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, July 11

Today’s Readings: Psalm 140; 1 Samuel 29:1-30:10; Mark 3:7-19a; Ephesians 3:7-13; Psalm 119:49-72

There were many wonderful aspects of being raised in the household in which I was raised. My parents and siblings were amazingly kind, generous people who taught me we are put here to help make the world a better place. I will forever be grateful for their examples. There was one terribly dangerous lesson I picked up along the way. My folks taught me that if anyone ever made a request of you and you had the ability to meet it, you should do so. This was particularly true of requests on our time. Consequently, the only way I believed it was okay to say “No” was if I already had another commitment. This meant that I spent years and years busy all the time! This took a tremendous toll on me. It took me well into my thirties before I was able to learn it was okay to go off and spend some time alone to recharge my batteries. I wonder now why I didn’t pay more attention to passage like today’s Gospel reading from Mark – because such passages explicitly tell us that Jesus knew of the important of finding time for himself. “Jesus went off with his disciples to the sea to get away,” today’s passage begins. And when the crowds tried to push into Jesus “me time”, how did he respond? “[Jesus] told his disciples to get a boat ready so he wouldn’t be trampled by the crowd.” Eventually, Jesus even “climbed a mountain and invited those he wanted with him.” In other words, Jesus had excellent boundaries. Today’s Gospel reading puts forth an important lesson for us: it’s important to spend some time without the company of other human beings. Such time not only deepens our relationship with ourselves: it deepens our relationship with God as well. Perhaps you have found yourself in a place like me – spending a huge chunk of your time responding to the demands of the world and totally forgetting to find time for yourself. If that’s the case, make some time for yourself. Do so not as an act of selfishness or self-centeredness; do so as a way of following Jesus’ example. Til next time…

Friday, July 10

Today’s Readings: Psalm 144; 1 Samuel 28:3-25; Mark 2:23-3:6; Ephesians 3:1-6; Psalm 119:73-96

My experience teaching English and Social Studies in a juvenile detention center for six years was a wonderful experience for the most part. Every once in a while, however, the experience wasn’t quite so wonderful. Given the setting, it probably wouldn’t surprise you if I said every once in a while I ran across an incredibly cynical, jaded student – a one who derived a great deal of pleasure from trying to push my buttons. One of them – Shane – was particularly good at pushing my buttons. I could give you many examples of Shane’s button-pushing behaviors, but one jumps to mind right away. When every student was oriented to the school, they were told that students were not allowed to get out of their chairs without first getting permission from their teacher. This was a lock up center, after all. Well one day we had a fire drill. All of the students remembered the part of orientation that instructed them in the event of a fire drill to immediately get up out of their chairs, line up, walk into the recreation center area and await further instructions. All of the students did as they had been instructed. When we did the headcount, however, we found that one student was missing: Shane. When I went back to the classroom, there Shane was sitting with a smirk on his face. “Why didn’t you leave the classroom with the other students?” I asked incredulously. “Because we were told never to leave our chairs without first getting permission from the teacher,” he replied sarcastically. While Shane’s actions might have been defensible from a purely legalistic approach toward the student orientation, it was clear that he had missed the larger point about safety. Shane was in good company in terms of missing the real point – for in today’s Gospel reading from Mark we hear the story of a group of folks named the Pharisees who also missed the point. Like Shane, the Pharisees were obsessed with a literal reading of the rules that said no one was to prepare a meal or help another on the Sabbath. Such actions were considered violations of the Torah. When Jesus and his disciples did both, the Pharisees freaked out. In the midst of their angst, Jesus tried to help them when he raised a question intended to point them back to the big picture: “What kind of action suits the Sabbath best? Doing good or doing evil? Helping people or leaving them helpless?” (Mark 3:4 from The Message). Perhaps there is an area of your life where you’ve come from a place like Shane or the Pharisees – a place where your tunnel vision has caused you to lose sight of the big picture. If so, make some time for yourself today to step back and look for that big picture. You might get an entirely new perspective on the matter by doing so. Til next time…

Thursday, July 9

Today’s Readings: Psalm 120; 1 Samuel 27:1-28:2; Mark 2:13-22; Ephesians 2:11-23; Psalm 121

When you come from a community that has been historically marginalized, there aren’t a lot of perks that come from that association. In fact, most of the stuff associated with coming from a marginalized community is down right difficult. You get a steady stream of things like discrimination, bigotry, and hatred. There is one thing that you get from the experience of living as a member of a marginalized community, however, that is truly priceless. That thing? Complete and total reliance on God. You get that level of reliance on God because almost everyone and everything else lets you down. As a gay person, for instance, I lived through experiences in my coming out process where everyone in my life - my parents, my family, my pastor, and my friends - failed to come through for me in very deep and profound ways. That meant I was left with just one thing in the midst of my pain and isolation: God. The result of that experience is that I got EXTREMELY tight with God. I guess that’s why today’s second psalm – Psalm 121 – is one of my favorites. It captures the sense that God is truly the one and only thing that you can count on. “God won’t let you stumble, your Guardian God won’t fall asleep,” the psalmist states. “God’s your guardian, right at your side to protect you,” the psalmist continues, “Shielding you from sunstroke, sheltering you from moon stroke.” And finally the psalmist concludes, “God guards you when you leave and when you return. God guards you now, and God guards you always” (The Message). Never have truer sentiments been uttered – at least in my book. Maybe you’ve gone through an experience lately that revealed to you the limits of your support network. Perhaps your friends and family members let you down. Or maybe the financial or material resources that you accumulated in order to construct a sense of security have failed you as well. If that’s the case, re-read Psalm 121 today and give thanks for the One place you can always turn in order to find a truly loving embrace. Til next time…

