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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, August 15

Today’s Readings: Psalm 15; 2 Samuel 19:1-23; Mark 10:42-52; Acts 27:9-20; Psalm 114

Recently I was talking with a person about struggles they were having with a step-child. The step-child had done something very hurtful to the individual’s spouse a while ago and the individual was having a hard time forgiving the step-child. As we talked the situation through the individual concluded that all she could do was ask for God to change her heart toward the step-child. “That’s part of the equation,” I said. “The other part would be for you to have the openness and willingness to have your heart changed in the first place.” What I meant by that is so often we will take our issues to God and expect God to take care of the issues FOR us. Today’s Gospel reading from Mark reminds us that’s not exactly how things work. More often than not, God works WITH us to help address the issues at hand. When the blind man came to Jesus to request healing, for instance, Jesus didn’t take care of his request FOR the man. Instead, he noted that he worked WITH the man. The collaborative nature of Jesus’ action was revealed through Jesus’ words when he said: “On your way. Your faith has saved and healed you” (Mark 10:52 from The Message). As you examine your own life, I would ask, “What is your approach to seeking God’s assistance/presence.” Do you go to God assuming God will do things FOR you, or do you go to God assuming God will do things WITH you? Til next time…

Friday, August 14

Today’s Readings: Psalm 2; 2 Samuel 18:19-33; Mark 10:32-41; Acts 27:1-8; Psalm 31

Every time I begin to wonder what’s wrong with the church today, I have a visual that comes to mind. That visual has to do with the parking lot at the old United Methodist headquarters. When you pulled into that parking lot, you couldn’t help but notice that there was a special parking lot reserved – just outside the front door, mind you – for the bishop. Every time I glanced over and saw that spot reserved for the bishop, I would get incredibly irritated. And why is that? Was I jealous because I had to walk an extra 100 feet and the bishop didn’t? No. I got irritated because that image sent exactly the wrong image about the values that go along with serving as a leader in the Christian community. The parking spot gave the illusion that our leaders are “special” and needed to be treated as such. They couldn’t be bothered to be like the rest of us and have to walk a few extra feet to their car (or worse yet, have to deal with the possibility that all the spots in the lot would be taken and have to look for parking on the street). So much for the notion of servant leadership. In many ways, this practice of reserving a cushy parking spot for one of the disciples reminds me of the desire James and John had in their hearts at the beginning of today’s Gospel lesson. They wanted to be given a special “parking” spot up in the great hereafter – a spot worthy of someone like them. Jesus answer was clever. He didn’t get all angry and self-righteous about the request as I’m prone to do. Rather, he asked a simple question to see if they were “qualified” for such a privilege: “Are you capable of drinking the cup I drink, of being baptized in the baptism I’m about to be plunged into?” That question alone helped diffuse the controversy. The next time you find yourself in a spot where you start feeling a little special and extra deserving, remember that question. It might help bring your head back from the clouds and ground it firmly on earth. Til next time…

Thursday, August 13

Today’s Readings: Psalm 109; 2 Samuel 18:9-18; Mark 10:23-31; Acts 26:24-32; Psalm 49

It has been fascinating for me to watch clips from town hall meetings around the United States that have dealt with the issue of health care. I have been surprised by some of the venom that has been produced under the guise of “talking” about the issue. The depth of the feelings involved clued me in early on that there was more at stake in these conversations than just the state of our health care system. So what else is at stake in these conversations? I certainly can’t speak for everyone, but from where I’m sitting it would seem that what is at stake is people’s ability to believe they can control their own fate. The very thought that some pieces of the reform might limit their ability to access some aspects of the health care system is more than they can bear – so they resort to shouts and insults to drown out the voices of those who would advocate for those already locked out of the existing health care system. As I watch the clips each night, I can’t help but think how ironic it is they some are fighting for the ability to “control” things – for I believe that much of the control they believe they have is really an illusion. As the psalmist pointed out in today’s second Psalm: “There’s no such thing as self-rescue, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. The cost of rescue is beyond our means, and even then it doesn’t guarantee life forever…” (Psalm 49:7-9 from The Message). Those are critically important words to remember. As people who live in a society that constantly extols the virtues of self-reliance at every turn, those words are a brutal reminder that we cannot control everything. So where are you with all of this? Do you shake your fist and scream at those aspects of life that reveal your limitations, or have you made peace with the notion that you can’t buy/control/manipulate everything? Til next time…

Wednesday, August 12

Today’s Readings: Psalm 123; 2 Samuel 17:24-18:8; Mark 10:13-22; Acts 26:19-23; Psalm 127

