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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, February 2

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 131; Isaiah 49:13-23; Luke 4:38-44; 1 Corinthians 5:1-15; Psalm 56

If I asked most folks what the greatest threat facing the church today is, I’m sure I would get a wide variety of answers. After 5-½ years of parish ministry, I can guarantee that few – if any - of their answers would shock me. Many of the folks I asked, however, might be shocked if I were to share with them my answer to that question. The greatest threat to the integrity and well-being of the church that I would identify is a short two-word phrase: being nice. “Being nice is the greatest threat to the church?!” they might ask incredulously upon hearing my answer. Absolutely! Let me tell you why I say that. Over the first 40 years of my life, I have seen a wide variety of behaviors in churches. Some of that behavior has been loving, grace-filled, and merciful; other behavior has not. Not only has some of the behavior I have seen in church not been loving, grace-filled, and merciful – some of that behavior has been downright mean, cruel, and self-centered. And how do many folks in church communities deal with these hurtful behaviors when they stumble upon them? They ignore them. And why do they ignore these behaviors – this “dis-ease” and let people get away with it? Because somewhere along the way many Christians thought that if we were to be loving and Christ-like, that meant that we needed to adopt an “anything goes” approach toward others and their behaviors. Paul challenges that conclusion in his writing from today’s passage from 1 Corinthians. Eugene Peterson paraphrases Paul’s message to the community regarding destructive behaviors as follows: “You must not simply look the other way and hope it goes away on its own. Bring it out in the open and deal with it in the authority of Jesus our Master” (1 Corinthians 5:3-4 – The Message). The passage reminds us that there can be a HUGE difference between being loving and being nice. The next time you are confronted with seriously unhealthy behavior (gossip, misrepresentation, lying, cheating, etc.), fight what might be your first instinct to “be nice” and try following Paul’s admonition. See what happens when you expose the dis-ease by bringing it into the open. With the Spirit’s help, one of the most loving things possible might just happen: God might just heal the dis-ease. Til next time…

Friday, February 1

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 22; Isaiah 49:1-12; Luke 4:31-37; 1 Corinthians 4:14-21; Psalm 36

Not too long ago, I was reminded of the differences between a traditional approach toward church and an emergent/emerging approach toward church. I was in a clergy cluster when a senior member started critiquing recent trends in the church. He bemoaned the fact that clergy members were increasingly shirking their leadership duties and were actually (gasp!) relying on lay people to help set the direction for the local church. The horror! As I listened to my colleague rail about what he perceived to be this dangerous trend, I smiled. My colleague obviously didn’t realize the depths of my own commitment to empower lay persons. And where does my heretical commitment to lay empowerment come from? Largely from places like this morning’s reading from 1 Corinthians. Eugene Peterson paraphrases 1 Corinthians 4:20 as follows: “God’s Way is not a matter of mere talk; it’s an empowered life.” Isn’t that an amazing way to characterize God’s Way – an empowered life! That phrase reminds me how easy it would have been for the Creator of the Universe to establish a dynamic whereby we (God’s creatures) would have been merely automatons entirely dependent upon our Creator - never having to think or reason for ourselves. And yet thankfully God went another route – a route that invites each of us to serve intentionally as co-creators with God as we work to usher in the Reign of God. Empowerment indeed! Today, I invite you to celebrate the empowered life God has gifted us with by doing the most appropriate thing imaginable: spend a little time and energy empowering another. Til next time…

Thursday, January 31

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 68; Isaiah 48:1-11; Luke 4:1-13; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5

Let me start today by saying, “Whoops!” Yesterday (Wednesday) I accidentally used today’s (Thursday’s) lectionary readings for my entry. That means today (Thursday) I will have to use yesterday’s (Wednesday’s) lectionary readings for my entry. Now that everyone is thoroughly confused, let’s hope I get back on track tomorrow (Friday)!

