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.

Saturday, December 22

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 132; Isaiah 11:1-9; Matthew 1:1-17; Romans 4:16-25; Psalm 78:32-72

For so long in our society, individuals who were not heterosexual, middle-class white men were raised in an era of glass ceilings. If you were a woman, a person of color, or a gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender person, for instance, it was assumed that you could only go so far. Consequently, folks from a variety of social locations grew up with a sense of profound limitation in their lives. Thankfully, things are finally beginning to change. We now have presidential candidates who come from a variety of social locations – a woman, an African-American, a Hispanic, a non-Catholic/non-Protestant. For the first time, we are actually beginning to become a land of opportunity - not just for some people. Our first instinct might be to pat ourselves on the back and take credit for such a remarkable vision. We would be wrong to do so. For the Apostle Paul lifted up a radical vision of his own for our lives in today’s passage. In Romans 4:18 Paul noted: “When everything was hopeless, Abraham believed anyway, deciding to live not on the basis of what he saw he couldn't do but on what God said he would do [emphasis added]” (The Message). What a powerful way to lead our lives: lives based not upon what others says is possible for us but upon what God suggests is possible! Such a vision can propel us to new heights – regardless of our particular social location. At a time of the year when we are reminded of how God can use humble circumstances (i.e. a young, unmarried couple and a manger) to do previously unthinkable things, I invite you to open yourself to new possibilities in your own life. In other words, don’t let others decide what you are capable: let God decide. Then summon the faith and courage to follow God’s leading to new heights. Look out world; here you come!!! Til next time…

Friday, December 21

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 78:1-31; Isaiah 10:20-27; John 4:16-30; Romans 4:9-15; Psalm 87

Routines play a huge part in our daily lives. If you have any doubts about this, Christmas is a great time to be reminded of this. Many of us have many routines that inform almost every aspect of our holiday celebration. Most folks, for instance, have a routine about when to put up the Christmas tree (i.e. the Friday following Thanksgiving). Others have a routine about when to mail the Christmas cards (i.e. no later than December 15 to make sure they arrive in time). Still others have routines established around when to open the Christmas gifts (don’t even get me started on the Christmas Eve vs. Christmas morning debate here!). The Samaritan woman’s words in today’s passage from John let us know that routines are nothing new – they had them 2,000 years ago as well. Routine told her that Samaritans were supposed to worship on a mountain while Jews were expected to worship in the Temple in Jerusalem. But then something happened to her that caused her to revisit the unexamined routines of her life. She met Jesus, and he did something totally unexpected. He presented her with a world that defied routine. Instead of validating the religious practices the Samaritan woman raised, Jesus presented worship in an entirely new light. Instead of focusing on the location as the basis of worship, Jesus presented another basis: “God is spirit, and God’s worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24 – NIV). That’s the thing about this Christ-child we are preparing ourselves to welcome once again. He’s not a big fan of unexamined routines. He has a way of taking those routines and turning them upside down – of getting us to connect with what’s really important – of reminding us why it is that we do things. As you begin to unconsciously slide into your last minute routines in preparation for the final days before Christmas, I invite you to follow the Samaritan woman’s example and have your own encounter with Jesus. And just see what happens to the routines and expectations in your life! Til next time…

Thursday, December 20

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 32; Isaiah 10:5-19; John 4:1-15; Romans 4:1-8; Psalm 53

Today’s reading from Romans once again raised the age old debate between works and faith. “When it comes to having a life-giving relationship with the God of Jesus,” many have asked, “is the relationship primarily the result of works or the result of faith?” Paul makes his position pretty clear in this debate. In writing of the difference, Paul says, “Now when a [person] works, his/her wages are not credited to him/her as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the [person] who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his/her faith is credited as righteousness.” (Romans 4:4-5). While Paul’s words have helped many settle the debate in their heads over the years, I’ve always had a pretty instinctive grasp of the issue that is more heart based. I see the relationship of faith and works in similar terms to one’s relationship with a significant other. When it comes to a love-relationship, how do you go about establishing it? Do you do a series of works (i.e. buying the other person flowers, taking him/her out to dinner, taking a trip during a long weekend, etc.) to create a previously non-existent relationship, or do you naturally do those things because of the relationship you took a leap of faith and entered into makes you WANT to as a natural expression of your love? I don’t know about you, but it worked the latter way for me. I took the leap of faith, and then the relationship (and the work J) followed naturally. In the midst of your preparations for the coming of the Christ-child, how are you approaching the final days before Christmas? Are you working yourself to death in order to try to create the perfect holiday experience, or are you enjoying the seasonal activities and preparations because they are a natural expression of a life-giving relationship that already exists? Your motivation and approach will go a long way in determining the nature of your experience. Til next time…

Wednesday, December 19

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 99; Isaiah 9:18-10:4; John 10:31-42; Hebrews 10:19-25; Psalm 82

