Recently I listened to someone talk about their frustration with God. They had prayed and prayed and prayed. And yet God hadn’t changed the situation around them. Perhaps you’ve been there. There’s a name for this syndrome.
I call it the TRGS, or Transactional Relationship with God Syndrome. It goes like this. We approach God with a specific need (or needs), believing he’s going to help us out. If he does, we’re excited, and we give him something in return (like attending a church, praying, giving, etc.). We’ve conducted a transaction in which goods, services, or money are exchanged in return for something else. It’s a reciprocal, interacting relationship. It’s a transactional relationship.
We continue to bring our needs to him, initiating more transactions. As long as God keeps providing what we ask in a reasonable time frame, all is good in the relationship. Until it isn’t.
Once we don’t receive what we requested/needed in the time frame we need it, we feel like God isn’t holding up his end of the deal. There’s a breach of trust. The transactional relationship is in trouble.
There’s trouble in the fact that none of us would want this kind of relationship for someone close to us. If your friend/child/neighbor/buddy only valued you because they received what they needed from you on their timetable, would you enjoy that relationship? Not for long, right? God is not a vending machine, he’s our Heavenly Father, who desires a genuine relationship with us.
But the real trouble is the nature of the relationship in the first place. The idea of entering into a transactional relationship with God is deeply flawed, for we have nothing to bring that God doesn’t already have. And despite certain passages in the Bible that seem to indicate otherwise, God doesn’t ever commit himself to doing everything we ask in the time frame we request it. A quick glance at the many characters in the Bible reveal that God interacts with them in ways that cannot fit a transactional relationship.
- How long did Abraham and Sarah pray for God to give them a child? It would have been easy to think that God couldn’t be relied upon.
- How long did Joseph languish in an Egyptian dungeon because of false accusations piled on top of treacherous sibling rivalry. Surely during that time Joseph could have wondered if God was holding up his end of the bargain.
- Moses spent the prime 40 years of his life literally out to pasture. How many long, hot days in the wilderness might he have wondered why God wasn’t doing what he asked him to do?
- Job, described as a righteous man, surely felt he had done his part, and yet God didn’t seem to be reciprocating. He lost his possessions, his children, his wife, his reputation and his health.
The stories go on and on, even to include Jesus’ disciples. These people understood something that we often miss. The relationship is not primarily transactional. It’s primarily transformational. What I mean is that God is transforming his followers into more beautiful image-bearers. And sometimes that process takes a lot of time. And sometimes refining. Or “pruning,” as Jesus describes it in John 15. There’s always an agenda, but it may not always be MY agenda, or YOUR agenda. It’s God’s agenda, and his agenda is to transform you and me. However long it takes. However difficult that process is. And if we can come to grips with that, then the Transactional Relationship with God Syndrome will begin to fade away. And what will emerge in its place is something that is exceeding, abundantly more than all we can ask or imagine.
If you’re wondering which relationship you’ve established, consider which of these prayers you’re more likely to pray:
“God, please help me”
“God, please change me”
What kind of deal are you making with God this year?
Last October we celebrated our 30th year at Seneca Creek by launching our Kindness Bomb campaign. We plan to blanket our community with 30,000 kindness bombs over the course of 12 months. Here’s what we know so far.
There are some kindness bombs going off. And some of them actually register on the kindnessbomb.com website. Here are a few of the responses:
- I was sitting in the parking lot and a sweet angel put a flower on my windshield. God bless you all
- Thank you for the apples🙏💯💕
- I was Kindness bombed today after a kind gentleman helped jump our car in the cold. I am generally a kind person regardless but I will make sure I do better.
- My friend picked up my brother for me while I was about to die from a fever. I love her
- I took a book from the library and among the pages there was one dollar bill. I know it’s not much but made me smile and I’m definitely passing it along.
What’s even more interesting is how this idea of kindness keeps showing up in the strangest places.
