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 16

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 31; Deuteronomy 9:13-21; Matthew 10:16-23; Galatians 5:1-6; Psalm 85

Each January, most mainline churches spend a great deal of time and energy completing their annual reports to their member denomination(s). Most churches only have to prepare one report since they belong to just one denomination. As an ecumenical church, however, the chuch I serve has the “joy” of filling out three reports - one for each of the denominations we belong to (The Presbyterian Church (USA), The United Church of Christ, and The United Methodist Church). While I understand the purpose of the reports (generate data so that the denominations can make statistical reports that summarize the content of their membership), I always get frustrated because the reports rarely – if ever – ask for the information that most important in the life of the local church. So what information is most important to the life of the local church (and certainly its individual members as well)? That is spelled out for us in today’s passage from Galatians. Eugene Peterson paraphrases the end of the passage to read: “For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior; faith expressed in love” (Galatians 5:6 – The Message). It may be easier to count the folks who sit in our sanctuary each week, or the number of zeroes in our annual budget. Thank goodness, however, for Paul’s admonition to never lose sight of what REALLY counts: the faith expressed in love. Til next time…

Friday, February 15

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 80; Deuteronomy 9:4-12; Matthew 10:1-15; Galatians 4:21-31; Psalm 16

Recently, I had a rather unpleasant experience of what it means to live into Jesus’ words from today’s passage from Matthew. Let me tell you what happened. I was sitting in a meeting with leaders from a faith-based non-profit. There were representatives from another non-profit there who were asking for assistance. Since the missions of both organizations were closely related, I assumed it only made sense to join our efforts and resources together and move forward. Instead of doing that, however, members of one organization began to pull back from a commitment to join our efforts together. I wondered why. After a few moments of listening, however, I realized why. Members of the group were operating from a perspective of scarcity. Assumptions were made that both groups were in competition with one another for the same limited resources. If we joined together, it was suggested, it might hurt the group’s ability to generate contributions of their own. Sadly, this is the same dynamic that many local churches get into when they consider whether their resources should be spent on the care of their own existing members or whether the resources should be spent in mission and outreach (in case you are wondering, I would say this is a false choice as we are called to give our resources to BOTH areas!!!). In the back of my mind, Jesus’ words from today’s passage sprung forth: “Freely you have received, freely give…” (Matthew 10:8 – NIV). The experience reminded me just how different the values that flow from our faith from the values that flow from the world. For instance, the world tells us to hoard our resources for ourselves; our faith, however, calls us to give freely to others. The world tells us to compete against others; our faith calls us to collaborate with others. The world tells us to fear; our faith calls us to trust. As we go forth into the world today, may we claim the values that flow from our faith and live lives of abundance, hope, and love – knowing that the world will question our values and choices at every turn. If the world doesn't question our values, then it just might be time for a values check. Til next time…

Thursday, February 14

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 107; Deuteronomy 8:11-20; Matthew 9:27-28; Galatians 4:15-20

In reading today’s psalm, I noticed something that I hadn’t since my seminary days. I noticed the way the psalmist used the notion of words and/or speaking to mean ways in which God was called into action. Let me give you a couple examples. In verses 17 & 18, the psalmist tells of those who were rebellious and struggled with affliction. How did they escape their miserable condition? Verse 20 says: “God sent forth God’s word and healed them” (NIV). And verses 23-24 tell of those sea merchants who got to see God in action in a rather unique way. And how did God spring to action on the high seas? Verse 25 tells us: “…God spoke and stirred up a tempest” (NIV). All of this is to say that this background helps me better understand the notion of Jesus as the word (i.e. “In the beginning was the word…” from John 1:1). For Jesus was the one I know who best exemplifies God’s love springing into action. As individuals who connect with the living spirit of Christ, I think God’s indwelling spirit transforms us into expressions of God’s word as well. In other words, God speaks in and through us. Today, I invite you to consider just what God is saying through you. May you continue to open yourself up so that folks around you feel God’s presence in new and powerful ways. Til next time…

