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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.

Saturday, March 14

Today’s Readings: Psalm 101; Jeremiah 23:9-15; Mark 11:15-19; 2 Corinthians 13:2-9; Psalm 35

Featured Reading:
2 Corinthians 13:2-9

I’ll never forget the day that I consider the turning point of my ministry. It came on July 16, 2002. Two days earlier I had been called to serve the church I am currently serving. As a result, that Tuesday morning represented the first day of my office hours. As I sat in the office going through piles of mail and waiting for the phone to ring, I remember thinking to myself, “Can I do this?” I started thinking about all the things that I would be experiencing as a result of the call: the births, the deaths, the controversies… you name it, and the thought ran through my mind. Just as I was starting to get myself really worked up, the answer to my own question started forming itself in my mind: “Of course you can’t do it. That’s where grace comes in. I’ll help you!” In those quiet moments alone, I came face to face with my own limitations. I realized, for instance, that if left on my own I would make a terrible pastoral counselor because I am one of the most opinionated people on the planet and I would revert to simply telling people what to do. I realized that I would be tremendously ineffective by the hospital beds of the sick and the hospice beds of the dying because to that point in my life I thrived at having the answers to every question – and clearly those beds often raise issues that defy human answers. And every time a controversy erupted I would only make things worse because my control issues would take over and turn each controversy into a power struggle. That morning I began to come to terms with Paul’s words from today’s reading from 2 Corinthians: “We don’t just put up with our limitations; we celebrate them, and then go on to celebrate every strength, every triumph of truth in you. We pray hard that it will all come together in your lives” (2 Corinthians 13:9 from The Message). That day I began the life-long process of learning to let go and create room for God’s grace to work in and through me. Over time, I found I could actually do the unthinkable – celebrate my limitations. This allowed me to then move on and celebrate my strengths as well. So where are you at with your limitations? Have you come to terms with them, or are you still trying to deny them and overcome them on your own? Til next time…

Friday, March 13

Today’s Readings: Psalm 80; Jeremiah 23:1-8; Matthew 21:33-43; 1 Corinthians 2:10-16; Psalm 23

Featured Reading:
1 Corinthians 2:10-16

A year and a half ago, I had the pleasure of reading Jim Kitchen’s book The Post-Modern Parish while I was on sabbatical. There were several provocative points he made in the book. One of the most provocative was his assertion that it is time for our local churches to move away from models that primarily emphasize Christian Education and toward models that emphasize spiritual formation. “What’s the difference between the two?” you might ask. The difference is that Christian Education tends to teach people about the faith. While such an approach is helpful in that it imparts knowledge, one of the model's shortcomings is that it frequently puts distance between individuals and the subject matter – leaving individuals with the option to pick up the information they like and leave behind information they don’t like. In other words, it tends to leave people within their comfort zones. Spiritual formation, on the other hand, has the goal of facilitating direct experiences of God. This direct experience of God often impacts individuals so dramatically that they lose the luxury of being able to pick and choose what they will carry forward with them. I was reminded of this distinction as I read Paul’s words from today’s reading in 1 Corinthians where Paul talks about the work of the Spirit. “We don’t have to rely on the world’s guesses and opinions,” Paul began, “[for] we didn’t learn this by reading books or going to school; we learned it from God…” (1 Corinthians 2:13 from The Message). As we move deeper and deeper into the Lenten season, it seems like a great time to challenge ourselves to move beyond simply listening to and/or reciting the familiar stories of our faith and toward opportunities to actually experience aspects of those transformative stories within the context of our own lives. The difference may seem subtle, but it’s incredibly important. Til next time…

Thursday, March 12

Today’s Readings: Psalm 72; Jeremiah 22:13-22; Matthew 21:12-22; 1 Corinthians 2:1-9; Psalm 8

