Family business

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Pastor Mark

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

The ultimate Bible hack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Pastor Mark


Gettin’ all up in somebody else’s business

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Pastor Mark

Fighting for control

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you fighting for control?

-Pastor Mark

Does God take vacation?

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

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

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

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

Apparently God is NOT taking vacation just yet.

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

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

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

A recent Rooted celebration event

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

-Pastor Mark

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

A modern day substitutionary death

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope to see you then.

-Pastor Mark

Even if you don’t like surprises you’ll like this one

Snow in the Spring is a surprise.  But here was a bigger and better surprise from this week.

I came across this statement from Jesus:

I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.  Luke 16:9 NIV

The statement caught me by surprise.  The cynic in me first thought of the way people spend money to “buy” social media followers/friends.  Then the slightly less cynical side of me thought of the way some have used money to buy votes, or buy influence.  Then the even slightly less cynical side of me thought of those who use their wealth to impress others in order to gain approval, status, or self-worth.

I was surprised because I know that none of these ideas fit with the person and character of Jesus.  So what WAS he talking about?

I believe he’s talking about the same kind of thing we talked about last Sunday: Using our resources to make a difference in someone else’s life, and in their eternity.

Here’s an example.  If I say I care about you, but never demonstrate that beyond words, what would you think?  Maybe you’d believe me, but probably not.  On the other hand, if I say I care about you and pay your repair bill then next time your car is in the shop, what would you think?  See the difference?  If I say I love my neighbor but don’t bother to find out his name or even how I can pray for him, what would he think?

What’s more, this statement by Jesus comes at the end of a parable he told about someone who was about to lose their job.  So in order to gain friends, this guy became wildly generous with his Master’s money!  Jesus was saying the same thing he’d said in various other ways: We’re just managers of God’s resources, and how we handle those resources has the potential to impact what other people think of the Master.

So if you have an opportunity to be generous with God’s resources, you’re not only imitating our generous God, you’re demonstrating his character to those around you.  You’re making it easier for them to hear the message that their Heavenly Father really does know, and care, and provide.  And if I understand Jesus’ teaching correctly, you’ll be very pleasantly surprised one day when those opportunities are all gone.

-Pastor Mark

One simple step to becoming a F.I.T. person

We’re inundated with fitness paraphernalia.  Smart phones, tracking devices, wearables, apps, fad diets, and more.  But what about becoming a F.I.T. person? How does that work?

It’s simple step.  Maybe not easy, but simple.  F.I.T. stands for Follower In Training.  And it’s taken from the words of Jesus himself in Luke 6:40:

The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.

Jesus invites everyone to follow him.  And then the training begins.  It’s training to be “like our teacher.”  The simple way to do that is to study his life.  The more you and I know about Jesus habits, his teaching, and his mission, the more we’re able to resemble him.  If you think following Jesus (a.k.a. being a Christian) is about anything else, I would ask you to re-read the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).

So we’re all invited to be a Follower In Training.  That’s a F.I.T. person.  But it’s a choice we make every day.  Will we look toward Jesus to better understand his habits, his teachings, and his mission?  It’s simple, but it’s hard.  Because that step will reveal the gap between the teacher and the student.  And closing that gap is what F.I.T.-ness is all about.

If you want a place to start, I recommend any of the four gospels.  Actually, I recommend ALL of them.  If you don’t read anything else this year, read those.  And as you read, listen to what God is saying about the gap.  If you’re like me, you’ll quickly discover you’re not yet “fully trained.”  It might be attitudes.  It might be behaviors.  It might be relationships.  It might be conversations.  It might be appetites.  It might be dreams and goals.  It might be any of a thousand areas of life where we’re not “like our teacher.”  Once you’ve listened, then take the next step to close the gap.  When you do that you’re on your way to becoming a F.I.T. person.

And that’s better than any wearable device, fad diet, or BMI number.

-Pastor Mark

If you have an example of how you’re striving to be a F.I.T. person, feel free to share it in the comment section below.  Or not.

When you KNOW you can’t do it by yourself

I listened as the gentleman from Africa described his dream of building something that didn’t exist anywhere on the continent. Though we’d only met once before, I was captivated by his vision.

