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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, July 19

Today’s Readings: Psalm 123; Genesis 40:1-23; Luke 4:14-21; Acts 17:16-20; Psalm 70

As things quieted down for me a bit earlier this summer, I spent more time than usual catching up on my reading. I found myself reading a couple of books by Thomas Bandy. In those books, Bandy made an interesting observation. He noted that in many spiritual circles these days, folks have come to emphasize one paradigm for our spiritual lives to the expense of all others. That paradigm? A journey. Bandy says there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with the idea of one’s spiritual life continuing to grow and evolve for the duration of one’s life – nothing wrong with that at all! The only danger with using that paradigm exclusively, he points out, is that occasionally folks need to feel as if they have arrived - if only for a moment even - before they are asked to start back out on the road. Without such an experience of rest and renewal, people might eventually tired of the ongoing journey and get off the road. Today’s Gospel reading from Luke reminded me of Bandy’s point. In that passage, we hear the story of how Jesus entered the synagogue, read a piece of scripture, and then observed: “You’ve just head scripture make history. It came true just now in this place” (Luke 4:21 – The Message). In other words, Jesus invited his audience to step off the road and realize where they were at that moment. While the passage obviously has a strong christological focus (a focus on answering the question of who Jesus is), the passage also provides its audience – both then and now – with the opportunity to have an experience of completion: an experience that can provide us with a moment’s rest and renewal before we return to our journey of faith. Where are you at in your spiritual journey? Are you at a place where you could use a similar moment of completion and/or transformation to give you the rest and renewal necessary to return to your spiritual journey? If so, enter that experience by opening yourself to be transformed by that experience. Then – when you are ready – you can slip your sandals back on and return to your path. Til next time…

Friday, July 18

Today’s Readings: Psalm 120; Genesis 39:1-23; Luke 4:1-13; Acts 17:11-15; Psalm 91

This has been a pretty exhausting week on several levels. I’ve walked individuals who have been hospitalized in life-threatening situations, finalized plans for a memorial service tomorrow, and gotten news of another impending memorial service in the near future. Some of my friends asked me what it’s like for those of us who regularly walk in places of such pain and suffering. While the intensity of the experiences can certainly take an emotional toll, there is another aspect to these experiences that is totally faith affirming. You see it is at these difficult moments when you have the blessing of being in a place where you can actually watch an individual’s faith moves from the abstract into the concrete. These experiences reminds me what our faith is all about. It’s for that very reason that I can honestly say I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world. It was with this week’s experiences in mind that I read today’s second Psalm. “Fear nothing,” the psalmist cried out, “not wolves in the night, not flying arrows in the day, not disease that prowls through the darkness, not disaster that erupts at high noon” (Psalm 91:5-6 – The Message). My experiences this week showed me that those words are not simply letters printed on a page; they are seeds of encouragement that tangibly sustain and nurture people through the most challenging of times. I would encourage you to carry those words with you in the one place they can do the most good: your heart. Til next time…

Thursday, July 17

Today’s Readings: Psalm 56; Genesis 37:25-36; Luke 3:15-22; Acts 17:5-10; Psalm 7

When I was a kid, I remember the way guys on the playground would handle conflict. Of course the first option you had was to take on matters yourself. If that didn’t work – or if the other guy was bigger – your next resort was to involve an older brother. If that didn’t work – or if the other guy’s older brother was bigger than your older brother – your final result was pulling out the big gun: your dad. While such an approach may not have been the most mature, it felt satisfying on some level to know someone always had your back. In some ways, this is the same spirit the psalmist captured in today’s second Psalm. The threat had already presented itself to the psalmist (“If they catch me I’m finished”), and the challenges were admittedly beyond the scope of the psalmist (I’ll be “ripped to shreds by foes as fierce as lions”). So what does the psalmist do? He tries to rouse the big gun: God (“Stand up, God; pit your holy fury against my furious enemies.). The psalmist’s words help me tap into the notion that indeed there is someone who always has your back – someone whose magnitude will never get outsized by the threats and challenges we face in our daily lives. Today as you face some of those challenges, let us give thanks for the presence of the One who always has our backs. Til next time…

Wednesday, July 16

Today’s Readings: Psalm 25; Genesis 37:12-24; Luke 3:1-14; Acts 17:1-4; Psalm 143

