Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Redemption Story Continues. . . Lessons from Noah's Ark...

Ever listen to a three-year-old tell a Bible Story? The details are there, but the chronology is wide of the mark! A few days ago, I overheard my daughter Selah telling her brother about the shepherds and the baby Jesus sitting down to eat dinner with the disciples before they helped Zacchaeus climb down from a tree. Cute and amusing, huh? Well, I’m about to recount the story of Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood along with the birth of the Savior. No, Selah is not writing my sermons for me this month. There are many reasons why the story of Noah’s Ark is significant to the Advent of Christ and valuable in understanding the Why of Christmas. Let’s look…

First, Jesus told us that what characterized the times just before the flood will characterize the times just before His second coming: “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matthew 24:37) So, what characterized the “days of Noah”? Scripture tells us it was a time when “men began to increase in number” (Genesis 6:1); and “the earth was corrupt” and “full of violence” (Genesis 6:11). Read a newspaper or watched the television news lately? Sounds current to me. The world needed a Savior in Noah’s day just as much as it did some 2000 years ago in Bethlehem and just as desperately as it does today. (Do you see the connection to the manger yet?)

Another reason that it is worthwhile to revisit the flood along with the Christmas story is that the Ark is an example of the judgment of God. (Yes, He is a God of judgment – not just grace and mercy and Christmas love.) In Genesis 7:16, we read that it was God who shut the door to the Ark. God had appointed a particular day of judgment. He had been longsuffering, waiting for many years. Sadly, only eight people were inside the Ark. You can almost hear the sound of the door banging shut against the side of the Ark. Perhaps the echo from that sound resounded in the ears of thousands (even millions) of people who looked on and mocked Noah. But as the door shut, judgment had arrived. Only those who had gone through the doorway could be saved. Fast forward now to II Peter 3:5-7 where Peter tells us that just as God sent a flood to destroy the earth because of the wickedness of man, one day there is going to be a final judgment. This time by fire. And God’s Word is clear: “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:15) (Is the Why of the baby Jesus coming into focus?)

One last reason why the flood is almost a prerequisite lesson for the Nativity story is that Noah’s Ark is actually a picture of salvation. The Ark is representative of our salvation through Christ. God has provided an Ark of salvation for each of us. It’s the baby Jesus!! Jesus said, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved.” (John 10:9) Just as Noah and his family had to go through a doorway to be saved, we need to go through a doorway – the Lord Jesus Christ. He is our ark of salvation.
… Now, why did Jesus come to earth as a tiny baby? He came to offer that Salvation to each one of us. The event of Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood is a sobering warning to each of us that we need to be saved too! And that’s the essence of Christmas: We can be!

- Pastor Mark

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Redemption Story. . . A Tale of Two Prototypes. . .

Ever miss the first five minutes of a movie and remain pretty much clueless for the whole movie? I have. Well, the Christmas story is kind of like that. Only instead of a missed five minutes, many people have likely missed 4000 years! This Advent Season, we are looking at the Why of Christmas. Why did Jesus have to come to earth as a baby? To fully understand the unfolding Why of the Christmas story, we have to go back 4000 years to Genesis – to the very beginning.

Last week we stopped in Genesis 3 and looked at the story of the Fall of man where, in such pristine surroundings, our first parents exercised their volition to defy God’s one command. This blatant disobedience changed the world forever and loosed upon the world an avalanche of evil. But amidst the curse, God offered hope: He offered redemption. In Genesis 3:15, He proclaimed that the seed of the woman would crush the serpent. Satan would be bruised and hurt in conflict and ultimately receive a fatal blow. Adam and Eve are then expelled from the Garden of Eden and the story continues….

In Genesis Chapter 4 we come to the story of Cain, the first person ever born. (Adam, you remember, was created and Eve made from Adam.) Next we have Abel, the first sibling and the very first family. Then, sadly, we have the first family tragedy. Cain kills his brother Abel… And the Redemption Story is just beginning.

As we look at this passage in terms of that 4000-year preface to the baby Jesus story, Cain is the first non-believer. He is the prototype of the lost and doomed sinner. God always has clear purpose when He records for us stories in the text of Scripture. There are two kinds of people in the world: believers and non-believers. The account of Cain is given here in some detail in order that we might get a complete characterization of the typical unbeliever. From a general glance of the Chapter, we see that Cain harbored hatred in his heart and his actions were self-centered and godless. Cain had killed off the other possible prototype (the believer), so we’re left to wait for yet another offspring to embody the believer…

…and she called his name Seth: for God said she hath appointed me another seed instead of Able whom Cain slew. (Genesis 4:25) And here we have our believer. It’s through Seth’s progeny that we have a group of God-fearing people who will present the truth to a corrupt generation. And it is through Seth’s lineage that Jesus will be born 4000 years later.

The passage in Genesis rolls on almost like a movie until suddenly it stops and focuses on one man. That man is Enoch – the great, great, great grandson of Seth. Genesis 5:24 tells us that Enoch walked with God. Enoch was the very first prophet of the coming of Jesus: “And Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these saying, ’Behold the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His saints to execute judgment upon all and to convince all that are ungodly among them of their ungodly deeds…’” (Jude 14)
And the question lingers. Which prototype are you? What are you doing in this godless generation? Are you self-centered/harboring hatred or are you walking with God?
- Pastor Mark

A Sweet Aroma. . . .

Who doesn’t love the smell of something wonderful baking in the oven? I know I do! The aroma of anything baking in the oven brings me from any part of our house to the kitchen with a yearning to taste what has produced that wonderful aroma. I don’t want to talk about the bread or the pie or the cookies. I want to eat the bread or the pie or the cookies! I want to enjoy it. It’s the way God made me.

I believe God’s activity in His people has the same effect upon our souls. When God’s people are about their Father’s business of living in His mercy, growing in His grace, sharing His love, and spreading His Word there is an aroma that fills the air. It wafts across a city, a county, a region, and even the world with a fragrance that draws people. They come with a yearning to taste and see what God is doing. They don’t want to simply talk about mercy, grace, love, and God’s Word. They want to enjoy it. They want to experience it. It’s the way God made us.

This past year, God has been baking in the kitchen called Crane Community Chapel and people are being drawn by the fragrance It’s a joyous thing for a pastor to see. It’s even more thrilling getting to personally know the people who have been drawn to Crane Chapel and learn that they’re not attracted by beautiful facilities or impressive programs or a certain style of music. What I see are new Christians and newcomers who are drawn by a spiritual hunger that is only met by the discipleship of fellow-Christians and solid Biblical teaching. As a pastor,
this is my burden and my ministry: To preach the Word of God as faithfully as it is written and to see that new Christians are discipled. It is a joy to watch the incorruptible seed take root and come to fruition. Seeing people hungry for the Word of God is a thrill!

To each of you who’ve had a part in bringing new believers to Christ in 2006 and for discipling them in the Word: Thank You! To each of you who’ve shown His mercy, grace and love throughout this past year in ways only seen by Christ Himself: Thank You!

God is definitely at work among us. There is a wonderful aroma coming from the kitchen of Crane Chape. The meal is prepared. The table is set. Invite a guest so we can Spread the Good News of Jesus Christ! That’s the purpose of the Church and that’s the meaning behind Christmas!

- Pastor Mark Goossen

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Why of Christmas. . .

Much of the beauty of Christmas is found in its sameness. The same traditions. The same food. The same hymns. The same biblical account of the Baby Jesus in Bethlehem with shepherds and angels. Yet each Christmas is a little different. Sometimes that difference is dramatic. Sometimes it is subtle – delicate and quite and kept in our hearts to reflect on in times of peaceful silence.

