Friday, December 30, 2005

The Eyes of God. . .

It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord our God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end.
- Deuteronomy 11:12

What land? And what year? It was around the year 1400 B.C. It was the Land of Milk and Honey: The Promised Land. And in the context of this passage in Deuteronomy, the Israelites are being equipped to set out and possess the land. They did not yet physically control the land – their right to the territory hadn’t yet materialized. Yet they already seemed to have power over this land through eyes of faith.

And guess what? This same beautiful illustration is ours: God’s caring and attentive eyes are always looking upon us. And we - like the Israelites - can put our concerns and uneasiness into God’s hand of infinite grace and possess strength to face the yet-unseen future. 2006 is our Land. It could be a year of spiritual drought. It could be a year of graceful abundance. Either way, as believers, we can settle in “green pasture and lie down beside the still water.”

“The eyes of the Lord…” What precisely does that mean? Surely it is more than just Omniscience. I don't know for certain. But let’s just envision the delight and enchantment in the eyes of a loving and devoted parent as they watch their young child achieve something for the very first time. Now, see in your mind's eye: the deep love of God’s eyes as He watches His creation. He watches each of us with personal interest. This looking-after is not delegated to some other heavenly creature. God Himself watches us! The heart of Deity looks after us! And he never stops watching after us. This special watch-care is unbroken. It’s continuous. This unwearied power of God toward His people has been uninterrupted since the creation of the world! No human effort, no lyricist, no gifted writer, no dramatist could ever sufficiently make plain or explain God’s watch-care over His own.

It’s time we switched to the flip side. We need to take an honest look at our eyes. If God is ceaselessly and unwarily watching us, should not our eyes be upon Him? Constantly?! Sad thing is I’m afraid we don’t even come close. We get caught up in our days -- setting our sights on the temporal and the frivolous – and we don’t look for Him or see Him at all.

While the rest of the world is settling in for the few weeks of agony that goes along with keeping “New Year’s Resolutions,” let us resolve to cultivate the practice of looking to and seeing God in all of 2006.

- Pastor Mark

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

God's Agenda . . . Facing the Winter Seasons of Life

Tucked away in a quiet corner of Scripture is a verse that brims with meaning and emotion. Read with reflection these ancient words from the pen of Job:

“From the city men groan,
And the souls of the wounded cry out”
- Job 24:12

Slip into the scene of this verse for just a moment: Beneath the loud splash of bustle and activity in our cities, there are invisible, wounded, broken hearts - souls aching from shattered relationships, illness, death, financial despair, crushed hopes, unforeseen disaster, the list goes on and on.... Job calls them groans. In Hebrew, the word suggests that this groan comes from one who has been wounded. Perhaps this is why Job adds the next poetic line: The souls of the wounded cry out. In this line, “wounded” comes from a term meaning pierced as if stabbed. But it is the soul that is crying out, for the deep hidden lacerations of the heart can be far more painful than a physical stabbing. Does this describe you today? To be sure it defines Crane Community Chapel as a church body.

In a very real sense, 2005 has been a winter season for Crane Chapel. Winter speaks of barrenness: Icy shadows. Naked branches. Short days. Long nights. It is an ideal time to slow down in quiet reverence and remember that

God is in the heavens;
He does whatever He pleases.”
- Psalm 115:3

If we’ve learned anything in 2005, it is that our lives here on earth are indeed God’s agenda. Not our own. There were no designs in January of 2005 for Crane Chapel to flatten an arson-destroyed church building. There were no plans that included blueprints for a 1.3 Million dollar building project. And there were no guidelines for a pastoral search committee. But God is still working. His blessings and His agenda become more evident with every step we take. When the despair of this winter season has past, we will be wiser, stronger, and deeper in love with Jesus.

Crane Chapel stands at a crossroads this New Year. We can look backward or forward. The backward glimpse is devastating. It hurts. Unexpected circumstances occupied and dominated a great part of 2005. The good news is that God’s Word holds answers. The book of Job brings light and understanding to the perplexities and heartaches of life. Together, as a congregation, we are going to begin this New Year with a sermon series in this great book of the Bible. Together, we will discover Scriptural principles to direct and sustain us in the winter seasons of life.

Is it winter right now in this season of your life? Are you weighed down with feelings of confusion, depression, and loneliness? Do you feel forsaken, spiritually on hold, barren, cold? No question – our lives here on earth will always include winter. But, beyond the thick gray clouds of winter…is God! His agenda is miraculously greater than ours. And some days His Light just makes everything beautiful and shiny! Let this study in Job be a blessing and a source of comfort, as we look Forward in 2006!

- Pastor Mark & Esthermay Bentley Goossen

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The WHY? of Christmas. . .

Christmas greetings! My prayer this Christmas Day is that the Crane Chapel Family feels all the love and joy and peace that only Christ Jesus can give. I do hope that you have experienced His wondrous Salvation and have had many opportunities to share it.

