prophet Ezekiel is given very specific instructions for how he is to act out his prophetic judgment upon the house of Israel. In the instructions, God tells Ezekiel to do something that would violate Ezekiel’s beliefs and practices. God tells Ezekiel to consume something he would consider unclean. So how does Ezekiel respond to God’s edict? Does he passively go along with God? Does he bury his concerns out of fear for appearing unfaithful and then – over time – grow to resent God? Nope. He lets her rip. He cries out to God, “Not so, Sovereign Lord! I have never defiled myself” (Ezekiel 4:14 – NIV). Even more impressively, how does God respond to Ezekiel’s defiance? With a little lightning and smoting? Nope. God responds with the words, “’Very well,’ God said, ‘I will let you bake your bread over cow manure instead of human excrement.” I personally would have held out for food prepared with wood over cow excrement, but that might have been pushing it. Nevertheless, what a powerful model the book of Ezekiel gives us for establishing our connection with God. A connection where both parties are fully involved and fully invested. A connection where both parties are allowed to speak their mind. A connection where both parties – both parties - are open to being changed. In other words, a connection that can only be described as a relationship. While such a connection might be a little more messy than other forms of connection, it is a connection that I wouldn’t trade for all the world. For it is a connection that I can form authentically – with the whole of my being. Thanks Ezekiel for showing me what real faith can look like!

September 7

Of all the readings I covered today, the piece of Scripture that most jumped out at me was the passage from the Gospel of Luke (Luke 9:1-17) that contained what is known as the story of the feeding of the 5,000. The issue that presented itself to me was the issue of the disciples’ assumption that they lacked the resources necessary to carry out the task to which they were called (feeding the massive crowd). This morning I had the opportunity to talk to a couple members of council and share some of my learnings from my sabbatical. In the midst of the conversation, I shared that the most exciting part of my return was my conviction that we already had all of the resources we needed to move vibrantly into the future. I think it surprised them a bit. You see we in the institutional churches get so use to operating from a place of assumed deficit and slide into what I label the “if only” mode (i.e. if only we had more money, if only we had more members/volunteers, if only…). In other words, we take the place of the disciples in today’s reading who responded to Jesus’ request to feed the crowd by saying, “[But] we have only five loaves of bread and two fish…” (Translation: if only we had more bread and fish…). It takes constant awareness of where one is coming from to combat this way of thinking. Of course this dynamic doesn’t just happen in our collective lives. It dominates our personal lives as well (i.e. if only my partner would be more understanding, if only I got that raise/promotion, if only my kids would appreciate what I was doing for them, if only…). The challenge for me today is to remind myself to come from a place of sufficiency: trusting that through God, I have access to all of the resources I need to face the challenges before me/us. Til next time…

September 6

Of all of the devotional readings today, one really leapt out at me. That was the Gospel reading from Luke 8:40-56. The passage contained two stories: the story of Jairus’ daughter and the story of the hemorrhaging woman. There was one aspect of the story of the hemorrhaging woman that dealt directly with issues I had been sitting with/wrestling with this summer during my sabbatical experience. It has to do with how an individual and/or community reaches out to folks. Let me set my insight up. Lots of churches spend lots of dollars trying to draw in others through things like perfectly worded letters to visitors, splashy leaflets and brochures to canvass the neighborhood, the promise of programs to fit every life circumstance, etc. All of these things are predicated on what WE can do for YOU! Then we wonder why the folks who show up in our churches arrive with consumerist expectations. Well, it would seem, it’s because we attract them with consumerist approaches. The wisdom of the story of the hemorrhaging woman is that two things had to happen in order for the woman in the story to be truly healed or made whole. First, she had to reach the point in her life where she was ready to seek out a transformative experience (for some, this means exhausting every other possible resource; for others it means a willingness to abandon a piece of our identity that’s grounded in our previous situation). Second, the woman had to actually reach out and seek that connection. This takes time and effort on the part of the individual. No one - or no entity - can do it for you. What would it be like if we redid the way we approached church and focused more on spiritual formation (helping facilitate in ourselves and others a connection with God that in turn creates a transformative and invitational way of being that encourages folks to reach out) and less on marketing techniques or gimmicks? Til next time…

September 5

Today’s devotions (Psalm 43 & 61; Ezekiel 2:1-3:3; Luke 8:26-39; Revelation 15:1-8) were especially helpful for me. You see over the summer, I began putting a stronger emphasis on the role of centering prayer in my spiritual life. For those of you unfamiliar with centering prayer, centering prayer is a spiritual practice that emphasizes a time of mediation whereby your focus is on listening to/for God; this is different than traditional intercessory prayer where the focus is on talking to God. It is recommended that the practitioner of centering prayer find a focusing word that is used to draw your thoughts back to God when your mind begins to wander. In my time of prayer, I adapted this suggestion slightly by incorporating a second centering word as well. I then connected these two centering words to my breathing and used them as an invitation to prayer. As I head into the time of centering prayer, I inhale to the word “hope”. I then exhale to the word “fear”. I found in my time of discernment that fear was the greatest inhibitor in my ministry (hence the reason I exhale to it), and hope is the word that for me best captured my experience of new life/resurrection. As a result, I was thrilled to see that in today’s readings, hope and fear both appeared. Today’s Gospel reading (Luke 8:26-39) told the story of Jesus sending out the legion of demons from the possessed man into the neighboring herd of swine. The story reminded me of an important lesson concerning ministry. Conventional wisdom would say that people would eagerly/excitedly receive a moment of transformation such as the moment when the demons fled the possessed man. And yet what was the reaction of the community? “Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear” (Luke 8:37). The Gospel lesson was an important reminder that one cannot evaluate the success of a ministry simply by the people’s response because often transformative moments initially lead not to hope but fear, as one is drawn from the comfortable life we know (even if that life is plagued with our own version of demons) to a liberated new life. So where was the hope I so desperately need to draw in? I found it in the 43rd Psalm that read (in “The Message”): “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise [God], my Savior, and my God”. It reminds me that my hope isn’t in some superficial exterior (people’s rewards or praise), but rather in the One in whom my life and ministry is grounded. [Inhale] Hope; [Exhale] Fear… [Inhale] Hope; [Exhale] Fear… [Inhale] Hope; [Exhale] Fear… Til next time… (PS: If you would like a copy of the daily lectionary readings I used, just email me at and I would be happy to email you a copy right away).

