Inspired to fight fiercely

Sometimes it takes a life-threatening situation to open our eyes.  In case you didn’t get the memo, that’s what’s taking place right now.

For those who are connected with our church, you probably heard the news that Pastor Jeannette is battling cancer.  As I write this note she’s going thru her first round of chemotherapy (there are 15 more rounds to go).  And as she faces the battle of her life, I couldn’t help but be inspired by her thoughts and comments that she has shared on social media.  I want to copy them here in case you haven’t read them yet. (this I from her CaringBridge site)

Feeling Strong, Optimistic, and Ready to Go

by Jeannette Cochran

Tomorrow chemo begins, and the battle intensifies. Eddie asked if I was scared, and to my surprise, I’m really not.  I’m sure I will have some anxious jitters when I actually sit in the chair for the first time. But for now, I’m feeling strong, optimistic, and living in the moment instead of worrying about what’s ahead. The sooner we get started the sooner it will be over. I’ve calendared all the dates and, barring no unforeseen roadblocks, I will be done on May 23rd.

I’m healing well from surgery, and I feel like myself again. I’ve been eating healthy and loading my body with nutrients through juicing and green smoothies. This week, I had an echo-cardiogram to ensure my heart is healthy enough for chemo and saw my dentist for a routine cleaning before chemo starts.

Eddie packed the bag we’ll take to chemo. It’s filled with books, an iPad, earbuds, snacks, drinks, and a cozy pink blanket marked with positive, uplifting words. This blanket was a gift from a dear friend, and I’m planning to take it every time so that when I sit for chemo, I will always be wrapped in hope, faith, peace, strength, blessing, and courage.

God continues to be faithful and gracious to equip me for the battle ahead. Earlier this week I was reading Romans 8, a chapter dense with hope and courage building truth. Paul closes this chapter with a forceful declaration that no matter what trouble or hardship we face we can be sure that we can conquer it because nothing will ever separate us from God’s love.

“In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Not even cancer.

I have everything I need to endure this season because I have the matchless power of Jesus within me and His love surrounding me. It might be hard.  And I’m sure I will probably experience moments of sadness, doubt or fear. But in the end, I will win because in Jesus I am a conqueror.

Thanks for your continued prayers.

Much love to you all,

Jeannette

If you’re not inspired by Jeannette’s faith and her story, you might want to check your pulse.  And while you may not be fighting cancer, chance are you’re fighting your own battles.  I urge you to adopt the same mindset that Jeannette has.  God is still faithful.  He will equip you for the battles he’s called you to.  And NOTHING will separate you from his love.  Nothing.

Fight fiercely.  God is on your side.

-Pastor Mark

The sermon you’ve always wanted to hear?

Do you enjoy January?  Does it give you that invigorating sense of starting something new?  Do you get all dreamy about what you’re going to do differently this year?  If you’re like me, this time of year seems so filled with opportunity.  Speaking of which, here’s a New Year opportunity for you.

What if you could pick a sermon topic?  If you could choose just one sermon that you’d like to hear preached this year, what would it be?  Maybe some book or passage of the Bible?  Or some hot topic?  Or some favorite verse?  Or some perplexing question that you’ve carried around for decades?

If you’ve got an idea, I’d love to hear what it is.  I can’t promise that I can preach that exact sermon, but I’ll do my best to try to boil down the key ideas and areas of interest.

I know, some will say, “Aren’t you just preaching what people want to hear…doesn’t Jesus warn about that?”  Nope.  I’m preaching the life-changing gospel of Jesus.  But the gospel affects every area of life.  And some of those areas are in greater need of clarity or encouragement than others.  This is simply a way of letting me know where those areas are in your life.

So hit me up on the comments section below, and we’ll chart a course for a life-changing year together!

-Pastor Mark

Hopes and fears

What’s your favorite Christmas carol? Maybe Silent Night? Or O Holy Night? Do you ever find yourself being captivated by a simple phrase from one of the timeless classic carols? It happened to me this week.

The words came wafting out of my truck speakers, “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.” It’s the end of verse 1 of the carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” That song was written shortly after the Civil War by an Episcopal priest named Philips Brooks. And the lyrics are compelling.

The phrase about hopes and fears caught my attention because I hear people expressing their fears on a daily basis. Fears about job security (can you say “government shutdown”?). Fears for safety in their neighborhoods. Fears about health problems. Fears about children who are making bad choices. Fears about student debt. Fears about the political direction of our nation. Fears about racial strife and tension. Fears about marriages that are teetering on the brink of destruction.

