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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, March 15

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 148; Jeremiah 31:27-37; John 11:28-44; 2 Corinthians 13:1-14; Psalm 19

There were lots of amazing and transformative learnings that I had last summer during my sabbatical. One of the greatest was an insight about myself. You see for the last several years, I had located myself within the Evangelical tradition (that was the Evangelical tradition of the 19th Century – the movement that birthed the Social Gospel movement). I thought of myself as an Evangelical because of my affinity for the early Evangelicals openness to the radical movement of the Spirit. This reliance on the spirit generally made early Evangelicals non-dogmatic. Consequently, they exuded a spirit of warmth and God’s love. Unfortunately, over the last 100 years the modern Evangelical movement has moved from a reliance on the Spirit to a reliance on the written word. This shift had many unfortunate consequences. One of these is that it made the evangelical movement rigid and dogmatic. Words like “warmth” and “love” were replaced with words like “judgmental” and “closed”. I finally realized last year that I could no longer call that camp home. So where then did I belong? In the camp of the Christian mystics. And how did I find myself arriving there?! Well, the spirit of today’s reading from Jeremiah really captured the driving force behind my decision. Eugene Peterson paraphrases Jeremiah 31:34 to read: “They will no longer go around setting up schools to teach each other about God. They’ll know me firsthand, the dull and the bright, the smart and the slow” (The Message). I realized that this notion of experiencing God firsthand is one of the core values of my faith. That is what led me into the camp of the Christian mystics. Regardless of what camp folks locate themselves, this notion of experiencing God firsthand is a key concept. For it transforms our faith from being a belief ABOUT God, into a direct experience of - and subsequent relationship with - God. And when you have that transformative firsthand experience of God, I’m completely na├»ve enough to believe that everything else will fall into place. As we enter the final days of the Lenten season, I invite you to explore your own firsthand experience of God. Don’t settle for simply thinking about God. Jump into the fullness of God feet first. Enjoy yourself as you discover for yourself the fullness of God’s expansive love, grace & mercy. Perhaps that experience will give you new ways of experiencing Easter this year. Til next time…

Friday, March 14

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 5; Jeremiah 31:16-25; John 11:1-27; 2 Corinthians 12:12-21; Psalm 94

I’ve always struggled with the Gospel of John’s telling of the story of the raising of Lazarus. Why is that? Because of the way the gospel portrays Jesus. There are two pieces of John’s portrayal in particular that challenge my view of Jesus. First, I struggle with Jesus’ explanation of what’s happening to the disciples. In John 11:4, for instance, Jesus says rather matter-of-factly: “This sickness is not fatal. It will become an occasion to show God’s glory by glorifying God’s son” (The Message). Second, I struggle with Jesus’ response to the crisis as well. John 11:6 tells us: “...but oddly, when [Jesus] heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed on where he was for two more days” (The Message). Neither of these pieces of the story resonates with the loving, compassionate Jesus that I have met so often in other places in Scripture. So what do I do with these challenging pieces of the story? In reading the story once again this morning, I realized a difficult thing: Jesus’ perspective on life wasn’t always the same as my own perspective. While I experienced the story primarily as a story about sickness and healing, Jesus saw it as something more. And while I still struggle with what an appropriate response would be by my own standards given the resources I have to work with, Jesus had a different understanding of an appropriate response given the resources he had to work with. Neither of these thoughts necessarily makes the story a warm and fuzzy one for me. Nevertheless, they remind me that the story really isn’t about me. I hate it when that happens J. Today as I continue to wrestle with the story, I give thanks for the One who brings a new perspective on things to my life and for the amazing power of God that brings new life into those parts of our experience that we had long ago written off. In these final days before Easter, may each of us experience in new ways a taste of this new life. Til next time…

Thursday, March 13

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 2; Ezekiel 3:4-11; John 10:19-42; 2 Corinthians 12:7-11; Psalm 92

As someone who was born with a physical handicap (club feet), I’ve always been able to celebrate the spirit of the words from today’s passage from 2 Corinthians. Of course I wasn’t always in the headspace of 2 Corinthians 12:7 (“I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations”) for my physical handicap didn’t always seem like a gift. In fact, it wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I could fully embrace what the author was getting at in this morning’s passage. For in my twenties, I came to terms with another part of myself that put me at odds with the rest of society: I came to terms with my same-gender orientation. And through this experience I began to slowly experience the sentiment of our “handicaps” being a gift. You see had I gone through life as a white, middle class, heterosexual male, I might have been largely oblivious to the challenges faced by those who weren’t all of those things. In other words, I might not have understood things like sexism, racism, class-ism, able-ism, and all of the other –isms. It was only through what others perceived as my weakness, however, that other pieces of the human experience were opened to me and I was transformed me into an advocate for the rights of ALL people. Thanks be to God!! Over time I was able to claim for myself those timeless words: “for when I am weak, then I am strong!” (2 Corinthians 12:10 – NIV). Have you had a similar experience where a part of you that was once considered a weakness has – with the work of the Holy Spirit – helped you become strong? If so, I invite you to join me as together we give thanks for the “gift” which we have been given. Til next time…

