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Help support the vision of Woodland Hills Community Church!
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Saturday, March 7

Today’s Readings: Psalm 106:1-27; Nehemiah 9:16-25; Mark 8:22-30; Romans 4:9-15; Psalm 106:28-48

Featured Reading:
Psalm 106:1-27

I have found over the years that I usually follow the same pattern when I am in the process of recovering from a cold. I begin by first re-living the events of the past week or so and bemoan the fact that I allowed myself to get so tired and run down. Next, I start taking stock of the way I treated my body. “How could I have forgotten to take my multi-vitamin?” or “I knew I shouldn’t have allowed myself to skip the walk with the dogs due to the demands of my schedule!” All of this is part of stage one. Then, I progress on to stage two where I find myself creating a plan of action. “Okay, my learnings from the cold tell me that I need to cut my schedule back to decrease stress. Then,” I continue, “I’ll start eating better. Finally,” I conclude, “I’ll get around to exercising more.” By the time I’ve finished stage two, I’ve completely convinced myself that I’ve got a plan in place that will keep me well for years to come. So what happens next? Well, after I’ve recovered from the cold I almost immediately revert back to normal. This means I once again start overbooking myself; cheating myself out of much-needed sleep; grabbing fast food on my way from one appointment to the next; and giving myself permission to pull back on my exercise regimen due to the busy-ness of my life. In other words, it’s almost as if my cold never happened. The psalmist alludes to such a cycle or pattern of human behavior when he talks about the Israelites history with God in the first portion of today’s Psalm. The psalmist recounts how God first pulled them through their times of hardship (i.e. the rebuking of the Red Sea, the rescue from oppression, the loosening of the enemy’s grip) and restored them to a place of health and vitality. And how did the people respond? They forgot the whole thing. Perhaps there has been a time in your life where you faced brokenness and hardship – a time when you felt as if the only thing that pulled you through was God’s love and grace. In the time since then, however, maybe you’ve let your life get back to normal; you’ve allowed yourself to lose sight of that connection with God. If that’s the case, I would invite you to find some time today to reconnect with that experience or trial. Nurturing such a re-connection with God just might carry you through some of the hardships that have emerged more recently. Til next time…

Friday, March 6

Today’s Readings: Psalm 78:1-31; Nehemiah 9:1-15; Matthew 5:27-37; Romans 4:1-8; Psalm 78:32-72

Featured Reading:
Romans 4:1-8

One of my favorite movies from the 1980’s was the movie Beaches. I loved it because it did such a great job telling the story of a wonderful friendship between a bold and brash character by the name of Cecilia “C.C.” Bloom (played by Bette Midler) and a quiet and conscientious character by the name of Hillary Essex (played by Barbara Hershey). One of the most effective scenes in the film in terms of character development occurred in a conversation between C.C. and an admirer. After blathering on for a long term about herself, C.C. finally takes a breath and says: “Okay, so enough about me. Let’s talk about you. What do you think of me?” I love that line because it does a beautiful job of capturing our tendency to make everything about us. The apostle Paul challenges our tendency to do that when – in talking about the story of Abraham – he notes: “… the story we’re given is a God-story, not an Abraham-story” (Romans 4:2 from The Message). As people who live in a day and age that focuses on the individual first and foremost, it is so tempting to follow society’s lead and make our stories about us. Today, on this seventh day of Lent, I invite you to spend some time contemplating who your story is really ultimately about. Til next time…

Thursday, March 5

Today’s Readings: Psalm 119:1-48; Nehemiah 8:1-18; Matthew 5:17-26; Galatians 3:10-18

Featured Readings:
Matthew 5:17-26

We live in a society that makes it easy to profess one set of values with our lips and embody another set of values in our lives. We can say, for instance, that our children are the most important thing in our lives. Then – in an effort to provide the very best material things for our children – we can spend so many hours at work each week that we are completely absent from their daily lives. Or we can volunteer dozens of hours a week working as an advocate for global peace – only to let physical, emotional, or verbal violence dominate our personal relationships. Such duplicity wouldn’t set well with Jesus, for Jesus had an amazing ability to challenge people to bring their stated values in line with their lived values. Today’s Gospel reading is a great example of this. In the passage, Jesus advised his audience by saying: “If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then, and only then, come back and work things out with God” (Matthew 5:23-24 from The Message). Here Jesus suggests that before we even think about going through the motions of participating in a religious ritual, we ought to first make sure our hearts are in the right place. Today, I would ask you to search your heart and ask yourself: “Is there an area in my life where I am saying one thing, and doing another?” For most of us, there is at least one area of our life where this is true. If that’s the case for you, make some time today to help you bring your professed values in line with your lived values. Til next time…

