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, January 19

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 116; Isaiah 43:1-13; Matthew 11:25-30; Ephesians 3:14-21; Psalm 108

If you’ve read several of my daily entries, you’ve probably figured out by now that I have a special place in my heart for Eugene Peterson’s version of the Bible known as The Message. It has a special place for me because Peterson does a beautiful job balancing what are often seen as two competing perspectives on scripture: the academic approach and the pastoral approach. Peterson’s paraphrasing of today’s passage from Matthew is a great example of this. Most of us are familiar with the NRSV translation of Matthew 11:29 that reads: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Peterson takes that verse and transforms it as follows: “Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.” The portion of that passage that specifically leapt out at me was Jesus' admonition to “learn the unforced rhythms of grace”. What a powerful phrase! All too often Christians have believed that living out our faith calls us to pressure or compel others to arrive at our conclusions. Other Christians treat our faith as if can be defined entirely by events (i.e. a worship service) or activities (i.e. mission work). Peterson’s expression of the text called me to remember that the essence of our faith isn’t compromised of these things. In other words, our faith has qualities that don’t coerce, but attract – qualities like mercy and love. Nor can our faith be defined simply by what we do – rather, it is defined by how we do IT (whatever the particular “it” in our life happens to be). In other words, the fullnes of the faith Jesus invites us into can’t be fully captured in dogma or programs. Today, I would encourage you to sit with the admonition to “learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” As you close your eyes and open your heart up to those soothing rhythms, see where they take you. Til next time…

Friday, January 18

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 124; Isaiah 41:17-29; Matthew 10:34-42; Romans 8:1-8; Psalm 115

As we begin this new year, I am reminded about a trap that some of us (myself included) fall into. Whenever we find ourselves in a difficult circumstance, we often convince ourselves that the solution lies in changing our setting. If we have difficult in a job, what do we do? Seek a new job. If we find ourselves in a rut in a city, what do we contemplate? Moving to a new city. If we experiences struggles in a relationship, what do we do? Seek a new partner. If we’re not carefully, after a while we can find ourselves assuming that the answer lies in simply changing the externals around us. Today’s passage from Isaiah, however, reminds us God doesn’t always work that way. When the poor and needy find themselves in search for water, did God transport them to the ocean where they could find an abundance of water? No, God found a way of making “rivers flow on barren heights” (Isaiah 41:17-18 – NIV). And when their tongues were parched with thirst, did God wisk them away to a lush tropical forest setting? No, God transformed “the desert into pools of water” (Isaiah 41:18 – NIV). In other words, the passage from Isaiah reminds us that God has the ability to appear in the most arid circumstances of our lives and bring us hope and relief. Today, if you happen to find yourself in a difficult spot, remember the wisdom contained in this morning’s passage from Isaiah and start looking for the manifestations of God’s grace through the flowing rivers and pools of water. May you drink from these waters until you get your fill! Til next time…

Thursday, January 17

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 67; Isaiah 41:1-16; John 4:31-45; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Psalm 138

One of the most important experiences in my life occurred during my first job out of college when I found myself teaching in the juvenile corrections system from nearly six years. Let me tell you why that work was so important to me. You see, like many folks who work in a helping profession, I liked to see the results of my work. Most teachers who work with students over a period of time (say a quarter/semester or school year) get the luxury of being able to watch as their students grow. In many cases, the students will be in the same school building following the conclusion of your time together, so the students come back and occasionally check in. Not so with the students I worked. The average length of stay by the students in the detention center I worked was 2 weeks. The students that did come back to the detention center were often transferred to an institution for a longer stay. Consequently, I had to learn to fully invest in the teaching process for whatever period of time the students were there and then let go - without seeing results. I had to trust that God and others would nurture the seeds I had planted. Jesus recognized that this same scenario plays out in our spiritual lives as well. He calls those who are in positions like the one I was in at the detention center “sowers”; he calls those who have the luxury of seeing the results of the labor “reapers”. And he notes that each of them have an important role to play in the overall process. In John 4:35-38a, for instance, Jesus is quoted as saying, “Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor” (NRSV). As I think about the concept of what it means to be a sower and a reaper, I’ve noticed that rarely does God place us in only one of those roles during our lifetime. Often there are some situations in our lives where we play the role of the sower and other times when we play the role of the reaper. The ability to occasionally reap the results of others/our own work is a blessing that helps us continue sowing when we might otherwise get burned out. In the meantime, however, let us not lose sight of – or commitment to – playing the role of the sower. It may be a less glamorous role than that of the reaper. But without the sower, there would be no reaping. Today, I invite you to spend time examining your life and seeing those areas where you play the sower. Then give thanks for God’s ability to work through you in this vital – yet often overlooked and underappreciated - way. Til next time…

Wednesday, January 16

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 89:1-52; Isaiah 40:25-31; John 2:23-3:15; Acts 18:5-10