This Christmas, I invite you to look at Christmas from a new vantage point. We’re all another year older and, hopefully, wiser and more mature in God’s Word. This year I want you to look past the story set in Bethlehem. Past the idea of the baby in a manger to the reason that God came to earth as that infant boy. Sure it was to ultimately suffer a grotesque yet passionate death on a rugged cross, but beyond that… Why did He have to die? Where did it all begin? I invite you to start at the beginning. Yes. The beginning. The Book of Genesis.

Genesis 3 is our point of origin. It is arguably the most important chapter in the entire Bible because it explains why the rest of the Bible was written. The entire Bible tells the story of redemption -- of salvation -- of deliverance from sin. Genesis 3 explains why the world needs this redemption.

It is impossible – and ridiculous to even try -- to understand the world. We’ve got people trying and supposedly coming up with solutions; but it is in fact impossible for humans to understand the cosmos, the ordered world of creation. It is impossible to understand the disintegration of matter. It is impossible to understand the collapsing world and universe and it is impossible to understand man’s behavior if you do not understand that everything that exists in the world today is a product of sin and that that sin is a result of what happened in the Garden of Eden.

The impact of the Adam and Eve’s sin – man’s fall -- has touched every part of the universe. It is accurate to say that absolutely everything wrong in our world is because of sin. When God made things he said, “…it was good.” (Genesis 1:31) But because of sin everything is very bad: from world wars, terrorism, mass murders, serial killings, plane crashes, auto accidents, fires, crippling and maiming of people because of accidents, nuclear reactor disasters, radiation poisoning pollution, cancer, heart disease, all illnesses, broken relationships, divorce, orphaned children, drugs, crime, dereliction in all forms, confusion, conflict, struggle, disappointments, anxiety, fear, guilt, depression, sorrow, failure, remorse, lust, selfishness, pride, hatred, covetousness, rebellion, murder, stealing, sexual immorality., irresponsibility, disobedience to parents and authority and gossip.

Now…why did Jesus come as a precious infant boy? Sure, it was to die on a cross. But why did He have to die?

- Pastor Mark

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Beginning of the End...

One of the most operative words in today’s society is "interactive." We’ve got interactive books and videos and computer software and educational curricula that permit us to interact with an issue or topic by adding our own ideas and answers and endings. It’s just part of our postmodern world; the kind of thing that would make our grandparents smirk. But as we look at the way Luke concludes the Book of Acts, he is showing us in very much the same way that we are to interact fully with its message. Luke wants us to continue the story…

Last week we left the shipwreck survivors on the island of Malta where tradition says they stayed from mid-November till about mid-February. Then Paul and the rest of the assengers and crew put out to sea again (Acts 28:11). Verse 14 reads, “…we came to Rome. Continuing, we find out that some Christians in Rome had heard that Paul was coming, greeted him and provided a reception and escort fit for an emperor. What an irony: Paul
the imperial prisoner makes a triumphal procession to the capital of the Empire! …Paul thanked God and was encouraged (Acts 28:15). Why? From our study of Acts we know that one of Paul's long-standing desires was to bear witness in Rome. Well, he finally got there – in chains, through shipwreck, and with significant obstacles behind him – and once there, he preached! As Luke concludes the Book, he reminds us again that Christians were denounced everywhere by the Romans. He tells again how Paul persisted in using the Law of Moses to teach the Jews that Jesus was indeed Messiah. Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe.” (Acts 28:24) Read Paul’s response in Acts 28:28 and then read Acts 13:46. And with that account, Luke's story is pretty much over.

Luke’s literary artistry had certainly come full circle. Paul’s entrance into Rome is just the beginning of the fulfillment of Acts 1:8 -- that the Gospel would be proclaimed to the ends of the earth. Why does Luke end the Book of Acts so abruptly? The book is not so much about the life of Paul, but about the spread of the gospel. Now that the gospel had been established and preached in Rome - the world’s center of trade and government - it would definitely spread to the ends of the earth. It simply wasn’t necessary to write anything else about the continuing history of the Church. We are the Church. We are writing its history today. We are interacting with the message! Look at Luke’s final words in Acts 28:30-31: “For two whole years Paul…welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and unhindered he preached the Kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Despite all the obstacles and the Roman government's attitude toward Christianity, Paul was unhindered. This message (the part where we are supposed to start interacting) is framed by one of Luke’s very last words: akolytos, “unhindered.” Paul was unhindered in his witness. It’s no different today. We’ve got obstacles. We’ve got a government that is more-or-less indifferent (often hostile) toward Christianity. Despite our postmodern world, things are still pretty much the same. But, as Christians, we’re called to be bold and unhindered as we interact with and continue the story. Where are you in this interactive story?

– Pastor Mark

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Shipwrecks of Life. . .

Have you ever been so immersed in a storyline that you just had to see it to its conclusion? I hope today’s message is every bit as good as the last great television plot you followed. It is after all the conclusion to a great series. If television producers created TV programs based on New Testament history, the depiction of the Apostle Paul’s shipwreck would make a great reality series.

Here’s a thumbnail sketch of the story. Paul has been in prison for two years in Caesarea. He has appealed his case to Caesar so he is sent to Rome by ship. The final two chapters of Acts describe this journey. Everything seems to have gone wrong for Paul in these last two chapters. As a missionary, he couldn’t do too much preaching as a prisoner; and the journey to Rome was an utter catastrophe. Let’s look as Luke’s vivid chronicle of the journey:

“…the winds were against us. (27:4) We made slow headway for many days. . . (27:7) Much time had been lost and sailing had become dangerous…(27:9) A wind of hurricane force called the northeaster swept down from the island. The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind. (27:14-15) We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw cargo overboard. (27:18) The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners, so that none would swim away and escape; but the centurion commanded that those who could swim should jump overboard and get to land.” (27:42-43)

There’s an old saying that man’s extremity is God’s opportunity. We, too, have shipwrecks in our lives – our careers, marriages, families, and hopes. So do those around us. We can draw enormous help and comfort from this story, because Paul demonstrates a God-honoring and practical way to respond to our own shipwrecks and the trials of those around us.

Paul was perfectly aware of the calamity around him, yet there is a quiet confidence, even joy, in his words and actions. Paul told the crew, “I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed.” (27:22) And we read in verse 36 that “they were all encouraged.” Paul provided HOPE.

Up to this point, we’ve seen Paul’s leadership as an evangelist and a missionary. And while a shipwreck is not exactly the right time for evangelistic services, Paul looks for every opportunity to talk about his faith in God. When he ate food, he “gave thanks to God in front of them all.” (27:35) And in announcing that there would be a shipwreck, he explains, “I have faith in God that it will happen just as He told me.” (27:25) In the shipwrecks of life we, like Paul, can provide APPROPRIATE WITNESS.

During these nightmarish fourteen days, it’s very likely that most of the passengers were desperately seasick. Paul told them, “I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive.” Paul provided PRACTICAL ADVICE.
The lesson for us? Paul combined spirituality with sanity. Faith with works. He was a man of God and of action. A man of the Spirit and of common sense. We cannot avoid the shipwrecks of life. What we can do is use our circumstances to glorify God. We can stay the course and develop character. We can rest in God’s promises!
- Pastor Mark

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Search For Church...

It's a simple childhood game taught by Sunday School teachers. It was an “interactive learning experience” before anyone had ever spoken that phrase. Standing before the class, a teacher would ask children to fold their hands together, interlocking their fingers. “Here’s the church,” she would say as two- and three-year olds looked curiously at their folded hands. Then, pointing the forefinger of each hand skyward, she would say, “Here’s the steeple.” Children would giggle as their pudgy fingers formed the shape of a spire pointing to the heavens. There would be a moment of anticipation as the teacher turned her folded hands toward the class and nodded toward her thumbs, which now formed the shape of a door underneath the finger steeples, and said, “Open the doors,” while turning her hands just the right way to make the previously hidden fingers visible, “and see all the people!” Across the room there’d be gasps of pre-school amazement and gleeful giggles.

