Jesus lets defeat make Him victorious

Scripture Notes on Mark 15

“And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!'” -Mark 15:29-30

When the passers-by looked at Jesus, they thought they saw a failure…but they were blind.

When they mocked His past prediction, they thought they spoke the truth…but they were wrong.

When they challenged the Messiah’s methods, they thought He was misguided…but they were mistaken.

Jesus works in ways that may be unseen and unexpected, but are unstoppable. His power operates along paths that may seem unusual or unorthodox, but it’s undeniable.

Jesus doesn’t just pry victory from the jaws of defeat; He uses defeat itself against itself to accomplish more than only victory…

Jesus lets defeat make Him victorious.

May you walk in the victory of Jesus today, and may you remember that in Christ, defeat can become your victory, too.

The heart of the Son is the will of the Father

Scripture Notes on Mark 14

“And going a little farther, [Jesus] fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him.  And He said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for You.  Remove this cup from me.  Yet not what I will, but what You will.'” -Mark 14:35-36

Jesus weeps in the garden at the thought of the torment that awaits Him.

It’s not just the thought of physical suffering that puts Him in anguish, but the knowledge that He will be cut off from the presence of the Father.  This separation, unlike anything else in all eternity, is the deepest pain of all, and Jesus submits to it willingly.

We may speculate and theorize as to why the Father chose the cross as the way He would redeem humanity.  We may question why He would not have prepared an easier way, a way that would not have caused His Son to go through such agony.  Yet, one thing we can know for sure.

Jesus agreed with the plan, and followed it completely out of love.

The heart of Jesus was not to seek His own glory, but the glory of the Father.  His goal was not to pursue His own pleasure, but the plan of the Father.  His desire was not to accomplish His own will, but the will of the Father.  This is love, that He did the will of the One who sent Him.

And though the will of the Father led Jesus through the sting of death, it brought Him out of it in a far more glorious resurrection!

So it is for us.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to pursue a life that looks more and more like His.  That means that as we grow in Christ, our hearts grow more and more committed to knowing and doing the will of God.  And, the more we grow in His will, the more His life grows in us.

May you join with Jesus in making this the sincere prayer of your heart.  “Our Father in heaven…your will be done…”

-Pastor Phillip

Jesus Makes Dead Things Live Again

It was obvious to everyone: the boy was dead.

“And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, [the unclean spirit] came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, ‘He is dead.'” -Mark 9:26

Nice try, Jesus, but this one was too much.  Sorry, dad, better start making funeral plans.  Sorry, disciples, looks like your man isn’t as magical as you thought.  Move along, folks, nothing to see here except a corpse.

But Jesus knew something they didn’t.

“Most of them said, ‘He is dead’ … But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.” -Mark 9:26b-27

Jesus knew the boy wasn’t really dead at all.  Jesus knew his eyes were about to open and his body was about to rise up stronger than ever before.  Jesus knew that even if the boy had died, that wouldn’t have been a problem, either.

Because Jesus makes dead things live again.Jesus Makes Dead Things Live Again

Maybe it’s obvious to the bystanders in your life: that thing you hoped for is dead.  Maybe in your own heart you gave up on it long ago.  Maybe you tried and tried and failed and failed, prayed and prayed and heard nothing at all.

But Jesus makes dead things live again.

The world says that “what’s done is done,” but Jesus makes dead things live again.

The world says that some things you never recover from, but Jesus makes dead things live again.

The world says dead is dead but Jesus conquered death…and He still makes dead things live again.

May you have hope that Jesus is able to work resurrection in your circumstance, and may you have faith to start acting according to what you know is true… Jesus makes dead things live again.

-Pastor Phillip

NOTE: I wrote this post on a Wednesday morning, ready to send it out. Then, as I was about to click “Publish,” it was like the Holy Spirit said to me, “This isn’t a blog post for today. This is your sermon for Sunday.”

Praise God for His leading, because after sharing this message, I had so many people tell that, “This was for ME.” I pray this post was a blessing to you, and if you’d like to hear the message, it will be posted online at GatewayGrace.org and can also be found by searching iTunes for “Gateway Grace Fellowship”. I pray it’s a blessing in your life.

Jesus gives provision through the Church

Scripture Notes on Mark 10

“Jesus said, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.'” -Mark 10:29-30

Walking with Jesus always has a price, and sometimes it’s more costly than others.

