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Help support the vision of Woodland Hills Community Church!
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Saturday, June 28

Today’s Readings: Psalm 22:1-31; Genesis 24:50-67; Matthew 27:45-54; Acts 13:13-25

One of the challenges pastors face in their pastoral counseling visits is getting folks to connect with their heart-felt emotions with their spirituality. You would think that this task would be relatively easy. It’s not. Why is it difficult for some folks to connect their emotions with their spiritual lives? It’s hard for some largely because they’ve been taught there are good feelings you can share with God and bad feelings that you should not share with God. Emotions like love, joy and peace, for instance, are considered good emotions that you could share with God; emotions like anger, jealousy, and betrayal, on the other hand, would be bad emotions that you should not share with God. Some folks are so worried about whether what they are feeling is acceptable that they end up holding back a great deal from God. Sadly, their relationship with God suffers as a result of their efforts to censor themselves. Today’s passage from Matthew reminds us that we should not take this approach in our relationship with God. It encourages us to open up and share everything with God. In today’s passage Jesus – who is in his final moments on the cross – opens up with what’s really and truly in his heart when he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 24:46 – The Message). Maybe there are areas of your life where you’ve been holding back your true feelings from God: withheld feelings that you felt might be inappropriate – withheld feelings that have caused you to feel distanced from God. If that’s the case, use today’s Gospel reading to encourage you to “get real” with God. Pour out the very depths of your heart. You just might be surprised how your willingness to reach out openly will bring God closer to you than you ever imagined. Til next time…

Friday, June 27

Today’s Readings: Psalm 69:1-36; Genesis 24:28-51; Matthew 27:32-44; Acts 13:1-12

When I hear folks say they take each and every word of the Bible as the literal and inerrant word of God, I wonder just how carefully they have read their Bible. I wonder that because there are a lot of things in the Bible that would be hard to explain if you only took a literal approach to the Bible. Today’s passage from Matthew provides a good example of this. Today’s Gospel passage tells the story of Jesus’ last moments on the cross. According to Matthew’s telling of the story, there were two criminals who were crucified beside Jesus – one on his right and one on his left. During Jesus’ final moments, the Gospel of Matthew clearly tells us that not only did the crowd mock Jesus but that the two criminals “joined in the mockery” (Matthew 27:44 – The Message). If you were to read the telling of Jesus’ final moments on the cross as recorded in Luke, however, you would get a very different story. Luke 23:39 tells us that while one of the criminals did in fact mock Jesus, the other criminal said something very different. The Gospel of Luke tells us the second criminal rebuked the taunts of the first criminal when he said: “Have you no fear of God? You’re getting the same as him. We deserve this, but not him – he did nothing to deserve this” (Luke 23:40-41 – The Message). It would be difficult to account for these differences if you took a literal approach to the Scripture. As someone who reads Scripture on another level – a figurative rather than a literal level – I experience these passages as honest expressions of the authors underlying theology. The Gospel of Matthew for instance wants to stress the complete alienation of Jesus by the crowd; hence the authors decision to explicitly include both criminals in the mockery of Jesus. The Gospel of Luke, on the other hand, wants to stress the radically inclusive nature of God’s kingdom as revealed through Jesus - a kingdom so radically inclusive that it even includes criminals! Working with the discrepancies between the Gospels reminds me how important it is for you and I to stay in touch with our own theological emphases (and biases) as we tell of our own experiences of the God revealed through Jesus. Our temptation is to tell our story as if it were the one and only perspective. The Gospel accounts, however, remind us that other stories of people’s encounters with the God of Jesus might sound different than ours. The challenge is not to succumb to the temptation to fight about which version is right. Instead, the real challenge is to honor each story and focus on the God who lies at the center of each account. Til next time…

Thursday, June 26

Today’s Readings: Psalm 26; Genesis 24:1-27; Matthew 27:24-31; Romans 8:31-39; Psalm 44

Coming out of seminary, it’s easy to get so caught up in all of the abstract ideas that you’ve been taught that you lose sight of what’s really important. Thankfully, I had a lesson about keeping things in perspective very early in my ministerial training. The lesson reminded me of the old acronym KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid. I was talking with a woman one day who had had a hard life. Her hardships had started very early in life when she was subjected to a tremendous amount of physical, sexual, and verbal abuse at the hands of her parents. So how did the woman survive? “Well,” she told me, “every time I would hear my father walk down the hall and turn the doorknob to my room, I would start singing to myself the song ‘Jesus Love Me’. No matter how bad the abuse got,” she concluded, “I could get through it as long as I kept my mind on what really mattered. And that song kept me focused on what mattered.” I immediately thought of my conversation with the woman when I read Paul’s words to the Romans; for in that passage Paul said: “None of this [trouble, hard times, hatred, hunger, homelessness, bullying threats, backstabbing, etc] fazes us because Jesus loves us” (Romans 8:37 – The Message). What wonderful words of assurance to pull us through our own tough times. So what is your anchor during the traumatic moments of your life? What is your equivalent of ‘Jesus Love Me’ – the thing that helps you live through the challenges with a sense of hope and purpose for the future? Take a moment and re-connect with that grounding element in your life. Now give thanks for that particular expression of grace that sustains you when all else would fail. Til next time…

