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Help support the vision of Woodland Hills Community Church!
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Saturday, August 29

Today’s Readings: Psalm 87; 1 Chronicles 21:18-30; Mark 13:14-27; James 2:8-17; Psalm 84

If I were to ask you, “What quality or qualities do you think are most distinctive for someone who professes to be a follower of Christ?” - I wonder how you would answer. I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about that question over the years, and I have arrived at my own set of answers. The first quality I feel is most defining is humility. I can’t see how anyone could say they are serious about following Jesus if they are arrogant or conceited. Those are two qualities that I NEVER saw manifested in Jesus during his earthly ministry. Consequently, I believe very strongly that Jesus’ followers shouldn’t take on those qualities either. The second quality I feel is distinctive is contained in today’s passage from James. That quality is kindness. “Kind mercy,” the author states, “wins over harsh judgment every time” (James 2:13 from The Message). One of the most heart-wrenching things I see in the life of local churches is acts of unkindness between members (i.e. people raising their voices toward one another in meetings or gossiping about one another outside of church). Acts such as those literally break my heart. There is absolutely NO excuse in my book for ever treating anyone in an un-Christ like manner. Ever! As you can see, I feel VERY strongly about those being defining qualities of those who profess to follow Christ. My question for you to consider today is this: what are the qualities you feel are most defining of followers of Christ? Once you’ve defined those qualities, I would encourage you to spend some time examining your life to see if you embody those qualities yourself. Til next time…

Friday, August 28

Today’s Readings: Psalm 51; 1 Chronicles 21:1-17; Mark 13:8-13; James 2:1-7; Psalm 32

Over the last several years a series of events have unfolded that have upset some Christians. First there were restrictions put on their ability to offer prayers at school events such as graduations and football games. Then school districts started to rename Christmas Break as Winter Break. Then a courthouse in Alabama was ordered to remove a display of The Ten Commandments. Finally, there was talked of removing the phrase “one nation, under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. “All of this”, some individuals screamed, “is persecution of Christianity!” As I watched these stories unfold, I thought to myself: “Folks making that charge are a little confused. Those actions aren’t persecution. Those acts are steps taken to remove the privileges Christians enjoyed over other faith traditions.” And believe me, there’s a big difference between persecution and the loss of one’s privilege. If you want to understand the difference, you would have to look no further than today’s Gospel reading from Mark. In that passage, we get a taste of what real persecution looks like. In a series of events ranging from natural disasters to litigation to patricide, we get a portrait of what distress looks like. All of this reminds me that some of us modern Christians have gotten awfully soft in terms of the way we live out our faith. Some of us have come to the place where we expect others – including government entities - to hand things to us and make our practice of faith as easy as possible. I think that’s a dangerous approach to take. As Christians from the first three centuries would probably tell us, there’s something that happens when you have to work to develop and nurture your faith. Today I would ask you how you approach your faith: do you expect others to do your work for you, or are you willing to open yourself to the challenges of pursuing your faith against all obstacles? Til next time…

Thursday, August 27

Today’s Readings: Psalm 46; 1 Chronicles 17:16-27; Mark 13:1-7; James 1:19-27; Psalm 48

I’ve spent an awful lot of time with folks at the church I’m currently serving the past six weeks looking back on our seven years of ministry together – reminiscing fondly about where we’ve been and where we are. The time spent together has touched me to the very depths of my soul. There has only been one aspect of our conversations that has been somewhat troubling to me. That aspect often gets couched in words like: “I don’t know what we’ll do with you.” While I understand the loving sentiments of appreciation behind those words, those words can also represent a trap that can keep folks too attached to the past– and not fully open to the present and future. That’s a struggle folks in local churches are notoriously for: a love of the past that prevents them from living in the present and embracing the future. That nostalgia can produce a rigidity that prevents the Holy Spirit from moving folks to the places God is calling them today and tomorrow. Today’s reading from 1 Chronicles gives us a wonderful example on one who refused to buy into that sense of nostalgia. The individual was King David. In the passage, David began his prayer by saying, “Who am I, my Master God, and what is my family, that you have brought me to this place in life?” Those opening words are wonderful words that acknowledge the blessings he has already experienced. But David doesn’t allow himself to get stuck there. He immediately moves on by noting: “But that’s nothing compared to what’s coming…” Today, I invite you to find time and ask yourself this question: “In what verb tense am I living – the past or the present?” And as you move from the present tense to the future tense, I hope you’ll make David’s refrain a mantra of yours: “But that’s nothing compared to what’s coming!” Til next time…

