Be careful what you pray for…

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Last week I wrote about turning “bodies into neighbors.”  It was a phrase from our Sunday morning conversation about focus on mission, and the call to love our neighbors.  Like some of you, I started praying.  Then this happened.

I spent the better part of three days this week at a small gathering of evangelical pastors and Muslim imams.  The purpose was to begin to change the environment locally, and globally between these two dominant faiths.  And along the way, God began to change bodies into neighbors.

Not only did I meet some courageous, like-minded pastors in the DC area (including one who has spoken powerfully about the racial tensions currently bubbling over in our country), but I met several imams, a brilliant young Muslim scholar, and a sheikh who is one of the top Muslim jurists in this country.  And under the visionary leadership of Pastor Bob Roberts of Northwood Church in Dallas, we all began to build friendships, untangle perceptions, and ask the questions nobody ever asks.  While all this was going on, something else was happening.

God was turning bodies into neighbors. I realized that despite living  in such a diverse community, I had no relationship with any Muslims.  Nor any conversations.  And it’s hard  to love those you don’t know.  But God is changing that. 

Which raises questions for all of us about loving our neighbors:

  • Can you love someone who has a different faith system?
  • Can you stand up for their rights to believe and practice their faith?
  • Can you partner with them on making a difference in our communities?
  • Can you be friends even if the other person never changes their religious beliefs to match yours?
  • Would Jesus hang out with those who didn’t agree with him?

The retreat was just the beginning.  But it was a powerful example of how God answers our prayers.  Specifically, our prayers to turn bodies into neighbors.

How are you praying?

-Pastor Mark

Turning bodies into neighbors

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Did you miss it?  Did you miss the theme we are focused on this year?  We want the HOPE of Christ to be more than a slogan or an insider experience.  We want to ignite the HOPE of Christ throughout our neighborhoods and throughout the nations.

(If you missed last week’s message, check it out here.)

It starts with neighborhoods.  And neighborhoods are made up of neighbors.  But too often we don’t view people as neighbors.  They’re simply bodies.  Bodies that live across the street, or in the apartment upstairs, or the dorm room down the hall.  But Jesus tells his followers to “love your neighbor.”  So we need to find a way to “turn bodies into neighbors.”

The best part is that ANY of us can do this.

  • You don’t have to be a people person to do this.
  • You don’t have to be a religious person to do this.
  • You don’t have to be an organized person to do this.
  • It doesn’t matter what your country, culture, or color is.
  • It doesn’t matter what your zip code or your net worth is.
  • It doesn’t matter what your BMI or your IQ is.
  • It doesn’t matter what your marital status or your legal status is.

It’s as simple as filling in the grid with the names of the eight people who live closest to your residence.

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Pray that you’d get to know their names if you don’t already.It doesn’t matter if you live in a dorm, a single family house, an apartment, condo, townhouse or McMansion.  There are people who are close to your residence when you lay your head down to sleep each night.  Write down their names (or whatever nickname you’ve given them because you don’t KNOW their name), and begin to pray.

  • Pray that God will work in their life this year.
  • Pray that they will experience God’s blessing.
  • Pray that they’ll experience the H.O.P.E. of Christ.
  • Pray that you would be able to extend the H.O.P.E. of Christ in some tangible way.
  • Pray that they would come to see God as their loving heavenly Father.

That’s it.  Pray.  Ideally every day, but at least once a week.  It’s a practical, powerful way to ignite the HOPE of Christ from neighborhoods to nations.  And then watch to see how God begins to change you, your neighbors, and your community.  Are you in?

-Pastor Mark

Sit, Stand, Kneel…what we’re missing

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You can’t care about others and not notice the recent controversy that was started in the NFL and has now spread to other groups much closer to home.  What began as one athlete’s attempt to bring attention to a problem our country is wrestling with, has blossomed into a whole different controversy.

If you listen to the loudest voices right now, you’d think the most important issue is whether one should stand, sit, kneel, etc. during the playing of our national anthem.  And as a former Marine, a citizen of this country, and someone who was raised to respect traditions, I can understand the view of those who are indignant at this gesture.