The songwriter says that hopes and fears are met in Christ. The hope of the nations. The hope of the disenfranchised. The hope of the homeless and the helpless. The hope of the addict and the abused. The hope of the lonely and the left behind. The hope of all the years of all the people. Including you. What are you truly hoping for this year?

As you finish your last minute preparations for Christmas, let that phrase echo in your mind.

“The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.”

Every hope will be met. Every fear will be conquered. In the words of the angel:

Fear not! I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. Luke 2:10-11

Our deepest hopes are met only in the Messiah. To be loved for who we are. To be valued for who we are. To be known at the deepest level. To be forgiven for the secret and shameful past. To be gifted and called for a life that matters. All these hopes and more are met in Jesus.

If you know someone who’s dealing with fear, or whose hopes are dwindling, be sure to share the earth-shattering good news that the angel proclaimed. And while you’re at it, why not invite them to join you for a Christmas Eve gathering at Seneca Creek. You can get the details here.

-Pastor Mark

Giving a risky gift

Have you ever tried to give someone a gift that you weren’t sure they’d like? I remember giving my mom a smart home speaker, which I KNEW could be very helpful. But she was as far from a tech person as you could get. No computer experience, no email, no cell phone. Nothing. How would it go?

To my surprise, it went better than I could have ever expected. (I actually thought she might sell it at a garage sale because it was just taking up space!) After about five minutes it was a smashing success. And she’s never looked back. That little device has changed her daily life in numerous ways. But it all started when I took a chance on giving a gift that may or may not be well received.

This week you have the opportunity to take that kind of risk. You know people who would benefit from what God has for them in a local church like Seneca Creek. Maybe they’re as far from a “religious” person as you could get. Maybe they’ve even had some really bad experiences with churches, or with people claiming to be Christians. What would happen if you invited them to a Christmas Eve gathering?

The truth is, you don’t know. Just like the smart home speaker I gave to my mom, there’s a risk. It might not be well received. But you won’t know until you try. And the stakes are sky high, because what they really need is what you’re offering them.

So let me encourage you this week to take a risk. Reach out to that person who you know could use the gift of Hope. You can pick up an invitation card on Sunday, or use this link and invite them electronically. Take a risk. Change a life. Change an eternity. Give a gift that matters.

-Pastor Mark

Thoughts from the waiting room

We sat together in the hospital waiting room this week. Waiting on progress reports from the surgeons. Waiting for any kind of news. Waiting. And it occurred to me that most of us hate the waiting room.

We avoid the waiting room. Because, well, we don’t like waiting. We want things to happen sooner. Now, preferably. The irony wasn’t lost on me as I sat there with family members who like to get things done, who like action, who like going places. And we were all waiting.

Waiting reminds us that we’re not in control. It reminds us that there are forces we can’t understand. It reminds us of our creatureliness. Because of this, the finest feature of the waiting room is that it forces us to pray. To turn our attention toward the Creator. To be reminded that we do, in fact, have a loving and all-powerful heavenly Father. To take our eyes off the present (and the mundane?) and be reminded that something bigger than me, something bigger than us is taking place. Waiting can be instrumental in restoring us to a flourishing “Creator-created” relationship.

There’s no better time of year for this either. The arrival of Messiah was the culmination of centuries spent in the waiting room. The waiting room of earth was finally filled with the joyous sounds of a newborn King. Tears of joy. Shouts of excitement. “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.” Simeon was “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” (Luke 2:25) And from the waiting room he uttered this words:

My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel. (Luke 2:31-32)

You may be stuck in a waiting room in some area of life. But Christmas is the annual reminder that the wait is over. So this week, let the joyful noise from your waiting room fill your life.

-Pastor Mark

Winning the war on Christmas

Have you found yourself wondering if it’s okay to say, “Merry Christmas”? It’s a controversial greeting in many places. Some have characterized this as part of a “war on Christmas,” a war that includes vanishing nativities, more Santa and less Jesus, etc. What’s going on here?

There are voices in the Christian tradition who view many of these developments as a concerted attack against Christmas, complete with godless atheists who are upset at the mention of a deity. Is there really a war on Christmas?

I think so, but not in the way we might have been told. I think the war on Christmas is more stealthy than that, and we might have been inadvertently coopted into fighting for the enemy. The real war is a creeping tendency to see Christmas as primarily about gifts, goodies, and get-togethers. It’s the tidal wave that’s all about trees, traditions, and tacky lawn ornaments.

