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Help support the vision of Woodland Hills Community Church!
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Sunday, December 14

Today’s Readings: Psalm 126; Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; John 1:6-8, 19-28; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

A few years ago here in Denver, we had quite a bit of controversy over an event called The Parade of Lights. According to the early tradition of the event, floats were not allowed in the parade that had religious themes. This was done in an attempt to make the parade a safe place for people of all faiths to come. A few years ago, however, a Christian group decided that they were no longer willing to abide by the tradition. They demanded that they be able to include their own religiously-themed float in the parade. The controversy stirred up folks on all sides of the issue. As I listened to folks process the controversy, I was fascinated by those Christians who were so adamant about the inclusion of the float. These folks honestly couldn’t understand why anyone would be opposed to their float! If these individuals would have paid closer attention to the larger community around them, they might have understood why some were so opposed to their participation. You see there are lots of folks who have been severely hurt by things done in Jesus’ name. As a result, they want nothing to do with anything that could be construed as a celebration of this Christ-child. A huge piece of our call as progressive Christians is to help some of these wounded individuals realize that the essence of Christ has nothing to do with the hurtful behavior of some of Jesus’ so-called followers. In other words, we need to present them with a picture of the Jesus we know –the one who was sent to preach good news to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to announce freedom to the captives, and to pardon all prisoners. During this Advent season, I would encourage you to hold on tightly to Isaiah’s wonderful description of the coming savior. Those words paint a vivid picture of the one’s whose arrival is truly good news for us all! Til next time…

Saturday, December 13

Today’s Readings: Psalm 52; Hosea 13:4-9; Matthew 23:29-39; 1 Thessalonians 5:8-15; Psalm 10

Several years ago my parents joined the local chapter of a weight-loss group called TOPS. The acronym stands for: Take Off Pounds Sensibly. Right away they fell in love with the group and started getting immediate results. One day I was visiting with my Mom and she was raving about the group. “I’ve never been in a group that’s friendlier and more genuinely supportive of one another,” she said. “You really feel like every one is rooting for you!” “Really,” I paused before adding, “not even in church?” There was a moment of quiet. You see my Mom is one of the most devoted people I’ve ever met in my life when it comes to her participation in her local church. In fact she’s belonged to the same one for each and every one of her 73 years! “Nope, not even church.” As someone who is deeply committed to the life of our local churches, I asked, “Why not? Why don’t our local churches provide the kind of support that this weight-loss group can provide?” And my question started a long discussion on the current state of our local churches. The highlights of that conversation sounded a lot like the words that Paul wrote in today’s passage from 1 Thessalonians – for that passage spells out the things my mom valued in her weight-loss group – things that were missing from her local church. The members of the weight-loss group honor the lay leaders in their community - unlike many of our local churches who constantly criticize their lay leadership. They overwhelm their lay leaders in their community with appreciation and love - unlike many of our local churches that shower their leaders with angry phone calls and rigid demands. The weight-loss group also encouraged stragglers and reached out for those who were exhausted rather than expecting the new people or visitors fit in and simply pretend to be “our kind of people”. And finally, the members of the weight-loss group regularly looked for the best in each other and not the worst. As I listened to Mom’s words, I told her, “It sounds like you have found a real church. One that meets on Thursdays rather than Sundays: one that meets in a gymnasium rather than a sanctuary.” She smiled. “Now, I have a homework assignment for you,” I added. “What’s that?” “Take those values and those ways of being from your TOPS group and bring them back into the life of your local church.” Today, I would give you a similar assignment. If you are involved in a local church or faith community that isn’t living up to the words Paul gave us today in the passage from 1 Thessalonians, embody those words yourselves and take them to church with you. Whatever you do DO NOT sit back and wait for others to do that first - or you might find yourself waiting a long time for Paul’s values to show up in your faith community! You might be surprised when the entire dynamics of your faith community begin to shift simply because of your new way of being. It won’t take long before your local church ceases to settle for simply being an institution and allows itself to be transformed into something much better: the body of Christ. Til next time…

