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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, November 2

Today’s Readings: Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37; Joshua 3:7-17; Matthew 23:1-12; 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

In the first six years of my ministry, I’ve been slower to learn one lesson than any other. The lesson I’ve been slow to pick up on is this: whenever I open my mouth, I need to realize that people hear me on two levels. First, they hear the words I speak as words spoken by "the pastor"; and second, they hear the words I speak as words spoken by "Craig". “So what difference does that make?” you might wonder. Well, there have been times when "Craig" has been processing something aloud and has said something that gets taken back to others as something "the pastor" said. This has led to problems at times. Part of my difficulty in remembering to keep both pieces in mind ("the pastor" piece and the "Craig piece") stems from Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel passage in Matthew. In that passage Jesus said, “Don’t let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates. Don’t set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let [God] tell you what to do” (Matthew 23:8-9 from The Message). As a pastor, I’ve drawn my way of leading from the pieces of the Reformed tradition that envision the pastor simply as first among equals. It centers me in the fact that God has called me to a place of spiritual leadership - not because I’m radically different than others; no, my call is primarily grounded in my ability to connect with folks due to our similarities. My job as a responsible spiritual leader/guide then is to constantly point people back to the one – and only one - Expert: God. My question for you today is this: where do you locate your source of ultimate authority? If that source of ultimate authority is in a person, I would advise you to return to Jesus’ words and remind yourself who your “life leader” should be. Til next time…

Saturday, November 1

Today’s Readings: Psalm 34:1-10, 22; Revelation 7:9-17; Matthew 5: 1-12; 1 John 3:1-13

In looking back on Christian history, an important change had taken place by the time we reached the 4th Century. The change that I’m talking about had to do with a change in emphasis: some leaders in the emerging Christian movement shifted from an emphasis on orthopraxis (which put an emphasis on right living) toward an emphasis on orthodoxy (which put an emphasis on right belief). This shift may have seemed subtle to some, but the effects of that shift were seismic and have been felt for generations. The shift made it easier for religious folks to feel their spiritual houses were in order as long as they spouted the popular beliefs of their day. Rarely were they asked to examine their day-to-day activities to see if their actions were in accord with Jesus’ values. Sadly, this shift from orthopraxis to orthodoxy caused many folks outside the faith to conclude that Christians were simply hypocrites who said one thing and did another. I can appreciate the words from today’s passage from 1 John because they were recorded in an attempt to fend off this shift. In placing his emphasis on orthopraxis rather than orthodoxy, the author observed: “So, my dear children, don’t let anyone divert you from the truth. It’s the person who acts right who is right, just as we see it lived out in our righteous Messiah” (1 John 3:7 from The Message). Of course it’s important to acknowledge that one’s actions are connected to one’s beliefs. All of this talk of orthopraxis vs. orthodoxy, however, really boils down to which of those you consider most important. As you consider what it is that makes a person faithful, I would ask you where you place your emphasis: do you consider a person to be a faithful Christian if he or she simply believes in the right things; or do you consider a person to be a faithful Christian if he or she does the right things? Til next time…

Friday, October 31

Today’s Readings: Psalm 122; Numbers 23:11-26; Matthew 7:1-12; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-6; Psalm 129

I love the exchange between Balak and Balaam as recorded in today’s reading from Numbers. Why do I love it so? Well, that passage gets at one of the challenges some of us have in our relationship with God. You seem Balak comes into the exchange with the prophet Balaam with a very specific outcome in mind. He wants to use Balaam (and by extension, God) to get an outcome he had already pre-determined: he wanted to use the prophet to reign down curses on his enemy. Unfortunately for Balak, a problem arose. The prophet he engaged had a little something that Balak forgot to factor in: integrity. Balaam refused to say or do anything that God had not instructed him to do. As a result, Balak’s plans fell apart – and God’s plan thrived. Of course Balak isn’t the only one to try to approach God and try to manipulate God for his or her own purposes. All you have to do is flip on the television or radio and you’ll hear politicians trying to use God for their personal gain or see athletes talking about how God had blessed them so they could defeat their “enemies”/opponents. All of this reminds me of how difficult it is for we human beings to allow God speak for Godself without superimposing our own ideas and agendas on the situation. Today I would invite you to explore your life to see if there are places where you have acted like Balak and projected an outcome that you are trying to force upon God. If so, remember Balaam’s words to Balak – “all God speaks, and only what God speaks, I speak” – and then stop talking and start listening to God and see where that guidance leads you. Til next time…

Thursday, October 30

Today’s Readings: Psalm 142; Numbers 22:41-23:12; Matthew 6:25-34; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17; Psalm 128

This fall I got an amazing lesson in what it means to live into Jesus’ words from today’s Gospel reading. “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now,” Jesus said, “and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes” (Matthew 6:34 from The Message). You see two months ago we learned there was a good chance my partner’s position at work might be eliminated. We weren’t sure what the timeline in the decision-making process was so we didn’t know from one day to the next whether or not he would still have a job. In addition, both of our health insurance is tied to his position so we didn’t know if we would be joining the ranks of the uninsured as well. Needless to say, I had never been in a place before where I lived in such constant stress for such a prolonged period of time. Let me say it was one of the most emotionally exhausting periods of my life. What I noticed is that gradually I began to slowly let go of the worry and live into Jesus’ words. I learned to slow let go of the things that lie beyond our control and focus on what was really important: today. After the first month (yes, I’m a slow learner) I could say I really believed that God would “help us deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” Thankfully, the situation was resolved this week when we learned that my partner still had a position in their new re-structuring. Although the position didn’t pay quite as well, there was MUCH less stress involved in his duties so things worked out very well. As I look back, I realized the experience provided me with a valuable opportunity to “study” scripture in a different way. Instead of sitting back with a pile of books around me and contemplating God’s wisdom embedded in printed words, I had the chance to literally dive into those words and experience them first hand. What an amazing and transformative experience! Perhaps there is a part of your life where worry has threatened to creep in and overtake you: a financial crisis, a health scare, a broken relationship – you name it. If that’s the case, I would encourage you to not simply re-read today’s Gospel passage but to work on living into it. It may take a while, but I guarantee that the effort will be worth it. Til next time…

