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Help support the vision of Woodland Hills Community Church!
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Saturday, October 17

Today’s Readings: Job 39:1-30; Luke 22:24-30; Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c

One of the things that most interests me in life is the topic of leadership. I LOVE spending my time thinking/reading about what qualities make an outstanding leader. There is one thing that I enjoy even more than thinking/reading about the topic of leadership, however. That thing is having the privilege of meeting a great leader.

In my first five weeks in California, I have had the chance to spend time with someone that I think is a phenomenal leader from whom I have much to learn. That person is named Lisa. She is the director of the nursery school which is affiliated with the church I serve.

So what makes Lisa a phenomenal leader?

There are many things I could list, but for the sake of time I will list just two. First, Lisa cares deeply about the people she serves. She consistently goes the extra mile to make sure the needs of the children and parents in the community are being met. Second, I respect the way she deals with the staff of the school. One of her sayings is: “I don’t ask the staff to do anything I wouldn’t do myself.”

In other words, Lisa embodies the sort of values Jesus was talking about in today’s passage from the Gospel according to Luke: “Let the senior among you become like the junior; let the leader act the part of the servant” (Luke 22:26 from The Message).

On a day when all of us are invited to think about what makes a good leader, I would invite you to identify someone you think manifests those qualities. Once you have identified that individual, take a moment and thank God for that person’s presence in your life. Til next time…

Friday, October 16

Today’s Readings: Job 37:1-24; Revelation 17:1-18; Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c

As I look at the challenges global climate change is presenting us with these days, I can’t help but see irony in the way we are approaching the situation. Human beings – driven by our desire to consume natural resources and control nature – have created most of the problems that we are now facing. Yet we are told that the only hope the planet has is if human beings - the ones who screwed things up in the first place, mind you - take action and prevent the destruction of the planet.

Now don’t get me wrong. I do believe there are many ways in which human beings can apply their minds to slow (and perhaps in some cases reverse) the patterns of destruction. I get nervous when we forget to factor in some of the restorative aspects of nature – the ways in which the planet can organically right some of the wrongs we have inflicted upon it.

It is that very restorative dimension of nature that I think of when I read the psalmist’s words in today’s psalm: “What a wildly wonderful world, God! You made it all, with Wisdom at your side…” (Psalm 104:24 from The Message).

This makes me think of all the ways each of us makes the same mistake in our personal lives. We see a problem before us, and try to correct it on our own – as if we alone were in complete control of things.

Today, I would encourage you to resist the temptation to succumb to the notion that you alone can fix all the problems before you. Instead, take time to seek out God’s Wisdom that is embedded in the world around you. Til next time…

Thursday, October 15

Today’s Readings: Job 36:1-16; Romans 15:7-13; Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c

Ever since I was a young child, people told me that I was incredibly - almost annoyingly - optimistic. I had a consistent way of finding silver linings in what others considered dark and forbidding clouds.

People would tell me: “Don’t worry, Craig. You’ll grow up and that will change. You will learn how hard and unfair life is and then you’ll become more realistic.” I would smile and say, “We’ll see.”

Well, many years have passed (over 30) and I’m still waiting for those folks to be proven right. That’s because today – at the age of 42 – I still have what most folks would call a raging sense of optimism.

The only thing that’s changed is the word I would use to describe my upbeat attitude. Instead of using the word “optimism”, I would use another word to describe myself that comes from today’s passage from Romans. In that passage, Paul wrote: “May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!”

The last word of the passage is the word I would use to describe myself; I am a “hope-filled” person. While I have certainly had my share of frustrations and set backs over the years, I have refused to surrender my grip on hope based upon my faith in the One who makes all things possible.

Today, I would ask you: “What word would you use to describe your attitude/approach toward life?” Til next time…

Wednesday, October 14

Today’s Readings: Job 32:1-22; Luke 16:19-31; Psalm 39

The first eight years out of college, I spent time working two different jobs. In my first position out of college I worked as an employee of the state; in the second position, I was an employee of the county.

Neither of those publicly funded positions paid great. Both positions, however, had great benefits. All of my health insurance premiums were paid by my employer, and I accrued both a sick day and a vacation day each month.

Over time I grew to take these benefits for granted. Like many of my co-workers I started focused my attention primarily on my drawbacks of my positions (i.e. low pay, demanding work, etc.). In my ninth year out of college I decided to work for a small private company. I chose to take the position because it afforded me the opportunity to pursue a life-long dream of running for political office during my free time. Right away I noticed the conditions were different. I had no health insurance coverage. I had just one week’s vacation each year, and I got less than a week’s worth of sick leave annually. I never realized how good I had it when I worked those publicly funded positions until I left them.

