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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!

Ancient wisdom for our current situation

Do you ever think, “It would be good to read the Bible, but I’m not sure where to start”? May I make a suggestion? There’s a book in the Bible with one chapter for every day of the month. And it’s intensely practical.

I’m referring to the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament. No matter what day it is, just pick the corresponding chapter and read the short, pithy statements of wisdom. It’s ancient wisdom that rings with shocking clarity thousands of years later. It’s helpful to remember that proverbs are wisdom literature, attempting to summarize those truths which are generally true of God’s world and of people. They may or may not be true in your particular situation, but reading them WILL give you insight into true wisdom for life. And who doesn’t want to get more wisdom?

I recently jumped back into Proverbs and as the month came to a close, I was struck by some of the comments in the last few chapters. They seemed to echo much of the angst that is sweeping our nation in light of the decisions and conversations coming out of Washington. I urge you to check out Proverbs chapter 28 and 29. Here’s a sampling:

  • A ruler who oppresses the poor is like a driving rain that leaves no crops.
  • The rich are wise in their own eyes; one who is poor and discerning sees how deluded they are.
  • When the wicked rise to power, people go into hiding.
  • By justice a king gives a country stability, but those who are greedy for bribes tear it down.
  • The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.
  • When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule the people groan.
  • If a ruler listens to lies, all his officials become wicked.

It would appear from reading these proverbs that unwise rulers are nothing new. Read these chapters and then join me in praying for wise leaders for our nation. Ancient wisdom for our current situation. The need could not be greater.

-Pastor Mark

In case you think you aren’t making a difference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Pastor Mark

What if you could hear God’s voice?

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Pastor Mark

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

There’s a hole in the ‘hood

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

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

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

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

-Pastor Mark