Archive for the ‘Gospel of Mark’ Category

What is Church? — A Few Thoughts

November 15, 2008

Title: What is Church? — A Few Thoughts

Text: Mark 11:15-17,

Time: September 17th, 2005

This message was not something I planned to give. In fact, I was working on something entirely different this week, but because of some very powerful things that happened this week I wanted to share with you some very important things I’ve learned and that have really effected me deeply. All this week I was reflecting on what church is. What is it that we are trying to do when we come together for church, here or any other place? Every Sunday there are hundreds of churches in Jamestown and thousands of churches in the United States and millions of churches all around the world that meet. What is it that these churches are trying to accomplish? What is the point of church? Not what can church be used for, not what can happen or what is possible for churches to do, what is church supposed to do, what is church supposed to be? Because I have a feeling that if church is what it’s supposed to be, people will be drawn to it, not all people, but some people. We all know that in Europe hardly anyone ever goes into the doors of a church. I think the average attendance in church is 5%, which means 95% of all Europeans simply skip church. In the United States I think the latest statistic is that maybe 15-25% of the people attend church on Sunday, higher than Europe but declining every year. More and more people are simply skipping church, simply not bothering to go. Now is there a God? Yes. Does he have a church on earth for the benefit of his people? Yes. Then what’s the problem? Why is it that people are not finding God in the very place where God has provided for them to find his presence? I have a feeling that if the church would be what it’s supposed to be God’s children would do what they are supposed to do. Now why have church? One answer is that we should give to God the honor, recognition, and glory He is due. After all he is our Creator, we are the creation, we owe him that much to acknowledge Him. But that’s church based on duty, obligation, what we ought to do. The early Christians did church on the basis of desire, what they wanted to do, what was a delight to them, not out of duty. But today, much of church is done out of religious duty, obligation, what we ought to do rather than out of desire, what we want to do. But this week I spent a lot of time praying and reflecting on what is church and why have it and what is it that is supposed to happen in it. And God showed me powerfully some things that have changed me, and have made a big impact on me already. He didn’t just show me something; he hit me with it deep down in my soul. This last week I’ve gone through one of the most powerfully moving spiritual experiences I’ve ever had. I met with worship leader Randy Anderson on Friday and started sharing this stuff. I could hardly speak because God was interrupting things by causing me to cry all over the place! That’s a good sign, that’s a positive sign. God was moving in my heart, not just in my head; in my soul, not just my intellect. That’s how I know this stuff is real. I want to share with you what God shared with me because it has everything to do with what we are trying to do here at the church. Bear with me because I don’t know what God will do or might do with this material. I have a few passages from the Bible that I’ll teach from and then comment on. (more…)

Experiencing God: Preparing the Way

November 13, 2008

Title: Experiencing God: Preparing the way

Text: Mark 1:1-3

Time: September 1st, 2005

In the past two or three weeks God has powerfully shown me some truths that will influence my ministry for the rest of my life, and hopefully influence other people as well. The first really big truth that God has shown me dramatically in the past few weeks is that church is for the purpose of helping us experience God. Church is supposed to be a place where people can go to experience the living God, it’s supposed to be a place where people can go to worship and praise and experience the living God, it’s suppose to be a place where people can go to hear the voice of God deep down in their souls through the teaching of God’s Word, it’s supposed to be a place where people can go to experience God through crying out to him in prayer, and it’s supposed to be a place where people can go to experience God through beautiful loving human relationships that help and don’t hinder us in our God relationship. Now why is it that most churches aren’t doing very well in helping people experience God? Because typically there are man-made barriers that exist in churches that block our soul’s relationship with God, and there are also spiritual bridges that need to be built by churches that just aren’t in place but need to be in place to help our souls connect to God. God showed me that as a leader in the church it is my responsibility to remove any man-made barriers in the church that separate the soul from God and also to build any needed spiritual bridges that are necessary for a soul to connect to God. If church leadership can do this, people can likely experience God – maybe. Because the responsibility for connecting a person to God is not solely on the shoulders of the church, it is primarily the responsibility of the individual person. Why? Because the biggest barrier separating a soul from God is not the man-made barriers of church, but the barrier of personal sin. Now it’s the church’s responsibility to take away anything in the church hindering people, and add anything that would help a person experience God. But even if there were a perfect church and did the positive adding and negative subtracting perfectly, people would still not experience God unless they themselves were willing to do their part. Even if a perfect pastor led a perfect church, it would not be enough. Even if there was perfect worship led by a perfect worship leader; even if there were perfect prayers led by a perfect prayer leader; even if there were perfect sermons led by a perfect preacher; and finally, even if there was perfect fellowship in a perfect church, this still wouldn’t be enough for people to experience God — unless and only if they were willing to do what they must do on their end. What is it that a person must do to experience God? Attending a good church can help, a good pastor can help, a good worship leader and a good worship team can help, good prayers at the church help, and good fellowship helps, but all of these aren’t enough to get a person experiencing God. What must a person do to experience God? He or she must be willing to individually remove all personal barriers between their soul and God, and he or she must be willing to build — in as much as possible — any personal spiritual bridges from their soul to God that are needed. And then after this preparation, pray that God visits them with His power and presence. In past messages I focused on what we as a church must do to help people experience God, now today I’d like to turn to what each of us as individuals must do to experience God, either in an initial experience like conversion, or with an on-going experience as in Christian maturity. (more…)