September 4

For the past month, I've been using the daily lectionary reading program. I introduced this to the church on Sunday. It'll be the basis of our weekly Sacred Grounds conversation groups that start tonight. I'm excited about this. I'm hoping it'll give folks an opportunity to take time to reflect in news ways on their own spiritual lives. I thought since the focus of the devotions is to help connect pieces of God's story (as found in the sacred writings of our tradition) with our own, that I would begin to do that with my regular entries - that I would use the daily devotional readings to reflect on my own story. This morning I spent time in Psalms 93, Ezekiel 1:15-28, Acts 9:19b-31 & Luke 9:16-25. There were two themes that jumped out for me in the readings. The first came from Acts 9:31. After spending a summer of exploration about various ways of being the church and strenghten the life of the church, it was refreshing to encounter the raw simplicity in Acts as to what makes for a healthy faith community. Eugene Peterson's "The Message" translates the verse to read: "They were permeated with a deep sense of reverence for God. The Holy Spirit was with them, strengthening them. They prospered wonderfully." What a great values check that is. Imagine what would happen in the life of our local churches if they approach their life together in that order. Permeate ourselves with a deep sense of reverence for God? Check. Cultivate an awareness of - and appreciation for - the presence of the Holy Spirit? Check. By the time you got this far in your inventory, it would seem that in most cases the third piece would fall into place. Are we prospering wonderfully? Check. And yet so many times, this approach is reversed. Our efforts to address our life together are approached first from a perspective of prosperity. For example, we begin by examining things like the budget (are we behind or ahead) and the worship attendance (are we up or down from the same time last year), and then go from there. When you begin from these places, you are almost guaranteed of adopting a programmatic approach that is predicated on what WE need to DO to turn those numbers around. In the process, it's easy to lose one's spiritual integrity. We obsess with doing what will work rather than what we are called to do/be. As I head back into my day to day ministry, I'll have to keep the words from Acts 9:31 before me, as I try each day to keep my own priorities in line. The second thing that came up for me came out of the passage from Luke 9:22-25 (the story of Jesus calming the storm for the disciples). The one line that literally jumped off the page for me was Jesus' question to the disciples after he had woken up and calmed the storm. He asked simply, "Where is your faith?" While a traditional reading of this verse would suggest he was suggesting an absence of faith, it reminded me of another way to interpret his question. WHERE is the faith that you do have located? This question has great implications on both the individual and collective levels. Like many of us, those disciples probably relied on all the old standbys first. Weather reports? Check. Sealing of the boats? Check. And so on. Their awarenes of/reliance on/trust in God was tossed in as a lost resort after every other means had been exhausted. Sounds an awful lot like me at times. This morning's scripture invites me to once again wrestle with Jesus' timeless question, "Where is my faith?" Til next time...

September 3

Well, I’m officially back in the saddle again. As I return to blogging, I’ve decided not to stress about catchy and/or clever titles for each entry. Instead, I’ll simply use the date to locate myself. I had a great 2-day start back in my ministry over the weekend. I was surprised by how nervous I was heading back into worship on Sunday. In fact, I was up by 4:30 AM on Sunday. I felt good about the start. The most challenging part of my return was my sermon. Trying to balance a summary of what happened to me over my sabbatical with all of the other issues involved (i.e. scriptural exploration and life application) was quite a challenge. I ended up drafting 3 other sermons before I finally settled on the one I used. I know some pastors struggle with writer’s block, but I can say that’s not an issue for me. In fact, in the past it’s not been unusual for me to draft more than one sermon a week. That’s probably why as a lectionary preacher I’ve never felt the need to re-use a sermon. I know that my words suggesting a course for the future were a bit nebulous for some. I discovered that’s one thing about embracing the principles of emerging worship. They don’t lend themselves to a sound bite. It’s really difficult to get folks to understand. The principles are more of a lived experience. That’s why I’m so excited about actually starting to implement some of the principles in our ministry starting this week. Tomorrow night (Tuesday, September 4), for instance, we’ll kick off our Sacred Grounds group that is based on a mix of Karen Ward’s Theology Pub and Doug Pagitt’s scriptural approach toward “progressional dialogue”. Then on Sunday we’ll have our brand NEW (or perhaps very old way depending upon your perspective) worship gathering at 8:00 AM. Consider yourself invited to attending this new way of experiencing worship! In retrospect, I am so glad that I decided to jump in with these activities shortly after my return instead of delaying these events until after the first of the year. Had we waited, I would have gone crazy trying to do the impossible – describe these experiences. As it is now, we’ll give folks a chance to experience these things. Of course there’s a part of me that’s nervous about introducing things that I’ve grown so passionate about as they might be met with complete apathy and/or indifference. However, I have spent the latter half of the summer really grounding myself in the reality that I am not responsible for how folks receive these offerings. I simply need to be faithful and offer the people of God what I am called to offer and let God take over from there. It’s an exciting and VERY humbling place to be. Til next time…