Wednesday, March 4

Today’s Readings: Psalm 41; Nehemiah 6:1-19; Luke 4:22-30; Galatians 3:2-9; Psalm 55

Featured Reading:
Galatians 3:2-9

Lots of folks live their lives keeping at least one deep, dark secret. For some the secret is that they are a victim of domestic violence. For others, the secret is that they live with an addiction. For still others, they live with a mental illness. There are any number of things their secret might be. People who live with a secret manage it in a variety of ways. Some resort to self-destructive behaviors as a means of punishing themselves. Others deal with their secret by leading a double life. “How do I know so much about the topic?” you might wonder. It’s because I lived with a secret of my own for twenty-five years. My secret was that I was gay. I coped with my secret by aspiring to be what Andrew Tobias called “The Best Little Boy in the World”. This meant I lived my life trying to be perfect. I figured that if I was perfect, I would win the love and approval of others – even if they happened to discover my deep, dark secret. I played the role of “The Best Little Boy in the World” to the hilt: I was football captain, ASB president, salutatorian, youth group president, and accomplished pianist. You name it, and I accomplished it. To use Paul’s language from today’s passage in Galatians, for the first twenty-five years of my life I was trying to live my life “by [my] own effort, independent of God”. So how did that approach work for me? Not so great. I was suicidal by the time I was twenty-five. Thankfully, I came to my senses and realized there was another way to live my life – a way that depended not on the faith I placed in myself, but on the faith I placed in God. That shift in where I located my faith made all the difference to me. Today, during your time of prayer and meditation, I would invite you to explore where you have placed the bulk of your faith. Does your faith lie primarily in yourself, or does it lie primarily in God? Til next time…

Tuesday, March 3

Today’s Readings: Psalm 52; Nehemiah 5:1-19; Luke 4:16-21; Romans 5:1-8; Psalm 120

Featured Reading:
Nehemiah 5:1-19

If you move in religious circles long enough, you’re bound to run into someone who would identify him or herself as a biblical literalist. The person who makes this claim would have you believe they take every word in the Bible at face value – as the literal word of God. You are most likely to run into biblical literalists when you are talking about controversial social issues like homosexuality and abortion. The truth is that in all my years, I've never actually met a real biblical literalist. I say that because everyone I’ve bumped into who professes to be a biblical literal really falls into a different category. That category? Selective literalists. By this, I mean these individuals pick and chose which sections of the Bible they want to apply literally and which sections of the Bible they don’t. Case in point – today’s reading from the book of Nehemiah. In speaking to the community leaders of his day and addressing their financial practices, Nehemiah said: “What you’re doing is wrong. Is there no fear of God left in you...? This gouging them with interest has to stop. Give them back their foreclosed fields, vineyards, olive groves, and homes right now. And forgive your claims on their money, grain, new wine, and olive oil” (Nehemiah 5:9-11 from The Message). I wonder how many biblical literalists would take those words to heart and launch a moralistic campaign against their financial institutions? What often gets lost in our attempts to codify our beliefs is what should really lie at the core of our spiritual life: a rock solid commitment to maintaining right relationships - with God and with one another. During this Lenten season of reflection, I would ask you: “What do you lead with in your spiritual life – rules, or right relationships?” Til next time…

Monday, March 2

Today’s Readings: Psalm 79; Nehemiah 4:1-23; Luke 4:9-15; 1 Peter 2:20-25; Psalm 123

Today’s Featured Reading:
Psalm 123.

I learned an important lesson about waiting during the summer and fall of 2007. On the evening before I was supposed to fly back to Denver after visiting my parents for a few weeks, my father had a heart attack. I remember rushing to the Intensive Care Unit early the following morning where I had the chance to watch dad lie there before I had to step on the plane and return home. Many days went by as dad remained in ICU. In fact, he was there for a total of 3 weeks. When he was finally moved out of ICU, he didn’t come home. Due to a breathing issue that had contributed to his heart problem, dad went to a rehabilitation center where he spent the next three months regaining his strength. At the start of the ordeal, I was incredibly impatient. I wanted dad’s recovery to happen overnight. As one day stretched into the next, however, I learned what it meant to wait in new ways. I moved away from a place where I regularly made demands on God, to a place where I could open myself to a place of acceptance – whatever the outcome. I thought of that experience as I read the psalmist’s words from the 123rd Psalm: “Like servants, alert to their master’s commands, like a maiden attending her lady, we’re watching and waiting, holding our breath, awaiting your word of mercy” (Psalm 123:1-2 from The Message). During this season of Lent, many of us are in a place where I was during my father’s convalescence – we want to get through the uncertainty and trauma (the Passion) and move immediately into a place of happy endings and closure (Easter). And yet we are stuck. Stuck waiting. As I learned through the experience with my father, the days of waiting can be pivotal times in our spiritual journey - for those days can help prepare us for whatever lies ahead. Is there an area of your life where you are approaching in an impatient manner? An area where you want resolution yesterday? If so, remember the words of the psalmist and use that difficult time of waiting to prepare yourself for the future. That way, you’ll be a little more ready for what unfolds – no matter the outcome. Til next time…

