The election is over, but it ain’t over

 

Don’t you just love election day?  No more campaign mailers falling out of your mailbox, or littering your neighborhood.  No more radio ads of candidates bashing one another. Ahh…. But election day isn’t really over. 

Oh, the national, state, and local elections are over, but the day to day election is not.  What am I talking about?

On election day we cast a ballot for the person(s) we want to take the reins of leadership in our community, state, or nation.  We elect those who will make the important decisions that affect our lives. But every day that you wake up you do the same thing.  Every day that you wake up you cast a ballot for the one you want to take the reins of leadership for your life for that day. Every day you get to choose who will make the important decisions that affect your life that day…and in the future.

This is the core idea behind Jesus comments about the “kingdom of heaven.”  A kingdom is the place where the king is making the decisions. This is also what Jesus was talking about when he said, “If anyone would come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”  He was saying that we have a choice about who will be our leader. It could be our heavenly Father. Or it could be ourselves.

We regularly face decisions about relationships, priorities, finances, careers, ethics, family, and more.  We can cast a ballot for ourselves, in which case, it’s all about me, my agenda, my appetites, my priorities, and my self-actualization.  OR, we can cast a ballot for Jesus. In this case, it’s all about Jesus, his agenda, his desires, his priorities, and his mission.

Remember the movie, “Ground Hog Day”?  Every day started the same. When you wake up tomorrow, imagine that election day is like that.  Every day is another election day. Every day is a chance to decide who will have the reins of leadership in your life.  Who will make the important decisions that affect your life? Whose agenda will set the tone?

You can consider this blog post the “campaign ad in your mailbox.”  Jesus is campaigning for your vote. How will you cast your ballot?

-Pastor Mark

The 60 Minutes episode starring YOU

*drum roll* Ta-da! You’re the star of a 60 Minutes episode. You have 60 minutes to let the world hear your story. What will you do?

I’m talking about the 60 minutes that you’re going to receive as a gift this weekend. This is the weekend we change our clocks back, and get an extra 60 minutes on Sunday morning.

I know what you’re thinking. “The pastor is going to tell me to show up at church for 60 minutes.” Nope. I mean, that’s not a bad idea, but I’ve got a better idea. How about using some or all of those 60 minutes to live out your faith IRL (in real life, for my generation).

In particular, as we’ve been journeying thru this pesky little book of James in the New Testament, one of the phrases that jumped out is this:

Religion that God our Father accepts is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress… James 1:27

BTW, did you know that scholars now believe that in the ancient world, if you lost one parent, you were considered to be an “orphan”?

So what if you took those extra 60 minutes and used them to help out a single mom, a widow, or someone who was clearly in need. You won’t have to look far. And then if you want to come celebrate the God who has called you to this amazing revolution, by all means join us at 8:30, 10:00, or 11:30. But if the most you do this weekend is to actually live out your faith for 60 minutes in your community, that’s a win. And it’s a great way to embrace another phrase from James’ letter:

Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. James 1:22

I can’t think of a better way to invest those 60 minutes. And even though I said it was about 60 minutes starring YOU, it’s really about 60 minutes starring your Heavenly Father, who, as James says, “gives generously to all without finding fault.”

Oh, and if you’re willing to share your story here, that would be awesome. We’d love to “binge watch” the 60 Minutes episodes God is writing in our community.

-Pastor Mark

P.S. If you want to hear some of the stories of how God has been recently working, join us at 4:00 pm this Sunday, November 4th, for our next Baptism Celebration. Light refreshments provided afterwards.

Is the click-bait culture clouding your vision?

Chicken Little was sure the sky was falling. Increasingly, the conversations we are having in our country and communities sound a lot like Chicken Little. The sky is falling because _________. (insert your favorite problem here) But is that true?

That’s the question posed by a well-known Harvard psychologist named Steven Pinker. In his recent book, Enlightenment Now, he argues that despite the tsunami of headlines that have us convinced the sky is truly falling, the numbers and data tell a different story. For example, he notes the following:

  • Humans are living longer lives than in previous generations
  • Millions fewer people are living in extreme poverty
  • War-related deaths are down significantly
  • Totalitarian regimes are in decline
  • Literacy and equal rights are far more wide-spread
  • Economic prosperity is growing for many populations
  • Terrorist deaths are reduced
  • Overpopulation threats are diminishing

Is he right? Well, some agree, and some accuse him of cherry-picking the data. I’m not doing either one of those. Whether you agree with Pinker or not, his point is powerful: Our opinions of our current and future well-being have almost EVERYTHING to do with what we choose to focus on. In 2018 it’s super easy to focus on the click-bait headlines and get thoroughly disgusted and demoralized. Pinker’s suggestion is to look at something else, namely the hard data.

