In case you think you aren’t making a difference

Have you ever been in a season where you wondered if your life really mattered? Maybe you’ve reflected back and thought, “Wow, I squandered that part of my life.” Maybe you’re wrestling even know with the gnawing sense that you’re simply taking up space.

Could I share a story with you? Recently I spent some time with an old Marine Corps buddy of mine. We reminisced and laughed about the crazy and stupid characters and antics of our by-gone days in the Corps. Then my friend mentioned that in hindsight he realized he had wasted some of the best years of his life when he could have been making a difference in that season.

I had to set him straight. He really didn’t know the truth.

  1. I had virtually given up finding a church that I “liked,” and was complaining about it to him at work one day.
  2. My buddy encouraged me to visit his church, which ironically he rarely attended and dropped out of shortly thereafter.
  3. I visited that little church and met some guys who invited me to study the Bible and experience community together.
  4. That little group had an unimaginable impact on the trajectory of my life and faith. I was challenged to take my faith seriously, I learned how to really study Scripture, and I developed a love for God’s Word and his church because of that group. (It’s safe to say I would absolutely NOT be in ministry today were it not for that group.)
  5. My life after the Marine Corps was shaped by those relationships and experiences at that church. Which is ultimately why I ended up attending Bible school, and then seminary.
  6. At seminary I was invited to be part of the team to plant Seneca Creek Community Church in 1989.
  7. Over the last 29 years this church has had a huge impact in our community, and in the lives of thousands and thousands of people, quite possibly including your life.

So I told my friend that whatever else happened 40 years ago, his life back then was bearing fruit in unimaginable ways to this day. All because he was willing to invite me to visit his church.

Am I suggesting you invite your friends to Seneca Creek? Well that’s certainly a great idea, and I would recommend it. But what I’m trying to say is that often in the little forms of following God we have a long-term impact that we may never fully appreciate. So before you start thinking that your life doesn’t matter, remember that God is always working. We just may not be able to see it yet.

Stay faithful. And let God do his work through you.

-Pastor Mark

What if you could hear God’s voice?

Lily Tomlin once quipped, “Why is when someone says they talked to God we call it prayer, but when that person says God talked to them we call it schizophrenia?”

If you can wrap your head around the possibility of a God, especially a powerful, intelligent, loving God, then the idea that God may communicate with you becomes quite possible.  Furthermore, if you can go along with the idea from the Bible that God actually has a design/purpose/plan for your life, then it’s even more likely he may have something to say to you about your life.

But how would he communicate that?  And would you know it if he was communicating?  Is it possible you might just be listening to your own thoughts?  Or someone else’s thoughts?  Even if you pick up the Bible and begin reading, it’s possible to think God is telling you something specifically, when in fact it’s merely an instruction to a particular person thousands of years ago.

The good news is that you can develop the skill of listening to God’s voice.  You can grow more confident and comfortable sorting out his voice from all the competing voices in your world.  I’ve addressed this on a weekend teaching format here and here, but one of the best ways it to walk thru our Rooted Experience.  Part of that journey is learning and practicing in this exact area.

So if you’ve been wondering about hearing God’s voice, then I would encourage you to consider registering for our Fall session of Rooted.  It begins on September 11th and runs for ten weeks.  You can register here.  Or let me know if you’ve got questions.  We’ve already helped hundreds of people at Seneca Creek connect with God thru this powerful ministry.

And I can assure you, God DOES in fact have important stuff to say into your life.  I hope we can help you hear his voice and live out his purposes for you!

-Pastor Mark

P.S. If you’ve been thru Rooted and have experienced growth in your ability to hear God’s voice, we’d love it if you would share part of that story in the space below.  Thanks!

There’s a hole in the ‘hood

I returned home from vacation last weekend to discover that I couldn’t get into my neighborhood.  The main road was closed because a sinkhole had opened up and swallowed part of the road.  (I thought sinkholes belonged in Florida, but hey…)

It turns out the ground opened up because a 5-foot diameter drainage pipe collapsed under the road.  Apparently it had been going bad for years, but finally failed spectacularly under all the rain.  Several friends have wondered aloud why it wasn’t repaired earlier.  Great question.  We like to arm-chair quarterback in the aftermath of failure.  And truthfully, that’s not a bad idea.  We can often learn quite a bit by doing an “after action report” of the failures we witness or experience.

That’s precisely what we’ve been doing in our summer series, “Failing Forward.”  If you’ve missed out, you can catch all the previous talks here.

