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.

Sunday, November 9

Today’s Readings: Psalm 78:1-7; Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25; Matthew 25:1-13; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

This fall I’ve had the opportunity to observe a magical hour every other week in the church I serve. The hour occurs on the second and fourth Sunday mornings of each month from 9:00 AM – 10:00 AM. And what is this magical hour? It’s an hour we call Spirit Seekers. Spirit Seekers is an intergenerational spiritual formation time we’ve set up that invites individuals between the ages of 4-80 years old to come together and explore the Scripture used in worship that Sunday. This time of exploration includes music, art, scripture and prayer among other things. And what exactly is it that makes the time together so special? Well, it’s a time when all of the participants have the opportunity to experience firsthand what the psalmist was getting when he cried out: “Stories we heard from our fathers, counsel we learned at our mother’s knee. We’re not keeping this to ourselves; we’re passing it along to the next generation – God’s fame and fortune, the marvelous things God has done” (Psalm 78:2-4 from The Message). Many folks would hear these words and assume that it’s the children who benefit most from the experience. They’re not. I believe It’s actually the adults who benefit most. I say that because the experience allows each adult the opportunity to view his or her faith through the eyes of the next generation. What a powerful (and transformative) opportunity that is! All of this makes me wonder if you’ve found an opportunity to share your faith with the next generation. Of course there are literally dozens of ways you can do this – through the experience of a shared service project, by teaching them a sacred story from our faith tradition, or by talking with them honestly about how your faith helped guide you on your path toward adulthood. If you take and share your faith with the next generation, you just might discover that the one who benefits most is you! Til next time…

Saturday, November 8

Today’s Readings: Psalm 119:73-96; Ruth 2:14-23; Matthew 24:29-35; 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12; Psalm 8

What an amazing and life-affirming week of ministry I had this week! Now when most folks hear me make such a statement, they would assume I dealt primarily with people in positive situations. That wasn’t the case; instead, I dealt with people dealing with a variety of challenges. I had the opportunity to spend time with people coping with unemployment/underemployment, individuals living with chronic illnesses, people wrestling with mental health issues, and those in transitional living situations. So how would anyone in their right mind consider a week full of such challenges amazing and life-affirming? It’s because each of the individuals I dealt with in these circumstances showed me what it’s like to live out one’s faith at times when doing so isn’t easy. In other words, these were people would could certainly relate to Naomi’s words to her daughter-in-law Ruth when she said, “God hasn’t quite walked out on us after all! God still loves us, in bad times as well as good!” (Ruth 2:20 from The Message). Each of the people I dealt with helped reinforce a faith-based approach toward life that helped me once again understand that the quality of our days isn’t defined by the events that occur within them; the quality of our days is determined by our relationship with God - no matter what the circumstances we face. Maybe you're in a place where you've let the circumstances you've faced defined the quality of life (in either a positive or negative way). If that’s the case, take some time today to look for God’s presence in the midst of your day. Once you re-connect with that powerful sense of God’s presence you - like Naomi - will be able to cry out, "God still loves us, in bad times as well as good" and really mean it! Til next time…

Friday, November 7

Today’s Readings: Psalm 97; Ruth 2:1-13; Matthew 24:15-28; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8; Psalm 94

It would be easy for us to buy into the popular misconception that you have to be rich and powerful in order to make a difference in the world. To buy into that notion would be a huge mistake, however, for the sacred stories of our faith often teach us the very opposite. Case in point: Ruth. By most standards, Ruth was someone whom you would least expect to make a difference in the world. At every critical juncture in her life, Ruth made what most people would feel were the wrong decisions. When her husband died prematurely and Ruth had the chance to advance herself by marrying someone else, for instance, what did she do? Did she take advantage of the opportunity and marry someone rich and powerful? No. Ruth chose to stay at the side of her widowed mother-in-law. When she had the opportunity to remain in the safety and security of her home land following her husband’s death, what did Ruth do? She chose to follow Naomi into an unknown land. And when given the opportunity to work hard and secure resources that she could have hoarded for herself, what did Ruth do? She chose to share those limited resources with Naomi. Most folks would look at Ruth and her decisions and assume she was simply a doormat who made no difference in the world whatsoever. To draw such a conclusion would be a HUGE mistake for today’s passage tells us that Ruth’s quiet yet noble acts did make a difference: they caught the attention of Boaz and set in motion a chain of events that eventually led to their marriage. And if that wasn’t enough, one shouldn’t forget that Ruth later became not only the great-grandmother to King David – she also ended up being included in Jesus’ lineage! All of this is to say that as people of faith we have very different standards when it comes to understanding what it takes to make a difference in the world. Instead of establishing lives based on riches, we seek lives built on faith. Instead of acquiring power, we lead lives of humble service. Perhaps you are at a point in your life where you’ve wondered what difference your life has made. If that’s where you are, think of Ruth's story and you’ll be reminded what a huge difference simple acts of faith and trust can make in the big picture. Til next time…

