Pastor Mark's Weekly Blog, Uncategorized

Submit Yourself to God Pt 1

Submit Yourselves to God Part 1
James 4:1-6

Within the Book of James are various crescendos.  He builds up a teaching to a climax and then sums it up with a powerful conclusion.  In chapter 1, he crescendos to say, “Pure and faultless religion is this: to care for the orphan and the widow.”  In chapter 2, he crescendos to say, “Faith without works is dead.”  In chapter 3, he crescendos to say, “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.  This should not be.”  As we enter into chapter 4 this week, James will crescendo to say, in all these things, “Submit yourselves to God.”  

This week, James will outline two kinds of wisdom – one is earthly and comes from the ‘desires that battle within us’, the other is heavenly and comes from God.   One is unspiritual and demonic and characterized by envy, jealousy, and selfishness.  The other is pure and characterized by humility, submission, mercy, peace-loving, and impartial.  James compares ‘followers of Jesus’ who engage in earthly wisdom as ‘adulterous’ and an ‘enemy of God.’  What is James counsel?  He reminds us that God is gracious.  That God is jealous for us and implores us to ‘Submit ourselves to God.’ 

Brothers and sisters in Christ, God loves us jealously.  He is wooing us to be completely devoted to his rule in our life.  He is asking us to submit to the working of the Holy Spirit in everything we say and do.  

The context of James’ words are to a people prone to quarreling and fighting.  He says this is so because of the desires that battle within us.  Apparently what we say to one another and how we say it to one another matters deeply to God.  Our interactions with one another give evidence to the Spirit that rules our hearts and minds.  

Someone said to me this week,  “I’m having a difficult time with James.  Hits too close to home.”  I resemble that remark.  I get it. This week again, James will give us relief.  He says, “But he (God) gives more grace.”  And next James will open the door to freedom; “Resist the Devil.  Come near to God.  Wash your hands and purify your hearts.  Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up.”

PS: My pastor from Beaver Falls, PA during the first seven years of our marriage will be with us in worship, Lord willing, this coming Sunday.  Our time at the Evangelical Free Church of Chippewa, PA was instrumental in pursuing being a pastor.  I hope to shorten my message by a bit to give Pastor Lee time to comment on the passage of the day.  Looking forward to this.

In Jesus name,  
Pastor Mark 

Morgan’s notes from last Sunday’s message…

Pastor Mark's Weekly Blog, Uncategorized

Taming the Tongue

Taming the Tongue
James 3:1-12

God’s word is timeless and relevant to all people of all time.  This week’s passage from James 3:1-12 reminds us of the power and purpose of God’s word, to shape us into the people he has redeemed us and called us to be.

Through the voice of James chapter 1, God encourages to ‘be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.’  Then in chapter 2, God encourages us to have our faith and deeds work together, for our faith profession to engage our faith expressions faithfully.  All the while bringing wisdom to how unity in community can flourish.    

And now in chapter 3, James powerfully and illustratively encourages us to keep close watch and control over our tongues.  James employs more than seven word images in only twelve verses to stimulate our senses and engage our experiences in order to gain a deeper understanding of the power of our tongue, words that are spoken one to another, for both blessing and curse.  James pours out much wisdom for us in James chapter 3.   

This week we are moving indoors for worship due to colder temperatures.  A special email will be sent to you soon with our guidelines and procedures for our safe worship together.  There will be a link in the guidelines to a signup genius for you to let us know of your attendance plans.  Please utilize this signup genius.  It will help us better prepare for the best and safest indoor worship experience for all.  Online streaming of the worship service will continue to be available.    

In getting ready for Sunday, read chapter three of James, only twelve verses, but packed with amazing illustrations and powerful insight.  How many illustrations can you see in these few verses?  How many comparisons between something small controlling something larger can you identify?  Looking forward to Sunday!

May the Peace of God, Grace of Jesus, and the Power of the Holy Spirit be with you,
Pastor Mark

Morgan’s notes from last Sunday’s message…

Pastor Mark's Weekly Blog, Uncategorized

Faith and Deeds

Faith and Deeds
James 2:14-26

In our study of James, we have been exploring the relationship between faith and works and how it’s connected to salvation.  If you have a few minutes – check this video out: you do the math – igniter video

Does this help in getting a better handle on the relationship between faith, salvation, and works?  I hope at least a little. 