There was a portion of today’s passage from John that resonated strongly with a personal experience I had. In talking of the crowd’s response to Jesus’ signs, the author of John noted: “But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all [humanity]. He did not need [humanity's] testimony about man, for he knew what was in a [person]” (John 2:24-25 – NIV). The wisdom of Jesus’ desire to both elicit the best in a person yet never lose sight of what that person is capable of was brought home to me seven years ago through an experience I had of my own home church. I had had a long history with my home church at the time. I was born into the church, baptized in the church, raised in the church, encouraged to perform dozens of roles in the church, and ultimately been sent to seminary by the church. In fact, I had had so many positive experiences with the members of the church that over time I began to see them exclusively through rose colored lenses. Then something happened. When I asked my home church to support me in my quest for ordination, they turned me down. Why? Their reason: I was a gay man. I had naively thought that the years of mutual ministry and all of the love, laughter, joy and pain that we had shared would help them overcome a deeply ingrained cultural homophobia. I was wrong. Thankfully, I found another community that could recognize my call to ministry so that I could be ordained. Nevertheless, through the experience with my home church I learned in a very personal way why Jesus would not entrust himself to the hoards. Despite their praise and affirmation, he knew of what they were capable. Since that time, I have moved along in my acceptance of Jesus’ way: hoping for – and working passionately to elicit – the very best in people, and yet preparing myself for those moments when I encounter the other side. Are there places and/or relationships in your life where you could benefit from a more balanced perspective on human nature? May God bless us all as we take turns celebrating and at times mourning what our sisters and brothers are capable. Then take heart knowing that we can rest easy in the arms of the One – and only One –to whom we can safely entrust ourselves. Til next time…

Tuesday, January 15

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 69; Isaiah 40:12-23; John 2:13-22; Hebrews 2:1-10; Psalm 19

The spirit of the story in today’s reading from John really connected with a portion of Psalm 69 for me. In verse 7 of Psalm 69, The Message reads: “Because of you I look like an idiot; I walk around ashamed to show my face.” This speaks of a passion that drives a person to go to remarkable lengths – some might say idiotic lengths - in pursuit of an intimate connection with God. Then in the passage from John we were told about the lengths Jesus went to in order to preserve the integrity of his (and his community’s) connection with God. We are told how he chased the money-changers out of the Temple. All of this got me to thinking, “When was the last time my passion for God got me so worked up I was considered an “idiot” by others? When was the last time I found myself upsetting the tables (or status quo) around me in response to my relationship with God? One of the gifts of today’s passages is that they remind us our faith ought not to be simply a pacifier that is used to maintain the status quo; rather, our faith ought to be something that causes us to stand out from others at times and leads us always to question the status quo. I hope you’ll join with me in slipping on a dunce cap today as together we become idiots – at least by the world’s standards – for God! Til next time…

Monday, January 14

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 45; Isaiah 40:1-11; John 2:1-12; Hebrews 1:1-14; Psalm 102

There’s a cliché out there that often gets tossed around when individuals are experiencing tough times. The cliché suggests “Tough times don’t last; tough people do.” The saying is an attempt to encourage folks to hang in there. In both of today’s Psalms, the psalmist offers his own words of encouragement. But the source of encouragement is slightly different. In Psalm 45:6 the psalmist proclaims: “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom”. And Psalm 102:11-12 observe: “My days are like the evening shadow; I wither away like grass. But you, O Lord, sit enthroned forever…” Personally I like the sentiments captured in the Psalms better than the one captured in the cliché. That’s because the cliché simply encourages me to retreat inward during the tough times and summon the strength to continue from my own personal reserves while the Psalms encourage me to turn to God and draw from God’s reserves of love, grace, and mercy. I’ve found over the years that God’s reserves are much greater than my own – and certainly more lasting. When do you turn during your own tough times? Just a little something to consider today. Til next time…

Sunday, January 13

Today's Lectionary Readings: Psalm 148; Isaiah 42:1-9; Matthew 3:13-17; Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 29

As I write this, the church I serve has just begun a process that will culminate in the formation of a new Mission, Vision, Values Statement. This process often sets off a wave of anxiety among folks as they fear about the directions this process might lead us. Of course, organizations are not the only entities that have to deal with the anxiety related to visioning processes. Individuals have to deal with them as well. That is, if they take the time to revisit the question, "Who is God calling me to be?" on a regular basis. If that's where you are at the beginning of this new year - at a time when you are re-considering perhaps the direction of your life and course of your commitments. Re-read today's passage from Isaiah. For in that passage Isaiah gives us not just an exciting view of the future (everything will be set right between nations (42:1)), but calming words of assurance that God will be with us through this time of exploration (you will be bathed in the spirit (42:2); and you won't tired or quit (42:4)). May God be present with you during this time of exploration and soul-searching - whether this exploration and soul-searching is done individually or collectively. Til next time...