Thursday, March 30, 2006

Making All Things New...

The timing is always perfect. Just as trees and flowers begin to bud, plants begin to grow, and the grip of a Minnesota winter finally breaks, we celebrate life: Easter! The Resurrection of Jesus! Here’s what Easter is not: It is not an observance of some mystical “spiritual” renewal. It is not a [politically correct] “Spring Holiday.” It is a First-Century historical event, but the reason we celebrate Easter is because Jesus proclaims, “I am the resurrection and the life. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” (John 11:25)

The cross is a widely held symbol of Easter. Churches of all denominations draw on it’s meaning. The cross is where Jesus was put to death. His hands and feet nailed to it. People actually watched as he slowly suffered and finally died there. And to make sure He was indeed dead, the executioners sliced open His side with a spear. Convinced, they allowed friends to take his body down from the cross and bury it. And everyone thought the whole ordeal was over.

But the cross was just the preface. The transforming power of the Christian Faith is not in the crucifixion, but in Christ’s glorious resurrection! The cross has such significance because it is so closely related to the resurrection. The cross destroyed the penalty for sin – but the resurrection destroyed the power of sin. When Jesus cried out from the cross, “It is finished,” it was God’s final word on the old creation: a creation swarming with the weight and despair and power of sin – a creation interrupted with cancer and car accidents and divorce and depression and terrorism and arson fires and old age and death. All the things that seemingly have power over us.

When Mary arrived at the tomb that first Easter morning, she found it empty. Jesus had come out. He came out of that tomb so that He could come into our hearts and give us power over the old creation. Here’s the tragedy: The tomb is empty… but so are many people’s hearts. The Christ who came forth from the tomb has not been invited in….

If you’re not connected to the resurrected Jesus, the sense of powerlessness over the old creation is well founded. Paul understood this himself knowing he was “dead in sin” (Eph. 2:1) before Jesus entered his life. If you feel enslaved to the “old,” perhaps you haven’t encountered the resurrected Jesus.

The same passage of scripture (Revelation 21) that assures us that God is “Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end” also promises us, “Behold, I am making all things new.” It is that wonderful mix of assurance and promise that greets each of us personally this Easter. Each spring here in Minnesota, we yearn for the newness of “all things” in nature. What a wonderful opportunity for all things to be made new in our individual lives as well…

- Pastor Mark & Esthermay Goossen

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Withered Vines & Broken Vacuum Cleaners

Again the setting is the last hours before Jesus is arrested and separated from the disciples so every moment counted, and although the disciples didn't realize it, Jesus’ every word and every action had immense significance for how they would continue His ministry on earth. John chapter 14 ends abruptly with Jesus announcing, “Come now, let us leave.” We assume that Jesus was seeking to change his location knowing that the betrayer Judas was on his way. Jesus was “buying time.”

We can now imagine the eleven remaining disciples walking in single file between the rows of neatly tended and generations-old vines toward the Garden of Gethsemane. We know it was a full moon because it was Passover. The group most likely passed by the bronze gates of Herod’s temple, where wrought in gold were grapevines representing the nation of Israel (Psalm 80:8-9, Isaiah 5). The actual vines would have been showing signs of new spring growth and Jesus simply stopped and reached for one to illustrate what He'd been trying to impart through His whole discourse in the Upper Room. He said, "I am the vine, you are the branches." (John 15:5) Jesus loved to convey the deepest truths with simple, earthly examples, and vines were a very familiar sight in Israel. And what is a vine? It is the portion of a plant that transfers vital nutrients from the roots to the branches of the plant. It’s interesting to note that if the roots are cut, a vine can manufacture new roots. Also if the branches are cut, a vine can produce new branches. The vine is the central most important part of the plant. Just as Jesus is to be the central most important part of our lives.