I am always thrilled to see children learn the Biblical truth that the church is the people of God and not a building or a social agency or an historical institution or a even a babysitter! I’m even more thrilled when adults grasp it. I mean really grasp it. Sure, people make up the church, but people also make up the Chamber of Commerce and the Boy Scouts. The Church is a living, breathing, divine body made up of people who have surrendered their lives to Jesus – its head! Sadly for some, finding the Church can be a life long search.

Over the last few months, we’ve been on a journey through the Book of Acts. We’ve uncovered the beginnings of the New Testament Church and walked in the footsteps of the first missionary. We’ve discovered this living organism known as the Body of Christ. Unfortunately there are countless people living among us who still haven’t experienced church as the Body of Christ! They still only understand it as a New Testament narrative. As a pastor, I observe it every Sunday morning. I catch sight of it in the community everyday: People who have never been able to see and experience what the Body of Christ is really designed to be. As a result, some believe the church is irrelevant. Others decide to attend other churches that will, obviously, be better than what they have experienced in the past and will better fit their current needs. Others resign themselves to a spiritual stagnation and become content with the empty ritual of simply “attending” church instead of experiencing a vibrant relationship with God and His Family. And God is grieved.

Over the last (almost) eighteen months we’ve been on another kind of journey. A journey known in church circles as a “building phase.” We’ve been planning and constructing and waiting. And waiting. And the search for our church building is almost over! Drive near the 1100 block of Ninth Street NE and our new church building is instantly recognizable! Within weeks we’ll watch as that much-anticipated steeple rises into the sky and fine-tunes the skyline of Austin. I’ll probably be there. With a camera! See, as I’ve driven through Austin over the last few weeks, I’ve wondered to myself, “Will the steeple be visible from here? How about here? At what point on Interstate-90 will I see it? ” Have you done that too? Don’t get me wrong. I am just as excited as anyone else about our new building. It’s very important to have an attractive and functional building. People are far more likely these days to attend church in a nice building. Outward appearance is important. But . . . News flash! The church is not the building! Do I sound like a broken record? Good. If our new building defines Crane Community Chapel for you, perhaps you haven’t fully grasped that childhood game.
. . . Are you searching for Church?

- Pastor Mark

God's Will vs. Bad Counsel

Beginning in Acts 21, we come to the “home stretch” of the Book of Acts. It’s here that Paul enters Jerusalem against the advice of many fellow believers, including his traveling companions. He is falsely accused, nearly killed, and then arrested (and thereby rescued) by Roman authorities. Sounds like quite a plot for a movie! But this isn’t Hollywood. No. We’re dealing here with the greatest missionary of all time, thus it was an occasion for Paul to -- once again -- proclaim the Gospel!

Paul had resolved to go on to Jerusalem while he was still in Ephesus, and along the way he met and fellowshipped with fellow believers. One would imagine these meetings to be very similar to what took place in Miletus. As they departed each city, they knelt together and prayed and said tender and tearful goodbyes. We’re also told in Acts 21:4 that “they repeatedly told Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem.” But Paul pressed on, rejecting the warnings, convinced that his suffering was the will of God. He is not only willing to suffer, but also to die for Christ. I don’t know about you, but I read this account with great admiration for Paul. I am amazed to find that some godly scholars have reached the conclusion that Paul was wrong, in his decision to continue on the Jerusalem.

Nowhere in Scripture are we told that Paul did wrong. The remaining chapters of Acts do not indict Paul for wrongdoing; they honor him for his faithfulness! And Paul’s words to Timothy strongly imply that he had not departed from God’s will, but that he had fulfilled it:

I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
… there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me at that day…
II Timothy 4:7-8

Here’s the scene once Paul arrives in Jerusalem: He’s falsely accused of a high Jewish crime, resulting in a riot in which he is nearly put to death on the spot. He’s placed under arrest. He shares his testimony with the some Jews. This results in another riot. In Chapter 23, we find Paul standing before the Sanhedrin. Realizing that there will be no justice here, Paul identifies himself as Pharisee, thus resulting in even more tumult. Paul is then confined to the military barracks for his own protection until they can decide what to do with him. (Talk about conspiracy!?) That night, Jesus Himself stands beside Paul and speaks:

Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome. –Acts 23:11

These are not words of rebuke. These are words of commendation. Paul, like Jesus before him, set out toward Jerusalem, knowing full well the turmoil awaiting him. (Compare Luke 9:51 and Acts 19:21.) So why does Luke record all the warnings from other well-meaning believers? Well, Scripture is full of advice on not taking advice from evil people. Luke’s account might just be telling us that bad counsel can come from those who deeply love us too. Our most intimate and trusted friends might be giving bad advice. Are you close enough to Christ – are you mature enough in your faith - to discern God’s will from bad counsel? Read Paul’s words in II Corinthians 1:3-6 and 4:17-18 before you answer.

- Pastor Mark

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Heart of Christian Work...

One of the most exciting things in ministry is allowing God’s Word to speak over the current and dramatic moments in the life of a church. Our study of the early Church in the Book of Acts parallels our own church building project and that’s exciting because God’s Word really has been coaching us on the real mission of the Church body. (By now, I do hope you know the difference between the two.) Up until now, Luke has been narrating the work of the early Church along with the journeys and ministry of the Apostle Paul. But in Acts Chapter 20, Luke takes a twist and invites us into the heart of Paul the Missionary. It’s an especially poignant and tender passage. It speaks directly to those in ministry even though it applies to all of us. It speaks to the heart of anyone involved in Christian work.

Here’s the situation of the passage. The final dramatic events of Acts are about to happen with the Apostle Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem and his eventual appearance before Caesar in Rome. But on his way to Jerusalem, Paul spends some time with the leaders of the church at Ephesus. He sends for the elders and they meet just outside of Ephesus in a town called Miletus. Here Paul has some final words for them. He knows he will not see them again until they meet in heaven.

You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, form the first day I came into the province of Asia. I served the Lord with great humility and with tears, although I was severely tested by the plots of the Jews. You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in
repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.”
- Acts 20:18-21

These verses are Paul’s summation of his life and ministry in Ephesus. What strikes me here is that Paul was a man sold out for Jesus and driven by a burden for people. His words clearly map-out for us the heart of Christian work and the necessary priorities. Look at the passage again. First: Paul served the Lord… no matter what! And he did it with humility and tears. Second: He did not hesitate to preach anything that would be helpful because building up the Church and reaching the unsaved was indeed the essence of his work. Paul’s needs and desires aren’t even mentioned. They of course came last in the arrangement of priorities. Quite a contrast from the “wisdom” of our day. We’re overrun with views and ideas and guidance on how to take care of “self.” Visit any bookstore and you’ll find an entire section called “Self Help.” Try to find a Bible in the same store. Not quite as big a section for God’s Word. That’s sad.

Back to my opening words: As a pastor it is both amazing and humbling to allow God’s Word to speak over the current and dramatic moments in the life of a church. In a few weeks, we will be in a brand new church building and the Celebration of Christ’s Birth will be upon us. Many will be occupied with details. Don’t let those details cast a shadow on the heart of your work as a Christian. Keep His Word – The Bible - your priority.
-Pastor Mark

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Power of the Gospel...

Last week I told you that I believe there are people in Austin yet to be saved. There is work to be done in Mower County, and Crane Chapel has the mission, the people, and the resources to do it! Need some encouragement? In Acts 19, Luke gives a fascinating account of how the Gospel of Christ reached and affected an entire city and its surrounding area through a relatively small group of Christians. That city was Ephesus.

