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.

You Are Mine

One of my favorite baptism songs of all time. In past years, I have used this on "Baptism of Jesus" Sunday since it was in the songbooks I used in my previous church. This year I don't have access to the songbook. Therefore, the only way I can share this is via my blog. I hope you enjoy and that it enriches your day... Til next time...

Saturday, January 9

What I’m reading today: Hebrews 12

During my vacation at the end of December, I had a great chance to sit down and breathe for a bit. I hadn’t really done that since 2008 since 2009 was a year full of life-changing decisions and moves. As I sat down and caught my breath, it didn’t take me long to realize that during my first four months in my new parish, I was starting to make one of the most serious mistakes that I had made in my first parish: I was not taking my days off (I prefer to call them my Sabbath days).

And guess what?

I was starting to once again feel emotionally, physically and spiritually exhausted. Consequently, I made an extremely tough decision for myself heading into the new year: I would learn how to occasionally disappoint people by saying “No” to them so that I could hold on to my Sabbath days.

It took me awhile to work this through. I wish that I had run across today’s passage from Hebrews a few months earlier – for in that passage there is a wonderful section that could have set me straight. “When you find yourself flagging in your faith,” the author began, “go over [Jesus’] story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!” (Hebrews 12:2-3 from The Message).

Some would go through Jesus’ story and conclude, “Jesus certainly never took downtime. In fact, didn’t he get in trouble more than once for ‘working on the Sabbath’?”

Well, there are certainly moments when Jesus did heal on the Sabbath and get himself into trouble. There are also lots of other moments when Jesus went away by himself for times of prayer and centering. Personally I wish the Gospel writers would have also thrown in at least one story regarding some fun Jesus had during his time away (a "Hey, Peter, I'm going to Disneyland" moment) - but I digress.

The point being is that I walked away from my recent time of soul-searching with an important realization: like Jesus, I need to take time of rest and renewal. For me as a follower of Jesus doing so is not just a good psychological practice – it’s an essential spiritual discipline for those of us who say we are interested in following him.

So how are you with all of this? Are you like the pre-2010 Craig – always running around and filling every moment with work/service; or are you like the 2010 Craig – willing to take a huge risks and say “No” to folks so that you can hold on to Sabbath moments of rest and renewal when they present themselves?

Til next time…

Friday, January 8, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Hebrews 11

Last night – as I concluded teaching my first new members’ class at Woodland Hills Community Church – I had the opportunity to engage in one of my favorite activities with participants. I was able to give them a short spiritual gifts inventory that I borrowed from the website of The United Methodist Church.

So why would I give the new members a spiritual gifts inventory?

I gave them the inventory because its part of the vision I have for re-defining the way we live together as the Body of Christ. Let me tell you why I say that.

Since the 1950’s, most local mainline churches have adopted a corporate model for their life together. By this I mean that local churches developed elaborate structures that were dependent upon recruiting new members who could simply be plugged in to open slots in order to keep the machine/congregation function. The primary goal was to get new members to meet the needs of the church.

My fervent desire is to turn that way of being upside down and cultivate a church-climate where the church exists to serve its members by helping them discover, develop, and then deploy their spiritual gifts. Such an approach would mean that the local church would offer its members the chance to serve from a place of excitement and passion rather than a place of guilt or duty.

I’ve found that there are some folks who don’t believe such an approach can work when it comes time to live together as the church. “After all,” they would argue, “what kind of person would be passionate about washing the dishes after a church potluck or painting the church nursery?”

Persons who have a spiritual gift of helping or perhaps servanthood.

So do you have an idea where you spiritual gifts lie? If not, I would invite you to take a moment and complete the short spiritual gifts inventory online. You’ll find the inventory if you click on the following link: spiritual gifts inventory. When you get to the spiritual gifts homepage, click on the "Online Gifts Inventory" button which is the third button from the top and then follow the instructions. The survey might help you find those opportunities to serve that connect you to your passion.

If you are a member of Woodland Hills Community Church and complete the survey, I would appreciate it if you would send me an email with a listing of your primary and second spiritual gifts. I hope you have fun as you begin to discover, develop, and then deploy your spiritual gifts!

Til next time…

Thursday, January 7, 2010

What I'm reading today: Hebrews 10

I'm sure that most of those who read my blog regularly have not yet noticed one significant change I've made to my blog since I returned to writing on January 4. That change has to do with its name.

When I left off writing on Christmas Day, the blog was titled "Emergent Craig". When I returned last Monday, I re-named it "Outside the Boxes".

So why the change?

Well, for the vast majority of my life I gave in to societal pressures and affixed labels to myself. I thought labels were necessary in terms of relating to others.

Think about the role labels play in our life. When we meet someone new at a party, for instance, what do we ask? What they do for a living. Once we get the answer, we attach a label to the person (i.e. "teacher", "plumber", or "attorney"). When we make small talk with a co-worker over the newspaper in the cafeteria, what do we do? We spend time guaging their political affiliation via their response to the news and then attach a label to them like "Republican" or "Democrat". And when we chat with the new neighbor about their home, what do we do? We fish for information to help us figure out whether we should call the other person living in the house a "boyfriend/girlfriend" or "husband/wife". We often depend upon those labels to tell us what to think about others.

Two years ago after I spent my sabbatical studying a new movement within the church called the emergent/emerging church - I affixed yet another label to myself. I began calling myself emergent. I recently decided that I no longer felt comfortable labeling myself.

And why did I come to that conclusion? Did I have a bad experience with an emergent/emerging community and decide to leave the movement?