We don’t follow a man who had everything going for Him, who was constantly adored and well-treated.  We follow a Savior who was homeless, who was poor, who was crucified.  But, just like on the other side of the grave was a glorious resurrection, on the other side of the price there is a great provision!

The first thought for many who read this will be, “Yes, a great provision awaits me in heaven if I can just get through this life on earth.” This is true, but it is not complete.  Notice how Jesus speaks of “a hundredfold now in this time…

This doesn’t mean that every believer who loses their home gets a hundred parcels of real estate down the street.  There simply isn’t enough land on the planet for that.  It doesn’t mean that every biological family member who rejects a believer is replaced with one hundred more.  All the adoption agencies in all the world couldn’t keep up with that.  So, what does Jesus mean?

He’s talking about the Church.

It is the plan and purpose of God that His Church should be a people who share with one another generously.  We share affection and commitment, support and strength, and even finances and a place to stay when needed.

All throughout history we see examples of how Christians understood that God called them to be a family to one another, and as they opened their hearts and homes to one another in obedience to Christ, they became the fulfillment of His promise.

How about us?

The American spirit is one of rugged individualism.  We pride ourselves on doing things on our own, on needing no one, on making things happen for ourselves, and when we do, on keeping as much for our selves and our own families as we can.

But that is not the Spirit of Christ.

May you and I be willing to second-guess the gospel of our culture and be obedient to God by being generous with one another.  May we be willing to sacrifice our preferences and pride on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Christ, because when we do, we’re not just being obedient to Jesus.  We’re laying a foundation for others to do the same for us, too.

-Pastor Phillip

Listen to Jesus

Scripture Notes on Mark 9

“And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to him.'” -Mark 9:7

There is a difference between hearing Jesus and listening to Him.

There is a difference between seeing Jesus and experiencing His fullness.

The disciples had seen Jesus for a long time, but then they saw Him like never before, and their lives were changed.

The disciples had heard Jesus for a long time, but as they began to really listen to Him and obey, their lives were changed even more.

It is not just hearing the Word of God that makes a difference in your life, it’s listening to it in a way that makes a change in how you live.  It’s not just learning about Jesus that transforms your heart, it’s listening to His call to a new life, and responding in faith.

May you truly listen to Jesus today, and in doing that, may you experience the life-changing results that can only come from Him.

-Pastor Phillip

Maybe That Barrier is Shorter Than it Looks

Concrete is a bear to get through.

Maybe That Barrier is Shorter Than it Looks

I can hear the sound of the surf on the other side.  I can smell the salt and feel the sand under my toes but my journey has been blocked.

I can see the other side through a little drainage tube cut into the concrete.  It’s certainly nothing I could slip through, but it’s just enough to torment me with thoughts of what great things might be waiting for me on the other side if I could just get past this barrier that’s holding back my progress.

This is not a new obstacle.  The weathered face of the concrete wall tells me it’s been here for quite some time.  The sea has tried to have its way with it, but the barrier has resisted all attempts to coerce it to move.

Do you ever feel that way in life?

Maybe for you it’s a fear or a toxic way of thinking.  Maybe it’s a sin or bad habit that you just can’t let go of — or a sickness that won’t let go of you.

Maybe it’s a person at school whose attitude is dragging you down or a person at work who is holding you back.

Maybe it’s a problem in your family.

We all go through seasons where it seems like we’re up against a wall, a barrier that seems insurmountable.  It feels like it’s too high to climb, to wide to bypass and too thick to push through.  We feel trapped and frustrated, discouraged and alone, and it’s tempting to simply give up, sit down, and resign ourselves to the fact that our progress is finished and this is all our life is ever going to be.

But you don’t have to live that way!

Look at what the Psalmist David writes about how he overcomes the obstacles in his path: “For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall.” -Psalm 18:29

David had huge obstacles in his life.  He was the runt of his family.  He was in a dead-end job as a shepherd.  Even when God chose Him to be the future king of Israel, David spent many of next few years running for his life.  His wife was taken from him and given to another.  His sons rebelled against him and took his kingdom away.  His own sin brought great pain into his life.  Yet, despite all the hardship David went through, he knew a powerful truth about barriers.

Every obstacle is short when it’s put next to God, and the bigger the barrier, the greater His glory when He helps you overcome.

No matter what you are facing in your life, if you’re in Christ then God is with you and God is for you and He is able to strengthen you in your hour of need.  He is able to give you the power to overcome any barrier, any obstacle, any stronghold in your life, and not only is He able, but He’s willing because He loves you!