And the list goes on. It’s almost like Jesus knew what he was talking about when he called his followers to act this way. Who knows, maybe if we push hard on this kindness bomb campaign, we’ll begin to transform our world with the HOPE of Christ. Which is actually our vision as a church! 😊
Can I be honest? I carry one of the cards with me, but rarely use it. Of my 30 original cards, I’ve got about 25 left. I’m committing to dropping at least two a week for the next five weeks. And I’m inviting you to pick up those kindness bomb cards, and launch your own carpet bombing campaign. Try to do at least two a week for the next five weeks. It could be the most important resolution you make all year!
Sure, you probably remembered to get a gift for your family, loved ones, co-workers, delivery people, neighbors, and more. But did you think about a royal gift? You know, for the king?
Isn’t it curious that on the “birthday” of Jesus we give gifts to everyone BUT Jesus? The magi set the example, with gold, frankincense and myrrh. But what about us? Before you write this off as a silly exercise since Jesus isn’t here physically, let’s remember that Jesus said at one point that, “whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.” (Matthew 25)
May I suggest a gift that
- Will actually be useful
- Won’t break the bank
- Will create a lasting memory
- Won’t create jealousy from others who got something different
That gift is the gift of kindness. That’s right, the type of kindness we’ve called “Kindness Bombs.” If you don’t have any of the kindness bomb cards, don’t worry. It’s okay to drop a kindness bomb without the card.
The gift of kindness just may be the most significant gift you can offer this Christmas season. So as you head out the door to work, or to school, or to shop, or to a Christmas party, don’t forget the most important gift. Don’t forget the gift fitting for a king.
P.S. As we wrap up 2019, we’re also coming to the close of a chapter at Seneca Creek. One of our long-time staff members will be leaving our staff team next year (though not leaving the church). I want you to hear in Dave’s own words what’s next for him. See below:
Hi Seneca Creek family,
I want to say “thank you” for being such great friends, collaborators and creative ministry partners over the past fifteen years!
After 30+ years of serving vocationally in ministry, I’m embarking on a career transition to partner with my wife, Jen in her Startsong Studio business. I’ll be offering guitar, bass & piano lessons (private, online & group), short-term classes & ensembles opportunities, recording production services & creative team consulting. Jen will continue offering private voice & piano lessons, group classes, ensembles & community events.
We’re launching our Startsong Studio website startsongstudio.com this month to help get the word out about what we’re offering and to help you stay connected with us. We’re excited about investing our next season of life into further equipping & developing emerging musicians, artists and teams!
Please be praying for wisdom and success in the staff search process while “being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6
Pastor Dave will go part time in January, and then step off staff completely at the end of March. We’ll give him a proper sendoff at that time.
Have you ever re-gifted? You know, take that gift you got at the office party and give it to your uncle? Is it okay to wrap up the cheap cologne your grandma gave you and give it to your teenage son? Are there rules for re-gifting? There IS one important rule.Here’s the rule. Re-gift the gift that was made to be re-gifted. Christmas is about celebrating the arrival (that’s what the word Advent means) of the baby Jesus, God’s gift to humanity. Linus got it right in the Charlie Brown Christmas special. But that message has been buried under an avalanche of consumerism and cultural baggage.This year, in addition to whatever other gifts you may give, I would encourage you to re-gift the original Christmas gift. I’m not suggesting you wrap a baby and put it in a manger. I’m suggesting you share the gift of hope, peace, and life that is found in Jesus. Here are a couple simple ways to do that:
- For families with kids, invite them to Star Source, our PowerHouse production that will take place this Sunday, at all three of our gatherings (8:30, 10:00, and 11:30)
- For anyone at all, invite them to one of our Christmas Eve gatherings. On Tuesday, December 24th, we’ll have special candle-light services at 4:00, 6:00, and 7:30 pm. The theme for this Christmas Eve is, “Yet in the dark streets shineth.” Our world is searching for the light that arrived in the manger in Bethlehem. We’ll pull back the curtains and proclaim that light on Christmas Eve. For those who’ve never experienced the power of the real Christmas gift, this could be that defining moment for them. And you have a chance to give that gift, simply by re-wrapping the original Christmas gift!
