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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, March 6, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: 2 Corinthians 6

Each one of us carries some baggage from an earlier experience in our lives. While we can face the early experience and try to move beyond it, the effects of those experiences can sometimes pop up and influence our present thoughts and behaviors - at least that has been the case for me.

I grew up in a very troubled local church that was full of conflict. No one in the church ever wanted to face it, however. As a result, the community was dominated by either the overly aggressive behavior of some, or the extremely passive aggressive behavior of others. This meant that church was not always a warm and fuzzy place to be.

From that experience I learned to be cautious when I was in all types of community. Even when things seemed to be going well on the surface, I always prepared myself for the possibility that there was trouble brewing below the surface. I could never relax and simply enjoy myself.

Because of this, I learned to think in very “small” ways when I was part of a community. In today’s passage Paul challenged such an approach to life when he wrote these words: “The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them in a small ways… Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively!”

Thankfully my relationship with God has helped me overcome the smallness of my thinking. I have grown to feel increasingly safe in community and realized not all communities are like the one in which I was raised. If I don’t stay on top of my spiritual life, however, it is very easy for me to slip back into the smallness of my previous thinking.

So what about you? What experience in your early life has strongly shaped or influenced your thought processes? What experience has boxed you in and made you prone to smallness inside?

Whatever that experience is, continue to follow Paul’s admonition to “open up your lives” and “live openly and expansively”. May Paul’s words come to pass in the context of each of our lives.

Til next time…

Friday, March 5, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: 2 Corinthians 5

One of my role models in ministry and life is my mother. She has one of the strongest faiths I’ve ever been around. She is also a tremendously principled person who uses those principles as bridges to others (instead of as walls to cut herself off from those who fail to live up to them – as some people do).

There is one area – however – where she and I don’t see eye to eye. That area has to do with our view of people in the church. When I was younger and people in our local church would start to act badly, my mother would shrug and say: “Well, the church is made up of people just like any other institution – so we’re bound to have people who act badly.”

I don’t see it that way at all. You see I believe what should make the lives of our local churches different from other groups is what we are aspiring to be: the body of Christ. That’s a very different blue-print than most institutional entities. As such, it’s very clear what values we are called to embody: values like love, grace, mercy, and justice. When some lose sight of that goal, our call is to remind them of that.

I strongly believe that our local faith communities should be the one place on earth we come closest to experiencing the reign of God. I know it might be impossible to achieve such lofty status 24/7. Nevertheless, it’s a goal I constantly keep before me. And in both faith communities I have been blessed with the opportunity to serve, I can honestly say that’s been true for me. I couldn’t imagine devoting my life to a community where that’s not the case.

Paul wrote about the way one’s faith in God should be reflected in your relationships with others. “All this comes from the God,” Paul wrote, “who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other.”

So how does your relationship with/connection to God affect your relationships with others (both inside and outside of your faith community)? Something to think about today.

Til next time…

Thursday, March 4, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: 2 Corinthians 4

The social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter are wonderful things because they provide you with the opportunity to catch up with folks you haven’t seen for years. In the last 24 hours, for instance, I regained contact with a woman named Julie who was three years ahead of me in high school.

Julie was a remarkably upbeat person who always made time for those around her. She had a laugh that was infectious. You simply could not be in a bad mood around her. Needless to say, I was excited when my friend Ricky helped me reconnect with Julie.

In the process of getting re-connected, I couldn’t believe what Julie has lived through since just the first of the year. She went through the experience of suddenly losing her spouse in the middle of February. And then just last week, she was diagnosed with inoperable ovarian cancer.

It wasn’t exactly the easiest time to try to re-establish contact with Julie. And Julie’s situation raises all sorts of issues for me as well. Her situation is one of those that makes me wonder why some people get such a disproportionate amount of pain and suffering in their lives. No matter how hard try I articulate an answer to that question, nothing seems satisfactory.

I did find Paul’s words from the fourth chapter of 2 Corinthians helpful though – especially the part where he wrote: “So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without [God’s] unfolding grace.”

While the challenges you and I are wrestling with perhaps are not as challenging as those facing Julie, but they are serious within the context of our own lives. The next time you find yourself in a place when you feel at the end of your rope, I hope you’ll remember Paul’s words. They remind us that our quality of our life isn’t determined by those things that happen TO us; the quality of life is determined by what’s happening WITHIN us.

My love and prayers are with you Julie!

Til next time…

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: 2 Corinthians 3

While most of my creative energies tend to get expressed in the field of music, I love hearing about other artists’ expression of creativity as well. They give me valuable insights into ways of being in the world. This is particularly true for those artists who work in the field of sculpting.