As a pastor who listens to and cares for people who don’t share my experiences of country, culture, and color, I also understand the frustration of feeling marginalized, oppressed, overlooked, and worse.  That frustration would be enough to prompt any of us to boil over into action.

(For reference sake, consider this: What is the proper posture to take when addressing God in prayer?  If anyone deserves our respect it’s God.  So is it better to stand?  Or to sit?  Or to kneel?  Or even lie prostrate on the ground?  Interestingly, the Bible would acknowledge ALL of these as appropriate ways to approach the Creator of the universe.  And chances are you’ve practice all of them.  Something to think about as we ponder how to show respect.)

But here’s what I think is easy to miss.  While many argue about the proper body position during the song, we’re missing the real discussion.  And that is, what are we to do about the sorry state of race relations and racial tension in our country?  Do we care about it?

It’s a deep and pernicious problem, with roots running into every aspect of our society.  This problem has defied decades of efforts to eradicate and resolve it.  But THIS is the problem that needs our attention, much more than what we do during the playing of the anthem.  I mentioned in this blog a few weeks back that how we think about others has enormous implications for our faith.  That includes those who look different than me.  Do we see each person as having infinite value?  God does.

Ultimately the solution lies beyond the reach of governments and social programs, as useful as those can be.  The solution is a heart one.  What’s required is the work of God in human hearts.  At Seneca Creek we’ve talked over and over about igniting the H.O.P.E. of Christ.  The “P” in HOPE is for “promoting reconciliation.”  That’s not just reconciliation with God.  That’s reconciliation with others.  Our neighbors.  And you can’t legislate that.  But God can initiate that.  And as a church, we can walk together towards reconciliation.  A “body of Christ,” a family of brothers and sisters who are learning how be reconciled, learning how to bear one another’s burdens, learning how to speak truth to one another, and learning how to replace the injustices in our fallen world with the beautiful justice of the kingdom of God.

If you want to learn more of how we do that, be sure to join us in our current series, “Focus.”  And feel free to add your (polite) comments below.

-Pastor Mark

P. S.  Here’s some more food for thought from a respected voice in the church today.  

What are you waiting for?

Last year we launched Rooted. And almost 200 people have taken the plunge. Their lives have changed.  Now it’s your turn.  What are you waiting for?  Check out these stories.
Debbie’s story

Jeremy & Shannon’s stories

Lance’s story

Last week I shared some of the Rooted experience comments from people just like you at Seneca Creek.  Check out their stories here.

You can get the details, and register online right now by clicking here.  What are you waiting for?

Then join us this Sunday as we launch our new series, “Focus.”  That’s the challenge we face in a world of relentless messages and demands and distractions.  I look forward to being part of the journey with you as we plunge into this new season.

– Pastor Mark

Are you going back to school?

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The pictures on social media this week were awesome.  And the comments somewhat predictable.  “So proud…Where did the time go?… They grow up so fast…”  As everyone from preschoolers to college freshmen embarks on their new educational journey, I’m wondering about YOUR back to school picture.

And I’m wondering about mine, too.  Let’s face it, once you have your diploma/degree in hand it’s easy to slip into a routine that carefully avoids new learning.  Life can become one week after another of the same faces, same places, and same beliefs and behavior.

But the students heading off to school…they’ve got something to teach the rest of us.  Their example teaches us that this is the perfect time to embark on a new season of learning and growing.

  • Maybe it’s time to finally put some research into your relationships that have become frayed and faded.
  • Maybe it’s time to learn some new ways of managing your finances.
  • Maybe this is the year you enroll in the school of “taking care of my body.”
  • And maybe (hopefully) this is finally the time that you leave behind the spiritual wilderness and boldly step into a new chapter of your relationship with your Heavenly Father.