Ephesus was a luxurious city, but it was given up to the occult and black magic. The people cooked up mysterious formulas to give them wealth and happiness and success. Superstition, sorcery, and the worship of idols were very common. The Ephesians worshipped the Asiatic goddess Diana (or Artemis), the goddess of fertility. Their supreme glory was the temple of Diana, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. And a principal business of Ephesus was the making of small idols and shrines. Ephesus, like Corinth, was saturated with idolatry, witchcraft, riots and immorality. Enter: The Apostle Paul. (Doesn’t it seem as though Paul is somehow drawn to these kinds of cities?)

Paul stayed and preached in Ephesus for over two years. And Christianity became one of the most powerful influences in the city. Ephesus also became one of the most famous churches in the world. The Gospel so affected the city that its economy was actually disrupted! Remember: the production of idols and shrines was a major business here.

What was Paul’s secret? It is no secret. It is the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It has the power to overcome Satan and all those things he uses to destroy us (witchcraft, etc.). Later in his letter to the church in Ephesus Paul would write, “For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms.” (Eph. 6:12) And in his letter to the Corinthians he said, “We use God’s mighty weapons, not mere worldly weapons, to knock down the Devil’s strongholds. With these weapons we break down every proud argument that keeps people from knowing God. With these weapons we conquer their rebellious ideas and we teach them to obey Christ.” (II Cor. 10:4-5)

These passages remind us that we have an enemy. He isn’t our boss, or our spouse, but a spiritual enemy. The Bible clearly teaches that Satan is a manipulator. Scripture describes him as the “god of this world.” Until Paul’s arrival, Satan held Ephesus in bondage. The people lived in confusion and they indulged themselves in lust and desire and magic. We have our own form of magic today: The magic of money, or power, or possessions or human capability dominate the culture. But we are called to battle the stronghold. How? Several weeks ago, I challenged you to ask God to bring to your mind someone to share the Gospel with. Some of you have shared that you’ve taken up this challenge. As a reminder: This is why the Church exits – to rescue people out of Satan’s bondage. And believe me, Ephesus isn’t that much different from our culture today. The Power is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Share it!
– Pastor Mark

Friday, October 06, 2006

Salvation in the Midst of Depravity...

What's the mood…the atmosphere…the character of our beloved Southeastern Minnesota? You know what I mean: When folks from New York City visit, with what impressions do they leave? And how does a native of Southern California feel after a stopover in Brownsdale or Taopi? Well, I’ve lived in California and I’ve lived in rural Minnesota. Believe me. They’re two entirely different mission fields!

I think the Apostle Paul went through a much greater sort of culture shock when he left Athens and headed to Corinth. Athens was the intellectual capital of the Roman world. It’s where they had that entire amphitheater called Areopagus set aside just for intellectual and philosophical debate. Now Corinth is a beautiful city located about fifty miles west of Athens. It’s situated on a narrow neck of land between the Adriatic Sea and the Aegean Sea. And there was a great temple on Acrocorinth (the hill behind the city). Sounds magnificent, right? Here’s the not-so-magnificent part: Every evening a thousand-some priestesses would come down into the city streets to carry out their trade, indulging in lasciviousness, immorality, and depravity. The city of Corinth had the reputation throughout the whole Roman world as the center of sensuality.

Remember how troubled and offended Paul was over the worship of idols in Athens? Imagine his distress over the open depravity in the streets of Corinth? This was a definitely a low point in Paul’s life and ministry. He was alone on this trip. He longed for the companionship of Silas and Timothy. He was short on finances and had to enter the workforce as a tentmaker working with leather. He was becoming more and more aware of Jewish opposition to the Gospel. And he had just left Greece – an area he felt was an unproductive area for the message of Christ. Remember too that Paul grew up in a very religious and strict Jewish home. So he had to have been quite appalled and disturbed over the evil perversion running rampant in the streets of his newest mission field.

But let’s look at the text of Acts 18:9-10: “Then the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but speak and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.’” Know what? Paul stayed another eighteen months! And if you know your New Testament Books, you know that the two longest Pauline Epistles were written to the people of this depraved city of Corinth. People were actually saved in Corinth.

Is there a lesson in this for us? Of course. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the same no matter where you go and to whom you speak. Californians need the Gospel of Salvation no more and no less that us Midwesterners. Never predict the outcome of your witness (intentional or unintentional). Just go ahead and share it!

- Pastor Mark

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Help Me to Live for Others...

By C.D. Meigs

Lord help me live from day to day
In such a self-forgetful way
That even when I kneel to pray
My prayer shall be for – Others.

Help me in all the work I do
To ever be sincere and true
And know that all I do for you
Must needs be done for – Others.

Let “Self” be crucified and slain
And buried deep; and all in vain
May efforts be to rise again
Unless to live for – Others.

And when my work on earth is done
And my new work in heaven’s begun
May I forget the crown I’ve won
While thinking still of – Others.

Others, Lord, yes others
Let this my motto be
Help me to live for others
That I may live like Thee.

F rom the very first phases of our building project, we have make every effort to not overlook the vision and mission of Crane Community Chapel. And a recent visit by Della and Dave Matt reaffirmed that vision. On Sunday, October 1st, Della shared a beautiful poem entitled Others.

As we continue studying and understanding the birth of the New Testament Church in the Book of Acts, let’s continue to understand and appreciate how very important Crane Chapel’s heritage of serving others really is.

It was to serve others that Christ came down from His glory to clothe himself in human flesh. It was for others that He gave His life on a cross. It was service to others that drove the missionaries in the Book of Acts to distant cities and far-away lands to share the life-giving message that Jesus saves.

Yes. . . Others must be our passion and it must be the purpose for the very existence of Crane Chapel. Whether others be a toddler, an AWANA child, a teen, a single adult, a busy mom, a working man, a widow, a senior citizen, or a shut-it, we must be available for service to others.
"Others, Lord, yes others; Let this my motto be."

- Pastor Mark Goossen

Laughed Off The Hill...

It doesn’t take too many clicks of your television remote, or even a trip through a grocery store checkout aisle to be convinced that we live in a time of “spiritual” exploration. In many respects, not unlike that of the pagan world of Greece when Paul preached in Athens. It was here that Paul became quite candid and outspoken over the worship of idols. It was the custom then, in Athens, for the philosophers of the time to gather at an arena near Areopagus – or Mars Hill -- for debate over philosophies and ideas. Acts 17:21 records Luke’s observations: “Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.” The Greeks would like to have us think that they were seeking truth through their debate, but very much like today, “spirituality” was to great extent nothing more that a consumer item. A fad. Like Americans, the Greeks had a great attraction to novelty.

In that regard Paul found himself in a situation very much unlike any today. Rather than the message of Jesus being rejected because it was something people thought they had already heard, the Gospel was exciting to the Greeks because it was something “new.” Isn’t it interesting that Christianity is rejected so frequently in today’s society because people think they already know everything about it -- when in reality they don't have a clue? Well, in Paul's case, the Gospel was heard! The people of Athens recognized that this “philosophy” was something new and fresh. Something they did not know. But, oddly, Paul spoke to them as if they did in fact already know it. Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I found an altar with this inscription: ‘TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you.” (Acts 17:22-23)

Paul began by directing their thoughts "to the unknown god" by speaking of the God the Creator: “God, who made the world and everything in it, seeing He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshipped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, seeing He gives to all life, breath, and all things.” Well, the philosophers – being pagan philosophers – rejected it. They laughed Paul off Mars Hill. They especially didn’t buy the whole resurrection part!

Throughout history, peoples of all cultures and all religious beliefs have known something of God in the wonders of creation. They know God the Creator through his works and the sense of awe of His Creation. Paul wrote in Romans 1:19-20, “…what may be known of God is manifest in man for God has shown it to them for since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen being understood by the things that are made even His eternal power in Godhead so that they are without excuse.”(Romans 1:19-20) Sad part is, like the philosophers at Areopagus, people are still rejecting Him and laughing. What do you think? Is He the unknown God? “He was in the world, and the world came into being through Him; yet the world did not knowHim.” (John 1:10)

- Pastor Mark

An Unusual Place for a Hymn Sing...