While those are not bad things, they often crowd out the real Christmas. They plunder from us the wonder of Christmas. They occupy the land that Christmas was supposed to invite us into. They place a tyrant on the throne instead of the good King. That’s the real war on Christmas, a war which we often don’t realize is taking place and may in fact be taking us prisoner.

Christmas is the shocking and scandalous appearance of God in human form. It’s the world-altering, life-changing reality that God visited us as one of us. It’s the breath-taking fulfillment of centuries of prophecies that told of God’s plan to begin to set the world right. And not just so we could have a day off every December, but so we could have every day “on” as it were. So we could live freely as we were designed to live. The little baby born in Bethlehem went on to show us exactly HOW to live. Every day.

So when you hear Christmas music on the radio, or at the mall, take a minute to reflect. Have you become a casualty of the war on Christmas? When you hear or repeat the greeting, “Merry Christmas,” ask yourself, “Am I really living in the reality of Christmas…of God in human form?”

And if someone wants to say, “Happy Holidays,” wish them well. After all, the origins of the phrase, “Merry Christmas” are rooted in an excessive, alcohol-infused celebration, whereas a holiday is a derivative of “holy day,” which Christmas most certainly is. 😊 For the win!

-Pastor Mark

Thanks?

Isn’t it interesting how focusing on what you’re grateful for can improve your outlook? I’ve noticed that it can even make for more peaceful relationships.

But how quickly that “thanks-magic” can fade, right?

(I know, I know, sometimes as soon as Uncle Bob arrives, but that’s a different story.)

Is there anything we can do to hang onto that moment? Can we make it last past the turkey dinner and leftovers? Actually, yes.

It just so happens there are always reasons to be grateful. And the writers of the Bible are excellent teachers, pointing us toward reasons for gratitude. Here are just a handful of examples:

  • Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. (Psalm 100:4)
  • I thank my God every time I remember you. (Philippians 1:3, Colossians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:2, and others)
  • Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6)
  • Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

But closer to home, we invited the church family to jot down what they were grateful to God for at our gatherings last weekend. Here’s some of your responses:

You may have some of your own. By sharing them, you will not only perpetuate that life-giving spirit of gratitude for yourself, but you may well infect someone else with it. So go ahead. Add you comments below of something you’re grateful for. And then do it again tomorrow. And the next day. And the next…

-Pastor Mark

The election is over, but it ain’t over

 

Don’t you just love election day?  No more campaign mailers falling out of your mailbox, or littering your neighborhood.  No more radio ads of candidates bashing one another. Ahh…. But election day isn’t really over. 

Oh, the national, state, and local elections are over, but the day to day election is not.  What am I talking about?

On election day we cast a ballot for the person(s) we want to take the reins of leadership in our community, state, or nation.  We elect those who will make the important decisions that affect our lives. But every day that you wake up you do the same thing.  Every day that you wake up you cast a ballot for the one you want to take the reins of leadership for your life for that day. Every day you get to choose who will make the important decisions that affect your life that day…and in the future.

This is the core idea behind Jesus comments about the “kingdom of heaven.”  A kingdom is the place where the king is making the decisions. This is also what Jesus was talking about when he said, “If anyone would come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”  He was saying that we have a choice about who will be our leader. It could be our heavenly Father. Or it could be ourselves.

We regularly face decisions about relationships, priorities, finances, careers, ethics, family, and more.  We can cast a ballot for ourselves, in which case, it’s all about me, my agenda, my appetites, my priorities, and my self-actualization.  OR, we can cast a ballot for Jesus. In this case, it’s all about Jesus, his agenda, his desires, his priorities, and his mission.

Remember the movie, “Ground Hog Day”?  Every day started the same. When you wake up tomorrow, imagine that election day is like that.  Every day is another election day. Every day is a chance to decide who will have the reins of leadership in your life.  Who will make the important decisions that affect your life? Whose agenda will set the tone?

You can consider this blog post the “campaign ad in your mailbox.”  Jesus is campaigning for your vote. How will you cast your ballot?

-Pastor Mark

The 60 Minutes episode starring YOU

*drum roll* Ta-da! You’re the star of a 60 Minutes episode. You have 60 minutes to let the world hear your story. What will you do?

I’m talking about the 60 minutes that you’re going to receive as a gift this weekend. This is the weekend we change our clocks back, and get an extra 60 minutes on Sunday morning.

