I’ll admit it: My family creates gift lists for Christmas. They’re a guideline, not a mandate. And they serve a useful purpose. But there’s a problem, maybe two problems with them.
The first problem is that they reduce the surprise factor. I mean, if the gifts you unwrap are the ones you requested, it’s not super-surprising. Enjoyable, but not shocking.
But the second (real) problem is that the gifts on the list aren’t the ones we really want. Yes, we might desire those items, but the gifts that would truly satisfy and surprise us are seldom on the list. Gifts like:
- Deep and enduring joy
- Freedom from destructive habits
- Profound sense of purpose
- Life-giving relationships
- Healing from the wounds that cut to the soul
- The ability to accept ourselves for who God made us to be
You actually can put these on a Christmas list. But then give the list to the right person. Give it to God. Why not spend a little time “wishing” for these things (a.k.a. prayer) from your Heavenly Father? He is, after all, the giver of all good gifts.
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)
You could use a prayer like this: “Heavenly Father, here are some things I could really, really use right now in my life…”
And as we discovered last Sunday in listening to Mary’s song (Magnificat),
He has filled the hungry with good things. (Luke 1:53)
I know it’s a busy season. But all the more reason to seek the gifts that we truly long for. We need those “good things” now more than ever.
P.S. Keep leaning into the Advent Devotional. It’s a powerful, simple, daily way to make this a December that’s better than ever.
P.P.S. If you want a jump-start in 2018 for acquiring the kinds of gifts on the list above, let me encourage you to register for our next Rooted Experience which starts on January 16th. Details are here.
News flash: the government is collecting information about your phone calls and emails. Maybe that’s a good thing.
Okay, if you’re a civil libertarian or conspiracy theorist, you should stop reading now and start writing your email explaining why I’m off my rocker. Otherwise, please read on.
I’m not saying this as a politician or historian or legal scholar. I’m saying this as a pastor. My concern is to help people connect with the God who made them, and live the life he designed them for. And what I’ve observed is that we struggle to do both of those because of the secrets we carry.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve wondered, “Why is this person not growing…why are they stuck in their life/faith.” Only later do I discover they’ve been living with secrets. And only when those secrets are brought into the light can the person begin to make progress. A phrase from the recovery movement sums it up well:
You’re only as sick as your secrets.
So as a pastor who wants to help people I know that giving SOMEONE access to what’s inside your life might well be the best thing you could possibly do. Maybe the federal government, or the NSA, or PRISM is not ideally suited for this task. In which case, find someone who is. Join a Converge group. Seek out a spiritual friend. Sit down with a church staff member. And begin to get honest about your life and your secrets. You’ve been living with that toxic secret long enough.
In the world of Facebook, you can “like” someone’s picture, update, status, or whatever. The more people who click on your “like” button, the better you feel about yourself. But what if we all had a literal “like” button?
What if you could just randomly walk through the room and hit people’s “like” button? Think of what a Seneca Creek Sunday worship gathering may look like. Hundreds of people walk in with the cares of the world on their shoulders. They walk in knowing they’ve blown it this week. They walk in wondering if the horrible things others have said about them are really true. And then…they walk out with the full awareness that they are “liked” by those who know them…and even those who don’t! They walk out encouraged! I mean, seriously, who DOESN’T like to be liked?
What’s interesting is that Jesus’ instructions to his followers were to “love one another.” And as Jean Vanier put it, “love reveals the beauty of another person to themselves.” Do you remember the last time someone revealed something beautiful about you TO you? I’m guessing that you remember it very well indeed. You’ll probably never forget it, right?
If you think that gathering on Sunday is just about listening to me preach, or rockin’ with the music, you’ve missed a big part. If you slide in after we start, and slip out before we finish, you’ve been robbed! Part of the value of gathering together is to “reveal the beauty of others” to themselves. It sounds like, “You know what I really appreciate about you…” Our gatherings are about conversations that result in hitting someone’s “like” button. That means yours. And that means the other person’s.
Maybe the writer of Hebrews was thinking about Facebook when he wrote,
Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Heb. 10:24
So this week, when you step into the facility at 13 Firstfield, see how many “like” buttons you can press before you leave. And see if you don’t end up encouraged and ready to take on the week!
P.S. There’s a “like” button at the bottom of this post…in case you were wondering. 🙂
Did you know that Montgomery County has been running an annual “Community Service Week” for the last 25 years? Here’s my embarrassing confession: I’ve lived in this county for 22 of those 25 years, and I only found out about it a few months ago.
You may be wondering why I thought this was worth writing about. Here’s why. The week of serving happens to coincide with our annual “Ignite Sunday,” when we serve our community because God served us! And this year we’ve decided to expand Ignite Sunday to an entire week. It will be Ignite Week. What’s more, since it’s the 25th year for the county’s program, they’re shooting for 25,000 people to volunteer and serve during the week of October 16 to 22.
In the last couple years we’ve had almost 500 people serve at Ignite Sunday. And that’s during a small, two hour window on Sunday morning. So I believe that since we have an entire week, we can double that. Our goal is to get 1,000 people volunteering to serve in the community during that week. You read that right. One church, one week, 1,000 people. 1 + 1 = 1,000. “But Mark, that’s bigger than our Sunday services combined!” I know that. But you know all those friends you’d like to invite to Seneca Creek, but they’re just not “into church?” Well, here’s your chance. Invite them to serve with you!
Why are we doing this? Because God calls us to serve in the name of Christ. And because when we do, not only do we ignite HOPE, but we experience God’s work in our own lives! We need to do this as much as the community needs people to serve.
We’re obviously going to need everyone’s help on this, including your ideas on where and how we can serve during that week. We’ll be talking more about it in the coming weeks, but start praying and looking for opportunities now. Opportunities to serve. Opportunities to invite. Opportunities to ignite HOPE! It’s gonna’ be a great week!
Footnote: I met with a group of county officials yesterday as they were planning this event. When I told them about our goal, they were ecstatic! They’re hoping that we can inspire other churches to get involved in serving this community as well. Let’s all work together and raise the bar for followers of Christ throughout the county!
Oh, and don’t miss the exciting Baptism Celebration this Sunday during both services! Come early, as seating will be near capacity. See you then.