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, September 20

Today’s Readings: Psalm 50; Leviticus 16:20-34; Luke 20:19-26; Philippians 3:1-7; Psalm 31

Today’s reading from Leviticus is fascinating because it lays out for us the origin of the term scapegoat. As I read about the origin of the term, something interesting occurred to me. The verbiage around the term tells us that the real issue behind the term scapegoat implied a focus on the sins of the community and not upon the goat itself. So why is this interesting? Well, sadly lots of modern religious folks continue to employ the notion of scapegoat. The difference, however, is that most modern religious folks who use the term want to make the term about those whom they are targeting as their version of a scapegoat and not about themselves. Those on the far right, for instance, want to target LGBT individuals or illegal immigrants as their scapegoat and insist the problems in their world are the result of these individuals. Those on the far left, on the other hand, want to target groups like Focus on the Family or Operation Rescue and blame the ills of the world on these folks. In each case, the individuals involved are missing the boat. To use the concept as teased out in today's passage from Leviticus, they fail to ask themselves which sins of their own are they projecting onto the scapegoat of their choosing. Today I would ask you, “What individual or group serves as a scapegoat in your life?” Once you figure that out, I would ask that you resist the temptation to go on a tirade against the person/group. Instead, use that energy to do some honest soul-searching and see what sins of your own those feelings are masking. Then do something radical. Invest your time and energy in addressing those issues instead of lashing out at others. Til next time…

Friday, September 19

Today’s Readings: Psalm 69; Exodus 32:21-34; Luke 18:31-43; Philippians 1:1-11

If you were to ask me who my favorite person from the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament is, I wouldn’t hesitate long before I would give you my answer: Moses. Most folks probably wouldn’t be too surprised by my answer since Moses is considered by many to be one of the greatest figures of the Hebrew Scriptures. After all he was the one who led the Israelites out of Egypt and toward the Promised Land. He (and not Charlton Heston) was also the individual who brought The Ten Commandments to the people. Tradition also credits Moses as the driving force behind the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). By most objective measures Moses has greatness stamped all over him. None of these accomplishments are the reasons I look up to Moses, however. I look up to Moses primarily because of his character. For instance, I can relate to him since – like Moses – I too am rather impulsive (remember how he got angry at the Egyptian abusing the Israelites and struck the Egyptian down in a fit of self-righteous anger). I also admire Moses for his profound sense of humility (when God called him to confront Pharaoh and demand the release of God’s people Moses initially balked because he didn’t feel up to the task). And today’s passage from Exodus gave me another reason for admiring Moses. He embodied for me what a good leader looks like. When Moses went up the mountain to be with God and the people responded to his absence by making the Golden Calf, most leaders would have responded by distancing themselves from the people and putting all of the blame on either Aaron or the people. Not Moses. In defending the people to God, Moses cried out: “And now, if you will only forgive their sin… But if not, erase me out of the book you’ve written [emphasis added]” (Exodus 32:32 from The Message). His love and concern for God’s people caused Moses to be willing to put it all on the line. What a refreshing change during this political season when most folks seem to define leadership as the ability to blame others (the Democrats/the Republicans, the President, Congress) for the current crises. So which person in Scripture do you look up to? What qualities does that person embody? Once you answer those questions, I would invite you to put the list of those qualities you admire somewhere where you can see them and make a point of working toward embodying those values yourself. Til next time…

Thursday, September 18

Today’s Readings: Psalm 38; Exodus 32:1-20; Luke 18:15-30; Romans 16:17-27; Psalm 53

