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.

Saturday, July 26

Today’s Readings: Psalm 63; Genesis 42:29-38; Luke 5:27-39; Acts 19:1-7; Psalm 111

As someone whose call is to be a bridge-builder between individuals and communities, I’ve learned at least one thing about human beings: virtually all human beings have someone (or some group) that they consider to be “the other” – someone (or some group) who the person feels is either unworthy or beyond redemption. For Republicans, it’s someone like Bill Clinton; for Democrats, it’s someone like George Bush. For Evangelicals, it’s someone like Bishop John Shelby Spong; for Progressives, it’s someone like James Dobson. I could go on and on with this list, but I think you get the point. The question for most of us isn’t, “Is there someone (or some group) I look down upon?” The real question is, “Who is that someone (or group) I look down upon?” This reality was raised for me once again by today’s Gospel reading from Luke. In that passage we are told that as Jesus went out, he had the audacity to invite someone who was despised by all segments of the community – Levi, a tax collector. Tax collectors were so despised that even the religious authorities of the day felt comfortable calling them crooks and sinners. The positive piece of the story was that once the individuals in the crowd got their biases out into the open, Jesus was free to confront that bias head on and make his case for why that bias was wrong. Is there someone (or some group) in your life that plays the role of tax collector for you – someone (or some group) who you would feel empowered to publicly rail against? If so, the first step is to get over your denial (which often takes the form of self-righteous judgment – as in “I may look down on so-and-so but they deserve it…”) and own up to your bias. Once you do that, God will be free to begin working with you in that area. Who knows? Before long you might just be breaking bread with someone who used to represent “the other” to you. Til next time…

Friday, July 25

Today’s Readings: Psalm 42; Genesis 42:18-28; Luke 5:12-26; Acts 18:22-28; Psalm 141

Hidden in the midst of today’s Gospel lesson is a wonderful lesson in selflessness and humility. It’s easy to miss that lesson because it’s tucked away neatly in the midst of the sweeping passage that contains a dramatic confrontation between Jesus and the religious authorities. The lesson I’m speaking of comes in the very first verse of the passage. In that verse we are introduced to a man with leprosy – an affliction that would have made him not only physically uncomfortable but socially isolated as well. If I were in that miserable condition, I would have had one – and only one – thing on my mind: getting cured. So if I had encountered Jesus, what would my first words to Jesus have been? “Cure me - now!” And yet the leper in today’s passage had slightly different words. He said simply, “If you want to, you can cleanse me.” Amazing! Those simple yet powerful words tell me that the leper recognized Jesus for exactly who he was. And the beauty of his statements was that he didn’t make that recognition dependent on getting what he wanted (what I call the “if you are really the Messiah, heal me” approach). Instead, he took all of his wants and needs (and certainly his ego for that matter) and laid them all at Jesus’ feet – literally. That’s an amazing example for us to follow. Often we become so focused on our wants and needs that when we do stop and talk with God, our communication consists largely of us giving our demands. Today – in the midst of the many wants and demands in your life – take a moment and think about the leper’s approach toward Jesus. Then see if you can emulate it. Til next time…

Thursday, July 24

Today’s Readings: Psalm 79; Genesis 42:1-17; Luke 5:1-11; Acts 18:12-21; Psalm 13

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly our values and perceptions change here in the United States. And in this hi-tech age, the speed of change has accelarated even more. Let me give you an example of this. When I was a child, a huge premium was put on tradition and experience. Merchants would sell their products using tag-lines like “In Business for Over 50 Years”, and candidates would convince voters to lend them their support based upon the number of years they had served the public. In the last 10 years, however, those values have largely fallen away. Most merchants now sell their products using words like “new” or “innovative”, and candidates try to earn votes by emphasizing their lack of experience as a good thing. All of this is to say that we modern folks have lost our patience and are more apt to try to solve our problems by simply changing things around us. Today’s reading in Luke presents a challenge to this modern tendency. For in that passage, we are told the fisherman around Jesus have spent most of the night fishing the waters where Jesus urged them to lower their nets. Their first thoughts must have been, “Why? This area is tapped out. Let’s move on and fill our nets in new waters.” I can’t blame them for thinking that. And yet what does Jesus challenge them to do? He challenges them to do the unthinkable: stay where they are and try one more time. We all know what happens once they followed Jesus’ command. The story challenges me to think about doing the same thing; it challenges me to look at aspects of my life that I’ve written off and revisit them this time – only this time with a new perspective or awareness. Maybe there are some “waters” in your life that you think you’ve thoroughly explored – “waters” that you too have given up on: maybe it’s a relationship or a job. Today, I would invite you to fight the modern impulse to solve the problem by simply moving on into other waters. Instead, think about taking a risk and dropping down your nets one last time where you are. You just might be surprised what yield those nets might produce. Til next time…

