Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Gift of Reconciliation. . .

"Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things are passed away;
behold, new things have come."
- 2 Corinthians 5:17

Most of us like things that are new, especially useful things. We like new cars, houses, clothes, gadgets and so forth. I think this passion for all things new is especially widespread at Christmastime. Not just in the sense of buying and receiving material gifts, but -- most central to our lives -- in the realm of Christian fellowship.

The word "new" is used many, many times in the New Testament to describe various aspects of Christian life. We read of the new covenant, the new man, the new commandment, the new heavens and new earth, becoming new creations. And the message of the entire New Testament is to show us how to have "a new beginning". It’s through this new beginning that we come to possess several things as a result of God's grace. Of the greatest of these is, of course, Love. Romans 5:5 tells us that “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” Love is our greatest gift and Scripture shows that the first and greatest commandment is to love God, the second one is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40). Yet sometimes we bless God while simultaneously cursing others and gossiping about others and continually judging and forming negative opinions of men and women who are made in His image and likeness (James 3:9-10). We can't seem to let go of regrettable past occurrences. How is this any different than not knowing Christ at all?

“Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation."
- 2 Corinthians 5:18,19

Reconciliation to God goes hand in hand with reconciliation to others: “But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:15). Only God through Jesus Christ can help us fully separate ourselves from past misfortunes and past hurts involving others. God's intervention in our lives is the only path to true reconciliation with others. Our fellowship with each other has to be firmly based on a right relationship with God. (See 1 John 1:3-7).

Like God's first human creatures, Adam and Eve, God's "new creatures" are created in perfect fellowship with God. They are created in His image and are created to do His will (Colossians 3:9-10 and Ephesians 2:10). So many things are made new and Ephesians 2:10). So many things are made new when this happens. We receive a new life; we live by a new standard; we have a new purpose; we have a new perspective; we are called by a new name and we look forward to a new home.

We are not reformed, rehabilitated, or reeducated – we are re-created. We truly are the new! This happens because God has reconciled us by blotting out our sins and making us righteous. We are no longer God’s enemies, or strangers or foreigners to him. And we have the privilege of encouraging others to do the same, and thus we have the word of reconciliation."

If you are not a new creation in Christ this Christmas, the gift of reconciliation is yours through Jesus Christ. Believe in Him. Accept Him. Become passionate about being a new creation! If you are a new creation and are not yet reconciled to others, make this season a time for reuniting, resolving, and reconciling with those who have hurt you as well as those that you have hurt. Sunday, December 2nd has been set aside for a tangible expression of this. Rev. Ron McClung will be our guest this day to encourage us, support us and urge us on to true Christian reconciliation. It is my hope and prayer that many will join us – if only for this one Sunday – to make all things new through the gift of reconciliation.

-Pastor Mark E. Goossen

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Restoring The Heart of Worship...

Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ. - 1 Corinthians 11:1

We all have someone or several people in our lives to whom we look to for guidance in one way or another. To be a leader is a big responsibility. And when writing to the Corinthians, Paul knew this. He knew that people imitated him and heeded his teachings. For this reason, Paul wanted to make one thing clear: that he should not be followed in word or in deed unless he was in accordance with what Jesus Christ would do or say.

Today, we are looking at Restoring the Heart of Worship. And in the context of I Corinthians, Paul was witnessing the worship of the church becoming a chaotic and charismatic exhibition that did not edify. In the last part of the Book of I Corinthians, Paul sought to restore the proper order to worship. To very-much simplify his teaching: True worship has nothing to do with attending a church service and everything to do with a personal response to God’s work in an individual’s life. In today’s world, Paul’s teaching suggests that worship on a Sunday morning is an end result of our walking with God Monday through Saturday. It has absolutely nothing to do with what today’s church refers to as style.

We don't have to look far to discover how sensitively God measures the worship of Himself. In Genesis, Cain was rejected by God and turned over to his degenerate and murderous heart all because his worship was wrong—in motive and in method. A bit further we find Nadab and Abihu severely judged with instant death for offering "strange fire" at the altar—an offense so serious to God He did not allow their father Aaron to mourn their death, but rather commanded him to mourn their great sin against a holy God. And then there is Uzzah, killed in an instant for touching the ark of God. And add Eli who, along with his entire descendency, was condemned for honoring his worship-despising sons rather than honoring God. In actuality the entire decline and subsequent captivity of Israel and Judah were primarily due to rampant false worship among these chosen nations. Looking further, we see Jesus Himself never more visibly full of animated wrath than in His "cleansing" of the temple—the place of His Father's worship, now corrupted by those who valued other things more highly. All of these examples, reveal to us that worship—including how, why, and whom we worship—very nearly tops the list of things God holds dreadfully I important.

And yet, we live in an age and culture whose church is as confused and varied in its choices for worship as it is over carpeting its rooms and painting its walls. For many churches, designing worship has become most closely associated with that which will best suit the attendees or best attract the hesitant church-goer or best reach the youth of society, rather than that which is most pleasing to God. What are the motives and methods that govern much of what we do in worship today? Are they Scriptural or are they merely self-seeking? Does our worship emphasize the way in which we appear to men, or is it solely concerned with how we appear to God? Does our worship tend to secularize the sacred in an effort to bring God down to man's level? Is our worship intended to soften nonbelievers into "liking" Christians and Christianity? Is our worship based on a philosophy that follows "the tradition of men" and "the basic principles of the world"? Is our worship designed in such a way as to make the nonbeliever feel comfortable, accepted, pleased, even entertained? Does our worship seek the participation of those who neither know God nor love Him? Is our worship exclusively led by, and does it exalt, those whom the world considers successful, attractive, "together," happy? Is our worship Christ-like? In posing these questions, I hope each of us search our own motives and ideas about worship and respond honesty.

I like this about Paul: He humbly recognized his faults (Read Romans 7:14-25) but still took great care to do the right thing and he wanted to make sure that first and foremost people were following Jesus. That is the essence of what Paul wanted. He wanted people to follow Jesus. I want to be like Paul. If what I say or do does not line up with what God says in His Word, than I don't want to be followed. Always test for yourself what I say, write or live, by the truth of God's word. Open your own Bible and read about the false worship in the Old Testament. Read Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians about the heart of true worship in I Corinthians.

Following Jesus takes work. Following Jesus is more than going to church and getting an emotional high with hands raised while singing a favorite praise song. Sure, that may be part of worship, a part that I believe cannot fully take place without some relationship with God. However, the heart of worship is more than an emotional response to an inspirational message or song or specific style of worship designed by a local church to evoke a reaction in the hearers. True worship is defined by how we live our lives in the day to day grind. True worship is seeking God through the pages of the Bible even when we don't feel like it sometimes. True worship is reading a passage of scripture and applying it to our lives even though we don't like how it makes us feel. True worship is a life of surrender, following the true Leader, no matter the cost.

One more question for thought: Put yourself in the Apostle Paul’s shoes: Would someone following you be following God as well? And how many times per week do you examine your life in light of what the Bible says?

Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ. - 1 Corinthians 11:1

- Pastor Mark

Giving Thanks In All Things. . .

As I write, it is a beautiful October morning. The sky is clear, the temperature is in the mid-60’s and the leaves on the trees lining Bergen Street where I live are vibrant with gold and red and orange. It is one of those days you would like to save in a bottle and set on your desk. That way you could pull it out and look at it in the middle of March when winter still has Minnesota in its grasp and spring seems an eternity away. It’s easy to be thankful on such a beautiful day. It’s hard to be thankful when the clouds roll in and the grayness holds on.

Besides admiring the view outside my window this morning, I just finished an introductory paragraph for the new church directory and I find my thoughts and memories split. It’s hard not the consider the clouds that have rolled in over the last years for Crane Chapel. Yes, it’s wonderful to reflect on the colorful mosaic of the body of Christ reflected on the pages of a new church directory. But there have been some dark days in Crane Chapel’s recent history. Days of warmth and fellowship were repalced for a season by the frigid air of broken relationships and divided loyalties. The horizon today is still clouded with the haunting memory of an arson fire, and the bittersweet sorrow over the passing of our beloved Pastor Joe Matt, Jr. The body of Christ is often hidden by what can only be characterized as frivolous and inconsequential in the grand scheme of God’s Eternal Plan. Yes, the clouds will roll in…. Nothing in Scrip ture supports a constant state of picturesque October mornings. But we serve a living and loving God who asks us to give thanks in all things: “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God….” (I Thessalonians 5:18).

