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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.

Sunday, January 6

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 27; Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12; Ephesians 3:1-12; Psalm 112

In many ways the Christmas story culminates with today’s passage from Matthew that tells the story of the wise men (or scholars') trek to visit the newborn baby Jesus. One of my favorite pieces of this story is contained in verse three of Matthew’s second chapter. I love this verse because it tells us that “when word of [the scholars] inquiry got to Herod, he was terrified.” Not only was Herod terrified, but Eugene Peterson’s translation of the verse goes on to add “and not Herod alone, but most of Jerusalem as well.” This got me to wondering why folks might be terrified by the appearance of the Christ-child. I think folks were terrified because this Christ-child is One who seems determined to turn our worlds upside down when we encounter him. Herod knew that. He knew the Christ-child would eventually end up challenging the powers that be. And the people of Jerusalem? They too sensed that this Christ-child would challenge their sense of order by calling into question many of their unexamined assumptions - especially their religious assumptions. It’s no wonder then that folks were terrified at the prospect of the Christ-child’s appearance! I’m left to wonder if the coming of this Christ-child might spark a little terror in you as well. Perhaps there are pieces of your life that this Christ-child might push his way into... pieces that you were content to let go unexplored... pieces of your life over which you would prefer to have complete control... As you explore these areas of your life, my prayer is that God's grace will be with you and strengthen you as you prepare for the time when the Christ-child will turn your world upside too. Til next time…

Saturday, January 5

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 55; Deuteronomy 7:6-11; John 15:1-16; 1 John 5:6-12; Psalm 105

A couple of years ago, the faith community I serve started incorporating a new practice when it came to stewardship. Instead of defining stewardship simply through the amount of money one gives, we added “Service Sheets” in our sanctuary that allowed individuals to trek and then turn in the number of hours that gave in service to others in response to their faith in God. This broadened our understanding of what it means to give in healthy ways. When I came back from my sabbatical this fall, we took our understanding of stewardship to yet another level. In addition to the “Service Sheet” we added a second portion called “My Devotion Sheet”. This sheet allowed folks to include their time of personal devotion (i.e. prayer, daily devotional time, etc) to their giving for the week. Some wondered why we went this second step and invited folks to be aware of BOTH their service AND devotion time. Today’s lectionary passage from John explains it perfectly. In John 15:4, the author writes: “"In the same way that a branch can't bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can't bear fruit unless you are joined with me” (The Message). The passage reminds me that it is dangerous to engage in acts of service that are rooted solely in MY commitments and willpower. If I do this, the acts of service I give often don’t end up serving God – they end up serving MY own ego and agenda. And that’s not the worst of it. Because there are limits to my commitments and willpower, often I end up getting burned out in my service work and getting cynical about the impact of my service. If I am organically connected with God in a living, breathing relationship, however, I’ve found the acts of service that I engage in aren’t simply an expression of MY stuff – instead they are a genuine expression of my love for God. The best part is that when my service work is the result of this organic expression I rarely face burn out or cynicism! Today I invite you to explore the nature of your connection with God and the resulting fruits. My hope is that your relationship is an organic one that mirrors the image of the vine and branches. May God’s gracious spirit continue to water your vine so that the fruits of your relationship may be abundant! Til next time…

Friday, January 4

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 70; Exodus 3:1-15; John 14:6-14; Hebrews 11:23-31; Psalm 135

There were two sections from today’s readings that seemed as if they had almost been written as companion pieces for one another. John 14:12 in the NIV reads: “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” The reading from Hebrews then picks up on this theme and contains a litany of the great things that have been done by people such as Moses’ parents, Moses, the people of Jericho and Rahab. And how did they do these great things? The constant refrain in Hebrews tells us – “by their faith”. These readings reminded me of the first time in my adult life when I was reading the book of Acts and realized that the disciples were actually performing many of the miracles that Jesus had performed during his lifetime. I was shocked! I was shocked because I had been raised with such a notion that Jesus was special because he was the only one who could do such things. As a result of that teaching, I never opened myself to the notion that the God of Jesus could actually empower others to do such things. Today’s readings reminded me that one of the many things Jesus accomplished was to open our eyes to that reality: God didn’t just empower Jesus to do remarkable things; through our faith, God empowers US to do remarkable things as well. If your loved ones were to read the passage from Hebrews and insert your name into it so that it read “By faith _________ did….”, I wonder how would that passage read? I hope you’ll spend the rest of your life first discerning how they would finish that sentence, and then putting that newly formed passage into action! Til next time…

Thursday, January 3

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 121; Isaiah 49;8-13; John 6:41-51; Ephesians 4:17-32; Psalm 68

All too often these days, religiosity has been equated by self-righteousness. A big part of this is the result of the way SOME televangelists have conducted themselves. For much of the 1980’s and 1990’s, many of them created television empires by using their programs to judge or condemn others. Do you remember, for instance, all the times groups were singled out as the cause of natural disasters like tornadoes and hurricanes because they were seen as bringing God’s judgment on the nation/world? Unfortunately, a few still persist in this approach years later. The sad consequence of this is that many Americans have concluded that the fruits of the Spirit for Christians seem to be things like malice, mean-spiritedness, and judgementalism. Thankfully, today’s reading from Ephesians corrects this mistaken assumption. For that passage clearly spells out how one should conduct oneself after one encounters the God of Jesus. As the author of the letter culminates his words of instruction to the Ephesians, he wrote: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32 – NIV). What wonderful words to wrap ourselves in as we begin the new year! My hope and prayer for you this year is that you’ll not only regularly extend kindness and compassion to those you meet these year, but that you’ll be the recipient of these as well! Til next time…

