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, October 24

Today’s Readings: Psalm 122; Ezra 4:7, 11-24; Matthew 12:33-42; Philemon 1-25

On the surface, the book of Philemon represents one of the most disturbing pieces of literature in the New Testament. Why is that? Because of its historical/social context. If you look at the book superficially, you have the Apostle Paul sending a slave (Onesimus) back to his owner (Philemon) after Onesimus has fled. Paul calls in old favors when he asks Philemon to receive Onesimus graciously when Onesimus returns to him.

Sadly, the book of Philemon was used for decades by slave owners in the United States to justify the practice of slavery. That’s why I say the book is so troublesome on its surface.

So how might one look below the surface and pull a worthwhile message out of the text?

Perhaps I’m reaching a bit here, but for me I find that redeemable part in verses 15 & 16 - where Paul wrote: “Maybe it’s all for the best that you lost him for a while. You’re getting him back now for good – and no mere slave this time, but a true Christian brother! (Philemon 15 & 16 from The Message).

What those verses suggest to me is that when we put on the lens of faith, people we use to see one way can suddenly be transformed into something else: if only we allow that process to happen. The boss we use to see as a mean-spirited control freak might suddenly become a mentor to us. The neighbor we use to view as a cantankerous biddy might suddenly become an unexpected friend. Who knows what surprising discoveries we might make when we began to put on the lens of faith?

Today, I would invite you to do just that: put on the lens of faith and see if the people in your life begin to take on new dimensions. Til next time…

Friday, October 23

Today’s Readings: Psalm 88; Ezra 3:1-13; 1 Corinthians 16:10-24

In a few months I’ll be blessed to participate in a service of installation that will officially mark the beginning of my pastorate at Woodland Hills Community Church. There are many aspects of the service that are dictated both by our Book of Worship and our tradition as members of The United Church of Christ.

Within the service, however, there are opportunities to include pieces that identify my own particular understand/experience of my call. There is one piece of music in particular that I hope to include that captures the essence of my call (as well as a portion from today’s reading from 1 Corinthians). It is a piece of music that was included in my ordination service as well.

As Paul prepared to end his letter to the Corinthians, he wrote: “ Keep your eyes open, hold tight to your convictions, give it all you’ve got, be resolute, and love without stopping” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14 from The Message). The end of that passage – “love without stopping” – captures the essence of my ministry. Today, I thought I would share that song with you. The Song is titled Psalm 151. This version of the song appeared at the end of an episode of Touched By An Angel: (you may need to copy and paste this location in your window above). I hope the song gives you another way of experiencing Paul’s words. Til next time…

Thursday, October 22

Today’s Readings: Psalm 143; Ezra 1:1-11; Matthew 12:15-21; 1 Corinthians 16:1-9

I often am challenged to find a depiction of Jesus that is truly satisfying for me. That’s because many of the popular depictions of Jesus don’t capture the essence of the man as I understand/experience him.

There are a cluster of images, for instance, that depict Jesus as a mighty warrior or conquering hero. There are others that show a radiant Jesus who seems incredibly aloof. Still other images show a Jesus defined by gut-wrenching pain and agony. None of these images capture the fullness of how I imagine Jesus to be.

So how do I picture Jesus?

Well, I suppose the best description I’ve stumbled across comes from today’s passage from Matthew – where the author points us toward the image spelled out in Isaiah: “… he’ll decree justice to the nations, but he won’t yell, won’t raise his voice; there’ll be no commotion in the streets. He won’t walk over anyone’s feelings, won’t push you into a corner…” (Matthew 12:18-20 from The Message). What a beautiful description to associate with Jesus!

I raise this image because I think there’s an important lesson here for all of us who consider ourselves followers of Jesus. I believe that if those qualities describe Jesus, then they ought to be evident in the lives of those who follow him as well. We ought to fight the urge to attend town hall meetings in our community and scream for all we’re worth. We ought to find other ways to take stands in ways other blocking access to public buildings or medical facilities. We ought to resist the urge to resort to name-calling when we encounter those who think/belief/worship differently than we do. In other words, we should simply act like Jesus.