Wednesday, February 13

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 78, Deuteronomy 8:1-10; Matthew 9:18-26; Galatians 4:8-14

There were a lot of words that people could have used to describe me when I was growing up: conscientious, dependable, hard-working, and reliable were some of the most common words used. One description that no one would have used to describe me was risk-taker. Why was that? Well, as I was struggling to come to terms with my identity as a gay man, I compensated for the lack of control I felt over my own feelings by trying to control every other aspect of my life. Everything I thought and did was to maintain an acceptable image of myself – in others’ eyes and in my own. That’s why I could never take a risk. I always had to play it safe and do what was expected of me. What I didn’t realize at the time, however, was that I was like the hemorrhaging woman in today’s story from Matthew. I was miserable. And like her - no matter what resources I sought out or how much will I tried to reach down and summon, the daily challenges I faced didn’t go away. Eventually both the hemorrhaging woman and I reached a point in our life where we had no place else to turn. When we arrived at that point, we did the only thing possible: we reached out. And before we knew it, our faith was rewarded – we began to regain a sense of health and wholeness. Where are you at in your own faith journey? Are you still trying to control and manage things? Or are you ready to follow the example of the hemorrhaging woman and reach out in faith? The good news is that no matter how long it takes you to reach out in faith (12 years in the hemorrhaging woman’s case – 25 years in my case), God will be there to bring health and wholeness to your life. The only question, then, is this: are you ready?! Til next time…

Tuesday, February 12

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 70; Jeremiah 10:11-16, 23-25; Matthew 9:10-17; Galatians 4:1-7; Psalm 72

Two and a half weeks ago, we started a new ministry at our church. The new ministry is a group called the healing circle, and its purpose is to serve as a resource for folks who are on a journey toward healing and wholeness. I have already learned much from the group about healing. One of my biggest learnings so far is that in order to truly be healed you have to be willing to open up with God and get real. You see in a lot of people’s efforts to deal with pain they try to suck it up and put on a good face around God. They learn, for instance, to lift up praise and petition; they never, however, allow themselves to articulate the anger or frustration they feel. They do this because they’ve learned over the years there is a right way and wrong way to act around God. What they don’t realize is their efforts to put on a good face for God (and the godly around them) is a huge part of what’s actually keeping them from healing. Once folks get in touch with what they are really feeling – and start expressing those feelings toward God – then healing really begins. Today’s passage from Galatians goes hand in hand with this realization. For in constructing the case for why our relationship with God has been transformed, Paul wrote: “You can tell for sure that you are now fully adopted as God’s own children because God sent the Spirit of God’s Son in our lives crying out, ‘Papa! Father!’ Doesn’t that privilege of intimate conversation with God make it plain that you are not a slave, but a child?” (Galatians 4:5-6 – The Message). This passage got me to thinking: how do you approach your relationship with God? Do you act the part of a fearful slave who is constantly afraid of acting or expressing your real feelings, or do you take on the part of a child who loves and trusts your parent enough to get real? Til next time…

Monday, February 11

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 135; Jeremiah 10:1-10; Matthew 9:1-9; Galatians 3:21-29; Psalm 115

One of the challenges we progressives face is maintaining a sense of perspective about the changes we help effect in the world. For instance, it’s easy for us to work on matters of inclusion in the church, and then end up bragging about how we were the first to welcome or recognize a particular group of people. I’ve never understood that sense of pride or accomplishment. For when I hear that, my mind always returns immediately to today’s passage from Galatians: “In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ” (Galatians 3:26-28 – The Message). In light of this Scripture, then, individuals and communities that are welcoming should not be proud of their accomplishment. After all, they’re just doing what they are supposed to. Instead, it should be the communities that first separate people and then exclude certain groups that should be ashamed of themselves - for they have rejected God’s vision for the world. As you go into the world today, I invite you to consider the composition of your world. Is your world composed exclusively of the equivalent of Jews or non-Jews; slaves or free; male or female; straight or gay; legal or illegal resident; Democrat or Republican? Or does your world reflect the true nature of God’s vision and include folks from all social locations? Til next time…