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