In many ways, I was like the rich man in today’s story from Luke. I never bothered to stop and appreciate what I had until it was gone. Unlike the rich man in the story, however, I did get the opportunity to go back and share my experience with my former co-workers. Their response was fascinating. They ignored me.

Their response helped me realize that one of the great challenges in life is to be able to appreciate what you have at any given moment and make the most of it. So often we simply take the blessings in our lives for granted. Today, I would encourage you to first stop and appreciate what you have. Then seek out opportunities to share your blessings with others: whatever form those blessings take. If you do that, chances are you won’t find yourself filled with the same thing Lazarus was filled with: regrets. Til next time…

Tuesday, October 13

Today’s Readings; Job 28:12-29; Revelation 8:1-5; Psalm 39

Last night around 6:00 PM I lost my Internet connection. I figured there might have been a problem with my Internet provider so I decided to wait and see if it would come on the next day (that would be today).

By the time I finally got home this afternoon after a full morning, I realized my Internet was still out. After getting a little technical support long distance from Colorado via my partner Mike, I finally got my Internet service restored – hence, the lateness of today’s post.

So why am I bothering to tell you about this?

It’s because I learned a couple valuable lessons. First, I learned about what I have come to depend as my primary source of information. The vast majority of my information comes via the Internet. While that is generally a good thing in terms of the bready of information the Internet can provide, I also realized how dangerous it can be if you are overly dependent upon just one product.

Second, I learned about the limitations of human-made products. Human-made products like the Internet can provide you with information, but they can never provide you with wisdom. Wisdom is something that transcends our finite conditions. The author of today’s passage from Job pointed this out: “[Wisdom] can’t be found by looking, no matter how deep you dig, no matter how high you fly… God alone knows the way to Wisdom” (Job 28:21 & 23 from The Message).

My question for your consideration today is this: where do you think wisdom derives? Til next time…

Monday, October 12

Today’s Readings: Job 26:1-14; Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 39

Yesterday, during our worship service we celebrated the fact that our congregation has embraced an identity as a Just Peace church. This designation – used for UCC churches – celebrates the fact that our faith community has embraced peace as one of its core values. It also means that we make every effort to leave behind imagery that smacks of militarism and triumphalism. Given that those issues are fresh in my mind, I have to admit that I struggled mightily with today’s reading from Revelation. I suppose that’s because I’m use to reading those words against a triumphalist backdrop (“I was right and you were wrong”) based on the ways those words were laid out for me in the past. I was use to assuming that gathered crowd before the “Throne and Lamb” represented a victory for a particular theological community. As I sat with those words today, however, I began to experience them in new ways. I began to pay more attention to the universalistic tone (“everyone was there – all nations, all races and languages”). I also noticed the language of healing and comfort (“no more hunger, no more thirst, no more scorching heat”) that practically jumped off the page. All of this happened because I took one set of lens I had (the triumphant, militaristic) and replaced them with another. Perhaps there is an area in your own life where you have gotten use to seeing through one particular lens – an area where you too might benefit from re-examining through another set. If so, I would encourage you to do that today. Who knows what new level of reality might reveal itself: if only you open yourself to it. Til next time…

Sunday, October 11

Today's Reading: Mark 10:17-31

Unlike some folks who found love when they are young, I had to wait longer than most. I didn’t find love until I was in my thirties: 34 to be exact. As a result, I had years to speculate about what it would be like to find one who truly loved me.

And by the time I reached my thirties, I thought I had it all figured out what it would be like to be loved. I figured it would look something like this.

The person who loved me would be someone who shared all of my interests. We would spend hours watching Houston Texan football games, Houston Rocket basketball games, and Houston Astros baseball games - rooting on the good guys. The person who loved me would be someone who intuitively picked up on my likes and dislikes. We would saunter in to Blockbuster and have no problem picking out a movie in a matters of minutes – because we would share the same taste. And the person who loved me would instinctively know when I was feeling under the weather and volunteer (without my asking) to run out and pick up a little Nyquil or Excedrin PM. Once I met one who loved me, I told myself, life would be easy.

And then it happened. On the evening of Thursday, November 29, 2001 I met someone who loved me. And over a period of time, I learned that being loved by someone doesn’t always look the way you might expect.

While Mike and I shared a love of sports, for instance, the way in which we loved them differed dramatically. He loved spending hours in the gym each day; I loved being a rabid fan on the couch. And our taste in movies? Our tastes were so different we started taking different cars to Blockbusters because it proved nearly impossible to find a selection we could agree on.

And the instinctive reading of me when I’m sick?

