Monday, October 31, 2005

More Positive Sermons Please...

More Positive Sermons Please

My father-in-law shared with me about the time he preached a sermon on the reality of Hell. Following the service, one individual approached him and admonished him, contending that Pastors should preach “more positive sermons,” and that Christians need to focus on God’s Love…not God’s Wrath.

Arguably there are pastors who will pacify listening ears with soft-pedaled messages on God’s Love and Goodness…. I apologize: I am not one of them. (Neither is my father-in-law.) The reality is that the Bible has a great deal to say about Hell. In fact, it has more to say about Hell than about Heaven. There are more passages that teach about Hell than teach about Heaven; there are more verses that describe the conditions of Hell than there are verses relaying the glorious setting of Heaven. To discard the subject of Hell is to refuse a portion of God’s Word. To reject God is to accept Hell.
People need to wake up to the reality of Hell. It was John the Baptist who cried out to the religious crowd, “…Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath.” (Matthew 3:7) True Believers know that the Bible -- both the Old and New Testaments combined -- promises Hell for sinners. The Apostle Paul tells us that even those who say they are Christians but persist in sin with no remorse will not enter Heaven. And if you don't go to Heaven, the only place left is Hell! To reject God is to accept Hell.

"Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the Kingdom of God.” - 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (NIV)

There are far too many people side-stepping the reality of hell. Some excuse themselves from the subject altogether – they simply deny the reality of Hell. Others theologically rationalize and declare, “God is too Loving to send anybody to Hell” -- they simply choose to see themselves as more wise than God. Still others choose to blame preachers for using “scare tactics” to unsettle people and force their repentance -- they simply refuse to acknowledge their own lost state. And there are -- of course -- those who mock the reality of Hell, turning the whole notion into comedic banter and unsettling jokes.

In today’s message, Christ offers a very vivid and dramatic story about a man who dies and wakes to find himself in Hell. In his utter misery, his one desire is for someone to go warn his five brothers about Hell so that they don’t also end up there when they die. His request is not granted. Even so, the man’s brothers are given the Scriptures. With God’s Word, they are fully equipped to understand the plan of Salvation, to accept it, and to avoid Hell altogether!

When you think about it, there is nothing more positive and loving than sharing the simple plan of Salvation. How is it anything but positive to steer people clear of this place called Hell? The Word of God is very plain. You must decide whether you believe the Bible or not. If you believe the Bible, you have to believe in Hell. To reject God is to accept Hell.
-- Pastor Mark

Friday, October 21, 2005

Religious But Lost

Religious But Lost
It was a moving testimony. It triggered a real spiritual awakening on campus. I remember well. We had a guest speaker present a series on the “Danger of an Unconverted Ministry.” The speaker shared his personal testimony about growing up in a Christian home, attending church, and going on to Bible College and Seminary. He became ordained in an evangelical denomination and accepted a call to become a pastor. It was during this pastorate that he realized he wasn’t really converted. He wasn’t saved! His story was gripping to all us pastor-wanna-be’s. The response was soul stirring. This speaker did ultimately come to repentance and true faith in Jesus Christ. But not before he came to the realization that he must be born again!

Such was the case of Nicodemus when confronted by Jesus:

“Marvel not that I say unto thee, ye must be born again.”
- John 3:7

Now put yourself in Nicodemus’ shoes. You are the “cream of the Jewish crop.” You could not dream of having life any better than this: You are a Jew, a Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin (the highest legal, legislative and judicial body of the Jews), and the most renowned Bible teacher of your day – the “Billy Graham” of first century Jerusalem. Can you imagine being Nicodemus and having Jesus tell you that all of this is not enough to get you into the kingdom of God? This is precisely what Jesus did in John 3:16, the most widely quoted verse in the entire Bible:
"For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

If a man like Nicodemus is not good enough for the kingdom of God, then who is? There are millions just like Nicodemus -- people just like the pastor who spoke at my college -- who are diligently striving to do good things for God so that they can get into heaven. It’s sad how so many religions -- and cults! – have at their heart a philosophy of good works – the notion of doing good and “religious” things to make yourself worthy of heaven. But what did Jesus teach? Follow the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus yet again:

"For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

It’s very simple. It’s incredibly clear: We can do nothing to receive eternal life except believe! Being religious is not the same as being a Christian. A few years ago, a book was published (based on the Book of Romans) entitled “How To Be Christian Without Being Religious.” It attempted to show that you could be a Christian without having to act “religious.” The sad truth is that more people in our world are Religious Without Being a Christian. They are lost.

