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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, July 25

Today’s Readings: Psalm 5; 2 Samuel 6:12-23; Mark 6:30-44; Acts 21:37-22:5; Psalm 84

There was a woman who belonged to the church in which I was baptized and raised named Irene. Irene had an attitude that was typical of many regarding how people should conduct themselves in relation to their church community. Irene felt that people from all walks of life could be welcomed in the church. Once they walked through the front doors, however, she expected them to edit their faith journeys so that they would seem to be perfectly respectable to the rest of the group. “We can have people struggling with alcoholism,” she would say, “as long as they don’t talk about their struggles with alcohol. We can even have gay people in our church,” she would continue, “as long as they NEVER talk about being gay.” Irene’s goal was to have a perfectly respectable church family – at least by society’s standards. I doubt that Irene would have appreciated today’s passage from Acts – for in that passage one of the leaders of the emerging Christian community steps forward and spills his guts. He begins by establishing his credentials with his largely Jewish audience by talking about something safe like his education. Then he reveals his bloodthirsty side – admitting he was “ready to kill for God”. All of this culminates later on when he admits to the crowd that he has become a follower of Jesus. I’d call Paul’s story anything but respectable by society’s standards! Today’s passage from Acts reminds me of the importance of NOT editing our faith journeys. For in order for our faith journeys to pack real power, we have to have the courage to be honest enough to share all of the twists and turns that got us to where we are today! In the days ahead, I would invite you to think about finding someone to share your entire faith journey with: not the sanitized version – but the whole kit and caboodle. The idea might seem scary at first, but the act of sharing your entire story will have more power than you might ever have imagined! Til next time…

Friday, July 24

Today’s Readings: Psalm 129; 2 Samuel 5:17-6:11; Mark 6:14-29; Ephesians 6:18-24; Psalm 4

When I was in my twenties, I worked with a woman who – for the purposes of confidentiality – I’ll call Susan. Susan was a person who made a point of talking about what a huge role her faith played in her life. She had been active in her local parish for her entire life (over 60 years by that point!). She went to Mass every morning before work. And each election cycle she made sure we all understood how her faith was informing her vote. While Susan and I belonged to different faith traditions, I certainly respected how devoted she was to living out her faith. And then something happened that made me wonder about Susan’s faith. Susan lived near the city’s downtown, and there was a group of advocates for the disabled who wanted to build a group home in Susan’s neighborhood since the area provided access to all the services the residents would need. When Susan heard about the plan, she spent time going door to door in the neighborhood circulating a petition to stop the construction of the group home. And what was her reason for opposing the home? “It would drive down the property value of our home,” she said. I couldn’t understand how someone who spent so much time participating in her faith community could be opposed to a plan that would have met the needs of some of the most vulnerable members of society. I was reminded of my experience with Susan as I read today’s passage from Ephesians. “Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words,” the author began. “Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life” (Ephesians 6:15-16 from The Message). Those words reminded me of one of the tendencies we have when it comes to our faith. That tendency is to talk about the importance of having the qualities manifested in Jesus – love, mercy, compassion, justice – yet we don’t often talk enough about the importance of actually putting those qualities into practice in our day-to-day lives. Today I would invite you to contemplate the way you live your own life. Are there areas where you profess one set of values, yet live by another? Til next time…

Thursday, July 23

Today’s Readings: Psalm 129; 2 Samuel 5:17-6:11; Mark 6:14-29; Ephesians 6:18-24; Psalm 4

