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Help support the vision of Woodland Hills Community Church!
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Sunday, December 9

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 72; Isaiah 11:1-10; Matthew 3:1-12; Roman 15:4-13; Psalm 7

One thing that has saddened me deeply as a Christian is the way that Christianity got co-opted by a small group of Christians and used for very specific, very political, very personal gains in the 1980’s and 1990’s. This group was totally obsessed with gaining political power and privilege and didn’t care whose lives were destroyed in the process. Sadly, because they loudly trumpeted their faith, many in our society came to believe over those two decades that that was what Christianity stood for: mean-spiritedness and divisiveness. Thankfully, today’s words from Isaiah remind us that this is NOT what God intended; for the prophet’s words lay out very clearly the sort of effect the promised Messiah would have. God pointed us toward a Messiah whose presence would cause the wolf to lie with the lamb – the leopard with the goat – the calf and the lion and the yearling – the cow with the bear – the infant and the cobra. If Isaiah re-appear and share the effects of the Messiah in our language, I can only envision how that vision might look: the Republican would get along with the Democrat – the straight with the gay – the citizen with the immigrant – the pro-life with the pro-choice... The list of polarzied and hostile camps these days unfortunately could go on and on. Such a vision would be the very embodiment of Good News! This holiday season, my fervent hope and prayer is that each of us will give God the very best Christmas presents possible: peace, harmony, and humility. Til next time.

Saturday, December 8

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 28; Isaiah 5:8-12, 18-23; John 1:29-42; Romans 3:21-31; Psalm 49

Within many church circles, there is a name for some folks who visit churches only occasionally. That name is CE Christians. The C and E stand for Christmas and Easter. The name means these are folks who come to church only for these two special occasions. That name speaks of a larger cultural dynamic at work that seems to motivate folks at these times of the year to try to draw closer to God. Today’s words from Romans draws into question that notion that it is ever WE who draw closer to God. In Romans 3:28, Paul says: “What we've learned is this: God does not respond to what we do; we respond to what God does. We've finally figured it out. Our lives get in step with God and all others by letting him set the pace, not by proudly or anxiously trying to run the parade” (The Message). In my old Wesleyan circles, this act of God’s reaching out first is called prevenient grace – the grace that comes BEFORE our response that makes it possible for us to even respond in the first place. This holiday as you are tempted to try “running the parade” in preparation for Christmas, take a moment and stop. Remind yourself who has really done the work this – and every- holiday season. Now resume your activities: this time not driven by a spirit of manic urgency but rather a spirit of gratitude. Til next time…

Friday, December 7

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 80; Isaiah 5:1-7; John 1:19-28; Revelation 5:1-10; Psalm 40

One of the most frustrating aspects of living in the modern age for me as a mystic is resisting the urge modernists have to neatly define everything – including God. Lost in the modernist approach toward life is the reality that some things – by their very definition – defy definition. I can think of nothing where this is more true than of God. The psalmist beautifully captures this truth in the 40th Psalm when he wrote in verse 3: “More & more people are seeing this: they enter the mystery, abandoning themselves to God.” The natural response to this mystery? “I start talking about you, telling what I know, and quickly run out of words. Neither number nor words account for you” (Psalm 40:5 – The Message). While many modern folks are uncomfortable without having things neatly defined, I can think of no time better than Christmas to abandon yourself to the mystery we call God. Think about the many times your experience of God transcends definition during this season: the feeling you get in your heart when you watch your child excitedly open a gift; the emotion you feel when you sing “Silent Night” by candlelight at the Christmas Eve service; that moment when you walk out of the Christmas Eve service at midnight and your breath is taken away by the cold and the calm. Each of these experiences testifies to the truth of the psalmists’ words. This Christmas season I invite you to resist the urge to define God and instead abandon yourself to the Mystery. Til next time…

Thursday, December 6

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 76; Isaiah 4:2-6; John 1:6-13; Acts 10:9-16; Psalm 43