One thing pastors (and missionaries) learn fairly quickly is that ministry is not a nine-to-five job. That’s because the Gospel of Jesus Christ works twenty-four hours a day. Life happens twenty-four hours a day and people are touched and converted in very unusual circumstances. Sometimes we might avoid speaking about Christ because we just don’t think the circumstances suggest a favorable outcome. And we just might be making the wrong choice when we think that way.

Consider one such set of unfavorable circumstances: The time isn’t right. It’s midnight. The place isn’t right. The believers are in a dungeon-like prison, they’re physically wounded, and restrained in stocks. And the potential convert is a heartless, heathen jailer. (Sunday School recollection should be kicking in here…) The believers are of course Paul and his co-worker Silas. It’s Paul’s Second Missionary Journey and he had traveled to the city of Philippi in Macedonia to preach. Interestingly, this is the very first time that the Gospel of Christ is being proclaimed on the European mainland.

In Acts 16:14-15 we meet the first convert – a business woman named Lydia. She and all of her family believed and were baptized. Paul and Silas continued on preaching, and a servant girl who was controlled by an evil spirit began to follow them. Everywhere they preached, this girl would yell and cry out. She was shouting out truth, but it was so disruptive. See Paul was a very well-thought-out speaker. He was reasoned and logical. He really wanted people to understand and think about what he was saying. That was hard with all the disruptive yelling. So the evil was cast out of this girl. And everyone was happy. Well almost everyone…

“But when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities.” (Acts 16:19) The girl had been used by her masters to “tell fortunes” and so forth. People figured she had a “gift” and paid money for it. Paul and Silas were accused of throwing the community into confusion and they were severely beaten and thrown into prison.

In prison…in stocks…bruised and bleeding…and surrounded by criminals. What does one do? Pray and sing hymns, of course! Well, that’s not the usual thing to do, but these are not your usual prisoners. We all know what happened next….Sunday School recall! Earthquake…jailer wants to kill himself…and in the end the jailer washes the wounds of Paul and Silas and he and all his family believed and were baptized. (Read Acts 16:30-31)

Imagine the impact of the things said in prayer and hymns on the jailer and the other prisoners. It was a far cry from the threats and curses usually heard in such places. The message had its effect on the listeners. It always does. The gospel has the power to save souls, and we have the responsibility to teach it. The Gospel can work effectively in all kinds of circumstances. What are you doing with the Gospel?

- Pastor Mark

Friday, September 08, 2006

Snapshots From an Extraordinary Journey...

Admittedly, family vacation snapshots are not standard fare for a church newsletter. Family photos just don’t mean much to anyone except the family members captured in them. But these snapshots might just be the exception to any such rule. See, our family’s ordinary journey to Indiana and Kentucky in August brought us face to face (literally) with Crane Chapel’s exciting future and it’s esteemed past. After attending a week of classes at FLAME (Fellowship of Leaders Acquiring Ministerial Education) in Frankfort, Indiana, we headed to Zionsville, Indiana to visit Joe and Della Matt along with Dave and Nancy. The Matts really do have a deep love for Crane Chapel and Crane Chapel has a rare appreciation, understanding and respect for the Matt Family. The Matts aren’t just former pastors. The Matts are Crane Chapel’s heritage. The Matt Family has truly influenced generations. And these particular family photos are priceless.

In much the same way, the snapshots of the early Church we’ve been uncovering in the Book of Acts are priceless and designed to instruct and influence generations of Christians. As Christians, these snapshots are our heritage. The Apostle Paul’s Extraordinary Missionary Journeys are no exception; and this is where we’re going next in our Building the Church Series. Paul’s first missionary journey starts in Acts Chapter 13, where we see the first powerful expansion of the Church. Acts 13:49 records, “…the Word of the Lord was being preached throughout the whole region.”

The Apostle Paul’s Missionary Journeys are not just a piece of New Testament history. Paul’s experiences are precious family snapshots. They are reminders that the same things experienced by Paul and his companions will happen wherever and whenever the Gospel is preached.

Our study over the next weeks should spur us to reexamine our own conclusions about what the church is and should be doing. The Church in 2006 – indeed Crane Chapel itself -- retains its legitimacy only in as much as it presents a continuum of the Early Church. The Church in Acts was not stagnant or self-serving. It was not a church gripped with too many details and social concerns. Paul told Timothy: “Preach the Word!” (II Timothy 4:2) This is what Church is all about. Too many modern churches have usurped Christ’s position as head of the Church and have allowed “the way we’ve always done it” or “this is what the community needs” to dictate the future. Let’s allow this study of Paul’s Journeys to really focus the true mission of the Church. These snapshots really are the framework for the Church for every generation.

- Pastor Mark Goossen

The Great Debate Over Grace. . .

Crane Chapel is a very busy church. We have a lot of meetings! We’ve got AWANA Meetings, Trustee Meetings, Church Board of Administrators Meetings, Youth Worker Meetings, WMS Meetings, Planning Meetings, Worship Committee Meetings (the list goes on…). Well, Acts Chapter 15 describes the most important meeting of the Early Church. And the issue at hand is one that affects all of us today -- regardless of which meeting(s) you attend or don’t attend here at Crane Chapel. The future of the entire Church was at stake in Acts 15: Was it to remain a sect of Judaism, or would it allow uncircumcised Gentiles? Remember Christ said: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…” (Matt. 28:19) Let's look deeper at the controversy and how the Council of Jerusalem was formed.

“Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, `Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.' " (Acts15:1) They were saying that circumcision was required for salvation. They probably figured: Christians should obey God and God commanded circumcision. Paul and Barnabas had a very different opinion: "And Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them…”(Acts 15:2). How was the argument to be resolved? In the interest of unity within the Church, Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders over the controversy. And like most controversial meetings, it had a name: The Jerusalem Council.

Among the Council was Peter. (Remember good-old outspoken Peter?!) In the first of three speeches at the council, Peter began to scold those who wanted the Gentiles to obey the laws of Moses. His words amounted to one of the strongest defenses of salvation by grace alone contained in all of Scripture: “…why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.” (Acts 15:10-11). This verse is the crux of the entire matter! Peter's point is that the “yoke” of Moses’ various laws were a burden that the Jewish people were – frankly -- unable to keep. No matter how hard people worked to keep those rituals, they could never be perfect. They showed that works can never lead to salvation. Salvation is attained in a different way. By grace. Grace alone. We cannot earn it. It must be given to us. Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Are you trusting in God’s Gift of Grace or your own “works?”

- Pastor Mark

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Prejudice & The Great Commission

Any doubts the disciples had during Jesus’ ministry of His concern for all people, should have been erased at His ascension when He gave the apostles and the Church their mission statement: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). But in very much the same way that prejudice separates people today, discrimination ran so deep in the early Church that conversion to the traditions of Judaism was almost a prerequisite for coming to Christ. So basically, up to this point in our study, the Church was an offshoot of Judaism.

The story of Cornelius changed that. But only through God’s direct intervention! The walls between Jews and Gentiles were just too rigid and formidable. Cornelius, a Gentile, is identified as a Centurion in the Italian Regiment and we’re told that he is devout and God-fearing. So it makes sense that God was working in his life and preparing him: It began on a certain day about three o’clock in the afternoon, which was a time of prayer for Cornelius. But on this particular day, he had a vision. An angel came to him and said, "Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God" (Acts 10:4). The angel was speaking in the language of sacrifice used in Jewish circles and the message was that God was pleased with Cornelius, and was ready to reveal Salvation to him. In preparation for this, Cornelius was instructed to send for Peter. And so he did.