You can click here for an electronic invitation to Star Source, and here for a Christmas Eve invitation. You can also check our social media feeds to find and copy the info there. Send it to your neighbors, your friends, your classmates, and your colleagues. This is one re-gifting rule you can’t mess up. Together we can shine that light into every dark street in our community!-Pastor Mark
There’s a dreadful line from Charles Dickens’ character Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. When presented with the need for donations to support those living on the edges of society, Mr. Scrooge responds with this heartless dialogue:
Scrooge asks if the prisons and workhouses are still open for business. When told that they are, he declares that those in dire need should go there instead of begging. The men seeking his financial help respond:
“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”
“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
The “surplus population.” Few of us would choose such cold, heartless language, but it’s easy to think that way. The surplus population are those who get in the way of whatever it is I have in mind to do. The surplus population are the nameless masses of people which I believe want something from me. The surplus population are all those whose existence puts a burden on me.
But to think of anyone (or group of individuals) as “surplus” is illogical. A surplus means that there are too many of something for the needs at hand. And people cannot be surplus because the God who created each and every person has a unique purpose FOR that person. Only the individual can live out God’s purpose for them. Nobody else can do it.
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10
There is exactly one person for every purpose in God’s creation. There are no extras lying around. There is no surplus.
When you encounter someone who you’re tempted to think of as a surplus person, remember that they are the ONLY one who can live out God’s purpose for them. And you are the ONLY one who can live out God’s purpose for you. Which, by the way, might include helping the other person discover their purpose.
In the end, Scrooge was not only heartless, he was blind and dumb, because it’s impossible to imagine or think of anyone being surplus in God’s world.
For more details on God’s purpose for you, join us this Sunday at Seneca Creek!
You may be reading this while the turkey is cooking. Or while it’s digesting. Or maybe while the fire department is taking care of the turkey fryer situation on your deck. But regardless of how or when you celebrate Thanksgiving, there’s a subversive element of this holiday that often goes unnoticed.
For many Thanksgiving celebrations there’s time set aside to share exactly WHAT it is we’re thankful for. Family, food, friends, good health, surviving another year, laughter, football, etc. If you don’t answer the question, “What are you thankful for” you risk being labeled a selfish, ungrateful clod. Maybe you wouldn’t even get invited back next year.
But in the cornucopia of things for which we ARE grateful, where are we to direct our gratitude? Is it just to good luck, or good genes? That hardly seems a fitting recipient for our heart-felt gratitude. Is it to the farmers who raised all the delicious food, because they couldn’t succeed without fertile soil, abundant rain, energy from the sun, etc. For many, including myself, our real gratitude is directed at the giver of all good gifts, our Creator God.
Here’s where it gets subversive. In an increasingly secular and non-religious society, there’s still a desire, almost a need to be grateful. And while certain holiday greetings have fallen out of favor lest they come across as too religious, Thanksgiving stands out like a beacon pointing beyond ourselves. Those who may not darken the door of a church or synagogue or mosque will no doubt declare their gratitude on this festive holiday. And in so doing, they’re almost unwittingly pointing to the giver of all good gifts.
Does God acknowledge those gestures of gratitude, even if the address on the envelope is left blank? I believe he does. And I believe that he can work in the hearts and minds of anyone who will start with gratitude. Because ultimately, everything we have, and everything we see, and everything we long for comes from our heavenly Father.
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:18
This year, I’m thankful for all those who are giving thanks, even if they’re not sure whom they’re thanking. Here’s to another subversive campaign of gratitude!
There’s a movement that encourages people to accept their physical bodies as beautiful and reject the artificial stereotypes of what they should and should not look like. Body positivity is pushing back against the voices of shame, disgust, hatred, envy, stereotypes, and more. The church needs to hop on board this movement.
Here’s what I mean. The church is described as the “Body of Christ.” And oddly enough, we evaluate our church “body” in some of the same ways we do our physical bodies.
