Embarrassed by other Christians?

Have you ever been sitting in traffic and seen a Christian bumper sticker on the car in front of you? And then the person violates a traffic law, drives aggressively, or flips someone the bird. In that moment, what do you think?

Maybe you think,

  • They’re a new Christian and a diamond in the rough.
  • They must have just borrowed/bought the car from someone and don’t know that sticker is on the bumper.
  • I’m embarrassed to be a Christian right now.
  • They’re acting like me except I don’t want to admit it.

I often think, “They’re making my job as a pastor more challenging.” And then I think, “It’s probably a good thing I don’t have a sticker on my car!” Because I’m not sure I want someone observing my driving while thinking I’m a follower of Jesus. 😊

What if we shifted the scene from cars to homes? Does your home have a “bumper sticker” that proclaims that you’re a follower of Jesus? (Answer: Yes it does.) When your neighbors sit in their homes and see your sticker, what do they think?

I’m not writing this to make anyone writhe in guilt, but to help us realize that day in and day out, our lives are on display. We’re displaying the work of God in our lives, or at least, we COULD be. This is not a call for perfection, but reflection.

Where is God at work in your life? And where does that show up in your home or neighborhood? To quote Jesus, “You will be my witnesses or You are the light of the world.” Where does God want to bring change into your life if you’ll let him? Because a transformed life is pretty much the opposite of an embarrassing Christian.

-Pastor Mark

3 ways to make your vacation memorable

Are you still looking forward to getting away for a week, or a weekend?  Most of us enjoy the break in our routines, and the chance to relax.  Here are three ways you may not have thought about that can make your vacation memorable (even if it’s a staycation).

  1. Use your free time to connect with God. Maybe you already have a regular habit of reading the Bible and/or prayer.  If so, you know the benefits.  But so many of us find that these habits gets pushed to the side because of all the other demands for our time.  Why not take 15 minutes each day on your vacation and connect with God. It could provide some remarkable insights.
  2. Look for conversations that God may put in front of you. It doesn’t mean you have to become an extrovert, but simply be aware that even on vacation, God is at work in the people around you…and may actually have positioned you in that stretch of the beach, or that cabin, or that coffee shop to listen to someone else’s story.  One simple question like, “what’s been the most challenging part of your year” could be the beginning of an incredible conversation.
  3. Check out a different church service. I’ve noticed that many people use vacation to sleep in on Sunday.  But there’s nothing wrong with getting up and visiting a local church.  In fact, there are a few upsides to it.  First, you could be a huge encouragement to them.  Second, you might learn to appreciate another expression of the church.  And third, you just might pick up some great idea that could be implemented once you return to Seneca Creek.  We’re always looking to learn and grow!

I believe that if you do one or all of these, you’ll take a big leap forward in making your vacation more memorable than it otherwise would have been.

And when you do, I’d love to hear about your experience.  You can share it here, or drop me an email.  And in the meantime, enjoy your summer holidays!

-Pastor Mark

The war on hunger in the land o’ plenty

Do you know how many different items your local grocery store keeps in stock?  Typically it’s about 42,000 different items.  But that pales in comparison to a local store that my wife and I frequently visit.

The local grocery store near me stocks around 70,000 different items!  That’s a staggering variety, and an enormous example of the super-abundance of food in this country.  (It’s also why some people avoid that particular store because it’s almost TOO big!)

So how is it that in a country with so much abundance we still have hunger problems?  How is it that we have so many families and individuals living with food-insecurity?

The answers to those questions are complex and clouded.  But here’s one thing that’s clear.  We have an opportunity to do something about it.  You and I may not be able to fix the problem, but we can help alleviate food-insecurity for those right here in our own community.

There are thousands of people in our area who rely on the public schools to help feed their kids when the budget gets stretched too thin.  However, during the summer months, those kids aren’t in school, and so the family budgets get strained even more.  Often those families reach out to the local food banks during the summer.  And donations to these food banks typically drop off during the summer as people travel, etc.

So every June, Seneca Creek partners with local food banks and hosts a food drive.  Our goal this year is 400 bags of groceries, and as of earlier this week we’re already at 250 bags.  If you’d like to help us hit 400 by the end of June, be sure to drop off your groceries by this Sunday at our office at 13 Firstfield Rd., Gaithersburg, MD.

Together we can help make a difference in the war on hunger right here in the land o’ plenty that we call home.

-Pastor Mark

P.S. If you didn’t get a chance to pick up a bag with the attached list, here are the items we’re trying to gather:

Canned fruit • Canned soup • Canned tuna • Canned vegetables • Cereal • Dry, plain pasta • Jelly • Macaroni and cheese boxes • Peanut butter • Rice • Spaghetti sauce

P.P.S. If you’re reading this and are not local to Montgomery County Maryland, or Seneca Creek, please check for a food bank in your community and ask how you can help them.

