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, May 16

Today’s Readings: Psalm 99; Song of Solomon 8:1-7; Matthew 9:18-26; 1 John 4:7-12; Psalm 103

One of the challenges we face in developing our personal theology as monotheists (people who believe in just one God) is to develop a belief system that truly addresses the expansive nature of God. Let me give you an example of what I mean here. Individuals who are polytheists (people who believe in multiple Gods) have an easier time compartmentalizing aspects of the world and attributing very specific qualities to each god. Ancient Greeks, for instance, could turn to a goddess like Aphrodite to represent love and beauty. Ares, on the other hand, was used by the Greeks to embody things like war, murder, and bloodshed. By having multiple gods, the individual could simply pick and chose which god they wanted to relate to in any given circumstance. As monotheists, however, we don’t have that luxury; we simply have one God who covers the totality of the world. So why am I talking about the challenges of monotheism? Well, in today’s second psalm, the psalmist take time in verses 3-5 to list all of the qualities he associates with God: things like forgiveness, healing, redemption, love, mercy, goodness, and renewer of youth. All of these qualities are good. But what happens when we face aspects of life that aren’t so warm and fuzzy – things like brokenness, death, downfall, apathy, cruelty, badness, and decay? Does this mean that God is not present in these difficult places? Some would respond to my question by saying that another god of sorts – Satan – takes over in such places. How would you respond to my question about where God is in relation to those things in life that are cold and prickly? Is God only the God of what we would perceive of or label as warm and fuzzy, or is God truly the God of all? Til next time…

Friday, May 15

Today’s Readings: Psalm 115; Song of Solomon 6:1-10; Matthew 9:9-17; 1 John 4:1-6; Psalm 128

We human beings face a HUGE temptation when it comes to creating our theologies. That temptation is to conceive of a God who acts just like us. Nowhere is this tendency more evident that in some of the Psalms. Take today’s second psalm, for example. The psalm begins by noting: “All you who fear God, how blessed you are! how happily you walk on his smooth straight road.” It goes on to equate material rewards (i.e. “your wife will bear children as a vine bears grapes, your household lush as a vineyard”) with blessings from God. Wouldn’t it be nice if things always worked that way? But as you and I both know, things don’t always work out that way. Good-hearted, faithful people get cancer and divorces just as often as mean-spirited people of no faith. So how can we take this notion of being blessed and interpret it in different ways – ways that perhaps better fit with our life experience? Well, we can look at blessings as things that come to us in a variety of forms. We can, for instance, look at blessings in terms of the peace that we derive from our relationship with God – a peace that we experience even in the face of a cancer diagnosis. Or we can look at blessings in terms of knowing what it means to be truly loved – even perhaps in the midst of a painful divorce or separation. So how do you understand the term blessing within the context of your own life? How you define the term will strongly impact your ability to find them in your life. Til next time…

Thursday, May 14

Today’s Readings: Psalm 108; Song of Solomon 5:9-16; Matthew 9:1-8; 1 John 3:19-24; Psalm 125

In one of the classes I took to earn my education degree in the 1980’s we learned about the concept of something called the Johari Window. The concept went something like this. When it comes to our personal identity, there are four quadrants. In the first quadrant - called the open quadrant - there is the part that is known to both us and others. In the second quadrant - called the blind quadrant - there is the part that is known to others but not us. In the third quadrant - called the hidden quadrant - there is the part that is known to us but unknown to others. In the fourth quadrant - called the unknown quadrant - there is the part that is unknown to both us and others. I remember thinking at the time: “What’s the use of speculating about the existence of an unknown quadrant of our personhood if that piece is unknown to anyone?” Today’s reading from 1 John suggests perhaps there is One who knows those parts of us that lie in the fourth quadrant after all. The author wrote: “For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves” (1 John 3:20 from The Message). I find the idea that God knows me that well both exciting and scary. I find the idea exciting because it suggests God knows what I’m capable of better than I do. I find the idea scary for exactly the same reason. This notion of being known so well by God challenges me to remain open to possibilities in my life that I perhaps would otherwise close myself off to. Today, I would invite you to contemplate for yourself what it mean to me known by One who knows even the unknown parts of yourself and see what changes such a knowledge might suggest for the way you lead your life. Til next time…

Wednesday, May 13

Today’s Readings: Psalm 92; Song of Solomon 5:1-8; Matthew 8:28-34; 1 John 3:11-18; Psalm 124

