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Help support the vision of Woodland Hills Community Church!
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Saturday, March 8

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 80; Ezekiel 39:21-29; John 8:47-59; 2 Corinthians 11:1-6; Psalm 85

In today’s first Psalm, the psalmist gives voice to one of the most natural human impulses. The psalmist assumes that when things start to go bad in life, that God is at least partially to blame. His language in Psalm 80 implies that God has either fallen asleep on the job (verse 2), left them (verse 3), or is off brooding in smoldering anger (verse 4). Much of the Psalm, then, is the psalmist’s attempt to get God to wake up and return to God’s post. While I can understand why someone would feel like this, I don’t share the psalmist’s view. So if I don’t believe that the occurrence of bad things proves God has fallen asleep on the job, how do I explain them? The notion of free will reminds me that God is more than a mere puppet master producing things that are either pleasing or annoying to me. Rather, I experience God more as a loving parent whose grace empowers us to venture out on our own and serve as co-creators of the events in our lives. Sometimes – in that space of that free will – we encounter things we label “good”; other times we encounter things we label “bad”. There is one thing that I do know in the face of this good and bad. God’s love and grace is there with us: constantly. God never for even a second falls asleep on the job! Today I give thanks for a God that is there with us through thick and thin. A God who is generous and gracious to let us vent our frustrations – as did the psalmist – and then loving embraces us as we (and not God) return. Til next time…

Friday, March 7

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 38; Ezekiel 39:1-10; John 8:33-47; 2 Corinthians 10:7-18; Psalm 36

As someone who has spent a good portion of his adult life working with marginalized populations, I could certainly relate to the sentiments expressed in today’s second letter to the Corinthians. For in the letter the author is clearly communicating to those elements within his community who have clearly written him off. It would be nice if the church had stopped doing that – stopped writing people off – in the latter part of the first century. Unfortunately, it has not. Daily I encounter folks who have been written off for a variety of reasons (i.e. they are divorced and their faith tradition doesn’t acknowledge divorced people; they have a criminal background and their church would shun them if they found out their background; they are in the process of coming to terms with their sexuality/gender identity and have been forsaken by their loved ones because of it; they were abused by a loved one and are grappling to rebuild a sense of trust). I could go on and on with the list of folks who have been written off by the institutional church and those who blindly defend it. Thankfully in today’s opening verses from the tenth chapter of 2 Corinthians, the author gives us a powerful example of how one can still live one’s faith in the face of such pain and attempts to exclude. The author writes: “If you’re looking for a clear example of someone on Christ’s side, why do you so quickly cut me out? Believe me, I am quite sure of my standing with Christ. You may think I overstate the authority he gave me, but I’m not backing off” (The Message). If you have ever battled the pain of exclusion, I invite you to read and reclaim the essence of these words for yourself. And in this Lenten season - when we are once again reminded of the depths of God’s love for ALL of us - may we never find ourselves backing off our faith (and our ability to stand up for ourselves) as well. Til next time…

Thursday, March 6

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 47; Ezekiel 37:21-28; John 8:21-32; 2 Corinthians 10:1-6; Psalm 132

Eugene Peterson’s paraphrasing of John 8:23 in The Message raised a powerful question for me to consider today. Let me set that verse up for you. In the two preceding verses, we are told that Jesus is speaking of his impending departure to a largely Jewish crowd when members of the crowd began to question him about what he meant when he spoke of going someplace where they couldn’t follow. Jesus responded to their questions by pointing something out: “You’re tied down to the mundane; I’m in touch with what is beyond your horizons. You live in terms of what you see and touch. I’m living in other terms.” The question that verse raised for me today is this: on what terms am I living my life? Am I living my life on mundane terms that are limited primarily to the physical realm - to those things I can see or touch - or am I living my life on different terms? On spiritual terms!? It would be easy to feel as if life conspires to force us to live in the realm of the mundane as the daily demands of our lives force us into certain patterns or routines( i.e. wake up, get ready, go to work, come home, eat dinner, relax, go to bed and then start the cycle over). I think such an assumption would be dangerous. For I don’t believe that any of the events in our lives are inherently mundane. Rather, it is our attitude or approach toward them that determines whether or not they become mundane. Today, as you go through the cycles of your life, I invite you to make a conscious choice to refuse to let the events become mundane. Look to Jesus’ example and determine if there are ways you can live your life on new terms. Terms that are not restricted simply to the physical – terms that are transcendent and take you to the spiritual. Til next time…

Wednesday, March 5

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm126; Ezekiel 36:22-32; John 8:12-20; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Psalm 51