 

Call-screening the big one


True confession: I kinda like technology–sorta a lot. There’s a really cool feature on my phone. When an unknown number calls, I can choose one of three buttons on the screen. Two of them are typical: Answer or Ignore. But the third button is unique.

The third option is a button that says Screen Call. If I select that, then a very human sounding voice answers my phone, and asks the caller to give their name and the nature of their call. As this computer driven conversation is taking place, it’s all transcribed in real time on my screen. I can literally see what the caller is saying, and then choose to answer, or to ask for more details, or to send a brief message.

I’ve had any number of callers get a little freaked out by this feature. People who spent their professional lives calling people remark, “I’ve never heard anything like that…I wasn’t sure how to respond…where can I get that feature” and so on.

Here’s my point. We like to call screen in life, too. Especially when God calls. Maybe we don’t hit the “ignore” button, but we don’t answer, either. We want more details. We want to see it spelled out in front of us, “God, what in particular is the nature of your call…what’s your agenda?”

What’s remarkable is how accommodating God is to this approach. He will often give us detail after detail after detail. (There’s a whole collection of his details in a unique collection of 66 books.) Or he’ll keep calling and saying, “This is your heavenly Father calling. Please pick up the phone.” We often suspect God has an agenda and a mission that we may or may not want to hear about. I believe that for the most part God is calling simply because he wants to connect with us. With you. He’s your heavenly Father. And you’re his son or daughter. No other reason. Usually. But if there is, it’s worth hearing him out.

So if God’s number shows up on the screen of your life this week, how will you respond? Will you hit the “Ignore” button? Will you “Answer”? Or will you choose the “Screen Call” button? If so, I would suggest that God’s responses can be read in real time on the screen of your life.

-Pastor Mark

P.S. If you want more info on how to recognize God’s calling, be sure to check out our latest series, “Answering God’s Call.”

What about the little people?

It’s often the little people who don’t have a voice.  You know, the ones who are “seen but not heard.”  There’s a real danger when this happens.

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “children should be seen and not heard.”  Which, if you’ve ever spent a day with a toddler who is learning the word “why,” you can certainly understand.  However, when someone or anyone is “not heard” they can soon become “not noticed.”  And that can be a very dangerous situation.  (Think about what went thru your mind that last time you realized that you were completely unnoticed.)

The church is often seen as the domain of the older generation.  Our programs, our conversations and our decisions are often made BY and FOR grown-ups.  At the same time, untold books and articles lament the loss of young adults in today’s church community.  Could that be because their voice has not been heard?  Or that their concerns have not been addressed?  Or that their ideas have not been considered?

At Seneca Creek we’re committed to standing with and for those who are not yet adults (as well as those taking their first steps into adulthood).  Our staffing and ministry decisions are guided by the belief that today’s children and students are not “the church of tomorrow” as much as they are the church of today.  PowerHouse, Ignition, and Quest are part of how we put these commitments into action.  And to all the staff and volunteers who give of themselves in these areas, I want to say, “Thank you!”

  • Thank you for choosing to be strategic in spending your time.
  • Thank you for being patient with kids, students, volunteers and staff.
  • Thank you for making Seneca Creek a place where age-appropriate content meets the real world questions and concerns of today’s kids and students.
  • Thank you for the untold hours you invest, and the uncounted prayers you pray for the “little people.”
  • Thank you for helping us make sure that they have a voice, a place to grow, a community to connect with, and adults who demonstrate what the church is designed to be.

Over the years we’ve had the privilege of watching kids and students grow into amazing adults who take their faith and their gifts and their experience at Seneca Creek and make a difference for the kingdom of God.  Maybe you know some of them.  They are a living testimony to what happens when the “little people” have a voice.

If you’d like to help us continue this tradition of building God’s kingdom starting with kids and students, check out some of the ways you can help here, here, here, or here.

And regardless of where or how you serve, thank you for making a difference.

-Pastor Mark

P.S. Don’t miss this Sunday, June 16, as we highlight our current students and unveil some exciting news for the students and young adults!