I was talking with a group of friends last night about this thing called “leadership”. It’s a concept that is often thrown around but rarely defined. I certainly have my thoughts about what constitutes healthy leadership and what doesn’t. In saying so, however, I realize that I can’t list qualities that inherently qualify. In many ways, my approach toward defining leadership would parallel Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s approach toward defining pornography: “I know it when I see it.” One of the individuals who most embodies the qualities of a GREAT leader for me is David in the Hebrew Scriptures. I say that for many reasons. One reason is that I believe David handled the messy transition between Saul and himself with an incredible amount of grace. Another reason I believe David was a great leader is he had the ability to admit when he was wrong (see his interaction with the prophet Nathan following his affair with Bathsheba). Today’s passage from 2 Samuel gave me two more reasons for believing David was a great leader. First, David did not place himself over and above the people he was leading; rather he saw himself as one of the people. When the forces were getting organized and ready to march, for instance, David’s first response was to say: “I’m marching with you.” That is the response of a truly great leader. Second – and even more impressive – David listened to the people he was leading. Even though David’s first instinct was to head out to battle with his troops, he was humble enough to listen to their will (“No, you mustn’t march with us”) and respond accordingly (“If you say so. I’ll do what you think is best”). So why am I highlighting these aspects of being a leader? Am I doing it to reflect on those qualities in relation to national leaders like Barack Obama or Sarah Palin? Absolutely not! I’m talking about these qualities because I have the radical belief that every single one of us is a leader in at least one area of our life. For some, we are leaders at home; for others, it’s at work; for still others, it’s in the community. Wherever you find yourself in a position of leadership, I would encourage you to first remember and then incorporate the qualities that David showed us today. First, NEVER think you are better than others and therefore above it all (i.e. don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty). Second, always remember to listen to others. If you follow those two simple ground rules, you too will have the makings of a GREAT leader! Til next time…

Tuesday, August 11

Today’s Readings: Psalm 27; 2 Samuel 17:1-23; Mark 10:1-12; Acts 26:9-18; Psalm 128

As I read today’s Gospel reading from Mark, I was reminded of a speaker I heard several years ago who gave a lecture about the context for Jesus’ teaching on divorce. The individual noted that in Jesus’ day, it was extremely easy for a man to divorce his wife. This shouldn’t be a surprise since we are told that Jesus himself referenced that fact in Mark 10:5. And once a woman was abandoned in Jesus’ day, she was left at the mercy of the other men in her life. If her father or a brother took her in, for instance, the woman was generally okay. If the woman’s father or brother refused to taken her in however, then the woman was left vulnerable and exposed. Jesus’ stern teaching on divorce, the speaker concluded, was therefore a courageous act of solidarity with the women of his day. Now, are you ready for a healthy dose of irony? Let’s skip ahead two millennia. Many modern Christians have taken Jesus’ teaching out of its original context and used it as a tool against women in order to keep them trapped in troubled and/or abusive relationships. So what are we to make of all of this? Well, I suppose one of the most important lessons we can take from today’s Gospel reading is this: Jesus’ words and deeds were always embedded within a particular historical and social context. That means one should never treat them too simplistically. So the next time you are tempted to take Jesus’ words and deeds out of context and twist them to fit your own agenda, take a deep breath and resist that temptation. Have the good sense and humility to realize there might be a difference between our perceptions of what we think Jesus said versus what Jesus might have actually meant. Til next time…

Monday, August 10

Today’s Readings: Psalm 38; 2 Samuel 16:1-23; Mark 9:42-50; Acts 25:23-26:8; Psalm 60

There are two historical figures that I’ve looked up to for years. One of them probably wouldn’t surprise you; the other might. Those two figures are former President Jimmy Carter and Malcolm X. I admire former President Jimmy Carter for many reasons. I admire his willingness to what he thought was right even though it was unpopular at the time (i.e. turning over the Panama Canal to the Panamanians). I also admire the fact that in the years after he left office, he has devoted his life to helping others rather than simply making a fortune on the speaking circuit. I admire Malcolm X for other reasons. I admire Malcolm because he had a fierce sense of pride and self-esteem – even when society told him he wasn’t worth much. I also admire Malcolm for the tremendous capacity he had to grow as a human being. Let me give you an example of the way Malcolm grew. For years, Malcolm had asserted that white men were blond haired, blue-eyed devils. When he made his pilgrimage to Mecca later in life, however, Malcolm realized how bigoted his belief was. So you know what he did? He changed his belief. It would have been so easy for Malcolm to publically continue his previous position in order to save face. He refused to do so. He had the courage to speak his truth – no matter what. That’s what I admire most about Malcolm. Of course Malcolm isn’t the only person who had the courage to speak his truth despite the cost. In today’s passage from Acts, we hear a bit of Paul’s testimony before Agrippa. As someone who had been a Pharisee at one point in his journey, it would have been easy for Paul to continue to publically present himself as a Pharisee to save face. Or, at the very least, it would have been easy for Paul to simply back off and fade into the background following his conversion. Paul did neither of those things. He spoke his truth – no matter what the cost. Today, I invite you to consider the examples of folks like Paul and see if there is a truth in your life that you’ve been silencing to which it might be time to give voice. Til next time…

Sunday, August 9

Today's Reading: Ephesians 4:25-5:2

The last two weeks I’ve gotten a taste of what some of the great recording artists of all time must have gone through. Artists like Tina Turner, the Grateful Dead, and Cher. In other words, I’ve been doing my own version of a Farewell Tour.