Wednesday, July 23

Today’s Readings: Psalm 88; Genesis 41:46-57; Luke 4:38-44; Acts 18:1-11; Psalm 30

It’s very easy these days to treat our faith primarily on an allegorical level and keep it purely in the abstract. We can talk for hours about God in relationship to concepts like love, mercy, and justice; but when it comes to actually bringing God into the concrete levels of reality, we sometimes struggle. Today’s reading from Luke reminds me that for early believers their faith didn’t start at the abstract level; their faith started at a very concrete level. In the hours following Jesus’ healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, for instance, we are told, “When the sun went down, everyone who had anyone sick with some ailment or other brought them to him. One by one he placed his hands on them and healed them” (Luke 4:41 – The Message). Perhaps there is an area of your life where it’s time for your faith to move from the abstract to the contract – a place where you are ready for healing and transformation. If that’s the case, don’t feel like you have to wait for the proverbial sun to go down – go now. Til next time…

Tuesday, July 22

Today’s Readings: Psalm 50; Genesis 41:14-45; Luke 4:31-37; Acts 17:29-34; Psalm 94

Today’s reading from Genesis reminds me of an important role that we folks of faith often end up playing in the lives of others. That role? Interpreter. In Joseph’s case, this meant interpreting the Pharaoh’s dreams. Most of us these days, however, don’t interpret in quite that way. Instead, we interpret in many other ways. In the days following the terrorist attacks of September 11th, for instance, many of us were asked to interpret what it meant to be in relation with a God who would allow such attacks to occur. In these days of economic distress, many of us are asked to interpret what its like to be in relationship with a God of hope at a time when hope seems so far away. And of course some reach out to us at times of great personal distress (i.e. a terminal diagnosis or a death of a loved one) and ask us to interpret our experience of being in relationship with a loving, life-affirming God when the world around us can seem so cruel. The important thing to remember at these moments of interpretation is that it’s not solely up to us to provide the clever words that help others make sense of everything; the important thing to is that we open ourselves up and trust that - by being fully present in the moment - we will be transformed into an interpretative vessel that can help facilitate others’ understanding and experience of God. Til next time…

Monday, July 21

Today’s Readings: Psalm 57; Genesis 41:1-13; Luke 4:22-30; Acts 17:21-28; Psalm 113

Jesus’ experience as told in today’s reading from Luke is certainly one that resonates with my soul. You see I had deep roots in the small town in which I was born and raised. I was the third generation of my family to live in that small town. In fact, my mother was not only born and raised in the very house in which I was raised – she still lives there to this day with my father. As the youngest of four kids in my own family, I was well known by all of my teachers before I even set foot in the classrooms. Instead of trying to coast on my family’s coattails, however, I took the opposite tact and nearly killed myself in order to earn the love and respect of folks in my community. I did everything (and then some) that they asked for me. During my high school years alone I was everything from ASB President to Youth Group President to salutatorian. Nevertheless, when I was in my mid-twenties and shared a new piece of myself – my sexual orientation – I was summarily rejected by many members of that community. Ironically, I was led to share this controversial piece of myself for two reasons: (1) because of the values my family and the members of the community had instilled in me (“always tell the truth” and “everyone is a valuable child of God”); and (2) because of my call to be a prophetic voice. Little did I realize how true Jesus’ words that no prophet would be welcome in his or her hometown would be! I’ve spent a little time over the years wondering why that’s the case. I’ve concluded that its because when it comes to those who are closest to us, its difficult to let go of our expectations of them and receive them for who they are - not who we want or need them to be. One of the greatest gifts we can ever give a loved one is to do that: embrace them on their own terms. Perhaps there’s a relationship in your own life where you are facing this challenging: a relationship filled with tension because one of you isn’t accepting the other for who the other person is. If that’s the case, take the bold step of welcoming the fullness of that individual into your life. While it may not be easy at first, your act of gracious hospitality might take that relationship to amazing new places. Til next time…