And if you’ve ever had a sinkhole of failure open up in your own life, or had a “hole in your ‘hood,” you’ll appreciate what we’re gaining from the fascinating (and sometimes tragic) stories found in the pages of the Bible.  So plan to join us in the coming weeks.  Because while we may not get to choose when failure happens, we DO get to choose how we can grow forward after the fact.  As a famous preacher once said, “Failure is often the back door to success.”

-Pastor Mark

Learning to recognize hunger

Would you recognize hunger? Maybe in the face of the person standing at the intersection holding up a sign, or in the desperation of the single mom digging thru her purse for enough to pay for the meager collection of groceries in her cart?

Food insecurity is a real issue for a significant number of people right in our community. We are called to address issues like this as part of living out the life of Jesus. Here’s a reason to celebrate. We accomplished something incredible together! Together we collected 335 bags of groceries for the local food bank, Gaithersburg HELP.

But we can’t overlook the deeper hunger either.

I’m referring to the spiritual hunger that affects a larger and larger percentage of our communities. The sad truth is that people are constantly exposed to all kinds of crazy imitation gospels that are really not the gospel of Jesus at all. After a while, they turn away. They don’t want anything to do with “Christianity.” And they continue to search for something—ANYTHING—to fill that longing in the deepest part of who they are.

  • They will attempt to fill that void with approval of others.
  • Or with accumulating more and more stuff.
  • Or with one exhilarating experience after another.
  • Or with indulging every physical appetite they can imagine.
  • Or with mind-altering substances.
  • Or with the “perfect” marriage or family.

But none of those will do. Because we’re made for more than that. We’re made for genuine connection with our Heavenly Father. The one who Jesus talked about. The one who sent Jesus. The one who calls us to follow in Jesus footsteps.

You might be able to recognize food insecurity. But what about spiritual hunger? Do you recognize is when you see the symptoms listed above? So my challenge to you is this: be on the lookout for spiritual hunger. And when you see it, be willing to offer the only thing that will truly satisfy.

That’s why week after week we offer the H.O.P.E. of Christ, the real good news (a.k.a. the gospel) to any and all.

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” – Jesus (John 6:35)

Together we can keep the “spiritual food bank” open 24/7, and reduce spiritual hunger in our communities.

-Pastor Mark

What I like most about summer

Summer is awesome for many reasons.  And yes, longer daylight hours, and being able to ride my bike without spending 30 minutes bundling up are some of the top reasons.  But another top reason may surprise you:

It’s summer fruit.  Tomatoes, nectarines, watermelon, peaches, sweet corn, plums, zucchini, cantaloupe, and more.  I can almost feel the juice running down my chin while I’m writing.  Who doesn’t like fruit, right?

I think it’s no accident that the Christian life is described as bearing fruit.  Really tasty fruit.  Run down your chin kind of fruit.

  • Love
  • Joy
  • Peace
  • Patience
  • Goodness
  • Kindness
  • Faithfulness
  • Gentleness
  • Self-control

Can you imagine living with someone who was dripping that kind of fruit?  Who wouldn’t want to hang around for more, right?  Those are available “in season.”

God desires for you to bear that kind of fruit today.  This is your “summer season.”  If someone were to peruse the produce aisle of your life, what kind of fruit would they find?  Would it create a desire for more?  Would it produce a pleasant aroma?

Something to think about as we enter into summer.  Let your life overflow with the fruit of the Spirit.  (Galatians 5:22-23)  Make this the “summer” of your life.

-Pastor Mark

What to do when tragedy calls for action

You’re probably grateful (as I am) that there has been a change this week in the tragic border situation taking place in our country.  The separation of young children from their parents is devastating, no matter what you think about the legal issues involved.  However, there’s another tragic situation taking place right here in our community.  It’s called “food insecurity.”

That’s a nice way of saying “hunger.”  Yep, in the shadow of the capitol of the most powerful nation on the earth lurks hunger.  Young kids, who often look very much like those who’ve been seen on the news lately, come home to empty pantries.  They go to bed hungry.  They get the majority of their nutritional needs met thru programs at their local public schools.

But school is out.  And many families are hard pressed to feed themselves.  Parent(s) are struggling to meet the rising costs of living in this expensive county.

This is where it’s crystal clear HOW we can help. With the immigration mess it’s often not clear what average citizens can do to make a difference.  But when it comes to food insecurity, it’s quite clear.