Wednesday, June 25

Today’s Readings: Psalm 27; Genesis 23:1-20; Matthew 27:11-23; Romans 8:26-30; Psalm 139

I’ve noticed over the years that one of the most difficult spiritual disciplines for some progressive Christians to practice is prayer. Why is that? I suppose that’s because many individuals were taught that there was just one way to pray (that would be intercessory prayer). And intercessory prayer was grounded in one particular theology (that would be the belief in a transcendent God – or a God that is located way up there; far removed from our world). The problem for many progressive folks is that their theology evolved over the years. Many folks have moved from a belief in a transcendent God to a God that is closer or more eminent. Sadly, they weren’t taught how to communicate with a God who is right here. Consequently, many of them gave up on prayer completely. In the midst of my own theological explorations over the years, I’ve always held on to today’s passage from Romans as a tool to ground me in an active prayer life. Today’s passage reminds us: “If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. [God] does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans” (Romans 8:27 – The Message). The next time you feel cut off from God – unable to communicate in a way that has theological integrity for you – remember Paul’s words to the Romans and give thanks for God’s willingness to keep the communication lines open with us no matter what. May you draw strength from this awesome reality. Til next time…

Tuesday, June 24

Today’s Readings: Psalm 92; Genesis 22:1-18; Matthew 27:1-10; Romans 8:18-25; Psalm 39

These are certain interesting times to be involved in the practice of ministry. Why do I say that? I say that because so many things in our society are fundamentally shifting or changing. One of the most challenging books I’ve been reading about the practice of ministry in these unsettled times is titled Leadership on the Other Side: No Rules, Just Clues; it was written by an individual named Bill Easum. I really love the subtitle of the book – No Rules, Just Clues – because it really gets at the heart of the issue: all of the old rules that guided the practice of ministry in the 20th Century are essentially gone and we are living into a completely new era full of possibility and uncertainty. This era can cause a tremendous amount of pain and angst for Type A personalities like myself who thrive on certainty and order. I was commiserating with a colleague about all of this when I bemoaned the very real sense of pain I was experiencing. At times in our conversation I literally cried out for the pain and uncertainty to end. My colleague gently smiled and said, “Remember, Craig, not all pain is bad. Sometimes the pain we feel is a birth pain which signals the arrival of something beautiful and amazing.” I smiled when I heard that bit of wisdom and drew great comfort from it. In many ways my colleague’s remark picked up on a stream of thought that Paul expressed in today’s passage from Romans for the passage reads: “All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting…” (Romans 8:22-24 – The Message). Perhaps you are experiencing a certain amount of pain in your life – pain that you wish would just go away. That pain might stem from a relationship, from a vocational setting, or from a financial circumstance. Whatever the case, I invite you to sit with the notion that the pain might not be pointless. Perhaps the pain is signaling the birth of a new period in your life: a period of bigger and better things. May God give you the strength and courage to hold on until the evidence of that new life begins to emerge. Til next time…

Monday, June 23

Today’s Readings: Psalm 38; Genesis 21:1-21; Matthew 26:69-75; Romans 8:9-17; Psalm 126

When I was in seminary, one of my colleagues who was working on her PhD was working on a thesis comparing the life of the military with the life of the institutional church. She found an interesting pattern when she compared the two. The military is usually at least a decade ahead of the church when it comes to addressing issues of social justice. The military, for instance, started facing issues of racial integration more than a decade before many mainline churches started ordaining and appointing pastors of color to cross-racial appointments. And in the era of World War II, the military started providing women with opportunities to serve – well before women were ordained and appointed to serve by many denominations. Even in the area of sexuality, the military reached their famous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” compromise well before most churches reached such a compromise. “Why is that? Why are institutional churches so much slower to address issues of change?” I wondered when I read her results. Today, Paul gives me the answer that I have long looked for. The answer is: “I have no clue”. In Romans 8:9, Paul spelled out the way people of faith (and by implications communities of faith) OUGHT to act when he wrote: “This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike ‘What’s next Papa?’” (The Message). While this radical approach toward our individual and collective lives is what we are called to emulate, sadly that approach would rarely be used to describe many of us today. My questions for you to consider is this: how does your faith inform your life? Does it make you more willing to take a risk and be expectant, or does it make you less likely to do those things? Do you regularly greet God with a childlike “What’s next?”, or do you think that you’ve already got the next several steps figured out on your own? If you haven’t already tried living into the place that Paul talks about living from, try it. See what happens. You just might be surprised. Til next time…