One of the most powerful movies I have ever seen was the 1995 film “Dead Man Walking”. It was powerful on so many levels – the performances, the story, and the subject to name a few. As someone who worked in the juvenile corrections system for six years, there was one aspect of the story that caught my eye because it rang so true. That aspect? The level of denial experienced by Matthew Poncelet (the character played by Academy Award nominee Sean Penn). Throughout almost the entire movie Poncelet insisted he was innocent of the rape and murders he was charged. In fact he maintained his innocence until the final moments of the film when he no longer had anything to lose. Then – and only then – was he able to face the truth. What struck me about Penn’s characterization was that Poncelet wasn’t just saying what he thought others had wanted to hear; like many of the offenders I had worked with, he had actually convinced himself that what he was saying earlier was true. In other words, for much of the film he no longer knew the truth – even about himself. Lots of us fall prey to this dynamic when it comes to dealing with ourselves. Oh, it may not involve anything as dramatic as a criminal offense, but we spend a great deal of time and energy creating rationalizations for our behaviors and then trying to convince others (and ourselves!) of their truth. In the midst of such efforts come today’s words from the psalmist: “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost places” (Psalm 51:6 – NIV). In the film, Matthew Poncelet needed a constant, loving presence in his life before he could face the truth and be set free. In his case, it was Sister Helen Prejean (played by Academy Award winner Susan Sarandon). So too do we need such a presence before we can face the truth about ourselves. In our case, however, we don’t need a Hollywood actor or actress – we have something much better: God. In these final days of Lent, I would encourage you to seek truth in your inner parts and be intimately known – by yourself and by your Creator. It is through that act of being known (truths and all) that you will truly be set free! Til next time…

Tuesday, March 4

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 106:1-23; Ezekiel 36:8-21; John 8:1-11; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Psalm 106:24-48

One of the defining characteristics of us these days is that we have lost a sense of personal and collective history. We have bought so thoroughly into the notion that each new day is a blank canvass that we often totally forget about the other canvasses that we have painted earlier. Now don’t get me wrong. There are some very positive aspects to such an approach. Treating each day as if it were a blank canvass allows us to break free from ruts and routines that have dominated our lives and start anew. And the notion of letting go of some things like guilt from earlier canvasses/days can be an essential aspect of living into a life shaped and formed by the New Covenant that we came to understand through the work of Jesus. But in reading this morning’s Psalm, I was reminded of the values of remembering one’s earlier canvasses as well. In today’s Psalm, for example, I can hear God trying once again to ground God’s people by showing them the big picture. In the midst of walking them through the highlights (i.e. God’s parting of the Red Sea - their experience of salvation from their life of oppression in Egypt) and the lowlights (i.e. their demands of God in the desert – their creation of the golden calf), God was able to lay out for them their relationship in all its fullness. In a sense, God created an art gallery that displayed ALL of their canvasses. The beautiful thing about this so called gallery was that their relational history wasn’t used as a tool to crush or belittle them; rather, it became an instrument that better grounded them. The sense of perspective they gained from experiencing the gallery of canvasses freed them up to eventually join in the concluding words of the Psalm which said: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Let all the people say, ‘Amen’. Praise the Lord” (Psalm 106:48 – NIV). Today – during this season of Lent – let us follow the psalmist’s example and integrate our past with our present in order to arrive at fuller understanding of the way God has been at work in our lives. Perhaps then we too can join in the psalmist’s hearty chorus of praise as we recognize not just where we are today, but where we have come from as well. Til next time…

Monday, March 3

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 100; Ezekiel 34:17-31; John 7:37-52; 2 Corinthians 5:6-15; Psalm 65

One of my primary points in yesterday’s sermon was how easy it is to get so caught up with things that we totally miss the point of what’s happening right in front of our faces. Within the context of yesterday’s story of Jesus’ healing of the blind man, for instance, the religious folks in the story got so caught up with asking questions like “Why”, “What”, and “Who” that they completely lost sight of the healing before them. Today’s lesson from John contains a similar point. As Jesus was speaking to the multitudes on the last day of the feast, some in the crowd became obsessed with one question of their own: “Where is this man from?” Once they had figured out that the answer to their question was Galilee, they totally shut themselves off from entertaining the possibility that Jesus was the Messiah. It’s easy to stand back and criticize the folks who got so caught up in their own stuff that they totally missed the point of what was happening before them. However, the story got me to thinking: how many times do we do the same thing? How many times do we become so focused on our issues and agendas – our own “who” “what” and “whys” - that we miss the presence and/or work of God in our own midst? My hope is that God’s spirit will strengthen our hearts so that at such times we might stop and summon the courage to be like Nicodemus and at the very least open ourselves to the possibility of listening before we make up our minds. Til next time…