If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. Isaiah 58:10

We are proud to partner with Gaithersburg HELP in their phenomenal work to provide temporary, emergency food supplies to families and individuals right here in our city and community.

This year Seneca Creek has set a goal of collecting 400 bags of groceries during the month of June to restock the shelves of this important ministry.  (That’s 100 more bags than last year’s goal)  As of the time I’m writing this we have collected 132 bags.  That’s one third of our goal.  Which means we have two thirds to go.  AND, we have just one Sunday left.

One Sunday to collect 268 bags.  Yikes!

By comparison, last year, with one week to go, we still needed 212 bags.  And we MADE it!

So I’m asking you to consider joining my family in bringing an abundance of food for those who are dealing with a scarcity.  I’m inviting you to be part of a church that takes action when the opportunity presents itself.  I’m asking you to help us make a difference in the lives of some of the most vulnerable in our community.

212 bags.  I’m in for the first 12.  Will you commit to being part of the last 256?

Here’s a list of items that we’re trying to collect.

  • Low-sodium canned vegetables
  • Canned tomato products with no added sugar or salt
  • Canned fruit (in juice)
  • Canned tuna/salmon in water
  • Canned chicken
  • Canned chili
  • Canned beans
  • Dried beans
  • Nut butters
  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa, buckwheat and other whole grains
  • Whole-wheat pasta
  • Rolled oats and plain instant oatmeal
  • Low sugar, high fiber cereal
  • Baby diapers
  • Baby wipes
  • Vegetable oil
  • Vegetarian items (soups, chili)
  • Baby food/cereals
  • Infant formula

And then let’s love our neighbors in practical ways this week.  I can’t wait to see how God shows up in this church!

-Pastor Mark

P.S. If you find yourself facing food insecurity in your own home, please contact our office.  We definitely want to help you while we’re helping others in our community.

P.P.S. If you need to drop off grocery bags on a day other than Sunday we are open from 9 to 5 Monday to Friday.  Additionally the building is open some evenings for scheduled events. Call ahead for details.

Power that doesn’t corrupt

(One ring to rule them all…and in the darkness bind them. – J.R.R. Tolkien)

The saying is all too true: Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  The headlines confirm that every day.  But what if there was a power that DIDN’T corrupt?  What if that power was already in your grasp?

I came across just such a power recently in a book I was reading.  It was written in the form of a prayer, you know, along the lines of things like, “Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts…”  Here’s the quote:

“May [God] give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do.”

Here is power to accomplish good things.  And we’re talking about good things that are prompted by faith, or allegiance to God and his kingdom.  This saying forces us to consider, “What good things is my faith prompting me to do?”  Take a minute right now to ponder that question.  How would you answer it?  Grab a pen and paper and jot down the top three things that come to mind.

This kind of power is almost the exact opposite of power that corrupts.  It’s power that restores, power that heals, power that gives life.  What if you could wield that kind of power?  What if you could dispense that kind of power?  What impact would that have in your life?  In your relationships?  In your career?

That power is available to you in the same way it was available to the person who wrote it.  His name was Paul, and he was praying that kind of power for people he knew; for people who would need that power.  You can find our more details about Paul and the people he was writing to in the book in the New Testament called 2 Thessalonians.  It’s found in chapter one of that book.

So maybe today, or the next time you’re facing power that has corrupted, you can just pause for a moment and call on the God of all power to dispense the life-giving power that Paul mentions.  You might even want to memorize this simple prayer:

So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call. May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do.  (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12)

Pray it for yourself.  Pray it for your family.  Pray it for your boss, or your teacher, or your co-worker.  Pray it to unleash the kind of power that doesn’t corrupt but that instead brings H.O.P.E.  I know that’s how I’m praying for you today.

-Pastor Mark

Results matter…even to God

My older daughter is a public school teacher.  This week she was evaluated by her principal, because the best way to tell if a teacher is doing well is to watch her/him teach.

It’s actually a regular part of the teaching profession.  Which got me thinking about a verse I read recently in the New Testament book of Philippians.

Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. (Philippians 2:12 NLT)

This is like an evaluation from the principal.  Show the results of your salvation, of your being made new in the power of God’s Holy Spirit.  Show the results of your faith in Jesus Christ as your leader, your king, your Lord.  Show the results as evidenced by deep reverence of God.  Oh, and work hard at this.

Whew!  That’s a tall order.  It’s also an order that’s easy to neglect.  Because it not only takes work to SHOW the results, it takes work and intentionality to monitor them.  To evaluate the results.

