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