If I were to ask you, “What is the greatest threat a person faces in her or his attempt to live out her or his faith?”; I wonder how you might answer that question. Some might say the greatest threat would be human impulses like greed or lust. Others might say the greatest threat would be the doubt or fear that creeps in to one’s spiritual life. While those things certainly present formidable challenges to our efforts to live out our faith, I don’t believe any of those things represent the greatest challenge. The greatest challenge – at least for me – is living out the counter-cultural nature of our faith. By this, I mean that our faith often puts us in places where we have to buck the crowd and take positions that are not popular. Our need to fit in with those around us, however, frequently causes us to take the easy way out and compromise our faith. Today’s story from the Gospel of Mark provides us with a great example of that. In the story, King Herod develops a powerful relationship with John the Baptist. While Herod doesn’t always like what John has to say, the relationship was so strong that Herod couldn’t stay away. You’d think such a connection would guarantee a happy ending to Herod and John’s story. It didn’t. That’s because Herod was ultimately more concerned about saving face (i.e. fulfilling a promise he made to his niece) than he was about doing the right thing. Consequently, he allowed John the Baptist to be put to death. Today, I would invite you to take an inventory of your own life and see if there are places you are tempted to do the popular - rather than the right - thing. Til next time…

Wednesday, July 22

Today’s Readings: Psalm 88; 2 Samuel 4:1-12; Mark 5:35-43; Ephesians 6:1-9; Psalm 90

Several years ago when I lived in Washington State, I heard a story about how one of the political parties conducted themselves. The story really disgusted me. The party in question had been out of power for a while. One election season they re-captured control of one of the legislative chambers. This meant they had control over the way the chamber conducted its day-to-day business. One day – not too long into the legistlative session – the chamber was engaged in a long, drawn out debate on a particular bill. They were forced to work through their dinner break. The leaders of the party in control decided it was time for paybacks to the other party – so they refused to tell members of the other party when the delayed dinner break would be. Instead, the majority party leaders ordered pizza and took a spontaneous break when the pizza arrived. As if their initial behavior wasn’t bad enough, members of the majority party also refused to share their dinner with members of the minority party when the pizza arrived. When I read accounts of the action at the time, I thought, “I guess that’s how people respond when they get a little power.” Thankfully, such childish actions aren’t a universal response to power. David gives us a wonderful example of someone who can act differently when power falls in his lap. Shortly after Saul’s death, loyalists to David took it upon themselves to murder Saul’s grandson – Ish-Bosheth – in his sleep. Afterwards, they presented Ish-Bosheth’s head to David thinking he would revel in such a display of power. Many rulers probably would have. Not David, however. He reacted strongly (and violently) against such an inappropriate act. While it would be easy to think that stories such as today’s from 2 Samuel have nothing to do with our lives since none of us are kings, it’s important to remember that each of us has an area of our lives where we do have some power. For some, that power might occur within the context of our job; for others it might be in a civic or faith-based organization; for still others that power might be in a household setting. Regardless of where you power lies, today I would invite you to think about how you use that power. Do you use it for self-purposes, or do you exercise that power for good? Til next time…

Tuesday, July 21

Today’s Readings: Psalm 67; 2 Samuel 3:22-39; Mark 5:21-34; Ephesians 5:25-33
Psalm 97

One of my favorite healing stories in the Bible comes from today’s passage from the Gospel of Mark. The story – found in Mark 5:25-34 – tells what happened when a woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years reached out, touched the hem of Jesus’ robe, and was instantly healed. “There are dozens of healing stories in the New Testament,” you might think to yourself. “What sets this one apart from the others?” For me, the element of the story that sets it apart is the fact that Jesus was completely unaware of the woman and her need for healing. The healing was something that happened simply because Jesus was in the right place at the right time in order to be a vessel of healing. There is a powerful lesson in the story for those of us who consider ourselves to be followers of Jesus. That lesson? Well, the lesson I see in the story is that many times in our lives we find ourselves in situations where we – like Jesus – have the potential to be a vessel that can facilitate healing in the lives of others. Often, we are completely unaware of that opportunity at the time. For instance, we might pick up the phone and call someone without thinking much of it – and yet that call might have been the thing that lifted the other individual out of a valley of paralyzing depression. We might innocently smile at someone while standing in line at the grocery store – not knowing that the person just made the decision to leave his or her abusive spouse and needed a sign of encouragement to follow through with that decision. We might even feel a little guilty about asking a neighbor for help with a project – without even realizing that the person was struggling with low self-esteem and doubted if they had anything to offer the world. Time after time we can find ourselves in a place where we can facilitate transformational healing for someone we might not even know is in need of healing. Today, let us give thanks for the presence of the One who moves in and through us – even when we aren’t aware of it! Til next time…