Now while Cornelius was eagerly anticipating this meeting, Peter was a most reluctant evangelist. It took a direct edict from Heaven to lead Peter to change his view on Gentiles. Remember: Peter is a man with deep and abiding convictions, whether in the will of God or floundering against it. (This is the guy who jumped out of the boat after Jesus … then denied him three times!) …And so it was indeed in a dream that God prepared Peter: A dream about – of all things! – clean and unclean animals inside a large sheet held up by its four corners and being let down to the ground. And so after arriving at Cornelius’ home, Peter acknowledged that his coming was only at the Lord’s leading for God’s purpose: “God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean” (Acts 10:28). After Cornelius shared with Peter the events of his angelic visit, Peter knew God sent him there for one purpose, to extend the gospel to Cornelius and all the other Gentiles present.
As we study this account today more than 2,000 years later, I hope we learn a valuable lesson from it. The story of Cornelius and Peter leaves no doubt of the Lord’s intent for the Church: The Gospel is for EVERYONE! The clash of Jews and Gentiles is not unlike the clashes of prejudice today. We must seize our opportunities to clearly convey the message of Jesus with whomever – whenever – and wherever we are given the opportunity. We cannot allow prejudice to obstruct the clear purpose of The Great Commission!

- Pastor Mark

Friday, July 28, 2006

Blinded But Enlightened ... and Transformed!

…Suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the
ground and heard a voice say to him “Saul, Saul, why do
you persecute me?” “Who are you Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting….”
Acts 9:4-5

The account of Saul’s conversion is dramatic and intense. It’s not a story that too many of us can entirely relate to since it’s doubtful that any of us have been knocked to the ground by a flash of light and a voice from heaven. But how many of us began as a vicious persecutor of Christians? Even so, Saul’s experience on the Damascus Road can teach us some very important lessons about the nature of transformation.

I’ve often heard people say about their conversion something like this: “I found Christ under such and such circumstances,” or “I came to faith in such and such circumstances.” That’s backwards! Sure we have free will to accept Christ, but it’s not too often that the needy, angry, self-destructive person is seeking to find Jesus. In the same way that Jesus found Saul in his circumstances, Jesus finds us in our circumstances. Jesus seeks us and gives himself to us. He did it when He died on the cross. … Let’s look at what happened next:

Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand… (Acts 9:8) The flash of light from heaven was so bright that it physically blinded Saul. Luke tells us that the men traveling with Saul stood speechless. They heard sound, but did not see anyone. Remember, it was Saul who was being sought by Jesus here -- not his traveling companions! -- and (here’s the tender part): That light was so bright that it penetrated the darkness of Saul's heart and filled him with the revelation that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. Paul wrote about this light from heaven years later:

For God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness,” made
His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge
of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
(II Corinthians 4:6)

Saul's story really is the story of every one of us before we come to Christ. We are born as enemies of God, blinded by unbelief. We are born as grandchildren of Adam, depraved and lost. Some of us have pasts we are ashamed of (like Saul?)…. We were born into the world needing to be transformed!

Think about the words of John 3:16. Now think about Saul; and think about your own life. If you’ve already come to Christ and been transformed, your heart is filled with joy and thanksgiving. If you’re still resisting Jesus and looking for transformation through psychology or education or positive thinking, know this: Just like Saul – true transformation comes from a personal encounter with Jesus! Saul did not see a vision. He saw the Risen Christ Himself !
- Pastor Mark

Why Build a Church? ...Why Go to Church?

"The grass withereth, the flower fadeth:
but the Word of our God shall stand forever."
Isaiah 40:8
Eighteen years ago George Barna wrote a book entitled Marketing the Church. In the book he wrote, “The audience, not the message is sovereign.” It’s a notion that thousands of pastors and churches have unwittingly swallowed as if it were Scripture. It has been parroted in virtually every major book on church leadership since; and it’s being taught in seminaries across the country. The basic idea is that people’s“needs” must shape the pastor’s message. Opinion polls and listener response become barometers that tell a pastor what to preach.

Now compare that with the words of the Apostle Paul, who said (in II Timothy 4:2-5), “The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned to fables.” Do you think Paul would have agreed with Barna, who said we must adapt our message to the preferences of the audience at the risk of having them reject the message?
Absolutely Not! Paul told Timothy: “Preach the Word! …in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” As your pastor, this is what I am called to do – not to follow the fads and fashions of our culture. Not even the evangelical fads that have assaulted the church in wave after wave over the last two decades. You know what I’m talking about: “What Would Jesus Do?” Bracelets, “Prayer of Jabez” stuff, Purpose-Driven merchandise (complete with the authorized trademark symbol.) Remember the “Toronto Blessing?” What about “Promise Keepers?” and all the Left Behind Books?

Why do I call them fads? Because that’s precisely what they are. They weren’t around thirty-five years ago, and they’ll be gone in ten. Why have Christians become so susceptible? Why are evangelicals so keen to jump on every bandwagon? In a word: simplicity. The fads water-down the Word of God: Scripture is more often than not out of context. The message is soft and generic and non-threatening so it doesn’t rebuke anyone’s sin; endanger anyone’s shallowness; threaten anyone’s comfort zone; or challenge anyone’s worldliness. The fads hardly ever take a stand on the controversial issues. God’s Word is unmistakably clear on today’s controversial issues!

I’m convinced that those who do not get back to the business of preaching the Bible will soon see their churches die – because the Word of God is the only message that has the power to give life!

Now. . . as the shepherd of a congregation in the midst of constructing a new church building, I’d be inconsistent – even remiss – if I didn’t challenge Crane Chapel to remember what the Church is all about! We’ve been working our way through the Book of Acts – the Building the Church Series - and I hope you’ve been listening. We definitely live in an entertainment hungry world with an increasingly entertainment hungry church. Christians today are having a harder time facing the serious stuff of life because they aren’t hearing the serious stuff of Scripture. Faith does still come by hearing, and hearing the Word of God! Why are we building a church? To preach the Word!!

Now. . . Why are you coming to church?

- Pastor Mark Goossen
"Heaven and earth shall pass away:
but my words shall not pass away."
Mark 13:31

Sensitive Hearts, Total Strangers & Revival

There is a remarkable account in the Book of Acts where a man named Philip witnesses to a total stranger from another country and graciously guides the man to faith in Jesus! The story is set in Samaria and begins with what our culture would call revival.

There was great enthusiasm among the believers. Christians were proclaiming Christ from village to village. The mood was enthusiastic and contagious. Acts 8:25 brings us into the scene: And so, when they had solemnly testified and spoken the Word of the Lord, they started back to Jerusalem, and were preaching the Gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.
Suddenly God steps in and does something completely unexpected and out-of-the-blue. He sends an angel to redirect this man named Philip: But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Arise and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” And he arose and went…. (Acts 8:26-27)

Now…without thinking in terms of a dictionary, define revival. Are you thinking in terms of thrilling and exciting or are you thinking more along the lines of sensitivity and quite anticipation? Revival is both. But without the sensitivity to and anticipation of God’s direction, how would we know what His direction is!? His work would never be accomplished!

When we’re sensitive to God’s directing it naturally follows that we will be available for whatever He calls us to do. So what did Philip do? …he arose and went. Look what happened next: …and behold, there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure…. He was sitting in his chariot reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip “Go and join this chariot.”

What a choice opportunity! Imagine being directed by an angel to a desert road – away from the rousing environment of a revival where you just happen to encounter a political leader from another country! The Secretary of the Treasury no less! And he’s reading Scripture! Now in today’s world, if you were to encounter someone reading their Bible, what would you do? Would you reflect quietly, “That person’s a Christian. That’s very special,” and continue on your way? Or would you sit down and initiate a conversation? Sadly, I think most of us would opt to continue on our way.