So in this season of Thanksgiving, I am very thankful as I reflect on the body of Christ represented by this congregation. Despite the clouds, Crane Chapel is a vibrant, living, breathing part of the Body of Christ! I hesitate to enumerate specific ministrires, but some just stand out to me this morning: We have an exciting and effective AWANA ministry and I can only be reminded of John Hormel’s vision for a ministry reaching the children of northeast Austin. I am thankful for Paulette Lewis’ heart for ministry and her dedication to leading AWANA. And this past September, we launched a Wednesday night Soup Supper and with each passing week we serve more soup that the previous week and we reach out even further into the community. Again fullfilling the vision of John Hormel. And I am thankful: Thankful for Carol Tracy’s commitment to and enthusiasm for this ministry – along with the many hands of our Helping Hands Ministry. Our Teens are growing too. Both in numbers and in service to others. And I am thankful. Thankful for Amanda Kuns and her zeal and energy to lead our young people to the Lord. Our worship team has taken on new leadership and a new look. I am thankful for Vern Dunham’s heart for worship and his passion to be sensitive to God’s Spirit and presence in our worship services. I’m also grateful for the addition of an organ to our new building donated by Daryl and Nada Kilgore and the talent that Myrtle Bentley brings to the keys of this beautiful instrument.

Yes, God has more than blessed us and He continues to work in His people here at Crane Chapel. People are growing spiritually. People are seeking Biblical anwers to life’s troubles. People are getting saved! Crane Chapel is a living part of the Body of Christ! And in this – we ought be very thankful!

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this year, let’s be reminded that Thanksgiving is not a reaction to the realities of life, but a choice of the soul. As such, true Thanksgiving can only come from a soul given wholly to Christ. Let’s choose this season to follow Him completely and be truly and exceptionally thankful.

- Pastor Mark E. Goossen

Monday, October 29, 2007

A More Excellent Way. . .

I doubt there are too many church-goers who have not heard of the “Love Chapter.” What I do suspect is that that word love is perceived by many as merely a friendly feeling or a pleasing emotion to be expressed by fellow Christians to fellow Christians. Love is much, much more than a sentimental emotion. It’s more than “Kum-bay-a” Christianity or “Precious Moments” faith. In fact, real love is not at all sentimental. Sentimentalism makes love out to be about niceness rather than gentleness, acceptance rather than kindness, cowardice rather than patience. Sentimentalism is deadly to the church. It means looking not for service and truth to God, but for a good-vibe feeling, for everybody to just be happy and get along. This is not the Love that Scripture speaks of at all! But I suspect it’s what most churchgoers envision when we speak of “Love.”

Love is the very heart of the Word – in the sense of both Scripture and Savior. In other words, love is about as important as you can get—so important, in fact that the Apostle John was so bold as to say, “God is LOVE” (1 John 4:8). In our culture, of course, “love” is a frivolous word. We associate love with desire, sexuality, and especially sentimentality. But if we’re paying attention to what the Bible says, particularly in First Corinthians 13, we find a radically different idea of what love really is.

Where did our culture get the idea that following Christ and being spiritually mature will make us feel all good and happy and warm towards each other? Do you think that Paul felt good and happy being flogged? Was Jesus all warm and cozy while he hung bleeding on the cross? Love takes action, and sometimes that action isn’t very pretty. Love is not embodied with hugs and tenderness.

Jesus told his disciples that by their love the world would know they belong to God (John 13:35). God’s love is an identifying characteristic of Christians. Everybody, saint or sinner, can have warm sentiments. Radical jihadists get along with one another and feel warmly toward their friends and family. Gangsters can be very affectionate toward their own. But not everyone has the Holy Spirit of God. And“Love” is the fruit of that Spirit (Galatians 5:22). You need the Spirit before you can have and demonstrate love. Christians don’t receive God’s love just by acting patient, kind, etc. Yes, we do need to act like we love one another. But love doesn’t come into our hearts through pretending. That’s hypocrisy. You have to have the nature. You have to actually be a Christian – you have to be born anew to have genuine Love (Romans 5:5).

Even when we are born anew, putting God’s love into practice is not automatic. It’s something we have to learn and practice. There’s no shortcut to discipleship. Paul’s words in I Corinthians 13 about love are actually a description of having already attained Christian maturity. (Remember: Mature Christians swim in the deep-end of the pool. They are not the noisemakers.) …And there’s no secret to it. Maturity arises from the same kinds of things we do from the very first steps of discipleship: studying the Scriptures alone and in the community of faith, worshiping God in the assembly, giving up selfish and sinful practices, beginning to do good for others. Those may be boring activities, but they bring about very un-boring results: joy, peace, patience, kindness, and most importantly, love.
When Austin looks at Crane Community Chapel, it will see a bunch of flawed disciples. (Because, frankly, that’s what we are.) But does it also see Love as the preeminent quality of God himself? In a very real sense, when the world looks at a church that loves, they see God. And what they see has the power to change the church and the world. Let’s pursue spiritually maturity so we can Love. That’s what the Apostle calls us to do. And as our Lord Jesus told us, what we pursue, we’ll find (Matthew 7:7).

- Pastor Mark

Monday, October 15, 2007

Which End of The Pool Are You In?

When was the last time you visited a public swimming pool? Do you recall the high-pitched echoing of all those excited children -- different ages, varying swimming abilities? It’s deafening!! I’ve been there with my own high-pitched, screaming children. And I’ve tolerated it. But upon further observation, I’ve noticed something else. All the noise comes from the shallow end of the pool. The only sound coming from the deep end is the sound of experienced swimmers swimming with discipline and confidence. There is no yelling, no crying, no complaining, no evidence of fear or frustration. I conclude that all the noise comes from the shallow end of the pool because those in the shallow end of the pool haven't learned to swim with confidence and are not secure enough to venture into the deep water.

Churches today reflect this very clearly. The noise comes from the shallow end, not the deep end. The yelling and crying and complaining come from those individuals in the church who have not grown up spiritually. Conflict in churches very often starts off in the shallow end with immature Christians who just aren’t secure enough in the faith to see past material issues like…. (Well, you fill in the blank: _____________.)

Let’s look at current national statistics for church attendance: Church attendance is up. Excitement is up. But if you dig deep into those statistics, you do not find discipleship being up, nor do you find godliness up. You do not find prayer and Bible study up. We find a lot of people who are attending church but few people who are swimming in the deep end. The secular world has taught churches how to draw crowds with exciting programs and popular guest speakers and trendy music and non-stop activities. But the number of mature Christians in churches is not rising. The vast majority of people attending churches today maintain the same lifestyles and values as the rest of society. It’s sad. The trend in evangelical churches is that there are less and less spiritually mature Christians and more and more infants – baby Christians who refuse to grow up.

Now you may look at this collectively, or you may look at it in terms of our own congregation. . . either way this is precisely the issue that Paul is addressing with the church in Corinth: immature Christians who have no excuse for their immaturity considering that they have been taught God’s Word and should know better:

“I…could not speak to you as spiritual. . . but as infants in Christ.
I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are till fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are
you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?”

I Corinthians 3:1-3

Paul does use descriptive language here – perhaps quite harsh to his hearers – but he was speaking of their carnality. It was the carnality of the people that was indicative of their immaturity. They had no excuse for not being mature, since Paul implied that he should have been able to write to them as mature, in light of all he had taught them. Carnality produces the attitude of jealousy, a severe form of selfishness, which produces the action of strife and subsequent divisions in churches. It happened during the first century (A.D 55) in ancient Greece, and continues in 2007 across the United States and in Austin, MN too.

Can it be avoided? Certainly. And Paul tells us how in the remaining verses of I Corinthians 3. Churches that are built upon “great ideas” or “the latest trend” are doomed to die. Why? Because this is not the intended foundation for God’s Church. Paul said, and I paraphrase, "I gave you a good foundation, Jesus Christ. You build on Jesus Christ. And if you build with gold and silver or straw, it will fade. You must build on Jesus Christ." Jesus earlier said in Matthew 16, "On this rock (the confession of Peter) I will build my church." During his last week, he said to his disciples, "I am the vine. Ye are the branches." In other words, stay connected and bear fruit. If there’s no fruit –only jealousy and strife – chances are there’s no connection to Christ. And that is spiritual infancy.