Friday, December 12

Today’s Readings: Psalm 50; Hosea 12:2-9; Matthew 23:23-28; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-7; Psalm 49

Lots of times words or phrases are used in the Bible that are very abstract – so abstract, in fact, that they are difficult to wrap your mind around. That’s why I try to take advantage of every opportunity to take those abstract concepts and flesh them out in very concrete ways by tying them to real-life circumstances. Take the phrase that Paul uses in today’s reading from 1 Thessalonians – “sons and daughters of the Light”. What do those words really mean? Well, Paul tried to flesh the phrase out a bit when he describes sons and daughters of the Light as those who “live under wide open skies and know where [they] stand” (1 Thessalonians 5:4 from The Message). That still doesn’t bring total clarity to my mind, however. What did bring some clarity to my mind regarding this concept was the recent experience I had journeying with a family whose husband/father spent the last two weeks in Hospice. The individual passed away last night just before midnight. During that sacred journey, the family taught me what it meant to live under wide open skies and to know where they stood. That’s because the family had developed deep and loving relationships with one another that left literally nothing unsaid. In the critical moments before their husband/father’s transition, the family stood beside one another with a complete sense of integrity as they loved one another not for who they wanted the other to be, but for who the other really was. Talk about living uder open skies and knowing where you stand! That concrete, tangible experience helped me experience the sacred words from today’s text on a much deeper level. The next time you run across words or phrases in Scripture whose ambiguity causes you some confusion, take those words and put them into the context of your life and see if their application to a everyday life circumstance might help bring further clarity into your mind and spirit. Til next time…

Thursday, December 11

Today’s Readings: Psalm 100; Hosea 11:8-12; Matthew 23:13-22; Philippians 4:4-7; Psalm 86

When I was younger and in my full-blown activist stage, I use to joke that my definition of hell was being in the same place as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell for eternity and my definition of heaven was NOT being in the same place as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell for eternity. That “joke” was a sad attempt by myself to mask the pain and frustration the public ministries of these two individuals had caused me. As I have gotten older and matured (at least I hope I’ve matured), I no longer repeat that joke. In many ways that joke took our human standards and values (i.e. when dealing with opinions that are polar opposites, one has to be right and one has to be wrong) and projected them onto God. That’s a tragic mistake to make. As I have grown in my understanding of my faith, I’m able to better connect with the wisdom contained in today’s passage from Philippians that points us toward a much different reality. As we continue to live into the realm of God, the author notes: “Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life” (Philippians 4:7 from The Message). I can now lay down my “worries” about who is theologically right and who is theologically wrong from a human perspective (Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell or myself) and look forward to a time when Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell can sit down WITH myself in God’s absolute truth and grace and celebrate the One (and only One) who was right all along: God. What a sense of peace and wholeness that vision of God’s reign brings! Til next time…

Wednesday, December 10

Today’s Readings: Psalm 78; Hosea 11:1-7; Matthew 23:1-12; Acts 13:16-25

Lots of folks have issues with aspects of the Scripture. Some, for instance, will rebel against some of the positions it takes on social issues (i.e. its treatment of women and its position on same-gender sexual activity). Others will rail against its endorsement of violence against those viewed as God’s enemies in the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament. I have a different issue with some pieces of Scripture. I wrestle with the way some present God in an anthropomorphic way that makes God look and act no different than you or I would (i.e. if we like God and treat God well, then God will like us and treat us well; if we don’t like God and don’t treat God well, then God won’t like us and treat us well). It’s nearly impossible for me to connect with a God whose capacity for love and mercy is no greater than our own. I love those pieces of Scripture, then, that point us toward a God whose capacities are far greater than our own – pieces like today’s reading from Hosea. As today’s passage from Hosea culminates, the prophet tells us that God says: “I can’t bear to even think such thoughts. My insides churn in protest. And so I’m not going to act on my anger. I’m not going to destroy Ephraim. And why? Because I’m God and not a human. I’m The Holy One and I’m here – in your very midst” (Hosea 11:7 from The Message). So how do you see God? Do you see God as a being whose capacity for love and mercy is similar to our capacities, or do you see God as a being whose capacity for love and mercy is far greater than ours? Til next time…

