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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, February 27, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: 1 Corinthians 14

A few years ago I heard a statistic at the annual meeting for the Rocky Mountain Conference of the United Church of Christ. The statistic – given by the UCC Staff Person directing the Still Speaking campaign at the time – said that 80% of 18 years have never been to church. That statistic is astounding to many of us who grew up in the church and assumed most others had as well!

That statistic raises important questions for those of us inside local churches to consider – one of which is how we incorporate younger folks who show up to participate in the life of our faith communities. Let me unpack the second half of that statement a little bit for you.

You see, there is a huge difference between younger and older generations these days. Many older folks grew up in church and have a solid grounding in the sacred stories of our faith tradition and the religious language we church folks tend to use with each other (i.e. words like “narthex” and “lectionary”). We then assume everyone shares that knowledge base. Rarely do we translate things for younger folks who lack that knowledge. It's no wonder so many younger folks tend to get lost when they do show up and quickly give up on us.

Therein lies one of the biggest challenges for our faith communities. How do we provide spiritual experiences that can speak to individuals with both strong faith backgrounds and those with no faith background whatsoever?

Paul gives us some helpful ideas in the portion of 1 Corinthians that I read for today. Even though Paul was addressing a different topic, his words can still give us some helpful insight into the matter.

“Plain truth-speaking… goes straight to the heart of believers and doesn’t get in the way of non-believers.” And later – when addressing the importance of giving different members of the community an opportunity to speak – Paul added: “You all [should] learn from each other.”

Simple truths… Shared learning opportunities... What solid foundations for building healthy community!

So how do you tend to lead your life? Do you get lost in the complexity of issues that speak primarily to your own life and your own experience and forget about others; or do you seek ways to simplify things and create opportunities to learn from others as ways to cultivate relationships with others?

Til next time…

Friday, February 26, 2010

What I'm Reading Today: 1 Corinthians 13

I love finding resources that help me experience the sacred texts of our faith in new ways. This is my favorite musical rendition of today's text. I hope you enjoy!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: 1 Corinthians 11 & 12

The passage from 1 Corinthians I read this morning contains a chapter that is probably my favorite chapter in the entire Bible – 1 Corinthians 12. I have loved that chapter for years because it lays out a beautiful image of what we people of faith are called to be: the body of Christ. It also suggests wonderful guidelines for how we should live together as well.

While I love the vision Paul lays out for us, I’ve realized I’ve lived into a rather unhealthy understanding of those words in the past. I tended to miss Paul’s foundational point that we are all important parts of a larger whole. Instead, I created a hierarchy of body parts and saw myself (particularly in my role as pastor) as being one of those super important parts without whom the body couldn’t function: a part like, say, the heart.

That thinking got me into a dangerous headspace. It made me think that the body couldn’t function without me. I would go weeks at a time, for instance, without taking any time off because – I thought – the group simply couldn’t function without me. As a result, I frequently because spiritually, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted.

In the past year, I have taken important steps to move away from that co-dependent line of thinking. The last two weeks however – as I have worked straight through without any time off – I’ve realized that I have begun to fall back into my old way of being. I’m nearly out of fuel in my gas tank. And so tonight, I’m forcing myself to make time for myself and my family (in order to experience a one-time event) after completely neglecting both for the past two weeks. The decision isn’t easy. But it’s an important opportunity for me to remember that the health and functioning of the body of Christ is much greater than me.

So how well do you embrace the notion of being part of something larger than yourself? Does that vision excite you and draw you deeper into spiritual community; or does it scare you and threaten the illusion that you are a completely self-contained entity?

Til next time…

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What I’m reading today: 1 Corinthians 10

A few weeks ago, I innocently introduced a new resource into the life of the church I currently serve. The new resource was a songbook.

I guess I should note the songbook wasn’t exactly a traditional songbook. By that I mean it wasn’t a songbook published by professions that we simply purchased from a store. No, this songbook was different. The church purchased copyright licenses from two companies that would allow us to reproduce a variety of songs for inclusion.

Now to this point in the story there is nothing particularly radical about the songbook. Many churches have resources like this. Most churches, however, limit who can choose songs to be included. They would have the pastor, the music director, or the members of a worship team decide what songs to include.

I took the selection process one step further. I invited each member of the community to share one of their favorite songs to be included. I promised them I would try to keep my control issues in check and not censor their contributions. This means members of the community get an unfiltered sense of the musical/theological preferences of others in the faith community.

This process of releasing my control is HUGELY terrifying for me – for some people think the pastor’s primary job is to control/regulate things. I don’t. I believe a pastor’s call (or at the very least my call) is to empower people to participate in exciting new ways in all aspects of the community.

So why am I talking about all of this today?

