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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, May 17

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 89; Job 38:1-11; Matthew 17:14-21; Acts 2:43-47

When I was growing up, there was a tremendous amount of emphasis placed upon the stories that told of the miracles Jesus performed in my Sunday school and Vacation Bible School classes. There was one dimension of the New Testament experience, however, that was entirely left out. That dimension was referred to in today’s passages from Matthew and Acts. An important point is made in those passages; the point being that Jesus’ followers have been empowered to do the same sort of work that Jesus did. This point is particularly clear in the passage from Matthew where – following the disciples botched attempt to heal a man’s son who had been racked with seizures – Jesus said, “The simple truth is that if you had a mere kernel of faith, a poppy seed, say, you would tell this mountain ‘Move!’ and it would move. There is nothing you wouldn’t be able to tackle” (Matthew 17:20 – The Message). My question for you today is this: Do you believe that? As you survey the challenges and opportunities that lie before you in your life, do you operate from this amazing sense of empowerment of which Jesus spoke; or do you see yourself as a victim whose life is determined by elements beyond your control? As you face those challenges, I encourage you to remember today’s passage from Matthew and then go forth and move the mountain in your life. Til next time…

Friday, May 16

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 2; Deuteronomy 6:1-15; Matthew 17:1-13; Acts 2:37-42; Psalm 99

Nearly all of us who arrive at a place of faith get there because of the work of someone who has come before us. For some, it might have been a Sunday school or Vacation Bible school teacher who connected with us when we were very young. For others, it might have been a friend or neighbor who embodied God’s love and acceptance for us. For still others, it might have been a respected co-worker or colleague who one day shared with us over coffee or a meal the foundational part of their life. For me, that individual was my mother. She was a quiet individual who modeled for me each day what a life of faith looked like. She taught me lots of important lessons like “It’s not what you say that defines your faith; it’s how you act that defines your faith”. It’s those people that come before us that help prepare the way for our lives and our ministries. This is even true for Jesus. For in today’s Gospel passage, we hear the story of Jesus’ transfiguration. Immediately after that experience, the disciples ask Jesus why the scholars of their day said someone had to come before Jesus. Jesus hears that question and answers almost matter of factly by saying (and I’m paraphrasing here using my own words), “Of course someone has to come first. The person comes first in order to get things ready”. Unfortunately, Jesus adds, people rarely recognize those pioneering folks who come first and get things ready. Jesus’ words opened their eyes and enabled them to recognize the one who had come to get things ready for Jesus – John. Today, I would ask you, “Do you recognize the one (or ones) that came before you to pave your way?” Take a few moments today to recognize those individuals who have played such a role in your life. Then give thanks for the way their preparatory work enabled you to embrace your faith. Til next time…

Thursday, May 15

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 116; Deuteronomy 4:15-31; Matthew 16:21-28; Acts 2:29-36; Psalm 115

Over the years, I’ve noticed an insidious process at work in those who would like to be “agents of change” in the world. The “agents of change” will often start at an entry level position in the group in which they are serving. They might have very clear, very direct ideas about what needs to be done in order to improve the group. In order to make it through their probationary period, however, the “agent of change” will keep his or her mouth shut. “If I don’t,” they reason, “I’ll be tossed out of the system and consequently will never be able to effect the change I want to make.” After they make it through their probationary period, the “agent of change” begins to look around and see opportunities for promotion within the group. Of course they still have ideas about what needs to be changed in their minds. They think to themselves, however: “While I’ve cleared probation and am now a part of the system, if I can keep my mouth shut just a little while longer, I’ll get the promotion I deserve and then be in a position to implement the changes I believe in.” Years pass and they get a series of promotions. While they are consistently in positions to effect change in their group, they begin to see opportunities to serve a broader constituency. So once again, they decide to remain quiet in hopes of achieving the highest position possible in order to effect change. Sadly, before they realize what has happened, they wake up on the morning of their retirement celebration and ask themselves: “What happened to the changes I was going to make?” I was reminded of this age old pattern, when I read today’s passage from Matthew. For in that passage, Jesus talks with Peter and is able to reveal a set of assumptions Peter had about how things were supposed to unfold. Peter’s expectation is that things are supposed to unfold neatly and easily. Jesus doesn’t let Peter off easy – doesn’t let US off easy. He confronts both Peter and our assumption that things out to be easy if we embrace the reign of God when he said: “Don't run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I'll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?” (Matthew 16:25-26 – The Message). Today, I would invite you to explore the question: “Are there things that you are trading your soul for? Have you constructed a series of mental hoops through which you jump in order to justify the trade-offs you settled for?” If so, may you put those hoops aside and open yourself to new ways of being – God’s way of being – so that we can help birth the coming of God’s reign - in our personal lives and in our world. Til next time…

Wednesday, May 14

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 78; Deuteronomy 4:1-14; Matthew 16:13-20; Acts 2:22-28