If you were to ask me how I would describe my faith, you might be surprised with the phrase I would use. I wouldn’t use words that most folks these days have come to expect – words like liberal, conservative, progressive, or evangelical. No, the phrase I would use to describe myself would be pre-Constantinian. Some folks would have no clue what I meant by this, so they’d politely smile and walk away. Let me tell you what I mean. In the first 300+ years of Christianity, there were no established creeds that could be used to decide who was in and who was out based upon their beliefs. The Christian communities learned to co-exist with a variety of beliefs. Then the Roman Emperor Constantine converted. When he did so, Constantine decided for a variety of reasons to establish Christianity as the religion of the Empire. Of course politics dictated that in order to establish a religion as THE state religion, firm boundaries had to be set so people knew what was acceptable and what was not. The establishment of the first creeds soon followed to accomplish just that. At that point, the essence of Christianity shifted dramatically. What mattered in this post-Constantinian period more than anything else was “right belief” (orthodoxy). I mourn this fourth century shift in the essence of our faith. I miss the pre-Constantinian days of the first four centuries when right action stemming from right relationship with God and others was more important than right belief. This emphasis on right action over right belief is known as orthopraxis. As a pre-Constantinian Christian, I LOVE today’s Gospel reading from Luke. I love it because it quotes John the Baptist as clearly coming down on the side of orthopraxis (i.e. “What counts is your life” – Luke 3:9 – The Message). When the crowd asks him how best to respond to their faith, John continually responds by pointing toward actions and not professions (i.e. give half of your clothes/food away; don’t extort; don’t blackmail; be context with what you have). How do you see the character of your faith? Are you more focused on saying the right words (orthodoxy) or doing the right things (orthopraxis)? How you answer that last question will have a lot to do with the nature of your spiritual life. Tile next time…

Tuesday, July 15

Today’s Readings: Psalm 122; Genesis 37:1-11; Luke 2:41-52; Acts 16:35-40; Psalm 15

As a child, I always thought it was odd to run into one of my school teachers in a different setting like, say, the post office or supermarket. I thought that because I had a pretty rigid way of compartmentalizing the world. Teachers belonged in school; postal carriers belonged in the post office; grocery clerks belonged in the supermarket. It was difficult for me to realize that people and things often crossed lines. I’m not the only one to have this tendency to compartmentalize. Jesus’ parents had a similar tendency in today’s passage from Luke. You see Mary and Joseph saw Jesus primarily as their child; consequently, they expected him to be with them at all times. Where else would he be? Then suddenly Jesus turned up missing. Of course it turned out Jesus was in a place that revealed a different aspect of Jesus’ nature: the Temple. The only way they could locate Jesus was by think about Jesus in new ways: not just as their child, but as one passionately connected to God. It was only when they re-thought their perception of Jesus, that they were able to find him..All of this is to say that part of our challenge as human beings is to fight the temptation to compartmentalize things and open ourselves to larger experiences of the world. I find this particularly true when it comes to our tendencies to compartmentalize things into the sacred and the secular. We often end up putting God into boxes and only looking for God in those places we would expect to find God. Today, I invite you to open your view and look for God’s presences in at least one place you would least expect to find God. You just might be surprised where God turns up. Til next time…

Monday, July 14

Today’s Readings: Psalm 76; Genesis 35:1-20; Luke 2:33-40; Acts 16:25-34; Psalm 47

One of the by-products of the increased move toward secularization that occurred during the second half of the twentieth century was a loss of ritual. Folks began to ask themselves, “Why stop and both creating sacred space if there aren’t sacred dimensions to most things in our daily lives?” As a result of this approach, sadly – over a period of time - the role ritual played in our lives diminished greatly. Thankfully it seems that cycle has run its course as folks in the twenty-first century are starved to find links between the so-called secular and the sacred and to ritualize these connections. I’m particularly aware of this dynamic this week as I’ve had an interesting request to ritualize a new piece of the human experience. A friend of mine who was in a relationship with his partner for 12 years suddenly lost his partner 2 months ago – before the couple could do a Commitment Ceremony. The surviving partner knew he would never come to terms with his partner’s death until he was able to express his desire to commit the rest of his life to his partner. So Friday, we’ll be doing a grave side commitment ceremony. The ritual will be a way to both acknowledge both the transformation nature of their relationship and let go of the physical piece of their relationship so they can stay connected in new ways. So what’s this got to do with any of today’s readings? Well today’s passage from Genesis gives us a beautiful example of how the incorporation of ritual in our day-to-day lives can enhance our spiritual life. For in this morning’s passage from Genesis, we were told how Jacob went to great lengths to create sacred space following an encounter of his with God. Today I’m wondering if there are aspects of your experience –aspects even that others might describe as secular – that you need to claim as expressions of the sacred. If so, I would encourage you to consider the role that ritual might play in helping you make that connection and enrich your spiritual life. Til next time…