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Help support the vision of Woodland Hills Community Church!
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Saturday, May 24

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 119; Genesis 6:1-8; Matthew 19:13-22; Romans 2:1-11

Lots of folks think that today’s passage from Matthew is about one – and only one thing: materialism. I don’t think that’s the case. Let me take a moment and set up the passage, and then suggest another lesson that I think is buried within the text. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is talking with a young man who asks what is required to get eternal life. Jesus starts at the most basic level in his initial response to the young man; he basically tells the young man to follow the rules as laid out in the Ten Commandments. Jesus might have been content to leave things there, but the young man pushed Jesus by noting that he’d already mastered that level. When Jesus heard that, he immediately raised the stakes by challenging the young man to take his faith commitment to the next level; Jesus challenged the young man to go out and sell his possessions. At that moment the young man couldn’t bear to walk away from his possessions so he walked away crushed. Here’s the other lesson that I think is buried within the text. The faith that Jesus calls us to is a faith that is always pushing our boundaries or comfort zones. Just when we think we’ve mastered one level, Jesus presents us with the challenge to go deeper – into another level of faith. For the young man, the next level of faith development involved confronting his materialism. For others, the next level might represent a different form of addiction. The point is that there is always room in our lives for further spiritual growth and development. May we seek God’s grace and guidance as we continue to do the work to which God calls us so that we don’t do what the young man did – simply walk away. Til next time…

Friday, May 23

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 5; Genesis 4:17-26; Matthew 19:1-12; Romans 1:26-32; Psalm 49

Today’s readings offer a few passages that have been used to bring much pain into the lives of countless people. The passage in Matthew, for instance, has been used by some to suggest that God is opposed to divorce in all circumstances except those involving adultery. The passage from Romans has been used by some to suggest that God is opposed to lesbian, gay, and bisexuals. By taking these passages out of a larger context, millions of lives have been destroyed over the years. Women who have been in physically abusive relationships, for instance, have been told by their spiritual leaders to stay in these life-denying, life-threatening relationships. And Paul’s admonition against heterosexual individuals who participated in same-sex behavior as an expression of their idolatrous religious beliefs has been used against gay and lesbian people who have fallen in love with a member of their gender and want to commit their life to this person as an expression of their love. So what can keep us from taking elements of our faith tradition out of context and using them to destroy others? Well, for me a big piece of the answer lies in today’s second Psalm. In Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Psalm 49:3, he interprets the psalmist as saying on God’s behalf: “I have plainspoken wisdom before you, my heart-seasoned understandings of life…” (The Message). While some have settled for what they would consider “plainspoken wisdom” (taking everything simply at face value), others have learned to do what the psalmist suggested – to bring “heart-seasoned understanding of life” alongside that plainspoken wisdom to flesh out God’s desires for our lives. It is those heart-seasoned understandings of life that can help us look deeper and find the foundational truths to which God is calling us. My question for you today is this: are there areas in your life where you have simply settled for the plainspoken wisdom and not engaged God’s heart-seasoned understanding of life as well? As you consider this question, take a moment of pause to give thanks for the One who engages both head and heart in leading us toward the fullest expressions of truth. Til next time…

Thursday, May 22

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 109; Genesis 4:1-16; Matthew 18:21-35; Romans 1:16-25; Psalm 130

There are a lot of people in the world I admire who have accomplished great things. If I were to sit down and create a list of those people, I suppose many of the folks I would list are famous people you would expect to be on that list. There is one name who would show up on my list who you might not expect to be there. That person? My partner Mike. This man is amazing for one simple reason. He puts up with me and my quirks day after day after day after day after... One of my most annoying character traits that Mike is forced to endure is my nagging – particularly when it comes to things around the house. If Mike forgets to turn a light off he’s bound to hear these words from me: “Remember how we talked about turning the lights out when you leave the room?” Or if Mike leaves a dish on the counter for any length of time, you can bet he’ll run into these words: “Remember when I asked you last week to put the dishes in the dishwater when you finish eating?” Sadly, I could go on and on with examples of my nagging, but I think you get the point. Today’s second Psalm thankfully points Mike and the rest of us toward a wonderful reality about the nature of the God. Psalm 130:3-4 states: “If you, God, kept records on wrongdoings, who would stand a chance? As it turns out, forgiveness is your habit, and that’s why you’re worshipped” (The Message). As I read those words, I couldn’t help but stop and give thanks that we share a God who lacks my character defect. Today, then, let us then celebrate a God who makes a habit not out of nagging, but out of forgiving and transforming us instead. Til next time…