Here’s where Jesus comes in. Jesus calls us to focus on something other than only what’s going on under our noses. The temptation is to become fearful and anxious because of the events happening in our family, our city, our nation, or our world. But there’s another place to focus: the kingdom of God. That glorious, unstoppable revolution that Jesus started, and which he will one day finish when he returns. If the book of Revelation has left you scratching your head, then know this about it: Jesus wins! That’s the message of the whole book. For that matter, it’s the message of the WHOLE book, from Genesis thru Revelation.

But we easily forget that. The click-bait culture is conspiring to cloud our vision of true reality. We get so tightly focused on here, that we forget there’s another reality. Here will one day be caught up in the “hereafter.” Oh, don’t be confused. It’s not that we’re getting whisked off this planet. No, it’s actually scheduled for a radical restoration project, much like the radical restoration project that God has already begun in the followers of Jesus. (For details on this, I highly recommend N.T. Wright’s, Surprised By Hope, a book that is sure to rock your understanding of life in the here AND the hereafter.) The hard question is, “what are we focused on?” Is it the immediate…the headlines…the click-bait?

What if, while working faithfully on the real challenges we DO face (because we’re called to be the light of the world), you could focus on the reality that Jesus wins. What if, when tempted to wring your hands and fling your accusations at the mess around us now, you could lift your head up and see down the road. What if, in those moments, you could see the King of Kings and the Prince of Peace. What if you took him at his word when he said,

Don’t worry…but seek first his kingdom. (Matthew 6:31-33)

What if we left Chicken Little behind and became men and women whose vision was transformed by the power of the Spirit of God, and fueled by the HOPE of the life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ? Then whatever happens around us, we can be those who ignite the HOPE of the gospel in our city, county, and world.

-Pastor Mark

Our failure to T.H.I.N.K. first

Have you noticed the escalating level of harsh and hurtful comments in the public discourse? Does it seem to you that people with differing opinions and ideas are more interested in degrading and dehumanizing the “other” than in listening and learning and creating a better community? I have an idea that might help.

You might think I’m going to throw some Bible verses at you, which I could. But I’m not. It occurred to me the other day that when I take couples thru pre-marital counseling, I recommend a strategy for dealing with important (and often emotional) conversations. It’s an idea I learned many years ago, and I don’t even know who thought it up originally. But it’s this:

THINK before you speak.

And I would extend that to say, “THINK before you post, too.”

THINK is an acronym representing five check-points. If what I’m about to say doesn’t check off ALL FIVE of these boxes, then it would be wise to go back to the drawing board and figure out a better way to say what I want to say. Is what I’m about to say…

  • True
  • Helpful
  • Inspiring
  • Necessary
  • Kind

If you wanted to you could probably summarize all these questions in the idea of “loving one another.”

To clarify, inspiring doesn’t mean all I say is “rah, rah, you’re a great person.” But it does mean I want my comments to inspire the other person to become the best version of themself; to stir up a desire for something better within them. If you prefer a Bible passage, you could check out some comments in Ephesians 4:25 – 5:4, or Jesus very challenging words in Luke 6:27-36.

None of these ideas are intended to say we shouldn’t discuss important, or even difficult matters. But the manner in which we carry on these conversations is vitally important. And the culture around us beckons us to stoop to the lowest denominator, to make assumptions about those with whom we disagree, and to participate in dehumanizing the “other.” Jesus’ plan is for a very different kind of community, one in which people from diverse backgrounds, opinions, beliefs, and traditions become formed into a family of brothers and sisters who are learning to think and act like Jesus himself, IOW to love one another.

This is a challenge. This may be the defining challenge of this age. Jesus himself said that the way in which we love one another would let the world know if we truly are his disciples. (John 13:35)

-Pastor Mark

Coffee with Jesus

Have you ever thought about why you are where you are? I’m referring to your physical location, in particular, your residence. Is there any connection between your faith and your home address?

When Jesus was asked to identify the most important thing in life, what did he say? Love God, and love your neighbor.

Which should cause us to pause and consider exactly what that would look like.

If love is an action (vs. an emotion) that is undertaken for the best interest of the one loved, then what would it look like to love your neighbor? More unsettling is this question: do you live your life as though that’s the most important thing? I know I don’t.

Lately I’ve been contemplating this, and trying to figure out how to make “the main thing the main thing.” I’m not there yet. Maybe you’re not, either. But one thing I know for sure, it HAS to include praying for the people who live closest to me. Including those who rub me the wrong way, those who don’t act like “good neighbors,” those who don’t seem to care about anyone else, and those who have different political views, etc.

It has to go well beyond prayer. But it has to include that, too.

What would it look like for you to keep this as the main thing?

Here’s Jesus’ comment about this:

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27)

Imagine sitting down at your home with Jesus, sharing a cup of coffee (or tea). Then Jesus turns to you and says, “Hey, would you do me a favor? Just one thing? Here’s what I’d like you to do: love your neighbors.”