In Sunday’s text, James 2:14-26, James says point blank, “Faith without works is dead.”  He goes further to say it’s ‘barren’ and doesn’t have the power to ‘save or justify.’  James goes further to illustrate that faith is made ‘complete alongside works.’  

James Mitton once said, “It is a good thing to possess accurate theology or belief, but it is unsatisfactory unless that good theology also possesses us.”  Nice.  

James does an interesting thing in this passage by setting up a foil – an imaginary objector, “You have faith but I have works” and then begins to argue against this kind of thinking.  It’s quite effective how his teaching unfolds.    

What I want to know is if James’ teaching on faith and works is in conflict with Paul when he says, “It is by faith that we are saved.  Not of ourselves, it is a gift of God.”  Short answer is ‘no.’  A longer answer will come on Sunday – See you then!

To my brothers and sisters in Christ,
     Pastor Mark

Morgan’s notes from last Sunday’s message…

Pastor Mark's Weekly Blog, Uncategorized

Favoritism Forbidden

Favoritism Forbidden, Guest Speaker Jacci Busch
James 2:1-13

‘Be quick to listen (hear what others say), slow to speak (don’t guess at what they are saying – continue to listen and clarify) and slow to become angry (emotional outbursts can cause regret and relational harm)…’  James 1:19.  Enough said :).  

That being said… we continue Sunday in our exploration of the Book of James by reflecting on favoritism or showing partiality.  James goes after our tendency to make judgments of one another based on external considerations, such as physical appearance, social status, or race.  Why?  Because God is impartial when it comes to these things and we are called to imitate Him.  

Listen to God speak to his people from Deuteronomy 10, “The Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.  He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner/foreigner, giving him food and clothing.”  And Leviticus 19:15, “You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great.”

Ways in which we tend to show favoritism is through forms of discrimination, slander of another, or judgments of outward appearance.  We may not think we are partial or show favoritism of one person over another in these ways.  But if we think this James says we deceive ourselves.  

I’m reminded of the Beatitudes of Jesus in James’ words, “Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not shown mercy.”  This only affirms Jesus words from the Sermon on the Mount “Do not judge or you too will be judged.  For in the way you judge others, you too will be judged and with the measure you use , it will be measured to you.”  

For all of James strong ‘in your face’ teaching, he champions mercy… God’s mercy that flows through us to those around us.  

We welcome Pastor Jacci Busch to Crestview once again to bring our message this Sunday from James 2:1-13.  In October, our special offering for the month will be for the Nieburs.  We are planning to celebrate communion together once again on October 18th.  

The Lord bless you and keep you,

Morgan’s notes from last Sunday’s message…

Pastor Mark's Weekly Blog, Uncategorized

Listening and Doing

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. James 1:23-24

Listening and Doing
James 1:19-27

James, the younger brother of Jesus, is zealous for a faith profession (words) that matches up with faith expression (deeds).  In this week’s text, James 1:19-27, he defines living out our faith profession looks like being ‘quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry’ and caring ‘for the widow, the orphan, and not being polluted by the world.’  These things bring about our salvation.

Now I don’t think this means that we earn our salvation by doing these things.  James isn’t promoting a works = righteousness kind of salvation.  He is after authenticity in our words and behaviors that demonstrate the human hearts response to God’s grace in Jesus Christ. It does seem true that if we were to engage in the behaviors that James promotes in these verses, we would ‘save’ ourselves much grief – the grief of hypocrisy, of criticism of others, and from our own rudeness, abrasiveness, condemnation and judgment of self and others.
In fact, if we practice what we profess in following Jesus, we will experience blessing and the culture around us will experience transformation as well.  James teaching goes to the core of what it means to be ‘salt and light’ in the world.  This emphasis of James is an echo of Jesus own words.  For example, in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!…whoever practices and teaches these commands of mine will be called great in the Kingdom of heaven… Anyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise person building their life on the rock.  Anyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is a foolish one, building their life on sand.”
When our faith profession is lived out in faithful expression there is Kingdom transformation, for our own heart and life and for the world and culture around us.

