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.

Saturday, February 7

Today’s Readings: Psalm 143; Joshua 6:15-27; John 6:52-59; 1 Corinthians 7:25-31; Psalm 33

This week, I’ve been thinking about the idea of what it means to be restored. This is because tomorrow’s Gospel lesson on which I’ll preach includes the story of Peter’s mother-in-law’s restoration to health. One of the questions I’ve been wrestling with is this: “Does being restored mean we return to the status quo?” I found one possible answer in today’s first reading from the Psalms. In Psalm 143, the psalmist observed: “I sat there in despair, my spirit draining away, my heart heavy, like lead. I remember the old days, went over all you’ve done…” Those sentiments almost make it sound as if restoration were simply a return to the good old days. But just before I rested in that conclusion, the psalmist threw in a twist in my direction. The psalmist wrote: “Teach me how to live to please you, because you’re my God. Lead me by your blessed Spirit into cleared and level pastureland” (Psalm 143:9-10 from The Message). This language suggests restoration is anything but a return to normal. The language suggests restoration might involve learning new things and finding new pasturelands. As you find yourself sitting there in you own despair and crying out for restoration, take a moment and consider what restoration might mean in the context of your life. Then ask yourself if you are ready for those new learnings and new pasturelands. Til next time…

Friday, February 6

Today’s Readings: Psalm 42; Joshua 6:1-14; John 6:41-51; 1 Corinthians 7:17-24; Psalm 135

I was talking yesterday with a seminary student about the emerging movement. During our hour and a half together, she asked some great questions. One of those was about how individuals from the emerging movement wrestled with questions involving religious pluralism. It was a great question. “The way I see it,” I told her, “people often read too much into the words of an individual. When I say, ‘I best experience the fullness of God as revealed through Jesus’,” I continued, “I’m not using that statement as an indictment against people of other faiths. Instead, it’s simply an assertion of where I find my spiritual home.” Consequently, I can hear the words from today’s Gospel reading from John and connect with the words attributed to Jesus – for the essence of God revealed through Jesus has helped put me together, has helped set me on my feet, and has helped get me ready (John 6:44 from The Message). So where are you at with all of this? Do you perceive any faith claim on your part to be judgmental of others and avoid them at all costs; or do you understand your faith claim as an attempt to embrace something rather than reject another? Til next time…

Thursday, February 5

Today’s Readings: Psalm 61; Joshua 5:2-15; John 6:28-40; 1 Corinthians 7:12-16; Psalm 59

Recently I was talking with a group of friends about a variety of things when the topic turned to when it was appropriate to make a public stand in defense of one’s faith. I shared with my friends an experience I had a couple of years ago when I was asked to testify at the State Capitol regarding a bill. The group who was working to defeat the bill asked me if I would wear a clerical collar when I testified. Their hope was that the collar would visually emphasize my pastoral authority as I testified. I agreed to wear it. In reflecting on the experience after it was over, I deeply regretted wearing the clerical collar. “Why?” I was asked. “I regretted my decision,” I said, “because it created the appearance that all ‘good’ Christians felt one way about the bill. I don’t believe that’s the case. I believe that there were Christians on both sides of the issue, and I deeply regretted disenfranchising those faithful Christians who saw things differently than I.” So what reminded me of that conversation? Today’s passage from Joshua. In that passage, Joshua was standing near Jericho when he saw a man suddenly appear holding a drawn sword. Joshua stepped up to the man and said, “Whose side are you on – ours or our enemies?” Joshua’s question beautifully encapsulated the way that many of us see our faith – as if there are only two sides to every issue: my way and the wrong way. The man’s answer challenged such an approach when he said: “Neither. I’m commander of God’s army.” Today, I would ask you to examine the depths of your heart and ask yourself: “How do I approach the world? Do I approach it as if there are only two ways (my way and the wrong way); or do I approach it in such a way that I’m open to a third way – God’s?” Til next time…

Wednesday, February 4

Today’s Readings: Psalm 131; Joshua 4:19-5:1; John 6:16-27; 1 Corinthians 7:8-11; Psalm 121

