Mark S. Mitchell

Pastor, Writer, Follower of Jesus

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Holy Week Bible Readings: The Gospel of Matthew

I’ve prepared a devotional guide of Holy Week Bible readings. If you read the passages according to the days of the week, you will gain a richer sense of the atmosphere in Jerusalem starting with Jesus’ triumphal entry and leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection. All of these readings come from Matthew’s gospel.

Sunday (Palm Sunday)
Jesus enters Jerusalem: Matthew 21.1-11

Jesus teaches in the Temple: Matthew 21.12-16
Jesus returns to Bethany: Matthew 21.17
Jesus curses the fig tree: Matthew 21.18-19

Jesus teaches about the cursed fig tree: Matthew 21.20-22
Teaching in the Temple: Matthew 21.23-23.39
Jesus teaches outside of the Temple: Matthew 24.1-2
On way to Bethany (Olivet Discourse): Matthew 24.3-26.2

The religious leaders plot: Matthew 26.3-5
Jesus anointed at Bethany: Matthew 26.6-13
Judas joins in the plot: Matthew 26.14-15

Preparations for Passover meal: Matthew 26.17-19
Passover meal: Matthew 26.20-30a
On way out of the city: Matthew 26.30b-35
In Gethsemane: Matthew 26.36-45
The arrest of Jesus: Matthew 26.46-56
Trial before Caiphas and Sanhedrin: Matthew 26.57-68
Peter’s denial: Matthew 26.69-75

Friday (Good, or Holy, Friday)
Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin: Matthew 27.1-2
The demise of Judas: Matthew 27.3-10
Jesus before Pilate privately: Matthew 27.11-14
Jesus before Pilate: Matthew 27.15-26
The crucifixion of Jesus: Matthew 27.27-56
The burial of Jesus: Matthew 27.57-61

Sunday to the Ascension
The empty tomb: Matthew 28.1-8
The plot of the religious leaders: Matthew 28.11-15
Resurrection appearances of Jesus: Matthew 28.9-10; 16-20

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The Cost of Non-Discipleship

Several years ago I compiled a devotional book from Ray Stedman’s writings called The Power of His Presence. I’m delighted that these devotions are now being sent out to over 7,000 people each day on their email through an excellent website called I am currently writing a second devotional on Ray’s writings that will be available in 2014. I’m constantly amazed at how relevant Ray’s writings still are. As I was reading some material from a sermon Ray did on Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17, I ran across this quote that identified for me some of the concerns I have about more than a few best-selling Christian books today:

There are a great many books written about the so-called “cost of discipleship.” They declare, in one way or another, that to have power with God we must pay a high price. In various ways they state that to become a victorious Christian, an effective Christian, requires a difficult and demanding discipline… I must say that I am not impressed with this type of literature at all…. We have gotten the cart before the horse… I do not mean that such an approach is untrue, for the fact is that obedience to God does mean saying, “No” to a lot of other things. You cannot say, “Yes” to the Spirit of God without, at the same time, saying, “No” to many other things: it is simply inherent in the process of decision. Therefore, I do not mean that power with God and living for the glory of God does not indeed cost us certain fancied pleasures and relationships which perhaps we want to hold onto. But the cost of discipleship is not the cost that really ought to concern us. The truly costly thing is the cost of disobedience! There is where the emphasis should be put. I would love to see a book on the cost of rebellion in the Christian life.

How well we know that cost. What a tremendous toll our rebelliousness, our disobedience, our unwillingness to give of ourselves, takes in our lives in terms of frustrated, restless spirits, the shameful, degrading acts that we hope nobody discovers, the skeletons that rattle around in our closets for years, the irritated, vexatious dispositions that keep us in a nervous frenzy all the time, the weak, spineless, crowd-following ways that we frequently exhibit, the self-righteous, smug, religiosity which we call Christianity that is a stench in the nostrils of the world and an offense unto God and men. Where do these things come from? Are they not the terrible price that we pay for a rebellious spirit, for an unwillingness to yield ourselves to the Lordship of Christ? We are not our own, we say, but we still cling to the right to run our own lives and make our own decisions, to choose our own pleasures and to go where we will and do what we want, and we cover it over with reserved, pious religiosity! We say we want to do God’s will — as long as it is what we want to do. At the center of our lives Self is still king, and that is the problem. Our own glory is in view. We still want what we want and we are not willing as Jesus was, to walk in glad obedience.

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The Real St. Patrick

Since today is St. Patrick’s Day, I’d like to introduce you to the real Patrick. He wasn’t born in Ireland,but rather in Roman Briton born c. 390 A.D. When he was 16, he was kidnapped by pirates and enslaved for 6 years in Ireland, where he worked herding cattle. Although he’d grown up nominally Christian, this experience deepened his faith. He wrote: “But after I reached Ireland I used to pasture the flock each day and I used to pray many times a day. More and more did the love of God, and my fear of him and faith increase.”

One night a voice spoke to Patrick in a dream and told him it was time to go home. He escaped the next morning and negotiated passage to the mainland. The details of the next few years of Patrick’s life are sketchy. But he eventually ended up in England, serving as a parish priest.