It is a cliché, but in the hustle and bustle of the world, it is so easy to miss the real meaning of Christmas. There is so much unnecessary décor and clutter and mayhem and even chaos that the real meaning can be completely overlooked. It has been said, that if Jesus were invited to the birthday party that the world throws for Him each December, He wouldn’t even RSVP. Sadly, the world has not invited Him. The world does not want Jesus. It sees no need for Jesus. People just don’t want Jesus making any claims on their “private lives.” They don’t want to acknowledge the reality of who He is. They only want to throw a big celebration so there’s a ready excuse for all the stuff they choose to do. The world’s indulgence and entertainment are at Jesus’ expense and in His name! How’s that for honoring His birth?

It’s always fitting when Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, don’t you think? In the grand text we look upon today, we are faced with the reality of Jesus Christ and obliged to reflect on the WHY of His advent. Why did He come?

“But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man. Christ took the penalty that we justly deserve.” - Hebrews 2:9

He came to earth to lead us up to the Father: “For it became Him, for whom are all things…in bringing many sons unto glory; to make the captain of their salvation perfect through suffering.” - Hebrews 2:10

Jesus Christ is capable of making us holy and part of His family: “For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one, for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren.” – Hebrews 2:11

Jesus came to earth, he died, and rose again - destroying Satan’s power of death: “…he himself likewise took part of the same, that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil.” -Hebrews 2:14

“…that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest… to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered, being tempted, he is able to help those that are tempted - Hebrews 2:17-18

The WHY of His Advent? The one single individual and only reason for Christ’s Birth was so he could DIE. For those who have received Him, there is nothing more marvelous or incredible to Celebrate! Go ahead and break out the mayhem and décor for that!!

- Pastor Mark

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Lamb of God

"The Lamb of God.” What a wonderful title for a children’s Christmas Program. A lamb is such an endearing animal and children adore gentle, sweet animals. Children – even more than most adults - appreciate the wonder of the animals that filled the stable where Jesus was born. Even so, Lamb is a rather unusual title for God’s Son. Of all the animals in creation, why was this species selected over, say, an eagle… or a lion? Let’s take a quick spiritual journey and appreciate why Lamb of God is such a fitting and proper title for our Savior Jesus.

Mankind’s need for a Savior travels much further into history than the stable in Bethlehem some 2000 years ago. God realized the condition of mankind even before He created the universe. His Son is the “lamb slain before the foundation of the world.” (Revelation 13:8) When Adam and Eve put their own desires above God’s will, God initiated the world’s first sacrifice. From that sacrifice, the skins of an animal were used as garments to cover Adam and Eve’s nakedness. For all of time since, sin has needed to be covered. This “covering” of sin would ultimately come at a great price. God’s own precious and innocent Son would die like a spotless lamb to cover the sins of His own creation.

Cain and Abel were taught that the only way to approach God was through animal sacrifice. Of course, we know the story. One of the brothers obeyed and observed God’s command and offered a true sacrifice understanding that God does not allow substitutions. Years later, God’s Lamb would become the ultimate and final sacrifice.

God tested Abraham by commanding him to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac. Abraham complied and because of his obedience, God provided a ram as a substitute for Isaac’s life. I am so glad that God’ Lamb is our substitution.

The Israelites applied the blood of the Passover lamb to the doors of their homes. This too was God’s command. It was their only hope of being delivered from the destruction and havoc sent upon the Egyptians. “… He is to cast lots for two goats – one lot for the Lord and the other for the scapegoat… He shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the Lord and sacrifice it for a sin offering.” (Leviticus 16:8-9) Again, years later, God’s Lamb became a sin sacrifice. He took our sins away and bore them himself.

And finally, Isaiah the prophet foresaw God’s Son as the suffering lamb who was wounded and bruised and silent before his shearers.(Isaiah 53:5-8)

The imagery of a lamb is so thematic throughout the entire Bible. The portrayal of Jesus as the Lamb of God occurs twenty-seven times in the writings of John in the New Testament alone. There is no doubt that God’s Son is The Lamb of God. He came into the world one night long ago in a dirty stable surrounded by animals. Behold him! Cast eyes of faith upon Him. Rest fully upon Him to find the real meaning and JOY of Christmas.

-- Pastor Mark

Monday, December 12, 2005

"Merry Christmas!" It's Okay to Say It!

Thanksgiving was still a week away this year when the American Family Association called for a Christmas Season boycott of Target stores, saying the chain was refusing to allow the phrase “Merry Christmas” on in-store promotions and advertising. On his show recently, Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly offered a list of other retailers that he says refuse to use “Merry Christmas” in their store advertising. In Maplewood, New Jersey, the high school’s brass ensemble has been prohibited from playing even instrumental renditions of traditional Christmas carols, because as one school official put it, “If you’re familiar with the tune, you know the words. No religious songs!” It seems we can add the United States Postal Service to the list of “Grinches Who Stole Christmas” this year. It appears the USPS won’t be issuing any more “religious” stamps, as they are now considered “offensive.”