- We compare our body to other church bodies that might be taller, stronger, younger, prettier.
- We compare our church body to its younger self, or some dreamy version of a younger self that may or may not be grounded in reality.
- We learn to loathe certain parts of our church body. “This part is too prominent. That part has a limp. Those parts over there need to be hidden from public view. This part is embarrassing.”
But what if we embraced body positivity for our local church? What if we began to see this body as Christ does, as his bride?
Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. Ephesians 5:25-30
It’s easy blame a church for not living up to some ideal standard. It’s easy to fall into self-loathing and body hatred/dislike. It’s hard to embrace body positivity when parts of the body don’t do what you want them to do. When they don’t say the right things, communicate the right way, serve faithfully, or even care about the same issues that are important to you. But just like the problems with self-loathing of our physical bodies, the problems of loathing our church body is equally destructive.
Does this mean that we turn a blind eye to real problems? Nope. But it means we learn to accept that this body is God’s creation, and Jesus’ bride. As such, we long to make her beautiful, and to love her in the process, even if that process takes a lifetime. That applies to individual expressions of the body (a.k.a. the local church) as well as the church universal.
Do you have body positivity toward the Body of Christ?
That was the slogan since May. Finish the fight, which the home team did in fantastic fashion this week. (Go Nats!)
As I write this the entire DC region is awash in the euphoria of winning the 2019 World Series! Allow me to borrow a little from the world of baseball. Like the Nats, we’re in a fight. To the finish. Here’s the way I understand it:
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. (2 Corinthians 10:4)
The guy who wrote that would comment at the end of his life,
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7)
What is the fight? How do we finish it? In short, the fight is with the enemy of God. It is the fight against the dehumanizing agenda, that which seeks to diminish or destroy the image of God in any person. It is the forces aligned against God’s good creation. It is the malevolent one who appears in the pages of the Bible, and who is sometimes known as the deceiver, the tempter, the accuser, and a roaring lion.
We fight the fight with the truth of who God is, and the truth of his love for his creation…ALL of his creation. In the passage above Paul points out that our weapons are “not the weapons of the world.” Those would be weapons of violence, vengeance, dominance, and destructive thoughts/words/attitudes. Those are the weapons we’re tempted to reach for. When we’re threatened. When we’re fearful. When we’re confused.
But those weapons won’t demolish the strongholds the Enemy has surrounded us with. Because those are the raw materials used to build the strongholds in the first place. No we need different weapons. We need the weapons of truth. We need the weapons of faith, hope and love. We need the weapons that are listed in the checklist of Ephesians 6:
- Belt of truth (truth of who God is, and who we are)
- Breastplate of righteousness (the power to make right that which is wrong)
- Shoes of peace (grounded in the gospel [good news] of Jesus mission)
- Shield of faith (wholehearted allegiance to Jesus as king)
- Helmet of salvation (meaning rescued/delivered/redeemed)
- Sword of the Spirit, a.k.a. the Word of God
This is how we’re called to fight. How’s your armor looking? When we’re missing part of the armor, the fight doesn’t go well. That’s when we’re tempted to pick up the “weapons of the world.” Which always cause grave damage to the victim and the one using the weapon. This is part of the problem we addressed last Sunday.
It’s time to recognize we’re in a fight. And to quote someone I’ve long forgotten, “There is an enemy, and it’s not the other person.”
It’s time to finish the fight.
P.S. If you’d like to understand better how to demolish strongholds, check out the next Rooted Experience, where among other things we learn exactly WHAT our strongholds are and HOW to demolish them!
Ever notice how easy it is to avoid the important thing and focus on the stuff that matters less? Like when you finish folding the clothes instead of having the hard conversation with your spouse?
As our church (Seneca Creek) celebrated our 30 year birthday last week, we began an exploration of what Jesus said was the Most Important Thing (MIT). Namely, love God and love your neighbor. Or, as the apostle Paul summarized it, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14)
It’s staggering to contemplate what would happen if Jesus’ followers could focus on that. Too often, though, we focus on stuff that matters less. How old is the earth, how should baptism be performed, who should you vote for, what kind of church traditions are best, etc.