Lot’s of folks have a “wish list” when it comes to Christmas: things that they desire but seem well beyond their reach. For some this list might include an expensive flat-screen high definition TV; for others it might be a diamond ring; for still others, it might be a trip to another country. There’s one such thing that is on most people’s list that’s so elusive that – over the years – they’ve completely forgotten to even include it on such a wish list. That item is total love and acceptance. Over the years we’ve become so use to living with others’ expectations of who we are that gradually we begin to give up on the notion that anyone can love us for who we REALLY are. Instead, we settle for letting them love and appreciate the person they think we are. Luckily in today’s Gospel reading from John, we are reminded of One who does in fact love us for who we are. In the prologue, the author uses these words to describe the dynamic around the coming of Jesus: “But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, he made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves” (John 1:12 - The Message). As we prepare ourselves once again to receive the coming of the Christ-child, we can give thanks for the one who not only allows us to be our true selves, but who actually helps make that possible. May our experience of the Christ-child this year awaken us to the fact that we can cross at least one item off our wish-list. Til next time…

Wednesday, December 5

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 90; Isaiah 3:8-15; Matthew 25:31-46 2 Peter 3:8-18; Psalm 94

Over the years, I’ve noticed a subtle but important shift taking place in many mainline churches. Many of them have moved from a model where members of local churches were directly involved in helping people to a more professionalized model where we now take offerings to help others who help people. Some would say that this development is positive since it puts skilled people in place to provide the most effective assistance possible. As someone who worked in human services myself for 8 years myself, I definitely do see the upside in having professionally trained folks available to help those in need. Alongside this professional approach toward mission, I hold Jesus’ words from today’s passage in Matthew, where he holds up a different model for helping. In praising the lives of the blessed, Jesus pointed out what it was that set them apart: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:35-36 – NIV). In this passage, Jesus refers very clearly to an intimate connection that ought to exist between those in need and those with resources. One of the most unfortunate side effects of our current professional model is that by paying others to do the work for us we no longer see the person in hunger, thirst, the stranger, the naked, the sick, or the imprisoned. We have the luxury of looking the other way. During this Advent season - when we spend so much time looking for the things we want to see and pursuing them (i.e. the items on our Christmas lists) - I invite you to first spend some time looking in those directions you perhaps don’t want to look. After you get a few glimpses of the unexpected, I encourage you to do what Jesus suggested: respond - in very personal ways. You’ll be surprised at the changes that begin to take place; not just in the lives of those to whom you reach out, but within yourself as well. Til next time…

Tuesday, December 4

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 75; Isaiah 2:12-22; Matthew 25:14-30; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Psalm 62

Today’s parable from the Gospel of Matthew is one of my favorite parables. It’s one of my favorites because it makes a valuable point about how the way we perceive “the master” affects the way we live our lives. In the parable of the talents, the master gives three individuals a different sum of money. Two of the individuals invest (and subsequently grow) their money; the third individual doesn’t. He simply buries the money and produces it when the master reappears. The most fascinating aspect of the parable for me is when the third individual reveals the reason for his cautious approach; he says to the master: “I knew that you are a hard man… so I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground” (Matthew 25:24-25 – NIV). So many of us are like the third individual. Instead of taking out the talents that God has given us and using them, we bury them: afraid to take a risk. I love this morning’s parable because it explicitly invites us to take risks with the blessings God has given us. In fact, it suggests that’s what God expects of us. During this Advent season, I invite you to CONSIDER different ways God is calling you to take a risk and THEN step forward and actually TAKE that risk. While I know the experience can be terrifying, relax: the master we serve is loving and gracious and will appreciate whatever returns come from your risk. Ironically, the only real risk we ever take in our spiritual lives is the choice to play it safe. Til next time…

Monday, December 3

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 97; Isaiah 2:6-11; Matthew 25:1-13; Acts 1:6-11; Psalm 25

If you’ve turned on your television or radio lately, you’ve noticed that retailers are trying to convince you that time is running out. The commercials incessantly bring home the same point: only 21 shopping days left until Christmas! Several of today’s lectionary readings pick up on a similar notion: timeliness. The passage from Isaiah talks about the impending day of the Lord; the passage from Matthew talks about the five virgins who find themselves unprepared when the bride groom presents himself; and the passage from Acts tells the story of Jesus informing his disciples they can’t know the specific times or dates of God. The readings ought to give us a different sense of urgency than the commercials on television or the radio: a sense that our spiritual lives DO matter and ARE worthy of our attention! In this post-Christian day and age when our spiritual lives have gone from being the first priority in our lives to becoming simply one of many things competing for our attention, I invite you to examine where your spiritual life falls on your lists of priorities. Is it at the top of your list, or does it fall somewhere else – somewhere, say, between taking the kids to soccer practice and picking up your dry cleaning. If you discover your spiritual life ranks lower on your list of priorities than you realize, perhaps its time to start paying more attention to it. Right here. Right now. Til next time…