So, I ask you, “Are you religious but lost?” Multitudes of good religious people are not going to make it to heaven -- people who trusted in their works to get them to heaven, rather than in His work—the work of our Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross. One more time:

"For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

-- Pastor Mark

Friday, October 14, 2005

Just an Ordinary Garage

Just an Ordinary Garage

Was it just another garage? By and large, Dad’s garage was just another ordinary garage. It’s where he parked the car and kept his tools. Our mail-slot was there along with a milk-shelf; and our dog spent a lot of time there. Generally, you wouldn’t classify a plain-old garage as a tool of ministry. So the story of this particular garage being used for the Lord is quite noteworthy.

See, after my parents were saved, their lives were dramatically changed. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17). My parents’ “old ” friends in the neighborhood started avoiding them. I don’t think this bothered them much, but they did desire to leave a spiritual impact in the area. So Dad transformed an ordinary garage into a ministry to win souls.

The garage became a “hang-out” for kids in the neighborhood. Dad loved boxing, so he provided a heavy bag and a speed bag along with boxing lessons. We had weight-lifting equipment and chin-up bars. Dad installed a homemade backboard and rim. He let all the kids use his tools for bike repairs. He even let us use his welding machine! The garage became the neighborhood Vo-Tech, Gymnasium and Clubhouse all rolled into one! I still remember planning fishing excursions with the guys. We’d all sit around the garage as if it were a boardroom. And after our fishing trip, we’d be back for a wonderful Fish Fry in the backyard! As far as ordinary garages go, ours was pretty notable.

The garage door was always open. Others in the neighborhood cringed at the thought of their homes becoming a “hangout.” As a rule, their doors were usually closed. Their yards were nicely manicured too. Ours: not so much. Our yard was a football field! For all the fun we had, everything was sustained with God’s Word. Gospel literature was left on the milk-shelf. An old blackboard was the ideal spot to share Bible verses on Salvation. I don’t think my parents ever missed an opportunity to witness to anyone who visited that garage.

Such fond memories of the garage! . . . Dad is with Jesus now and I don’t see Mom very often. But when we do get together, we love to reminisce about all the fun we had out of that garage. And we praise God because many of those kids of yesteryear are in the faith today simply because we shared Christ with them by allowing our garage to become a “hang-out.” Some of those kids received more love in our garage than they did in their own homes! The Goossen family is sprawled out all over the United States today, but because of our parents’ salvation, we impacted lives in our hometown of Hoyt Lakes, MN over a generation ago. Who knows how far the Word has now spread by now.

Scripture records the impact of just one soul on a hometown in Mark 5:18-20:

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed. (NIV)

Jesus had been ministering is a very pagan area. He didn’t expect great crowds to follow him. But by sending the Gaderene away with the Good News, Jesus expanded His ministry to those who would not have otherwise been touched. Who are you touching? Whom will they touch? Is your garage door even open?

-- Pastor Mark

Saturday, October 08, 2005

The Stranger on the Emmaus Road

The Stranger on the Emmaus Road

The story of Christ witnessing on the Road to Emmaus in Luke 24:17-34 is my favorite Bible story. I love sharing it. In fact, the first time I met my wife, I shared it with her, not knowing at the time that in her attic she had an old tattered and unframed copy of the Robert Zund art print depicting the story. I’ve since learned that Esthermay is a bit of a collector. She has all sorts of treasures hidden away: garage-sale junk and old broken stuff that most folks just throw away. She tucks these treasures away and brings them out at just the right time (cleaned-up, fixed-up or rearranged) as a gift for someone or a seasonal addition to our home.

