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