Today I would encourage you to resist the tendency to simply be reactive when faced with frustrations and challenges. Instead, embrace the Christ-like ways of being put forth for us in today’s Gospel reading. Til next time…

Wednesday, October 21

Today’s Readings: Psalm 65; Lamentations 2:8-15; 1 Corinthians 15:51-58; Matthew 12:1-14

After six weeks of trying to adapt to the UCC’s daily lectionary reading schedule, I’ve realized it isn’t the right resource for me in terms of devotions. I was growing increasingly frustrated by the fact their program had only one New Testament reading a day (a gospel reading OR an epistle reading) and I needed both each day. Therefore, I’ll be using a reading schedule from one of our ecumenical partners. Thanks for humoring me and putting up with me through this change.

The first five words of today’s psalm stopped me dead in my tracks for they spoke to an important evolution that I’ve experienced in my spiritual life over the past decade. Let me tell you about that change.

I was raised to believe there was only way of thinking about God. I was told to believe in a transcendent God that was “out there” somewhere in the heavens. I alluded to this in my blog entry from yesterday. The implication of this belief was that my prayer life was formed exclusively around the practice of intercessory prayer. This meant I spent my prayer time talking to God (or perhaps I should say, at God) - updating God on the things that were happening in my life. Mostly I told God what I thought should happen. This meant my prayer life was full of mental chatter.

My seminary experience exposed me to another way of experiencing God – a way whereby God was immanent: with me and in me in the here and now. This sense of God’s presence radically altered my prayer life. Instead of spending my time articulating thoughts to share with God, I began to spend more and more of my prayer time in silence as I sought to simply experience God’s transformative presence in my life. My goal was to live into those first five words of the psalm: “silence is praise to you” (Psalm 65:1 from The Message).

My spiritual journey over the last ten years has shown me that silence is the vehicle that allowed me to experience God on God’s terms – not on my own. That has made all the difference to me! Today, I would ask what role silence plays in your spiritual life.

Til next time…

Tuesday, October 20

Today’s Readings: Jobs 41:1-11; Hebrews 6:13-20; Psalm 75

There are several reasons why I struggle with reading the book of Job. One reason I struggle with the book is because I don’t share its theological assumption that God is solely transcendent (somewhere “out there”). As someone who would characterize his theology as panentheist, I believe God is both immanent (within us) as well as beyond us. Another reason I struggle with the book is because of the effect it has on people’s ability to get real with God.

Many folks read Job – especially portions of it like today’s passage from the 41st chapter – and conclude that it is not okay to question God. I don’t think that’s the case at all. In fact, I believe that some of the richest work we can do in terms of growing our faith is during those times when we lift up the question “Why?” Here’s where I think we need to make an important distinction.

The value in asking the question “Why?” lies in its ability to act as a pressure valve: to help us release our anger, our frustration, and our doubts. That’s a good thing! If we ask the question why from a place of arrogance (i.e. “I know better than you God and it should have turned out this way”) and from a place that assumes we human beings will ever comprehend the fullness of this mystery we call God (i.e. “explain it to me so I can understand”) we enter shaky ground. We try to blur the distinction between the finite (us) and the Infinite (God). That – in my humble opinion – is why Job portrays God as being cranky in today’s passage.

So what role does the word “why” play in your spiritual life? Is it a pressure release valve that helps you begin the healing process, or is it a key that you demand opens all the door? Til next time…

Monday, October 19

Today’s Readings: Job 40:1-24; Hebrews 6:1-12: Psalm 75

This morning I sat down to do my daily entry and I jumped on line expecting to do what I always do: access today’s daily scripture through my link at Sadly, the site was off line. It threw my morning into quite the tailspin.

In the process of looking for Plan B’s, I was reminded how many things I have come to take for granted and expect in my daily rituals and routines. I expect to get out of bed and have the coffee maker do its thing so I can be properly caffeinated; I expect the morning edition of the LA Times to be on the sidewalk out front; I expect there to be enough hot water to shower and shave. All of these events have become pillars of my day.

It takes something like one of these pillars to come crashing down for me to realize how dangerous it is depend on material things as one’s pillars.

Today’s reading from the Psalms reminds us of that. In the passage, the psalmist notes: “When the earth totters, with all its inhabitants, it is I who keep its pillars steady” (Psalm 75:3 from the NRSV).