A few years ago, an associate of mine asked me to speak with a friend of hers who was in a troubled relationship. I spent a little time with my associate’s friend hearing about some of the dynamics of her relationship. The more I listened to the individual describe the relationship, the more I realized how deeply unhealthy the relationship was. As we concluded our time together, we talked about the options that were open to the individual – one of which was separation. When I mentioned separation as one of several options, the individual lost it. She was incensed that a clergyperson would even entertain the notion of separation as an option. She stormed out that day thinking I had done a terrible thing. In the moments following her departure, I couldn’t help but take note of the irony. The individual had spent a couple of hours talking about how awful her partner was and how the relationship was psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually killing her – and yet all she could focus on at the end of our time together was how awful I was. That encounter was a good example of how we human beings develop what I would call a “bait and switch” tactic toward dealing with our problems. Instead of staying focused on the problem at hand, we allow ourselves to be distracted by something else and then make that something else into a scapegoat for our pain. It’s a popular way of avoiding the issue at hand. That’s exactly what Jesus encountered in today’s Gospel reading. He stumbled into a difficult situation involving a demon possessed man. Jesus solved the problem by expelling the demons and sending them into a herd of pigs. And how did the people respond? By blaming Jesus for offing the pigs! Go figure. Maybe there’s an area in your life where you’ve done (or perhaps are doing) the same thing – focused on a peripheral matter as a means of avoiding/acknowledging the real issue. If that’s the case, find some time today to regain your sense of perspective. By regaining your sense of perspective, you may not only solve the problem – you might even be able to do what the towns folk weren't able to do: give thanks once the problem disappears. Til next time…

Tuesday, May 12

Today’s Readings: Psalm 45; Song of Solomon 3:1-5; Matthew 8:18-27; 1 John 3:1-10; Psalm 107:23-43

If you were to rank the books of the Bible from the most controversial to the least, the Song of Solomon would rank right up there near the top of the list. And why is the Song of Solomon so controversial? Because of the language and metaphors it uses to speak of what scholars believe to be the relationship between God and the church. You see most of us are use to thinking of this relationship in rather dry, dignified terms. The Song of Solomon, however, has the nerve to speak of this relationship in deeply passionate, deeply sensuous terms. Today’s passage from the Song of Solomon adds a new dimension to this language of passion. It adds what feels like a cautionary tale – a sort of “be careful what you ask for because you just might get it” lesson to which I can totally relate. You see, as I mentioned the other day, I didn’t meet my partner until I was 34 years old. That meant for years I had been romanticizing what it would be like to meet that special someone. And then I met him; and boy, did the reality of actually being in a loving relationship rock my world. I learned that falling in love was so much more complicated than I realized. It was, for instance, about more than just finding someone to meet my needs. The relationship stretched me out of my comfort zone as I worked to meet another’s needs as well. And while meeting someone who really “gets” you is a beautiful thing; it can also be a challenging - because it means you have someone in your life who can call you on your stuff. All of this is to say that being in such a powerful and transformative state is something you need to be ready for; otherwise, it just might totally overwhelm you. The author of Song of Solomon provides a similar word of warning to would be lovers of God. The author starts out by talking about the way one’s consuming passion drove the person out of bed in the middle of night looking for the person’s absent lover. After the lover had been found, the author closes with these words: “Oh, let me warn you … don’t excite love, don’t stir it up, until the time is ripe – and you’re ready” (Song of Solomon 3:5 from The Message). So where are you at with this? Are you still expecting a relatively dry, dignified relationship with your Lover/Creator; or are you open to the notion of finding that special Someone who will rock your world? Til next time…

Monday, May 11

Today’s Readings: Psalm 107:1-22; Song of Solomon 2:1-7; Matthew 8:5-17; 1 John 2:24-29; Psalm 34

It’s easy to miss subtle contradictions within scriptural passages. That’s because many of us were taught to view scripture a particular way – and that way suggested scripture could never contradict itself. If you look carefully at today’s readings from 1 John 2:27 & 1 John 2:28, you can’t help but see a contradiction. 1 John 2:27 says, “Live deeply in what you were taught.” The verse seems to encourage a dogmatic approach to one’s faith that emphasizes right belief. 1 John 2:28 takes a different approach; it says, “Live deeply in Christ.” This verse suggests a relational approach to one’s faith. So which way is it? Right belief or right relationship? Those of you who know me well, know that I despise either/or approaches toward things. Consequently, you probably won’t be shocked to hear me say, “It’s both – one’s beliefs and one’s relationships matter.” What sets me apart from my more traditional sisters and brothers is the order in which I would put the two. More traditional folks would say that you should lead with right belief. “That,” they say, “will produce right relationship.” I disagree. Too often I have seen folks profess what others might consider right belief yet live lives totally disconnected from what they profess. I believe that if you start with a vibrant spiritual relationship – then your beliefs will grow out of that healthy relationship. It is virtually impossible to separate the two if you start by tending to the relationship. So where are you in this regards? Are you a 1 John 2:27 person who seeks to live deeply in what you were taught; are you a 1 John 2:28 person who seeks to live deeply in Christ; or are you somewhere in between? Til next time…

Sunday, May 10

Today’s Reading: John 15:1-8

Today's reflection/sermon...

Ten weeks ago, the world lost an amazing talent – a gentleman whose radio broadcasting career spanned the better part of seven decades stretching from the 1940’s into the 21st Century. The gentleman’s name was Paul Harvey.

