Friday, April 28, 2006

Breakfast by the Sea...

Jesus spent over three years teaching in order to make disciples. And when He was finally ready to call them to action, it was not to a private retreat into the peaceful, nearby hills. He never intended that they set themselves apart like that. What He intended is that they learn to love as He had loved them. John Chapter 21 records one of the most poignant, loving and deeply interesting exchanges between Jesus and the disciples. It’s a passage that sets the stage for the Great Commission of the Church and it came at perhaps the exact same spot where He had called the disciples three years earlier.

The Chapter begins with the miracle of catching fish and you have to wonder if Jesus wanted the disciples to be evangelists, why did He prosper them in a secular business? Was it part of His lesson on love? After they pull in those 153 miraculous fish, they find that Jesus had prepared breakfast for them on the beach: a campfire burning -- fish already frying. Jesus simply invited them, “Come and dine.” Again, is Jesus simply showing love by providing physical nourishment for their bodies?

And why does Jesus single out Peter at this meal? Peter’s got the most erratic personality of the bunch? He yanks out his sword first. He bursts into the empty tomb. He jumps into the water. (I love him!) Peter had to be thinking, “Well, I guess this is it. I denied Him three times. Now He’s going to let me know that John is taking over.” The expectation of this inevitable confrontation had to have been lying heavily on Peter’s mind for days. So when Jesus merely asks, “Do you love Me?” Peter was pretty much spiritually naked - he had nothing to offer apart from an “of course I do” response. But Jesus asks him again. And again! “Do you love Me?” Note: Jesus did not ask Peter if he had a four-year degree in Bible. He did not ask him if had the financial resources and backing to enter the ministry, or if he felt emotionally ready to serve. He asked, “Do you love me?” Of course we know that Jesus responded each time with specific commands: “Feed my lambs…. Take care of my sheep…. Feed my sheep.”

Jesus’ final words to Peter are the same words He first spoke to him three years earlier: “Follow Me.” But what a difference! What depths of meaning they have acquired over three years! Same voice. Same words. Same ears. But Peter’s heart had been transformed.

“Do you love Me? It’s our answer to that question that determines how we live our lives and how we interact with the world. We end our study of John with one crucial underlying message: Jesus calls us to LOVE and feed and care for His followers – the “sheep” and the “lambs.” This really needs to sink down into our minds. Will you accept this responsibility? Will you determine that your life and your influence will build up the Church in LOVE and not tear it down?

--Pastor Mark

Friday, April 21, 2006

Groundbreaking. . . The Vision Goes On

We mark a milestone today in Crane Chapel’s history: We celebrate the conclusion of a long season of praying and planning and never-ending meetings. (The Building Committee is to be applauded for their dedication and determined efforts.) At the same time, we mark the beginning of a new season: A season of construction – along with anticipation, obstacles, certainly some chaos, and much hard work!
It’s an exciting and emotional time. The media will no doubt report our milestone. But will the average person in our community really grasp the idea of the Church? More likely than not, they will visualize a “Christianized” physical structure with pews and a piano and a platform - a building distinctly built for preaching and singing.
Do we ourselves understand the idea of Church? Over the last several weeks, we’ve been studying Jesus’ final instructions to His disciples. We’ve learned that in the hours before His death, Jesus was indeed establishing His Church. The disciples were effectively being trained as the first evangelists and first Church-members! The Church exists to evangelize. Jesus’ final words before he returned to heaven were a commissioning to all Christians: "Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you…." (Mt. 28:19-20)
We should remember that the early church, as recorded in the New Testament, did not own property, and yet they were very successful in preaching the Gospel to the whole world. The Bible does not tell us exactly where we are to meet together, but only that we must do so. The Greek word for church is 'ecclesia' which means the called out community. Christ’s Church can be anywhere at anytime and it holds closely to the scripture that says, “for where two or three gather together in my name, I am there among them” (Mt 18:20).
I don’t think this passage could be more obvious than it has in the last year of Crane Chapel’s ministry. We’ve been gathering in a Union Hall! Many of us meet in each others’ homes. We meet and pray together in the back room of an old house. I’ve even been spotted with some of the youth at Culvers! See, the goal is not to gather weekly in an appointed building but rather the growing of relationships through people. People are the church. Take out the people and the church ceases to exist. Remove the building by fire – and the church still exists!
In no way am I downsizing our new church building or minimizing the long hours of planning to reach this point. Not at all! This is going to be a beautiful and functional building where we will carry on a God-given vision for our community! I do hope, however, that you will see how fitting and appropriate it is that we welcome a new member in today’s service. As we break ground for a brand new physical church building, we also celebrate and welcome in a new member of Christ’s Church.