Wednesday, January 2

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 63; 2 Kings 4:42-44; John 6:35-42; Ephesians 4:1-16; Psalm 1

One of the things I most loved about my time in seminary was having the opportunity to make connections between things that were previously disconnected for me. This was particularly true around issues pertaining to Christian history and Scripture. One of the things I found most fascinating in my biblical studies classes, for instance, were the strong parallels between the miracle stories associated with Elisha and the miracle stories associated with Jesus. Today’s readings from 2 Kings provides a great example of this as we are given a story that instantly reminds us of Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 in the Gospels. The moral of the story from 2 Kings 4 is pretty clear; it’s a valuable one for us as we start the New Year. Don’t underestimate God’s ability to work with things we faithfully offer – no matter how meager our offerings might seem by the world’s standards! In today’s story, for instance, the servant’s first instinct is to withhold the 20 loaves of barley from the crowd simply because he thought it was insufficient to meet the needs of the hungry crowd. Elisha did what Jesus did, however; he encouraged his follower to take a huge leap of faith and make his meager offering available to all. Of course, what was initially perceived as an insufficient offering proved to be more than enough. How many times does something like that happen to us in our lives? How many times do we feel called to offer something of ourselves, but we hold back thinking it’s not good enough? We say things to ourselves like, “I’d love to be a mentor for an at-risk child, but what do I really have to offer him/her?” or “I’d love to serve as a volunteer with Hospice, but I wouldn’t know what to say to the patients or their families?” In this new year, make we heed the example of Elisha and faithfully make our offerings to God no matter how big or small they may at first seem. Then step back and watch God accomplish miraculous things through those offerings! Til next time…

Tuesday, January 1

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 106; Deuteronomy 8:1-10; Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 21:1-6a

Let me begin by thanking you (my blogging community) for the gift of accountability you have given me this fall and winter. Not only have you been an encouragement to keep up my daily devotions – you have also encouraged me to live the values I profess in my daily entries. Case in point, yesterday’s entry concerning a ministry of reconciliation. Within 30 minutes of finishing my entry, the Spirit compelled me to call the family member from whom I was estranged and reach out in a Spirit of reconciliation. Nearly 2 hours later, our conversation concluded. Of course there is still work to be done in that relationship, but I had the opportunity to experience a ministry of reconciliation first hand. Thank you!!

Now, on to today’s readings. I couldn’t help but connect right away with today’s reading from Deuteronomy as it fit perfectly for us as we enter a New Year. In the passage, we hear a description of just what lies before them as the people stand poised to enter into their new reality – a place “with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills, a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey, a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing, a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills…” (Deuteronomy 8:7-9 – NIV). What would happen if we conceptualized the New Year we are entering today in similar terms? What if we saw the New Year as a time and place FULL of blessings and possibilities? How would we respond as we live into such a concept? Hopefully, with the only response that seems appropriate. “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you” (Deuteronomy 8:10). Friends, my prayer for you and I is two fold: first, may we have the courage to reach out and partake of the many blessings with which God has set for the table of our lives; and second, may we spend the rest of the time living in an attitude of thanksgiving as we praise God for the fertile land of our lives that God has blessed us with. May we praise God through word, thought, and action. Til next time…

Monday, December 31

Today’s Lectionary Texts: Psalm 46; Isaiah 26:1-6; John 8:12-19; 2 Corinthians 5:16-6:2; Psalm 139:1-18

The words from 2 Corinthians 5:18 hit me like a ton of bricks today. The verse in the NIV reads: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” That gift of reconciliation is a tricky thing. You see lots of us hear those words and think about them first at the global level. We think, for instance, what it would be like to reach out and bring Democrats and Republicans together – bring rich and poor together – bring supporters of the war in Iraq together with opponents of the war – things like that. While embracing a ministry of reconciliation on such abstract levels might sound overwhelming at first, it is often easier than you think since in many of these instances you are engaging concepts and – more often than not –strangers in these efforts. What I’ve found more challenging is embracing a ministry of reconciliation within the personal relationships of my life. For on this level, the differences are anything but abstract. They are concrete and real in ways that oftn challenge you to the core. I’m currently struggling to find a way to relate to a family member of mine who has come to very different conclusions than I regarding issues of sexuality. This family member is aligned with a group that would vocally oppose both my ordination as a gay person and the legal standing of my long-term committed relationship. As a result of these differences, for the past four months I have not been in relationship with this family member. I feel the Spirit, however, calling me back into relationship… back into a ministry of reconciliation in the most difficult place of all: my own life. We shall see if I make any strides in this area during my upcoming week off. Having explored the dimensions of reconciliation with you in very personal terms, I’m left to wonder if there might be an area of your life in which God is calling you to seek reconciliation as well. It might not be easy (the personal, concrete situations are never easy), but it might just be the most rewarding thing you can do to start the new year off on the right foot. Til next time…