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

Family business

What does family mean to you?  Mom, Dad and a couple kids?  In-laws, grandparents, siblings and cousins?

There’s a certain connectedness we have with our family.  We have “family histories” and “family traditions.”  (And sometimes even family secrets.)  When things start to go crazy, when life gets scary, we know our family will be there for us.  They have no choice… they’re family.

One of the words used to describe the church (the followers of Jesus) is family.

Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.
1 Peter 2:17

Sometimes word used has the idea of “brotherhood,” and more often, the idea of “people who share your home,” or your “household.”  Is that how we think about our church?  Maybe.  Sometimes.

  • Sometimes we think like a consumer. “What am I going to gain from this investment of time, money, etc.?  Is this sufficiently meeting my needs?”  Oddly enough, we would never think about family like that.
  • Sometimes we can think like a project manager. “I’ve got to check this box off and move on to the next project on my list.”  Again, not how we think about family.
  • Sometimes we can even think like a PR specialist. “What will other people think about my relationship with this organization?  Will they be impressed?”  Totally not how we think about family.
  • Sometimes we might even think like an investment manager. “I’m going to participate now so that I’ll have something to withdraw later when I need it.”  I think you’re seeing the pattern.

What if we could think more “familially” about church?  What if we thought about our relationship and engagement and investment along family lines?  What if we thought about those seated next to us or parked next to us or serving next to us as brothers and sisters.  What if our engagement was that of members of the same family.  What if we joyfully shared family histories, and family traditions?

Because when things start to go crazy, we need to know our family will be there for us.  For all of us.  If God is our Heavenly Father, then we have no choice.  We’re family.

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.  Galatians 6:10

-Pastor Mark

P.S. If you want more info about how we work together as family, check out our Covenant Partnership info here.

The ultimate Bible hack

Our challenge is that life is busy and the Bible is complicated.  So how can we allow a complicated book guide our busy lives when time is so short?  Enter the ultimate Bible hack.

A “hack” is another term for a skill, shortcut, or trick that allows you to increase efficiency and productivity.  IOW, it saves you time.

Here’s the ultimate Bible hack.  And it works in virtually every situation.  (I’m not suggesting that you discontinue Bible reading and study, but sometimes you need a quick solution.)  Here it is:

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.  (1 Corinthians 10:31)

That’s it.  Whatever you do, do it for the glory of God.  Do it so that God’s reputation and honor are increased.  Whatever you do, including business decisions, meeting agendas, parenting conversations, entertainment choices, social media habits, eating decisions, texts and phone calls, email commitments, etc.  In any and every situation, the very simple yet very profound Bible hack is to do it in such a way that God comes out looking good.

There’s much more to the Bible than that.  But if we start there, the rest will begin to make more sense when we finally have some time to dig in.

Try it for one week.  Set a reminder for first thing in the morning to prompt you to approach that day with this hack.  And set a reminder for the end of the day to think back on how you did.  Feel free to share your results in the space below.  Or not.  Only do it if God’s gonna look better.

-Pastor Mark

 

Gettin’ all up in somebody else’s business

I’ve been doing battle with insurance companies and medical providers this month.  I’m frustrated because it seems like my urgent concerns are not shared by others.

Just to clarify, I’m intervening for one of my parents, not myself.  But while the issue I’m facing is very time sensitive, it doesn’t seem like anyone else shares that urgency.  When the workday is over, they quit and go home. The promised phone calls with updates never seem to happen. I have to initiate every time.  My frustrations mount with every delay and bureaucratic hurdle. It feels like my problems are nothing more than that…MY problems. It’s not anyone else’s big concern.  It’s almost as though they’ve got other things to do and this isn’t really their concern.

I’m quite certain I’m missing huge pieces of the picture and making unfair assumptions.  But I bring this story up because it’s sometimes how we experience the faith community called the church.  We can get focused on our own responsibilities and priorities and inadvertently telegraph the message to others around us that their pressing problems are not really our business.  I know I’ve been guilty of that. Most of us have.

Then I come face to face with some challenging instructions from the New Testament (testament, BTW, means “covenant,” a covenant that is not only between us and God, but also between ourselves.)

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.  (Romans 12:4-5)

What does that mean to you?  Each member belongs to all the others. It doesn’t mean that we are responsible for other’s choices.  But it has to mean that we have a vested interest in their “business,” right? It has to mean more than putting in my hours and then quitting for the day.  

We’ve got a ways to go in this area.  The church in America is deeply entrenched in a culture of rugged individualism and self-reliance.  Those are not actually biblical values. What does it mean to be in a covenant relationship with others who worship with us on Sundays?  Or who sit in our Converge groups? Or who serve with us on the Host Team, or in PowerHouse, or Creative Arts, or ESOL? What does it mean to bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ?

What does it mean that we belong to one another? We think about gettin’ in somebody else’s business as prying and meddling and intrusion.  But in a covenant community it means that it’s not just your problem. It’s ours. It means we serve one another. (Check out the remainder of this conversation in Romans 12.)  

We belong to one another.  What does that look like in your life?  What could it look like?