One year ago we rolled out an exciting opportunity to help you do just that.  It’s called the Rooted Experience, and it’s a powerful way to connect with God, connect with the church, and connect with your purpose.  I’m proud to announce that almost 200 people at Seneca Creek…people just like you…have already “enrolled and graduated” from that experience!  Listen to some of their comments about their time in Rooted:

  • It drew us closer to God, our relationship with Him, actively getting involved in prayer & service. Brought greater depth of knowledge [and an] opportunity to open up and build beautiful relationships with people I’d never met before.
  • I had the opportunity to spend more time in prayer, and work on my internal struggles.
  • I became more focused on my relationship with God on a daily basis, connected with new people on a deeper level, and learned tremendously about myself through this experience.
  • Rooted help me to see some blind spots I have.
  • It opens your eyes that you are not the only one with problems. I learned a lot about myself, others, and God.
  • I got to understand my purpose that God has for me

And perhaps even more exciting, listen to them describe the change in their lives in just ten weeks:

Before: Was filled with anxiety and the need to control

After: Am learning to let go and trust my heavenly Father

Before: Felt alone in church

After: Have a church family

Before: Self-centered, contentious, defensive

After: Walking in peace

Before: Would pray TO God not expecting to hear his voice

After: Pray WITH God hearing him speak to me

These are the stories of people like you who went back to school.  Are you ready to go back to school?  I’d like to invite you to enroll today for the Fall Rooted Experience.  You can click here for registration and information.  Or you can stop by the table in the lobby on Sunday and talk with one of our friendly, knowledgeable volunteers.  But whatever you do, don’t delay.  We launch this next session on Tuesday, September 13th.  Just in time for you to go “back to school.”

Hope to see you then.

-Pastor Mark

What’s a human worth?

BoyWhen you see another person, what are they worth?  How do you decide (which we all do)?

  • When someone doesn’t meet our expectations, we can treat them as slightly less valuable.
  • When we accomplish something (thru whatever means), we can begin to believe that we’re slightly more valuable.
  • When we see someone who is caught in a cycle of (fill in the blank: addiction, relationship failure, lack of boundaries, cultural myths…) we start to move them down a notch on the value scale.
  • When we encounter someone who hasn’t learned or remembered what we know, they drop in value in our minds.
  • When we learn that the other person doesn’t think like we do, or vote like we do, we’re inclined to devalue them, and add value to those who do agree with us and vote with us.
  • And whenever our value goes up in our minds, or the other person’s value goes down, we are flying in the face of the real value of each person.  Because the truth is, we have value because we’re created by God, and for God.  Call it BGFG.

So when you look in the mirror, remember that your value is beyond calculation… Before you ever do or say anything. Nothing you do or say will change that!

Likewise, when the next person enters your field of vision, regardless of how they look, love, act, talk, smell, or treat you, they also have value beyond calculation.  And remembering that will definitely change the way you treat them.  And quite likely change the world in the process!

BGFG.

What’s a human worth?  Well God thinks a human is worth dying for.  Do you agree with him?  –

Pastor Mark

The wrecking ball of God

 

If you’ve been around Seneca Creek this summer you’ve no doubt seen the signs of construction.  Dumpsters, danger signs, and debris are everywhere.  And imagine my surprise when I returned to the office after vacation! 

The entrance to our staff offices was completely gone.  The lovely glass wall was replaced by a temporary wall marked with blue tape.  Drab, dull, and just a bit confusing.
But all this disruption is necessary if we’re going to make way for something new, something better.  Before we can build a space for children and students we have to bring in the wrecking ball and take out the old structures.  Demolition precedes construction.

I’ve observed that God often brings his wrecking ball into our lives.  Not to make life miserable, but to make room for something new.  And in order to accomplish that, often the old has to go.

  • The old habits that are woven into our life…yes some of them are truly addictions
  • The old hobbies that compete for the place that rightly belongs to God
  • The old ways of thinking that define who’s in and who’s out
  • The old views of God that need to be discarded and replaced with the real Jesus
  • The old values that are directed by self-centered thinking instead of other-centered.
  • The old phrases and comments that we use to dismiss entire groups of people
  • The old appetites for approval from someone other than God

When God’s wrecking ball smacks into old ways like these, we often complain, resist, or run for the door.  But in doing so we miss out on something new.  The prophet Isaiah records this profound statement:

See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.  (Isaiah 43:19)

The old ways are really nothing more than wilderness and wasteland, covered with a shiny veneer.  What new thing might God do in your life?  New hope, new relationships, new values, new habits, new joy, new peace.  It’s nothing short of a new life.  And that, after all, is what Jesus promises us in the first place.

The wrecking ball of God may not be such a bad thing after all.

Serving and growing together,
Pastor Mark