To convey the same truth using that which would be equally familiar today, Jesus might have said, "I am the power station and you are the electrical appliance.” Admittedly it's not quite as elegant a way of putting it, but the message it conveys is the same. If an electrical appliance, such as a vacuum cleaner, is not connected up to the power source it works about as well as my two-year-old’s Fisher Price vacuum. The purpose of my Hoover is too actually clean the carpet and if it doesn’t produce the results it was designed for, it’s going out on trash day…. Just as do the branches in Jesus’ next thought:

“…he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” (John 15:6) When branches get dangly and unproductive, a gardener prunes them away so that the productive branches can receive more nutrients for their growth and production. Cutting the dead wood out of our lives might mean ending relationships that are leading us to live in the ways of the world, rather than in the ways of Jesus. It may mean giving up destructive habits. It may mean sitting down long enough to listen to God. Each of us will know what “pruning” is if we tune ourselves to the gardener’s voice: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.”(John 15:1)

- Pastor Mark

Friday, March 17, 2006

Troubled? Need A Heart Specialist?

People all over the world are seeking peace and comfort at this very moment. They long for peace in their lives and in their hearts. For whatever reason, people everywhere are troubled. Jesus said:

“Let not your heart be troubled….”
John 14:1

In context here, we’re still in the Upper Room with Jesus and His disciples. The entire passage from John 13:32 through chapter 16 is one long heart-melting farewell address that keeps getting interrupted by questions from the disciples. Troubled disciples. And in the hour of His own deepest sorrow, it was the troubled hearts of the disciples which now occupied Jesus. And it should be remembered that Jesus was speaking not only to the disciples in the Upper Room, but to us as well. His words are just as poignant and relevant to troubled believers today.

Think for a moment about the circumstances leading up to this tender farewell: Just days earlier, the disciples had watched Jesus ride into Jerusalem amid joyous acclamation. He was hailed as a king! The anticipation and enthusiasm of the disciples had never been higher. They were fully convinced that Jesus was their unconquerable Messiah. And now… well, Jesus’ actions and words during this Passover supper were deeply perplexing and distressing. They were troubled at hearing that one of them would betray Jesus (John 13:21). They were troubled at seeing their Master "troubled in spirit" (John 13:21); troubled because He would remain with them only a "little while" (John 13:33); troubled over the warning He had given to Peter, that he would deny His Lord three times. Clearly these men were disquieted and cast down…. The greatest blow was the slow realization that Jesus really was leaving them. It is no big surprise that the disciples were troubled!

People everywhere are troubled and want peace and comfort. But they’re looking for it in all the wrong places! The world can’t give it. Money can’t buy it. Circumstances can’t provide it. Antidepressants can’t improve it. Pleasure can’t proffer it. Status can’t impart it. Relationships can’t supply it. Only Jesus Christ can give us peace and comfort and untroubled hearts because He was the One sent to “heal the brokenhearted.” (Luke 4:18) He enters into our feelings just as He did two thousand years ago for the disciples. There is room in His heart for our sorrows too. He feels our trouble and grief as if it were His own.

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”
- John 14:27

- Pastor Mark

Friday, March 10, 2006

No Dessert for You. . . Your Feet Stink

Jesus “got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (John 13:4-5)

Put yourself in the Upper Room and visualize the scene of this verse: Jesus abruptly rises from dinner and just starts washing the disciples' feet! Imagine the dramatic silence: Only the sound of embarrassed breathing and the trickle of water. Foot-washing in first century Palestine was not a ceremonial thing. It was regarded as one of the most demeaning tasks anyone could perform – usually reserved for household slaves. The disciples’ feet were stinky and dirty from walking through dusty, muddy and manure-filled streets in their sandals. And since there were no household servants at this secret meeting, who was going to wash all these smelly feet? Luke’s Gospel says that the disciples were in the midst of their favorite argument --"which one of them was regarded to be the greatest" (Luke 22:24). What a set-up! Whoever washed feet in this setting would be admitting he was the low-life of the bunch!

