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, February 9

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 74; Leviticus 26:27-42; Matthew 8:23-34; Galatians 3:15-20; Psalm 65

Have you ever noticed that stories that have unexpected endings often get folks riled up. I think lots of folks hate unexpected endings because we human beings like to have a sense of where things are going. We like to be able to anticipate how things will turn out. Expected endings give us a sense of control. If unexpected ending frustrate you, then you probably didn’t connect with today’s passage from Matthew. For in that passage everything is sailing along as expected until you get to the very end of the story. Most folks would expect the story to end with Jesus receiving the love and adulation of the crowd. So how does the story really end? Matthew 8:34 tells us: “And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region” (NIV). Why would they plead with Jesus to leave the region after he had done so much good? Probably because Jesus did the unthinkable – he upset the status quo. Over the years I’ve noticed that lots of times folks in difficult circumstances often cling to those circumstances rather than seek healing and change. For instance, they stay in abusive relationships; they continuing living as a slave to their addiction; they continue to try to derive a sense of self-worth by being a people pleaser. Why do they do those things? Because the familiar (even if it makes you miserable) is better than the unknown. So where do your loyalties lie? Are your primary loyalties to maintaining the status quo at all costs, or do they lie somewhere else? Somewhere where the healing spirit of Christ might actually effect change and take you to a new place? Just a little something to consider. Til next time…

Friday, February 8

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 106; Leviticus 26:1-20; Matthew 8:14-22; Galatians 3:6-14

Today’s passage from Galatians addresses one of the longest standing tensions without our faith tradition; the role faith plays in our spiritual lives vs. the role works plays in our spiritual lives. I know this debate causes angst for many. For me, however, the relationship between faith and works has always been fairly straightforward. Maybe that’s because I’m not smart enough to make it more complex than it currently is for me. That would have to be the topic of another blog entry J Anyway, as someone who works best in the concrete rather than the abstract, I think of our relationship w/ God like the relationship we have with our significant other. The question in this context becomes this: do you do things like buy the other person flowers, treat the other person to dinner and a movie, save up for months or years to go on a vacation with the other person in order to fall in love with them (this would be the law-based/works based approach) OR do you do these things as the natural expression of the love that is already in your heart? Important point to make here for those who think proponents of the faith-first approach are advocates of the old “anything goes” approach: in both scenarios works follow. The difference between the two approaches lies simply in what produces the works: self interest (“I want to be saved so I’ll be good and reap the rewards”) or love of God (“I’m so head over heels in love with God that I can’t help but respond with expressions of that love”). In Galatians 3:11, Paul put is a little differently than I (“Clearly no one is justified before God by the law... – NIV), but the point is similar: faith – the living, breathing, sustaining RELATIONSHIP with your Creator – is foundational. The question for you to consider today is this: what is foundational in your connection with God. Faith? Works (law based approach)? Or something else? Til next time…

Thursday, February 7

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 37; Leviticus 25:35-55; Matthew 8:1-13; Galatians 3:1-5

One of the most challenging aspects of living in a relationship is communication. What often makes communication so difficult is that each partner will often have VERY different understands of words or concepts that are spoken. Let’s say, for instance, that members of a couple are planning on meeting up somewhere after work, and one member says, “Be sure to be on time.” For one partner “on time” might mean be at the location 10 minutes early; for the other partner, “on time” might mean simply leaving work by the agreed upon time. Consequently, if a relationship is going to work, regular check ins are required to make sure you have a similar understanding of the words or concepts used. This is certainly true in our relationship with God as well. Take the issue of Jesus’ death and resurrection. In Galatians 3:1, Paul writes (using Eugene Peterson’s The Message): “… it’s obvious that you no longer have the crucified Jesus in clear focus in your lives.” Some have read Paul’s admonition to have the crucified Jesus as the focus of their lives and concluded this suggests that our relationship with Jesus means we are one the winner’s side – therefore, we are called to live triumphant lives where payback is the dominant theme. Others have read Paul’s admonition and come to the opposite conclusion – that a focus on the crucified Jesus means living lives of self-emptying, sacrificial love and humility. Grace and thanksgiving are often the dominant themes here rather than victory. Same phrase – “the crucified Jesus in clear focus”: VERY different conclusions. As we head into day 2 of Lent, what does that six word phrase mean to you? How is your life reflective of your understanding of that phrase? Til next time…

Wednesday, February 6

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 51; Joel 2:1-2, 12-17a; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Psalm 38

