Why people flocked to John

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Then people from Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the vicinity of the Jordan were flocking to [John], and they were baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins.  (Matthew 3:5-6)

Why did people flock to John?  Some came out of curiosity, to be sure, perhaps even many or most of them.  Yet, even they were drawn by something deeper, because their visit resulted in repentance.  Surely this can only be the result of the supernatural hand of God, stirring hearts in need of repentance towards a desire for repentance!

After all, John is not portrayed as a particularly eloquent or crowd-pleasing speaker, so the delivery wasn’t the key.  He was in the wilderness, not a lovely temple, so the environment wasn’t the draw.  He was dressed in rough garments, not in fine clothes that signified authority or appeal, so that wasn’t it, either.

No, it was simply a Spirit thing.

John served as a focal point for something God already wanted to do.  He was not the cause, only a catalyst, and even that was not because of his own noble choice.  It was because God called him.

So, here is the deep question for us today: if we want to see people come to faith in Christ and rally to repentance, what should we do?

Here are three suggestions…

  1. We should “Make every effort to make [our] calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10) by focusing on our personal walk with God.  It is doubtful John thought of making the desert his home base on his own.  Surely this must have been revealed through his intimate relationship with God.  This is why prayer is vital.
  2. We should pay attention to the times and seasons of the world around us.  What is God already doing?  How is He already stirring hearts and preparing them to respond to a catalyst?
  3. We must obey God when He tells us what to do, no matter how uncomfortable or unorthodox the instruction may seem.  I doubt locusts, wild honey, desert life and came-hair clothing would have been at the top of John’s list of goals for his life, but there he was, being faithful…

And God responded in amazing ways.

–Pastor Phillip

More than Mary

As [Jesus] was saying these things, a woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “The womb that bore you and the one who nursed you are blessed!”  He said, “Even more, those who hear the word of God and keep it are blessed.”  (Luke 11:27-28)

Some traditions venerate Mary, the mother of Jesus.  They speak of the favor she had with God, the righteousness she had before God, and the blessing she received from God.

Yet, Jesus says that if you follow Him faithfully, hearing His words and obeying His commands, something incredible can be said of you.

You are more blessed than Mary.

–Pastor Phillip

True Salvation (Luke 8:4-15)

The Parable of the Sower and the Soils

As a large crowd was gathering, and people were flocking to Him from every town, [Jesus] said in a parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed. As he was sowing, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the sky ate it up.  Other seed fell on the rock; when it sprang up, it withered, since it lacked moisture.  Other seed fell among thorns; the thorns sprang up with it and choked it.  Still other seed fell on good ground; when it sprang up, it produced a crop: 100 times what was sown.” As He said this, He called out, “Anyone who has ears to hear should listen!”

Then His disciples asked Him, “What does this parable mean?”  So He said, “The secrets of the kingdom of God have been given for you to know, but to the rest it is in parables, so that, “Looking they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.”

“This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God.  The seed along the path are those who have heard and then the Devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.  And the seed on the rock are those who, when they hear, welcome the word with joy. Having no root, these believe for a while and depart in a time of testing.  As for the seed that fell among thorns, these are the ones who, when they have heard, go on their way and are choked with worries, riches, and pleasures of life, and produce no mature fruit.  But the seed in the good ground—these are the ones who, having heard the word with an honest and good heart, hold on to it and by enduring, bear fruit.  (Luke 8:4-15)

Some people “receive Jesus” with great emotion and tearful promises, but it seems Jesus is saying this is not evidence of genuine salvation.

Some people may journey for a time, being “good church people” until they grow weary or get wounded and ultimately walk away.  It seems Jesus is saying this “good start” is also not reliable evidence of a true resurrection of heart.

Jesus says the thing the Father desires and the evidence of a genuine faith is “fruit” displayed with faithfulness.

True salvation isn’t revealed by how quickly you turn to Jesus, but by how long you choose to follow Him and faithfully obey.

–Pastor Phillip

Consistent Fruit (Luke 3:8)

Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance.  And don’t start saying to yourself, “We have Abraham as our father,” for I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones!  (Luke 3:8)

There’s no point in saying “Jesus changed my life” if your life hasn’t really changed.  Anyone can pray a prayer at a youth camp or an altar call and feel like they’re a brand new person.

True salvation is evidenced not by “feeling brand new” in our heart (though that’s a nice bonus), but by becoming brand new in the real world.

This doesn’t mean that if we aren’t instantly changed in every area that our salvation is a sham.  Rather, it means that instead of using Jesus as a free pass to live like we used to, we follow Him as an empowering example to live like we should.

–Pastor Phillip

Jesus wants to set you free from works

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)

Did God get tired and need a break after His work of creation?  Of course not.  He rested to set an example for us.

We know that we need physical rest after physical work, yet all-too-often we fail to receive the spiritual rest God desires for us.  We run around doing good deeds or feel guilty for not spending more time in prayer, all the while hoping we’ll do enough to please the Father.

But if you’re in Christ, God is already pleased with you!

If you’re striving and straining to earn God’s favor, relax, Jesus took care of that for you!  If you’re working and struggling trying to make God happy with you, relax, Jesus took care of that for you!

