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, August 1

Today’s Readings: Psalm 106:24-48; 2 Samuel 12:1-14; Mark 8:1-10; Acts 23:12-30; Psalm 51

I have many memories of my mother that I’ve accumulated over the years. One of the most defining was something that happened several years ago as we were driving down the street. My mother and I had spent the day in the big city (Spokane, WA) running errands. I was ready to take her back home when our car approached someone standing alongside the road with a sign asking for financial help so that the person could feed his children. Over the years, I had become somewhat hardened to the sight so I rarely stopped to offer help. “Why don’t you pull over for a minute?” my mother said. “Why?” I asked. “So I can give the person some money,” she replied. “But why would you want to do that?” I said, “He’ll probably use the money to buy alcohol. He’s probably lying about his situation.” “But what if he’s not?” my mother said. I knew her wonderful compassion had won the day - so I pulled the car over so we could give the individual some money. In a day and age when it’s so easy to become hardened and look through those in need, my mother reminded me there was another way of being as well. I was reminded of that experience when I read today’s Gospel passage from Mark. In that passage, most folks around Jesus would have looked at the crowd that had been hanging around Jesus for three days and thought to themselves, “If these people are hungry, it’s their own fault. They either should have brought provisions they could be eating right now, or they could have had the good sense to go home before now. Either way it’s their own fault!” Jesus chose to see the situation differently. “This crowd is breaking my heart,” Jesus began. “They have stuck with me for three days, and now they have nothing to eat” (Mark 8:2-3 from The Message). Those words – and my mother’s example – remind me how important it is that we never lose sight of compassion. While the world may tell us that we may have every reason to be cynical and jaded, Jesus reminds us none of those reasons are good enough to prevent us from being compassionate. Til next time…

Friday, July 31

Today’s Readings: Psalm 92; 2 Samuel 11:1-27; Mark 7:31-37; Acts 23:6-11; Psalm 106:1-23

Each denomination has their own unique personality and theological take on things. I have certainly learned that serving an ecumenical church affiliated with three denomination. Many churches in The United Church of Christ, for instance, have a thorough commitment to free thinking and a deep commitment to the use of inclusive language. Many United Methodist Churches have a theological grounding in the concept of grace. They also have a broad theological range within their worshipping communities as evidenced through their hymnal and hymnal supplement. The Presbyterian Church (USA), on the other hand, tends to be very liturgical. They also regularly include an element in worship that some other denominations don’t: a prayer of confession. Many progressive churches are extremely uncomfortable with using prayers of confession in worship as they tap into deep-seeded issues regarding the doctrine of original sin. When I started out at Mountain View, I too was a little suspicious of the regular prayers of confession. Over time, however, I have come to love those prayers. Why is that? Well, for me, those prayers give me the opportunity in worship to take a moment and remember who I am (a finite person with limited capacities) before I celebrate who God is. In essence, they give me the opportunity to remind myself of my need to live in right reltaionship with God. The psalmist understood this, for in today’s first psalm the psalmist took time to do just that – acknowledge the limitations both of himself and his ancestors. “We’ve sinned a lot, both we and our parents,” the psalmist noted, “we’ve fallen short, hurt a lot of people.” (Psalm 92:6 from The Message). So what role does confession play in your own spiritual life? The answer to that question will go a long way in help shape the way you live out your relationship with God. Til next time…

Thursday, July 30

Today’s Readings: Psalm 76; 2 Samuel 10:1-19; Mark 7:20-30; Acts 23:1-5; Psalm 91

Today’s Gospel reading contains my favorite story about Jesus. That story tells of the encounter between Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician woman. At first glance, most folks wouldn’t think much of the story. It would simply appear to be one of many healing stories peppered throughout the Gospels. If you look deeper, however, the story raises a key question about the nature of Jesus. That key question is raised in verse 27 – the verse where Jesus responds to the Syro-Phoenician woman’s request for healing for her daughter. And how did Jesus initially respond to that request for healing? He refused the request. And not only did Jesus refuse her request, he did so by implying that she was a second class person: a “dog” that would only get what was left over after the preferred children ate. Most scholars who have dealt with the passage suggest that one of two things is going on in the text. The scholars who are more traditional or orthodox suggest that Jesus was simply testing the woman to give her the opportunity to prove her faith. I’m not in this camp. Other scholars suggest that the encounter between Jesus and the woman revealed a bias or prejudice that Jesus had. Many of these scholars go one step further and say the woman’s response exposed Jesus’ bias (even to himself); this exposure then caused Jesus to overcome his bias and grant her request for healing. Many traditional folks would consider such an interpretation shocking as they are uncomfortable with the notion that Jesus would have any such biases. I’m not uncomfortable with such a reading, however. In fact, such a reading shows me that Jesus was always willing to examine himself and open himself to the possibility of seeing things in new ways. It challenges me to do my work as well. As fellow followers of Jesus, I would encourage you to take time today and explore your own attitudes to see if there are blind spots that exist in your own life that you need to address – blind spots that would limit the fullness of God’s grace. If you find one/some, then next step would be to do what Jesus did: move beyond them. Til next time…

