Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Will The Real Messiah Please Stand Up?!

Does anyone remember the game show “To Tell The Truth?” I remember watching it as a kid. It premiered on CBS forty-nine years ago this month. The show always had three contestants each claiming to be the same person. And there was always a panel of celebrity guests that would take turns asking each contestant various questions. Each panelist would then venture a guess as to who was telling the truth and who was not telling the truth. The goal, of course, was to identify the real person and eliminate the two imposters. I can still remember clearly that famous catch phrase: "Will the real so-and-so please stand up?”

To be sure, t.v. game-shows are pure entertainment. And it is fun to reminiscence about things we remember growing up. But there’s a lesson here too. Those questions posed by the panel always had a way of exposing the fabrications of the two impostors. Let’s apply the “Real-Person-vs.-Imposter-Test” to any “savior” or so-called “christ” other than Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus will sit alongside the two impostors, each claiming to be the Messiah. Here are some hypothetical questions our celebrity guests could pose:

Were you born in Bethlehem?
Were you born of a virgin?
Are you a direct descendant of both Abraham and David?
Did you come approximately 490 years after Daniel’s time?
Did you exercise a benevolent ministry characterized by miracles?
Were you a perfect character?
Did you die on a cross? Rise three days later?
Did you offer your body to be wounded & pierced as a sacrifice for the sins of the world?
Did you rise from the dead and ascent to Heaven?
Were you sold for thirty pieces of silver?
Did anyone ever part your garments or cast lots for your vesture?
Did you ever cry out, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?

Just a moment’s worth of thought should convince anyone that the Christ of the New Testament – the One who fulfilled over three hundred prophecies concerning His First Advent -- truly is the Messiah! (Our questions are – of course -- based on Old Testament prophecy.) The Word of God is so absolutely true and accurate and worthy of our trust and dependence.

Will the real Messiah please stand up? He has stood up! … From his humble beginning in Bethlehem to the cruel Cross of Calvary where he paid the price for our salvation. He has stood up for us. Will you stand up and identify with Him?

- Pastor Mark

Friday, November 25, 2005

Mail Call! Tracking the Message of Messiah

Have you ever had to track a letter? You know – to find out if and when it was received, who signed for it, etc.? Nowadays the United States Postal Service offers us Proof of Delivery, Delivery Confirmation, and Signature Confirmation. You can pay extra for Certified Mail, Registered Mail, Track and Confirm, and Return Receipts. It’s all very complicated if you ask me. Maybe this is why postage rates keep rising. (Makes me wish it were 1935. Remember? …3¢ Stamps?) Today, it’s all about accuracy and reliability.

It’s not a fact we ponder daily, but grasp this: Any person living anywhere in the world who has mail service can be singled out from the rest of the world’s population by simply addressing an envelope to them with a few identifying details (e.g. first name, last name, street, zip code). Talk about accuracy! There are over Six Billion people in the world! That is a one in 6,481,159,714 chance… not the greatest odds, but the system is reliable. Still, we still take our chances with the mail. Why else would we pay for Proof of Delivery?

Now, let’s look at this whole concept of accuracy, reliability and chance in terms of the Biblical prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah. There are 333 prophesies in the Old Testament pertaining to the coming of Jesus Christ; and every single one of them comes together and is fulfilled in the New Testament with His Advent. Statisticians have applied the theory of probability to the chances of the fulfillment of only 50 of these detailed predictions (that’s only 15% of them). They tell us that the chances are less than one in 125,000,000,000,000. (That’s twelve zero’s and that’s 125 Trillion.) Forget about chance and probability here! These prophecies are accurate facts!

It is an unmistakable and unparalleled miracle that the birth, life and ministry of Jesus Christ were all foretold and prewritten hundreds of years before they actually occurred. It is no wonder Jesus said, “Search the Scriptures. . . for they testify of me.” (John 5:39) Christianity is not a contemporary, modern-day religion. It is based on the fulfillment of accurate, precise and reliable Old Testament prophecies. Can you imagine someone giving accurate and precise details of – let’s say – Abraham Lincoln or Billy Graham some seven hundred years before they were born? It’s unheard of!

