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