Well, he does have a sixth sense about that. He knows when to work late at the office in to avoid my fevered crabbiness. I admit, I make one lousy patient when I’m ill. Let’s just say that being loved by another doesn’t always turn out the way you expect.

So what’s all this talk about meeting one who loves you have to do with this morning’s passage?

Well, for me it speaks to what I believe is the pivotal verse in this morning’s passage – verse 21. Let me take up a moment and set up that verse before I tell you why it’s so important.

In the first four verses of this morning’s passage, the author of Mark’s Gospel sets up the encounter between Jesus and the young man. In those verses we learn a great deal about the young man. We learn he’s inquisitive – he leads with the proverbial “What must I do?” question. He’s confident – he challenges Jesus’ answer by defending his actions. And he’s fearless. When Jesus looked deep into his eyes, the young man didn’t blink.

In that moment the young man could probably barely contain himself – for he was sure that he had found the spiritual guide– the one for whom he’d been searching.

And I imagine that – much like me – he had it all figured out in terms of how things would unfold. He probably felt as if he knew how Jesus would respond to his”What must I do?” question. Best case scenario, he probably expected Jesus to say: “You’ve already nailed it. You’ve attained eternal life!” Worst case scenario, Jesus would throw together a short laundry list of tasks for him to race through so he could be on his way. No matter what happened next, the young man figured he knew pretty much what to expect.

And – boy – was he wrong.

Verse 21 tells us that as Jesus looked the young man hard in the eye – Jesus did the most unexpected thing: Jesus loved him. Only it wasn’t a warm and fuzzy kind of love. It was a deep, knowing, penetrating love that cared so much about the young man that it refused to leave him in the place where Jesus found him. Instead, it was a transformative love that sought to call the young man to his better self.

Lots of us on our spiritual journeys approach our relationship with God in a way much like the young man and I approached our quests. We go on that journey to establish a relationship with the Holy in such a way that it will be a warm, fuzzy, comfortable experience. One that leaves us where we are. One that leaves us as we are.

Now here’s where I want to be incredibly careful – almost surgical with my words. For while one of my core beliefs is that God loves us exactly as we are – over the years, I’ve learned there’s a second half of that sentence that often gets left out. I’ve learned that while God loves us as we are, God loves us too much to leave us exactly where we are. There’s always that gentle yet prodding love which proves to be the equivalent of Jesus’ words: “there’s one thing left…”

Calling us individually to our better selves.

Calling us collectively to our better selves, as well.

There are many churches out there that might hear that call and ignore it. Churches that, like the rich young man, are comfortable with a status quo that accepts violence and bloodshed as inevitable. Churches that go one step further and embrace things like just-war theory and use militaristic terms like battles and conflicts to talk about their faith.

Not Woodland Hills Community Church. The people of this church stepped out of their comfort zone in order to set aside just-war theory and militaristic imagery and embrace an identity as a just peace church. In doing so, this community made the pursuit of peace one of its foundational goals.

There are churches out there who are convinced that there is only one way to embrace God. As such, they proclaim a Gospel that suggests people of other faiths who do not embrace God as revealed through Jesus are doomed. “Turn or burn,” would be their only message to people of other faiths.

But when the people of Woodland Hills established a relationship with The Center for Progressive Christianity, they said the love of God they experience through Jesus is such that it expands – not narrows – their understanding of God’s love of all people!

There are churches out there who are convinced that the only path to God lies through one’s works. Anyone stepping outside those bounds of propriety as they define them place themselves outside of God’s love.

Not the people of Woodland Hills. In adopting their Open & Affirming Statement last June, the people said with a clear voice what matters is the sacred worth of every individual. It is that principle that will guide each aspect of our ministry.

Time after time, the individuals in this community have rejected the comfort of the status quo and listened to Jesus nudging call – “there’s one thing left”. You have made the tough decisions and affirmed your willingness to be the kind of disciples of which Jesus talked. You courageously, fearlessly, and faithfully went to the places God called you – no matter how difficult it was to get there. That’s why today we can celebrate our identity as a Just Peace, Progressive, and Open and Affirming Church.

I have just one word of caution about how we celebrate these momentous decisions. In celebrating those decisions, we must do so not with a spirit of arrogance – as if we are better than those churches that have not yet made these declarations. As if we’ve already done all our work in adopting those three resolutions, thank you very much.

Rather, we should celebrate these decisions with a profound spirit of humility. For no matter how far we might have already come, there will always be those four words before us – words that continue calling us to our better selves:

Woodland Hills Community Church - “there’s one more thing…”

May we listen to and heed that call as we continue on our journey to become the individuals and the church that God would have us be.