May you trust in the strength of the Lord as you face barriers in your life, and when He helps you overcome them, may you never forget to look back and see how far you’ve come.

You’ll find that compared to Jesus, that barrier was far shorter than it looked.

 

Maybe That Barrier 2

How to Have No Fear on Judgment Day

banner-theology-thursdays

As a pastor, I often get questions of a more theological nature. Thursdays are the day I like to post some on the blog. Enjoy!
—Pastor Phillip


Here’s an e-mail I received a few days ago about Matthew 22:1-14.

Would like any thought you have on this Scripture.
I have heard many things over the years and still do not feel
I understand all that was going on here.

As always, this is a great question, and let’s start with the context.

 

Four Conversations

Starting in Matthew 21:23, we see four interchanges between Jesus and the religious leaders of His day, the Pharisees.

They are all gathered at the Temple in Jerusalem, and in Matthew 21:23, the Pharisees start the sequence by challenging Jesus’ authority to teach and minister.  Jesus deftly beats them at their own game, and then launches into a series of three parables, all directed at them.

First, He tells of two sons whose actions don’t match their words, and He points out that what truly matters in God’s eyes isn’t what you say with your mouth, but what you do with your life.  He the comments that the “chosen ones of Israel” are not inheriting the Kingdom of God because they aren’t responding to Jesus’ message, but the “tax collectors and prostitutes” are being welcomed in because they are acting on the truth of the Gospel.

Second, He tells of a landowner who leaves his vineyard in the hands of tenants for management.  But, when he sends servants as his envoys to claim what is rightfully his, the tenants respond by abusing and murdering the representatives of the master, right up to killing his son.  The master responds to their unrighteous actions by destroying the tenants and giving the vineyard to others, to people who will obey the master by giving to him what is rightfully his.

Again, Jesus speaks directly to the Pharisees, telling them “the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.” (Matthew 21:43, emphasis added)

Finally, we come to the parable that contains the passage at hand, the Parable of the Wedding Feast.

Once again, here is a story about a people who were chosen to be a part of something special, but squandered their opportunity by the way in which they lived their lives.  The original invitees to the wedding feast chose not only to make their own pursuits and careers more important than the call of the King, but also to directly mistreat those people who were inviting them to come to the feast.

The King responds, then, by sending out his servants once more, this time to invite not a select few but as many as they can find, “both bad and good.” (Matthew 22:10)

Now, it is after all the guests are gathered that we find this curious statement.

“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment.  And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless.  Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’  For many are called, but few are chosen.” -Matthew 22:11-14

The question is, “What’s the deal with the wedding garment, and why is it such a big deal?”

 

A Future Feast

Most of the time when Jesus tells parables, they are made-up stories to make a point.   This time, though, His story is not just an illustration of an idea, but a presentation of an incident to come.

When Jesus speaks of the wedding feast, He’s telling us what’s going to happen at the end of all things.

Look at what the Bible says about this in the book of Revelation…

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, 

“Hallelujah!  For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. 

7  Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, 

for the marriage of the Lamb has come, 

and his Bride has made herself ready; 

it was granted her to clothe herself 

with fine linen, bright and pure”— 

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. 

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”
-Revelation 19:6-9 (ESV)

There is a wedding feast, and wedding garments, and look at what the garments actually are…

“The fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” (Revelation 19:8b)

Now, remember that when Jesus told His parable, it was the third in a series.  The first one was about two types of sons, and that those who inherit the Kingdom are those whose deeds match their words.  The second was about two groups of tenants, and how the Kingdom is given to those whose actions are in line with the will of the master.

Here we are in the third story, and we see two categories of guests who actually attend the banquet, those who have the right garments, and those who don’t.  It’s a continuation of the same theme that Jesus has been focusing on, that the people who inherit the Kingdom are the ones who are proved righteous by the way they live their lives.

 

The Best Things in Life Are Free

For many who hear this, the first thing that comes to mind is “Oh no, I’d better try harder to be righteous then!”  The point and message of Jesus’ parables then becomes, “Do more, do better, try harder and then maybe you’ll be good enough to get in.”

However, this is totally antithetical to the Gospel!  Not only that, but in Jesus’ day, there was NO ONE more dedicated and focused on “doing the right thing” than the Pharisees, and they were the very ones He was telling the parable against!

So what’s the deal?

Look one more time at Revelation 19:7-8.  “Let us rejoice and exult and give Him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.”

