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Help support the vision of Woodland Hills Community Church!
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Saturday, April 19

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 92; Jeremiah 31:23-25; Matthew 13:1-9; 1 Corinthians 13:1-7; Psalm 48

Back in the spring of 2000, I had a transformative experience that changed my life. As someone who was raised Methodist (I arrived on the scene about a year before the Methodist Church’s merger with the Evangelical United Brethren Church) and was attending a United Methodist seminary at the time, I was chosen to serve as the student assistant to a gentleman who was organizing a caucus of progressive delegates to General Conference (the worldwide meeting of United Methodists that happens once every four years). Some of the biggest issues before General Conference that year involved sexuality. I went to the Conference thinking that it would be a time of what John Wesley (the founder of Methodism) called “holy conferencing” as we would build new relationships and listen – REALLY listen - together for the call and the movement of the Holy Spirit as we faced the difficult issues. What I found when I arrived at General Conference, however, was that there was very little listening and discerning going on. Most of the delegates who arrived had been elected to attend the Conference were chosen not on their openness and willingness to be led by the Spirit. No, most of the delegates were chosen because of their previously held positions. They would not budge on practically any major issue. I had never been around a more intractable group of people – from the left and from the right - in my entire life!! I left the Conference spiritually bruised and battered because of that pervading sense of spiritual rigidity; ten months later I left the denomination. All of those feelings came back to me as I read two of today’s passages. The passage from Matthew that raised the issue of where the seed fell made me wonder: “What is the condition of my heart? Am I so set in my ways and in my convictions that my heart has become the equivalent of the road? So arrogant that I feel I no longer need the Spirit to grow and transform the seeds planted in my heart?” The passage from 1 Corinthians challenged me to think about what one word would best describe the way in which I lead my life. Is that word “love” or something else? My prayer for today is that each of us will pay attention to the condition of our heart so that we’ll make sure our heart will provide the fertile ground the seed needs in order to grow. Once the seed begins to take root all we have to do is open ourselves to providing the most effective plant food available: love. Til next time…

Friday, April 18

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 17; Jeremiah 31:15-22; Matthew 12:43-50; 1 Peter 5:6-14; Psalm 44

There was one line in today’s reading from Jeremiah that really hit me when I read it. That line came from Jeremiah 31:21. In speaking to those in exile, the prophet lifted up these simple words of wisdom: “The road out is the road back” (The Message). Let me tell you why those words struck me so. Over the years I’ve dealt with people who left their faith behind for a variety of reasons. Some left as they struggled with the ravages of an addiction. Some left because their life circumstance made them feel outside the bonds of God’s love. Still others left because their understanding of God changed and they felt they could no longer reconcile their head with their spirit. What has caught my attention is that in so many of these instances the thing that caused an individual to leave their faith behind also served as the impetus for their return. Those who left their faith because they had given themselves over to an addiction, for instance, eventually realized that the only way they could beat that addiction was through the help of their Higher Power. Those who left because of their life circumstance (i.e. a divorce, a coming out experience, a tragedy) often came back because the marginalization they faced opened them up to new experiences of the Holy – experiences that over the long haul actually deepened the roots of their faith. Those who left because they could no longer reconcile their head with the spirit discovered a God who both celebrated questions as tools of growth and integrated head and spirit in ways that brought them a life-changing perspective on the world. In each case, the road out was the road back. Are their parts of your life that you have wrestled with and viewed as the road out of your faith? If so, sit with today’s words from Jeremiah and see if what you thought was your road out of your faith might in fact be the road back as well. Til next time…

Thursday, April 17

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 30; Jeremiah 31:1-14; Matthew 12:33-42; 1 Peter 5:1-5; Psalm 77

Each of us has had individuals in our lives that were crucial in our faith formation. What I’ve realized over the years is that the individuals who have had the most impact are not always the people you would expect. I’m a good example of that. If you were to ask me about the folks outside my immediate family that influenced my faith the most, I’d tell you about two women named Mary and Mary Lou (and you expected me to say “Mary and Martha” J). Mary was the woman at my home church who volunteered in the nursery for something like 40 years. She was a quiet, humble woman who was the first embodiment of faith that most of us who were born into the church encountered. She taught all of us about faith by giving us the best lesson possible – she showed us what it looked like on a daily basis. The other person that influenced my faith was Mary Lou. Mary Lou was a quiet, humble (do you see a pattern developing here) woman who made a practice of doing the thankless jobs that no one else wanted to do. When we needed another alto for the choir, Mary Lou stepped forward to sing. When we needed a cake for a special event, she would volunteer her professional skills and bake one. When we couldn’t find a volunteer to clean the church, Mary Lou quietly cleaned the church. Both of these women provided me with a model of leadership that has lasted my entire life. In so many ways, they embody the model of leadership given in today’s passage from 1 Peter. In that passage we were told that leaders are diligent, spontaneous (and not calculating), wanting to please God (and not humanity), and tender (not bossy). The qualities listed here don’t exactly fit well with our society’s notion of what it means to lead. And yet it is people who exemplify the qualities listed in 1 Peter that truly change the world – one life at a time! Today let us give thanks for those individuals in our lives who have helped show us what true leadership looks like. Now let’s go out and be that sort of leader in our own family, community, and world. Til next time…

Wednesday, April 16

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 125; Jeremiah 30:18-22; Matthew 12:22-32; 1 Peter 4:17-19; Psalm 120

