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Help support the vision of Woodland Hills Community Church!
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Saturday, September 12

Today’s Readings: Proverbs 21:1-17; Matthew 21:23-32; Psalm 19

A few weeks ago, I was at a dinner party with friends when the topic of health care reform came up. And wouldn’t you know it, things got intense rather quickly. When I say intense, however, I should note that the intensity wasn’t manifested in the way you might think. That's because everyone there was basically on the same page: we all believed that there should be a sense of urgency in addressing the inadequacies of the current health care system. The intensity came, however, from a discussion of what approach should be taken to implement that change. There were those who felt like all the steps should be taken immediately. This meant demanding that the public option be included in the final legislation. There were those on the other side who felt like such an approach would doom current efforts. They felt that we should start a little slower and propose things that were doable given the political climate. What struck me about the conversation were the theological dimensions of the conversation that bubbled just below the surface. The leading proponent of the “all or nothing” approach was someone who believed humanity – left to its own devices – was capable of crafting the perfect legislation that would solve the problem. The leading proponent of the piecemeal approach believed that human beings aren’t themselves capable of perfection. Given the fact that their approach toward issues is laced with things like self-interest and the need for control, no approach that humans take will ever solve the problem. That’s why they were comfortable advocating for the piecemeal approach. I tend to gravitate toward the second camp. I believe that any human being’s approach toward an issue is inherently limited. That’s why today’s words from the psalmist resonated with me so deeply. “The revelation of God is whole,” the psalmist stated, “and pulls our life together… The life-maps of God are right, showing the way to joy” (Psalm 19:7 & 8 from The Message). Whenever I run into situations where I confront humanity’s limitations and start to feel overwhelmed, I remember the importance of remaining connected to the One who pulls our life together. That helps me relax. Perhaps there is a situation where you’ve been slow to recognize the limitations of humanity: a complex situation that you spent a great deal of time and energy trying to solve on your own. If that’s the case, I would encourage you to try something new. Step back and take some time to reconnect with God – the only one whose “revelation … is whole”. Til next time…

Friday, September 11

Today’s Readings: Proverbs 19:24-29; James 2:17-26; Psalm 19

Every once in a while I run across a theological issue that seems to cause other people lots of problem in terms of understanding/processing that I seem to get intuitively. That’s rare for me because it’s often the other way around. Any way, one of those theological issues that comes easy for me is resolving the issue raised in today’s passage from the book of James: the issue of how faith and works are related to one another. Lots of ink has been spilled on the debate about which of these is most important – faith or works. For me, it’s obvious: the two should go hand in hand. The way I’ve always thought about it is by comparing it to what happens when you fall in love with someone. “Do you begin by doing a series of things – i.e. take them out to dinner, buy them flowers, plan on exotic get-aways – in order to fall in love with someone? No. You naturally do those things because you have fallen - or are in the process of falling - in love with someone. Conversely, it’s hard for me to believe that a person could genuinely be in love with another person and not do those things. The two things are intimately intertwined. Same thing goes with our faith. “Faith and works, works and faith,” the author of James states, “fit together hand in glove” (James 2:18 from The Message). So how do you engage those concepts? Do you isolate them from one another and struggle to figure out which takes precedence in your life; or do you see them as being two sides of the same coin? Or perhaps you have another way of conceptualizing the relationship between the two. I hope you have fun exploring the relationship between faith and works today. Til next time…

Thursday, September 10

Today’s Readings: Proverbs 15:1-17; Hebrews 11:17-22; Psalm 19

If you want to engage in an interesting exercise, ask a few people around you to name someone who is close-minded. I’ve done the exercise a few times, and I’ve discovered something interesting. People will almost always name people who are significantly different than they are. If the person is a Republican, for instance, then they’ll name a Democrat. Or if the person is a progressive person of faith, then they’ll name a member of the Religious Right. Rarely – if ever – do people think of someone as being close-minded if the person shares their opinions or values. I learned this the hard way. You see for many years I had thought of myself as being an extremely open-minded person. Then I read an article about someone that showed me how closed minded I really was. The article was about a political strategist from the 1980’s named Lee Atwater. For years, Lee Atwater represented for me everything that was wrong with American politics. He was a campaign operative who perfected the craft of doing whatever it took for his candidates to win. During his career Mr. Atwater spread lies, rumors, and innuendos that destroyed dozens of politicians: all for the sake of winning a few elections. As a result, I thought the man was despicable. Then a couple of years ago I stumbled upon an article in an old edition of Life Magazine where Atwater was quoted as saying: “It took a deadly illness to put me eye to eye with that truth, but it is a truth that the country, caught up in its ruthless ambitions and moral decay, can learn on my dime. I don't know who will lead us through the '90s, but they must be made to speak to this spiritual vacuum at the heart of American society, this tumor of the soul.” For months after I read the article, I refused to change my opinion about the man. Eventually, however, I came to realize that I was being extremely closed minded. I refused to create room for the possibility that transformation can occur in the life of anyone (a belief that is foundational in my life). In other words, I was being a hypocrite. I was reminded of that experience as I read today’s passage from Proverbs. In that passage, the author pointed out: “An intelligent person is always eager to take in more truth…” (Proverbs 15:14 from The Message). This means an intelligent person doesn’t just take in truths that he or she agrees with; an intelligent person is one who seeks to remain open to the fullness of truth - even if it means changing one’s opinion. Today I invite you to explore the inner recesses of your own heart and ask yourself: “How open-minded am I? Do I spend my time and energy seeking out those truths with which I already agree; or do I open myself to new truths – even ones that might change me?” Til next time…