So here’s a question (actually two questions) for all of us as the school year winds down, and as students and teachers receive their evaluations and show the results of their efforts.

  • What results are you showing?
  • Is there anyone who’s helping you by offering an honest evaluation of how you’re doing?

Because apparently results matter.  Even to God.

-Pastor Mark

Memorials and amnesia

Do you ever stop to think about why we have memorials?  Do they have any place in today’s hi-tech world?  Is there still a value for something like Memorial Day?

Memorials connect us to our past, but they do more than that. They illuminate our path to the future.  Either we will stumble in the darkness, or we will walk in the light of memorials.  It’s like that famous quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  (Santayana)

Memorials remind us of heroic deeds, and of epic failures.  Just wander down to the National Mall and you’ll see both types of memorials.  Some of them inspire us.  Some of them humble us.  They’re struggling to help illuminate our way forward, calling us to remember, to learn, to grow wise, and to avoid repeating the same painful lessons of the past.

What about memorials of faith?  There are clear examples in the pages of the Bible.  The 11th chapter of Hebrews is filled with “heroic people” of faith.

But there’s a powerful story in the history of Israel that can illuminate the future for all of us.  The nation had wandered for decades, waiting to enter the land God promised them.  Before they could enter, they had to cross the Jordan river, a raging torrent of danger and destruction.

The leaders went first, and as they stepped into the river in faith, God made a way for them.  The whole nation crossed unscathed onto the other side.  But then, God instructed them to take twelve boulders from the middle of the river and use them to build a memorial on the riverbank in their new land.  And here’s why:

In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”  Joshua 4:6-7

A memorial to God’s faithfulness.  A memorial to remind them.  (You can read the whole story here, in Joshua 3 and 4.)

They needed this memorial for the same reason we do.  We forget.  We forget God’s promises, his presence, and his power.  Memorials are more than just a trip down memory lane.  They’re more than just nostalgia.  They’re beacons arcing thru our amnesia and illuminating the path God has set before us toward an abundant life.

What’s your memorial?  What reminds you of God’s faithfulness?  (This is one of the huge benefits of reading Scripture daily.)

-Pastor Mark

If God is so good why are his people such a mess?

It seems stupidly simple: Love God and love your neighbor. Why is it so wickedly hard?

Last week, in a message on Overcoming Doubt, I mentioned that one of the very excellent questions that cause many people to doubt God is, “If God is so good, why are his people such a mess?”

One person noted that, “Most people I meet assume that Christian means very conservative, entrenched in their thinking, antigay, antichoice, angry, violent, illogical, empire builders; they want to convert everyone and they generally cannot live peacefully with anyone who doesn’t believe what they believe.” (quoted in UnChristian, by David Kinnaman)

And let’s don’t even get started on pastors. I shudder to think of how my colleagues and I have spit in the soup of people’s spiritual journeys.

If God is so good why are his people such a mess?

Why indeed. Why is it so hard for us to follow two simple instructions? Theologians have wrestled with this for thousands of years. The answers usually come in the standard three-part reply: the world, the flesh, and the devil. (That’s a paraphrase of a couple verses in the New Testament book of Ephesians.)

  • The world. All the beliefs and practices and values that shape our culture, our community, and more.
  • The flesh. The self-directed life that relegates God to a corner on Sunday morning, and otherwise tries to live by our own wisdom and rules.
  • The devil. The enemy of God who actively seeks to undermine God’s good creation and good design for humanity.

Let’s think about this. I can’t change the world. And I can’t change the devil. That only leaves me with one thing to focus on. The flesh. The self-directed life. The temptation for all of us is to think, “it’s my life, I’ll live it however I want.” We like to talk about our rights and our freedoms.

But if God is really God, and if he is really the Creator, then my life isn’t really my life. And the idea of the self-directed is kinda backwards. Maybe we should talk about a God-directed life. Maybe we should talk about God’s freedom to create us for his purpose. Maybe we should talk about God’s right to direct our lives.

The truth is, if we exchange the self-directed life for a God-directed life, then we cease to be such a mess. We begin to exchange the “acts of the flesh” (things like immorality, impurity, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissension, envy, drunkenness, etc.) with the fruit of the Spirit (which are listed as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control).

Or to put it another way, loving God, and loving our neighbor. Turns out it’s not complicated. And it’s not impossible. Well, unless we’re still trying to be the one running our life.

So that song about “Jesus take the wheel” is pretty spot-on. Who’s directing your life?

-Pastor Mark