As he continued, I thought, “This is way bigger than what any one person can accomplish.” He was quick to acknowledge that. And together we talked about how God often gives us a vision for something that can only be accomplished with God’s help. As it turned out, God was already working, and this vision of bringing a vaccine production facility to the African continent may finally become a reality. Through Seneca Creek, God had provided one of the missing pieces for this to happen. Only time will tell, but what’s clear is that God had to show up MANY times for this vision to become reality.

That meeting reminded me of how often God gives us a vision of what he longs for us to accomplish…but the vision seems far to big to handle. That’s part of God’s remarkable plan. Because only when we come to the end of our own abilities do we turn to God. And only then do we begin to realize just how wise and powerful and good God truly is.

Have you ever had that kind of vision? Have you ever thought, “What this world really needs is ______, but I have NO idea how that could ever happen.” If so, let me encourage you to lean into that vision. Recognize that, yes, it IS too much for one person to accomplish. But it’s NEVER too much for God to accomplish!  This is Paul’s message in Ephesians 3:20-21

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

At Seneca Creek we have a vision to become a church where all people, regardless of race, culture, language, or gender can come together as the unified Body of Christ and serve and worship as one church. At times it seems like an impossible task. But with the help of God, we continue to lean into this vision.

  • We continue to encourage men and women to follow God’s calling into every area, including leadership.
  • We continue to encourage people of diverse backgrounds and races and languages to sit down and learn and listen and love one another.
  • We continue to break down the barriers of color, class and culture that separate brothers and sisters in Christ.
  • And we continue to believe and proclaim that the good news about Jesus Christ is the H.O.P.E. of the world, and the light that will penetrate and drive out the darkness that is all around us.

It seems impossible. But then, so does coming back from the grave. But God is the God of the impossible. What vision has he planted in your life?

-Pastor Mark

P.S. Don’t forget to set your clocks ahead one hour this Saturday night. We’ll lose an hour of sleep, but we’ll gain an hour of wonderful daylight in the evenings.

My history with Black History month

February is Black History month. There was a time in my life when I truly didn’t get it. I didn’t understand why a special month was necessary.

But through the patient conversations of many friends (too many to name, but you know who you are), through the compelling writings of gifted authors, and through the convicting words of powerful preachers, I’m at a very different place than I used to be.

This month I’ve been delighted (and somewhat embarrassed) to learn about key African-Americans in our nation’s history who were innovators, inventors, leaders and more. Mostly they are names I’ve never heard before. My life is enriched because of them. And now I am beginning to get to know them. And Facebook DOES have some redeeming value after all. (E.g. did you know that today, Feb. 23rd, is the birthday of W.E.B. DuBois, b. 1868, author and historian, and the first African American to earn a doctorate from Harvard.)

This month I’ve also been reminded of the history of the African American church, including it’s painful origins and prophetic voice. (I even learned recently about a “Black Reformation” in the 18th century, led by former slave Rebecca Protten and others.)

And this month I’ve been encouraged by the 25 or 30 people of Seneca Creek who gather every Sunday night around tables to learn and grow together in our Multiethnic Conversations groups. Many of the conversations are centered on the issues related to the black-white history of this nation. The candor, the humility, and the courage shown by these people is inspiring.

One of the questions that came up recently at a table group was, “How do we help other churches grow in this area?” It’s one of the most important questions of the group so far. While I don’t have all the answers, I know two things are essential for us, and for every other church that is on this journey:

  • Relationships. It starts with people like those of us at Seneca Creek who are willing to have honest, courageous conversations, and are willing to suspend our beliefs and opinions long enough to listen to those who don’t look like us.
  • Prayer. This is truly the work of God to bring about reconciliation. And this topic is the devil’s playground in our country. We need the power of prayer to overcome our fear, our prejudice, and our pride. We need the power of God to tear down the strongholds of injustice. We need the power of prayer to soften our own hearts and unstop our own ears.

February is just a month. But it’s so much more. It’s a month to remind us of the challenge of becoming the kind of church that Jesus had in mind. And it’s a month to remind us that our country and our world desperately need the church to light the way in this increasingly fractured and divided world. Maybe by focusing on black history for a month we’ll learn how to rewrite our own history for generations to come. Which would make this a very important month indeed. That’s my prayer.

-Pastor Mark