No. I simply decided that it was time for me to be honest with myself about the fact that I no longer am comfortable being labeled or categorized. When it comes to my faith, for instance, there are parts of me that are emergent/emerging, parts that are progressive, parts that are traditional, parts that are evangelical, parts that are liturgical, and parts that are missional. Any label I use for myself would fail to capture the fullness of my spiritual life. As a result, I decided it was time to rename my blog "Outside the Boxes" - since that is the one label that best captures my ecclectic approach.

As I move away from my use of most labels to define myself (I still find tremendous value in using the label Christian to describe myself), please know this: I leave behind most labels not as a way of attempting to cut short conversations like the ones I mentioned at the start of today's entry. Rather, I leave most labels behind as a way of inviting people into deeper conversation.

Til next time...

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Hebrews 9

In yesterday’s entry, I talked about a new craze that has taken over South Korea called the Coffin Academy. The gist of the Coffin Academy is that it was designed to provide individuals with an experience of one’s death before one actually dies; the hope being that participants arrive at a new appreciation for life after having gone through the experience.

At last night’s Sacred Grounds conversation group (held each Tuesday at the Starbucks on the corner of Topanga and Dumetz at 7:00 PM – and yes, that was a shameless plug for our weekly lectionary conversation group that you are welcome to join), the topic of the Coffin Academy came up as we were chewing on this week’s scripture: Luke 3:15-17, 21-22. Most participants didn’t realize that this Sunday is designated as “Baptism of Jesus” Sunday on the church’s liturgical calendar. The Sunday is set aside to do two things: first, to commemorate Jesus’ baptism; and second, to remember/celebrate our own baptism.

As we were talking about the sacrament of baptism, few people realized just how close the experience of baptism (particularly as done by a method known as immersion or dunking) parallels the Coffin Academy.

And how does baptism do that?

Well, when the baptismal candidate descends into the water in an action that symbolically represents the individual dying to self. When the candidate rises up out of the water, the action represents the individual rising up into a new life in Christ. Most folks in our conversation had not thought of baptism in these terms.

In these days heading up to Sunday’s baptismal themed service, I would invite you to spend time thinking about baptism. What does it mean to you? My hope is that by thinking about the topic for a few days, your experience of Sunday’s worship experience will be heightened.

Til next time…

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

What I'm reading today: Hebrews 4-8

As I was reading the morning newspaper yesterday, one article on the front page caught my eye. The artice's title read: "Dale Carnegie is not dead: In South Korea, people pay $25 to stimulate death, including lying in a closed coffin". I assumed that the article would tell the story of people morbidly obsessed with their own mortality.

As I read the article, however, I realized the experience wasn't quite as morbid as I thought. Participants in the program - called the Coffin Academy - go through a variety of exercises ranging from writing goodbye letters to loves to creating one's own tombstone epitath. At the end, individuals lie in a closed casket for 10 minutes to cap their experience.

The result of the program was much less morbid that I expected, however. At the end of the time in the closed casket, the program director Jung Joos says: "When you open your eyes, there will be a new life starting, which is different from yesterday."

What a beautiful challenge that is to give to participants in the program.

I hope that none of us feel so trapped in our current lives that we would have to be shut in a casket in order to give ourselves permission to embrace a new life. May it be so.

Til next time...

Monday, January 4, 2010

What I'm reading today: Hebrews 1-3

Welcome Back!

As I hinted in my last entry on Christmas Day, I've decided to take a different approach toward my daily blog entries.

I'll be continuing with a daily devotion as a part of my spiritual life - but I'm not going to use a scripted lectionary program. Instead, I'll be loosely working with Eugene Peterson's The Message: Remix - PAUSE edition. I say loosely working with the material because I'm going to adapt the reading schedule so I read just one book at a time. The notion of reading 3-4 passages each day has always caused me to feel a bit unfocused. Therefore, I'll allow myself to focus this year. I decided to start the new year reading the New Testament. During my vacation last week, I read the Gospel of John. Today, I started with the book of Hebrews and read the first 3 chapters. So my reading schedule will be one of the changes I'll be making.

The second change I'll make is that my daily entries won't be restricted to reflecting solely on scripture. I want to open myself up to exploring other areas where faith and life intersect. This means some days I might reflect on something I read in the newspaper while other days I might explore something that came up for me either while I was watching television or sitting in a time of meditation.

Enough said about changes, now. I'm sure other changes will arise as the days unfold. I don't want to try to script them too far in advance. I want to be open to them as they emerge.

All of this brings me to today's entry. In reading the first three chapters of Hebrews, one word kept coming up for me. That word is sacrifice. I'm not personally a huge fan of theological positions that define the work of Jesus solely in sacrificial terms (i.e. Jesus died to wash away our sins). I tend to think of the impact of Jesus' life and death in much broader terms.

Last Friday, a friend emailed me a link to a video that got me to think about this notion of sacrifice in new ways. The video tells a piece of the story of a young man who's name is Patrick Henry Hughes. Patrick was born 19 years ago without any eyes and with severe physical limitations. The video goes on to explore the "sacrifices" Patrick's father has made to give Patrick a life that is as normal as possible.

Some would define the notion of sacrifice narrowly and suggest that his father's actions are sacrificial because Patrick's dad puts Patrick's needs before his own. I think it's more complicated than that. I think Patrick's father benefits greatly from his investment as well.

After you watch the video, I would invite you to spend some time thinking about what the word "sacrifice" means to you.

Take care and thanks for joining me on the next leg of my journey into 2010 and beyond.

Til next time...

Patrick Henry Hughes

Here's the video I invited you to view in my entry for Monday, January 4, 2010.