A spiritually healthy and spiritually mature church does not function in the realm of ideas or programs or trends. Absolutely not! It functions and it spreads because Jesus Christ changes lives. Any other idea to grow a church will die. It may have its day, but it will die. There are popular trendy “mega-churches” out there whose members may argue differently, but unless they are 100% grounded in Christ alone – they will eventually die.

When we individually rediscover Jesus Christ as the only foundation, our belief will be strengthened and focused and we will mature. When the church rediscovers Jesus Christ, people may come because of great ideas or programs or trends, but they will stay and they will grow spiritually because Jesus Christ is the foundation and only He can change lives. And the only noise we will hear in church will be people swimming from the shallow end to the deep end of the pool because they feel safe in deep water. Which end of the pool are you in?

- Pastor Mark

Monday, October 01, 2007

Prescription For A Spiritually Healthy Church

Nothing on earth is more valuable to God than His Church. He paid the highest price for it, and He wants it protected, especially from the devastating damage that is caused by division, conflict, and disharmony. If you are a part of God’s Church it is your job to protect the unity of your church. Unity in the church is so important that the entire New Testament -- with the exception of the Four Gospels and the Book of Revelation -- is written to churches in disunity and conflict! God deeply desires that we experience oneness and harmony with each other. Unity is the soul of Christian fellowship. Destroy it, and you rip the heart out of Christ’s body. I personally invite each reader of this newsletter to join us at Crane Chapel each Sunday morning in October as we share a four-part series on “God’s Prescription for a Spiritually Healthy Church.” We will look at principles for attaining church health taken directly from the Book of First Corinthians. If applied, these principles will transform and eventually bring about a spiritually healthy church.

As a pastor, I will someday stand before God and give an account of how well I watched over this body of believers called Crane Community Chapel. But so also much each member of the Body of Christ accept the responsibility to protect and promote the unity of the church. If we each put our full effort into it, God will be pleased. I don’t pretend for a minute that the task is easy. Doing what is best for the Body of Christ – not ourselves – is hard. It requires showing preference to others. That’s one reason God puts us in a church family – to learn unselfishness. Please join us as we seek “God’s Prescription for a Spiritually Healthy Church.”

Also, beginning on Sunday, October 7th at 6:30 p.m. is The Shepherd’s Hour. Starting off this very informal Sunday Evening Service is a study of the Book of Revelation. We’ll look at how God will consummate His plan for planet earth and, of course, the revelation of His Son. Plan to attend, participate, and ask questions! God bless you as you seek God’s Word and will for your life.

- Pastor Mark E. Goossen

Sunday, September 02, 2007

God's Eternal Plan

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) In context, Paul wrote these words to Christians in Rome who had to be wondering whether God was really even hearing their prayers in the midst of some very real suffering and affliction. Doesn’t every Christian sometimes wonder that same thing? Yet, Romans 8:28 is clear: in everything God works for good.

But I’d be quite a foolish preacher to stop there. It would do us well to skip verse 28 entirely until we fully understand verse 29. When you start with 8:28, you run the risk of turning profound biblical truth into a trite piece of conventional wisdom. I’ve heard many Christians mumble Romans 8:28 as a capsule of encouragement for life’s problems – sort of a theological version of the proverbial saying that “in every cloud there’s a silver lining.” To reduce Romans 8:28 to conventional wisdom would be to do a terrible injustice to Paul’s teaching and to rob God’s Word of its truth. Open the door with me to a better understanding:

Romans 8:29: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…” The God who is at work among us is a God who is in control and who will surely bring about His intended purpose – His eternal plan. And make no mistake; this does not mean that God plays with our lives like dominoes for amusement. Neither does it mean that God is “letting be what will be.” God has an eternal plan and is working to bring about his saving purpose -- to conform Christians to the image of his Son Jesus.

Now think about the life of Jesus. He died between two thieves for us. That’s the journey on which the sovereign God is taking us . . . a death to self. So becoming in Christ’s image is by no means only on the heights but rather in the everyday depths near which we always find ourselves: stress, sickness, tragedy, suffering, broken relationships… There’s really not a lot of optimism here. It’s not as if “all things work together for good” means that there is some increment of good that is always being worked out in spite of appearances. That would be false hope. God’s Word does not do that.

When we start with Romans 8:29 and know that it is the image of Christ to which we are being conformed, it keeps us from reducing 8:28 to the idea that there is a hidden good in our present suffering and the evil that surrounds us… that “every cloud has a silver lining.” God’s eternal purpose is infinitely wider and deeper that platitudes that everything will be all right. God’s eternal purpose is not separate from but encompassing of our suffering and bitterness. God’s eternal purpose uses even the worst that sin, death, and Satan have to give us in order to bring about His eternal purpose.

What sustains us in our present suffering and bitterness is to know our prospect of a future glory and to know for certain that God is fulfilling His eternal purpose in our lives yet today but in His time.

- Pastor Mark

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Gain of Glory

Adop’tion: “The process of accepting into one’s family and raising as their own, a child born of other parents.” Think of an adopted child or adult you know. (Might be yourself.) Consider how that person’s life would be different today had they not been adopted. Now consider that Christians are children of adoption in much the same way. And if you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior, consider how very different your life would be had you not been adopted by God the Father – the Almighty Creator of the universe to be His son or daughter. What an honor! What a privilege! It became possible through His Son, Jesus Christ. Consider what the Scriptures say:

“When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.”
(Galatians 4:4-5)

“For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister
and mother.”

(Matthew 12:50)

“Those whoever are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you receive the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry ‘Abba, Father.’”

(Romans 8:14-15)

“Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also
share in his Glory.”

(Romans 8:17)

Hold on to that idea. The idea that we share in His Glory! . . The idea that we do not really belong to this present world at all. It’s one of the greatest ways our lives are different as adoptees of the Father. If you are a Christian, your citizenship is in heaven! When you look at the Romans 8 passage more fully, you see that Paul is comparing the future Glory to be enjoyed by His adopted children to their present suffering, but saying that the Glory far outweighs their suffering. One preacher challenged his congregation with these words: “The great reality is the glory that is coming.” If you are a Christian, Romans 8:17 is the greatest promise in all of Scripture! And isn’t the glory to come worth anything we might be faced with here, however painful or distressing?

If we have accepted Jesus as our Savior, if we have truly been adopted into His Eternal Family, we will someday be united with Him. Our true reward as an adopted child of God lies beyond the present moment. And absolutely nothing comes close to the Christian’s Gain of Glory. It’s something that should – by all means – be shared! Figuratively speaking, the world is full of homeless, foster children. What are you doing to help the adoption process so their lives can change forever!

- Pastor Mark

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Are You Walking in the Flesh Or In The Spirit?

Several years ago, I saw a John Stossel piece for 20/20 on ABC that impacted me. Stossel interviewed a university professor whose recent study indicated that the majority of social-ills were the result of what he called “self-control failure.” Stossel decided he would test that premise with a group of four-year-olds with hidden video cameras. A teacher sat down with each child, one at a time, and placed two pieces of candy in front of the child. She told the child that she had to leave the room for ten minutes, but if the child could wait till she returned to eat the candy, she’d give the child five pieces of candy. Then she added, “If you can’t wait until I return, just ring this bell, and you can go ahead and eat these two pieces of candy.”

Did you see this news piece? Do you remember what happened? If you didn’t, you can about guess. After the teacher was gone, the camera showed the kids fidgeting and handling the two candies as if they were being tortured. One boy counted the candy—maybe to remind himself that five is more than two. One girl looked heavenward as she waited, as if she was asking for God’s help. Seven of the nine kids tested lasted the full ten minutes. Most spent some time with their hands hovering over the bell. Stossel concluded his 20/20 segment with the idea that if we’re concerned about raising children to be successful, happy and free of an epidemic of social-ills, forget about self-esteem and concentrate on self-control.