At the age of 48, he had another dream in which an angel appeared to him with letters from his former captors, begging him to return to them. He interpreted this dream as a call to take the gospel to Ireland and he appealed to his superiors to be sent on the mission. They agreed and Patrick arrived in Ireland around 432. There he ministered for the next 28 years. Patrick gave his life to the people who had enslaved him until he died at 77 years of age. He saw thousands of people come to Christ. Between thirty to forty of the 150 tribes had become predominantly Christian. He’d trained 1000 pastors, planted 700 churches, and was the first noted person in history to take a strong public stand against slavery.

On a day known for green beer and leprechauns, let’s learn from the real Partick. Let’s live recklessly for Him, reaching out to others with the good news of Jesus.

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Seven “I am’s” in John: A Responsive Reading

Every so often we do a responsive reading in the worship gatherings at our church. This week we will recite the following reading which I wrote for our series called, ‘Come and See’ from the Gospel of John. This reading focuses on the seven “I Am” statements of Jesus in John’s Gospel. I hope you enjoy it.

Leader: “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Jn 4:25

People: “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”  Jn 4:26

Leader: “Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jn 6:31

People: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Jn 6:41

Leader: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” Jn 3:19

People: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  Jn 8:12

Leader: “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” Is 40:11

People: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Jn 10:11

Leader: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.” Jn 1:4

People: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”  Jn 11:25-26

Leader: “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jn 14:5

People: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. Jn 14:6

Leader: “You transplanted a vine from Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it.” Ps 80:8

People: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  Jn 15:5

All: “We have now heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” Jn 4:42


Premarital Counseling

As with most pastors, I’ve performed many weddings. The wedding is usually an unforgettable moment in the life of a couple, but I believe what happens before the wedding matters even more. Before the wedding, I have a chance to speak into a couple’s life in a way, unique to any other time in their life. It’s important to help couples, as much as I can, prepare for marriage. Below are a ten things I have learned along the way about how to do it.

  1. Think through your policies. The leaders of your church should sit down and hammer out some issues: Will we require premarital counseling for couples our pastors marry? How many sessions will we require? Who will conduct these sessions? How long before the wedding should this process start? Will we marry anyone under any circumstances (couples who are living together or who are unequally yoked)? Will there be a charge for these sessions?
  2. Do some initial screening. After you have answered the above questions, put your above policies and procedures down on paper and have it on your web site so prospective couples can read it over before the first meeting. This will help couples know what they are getting into and discuss whether they are willing to make the commitment required.
  3. Have a plan. Don’t just jump into your sessions without thinking through what you want to accomplish and how you will go about it. There is always a possibility that you will change your plan as you go along, but without a plan you will get nowhere. I always tell couples in the first session that I am willing to meet with either of them, one on one at any time upon request.
  4. Determine your materials. There are many great resources out there for premarital counseling. For years I have used an assessment tool created by Prepare/Enrich that is very helpful. I also like A Handbook for Engaged Couples by Alice and Robert Fryling because it allows couples to discuss key issues before each session and then come prepared to discuss what they are learning or struggling with in your time with them.
  5. Cover the bases. There are several topics which must be covered over the course of your time together: expectations, family of origin, communication, conflict resolution, personality issues, extended family relationships, money, sex, children and parenting, spiritual compatibility, roles and leisure activities. There are also some key biblical passages that should be looked at such as Genesis 1-3, Song of Solomon, Mark 10:1-12, 1 Corinthians 7:1-16, Ephesians 5:21-33, 1 Peter 3:1-7.
  6. Make friends. It is not all about content. The relationship you establish with this couple is just as important as the information you communicate. Try to spend some time with the couple outside of your office. My wife and I try to spend an evening over dinner with each couple I marry. We always ask them to come prepared to ask us any questions they want about our marriage.
  7. Utilize the body of Christ. When possible, I include my wife in our premarital sessions. Having a woman’s perspective is invaluable! This also offers the couple an example of transparency and commitment in marriage. Many churches also have premarital programs that include trained lay people, which can be a great way to augment your own time with each couple. I also strongly encourage the couples I marry to attend a Weekend to Remember conference put on by Family Life Today.
  8. Plan the ceremony. I always tell the couple that we are meeting together to prepare for the marriage and not the wedding. Eventually, though, you will need to discuss the ceremony. I like to come prepared with a basic template of a ceremony, walk them through what that looks like, and then encourage them to think through what elements they might want to add or subtract to make it their own.
  9. Meet again. I suggest you plan to meet with the couple at least once in the first six months of their marriage. After a few months of marriage, the things you discussed in theory before the marriage become urgently relevant!
  10. Plug them in. My wife and I got married in college. Unfortunately, our premarital counseling was sorely lacking and we both brought plenty of baggage into the marriage. But we got plugged into a small group of other newly married couples, led by a more experienced couple who had been married for what seemed to us to be an eternity (5 years). That group was a lifesaver to us! When you are finished counseling a couple before marriage, give them some next steps for getting plugged into community during the first year of marriage.

I believe in premarital counseling. Not only do I enjoy it, but I believe it is one the most significant things I have done in over 30 years of pastoral ministry. Although it is not foolproof, it can provide a solid foundation for couples to build upon in the years to come.