And during this tour, I’ve had the chance to reconnect with colleagues, former parishioners, and friends, and reflect on my first seven years of parish ministry. The opportunity to reflect has been priceless – for through these conversations I’ve gained an enhanced sense of clarity about who I am and how I minister. Some of the insights I’ve gained have mostly to do with my quirks, and I won’t bother sharing those with you. A couple insights I’ve gained, however, have to do with my practice of ministry and the way it affects the communities I’m in ministry with – so I thought it might be helpful to share one of those insights with you to help you see how my ministry has shaped this community.

Last Wednesday, I sat down for coffee with a colleague of mine who has known me since I first arrived in Denver ten years ago. We talked for nearly an hour, before I asked her a question that produced a provocative observation; I asked her, “As someone who knew me before I officially entered the ministry, what about my ministry has surprised you?”

She thought carefully for a few moments, and then said: “When you came to seminary, I knew you had a long history of activism working for a variety of causes. I guess the thing that most surprises me is that you didn’t do more advocacy or missions work in your ministry.”

I could feel the pace of the blood in my veins start to pick up a little as I started to get defensive. I found myself starting to pull together facts to bolster my defense. Thankfully, before I spoke, I had the sense to slow down and take a sip of coffee. And in those moments, I had a chance to sit with what my colleague had said. Before I knew it, my response to her observation had changed completely.

“You know, I think you’re right,” I began. “Had I been engaged in the practice of ministry when I was younger, I definitely would have been more engaged in advocacy and missions work out in the world. But something changed in me in the days leading up to the start of my ministry that affected the way I practice ministry.”

“And what was that?” my colleague asked.

“The guess the way I see church.”

And with that I launched into a long monologue. Now I won’t give you all the details that I shared with my colleague, but I will give you a couple highlights.

I started by talking about my mission involvement with local churches when I was in middle and high school. I talked, for instance, about how my local church was involved in supporting a program called the Union Gospel Mission: a shelter for people in our community who were homeless – many of whom wrestled with substance abuse issues. Two things stuck out about my experiences there. First, I remember thinking to myself: “When churches provide meals to the homeless, why did they force the homeless to sit through a worship service before they could eat?” That didn’t seem very Christ-like. And second, I remember wondering, “If our church cares so much about these vulnerable people, then why don’t we have any of them in our church?”

No one ever answered those questions.

Fast forward six years to my college days. I was taking a sociology class on deviance, and we were exploring the dynamics involvement in situations of domestic violence. For a project that I was given, I was told that I needed to interview a person who had been affected by domestic violence. I spent several days calling domestic violence shelters trying to get permission to talk with someone affected by domestic violence. My requests were denied. Finally, one day when I was sitting at the lunch table in the cafeteria telling a classmate about my problem, she said: “I suppose you could interview me.” She went on to tell me about an abusive relationship she had been involved in throughout high school. She had attended a local church that took clothing and money to a local domestic violence shelter, but sadly that church never made her feel safe enough to talk about her own experience of it.

Fast forward another six years. The state in which I was living during my twenties had a ballot measure that would have established English as the only language used by the state government. Several religious leaders and religious organizations I knew were up in arms – decrying the attempts to marginalize our sisters and brothers from other cultural backgrounds. At one of the rallies, I asked a colleague, “So what does your church do to include other languages in the life of your community?” “Nothing,” the activist replied. “So English as the only language is okay in our local churches but not our government?” I replied. My colleague remained silent.

Those three experiences taught me an important lesson about the way many churches (and the people inside those churches) approach activism and mission work. That lesson can be summarized in eight simple words: “Do as I say, not as I do.” It’s no wonder so many people outside the church look at Christians as if we are all hypocrites.

By the time I entered seminary, I made a promise to myself. I promised that when it came time to do activism and mission work, I would do them a little differently than most. Instead of seeing the mission field outside the walls of the church, I would see the mission field as being within the walls of the church. And I did so for this reason. I thought we inside the church better get our act together first – before we started trying to help others. In other words, I took to heart the sentiments contained in this morning’s passage from Ephesians.

So with that, I began a ministry here at Mountain View whose focus was built upon the words from today’s passage.
“Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps…”

“Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk…”

“Be gentle with one another, sensitive…”

“Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you…”

This meant our process as a local church was different than most. During my time with you, we didn’t win any denominational awards for giving the most money or volunteer hours to a mission project. Nor did we make the front page of the newspaper for being activists aligned with a particular cause.

But we did accomplish something else. First, we began to treat each other in a more Christ-like fashion. And secondly, the composition of this church began to change. We went from being an extremely homogenous group to a much more diverse body.

And as I thought about those changes, I realized that perhaps we had done some good advocacy and mission work after all.

Friends, as we move closer toward these days of transition as I leave and you receive first the pulpit supply person and then your interim pastor; I want to leave you with the culminating words of this morning’s passage: “Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with God and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. Christ’s love was not cautious but extravagant. Christ didn’t love us in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.”

If you embrace those words to the depths of your souls – first with one another, then with others – I guarantee that the ministry of this church will thrive. Even better, the ministry of this church will reflect the one in whose name it ministers.