I know what you’re thinking. “The pastor is going to tell me to show up at church for 60 minutes.” Nope. I mean, that’s not a bad idea, but I’ve got a better idea. How about using some or all of those 60 minutes to live out your faith IRL (in real life, for my generation).

In particular, as we’ve been journeying thru this pesky little book of James in the New Testament, one of the phrases that jumped out is this:

Religion that God our Father accepts is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress… James 1:27

BTW, did you know that scholars now believe that in the ancient world, if you lost one parent, you were considered to be an “orphan”?

So what if you took those extra 60 minutes and used them to help out a single mom, a widow, or someone who was clearly in need. You won’t have to look far. And then if you want to come celebrate the God who has called you to this amazing revolution, by all means join us at 8:30, 10:00, or 11:30. But if the most you do this weekend is to actually live out your faith for 60 minutes in your community, that’s a win. And it’s a great way to embrace another phrase from James’ letter:

Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. James 1:22

I can’t think of a better way to invest those 60 minutes. And even though I said it was about 60 minutes starring YOU, it’s really about 60 minutes starring your Heavenly Father, who, as James says, “gives generously to all without finding fault.”

Oh, and if you’re willing to share your story here, that would be awesome. We’d love to “binge watch” the 60 Minutes episodes God is writing in our community.

-Pastor Mark

P.S. If you want to hear some of the stories of how God has been recently working, join us at 4:00 pm this Sunday, November 4th, for our next Baptism Celebration. Light refreshments provided afterwards.

Is the click-bait culture clouding your vision?

Chicken Little was sure the sky was falling. Increasingly, the conversations we are having in our country and communities sound a lot like Chicken Little. The sky is falling because _________. (insert your favorite problem here) But is that true?

That’s the question posed by a well-known Harvard psychologist named Steven Pinker. In his recent book, Enlightenment Now, he argues that despite the tsunami of headlines that have us convinced the sky is truly falling, the numbers and data tell a different story. For example, he notes the following:

  • Humans are living longer lives than in previous generations
  • Millions fewer people are living in extreme poverty
  • War-related deaths are down significantly
  • Totalitarian regimes are in decline
  • Literacy and equal rights are far more wide-spread
  • Economic prosperity is growing for many populations
  • Terrorist deaths are reduced
  • Overpopulation threats are diminishing

Is he right? Well, some agree, and some accuse him of cherry-picking the data. I’m not doing either one of those. Whether you agree with Pinker or not, his point is powerful: Our opinions of our current and future well-being have almost EVERYTHING to do with what we choose to focus on. In 2018 it’s super easy to focus on the click-bait headlines and get thoroughly disgusted and demoralized. Pinker’s suggestion is to look at something else, namely the hard data.

Here’s where Jesus comes in. Jesus calls us to focus on something other than only what’s going on under our noses. The temptation is to become fearful and anxious because of the events happening in our family, our city, our nation, or our world. But there’s another place to focus: the kingdom of God. That glorious, unstoppable revolution that Jesus started, and which he will one day finish when he returns. If the book of Revelation has left you scratching your head, then know this about it: Jesus wins! That’s the message of the whole book. For that matter, it’s the message of the WHOLE book, from Genesis thru Revelation.

But we easily forget that. The click-bait culture is conspiring to cloud our vision of true reality. We get so tightly focused on here, that we forget there’s another reality. Here will one day be caught up in the “hereafter.” Oh, don’t be confused. It’s not that we’re getting whisked off this planet. No, it’s actually scheduled for a radical restoration project, much like the radical restoration project that God has already begun in the followers of Jesus. (For details on this, I highly recommend N.T. Wright’s, Surprised By Hope, a book that is sure to rock your understanding of life in the here AND the hereafter.) The hard question is, “what are we focused on?” Is it the immediate…the headlines…the click-bait?

What if, while working faithfully on the real challenges we DO face (because we’re called to be the light of the world), you could focus on the reality that Jesus wins. What if, when tempted to wring your hands and fling your accusations at the mess around us now, you could lift your head up and see down the road. What if, in those moments, you could see the King of Kings and the Prince of Peace. What if you took him at his word when he said,

Don’t worry…but seek first his kingdom. (Matthew 6:31-33)

What if we left Chicken Little behind and became men and women whose vision was transformed by the power of the Spirit of God, and fueled by the HOPE of the life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ? Then whatever happens around us, we can be those who ignite the HOPE of the gospel in our city, county, and world.

-Pastor Mark