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

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

Look to Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of Our Faith

Pastor Mark has currently postponed the message series: Seven Paths leading to darkness, Seven Paths leading to light. 

Fixing our Eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our Faith

Hebrews 12:1-3

“May the peace (and love) of God rule in your (our) hearts…  may the message of Christ dwell among you (us) richly…”   (Colossians 3:15-16).  God is calling us to find our home in Him.  As we ‘shelter’ at home, keep this in mind, as followers of Jesus, we find our shelter and home in Jesus, an inexhaustible well of goodness and grace.  

This Sunday, the message is titled, Fixing our Eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our Faith.  This phrase comes from Hebrews 12:1-3, a context of people in the midst of struggle and challenge – much like our present situation for many of us and many around the world. 

I would like to dive into the reality of suffering and explore how we are to understand it and respond to it as followers of Jesus.  In seminary, 20 years ago now, we were given a book to read for a Soteriology class (the study of the doctrine of salvation).  In this book, Douglass John Hall opened up the understanding for me of the Theology of the Cross.  

Suffering, as it turns out, is a part of becoming.  The suffering of becoming is how God designed us to grow, develop, and mature.  It was present in the good creation from the beginning and continues now, even in a broken and fallen world.  Certainly there is good suffering and bad suffering.  There is suffering as becoming and suffering as burden.

We will briefly consider 4 sufferings of becoming (loneliness, experience of limits, temptation and anxiety) and then ‘fix our eyes on Jesus who is the author and perfector of our faith.’ What can we learn from our Lord Jesus when it comes to our own suffering and the suffering of others?  

The answer to this question, revealed to me through Douglass John Hall 20 years ago, and then discovered in Scripture and in the life of Jesus blew me away – it was deeply profound.  It lies in answering this question: How did God answer our suffering?  

Sunday, I will try and put words to what God’s answer to this is… 

Humbly yours,
Pastor Mark

Here is this week’s video reflection/meditation:    

View Lenten Devotional Booklet Here

Pastor Mark's Weekly Blog, Uncategorized

Listening, Faith, Mary and Joseph


Its already the 4th week of Advent this Sunday 9:30am worship and then we follow that up with a Christmas Eve service on Monday at 5:30pm!  Invite your friends and neighbors.  Gather your family together and make worship a priority for your family Christmas celebration this season.  Is Jesus not the reason for the season?  All other things seem to pale in comparison.

I began this Advent season with a reflection on the need to make space for the coming of Jesus to the human heart.  How has that been going for you over the past three weeks?  Now is the time.  On Sunday, we will reflect on this phrase in Luke 2, “Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.”  Mary intentionally made space for the Savior of the world in more ways than one.  She carried the Savior, gave birth to the Savior, held the Savior, nursed the Savior, sang the Savior to sleep, began raising the Savior… (you get the picture!) She made room for the Savior and in those early days can imagine all that she pondered, reflected on, and prayed into.  What a wonder this baby Jesus would have been.

Mary and Joseph are wonderful examples of God’s people listening, responding in faith and surrender, and stepping forward in obedience.  Here is something to ponder and reflect on: How do both Mary and Joseph demonstrate listening, faith, surrender and obedience?  Take a look at the early chapters in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John before Jesus was born.  How does Mary respond to the news that she will become pregnant by the Holy Spirit and give birth to the Savior of the World?  How does Joseph respond to the news of Mary’s pregnancy?  What is the initial reactions?  What are the steps of faith demonstrated after they encounter the angels?

See you Sunday!  In the Advent spirit – waiting… can’t wait!

Pastor Mark

Pastor Mark's Weekly Blog, Uncategorized

Upside Down, Inside Out, Faith or Doubt

Blog banner with the image of a highway and the word: "Journey" for the study of the Book of Matthew.
Doubt.  It’s the in thing these days.  Instead of ‘don’t believe everything you hear’ the new motto is ‘don’t believe much of anything.’  It almost seems that if you have lots of doubts you receive extra kudos – like an authentic badge of honor.

In our text for Sunday, Jesus makes a powerful statement to the disciples about faith and their need for it.  On his way back into Jerusalem, Jesus is hungry and stops at a fig tree to grab a snack.  There are no figs to be found.  He curses the tree and it withers.  The disciples are amazed and wonder how this could happen so fast.

