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