Written by Dave Urbanski

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Life is full of surprises.

Sometimes the surprises are wonderful and exciting and put smiles on our faces and make us thankful to be alive.

But life also brings surprises that don’t make us feel very good. They can be relatively small disappointments such as getting stuck in traffic, opening an envelope with a bigger-than-expected, or missing a game or performance we were looking forward to attending. Then there are significant negative surprises such as losing a job or the death of a loved one.

We live in a broken world, therefore we always will experience our share of not-so-wonderful surprises. The question is: How will we respond to them?

Pastor Scott offered us some insights in regard to this all-important question as we took a look at the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew and the super big surprise that hit Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, before that first Christmas two millennia ago.

In short, Joseph learned that Mary — his wife to be — was pregnant; and Joseph knew he wasn’t the father. As Pastor Scott explained, in Bible times couples who were to be married took a crucial step called “betrothal.” It was pretty much equivalent to marriage, barring the consummation aspect, to the point where couples actually had to go through a divorce process to break off the betrothal.

Imagine the pain, the utter gut-punch Joseph must have felt when he was hit with that awful surprise of Mary’s pregnancy! Of course he undoubtedly assumed she cheated on him. What other cause could be behind something like that? Shame. Betrayal. Hurt. Embarrassment. Joseph must have been feeling a wide range of negative emotions as a result of this surprise being sprung upon him. 

And so the question — “What do I do now?” — naturally became prominent in Joseph’s mind. A lot of men would have made public spectacles to save face and inflict pain upon the women who caused them such anguish. Revenge. An eye for an eye.

But Joseph didn’t do that.

Scripture says (v. 19) Joseph was a “just man and unwilling to put her to shame,” and therefore he “resolved to divorce her quietly.” He trusted God with this problem and knew the Lord was in control, no matter what.

However, God — as he often does — had a different and better plan. A “third option,” as Pastor Scott put it. And it was yet another surprise in Joseph’s life.

Matthew tells us in verses 20 and 21 that while Joseph was sleeping, “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.'” Matthew added that this news was meant to fulfill what the Lord said through the prophet Isaiah (7:14): “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.”

What do you suppose Joseph was feeling now? Maybe he was unsettled (to put it lightly) by the Lord visiting him in a dream; maybe he was relieved that Mary had been faithful to him all along, and now he could feel good about marrying her; maybe he was nervous about the responsibility that was being placed upon him. But maybe God captured it best when his angel told Joseph “do not fear” moving forward with his plans to take Mary was his wife.

Do not fear.

And so that’s what Joseph did, as the remainder of the passage tells us — although consummation didn’t happen until after Jesus was born. On that note, Pastor Scott reminded us that Jesus’ other name “Immanuel” is translated “God with us.” And since Jesus is with us, what do we have to fear?

The Lord’s visitation with Joseph gave him a massive godly perspective. All at once. Boom! For us the Lord’s perspective likely comes through other means — and one of them, as Pastor Scott noted, is what happens to us when we attend church services with other believers. Gaining godly perspectives is one of the divine benefits of coming to church, not just because of the message coming to us from up front, but even more through how we interact together. Maybe you’ll have a chat with another church member and receive prayer — and insight. Maybe you’ll connect with other believers in ways you didn’t expect — hey, surprise! (Again!) Or maybe when you’re gathering with other Christians, whatever disappointment you may be experiencing in that moment won’t seem quite as grim when you can unburden yourself and let your brothers and sisters know what you’re going through.

As we excitedly await Christmas Day and remember the grand plan the Lord unfolded in bringing the Messiah to Planet Earth, ask yourself right now, “Do I really believe these truths put forth in Scripture?” If your answer is “yes,” then you and I can be like Joseph and respond to surprises — even difficult ones — knowing that Jesus is “with us” just as he was with Mary and Joseph, even before he was born.

God with us. Yesterday. Today. Forever.

Realize, too, that — as Pastor Scott reminded us — what began as a disappointment for Joseph was actually God “redirecting traffic” in his life so he could end up at the correct destination.

He’ll redirect the traffic in our lives, too — if we let him!

What’s changing in your life today? What’s gnawing at your heart? What’s unsettling your soul? Whatever it is, the Lord speaks to that very thing and says, “I will be with you.” Whatever you do, wherever you go, no matter what missteps you may take: “I will be with you.” Whatever disappointments you’re struggling with, Jesus can bear them — and again he tell us, “I will be with you.”

