Blog Archives

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

When Valentine’s Day and Lent collide

I’m writing this blog on February 14th the traditional observance of Valentine’s Day.  It’s also Ash Wednesday, the traditional beginning of Lent.  Here’s why this collision of holidays is a good thing.

On Valentine’s Day we’re inundated with candy, roses, and hearts.  Hearts, hearts, and more hearts.  You remember those “conversation hearts” candies, right?  Little cute sayings like, “Be Mine, Sweetheart, Love You,” and so on.  Heart-shaped cards, heart-shaped food, heart-shaped dishes, and heart-shaped everything.

But Lent is also about the heart.  Not that pretend one with cupid’s arrow in it, but the heart that is the center of you.  Some might say that Lent is just about remembering Jesus’ suffering.  But dig deeper.  WHY did he suffer?  Why did he go to the cross?  It was so you could have a new heart.  He even said that our hearts are the fountain of evil that consumes us.  (Matthew 15:19)  Only with a new heart can we love well.  That includes loving God, loving others, and even loving our selves appropriately.

So as we embark on the journey of Lent I would encourage you to think about your heart.  Where is it bent out of shape?  Where does it need to be renewed?  Then consider abstaining from something, or adopting a habit or practice for the next six weeks until Easter.  If you’d like some suggestions, I’ve written about this here, here, and here.

Feel free to share your Lent decisions in the comment section below.  Or not.  But know that the condition of your heart matters deeply to your heavenly father.  On Valentine’s Day, and every day.

-Pastor Mark

P.S. One of my Lent practices this year is to select one person each day and have focused prayer for them throughout that day. That includes listening to what God has to say about that person.  I’m open to suggestions.

P.P.S. If you’d like to engage in a Lent-focused Bible reading plan, this one is really good.

Resolutions: love ‘em or hate ‘em!

If you hate resolutions and New Year’s promises, then read no further.  Otherwise, here are a couple thoughts as we start off 2018.

You may be the kind of person who sincerely wants to make some changes in your overall well-being this year, including your spiritual life.  The biggest challenges we often run into are:

  1. Trying to change everything all at once. (E.g. trying to read the entire Bible in a month, praying for one hour a day, etc.)  We get overwhelmed, get discouraged, and give up.  Which then leads to…
  2. Believing that it’s futile to try to change at all.

Here are some practical ways to take manageable steps toward a better year:

  • Participate in our MLK Day of Service next Monday (assuming you have the day off work).
  • Take your daughter to the Father-Daughter dance and create that memory you know you want to have.
  • Improve your leadership skills at the two day “Lead Like Jesus” conference in February.
  • Experience Rooted, just like hundreds of others at Seneca Creek. Find out what the buzz it about, and connect with God, with the church, and with your purpose.
  • Try out a 10 week Converge group during the dead of winter.

Each of these are doable, time-limited, and sure to improve your spiritual health as you plunge into 2018.

If you try something not on this list, I’d love to hear what it is and how it’s working.  Use the comment section below.

I’m praying for you to have a God-filled 2018!

-Pastor Mark

P.S. Here’s a crazy list of New Year’s resolutions from philosophers throughout history, if you want to be stretched in other areas.

P.P.S. If you want to try a Bible reading program, there are hundreds of options at YouVersion.com. (Or check out the Bible app on your smartphone.)

When is the best time to stop learning?

School’s back in session in our region. Busses are rolling, teachers are prepped and ready, all so the students can continue learning.  But when does it stop?

Back to school season is a great time for all of us to pause and ponder this question: When should we stop learning?  Does learning end when you receive your diploma?  Does it end when you settle down to raise a family?  When you reach middle age?  When you retire?

The question might sound silly but what’s even sillier is that we can miss out on opportunities to actually help us grow.  Your employer might send you for the latest certification, or your job might require you to accumulate continuing education credits.  But beyond that, what can you to do keep learning?

May I suggest Rooted?  It’s an opportunity to learn the way most of us learn best, not by LISTENING but by DOING.  It’s not for nothing that it’s called the “Rooted Experience.”  You’ll learn how to connect better with God, with your church family, and with your God-given purpose.

If you’ve already taken Rooted, may I ask you to encourage a friend to follow in your footsteps?  Share with them the impact it had on your life.

If you’ve NOT already taken Rooted, may I encourage you to register for the Fall session?  (Click HERE to register.)  It starts next Tuesday, September 12th at 7 pm.  I promise you it will kick-start your learning.  And you’ll never be the same because of it. (Check out what others have said after taking Rooted here.)

I hope to see many of you there.  And regardless of your Rooted engagement this Fall, this is not the time to stop learning.  In the words of another preacher, “If you ain’t dead, you ain’t done.”

-Pastor Mark

P.S. If you missed last weekend we talked about the role of the Holy Spirit in helping us learn.  Check out the podcast HERE.

Mabye PRISM is a good thing…

Eavesdropping

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.

-Pastor Mark