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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, December 19

Today’s Readings: Isaiah 66:7-11; Luke 13:31-35; Psalm 80:1-7

Today’s Gospel passage from Luke uses wonderful imagery to speak of God’s desire. “How often I’ve longed to gather your children, gather your children like a hen, her brood safe under her wings…” (Luke 13:34 from The Message).

That imagery is especially poignant imagery for me today as I am especially feeling the pain of separation from my biological family. I often joke that one of the greatest challenges I faced in responding to my call to parish ministry was giving up the opportunity to watch my beloved Houston Texans compete on Sunday mornings. That sacrifice is truly nothing when compared to a bigger challenge: the challenge of being separated from my own family each and every year for the Christmas holiday. This year marks the 10th consecutive year that I will have been separated from my family at Christmas.


The irony is that a big portion of my call lies in helping enrich other families’ experience of the holiday.


So how do I and those of other clergy persons do this year after year? Well, in addition to burning up the telephone wires and sending lots of email, we draw strength from the images of our faith. Our faith communities become tangible expressions of God’s larger family for us. We also center ourselves in the beauty and power of images such as those found in today’s passage from Luke.

Today, if you are fortunate enough to be able to spend time with your family – take a moment and give thanks for this tremendous blessing. If you are not able to be with your family, find time to spiritually snuggle up under “the wing of God” with the other members of God’s brood.

Til next time…

Friday, December 18

Today’s Readings: Isaiah 42:10-18; Hebrews 10:32-39; Psalm 80:1-7

The past 14 months have been incredibly challenging months for many of us in the United States. We have seen economic challenges greater than any modern time since the Great Depression. Many of us have lost our jobs, our homes, and our pensions. In fact, the times have been so hard that some would say it would be impossible to find any silver linings amongst the clouds. Leave it to an eternal optimist like myself, however, to do just that.

So what’s the silver lining?

I can’t speak for others, but for me the economic collapse of our country helped me re-discover what is most important in my life. I no longer had the luxury of treating “wants” as “needs”. I had to carefully examine my life and develop a discerning spirit that helped me see the difference between my “wants” and my “needs”. That was a powerfully important learning for me from the experience.

I’d like to think my insight was clever – but truth be told it’s been around for at least two millennia.

And how do I know that?

Well, the author of today’s passage from Hebrews made a similar point. “You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property,” the author wrote, “because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions” (Hebrew 10:34 from The New International Version). Those hardships faced by his audience are exactly the sort of thing that helped them gain a sense of perspective as well.

If you are wrestling with a challenging situation, I would invite you to think about the possibility that there might – I repeat MIGHT – be at least one valuable learning buried within that hardship. If you have the courage to search for it, you too might get a new sense of perspective about the things that matter most.

Til next time…

Thursday, December 17

Today’s Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 10:10-18; Psalm 80:1-7

I remember my second real job like it was yesterday. I was hired to work in the kitchen at the local pizzeria after my junior year of high school.

Those of you who know me well should be incredibly amused by the idea that I was paid by someone to work in the kitchen of a restaurant. Given my lack of cooking ability it would seem more logical that someone would have paid me to stay out of the kitchen! But I digress.

Once I finally started, I made a point of keeping the cheat sheet that included the list of ingredients for each of the pizzas with me every second I worked. I was terrified that I would leave something out. Needless to say, my first several weeks on the job weren’t a lot of fun because everything was so forced.

I would look at how quickly and naturally my co-workers (who had been on the job for months) made their pizzas and feel incredibly inadequate. Over time, however, I got the hang of things and internalized the menu. By the end of the summer you could say I knew my around a kitchen pretty well.

In today’s passage from Jeremiah, the author notes the Israelites were a lot like me in the kitchen those first few weeks on the job – they felt it necessary to “set up schools to teach each other about God” (Jeremiah 31:34 from The Message). God envisioned a different way of being for them, however; a way whereby they could set aside the equivalent of their cheat sheets and find their way to God through their hearts: a time when they could rest easy in their relationship with God because they knew God “firsthand”.

So how would you characterize the dynamic of your relationship with God? Are you in a place where the relationship feels comfortable and easy, or are you in a place where it feels a bit forced? The good news is that – much like my experience in the kitchen of the restaurant that summer – the more you hang out together the more natural the relationship will feel.

Til next time…

Wednesday, December 16

Today’s Readings: Micah 4:8-13; Luke 7:31-35; Isaiah 11:1-19

Like many folks, I can be an incredibly fickle person. Let me give you an example of what I mean. When I lived in Denver, I had a few “complaints” about the housing situation in which I found myself. First, I thought the place was a little too big - it had 2,200 square feet, and I felt it was a little much for just two people with 2 dogs to live. Second, the physical arrangement of the place was awkward. It was a split level and – because it didn’t have stairs from the upstairs leading down to the backyard – we spent most of our time with the dogs trapped downstairs so we could let them in and out when necessary. Third, the house was almost entirely carpeted so we spent a great deal of time vacuuming. At times I felt as if we needed a riding vacuum cleaner.

Fast forward to our new home in Los Angeles. We found a place that isn’t as large (986 square feet to be exact) – and what do I do? Complain it is too small. We found a home with one level – and what do I do? Complain that Mike and I are always in each other’s space. We found a place that has no carpeting and what do I do? Complain about how we always have to sweep the hardwood floors and mop the time. There is truly no satisfying me!