Over the years, co-workers and friends have tried to impress and amaze me with the writings of Nostradamus and others. But after reading a few of these “predictions,” the only thing that impresses me is that they bear neither the uniqueness nor the precision of the Old Testament prophecies concerning Christ. It makes me sad that people are so quick to accept, rely on, and live by the over-simplified and generalized statements of a common man, yet refuse to “search the Scripture” when it comes to Christ. Christianity is an irrefutable fact!

The next time you address an envelope, think about how that envelope will – with great probability – reach its intended recipient at a precise destination. In the same way, the prophets of the Old Testament wrote to us – selecting you and me from all of history – to hear the good News of Jesus Christ. The News is precise and reliable, using identifying details just as we do on envelopes. And if you understand math, you’ll know that the probability of its accuracy and reliability is far greater than that of even the U.S. Postal Service.

- Pastor Mark

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

What Do You Recall From 1935?

Remember when stamps were 3¢? I’m afraid I do not. That was the cost of a First-Class U.S. Postage Stamp in 1935. Throwing out a date like that sounds pretty archaic to most of us. I wasn’t around in 1935, but since I am a history buff, I asked Esthermay to find out what was going on in 1935. She consulted our computer, did what she calls an “Internet Search,” and Ta-Da! She presents me with a four-page run-down of the year 1935….

In 1935, the Nazi’s rejected the Treaty of Versailles and introduced compulsory military service. They enacted laws against Jewish people to prevent what they called “racial pollution,” and at the same time, started a breeding program to produce an Aryan Super Race. The land of Persia became Iran; and Mussolini invaded Ethiopia.

On the U.S. scene, President Roosevelt opened the second phase of the New Deal, calling for Social Security, better housing, equitable taxation, and farm assistance.

In the world of science, Dupont chemist Wallace Hume Carothers created nylon, the first completely synthetic fabric. Aircraft-detecting radar was pioneered by Robert Watson-Watt in England; and the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to James Chadwick for the discovery of the neutron.

George Gershwin brought us Porgy and Bess, Henrietta Leaver of Pennsylvania was crowned Miss America, and – almost certainly one of the most significant events of 1935 -- Minnesota finishes the season as the NCAA Football Champions!!

Alas, one very worthy item did not show up in our Internet search. The event went unnoticed in both the scientific- and political-worlds; but in God’s eyes, this event was momentous! 1935 marks the foundation of Crane Community Chapel. It was in 1935 that a burden was placed upon the hearts of a few godly people in Austin, Minnesota; and the vision for a Union Sunday School in the Crane Addition was born in the heart of John Hormel. John had a fervent desire to establish a place of worship to reach the children in the neighborhood near the factory. He envisioned both a place where the Gospel would be clearly presented, and a place where those who found peace in Christ could be joined together in Christian fellowship.

A small building was purchased in 1935 and Rev. Joe Matt Sr. and his wife Amanda were invited to assume the shepherding of this ministry. Ten years later, the pastorate was turned over to their son, Joe Matt, Jr. The church was incorporated on July 18, 1950 and Joe and his wife Della continued the vision birthed in 1935.

That simple vision continues today! Seventy years later, we remain steadfast to reach the lost with the Gospel through the work of Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, AWANA, and our Teen and Youth Programs. Let’s celebrate 70 years! . . . and may we never lose the vision.

- Pastor Mark

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Same Havest Field... Just a Few Acres Over

Appreciation is an expression used so commonly in our speech today that it sometimes becomes a real challenge to express true heartfelt gratitude. That’s where I am today – challenged to express my appreciation. I am so grateful and pleased with the support and confidence that Crane Chapel has given me through the vote last Sunday. I look forward to being your full-time Pastor with both thanksgiving and humbleness. Thank you for calling me as your Shepherd.

I find it so unique that I have been called to serve a congregation in the same community where I have lived and worked for over fourteen years. Typically, a pastor will come to a church and community as a complete stranger – cold turkey, if you will. In a sense, I’m just moving over an acre or two in the harvest field.