Wednesday, August 26

Today’s Readings: Psalm 2; 1 Chronicles 17:1-15; Mark 12:35-44; James 1:12-18; Psalm 132

In one of the first churches I served there was a wonderful woman whose name was Gretchen. Gretchen was a developmentally delayed woman who was in her 40’s. She had been involved in the urban church for several years, and during this time she found a variety of ways to contribute to the life of the church. She wrote poetry that was shared with the congregation; she sang robustly at each of the hymns she knew during the worship service; she gave some of the world’s best hugs during the coffee hour; and she had one of the warmest smiles a person could ever hope to see. Gretchen may not have been able to contribute much financial support to the life of the church – but let me tell you this: the church wouldn’t have been the same without her. Every time I read the story of the widow’s mite as contained in today’s passage from the Gospel of Mark, I think of Gretchen. That’s because the moral of the widow’s story – and Gretchen’s - is the same. That moral was best summed up in Jesus’ own words: “she gave her all.” Jesus juxtaposed the widow’s contribution with others who simply “gave what they’ll never miss.” If Jesus were to characterize the place from which you give – whether that giving is in the form of time, talents, or treasures – how would he describe it? Would he say that you gave something that you would never miss, or would he say you gave your all? Til next time…

Tuesday, August 25

Today’s Readings: Psalm 96; 1 Chronicles 8:23-36; Mark 12:28-34; James 1:1-11; Psalm 29

Even though I went to a Lutheran college to earn my bachelor’s degree, there are many things that Martin Luther and I wouldn’t see eye to eye on. One of the things good old Martin and I would vehemently disagree about would be the book of James. You see Martin Luther was NOT a great fan of the book. In fact, that would be an understatement. On one occasion he even referred to James as “the epistle of straw”! I, on the other hand, L-O-V-E the book of James. So what is it about the book of James that makes me appreciate it so? I suppose it’s the epistle’s pragmatic approach toward living out one’s faith. The author has little if any patience for folks whose words don’t match the way they live their lives. That’s probably one reason the book makes some so uncomfortable. James preoccupation with making sure people’s words line up with their actions is made clear right out of the gates – for in today’s passage from the first chapter of James the author calls the tests and challenges we face in life “sheer gifts”. He calls them gifts because those tests and challenges bring our true faith “out into the open” where one’s faith “shows its true colors” (James 1:2-3 from The Message). I can certainly attest to the wisdom of those words – for I know in my own life I learned more about my faith during times of hardship than I ever did during the so-called good times. It was during moments of grief, for instance, that I laid aside all the clich├ęs I had been taught as a child and wrestled with what I really believed about the nature of life and death. It was during moments of fear when I was faced with an illness or period of unemployment that I learned what I really meant when I said, “I trust in God”. It was when I was faced rejection and bigotry after I came out that I sensed the power of what it means to be loved unconditionally by God. So what about you? In what ways have the hard times in your own life helped bring your faith out into the open and show you its true colors? Til next time…

Monday, August 24

Today’s Readings: Psalm 150; 1 Chronicles 16:8-22; Mark 12:18-27; Acts 28:23-31; Psalm 105:23-45

One of the most common questions pastors face – especially in moments of crisis – has to do with the afterlife. The questions about the afterlife generally fall into one of two categories. First, lots of folks are worried about where their departed loved one might be. Second, lots of folks want to know whether they will be reunited with their loved one upon their own death. In each case, the primary focus is on ourselves and our loved ones. Today’s Gospel reading as paraphrased by Eugene Peterson in The Message suggests that perhaps we are focusing on the wrong thing. “As it is with angels now,” Jesus is quoted as saying in regards to the Sadducees questions, “all our ecstasies and intimacies then will be with God” (Mark 12:25 from The Message). That paraphrasing is a powerful invitation to shift our primary focus from ourselves and our relationships with other human beings to our relationship with God. So in what directions do your thoughts regarding the afterlife run? Do you focus on an image of the afterlife based primarily upon yourself and your needs, or have you opened yourself to a broader set of possibilities? Til next time…