Philip opted instead to talk to the stranger. And Philip initiated the conversation. And the eunuch answered Philip and said “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this?” (Talk about an open door for witnessing!!) The government official had confessed his ignorance and he warmly accepted any teaching Philip could offer so Philip opened his mouth and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus unto him. (Acts 8:35)

Wow! When was the last time you witnessed to a complete stranger? When was the last time you were sensitive enough to hear and discern God’s direction to witness at all!? We do live in a superficial and fast-paced society. And we tend to think of revival in terms of old-fashion tent meetings and people on their knees pleading with God to do something. Here’s an assignment for you: Pray that you might be sensitive to at least one opportunity to witness and share Jesus this week. Revival begins with anticipation and a sensitive heart.
– Pastor Mark

Stephen: His Miracles, His Message, His Martydom

We are first introduced to Stephen when the apostles informed the Church that is was not right that they neglect the Word of God in order to wait tables. Stephen was chosen as one of the seven to take up the work of serving the widows. He is described as a man who was both “full of the Spirit and wisdom” (vs. 3) and as one who was “full of faith...” (vs. 5). Stephen’s new ministry seems to have put him in contact with a great many people. And the mention of Stephen’s ability to perform “wonders and miracles (vs. 8) is very significant. It seems to imply that Stephen was, or at least functioned similarly to, an apostle. God had indeed purposed to make this man an apostle, in His own time, and in His own way. And – just like Peter – Stephen’s ministry incensed the Sanhedrin. So we find Stephen – just like Peter -- defending himself.

But Stephen’s defense before the Sanhedrin is really more of a sermon. It is the longest recorded sermon the Book of Acts. And Stephen’s sermon is Scriptural. One cannot imagine how any more Scripture could have been packed into one message. Stephen is not like so many contemporary preachers who begin with a Scripture text never again to return to it. His entire message was Scripture! And his conclusion was but an application of these Scriptures to his accusers. In spite of the fact that Stephen’s sermon had a very strong message of God’s judgment, it was motivated by a loving and gracious spirit. Yet the message was too much to bear. Just as they had done before, the Sanhedrin rejected God’s spokesman and they would do away with Stephen in an effort to do away with the message of Jesus.

The description of the crowd is one of near insanity. They were out of their minds. Logic and reason would have agreed with Stephen, for his message was merely a recitation of the Old Testament. But the Spirit of Christ was present; and the crowd would have none of Him “and they stoned Stephen…” (Acts 7:59). They drug him out of the city and stoned him, with the consent and assistance of Saul. Stephen, like his Savior, called upon God to receive his sprit. His last words, like those of Jesus, were words of compassion. He prayed for the forgiveness of those who had sinned by taking his life. The salvation of Saul, while it would be at a later time, was an answer to this prayer.

What an illustration of dying grace! We hear much about being “Spirit filled,” but we don’t speak of it in the context of death. Stephen’s death, because it was experience by a Spirit-filled man, is a model for all Christians. And there are more direct applications of this text to us. Just as Jerusalem was rushing towards its own destruction, so is our own world. The judgment of God is soon to fall on our world for the same reason that it fell upon Jerusalem – rejection of God’s Word. And finally, there is the lesson in how to use and interpret Scripture. Stephen’s message was drenched in Scripture. There was much of God’s thoughts and none of Stephen’s. Stephen had a grasp of the Scriptures, as a whole, and in large potions. May we imitate Stephen in his handling of the Word of God!

-Pastor Mark

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Unity, Disunity, and the Church's Primary Purpose

The Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews… So the twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the Word of God.” – Acts 6:1-2

Proclaiming the word of God is the primary purpose of the church and Satan will do anything to distract God’s people from that purpose.

A few years ago I came across some small dark pellets in the area underneath our kitchen sink. With my brilliant mind I deduced that a mouse had been present in the kitchen! In the same way, whenever we see certain droppings in the church we must deduce that Satan is at work.

In this passage we learn that there were “droppings” of disunity, unhappiness, complaining and murmuring among the disciples in the early church. Why were these droppings there? Because Satan was at work. Satan is always opposing the church. Sometimes he brings opposition from without and sometimes from within. Here we see Satan working within the church by causing the people to murmur against each other.

Satan was trying to distract the apostles from their primary work of preaching the Word of God by calling their attention to the need for social service within the church, specifically in the area of food distribution. But the apostles would not be distracted from their calling. Why? They were called by Jesus himself to preach the gospel . Jesus told his disciples to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, not the things of the world. Why? Man’s soul is infinitely more important than his body. What does it profit if a man gains the whole world yet loses his soul? The only way a sinner can be saved is through the proclamation of the gospel. So, when they heard the disciples murmuring, the apostles established a certain organization to deal with food distribution in an equitable way and “this proposal pleased the whole group.”(Acts 6:5) There is a need for a certain amount (and the right kind) of organization in the church. “God is not a God of disorder but of peace. Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” (I Cor. 14:33,40)

Acts 6 speaks directly to the re-organization and re-appointment of deacons in the church so that its primary purpose is uninterrupted. Up to this point the apostles were just preaching the gospel and caring for the poor. But the growth of the early church created administrative problems. Satan tried to use these problems to destroy the church by inciting the disciples to murmur and complain against each other over - of all things - Christian service!
Today, we definitely live in a work-ethic society where people are measured and tend to measure themselves in terms of busyness and service. God has called each of us to Christian service (I Peter 4:10), but He calls us first of all to know Him. It’s out of that personal relationship that He then calls us to serve. We do not serve selfishly as an escape from loneliness, unhappiness, or some underlying, compulsive need – That kind of service is a “dropping” on the church body and it does not serve to proclaim the Gospel. Satan’s attacks and droppings are discouraging and disheartening. But they can also be an exciting challenge because we can only reach unity as a body and win victories when we’re fighting battles!

-Pastor Mark

Encounters With Civil Authorities

Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said,
“We ought to obey God rather than men.” - Acts 5:29

Peter and the apostles are in jail again being reprimanded by the Sanhedrin: “We gave you strict orders not to teach in Jesus name, didn’t we? Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to bring this man’s blood on us!” And of course, the apostles respond with civil disobedience by very straightforwardly announcing that they would obey God – not man!

The Sanhedrin neither liked nor did they welcome the apostles in Jerusalem because the reception of the Gospel by the multitudes was toppling their spiritual leadership. If the people had ignored the apostles’ preaching, the Sanhedrin would not have cared what the apostles did. But clearly the people were excited over the miracles and receptive to the message of Life in Jesus. Peter had become so popular among the people that the arresting officers were actually afraid to touch him. Now put yourself in Peter’s sandals and try to imagine a similar scenario today. Would civil disobedience be the “right thing to do?” What would you do?

Those who call themselves Christians today can harm the testimony of true Christianity by the way they behave toward civil authorities. Believers are to set their affections and priorities on Christ, and His Word, but they are also to be godly and obedient citizens in society. Sometimes it’s a fine line. Peter tells us (in I Peter 2:13) “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.” He was commanding believers to respect civil authority. And in I Timothy 2:1-3, Paul instructs us to pray “for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life.” Quite a contrast from Peter’s defiance toward the Sanhedrin. Where do you draw the line?

First, we need to acknowledge that God is in control of all situations and that He has ordained civil authority. (Romans13:1-7) So when a Christian submits to civil authority, he/she is obeying God. When civil authorities say, (for example) “We’re raising the Minnesota sale tax to 21.5% to fund highway maintenance,” and this does not violate the teaching of God’s Word, we should obey with meekness and without speaking evil of anyone. (Titus 3:1-3) It is sad when those who name Christ defy the very government He ordained. His Kingdom just does not benefit from disobedience. Even if we disagree!