It was over fourteen years ago that circumstances -- which I thought at the time, were unfortunate and ill timed -- forced me out of full-time ministry. I had pretty much given up the idea of ever pastoring a church again. The words of Jeremiah as he cried out in despair over his own ministry indeed matched my own feelings:

“…His Word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.”
- Jeremiah 20:9

Even though the fire and passion were in me, I was not able to preach in a pulpit or serve a congregation as a “pastor.” I laid aside the notion of ever serving again in full-time ministry and instead sought to diligently share the Good News of Jesus Christ on the factory floor at Hormel, and simply serve as a church worker in a variety of ministries. God has definitely used me -- and prepared me -- for fourteen years. Those unfortunate and ill-timed circumstances were used for God’s glory!

God tells us that “the gifts and calling are without repentance,” and I am so humbled in this season of my life that God gives second chances. The fire in me has never abated and I now have the honor and joy of serving Him in the same community, but with a new emphasis. As your Pastor, I will seek God’s wisdom daily. My desire is to keep alive the mission of Crane Chapel, which was put into action seventy years ago by the Matts: To bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the City of Austin and its surrounding communities. I will do my best to present clear Biblical teaching and encourage evangelism. And as your servant, I especially look forward to the ministry of visitation and to becoming better acquainted with each of you and your families.

In this season of my life, I am also grateful and very blessed to have such a talented helpmate in my wife, Esthermay. She compliments the ministry and supports me in so many ways with her unique gifts and abilities. We make a great team. Where one of us lacks, the other is abundantly gifted. We keep each other humble that way.

In the future, if you visit my office, you’ll catch sight of a fourteen-year-old Hormel hard-hat. I’m keeping it as a reminder of my service to Him there. It’s a part of my past that I am not ashamed of… I will never quit praying for my Hormel co-workers.

“For we are God’s fellow workers, you are God’s field, God’s building.”
- I Corinthians 3:9

-- Pastor Mark

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Source of True Thanksgiving...

"The First Thanksgiving"
Jean Louis Gerome Ferris (1915)

God’s Word tells us that one of the signs of the last days is the ingratitude of mankind. The Apostle Paul wrote about it in II Timothy 3:2: "For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, UNTHANKFUL, unholy.” Without knowing that these words come from God’s Word, you might credit them to a modern-day pundit observing the decline of society. The words rightly describe the hearts, minds and attitudes of many people in our world today. Makes one wonder when Thanksgiving arrives each November, whether people understand what it even means to be thankful? What do we really understand of Thanksgiving as observed and established by the First American Puritans in 1621?

It’s certain we’ve all committed to memory our elementary school version of the story of the Pilgrims. The simple narrative has served as the plot for millions of skits, plays, books, movies, and television shows. If you’ve taken in enough of these rudimentary renditions of the “Thanksgiving Story” you may have a distorted perception of history. Rarely do these accounts address the appalling circumstances and untold human sufferings of the Massachusetts Colony. Let alone the Christian values that sustained the Puritans through all their heartache! Do public schools even teach that the Pilgrims were the first American Puritans? Even the famous Jean Louis Gerome Ferris painting commemorating the first Thanksgiving is misleading. The idyllic scene belies the reality that the Pilgrims faced. Governor William Bradford’s words don’t exactly correspond either with the placid scenes of feasting and merriment that our children have come to identify as Thanksgiving. The Governor’s own personal tragedy often goes unnoticed. His own wife drowned as they disembarked the Mayflower, leaving him a widower with a one-year-old little boy. What else was there in this New World to “sustain them but the Spirit of God and his grace?”

They had now no friends to welcome them nor inns to entertain or
refresh their weather-beaten bodies; no houses or much less
towns to retire to. . . . And for the season, it was winter.
What could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness?
What could now sustain them but the Spirit of God and his grace?

Governor William Bradford
December 1620

What was it about theses first American Puritans that caused them to endure such harsh and profound adversity and still establish and celebrate true Thanksgiving? And what can we borrow from the Puritans to sustain us in today’s world of ingratitude? Without boring you with a lot of sixteenth-century European history, the Puritans were the breakaway group of Christians who sought to “purify” the Anglican Church – bringing it in line with the simple Gospel presented in Scripture. As petitioners to King James I put it in 1603, the true church ought not to be "governed by Popish Canons, Courts, Classes, Customs, or any human invention, but by the laws and rules which Christ hath appointed in his Testament." The Puritans – by every account – believed in the Sovereign Creator and the Gospel of Jesus Christ – in Salvation by Grace – and they were truly THANKFUL!