Jesus picked up on this very human tendency to be dissatisfied in today’s Gospel reading when he wrote: “John the Baptizer came fasting and you called him crazy. The Son of Man came feasting and you called him a lush” (Luke 7:33-34 from The Message).

So where are those areas in your life where you are prone to being fickle? As you sit with that question and perhaps find an area where you are especially fickle, see if you can find a way to look at that area with new eyes that can help you appreciate it a bit more. Til next time…

Tuesday, December 15

Today’s Readings: Numbers 16:20-35; Acts 28:23-31; Isaiah 11:1-9

As I look back on my spiritual journey, I find it interesting that for many years I participated fully in the life of the church and yet didn’t have much of a spiritual life. I went to worship, heard hundreds of sermons, participated in the social activities in the church, and helped with the mission projects. I enjoyed each of the experiences for the most part, but I never experienced first hand a sense of spiritual awakening – that is until I was in my late twenties.

So what dramatic thing happened that helped deepen my experience?

That question isn’t so easy to answer. On the outside, very little changed. I continued attending the same church, I continued holding the same job, I continued to be surrounded by friends and family – all of those external things stayed exactly the same. On the inside, however, everything changed. I began to honestly face my limitations and sense of brokenness. Once I did that, my spiritual life took off!

In many ways, for the first 26 years of my life I was like those whom the prophet Isaiah addressed when he noted: “You’re going to listen with your ears, but you won’t hear a word; you’re going to stare with your eyes, but you won’t see a thing!” (Acts 28:25 from The Message). Thankfully, life eventually found a way to slow me down and help me hear and see.

From my own experience, I have gained a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for ministry. I figure if God can reach someone who is as stubborn and strong-willed as I, then God can reach anyone! The challenge for me in my ministry is to hang in there and be patient with others as they move along in their process.

So what was your transition from listening to hearing – from staring to seeing like? Did the transition happen slowing, or quickly? Was it painful, electrifying, or some combination of the two? Today I would encourage you to take time and think back on your own transition. Those memories might increase your patience with those in your life who aren’t yet ready to hear and see. Til next time…

Monday, December 14

Today’s Readings: Numbers 16:1-19; Hebrews 13:7-17; Isaiah 11:1-9

The decision President Obama announced recently to dramatically increase the presence of US troops in Afghanistan has presented me with quite a challenge. On one hand, a part of me feels compelled to support a leader who has taken courage steps to address issues like the economic recovery of the country, global climate change, and health insurance reform. On the other hand, as a strong proponent of peace who strongly agrees with Albert Einstein’s statement that “You cannot prevent and prepare for war at the same time” - I feel compelled to question the decision to escalate our military presence.

So how do I reconcile these competing commitments?

Well, as of right now I’m doing two things. First, in response to those who would suggest peace is not a practical pursuit, I’m holding on tightly to the vision lifted up in today’s passage from Isaiah: “the wolf will romp with the lamb, the leopard sleep with the kid; calf and lion will eat from the same trough, and a little child will tend them” (Isaiah 11:6 from The Message). That vision may not be practical by earthly standards – but it’s one I hold near and dear to my heart. Second, I’m working extremely hard to stay focused on what I’m FOR (i.e. “peace”) and not what I’m AGAINST (i.e. a particular policy). My hope is by focusing on the positive and not the negative that I’ll be able to embody the principles of peace – even when I’m in dialogue with those I disagree. After all, what would I gain if I – an advocate for peace – resorted to the use of verbal and/or spiritual violence against those with whom I disagree? In other words, I’m trying first and foremost to practice the values I would espouse for others.

So how does the radical vision lifted up for us in today’s passage from Isaiah inform your way of being in the world? Do you see the vision as naive rhetoric, or is it a vision you feel compelled to grow into? Til next time…

Sunday, December 13

Today’s Reading: Luke 3:7-18

Like many folks, I had mixed feelings during my senior year of high school. There were pieces of me that was so ready to move on to the next stage of my life. I felt as if I had gotten about as much as I could out of high school and was ready for new challenges. I also was growing increasingly bored living in the small town (population 1,500) in which I lived. Those were the parts of me that were excited about the upcoming change.

There was another part of me, however, that was completely terrified. I had been born and raised in the town in which I lived – and most everyone I knew lived there. “Would I be able to make new friends?” I wondered. I was also moving across state to a new city whose population was close to 200,000 people. “How would I adapt to life in the ‘big city’?” I ask myself. I was so torn between competing emotions.

In many ways, this is the sentiment that John the Baptizer captured in today’s passage from Luke. In the passage, John talked about how Jesus will come and “make a clean sweep of your lives.” Change? Yikes! This same Jesus will “place everything true in its proper place before God – everything false he’ll put out with the trash”.

Not exactly warm and fuzzy language here.

Thankfully, the author of Luther didn’t leave us there with a one-sided sense of the new experiences Jesus would bring. He added that John “gave strength to the people, words that put heart in them.” (excerpts from Luke 3:16-18 from The Message).

As you move closer to the opportunity to once again affirm the coming of the Christ-child into your life, I imagine it stirs mixed feelings as well. Feelings of excitement for the change and transformation it will herald; feelings of fear as you anticipate what it might mean to surrender some of your sense of control. If that’s where you are today, I would offer these words. As I look back now on my transition from high school to college, I know this: while the transition might not have always been easy, it was absolutely worth it! May the same be true for you as well. Til next time…