Written by Dave Urbanski

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It’s so cool that the verses we studied on Sunday from Philippians 2 get right to the heart of a subject that’s central to our lives — and coming up on the calendar: The Wonder of Christmas!

Pastor Scott began by repeating verse 5, which we looked at last week: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus …” The reason is because this verse sets up the rest of the passage, verses 6 through 11: “… who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

This passage gets to the crux of the wonder of Christmas because it describes not only who Jesus is but also the plan for how he burst upon humanity — and he did so in utter humility, born where donkeys, lambs, and cattle took shelter. Of course, most folks know that part of the Christmas story — but the amazing theology within that story isn’t primary in the hearts of most people. But Pastor Scott broke it down for us.

First we saw that Jesus remained “in the form of God” when he came to earth. He kept his divine essence, from his conception through the Holy Spirit all the way to his birth and then throughout his life. He was still 100 percent God and remains 100 percent God to this day. “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am,” Jesus said in John 8:58, describing his existence from the beginning of time.

However, in coming to earth Jesus “emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men …” This was the beginning of his sacrificial legacy. Remaining 100 percent God — but taking on complete humanity (100 percent man). Jesus experienced the full range of humanity. He got tired and hungry and thirsty. He got angry. He became sad. He faced temptation. And as an infant born in Bethlehem, he did what infants do: He cried. The act of taking on humanity and emptying himself (“kenosis” in the Greek) means that Jesus freely gave up the privileges associated with divinity, particularly the glory of God. And that was manifested by the literal circumstances surrounding his birth: Mary and Joseph hunted down by King Herod who would have no other monarchs around him and ended up killing countless infants Jesus’ age; the scandal of Mary’s pregnancy, even though God — not Joseph — brought it about; nowhere for the couple to stay amid their lengthy journey from Nazareth, forcing them to take refuge amid dirt, hay, smelly troughs, and smellier stables for Jesus’ birth. 

Not a very regal entrance upon the world’s stage for the King of Kings — at least to human eyes. But as usual, the Lord looks deeper, and in his infinite wisdom that turns lives around (and upside-down if necessary), Jesus was born in humility — and lived the rest of his days on this planet stooped down in service to us.

Pastor Scott also emphasized that Jesus gave up his independent authority and took his cues directly from God the Father — by “becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (verse 8) While this truth focuses on Jesus’ adult life, it’s part of the obedience that marked him ever since that very first Christmas when God’s grand plan to redeem his creation took flight.

Pastor Scott also offered a keen illustration about the word “redeem” — as in the idea of redeeming a coupon which allows us to get something or receive some kind of benefit, whether it’s a discounted meal or a free cup of coffee. However, he explained that in Jesus’ case, the redemption is curiously different. When we turn in a coupon, we’re involved in the redemption process. But in Jesus’ case, we’re not! While God the Father is the one establishing the Jesus “coupon,” he’s also the one receiving the benefit or “payment.” Literally God pays himself through Jesus’ sacrifice so that God’s holiness is maintained — and in the end, we benefit if we believe in Jesus and his sacrifice for us.

That’s such a humbling illustration for us to take in — we humans who always want to view ourselves as having earned the right to do or be this or that. We humans who hunger for being worthy. We humans who find it hard to not take credit. Therefore, we need to put away any images of us “turning in a Jesus coupon” as a way of entering heaven as if we could even “grasp” such a thing in our hands. Even that act is out of our reach. It’s already been done. We play no part in the transaction. The Lord did it all. And our part is simply acknowledging that truth, confessing and repenting, and accepting his forgiveness.
I loved Pastor Scott breaking down the idea expressed in the chapter’s last verses — that the only way to true greatness is Jesus’ way: Through humility. But that’s not the world’s message, is it? No way. Especially for those of us on social media, we see folks posting things over and over to “dunk” on others to make them feel bad, insignificant, less-than, and defeated. The sad notion that you have to go out each day and knock people down to gain “cred” and fame. 
Jesus’ way is far different — and stands in stark contrast to the world’s way. Because Jesus was humble on earth, “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.” It’s the same for us, too: We need to let the Lord be the one to bestow greatness upon us; and we should not be pursuing greatness for ourselves.