The time came for me to ask for Esthermay’s hand in marriage. I nervously drove to her parents’ home and did it the old-fashion way in the tradition of chivalry. Sitting there in her parents’ dining room, I again shared my favorite story of Christ on the Emmaus Road. They both listened agreeably as I went on and on. . . . My future father-in-law then motioned for me to look at the wall. Right there in front of me was the Robert Zund print! Am I observant or what?!! (Perhaps, just nervous on this particular day.) The print had been in their family for years; and the one tucked away in Esthermay’s attic would also soon become a Goossen family heirloom.

If you’re thinking ahead, you’ve already figured out that the old unframed print in Esthermay’s attic was eventually transformed into a gift for me. It came out of hiding on our first Christmas together. It had been, of course, beautifully matted and framed with an attractive gold-plated inscription. It now hangs in my study at home. I treasure it. And I will always love the message that it inspires: The importance of witnessing.

As we settle in for our study on The Whiten Harvest Fields over the next weeks here at Crane Chapel, we will realize and appreciate that witnessing is the essential tool in our work. This morning we will look at the key elements of witnessing from the story of the Emmaus Road. Like Jesus, we need to first understand the importance of Contact with people (vs. 15). We need to grasp the significance of the actual Communication we have with people (vs. 17). We need to learn the value of the Content (vs. 17) of the Scripture that we share with people. And finally, we need to see that the goal of witnessing is the Conversion of those to whom we witness.

We don’t know with certainty exactly who the two people were on the road with Jesus that day. What we are told in scripture is that Jesus “drew near and went with them.” (Luke 24:15) We all travel a symbolic Emmaus Road and we all come in contact with strangers. Are you like Jesus? Do you draw near? What inspires you to draw near to others? For me it’s this wonderful story. In essence, this passage is my life’s mission-statement. I want to be like Jesus: courageous and confident in sharing the precious Word of God with everyone I meet. How about you?

-- Pastor Mark

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Christ: A Seeker of Souls

Christ: A Seeker of Souls

When you run your errands in and around Mower County, do you “people watch?” And do you pigeonhole people? Do you do it without fully comprehending what you’re actually doing? You know: “Oh, there goes a Welfare Mother…Elderly Woman… Professional Businessman…Weird Teenager…Minority… Wealthy Retiree…Likely Criminal…Busy Stay-at-Home-Mom….” Do you ever just see an ocean of lost souls?

If we’re honest, we all have the tendency to classify people. Oh, but if we could have the same compassion and vision for the lost as Christ!! He had a mission to seek and to save the lost. And once someone was saved, Christ prepared that person to go and bring yet more lost souls to Him. Christ commenced His ministry by seeking followers. His words in Matthew 4:19 say, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” During His ministry, His followers were sent out to the lost sheep of Israel (Luke 10:6). Later on, the same followers were sent into the highways and hedges to compel anyone they could find to come to Christ (Matthew 22:9). See a pattern here? Christ was seeking souls.

Besides breaking most of the customs of the day, Christ shattered racial and social boundaries to bring the Message of Salvation. Of His most-cherished workers were those of “ill-repute.” (e.g. The Samaritan Woman, and a “crazy” Gadarene.) Christ was always on the lookout for souls -- whether up a tree (Zacheus), under a tree (Nathaniel), the local Tax Office (Matthew), the community well (The Samaritan Woman), or a cemetery (the “crazy” Gaderene). Christ was always looking for and winning souls! No pigeonholing of people-types here!

Christ’s soul-seeking mission affected even His perspective on the everyday, ordinary things of this earth. When He saw a grain field “white already to harvest” (John 4:35), He instead saw the harvest field of souls. When He heard about a lost sheep, a lost soul came to his thoughts. When a women’s dowry coin was missing and later located, it became an illustration of lost soul found. And when a prodigal son came back to his father, it became a beautiful account of His Father’s heart receiving a lost and sinful soul.

Christ’s final words a He ascended up into Heaven were, “Go and make disciples. . . . ” Let’s start right here in the Whitened Harvest Fields of Mower County. Let’s stop pigeonholing those people that we encounter throughout our days. Instead, let’s start seeing them as Christ did: as a lost soul.

Anticipating a Harvest in Christ,
Your Fellow Worker,
-- Pastor Mark