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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.

On Vacation

I'm on vacation from today through Tuesday, November 18.  I'll be posting when I return.

Friday, November 14

Today’s Readings: Psalm 124; Amos 3:1-15; John 11:30-44; 2 Peter 2:10b-16; Psalm 74

We human beings can be awfully hard on one another. Without fully realizing it, we can fall into the “nothing is ever good enough” routine. Take today’s Gospel reading from John, for example. When Jesus shows up in the city of Mary, Martha and Lazarus to tend to the situation, how was Jesus greeted by Mary? He was greeted by the words, “… if only you had been here, my brother would not have died”. And when Jesus allowed himself to be fully open and vulnerable and weep in response to Lazarus’ death, how did some of the people respond? By saying, “… if he loved [Lazarus] so much, why didn’t he do something to keep him from dying?” It must have been exhausting to be around such a constant barrage of negativity. It would be nice to think that such cynical thinking was left behind in the first century. Unfortunately it wasn’t. Many have held onto the old “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is” mentality – keeping them locked into this cycle of constant negativity. One of the hardest things for us to do these days is open ourselves to even the possibility of good. Today, I would invite you to monitor yourself and see what sort of perspective you bring to life. Are you someone who sees things primarily from a negative perspective, or are you able to find the positive as well? As you watch yourself throughout the day and begin to recognize your patterns, don’t hesitate to ask for God’s help if you struggle to find the positive. Til next time…

Thursday, November 13

Today’s Readings: Psalm 83; Amos 2:1-16; John 11:17-29; 2 Peter 2:1-10a; Psalm 116

There are some folks whose spiritual lives are driven by their focus on the afterlife. The thought of having something to look forward to after a life filled with pain and sorrow can indeed be a comforting thought. My approach toward my spiritual life has been much different than this. The focus of my spiritual life has not been on the afterlife – it’s been on the here and now. And why is that? It’s because I’m a strong believer that when you enter into a transformative relationship with God you don’t have to wait to start reaping the benefits: you can experience those benefits (i.e. peace, love, joy and the fruits of the Spirit) right now. I say all of this because it explains why a piece of today’s Gospel reading from John resonated with me so strongly. In speaking to the Mary and Martha following the death of their brother Lazarus, we are told that Jesus said: “You don’t have to wait for the End. I am, right now, Resurrection and Life” (John 11:25 from The Message). Time after time I’ve seen first hand evidence of the “Resurrection and Life” in the here and now. I’ve seen, for instance, people whose lives had once been dominated by alcohol be resurrected and come to life once they quit drinking; I’ve seen co-dependent people whose lives had been driven and defined by others be resurrected and come to life once they developed a healthy set of boundaries in their life; I’ve seen people who were facing physical and mental health issues whose lives could have easily been defined by their disease be resurrected and develop a sense of hope and vitality that transcended any diagnosis they had been given. Today, I would ask you: “Are there evidences of the Resurrection and Life in your life today?” As you find those pieces of evidence, I would invite you to take a moment and thank God for all the ways God has brought a taste of new life into your life. Right here! Right now! Til next time…

Wednesday, November 12

Today’s Readings: Psalm 25; Amos 1:1-15; John 11:1-16; 2 Peter 1:12-21; Psalm 33

One of the dominant themes cutting across today’s readings is the theme of prophecy. The reading from Amos, for instance, includes prophecies against foreign nations. In John, we hear Jesus predict first the death and then the resurrection of Lazarus. Even today’s Epistle gets in the act by talking about the nature of prophecy as well. The culminating verses of today’s passage from 2 Peter note that when it comes to the topic of prophecy, “The main thing to keep in mind here is that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of private opinion. And why? Because it’s not something concocted in the human heart. Prophecy resulted when the Holy Spirit prompted men and women to speak God’s word” (2 Peter 1:20-21 from The Message). So what exactly is this thing called prophecy that we are dealing with today? Thankfully, I had a wonderful class in seminary from one of the leading scholars on prophets and he helped me understand the concept in a more inclusive manner. You see most of us think prophecy is narrowly defined as accurately predicting the future (i.e. “On Sunday, November 23 at 12:30 PM an earthquake will hit Southern California”). That’s not the way most of the prophets functioned – especially in the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament. Most of the prophets functioned in such a way that they predicted the outcomes if individuals/nations continued in their present courses of action (i.e. “If you continue oppressing the poor, your nation will be defeated; if you clean up your actions, prosperity will rain down on your children”). In other words, they laid out for the people the consequences of their actions and then let the people decide how they wanted to live into those promises. When you look at prophecy this way, it helps us see that more of us have the opportunities to prophecy than we realize. Individuals working in a company, for instance, have the opportunity to speak truth about the consequences of their business practices; individuals in a family with an alcoholic can speak the truth about what may (or may not) happen due to the choices the alcoholic makes; individuals within a church can talk about what will happen if the church loses sight of its call and aspires to become something other than a piece of the body of Christ. In order for these things to happen, however, the individuals involved must be grounded in the Spirit which can help them see glimpses of possible futures that are bigger than just the individual's limited perspective. Perhaps you have been placed in a position where you can speak a prophetic truth at work, at home, or in the community. If that’s the case, remember today’s words from 2 Peter and find the strength to speak those words for – after all – those words you have been called to speak are not a matter of private opinion; the words belong to Someone else. Til next time…