Peter saw at once the inappropriateness of Jesus stooping down and washing his feet; and he declares, "You shall never wash my feet." At this point a new truth emerges. Up to this moment it appears that Jesus is trying to teach His disciples the spirit of love and servanthood. Jesus replies to Peter: “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” Jesus doesn’t mean, "Your feet stink so bad that we’re not having dessert until they're clean." He means "Unless you are willing to let me wash away your moral filth, you may not have fellowship with me." Peter catches the point of spiritual cleansing in a flash and he cries out, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!"

Once Jesus is finished, and the towel is brown with dirt and manure, He asks the disciples if they understand what has just happened. And the question we need to be asking is: Do we understand what Jesus has done for us in light of his whole ministry and his death and Resurrection? Do we really understand the symbolic, spiritual significance of the whole foot-washing drama? It is one of the central principles of Christianity--allowing Jesus to bathe and cleanse us from our sins and our stink.

-Pastor Mark

Monday, March 06, 2006

You're Invited to Eavesdrop...

Think about the last time you badly wanted to listen in on a conversation. You may have been seated at one end of a table and craned your neck to hear the conversation at the other end. Or maybe you’ve longed to be "a fly on the wall" to absorb a conversation in which you simply had no part. I’m not sure where your thoughts are right now, but consider this: What better conversation to eavesdrop on, but the conversation between our Savior and his disciples in the Upper Room?

Imagine being part of a Small Group/Care Ring led by Jesus himself! John’s Gospel stands alone as the only record of Christ’s words in the Upper Room. And John invites us to pull up a chair and listen in. Within hours of this gathering, Jesus was hanging upon a cross. In less than twenty-four hours he was dead and buried. These are indeed the last words of Jesus before his death on the cross.

Some scholars have called the conversation in the Upper Room the "holy of holies" of Scripture. That is, if you think of Scripture as a temple, this is the sanctuary, where you come into the very presence of God himself. Through his words to his disciples, we are permitted here to enter into the thinking, the emotions, the very heart of Jesus just hours before his own death. Jesus lays bare his heart before his disciples and He seeks to impart to them the secret of his life. The disciples will soon understand that this secret explains all of the marvelous words that Jesus spoke and each one of the miraculous works He performed. And this amazing truth is ours too.

Jesus distills for his disciples – and for us - the most important truths and spiritual principles of the Christian life. He talks about the Holy Spirit - another Comforter -- a Strengthener who is on the way. Jesus tells the disciples that he will no longer be merely with them but within them. This is powerful! It is this indwelling presence that enables – in fact makes possible -- living in our predominantly troubled world. Our Jesus does not so much discuss the world as he does how to deal with the world. So the message of the Upper Room is a vital message for each of us.

As we move toward the Easter Season here at Crane Chapel, we’re going to spend some time considering this small-group meting between Jesus and his disciples in John Chapters 13 – 17. Please come these next weeks with great expectations and an eager heart as we look into this deep and insightful passage. The Upper Room really is the quintessential Small-Group/Care Ring study. By listening in, we can each uncover the secrets of living a fulfilled life with Christ!

Pastor Mark and
Esthermay Bentley-Goossen

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Post Script on Suffering

It may be cancer or a sore throat. It may be the illness or death of someone close to you. It may be a personal failure or disappointment in your job or schoolwork. It may be a rumor that is circulating in your office or your church, damaging your reputation, bringing you grief and anxiety. It can be anything from a mosquito bite to facing a lion as Daniel did. It is suffering.