Monday, July 20

Today’s Readings: Psalm 120; 2 Samuel 3:(1-5) 6-21; Mark 5:14-20; Ephesians 5:15-24; Psalm 145

There are many wonderful, exhilarating aspects of being the pastor of a local church. The opportunities you have to develop deep and meaningful relationships with people is certainly one of the exhilarating aspects. Some of the other wonderful aspects include the opportunity to create worship, the chance to participate in life-changing mission work, and the ability to help others wrestle with profound spiritual questions. All of these things are wonderful aspects of being the pastor of a local church. “So what’s the hardest part of being a pastor?” friends and family members have asked me over the years. Well, I can’t speak for all local church pastors, but for me the biggest drawback is trying to balance the various demands of those in the pews. Some folks, for instance, expect the pastor devote a huge chunk of time and energy to missions; other folks expect the pastor to devote most of his/her time to doing pastoral visits; others, demand the bulk of the pastor’s time be given to the creation of worship; still others think time spent networking in the community should come first. No matter what you are doing, there is always someone who is critical of how you’re spending your time and energy. Over the years, a pastor develops thick skin and this makes the demands a little easier to deal with. Living in the midst of these demands, however, can get extremely exhausting. Of course pastors aren't the only one who live with this dynamic. Folks from all life circumstances frequently have to deal with this: parents, spouses, folks at work... You name the social location and folks from that setting live with that dynamic! So what raised this issue for me? One of the sentences in today’s reading from Ephesians was the culprit. “Out of respect for Christ,” the author of Ephesians wrote, “be courteously reverent to one another” (Ephesians 5:21 from The Message). Those simple eleven words provide a wonderful theological grounding for how we Christians are invited to live with others. Those words provide a wonderful opportunity for reflection today. As you sit back and evaluate the manner in which you lead your life, I would ask you, “How would you describe your manner in dealing with others?” I hope you’ll join me in aspiring to consistently treat those around you in a courteously reverent manner. Til next time…

Sunday, July 19

Today’s Readings: Psalm 89:20-37; 2 Samuel 7:1-14a; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56; Ephesians 2:11-22

Have you ever noticed that it’s easy to get so busy in our day-to-day lives that we start unintentionally pulling back from our relationship with God? I’ve had that experience several times in my life. One of those times was during my mid-twenties. During that time period, I had been in my first teaching position for three years. The challenge had diminished greatly so I started adding commitments to my life. I started playing the piano for the weekly worship services at church; I volunteered to direct the church’s choir; I began serving as a precinct committee officer for the political party I was affiliated with at the time; I started work on a Master’s Degree in History at a local university; and I helped with the campaign of a presidential candidate. I absolutely loved everything I was doing so I felt I couldn’t give up any of the commitments. Over that period of time, however, I became pulled in so many different directions that I started to get burned out – all because I failed to re-fill my gas tank by devoting time and energy to my spiritual life. As I read today’s passage from 2 Samuel, I couldn’t help but wonder if the same thing might have happened to David. And what makes me think that? We’ll in the earlier chapters of 2 Samuel, David made a practice of going directly to God in his process of discernment. Now – by the time we get to chapter 7 – David is no longer speaking directly to God; he used the prophet Nathan to communicate with God for him. The process of using an intercessor might have seemed more efficient at first for David, but the consequence of that decision was that he became less and less attuned to God as was evident through some of the choices he began to make (i.e. rushing the construction of the Temple). Today I would invite you to take inventory of your life and consider whether you’ve become so busy that you have little if any time for the One who matters most of all. If that’s the case, I would invite you to re-do your schedule so that you can create time each day to nurture your relationship with God. That little scheduling exercise just might be the thing that help gets your life back on track. Til next time…