Jesus reply, 
“Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. 22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

Is this for real?  What does Jesus mean exactly?  I’ve asked God for different things, believing I’m asking in faith, and didn’t get it.  So what gives?  And what is the relationship between faith and doubt?  Can I possess both and still be a faithful follower of Jesus?

An interesting discussion on this one.  Jesus gives a little insight into the answers with three parables in succession about two Sons who responded differently to a Father’s request, some tenants who messed up in caring for an owners vineyard, and a surprised guest at a wedding getting unexpected treatment.  Faith takes on many different faces.

Title for Sunday’s Sermon: Upside Down, Inside Out, Faith or Doubt from Matthew 21:18-22:14.

See you Sunday,

Pastor Mark

Pastor Mark's Weekly Blog, Uncategorized

Advent Series: The Gift of Faith

Blog banner with the image of a highway and the word: "Journey" for the study of the Book of Matthew.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this week, we have so much to be thankful for!  Check out this fun you tube video.
God give us a gratitude attitude!  This past week Deone and I were given the gift of time with our girls. I was able to be on the receiving end of a sermon and a great worship experience.  The pastor spoke on gratitude.  As I sat there my head and heart collided with emotion.  Looking down the row, I was overwhelmed by the goodness of God to me in the gift of my wife Deone and our three girls, and blessed with a wonderful son in law.And this is only the beginning of what God has done for me.  His gifts are amazing and abundant from salvation to Dentist’s (needed some emergency attention last week) to friendship to bicycles.  How about you?  What are you thankful for and how is your heart’s gratitude attitude?The level of negativity and angst in our culture is high.  We are going to continue to focus our hearts and eyes on Jesus during this Advent season.  God has given us amazing gifts through Jesus Christ our Lord.  This Sunday, we will focus on the gift of faith (Nov 26).  In the coming weeks we will focus on the gift of transparency (Dec 3), childlikeness (Dec 10), invitation and grace (Dec 17).

Sunday we will focus on the gift of faith.  On our AB line RTD ride to DIA this past week our bus was packed with millennial’s.  College students were fleeing town for family Thanksgiving celebrations.  In the middle of one of our conversations I was asked “How do you define faith?”  I paused before answering… and out came this reply, “Faith is believing in something and someone bigger than yourself.”

On the plane trip to Michigan, a message for this Sunday was written, The Gift of Faith.  We will look at several stories in the Gospel of Matthew (8:5-13, 8:23-27, 9:18-26, 15:21-28, 16:5-12).  In all of these stories faith is directly addressed.  If someone were to ask you the question, “What is faith?”  How would you answer?

See you Sunday, come with an attitude of gratitude, anticipating and expecting to worship and meet with God.

See you Sunday,

Pastor Mark

 

Pastor Mark's Reflections

Faith, Doubt, and Asking of God


lighthouseThis video was taken in Holland on the western shoreline of Michigan. It reminds me of James 1:2-8. “Consider it pure joy my friends whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” Life throws us huge challenges. And the winds of tragedy, trauma, and depression blow from time to time. A lighthouse is an amazing example of perseverance. Day after day, month after month, year after year, the waves buffet the lighthouse.

According to James, trials produce perseverance… ‘Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” So now James is saying not only do trials produce perseverance – they develop maturity and completeness. This is a mystery. Yet a significant truth for a follower of Jesus.

The Gospel doesn’t promise that everything will be smooth sailing in life here on earth. The Gospel does promise that everything will be alright in the end and that his presence will be with us every step of the way to the end. Whether times are tough or times are not as tough, we are able to stand because of Jesus promises and presence with us.

What else does James say? He goes on from there to say, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double minded and unstable in all they do.”

This is interesting. When the waves of life do get rough – and they will from time to time, we are to ask God for what we need. Trust. Have faith. If we don’t have faith and trust in his promises and believe in his power and presence with us, we are like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. Instead of being like a lighthouse that stands in the storm, we are like a bobber blown every which way on the surface of a wave.

There is a famous picture taken of a man standing on one side of a lighthouse as a monstrous wave seems to swallow the lighthouse. Its the La Jument Lighthouse that guards the Iroise Sea, one of the most dangerous waters on earth. A photographer Jean Guichard shot this from a helicopter, of the lighthouse keeper Theodore Malgorn on December 21, 1989. Its a good analogy of God with us in the middle of the storms of life. We can ride it out with God’s presence with us and with faith in his promises.