Help support the vision of Woodland Hills Community Church!

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.

Thursday, June 12

Today’s Readings: Psalm 133; Genesis 13:2-18; Matthew 22:15-22; Romans 5:12-21; Psalm 112

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I am a person who struggles with issues of co-dependence. This means in my quest to earn people’s acceptance and approval it’s very easy to ignore boundaries I have and become overwhelmed with people’s requests. In the past four months, however, I’ve been doing some good work and making progress thanks to some good friends and good resources. Today’s Gospel passage from Matthew is another good resource in my quest to set and maintain healthy boundaries. In the story the Pharisees try to draw Jesus in to a dangerous conversation where they seek to pit Jesus’ faith against the government. The Pharisees do this in hopes of getting Jesus into trouble with the Roman authorities. Thankfully, Jesus immediately recognizes the Pharisees’ attempt for what it is. How does Jesus do that? He does it by maintaining healthy boundaries. He has a clear sense of his call or purpose in his life. This prevents him from getting taken off course by others. My question for you today is this: do you have a clear sense of call or purpose for your life, or are you prone to getting distracted by the equivalents of the Pharisees in your life that would set you up for unnecessary conflicts and expenditures of energy? If you do have a clear sense of call and purpose in your life, give thanks. If you don’t, then I would encourage you to spend some time (with God and with a faith community) discerning your call. Til next time…

PS I will be in Rock Springs, WY for the Annual Meeting of the Rocky Mountain Conference of The United Church of Christ from today (Thursday through Saturday). You can look for my next posting on Sunday, June 15. Take care and be well!

Wednesday, June 11

Today’s Readings: Psalm 38; Genesis 12:9-13:1; Matthew 22:1-14; Romans 5:6-11; Psalm 113

I always smile when I hear a member of what some have called the Religious Right talk about the family values espoused in the Bible. Clearly they aren’t thinking of passages like today’s passage from Genesis. In that passage, we see Abram and Sarai take on a set of values that we wouldn’t normally associate with God. Fearing for their lives, both Abram and Sarai panic and lie through their teeth in order to protect themselves from the Pharaoh when they enter Egypt. And why do they do that? Because they fear the Pharaoh would kill Abram in order to win the hand of his beautiful wife Sarai. That’s why they tell the Pharaoh that Sarai is merely Abram’s brother rather than her husband. What really annoys me in the story is that the author(s) tell us it’s not the one who lied who faced the consequences of the deceit (Abram); instead, it was the ones who were lied to that faced the consequences (the Pharaoh and those in his palace who got sick). To top it off, Abram got to keep everything he gained through his deceit. Not exactly the tale of family values you might expect! So what lesson can be taken from such a challenging story? Well, for me the lesson is that God can work through any set of circumstances – no matter how much we human beings might muck them up. You’ll notice, for instance, that nowhere in the story are we told that the deceit was God’s idea. The implication is that the deceit was Abram’s idea. And yet by the end of the story the ancestor of God’s chosen had the resources he needed to establish what would become his nation. The story gives me confidence that no matter how much you or I muck might things up in our lives, that God can find a way to pull things together. That gives me hope and strength. I hope it does for you as well. Til next time…

Tuesday, June 10

There are lots of things about being a pastor I enjoy. Out of all the things I enjoy, the one thing that ranks highest is being able to baptize individuals. This Sunday will be a special time as on this Father’s Day, I’ll be baptizing not one but four individuals – a father and his three step-children. Each time I do a baptism, I go to great lengths to talk about an important difference between the way I preside over a communion service and the way I preside over a baptism. That difference is in how I handle the elements. When I serve Communion, I go to great lengths to ensure careful handling of the bread and juice. As an act of respect, I don’t want to be careless and spill any of the juice or drop any of the bread. Things are different, however, when I baptize. Each time I pour the water into the baptismal font, I call the congregation’s attention to the fact that I purposely let the water spill over the sides of the font. This splashing is symbolic of the way God’s grace cannot be fully contained in any vessel. Paul makes pretty much the same point in today’s reading from Romans. In Romans 5:5 Paul wrote: “… we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!” (The Message). For me this simple yet basic truth provides a model for the way I believe I am called to live my life: from a place of God-given abundance. I intentionally use that three-word phrase – God-given abundance – because each of those three words is critical. The words “God-given” ground me in the awareness that the resources I have at my disposal aren’t really mine; they’re God’s. The word “abundance” reminds me these resources aren’t just adequate or sufficient; they are abundant. When I center on these realities, I gain a perspective on life that brings me a tremendous sense of peace. My hope for you today is that your days will be ones grounded in those three words as well – God-given abundance. Til next time…