Wednesday, July 29

Today’s Readings: Psalm 50; 2 Samuel 9:1-13; Mark 7:9-19; Acts 22:22-30; Psalm 119:97-120

Several years ago, I heard a popular talk show host talk about environmental issues during his broadcast. The talk show host attacked environmentalists for wanting to do too much to protect the earth. As the justification for his position, he was using a warped reading of Genesis 1:28 – which says God gave humanity dominion “over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Because humanity has dominion over creation, the talk show host argued, we should be able to whatever we want with the earth. I wish that the same talk show host would have held today’s first psalm – Psalm 50 – alongside Genesis 1:28. For today’s first psalm says things like “the God of gods – it’s God! – speaks out, shouts, ‘Earth!’ welcomes the sun in the east, farewells the disappearing sun in the west…” and “the whole cosmos attests to the fairness of [God’s] court”. The language of celebration doesn’t put humanity over and above creation – it puts creation within the event. Today, I would ask you to explore the way you approach creation. Do you see creation as that which God created merely as a plaything for humanity – to do with as we see fit; or do you view creation as a sacred part of the order to which we are intimately connected? Til next time…

Tuesday, July 28

Today’s Readings: Psalm 72; 2 Samuel 7:18-29; Mark 6:53-7:8; Acts 22:12-21; Psalm 48

I was at an event recently where the issue of the conflict in the Middle East was raised. A member of the audience questioned one of the church leaders about what her position was on the issue. It was clear that the questioner had already made her mind up on the issue; her hope was to get the church leader to agree with her position. Anything less than total agreement was unacceptable. As I listened to the exchange between the questioner and the church leader, I found something extremely ironic. While the questioner had a stated goal of pursuing peace in the Middle East, she was so locked into her position that she was perpetuating a form of spiritual violence against those who held a position different from hers. That encounter reminded me how easy it is for us to slip into a place of hypocrisy where we advocate for one set of values yet live our life by another. Of course I’m not the only one who isn’t fond of hypocrisy. Jesus wasn’t a big fan of it either. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is quoted as saying: “These people make a big show of saying the right thing, but their heart isn’t in it. They act like they are worshipping [God], but they don’t mean it” (Mark 7:7 from The Message). It would be easy for me to single out the questioner at the event and call her as a hypocrite, but I would be wrong to do so – for I believe that everyone (myself included!) has at least one area of our lives where we are hypocritical as well. Today, I would encourage you to spend time examining your own life to see if there might be an area where you are prone to say the right thing without really having your heart in it. Til next time…

Monday, July 27

Today’s Readings: Psalm 122; 2 Samuel 7:1-17; Mark 6:45-52; Acts 22:6-11; Psalm 84

Yesterday was truly one of the most difficult days of my life. I had to tell the congregation that I am currently serving (Mountain View United Church in Aurora, CO) that I was resigning my position there in order to accept the call to serve another congregation (Woodland Hills Community Church in Woodland Hills, CA). It was excruciatingly hard to resign my current position because I have such a deep love of - and profound respect for - the people of Mountain View. They have shown my partner Mike and I such amazing love and support over the years that the thought of leaving them nearly breaks my heart. “If you love them so much,” you might wonder, “why would you even think of leaving them?” “Well,” my answer would be, “the reason I’m leaving has to do with a four letter word: C-A-L-L.” You see when you decide to respond to God's call, you are making the decision to turn your life over to God and follow the leading of the Spirit – no matter where it takes you: and in my case, it was clear the Spirit was calling me to Woodland Hills. I was reminded of all this as I read today’s passage from Acts. In that passage, we heard the story of Saul’s arrival at the outskirts of Damascus. Now if Saul had his way, he would have entered the city in a traditional manner. Things didn’t unfold that way, though. After being struck blind by a brilliant light, Saul heard the voice of Jesus say: “Get to your feet and enter Damascus. There you’ll be told everything that’s been set out for you to do.” Those words remind me that faith often take us out of our comfort zone and challenges us to turn over our sense of control to the leading of the Spirit. My question for you today is this: “How willing are you to step outside your comfort zone? Do you see faith simply as an endorsement of the status quo, or as something that occasionally calls you to leave behind the status quo and go where God is calling you? Til next time…

Sunday, July 26

Today's Featured Reading: John 6:1-15

Most of us have someone in our lives who represents a heroic presence for us. For me, that person is a woman who – for confidentiality purposes – I’ll call Susan. Let me take a few minutes and tell you why Susan is a hero of mine.