The foundation and source of true Thanksgiving may well be the Puritan values of the first Americans. Sadly, Puritanism today has evolved into a satirical label for "what's wrong with America." Some think that too much Puritanism survives and that it hinders “free thought” and violates a “separation of church and state.” There are others who sincerely believe that the breakdowns of our society are the direct consequence of the dilution of Puritan disciplines and ideals. Many Christians believe that in the name of “tolerance,” our Puritan heritage has been censored and effectively edited-out of the history we teach our children. Regardless of your political view, it is an undisputed fact that no other philosophy or thought has had a more permanent effect upon our nation's government, education, literature, sense of mission, church governance, ethical responsibility, or religious vision than has Puritanism.

What happened specifically over the last nearly-four-hundred years to misshape our nation into a culture of ingratitude? It’s simple. As a nation, we no longer rely on the significance, the implication, nor the worth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is our Heritage! Our nation is established upon it! There can be no real Thanksgiving unless there is a right relationship with God. The more we know, accept and welcome his Son into our lives, the more real Thanksgiving there will be in our lives. The measure of one will be the measure of the other; and Thanksgiving will no longer be a holiday in November, but an everyday practice. The last Thursday in November can then be devoted entirely to the recognition and appreciation of football. Or, in the case of all you non-football fans, devoted to the good-natured complaining about all the football!

On Behalf of Pastor Mark,
-- Esthermay Bentley-Goossen

Beauty Where You'd Least Expect It...

Little children have adorable, beautiful feet. My little kids’ feet are soft and warm and cute and their toenails are clear and smooth. When you get old, you get calluses and bunions and crooked toes and thick yellow toenails. Funny isn’t it, how age turns something so sweet into something, well. . . not so sweet? Women polish their toenails – I guess that makes their feet prettier than a guy’s. Even so, in today’s world, feet are generally not considered the most beautiful and striking feature of the human body.

Now let’s suppose you lived in First Century Rome or Jerusalem in 700 B.C during the Prophet Isaiah’s ministry – long before the time of Dr. Scholl’s. People walked everywhere in Bible-times and nobody had beautiful feet. The roads outside the cities were rocky and dusty, and city streets were utterly filthy – I’m pretty sure they didn't have those big street cleaner trucks like we do today. People either went barefoot or wore sandals, and since they walked whereever they went, their feet took a lot of abuse. Feet were certainly considered the ugliest part of the body. People washed their feet before they went into their homes and they always left their sandals outside. I imagine their sandals were a lot like my hunting boots – there really is no way to get them clean enough to wear inside the house. Bottom line: Feet in Bible-times were an everyday episode of some sort or another – and usually not a pleasant one. Feet were a downright ugly nuisance!

Here’s one of the beauties of God’s Word – an ordinary, everyday thing – like the whole notion of feet – has been turned it into a lesson. Here’s what the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 10:15: “... As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring Good News!’” He refers to Isaiah 52:7:

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring
Good News, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who
proclaim Salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

The message of Salvation and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is so perfect and good and precious and valuable that even the feet (remember: Ugly!) of the person who brings it are beautiful! But look at what Paul says in Romans 10:14 – just before extolling feet: “…how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent?” Paul is telling us that we’ve got to get up off our chairs, and actually use our feet before they can be beautiful.

My little boy does have adorable, beautiful feet – but he can’t walk very well. He staggers and stumbles. He’s only a year old. So although his feet are beautiful, they are inadequate. On the other hand, I’ve got old, not-so-pretty feet. They’ve served me well over the years and I’ll keep them – They are beautiful in my Lord’s eyes when I’m carrying His Word! How are your feet doing? Want instant-beauty? Think of just one person who you know that needs to hear the Good News. Now use your feet!

-- Pastor Mark