James has a passion for followers of Jesus to be ‘in the world but not of it.’  We are to avoid ‘worldliness’ while at the same time avoiding ‘other worldliness.’  What does that mean?  How does that look?  It’s walking the line of being the world, but not of the world, engaged in everyday living under God’s Kingdom rule.  We avoid being only concerned about current earthly affairs, pleasure pursuits and selfish lusts, human honor and fame, a heart bent on selfish gain.  While at the same time, we avoid only being concerned with the inner spiritual world, that tends to live in the private spaces of solitude in the heart and mind, leaning always toward the ‘life to come,’ ‘pie in the sky when I die,’ being unconcerned or uninvolved with world affairs, being inattentive to the world’s present needs.  We live as Christ followers in the space of being in the world, but not of the world.  Christ followers are both world denying and world affirming.  This makes Christianity quite unique to other religions/philosophies of the world that tend to lean one way or the other.  We live in God’s world, called to avoid both tendencies to ‘worldliness’ and ‘other worldliness’ to pursue a life where God’s heart and our deep gladness in God meet the worlds deep need in life giving word and behavior. 
Message for Sunday: Listening and Doing in Three Parts, James 1:19-27.  

See you Sunday, see you soon – God’s Kingdom come and His will be done,Pastor Mark  

Morgan’s notes from last Sunday’s message…

Pastor Mark's Weekly Blog, Uncategorized

Source of Temptation

Source of Temptation
James 1:13-18

Sunday September 21st, we dive into James 1:13-18 with a message entitled – FAITH DOES: Source of Temptation – Born Identity.  James moves us from considering the impact of trials, tribulations, and challenges to our faith to considering the nature of temptations and their impact on our faith.  Temptations and trials are not the same thing.  They are different and impact our lives differently.  

Trials have the potential to grow our faith.  Temptations have a way of steering our faith into a ditch.  Trials are often events and realities that happen around us, to us, arriving in our life from outside happenings.  Temptations are often realities that we engage from desires that war within us.  Trials often are invitations to grow in faith.  Temptations are often invitations that simply need to be resisted.  Trails are an invitation to rise above the wind and waves of life… temptations that are engaged in tend to drag us under in their undertow.  

Scripture addresses trials and temptations in many different places from many different angles.  And James has his take on it too.  When it comes to trials and tribulations, it’s important to lean into our identity in Christ.  Is our identity rooted in our own sinful desires (born identity)?  Or is our identity in Christ (our reborn identity)? 

See you Sunday!
Pastor Mark  

Morgan’s notes from last Sunday’s message

Pastor Mark's Weekly Blog, Uncategorized

Testing Faith

Testing of Faith
James 1:1-12

Sunday we dive into the Book of James.  Already this week, James will challenge our common ideas of grace.  We know that ‘it is by grace that we have been saved, through faith – and this is not from ourselves, it is a gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.’ (Ephesians 2:4-9) Yet James says, ‘Faith (the receiving of grace) without works is dead.’  How are we to understand this? 

It has been an age-old struggle for people to understand the relationship between ‘grace and works’ when it comes to faith and salvation and the ‘good life.’  It also reveals the struggle we often have with understanding the relationship between the saving work of Jesus Christ and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit.  

Among followers of Christ, it has been my experience that each of us tends to swing toward one side of the pendulum between ‘grace and works’ – emphasizing one belief or expression more than the other.  And thus, our dilemma.  If we swing toward grace we are in danger of making ‘grace cheap’ and downplaying the importance of works.  If we swing toward works we are in danger of engaging in a ‘works righteousness.’  

James is not attempting to swing us in either direction, even though it may seem he wants us to swing toward works.  Sometimes he is providing a corrective to cheap grace. Most of the time it is a both/and.  

I’m looking forward to exploring this relationship between grace, faith, and works on Sundaywith you and see if the both/and approach to grace/works doesn’t help us understand James’ challenging words for us.

Sunday we begin, James 1:1-12.  I invite you to engage.  Read the text before Sunday and ask: How can one have joy in the midst of trial and challenge?  How can one ask God for what they need and not doubt?  How does someone in ‘humble circumstances’ take pride in their high position?  How does a rich person take pride in humiliation?  How is it that one can persevere under trial?  

I believe a powerful insight into the answers are connected to our understanding of grace and works.  

See you Sunday,
Pastor Mark 

Pastor Mark's Weekly Blog, Uncategorized

And So It Begins…The Book Of James

And So It Begins… The Book Of James

Sunday we intro into the Book of James.  It is believed by many that the author of James is Jesus younger brother.  This will add some ‘twists and turns’ for us in imagining how this reality plays out for Jesus younger brother as he becomes a leader in the Jerusalem church after Jesus’ death and resurrection.   James is known by historians as being zealous for righteousness and in his writing he pulls no punches.  He lands his powerful teaching straight to the jaw of believers.  He is known as ‘James the Just.’  So I am going to refer to him as ‘Justy James.’  I’ll explain that one further on Sunday.  

