Category Archives: Uncategorized

Fighting fear with faith and facts

COVID19. A.k.a. the corona virus. There, I said it. Of course everyone’s saying it. And there’s widespread panic, even fear. What does a community of faithful Jesus followers do in a situation like this?

Since Jesus seems to be pretty much against fear in general, I think it’s safe to say we reject fear, and respond with faith and with facts.

First, the faith. Like everything else we encounter, this is no surprise to God. Nor is it too big for God. Our faith is in a God who is still sitting on his throne despite diseases, despots, dictators and disasters. Jesus famously said, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” We never know what tomorrow (or even today) will bring, but we absolutely know that God will be there with us. We are not guaranteed a certain number of days or years, but we are guaranteed life with God thru Jesus Christ, both here and hereafter. As one writer of Scripture put it, “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Where’s your confidence?

Second, the facts. You don’t have to look far to find them, although they may be buried under several screens of opinions. Up to date info can be found at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Locally, the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services is providing up to date info at their website.

To date this is the best advice on how to go about your life in light of what we know about COVID19:

  • Wash hands frequently and effectively; that means for 20 seconds (see illustration below). 20 seconds is the amount of time required to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice.
  • Stay home when sick.
  • Call for medical care in advance to going into any doctor’s office or hospital.
  • Cover your mouth when sneezing or coughing (using a tissue or elbow instead of hands).
  • Become comfortable touching elbows instead of shaking hands.

Facts and faith instead of fear. That’s how we’re called to live. And unless you’re sick, we look forward to seeing you at Seneca Creek very soon.

-Pastor Mark

You have five days left to decide

In five days from this post, the season known as Lent will begin.  It’s not a legalistic burden, but a life-giving opportunity.  Lent isn’t even about living without something, instead, it’s about experiencing the abundance God offers.  Why do we need Lent in our lives?  Because our typical lifestyle can stand in the way of authentic life.

  • Surrounded by noise, voices and information, we cannot hear the life-giving words of our Heavenly Father.
  • Driven by the incessant appetites within us, we can’t recognize the deep hunger we have for more of God himself.
  • Swept up in the endless demands for our time we can’t appreciate the rich life God is calling us to live in the present moment, even today.
  • Distracted by the infinite opportunities for amusement and entertainment, we can’t focus long enough to recognize the deep brokenness, loneliness and emptiness that lurks in the shadows of our soul.

This is why we need Lent.  It’s a time to turn off the noise, ignore the growling appetite, reclaim our precious time, and focus for a moment on what’s really important.

Starting next Wednesday, February 26th, you can take one or more steps toward experiencing the abundant life you were created for.

  • You might choose to drop certain types of food/beverage, and use the absence of that substance to direct your heart and mind toward God.
  • You may choose to drop entertainment (like social media or TV) and use that time to squeeze in conversations with God.
  • You could choose to drop conveniences and/or luxuries in order to squeeze God into those spaces.

As for me, I’ll be cutting out “road noise” (no music/radio in the truck), and TV time during the week.  This way I can listen to my Heavenly Father better, and focus on what he’s trying to do in my life.

And as in previous years, I’m encouraging our entire church to take a few minutes each day to read and reflect on God’s words to us.  There are many reading plans designed just for Lent. This year I’m using one called “Lent Through African Eyes,” based on the Africa Study Bible.  It’s available online, and thru the YouVersion Bible app on your smartphone.  If you do choose to make this a Lent practice, be sure to check out the Seneca Creek online Bible study Facebook group.

Lent begins next Wednesday, February 26th, which is Ash Wednesday.  You have five days to figure out what works for you.  Then begin to experience abundant life in a fresh way.

-Pastor Mark

P.S. If you weren’t able to join us last Sunday, we kicked off a new series called, “Finding Clarity in a Confusing World.”  It’s an exploration of the book of 1 Corinthians in the New Testament. If you’d like to read thru it, it’s only about a one hour read.

Touch it and die, Pastor!

That’s how it feels with the current state of the nation.  If I was to give a “state of the union” address I’d have to say there’s not a whole lot of “union” going on.  No matter what I say I’ll make enemies.