Wednesday, March 12

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 23; Daniel 12:1-13; John 10:1-18; 2 Corinthians 11:30-12:6; Psalm 100

The imagery used within today’s passage from John’s Gospel is rich indeed. I particularly connected with the language of the first nine verses. In that section of today’s passage, Jesus talks about how an individual goes about relating to the sheep in the pen. In The Message paraphrasing of the text, Jesus contrasts the approaches as the sheep rustler approach vs. the shepherd approach. In speaking of the two, Jesus notes: “The shepherd walks right up to the gate. The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice” (John 10:2-3 – The Message). This metaphor sounds great within the context of the sheep and shepherd, but how does it work out there in the real world – when we (the sheep) are inundated with numerous competing voices? Can we really pick out the voice of our shepherd? I’ve been wrestling with this challenge in relation to our church’s attempt to establish an emerging worship community. We have so many voices out their suggesting how we should do this (i.e. establish a target demographic, market to the target demographic, spend X amount of dollars to incorporate trendy new elements of worship, establish benchmarks for growth, etc.). Sadly, these voices to me sound little like the voice of the shepherd. It has been an individual and collective challenge to quiet some of these voices and create an intimate worshipping community based upon the voice of the shepherd and not another voice. Perhaps there are areas in your life where competing voices seem to be clamoring for your attention – an area of your life such as a relationship, a job, or a family matter. I would encourage you to spend time listening - not for just any old voice, but the calming, peaceful, and purposeful voice of the shepherd - as you seek to negotiate the challenges before you. Perhaps you’ll find that the closer you listen, the easier your decision making process might become. Til next time…

Tuesday, March 11

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 103; Ezekiel 47:1-12; John 9:18-41; 2 Corinthians 11:16-29; Psalm 46

From the time I was in my early teens, I was a political activist. I had very clear ideas about how the world should be, and I felt the best use of my time and energy would be to take action myself to make the world conform to my vision. It took me about 18 years of living like this before I was humbled by two learnings: first, I learned that I didn’t have all the time and energy myself to effect these changes; and second, I learned that my vision for the world wasn’t the best. These discoveries followed a period of complete burn out at the ripe old age of 31. So I started a period of soul-searching to discover who might have a better vision for the world and where I might find the strength and energy to sustain me over the long haul in my attempts to bring healing to the world. And wouldn’t you know I found the answer to both questions in the same place: God. Today’s reading from Ezekiel lays out a beautiful vision of the work of the Spirit: “This water flows east, descends to the Arabah and then into the sea, the sea of stagnant waters. When it empties into those waters, the sea will become fresh. Wherever the river flows, life will flourish” (Ezekiel 47:8-9 – The Message). So much for worry about manufacturing the energy and motivation myself! J The passage then went on to address my second question about transformation as well. “The river itself, on both banks, will grow fruit trees of all kinds. Their leaves won’t wither and the fruit won’t fail. Every month they’ll bear fresh fruit because the river from the Sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing” (Ezekiel 47:12 – The Message). Perhaps you too have had experiences of exhaustion and burn out in your attempts to help create a world filled with peace and justice. If so, turn back to the words and spirit contained in today’s passage from Ezekiel and draw strength from the fact that we have been provided with all of the resources we need to transform the world (both inner and outer!). My prayer is that we will NEVER forget to draw from the waters of the River that provides us with all we need. Til next time…

Monday, March 10

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 146; Ezekiel 43:1-12; John 9:1-17; 2 Corinthians 11:7-15; Psalm 47

There are lots of ways of talking about different kinds of churches. You can talk about churches based on their size (big church vs. small church), their theology (conservative vs. liberal) or their style of worship (traditional vs. contemporary). Today’s reading from 2 Corinthians reminded me of yet another way of thinking about churches. Some folks talk about churches as either being a high-demand or low-demand church. Let me explain the difference between the two. High-demand churches are churches that actually ask something of their members. For instance, they don’t just expect their members to just show up for worship on Sunday morning; they often have other things during the week (i.e. spiritual formation classes, missions projects, etc.) they expect their members to participate in that will help individuals grow their faith. Low-demand churches are different. Their goal is to make everything as easy as possible on their members. Over the last couple of decades many mainline churches have adopted a low-demand approach toward their members – fearing that if they asked much of their members they would scare them away. Ironically, the less they began asking of their members, the quicker their declines occured (both individually at the spiritual level and corporately at the membership levels). While some have interpreted these membership declines in this age of low-demand membership as proof that nothing we can try will work in terms of attracting new members, I have come to the opposite conclusion. I believe the declines show that folks are no longer interested in low-demand approaches toward ministry that make their faith as easy as possible. Instead, I believe folks are hungering for a mature faith that engages them and makes them grow – not just during the Sunday worship service but 7 days a week! Which kind of faith are you seeking? A low-demand approach like the folks in Corinth that is as easy and painless as possible, or a high-demand approach that spurs you on to new growth and intimacy with your Creator? Til next time…