Tuesday, December 9

Today’s Readings: Psalm 80; Hosea 10:1-12; Matthew 17:9-13; Acts 19:1-17; Psalm 36

It’s certainly understandable that many of us find ourselves in situations where we want to take shortcuts in life. When it comes to Christmas, for instance, it’s easy for us to think that we can capture the Christmas spirit if we simply watch a favorite Christmas movie on television, bake holiday goodies to share with loved ones, or attend a social gathering with family, friends, or co-workers. On the surface, these are all activities that people engulfed in the Christmas spirit might partake in. Here’s the difference, however. Folks who have the Christmas spirit do these things because they already have the Christmas spirit within them; they don’t do these things in order to get the Christmas spirit. In today’s reading from Acts, we are introduced to another group of people who got things a bit mixed up as well. In that passage we met a group of itinerant exorcists who were enthralled with the miraculous things that Paul could accomplish. Instead of taking the time to build a relationship with the One who could empower them to do those miraculous things, they tried to take a short cut and do those things without first building the relationship with God. Needless to say, things didn’t turn out so well for them. While it’s easy to sit back and criticize the exorcists for their approach, it’s not uncommon to run into modern day versions of these folks. These folks want to bypass - or completely ignore – God in their day-to-day life; then life throws them a curveball (i.e. they face a sudden illness or a period of unemployment); and they expect a magical fix to solve their problems at hand. During this season of Advent when we are blessed with the opportunity to slow down and contemplate the conditions of our heart in anticipation of the coming of the Christ child, my prayer is that we will use this time to continue to build a healthy, vital relationship with the God of Jesus – not a “relationship” dependent on what rabbit God can pull out of the hat for us. Til next time…

Monday, December 8

Today’s Readings: Psalm 40; Hosea 8:11-14; Matthew 20:20-28; 1 Peter 1:13-25; Psalm 32

I was recently talking to an individual preparing for ministry. We were talking about some of the sacrifices a person makes when she/he responds to her/his call to ordained ministry. Now some of those sacrifices individuals make are pretty obvious to most folks. Other of the sacrifices, however, are not. One of the less obvious sacrifices a person called to ministry makes is the way the one’s call affects one’s experience of the holidays. This is particularly true of Christmas. You see growing up, most of us got lost in the experience of the joy and wonder of the Christmas season and could lose ourselves in a variety of experiences ranging from long coffees with friends to spontaneous shopping trips with family members to attending a variety of worship services and special events. Once you step across the threshold into ordained ministry, however, your life change dramatically. Instead of having these special moments for ourselves, our lives become focused on helping other people have those experiences of joy and wonder. Many of us clergy are lucky if we can even find time to get our Christmas cards out by the middle of January. So what got me thinking along these lines? It was Jesus’ comments to the mother of James and Zebedee when she asked if her boys could receive places of honor next to Jesus. Jesus responded to the “boys” themselves in the form of a question: “Are you capable of drinking the cup that I’m about to drink” (Matthew 20:22 from The Message). Of course, most of us focus on the radical implications of discipleship when we read those words (i.e. the willingness to give up our life). And that certainly is a part of what Jesus was getting at. But I don’t think that’s all Jesus was getting at. The implications of REALLY putting God first in your life fan out in a thousand different directions. And sometimes the things those implications ask us to give up are far more personal and far more difficult than we ever imagined! Today, I would invite you to sit with Jesus’ question to James and Zebedee: “Are you capable of drinking the cup that I’m about to drink?” Think about the implications of that question – the various aspects of your life that Jesus’ question would reach. Til next time…