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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, June 6

Today’s Readings: Psalm 72; 1 Samuel 9:1-14; John 15:18-27; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Psalm 133

If I were to ask you, “What are some tools you could use to evaluate a person’s spiritual life”, lots of folks would respond by putting forward a list of things a person should be engaged in. “A spiritual person should have an active prayer/meditation life,” one might start by saying. “And a spiritual person should have a devotional life that connects his or her story with the sacred stories of one’s faith,” another might add. “And a faithful person should be a good steward and give generously to help others,” another might pipe in. All of things are certainly qualities that should flow naturally from one’s faith. But there’s a whole level of one’s walk that is left out of such a list. You see such a list would make it seem that the vast majority of a Christian’s life is lived in a vacuum: that it consists simply of things we do on our own. That’s not the case. An equally important part of our spiritual life ought to exist through our relationships with other people. Paul wrote in today’s passage from 2 Corinthians: “All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and [God], and then called us to settle our relationships with each other… We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them” (2 Corinthians 5:18 & 20 from The Message). My question for you to consider today is this: “If someone were to examine the interpersonal relationships in your life, what would the way you handle those relationships say about your faith?” Til next time…

Friday, June 5

Today’s Readings: Psalm 21; 1 Samuel 8:1-22; John 15:9-17; 2 Corinthians 5:6-15; Psalm 10

One of my favorite all-time television shows is “Friends”. It’s probably because the cast members were all within a couple years of my age. The comedy definitely had a generational sense of appeal. One of the more memorable episodes for me was the episode where Phoebe and Joey debated the issue of whether or not it was possible for a human being to perform a truly altruistic act. The episode was titled “The One Where Phoebe Hates PBS”. Every time Phoebe would identify a gesture she thought was selfless, Joey would show her something the individual got out of the act. Phoebe’s frustration grew throughout the episode until she reached the point where she began to question her belief that human beings were capable of performing altruistic acts. I thought of this episode as I was reading today’s passage from 2 Corinthians - for in the passage Paul wrote of the two states we human beings find ourselves thinking about: here on earth we live in an extended period of what Paul calls “exile”, and later on when we die we move into a period of what Paul labels “homecoming”. Many people base a large portion of their faith on one of these two states in hopes that their faith might personally benefit them. Those who focus on the period of exile focus on the benefits of their faith in the here and now. Such a theological line of thinking would suggest that those who are faithful will be blessed with material rewards in the here and now. Others who base their faith on the homecoming experience anchor their faith in the eternal reward that awaits them. In both cases, one’s faith can be driven by a “what’s in it for me” attitude. Paul suggests that’s an unhealthy spiritual approach; he suggests our faith should be based upon something else. “… Neither exile or homecoming is the main thing,” Paul wrote. “Cheerfully pleasing God is the main thing, and that’s what we aim to do, regardless of our conditions.” (2 Corinthians 5:9 from The Message). So my question for you today is this: what is your faith based upon? Is your faith based upon a desire to please God so that you’ll be materially blessed in the here and now; is your faith based upon a desire to please God so that you’ll be eternally blessed in the hereafter; or is your faith based upon a desire to simply please God? Til next time…

Thursday, June 4

Today’s Readings: Psalm 27; 1 Samuel 6:19-7:17; John 15:1-8; 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:5; Psalm 77

Lots of us carry baggage with us regarding things we learned about faith when we were very young. That’s because when we were young, the principles of our faith were presented in age-appropriate ways that tended to be rather black and white in nature. Instead of reflecting on those principles and thinking to ourselves, “That principle was helpful for me when I was 8 – but now it’s time for me to engage the principle and arrive at a mature understanding of it”; we hold on to that childhood belief. Understandably that decision causes us a lot of trouble in our spiritual lives as adults. Let me give you an example. As a child, many of us learn the cliché: “Everything happens for a reason”. Some of those reasons we understand; some we don’t. One of the ramifications of this belief is that we are taught that it is wrong to get upset and cry out to God from the very depths of our pain. Such a response, we are told would demonstrate a lack of faith. Instead, we are told to just suck it up (i.e. keep our mouths shut) and “trust God”. Thankfully, in today’s second psalm the psalmist puts such a notion to rest and instead demonstrates what I would call a mature faith. He gets real with God and holds nothing back. “I yell out to my God, I yell out with all my might,” the psalmist begins. “I yell at the top of my lungs.” Not exactly the kind of behavior a second-grade Sunday school teacher would approve. The psalmist then goes one step further by asking those difficult questions that our childhood Sunday school teachers would have told us were rude – questions like “Will the Lord walk off and leave us for good?” “Is [God’s] love worn threadbare?” “Has [God] angrily stalked off and left us?” It’s only because the psalmist was able to get, however, and practice a mature faith that he was able to let go of the pain he carried and move into a healthy relationship with God. Today I wonder if there is a part of your experience that you’ve kept out of your relationship with God – a part that you worried might cause you to lash out at God inappropriately if you accessed. If so, re-read today’s second psalm and use it as permission to “go there”. It’s only when we “go there” that we are finally able to leave remnants of our childish faith behind and grow into a mature faith that brings all of ourselves and our experiences into our relationship with God. Til next time…