Well, God’s Word is way ahead of the professor and 20/20’s John Stossel. God has given believers the gift of the Holy Spirit to enable us to live the Christian life in such a way that we have this type of self-control without realizing that it is self control. It’s called walking in the Spirit. Every day you and I face temptations and challenges far greater than whether or not we’ll eat 2 or 5 pieces of candy. Will we tell the truth when a lie might make things easier? Will we give in to the pull of the world when it comes to deceit, disrespect, disobedience, envy, gossip, impure thoughts, pride, selfishness, sexual desires, vanity…? Will we discipline ourselves to study the scriptures to learn how to become more like the person God wants us to be? Or will we walk in the flesh?

The Apostle Paul frames this whole issue as a struggle between the flesh and the Spirit. He talks about it in Romans 7:18-20 and, frankly, it looks pretty hopeless. He’s saying that the influence that sin has over the flesh is very, very powerful. But he goes on to say that we have a powerful ally in our battle against temptation called the Holy Spirit. This Person of God is ready, willing, and able to help us to do what Christ did: overcome every temptation known to man. Here’s what he writes: “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you….” (Romans 8:5)

The Christian life is certainly not a “walk in the park.” Rather, it’s a walk of faith following in the footsteps of Christ. And that’s why Christians are known by their walk: “By this we may be sure that we are in Him: whoever says, ‘I abide in Him,’ ought to walk just as He walked.” (1 John 2:5-6)

- Pastor Mark

Sunday, August 12, 2007

No Condemnation

A cure for cancer would be a wonderful thing. So would a cure for the struggle against sin. It would be nice to be able to take a pill which would instantly free us from any sort of struggle with sin. And if you’re honest – you’ve struggled with it. Often! To be instantly freed from sin’s influence would be a marvelous thing. Last week, we saw very clearly that the Apostle Paul had come to the end of his rope with the sin struggle: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”(Romans 7:24) Paul struggled with the same sin conflict we do today, but through his transparency, he was in deed seeking to encourage his readers and us. We just have to disregard the Chapter division and keep reading on into Chapter 8 ….

Romans Chapter 8 is one of the most blessed, encouraging and thrilling chapters in the Bible for those who are "in Christ Jesus" (that is, those who are saved). The chapter begins with “no condemnation” (verse 1) and it ends with “no separation” (verses 35-39). The key word for the entire Chapter is the word "Spirit." It occurs 20 times. Life in the Spirit is the key to being free at last! It’s the “cure” for sin; and it’s the series we’re moving into next in the Book of Romans.

But first things first: we need to understand is that sin cannot claim us. The first several Chapters of Romans has taught us pretty clearly that we are condemned because we are sinners. We definitely deserve judgment. But Paul is telling us now that when we come to Christ, we are forgiven. The guilt of sin is lifted. We are now free. But knowing we are free, and walking in that freedom is difficult. Very difficult. Look around. How many Christians do you know (including yourself) who are touched by, affected by, influence by, pressured by, even somehow perversely motivated by, sin? Sin is and always will be a problem because until we leave this earth, we will have to deal daily with the old nature. It’s this daily struggle that causes a true Christian to feel condemned. But Paul says in verse 1 of Chapter 8: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Here’s what that means:

Christians need to forget the whole concept of feelings and emotions. We’re dealing with Truth here. We may feel condemnation, but the truth of Scripture is that in Christ we have been set free. There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. Why? Because Christ condemned the sin, not the sinner. By Christ’s work on the cross, He judged sin. He paid the penalty for sin. He released us from the condemnation of sin by His death. In verse 3, Paul says that ”for what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did…”

It’s Scriptural Truth. It’s Scriptural fact. Whether you feel it or not. God is not calling us to act on our feelings or our emotions. He is asking us to rely on His Word. The rest of Chapter 8 will tell us precisely how; and it requires no pill. . . only a Life in the Spirit.

- Pastor Mark

Friday, August 03, 2007

Every Believer's Battle

As we have been working our way through the Book of Romans, I hope its message is becoming more and more clear -- that Jesus Christ sets people free! Free from sin! That is, freedom from self-centeredness, freedom from hostility and bitterness, freedom from anxiety and all kind of fears, freedom from bondage to evil habits of any type – just plain Freedom! Christ has come to release us from “a generation of crooks and perverts” (as Paul describes it) and be “shining lights in the darkness of our day.” (Philippians 2:15)

This brings to mind the phrase “dead to sin.” What does that mean? When we think of the death of someone, we immediately think of their separation from this present world. We think of their spirit being separated from their physical body and entering into eternal life. So how does that fit into the whole concept of sin? Is a Christian really completely and totally separated and forever free from the power of sin? Or is sin a constant battle? And if it is a battle, how does a Christian deal with it?

Unfortunately, there are Christians whose attitude is that God, in His grace, will forgive us, so why not indulge in sin. It’s one way to deal with the struggle and it’s actually very common. But altogether un-Biblical. Romans 6:15-22 tells us that if we do live like this, sin will enslave us, it will shame us, it will limit us, it will defile us, it will bring corruption and death. And although we may be Christians, we will have a very unhappy, miserable life because we cannot give way to sin without being enslaved by it.

Another approach to the battle is that we attempt to handle sin by trying our best to do what God wants. We use discipline and dedication and determined willpower to live according to the Law. It sounds like a far more suitable battle plan, but it’s what the Bible calls legalism. The beginning verses of Romans Chapter 7 describe what happens when we become legalists: we become defensive, self-righteous, critical of others, proud of our own record. We become bored, dull, discouraged, depressed, and even despairing. That’s basically the story of Romans 7.

So what’s the answer? Paul’s own words reflect the dilemma: “In my inner being, I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:22-24)

Paul’s dilemma is the human dilemma. It’s every believer’s battle. But in verse 25 we read this: “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” Perhaps you think this a bit simplistic – but the Gospel of Jesus is simple. What verse 25 is telling us is that the sin battle is nothing more that a Grace vs. will power battle. And it is the same faith that brought us to Christ in the first place that we must rely on to separate us from sin. Every believer’s battle is won by relying on Christ and Christ alone by the indwelling of His Spirit. And this is the beginning of Sanctification!

- Pastor Mark

Following the SON. . .

I love sunflowers. I always have. There’s something about that long, powerful stalk and the huge seed-filled disk with bright yellow petals that cleary enchants me; and there’s some- thing both scientific and spiritual that captivates me too: Sunflowers demon- strate phototropism, the ability to rotate their head so that the face of the flower always faces the sun even though the angle of the sun’s rays on the flower constantly change. That means that the face of the flower faces east as the sun rises, and follows the sun across the sky so that at sunset it is facing west; and by its very existence, God is praised! As a pastor I can only liken this process to Christians following the Son of God and the responsibility to see my own life -- as well as to envision the body of believers entrusted to my leadersip -- as a field of beautiful, hardy sunflowers.

On July 17, 2007, Dr. Jerry Pence, the General Superintendent of the Wesleyan Church, and Rev. Ron McClung, our District Superintendent , along with other pastors from the Iowa/Minnesota District of the Wesleyan Church, laid their hands upon me and in a public display of “setting apart,” ordained me to the Gospel Ministry. It was an emotional time for me as I was comprehending the full impact of what was taking place in my life.

Suzi Swarthout’s solo hymn “Be Thou My Vision” seem to set the theme of the entire evening and I was captured by Dr. Pence’s powerful message on the calling of Saul of Taursus in Acts 9. But it was as I was kneeling at an altar being challenged to take charge of the ministry God had given me, that I was moved to tears. The event has caused me to look both back at my life and forward to the days the Lord has given me yet to serve.

Looking back, I am thankful: Thankful that God’s salvation reached me at an early age. Thankful for the example of my parents who lived their faith out and were excited to read the Word, evangelize and attend a Bible-believing church for fellowhip with other believers. Thankful for the nudging of the Holy Spirit that opened my heart to preach His Word. Thankful for the multitude of instructors along my path: pastors, youth leaders, Sunday School teachers, AWANA leaders, college and seminary professors who faithfully taught God’s Word. There are so many others - too many to enumerate.

When I look forward, I do wonder how much time I have left. . . Will Jesus come back in my lifetime? How much time to I have to fulfill the ministry God has given and entrusted me? These questions, I cannot answer. The call on my life is to be faithful. . . To follow the Son!

