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Help support the vision of Woodland Hills Community Church!
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Saturday, November 15

Today’s Readings: Psalm 56; Nehemiah 13:4-22; Matthew 16:21-28; Revelation 20:1-6

Lot of folks have rather romantic notion of what it means for a person to receive the call into ministry. They think it has to do with a beam of light striking one, hearing a deeply resonate voice issue the call, and the immediate response of the individual involved.

The truth is that a call to ministry is a lot more complicated than that. There is a lot of fear and pain that goes with responding to one’s call. When I received my call into ministry, for instance, it meant – among other things - moving away from my biological family that had been a key piece of my support network for my first 31 years. When I realized that call was to parish ministry, it then meant I had to leave behind things like my ego and agenda in ways that terrified me. And when I realized that my call into parish ministry meant going to communities engaged in the process of transformation and renewal, it meant that I would be around two things that I had avoided for the bulk of my life – fear (as in fear of change) and conflict (as I helped move groups away from an individualistic to a more communal way of being). My call to ministry has consistently taken me out of my comfort zone and asked me to do things I would have otherwise thought impossible.

It’s this same sort of point that Jesus was making in today’s passage from Matthew when he said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24 from the NRSV).

So why would anyone in their right mind respond to a call if it’s so difficult?

The answer is given just one verse later: “those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25 from the NRSV). That’s certainly been my experience. While I stepped away people and things that were comfortable and convenient, the things I have gained from the experience of responding to my call (i.e. the deepening connection with/reliance upon God, the new friends and family of choice I have met, and the heightened sense of peace in my world) have made it the best thing that has ever happened to me. Oh, what things I have gained from my earlier series of losses!!

Of course pastors aren’t the only ones who have calls; I believe each person has their own call as well. My question for you to consider today is twofold. First, what is your understanding of call; and second, how would you characterize the effect of that call on your life. Til next time…

Friday, November 13

Today’s Readings: Psalm 130; Nehemiah 12:27-31a, 42b-47; Matthew 16:13-20; Revelation 19:11-16

If you were establishing a group of people to carry on important work for you after you were gone, what sort of adjectives would you use to describe the individuals you would select to do so?

If you are like most people, you would pick individuals that could be described with words such as “loyal”, “dedicated”, “courageous”, and “bold”. It would make good sense to pick people like that since so much is riding on the selections.

When it came time for Jesus to choose a leader to carry on his efforts, Jesus’ picked someone who didn’t exactly fit those descriptors. In verse 18 of today’s reading from Matthew, we are told Jesus said: “You are Peter, a rock. This is the rock on which I will put together my church” (Matthew 16:18 from The Message). Through his selection of Peter, Jesus choose someone who did things like started to sink when he was called to step out onto the turbulent waters by Jesus; was rebuked by Jesus with the infamous, “Get behind thee Satan” when he refused to accept the way things were to unfold; and denied Jesus not once – not twice – but three times in the courtyard just hours before Jesus’ death!

Jesus chose a flawed human being with many weaknesses as well as many strengths. In other words, Jesus chose someone much like us. If Jesus can use someone like Peter to build his church upon, it makes me wonder what amazing things God might accomplish through you.

Today I would encourage you to resist your impulse to underestimate your ability to change the world. Instead, I would ask you to consider the transformative things God might work through you. Til next time…

Thursday, November 12

Today’s Readings: Psalm 36; Nehemiah 6:1-19; Matthew 16:1-12; Revelation 19:1-10

When I was in high school, I was friends with several individuals who belonged to a religious tradition much different than my own. One of the biggest differences between the tradition in which I was raised and my friend’s tradition was that my friend’s tradition had no ordained clergy persons leading the faith community.

When I questioned them about this one day during my junior year of high school, they said, “We aren’t like you because we don’t have to pay someone to tell us things we want to hear.” That comment stuck with me – obviously - as I still remember it over 25 years later! The comment struck me because it raised what I believe is an essential element of ministry: integrity.

The author of the book of Nehemiah had a similar conviction about the role integrity should play in one’s ministry – for in the story from today’s passage the author noted of Shemaiah: “I sensed that God hadn’t sent this man. The so-called prophecy he spoke to me was the work of Tobiah and Sanballat; they had hired him” (Nehemiah 6:12 from The Message).

So how did Nehemiah discern Shemaiah’s lack of integrity? By comparing his words with reality. After all, talk is cheap. The fact that the wall was rebuilt in just 52 days helped prove “that God was behind this work.”

As people who live in a culture that frequently values style over substance, I would encourage you to carry the message from today’s passage from Nehemiah with you. Don’t let others’ predictions of doom scare you off. Follow your heart in response to God’s leading and you’ll do amazing, unexpected things! Til next time…

Wednesday, November 11

Today’s Reading: Psalm 15; Nehemiah 7:73b-8:3, 5-18; Matthew 15:29-39; Revelation 18:21-24

Today’s passage from Nehemiah is a difficult one for many of us Protestants to resonate with. That’s because the passage presents the law in a way that seems very foreign to us.