Sunday, March 1

Today's Featured Text: Psalm 25:1-10

Here's my reflection/sermon for the day:

On May 10, 1886, a child by the name of Karl Barth was born in Basel, Germany. Karl spent his childhood years in Bern, Germany, and by the time he was 25 – he achieved the goal of being ordained and installed as a pastor in the village of Safenwil.

Like most, Karl went into his first pastorate as an idealist. He had spent years learning about the unlimited capacity human beings had for good. He hoped to help individuals achieve that capacity through his ministry.

In the third year of his pastorate, however, something happened that shook Karl’s assumptions about human nature to the core. At that time – the year 1914 – Karl’s native Germany was reeling as it faced unprecedented challenges that pushed the country to the brink of war: an escalating arms race, a shift in the balance of power, a global economic crisis.

Any of this sound familiar?

Desperate times called for desperate measures, many concluded. So several of the brightest minds of Karl’s day – professors of medicine, chemistry, theology, and psychics – all came together and produced a statement that would get Germany back on course: a statement we know today as “Manifesto of Ninety-Three German Intellectuals to the Civilized World.” That Manifesto suggested that all the answers to Germany’s problems lie in one place: within. The statement issued at the outset of World War I ended with these telling words: “Have faith in us! Believe, that we shall carry on this war to the end as a civilized nation, to whom the legacy of a Goethe, a Beethoven, and a Kant, is just as sacred as its own hearts and homes.”

Every fiber of Karl’s being told him that their conclusion was dangerous – that one’s hopes should not ultimately be placed in human beings, but somewhere else. The arrogance that saturated those words led the little old country pastor and budding theologian to sit down and articulate a new understanding of sin. Sin, according to Karl, represented those moments in our lives where we made the tragic mistake of confusing the finite (that would be us) with the Infinite (that would be God). That is sin.

I was reminded of Karl’s work – and in particular his understanding of sin – as I read this week’s Psalm that kicks off our Lenten journey. I was reminded of it because the psalmist clearly understands the difference between the two – the finite, and the Infinite.

Now I realize that some folks would take issue both with Karl’s understanding of sin – and the psalmist’s viewpoint – by suggesting that if we start talking about our limited capacity as human beings that we are somehow devaluing or disrespecting the sacred value and worth of a person. I would respectfully disagree. For I believe that the most dangerous and destructive things we could ever do as human being is to expect things of ourselves of which we are not capable.

The psalmist got that. He had no misconceptions about who he has. That’s why in verse 7, he was able to talk about himself and refer to those wild oats he had sown. Nor did the psalmist have any misconceptions the future. That’s why he could speak about the misdirections that lay before him in verse 8. It was that sense of groundedness that allowed him to choose not to the way of the finite – but the way of the Infinite.

Friends, as I look around the walls of the sanctuary this morning and see a listing of some of the challenges we face, I realize our first instinct will be to issue a personal statement that looks a lot like the one of the 93 German Intellectuals. A statement that would cry out: “Have faith in US! Believe in US”.

I can beat that pesky addiction through my own will power…
We can restore our economic vitality through our own efforts…
Darn right I can fix my broken relationships on my own…

In other words, we can travel our own finite path.

Friends this morning, we are confronted by two things that would challenge our decision to choose such a path: the wine and the bread. For the wine and bread that we will receive this morning are expressions not of our own limited, finite paths – but of God’s unlimited, Infinite Path. The wine and bread are vessels that will lead us down the paths – not of brokenness and pain – but of mercy and love. These elements would - to use the words of the psalmist - chart the direction for our lives: if only we would let them.

As we travel further along our Lenten journey this year, my fervent prayer is that we will have the sense to distinguish between the paths before us.