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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, October 4

Today’s Readings: Psalm 55; Leviticus 25:35-55; Luke 22:1-13; Ephesians 1:1-10; Psalm 49

As a person of faith who continues to be subjected to the rhetoric surrounding the upcoming election every time I turn on the television or radio, I’m fascinated by how strategically individuals will use their faith when it supports their position and conveniently ignore their faith when it does not. Case in point: the so-called social issues of our day. We have grown to expect candidates to use their faith when it comes to issues like homosexuality and abortion. There’s one area in our common life, however, where faith is NEVER used in political discussions. That area? Economics. When was the last time you heard a politician quote a passage like today’s from Leviticus, for instance, as a call to expand unemployment benefits or welfare. After all, the passage reads: “If one of your brothers becomes indigent and cannot support himself, help him” (Leviticus 25:35). And how many candidates have used the passage from Leviticus to argue in favor of regulating interest rates? Don’t forget today’s passage reads: “Don’t gouge him with interest charges… Don’t take advantage of his plight by running up big interest charges on his loans” (Leviticus 25:36-37). The answer to the last two questions is “Never” and “None”. Why is that? Why has it become okay to use one’s faith in one area and completely ignore it in others? I’m sure there are many answers to that question. One of the primary answers involves self-interest. When it comes to the use of our faith, a guiding principle is this: “I’ll use my faith when it helps me get what I want, and ignore it when it doesn’t.” Of course politicians aren’t the only ones to do that. Many of us (myself included!) are prone to do that. Today’s passage from Leviticus reminds us that if we are going to make appeals based on our faith in one area of our life, we better be ready to open other areas of our lives to our faith as well – especially those areas that we might like to consider off-limits to our faith. Til next time…

Friday, October 3

Today’s Readings: Psalm 29; Leviticus 25:1-17; Luke 21:29-38; Philippians 4:14-23; Psalm 46

One of the recent developments I’ve noticed during this political season is a rising sense of urgency that has overtaken the American public. In previous election cycles, people would talk about problems primarily at the theoretical level (i.e. what’s the best way to combat crime, what should we do about the budget deficit, etc). Sadly, so many problems have become so pressing that we no longer have the luxury of simply talking in the abstract. The conversations have all taken on a sense of incredible urgency! Folks are talking about a financial bailout plan that needs to be passed – not next session but in a matter of days; folks are talking about whether we should drill for oil off shore or pass a spending bill to support alternative forms of energy – not in the distant future, but starting next January; folks are talking about when to withdraw the troops from Iraq – not in terms of years, but in months. Everything under discussion seems to have a short time-line involved. While we might like to think we are the first generation facing such a sense of urgency, the truth is we’re not. You can feel a similar sense of urgency in today’s words from the Gospel of Luke. In comparing their times to a fig tree, Jesus says, “… when you see these things happen, you know God’s kingdom is about here. Don’t brush this off… be on your guard” (Luke 21:31 & 34 from The Message). So what’s the worst thing you can do during times of urgency? Nothing. Jesus warns, “Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping. Otherwise, that Day is going to take you by complete surprise” (Luke 21:34-35 from The Message). While it’s easy for us to grasp the urgency of the world events around us, it’s often much more difficult to feel a sense of spiritual urgency in our daily lives. That’s why spiritual matters often fall to the bottom of our “To Do” lists – because we always assume we’ll have more time to tend to those matters. My sense, however, is that we have things backward. In the midst of a world with pressing challenges all around us, the very best place to start is by tending our spiritual lives. So how would you characterize your approach to your spiritual life? Do you have a sense of importance and urgency as you tend to your relationship with God, or have you put that relationship at the bottom of your “To Do” list – something to get to after “the really important stuff” is out of the way? Til next time…

Thursday, October 2

Today’s Readings: Psalm 2; Leviticus 23:23-34; Luke 21:20-28; Philippians 4:8-13 Psalm 58

I’ve long been fascinated with the way some sports psychologists have come to use the concept of visualization with athletes. They’ll tell a basketball player whose struggling with his or her free throws, for instance, to get a mental image of him or herself making a free throw. Or they’ll tell a wide receiver in football that’s struggling with his or her confidence to visualize him or herself making a catch from his quarterback. The theory behind visualization is that if you focus your mind on one thing long enough you can make that vision become a reality. The book of Philippians wasn’t written by a sports psychologist, but in many ways the author is getting at pretty much the same concept. Except instead of telling the Philippians to focus on things like free throws or passes, the author tells the folks to focus on other things – things that are true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious, the best (and not the worst), the beautiful (not the ugly), and things to praise (not things to curse). The author’s hope is that by focusing on those things, you’ll develop a life from which those positive qualities emanate. Today would be a good day to watch yourself and see on what things you are focusing. Are you focusing on the best or the worst in life? The beautiful or the ugly? The things to praise, or the things to curse? What you focus on will go a long way in determining what qualities become embodied in your life. Til next time…