This morning I would ask: “What or who is it that keeps the pillars of your life in place?” Is it something such as your internet access or a cup of coffee, or is it something more? Til next time…

Sunday, October 18

Today's Reading: Mark 10:35-45

Those of you who read my blog regularly might remember that in yesterday’s entry I identified one of my favorite topics to explore: leadership.

And if you’re looking for resources on leadership these days, there is certainly no shortage of them out there. Peruse the New York Times Best Sellers List of Hardcover Business Books for just a moment and you’ll find titles like “Fierce Leadership” and “Strengths Based Leadership”. Enter the words “leadership seminar” and “Los Angeles” in the Google search engine and you’ll get 2,710,000 hits. And ask the Leadership Gurus Network to name the top 30 speakers on leadership, and you’ll get a list that ranges from Roger Konopasek at #30 to John Maxwell at #1. Everywhere you turn these days it seems folks are hungry to learn about effective leadership.

When folks ask me where I turn to learn about effective leadership, I get a big smile on my face. I smile because the resource I most frequently turn to isn’t on any best seller list (at least not the one in the business section of the newspaper). Nor has my leading resource mass produced seminars on leadership that are packing them in. And sadly my resource failed to show anywhere on the Leadership Gurus Network list of top 30 leaders.

My resource?


Let me tell you why I say that.

There are dozens of reasons why I could identify Jesus as being the epitome of a great leader. My primary reason for picking Jesus, however, is because Jesus had what I believe is the single most important attribute of a good leader: he embodied the principles for which he stood.

When he said, “Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave,” for instance, Jesus didn’t leave it at he abstract level. He left them concrete images for what a life of service looked like. From his willingness to deviate from his travel itinerary at a moment’s notice in order to effect healing, to the moment he grabbed a towel and a basin and washed his disciples feet on their last night together – Jesus didn’t just describe what greatness looked like: he showed them.

And when he talked about one who is great giving one’s life in exchange for others – once again, Jesus didn’t leave them drowning in a sea of rhetoric like we pastors are prone to do. Whether he was leaving behind his biological family in his quest to teach and transform lives; or whether he was leaving behind his family of choice on the road to the cross – Jesus’ showed them what it looked like to exchange one’s life for another’s.

In other words, through both word and deed Jesus did three things all great leaders do: he taught them, he equipped them, and then he sent them.

One of the reasons I believe the world today is starved for great leaders is that we’ve lost the model of leadership that Jesus presented us with. Those who aspire to greatness these days tend to focus on just the first third of that equation (the teaching) and ignore the final two thirds (the equipping and sending parts).

Thankfully as members of The United Church of Christ – we belong to a denomination that has not forgotten any of those elements of greatness. For through the thread that weaves our local UCC churches together – a thread called Our Churches Wider Mission or OCWM – we knit ourselves together with 1.2 million persons from around the country to teach, equip, and send one another into our own expressions of the mission field.

For every dollar a local church commits to OCWM, Jesus’ words are taught – whether that be through the Southern California-Nevada Conferences’ camping ministries at Pilgrim Pines, or through the Seasons of the Spirit curriculum put together for our Sunday schools by Local Church Ministries. For every dollar a local church dedicates to OCWM, disciples are equipped to respond to Jesus’ call – whether it’s through the training and support for members of our local churches that happens at our Conference’s Annual Meeting; or through the Wider Church Ministries work to organize relief efforts in Samoa & Tonga following the recent tsunami. For every dollar a local church dedicates to OCWM, followers of Jesus are sent into the mission field – whether it’s through the conference’s ability facilitation of the pastoral search process; or through the Justice & Witness Ministries effort to mobilize supporters of health care reform.

Of course in order for Jesus’ call to greatness to be realized through vehicles such as OCWM, it requires the response of courageous individuals in faithful local churches who will forward say: “We have not only heard Jesus’ call to greatness– we will go the next step and put our money where our mouths are. We will do what it takes to teach, equip, and send.”

This morning we have someone special with us who will celebrate one local church who has done just that: committed itself to supporting Jesus’ vision of greatness by faithfully supporting OCWM. I’d like to invite forward Ann Feaver, chair of the Southern California-Nevada Conference’s board of directors, to recognize that church…