The NIV Study Bible says ‘The Book of James is intensely practical.”  That’s an understatement!  James, at every turn, encourages followers of Jesus to do what the word says, to give evidence of your faith through deeds.  This teaching of James created some trouble for some famous people like Martin Luther.  James’s strong emphasis on ‘Faith without Works is Dead’ messes with people’s understanding of grace.  Whether responding well to trials, praying fervently, controlling our tongues, cultivating wisdom and actions of peace, or using material resources to honor God, James emphasizes that ‘FAITH DOES.’  Strap on your seatbelt as James brings it to us straight.  Then unstrap your seatbelt and get moving – put your faith into action!

Also, notice the picture shown here of notes from last weeks sermon.  Morgan, our middle daughter has been doing this for years already.  As she takes in a message, she draws and takes notes – a live ‘sermon illustrator.’  I will share these from time to time as notes and images that may help bring the truth of God’s word to life – a reminder of where we were a week ago.

Peace to you in the name of Jesus, 

Pastor Mark    

Pastor Mark's Weekly Blog, Uncategorized

The Power is Already in the Seed

The Power is Already in the Seed
The Gospel of Mark, ch 4

Crestview family, this week, we have a ‘tweener’ message between our series of Live Wide Awake (Summer 2020) and The Book of James (beginning September 6th – Nov 22nd).  This is a great opportunity to focus on a pointed emphasis of Jesus’ teachings on the Kingdom of God.    Jesus teaches about the Kingdom of God often in parables.  

Parables are short stories that open up a world of truth.  There is a concrete comparison in every parable of Jesus that isn’t a deep mystery to figure out.  Yet, every parable of Jesus about the Kingdom of God invites the imagination to wonder about its profound reality.  And Jesus teaches in parables knowing that some will understand and ‘get it’ and others will not.    

We will explore some truths about the Kingdom of God: What is it?  How do we see it?  Where do we recognize it?  How does it come into being?  How does it affect our everyday life?  Why is it important?  

Good stuff for Sunday.  Can’t go wrong with the Word of God.  We will be focusing on Mark chapter 4 where Mark weaves together a series of parables about the Kingdom of God and seeds.  One idea that will come through clearly is that the power of God is already in the seed.  And the seed will grow in God’s time and in God’s way.  Concrete comparisons can be understood from these parables about the seed while at the same time our imaginations can be encouraged to wonder about the reality of the Kingdom of God.

See you Sunday,
Pastor Mark  

Pastor Mark's Weekly Blog, Uncategorized

Live Wide Awake: Trust!

We are in a new Summer Series from Laura Degroot’s book: Live Wide Awake

Luke 11, Matthew 6

It has been good to see people at our outdoor worship venue on the grounds of Crestview Church the past two weeks.  Live streaming also went well from the feedback we have received.  Let us know if you have any other feedback for us on how we can further enhance the experience for those of you who are attending from home.  

This week we wrap up our summer series that highlighted Scriptures based on the main themes from Laura DeGroot’s book, Live Wide Awake.  Thanks to Laura for her engagement with us over the summer through her book, bringing a message in the series, several conversations with me, and her engagement with the Women’s Bible Study.  

As we conclude our summer series this Sunday, I will give a brief sweeping review of the themes we encountered and then dive into a passionate presentation of what causes me to Live Wide Awake. This will include Scripture that provides kindling to the fire that fuels my life on a regular basis and various quotes by other LIve Wide Awake kind of people that stimulate my faith.  

I couldn’t keep up in the writing of this week’s message with the speed of my mind and heart in preparation.  When God’s truth and salvation, life and light, come together in the human heart, there is an explosion of sorts… That is what happened for me this week.  To God be the glory.

Looking forward to Sunday already, with the intentional window of time set aside to be in God’s Word and presence with you.  In this time where there is confusion, wondering, struggle, and challenges, it’s important to ‘cling to what is necessary’ (Gregory of Nyssa, 4th Century).   

As we step into the Book of James beginning Labor Day weekend, James 1:2-3 speaks of trials.  The ‘testing of our faith produces perseverance so we might be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  What does that look like?  A preview of what is to come.

In Him,
Pastor Mark