Wednesday, October 1

Today’s Readings: Psalm 75; Leviticus 23:1-22; Luke 21:5-19; Philippians 4:1-7; Psalm 82

I remember taking a trip with my family to a local lake one summer afternoon when I was about 12. When we got to the lake, I was bummed to see that most of the beach had already been taken over by those who had arrived earlier than we had so I ventured off to find some undisturbed portion of the beach I could claim for myself. It didn’t take long for me to find what I thought was a patch. I waded in right away. I didn’t stop long enough to notice that the patch of beach I had found was outside the roped area. That meant the area wasn’t cleaned or maintained by the staff at the resort. And wouldn’t you know within a few minutes I had stepped on a broken bottle that someone had thrown into the lake and severely cut the bottom of my left foot. My folks rushed me to the emergency room at our local hospital to get stitches. I remember being beside myself on the way to the hospital because I had never had stitches before. Looking back on the experience I don’t know what was worse: the actual pain of my cut or the worry about what getting stitches would be like. After my parents had filled out the necessary forms, I was finally taken to a room where a nurse started to tend to my gaping wound. Luckily, the nurse sensed that my anxiety level was really high so she stopped what she was doing and spent a minute talking with me. I got so into our conversation that I barely noticed when she picked up the disinfectant and needle and proceeded to clean out and then stitch my wound. Our conversation helped take my mind off the matter at hand and put things into perspective for me. Before I knew it, the worst of the experience was over and she was handing my folks a prescription for the antibiotics I was supposed to take. I was reminded of that experience as I read today’s words from Philippians that said: “Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down” (Philippians 4:6-7 from The Message). Over the years, I’ve realized that my communication with God at those difficult times in my life helps do what my conversation with the nurse did that day nearly 30 years ago: it slows me down and helps refocus my anxious energies. Perhaps you are facing an issue today that is causing your anxiety level to shoot through the roof. If so, I would encourage you to try to dislodge your worry with something else – prayer. If you try that, you just might get a most unexpected sensation – “a sense of God’s wholeness” that “will come and settle you down” too. Til next time…

Tuesday, September 30

Today’s Readings: Psalm 54; Leviticus 19:26-37; Luke 20:41-21:4; Philippians 3:12-21; Psalm 113

One of my favorite aspects of the recent Olympics was the special interest stories the media told about those involved in the event. While many of the stories of the athletes themselves were certainly memorable, the most memorable story of all for me was the story of a little boy from China who walked with Yao Ming as Yao carried the Chinese flag into the stadium for the Opening Ceremony. The little boy was chosen to walk with Yao because of his remarkable strength and courage. A few months earlier when the horrific earthquake struck China, the little boy had been serving as a hall monitor in his school. As the walls shook around him, the little boy ran back into the building and led several of his classmates to safety. When asked why he risked his life to help others, he said words to the effect of: “I’m a hall monitor and that’s what we’re supposed to do.” Those words told me that the little boy had such a clear sense of purpose that when the world as he knew it started shaking and threatening to fall apart, he knew exactly what to do. I was reminded of that story as I read this morning’s words from Philippians where the author wrote: “By no means do I count myself as an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward – to Jesus. I’m off and running and I’m not turning back. So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less that total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision – you’ll see it yet” (Philippians 3:14-16 from The Message). Those words encourage us to have the same sort of focus the little boy from China had so that when our world starts shaking and threatening to fall apart, we too know what to do. And the best part is that today’s words tell us God doesn’t expect us to maintain that laser-like focus on our own; when we lose sight of the goal, we are told “God will clear your blurred vision”! Take a few minutes today and check in with yourself to see where your focus lies. If your focus lies on something other than God, ask for God’s assistance to help you regain your focus. Til next time…

Monday, September 29

Today’s Readings: Psalm 15; Leviticus 19:1-18; Luke 20:27-40; Philippians 3:8-11; Psalm 42

Many of us grow up thinking of rules only in negative terms; we often think of them as things that limit our personal freedoms. Consequently, there’s a part of us that balks whenever we encounter them. Today’s reading from Leviticus presents a portion of the “rules” that the Israelites were to follow. The older I get, the more I notice that my perspective on these rules changes. Instead of thinking about rules in negative terms, I’m starting to connect with the fact that most of the rules are really about one thing: maintaining healthy relationships. Don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t exploit your friend, don’t spread gossip and rumors … all of these things are meant not to limit personal freedoms– they are meant to preserve the integrity of our relationships with those around us. So how do you view rules in your life? Do you still see them as things that limit your personal freedoms, or do you see them as things meant to protect the integrity of your relationships? How you see them will probably go a long way in determining your attitude as you live into those “rules”. Til next time…