Featured Reading:
Jeremiah 22:13-22

Yesterday morning I had the chance to attend a presentation titled “Wage Theft in America” by the Colorado chapter of Interfaith Worker Justice. The presenter – Kim Bobo – did an amazing job of spelling out a variety of ways some employers deny their workers the pay they have coming. Some of the ways include restaurants who fail to pass on the tips their customers include on their debit/credit card payments; car wash establishments who require their car washers to be on site for 12-14 hours a day yet force them to clock in only when they are actually washing cars (often reducing their paid time to 6-7 hours a day); and retailers who doctor their employees timecards after they are submitted in order to avoid paying overtime. Each of these shady practices represents attempts to deny individuals their fair share. So what’s that got to do with Scripture? Well, while many folks might not think Scripture specifically addresses such behavior, today’s reading from Jeremiah in fact addresses just such practices. “Doom to him,” Jeremiah notes, “who builds palaces but bullies people, who makes a fine house but destroys lives, who cheats his workers and won’t pay them for their work” (Jeremiah 22:13-14 from The Message). Of course the prophet doesn’t just limit himself to business relationships; he applies those principles to the rest of our lives as well. “Your father got along fine, didn’t he?” Jeremiah pointed out, “He did what was right and treated people fairly” (Jeremiah 22:15 from The Message). Such language invites us all to think about the state of our relationships. Would people say we generally do what is right and treat people fairly, or would they say something else? The way we treat other people is often an important expression of our core values and beliefs. Til next time…

Wednesday, March 11

Today’s Readings: Psalm 119:97-120; Nehemiah 13:4-22; Matthew 6:7-15; Hebrews 11:13-19; Psalm 119:121-152

Featured Reading:
Matthew 6:7-15

When I was growing up, I was told there was one way to think about God – that was to think of God as being located somewhere out there (or should I say, “Somewhere up there”). Consequently, I spent most of my time in prayer bringing God up to date on the happenings down here and asking God to intervene to change any outcomes with which I was uncomfortable. It wasn’t until several years later that I moved toward a system of belief that invited me to include God’s imminent presence “down here” as well. Once I began to think of God’s presence as imminent, my prayer practices began to evolve as well. The most obvious change was that I stopped worrying about bringing God up-to-date on the events of my life. A more subtle change was that I stopped putting the focus of my prayer life on trying to change God; instead, I began to use my time of enhanced connection with God to help change myself and my own heart. Instead of using my time of prayer to lobby for a specific outcome, for instance, I began to ask for the strength to deal with the circumstance - regardless of the outcome. What an important shift that was! So what got me to thinking about this shift in my theology and practice of prayer? The words attributed to Jesus in today’s reading from Matthew. In that passage Jesus said: “In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do” (Matthew 6:7 from The Message). Today, I would invite you to spend some time considering your practice of prayer and meditation. How do you understand that connection? Til next time…

Tuesday, March 10

Today’s Readings: Psalm 87; Nehemiah 12:27-30, 43-47; Matthew 6:1-6; Hebrews 11:8-12; Psalm 84

Featured Reading:
Hebrews 11:8-12

I don’t know if you’ve picked up on it, but there has been a profound shift in the way we conceptualize what strong leadership is. For the past several decades, we were told that good leaders were people who knew exactly where they were going and could clearly articulate their vision to others. This understanding was predicated on the belief that leaders could predict (or at the very least anticipate) the future. Over the last few years, however, a shift has begun to occur. Instead of being asked to predict the future, leaders are increasingly being asked to be flexible so they can adapt their vision to the unpredictable events of the present. I saw the shift portrayed very clearly during President Obama’s first televised news conference a few weeks ago. When asked about his proposed economic stimulus plan and its ability to spark an economic recovery, President Obama said very honestly that some parts will work and others won’t. He added that only time will tell which parts will work and which won’t. For me, that moment of honesty captured the very essence of what a good leader is. Of course, President Obama’s words weren’t the first time where we saw this flexible approach toward leadership used; as a people of faith, we saw this approached embodied in the person of Abraham. As the author of Hebrews pointed out: “When [Abraham] left [his homeland] he had no idea where he was going” (Hebrews 11:9 from The Message). And yet Abraham didn’t let fear or uncertainty about the future keep him locked into the status quo. Instead, Abraham did something that many of us are hesitant to do: he took a leap of faith. It was that leap of faith that propelled him quite literally into the Promised Land. Perhaps there is an area in your life where you know things aren’t currently working, but you are reluctant to take that proverbial leap of faith. A place in your life where you’d rather sit back passively and hope that the situation simply resolves itself. If that’s the case, I would urge you to remember Abraham’s example and consider doing something radical – take a leap of faith. I can’t promise you the leap will be easy or the landing painless. I can promise you, however, that that leap will take you to new places – both figuratively and literally. As you contemplate the possibility of taking that leap, I hope you’ll draw encouragement from your relationship with the God who will be with you every step of the way. Pre-leap and post-leap. Til next time…