Think of the giant sunflower – it has a long, strong stalk and when it blooms, it’s huge, it has edible seeds, it’s beautiful to look at, and basically, this flower is completely useful. This I my desire – to be useful to God wherever He puts me. I think of the sombering words that aged apostle Peter gave to the younger men in I Peter Chapter 5. This is my #1 agenda as your pastor:

*Feeding the flock with God’s Word.
*Taking oversight of the Flock.
*Doing it willingly, not by constraint. . .
*Not for monetary gain.
*Being ready to always serve – not dictate.
*Being an example to the flock,
*Clothed with humility. . .
*Casting my cares upon the Lord.

This is the charge I strive for. Pray for me as I serve you in this regard. In His Service,

- Pastor Mark E. Goossen

Friday, July 27, 2007

Whose Slave are You?

I heard an illustration recently about a man walking down a street in a major city with a sign on his shoulders. The front of it said, “I’M A SLAVE FOR CHRIST.” On the back of it, as he passed, you read, “WHOSE SLAVE ARE YOU?” It is a good question because all of us are slaves to one or the other of two masters: Sin or Righteousness -- Sin or Christ. We have no other choices in life. By the very nature of being human, we are made to serve something beyond our power and be cont rolled by the same. We are either slaves to Christ; or slaves to sin.

If you recall, Romans Chapter 6 began with the question, “Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?” (verse 1). And the question was asked again in verse 15: “Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” And if you’ll further recall, the answer to both questions was a resounding no!

Now, read the last verse of Romans 6: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (verse 23). This is Paul’s final argument for why we should not, and cannot go on living in sin or being ruled by sin.

Let’s break down this verse. “The wages of sin is death.” This is God’s unalterable law. The creator of the universe demands that the penalty for sin be eternal death. Just as the law of gravity demands that what goes up must come down, so sin must bring death. The Greek word translated “wages” was commonly used of rations that were given to soldiers in military service. It was compensation for services rendered. Just as someone today receives wages from an employer. If you earn death by your sin, you will certainly receive it. God pronounces eternal hell on unbelieving sinners because they have earned it.

“…but the gift of God is eternal life.” This is the other side of God’s unalterable law. If God gives sinners their due wages, then a believer receives something they do not deserve: eternal life. Eternal life is not a wage, but a gift. You cannot earn it because you do not deserve it. It simple cannot be earned or purchased by good works, church attendance, giving money, or even religious rituals. You will find nothing in Scripture to come close to suggesting this. Eternal life is the free undeserved gift of God! “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God -- not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

So why is a gift so much better than a wage? Because earning wages depletes us and we hope that the wage will make up the depletion. But getting gifts depletes no one. Wages imply that the master needs our work, and so he has to pay for it. Gifts imply that the master does not need our work and does not have to pay a thing. Bottom-line: Being a slave to Christ is the sweetest slavery in the world. Whose slave are you?

– Pastor Mark

Monday, July 23, 2007

A Yielded Life

Have you had any trouble with sin this week? “No,” you say? You are also a bit arrogant then because you know very well that you’ve had trouble with sin. As a matter of fact, if you say you haven’t had trouble with sin, that is proof that you have had trouble with it.
I John 1:8 says if we say we are without sin, we make God a liar! If we are saved, God has delivered us from sin by His grace. But we still live in human, fleshly bodies and that is what causes us problems with sin.

If we are Christians, then inwardly we are cured of the sin dilemma. But we have choices to make everyday in a world that is ruled by sin. In Romans 6:11-23, the Apostle Paul shows us that God did not come into our lives to improve us. He came in to replace us! And that happens only when we live a yielded life:

“Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.” – Romans 6:13

What does that mean? Too often we read a passage of Scripture and we believe it simply because it’s God’s Word, but we haven’t a clue what it really means. Right? Well, when we realize that in our human, fleshly bodies (which are dying) lives the inordinate flesh that seeks to influence us to sin, we make a choice not to allow that and that’s called salvation. That’s step-one. Paul is telling us that we need now to consider the members of our bodies: hands, feet, eyes, whatever you want to call a member of your fleshly body. Paul calls it a body of sin. And we’re told not to yield it anymore as an instrument of unrighteousness.

Sometimes we forget what the word “yield” means. It’s not just traffic terminology. It comes from two Greek words. One word means “alongside,” and the other word means “to place yourself.” The picture Paul is drawing here is amazing! Paul is saying, “Don’t keep putting yourself in a position where you can be overpowered by the flesh. It’s just waiting for you to do that. Don’t keep yielding yourself. Don’t keep putting yourself “alongside” that kind of thing. (That thing could be pornography, gossip, unwholesome entertainment, non-Christian friends who negatively influence us, alcohol, television, you –fill-in-the-blank _______.) Instead of yielding ourselves to that, instead of accommodating the flesh, Paul says accommodate God: Yield yourselves to God. That’s how he replaces us. And that word “yield” is aorist active imperative. That means that grammatically it is a command! The aorist tense means DO IT! Just do it. If you’re saved – you need to train your senses to line up under Christ. Accommodate yourself to Christ. Put yourself where you can be influenced by the Sprit of God and not by the flesh. What does that mean for you this next week? -

Pastor Mark

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Death to Sin . . .

Sin is something we’ve known about since childhood. Our parents and Sunday School teachers instructed us regarding the sins of stealing and lying; and as we grew into young adults, we added alcohol and premarital sex to the list. Pastors and evangelists warned us that other things were sins too: failure to evangelize our neighbors and feed the hungry. What’s sad is that this is the entire scope of far too many people’s understanding of SIN.

We cannot begin to confront SIN until we really understand SIN as a singular entity. SIN is something quite different from that of a bad deed accomplished or a good one neglected. Sin is a universal and willful refusal of human beings to acknowledge that God is God! Even if we could find a way to conquer individual sins – subduing our tongue, our passions, curbing our appetites, meeting the needs of those far and near - we would still not have escaped the power of SIN.

The purpose of salvation is that we might be reconciled to God and be delivered from SIN. God wants us freed from SIN so we can fellowship and commune with Him. SIN needs to die. Throughout Romans Chapter 6, Paul gives several analogies of the death of SIN: baptism, being buried, being planted, crucifixion, slavery and widowhood. There are great contrasts in each of these analogies. And Salvation vs. SIN needs to be the same way. Each Christian should have two volumes in his or her life story: Volume I - Before Christ and Volume II – After Christ. Salvation in Christ is that powerful that it literally brings death to SIN.

Incredible as it may seem, God seeks our fellowship and our communion. He wants to dwell among us. This is why God went to all the trouble to build the temple in the Old Testament – so that He might “dwell among us.” (Exodus 25:22) God wants us to be able to “see” Him and “experience” Him. (As Job did. Remember our study of Job?) The first step is Death to SIN. But it does not end there. In order for this to occur, purity and holiness are required. As Hebrews 12:14 says, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.”

Sanctification is the procedure by which we become holy. It’s the means by which we are set apart, separated and consecrated from anything that is unholy. One has likened sanctification to a new government. (Think Iraq here.) There’s a new governing body, but there are still insurgencies and uprisings. Same with life after salvation. Sanctification is a process that God has designed to conform us into Christ’s image so that we can reflect Him in all that we do. It does not happen automatically. It all depends on our own moment-by-moment choices – Faith choices, non-feeling choices where we say, “not my will, but Thine,” -- are the only choices that allow sanctification and a complete and full Death to SIN.

- Pastor Mark

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Road Ahead . . .

Throughout history, Christians have pondered the road ahead of them, contem-plating God’s plan for His people. And many times, that road was not as appealing as poets portray. Nowhere and at no time has God promised clear blue skies and flower-strewn paths to enfold us all our lives through. Not at all. What God has done throughout history is teach His people to trust and to come humbly prostate before Him. He has taught His people “not to lean on our own understanding,” and that He “shall direct our paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

In Scripture, we meet some of His people who faced some obviously uncomfortable roads. We meet people who fought Giants, crossed the Red Sea, crossed over the Jordan River, wandered in the wilderness, were held in captivity, thrown into burning furnaces, and tossed into a lions’ den. But what does this have to do with Crane Chapel?

I’d like us to ponder the road ahead for Crane Chapel in this last half of 2007 and on into the future. In doing this, we must consider the mandate and the last words of Christ to both His disciples and to Christians today: “Go and made disciples.” When Christians recognize and appreciate that this is our primary and foremost purpose, God promises both His power to do the job and His presence to support and encourage us.