When I was a child, I could never understand my parents’ apathy when their birthdays or Christmas would roll around. For me these occasions were HUGE because they provided me with the opportunity to get gifts. I would put days and days of thought into what gifts I wanted to receive. I figured everyone else should be equally jazzed by these occasions. Whenever I would ask my parents what they wanted for these occasions, however, they would nonchalantly shrug their shoulders and say, “Don’t worry about it, I already have everything that I need.” My parents honestly seemed happier about just having our family together for these special occasions than they ever did by any of the gifts they received. For years I just thought that their response meant they were getting old and that they had lost their passion for life. I hoped that would never happen to me! Over the years, however, I’ve realized what was really happening for them. My parents had something that I sorely lacked in my youth – they had a sense of perspective. They knew that the stuff people exchanged on special occasions weren’t what really mattered; what REALLY mattered was the love that lay behind those gifts. They even felt – get this – that the love was so important that it could actually take the place of gifts. The horror! My parents weren’t the first ones to realize this. I know that for a fact since that very same sentiment was expressed by both the prophets and the psalmist. That’s especially true in today’s first reading from the Psalms. In Psalm 51, the psalmist cries out: “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:16-17 – NIV). As we commemorate the beginning of Lent this Ash Wednesday, my hope is that you won’t spend all your time and energy searching for the perfect gift (i.e. giving up coffee or chocolate) to give God. Instead, my prayer is that you’ll give God the only thing that God truly wants this (and every) holiday season – your heart. Once you give God that – everything else will fall into place. Til next time…

Tuesday, February 5

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 130; Jonah 3:1-4:11; Matthew 7:21-29; Galatians 2:11-21; Psalm 126

October 3, 1995 was one of those days I’ll never forget. Most folks might remember that day for its larger historical event. That was the day OJ Simpson was found “not guilty” in the deaths of his wife Nicole and her friend Ronald Goldman. But that wasn’t the event that defined the day for me. October 3, 1995 was also the day that I learned that one of my best friends from my elementary/junior high/high school had passed away suddenly at the age of 29. I had known Brooke since we were six years old! She was one of those amazing people who had a smile that lit up a room and a laugh that was truly infectious. I remember sitting in my cubicle at work that October day trying to absorb the absurdity of the two events: on one hand a wealthy celebrity had used his money and fame to gain his freedom while on the other hand a beautiful, amazing light had been prematurely extinguished. It took months for me to regain a sense of perspective about the events. In many ways, I was in a situation somewhat like Jonah’s in today’s passage - for Jonah was struggling to reconcile two contrasting situations. He was upset that a group of people he too felt was undeserving (the Ninevites) had also gotten off. And to make matters worse, he also felt the stinging loss of something he valued (though in his case his loss wasn’t a person but a vine). So what was a lesson to be gleaned from Jonah’s experience? For me, the lesson I pulled from today’s story was that we as individuals often lack a sense of perspective. We get so caught up in our own stuff that we lose sight of a bigger picture. Thankfully God has a wonderful (albeit it sometimes painfully direct) way of helping us restore our sense of perspective. Remember when God commented to Jonah: “You have been concerned about this vine… but Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people!” (Jonah 4:10-11 – NIV). So the next time you find yourself struggling to make sense of the world on your own, try taking a step back and seeing if God can help restore a sense of perspective. Til next time…

Monday, February 4

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 82; Amos 5:6-15; Matthew 17:9-13; Galatians 2:1-10; Psalm 146

One of the most difficult challenges we face as human beings is living with our truth in such a way that it doesn’t deny or denigrate someone else’s truth. This fact has become especially apparent in these days leading up to the political caucus in my state (Colorado). I’ve noticed that when folks ask which candidate you are supporting, tension often ensues if you name a candidate other than the one they are supporting. There’s almost the unspoken assumption that if the other person names another candidate other than the one you are supporting, it is your duty to try to change their mind. I find myself wishing that people’s devotion to the issues (i.e. health care, affordable wages, education, etc.) was a strong as their devotion to a particular candidate. Of course we aren’t the only ones who had to deal with such division. Today’s passage reminds us that the disciples faced significant differences as well. Paul and Barnabas, for instance, had a call to minister to the Gentiles; while Peter, James, and John were called to minister to the Jews. At this critical moment in the history of our faith tradition, the disciples could have been hard-hearted and lashed out at those whose convictions and call differed from their own. Instead of doing that, however, they did the unexpected: they used these differences to help them arrive at a better understanding of their own call (Galatians 2:7). I’m left to wonder how it is that you live out your own faith and convictions. Do you follow Paul, Peter, James and John’s example and lovingly and respectfully honor those whose call is different from yours; or do you feel compelled to force others to conform to your understanding and experience of God? Til next time…

Sunday, February 3

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 2; Exodus 24:12-18; Matthew 17:1-9; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Psalm 118

Tom Troeger, one of my seminary professors at The Iliff School of Theology, made an interesting observation about how most of us react when we encounter the Holy. In visiting numerous worship services throughout the country over the years, Troeger noted that often people will do unexpected things when they have an unexpected experience of the Holy. Some of the things they’ll do include things like nervously making a joke or applauding. Of course the notion that someone might not know how to respond to an encounter with the Holy isn’t a recent phenomena. In today’s passage from Matthew, Peter manifests an unexpected response to the Holy when – after seeing the appearance of Elijah and Moses – he offer to build three memorials on the mountain to capture the moment. Eugene Peterson goes on to add that after his offer Peter continues to babble (Matthew 17:4-5 – The Message). Why is it that so many of us (including myself) have a difficult time knowing what to do in the midst of our encounters with the Holy? I suppose the answer lies within my own question. Our response shouldn’t be driven by our needs or our perceptions – our response should include a letting go of our control and a willingness to simply be in the moment. Maybe then we'd know how to respond to our encounters. Til next time…