In the cosmic mystery of Christmas, God let us see how small we really are compared to how big the Lord really is by giving us Jesus to believe in and emulate. Therefore, as we celebrate the wonder of Christmas, let us — as verse 5 commands — have this as our “mindset” and be sure that at his name we bow our knees and with our mouths confess that Jesus is Lord so that God the Father rightly will receive the glory he so richly deserves.
That’s the wonder of Christmas.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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When Pastor Scott led our study Sunday covering the well-known passage of Philippians 2:3-5, he offered insights regarding Paul’s God-inspired words to his brothers and sisters that furthered our understanding of relationships, especially in a practical sense.

The passage reads, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus …”

Certainly the passage instructs us to act selflessly and put others first. Not an unfamiliar concept for believers in Christ. But Pastor Scott went deeper and revealed that verses 3 through 5 actually offer us the “secret ingredients for success in life.” 

In fact, he said the verses are “strategic” not only in regard to how we conduct ourselves relationally, but also in the sense that they show the way toward the best long-term, even eternal, outcomes resulting from our relationships with others.

And even though the word doesn’t appear in the passage, Pastor Scott focused intensely on the idea of “honor” as a key action.

For instance, verse 3 reads “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Carrying out those instructions means treating others as special. Interestingly, Paul isn’t specific about WHO he means by “others” — which signals that he means EVERYBODY. And that potentially opens up a can of worms, wouldn’t you say? Or at least a big challenge! Because we all have folks in our lives we’d prefer not to treat as special. People we’d rather not honor, for a variety of reasons. 

Pastor Scott’s illustration of demonstrating honor toward a police officer who tells pedestrians when they can and cannot cross the street was a great example of this idea. In other words, we don’t personally know the officer, but we show honor to the officer by virtue of the position the officer holds, and we therefore do as we’re instructed. Indeed, Pastor Scott emphasized that we can honor those we don’t necessarily respect since they haven’t necessarily earned it — and we do so by simply choosing to give that honor in humility. And such an action shows more about us than about those we honor. (Practical point: Pastor Scott also emphasized that the command for children to honor their parents appears frequently in Scripture, which tells us that learning to honor others starts when we’re young and in the home.)

Verse 4 tells us, “let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Pastor Scott called attention to numerous examples Jesus set for us, as well as his teachings, that amplify this verse: Turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, allowing the little children to come to him. The idea of doing more than what’s expected of us. 

Jesus also is well-known for doing the unexpected, such as the time at the end of Luke 7 when a “sinful woman” did the unthinkable: She entered a Pharisee’s house where Jesus was eating and made a scene! She “brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.”

So, how would you react if you were in Jesus’ position? You’d probably feel a little embarrassed, a bit put on the spot, and maybe you’d hope it would end quickly so everyone could just forget it ever happened. But that’s not who Jesus is. And he doesn’t let the moment slip away. In fact, he chides the Pharisee for ordering the woman gone from his house and instead shows compassion to her, and even tells her that her sins are forgiven. Talk about turning a situation on its head! But again, that’s who Jesus is, and that’s what he keeps doing, even today, in all of our lives.

Finally in verse 5 we have Paul telling us to “have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus …” Remember the idea of “mindset” from our previous study regarding the earlier verses in chapter 2? It’s the same idea here, and it means having a mindset that’s based in a good attitude. It means taking everything Paul has just told his church to do, and sealing it inside us as a way of life. A daily goal.

It means doing away with grumbling, complaining, arguing. It means bringing joy into the room. And it all starts with showing honor to others and undergirding that effort with humility.

And let’s not forget that God showed honor to us first! How? Pastor Scott reminded us that the Lord created us in his own image, redeemed us, and adopted us into his family. He honored us even though we don’t deserve to be honored. God made a choice, a decision despite the fact that we are sinners. Christ died for us and rose again to save us from our sins, giving us an open door to eternal life — and all we have to do is accept the gift he’s offering. We haven’t earned God’s honor and never will; no “transaction” is possible, as we saw in last week’s study.

So wouldn’t you say that, in addition to honoring others and putting others first, we also should obey the command to honor God as well by how we relate to him and how conduct our lives? Let us this week look for ways we can carry out the instructions in verses 3 through 5, not only in regard to relationships with others but also in regard to our relationships with the Lord.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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In our study this past Sunday of Philippians 2:2, it was important to look back at our previous study of verse 1 — because verse 2 and verse 1 are connected.