Yesterday I was lucky enough to catch a portion of a lecture by one of the leading biblical scholars on Paul and his writings – Dr. Pamela Eisenbaum. Dr. Eisenbaum’s lecture was on how Paul – contrary to popular opinion – could be seen as an advocate of pluralism. One of the points she made in support of her position was that Paul was characterized by an incredibly strong sense of humility – a humility that prevented him from placing himself and his positions above others (i.e. see his relations with the pillars in Jerusalem – Peter, James & John). Today’s reading from 1 Corinthians is a good example of this point; for in this passage Paul said: “I care very little if I am judged by you or by human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself” (1 Corinthians 4:3 – NIV). Instead of worrying about his social standing and how he was seen by others, all Paul cared about what the One who judged him. What an amazing sense of perspective Paul had! What most impressed me, however, was the way time informed Paul’s reluctance to judge. In the very next verse Paul (1 Corinthians 4:4 – NIV) said: “”Therefore, judge nothing before the appointed time…” The verse reminds me how often we think we have enough information to jump to a conclusion about someone or some circumstance. And then what happens? More information comes in and you realize your earlier judgment or conclusion was totally lacking. When you find yourself ready to jump to a conclusion today, I invite you to remember Paul’s sense of humility and patience. Then, take a deep breath and hold off on your judgment for a while. See if your willingness to wait for the appointed time gives you a new sense of perspective – on the other person or situation, and on your own faith. Til next time…

Wednesday, January 30

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 120; Isaiah 48:12-21; Luke 4:14-30; 1 Corinthians 4:6-13; Psalm 38

Today’s reading from the Gospel According of Luke reminds me of one of the great challenges I have encountered in pastoral conversations with parents who have a strong faith who agonize about their children who don’t share their faith at all. The parents spend a great time torturing themselves with one of two questions: (a) “What did I do wrong?” or (b) “What could I do now to reach them?” Today’s Lukan passage raises issues around the second of these two questions. You see most of us assume that if we have a close relationship with someone or some group that that automatically makes us the best person to reach the other. Jesus’ experience reminds us this isn’t true. For in his teaching, he reminds his audience of Elijah’s experience of dealing with the drought in his time. Instead of putting an end to the drought at home, Elijah had to reach out to another area entirely. Jesus explained this by saying simply, “No prophet is accepted in his hometown” (Luke 4:24 – NIV). As much as we would hope and pray that WE would be the vessel to reach our loved ones, the story reminds me that this isn’t always the case. Sometimes the most effective vessel is another. In spite of our control issues, then, we have to step back and trust this process – trust that God will provide the right person or the right circumstance to touch the life of our loved one. Today I encourage you to spend some time thinking about this process. Who in your life have you been frustrated by your inability to reach? Then, instead of simply asking for God’s help in reaching them yourself, ask God to provide someone who can reach them. See what happens. Til next time…

Tuesday, January 29

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 88; Isaiah 47:1-15; Luke 3:15-22; 1 Corinthians 3:18-23