We go through this war on Christmas every year! Christians across the country are aggrieved by the secularization of the Season. Teachers in public schools are too intimidated to allow students to sing “Silent Night.” Business owners fear loss of fourth-quarter profits should they offend anyone with a Christmas (i.e. Christian) message. The majority of Americans (regardless of their religious background) believe it is ridiculous to ban nativity scenes in public places. And the war goes on. There’s a just-published book out now by John Gibson entitled, “The War on Christmas.” Now we can read about what we already know and commiserate with everyone else over the secularization of Christmas. Don’t we have anything better to do with the four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas?

The message of Christmas is not that we should or should not tolerate a phrase or an act or a display that may or may not offend someone who does or doesn’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God! Whether someone believes in Jesus or not does not change the truth that Jesus Christ is a fact of history! This is precisely what President Ulysses S. Grant acknowledged on June 26, 1870 when he declared December 25th a Federal Holiday. But the message of Christmas is so much more than historical fact.

The message of Christmas is that God sent his Son into the world with the Good News of Salvation and Hope for rejected teenagers and wayward children and single parents and rundown husbands and weary wives and critical mothers and brokenhearted women and lonely men and depressed senior citizens and nosy neighbors and annoying relatives and homosexuals and drug addicts and preachers and you (and the guy who refuses to buy a Christmas tree unless it’s marketed as a “Holiday” tree). It’s painfully obvious that none of us are by nature perfect people. But God sent His incomparably perfect Son in the form of a little baby to be our Savior and He wants to change us into His likeness! (Romans 8:29) That is the message of Christmas.

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the worst.”
- I Timothy 1:15

We know that it was a cold, dark night in the little non-descript village of Bethlehem in Palestine, where a young virgin girl gave birth to this little baby Jesus in the most unsanitary wretched conditions imaginable, standing in the filth and manure of a stable. To call the birth of God’s Son “humble” is almost sarcastic. He lived just as humbly. He was obedient to His Father. He died a substitutionary death. And His powerful resurrection covered the sins of all people of every generation for all time! I Timothy 1:15 is a great summary statement of the Real Message of Christmas: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst.”

Nobody knows the exact month that Jesus was born, but it is a wonderful tradition that places Christmas one week before New Year's Day. New Year's is a time when we resolve to change things in our lives, and the Message of Christmas is that we can change. As 2005 comes to an end and we look back and reflect, consider the words of Charles Spurgeon:

If this child who lies before the eyes of your faith, wrapped in swaddling clothes in Bethlehem’s manger, is born to you, my hearer, then you are born again! For this child is not born to you unless you are born to this child.”
- Charles Spurgeon

Has Christ been born to you? Are you born again? Has the message of Christmas touched you? It’s okay to say “Merry Christmas!” In 1870, the President of the United States declared the Birth of Christ a Federal Holiday. And the message of Christmas is that we can be forever changed by his Birth. What could be more Merry? Go ahead and wish people a “Merry Christmas!” The person offended by it the most probably needs the message of Christmas the most. (Might be the guy buying the “Holiday” tree.) Go ahead and say it!

May You Know the CHRIST of Christmas,
- Pastor Mark & Esthermay Bentley-Goossen

Now You Know the Rest of the Story...

The Incarnation of Christ is often a hard truth to grasp. Even … seasoned theologians take effort at a good clarification. But years ago when I was working in the oil fields of Wyoming, I heard one of the most unique explanations of the Incarnation from – of all places – the voice of Paul Harvey over the radio. “The rest of this story” reveals wonderful insight into the verses in John Chapter 1:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the
Word was with God, and the word was God. . . .
The word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

Paul Harvey’s story opens with an apathetic, disinterested husband and father who just was not getting into the Christmas spirit. He turned down an invitation to attend a church Christmas program with his family, boldly stating his disbelief in the miracle of the Incarnation. He simply did not believe that God became a man.

His family left for the program and he settled in for a quiet evening at home. Outside a winter storm was gathering force. The winds were beginning to pick up when he heard a strange noise -- a tapping sound on the windowpanes. Opening the curtains, he discovered a flock of birds desperately seeking shelter from the storm and being attracted to the light emanating from the window. Feeling compassion for these birds, he threw on his wraps and headed towards the barn. He flung open the doors for the birds, but they did not come. He turned the barn lights on to attract them, but that did not work either. He got bread from the house and made a trail of crumbs, but that too failed. He rushed behind the flock to steer them toward the barn, but they only scattered.

Finally in disgust, he thought to himself, If only I could become a bird to show them where to go for warmth and safety. Just then in the distant village, he heard the church bells and an illuminating truth began to dawn in his soul: Is it possible that the reason for that first Christmas – with a tiny baby named Jesus – was for God to become like us? Is Christmas really the Incarnation of Christ?

And now, you know the rest of the story. . . .

- Pastor Mark