Experiencing God: Receiving the Good News

October 31, 2008

Message: Experiencing God: Receiving the Good News

Text: Mark 1:9-15

Time: October 15th, 2005

Every year thousands of couples get married in the United States, but it isn’t just the wedding or marriage ceremony that happens to these couples, it’s preparation for the wedding or marriage ceremony that takes the most time and energy — not to mention any pre-marital counseling or classes needed. And in most cases preparation for the marriage ceremony is a lot more complicated than the wedding itself. In fact, once all the preparation is done, the wedding ceremony itself is fairly straight-forward and easy. I remember when my sister Janet and my brother in law Steve were married, our whole family was involved in the wedding preparation. Because we wanted to keep the whole wedding day within some kind of a budget, my parents cooked and prepared the food ahead of time for the reception and had everything ready for the big day. I remember helping prepare the decorations for the wedding in the reception hall. There was also, of course, the rehearsal where everyone prepared for the wedding itself. It is possible for the bride to begin preparing for the wedding 6 months to a year ahead of time, with the activity intensifying in the months and weeks and days leading up to the actual marriage ceremony. The point is that when the day of the wedding arrives everything has been prepared and the ceremony itself is rather simple and straightforward. That’s the way it should be, and that’s why there is preparation. The better the preparation the smoother the actual wedding event goes. Well, that’s a lot like the Christian spiritual conversion process too. As I outlined last week, John the Baptist was sent by God to prepare the way for the Lord. John’s assignment was to get the people ready by preaching confession and repentance from sin. The people spiritually prepared themselves for the Lord by reviewing their lives, confessing and repenting of any and all sins and then receiving John’s baptism. John was the prophet who brought Isaiah’s message: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make a straight path for the Lord to travel.” John preached spiritual preparation and the people followed through with that preparation by getting their hearts right with God through repenting of their sins, turning away from sins and then turning towards God. John pointed the way for the people, but it took Jesus Himself to bring the people into an actual experience of God. John could only prepare the people, but Jesus came fulfilling the Good News of salvation. John preached the first half of the Gospel, Jesus came and completed the fulfillment of the Gospel. John got people ready for experiencing God, Jesus came giving people an experience of God. One of the problems in our churches today is that there is such an over-emphasis on receiving the gospel that the preparation for receiving the gospel is neglected. Many people make decisions to receive Christ but they haven’t confessed or repented of their sins. Their hearts are not right with God and so their decisions are hollow. They fall away soon afterwards. In some large evangelism rallies hundreds of people make decisions for Christ, yet only a few continue with spiritual follow-up, and even fewer ever make it into Christian churches. Why is that? Because the heart preparation so important in New Testament times is absent. As a pastor, whenever I try to rush a person into trusting and receiving Christ with a quick prayer before I’ve explained the confession and repentance of sin part of the gospel I almost always see the person fall away shortly thereafter. I’ve finally come to the realization that there must be both parts explained to a person: first, a person must confess and repent of all known sin, and only after that, second, a person must trust and believe in Christ. It’s the only way a person can truly experience God. Since we are working our way through the Gospel of Mark, let me read part of the first chapter to show these two essential parts of the Gospel at work. (read). I’ll review the first part, explain the second part, and talk about what it means to us today. (more…)

Preaching the Gospel from Mark

October 23, 2008

Title: Preaching the Gospel from Mark

Text: Mark 1:14-15

Time: July 16th, 2007

I’m preaching the gospel through each of the four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Today, I’m preaching the gospel from the Book of Mark. Last week, I preached the gospel from the Book of Matthew on the passage about the rich young ruler asking Jesus about eternal life. Jesus taught that wholehearted trust in him alone would produce eternal life. Unfortunately, the man refused to trust in Jesus with absolute, unqualified trust, and as a result couldn’t find salvation in eternal life. Salvation is obtained through total trust in Christ for forgiveness of sins, for rescue from judgment and damnation, for entrance into eternal heaven. That’s the positive aspect of the gospel – faith or trust. Today, I’d like to preach the gospel from the Book of Mark, which brings out the negative aspect of the gospel, namely, repentance. With repentance, we not only turn towards Christ with positive faith, we turn away or reject something also, namely, the world, the flesh, and the Devil. Both aspects of the gospel are necessary because when we say we have faith in something, we must also be saying negatively, that we don’t have faith in other things. When we turn towards Christ in faith, we are also turning away from other things. One of the big confusions in our world today, even in many churches today, and in the Christian world in general, is that a gospel message is being preached without repentance. Or in other words, the invitation to believe or trust in Christ is given, but there is no corresponding invitation to turn away or give up trusting in other things. So what in reality happens is many, many people make claims to believe in Jesus Christ as Savior, but in reality they have never turned away from conflicting beliefs or trusts. The end result is that many people add Jesus to their already cluttered lives and conflicting beliefs, but Jesus doesn’t get his priority in their lives because they haven’t given up or turned away or put aside other beliefs to make room for Jesus. People today increasingly want their lives as they are but also Jesus too. But that is impossible. To fully embrace Jesus is to also fully reject other things that conflict or contradict with Jesus. To fully trust Jesus is to fully mistrust other things that are incompatible with Jesus. With true faith in Christ, it’s an either/or proposition, not a both/and. The weakness in the church today is because the message of the gospel has been confused so that people understand it as only a positive trust in Christ without a negative mistrust in everything contrary to Christ. To trust Christ supremely is to mistrust myself and other things. To embrace Christ fully I must turn away from many other things that I formerly embraced; now I must reject these things. Whatever I trusted in before to live my life, I must now reject in order to fully trust Christ to order my life. This is the emphasis we find in the preaching of the gospel by Jesus in the Book of Mark. It’s an important emphasis, especially today when so many people have forgotten it. Have you heard this emphasis of the gospel? Have you understood what repentance means? It’s the very first message from Jesus to start his ministry. Let’s hear the gospel as preached in Christ’s first sermon found in Mark 1:14-15 (read). (more…)