My favorite of the four canonical gospels is Matthew’s Gospel. I suppose I’m particular to Matthew because I love its emphasis on Jesus’ teachings. Today’s passage from Matthew, however, contains one of the few pieces of Matthew that I take issue with. Let me spell out my issue with that area of concern. In addressing the relation between people of faith and those outside the faith, the author(s) of Matthew’s gospel has Jesus say: “If you’re not on my side, you’re my enemy…” The author(s) of Mark’s Gospel has Jesus say something slightly different in response to the issue: “If he’s not an enemy, he’s an ally” (Mark 9:40). While both passages make similar points, their area of emphasis differs dramatically. In many ways, the difference harkens back to the old “Is the glass half empty or half full?” saying. Jesus’ words in Matthew make the glass seem half full while Jesus’ words in Mark make the glass seem half full. I’ve noticed that this same tendencies run through Christian individuals and communities today. There are those eager to label those who differ from them in any way as enemies, and there are those who are willing to give “the other” the benefit of the doubt. Which approach would characterize your attitude toward your faith? As you encounter “the other” are you prone to a Matthean approach or a Markan approach? Do you tend to see “the other” as enemy or ally? Your answer to that question will go a long way in shaping your day to day experiences of the world and of your faith. Til next time…

Tuesday, April 15

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 108; Jeremiah 30:10-17; Matthew 12:9-21; 1 Peter 4:12-16; Psalm 40

In the 1960’s, Andy Warhol said, “In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes”. Given the short attention span of the media and the American public, I’ve seen the spirit of these words lived out time and time again as the media picks up on a story, elevates one of the player in the story to the status of celebrity, becomes immediately bored, and then moves on to the next story. One of the sad dynamics that have been set into motion because of this process is that folks are use to getting their 15 minutes by “acting out”, if you will – doing something bold and brash that will set them apart from others. Such an approach toward life is in marked contrast to the spirit captured in Jesus’ quotation of Isaiah found in today’s reading from Matthew. In that passage, Jesus reminds us of the qualities to be found in the chosen one: “But he won’t yell, won’t raise his voice; there’ll be no commotion in the streets. He won’t talk over anyone’s feelings, won’t push you into the corner. Before you know it, his justice will triumph; the mere sound of his name will signal hope, even among far-off believers.” As a person of faith called to live out your convictions in an attempt to bring the realization of God’s reign a little closer, what approach do you take? Do you get sucked in to the quest of 15 minutes of fame and make bold and brash pronouncements of what should be, or as a follower of the chosen one do you find yourself manifesting those qualities that the prophet Isaiah spoke of in your own spiritual walk? If your approach is reflected by the later, you might not get your 15 minutes of fame. You might, however, get something much more lasting: peace, hope, and joy. Til next time…

Monday, April 14

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 54; Daniel 6:16-18; Matthew 12:1-8; 1 Peter 4:7-11; Psalm 102

Three weeks ago, we started a study in our faith community titled “How to Listen to God”. Needless to say, the topic of prayer has been on my mind more so than usual. During our study I have realized that some of my pre-suppositions about prayer are different than others – even slightly different from the author of today’s passage from 1 Peter. Let me tell you how. In today’s passage from 1 Peter, the author wrote these words of instruction to believers: “Therefore, be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.” I realize what the author was probably trying to get at. My assumption is that the author was encouraging us to come into our prayer time grounded so that our prayer time isn’t dominated by us and our reactionary thoughts. Here’s where I diverge from the author’s perspective, however. I strongly believe that prayer can truly be a transformative time when God can do amazing things through us – often in spite of the head space we are in. In other words, I believe prayer is essentially a time when our goal if for God to change us – not vice-versa. Therefore, I don’t believe we always have to clean ourselves up to spend time in prayer. In fact, some of my most productive times of prayer have been when I have gone to God raw and real. Kind of like the sentiments expressed by the psalmist in Psalm 54 today. These feelings seem to be the very anti-thesis of being “clear minded and self-controlled”. My biggest concern about the words from 1 Peter is that they might ironically prevent some people from seeking God at the times when they most need God simply because in those moments of excruciating pain and extreme vulnerability they aren’t feeling “clear minded and self-controlled”. I hope my ramblings today have invited you to think more about your understanding of prayer as well. My greatest hope today, however, is that you won’t spend all your time thinking theoretically about the nature of prayer; my greatest hope is that you’ll – to borrow a phrase from Nike – “Just Do It!”. May our time of intimate communication with God today lead to our on-going spiritual growth and transformation. Til next time…

Sunday, April 13

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 100; Acts 2:42-47; John 10:1-10; 1 Peter 2:19-25; Psalm 23

If I were to ask most folks on the street, “What do you need to build a church or faith community?” I’m pretty sure what most of the answers would be. The most popular would be, “I would need lots of money.” Other popular answers would be things like “Land” and “Hammers and nails.” All of these are good perfectly good answers from a human perspective. Today’s reading from Acts reminds us of other essential ingredients that are even more basic than the items listed above. The list includes teaching, the life together, the common meal, and prayer. Of course many of us wouldn’t make this mistake only when it comes to the notion of building a church. We often do the same thing with our lives. When we find ourselves off track, our first answers about how to get back on track often have little to do with any of the elements mentioned in Acts. As you think about constructing (or perhaps re-building) an area in your life, I would encourage you to start with these four elements and then see what happens to your plans. Til next time…