 

When Jesus becomes your friend forever

Week in and week out, from nursery to fifth grade, our leaders in PowerHouse become the hands and feet of Jesus to our kids. For many of those same kids, this experience becomes the foundation in their spiritual journey and somewhere along the way, maybe it’s in pre-K or kindergarten, second grade or fifth grade, they cross the line of faith and ask Jesus to become their “Friend Forever.”
Now you may be asking yourself, “Why do they ask Jesus to be their Friend Forever?” The answer is quite simple really. They just understand that much easier than saying, “Jesus lives in my heart.” By the way, try explaining how Jesus gets in there to an elementary-aged kid and you’ll know what I mean.
We teach kids that asking Jesus to be your Friend Forever is as easy as the A-B-C’s.
A-Admit that we sin and do wrong things.
B-Believe that God loved us so much that He sent His Son, Jesus, to die for us on the cross.
C-Choose to live for Jesus and follow Him as the leader of my life.
Why is this so important? Our mission in PowerHouse is “to parter with Parents in leading children to discover a relationship with Jesus and to live out their faith everyday.” On April 28th, 14 kids, came into a relationship with Jesus and asked Him to be their “Friend Forever.” Now that’s something to celebrate!
Here’s just one story of how a life was changed in that moment.
A kindergartner named Harper was one of the 14 kids who made the decision. Her small group leader followed up with her at the end of service and talked with her in more detail. We also had a special opportunity to talk with mom about Harper’s decision and share with her the awesome news! Needless to say, she had a smile from ear to ear. We gave mom some information we created called, “The Big Step,” to help continue the conversation at home just in case more questions came about; that’s the parent partnership piece.
Fast-forward to this past Sunday in PowerHouse…
Our Life App all month in Club 252 (k-5th grade) has been on Perseverance-refusing to give up when life gets hard and the Bottom Line takeaway for the week; “Keep going because of what Jesus did for you.”
Harper’s kindergarten small group was asked this question as a follow up to the lesson they just heard in Large Group, “What was it that Jesus did for us?”  Harper raises her hand without hesitation, and says, “Jesus died for us.” Her small group leader then asks, “Why did Jesus die for us?” Again, without hesitation she confidently says, “Because He loved us.” Is that not a powerful story of how Jesus can change even the littlest of lives in just one moment?
This is just one story of many of how PowerHouse changes lives. PowerHouse would not be the ministry it is without the incredible team of the volunteers who serve each and every Sunday. It’s their love for Jesus, their smiles, hugs, high-fives and the relationships they build that makes PowerHouse a place kids love to come to.
You too can be a part of a kid’s story by serving this summer…Join our PowerHouse Summer Serve Team.  Summer Serve happens every Sunday, from June 23 through September 1.  Every weekend this summer our volunteers will show up and work together to create an awesome environment for kids to learn how they fit into God’s Big Story. Your simple service goes a long way in making a BIG impact in the life of a child.
Volunteer here.

The war between change and tradition

Ever notice how often church people get into fights?  I read a comment recently that shed some light into this corner, and if you spend any time around churches, you may appreciate it, too.

The quote was addressing the tendency in the church to have battles about traditions vs. new ideas.

A little back story.

Churches have traditions.  Actually, just about everyone does, but the church seems to specialize in traditions.  From the way we dress, the language we use, the forms of greeting and gathering, to the style of music, preaching, praying, and more.  The rallying cry of those holding firmly to their church traditions is often, “God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”  Therefore if God isn’t changing, neither are we.

Similarly, as the world evolves and changes around us, many church people will embrace change just as vigorously as some embrace tradition.  Change the look, the feel, the language, the music, the coffee, the preaching, and more.  Their rallying cry is often, “Behold I am doing a new thing.”  Therefore if God is doing a new thing, we should get behind him in that matter.

Maybe you resonate with one of those positions or the other.  Too often the two sides clash in the church.  The lines are drawn between “relevance and reverence.”  The results can be ugly, unappealing, and unhealthy.  There’s a good chance that some who are reading this blog will have flashbacks and painful memories of living thru one of those clashes.

The quote I came across recently addresses this dilemma.  It goes like this.

“The church [must seek] to worship and obey the unchanging God while making it a priority not to raise change or stasis [read: tradition] to a place of idolatry.” (Jon Thompson)

Put another way, “Tradition isn’t God, and change isn’t God.  God is God.”  God doesn’t change.  He is and always will be who he has always been.  (The question of God “changing his mind,” is another conversation for another blog.)  But change and tradition are not God.  The temptation is to elevate them above their proper place.  When that happens, idolatry is knocking at the door.  And the war machine is warming up.

It’s a war that doesn’t have to happen.  The way to avoid it is to get clear about God, tradition, and change.  Get clear about your hardwired personality temptation (Some are wired for change, some for tradition.)  Figure out which of the three you’re going to worship/elevate.  Then live in peace.  Shalom!

-Pastor Mark

6 simple steps for disagreeing without being a jerk

Let’s face it, not everyone is going to agree with you.  Or with me.  Even Jesus couldn’t pull that off.  But does disagreeing have to lead to hatred, hostility, and name-calling?  There’s a better way.

When faced with disagreement, no matter the subject, here are six helpful steps to a better way to disagree.  I believe these are actually modeled in Jesus’ own record of disagreements with others.