Today, let God’s love for you in Christ give rest to your soul and freedom to your mind, and let your heart be encouraged by this truth: Jesus wants to set you free from works.

–Pastor Phillip

Working Within the System (Luke 2:22-24)

And when the days of their purification according to the law of Moses were finished, [Joseph and Mary] brought [Jesus] up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (just as it is written in the law of the Lord: “Every firstborn male will be dedicated to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice (according to what is stated in the law of the Lord: “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons”).  (Luke 2:22-24)

Of all the people in history, Joseph and Mary could have made the best case that the rules didn’t apply to them.

“Our baby is special; he doesn’t need to go through the system like everyone else does, and neither do we,” they could have said.

But they didn’t.

–Pastor Phillip

Spirit-led service leads to joy

God’s Hope for Your Heart from Romans 7


But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.  (Romans 7:6)

Obligation strips the joy out of obedience. Isn’t it true that when you are forced to do something it’s much harder to be happy about doing it?

This is the dominant method of religion, though.  Rules and regulations and duty and shame and fear, these are the hallmarks of a law-centered life.

But Jesus came to set you free!

If you’re in Christ, your life is no longer about being a slave to sin, which causes you to disobey God’s law.  It’s also not about being a slave to the law itself so that you’re under the constant burden of performance.  Jesus came to give you life so that your obedience to God can now come out of the overflow of His love rather than an obligation to the law.

Here’s the thing.  The hallmark of a life that’s truly free is a genuine desire to serve.  When you experience true freedom in Christ, it will produce gratefulness, a desire to obey Him, and a willingness to share His love with others.  And, you’ll discover that as you pour yourself out, you’ll be continually filled with hope because of this truth: Spirit-led service leads to joy.

-Pastor Phillip

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God wants to free your heart

God’s Hope for Your Heart from Romans 2


For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical.  But a Jew is one inwardly and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.  His praise is not from man but from God.  (Romans 2:28-29)

At first read, one might say, “I’m not trying to be Jewish.  How does this apply to me?”

Paul’s point isn’t about ethnic conformity, but family identity.  He’s talking about participation in the family of God, and reminding us of the true test of belonging.

The family of God isn’t about putting on a show for other people, but about a life that overflows good out of a forgiven and transformed heart.  That life is rewarded and that life truly belongs to God.

Do you sometimes struggle to do the right thing, even though you really want to?  Do you sometimes fail to follow what you know God asks of you, even though your deepest desire is to please Him?  Take heart!

The fact that you want to please your Savior is the thing that really matters.  We all stumble, but if you find yourself driven to get back up again, that’s a sure-fire sign that God’s love really has taken root in your heart, and your heart really has been changed.

As you follow Jesus today to the best of your ability, remember that the Christian life is not about conforming to an external code of behavior.  It’s about God releasing you from bondage on the inside.  That’s why you can have hope in this truth: God wants to free your heart.

-Pastor Phillip

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God is working in the background

God’s Hope for Your Heart from Acts 10


Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood at the gate and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there.  And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you.  Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.”  (Acts 10:17-20)

Peter had no idea that at the very moment he was having a vision, the very people about whom it was given were on their way.

The men coming to find Peter had no idea that at the very moment they were on the road to meet him, Peter’s heart was being prepared to receive them.

None of them could have known that at the very moment they were following strange instructions, God was working out a supernatural intervention.

So it is with you and me.

No matter how much we think we know, we never truly have ALL the information about a given situation.  Yet, God never asks us for full understanding, only full obedience, because especially when we don’t get the whole picture, God is taking care of the details we can’t see!

If you’re following strange instructions right now, keep going.  If you’re confused about what God’s doing, hang in there.  You can have confidence in the hand of Providence, and if you’re in Christ, you can have hope in this truth: God is working in the background.

-Pastor Phillip

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God brings answers as you go

God’s Hope for Your Heart from Luke 17


As [Jesus] entered a village, He was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  When He saw them He said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”  And as they went they were cleansed.  (Luke 17:12-14)

Sometimes Jesus heals while we just sit there.

Sometimes we pray, then wait, and Jesus responds with the answer we were looking for without us having to do anything.  We remain passive, and He takes the active role in making things happen without any involvement on our part.

But that’s usually not the case.

All throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus healing people, cleansing people, responding to people’s needs.  Yet, in so many of the accounts, we see that though all the power comes from Him, He loves to use human action as a catalyst for the divine miracle.

The Bible calls it faith.

Sometimes we pray for something and then sit back in our easy chair and expect God to act.  However, more often than not, there is some level of participation that Jesus is looking for from us.  It’s not about earning the answer, it’s about partnering with Jesus to bring glory to God through answered prayers!

So get out there!  Get going!  Start looking for opportunities to not just wait for God to move, but rather, to let Him move through you.  God’s not looking for you to prove yourself worthy for anything.  But He does love to give you the joy of participating in the miraculous.

As you pray and seek God for answers in your life, may you follow the practical steps He shows you and demonstrate faith through action.  As you do, watch and worship as you experience the hope of this unfolding truth: God brings answers as you go.

-Pastor Phillip

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