Your neighbors are different than mine. And you’re different than me. So loving them is going to look different. But keeping this the main thing looks pretty much the same.

I’d love to hear your ideas on how you are learning to love your neighbor. Feel free to add your comments below.

-Pastor Mark

Are you habit forming?

Oops! If you landed on this page and were looking for the blog about “Coffee with Jesus,” it can be found here.

What’s your worst habit? What’s your BEST habit? As the old saying goes, “First you make your choices, then your choices make you.” Put another way, we are the accumulation of our habits.

I must be a sucker for habits, because I’m inundated with click-bait titles like, “3 habits to improve your gut health,” “2 habits to become a more effective leader,” “The 1 habit that will overcome procrastination,” and “4 habits to a more productive day.” (here’s an example from this morning)

Sometimes I succumb and click. I suppose you do as well. Because who DOESN’T want to improve their health, or become more effective, or productive, or minimize their undesirable qualities?

There’s a certain familiarity and comfort about habits, isn’t there? And sometimes there’s a hatred or loathing of habits we dislike. There’s even a kind of anxiety or trepidation about activities that may become “habit forming.” (Just read the fine-print on the prescription your doctor wrote for you.) But habits DO have their place. In fact, they have a very significant place. You see, habits are one of the fundamental means by which we access the grace of God, that grace that transforms us.

Here’s the question for all of us: What would make us look, think, or act more like Jesus? IOW, what is the one change that would produce desirable results in your life, from God’s perspective. I’m assuming that you’re like me, knowing that God isn’t finished with me yet.

Do you have an answer? Here’s where the habit comes in. Because the change we long for (and hopefully God longs for) is likely going to happen because of a habit. Habits have a way of changing us…or “forming” us.

  • It might be setting 10 minutes at the start or end of your day to put down the smart phone and have a conversation with God.
  • It might be writing down your thoughts and reflections on a passage of Scripture that you read.
  • It might be a time of silent listening to what God is saying about your current life.
  • It might be a time of praying for someone who is in need, or someone who is intruding into your life in unwanted ways.
  • It might be a time of fasting (from food, treats, social media, etc.) in order to teach your appetites that they are not in control of you.
  • It might be an intentional act of serving or generosity that you engage in.

The list is almost endless. And the change/benefit from these habits is quite remarkable. But the time to choose is now. Because your tomorrow is going to be determined by the choice you make today. Your habit selection is going to form you. What habit-forming decision will you make today?

-Pastor Mark

P.S. If you’d like to learn more about habits that will help you become more like Jesus, I highly recommend Richard Foster’s, A Celebration of Discipline.

Learning from the SCOTUS debate

Two things are clear from the swirling controversy about the latest Supreme Court nominee.  First, there are fierce political undertones and unspoken motives on both sides, most of which will never see the light of day.  

More importantly, this situation reveals the sad truth that we as a people have abandoned any sense of the sacredness of humanity. Whether we call it “boys will be boys,” or “consenting adults” or “the hook-up culture,” or something else, the foundation under each of those views is that human bodies are ours to do with as we see fit.  Period.

I know I run the risk of sounding like a morally uptight pastor.  That’s not my schtick. I’m more interested in elevating humanity to the level that Jesus did.  I’m more interested in helping all of us embrace the inherent dignity and sacredness of each person created in the image of God.  I’m more interested in setting the captives free (as Jesus said) from the tyranny of our base desires.

One way to understand God’s directives about human sexuality is that they’re oppressive and outdated.  (That’s pretty much how modern society has understood them.) But the other way is to view them as a pathway to true humanity…a way to experience what we were designed for…a escape route from the dark cave of “might makes right” and “do whatever feels good.”  It’s worth noting that Jesus came as the “second Adam,” or “humanity 2.0” and lived consistently with those directives.

I don’t have a solution for putting the genie back in the bottle.  In fact, if I understand Genesis chapter 3 correctly, then the genie’s been out of the bottle since the beginning, and the “battle of the sexes” is as ancient as humanity, complete with power struggles, temptation, violence, accusations, resentment, and more.  

The good news is that Jesus DID have a solution for this problem.  He pointed to God’s design for human relationships, including sexuality.  He upheld marriage as the place where sexuality could find it’s rightful place.  And (this is important) he offered grace to all the broken, afflicted, abused, and accused people who had been living under tyranny.  Here’s how he put it:

“He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  –Jesus, Luke 4:18-19

The path to freedom is not in doing whatever I want, it’s in doing what I was designed for.  Only then can we recover the inherent sacredness of each and every human body. And there’s really no debate about that.  

-Pastor Mark

Do some people seem impossible?

There’s an interesting instruction in the New Testament book of Romans.  It reads like this, “If it is possible…live at peace with everyone.”  Hmm.  You see the problem, right?  Most of us would be quick to point out, “it’s not possible.”