  1. Ask why. The other person has reasons for believing what they do.  And while it can be tempting to assume those reasons are stupid or ignorant, why not give the other person an opportunity to clarify?  Asking why is a great way to foster better understanding, even if you still disagree.
  2. Listen. The reason it’s hard to listen is we’re often formulating our own response while the other person is talking.  But there will be time to formulate our response later.  The only time to really listen is when they’re communicating.  If we’re honest, most of us know when someone is truly listening to us.  It feels so much different than when they’re simply waiting their turn to present their case.
  3. Remember that you’re on a journey. You arrived at your position/beliefs over a period of time.  Probably most of your life.  There’s a good chance that you haven’t always believed/thought what you currently do.  And there’s even a chance you may one day change your beliefs.  This step helps create a respectable level of humility as we engage with others.
  4. Remember the other person is also on a journey. I’ve had countless conversations with people who are on similar journeys to my own.  They’re simply at a different place on the journey.  Let them proceed at their own pace.  Give them time and encouragement to think, reflect, engage, and even possibly come around to your beliefs.  It won’t happen overnight.
  5. Remember that you’re created in God’s image. When your beliefs or your personhood is attacked or belittled, rest in the knowledge that your value is unaffected by the words and accusations and beliefs of anyone else.  God made you, and God gave you value and worth.  Whether you’re in the right or in the weeds, you are still an image bearer of your Heavenly Father.
  6. Remember the other person is also created in God’s image. When you’re tempted to think or say unkind things about the person who disagrees with you, when you want to challenge their intelligence, or their morality, or their culture, or their track record, remember this is a person who is deeply loved by your Heavenly Father.  Imagine someone saying those same unkind things to your precious child…would you want to hear that?  We can be honest and even disagree without destroying or dehumanizing someone made in God’s image.

Six simple steps to avoid being a jerk.  Simple doesn’t mean easy, but it does mean we can choose to implement them.  What will you choose the next time you face disagreement?

-Pastor Mark

#JesusNSneakers

There’s currently a trending conversation about preachers and the money they spend on their shoes. Check out #PreachersNSneakers. Kinda crazy, actually.

Maybe you think it’s cool that some preachers wear $1,000 sneakers. Maybe you think it’s immoral. It makes me wonder. If Jesus were preaching and teaching today, what would he wear on his feet? Sandals? Birkenstocks? Chucks? Allen Edmunds? Five-finger shoes?

We may not be able to answer that question, but we have some clues.

  • The prophet Isaiah, in describing the Messiah, commented that, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (Isaiah 53:2)
  • Judas had to identify Jesus with a kiss so the soldiers would know whom to arrest in the garden. (Matthew 26:48-49)
  • The two men on the road to Emmaus didn’t recognize Jesus even when he walked and talked with them. (Luke 24:15-16)

The clues all point in the direction of a guy who didn’t really stand out by his appearance/apparel. (His life and teaching are another matter altogether!)

So if everyone else was wearing $1,000 sneakers, then Jesus might do so and blend in. But among the average citizens, he’d likely be wearing the kind of shoes/pants/jacket/hat that don’t attract attention. Because he has a much better way of getting your attention.

He calls your name.

To learn more about this, join us for our current series, “Answering God’s Call.”

-Pastor Mark

P.S. FWIW, most of my shoes (sneakers and otherwise) come from a second hand shoe store in rural Tennessee. Prices average from $10 to $40. 😊

The Bible for non-readers

Ever feel like you might have a problem, bordering on an addiction?  I know I do.

I’ve said it many times to those who visit my office, “I kinda have a book addiction.”  I know the difference between a legitimate physiologically-based addiction and my problem with books.  I’m not trying to be flippant about those who genuinely struggle with substance addictions, etc.  But I enjoy reading.  It’s how I learn, grow, think, reflect, and change.

HOWEVER, I know that most people do NOT share my penchant for books.  In fact the statistics show that reading is nowhere near the top of the priority list for the typical American, who reads 4 books per year.

Which brings me to my point.  With reading rates continuing to decline, what does that say about the written word of God found in the Bible?  It’s easy to conclude that people aren’t reading that book as much, either.  Which is problematic, because it’s the one book that has the power to transform human lives.

But I think Bible reading is under-reported.  Because people don’t just read about God’s word in the printed book.  They read about it in transformed lives.  Paul the apostle describes the lives of some of his fellow Christ followers this way:

 

You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. 2 Corinthians 3:3

People see you as God’s word to them.  God’s word of the power of transformation.  God’s word of hope, healing, and new life.  People are “reading” the Bible when they see your life.

Regardless of how many hours someone may spend reading a book, even if they read no books at all, they can still read the Bible.  Your life is the Bible for non-readers.

What is your life saying to those who are reading you?

Something to consider as we consider how to live out our faith.

-Pastor Mark