The Bible for non-readers

Ever feel like you might have a problem, bordering on an addiction?  I know I do.

I’ve said it many times to those who visit my office, “I kinda have a book addiction.”  I know the difference between a legitimate physiologically-based addiction and my problem with books.  I’m not trying to be flippant about those who genuinely struggle with substance addictions, etc.  But I enjoy reading.  It’s how I learn, grow, think, reflect, and change.

HOWEVER, I know that most people do NOT share my penchant for books.  In fact the statistics show that reading is nowhere near the top of the priority list for the typical American, who reads 4 books per year.

Which brings me to my point.  With reading rates continuing to decline, what does that say about the written word of God found in the Bible?  It’s easy to conclude that people aren’t reading that book as much, either.  Which is problematic, because it’s the one book that has the power to transform human lives.

But I think Bible reading is under-reported.  Because people don’t just read about God’s word in the printed book.  They read about it in transformed lives.  Paul the apostle describes the lives of some of his fellow Christ followers this way:


You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. 2 Corinthians 3:3

People see you as God’s word to them.  God’s word of the power of transformation.  God’s word of hope, healing, and new life.  People are “reading” the Bible when they see your life.

Regardless of how many hours someone may spend reading a book, even if they read no books at all, they can still read the Bible.  Your life is the Bible for non-readers.

What is your life saying to those who are reading you?

Something to consider as we consider how to live out our faith.

-Pastor Mark

Why Easter hasn’t changed your life

You may be feeling the sugar crash after all the chocolate bunnies and jelly beans.  Easter is fading in the rearview mirror.  Or is it?

Easter is about being raised to new life.  First Jesus, then his people.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 1 Corinthians 15:20

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ they are a new creation; the old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17

So why doesn’t it feel that way?  Why are we often stuck in the tomb?  Why do our routines and relationships often feel lifeless?  Why does the week after Easter feel so much like the one before it?

Here are two possible reasons:

First, we might believe that Jesus promises a rose garden.  Not literally, but sort of.  In fact, Jesus faced routines and relationships just like we do.  He had difficult people in his life.  He had to repeat himself over and over to people who didn’t seem to be paying attention.  He was misunderstood, mistreated, and more.  His resurrection didn’t erase all that, and it doesn’t mean we won’t have to work through challenges, either.  But it DOES mean we can do it with a different source of power, and a different perspective. It’s possible to be looking for the kind of life that Jesus not only didn’t offer but didn’t experience.  The troubles of this life (and they’re real) are NOT the whole picture.  And they’re NOT forever.  And they’re NOT bigger than God.

Second, we may have a fascination with Jesus more than a following of Jesus.  He is a unique and interesting figure.  We like to hear about him.  We might have been in the crowds if we lived in Judea or Galilee in the first century.  We might even know a lot about him, or be able to quote some of his teachings.  But there’s a difference between a fascination and a follower.  (One famous preacher/author has even talked about this as being a “fan” vs. a follower.)  If we’re simply a fan, or fascinated, but NOT a follower, then we probably aren’t able to follow him out of the tomb and into a new life.

So if Easter hasn’t changed your life (yet), here’s something to consider.  Beginning this Sunday, April 28, 2019, we’re going to address this challenge.  If you’d like to learn more about living in the Easter reality, raised to new life, then please join us for our new series, “Answering the Call.”  It will be available on podcast soon.

-Pastor Mark

P.S. Hope United is almost here! Mark your calendars for May 18th and join us for this remarkable celebration of diversity.

How to fail the Good Friday test

Sometimes I simply have to yield the microphone to a better voice, a voice that speaks with depth and wisdom about the monumental events of Good Friday.

The voice belongs to Fleming Rutledge.  She’s a former pastor/priest who has become an outstanding author as well.  The following link will take you to a slightly longer-than-usual article that contains some powerful insights about the implications of Good Friday for every follower of Christ.  Implications that extend well beyond one day a year.  Implications that may cause us to think differently about our faith, our community, and the cross.

I trust you’ll find her comments to be thought-provoking and life-giving.

Click here.