Susan was married to a man by the name of David. David was one of a handful of private business owners who lived in our small town when I was growing up. David not only owned one business – he owned several SUCCESSFUL businesses. Susan and David had five children: Paul, Harold, Jeannie, Mark, and Scott. Most folks in our town looked at Susan and figured she had a charmed life!

And then – in the mid-1980’s – things began to change dramatically in Susan’s world. Susan’s only daughter Jeannie got pregnant during her senior year of high school. Things like this never happened in our idyllic community so people weren’t sure how to react; so they did what many people in small towns do: they talked behind the family’s back.

Two years later, Susan’s second child Harold was hit by a car while he was out biking. Harold was in a life-threatening situation for many months. Through the strength of his will and the love of his family, Harold managed to hold on for quite a while. A year later Harold finally succumbed to those injuries – passing away at the age of 23.

The following year Susan’s third child Mark was working for one of his father’s companies – unloading a freight car – when something went horribly wrong in the loading area. The load of freight tipped and fell upon Mark – killing him instantly.

In the span of just five years, Susan lived through the unexpected pregnancy of her teenage daughter and the death of not one but two of her children. I wish I could say that Susan’s trials ended there, but they didn’t.

Within 18-months of Mark’s death, Susan was diagnosed with an advanced case of breast cancer. And in the midst of her difficult treatment regime, her husband filed for divorce.

By the time 1995 rolled around, Susan was totally shell-shocked. Any remnant of the world she had known just 12 years earlier was either gone, or permanently changed.

So what does all of this have to do with today’s Gospel reading from John?

Well, let’s see if I can help you tie the two together.

As I thought about Susan in light of this morning’s story, I thought there were a couple of places where I saw evidence of Susan’s presence. First, I thought initially, I could see Susan as one of those individuals in the story that scampered up the hillside to be a part of the crowd near Jesus - for like them, Susan was in desperate need of healing and restoration. But that location didn’t capture the fullness of Susan’s story. So I thought about the possibility of seeing Susan in the person of Phillip. For as Susan sat back and surveyed the landscape of her life, there is no doubt in my mind that she – like Phillip – must have thought: “I don’t have enough resources to get through this.”

Now if I stopped at this point in my telling of Susan’s story, you might wonder what it was about Susan that made her into such a heroic figure for me. For to this point, she had done nothing remarkable other than endure a series of tragedies.

But Susan’s story didn’t end there. For every morning thereafter, Susan did the most heroic thing imaginable. She kicked her legs out from the covers, sat up on the edge of the bed, put her feet on the floor, stood up, and faced a new day. After much thought I finally figured out where Susan was in this morning’s story. She was the little boy. For every day, Susan did what the little boy did. She got up, offered all that she had, and trusted that it would be enough to see her through.

And you know what?

It was.

Not once, for instance, did Susan allow herself to look at her grandchild born out-of-wedlock to her teenage daughter and see that grandchild with anything but love and total devotion. Not once did Susan allow the pain of losing not one but two children to overwhelm her. She found ways to be there for her three surviving children. Not once did Susan define herself as a victim of cancer. Susan instead defined herself as a person living with cancer. Not once did Susan allow a broken relationship to call her self-worth into question. Instead, Susan brought a renewed sense of vigor and wholeness to the other relationships in her life. That is why Susan is a heroic person of faith in my book.

Friends I say all of this not to toot Susan’s horn. For if you knew her, you’d know that Susan is the last person on the planet who would want her horn tooted. Nor do I share the story as an example of personal one-upmanship: to set into motion a chain of events where we share competing stories of who do we know who has had it harder. Instead, I share Susan’s story as a lived example of what it means to face difficult times – times when we wonder if we have enough to go on – and come through those days with more than just a few crumbs left over.

I can’t say that I know exactly what lies ahead for you: the magnitude of the challenges and transitions before you – the limited amount of resources you think of as having available to you. So I can’t tailor make my message to your specific circumstances.

But this morning, I can tell you this. No matter how big the challenges you face may seem, no matter how scarce your resources might seem: you will have enough to see you through.

Even better. You’ll have leftovers.

That, in a nutshell, is the good news of our gospel. Thanks be to God!