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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 23

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 58; Ezekiel 28:11-19; John 6:16-27; 2 Corinthians 1:1-11; Psalm 52

In reading today’s passage from 2 Corinthians, I was reminded about one of the challenges we all face at both the individual and corporate levels. That challenge is not to lose sight of what’s really important. You see as the pastor of a local church, I had become so involved in the day to day demands of keeping the church functioning that I had lost sight of one of the most important things I believe a local church is called to participate in: the healing process. So this winter, our faith community started creating time for something called a healing circle. The purpose of the healing circle is to bring to life the words from 2 Corinthians 1:4 which read: “God comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, God brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us” (The Message). The healing circle allows folks in our community to just that – share in the ways in which God is/has been present with us during the hard times, and become a manifestation of God’s presence and grace to others during their hard times as well. All of this is to say that I believe each of us are called to go through this sort of process wherever we are as well - each of us are called to cultivate a heightened awareness of how God has sustained us through our hard times, and then offer ourselves and our experience as encouragement for others. My question for you to consider today is this: are you striking a balance between receiving and benefiting from God’s healing presence in your life AND walking with others in the mist of their healing process? Or are you simply keeping your healing process to yourself? If you are hoarding the healing process for yourself, try in the coming days to offer yourselves and your experiences to others to help in their healing process. You might just be surprised what comes of your willingness to share of yourself. Til next time…

Friday, February 22

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 62; Ezekiel 28:1-10; John 1-15; Galatians 6:7-18; Psalm 20

Most of us don’t have too many “A Ha!” moments in life: a moment when something that used to be confusing suddenly becomes crystal clear. That’s why it’s so easy for us to remember those moments much later. One of my “A Ha!” moments occurred during one of my seminary classes titled “Theology, Imagination & Construct: Part 1” (great name for a seminary class, eh). One day in that class we were discussing a German theologian by the name of Schleiermacher. One of the things Schleiermacher offered the world was a new understanding of what sin was; he suggested sin was defined as those times when the finite (that would be us) confused itself with the Infinite (that would be God). Those words helped me think about sin in new and exciting ways – ways that I’m still exploring seven years later! You might say that you could find the roots of Schleiermacher’s definition of sin in today’s passage from Ezekiel. For in that passage, the prophet suggests God is angry at the ruler of Tyre because, “In the pride of your heart you say, ‘I am god…” (Ezekiel 28:2 – NIV). The prophet concludes his critique in the same verse by noting “you are a man and not a god!” As the prophet (and Schleiermacher) pointed out, it’s so easy for us to get caught up in our accomplishments and achievements that we begin to blur the boundaries between God (the Infinite) and ourselves (the finite). Are there areas in your life where you’ve fallen prey to this dynamic? Areas where your achievements or accomplishments have fueled the unchecked growth of your ego and caused you to lose perspective? If so, the greatest antidote for ego is the Spirit which provides a sense of perspective and humility that we can’t obtain on our own. If we could, we would be the Infinite. My hope for us all is that we will never lose sight of the difference between who God is and who we are. Til next time…

Thursday, February 21

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 12; Isaiah 58:6-14; Matthew 11:16-30; Galatians 6:1-6

For those individuals who are ordained in the United Church of Christ, we have to go through an examination of sorts called an Ecclesiastical Council. This is an event where you stand before members of local churches in the association (both lay and clergy) and answer whatever questions they have for you. My Ecclesiastical Council was held in November of 2003, so it’s been nearly 4 ½ years since my experience of the event. There are still a couple of questions I remember receiving during my examination, however. One such question had to do with the relationship between the pastoral and prophetic roles of a pastor. The answer that I gave that day is the answer I still hold cling to. You see, lots of folks fall into the mistake of conceptually separating the pastoral role from the prophetic role; I don’t. I believe that these roles are intertwined. You can’t truly be pastoral, I believe, if you never challenge the people to grow in their commitment to justice as a natural expression of their faith; nor can you be prophetic until you take the time to establish a pastoral relationship with your audience. When it comes to this issue, I believe it’s a “both/and” rather than an “either/or” proposition. That truth came back to me as I read the words from today’s passage from Isaiah. In speaking of the kind of ritual (in this case fasting) that God wants, the prophet quotes God as saying: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:6 – NIV). I realize that every single day I fulfill my pastoral duties, I unconsciously make prophetic statements (or what the secular world would call a political statement). When I offer support and services to an individual without asking to see papers proving their status as a citizen, for instance, that is a prophetic/political statement. When I counsel with a couple in hopes of bringing healing to the lives together without requiring that the members of the couple be of the opposite gender, I am making a prophetic/political statement. Every time I lower the thermostat in my office and risk making a visitor a bit uncomfortable in order to be a better steward of God’s resources, I am making a prophetic/political statement. Today, I invite you to consider the ways in which you are following God’s desires as expressed in the book of Isaiah – especially the ways in which you are loosening the chains of injustice and untying the cords of the yoke. Then, the next time someone accuses you of mixing the pastoral and prophetic/political voices, don’t get defensive. Just thank them for the complement! Til next time…