Thursday, November 6

Today’s Readings: Psalm 37; Numbers 35:1-3, 9-15, 30-34; Matthew 24:1-14; 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13; Psalm 14

One of the most basic questions people of faith wrestle with is the question of theodicy. Theodicy can basically be defined by the age-old question: “Why do bad things happen to people?” Most folks who ask this question don’t even realize the theology that they’ve bought into that gives rise to the question. And what theology is that? The theology that suggests God rewards those who do good things and punishes those who do bad things. In today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus really throws a wrench into this kind of thinking as he talks about the end days. Jesus said, “They are going to throw you to the wolves and kill you, everyone hating you because you carry my name. And then, going from bad to worse, it will be dog-eat-dog, everyone at each other’s throat, everyone hating each other” (Matthew 24:9-10 from The Message). So much for the notion of the good receiving only rewards, eh. Some might hear these words and wonder, “What’s the point then in living in relationship with this God revealed in Jesus?” While the words may sound off-putting on the surface, there are actually concepts that can help and/or strengthen one’s faith buried within those words. You see, Jesus words would help us take the question I asked earlier (“Why do bad things happen to good people?”) and redo the phrase until it is transformed into “Bad/Good things happen to ALL people!” So how can these downer words help and/or strengthen one’s faith? Well, when bad things happen in our lives as Christians, we don’t have to spend hours asking ourselves, “What did I do to deserve this bad thing?” Instead, we can react by asking ourselves, “What am I going to do with this bad thing?” Conversely, when something good happens to what we perceives to be a bad person, we don’t have to ask, “Why did that good thing happen to what I perceive to be that bad person?” Instead, we can ask, “How am I going to deal with the good thing that happened to what I perceive of as that bad person?” In each case, the questions we ask shift the focus from us trying to completely figure God out (as if that would ever happen!) to us trying to figure out our own faith. Today, as you encounter what you might initially feel are the injustices perpetuated around you, remember Jesus’ words from Matthew and use them as an opportunity to gain insight into the depths of your own faith. You might not understand the multi-faceted nature of God better at the end of the day – but you will get in touch with your own beliefs and expectations about God. Til next time…

Wednesday, November 5

Today’s Readings: Psalm 118; Numbers 32:1-6, 16-27; Matthew 23:29-39; 1 Thessalonians 3:6-10; Psalm 74

Today’s second Psalm entered my life at a perfect juncture – for I can certainly identify with the feelings contained in its opening verse: “You walked off and left us, and never looked back. God, how could you do that?” (Psalm 74:1 from The Message). So what’s going on in my life that caused me to feel that way? Well, the bittersweet experience I had last night as the election returns were broadcast. I characterize my experience as bittersweet because I had such mixed feelings: I was thrilled to see our nation move past one significant social barrier as it elected its first president of color. It was truly amazing to see this barrier overcome!! And yet at the same time, I was overcome with despair by the fact that portions of our country once again embraced their commitment to discriminating against a segment of the population. Last night there were measures on the ballot in at least four states that significantly limited the human rights of gay, lesbian, transgender, & bisexual individuals. Every one of these measures passed. GLBT people in Arizona, Arkansas, California & Florida all had their human rights limited by the voters! If anyone would feel as if God walked off and left them, it would be folks in these communities. On a day when many are reveling in triumph, my hope and prayer is that today we will remember those folks who are mired in despair. May God’s grace and peace sustain them until we arrive at a time in our country where all of God’s children are loved, valued, and embraced. Til next time…

