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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.

Sunday, October 19

Today’s Readings: Psalm 99; Exodus 33:12-23; Matthew 22:15-22; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

As someone who comes from a denomination connected to the Reformed tradition (that would be the United Church of Christ), the notion of what it means to be a part of “the elect” – or the chosen – is a part of my religious heritage. While some folks from Reformed traditions LOVE the notion of being part of “the elect”, I have to admit the notion makes me more than a little uncomfortable. I suppose some of this discomfort stems from the fact that I was raised in a denomination (United Methodist) whose founder (John Wesley) found the notion of “the elect” offensive. Another reason the notion of “the elect” makes me uncomfortable is because I have seen individuals who consider themselves part of “the elect” fall prey to conceit and/or apathy in their spiritual lives. So why all of this talk about “the elect” or the chosen? Well, the issue was raised for me in today’s reading from Exodus, where the notion of being “special” was raised by Moses in relation to both himself and the Israelites. A few months ago, I stumbled upon a resource that helped me frame what it meant to be part of “the elect” – or “special” - in a new way. Those who are a part of “the elect”, the author wrote, are not chosen because they themselves are special; rather, those who are a part of “the elect” are special because they have been chosen. For those outside the Reformed tradition, this distinction may sound like mere word play. For me it’s not. That’s because the author’s words helped me understand there is nothing inherent in us that makes us special; instead, it is God’s unmerited grace that transforms us into something we could never be on our own. Today, I would invite you to celebrate just how special you are – not because of who you are but special because of whose you are! Til next time…

Saturday, October 18

Today’s Readings: Psalm 66; Numbers 14:26-45; Luke 24:36-53; Ephesians 5:1-14; Psalm 91

I learned an important lesson about love from my mother when I was just ten years old. Let me tell you about that lesson. My folks had three children before I came along. My brother Gene came along 10 years before I was born; my brother Keith came along 9 years before I was born; and my sister Karen came along 7 years before I was born. By the time I arrived, my parents were probably tired of taking care of kids and were ready to do some things for themselves for a change. My mother had dreamed of learning how to paint for years; unfortunately, she could never afford painting lessons when my siblings were young so she put off those painting lessons for years. She waited until two of my siblings were out of high school before she could pull enough money together to afford the lessons. In the spring of 1977, she finally started her painting lessons. During that summer, I became insistent that I wanted piano lessons. I had watched my sister play for years, and I figured it was time for me to start playing myself. My parents couldn’t afford painting lessons for my mom and piano lessons for myself so my mom made a difficult choice; she put aside her painting lessons so my parents could provide piano lessons for me. That simple act of sacrifice might not sound like much to some people – but to this day every time I think of what the word “love” means, I think of that selfless act on my mother’s part. I was reminded of this today when I read Paul’s words from his letter to the Ephesians that read: “Watch what God does, then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that” (Ephesians 5:1-2 from The Message). In the world we live in, it’s so easy for us to settle for loving cautiously. If you are tempted to love cautiously, I would encourage you to recall those in your life who have followed Paul’s advice and loved extravagantly. Remember how transformative those extravagant acts of love were in your life and then take a risk and extend an extravagant act of love to someone in your life as well. That simple act of extravagant love could go a long way in transforming someone’s world. Til next time…

Friday, October 17

Today’s Readings: Psalm 61; Numbers 13:31-14:25; Luke 24:12-35; Ephesians 4:25-32; Psalm 20

Without even realizing it, many folks in our society have bought into the notion “Bigger is Better”. That notion hasn’t just affected our attitude toward secular interests – it’s even crept into our view of church. That’s one reason the mega church movement has exploded over the past 15 years – because folks tend to equate size with effectiveness. Growing up in a small church, however, I realized early in life that “Bigger is NOT Always Better”. I learned in a very personal way what amazing and transformative things can happen in small communities that often get overlooked. In today’s reading from Numbers, the Israelites were trying to figure out where they stood on this issue of size. After the scouts returned from scoping out the land before them, the Israelites became obsessed with rumors of the giants who lived in the land. As a result, they concluded they had no chance to move into the very land God had called them because “Bigger (in their case, the giants) was Better”. Thankfully God provided them with a leader – Moses – who helped remind them that that saying is not always true. He convinced the people that because they were pursuing something to which God had truly called them that they would be all right. And guess what? They were. Perhaps there is an area in your life that you feel called to pursue. As you have considered your call, however, you might have bumped into challenges or obstacles that seemed to dwarf your call so you too concluded “Bigger is Better”; out of fear of those challenges and obstacles maybe you abandoned your call. If that’s the case, remember Moses’ words to the people: “They have no protection and God is on our side. Don’t be afraid of them” (Numbers 14:9 from The Message). Now take a deep breath, proceed in the pursuit of your call, and remember not to equate the size of the challenges before you with your probability for success. Til next time…