Paul was able to forge such a long and illustrious career because he had two things going for him. First, he had a distinctive style that was all his own. Second, Paul had a memorable tagline that generated a radio show all of its own. The tagline and show was known as “The Rest of the Story”.

The purpose of “The Rest of the Story” was to take what seemed to be relatively straightforward stories and throw in an unexpected twist at the end. After presenting the twist, Mr. Harvey would sign off with those unforgettable words: “And now you know… the rest of the story.”

This morning I thought I would honor Paul Harvey’s legacy by creating my own version of “The Rest of the Story”. And for the topic of my first broadcast, I thought it would be appropriate to chose Mother’s Day.

The holiday began through the efforts of a young woman by the name of Anna Jarvis. Anna was born in the tiny town of Webster, West Virginia in the year 1864. She was raised by Anna Marie Reeves Jarvis who moved her family from Webster to Grafton, West Virginia when her daughter was very young. Young Anna enjoyed a close relationship with her mother until her mother passed away in 1905 when Anna was 41.

Two years after her mother’s passing, Anna pulled together a celebration to honor the memory of her deceased mother. And as she was putting the celebration together, an idea popped into her head. “What if we were to set aside time each year to honor not just my mother, but ALL mothers.”

And guess what? Within 7 years, Anna’s dream was realized when President Woodrow Wilson and Congress marked Mother’s Day as an official holiday on the calendar.

Now as far as most Americans are concerned, that’s where the story of Mother’s Day ends. But in Anna’s case, that’s not true. For you see, Anna had one fear about this Mother’s Day that she created. She feared that the loving spirit of the holiday might one day give way to something else: commercialization. If Anna only knew…

Listen to what has happened to Mother’s Day. According to researchers at IBISWorld, this Mother’s Day Americans will spend $2.6 billion on flowers, $1.53 billion on gifts to pamper mom, and another $68 million on greeting cards. Jewelers love the holiday! 7.8% of their revenue last year came from Mother’s Day. Restaurateurs are particularly fond of the holiday - for it is the day when more Americans dine out than any other day during the entire year!

Well, Anna was a bright woman. So by the 9th observance of the holiday, Anna had a new campaign to motivate her. She became the leading opponent of what the holiday had come to stand for. Listen to the words Anna used to critique the way folks celebrated the holiday: “A printed card – [that] means nothing except that you are too lazy to write the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother – and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment!”

Anna became so obsessed with battling the commercialization of the holiday that she and her sister spent their entire family inheritance waging war on its practice. And in 1948 – at the tender age of 84 – Anna was arrested for disturbing the peace during one of her annual protests. Before she died, Anna said: I wish I “would have never started the day because it became so out of control...”

And that … is the rest of the story.

“Okay, Craig,” you’re probably thinking. “Now that you’re done channeling Paul Harvey, what does all this have to do with today’s reading from John. Are you just trying to bum us out on Mother’s Day?”

No. Here’s why I felt the need to give you the rest of the story regarding Mother’s Day. You see the entire movement to create Mother’s Day was originally born out of a noble desire – to celebrate the love that most of us have experienced that comes from our mother. But something happened almost immediately. Folks lost sight of the purpose of Mother’s Day. And because they lost sight of its roots, they allowed the day to become about this [hold up a picture of dollar bills] and not so much about this [hold up a picture of a mother].

In much the same way, Jesus found himself speaking to a group of people who had also lost site of what their spiritual lives were all about. Instead of devoting their time and energy to the thing that mattered most – nurturing a living, breathing relationship with their Creator – they allowed their focus to shift. They became obsessed with other things in their life. Their relationship with God suffered.

In many ways, Jesus’ words remind me an awful lot of the words spoken by Anna – for they were desperate, passionate words intended to get our priorities back on track.

So if folks had gotten off track in the ways they lead their spiritual lives, what was Jesus solution to get them back on track?

Here’s where the image of the vine, branches, (and the implied root) all come in handy.

Think for a moment about what a person needs to do in order to properly tend to a plant. What do you need to do?

[Take suggestions for a moment.]

That’s right. You need to devote time and energy to nurture the plant and keep it healthy.

Now think about your spiritual lives for a moment. How much time and energy do you devote to it? How many minutes a day do you spend in prayer and meditation? How many times a week do you explore the sacred writings of our faith (that would be the Bible)? How often do you create time in your life for acts of worship? How many hours do you spend each week in service nurturing other branches...?

Friends, as I close our time together, I want to do so by using the spirit that Anna Jarvis used during the second half of her life; that is, by issuing a challenge for us to get us back to our roots. You see Anna noted that the most important thing about Mother’s Day isn’t the cards that we buy at the store, or the flowers we pick up at the florist, or the meal we eat together at the restaurant. It’s the time we spend nurturing our relationship with our mothers.

Same thing goes with our relationship with God. It’s the time we devote to the care of the plant that counts. Not just on Sundays, but every day of the week.

If we do that – if we devote time to live or abide in God each day– then we can rest easing knowing that our branch will be in great shape.