One of the most challenging issues for modern progressive folks is to work through issues of Christology. Christology basically has to do with an understanding of who Jesus is in relation to two concepts: his divinity and his humanity. People with a high Christology tend to emphasize Jesus’ divinity while people with a low Christology tend to emphasize Jesus’ humanity. The vast majority of people in our society assume that the only way to be Christian is to have a high Christology. This belief comes from the language of the creeds that emphasize Jesus’ divinity. Lots of folks are unaware that there have been branches of Christianity rooted in low Christology since the earliest days of our tradition as well. Today’s gospel reading includes a piece that individuals with low Christology tend to emphasize – it’s a portion where Jesus draws a distinction between himself and God when he says to the local officials who are questioning him, “Why are you calling me good? No one is good – only God” (Luke 18:19 from The Message). Jesus is quoted as saying the same thing to a man he encounters in Mark 10:18. So what are we to make of all of this? Let me share some of my conclusions as a spiritual leader who works with folks who have a variety of different understandings. In order to do that I’ll have to back into my take on the Christology issue through another issue. The issue of Christology is part of the larger issue meant to explore the character or nature of God. One of the early creeds (sometimes called the Anthanasian or Trinitarian Creed) addresses this issue by talking about God being three in one: God the Creator, Jesus the Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit the Sustainer. In their faith some people emphasize the “three”-ness aspect of that formula. Folks who do this tend to connect most strongly with one aspect of that three-ness: mainline Christians tend to focus on the God piece of the formula; Baptists and Evangelicals tend to focus on the Jesus piece of the formula; while Pentecostals and Charismatics tend to focus on the Holy Spirit piece of the formula. Sadly - like folks involved in the Christology debate - they spend much time and energy fighting about which emphasis is correct. Instead of focusing on the three-ness aspect of the formula, I focus my spirituality on the oneness of God. This allows me to connect with folks who tap into the oneness through each of the expressions of God – the Creator aspect, the Redeemer aspect, and the Sustainer aspect. So what’s this have to do with the Christology debate I started my entry with today? By focusing my energies on the God present and working in and through Jesus, I tend not to spend my time and energy participating in an intellectual debate about exactly how (and to what degrees) God was manifested in Jesus. Without attaching a label (high or low Christology) or trying to figure out a percentage of divinity and humanity to attach to Jesus, I simply rest in my experience of this God of Jesus. My ability to rest in the Mystery that transcends labels or percentages would put me in the company of the Mystics. I realize resting in the Mystery is not a comfortable place for many and I respect that. Whether we attach ourselves to a particular aspect of the equation (the “threeness” of God or the “oneness” of God or Jesus’ divinity vs. humanity), the important thing to remember is what Jesus’ pointed to in today’s reading from Luke immediately following his words about God. First, he called us to live in right relationship through the lens of the commandments; second, Jesus called us to come and follow him. If you take Jesus’ advice, you’ll arrive at all of the answers you need to build and sustain a rich spiritual life. Til next time…

Wednesday, September 17

Today’s Readings: Psalm 5; Exodus 28:1-4, 30-38; Luke 18:9-14; Romans 16:1-16; Psalm 110

An important shift occurred in church culture between the years 1950 and 2000. That shift? The professionalization of ministry. Let me tell you how that shift impacted the spiritual life of our faith communities. Prior to 1950, churches expected that lay people would be directly involved in the ministry of the local church. If you needed someone to work with the youth group, for instance, a volunteer would step forward to work with the youth. If you needed someone to work with prisoners at the nearby jail, a volunteer would step forward to work with the prisoners. And if you needed someone to lead the choir, a volunteer would step forward to do just that. Once ministry became professionalized, however, those dynamics in our churches shifted dramatically. Today if you need someone to work with the youth in your church, you hire a youth director. If you need someone to visit prisoners in a nearby jail, you hire a chaplain. And if you need someone to direct a choir, you hire a choir director. So what are the results of this shift? Many! Discipleship, for instance, has suffered greatly as many lay people have come to expect others to do ministry for them. Another unintended shift has come in the way some “professional” ministers have come to be seen – even by themselves! Since they are professionals with lots of degrees to prove their qualification, some “professional” have come to see themselves like the Pharisee saw himself in today’s reading from Luke. They lift up prayers like the ones the Pharisee lifted up (i.e. “Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like the other people …”). As someone who came to ministry later in life, I’ve realized something important about what qualifies me for “professional” ministry. It’s not the degrees I’ve earned that qualify me for parish ministry. It’s not even the years of experienced I’ve accumulated in a variety of fields ranging from human services to politics. No, what qualifies me for parish ministry is my embrace of those seven little words the tax collector said in today’s readings: “God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13 from The Message). When I talk with others about working to subvert your ego and agenda, for instance, I know what that struggle is like – for I face it every day. When I talk with others about overcoming temptations and being our better selves, I know what that struggle is like – for I face those same temptations every day. And when I talk about the importance of confession and one’s need of forgiveness, I know how important those things are – for I am in need of generous helpings of both in my own life. In other words, the lines that others would set up in our world – including lines between clergy and lay people – don’t exist. For we are all one: one in need of mercy; one in need of grace. Til next time…

Tuesday, September 16

Today’s Readings: Psalm 3; Exodus 25:1-22; Luke 18:1-8; Romans 15:22-33; Psalm 80

Today’s passage from Exodus is one of those passages that most folks either skip over or skim over in their daily readings. I know because I’ve certainly done that on more than one occasion in the past. Folks skip/skim over the passage because it’s easy to become bored in the midst all of the details that are contained in the passage – details that seem frivolous to our modern minds. “That might have been important back then,” one might think, “but it’s got nothing to say to my life today!” Or does it? Over the past several years I’ve developed a principle to apply to such passages that helps keep me in the present when I read them. That principle is this: “God is in the details”. By that I don’t mean to suggest that God is any more present in the lives of the Israelites if the chest containing The Testimony were 3-3/4” x 2-1/4’ than if it were 4-1/8” x 3-1/2”. No, I don’t believe the specific dimensions of the box are the central issue. For me, the central issue is the reverential attitude they display for those things in their lives that convey the presence of God. The energy they direct toward finding the right materials and shaping the chest in the right dimensions are an expression of their profound love of God. In this way, the Israelites found God in each and every detail of their lives – including the construction of their chest. So what about you? Do you find similar ways of paying attention to the presence of God in your life? If not, find ways of slowing yourself down and making time to look for God. If you do that you might just be surprised when God turns up in the most unexpected places imaginable – in the details of your life. Til next time…