The one exception is if civil authorities tell us to do something that would violate God’s Word. In Acts 4:18 the Sanhedrin commanded Peter and John “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.” We know that Jesus told us in Matthew 28:19-20 that we have authority to teach and make disciples of all men.” And we know what happened to Peter. As Christians we must stand for Christ and His Word and be willing to suffer the consequences. But we must be careful not to go beyond the teaching of God’s Word. The early church did submit itself to the extremely pagan Roman government, realizing that God had ordained it. What about you? Are you willingly submitting to our God ordained government?
– Pastor Mark
(21.5% sales tax?! See Romans 13:6-7.)

Encounters With Sadducees

Christians nowadays have it pretty easy. Not often will sharing the Gospel of Jesus send us to jail as it did Peter and John. Still we run risks in trying to win others to Christ. And while most of us might be willing to spend a night in jail if it would bring 5,000 people to Christ, shouldn’t we also be willing to suffer for the sake of one?

In Acts Chapter 4, Peter and John were sharing the Gospel of Jesus when – as scripture records – “The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to [them.]” What we need to understand about this group is that they were members of a powerful Jewish sect that did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. They stood to gain financially by cooperating with the Romans; and it was they who engineered and carried out Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. The Sadducees had almost unlimited power over the temple and thus they were able to arrest Peter and John for no other reason than teaching something that contradicted their beliefs. And they did!

Now Peter and John stood before the same council that had condemned Jesus to death. Peter and John were questioned and this whole incident is considered the first persecution of the Church. But. . . instead of being defendants, the apostles were on the offensive: boldly speaking out for God and presenting the Gospel. In Acts 4:12 we find the final thrust of Peter’s defense speech. As Peter stood before these powerful, sophisticated, cultured, wealthy rulers of the Jewish people, the Holy Spirit gave him these words: "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."

Now, the Sadducees – along with many “Sadducees” of today -- reacted negatively to the fact that there is no other name than that of Jesus to call on for salvation. They say, "That’s too extreme. We believe in diversity and in accepting all “spiritual paths.” Surely Jesus isn’t going to send Indians, Chinese, Tibetans, and so on, to hell because they don’t believe in Jesus!"

Well, you may go ahead and call me a narrow-minded, extremist preacher! I will not apologize for preaching that there are only two paths: the broad way, which goes to hell, and the narrow way, which leads to eternal life with Jesus. You may accuse me of believing in this absolute truth that Jesus is the only Savior of the world. I do not mind because Peter’s statement is absolutely true: "There is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved." Peter did not decide this. The Church did not decide this. It is the specific teaching of Jesus himself (John 14:6).

As believers, we will encounter Sadducees. Perhaps you are a Sadducee – unwilling to accept that only Jesus saves. Be assured, Jesus alone saves! Not Jesus and Mary, nor Mary and the saints, nor our baptism as a child, nor “good works.” Whether we believe it or not, Jesus alone saves, and his purposes shall be accomplished! Are you willing to put yourself on the line for the gospel as did Peter and John? Are you willing to stand up to the Sadducees? Are you willing to stand up for Jesus when those around you start talking about “diversity” and accepting all “spiritual paths?”
- Pastor Mark

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The NFL, Barnabas & Father's Day

Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas - which means Son of Encouragement – sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.”

- Acts 4:36

read about a University football coach who each year would privately talk to a new player at the beginning of football season. He told him, “I’m very impressed with your ability. If you work really hard this year, I think you’re good enough to make it to the National Football League.” He told this to every player on the team! You know what happened? He had the highest percentage of players of any University to make it into the NFL.

We’ve all met people like that who believed in us so much that we began to believe in ourselves. The result was we tried harder and we did better. The Book of Acts introduces us to an early disciple who was that way.

We first meet Barnabas in Acts 4:36. He was a Levite from the Island of Cyprus and apparently had some wealth. The disciples called him “Son of Encouragement.” And his name definitely matched his character.

After the Apostle Paul’s conversion on the Road to Damascus, Barnabas came along side Paul when no one else would. (Acts 9:26-27). Why? Barnabas was a very kind-hearted, gentle, and easy-going person. He had great compassion. And we will discover that Paul - unlike Barnabas - was a very stubborn man. Paul was used greatly by God but he was a very strong-willed man. Barnabas overlooked Paul’s rough character and they made an effective ministry team.

When the church in Antioch began to grow, Acts 11:22 tells us that Apostles is Jerusalem sent Barnabas there to help out the new church. Why? “He was a good man, full of the Holy Ghost and faith; and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.” (Acts 11:24)

In Acts 15:39 we read about Barnabas and a young minister named John Mark. Barnabas was willing to work patiently with John Mark when Paul - in harshness and haste - saw no hope for the young man. Do you see a pattern in the life of Barnabas?

We need more Barnabas’s in the church today. For that matter, we need more Barnabas-like fathers in the world: Fathers who are good and full of the Holy Ghost and faith. Fathers who will overlook character flaws and demonstrate compassion. Fathers who will see the potential in the younger generation and encourage it.
If you’re a father, you’re probably going to get an “interesting” gift today. Your children may do something that really makes you feel like a king. Soak it all it, because you deserve it and it’s good for your children to honor you. But honor them too by letting some of Barnabas rub off on you. Be a “Son of Encouragement.”

-Pastor Mark

Witness to a Miracle

One day at three o'clock in the afternoon, Peter and John were on their their way into the Temple for prayer meeting. At the same time, there was a man crippled from birth being carried up. Every day he was set down at the Temple gate, the one named Beautiful, to beg from those going into the Temple. When he saw Peter and John about to enter the Temple, he asked for a handout. Peter, with John at his side, looked him straight in the eye and said, "Look here." He looked up, expecting to get something from them. Peter said, "I don't have a nickel to my name, but what I do have, I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!" He grabbed him by the right hand and pulled him up. In an instant his feet and ankles became firm. He jumped to his feet and walked. The man went into the Temple with them, walking back and forth, dancing and praising God. Everybody there saw him walking around and praising God. They recognized him as the one who sat begging at the Temple's Gate Beautiful and rubbed their eyes, astonished, scarcely believing what they were seeing.

- Acts 3:1-10 (MSG)

Imagine now that you are in the above passage. It’s a Sunday morning and you’re making your way from your car toward the front doors of the Labor Center. You do a double take because you see Peter and John walking ahead of you. You’ve heard so much about them and now here they are coming to Crane Chapel! You wonder what they are talking about...what they look like in person…what kind of personality each has. You reach those double glass doors and you see a man who is disheveled and crippled – probably homeless - stretched out in that little alcove and he’s calling out to everyone passing by. Everyone knows about this guy. He’s a nuisance -always begging for money. You’re uncomfortable and embarrassed. The anticipation of what will happen next grabs your throat. You see the crippled man reach out to touch Peter and John! Others have walked by and acted as if the crippled guy was invisible. What next?!

It’s a clear beautiful warm day and the sun is shining as if spotlighting the whole thing: Peter and John stop and reach down tenderly to the man. Peter speaks to him and offers his hand. The man takes Peter’s hand and looks intently into Peter’s eyes. You feel a strong sense of the Holy Spirit here and you watch in awe – with everyone else around you – as the man gets up off the ground, stands with help from Peter, becomes tall and straight, and starts walking! You can’t believe your eyes! You’ve never seen anything like this before and in an instant you realize that Jesus– through Peter- has touched the man with healing and grace and mercy! You’re numb. You make your way into the building in silent wonderment and take a seat. And there’s the crippled “nuisance” guy beaming, joyful, and totally healed! What are you thinking?

Now, think about what those who witnessed the experience at Gate Beautiful in Acts Chapter 3 were thinking. This was actually the very first miracle of the new Church in Acts. We read in Chapter 4 that five thousand people were added to the Church. Do you think those witnesses just went home and thought about it? …Had they, would those five thousand have been added?

- Pastor Mark