The Book of Job approaches suffering largely from one angle. Job’s suffering ultimately brought him to a high degree of spiritual refinement. His suffering was not so much punishment as it was disciplinary. But why do we suffer? Christians are subject to common calamities just like the rest of the world. If God protected His children from all storms, disappointments, poverty and destruction, they would be tempted to serve Him for selfish reasons, just as Satan falsely accused Job of doing. Good people have no insurance against physical death; even innocent children and babies die. In my studies, I’ve
uncovered the following from Scripture as reasons for our suffering:

  • Refines the Christian (Job 23:10)
  • Brings the fruit of righteousness
  • Discipline from God (Hebrews 12)
  • Caused by the reaping of sin (Gal. 6:5-6)
  • Cause by the sin of others (alcohol, temper, thieves, gossip, etc.)
  • Result of a bold witness for Christ (Phil. 1:29, I Pet. 4:12-13)
  • Prevent a wrong course of action (Ps. 119:71, 67)
  • Shows us our need of God (Ps.119:71)
  • Brings patience (James 1)
  • Prepares us for a future test (I Cor. 10:13)
  • Brings solitude/ Helps us hear God
  • Brings future rewards (James 1:12, II Tim. 2:12)
  • Caused by violation of God’s natural laws
  • Caused by violation of moral laws
  • Brought by Satan under Gods’ permissive will
  • For God’s glory (Ro. 8:28, Jn. 11:4)
  • Shows us God’s comfort, grace and power (II Cor. 1)
  • Teaches us how to comfort others (II Co. 1:4)
  • Unites Christians/ opportunities for saints to minister (Acts 12)
  • Helps us identify with Christ’s suffering and example (Phil. 3:10)
  • Teaches us obedience (Heb. 5:8)
  • Keeps us humble (II Co. 12:7-10)

Jesus explains, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give life in all its fullness” (John 10:10). None of us is immune to the thief (Leviathan) and none of us will escape suffering. But it is during times of suffering that we learn to refocus our lives on God. David confessed it in Psalm 119:71: “The suffering You sent was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to Your principles.” If it still doesn’t make sense to you, just learn to rest in God’s sovereignty and trust in His Goodness and Love.
-Pastor Mark

Job's Epilogue...

The last Chapter of the Book of Job seems to hurriedly yet neatly tie up one of the most intellectually rich and challenging Books of the Bible. The verses are often ignored or quickly and easily identified as a simple fairy tale-like conclusion. What a mistake! We’d miss the whole point! This is a part of Scripture that we should not let go of until it has fully probed our thinking regarding God’s sovereignty, human suffering, and restoration.
What the closing narrative tells us is that Job is -- at long last -- through both Truth and humble trust -- fully transformed, fully vindicated, and fully restored with double his goods and wealth, blessings over and above what he had in Chapter 1, and a replacement set of children. And his life is more than doubled. Job lives another 140 years which is twice the biblical span of our days (Ps. 90:10).

Would the message of the Book be any different if God had not restored Job? No. God is still sovereign and the whole matter of suffering would still have been at the forefront of our study. It would have still been necessary to consider the questions of “Why vs. Who” and “Good vs. Evil.” The whole notion of human emotions, counseling the troubled, and comforting the hurting would still have been addressed. And we would still have had to put our personal trials in proper perspective alongside the enormity and grandeur of God’s creation.

Henry Morris, a renowned Christian scholar, has said that Biblical Creation is the answer to all human suffering. Do you suppose if you made an appointment with a psychotherapist for help with depression or anxiety, you’d hear that!? Hardly! But as we’ve learned through our study, it is only through our understanding and a profound appreciation of God’s creation and sovereignty that we can put our suffering into perspective and be emotionally and spiritually restored.

On the flip side, the brevity of the conclusion of Job’s story invites questions and even speculation. The Book of Job is unique in that it emphasizes that an inheritance is divided among daughters (as well as sons). Job 42:14 lists the names of Job’s three daughters -- but not the sons. Does Job now question “tradition” and act accordingly in paying tribute to daughters? Does he now see that the security of earthly possessions is irrelevant? What is Job’s spiritual condition as the story wraps up in the closing verses? Does he pray? Does he have joy? Does he continue to worship God? Are these questions even relevant? Yes, questions still ring in our ears. And in my mind, the only remedy for that condition is to read the Book again! And again….

- Pastor Mark