There are so many things that we use to define ourselves these days. Some use a title that is given us in relation to our family structure – a title like dad or mom, sister or brother. Others use a title that they are given at work. Still others define themselves using the number of zeroes in their salary or the name of the housing development in which they live. The list could go on and on. In today’s Gospel reading from Matthew, we are given insight into another way to understand ourselves. In that passage, we are privy to an exchange that occurred between Jesus and Peter. In that exchange Jesus began by asking Peter who he is. Peter answered. It is only then - AFTER Peter’s response - that Jesus goes on to define Peter. I found it significant that Jesus defined Peter only after Peter first defined Jesus. This exchange reminds me once again of the importance of our faith. For after all, Jesus is who Jesus is. That part doesn’t change. What often does change is our willingness (through our faith) to acknowledge the way we see God at work through Jesus. That willingness – that faith –is then the part that comes to define us. Today I would encourage you to do a little role playing. Put yourself in Peter’s shoes. Hear Jesus ask you, “And how about you? Who do you say I am?” Now listen to your answer. Once you have answered Jesus’ question, spend some time in quiet and listen to what your answer reveals about you. Til next time…

Tuesday, May 13

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 106; Numbers 11:16-25; Matthew 16:1-12; Acts 2:14-21

As someone who was raised by a father who lived through the Great Depression, I’ve always taken a very cautious approach toward life. This is particularly true of my personal finances. I grew up hearing phrases like “Pay using cash and not credit”, “Don’t quit one job until you have another”, and “savings, savings, savings”. Needless to say, the word “risk” wasn’t a part of my vocabulary growing up. That’s probably why I can relate to the folks in today’s passage from Numbers. Because of my upbringing, I too can often find myself focusing on what I perceive of as the deficit(s) before me instead of the possibilities that might lie around the corner. And those times when I do take risks (like the Israelites when they left Egypt), I can easily find myself wondering the equivalent of, “Why did I ever leave Egypt?” That’s why I need to hear those words of provision contained in Number 11:18-20. Those words reminded me that so often, God does provide for us in ways that far surpass any of the hopes I might have. Had I been in the desert with the Israelites, for instance, I might have asked for meat just once a month. Instead, they got meat every day for a month! That experience challenges me to look at the other areas of my life. Are there areas where – given my control issues –I have very specific ideas about what I need from life? Areas where – if I let go of my ideas and my requests– I might receive so much more than I would ever think of asking? Today, I invite you to ask those questions of yourself, and see what happens when you begin to let go. Til next time…

Monday, May 12

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 103; Genesis 2:4b-17; John 20:19-31; Acts 2:1-13; Psalm 139

Today’s Gospel reading reveals one of the most wonderful sides of Jesus – at least in my opinion: the reading reveals the depth of Jesus’ care for his followers (what we often call pastoral care these days when it is carried out by Jesus’ ordained followers). Let me tell you where I see this concern demonstrated. In the story, Jesus first appeared to all of the disciples except one – Thomas, who was absent at the time. When Thomas heard the accounts of Jesus’ appearance, he didn’t believe them. Now when Jesus later reappeared to all of the disciples including Thomas – he could have played the role of disciplinarian and chided Thomas. Jesus’ also could have taken the role of moralist and humiliated Thomas by publicly mocking him for his lack of faith. Jesus’ chose to take neither of those approaches, however. Instead, Jesus’ did something radical. Having been made aware of Thomas’ earlier statement of need – “unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my fingers in those nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it” – Jesus offered to meet that need. If you are like me, you might find it easy to bury your requests that you are tempted to lift to God. You might bury them for a variety of reasons. Today’s story invites us to stop burying them and have the courage to give them voice. Of course all of our requests won’t be met (or perhaps I should say, “Met in the exact fashion we might envision”), but they will be heard. The power in having Thomas’ courage in lifting our requests is that it keeps our communication lines with God open and enhances our sense of intimacy with our Creator. Let us then give thanks for the One whose love and grace encourages and empowers us to bring our whole selves – requests and all – into our transforming relationship with God. Til next time…

Sunday, May 11

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 104; Acts 2:1-21; John 20:19-23; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

Today is an extra special combination of events for many of us. That’s because today marks both Mother’s Day and Pentecost. It would be easy for many to see these two events as entirely separate occurrences, and chose the observance of one over another. Today’s sacred reading from 1 Corinthians, however, provides us with an opportunity to link those two events. In 1 Corinthians 12:7, Paul writes: “Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits” (The Message). For many of us, our mothers (or mothering figures female or male) were the primary individuals who show us who God is through their acts of love, nurture, and support. It was through their hugs, for instance, that we got some of our first glimpses into God’s unconditional love. It was through their willingness to forgive that we began to wrap our minds around the concept of mercy, and it was through their words of encouragement that we understood what it meant to have inherent worth as a child of God. On a day when we also celebrate the arrival of the Holy Spirit, we should stop and remember that it is not just women with biological children who were empowered by the Holy Spirit to make God known: as today’s passage from Acts reminds us, it was ALL of us who were empowered to make God known. My question for you today is this: what are you doing to show others who God is? What acts of grace and mercy are you participating in that touch and benefit everyone? Your answers to those two questions will provide the best gift that you could ever purchase for your mother. They will also provide the best tribute imaginable for God on a day when we remember just what can happen when you lead lives infused with the Spirit. Til next time…