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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, November 8

Today’s Readings: Psalm 104; Ezra 9:1-15; Matthew 14:22-36; Revelation 17:1-14

If you were like me, growing up you probably had many a conversation with your parents/guardians about who your friends were. The adults in your life went to great lengths to monitor whether or not you were hanging around with the right kind of people. They paid attention to those you hung out with because your parents/guardians knew that the people you spent time with often play a huge role in determining the choices you make in life.

Today, we hear a variation on that them as Ezra spent time chastising the Israelites for hanging out with/marrying whom he considered to be the wrong kind of people (i.e. the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites). He did so because he feared folks from other backgrounds would draw the Israelites from their own faith.

On one hand I can understand Ezra’s fear that “the other” would threaten the spiritual well being of the Israelites by exposing them to different ways of being. On another hand, I think Ezra was using “the other” as a convenient scapegoat to blame for the Israelites’ own choices. Those individuals who have a mature and deep faith are generally not threatened by the presence of “the other”. I wish Ezra would have spent some of the time and energy he devoted to railing about “the other” calling the Israelites to redouble their commitment to their own faith.

Perhaps there is an area of your own life that you are wrestling with: an area where you might be tempted to succumb to Ezra’s approach and point toward “the other” as the root of your problem (who or whatever form “the other” might take for you). If that’s the case, resist the urge to scapegoat the other and instead focus on your own life. You might be surprised at the spiritual growth such a shift in perspective might spur. Til next time…

Friday, November 6

Today’s Readings: Psalm 51; Ezra 7:27-28, 8:21-36; Matthew 14:13-21; Revelation 15:1-8

As someone who is an extrovert, I draw a huge portion of energy from being around people. I feel most alive when I am meeting and interacting with others. While this can generally be a positive trait, I’ve learned over the years that it can also get me into trouble.

I find being around people so invigorating that I often do it too much and find myself completely drained to the depths of my soul. By just the fourth year of my ministry, I had given so much to others that I began to wonder if I could continue in parish ministry..

So how did I reverse that trend and find a way to continue in ministry?

I began to take seriously Jesus’ example in today’s passage from Matthew. In that passage we learned that when Jesus found himself completely exhausted from the demands around him, Jesus did something critically important: “he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself” (Matthew 14:13 from the NRSV).

The time I have learned to spend in silence over the past four years has become the thing that allowed me to continue in ministry. It allows me to recharge my battery and strengthen my connection with God. It is only then that I can find the energy I need to give a portion of myself to others.

So what role does silence and solitude play in your spiritual life? Are they annoying intruders that infrequently push their way into your life when you have nothing better to do; or are they some of your closest friends that keep you spiritually grounded?

Til next time…

Thursday, November 5

Today’s Readings: Psalm 97; Ezra 7:11-26; Matthew 14:1-12; Revelation 14:1-13

When we are reading the sacred texts of our tradition, it is easy to receive the words at face value and draw conclusions that may not be in line with the author’s original intention.

Take, for instance, today’s passage from Revelation. In that passage there are two references to the number 144,000. Revelation 14:1 reads: “Then I looked, and there was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion! And with him were one hundred forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.” Revelation 14:3 reads: “… they sing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the one hundred forty-four thousand who have been redeemed from the earth”.

Some folks in the Jehovah’s Witness tradition interpret those words literally and suggest those words mean there will only be a total 144,000 individuals who will be redeemed. Others interpret such passages metaphorically and think the importance of the number is more symbolic than literal.

The challenge in our faith walk, it would seem, is to have a discerning spirit and know when to engage material at face value and when to engage it metaphorically. My question for you to consider today is this: how do you decide how to engage the material in the sacred texts? Do you chose whatever method seems most convenient for you on any given issue, or do you have other ways of discerning this? Til next time…

Wednesday, November 4

Today’s Readings: Psalm 89; Nehemiah 13:4-22; Matthew 13:53-58; Revelation 12:1-12

Last night was an exceedingly difficult night for me. It was difficult because there were ballot measures before the voters in two states that dealt with the rights of members of my own community: the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender community. I can’t put into words how helpless one feels when you are a member of a minority community and the majority gets to decide whether or not you will get the same rights others.