One of the most popular clich├ęs in our culture is: “The grass is always greener on the other side”. I can understand its popularity since we are a culture that is geared toward always wanting to be in a different social location. When we are a child, for instance, we are frustrated by the limitations placed on us so we want to be an adult (i.e. 21). When we are 21, we are just starting out and feel frustrated by our financial limitations so we want to be older so that we can have more money and power (i.e. 35). When we are 35, we are overwhelmed by the many demands on our lives and wish for more time and freedom to explore our interests so we start longing for retirement (i.e. 65). When we are 65, we are frustrated by our emerging health issues and fixed income so we wish we were younger. We are fickle, aren’t we?! One of the most elusive things for us as human beings is to achieve a sense of happiness and satisfaction in our present life circumstance. Paul picks up this theme in today’s passage from 1 Corinthians where he speaks to individuals in different circumstances. In speaking to single individuals, for instance, Paul exhorts them to consider the fact that “singleness might well be the best thing for them”. In speaking to those who are married, he says plainly “stay married”. In other words, Paul encourages us to consider the radical notion that perhaps the grass where you are is green enough. So where are you at with this in your own life? Are you someone who focuses on the patches of grass on adjacent fields, or are you able to focus on (and appreciate) the grass in your own field? My hope for all of us is that we can find a greater degree of appreciation for our own patch of grass. Til next time…

Tuesday, February 3

Today’s Readings: Psalm 63; Joshua 4:1-18; John 6:1-15; 1 Corinthians 7:1-7; Psalm 47

Now that my parents have gotten older (my mom is 73 and my dad is 80), they’ve gotten more concerned about preparing things for after they’re gone. This means each year when I go back for a visit, I usually return home with something they want me to have. A few years ago, their thoughts turned to more formal remembrances as they were working on their wills. In discussing what of their bigger possessions I wanted, I said: “I only want two things.” I told them the first thing I wanted the first (and only) oil painting that my mother painted in her painting class 30 years ago; and the second thing I wanted was the plaque my father received commemorating his 20 years of service on the local school board. “Why would you want those things?” my mother asked. “Well, the oil painting serves as a reminder of how much you loved me – enough to give up the painting lessons you had wanted for years just so that I could take piano lessons. And the plaque reminds me of the two values most important to dad besides his family: learning and service. That’s why I want those things.” I was reminded of that conversation with my mother when I read today’s passage from Joshua. In that passage, we hear how God instructs Joshua to have the people lay down twelve stones at their camp site in order to mark the lengths to which God had gone to for them. The rocks they deposited – much like my mother’s oil painting and my father’s school board plaque – became tangible reminders of how much they were loved and cared for: things that carried them through the most difficult times of their lives in the desert. If you were to create a memorial that captured the essence of your experience of God’s love and presence in your life when you most needed it, what would that memorial look like? If it’s possible, find some time and space and physically create that memorial. On some days that memorial just might give you the strength to get you through your own desert experiences in life. Til next time…

Monday, February 2

Today’s Readings: Psalm 70; Joshua 3:9-17; John 5:30-47; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; Psalm 66

There have been many stages in my journey toward ordained ministry. One of the more interesting stages was when I spent two years working as an HIV/AIDS educator/outreach worker. I was specifically hired to work a program called Friend to Friend. The purpose of the program was to reach community opinion leaders in 11 rural counties in Eastern Washington. Once I reached them, I worked to give them skills so that they could have conversations with their friends regarding risk reduction behaviors so that we could limit the spread of HIV/AIDS. Now for someone who was raised in a repressed Scandinavian/German household where a word like sex was never said aloud, this was quite a challenge. I swear I blushed for the first two months I was on the job! During the two years I spent in the position, however, I learned a valuable lesson that has stayed with me over the years: there are dozens of reasons people decide to be sexually active. It’s not just because people want to have fun, like some of my more moralistic Sunday school teachers told me years ago. Some of the other reasons they are sexually active include they want to feel loved and/or accepted by another, they want to feel desirable, and they want to exert power over another. I could go on and on with the list of reasons. Today’s reading from 1 Corinthians is a wonderful passage where we have the opportunity to hear one of the apostles talk rather frankly about sex and sexuality. I appreciate Paul’s words because they invite (or should I say challenge) us to think about what it is that lies at the root of our own sexuality and sexual behavior. Today, I would invite you to explore your own attitudes towards sexuality. The time you spend exploring the dimensions of your sexual being will help you accomplish what Paul wanted us to do: bring our sexuality in line with our spirituality. Til next time…

Sunday, February 1

Today’s Reading: Mark 1:21-28


Here's my reflection/sermon for the day:


Shortly after moving to Denver nearly ten years ago, I began a weekly ritual with my parents. Each Monday morning, around 10:00 AM Mountain Standard Time, I call them. It took a while for my folks and I to develop a format for our weekly conversation. At first, they would both get on one of the phones and race each trying to catch me up on the weekly happenings. A couple months into our calls, however, something happened that exposed our need to develop a new routine.