Wednesday, June 3

Today’s Readings: Psalm 131; 1 Samuel 6:1-18; John 14:25-31; 2 Corinthians 4:7-15; Psalm 116

We live in a society that rarely gives us a chance to relax and catch our breath. It seems as if we’re constantly being pushed to achieve. In our professional lives, there’s the constant pressure to achieve more and climb higher up the corporate ladder. In our financial lives, there’s the pressure to acquire more money. In our personal lives, there’s the pressure to cultivate deeper relationships. Even in our spiritual lives, it’s easy to want to grow more in one’s faith. Rarely do we get the opportunity to step back and appreciate what we have at any given moment. In fact, some would consider such a move lazy. Thankfully, the psalmist isn’t one of those people. In today’s first Psalm, the psalmist noted: “I’ve kept my feet on the ground; I’ve cultivated a quiet heart. Like a baby content in its mothers arms, my soul is a baby content” (Psalm 131:2). What a wonderful goal the psalmist sets before us – to reach a point in our lives where we can step out of the rat race and experience perhaps the most elusive state of all: contentment. Today I would encourage you to monitor yourself and see what sort of attitude you bring to life? Are you someone who is never satisfied with your life circumstance; or are you someone whose soul is like a baby: content? Til next time…

Tuesday, June 2

Today’s Readings: Psalm 135; 1 Samuel 5:1-12; John 14:15-24; 2 Corinthians 4:1-6; Psalm 115

Six weeks ago, we kicked off a confirmation class for some of the 13 & 14 year olds at our church. We spent the first three sessions exploring each expression of the Trinity: God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. We paid close attention to images that sprung out of each expression that helped us explore various aspects of God. In focusing on God, for instance, we found a variety of images used in Scripture ranging from God as sun and shield to God as mother hen. In focusing on Jesus, we found a variety of other images used as well. These images ranged from Jesus as Lamb of God to Jesus as King. And in focusing on the Holy Spirit, once again we found there were a whole different set of imaged. These images ranged from the Holy Spirit as Advocate to the Holy Spirit as Counselor. As we finished our third session, each of the participants stepped back and saw that one of the beauties of our Christian tradition is that each expression of God adds another level or layer to our understanding of God. One of my very favorite images of God was used in the section on the Holy Spirit – and that image was taken directly out of today’s passage from the Gospel of John. That image? Friend. Today, I want to introduce something knew to my blog to highlight the power of that image. I want to include a link to a song that captures some of the sentiments Jesus was getting at when he said, “I will talk to the Father, and [the Father] will provide you another Friend so that you will always have someone with you…” The song is James Taylor’s rendition of “You’ve Got a Friend”. As you listen to it, I hope you’ll experience your relationship with God in new ways. Here’s the link: Til next time…

Monday, June 1

Today’s Readings: Psalm 27; 1 Samuel 4:12-22; John 14:8-14; 2 Corinthians 3:1-18; Psalm 44

If I were to ask most people to name one theologian, they would probably give me the name of someone like Karl Barth or St. Augustine. That’s because folks have come to think of theologians as historical figures that have had lots of books published. Because many people think of theologians this way, they don’t spend a lot of time thinking about their own personal theology. As a result, they often end up simply adopt pieces of theology handed down to them by their family members or Sunday school teachers. This means they often don’t realize the implications of their beliefs. Let’s take the popular belief in a God that is completely transcendent. Many of us were taught the classical notion that God was a distant presence that lived far away from us in the realm of heaven. Consequently, we adopted spiritual practices in our lives that went along with the belief in a distant God. Our prayer time, for instance, was spent bringing this distant God up-to-date on the various happening of our lives. Even our practice of spiritual disciplines like prayer and devotion were affected by this outlook. Often we acted as if we were children whose parents were away - hoping we would be “caught” engaging in a positive activity when our parent(s) finally happened to re-appear in our lives. Today’s passage from 2 Corinthians challenges such a notion of a distant God. Paul wrote: “Whenever, though, they turn to God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are – face-to-face! They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a chiseled piece of stone” (2 Corinthians 3:16 from The Message). The question I have for you to consider today is what kind of theology do you carry with you? Do you see God in the classical sense as a distant, transcendent being – far removed from your daily life; or do you see God as an eminent presence in your life – one you encountered “face-to-face” and moment to moment? How you answer that question will strongly shape the ways in which you live out your faith. Til next time…

Sunday, May 31

Today's Reading: Acts 2:1-21

Sorry I'm late posting today (I'm in the middle of a 15 hour day and haven't had a chance to write yet). Anyway, for Pentecost Sunday I organized today's worship around a poem one of our parishioners shared. The poem was titled "But We Are Friends", and it was written by Zachary Moon. I thought for today's post I would share the piece with you to invite you to think about Pentecost in perhaps new ways....