Wednesday, September 9

Today’s Readings: Proverbs 14:1-9; Matthew 17:14-21; Psalm 73:1-20

I had the extreme blessing of being raised in a small church when I was growing up. Some folks out there in cyberspace might be wondering if they read the last sentence correctly. That’s because many make the mistake of believing that a blessed church is a large church. I would disagree with such a conclusion. “On what grounds?” you might ask. “Isn’t it the big churches that have the resources needed to provide top-notch ministry?” I suppose if you equate the phrase “top notch ministry” with things like big screens, projectors, and expensive sound systems that you would be right in questioning my opening statement. But if you think that top-notch ministry is about more than just material resources, then you might continue reading. I say I was blessed to be raised in a small church because that church taught me something valuable about life; it taught me that if you want something badly enough - and have the faith to pursue it - then there are good chances it will come to pass. When our small church wanted to send its youth to summer camp each summer, guess what happened? We found enough money to send the kids who wanted to go. And when an individual went through the loss of a loved one, guess what happened? The people in the community pulled together to provide the support needed to see the individual through his or her loss. Whatever need arose, it always seemed as if we had just enough to see us through. As a result, I grew to become a raging optimist about facing the challenges life throws my way. In other words, I grew up believing that I should take seriously the words attributed to Jesus in today’s Gospel reading: “The simple truth is that if you had a mere kernel of faith, a poppy seed, say, you would tell this mountain, ‘Move!’ and it would move. There is nothing you wouldn’t be able to tackle” (Matthew 17:20-21 from The Message). You might find yourself in circumstances where you feel as if the challenges before you are greater than the resources you have at your disposal. If that’s the case, today I would encourage you to hold Jesus’ words close to your heart and make them your mantra. For remember – “there is NOTHING you won’t be able to tackle” – as long as you remember to bring one thing with you at each step of your journey: your faith. Til next time…

Tuesday, September 8

As I resume my daily blog, I will be making a change in the daily readings I use. Up to this point, I have used an ecumenical set of readings that included two daily psalms, a passage from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), a Gospel reading, and a reading from the epistle. The set of readings seemed appropriate since I served an ecumenical church. Now that I have moved to a local church affiliated solely with the United Church of Christ, I will use a set of readings put out by the UCC that has three daily readings instead of five.

One other thing for those of you who might just be starting to read my daily blog. While some bloggers make a practice of responding to postings by their readers; given the demands of my day, I generally don’t respond. I view my posting as a way of opening you up to conversation with others about the issues raised in my blog. It’s a subversive way to encourage you to talk openly with others in your life about your faith :)

Today’s Readings: Proverbs 11:1-31; Hebrews 12:3-13; Psalm 73:1-20

In the past eight days I have said goodbye to one faith community; driven over 1,000 miles with my partner and our two dogs; unpacked more boxes than I can count; and found time to sit back and reflect on my first seven years of ministry. During this period of reflection, I’ve had a chance to think about things I consider essential to the healthy practice of ministry. And wouldn’t you know it – today’s Proverbs identified what I feel is the single most important quality in the healthy practice of ministry. That quality has to do with controlling one’s mouth. “The loose tongue of the godless spreads destruction,” the writer of the proverb notes, while “the common sense of the godly preserves them” (Proverbs 11:9 from The Message). A few verses later, the writer adds: “”When right-living people bless the city, it flourishes; evil talk turns it into a ghost town in no time” (Proverbs 11:11 from The Message). Still later: “Mean-spirited slander is heartless; quiet discretion accompanies good sense” (Proverbs 11:12 from The Message). And in case you failed to pick up the point, the author interjects: “A gadabout gossip can’t be trusted with a secret, but someone of integrity won’t violate a confidence” (Proverbs 11:13 from The Message). While there are sexier qualities that others might identify as being foundational for the health of a ministry, I can’t think of one that is more crucial. My question for your consideration today is this: how do you approach the information you acquire during the course of your day? Do you see it as something that can be used to further your own agenda via means such as gossip, or do you see the information as something of sacred worth with which you have been entrusted? Til next time…