Monday, March 9

Today’s Readings: Psalm 135; Nehemiah 9:26-38; Matthew 5:38-48; Romans 4:19-25; Psalm 133

Featured Reading: Matthew 5:38-48

It’s often easy to hear the words in the Bible and think about them purely at the abstract level. They are so much easier to digest that way. Every once in a while, however, something happens that gives you a chance to live into those words in a very concrete way. Take today’s reading from Matthew as an example. The passage reads: “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst” (Matthew 5:43-44 from The Message). Six years ago I had the chance to live into those words in a stark way. As the first anniversary of Matthew Shepherd’s murder approached, Fred Phelps and his family decided to work their way toward Wyoming for a protest on the anniversary of his death. For those of you who don’t know Fred Phelps – he’s the individual who pickets events that he thinks in any way, shape, or form promotes homosexuality. He also runs the infamous website Needless to say, Fred and his family and on the top of my list for whom I would like to spend a little free time with. Anyway, a student group from the University of Northern Colorado asked the Phelps to stop by and participate in a panel discussion on sexuality; I was invited to participate in a panel as well. Their hope is that I would provide an alternative Christian perspective on the issue. In the days leading up to the event I had so many feelings rush through my head, but by the time the event arrived, I began to relax. The strangest part is that when I finally met the Phelps sons (their father Fred was sick that night), I was able to look them in the eye and shake their hands. We even talked a little bit before we sat down at the table for the event. We were able to connect as people. While the debate was definitely pointed at times, I learned new things about what it meant to live in relationship with one’s “enemies”. Perhaps you have a person or a group that you have spent years vilifying. You might have even convinced yourself that you could never even like – much less love - those “enemies”. If that’s the case, today I would invite you to remember something that carried me through my experience: we don’t have to rely solely upon ourselves to follow Jesus’ challenge to do the unthinkable – we can turn to the One who is the source of life and love to help us accomplish the seemingly impossible. We CAN love our enemies! Til next time…

Sunday, March 8

Today's Featured Passage: Psalm 22:23-31 for "Camp Sunday" celebrating the role our church camps play in our spiritual lives

As many of you know, I grew up as a child in a small town in Eastern Washington – population 1,500. And while there were many wonderful aspects of growing up in a small town, there was a dark side as well. That dark side had to do with how a person got labeled awfully quickly in life and stuck into a box.

In some cases, the labeling process happened when you were older. In other cases, it happened before you were born. There was a time, for instance, when I was walking down with street with a childhood friend named Josh and heard folks whisper: “Who’s that kid with Craig?”

“Oh, that’s Josh - Fred Jenkins little boy. And you know all about Fred, right?”

I may not have understood what they meant about Fred – but I sensed that things would be impossible for Josh until he got older and could move away.

Sadly, those boxes they put people into were so strong that they even got reinforced in the churches of our community. I remember, for instance, having a new family start attending our church that had two boys whom I’ll call Brian and Stewart. Brian and Stewart’s father had left their mother a few years earlier. That meant Brian and Stewart’s father was divorced. In the black and white world we lived in, there was no room whatsoever for relating to those who were different. So you know what happened to Brian and Stewart? They stayed on the outside of our youth group.