Tuesday, November 4

Today’s Readings: Psalm 15; Numbers 27:12-23; Matthew 23:23-28; 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5; Psalm 19

The timing of today’s reading from Numbers couldn’t be better for the passage tells us the story of the transition of power from Moses to Joshua. On this Election Day we are anticipating a transition of leadership on many levels as well. So what do today’s words from Numbers tell us about such transitions that might be helpful for us to navigate this Election Day and beyond? Well, there are a couple of things that I took from the passage. The first thing I took is a reminder that no one human leader will accomplish all of the work him or herself. Moses is a great example of this. Here is one of the greatest leaders in the history of Israel – a person who led the people out of bondage, across the Red Sea, and through the desert. And yet did he ultimately get the privilege of leading the people into the Promised Land? No. He was content to hand off the proverbial baton to the individual who would take them on the next leg of their journey. Whoever is elected today will have that same humbling experience of starting things but handing off the baton to others as well. Second, the passage reminds me that a great leader knows where to turn to for guidance – and let’s just say it wasn’t the public opinion polls that was their source of authority: it was God. Let’s pray that whoever is elected today will have the same sense of wisdom and humility to turn to that same Source. The third lesson I will carry with me today isn’t explicitly spelled out in the text – it’s something that I read into it. In the days that followed the transition, it was not up to Joshua to do all of the work for the people. Rather, Joshua simply provided guidance and a general sense of direction. It was ultimately up to each Israelite to faithfully live out their lives in the manner they felt called in order for the nation to be established on solid footing. Same thing goes for us today. We will be in sorry shape if we expect either Barack Obama or John McCain to fix everything for us. Every challenge they face – from deciding when to employ our military troops to alleviating the challenges of global warming to helping revive our declining economy – will ultimately be decided by the values and practices of the people who will have to muster the will to live into those future policies. So at this awesome moment of transition, let us remember today’s passage from Numbers and realize that today the journey isn’t ending – it is only just beginning. And no matter who should win the election today, let us NEVER lose hope – for the One authority figure who matters most will carry us through all of the days before us. Let us remember that and ultimately keep our faith in the one place where it belongs: in God. Til next time…

Monday, November 3

Today’s Readings: Psalm 150; Numbers 24:12-25; Matthew 23:13-22; 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16; Psalm 13

Being a teacher is an incredibly demanding calling. Anyone who has done it will undoubtedly agree with me. Teaching is demanding for lots of reasons. One of those is the challenge of dealing with developing minds who are often looking for a way out (or – at the very least - a way around) the things you might ask of them. This can be tremendously taxing on the teacher. Let me give you an example of what I mean. I taught in a juvenile corrections facility so we had to be pretty strict about the behavioral rules in the classroom. One of those rules in the school was “Do not get out of your chair without permission from the teacher”. One day we had an emergency lock down due to an incident in the facility. When the alarm went off indicating student were to gather at their classroom door so they could be lead back to their cells, I was in the next classroom helping the neighboring teacher with something. Most of the kids in my classroom instinctively knew that the alarm meant they should line up at the door and get ready to move. One of my students, however, remained seated with a smug look on his face. When I returned to the classroom and asked him why he hadn’t gotten in line, he said: “The rules here say ‘do not get out of your chair without permission from the teacher’ so I followed them.” His words annoyed me because we both knew he wasn’t really trying to follow the rules; he was simply trying to get my goat. What he had lost sight of was the intent of the rule – which was to keep people safe so they didn’t get in trouble with other students while they wandering around. If he had truly understood the intent of the rules, he would have known what to do and not tried to slide by on a technicality. This is the same dynamic Jesus was trying to address in today’s Gospel reading from Matthew where he was addressing a group of people who were also looking for a way around things on technicalities. He got so frustrated that he called the group of religious authorities “frauds” and said: “Your lives are roadblocks to God’s kingdom” (Matthew 23:13 from The Message). My situation with the student and Jesus’ encounter with the religious authorities remind me that its easy for us to become so enamored with the trappings of religion that we can lose sight of what’s most important – our living, breathing relationship with our Creator. Today, I would invite you to examine your life and see if there are places where you have lost sight of what really matters – places where you are trying to slide by on technicalities. My hope is that as you and I do our work today, there will be a few less roadblocks to the establishment of God’s kingdom. Til next time…