Because as I face my fears of letting go of control in order to empower others, Paul’s words to the Corinthians in today’s passage deeply resonated with my soul. When he wrote, “No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; God will never let you get pushed past your limit; God will always be there to help you come through it” – I feel like he’s speaking to me. And when he added, “I’m not going to walk around on eggshells worrying about what small-minded people might say; I’m going to stride free and easy, knowing what our large-minded Master has already said” – I feel as if I’m (almost) up for any challenge.

Perhaps there is an area of your life where you’ve felt called to take a risk lately. Maybe you’ve talked yourself out of taking that risk – preferring instead to “walk on eggshells”. If so, hold on tight to those simple – yet beautiful – words from Paul. “God will never let you down”. They might help get you over the hump.

I realize words may certainly not always feel true when you are in the midst of challenges that push you to your limits. The longer I live, however, the more I grow into a deeper understanding of those words. It is that understanding that gives me the courage to try to live (and minister) outside the boxes.

Til next time…

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: 1 Corinthians 9

When I was at the height of my political advocacy 15 years ago, I remember having a somewhat jaded view of clergypersons. I used to get frustrated that so few of them would step out on a limb and take more radical positions. I was convinced I knew why they were hesitant to do so. I figured it was because they were simply afraid of losing their jobs – that’s why they kept their mouths shut when I thought they should be speaking.

Fast forward fifteen years. Now I’m one of those clergypersons about whom I had railed. I sometimes find myself in situations where I sense some would like me to take more public positions, and yet I hold back. Why? Is it because now I’m the one afraid of losing his position? Is it because my core values and commitments have changed?

No. There is another reason why. Let’s see if I can explain that reason for you.

You see fifteen years ago, I had the luxury of moving through life and seeing the world through one lens: my own. It was so easy to take positions when mine was the only perspective I had to consider. As I grew in my ministry, however, I began to be drawn deeply into the lives of others. People that had previously been little more than caricatures suddenly became human beings. And while I certainly didn’t always share their opinions and/or values, I was begiining to see that these other folks were deeply principled people who were living their lives as best they knew. This changed my way of being in the world. I became much less antagonistic toward those who were different from myself and much more able to acknowledge their humanity.

In many ways, I grew into the words Paul lifted up in today’s passage from 1 Corinthians 9 – where he said: “I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ – but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view.”

Maybe there are those in your life at whom you are tempted to lash out. If so, I would invite you to consider Paul’s advice and enter their world and try to experience things from their point of view. While such an effort probably won’t change your thoughts or positions, it might help you let go of the anger and animosity you’ve been carrying toward others and replace those feelings with other things like love and grace.

Til next time…

Monday, February 22, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: 1 Corinthians 5-8

As you read the Sacred writings of our faith, have you ever noticed that there are places where the perspective of the author shows through more than others? The section of 1 Corinthians I read today is certainly one of those places where Paul’s personal perspectives are rather apparent. This is particularly true in the sections where he discusses marriages/unions.

Paul’s personal perspective on this is obvious. He even went so far as to say, “Sometimes, I wish everyone was single like me.” He does throw a bone to those of us who are married/partnered when he said: “The difficulties of marriage are preferable by far to a sexually tortured life as a single.” Not necessarily a ringing endorsement of the institution. Given Paul’s perspective, I find it ironic that one of the most used passages at wedding services comes just six chapters after these words (1 Corinthians 13 – often called the love chapter)!

So why Paul might have had issues against marriages/unions?

There are the obvious reasons. At a time when the faith was being grown by missionaries willing to spread the word, it was important that folks could pick up and go wherever they were called to with as few encumbrances as possible. That would be one of the obvious reasons. Some reasons are much less obvious. Some more recently have theorized that Paul had his own issues around sexuality/sexual orientation. This question about what Paul had against marriages/unions, however, isn’t the one that draws my attention.

Instead, I find it more productive to ask myself, “How can my marriage/union draw me deeper into my relationship with God?” And for me the answer is obvious.

You see before I met Mike, my friends and associates considered me something of a relationship guru. I could always step back, observe the dynamics of their relationships, and offer a constructive word of advice that seemed incredibly helpful (at least that’s what they told me to my face). Then I met Mike. I no longer had the luxury of stepping back and watching relationships from a distance. I found myself smack-dab in the middle of one. In the process I discovered this business of loving someone and being loved is MUCH more complicated than I ever realized. My marriage/union has taught me the complexities of love and the role that humility plays. I have taken these (and other learnings) from my human relationship and applied them to my relationship with God. And you know what? I believe my relationship with God has grown stronger. Not in spite of my relationship – but because of it.

So how about you? Has your intimate relationship been an obstacle that has held back your relationship with God, or has your intimate relationship enriched your relationship with God?

Til next time…