Several years ago I heard one sculptor talk about the process of creating a sculpture. The artist said that he tried not to approach the material with a preconceived image in mind. Instead, he tried to work with the material and simply reveal an image that he believed lie buried within the existing material.

What a beautiful way to approach one’s craft!

In many ways, the sculptor’s statement captured what I believe to be the essence of effective ministry. My goal as a pastor isn’t to take a person and mold them into a pre-existing image I have of what they “should” be. Rather, my goal is to be an instrument that helps reveal some of the astonishing inner beauty that sometimes gets buried beneath layers of pain, fear or frustration.

Every single one of us goes through this life-long process of being sculpted. Paul suggests as much in today’s writing when he noted: “And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like [God].”

Today, if you feel frustrated with some of your current rough spots–be gentle with yourself. Remember that most of us aren’t finished works of art; rather, each of us is a masterpiece in progress.

Til next time…

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: 1 Corinthians 16 - 2 Corinthians 2

Every once in a while, you have an experience that gives you a glimpse of where you are at in your faith development. I had one of those moments a few years into my first pastorate.

One of the members of the community I served had donated something very special to our church. The object was temporarily being stored in my office. Before we were able to formally present it to the congregation, someone removed the object from my office without telling anyone. Its removal caused quite a stir! In particular, the situation caused a great deal of pain for the individual who had donated the object.

For several weeks, it was made to seem as if my carelessness was to blame for the item’s disappearance. Then one day the object was found in a place that made it very clear what had happened.

At that moment, I had a choice. I could take the path to personal vindication and reveal what had happened; or I could put restoration before vindication and help the community heal and move forward. With the Spirit’s leading, I chose the latter. And what a choice that was. Things turned out far better than I could have hoped – both for the individuals involved and for the community!

This showed me that I had paid attention to those amazing mentors in my life that taught me conflicts are best resolved when individuals are more focused on the big picture (i.e. God’s love and grace) than who’s right and who’s wrong.

Paul understood this point well – for in the latter portion of today’s reading Paul addressed a similar circumstance where an individual in Corinth had caused much pain. Paul could have encouraged the community to confront the individual or expel the individual. Instead, Paul chose something better; love. “Now is the time to forgive the [person],” Paul wrote, “and help [the person] back on [the person’s] feet. If all you do is pour on the guilt, you could very well drown [the person] in it. My counsel now is to pour on the love.”

Perhaps there is a situation in your life where it would be easy for you to focus on blaming someone: a circumstance where you could lose yourself in trying to prove who is right and who is wrong. If that’s the case, ask yourself if that is truly what matters. Or might the situation give you the opportunity to prove something far more important: that God’s love and grace can work wonders when it comes to healing and restoration!

Til next time…

Monday, March 1, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: 1 Corinthians 15

There are many aspects of what Paul wrote about that strongly resonate with me. Today, however, Paul explores a topic that I have a different take on.

That topic?

The resurrection.

Paul wrote: “It’s resurrection, resurrection, always resurrection, that undergirds what I do and say, the way I live.” He added: “If there’s no resurrection, ‘We eat, we drink, the next day we die.”

Several verses earlier, Paul indicated: “If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, we’re a pretty sorry lot.”

I would disagree with Paul. Here’s my take on the subject.

When human beings are asked to talk about the resurrection, I liken it to asking a fetus to talk about life outside the womb. In both instances, the state being considered is completely beyond both the experience and the capacity of the entity involved.

Does this mean then that I don’t believe in the resurrection?

No. It simply means that I don’t believe we human beings can grasp the fullness of the dimension of life beyond/after our current state. Nor, would I add, do I believe human beings can deny the existence of another dimension beyond/after this life. I am comfortable living into this uncertainty – trusting God to take care of the rest.

I also strongly disagree with Paul when he suggests that without a certainty of belief in the resurrection, the inspiration we get from Christ makes us a sorry lot. From my experience, the inspiration I get from Jesus was the catalyst for my experience of a new life. Right here. Right now.

To borrow the language of Holy Week a few weeks early, during this lifetime I have known experiences of suffering. I have known experiences of death. I have known experiences of new life. The sense of resurrection I have absolute certainty about is the transformation my experience of God as revealed in Jesus has already given me. What a powerful thing this resurrection-experience has been for me!

I realize this is a touchy topic for some, but I would ask you to spend some time today exploring your thoughts on the topic. As you do so, may you draw strength from God’s abiding presence.

Til next time…