Crane Chapel needs to engage in the “Go…” We need to go down the road of making disciples. The creative energies, the wide-open opportunities and the existing ministries of our church need to center on the “Go.” The body functions best when all its members are engaged in what it was designed to do. And evangelism is best accomplished when all of the the church has a genuine desire to seek the lost for Christ.

Crane Chapel has a Divine purpose. The road ahead for Crane Chapel -- no matter what lies around the turn – needs to be one of uplifting and encouraging one another to “make disciples.” That’s our mission. The charter has been set by the Lord of the Church. Let’s “Go!”

- Pastor Mark E. Goossen

Sunday, June 24, 2007

God's Infinite Grace . . .

How often we say, "What is this world coming to?" in realization that sin seems to be growing worse with each passing day. Anyone turning on a television news program or opening a newspaper is confronted with it: Sin. It’s everywhere and often masquerading in far more complimentary terms. But sin is SIN. (We covered it in Romans Chapter 1. Remember?) And Paul points out that God's Grace is far, far more abundant than man's sins.

“. . . But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”
- Romans 5:20(b)

But back-up to the first half of that verse: "Moreover, the law entered that the offense might abound." Paul is telling us that one crucial function of the law (and remember, we’re talking about the Old Testament law here) is to turn Adam’s and Eve’s original sin into actual violations of specific commandments. Each of us is (#1) sinful by nature through Adam, and then (#2) the Law confronts us with our specific sins against God: "Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not bear false witness. Do not covet…” The Law of Moses was given to increase the transgression of Adam into millions of specific acts of transgression in all of us who resist submitting to the Law of God because of our rebellious nature. And the effect is that it turns men and woman who are sinful by nature into real bona fide sinners who commit very specific sins. One writer said it well: “the Law makes little Adams out of us all.”

Now back to God’s Grace: “. . . But where sin abounds, grace did much more abound.” This free gift of grace appears as a result of all these specific sins. It is not the law (i.e., specific sins: stealing, lying, gossiping, coveting…) which ushers in God’s Grace. Rather, the law reveals sin. The point of the opening pages of the Book of Romans is that people might become increasingly conscious of their sin when seen against the standard of God’s holy law—that sin might be seen for what it actually is! SIN! Remember how you felt the first time you read Romans Chapter 1? That’s the convicting power of SIN vs. GRACE.

So, how is God’s Grace personal to you? What will God’s Grace do for you? Can He truly be gracious enough to forgive you of your sins?Though we be like Rahab the harlot or King David of the Old Testament, or like Zacchaeus or Saul of the New, or like the worst of all sinners of all times - God's grace super-abounds where sin can only abound! Literally, in the Greek, the idea is fortified with the double occurrence of the word which means "super-abounds". Paul wanted to be clearly understood that God's grace is far more extensive than our sins. God’s Grace is INFINITE!

- Pastor Mark

Friday, March 30, 2007

Prepared for Growth...

Our rich Minnesota farmland frames my view of Highway 56 everyday on my way into Austin and every spring I watch as farmers prepare their fields for planting. The final remains of the previous year’s crop are turned under the ground as the large tractors “disc” the ground. The soil is worked over and over as the farmer breaks up the ground hardened by winter’s snow and ice. It amazes me that the farmer knows just the right amount of turning that the soil needs to open itself up to the seeds he is planning to sow. The ground must be made ready in order to receive and grow the crop. Year after year, the soil produces a crop, but only after the farmer has removed all the barriers to growth. During the summer months, the mixture of sun and rain, cultivation and care, and work and rest produce the harvest we enjoy in the fall. It is an amazing process.

The farmer’s process in the field is not unlike God’s process in our lives. There are seasons of icy, wintry winds that harden our souls. We feel hurt, wounded, bitter, and cynical. But then God begins to “turn the dirt” in our soul. He removes the remains of our past experiences and breaks up the hurts, wounds, bitterness, and cynicism that have infected us. He prepares our hearts to be ready to receive the seed He wants to sow in us. We are nurtured by His Holy Spirit so that we grow into the people He designed us to be. It is an amazing process.

By the time this newsletter circulates, Crane Chapel will have celebrated its first Sunday service in almost two years back on our property in a brand new building. As a church body, our soil has been worked over, broken up, and hardened over the last two years. Individually during that time, there have been hurts, wounds, bitteness and cynicism. In a word, Crane Chapel has been in the process of cultivation. But this spring we are prepared for growth.

Our sermon series in the Book of Romans can be likened to this cultivation process. God starts with the incorruptible seed of the Gospel and plants it in individual hearts that are open, receptive, and teachable. Once received, a transforming power begins to sprout called salvation. And when the new sprout begins to grow and become fruitful, we call it sanctification. Ultimately the purpose of broken soil, cultivation and growth is the harvest – meant to feed and produce future seed for yet another harvest. And in God’s husbandry, this step is called service. Romans 12:1-2 tells us to “present your bodies as living sacrifice...which is your reasonable service.” I am excited about our study in Romans and what a true understanding of the Truth will do for you and me. You must understand the entire book of Romans to understand God’s perfect will. God’s purposes always work together for good to them “who are called according to HIS purpose” (Romans 8:28). Don’t miss the last part of that verse. God can take the hard winters and bring life out of the soil, but it happens when we serve HIS purpose.

It is an amazing process. Where are you in the process? Are you just beginning to understand salvation? Are you growing in Christian maturity? Are you ready to serve humbly and bring the Gospel to many people? Are you prepared for growth?

- Pastor Mark E. Goossen

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Faith of Father Abraham

The Apostle Paul assumes we know the Abraham story because he uses the life of Abraham as an Old Testament illustration of faith in Romans Chapter 4. Faith is the theme of this chapter and even though the Jews to whom Paul was speaking were authorities on the Old Testament, they took it for granted that Abraham was justified by his faith. They most surely believed that Abraham had earned his righteousness through his good works. Abraham was a good man who did good things, but this has never been God’s way to salvation. Never in human history has GOD saved someone by his or her works.

Paul has already made and sustained the charge that all mankind is guilty; we have all ”sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Our works mean nothing to God when it comes to our status before Him. He sees each of us as a sinner. The good news is that God took care of this sin problem. His Son Jesus bore our sins in his own body on the cross, and by believing in Him through faith, we are delivered from our sin. We are declared, “Not Guilty!” and given the gift of righteousness. Faith and faith alone is what saves us.

Abraham’s faith is illustrated in verses 18–21:

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believe and so became the father
of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “so shall your
offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that
his body was as good as dead – since he was about a hundred years
old – and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet de did not
waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but
was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being
fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.

Here we have an illustration, an instant replay as it were, of Abraham’s state of mind when God promised him that he would be the father of many nations and that the entire world would be blessed through him. Reading between the lines, we’re given five characteristics of Abraham’s faith: #1 He believed in GOD. He did not believe in his own faith or his own human ability. His faith was in GOD. #2 He believed against all hope. #3 He believed despite his circumstances. #4 He believed without wavering. And finally, #5 Abraham believed GOD could perform.

It isn’t merely Abraham’s faith that Paul is concerned with here. It‘s our faith. The whole Abraham story, like all of Scripture was written for us. The same God who counted Abraham’s faith as righteousness will count righteous to us if we believe and have faith. How’s your faith? Some of you might be living in a situation similar to Abraham’s. Humanly speaking, all you have is faith because things seem impossible. Maybe you struggle with habitual sin. Maybe you’re at the end of your rope financially. Maybe you suffer physical or emotional pain that seems endless. Do you have faith that “momentary affliction is producing eternal glory” (II Cor. 4:17)? And more importantly, do you have faith that God will count you as righteous and declare you “Not Guilty” if you only have faith in Him?

- Pastor Mark

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Classic Illustration of Justification by Faith

In the first three chapters of Romans, Paul pounds and pounds the idea that every one of us, every man and woman, is guilty before God. Whether we are Jews convicted by the Law, Gentiles convicted by God’s imprint on our consciences, or modern day “religious” people who busily engage in church work as a way to be seen righteous, we have all sinned. We all live in darkness. In Chapter three, we began to see a way out of that darkness. Now in chapter four that way becomes clear. This chapter focuses on the patriarch Abraham, who was counted as righteous before God centuries before Romans was even written. Abraham was counted righteous some 2000 years B.C. in the same way we can be counted righteous in A.D. 2007 – through faith.