This weekend, as part of our ongoing series “Peacemakers” we’re going to explore making peace with difficult people.  We’ve all got a few in our lives.  Or in our past.  So here’s the question.  What makes them so difficult?  What is it that makes them seemingly fall into the category labeled, “Impossible.”

If you’d like to share your thoughts on that, feel free to use the comment section below.  (Some have already done so on Facebook.)  Please, no names, and no “selfies.”  Just a description of what it is about that OTHER person(s) that makes them so difficult to live at peace with.

And then plan to listen in this Sunday as we take up this very practical matter.  How can we be peacemakers in the midst of difficult people?  Is it worth it?

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God. –Jesus

Peace out.

-Pastor Mark

Just do it…but what?

Once again the national conversation is swirling about racism, profiling, protests, platforms, and more. People are choosing sides, hurling accusations, and getting very vocal about their beliefs, their rights, and their positions. This time it’s sparked by a short corporate slogan, “Just Do It.” Do what?

Clearly the corporate giant (Nike) behind this campaign has in mind “doing” some kind of athletic endeavor. But their slogan has developed a broader audience. People want to get on with life. They want to accomplish something. They want to persevere in adversity. They want to do SOMETHING.

It’s interesting to note that God is the “just do it” God. He’s not content to talk about, to debate, to analyze, and to procrastinate. He’s the God who just DOES it. He creates. He sustains. He intervenes. He gives. He redeems. He calls. He leads. He acts. In short, he “just does it.”

Along the way, he calls his people to action as well. Follow. Love. Give. Surrender. Forgive. Serve.

What is he calling you do to? What is the “next step” in your life? Maybe you’ve got a clear idea and you’re already “doing it.” Maybe you know, but you’re hesitating. Maybe you’re not even sure what those next steps are.

At Seneca Creek, we’re committed to helping you take those next steps.

  • Sometimes it involves figuring out WHAT that next step is. A great place to start is Rooted.
  • Sometimes it involves helping you TAKE that courageous next step. It could be serving, or forgiving, or healing, or leading, or growing, etc. See weekly teaching and serving opportunities.
  • Sometimes it involves encouraging you to stay on course, even when it’s hard. Jesus doesn’t call us to the comfort zone, but the construction zone (see message from August 12th).

God is a God who “just does it.” His people are called to “just do it.”

What is it he’s calling you do to next? What is the next step for you? What’s preventing you from just doing it?

-Pastor Mark

P. S. In case you missed it week, here are some sharable invites for families with kids and students.

When the government gets into the God business

I stumbled onto a fascinating article last week in which the current debates about religious liberties were held up to some historical comparison.  What I learned was a bit shocking.  (link to blog)

Apparently in the 19th century in the USA there was a strong movement to pass federal legislation to “protect” certain religious liberties.  There are parallels between the mood then and the mood now among certain Christian groups.  Then (as now) there were some calling for the federal government to enact laws that would safeguard their place in the public arena (translation: prayer in the public schools, Ten Commandments in public places, nativities displays on government properties, etc., etc.).  The legislation ultimately failed to make it into law in part because of the work of a Christian minister and magazine editor named Washington Gladden.

As the article points out:

“In his editorials, Gladden railed against the proposed amendment. The state was “not called to the inculcation or confirmation of religious truth,” he wrote.

Gladden invoked religious liberty – the same rhetoric President Trump and members of his administration have used to reassure modern evangelicals – to demand no special protection be made. Citizens should expect “equal footing for their faith, no matter what it may be,” rather than particular privilege.

Most boldly, Gladden argued that a religion that needed protection from government was a religion that had no reason to exist. He wrote on his editorial page,

If our Christianity is of such a flimsy texture that nothing but a constitutional amendment will save it, the sooner it is obliterated the better for the land.

Simply put, he insisted, religious people had to make their own case for their values. If they could not, they certainly did not deserve greater support. This was a controversial argument in what was largely a Protestant country, but other Protestants amplified it. Other Christian leaders came to see support for the amendment as a sign of weak faith.”

Gladden realized that true faith would thrive and survive without the artificial support of the state.  It’s an interesting perspective that should give us, the church, pause in this current climate.  If the gospel truly is the hope of the world, and if the followers of Jesus truly are empowered with the Holy Spirit, and if the church is on mission day in and day out, won’t that be far more effective than a piece of legislation?  As another writer pointed out, let them be suspicious of your beliefs, but jealous of your conduct.

Will your faith thrive without legislation?  Will the church shine like the light of the world?  That’s Jesus’ plan.  What’s our plan?

-Pastor Mark

P.S. – Our next Rooted Experience begins on September 11th. If you’ve been procrastinating or pondering, this is your moment. You can register here for a life-changing ten weeks that will help you connect with God, his church, and your purpose!