As the results trickled in from Maine, I was moved to tears as I thought of how my friend Holly and her partner were losing their legal rights as a couple. Some of the grief was temporarily offset, however, when I learned that voters in my home state of Washington had protected the rights of same-gender couples. As I dug into the electoral map of Washington State, however, my joy was tempered when I saw that the voters of Eastern Washington (the place where I was born and raised) were strongly opposed to the recognition of such rights. It served as a brutal reminder that my family and I will probably never be welcomed back into the area in which I was raised.

Needless to say, I can totally relate to Jesus’ words in today’s passage from Matthew: ““‘Prophets are not without honor except in their own country and in their own house.” The words from the next verse are even more poignant for me: “And [Jesus] did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13:57-58 from the NRSV).

While Jesus would have loved nothing more than to be in ministry with folks from his hometown, he was unable to. Jesus did not let that painful reality hold him back. He moved on to other areas that could receive his ministry. Jesus gave me a powerful example to follow as ten years ago I had to acknowledge the attitudinal limitations of the area in which I was raised and move on to other areas of the country that could receive my ministry.

Perhaps you are wrestling with a similar dynamic in your own life. Maybe there’s a group of people you would desperately love to reach that are not open to you. If that’s the case, I would encourage you too to follow Jesus’ example and move on to those who can receive the fullness of your gifts. Til next time…

Tuesday, November 3

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 42; Nehemiah 12:27-31a, 42b-47; Matthew 13:44-52; Revelation 11:1-19

I spent most of yesterday attending an event at Pepperdine University called “Finding Common Ground: Reconciliation Among the Children of Abraham”. The day was spent in a series of panels that addressed a variety of issues from three different perspectives: a Jewish perspective, a Muslim perspective, and a Christian perspective.

One of the more interesting moments of the day didn’t occur in a panel presentation; it occurred over lunch. After having explored various tools for interfaith dialogue during the workshops, a group of six of us was eating together when the topic of the conflict in the Middle East came up. In the course of the conversation, it was clear that several of the individuals who came from one side of the conflict were absolutely unyielding when it came to assessing the situation. They defined those persons on the other side of the issue as the sole source of the problem. One individual went so far as to say he could not imagine any scenario under which peace would even be a possibility!

With that conversation about land in the back of my mind, it was interesting to read today’s passage from Matthew, for the passage starts with a parable about land. “God’s kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field for years and then accidentally found by a trespasser. The finder is ecstatic,” the passage reads, “- what a find – and proceeds to sell everything he owns to raise money and buy that field” (Matthew 13:44 from The Message).

There was a part of me that felt sad that individuals from all sides of the issue in the Middle East are so focused on the land that they are willing to sacrifice generation after generation to perpetual violence and death. It makes we wonder if they’ve lost sight of the treasure whose value exceeds that of the land itself. It would be wrong for me to make that judgment, however, as I (a person of another faith tradition from another part of the world) have no clue about what the land truly represents for folks on each side of the issue.

This issue challenges me to examine my own life and see if there are areas where I have become more focused on the equivalent of the land and lost sight of the hidden treasure. Perhaps the passage will invite you to explore those places in your own life as well. Til next time…

Monday, November 2

Today’s Readings: Psalm 5; Nehemiah 6:1-19; Matthew 13:36-43; Revelation 10:1-11

Many of us pick up lenses during the course of our lifetime that influence the way we interpret certain words. Take the word “all”, for example. If I were to ask you, “What does the word all mean?” you would probably say something along the lines of “All means everybody or everything. No exceptions.” Put that same word in another context, however, and suddenly your interpretation of that word might change.

Let’s say, for instance, you put the word “all” into a sentence like the one found in Psalm 5:11 – “but let all who take refuge in you rejoice”. Because of your religious background you might unconsciously read that sentence as if it said “but let all Christians who take refuge in you rejoice”. That’s just one example of how the lenses we picked up along the way can cause us to unconsciously change the meaning of words.

Today I am blessed to be able to attend an event at Pepperdine University titled “Finding Common Ground: Reconciliation Among the Children of Abraham.” It’s an exciting conference designed to bring Christians, Muslims, and Jews together to explore some of the ways we might reclaim a more inclusive understanding of the word all.

I would invite you to think about how you interpret the world all. Is your faith one that would truly let all who take refuge in God rejoice; or do you claim a faith that would let all (those who think/believe like you) who take refuge in God rejoice? Til next time…