Wednesday, February 20

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 143; Isaiah 58:1-5; Matthew 11:1-15; Galatians 5:19-26; Psalm 112

One of the defining characteristics of modern day Americans is our pervading sense of cynicism. We often spend time and energy building people up, for instance, only to begin the process of immediately tearing them down. How sad this process is. So how do we overcome such thinking? Well, today’s passage from Galatians gives us a suggestion. Radical things start happening when we start doing what Eugene Peterson paraphrases in Galatians 5:22 as living God’s way (the NIV translates this as enjoying the fruits of the spirit). What kind of things? “We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people” (Galatians 5:22-23 – The Message). Radical things indeed! The key point here is that all of these amazing things come about not from seeking OUR desire or OUR will but God’s. The next time you find yourself in a negative and/or destructive head space – expecting the worst or thinking the worst about someone or something - stop and ask yourself a basic question: am I living my way or God’s way. This centering question might help you get back on tract. Til next time…

Tuesday, February 19

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 63; Deuteronomy 10:12-22; Matthew 10:34-42; Galatians 5:13-18; Psalm 15

Today’s readings offered what I feel are two foundational principles of our faith. The first principle from Galatians 5:14 is pretty self-explanatory: “For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself.” Of course, while the first foundational principle is simple and rather straightforward, most of us spend our lives trying to put that principle into practice. The second foundational principle, however is a bit more difficult to grasp. The principle comes from Matthew 10:39: “If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me” (both passages from The Message). In an American society that teaches us to worship the individual and participate in NOTHING that limits the freedom of the individual, let’s face it: the words from Matthew are offensive. For those words challenge these societal notions to the core. As a result, we find clever ways to rationalize why those words should no longer apply to us modern folks. We tell ourselves things like, “Forgetting yourself means becoming a doormat. That would set you up for abuse or neglect so I can’t do that.” While I would agree that forgetting yourself for the sake of another person IS very dangerous, forgetting yourself for the sake of God is entirely different. For most (if not all) persons would exploit someone who forgets him or herself, God – the very source of life and love - would never do that. This Lenten season I invite you to start doing the unthinkable – start forgetting yourself a little bit. Stop filtering every thought, every idea, and every instinct through the filter of “what’s in it for me” and start listening for the Spirit with an open heart and mind to see where God is leading. The irony is that through this process, you won’t just find God – you’ll find deeper and more authentic pieces of yourself. Til next time…

Monday, February 18

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 106:1-23; Deuteronomy ; Matthew ; Galatians ; Psalms 27

There was a word that really jumped out at me from today’s reading from the 106th Psalm. That word was “remember”. The context for the use of the word is that the Psalmist talks about all the ways God had been active in saving ways in the peoples’ lives. And yet, how did the people respond to God’s gracious presence? Each time they forgot how God had been present in their lives and went back to a “business as usual” approach toward life. Of course, it’s not just the ancient Israelites who had this tendency. As a pastor I see this happen a lot. I visit people in the hospital who are feeling scared and vulnerable while they are sick so they draw near to God. When they recover and get back to life as usual what happens? They often forget God’s role in their healing process. I see couples in the throes of relationship struggles – struggles so deep they know they can’t get through them on their own. Frequently they invite God into their relationship and ask for healing. And what happens when some of the healing comes? They forget. I could give you lots of other examples of how we do what the psalmist decried – how we forget – but I’m sure you get the point. Through the words of the psalmist I see God calling us to do at least one thing today in our faith journey: remember! Remember God’s empowering blessings in our lives; remember God’s healing presence in our lives; remember God’s unconditional love for us. Til next time…

Sunday, February 17

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 105; Genesis 12:1-8; John 3:1-17; Romans 4:1-17; Psalm 32

Early in my preparations for ministry, one of my mentors – Tom – shared with me one of his keys to a successful ministry. The key he shared surprised me greatly. Drawing upon a wonderful book by the title Christmas is for Celebrating, Tom said that the key to a successful ministry in not an individual’s ability to give; rather, the key is the individual’s ability to receive. What he meant by this is that a ministry should be rooted in our ability to receive things like God’s love, mercy, and grace. For that love, mercy, and grace will – in the long run – carry us further than our own resources would otherwise. The more of God’s grace we receive, the more we will be able to give. I had never thought about it like this. Of course Tom’s insight is reflected in the spirit of Paul’s words to Romans in today’s reading. For in the passage, Paul writes, “… if you see that the job is too big for you, that it’s something only God can do, and you trust God to do it – you could never do it for yourself no matter how hard and long you worked – well, that trusting-God-to-do-it is what gets you set right with God, by God” (Romans 4:5 – The Message). While Paul’s formula sounds easy at first (trusting God), letting go of your desire to give and opening yourself to simply receive can be more challenging that one would think. That’s because receiving means letting go of our control issues. Today I invite you to think about what is the foundation of your faith: giving or receiving? Til next time…