“I’ve noticed that in the course of your calls that about ten minutes into our conversation, you and your father start talking sports,” Mom said. “And you do it for about 20 minutes. Why do you have to waste perfectly good time and money talking about that stuff anyway?!”

I waited until dad excused himself to go to the bathroom, and then I explained it.

“Mom, let me explain something about men to you. You see guys are taught from day one not to have emotions. Problem is, we do. So how do we get them out? Well, we can’t actually express them, so we speak in coded language. When we say things like, ‘The engine in your car is purring like a kitten’, we are saying ‘I love you’. Or when Dad says, ‘The Houston Rockets are looking good this year,’ he’s saying ‘I’m proud of you.’ If you take away our sports talk, you would take away our ability to express emotions and we’d pop like an overfilled helium balloon at a kid’s birthday party.”

Ever since that day when I gave my mother a lesson on Guys 101, she’s has had a different attitude about the time my father spend talking about sports – for she has come to understand what sports represent for us.

I say all of this because the issue of what something represents has been at the forefront of my mind this week because of this week’s Gospel reading from Mark. And without realizing it, lots of modern folks who read the passage get a little cranky about its content – much like the way my mother got cranky about the content of my conversation with my father.

“The Gospel of Mark starts so beautifully with the story of Jesus’ baptism,” they say. “Why did they have to go and muck it up with all of that talk about primitive talk about demons? Can’t we just skip over the story and talk about something that speaks to us today?!”

If we were to do that – if we were simply take the words at face value and not think about them in a larger sense – we would miss out on what I feel is the greatest value of today’s story. For what those demons that Jesus’ expelled represent have meaning not just to those so-called primitive peoples who lived 2,000 years ago – they have meaning for you and I today. So let’s spend a moment thinking about what those demons might represent.

Kate Huey, in her wonderful commentary on this morning’s passage in the publication Weekly Seeds, suggests that if we want to get at what demons represent, we have to start by puting them into the context of their day. In setting that context up, she turned to the words of John Pilch, who tells us.

“Our ancestors in faith,” Mr. Pilch wrote, “believed that spirits were more powerful than human beings but less powerful than God.” Keep that hierarchy of power in mind: human beings, spirits, and God.

So when Jesus took on the powers of the spirit world, he was challenging those things in our lives whose power is greater than our limited capacity as human beings.

There’s one HUGE problem that we modern folks have in terms of understanding this. And it has to do with our denial. “Western tendency to rationalize the ancient understanding of spirits is rooted in the fact that Westerners have much more power over their lives and circumstances than the ancients believed they had.” In other words, we refuse to believe there is anything outside the realm of God that we don’t have power over. In other words, we’ve completely lost the realm of the spirit. And it shows.

Think about the way we approach the personal demons we face these days. Take addictions, for example. As folks wrestle with addictions to things like nicotine, alcohol, and narcotics – what does society tell us? “Just suck it up, exercise a little will power, and you’ll be fine.”

Really?

Think about how we treat those personal demons like anger, hatred, and jealousy? What are we told to do? Get them under control.

How’s that working for you?

And how about those socially acceptable demons we wrestle with – things like our desire for control and greed? What do we do with those things? We expect folks to manage them on their own.

The power of today’s story is that it has the audacity to remind us that there are things that we face in our lives that are beyond our control. Things that transcend our human condition. Things whose hold over us is often just a little less than God’s.

And while it is tempting to succumb to society’s message –that we should simply suck it up and exert control over our demons – we people of faith know better. For we know of that one place where we can turn that can help us overcome those forces in our lives that are bigger than ourselves – the one place that can facilitate the love, the grace, and the mercy of God that can help us overcome those demons once and for all?

That place?

In the God revealed through Jesus, the Christ.

Today, we once again have the opportunity to come to the table that Jesus set for us. And as you come this morning, I invite you to do something radical. Inside your bulletins, each of you has a picture of a cartoon demon. That figure represents one of the forces that you have been wrestling with that is far greater than yourself.

I invite you to fight your first tendency to manage that demon on your own. Instead, as you come to the Table, I invite you to come forward and lay that demon down on the floor in front of the altar as you have your own encounter with Jesus at the table. For once you have put it down and are fed at the Table – you just might experience the same thing the man in this morning’s story experienced: healing and wholeness.

Amen