Tuesday, November 11

Today’s Readings: Psalm 1; Ruth 3:14-4:6; Matthew 24:44-51; 2 Peter 1:5-11; Psalm 81

In my first teaching job out of college, I had a supervisor that I looked up to immensely. She was a woman who I thought struck the perfect balance between pragmatism and idealism. She had a real heart for the students in our juvenile detention school and a sense for what we teachers needed in order to do our jobs. The first year we worked together I thought she could do no wrong. Apparently I wasn’t alone in thinking that for after just a year, she got a huge promotion and went to work for the state department of education. One day while I was on vacation, I called her up and arranged to meet her for dinner when I was passing through the city she now lived. The dinner started out great, but then something happened. The waiter made a mistake with her order. I didn’t think this was a big deal, but apparently my former boss did. She made a huge scene as she publicly humiliated the waiter. I was mortified at her behavior! In that one moment, much of the respect I had felt for my former boss melted away. I realized she knew how to treat the people that mattered to her career but was clueless about how to treat anyone she considered inconsequential in her life. The author of today’s passage from 2 Peter made a point of addressing the importance of connecting our faith with basic human decency when he wrote: “So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others” (2 Peter 1:5-6 from The Message). Those words reminds us that our faith isn’t just an internal matter that simply affects how we think or feel – our faith ought to be something that spills out into every facet of our being in the external world as well. People ought to look at us – as a popular hymn suggests - and “know we are Christians by our love.” All of this makes me wonder: “If a third-party observer were to watch you at one of those ‘insignificant’ moments in your life as you interact with an ‘inconsequential person’, would that third party see those qualities of good character evident in you? As you go forth today, realize that when it comes to living out our faith there truly is no insignificant moment or inconsequential person. Til next time…

Monday, November 10

Today’s Readings: Psalm 76; Ruth 3:1-13; Matthew 24:36-43; 2 Peter 1:1-4; Psalm 90

During my sabbatical last year, I read Eugene Peterson’s book titled “The Contemplative Pastor”. In the book, he identified a couple of traits that should define an effective pastor. One of the traits Peterson identified was “unbusy”. By this, Peterson meant a pastor should be flexible enough so that the pastor can find time to both spiritually nurture her/himself and be available to others without making them feel like they are imposing upon her/him. I would certainly agree with that first trait. A second trait Peterson listed is that an effective pastor should be apocryphal. By this, Peterson meant that the spiritual leader should convey a sense of urgency in regards to one’s faith. This theme of urgency runs through both yesterday and today’s Gospel readings. Both of those passages stress being spiritually ready at all times since you won’t know the precise moment when God will appear. Now most folks think of urgency in terms of reward and punishment (i.e. if you’re ready when God appear, you’ll go to heaven; if you aren’t, you’ll go to hell). I don’t relate to the notion of urgency that way at all. I think of urgency as a sort of oar that you are diligent about keeping in the water that keeps you headed in the right track. If you become complacent about keeping your oar in the water, your life will wander off aimlessly. If you are diligent about keeping your oar in the water, however, you’ll head in the right track. Same thing with our spiritual lives. If we are complacent about our relationship with God, we allow other things to take over our life and we start to meander. If we are diligent about our relationship with God, on the other hand, we find comfort and peace of mind in knowing that we are headed in the right direction. In other words, I believe a sense of urgency isn’t something that just pays off in the distant future - it’s something that affects the quality of our spiritual life each and every day. So how do you view having a sense of urgency in your spiritual life? Is it something designed simply to get you into heaven, or does it have a larger, more active role in your day-to-day life? Til next time…