Monday, September 15

Today’s Readings: Psalm 96; Exodus 24:1-18; Luke 17:20-37; Romans 15:18-21; Psalm 93

Today’s first psalm raised an interesting point for me. That point was this: “What is the most appropriate response when one encounters the power/work of God?” Lots of folks would suspect that thanksgiving should be priority one. Others would pipe in and suggest that acts of service would be a great way to respond. Those things are certainly natural and appropriate responses. The psalmist, however, points us in another direction in Psalm 96: the psalmist points us toward worship as the most appropriate response. It’s easy for many of us modern folks to miss what the psalmist is getting at here for we tend to think of worship solely as a 60-minute service - led by others - that you simply attend. The psalmist is getting at so much more than this. One of the primary definitions of worship is to have “adoring reverence or regard” for. Imagine the ways in which the depths of our spiritual lives would be different if we responded to God first and foremost in a spirit of worship. Instead of responding to God with mere thanksgiving (which may or may not imply a regard for someone as you can be thankful to someone that you neither like nor respect), we would respond with profound respect. Instead of responding to God with mere acts of service (which may or may not imply a reverence for someone as it is possible to perform acts of service out of duty or obligation), we would respond to God with awe and adoration. In other words, our spiritual lives wouldn’t be predicated on actions; they would be predicated on worshipful attitudes that would drive all of our actions – attitudes like respect, awe, and adoration. Today I would invite you to explore on which attitudes your spiritual life is predicated. Are you attitudes rooted in a sense of worship or are they rooted in something else? Til next time…

Sunday, September 14

Today’s Readings: Mark 1:1-12

This morning I’m veering away from the usual lectionary readings for one reason: we have a baptism at the church I serve. In working with the family of the child being baptized, we decided to use the account of Jesus’ baptism from the Gospel of Mark as our text this morning. That’s why I’ve changed my routine this morning. I would like to spend my time with you this morning reflecting on my understanding of baptism and how this sacrament could/should inform our lives. Each denomination and tradition has its own liturgy they use for a baptism. Given the fact that I serve an ecumenical church affiliated with three denominations (PCUSA, UCC, UMC), our liturgy draws upon the theology and traditions of each. One of the crucial moments in our liturgy comes when the congregation makes its covenant with the child. Our members say: “We promise to give ___________ our support as he/she lives into the pathways of Christ. We offer ourselves also, as ones who take ____________ into our love, our prayers, and our daily lives, striving to build a community rich in the Spirit of God in which to nurture her.” Here’s how those promises have impacted me this week. Like other Christian communities, we recognize baptism to be an act with universal implications. By this I mean those individuals we baptize aren’t just received into our local church – they are received into the universal body of Christ. That means that it’s not only the members of our local church who are making these promises; the members of our local church are making these promises to the child on behalf of Christians everywhere. By extension, this means that those of us in our local church are also expected to live into the baptismal vows/promises made to individuals by other local churches as well. The question I’ve considered is this, “What if we in the church actually took those promises seriously?” What if, for instance, John McCain/Sarah Palin and Barack Obama/Joe Biden (all of whom have talked openly of their Christian faith) said to themselves: “Those who are seeking the same office as I have also been baptized and been promised that they would taken into our love, our prayers, and our daily lives of Christians such as myself – therefore, I will conduct myself according to those baptismal vows/promises.” What if the supporters of each ticket who say they are followers of Jesus Christ took those vows/promises seriously and decided to extend their love and prayers to those on the other side of the partisan divide. And of course, we shouldn’t stop there. We should ask ourselves how the promises we make to those being baptized could impact each relationship in our lives – how they impact our treatment of immigrants, of those who live in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, of our obnoxious co-worker who sits in the cubicle next to ours at work, of the inmates who sit in our prisons … you name it. The thing that strikes me every time I do a baptism is that there are absolutely no escape clauses (i.e. we promise these things unless the child is or does ….). Since we have no idea just who has been baptized and who has not, I’ve tried to live my life as if each and every person I encounter is someone who has been promised those things. Today, I invite you to contemplate what it would mean for you to truly embrace those baptismal vows/promises and extend those things (i.e. your love and prayers) to everyone. Just imagine what sort of changes would take place. To paraphrase the sentiments of musician Louie Armstrong – “What a wonderful world that would be!” Til next time…