We are told, for instance, that after the people heard the reading of the law “all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing” (Nehemiah 7:12 from the NRSV). It’s hard to relate to since most of us Protestants have been raised to think of the law as something that limits or restricts us. Consequently, the last thing we would think of doing after hearing the law read is rejoice!

One of my Jewish friends in seminary gave me a new way to think about the law that helped me better understand how the law could be viewed in a positive light. “When you struggle to think about the law in a positive way,” my friend said, “think of the text you Christians are so fond of – John 3:16.”

“Okay…” I replied.

“Good,” she said. “Now go in and take out the words ‘his only begotten son’ from the beginning of the passage and replace them with ‘the law’ so that it reads, ‘God so loved the world, that he gave the law.’ That’s the way many of us Jews think of the law. That’s why the Scriptures can talk about us rejoicing in response to the law!”

My friend’s suggestion was helpful. It helped me get over my bias against the notion of ‘the law’, and embrace it in a healthier manner. So how do you see “the law”? Do you see it negatively - as something restrictive and potentially punitive; or do you see the law as a tool that can draw us into closer relationship with God? Til next time…

Tuesday, November 10

Today’s Readings: Psalm 123; Nehemiah 9:26-38; Matthew 15:21-28; Revelation18:9-20

Today’s group of readings contains the piece of Scripture that has been most formative to me over the years. That piece of Scripture comes from today’s passage from Matthew.

The passage tells of an encounter between Jesus and a Canaanite woman who comes to Jesus to request healing for her daughter.

So what’s so powerful about this healing story that sets it apart from other healing stories?

The power lies in what the encounter reveals about Jesus when he fir refused the woman’s request for healing. Traditional readers of the story would say that Jesus refusal was meant as a way to test the woman’s faith. In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m not a traditional reader of texts  I read the story very differently. I read the story as an example of a time when Jesus’ own cultural bias (and hence a piece of his humanity) was revealed.

Here’s why the story is so powerful for me.

The story tells me that Jesus was not afraid to confront his own biases in life and move beyond them whenever he encountered them. As someone who professes to follow this Jesus, I am compelled to do the saame. As much as I would LOVE to think I have no biases whatsoever, each day I am reminded there are growing edges for me. Perhaps you are in the same boat.

If that’s the case, I would urge you to draw strength from Jesus’ example and open yourself to overcoming those biases whenever you encounter them. Til next time…

Monday, November 9

Today’s Readings: Psalm 135; Nehemiah 9:1-15; Matthew 15:1-20; Revelation 18:1-8

From the time I was very young, I was an incredibly verbal person. I thought quickly on my feet and had (at least by my own standards) a good sense of humor which I used frequently.

One day when I was in my sophomore English class, my teacher - Mr. Wilson - commented that I was an incredibly sarcastic person. I didn’t know what the word sarcastic meant, so I said, “Thanks.” When I got home, I looked up the word and found out it meant things like “biting”, “cutting”, “bitter”, and “derisive”.

I was surprised to hear those words used in relation to me – so I started to pay more attention to the way I spoke. And you know what? Mr. Wilson was right. Much of my humor was at the expense of others. As I moved forward, I made a conscious effort to be more aware of the words I used and how they might affect others.

Jesus was clued in to the importance of words. That’s why he’s quoted in today’s passage from Matthew as saying, “It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles” (Matthew 15:11 from the NRSV). Today I would invite you to be more aware of the words that come out of your mouth. Do those words encourage and uplift others; or do those words berate and diminish others? And what do those words suggest about the condition of your own heart? Til next time…

Sunday, November 8

Today’s Reading: Ruth 3:1-5 & 4:13-17
I find it fascinating how the author handles the culmination of the story of Ruth in today’s reading. Rather than putting Ruth front and center, the author chose to put the focus on Naomi. The women of the community, for instance, responded to the birth of the new baby by observing Naomi (not Ruth) now has a son. And when Ruth’s name is mentioned by the women of the community, she is mentioned as being a blessing to Naomi. This reminds me that the focus of the storylines of our lives often don’t turn out the way in which we expect.

So what does Naomi do that’s so extraordinary and that makes her worth of mention?

In her commentary on the text titled “The Story of Ruth: Moments of Loss & Faith”, Sister Joan Chittister noted that in the midst of her grief Naomi asked herself a central question that shaped the storyline for both Ruth and herself: “what is it in [me] that lies unfinished and [begs] to be done if the will of God is ever to be completed in [me]”. That question drew her (and Ruth) back to Judea.

Today, I would invite you to ask yourself the same question: what is it in me that lies unfinished and begs to be done if the will of God is ever to be completed in me. Then open yourself to the possibilities that will unfold before you as you contempt the answers. Til next time…