You probably have some strong opinions about the events from earlier this week.

  • The Super Bowl halftime show
  • The State of the Union address
  • The Senate’s vote on the impeachment trial of the President.

Any one of these three could have agitated the population by themselves.  Together it’s like a witch’s brew of public poison.  We’re gulping it down by the gallon and blaming the other side for making us sick.

The safe thing to do is keep my head down and my mouth shut.  Oh, and stay off social media.  But I’m not afforded that luxury as a pastor.  (I mean I CAN stay off social media, but that’s not likely to happen.)  Because while all the vitriol is being slung around, the people I’m called to pastor are being wounded.  Those inside the church, and those outside.  People like you.  Wounded by the demeaning and dehumanizing words of others.  Wounded by the nurturing of old grievances.  Wounded by believing the lie that the real enemy is another person instead of the Enemy of God.  Wounded by gossip and half-truths.  And it grieves me.  And it grieves the God who made us all.  And to keep my head down and my mouth shut feels like malpractice.

The gospel is good news, but in times like this we’re capable of forgetting it.  The good news gets lost, which may be an indication that we’ve lost sight of what makes it good.  We’re capable of turning on one another and acting out of fear and anger.  All the while, we’re called to be the ambassadors of reconciliation.  We’re restored in order to reconcile people to God, and to one another.

Some may read this and think, “Pastor, you’re out to lunch.  These are important discussions in our nation.  They impact our safety, our personhood, our morals, even our country.”  I’m fully aware of the significance of these discussions.  But I’m also aware of the toll they take on real people.

  • When the followers of Jesus can’t worship together because they hold different views on what is or is not appropriate entertainment, that’s a problem. Maybe it’s our culture we’re worshipping more than our Creator.
  • When Christians on opposite sides of the political aisle resort to name-calling and shade-throwing instead of pursuing the hard work of reconciliation, that’s a problem. Maybe our first allegiance is to our nation instead of our Savior.
  • When you begin to unfriend and unfollow brothers and sisters in Christ on social media because their feed is so annoying, that’s a problem. Maybe our view of the Body of Christ is that all the parts should look and work the same, instead of the diversity we find in the New Testament.

This is exactly the kind of situation that calls for a radical new type of community, a community of Jesus followers, who are not followers in name only, but with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.  This is exactly the kind of situation in which wounded and discouraged people all around us are looking for someone to bring good news, to bring a message of hope.  This is a situation that screams out for the HOPE of Christ.

I don’t know what Jesus would say about the Super Bowl halftime, or the SOTU address, or the Senate’s vote to acquit.  I have some ideas, based on what he has already said about grace, and love and justice and hypocrisy.  But I do know that he was very clear about how his followers were to live:

  • Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
  • Love your neighbor as yourself.

If those inside the church and outside are not seeing the good news of Jesus lived out in his followers, then we’re not doing the love thing very well.  As Paul put it:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  (1 Corinthians 13:1)

Is the sound of your life more like gong/cymbal?  Or is it like the sound of hope to a wounded world?  Are we, the followers of Jesus, the bearers of good news?

Now excuse me while I go look for my asbestos suit. 😊

-Pastor Mark

What’s with the new logo?

Making deals with God

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”

OR

“God, please change me”

What kind of deal are you making with God this year?

-Pastor Mark

Carpet bombing with kindness

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.

A study shows that kindness slows the aging process.

Performing small acts of kindness for as few as 7 days will make you happier.

Acts of kindness are contagious, increasing the likelihood that others will also act with kindness.

It can help little kids with their executive function.

It can bring sustainability to the workplace and combat workplace woes.

Kindness helps with peer acceptance among adolescents.

Parents who focus on kindness help their kids succeed.

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!

-Pastor Mark

Guess who you forgot to get a gift for?

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.

-Pastor Mark

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

Dave Hawley

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.

 

 

When is it okay to re-gift?

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

Decrease the surplus population?

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 doEphesians 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!

-Pastor Mark

The subversive message of Thanksgiving

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!

-Pastor Mark