Thursday, October 16

Today’s Readings: Psalm 30; Numbers 13:1-3, 21-30; Luke 23:56b-24:11; Ephesians 4:17-24; Psalm 33

For two years, I worked as an outreach worker and community educator with the HIV/AIDS program at my local health district in Washington State. Part of my duties there included working in an outreach center located in the heart of the city. During my time at the outreach center, I worked with a variety of people: the homeless, commercial sex industry workers, IV drug users – you name the population, and I worked with them. Out of all the people I ran into, I remember one best of all. The individual I remember was a 17 year old boy whom I’ll call him Brad. Brad was homeless and living under one of the local bridges. He was wrestling with drug and alcohol addictions as well. To say Brad had issues would be a huge understatement. One day Brad showed up with a 13 year old girl - whom I’ll call Amy - in tow. Now 13 year old girls living on the streets of the city were some of the most vulnerable people out there. It would have been so easy for Brad to have exploited Amy. And yet what did Brad do? He protected her and brought her into the outreach center so she could get connected with folks who would look out for her and get her help. Through Brad's act of love and grace I had an encounter with someone I least expected in that setting; I had an encounter with the Spirit of Christ. I don’t know why I should have been surprised. After all, during his lifetime Jesus had a habit of showing up at times and places when we least expected him. That day at the outreach center I was like the women at the tomb in today’s Gospel reading from Luke. I had a very specific idea of where I thought Jesus should be. In their case, they expected Jesus to be in the tomb; in my case, I expected Jesus to be in predictable (i.e. socially acceptable) places. If today’s scripture teaches us anything, it’s never to put the essence of Jesus in a box. Today, I would encourage you to head out into the world with your eyes wide open. If you do that, you just might encounter the Spirit of Christ in places you might least expect. Til next time…

Wednesday, October 15

Today’s Readings: Psalm 56; Numbers 12:1-16; Luke 23:44-56a; Ephesians 4:7-16; Psalm 10

Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, I saw a lot of Seattle Seahawk games as a child. It's not something that I'm proud of - just something that I've learned to accept over the years :) Anyway, one thing that fascinated me about their games was the crowd’s propensity to do something called “The Wave”. For those unfamiliar with the concept, “The Wave” looks like a ripple of water that worked itself around the Kingdome. When the ripple reached your section of the stadium, you were expected to stand and raise your arms. Once you do that, you immediately sat down and let the folks in the next section stand up and raise their arms and then sit down. It goes like this - section after section - until “The Wave” has made it around the stadium several times. It was an amazing thing to see over 50,000 people move in perfect rhythm with each another. While they didn’t have “The Wave” back in the First Century, they did have their own sense of what it would be like to move in rhythm with thousand of others. The only difference was that that rhythm wasn’t driven by watching other people in a stadium; their rhythm was driven by something else. That something else was identified by Paul in today’s passage from Ephesians where he wrote: “He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13 from The Message). Today, I would ask you to consider what it is in your life that sets the rhythm which you follow. Is it your career, is it your family, is it your hobbies/passion, or is it the God revealed in Jesus Christ? Spend some time observing the rhythm of your day and see what moves you along if you need help answering that question. Til next time…

Tuesday, October 14

Today’s Readings: Psalm 69:1-36; Numbers 11:24-35; Luke 23:32-43; Ephesians 4:1-6