-Pastor Mark

Fighting for control

Sometimes life goes sideways. Sometimes the cabin loses pressure at 30,000 feet. How do you respond? Who’s in control at that moment?

It’s easy to say “God is in control” when life is smooth. But when it goes sideways our real beliefs and values show up.

  • Do I believe God is still in control even when I’m not?
  • Am I trusting God in the dark and stormy seasons of life?
  • Or am I really still trying to run everything, or everyone?

The verse we’ve been focused on in our current series is found in John’s gospel, where Jesus makes this promise:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

In today’s airliners you have no choice but to let the qualified pilot control things. The cockpit door is locked. Unlike modern airliners, the cockpit door of your life is not locked. You’re free to wander back in and grab the controls. But then when things go sideways, when the cabin loses pressure, when someone gets sucked right out of their seat, it won’t be pretty. When life starts to get “out of control” it often becomes painfully clear that we’re the ones trying to maintain control in the first place.

The alternative is the peace Jesus offers. “In me you may have peace.” What does “in me” mean? It means the “me” Jesus was claiming to be, namely the Messiah, or “anointed one.” “In me” means when he is seated at the controls. “In me” means in his kingdom, in his place of rightful rulership, where he is ruling as king of your life.

Most of us will have to struggle over this. Most of us will find ourselves fighting for control. But we don’t need to. There’s a perfectly qualified pilot to sit in the cockpit. And as Jesus pointed out, “in this world you will have trouble.”

Are you fighting for control?

-Pastor Mark

Does God take vacation?

Have you ever had a crazy-busy season of life after which you just wanted to take a vacation and get some rest? That’s kinda what it can be like around a church office the week after Easter.

We just finished the biggest event of the year, with four gatherings and almost 1500 people. We wrapped up a week-long Spring Break camp that turned our normally quiet building into a hotbed of activities, games, fun, learning, and very loud groups of kids. And we pulled out all the stops for a powerful, multi-sensory Good Friday experience. It’s enough to make our staff want to take some much-deserved vacation.

Which got me thinking. Does God take vacation? Jesus made this statement during his ministry on earth.

My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working. John 5:17

Apparently God is NOT taking vacation just yet.

Ever wonder what God does when he works? Is he fixing things? (sorta) Is he building things (sorta) Is he solving problems? (sorta) The short answer is, he’s working on you. And me. Yep, we’re his project. And he wakes up in the morning thinking about you, thinking about how to get you closer to his original design.

That journey, from who we are, to who God longs for us to be, that’s the journey of transformation. And that’s the journey we’re committed to walking with you. Our mission at Seneca Creek is “To develop fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.” IOW, to help you experience God’s transformational work in your life.

One of the ways we try to help is through our Rooted Experience and Converge Groups. (I know, shameless plug here.) So as you think about where your life is, and where you long for it to be, just remember that God longs to work in you and on you. And since one of the best ways to participate in that work is in community, why not consider signing up for Rooted, or (if you’ve already gone thru Rooted) for one of our Converge Groups for this Spring. It just might be one of the best choices you make in 2018.

A recent Rooted celebration event

God is always at work. He’s not on vacation. Are you giving him room to work in your life?

-Pastor Mark

P.S. Speaking of work, I worked on a list of resources to share last Sunday, then forgot to mention it. So if you have questions about the Resurrection, or if you know someone who does and you’re trying to help them, check out this list of resources.

A modern day substitutionary death

One of the stories to emerge in the news recently is of a French policeman who volunteered to take the place of a hostage during negotiations. The negotiations didn’t go well, and several people lost their lives, including the policeman.

That policeman is now being honored as a true hero, as well he should. To voluntarily take someone else’s place in a dangerous situation requires courage, character, and self-sacrifice.

The woman whose place he took, a wife and mother of a 2 year old, will never be the same. She will never forget. She will live every day of her life with the knowledge that she’s alive because someone else laid down their life for her. She will know that she was freed from captivity by the actions of someone whom she didn’t’ even know. Her child will grow up hearing the story, and living in gratitude to that heroic officer.

Can you imagine what that mother is experiencing? Well, as it turns out, we probably CAN imagine that, at least to some degree. Today is Good Friday, the day we remember how someone else took our place so we could experience freedom. On Good Friday we remember that someone we didn’t know stepped into a dangerous situation and sacrificed his life for us. On Good Friday we remember that Jesus didn’t have to go to the cross, but he CHOSE to do that so we wouldn’t have to live in captivity. It took courage, character and self-sacrifice.

Today we’re inviting everyone to join us in remembering this substitutionary death. Between 3 and 9 pm you can participate in a self-paced Good Friday experience of the stations of the cross. It’s a multi-sensory, reflective, and powerful experience that will help you remember the heroic actions that Jesus took on your behalf. And it will prepare your heart for the glorious good news of Resurrection Sunday.

So please join us anytime today at 13 Firstfield Road in Gaithersburg, beginning at 3 pm. Plan to spend 30 to 60 minutes walking thru the stations. And be sure to arrive no later than 8:30 pm so you have time to complete the experience.

I hope to see you then.

-Pastor Mark