Learning to recognize hunger

Would you recognize hunger? Maybe in the face of the person standing at the intersection holding up a sign, or in the desperation of the single mom digging thru her purse for enough to pay for the meager collection of groceries in her cart?

Food insecurity is a real issue for a significant number of people right in our community. We are called to address issues like this as part of living out the life of Jesus. Here’s a reason to celebrate. We accomplished something incredible together! Together we collected 335 bags of groceries for the local food bank, Gaithersburg HELP.

But we can’t overlook the deeper hunger either.

I’m referring to the spiritual hunger that affects a larger and larger percentage of our communities. The sad truth is that people are constantly exposed to all kinds of crazy imitation gospels that are really not the gospel of Jesus at all. After a while, they turn away. They don’t want anything to do with “Christianity.” And they continue to search for something—ANYTHING—to fill that longing in the deepest part of who they are.

  • They will attempt to fill that void with approval of others.
  • Or with accumulating more and more stuff.
  • Or with one exhilarating experience after another.
  • Or with indulging every physical appetite they can imagine.
  • Or with mind-altering substances.
  • Or with the “perfect” marriage or family.

But none of those will do. Because we’re made for more than that. We’re made for genuine connection with our Heavenly Father. The one who Jesus talked about. The one who sent Jesus. The one who calls us to follow in Jesus footsteps.

You might be able to recognize food insecurity. But what about spiritual hunger? Do you recognize is when you see the symptoms listed above? So my challenge to you is this: be on the lookout for spiritual hunger. And when you see it, be willing to offer the only thing that will truly satisfy.

That’s why week after week we offer the H.O.P.E. of Christ, the real good news (a.k.a. the gospel) to any and all.

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” – Jesus (John 6:35)

Together we can keep the “spiritual food bank” open 24/7, and reduce spiritual hunger in our communities.

-Pastor Mark

What I like most about summer

Summer is awesome for many reasons.  And yes, longer daylight hours, and being able to ride my bike without spending 30 minutes bundling up are some of the top reasons.  But another top reason may surprise you:

It’s summer fruit.  Tomatoes, nectarines, watermelon, peaches, sweet corn, plums, zucchini, cantaloupe, and more.  I can almost feel the juice running down my chin while I’m writing.  Who doesn’t like fruit, right?

I think it’s no accident that the Christian life is described as bearing fruit.  Really tasty fruit.  Run down your chin kind of fruit.

  • Love
  • Joy
  • Peace
  • Patience
  • Goodness
  • Kindness
  • Faithfulness
  • Gentleness
  • Self-control

Can you imagine living with someone who was dripping that kind of fruit?  Who wouldn’t want to hang around for more, right?  Those are available “in season.”

God desires for you to bear that kind of fruit today.  This is your “summer season.”  If someone were to peruse the produce aisle of your life, what kind of fruit would they find?  Would it create a desire for more?  Would it produce a pleasant aroma?

Something to think about as we enter into summer.  Let your life overflow with the fruit of the Spirit.  (Galatians 5:22-23)  Make this the “summer” of your life.

-Pastor Mark

What to do when tragedy calls for action

You’re probably grateful (as I am) that there has been a change this week in the tragic border situation taking place in our country.  The separation of young children from their parents is devastating, no matter what you think about the legal issues involved.  However, there’s another tragic situation taking place right here in our community.  It’s called “food insecurity.”

That’s a nice way of saying “hunger.”  Yep, in the shadow of the capitol of the most powerful nation on the earth lurks hunger.  Young kids, who often look very much like those who’ve been seen on the news lately, come home to empty pantries.  They go to bed hungry.  They get the majority of their nutritional needs met thru programs at their local public schools.

But school is out.  And many families are hard pressed to feed themselves.  Parent(s) are struggling to meet the rising costs of living in this expensive county.

This is where it’s crystal clear HOW we can help. With the immigration mess it’s often not clear what average citizens can do to make a difference.  But when it comes to food insecurity, it’s quite clear.

If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. Isaiah 58:10

We are proud to partner with Gaithersburg HELP in their phenomenal work to provide temporary, emergency food supplies to families and individuals right here in our city and community.

This year Seneca Creek has set a goal of collecting 400 bags of groceries during the month of June to restock the shelves of this important ministry.  (That’s 100 more bags than last year’s goal)  As of the time I’m writing this we have collected 132 bags.  That’s one third of our goal.  Which means we have two thirds to go.  AND, we have just one Sunday left.

One Sunday to collect 268 bags.  Yikes!

By comparison, last year, with one week to go, we still needed 212 bags.  And we MADE it!

So I’m asking you to consider joining my family in bringing an abundance of food for those who are dealing with a scarcity.  I’m inviting you to be part of a church that takes action when the opportunity presents itself.  I’m asking you to help us make a difference in the lives of some of the most vulnerable in our community.

212 bags.  I’m in for the first 12.  Will you commit to being part of the last 256?

Here’s a list of items that we’re trying to collect.

  • Low-sodium canned vegetables
  • Canned tomato products with no added sugar or salt
  • Canned fruit (in juice)
  • Canned tuna/salmon in water
  • Canned chicken
  • Canned chili
  • Canned beans
  • Dried beans
  • Nut butters
  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa, buckwheat and other whole grains
  • Whole-wheat pasta
  • Rolled oats and plain instant oatmeal
  • Low sugar, high fiber cereal
  • Baby diapers
  • Baby wipes
  • Vegetable oil
  • Vegetarian items (soups, chili)
  • Baby food/cereals
  • Infant formula

And then let’s love our neighbors in practical ways this week.  I can’t wait to see how God shows up in this church!

-Pastor Mark

P.S. If you find yourself facing food insecurity in your own home, please contact our office.  We definitely want to help you while we’re helping others in our community.

P.P.S. If you need to drop off grocery bags on a day other than Sunday we are open from 9 to 5 Monday to Friday.  Additionally the building is open some evenings for scheduled events. Call ahead for details.

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