We know from 2 Corinthians 11:2, Ephesians 5:25-32 and other passages that the “Bride” is the Church, the people of God redeemed by the blood of Christ.  Look, though, at this key phrase from the passage above, “it was granted her to clothe herself…”  These righteous deeds of the saints, the “wedding garments” that God is looking for, they are not something that we tailor and toil for ourselves.

They are a gift.

This is the resounding message of the Gospel, and what makes the “Good News” so good!

This is why Paul rejoices in Romans 3:21-22 that, “Now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”

This is the hope and confidence in which all believers in Christ can stand, that on the day of judgment when the Master of the Banquet comes to see who is properly clothed and who will be cast out, we will not be showing up to the feast in the raggedy garments of our own righteous acts.  No, we will be found dressed in the shining robes of the righteousness of Christ!

All of us who are in Christ will be found worthy of acceptance into the eternal Kingdom, not because of our own deeds done in the flesh, but because of the perfect life of Jesus, given as a gift to us in the Spirit.  And, as a result of His perfect righteousness being given to us, we have the joy and desire to give ourselves to righteous deeds, not to earn our ticket to the feast, but because in Christ we’re already welcomed at the table.

Faith Like a Fountain

The fountain doesn’t care about my schedule.

I’m sitting on a bench, barefoot in the sun as I bask in the feeling of the warm rays on my skin and the cool grass between my toes.

Faith Like a Fountain

In front of me is the tall stone fountain that caught my eye the first time I came to this neighborhood, looking for a place to live.  It’s not particularly fancy or ornate, just a five-foot fountain made of weather-worn concrete with a couple layers of basins to give it some variety.

Like most fountains, the sound it makes is hypnotic, a rhythmic pulse of water that drones on, quiet and consistent.  It pours out a mostly steady stream, though from time to time little globs of water break free of the flow and splatter recklessly on the sidewalk.

I could spend all day here.

What strikes me about this moment is that I feel perfectly at ease, at rest, a sensation far-too-foreign to my over-crowded schedule.  I’m not used to this, and in some ways I’m not even comfortable with it.

After all, I have e-mails to answer, projects to complete.  Who am I kidding, I have projects to continue, because it seems with every milestone I reach, I uncover three more barriers to completion, and even more projects to add to the pile.  It’s not ideal, but it’s familiar to fill my time with duties and do-lists, and somehow the more I get done, the better I feel about my life.

Sound familiar?

If it does, then you know the other side of the coin, too.  You know the dark side of accomplishment-based living is that you never seem to accomplish enough to feel like you deserve a break.  There’s always one more box to check, one more load of laundry to do, one more task to complete…. And it never ends.

This is why God commands us to Sabbath.

Look at what the writer of Hebrews tells us about God’s will for His people, “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from His.” -Hebrews 4:9-10

At the heart of the creative order is a cycle, a rhythm.  There is a flow to the way in which God’s universe operates, and He feels so strongly about us being in harmony with it that He took it upon Himself to actually live out what He commanded us to do.

He rested, because He wants us to rest.

However, for many of us it’s HARD!  It takes work to not work sometimes, because if we’re not careful we can get so overcome by the sense that we have things to do that we spend our “day of rest” in guilt over all the things we’re not accomplishing.

Yet, here is the problem with refusing to Sabbath.

When we don’t make time to rest, we are breaking the cycle that God designed to operate in our lives, and like little globs of water leaving the stream of a fountain, it’s not long before we find our hearts and minds and even our bodies splattered on the ground, useless and broken because we broke free of the flow.

We’re tired all the time with a bone-deep weariness that never goes away.

We’re frustrated all the time because we never feel like we’re doing enough.

We’re catching up all the time because we can’t quite seem to be as efficient as we used to be.

And our Heavenly Father grieves for His beloved children as we waste our best weeks, months and years on a treadmill that He never intended to run more than six days at a time.

Jesus said “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)  What He means is that God intended us to take a day of rest not out of duty, but out of delight.  It’s not a day for pious avoidance of enjoyable things, but a day to enjoy the life and the world God has given us, so that our hearts are re-tuned to worship Him in everything we do and our minds are re-focused to be more effective in the week ahead.

Here’s the thing.  To observe the Sabbath is an act of faith, because it forces us to actually trust God to manage our lives for a day without our intervention.  Put another way, Sabbath is a statement that God is in charge of the universe, not me.

The fountain doesn’t care about my schedule.

Maybe it’s time I took a day to stop caring so much about it, too.

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