Little by little, I’ve detected a shift in the public face of Christianity over the past six or eight years. For the better part of the 1980’s and 1980’s the public face of Christianity (at least the public face that the media portrayed) was of a people who were moralistic, judgmental, mean-spirited, and power hungry. At times during those two decades it seemed as if Christians only cared about two things: abortion and homosexuality. Little if anything was ever said about other concerns like the growing environmental crises or the growing economic disparity between the rich and poor. Needless to say, it was often difficult for me to identify with the public face of Christianity since that face looked so little like Jesus’ face. But then things started to change. Values like love and compassion started coming to the forefront. When a shooter shot and killed the young girls in a school house in Pennsylvania last year, for instance, the first words out of their Amish community were related to love and forgiveness. As the reality of global warming continues to set in, more and more Christian leaders from all theological camps are talking about the issue – not just as a matter of right and wrong but as an expression of faith. And last week when a 19 year old gunman ended several lives in two faith communities, the first scripture some of the relatives of the deceased turned to in reaching out to the family of the gunman was 1 Corinthians 13 – commonly known as the love chapter! With each passing day I become more encouraged as I see more and more of the spirit of Christ present in Christianity. Little by little, it would seem, we are collectively living into the words from today’s passage from Hebrews 10:24-25: “Let's see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching” (The Message). In face of these promising collective steps, I encourage you to get inventive yourself as you find powerful new and transformative ways to love one another and help one another out. Til next time…

Tuesday, December 18

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 79; Isaiah 9:8-17; Matthew 18:1-6; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3, 13-17; Psalm 96

Let’s face it. We live in a world that values complexity above all else. Whether we’re constructing relationships dependent upon cell phones and e-mail; building our daily routines around our blackberries; or relaxing to the sounds on our iPods; our lives are increasingly built around the newest innovations. And yet today’s scripture from Matthew reminds us that complexity isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. “I’m telling you, once and for all” Matthew quotes Jesus as saying, “that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in.” And if that’s not enough, Jesus concludes, “Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like a child, will rank high in God’s kingdom” (Matthew 18:3-4 from The Message). The Gospel reading is especially appropriate during this Advent season, for this is a season when we celebrate the awe-inspiring gift of the Christ-child. Today, in the midst of the complexity of your life, I invite you to find time to reconnect with those simple and elemental pieces of yourself that you’ve locked away – pieces that you thought were no longer relevant in the world. Take time to explore those dimensions within yourself. Before you know it, you might just find yourself connecting with God in new and exciting ways! Til next time…

Monday, December 17

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 150; Isaiah 9:1-7; Matthew 21:23-32; Hebrews 12:18-29; Psalm 21

One of the folksy clichés I’ve created in my life is this: “You often find what you are looking for.” Lots of folks hear this and assume I mean it literally. I don’t. I mean it figuratively. I mean that if you are looking for the worst in a person or a circumstance you’ll almost always find it. Likewise if you are looking for the best in a person or a circumstance, you’ll almost always find it. So much of our life is determined by what it is that we are looking . As I read today’s passage from Hebrews, I was reminded of this cliché. For in the passage, the author sets up a contrast for us. “Are you looking for a mountain that it burning with fire,” he asks, “or are you looking for Mount Zion?” There’s a big difference, the author notes. The mountain burning with fire is best characterized with words like darkness, gloom, and storm; Mountain Zion is best described as a place of joyful assembly. I can certainly see in this instance how what you are looking for would shape the nature of your spiritual life. In these final days before Christmas as you head out to the shopping centers with your lists in hand – acutely aware of the last minute items you are searching for – I ask you to stop for a moment and consider what YOU are looking for in your spiritual life as well. A God of grace and mercy… A God of retribution and wrath… A loving and inclusive God… A demanding and exclusive God… Whatever it, I’m sure you’ll find it. Til next time…

Sunday, December 16

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 146; Isaiah 35:1-10; Matthew 11:2-11; James 5:7-10; Psalm 30

Today is the third Sunday in Advent and the theme for worship is joy. That’s why many churches will light the pink candle in their Advent wreath since some traditions teach that the pink candle is a visual representation for joy. Needless to say, I’ve been thinking a lot about joy this week. I realized that many of us (myself included!) grow up equating joy with simply getting what we want. Today’s words from Isaiah invited me to think about joy in a new way, however. You see in the passage, Isaiah doesn’t tell the people what they want to hear. He names for them in pretty direct terms exactly what things they are facing. This includes naming things in their lives like deserts and dry lands. Most of us in this situation would conclude that joy means moving oneself to an entirely different location; a location like, say, the beach or the mountains. Isaiah doesn’t do that. Instead, he talks about important shifts that will take place in their current location. He talks about, for instance, the blossoming or blooming that will unexpectedly take place in the desert. He talks about the waters and streams that will spring forth in the dry lands. In other words, he talks about hope breaking out right where we are. This Christmas, when you are tempted to ask God for things that are predicated on a new location (i.e. a new job, a new house, a new relationship, etc), stop and think for a moment about the ways in which God might bring joy into your current setting. May the blossoming crocuses and the cool waters spring forth in your life this holiday season and bring you joy in surprising new ways. Til next time…