But We Are Friends by Zachary Moon

Extend your ear, Mother of the circle, of all creation
Behold your peculiar people, now madly talking around your blessed revelation
How beautiful our process, how simple and pure
If only, yes then, wait minute that, are you sure?
That this is what you intended when you sent your Spirit out?
Some days I’m just not so sure what it’s all about

Behold how we go along, picking and choosing with care
But consider the Cross, the prison cell; this is not our history to share?
Peace-check, Simplicity-yes, well relatively, Integrity-sounds good to me
But when does all this just shroud us in the comfortable blanket of complacency?

All of this sounds good on paper, so let’s minute that: umpteen dash one
What else could we do, well out of time today, let’s be silent now we’re done
And yest the quiet is good sometimes, but so is preaching from the trees
Forgive me if all this minuting seems a little like a tease
When was it that we grew so allergic to authentic confrontation?
Not that long ago we broke up false worship with righteous indignation

What do we have left if we lose our tongue to preach?
Look out, it’s First Day school, these beautiful young faces, and us with little to teach
Maybe we could begin by speaking of the living water that springs from a rock
But if we did that we might have to let go of a worship-style governed by a clock
Our young people may well demand some changes to our style and pace
Perhaps more dangerously, they often are calling us to be faithful, face to face
Is this why we separate ourselves, telling them that they’re not ready?
Better to keep them out if we hope to keep this little boat steady

And I keep thinking about that boat and this here storming
All these wars and injustices swarming
And there He comes, walking out across the water, the raging storm all around
But we look away, hoping for something that makes sense by way of dry ground
Surrounded now we try desperately to cover our head
But He call out: Get up and get out of this boat, leave your fear and your dread
He called then, as He calls now: Step away from the boat
Then again, He’d probably understand our position better if we minuted that we can’t float

It’s just too much to take in, that She will provide,
So we just keep to the clock, and keep sitting here side by side
But I kept on reading, this time skipping a few chapters back
And here’s another story of God’s people complaining of what they lack
A captured people scared to be faithful, the story reads the same
Then and now, Pharoah’s slaves-frightened, divided, and tame

But the message is clear-She will give us the manna we need
Plenty to go around, if we choose this feed
But how would we know, that yes, now we had enough
When all our consideration revolves around our stuff
Locked into that liberal narrative that says you can straddle both sides of the line
Loving your brothers and sisters on one side, and on the other keeping all that is mine
You could look at all this and say it our luxury or benefit to choose
Or you could see that it is those with everything who have everything to lose

This is the eye of the needle standing before us
And from every corner, the rebellious house sings it chorus
In our language, our mind-think, our TV
“Not now, not this, not me”
But the blood is on our hands-this is our stain
You cannot be neutral on a moving train
But oh, when we hop off-the possibilities we might see
Perhaps then we would hear the Truth in Her child’s decree

No longer are you servants, passive and incomplete
Now called Friends, from this moment from this seat
Stand up, quake as you rise
The Power lies inside of you, Love is the prize
Bearing, believing, hoping, enduring-all
This is the still, small voice of Her child’s call

Stand out, speak up, step off the curb
Away from the way of life that has built ‘burb after ‘burb
Let us begin as that change without the burden of guilt or dout
She is calling to us again, Pharaoh’s slaves-Exodus out!
Out into the desert, out into Her care
Faith is a choice and I for one am dog-tired of despair

Here I am Lord, there are some of us yet, willing to risk it all, to suffer, and take a chance,
Willing to hear, willing to be transformed, willing to do the time, willing to advance
In the name of the Covenant, in the name of Beloved Community, in Her blessed name,
These feet were made for walking, get up and walk, cured by Truth, behold the lame,
How freed from Cain’s mark, released from our task of domination and toil,
The desert may bloom, a new harvest bursting forth from rich soil.

I raise this prayer up to the sky and up through each of you
It is up to us now, in our hand, to know what to do
He dared to call us his Friends in John’s Gospel 15:15
Will we take on this responsibility and be baptized in the prophetic stream?
The servant pleads “Not now, not this, not me”
But we are Friends, now and forever – let’s get free!