-Pastor Mark

How to make the most out of next week

Next week is often referred to as “Holy Week” in the Christian tradition.  Maybe you don’t have any tradition associated with it other than Easter eggs and family dinner.  But if you’d like to make it a memorable week, here are some practical suggestions.

(optional) Saturday, April 13

Begin a 10 day Lent reading program available for a small fee here.

Sunday, April 14, (Palm Sunday)

Re-read the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem in Matthew 21:1-11.  Picture yourself as part of the crowd, cheering the long-awaited king who is coming to set you free.  If you missed the message in our current series on this event, check out the podcast here.

Consider inviting a friend to one of the Easter Sunday gatherings. You can send them this link.

(optional – start an 8 day reading plan here.)

Monday, April 15

Check out this thoughtful section on the meal Jesus shared with his disciples that last week.  It’s helpful to remember this is an event to be shared together as the followers of Jesus.  How has the community of faith shaped your understanding of Jesus?

Tuesday, April 16

Read Mark 14:12-26.  Consider setting a place at the table for Jesus.  Then imagine him joining you for a meal.  During that meal, he says to you what he said to the disciples about his body and his blood being for you.  Offer a prayer of thanksgiving.

Wednesday, April 17

Read Matthew 26:36-46.  We’re not the first to struggle with prayer.  Choose a time during the day when you can stop for 30 to 60 minutes and pray.  Instead of praying for yourself, try to listen for the needs of those around you.  What is God’s concern for them?  Join with God in that concern by praying his desires for those who come to your mind.  It’s okay if this is a struggle.

Maundy Thursday, April 18

Read Mark 12:28-31, and John 13:1-17.  “Maundy” Thursday is from the Latin word for “mandate,” or instruction. Jesus’ instruction or mandate to his followers is to do what he has done.  It is to love and serve one another.  Choose one act of service you can do for someone today, then go do it.

Good Friday

Read John 19.  How much would you do for a friend?  Allow the reality to sink in that Jesus death was for you.  He didn’t go grudgingly to the cross, but willingly, out of his great love for you.  Write a short prayer of thanksgiving to Jesus.

Saturday, April 20

This is a day of waiting.  Think of an area in your life where you’re waiting for something to change.  Sit in that space of not knowing when.  Imagine being in Peter’s sandals on that first Saturday.  Jesus is dead.  Hope is gone.  What’s needed is a miracle.  All you can do is pray.  Pray for God’s miracle where it is needed most in your life right now.

Resurrection Sunday

Read John 20:1-18.  The miracle has happened.  The clouds are giving way to blue sky.  Hope has returned.  The King is alive.  Join us for a victorious and joyous celebration at 8:00, 9:15, 10:30, or 11:45!

-Pastor Mark


It’s here.  Did you miss it?

Spring has arrived. But some of us are still stuck in winter.

There’s a condition of the soul that can best be described as winter. It’s dark, cold, and bleak. It causes us to avoid public places, focus on our problems, and dream of better days.

We know that the actual winter will eventually give way to spring. But sometimes it can seem like the winter of our soul is permanent. Almost like conditions in Narnia, “Always winter but never Christmas.”

When the days get longer, when the sun gets closer and warmer, then spring emerges. It’s a bit like that for the winter of our soul as well. When the light and warmth of God gets closer and warmer, our soul-winter begins to thaw, and hope springs again.

So how do we facilitate that kind of transition? I would suggest that one thing we can do when caught in the winter of our soul, is to seek out the light and warmth of God as revealed in his written word, the Bible. As I wrote a few weeks ago, Lent is a wonderful chance to adopt a new habit. The temptation is to avoid God’s word. It doesn’t “feel good.” But just like those late days of winter, we don’t always see immediate results of more light and warmth.

You may want to begin with Jesus. Start in one of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John). Just read. Set aside an hour one evening and read the entire gospel. Let the person and message of Jesus begin to seep into the dark, cold places of your soul. Then read it again later. If you persist in this, you will eventually notice that the winter of your soul is being punctuated by signs of life. A blade of grass here, a flower popping up there. And before you know it, spring will have arrived.

Know that you’re in good company. No less than the famous artist Chance the Rapper recently stepped away from his normal routines for an extended sabbatical of getting to know God’s word.