I’ve been a political junkie since I was in the 7th grade. I remember back then (1979-1980) debating my social studies teacher about whether or not the government should step in and help Chrysler during their time of financial crisis. It should come as no surprise, then, that my political radar has been heightened in these days dominated by news of last night’s State of the Union address and next week’s Super Tuesday Primaries & Caucuses. What lies at the core of my interest in politics is that politics is one of the purest expressions of our values as a people. We may SAY education is our top priority in our nation, for instance, but how does that value compare to our desire to invest in mechanisms that will secure our national borders? Which of these values is TRULY most important? Just follow the dollars in our national budget and find out. Today’s passage from Isaiah connected with my interest in politics as the passage dealt with the Virgin Daughter of Babylon and her sins – one of which is arrogance. The NIV translates Isaiah 47:8 as follows: “Now then, listen, you wanton creature, lounging in your security and saying to yourself, ‘I am, and there is none besides me…” And again, in Isaiah 47:10: “Your wisdom and knowledge mislead you when you say to yourself, ‘I am, and there is none besides me.’” These quotes remind me of the arrogance of another entity: our own country – The United States. When it comes to combating issues like global warming and our willingness to acknowledge our interconnectedness to the whole of creation and our fellow human beings, what has been our collective response? I am, and there is none besides me. When it comes to envisioning a just economic system that factors in not only our own well-being, but the well-being of people from developing countries around the world, what has been our collective response? I am, and there is none besides me. Do you see a pattern developing? These are just two of many examples I could give of how we have gotten sucked in to the mindset of the Virgin Daughter of Babylon. All of this got me to wondering how we as a people might move beyond narrow self-interest to a driving interest in God and the well-being of ALL of God’s creation. My personal belief is that this shift starts at the level of the individual and then spills over to the collective consciousness. I stumbled upon a new resource on the web this morning that I’m planning to use to help me explore this shift in commitment – it’s an organization called the Simple Living Network ( I haven’t explored it thoroughly so I can’t explicitly recommend it yet. I do offer it as one tool that might help us begin to move beyond the “I am, and there is none besides me.” One of the quotes on their website that caused me to think this might be a helpful resource in this effort was written by Vicki Robinson; it said: “How you spend your money is how you vote on what exists in the world.” May God strengthen us and give us the courage of conviction to embrace a guiding principle other than raw self-interest for living our lives. Til next time…

Monday, January 28

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 52; Isaiah 46:1-13; Luke 3:1-14; 1 Corinthians 3:10-17; Psalm 6

One of the biggest challenges those of us in post-modern faith communities face is overcoming our tendency to interpret all of the teachings of our faith on a purely abstract level. By reducing teachings exclusively to the abstract level, we often give ourselves permission to feel content simply thinking about the teachings rather than actually putting them into practice. Today’s passage from Luke is a great challenge to such an approach. For in that passage, things start out abstractly by setting the stage for John the Baptist’s ministry through the words of the prophet Isaiah. But the passage doesn’t leave the effects of John’s ministry in the abstract. It moves from the abstract to the concrete. The purpose of his ministry, for instance, moved from simply being to preach “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” into concretely interpreting what repentance looked like for specific individuals (i.e. for a person with twice as much food or clothing as he/she needs, he/she should share it; tax collectors should collect only what is due, etc.). That marriage between abstract principle and its concrete expression is what made John’s ministry (and later Jesus’!) so effective. On the final days before the beginning of Lent, the passage reminds me that each of us still has some specific and concrete work to prepare our hearts for the upcoming events that will lead us toward Easter. What is the concrete work you have to do? Perhaps you can think about it and turn that into a spiritual discipline during the Lenten Season (i.e. I will give up gossip; I will give up my apathy concerning my prayer life and devote more time to prayer; etc.). Til next time…

Sunday, January 27

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 71; Isaiah 9:1-4; Matthew 4:12-23; 1 Corinthians 1:10-17; Psalm 134

One of the classes I took in seminary was a sociology of religion course that helped us look at the life of faith communities in new ways. This process of looking at church life from an entirely different perspective brought many new insights to me. One of which was this: lots of progressive communities look at the rise of mega-churches over the last twenty-five years and conclude that these communities have experience growth because they offer a very conservative prescriptive theology. In other words, they are popular because they tell you what to think. The sociologist said something different in his analysis. He said they are popular because they have a sense of clarity about who they are. That sense clarity – not their particular brand of theology - is what fuels their growth. So what’s this got to do with today’s scriptures? Well, in today’s reading from Matthew, we have one of the call stories that tell us how Peter, Andrew, James and John responded immediately to Jesus’ call to follow him. And most folks are completely baffled about how these individuals could make such a momentous, life-changing decision so quickly. I think it was possible for the men to make their decisions because when you encounter this Jesus, you gain a sense of clarity and perspective that actually makes your decisions much easier. Just as a sense of clarity of mission and purpose can help an institution like a church grow, so too can that sense of clarity help an individual grow in his or her relationship with the God. If you are wrestling with a major life decision that you have been trying to make on your own, I would encourage you to quiet yourself and listen for the ways in which God is calling you. Then see if your decision becomes a little easier. Til next time…