Wednesday, May 21

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 34; Genesis 3:1-24; Matthew 18:10-20; Romans 1:1-15; Psalm 51

Today’s passage from Genesis is a fascinating one for me in that every time I read it, I walk away with a different experience of it. There were times early in my life, for instance, when I interpreted God’s command to Adam and Eve not to eat from the Tree of Life primarily as if God were on a power trip and simply trying to maintain an edge over God’s creation. Of course at that age I was projecting my own control issues onto the text, but that’s another story. As I read the same passage years later, I now experience the story in a completely different way. I see God’s desire to keep Adam and Eve away from the Tree of Life in much more of a compassionate way. I see God in almost a parental role - not wanting Adam and Eve to grow up too soon. I can practically feel God hoping that Adam and Eve will hold on to their sense of innocence, wonder, and trust as long as possible. Sadly, they give in to their temptation. What Adam and Eve gained was a sense of “knowledge”; what they lost was a sense of innocence and trust. Often in our growing up processes, we wrestle with the same sort of choices that Adam and Eve wrestled with. Only our choices occur in a thousand different contexts. In those series of choices we make ranging from financial to vocational to relational, we may increase our “knowledge”. Often, however, we give away pieces of our soul in the process. Today, I invite us to approach those moments in our lives where we face defining moments in our lives – moments where we can increase our “knowledge” or moments where we can maintain our innocence and trust – and use these moments to make different choices: choices that can keep us in right relationship with God and with ourselves. Til next time…

Tuesday, May 20

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 131; Genesis 2:4-25; Matthew 18:1-9; Philemon 15-25; Psalm 19

Usually when I’m reading scripture, there is a theme or a piece of a story that jumps out and catches my attention. Today it was neither of those things. Today, it was simply one word. That word that caught my attention was from Psalm 131:2; it was the word “content” (as paraphrased by Eugene Peterson in The Message). Let me tell you why that word jumped out at me. Those of us who are Americans live in a society that teaches us to live with one eye constantly on the future. When we are in school getting an education, for instance, we are told to be thinking about what you will do with that education once you get out of school. Once you do get out of school and land your first job, society then tells us we need to be thinking about our career and the paths to professional growth and promotions. After several promotions, we are then encouraged to start preparing for retirement and our golden years. I used a vocational model here to prove my point but the same could be said of our personal development as well (i.e. we go from being single, to dreaming of meeting a partner, to dreaming of getting married, to dreaming of starting a family, to dreaming of buying our first home…). My point is this: the notion of being content exactly where we are at any given notion is a foreign notion to many of us. Some of us are even taught to equate contentedness with laziness or settling. How sad! Today, let us reclaim a bit of the spirit the psalmist wrote of when he wrote: “Like a baby content in its mother’s arms, my soul is a baby content” (Psalm 131:2 – The Message). May it be so - today and all days. Til next time…

Monday, May 19

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 148; Genesis 1:1-2:3; Matthew 17:22-27; Philemon 1-14; Psalm 8

From my early twenties through my mid-thirties, I had a clear pattern when it came to my living situation. I would live in a place for a couple of years and then move to a new place. In fact, during that time period the longest I lived in one place was three years. One of the reasons I moved so frequently was that I loved the notion of having a fresh start. By this I mean I could move in to a sparkling clean apartment (I hated cleaning so after the first couple of months my place was anything but sparkling) in a new neighborhood that I could spend time exploring. I loved that! During this time period, however, I never pushed myself to see if I could make the old situation seem new. In today’s sacred reading from Philemon, that is exactly what Paul is challenging two people to do; he’s asking Philemon and Onesimus to return to their previous situation and treat it as if it were a new circumstance. So what would have changed in the arrangement that might have suggested the possibility of change? Their faith, that’s what. So often in our lives, we find ourselves doing what I did in my young adult years; spending time and energy “moving” from one situation to another. If we get into relationship troubles, what do we do? We move on to a new relationship. If we have trouble at work, what do we do? We move on to a new job. If we get bored in the city we are living, what do we do? We move on to a new city. Rarely do we follow Paul’s admonition to put on our new lens of faith and see the same old things with new eyes. Today, I would invite you to do just that. Spend some time exploring a challenging area of your life with new eyes and then see what happens. Perhaps you’ll have the opportunity to experience a taste of new life in the same old place. Til next time…