Verse 1 reads, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy…”

Remember that the word “so” — the very first word of verse 1 — indicates a reaction to Paul’s previous teaching that we’re all soldiers on a mission, marching and moving forward while engaged in conflict, both spiritually and sometimes even physically. 

And in order to successfully engage in such a mission, our emotional health needs to be optimal — and with that Paul notes in verse 1 that we are strengthened deep down by the Lord (and each other) through “encouragement in Christ” as well as “comfort from love,” “participation in the Spirit,” and “affection and sympathy.”

Which brings us to verse 2 — part of the same sentence — in which Paul continues by saying “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”

Verse 2 is the “then” part of an “if-then” proposition. It’s Paul’s charge, his “marching orders,” if you will.

In other words, once you’ve filled up at God’s “spiritual gas station” with all the gifts Christ bestows upon his beloved children (verse 1) — then demonstrate your renewed strength by being united with other believers as you go forth (verse 2).

Our world and our nation — and even the church itself — is quite divided today. It seems people are primed and ready to argue, fight, and tear each other down at every opportunity. How can Christians fix this amid even a divided church? By following Paul’s specific instructions: “being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” And we can start doing so right here at Calvary Chapel Living Hope!

As Pastor Scott said, when we’re all invested in the same mission, big things happen. So maybe if we’re all of one accord at our church in central New Jersey, that mindset will spread to other churches — and then watch out!

So how do we get there?

Pastor Scott broke down the words in verse 2 to show us how — and they all come down to the importance of developing deep, meaningful relationships. As we’ve seen in previous studies, we know we can’t optimally live the Christian life by ourselves. We need each other. The idea from a previous study of us standing side by side in a long line with our arms linked is a powerful image of strength. Think about that picture for a second: How much fear do you imagine yourself feeling with your arms linked in a line with fellow believers? Seems the answer is zero. That kind of unity is galvanizing and confidence inspiring. And it seems that’s exactly what the Lord had in mind when he inspired Paul to compose verse 2.

And Pastor Scott broke down the verse by describing four words that get deeper into the idea of unity.

The first is “same mind,” which in Greek is rendered as “phraneo” — and it’s all about bringing emotions and beliefs together. The result becomes our core belief — our “mindset” as we pursue the same mission.

The second is “same love” — and this particular rendering in the Greek is the familiar “agape” type of love or supernatural love. The love of God. (How interesting that the Greeks didn’t have one word for love as we do in English; no, they broadened it with multiple words describing love — and “agape” is the highest form.) And to bolster our unity, we must strive to give each other the “agape” love that the Lord freely gives to us. But it isn’t easy, is it? Agape love requires sacrifice. It requires an attitude of giving without expecting anything in return. When God gave us his only son, Jesus, the Lord knew we would never be able to repay him. But that’s the idea around salvation, isn’t it? There’s nothing we can do to earn God’s love, his forgiveness, his mercy. It’s not a transaction we’re so used to making day to day here in our consumer-driven world. No, instead it’s’s a one-way offer of love we can either accept or reject. A gift. And the more our mindsets are focused on living and loving as sacrificially as possible, the more successful our mission will be.

The third term — “full accord” — is all about being united as we walk together in faith. Not unlike the previous image of standing in a line together with our arms linked, Pastor Scott offered an equally powerful image of being “yoked” as oxen are. It can impede a mission if the we’re yoked and going in different directions — not much progress forward is possible. But Pastor Scott noted that if we’re all following Jesus, the direction forward is guaranteed: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30)

Finally we come back around to the words “one mind” at the end of verse 2 as we saw in the beginning of the verse. Pastor Scott emphasized that the repeated theme is meant to get us focused again on going in the same direction. He added another great illustration, too: An orchestra getting tuned up. Anyone who’s ever witnessed classical musicians in concert knows that before they actually play a song together, they’re playing individually amid cacophony. No unity, no beauty. But once they tune up, the music they make together sounds amazing. 

May we move forward together as one body, having one mind, and one mission — and begin by individually deciding to take part in the heavenly orchestra and by tuning to the same note. To link arms in one long line. To be yoked to Jesus as he leads us onward as we live life 100 percent for the purpose he has for us.

Then get ready for big things to happen.