And if such things happened within our church, you can just imagine how folks treated those who went to other churches. Let’s just say it wasn’t always pretty. I remember how exciting it was for many of us in the fourth and fifth grades to race home with news that we had just got an invitation to attend Vacation Bible School with Mark in July – only to hear our parents ask, “What church does Mark attend?” And when we answer, we’d watch our parents say, “Oh, we’re busy that week of June” – without even glancing at their calendars.

So if I had been a child sitting in the chairs where you are sitting this morning, and heard Njeri read the words she read to us, I would have responded very cynically.

“Here in this great gathering for worship..?” – I would have shrugged and said, “What so great about it – it looks just like any other gathering in this town?”

Or if I had heard the psalmist point out – “Down-and-outers sit at God’s table and eat their fill” – I would have looked around the sanctuary and said, “Where? I don’t see any down and outers?”

Or if I had heard the psalmist boast – “All the poor and powerless, too – worshipping! Along with those who never got it together – worshipping” – I would have said, “Have you looked at our membership rolls recently? I don’t see any poor and powerless here!”

In other words, the psalmist would have been a hard sell.

It wasn’t until the summer after my sixth grade year that I had my first taste of the vision the psalmist laid out. And that taste came from my experience at a place called Twin Low – a United Methodist camp located five miles north of Rathdrum, Idaho on Lower Twin Lake.

When I first got news about the camp, I asked my folks if my best friend Scott could attend. Now I knew this was a long shot when I asked for several reasons. Scott was the only child in my class who was growing up in a single-parent household. This was taboo number one. And Scott’s family not only didn’t attend our church – they didn’t attend any church. Taboo number two. And taboo number three – Scott’s family had no money.

But you know what? My mom was on the mission committee of the church – and they did what I thought was impossible. They found the money necessary to send Scott.

And things didn’t end there. I accidentally mentioned the camp to my friend Trish one day on our ride to school. Trish was a nice girl who lived within a couple houses of ours. And to most people she looked pretty normal. But there was a problem. She belonged to another church – one that looked up to this strange German dude named Martin Luther. I was sure that children like that would never attend “normal” church camp like the one I was going to attend. Little did I know that three months later – Trish and I would once again find ourselves in the same car – only this time we were on our way to Twin Low together!

For me – and for so many other youth - our camping programs are the first place where we get a glimpse of what the Reign of God just might look like. I may not have known what the adults meant when they talked about the Reign of God being about the establishment of peace & justice throughout the land – I just knew that the Reign of God must have felt something like the way I felt when I looked to my left while I was playing volleyball and saw my best friend Scott getting ready to set the ball for me. I may not have understood what the adults meant when they talked about God’s grace and unconditional love – but I thought it might feel a little bit like what I felt when Trish and I went out on Twin Lake in the paddle boat together. In other words, summer camp was the first time this thing the psalmist called “good news” really felt like it was good news!

Now you might be thinking to yourself, “All of this summer camp stuff is just making you nostalgic, Craig. And it might have worked for YOU! But maybe it’s not like that for most folks!”

Well, in order to deal with that challenge, I want to share a letter with you that was received from someone else who talked about the transformative effect summer camp had on their family. And I want to share this letter because it comes from a different perspective. It comes not from a child’s perspective – but from a parent’s perspective: a mom by the name of Linda. Listen to her words of support for one of our denominational camps located right here in Colorado:

[Read Linda’s letter]

Friends, this summer we have the chance to introduce our children to pieces of earth crammed with heave through camps like Highlands, La Foret, and Buckhorn. If you are a parent, you can do this directly by talking with Kerrie or David about how to send your kids to camp. If you aren’t a parent, you can support the camping ministries of our denominations by providing financial support that could send a child to camp. You could even volunteer to serve as a camp counselor. Again, see David or Kerrie for ideas about how to get involved.

My hope and prayer for us all is that by the time the bells ring in a new school year next August, that the children in our community will have the chance to not only hear the love and grace of God proclaimed through the lips of the adult in their sanctuaries, but will see that love and grace in action - at a church camp.