There’s a time and place for the other conversations and discussions. But not when they replace the MIT. We want to focus on the important stuff.
To help us stay focused on that, we made T-shirts available last week so we can be reminded by the message on our chests, “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” But the real kicker was the magnets. You know, those things you put on the back of your vehicle so everybody behind you knows who you cheer for and what you stand for? And the magnets simply say, “I ♥ MY NEIGHBORS.”
Here’s what I’ve noticed. Every time I get in my truck I walk past the magnet. And it reminds me that other people (including my actual neighbors) are able to see this message. And they’re no doubt developing expectations. Those expectations are that I will act in loving ways toward my neighbors.
So now the bar has been set, and I’ve got to live up to it. It’s a challenge. It’s relentless. And it’s incredible accountability. All from a simple magnet. This magnet has the power to actually change my life!
I could take the magnet off, especially when I’m having a bad day. But that would be to avoid the MIT. And that seems like moving the target instead of improving my aim. So the magnet stays. And the power of the magnet begins to do its work.
What about you? Is there a (powerful) magnet on your car?
After debating for months, I signed up for, and rode in a four day, 310 mile charity bike ride last week. It was an unforgettable experience, and along the way I learned some valuable life lessons.
Here are some of my key takeaways from Ride Allegheny 2019:
Community is critical.
I was enthusiastically welcomed into a new “fraternity” or community. Veteran riders offered encouragement and advice. Fellow rookie riders shared our concerns, questions, and growing knowledge about the ride. Rest stops and evenings provided a chance to share life together over food and drink (drinking seemed to be very important for quite a few riders). And the ability to ride with others provided encouragement and motivation during the long hours in the saddle each day.
Community is a fundamental human need. We’re created for community, and when we experience it, we’re closer to a flourishing life. Without it, we’re going to shrivel on the ride called life.
Preparation isn’t everything.
It’s good to be prepared, and the ride organizers provided plenty of instructions ahead of time. But you can’t prepare for everything. You can’t eliminate every unknown or risk. We had a few riders crash out. Some taken away by ambulance. There were bikes that broke down along the way. Some riders had to abandon. I had problems with muscle cramping despite training and more. It’s good to prepare. And it’s also good to know how to improvise. That’s where some of our best learning and stories come from!
Most of us like to be prepared for life. But there will be unknowns and surprises. That’s when we’re forced to lean harder into God, the only truly predictable part of this life. We improvise with one hand while holding tightly to God with the other.
You can only control yourself.
With 130 plus riders on a narrow trail, there are times when you have to navigate traffic. I tried to hang out with riders who were reliable and predictable, but ultimately the only rider I can control is myself. This is why I almost crashed out in the last 25 feet of the ride as a fellow rider slowed and swerved right across my path.
Control is a major life issue for many of us. We want to control the situation and people around us. But no one around you wants to be controlled. And they will push back if you try. Instead, focus on controlling yourself, including your thoughts, your emotions, your tongue, and your reactions. It may not be easy, but at least it’s possible.
Focus makes a difference.
By the third day I was sore and my legs were not interested in pedaling for another 90 miles. For the first few hours of that day I rode mostly in silence, as I was focused on what wasn’t working well. I thought about how sore I was, and how far I had to go. It was only after lunch that I finally decided to put on a high-energy playlist on my headphones and let the music crank. I was immediately able to ride better, stronger, and longer! Suddenly my focus was OFF my own misery, and onto something better!
I’m reminded of the old hymn, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.” There’s a line in that song that goes, “And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.” When my focus is on God and what he’s doing, then the stuff of this world fades somewhat. I’m not suggesting we pretend we live in a different world, only that we learn to focus beyond just this world, and learn to see God, and see what he sees around us. Focus on something better.
Community, preparation, control, and focus. Some life lessons from the saddle of a bicycle on a ride from Pittsburgh to DC. What about you? What life lessons are you learning as you take on the next challenge?