Think for minute about this patriarch we call Father Abraham. He is indeed honored as the man from whose genealogy came three of the world’s great religions: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. It would be difficult to find a man who has influenced the world to this day more than he has. God had promised to bless Israel and the whole world through Abraham and his descendants. Abraham was one of the most respected figures, not only among the Jews, but in the entire ancient world. Tales of Abraham and his works have been known to circulate the ancient world for centuries. And in the first century, Abraham was one of the Jews’ biggest “claims to fame.” This is probably the very reason Paul chose to highlight Abraham in this section of Romans. See, the common perception among the Jews (and many “Christians” today) was that justification before God was the result of good works, and therefore, “justification” was grounds for boasting.

If the Book of Romans were a work of music, the idea of boasting over works would be the melody line, repeated over and over. Boasting is just what people do – whether outwardly or privately. And Romans 4:5 finally sets the record straight: “However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness." Then Paul uses the Jews’ own scriptures to make this point when he quotes Genesis 15:6: “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Abraham’s righteousness was something not earned, but given to him by GOD. If you go back and really study the life of Abraham, you will see that he had no grounds to boast of righteousness, either before man or God. Abraham lied. He committed adultery. His own family tree traces back to idolaters. He was a sinner. But his faith made him righteous. Not his works.

Works don’t work. We cannot fool God with works – we only fool ourselves. What do you find when you look at your works? Are they enough to save you? If you are honest, the answer is NO. But many people never come to that point of total honesty. We live the “works” way because the world lives the “works” way. God pays no attention to works. He looks at our heart and when he does, He looks at why we do what we do. He sees selfishness, jealousy, anger, manipulation, fear, callousness, coldness, envy, and unkindness. He hears the secret thoughts we think when we know no one else can hear us and He listens when we mumble under our breath. Bottom line: GOD knows why you do what you do. Nothing is hidden from Him!

What do you want credited to your account? Do you want God to credit you with what you are owed according to your works or do you want Him to credit you with righteousness for your faith?

– Pastor Mark

Friday, March 09, 2007

Self Help or GOD's Gift

The self-help industry is one of the biggest money generators in our society. And the biggest problem in the self-help industry is that many (not all) promoters make false promises. They promise hugely unrealistic results, as if reading a single book or attending a single seminar will produce all the permanent changes you need to make your life absolutely perfect. Yet people still buy these products because they really want to believe the marketers are telling the truth. And probably more notably, people are keenly aware that they do indeed need help.

Today, I want to focus on Romans 3:23-24. Verse 23 lays out for us that universal need for help: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God...” And verse 24 gives the all-sufficient remedy for that need: “…and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ.” What these two verses say is more important for your future that 10,000 self-help books to help you solve your problems. These are the words of God spoken through the Apostle Paul. They tell us our true condition as human beings. And they tell us what God has done to save those who put their trust in his Son, Jesus.

The whole point of Romans 1:18 – 3:20 is to show us that each of us -- without exception – is a sinner. And the outworking of being a sinner is that we fall short of God’s glory. “Falling short” is literally “lacking.” We lack ever seeing or experiencing GOD’s Glory.

Verse 24 is the greatest “self-help” statement ever spoken or written. Reason being, it requires no self! What is so great about this verse is that it is all about what GOD has already done to save us.

The first phrase is “being justified . . . ” This isn’t something we do. God is the actor here. God is justifying us. And it does not mean that God makes us righteous. Not at all! He declares us righteous. Justification is not a change of our nature or state, but a change of our standing before Him.

Second “as a gift . . . ” The point here is we are declared righteous in such a way that we cannot pay for it. Ever! We cannot purchase justification. It is a gift. It’s free. There is no payment we can make. We cannot buy or barter or rent it. God’s act of justification is a gift.

Third, “by His grace. . .” Getting something by grace means we cannot work for it. Grace is that you get from someone who owes you nothing. So not only can we not pay for justification, neither can we work for it.

Fourth, “through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” Redemption means “deliverance at a cost” or “release by payment.” Think of it in terms of a ransom. Jesus was the ransom. He gave His life so there could be deliverance and release from the universal problem of vs. 23!

There are some truths that are so foundational and so central that we should literally build our lives upon them. Romans 3:23-24 are such verses. Base your life on these verses and ground your hope on it.

- Pastor Mark

Friday, March 02, 2007

But Now . . . an Open Door

If you’ve been attentive over the last several weeks to our study in the Book of Romans, it ought to be very clear that all human beings, of every race and rank, of every creed and culture, Jews and Gentiles, the immoral and the moral, the religious and the non-religious, me and you, are without any exception sinful, guilty, inexcusable and speechless before God. We are all full of sin and sin is the culprit behind the trying situations in our lives. The Apostle Paul’s description of this terrible human predicament in Romans 1:18 - 3:19, leaves absolutely no ray of light, no flicker of hope, no prospect of rescue. Furthermore – and no doubt – some of you have also been offended at various levels that this has been pointed out so openly and purposely. Perhaps you’ve been stirred to reply somehow with passion in your own defense. Here’s what GOD’s WORD says in Romans 3:19, “… every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held guilty before God.”

From a human point of view, this is an enormous and infuriating dilemma. How can we as sinful beings ever be made righteous in the sight of God? How can we get the effects of sin out of our lives? The answer to that question is found in the next section of Romans. Look in your Bible at Romans 3:21 - 8:39. Note that the passage begins with the words “But now. . .” Paul takes out a new brush here – he’s painting a brand new scene. Obviously, something new and exciting is coming. Different Bibles have differently worded divisions, but let’s call this next section “Salvation in Christ Jesus.”

The answer to this enormous and infuriating dilemma is Christ Jesus!! Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” This is the very heart of Romans. It’s the very heart of the Gospel and the very heart of the entire Bible! As we study this next section of Romans and come to comprehend, understand, and appreciate Salvation in Christ Jesus, there are some crucial concepts with which we need to become familiar. They are:

JUSTIFICATION: God’s act of declaring us “not guilty” for our sins. (Romans 4:25 – 5:19)

PROPITIATION: The removal of God’s punishment for sin through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus. (Romans 3:25)

REDEMPTION: Jesus has paid the price so we can go free. The price of sin is death and Jesus paid it. (Romans 3:24; 8:23)

SANCTIFICATION: Becoming more and more like Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 5:2; 15:16)

GLORIFICATION: The ultimate state of the believer after death when he/she becomes like Jesus. (Romans 8:18, 19, 30)

Read Romans 3:21– 8:39. Memorize the above concepts. Then read the passage again. And again. There is hope for the human dilemma. And there is hope for your dilemma. There is beauty in this passage of Scripture. God has offered an open door to free each of us from the enormity and infuriation of sin. This open door is called Salvation in Christ Jesus. Have you found it?

– Pastor Mark

Monday, February 26, 2007

The World at Our Doorsteps

Within days of the writing of this newsletter, Crane Community Chapel will open the doors of a brand new church facility to the community. Consider for a moment the mission statement of Crane Chapel: “. . . to win the lost and erring to Christ. . . to spread the knowledge of full Salvation at home and abroad.” Sounds a lot like Matthew 28:19: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations….” Let’s be honest. Our world is becoming smaller. Advancements in technology allow us to live in a world where global connections are literally at our fingertips. The tapestry of humanity has become so interwoven that information travels instantaneously. Cultures connect at every level of our lives. Diverse languages, foods and lifestyles are all around us, and if you haven’t noticed it here in Southeastern Minnesota, then you obviously don’t get out much. Last week, I sat with my wife at the Chinese Buffet here in Austin between a booth full of people speaking Spanish and a table where a Sudanese family was sharing a meal. I thought to myself, “So much for taking the Gospel to the world. The world has come to us!” But the more powerful and thought-provoking reflection was this: “What is Crane Chapel doing with this opportunity?” We don’t even have to leave town to make disciples! How much easier could it get?! Especially with a brand new church building. It’s a new beginning for us!

The foundation of Christianity in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and it must be preached if people are to be saved. This has been the church’s mandate for centuries. It’s why we exist. True Christianity has always taught this. If people don’t hear the Gospel, they can’t be saved. We have greater means and potential to share the Gospel today than any other time in history. We have sophisticated technology in every imaginable medium. Here’s the tragedy: Satan has cranked up his effort to pull the plug on the Gospel. The enemy is busy confusing the church about what the Gospel is! And many have fallen victim to the confusion.