Wednesday, October 29

Today’s Readings: Psalm 140; Numbers 22:21-38; Matthew 6:19-24; 2 Thessalonians 2:5-12; Psalm 64

I was recently asked to explain my call to ministry to someone I had just met. Here’s how I explained it. For the first decade of my life following my undergraduate studies, I tried a variety of things. I used my education degree, for instance, to spend 6 years teaching in a juvenile corrections facility. I loved the experience for the most part, but something was missing. I decided to seek out a position that would use my experience in community organizing so I then worked for 2 years as an HIV/AIDS outreach worker in the local health department. I loved the experience for the most part, but something was missing. In my free time during this period, I was very active in my local church – serving as both pianist and choir director among other things. I loved the experience for the most part, but something was missing. My desire to help change the world then led me to explore a career in politics as I ran for a position in the state house of representatives back in Washington State. I loved the experience for the most part, but something was missing. It wasn’t until I answer my call to come to seminary that I had my first opportunity to work in a local church. And guess what I found? I loved the experience – and nothing was missing! The local church was the one place in my life where all the pieces of my life - my treasures, if you will - came together. In other words, I discovered the truth of which Jesus spoke when he said: “The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being” (Matthew 6:21 from The Message). As I look back now, I realized that the key in answering my call was in figuring out where my treasure lie. If you are struggling to make sense of your life, spend some time today sorting out where your treasure lies. Once you figure that out, you’ll have a clearer sense of where you life is headed. Then you’ll have to ask yourself one final question: is that a place I really want to be headed? Til next time…

Tuesday, October 28

Today’s Readings: Psalm 108; Numbers 22:1-21; Matthew 6:7-15; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4; Psalm 8

When I do my daily devotions using Eugene Peterson’s paraphrased version of the Bible, I sometime struggle when a passage I’m familiar with is worded radically different that the way in which I’m use to reading it. At first the struggle between what he paraphrased and what I was familiar with caused me frustration or annoyance; eventually, however, it lead me to a deeper appreciation of Scripture. I have come to appreciate the struggle between what I experience as the new and what I know as the familiar because it draws me deeper into the words by refusing to allow me to take any of those words for granted. Today’s passage from the Gospel of Matthew is a good example of a passage that made me struggle. That’s because the passage contains most of what we know today as the Lord’s Prayer – and it uses radically different language than what I’m use to. Just as I was starting to get grumpy by the new words used for the Lord’s Prayer, I stumbled upon Peterson’s paraphrasing of verses 14-15 – and his paraphrased words put a powerful new spin on my understanding of prayer. Those verses read: “In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part” (Matthew 6:14-15 from The Message). Here’s how the text was transformative for me. You see in working with people of faith over the years I’ve realized that many folks think of prayer primarily as an activity designed to change or influence God. Some pray for Aunt Margaret, for instance, in hopes of changing or influencing God’s mind so that God will take away her cancer. Today’s passage invites us to think about prayer differently: not as an activity designed to change or influence God, but an activity designed to change or influence US. The consequence of neglecting our prayer life also takes on a different dimension when factoring in these words. Instead of defining an inactive prayer life simply in moral terms, Peterson’s paraphrase suggests that the consequences of an inactive prayer life is that you cut yourself off from what God is doing in the world. I would encourage you to sit with the paraphrasing of Jesus’ words today and see if they inform your attitude/approach toward prayer and perhaps help jump start your prayer life in new and exciting ways. Til next time…

Monday, October 27

Today’s Readings: Psalm 107; Numbers 21:4-9, 21-35; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-12

Over the last year and a half I’ve been talking about the way things are changing in the lives of local churches as people are spiritually drawn toward new ways of being that draw upon core values like authenticity and active participation. Many of our local churches have picked up on this shift, and it’s REALLY exciting to see new ways of living and worshipping together in spiritual community emerge. There’s one area, however, where things have yet to catch up. That area? Missions. Over the past 75 years, mainline churches got use to working with non-profits in the community. As a result, they adopted a way of being where churches “do” missions by primarily gathering resources to give to professionals who then in turn actually do the mission work for them. This has been a dangerous model because it created a chasm between people of faith and those whom they are helping (as if people in need weren’t themselves people of faith). Slowly but surely this paradigm is beginning to change. More and more folks are being drawn to circumstances where they come face to face with those in need. This is an encouraging development for it is one that will help bridge the chasm between the “haves” and “the have-nots” and create opportunities for transformation for all people involved. So what’s this observation have to do with any of today’s readings? Well, as we move from a paradigm for helping others that was often about public acts of service toward smaller, more intimate acts of service; Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel reading provide us with a helpful guide about how we should act. Jesus said, “When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it – quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out” (Matthew 6:4 from The Message). Today, I would invite you to examine the ways in which you help others out. Do you depend on agencies or service providers to act as go betweens between you and those in need, or do you reach out to “the other” yourself? And when you do reach out, do you do so in the manner in which Jesus called us to do so? May God’s Spirit be with us as we work to live into the service to which we - members of the body of Christ - are called. Til next time…