Wednesday, July 8

Today’s Readings: Psalm 54; 1 Samuel 26:1-25; Mark 2:1-12; Ephesians 2:1-10; Psalm 42

So often, individuals think of healing in individual terms. When a person gets physically sick, for instance, we expect the person to seek out a doctor on his or her own. When a person wrestles with psychological or emotional issues, the individual would be expected to seek out a therapist. And when a person grapples with financial challenges, an individual would be encouraged to seek out a financial planner. All of these acts of healing are assumed to occur at the individual level. But every once in a while, there is an experience of healing that occurs within a communal context. I had a first hand experience of this in seminary. During my second year of seminary, my home church voted to discontinue their support of my candidacy for ordained ministry simply because of my sexual orientation. I was crushed by their decision and found myself questioning whether there was a place for me within the institutional church. As I wrestled with the painful questions involved in my discernment process, many of my seminary classmates walked beside me and expressed their support of me. They believed in me at a time when few others did. It would have been extremely difficult to find my way to a place of healing and restoration without their support. The friends of the paralytic in today’s Gospel reading from Mark played a similar role for their friend. When the friends of the paralytic heard Jesus was in town, they could have expected their friend to make arrangements to see Jesus on his own. But they didn’t. Instead, the paralytic’s friends jumped in and helped transport their friend to Jesus so that he could regain his mobility. Today I would invite you to think about the time(s) in your life when members of your community rallied around you and helped move you toward a place of healing. Remember those times and give thanks for the ways your community has played a pivotal role in your restoration. Til next time…

Tuesday, July 7

Today’s Readings: Psalm 107:1-22; 1 Samuel 25:23-44; Mark 1:35-45; Ephesians 1:16-23; Psalm 107:23-43

Whenever I hear a religious extremist talk about family values, I can’t help but smile. I smile because I can’t help wonder if they understand the claims they are making. Let me use one issue as an example. There are those who oppose same-gender marriage by stating that the creation story in Genesis 2 says, “Therefore, a man leaves his father and mother and embraces his wife. They become one flesh.” They use the passage to conclude: “That’s the way it always was, and that’s the way it always should be!” There’s just one problem with such an argument. That’s not the model that was used in significant portions of the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament. Take today’s story from 1 Samuel 25:23-44 – the passage that tells the story of David and Abigail. The couple’s story culminated when Abigail’s husband died suddenly of a heart attack. David immediately sent for Abigail so that they could become husband and wife. Now according to the extremists, that’s where the story should have ended. One man marrying one woman. But it doesn’t. The story continues in 1 Samuel 25:43 where we are told, “David also married Ahinoam of Jezreel. Both women were his wives.” Hmmm... What are we to make of all this? Well, one thing I make of this is that the sacred texts of our faith are much more complex than the extremists would have us believe. The beloved stories of our faith are often told in ways that reveal the cultural values of the times in which they were embedded – values that evolved over time. So what does that mean for our spiritual lives today? Does it mean we have to abandon the beloved stories of our faith? Absolutely not! The primary lesson I take from all of this is that we should never oversimplify our faith. Instead, we should honor our faith by acknowledging its wonderfully challenging complexities. Perhaps there is an area of your faith that you have oversimplified: an area in which you have become overly rigid or dogmatic. If that’s the case, today ask for the guidance of the Spirit as you begin to open yourself to the possibility that there might be more there than you first thought. Til next time…

Monday, July 6

Today’s Readings: Psalm 147; 1 Samuel 25:1-22; Mark 1:21-34; Ephesians 1:11-15; Psalm 103

It’s easy to read some of the Gospel passages as if they were amazing travel logs or itineraries – as if Jesus awoke each day with a predetermined array of things to do and simply proceeded through his day according to that list. Teach in the meeting place. Check. Heal Peter’s ailing mother-in-law. Check. That would be one way of approaching the sacred stories. I take a different approach toward understanding how Jesus lived out his days. I tend to think that one of Jesus’ many gifts was his ability to be completely present in the moment and simply let the events unfold. For instance, at the start of today’s Gospel reading I believe that Jesus desperately wanted to be present at the meeting place on the Sabbath as a part of his spiritual life. That was his goal. The teaching that ensued simply happened because folks gathered there acknowledged the wisdom that was present in Jesus. Same thing with the events that followed at Peter’s home. I don’t believe Jesus went with Peter to his home so that he could perform an act of healing upon Peter’s mother-in-law. Rather, I believe Jesus simply went to be with friends and – once there – was presented with an opportunity to effect healing for a loved one. In other words, I believe Jesus practiced what some call a ministry of presence: a ministry where he was fully present wherever and whenever he was. That is a rare gift. As individuals who proclaim ourselves to be followers of Jesus, I believe we are called to follow Jesus’ example and establish our own ministries of presence as well. Perhaps you have a challenge with that. When you’re driving to work, for instance, you might habitually find yourself thinking about the things you have to do that day. While you’re at work, you’re thinking about what you’ll have for dinner tonight. While you are eating dinner, you are thinking about the laundry you need to do before bed… The temptations to live in the future – and not the present – are endless. Today, I would invite you to follow Jesus’ example and actually live in the moment. Who knows what sort of effect this might have on you and on others. Til next time…