[Here’s a related article with some great suggestions on how to implement this in your own life.]

You can’t control the seasons. And you can’t even control the arrival of soul-winter. But you can do something to accelerate the arrival of spring. Start packing your scarves and gloves in a box. Start watching for signs of life. Don’t miss it.

-Pastor Mark

Spend it while you can

Have you ever signed up for one of those “flex spending” accounts? They’re designed to reduce your overall costs for things like childcare and healthcare.  But there’s a catch.

You’ve got to spend the money within a limited amount of time.  If you don’t spend it before the deadline, you lose it.

Which is kinda like life itself.  We have a limited time in which to spend the gifts God has entrusted to us.  If we don’t spend them before time is up, then the opportunity is lost.  The benefit is squandered.

Did you realize that God has entrusted you with gifts like time, relationships, talents, insights, and even spiritual gifts?  Have you ever thought about the urgency of “spending” those while you have the opportunity?

Something to ponder as we move into the glorious season of springtime here in Maryland.  What is that opportunity that’s calling you?

  • It might be a new initiative
  • It might be a new relationship
  • It might be a difficult conversation
  • It might be a change in your habits (big or small)
  • It might be a turn in the direction of your life
  • It might be a need in someone else’s life that you’re uniquely positioned to help meet

Why not use the resources and assets at your disposal and spend them now while you can?

-Pastor Mark

The trouble with the land of milk and honey

Last weekend I had the privilege of spending time with Eliudi Issangya, a friend and colleague from Tanzania.  After seeing vending machines for automobiles and experiencing next-day delivery from you-know-who, he made the following observation:

“America is the land of milk and honey.”

It’s a phrase from the pages of the Bible, often used to describe the “promised land” that God would provide for the nation of Israel.  But Eliudi observed that it’s easy for people who grow up in a place like the US (a land of abundance) to assume this is how everyone lives.

They don’t.

I mean, we know that, but we forget that.  Living with so much abundance and opportunity can lull us into a slumber that closes our eyes to the harsh realities of much of the world that struggles with injustice, poverty, and scarce resources.  (And yes, I realize that there are those in this country who struggle with the same things.)

That’s what led him to comment that it would be good for more of us to travel internationally, to see some of the rest of the world.  It changes a person when they travel.  It sharpens our focus.  It awakes us from slumber.  If you’ve never had the opportunity to visit the
“majority world” (a.k.a. the “two-thirds” world), I would encourage you to put it on your bucket list.

Something else happens in this land of milk and honey.  We grow complacent.  We think this is it.  As C.S. Lewis put it, “we’re too easily pleased.”  We think the good life is found here.  We believe that a big paycheck, a big house, a big family, and a big nest-egg are the pinnacle of life.

They’re not.

There is a land “flowing with milk and honey,” though.  It’s called the kingdom of God (or sometimes the kingdom of heaven).  And the amenities and comforts that we look for here pale in comparison.  Not because they’re not good, but because they don’t really satisfy.  What we long for is what God offers.  He offers it in part now, as we experience a relationship with God through Jesus.  And he offers it in full when Jesus returns.  At that time we will experience God face to face.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.  (1 Corinthians 13:12)

So as we enter the season of Lent, it might be helpful to set aside a bit of milk and honey in order to see more clearly.  Not just to see the world around us, but to see the world that God is ultimately calling us to.

-Pastor Mark

P.S. Thank you to all of you who contributed to our efforts to provide funds for the shipping containers destined for Tanzania.  If you’d like more info on the ministry there, check out this website.

Breaking thru the winter of your soul

Chances are you’ll read this on a day when it’s once again snowy here in Maryland.  The forecast is for a few more inches of winter.  But there are also signs that spring is breaking thru.

There’s also a chance that you’ll read this on a day when there’s a bit of winter in your soul.  No one is immune from the bleak, gray and cold seasons of the soul.  Your prayers seem to be anemic at best.  Your passion for seeking God is a dim memory.  Your soul feels heavy and dead.  And you wonder if any of it is even real.

The good news is that you can cultivate your own spring-time for your soul.  That’s essentially what Lent is about.  During the next several weeks (beginning next Wednesday, March 6th) you can till the soil of your soul and plant and nurture the seeds that will burst into full bloom on Resurrection Sunday.