I’m in the process of reading a new book by Phyllis Tickle titled “The Great Emergence”. The book is an exploration of the changes going on in and around the church these days. While changes in faith communities occur all the time to small degrees, Tickle’s thesis is that the changes we are facing today aren’t superficial. Every 500 years the church goes through a process whereby it fundamentally redefines itself. We are living in just such a period of re-definition. Nearly everyone I’ve met who serves a local church these days would agree with Tickle’s thesis, for you can’t help but feel the seismic shifts beginning to take place. One of the areas in which I particularly feel this change taking place is in how we organize ourselves as churches. For most of the last 100 years, people in faith communities have organized themselves as if they were mechanistic institution. Pre-existing structures were set up and the primary way people related to each other was in terms of how they served the institution. If they served on a committee or task force, then individuals were more valued; if they didn’t, they were less valued. Today, faith communities are starting to move away from structures that exist simply to feed the mechanistic institution and toward organic structures that exist to spiritually feed individuals. In order to make it through this transition from the mechanistic to organic, more and more churches are working with the notion of spiritual gifts in order to help them better understand the individual and how to help the individual develop his or her spiritual gifts. Having said all of this, today’s passage from Numbers gives us important words of caution about how a person living in community receives the spiritual gifts of others. In the passage, Moses had taken 70 leaders away with him to a Tent. These 70 received the spiritual gift of prophesy during their time together. Two of the group, however, decided not to go with Moses; consequently, they received their spiritual gift in the midst of the people. The part that’s particularly interesting to me is how the people in the camp received this spiritual gift from the two individuals: they freaked out and tried to put an end to it. Why is that? I suppose there are lots of reasons for that. One reason was probably because – since they didn’t have that particular spiritual gift – they didn’t understand it; and one of the very first tendencies we human beings have is to try to stop those things we don’t understand. Another reason was lifted up by Moses himself: the others were jealous. Whatever the reason, today’s story gives us the opportunity to pause for a moment and ask ourself, “How do I receive spiritual gifts from those who have different gifts than I have? Am I prone to being threatened by those gifts and try to put an end to them, or do I open myself to learning (and experiencing) more about God through the gifts of others? Til next time…

Monday, October 13

Today’s Readings: Psalm 144; Numbers 11:1-23; Luke 23:26-31; Ephesians 3:14-21; Psalm 22:22-31

People have various ideas of what it means to have strength or be strong. That is especially apparent during this election season when candidates jockey with one another to prove to the American public that they are stronger than the other candidate when it comes to a variety of issues such as defense. Most of the secular understandings of what it means to be strong have to do with having lots of muscle and being able to impose your will on another person or country. They also tend to be predicated on things outside yourself (i.e. you’re strong if you have a big bank account, lots of friends or allies, or access to a gym). Today’s reading from Ephesians, however, gives us another picture of what strength is all about. Paul writes these words to the community at Ephesus: “I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit – not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength – that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in” (Ephesians 3:15 from The Message). As you face a variety of challenges these days that demand a great deal of strength, how do you understanding what it means to be strong? Do you strength as something that is created by you using elements from the outside, or do you see strength as something that comes from your relationship with God that emanates from the inside? Til next time…

Sunday, October 12

Today’s Readings: Psalm 106; Exodus 32:1-14; Matthew 22:1-14; Philippians 4:1-9

As a pastor, I spend a lot of time dealing with folks who have been damaged by one thing: clichés that people have used with them at the time of a tragedy. They were at a funeral of a loved one who died unexpectedly, for instance, when someone tries to comfort them by saying, “Well, I guess God needed them with him more than we needed him.” Even worse, when the loved one left behind expresses their grief by asking the most natural question of all – “Why?!” - the other person nervously responds by saying, “Well, we shouldn’t question God.” While those questions might make the person saying them feel better by deflecting the raw emotions, they often do tremendous damage to the person on the receiving end. They often fuel people’s frustration, sadness and rage. Some people think today’s passage from Philippians is simply about clichés – especially the part in verse 8 where Paul tells us to keep our minds on positive things. I don’t view the text that way at all. For Paul isn’t telling us to deal with the difficulties of life by taking the equivalent of a spiritual prozac and humming Bobby McFerrin’s song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. Instead, Paul is simply inviting us to keep our eyes on the bigger picture. The values he points us toward in no way are intended to ignore or negate the challenges we face – instead, they are meant to put those challenges into perspective. So where does your focus lie? Have you become so overwhelmed by the challenges that you can only see the hurt and pain; or have you been able to lift your eyes and see some of those things that Paul pointed us toward – things that can help us emotionally and spiritually rise above those challenges? Til next time…