Monday, June 9

Today’s Readings: Psalm 119:49-96; Genesis 11:1-9; Matthew 21:23-32; Romans 4:19-25

It would be easy to read today’s story about the tower of Babel and miss a key lesson in the story. Lots of folks, for instance, read the story and assume that it was the people’s desire to come together in unity that was the problem. I don’t think that’s exactly the point of the story. I find that the problem humanity manifested was in the second half of Genesis 11:4. In that verse, the author(s) tell us that in the midst of their actions, the people justified it by saying: “Let’s make ourselves famous…” (The Message). The New Revised Standard Version translates the same passage as “… let us make a name for ourselves.” So the problem, it would seem, wasn’t the peoples’ desire for unity; the problem was their egos and pride. It’s often difficult for me to wrap my mind fully around ego and pride as bad things. I suppose that’s because I was brought up in a faith tradition that didn’t take the time to explain why ego and pride could be bad things. I confused them with self-esteem, and thought for awhile that it was sinful to see oneself as a valuable child of God. It took me a while (and the insights of my friends who participate in 12 Step Groups) to see the difference between healthy self-esteem and ego and pride. Healthy self-esteem, I learned, is the thing that helps us see ourselves as the valued and loved being we are in God’s eyes and feel good about ourself. Ego and pride, on the other hand, are when those seeds of healthy esteem grow unchecked and start to take over the world – getting us to the point where we feel that our value exceeds that of all others (including God) and causes us to think and act as if we are the primary force in the universe. Today I invite you to sit with your own understanding and experience of self. Do you have healthy self-esteem, or do you have a sense of ego and/or pride that is unchecked? Just a little something to consider on this beautiful spring day. Til next time…

Sunday, June 8

Today’s Readings: Psalm 33:1-12; Genesis 12:1-9; Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26; Romans 4:13-25

It never ceases to amaze me where the Spirit can lead you if you are open to it. Case in point: me. Several months ago, the community of faith I serve started putting together a Vision, Mission & Values Statement to help guide us in our collective life together. Two things in that statement jumped out at me – neither of which reflected passions I had before the statement was developed. One piece of the Mission Statement read: “We will embrace God’s creation in all of its diversity”; another piece of the Value Statement read: “We will value our place in God’s creation and our responsibility to it”. As I sat with those statements, I began to feel lead to establish a relationship with a group known for its advocacy on behalf of the environment. I did this not as a political act but as a spiritual expression of my desire to more fully embrace my responsibility to God’s creation. Three months after being involved with this group I realized I needed to go one step further and honor a specific piece of God’s creation that especially spoke to me: animals. So I committed myself to supporting a group that works to protect animals. In the new members packet I received when I joined the group, there was an amazing piece of awareness-raising literature that explored the ways in which animals are affected by many of our diets. Within 12 hours of putting the flier down, I had committed myself to going vegetarian. Now if you would have told me 1 year ago that I would be involved in the two groups that I am - and would have become vegetarian on top of that - I would have laughed out loud for I would have been the last person on the face of the earth you would have expected to take such actions. In this way, I know how Abram must have felt in today’s passage from Genesis. For life myself, Abram was going along in a life that was familiar and comfortable. And then – BOOM! – along came God’s call and his life was turned upside down. Many folks read such stories and wonder how people can make such dramatic decisions. The answer is that it’s much easier that you might think – for such decisions bring your life into a sense of peace and harmony that you would otherwise never know. In many ways, it’s much more difficult NOT to answer the call than it is to answer it. I would invite you to sit with the Spirit and see if there are directions in which God might be calling you to go: directions that – if left solely to you and your devices - would be totally beyond you? If you have felt that tug on your life, perhaps you ignored the call as you thought to yourself, “Nice idea, but that’s totally beyond me!” Today, follow Abram’s example and open yourself to that calling in new ways. You can do so knowing that if the calling truly is from God, you won’t have to rely solely upon your own devices to follow it. Til next time…