What good is a new church building if we don’t understand the Gospel? In our series in the Book of Romans, we are coming to what many throughout Christian history have called the Heart of the Gospel: Repentance of sin and justification through grace alone through the death of Jesus Christ. It’s our mission to know this – to understand this – to embrace this – and to share it! As a church-body, let’s not become shallow in our mission. Let’s not become so concerned that we might offend someone, that we leave the Gospel of Salvation fall aside and instead focus our effort on making church fun and entertaining. Let’s immerse ourselves in the Book of Romans and set our eyes on the beauty of the Gospel. The Gospel is the Good News that only Salvation can transform sinners and only Salvation can reveal God’s righteousness (Romans 1:16-17). Let’s become thoroughly acquainted with the message and learn how to share it as laid out so effectively in Romans. Because the world is literally at our doorsteps.

- Pastor Mark E. Goossen

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Charge, The Indictment, The Defense, The Verdict. . .

Perhaps you missed some important matters in the news over the last many days. First there was the diaper-wearing astronaut out to get her romantic rival. I listened to one “expert” explain (rationalize) that something simply went terribly wrong in this poor woman’s brain when a runaway chemical just skipped a circuit causing an otherwise nice lady to turn into a malicious crazy women. Then there was the whole drug-infested tale of the Marilyn Monroe wanna-be. Regarding her life and untimely death, I heard another “expert” say that there was no redeeming feature of this woman at all, except that she was a nice person.

If anyone cares to hear the Truth, the bottom line of both stories is SIN. Know what else? You share the same family tree with these two human beings. So do I. From a Biblical standpoint, there are no redeeming features in you or me. And none of us has any excuse. Chemical imbalance or otherwise. Regrettably, we all like to believe that we are nice people and that belief is continually reinforced by psychologists, counselors, self-help books, “experts,” and a great many religious leaders. Unluckily for those who’ve bought into it, it’s as far-off as you can get from God’s Word!

That’s why Paul begins his letter to the Romans with a long discussion of the doctrine of human sin. For nearly three chapters he has been building slowly to a great climax. Like a prosecuting attorney, he has laid out the facts one by one. Thesis: The whole world in under the wrath of God (1:18). Fact #1: The Gentiles are guilty (1:18-32). Fact #2: The Moralists are guilty (2:1-16). Fact #3: The Jews are guilty (2:17-29). Fact #4: No excuses will be accepted. (3:1-8)

Now the time has come for the final argument and the case goes to the jury. The charge is SIN. SIN is the problem. It’s not a symptom – it is the cause. In Romans Chapter 3, Paul lays out an appalling picture of the human race. He does it by stringing together a number of Old Testament passages which, taken together, establish his point “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In legal terms, it’s a prima facie case (i.e. Paul has more than sufficiently established the facts). It is the most condemning and offensive indictment imaginable. You have to conclude that sin has not only affected every person, but it has affected every part of every person: Sin is in our character (vs. 10). Sin is in our mind (vs. 11). Sin is in our heart (vs. 12). Sin is in our lips (vs. 13-14). Sin is in our feet (vs. 15-17). Sin is in our eyes (vs. 18). We are totally depraved! Understandably then, the stuff we hear in the news makes total sense!

Sin has affected every part of every human being – our minds, our emotions, our will, our intellect, our moral reasoning, our decision making, our words and our deeds. Total depravity means that sin has so affected our lives that any attempt to please God on our own is doomed to failure. We have NO DEFENSE and the indictment applies to every one of us whether we admit it or not. And the verdict is . . .

- Pastor Mark

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The False Security of the Religionist...

Reality TV is huge. People who watch reality TV are supposed to feel like they are being let in on real relationships, real drama, real life, real, authentic situations faced by real, authentic people. Groups who study generational trends say that the main thing that the younger generations want is authenticity because authenticity lessens the sense of vulnerability. In other words, reality equals security. Personally, I think everyone wants authenticity and everyone wants security. So… being real is “in.”

The sad truth is that authenticity is very hard to come by. Even in churches. And that’s the problem. This is precisely what Paul addresses in Romans 2:17-29. Specifically, he says that circumcision of the flesh does not make a real Jew – rather circumcision of the heart. (vs. 25-27) Paul is speaking directly to the Jews who believed they had an authentic relationship with God based on the outward act of circumcision and the outward appearance of following God’s law. Not gonna’ do it, Paul says. What matters is the heart. You can clean up the outside and be hiding all kinds of filth on the inside. It’s called being phony!

Of course, this is not just about Jews in Paul’s day. It’s about you and me today. It’s fair to substitute “Christian” or “churchgoer” for “Jew” in this passage, and “baptism” or “church member” for “circumcision.” A fair interpretation of the passage might be something like this:

“You call yourself a Christian and you’re so sure you’re right with God because you were baptized as a baby and you went to Sunday School and you went to AWANA too and one time you had a strong emotional feeling and gave your life to Christ. You go to church and Bible Study a even serve on a committee and you brag to yourself that you’re not like your friends and co-workers who don’t understand the Bible and live for the party scene.

“But so what if you’ve been baptized? Has there been a real change in your life? Do you have a real, authentic, internal relationship with God that changes your external life automatically? Has your heart truly been affected? What kind of person are you when nobody is watching? Are you real with yourself? Are you real with God? Are you really secure?”

Honestly, we are so whacked out by sin in our culture, that we have a terrible time allowing Truth to permeate us sometime. Do you understand what this passage is saying? It’s saying that a lot of religious people who call themselves Christians spend their entire lives as phonies. Some are easy to spot, others not so easy. Getting real is actually pretty simple. It’s about telling God frankly and sincerely who you are, rather than whom you think you should be. Forget reality TV. Until you’re real before God, He can’t begin the work of changing you into who you should be. And until you’re who you should be in Christ, you can accomplish nothing for Him. In essence, until and unless you are real. . . you are a fake! And your security in Christ is artificial too.

– Pastor Mark

Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Critic Meets the Judge...

Several years ago there was a book written called I'm O.K., You're O.K., which became very popular. What I hope we’ve seen from our study in Romans Chapter 1 is the message that says: "I am not O.K. You are not O.K. No one is O.K." This may sound like bad news, and it is. Even those of us who regard ourselves as religious, spiritual or moral are far from God’s idea of O.K. We’re all a mess!

It’s at this point in Paul’s letter to the Romans, that many of the self-righteous Jews -- and Christians as well -- were probably shouting a loud “Amen” to the condemnation of sinners in the first Chapter. But in Chapter 2, Paul turns to these religious and morally superior types and points the finger at them: “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” (Romans 2:1)

The focus of Romans Chapter 1 is that none of us have any excuse: we are all sinful. The focus of Chapter 2 is that GOD alone is the Judge. Nobody is entitled to judge. By the very act of judging someone, we acknowledge that there is a standard not being met. But that same standard applies to us as well. The truth is that we do not live perfectly by any standard. We are all self-righteous and -- again -- without excuse.

When we judge others, we aren’t just wrong in assessing the moral standing of others but we are also wrong in assessing our own moral standing. When we act self-righteously, we make two grave errors: we underestimate the height of God’s standard of righteousness and we underestimate the depth of our own sin. It is a universal temptation to exaggerate the faults of others while minimizing our own, to notice the small speck in someone’s eye, but not the log in our own. (Matt. 7:1-3)

“. . . And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. . .” Do you understand the intense scrutiny and thorough intensity of God's judgment? Let's turn for just a moment to that judgment: God will judge according to Truth (Rom. 2:2). His judgment will be inescapable (vs. 3). God’s judgment will be according to our deeds (v. 6) and without partiality (vs. 11). Finally, God’s judgment will be according to the Gospel (vs. 16).

None of us will be able to stand before God and open our mouths to say a thing in our defense. False morality will be exposed for the hypocrisy that it is. What a scary thought. Everything we’ve done in secret, every thought, every sinful desire we’ve indulged, every evil word spoken or even thought, every sin will be revealed. What a mess! We certainly are not O.K. But. . . this is why Paul gives us this teaching in Romans. Even though this doctrine of God’s judgment seems like bad news, it is in fact very necessary information that we should be glad to know. Why? Stay Tuned to Romans….
-Pastor Mark