Mark S. Mitchell

Pastor, Writer, Follower of Jesus

Leave a comment

A New Devotional for the New Year

Over the past few years I have compiled devotions which have been taken directly from sermons written by Ray C. Stedman, pastor of Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, California. The first set of devotions titled, The Power of His Presence, has 7,700 daily email subscribers. The second set of devotions titled, Immeasurably More, is set to begin tomorrow. 

These devotions seek to be true to Stedman’s commitment to book-by-book exposition. Each month a different book, or major portion of a book, is explored from beginning to end in bite-sized pieces, alternating from month to month between New and Old Testament books. Each selection is designed to be accompanied with an open Bible, as it includes a portion of Scripture to be read along with an excerpt from one of Stedman’s sermons on the same passage. Additionally, at the beginning of each selection is a printed verse from the passage that serves as the focal point of Stedman’s comments. A prayer at the end of each selection helps readers apply the lessons they have learned from that passage to their lives.

As a new year brings the start of new beginnings, it is my hope that these devotions will provide a spiritual diet for growing believers who desire to know more of the power of His presence in their lives. The following link will always bring you to the devotional for the day so you may wish to bookmark it in your browser. Give it a try to get started with today’s: Daily Devotional

Leave a comment

The Battle for the Baby

What really happened at the first Christmas? Revelation 12:1-5 takes us behind the scenes of the first Christmas and helps us to see what in reality was happening. We might call it “the battle for the baby.” Envision the scene in your mind as it unfolds:

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. Rev. 12:1–5

The book of Revelation has fascinated and bewildered Christians for years. George Bernard Shaw saw it as the “curious record of the visions of a drug addict.” But this scene really has a very clear message about the first Christmas. To understand it we need to first identify the principle characters.

The first character is a woman. She represents the nation Israel. Throughout the OT Israel is depicted as a woman about to give birth. She was chosen as God’s instrument to bring the Messiah into the world. She was the womb through which Christ was formed and out of which he came and this was a great honor but also a great pain.

The second character is the dragon, who is pictured standing before the woman prepared to devour the baby when he was born. Later we read of the great dragon, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan. From the day he was born Jesus was the object of Satan’s vicious intent to destroy him or at least to keep him from accomplishing his mission. The impression we have here is that the baby doesn’t have a chance! How will the newborn baby possibly stand up to a great dragon with seven heads and ten horns?

The third character is the child that is born. A male child, a son, was born who is Jesus Christ. He will “rule the nations with an iron scepter.” This child is the One who ultimately rules, not the dragon. All that John tells us about Jesus is that he was born and then was snatched up to God and to his throne. That’s the shortest life of Christ ever written! Christ was born and 40 days after his resurrection he ascended into heaven, was seated at the right hand of the Father where he rules over his people and from where he will come again in judgement. The important thing is that the great dragon was unable to devour the baby. Satan tried and tried and tried in various ways to keep Christ from accomplishing the Father’s purpose in being the spotless lamb of God that would atone for the sins of the world by his voluntary offering of himself on the cross, but he failed.

This scene gives unique insight into the birth of Christ. This is a different picture than the typical manger scene you might see on the latest Hallmark card. In the quiet, peaceful barn among the cows and goats and shepherds and wise men and Joseph there was a dragon on the loose and his sole intent was to devour (lit. “eat”) the baby. We like to think of this baby as tender and mild but the fact is he is destined to rule the nations with an iron scepter. He will shatter his enemies like earthenware. The manger was a violent scene where great powers clashed and great things were at stake. It was Robert Southwell who wrote back in the second century:

This little babe so few days old 

is come to rifle Satan’s fold. 

All hell doth at his presence quake

though he himself for cold do shake. 

Do not buy into a “Hallmark Christmas”. The world wants to keep Christmas tame. Who can argue with a cute little baby lying in a pile of soft hay? The world likes Christmas as long as it’s safe, but it’s not safe. The coming of Christ was the focal point of a great battle, a battle that has been waged throughout eternity. The bottom line is that Jesus has won. The fatal blow had been delivered, one that would result in Satan’s complete demise. The joy and peace we celebrate at Christmas is the result of knowing and trusting in the victory of the One destined to rule the nations with an iron scepter!

Leave a comment

Decision Making in Marriage

Early in our marriage, my wife and I had to make a huge decision about whether or not to accept a ministry position in another church. Since the church was nearly an hour away from where we lived, it would require a move. It would be a step of faith for us to move to a new community and start a job with people we hardly knew. Eventually we decided to go for it, but only after some anxious conversations.

How do couples make decisions? After over 35 years of marriage, I’ve come to believe that several important things ought to be considered in this process. While the decision making process may not look exactly alike for every couple, here are a few things we’ve learned:

  1. Decide on your values and goals first, and let your decisions flow from that. The biggest decision a couple will make is to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). That decision is the biggest of all, and once you’ve made it, many of the smaller things will become clear. Even just some agreed upon long term goals can go a long way in helping make short term decisions.
  2. Share honestly with each other your desires and feelings about the decision. It’s easy to take this for granted, but I’m often surprised when I talk to couples about how one of them doesn’t feel free to share what they really feel. That also means both husband and wife need to really listen to the other’s heart. Just because Lynn says something once doesn’t mean she feels like I’ve heard her. Sometimes I need to hear it again to understand the emotional power behind her words.
  3. Reflect on if there’s anything in Scripture that can inform your decision. Many of the decisions you make are morally neutral and there’s no clear biblical principle to guide you, but sometimes there is something that bears upon your decision. If you’re both in the Word often, you’re in a better position to receive his guidance.
  4. Pray together about the decision. Again, I’m amazed that regardless of how obvious this is, how few couples really do pray about their decisions. Maybe a big decision could be an occasion for what Paul talked about in Corinthians 7:5, “Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer.”
  5. Seek oneness in your decisions, but also recognize each other’s unique strengths. While the big decisions should be made together, couples can delegate decisions to one another in their areas of strength. For example, if my wife is better with investments, it would be wise for me to trust her with those decisions.
  6. If you can’t agree on a decision, wait until a decision has to be made. One of the biggest mistakes couples make is to make a big decision prematurely. While you wait, continue to pray, seek outside counsel from trusted friends and mentors, and continue to gather information.
  7. If a decision must be made and you still can’t agree, let the husband lead. Here is where the rubber meets the road in Paul’s counsel, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord… Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:22, 25). This arrangement isn’t tied to value or ability. Jesus was equal with the Father, but he still submitted to him. Ultimately, he trusted his Father knew what was best. Many men use their “headship” as a club to force their wife to submit, but a husband’s call is to love his wife. Love doesn’t demand its own way. When I love my wife, I won’t force my will upon her for selfish purposes. I’ll always consider what’s best for her.