Maybe Lent has left a bad taste in your mouth.  Let me encourage you to try it again.  But try it as a gardener who is cultivating a fertile plot of soil in your soul, not as a drudgery or duty that you’re forced to fulfill.

  • If you choose to abstain from some activity or luxury, do it because it will make your heart more receptive to your heavenly Father.
  • If you want to add some spiritual practice to your routine, do it with the expectancy that it will help you hear your Creator speak into your life.
  • And if you’d like to use a helpful resource, you can check out one of the following:

A Bible reading plan on YouVersion

A downloadable 9 week study plan

In light of our recent message on building a better posse, why not invite someone else to join you in your preparation for Spring?

You may be experiencing a winter time in your soul, but spring is just around the corner!

-Pastor Mark

When your hero makes the headlines

This week our nation celebrated Presidents Day. It’s a time to honor those who’ve played a crucial role in the founding and direction of our country. But Presidents come with baggage.

When you start to dig into the lives of our most revered Presidents, you discover they all had “feet of clay.” Maybe it was the way they treated women. Or animals. Or people of color. Or their political opponents. Maybe it was their view of education, or science, or immigrants, or the economy. Dig very far and you’ll likely unearth some unflattering truths about the leaders you hold in high regard.

I’ve watched over the years as heroes of the Christian faith have likewise been exposed as flawed, sometimes fallen leaders. The #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements have simply been one more nail in the coffin of our heroes.

It can be disheartening to discover that your favorite historical hero had an ugly side. Maybe they were simply a product of their time. Maybe they were victims of bad circumstances or bad advice. Or maybe they were like all of us: deeply flawed.

Turns out that even the heroes of the Bible suffer from the same fate. Noah walked off the boat and fell off the wagon. Abraham believed God, except when he didn’t. Moses had a temper and a rap sheet. David covered up his infidelity by murdering an innocent man. Peter struggled to keep his promises. The list goes on and on.

Does this mean we shouldn’t make heroes? Probably. And probably not.

If we want heroes to inspire us to be courageous, compassionate, and victorious over injustice, then yes.

But if we want someone else to fulfill our dreams of the perfect human, then no. Because none of our heroes can do that consistently. Well, except one. But we don’t often think of him as a hero. He was, though. Jesus’ own life was the epitome of courage, compassion, and justice. There are no skeletons in his closet, no peccadillos in his past.

So we should make a hero out of the one true hero. We should look to him to inspire us to become a better human. And we should listen when he says, “Come, follow me.” Because who else is better qualified to be our hero/leader?

-Pastor Mark

A valentine poem

I’m not really into poetry. I don’t mind it, but I usually don’t get it. I’m sure it’s not the poem…it’s me.  But sometimes we click, poetry and me.  Like this one.

(A poem about love)

Love cares more for others than for self.

Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.

Love doesn’t strut,

Doesn’t have a swelled head,

Doesn’t force itself on others,

Isn’t always “me first,”

Doesn’t fly off the handle,

Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,

Doesn’t revel when others grovel,

Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,

Puts up with anything,

Trusts God always,

Always looks for the best,

Never looks back,

But keeps going to the end.

Stirring words indeed.  Something to seep down past the mental defenses and penetrate into the heart of the reader (me).  Words to live by.  Words to live up to.

I’m writing this on Valentine’s Day, a day in which our nation turns itself inside out to gush about love.  Much of the gushing is just a lot of hooey.  Because real love is the kind of stuff in the poem.  If the words in that poem ring a bell, perhaps you’ve heard them before.  Maybe at a wedding.

They’re not really about romantic love and weddings and stuff.  They’re about real life.  They’re part of a larger explanation of real love that was written a long time ago.  Here’s the entire section:

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.

If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self.

Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head, doesn’t force itself on others, isn’t always “me first,” doesn’t fly off the handle, doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, doesn’t revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end.

Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.

When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.

We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.  (The Message, 1 Corinthians 13)

So in the shadow of Valentine’s Day, the question for each of us is this: Do we know what real love is?  Are we able to really love someone else?  Are we living the valentine poem?

-Pastor Mark