- Pastor Mark

Resurrection...Context is Everything

Easter Sunday is a pretty popular and fashionable time for church worship, especially for those who only occasionally attend church. But if you haven’t been exposed to Passion Week, then attending Easter Sunday worship is like coming in on the last scene of a movie, or reading only the final chapter of a novel: it’s hard to appreciate the emotional payoff without being involved in the whole story as it unfolds. If you were here on Good Friday, you likely wept (literally) with Mary as she grieved. And if you did, then you can truly experience the power and the joy of the ending: the Resurrection of her precious Son Jesus!

The Resurrection really is the conclusion of a long story line that begins, well, at the beginning of Creation! Here is the problem: without knowing how the story develops from the beginning, the resurrection episode sometimes becomes a puzzle. There is a lot that takes place leading up to Resurrection Sunday, but it is what happens on the last two days that makes Christianity meaningful. Let us imagine that Jesus failed to rise from the dead. (Might be difficult, but please allow yourself). Would Christianity really be worth believing? The answer is no. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is absolutely central to our faith.

In 1 Corinthians Chapter 15, Paul gives us in-depth insight into the whole design of the Resurrection. See some people in the church were declaring that there is no resurrection of the body (v. 12). They rejected that Jesus was raised from the dead and that those who believe in him will also be raised. Paul explains in plain words that if Jesus had not been raised from the dead, a believer’s faith is completely useless! And so is preaching! There’d be no Good News to proclaim and we’d all be rotting away in our sins apart from a relationship with God. In verse 19, Paul pounds the final nail in the coffin when he tells us we’d be pitied by men for believing a lie!

Back to Good Friday: Mary’s heart was ablaze with grief as she watched her precious boy Jesus die. She shed agonizing tears and wailed in unbearable pain. Two days later, her world was brand new! Her Jesus was alive! And like childbirth, the unbearable pain had vanished. Remember John chapter 16? Jesus makes a direct link between childbirth and death. They are similar in more ways than we imagine. It’s the power of Life that caused the unbearable pain to vanish. It’s that same power that brought Jesus back from the dead and the same power that works within those who belong to Him. So the resurrection is not only the culmination of the most dramatic story ever told, but an ongoing one too. Paul put it this way:

“It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus…? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!” (Romans 8: 10-11 The Message)

-Pastor Mark

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Palm Sunday...From Euphoria to Grief

Palm Sunday. We all know at least the highlights of the story that Palm Sunday celebrates: Jesus directs his disciples to get him a young donkey, and He uses the little colt to enter Jerusalem to the “Hosannas” of the crowd. Palm branches are strewn in His path and people run confidently alongside Him. It had to have been an exhilarating -- almost euphoric – experience!

But there is something odd about this picture. We’re not allowed to linger in this festive mood for very long at all. Over the next 100+ hours, Jesus is betrayed, rejected, deserted and denied. He is arrested and put on trial on trumped-up charges. He suffers vile abuse by Roman soldiers, faces the most cruel and terrifying death the world has ever devised and is forsaken by His Father. The same people who cried out “Hosanna” and waved the palm branches now called for his execution.

So where does Palm Sunday fit in our human spiritual journey? As we’ve been working through Jesus’ farewell conversation, we find that He has a continuing theme of reassurance and comfort for His disciples. But the guys just don’t get it. Put yourself in the disciples’ sandals. Would you have understood? “It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come…” (John 16:7) They had no idea what Jesus was talking about and they remained confused and uneasy about the future. Are we much different? Who among us has not been confused about why God allowed certain things to happen? Who hasn’t faced an unwelcome surprise and wondered where God was in the mix? Jesus brings the whole thing full circle in John 16:33. He reminds his disciples one more time:

"These things I have spoken unto you,
that in Me you might have peace.
In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer,
I have overcome the world.”
- John 16:33

Notice what Jesus does not say. He does not say that He will take the confusion away or make everything clear immediately. In fact, in verse 20, he tells us that we will weep and grieve. He does not promise instant relief. Instead, He promises that things will get worse.

This brings us again back to Palm Sunday. I read once that Palm Sunday can be seen as a kind of warning to us about the fleeting moments of euphoria that we encounter along our spiritual paths. The story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem bespeaks such euphoria. Palm Sunday reminds us that, while there certainly will be magical moments in our lives; there will surely be low points as well. Let this Palm Sunday remind us that earthly happiness is transitory; and that every triumphal entry inevitably leads to a cross of some kind.

But wait!…. Wait until Sunday. Wait until Resurrection Day. Wait until the disciples become fully aware that Jesus has really risen from the dead and that he truly has “overcome the world.”

To Be Continued…
-Pastor Mark