Mark S. Mitchell

Pastor, Writer, Follower of Jesus


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DON’T GO!

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. 1 Corinthians 6:18-20

I haven’t read the book. I haven’t seen the movie. I won’t be doing either. I’ve read a few reviews of Fifty Shades of Grey just to know what we’re dealing with, but for a follower of Jesus, this should be a no-brainer: DON’T GO!

When the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, he was writing to people faced with many of the same choices we face. Immorality was rampant in Corinth. Paul offers two commands to Christ followers. First, he says, Flee immorality.” He doesn’t say to stop immorality. He uses much stronger words—flee from it, run from it. I like what Wayne Wright says: The best companion against immorality is geography.” In other words, get as far away as possible. Our sexual urges are so great and so powerful that we can’t afford to hang in there and duke it out with temptation because if we do, we’re going to lose.

One of the ways we can flee immorality is to be very careful with the kind of things we allow ourselves to be exposed to. If we’re feeding the flesh in the kind of books we read, the kind of movies we watch, the kind of websites we visit, then we’re just setting ourselves up for failure in this area. To flee immorality certainly means we stay away from movies and books like Fifty Shades of Grey.

While the first command is negative, the second command is positive. Paul says, For you were bought with a price: therefore honor God with your bodies.” We should honor God with our body because our body has been bought by God with the precious blood of his Son. If you pay good money for a beautiful book, you won’t tear the pages out to make a shopping list. If you fork out $30,000 for a nice car, you won’t spray paint silly patterns on the hood. In the same way, we who’ve been bought at tremendous cost have to remember not to throw our bodies in the mud of immorality, but rather to honor God with it. Our body is under new management. Use it in a way that honors the one who owns it. It’s hard to imagine that the abuse depicted in Fifty Shades of Grey is in any way a God-honoring use of our bodies.

Have you ever known someone who didn’t bother to buy a screwdriver? Instead of a screwdriver, they use a knife. And for some things a knife works just fine, but the problem is it’s not good for the knives. The ends get bent and they get harder and harder to use for their intended purpose. Not only that, if you’re not careful and use it on a very stubborn screw, the knife-blade can snap and you might even cut your hand and have a bloody mess to clean up.

That’s what happens when we use something for the wrong purpose. We need to use our body in the right way. God created the beauty of sex to be enjoyed within the lifelong covenant of marriage. Beyond that, our body was made for the Lord. It will be raised up into immortality. It’s the temple of the living God. It’s been bought at a very steep price. Now use it for what it was made for. Do as God’s Word says: Flee immorality and honor God in your body

In other words, don’t go!


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YOU’VE GOT (NO) MAIL

When was the last time you wrote a letter, I mean a real letter? When was the last time you received one?

I have been slowly reading a very fine book by C. John Miller called, The Heart of a Servant Leader. It is a series of letters that Miller wrote to various friends and ministry associates during his years as a pastor and leader of a mission organization. As I have read through these letters, I have been struck by the power of a personal letter to bring encouragement and counsel, especially when born out of a caring and humble heart of a true servant leader.

Another book that I have found intriguing of late is, Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Comprehensive Correspondence Deserving a Wider Audience, by Shaun Usher. This is an amazing collection of some of the most famous letters ever written. There is a 10-year-old Fidel Castro’s letter to the President of the United States, and Mary Stuart’s letter to the brother of her ex-husband hours before she is to be beheaded: “Thanks be to God, I scorn death and vow that I meet it innocent of any crime.” Once again, the power of a letter!

It is rare these days for people to write real, handwritten letters. It takes time and it can be hard work. Most of our communication these days happens through the medium of technology: email, text, social media, cell phone, etc. I think we have lost some important things in all of this: the ability to express our ourselves carefully and intelligently, something to hold in our hands that is real and personal (just for me), as well as a physical record of our own communications for future generations to enjoy and learn from. Oh, and the skill of penmanship as well!

Is there no longer any practical use for letter writing? Has literary eloquence become relegated to the obsolete past? I hope not. I challenge you to sit down and write a real letter, with a real pen (get a really good one) and real paper. I’ll bet it will do you and someone you care about some good. Fifty years from now, maybe someone will even find your letter in an old, dusty box and read it. If it will make you feel better, you can still sign off with a B4N or LOL.


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What Are You Waiting For?

One of the hard questions we often ask is, “Why doesn’t God answer many of our prayers?” Have you ever wondered that? Some point the finger at the one praying: “You’re praying with wrong motives.” Or “You don’t have enough faith.” I suppose sometimes either of those things could be the problem. But do we really have to prove ourselves worthy of answered prayer by perfect motives and unwavering faith? Don’t we all pray as fragile, broken, imperfect people?

This is a painful subject because over and over in the Scripture God invites us to pray. Why would he set us up for such disappointment when he doesn’t respond to our requests? We often turn to God in our most vulnerable moments with a desperate need only he can meet. Why does he sometimes remain silent?

One of the things I’m learning is that God’s silence is often a call to wait. I have also  noticed that good things happen in my heart as I learn to wait on Him.

Habukkuk was a prophet who learned this lesson. He served during troubled times. Israel had been split in two. The Northern kingdom of Israel had been taken into captivity by the Assyrians. Now the Southern kingdom of Judah was being ruled by a wicked king and they were being threatened by the Babylonians. In the midst of this, Habukkuk directs two questions to God. First, How long? How long will I cry out for help and get no response from you? I pray and pray but nothing seems to change. And then the second question: Why? Why do you let all this go on and on when you have the power to stop it? Why do you sit up there in heaven and not do a thing?

After he’s poured out his heart to God, he says, “I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint” (2:1). This is where his prayer ends. It’s like he runs out of breath and decides to be like the watchman who stations himself high on the ramparts, ready to report anything he sees to the people of the city. He decides to wait for God to sort it all out. The crisis isn’t over, but he’s done fighting and he is going to watch and wait to see what God will say and do next. That’s a good place to be, but it’s not easy.

Watching and waiting is hard. It’s hard because it takes time. We want answers now. It’s hard because we’d rather do something. It feels so unproductive to just wait. And it’s often such a lonely job; the watchman normally waits and watches by himself. It’s hard because we have to stay focused and there is so much to distract us. Waiting and watching is hard because it means we have to be open to correction. Our big problem is we want God’s thinking to be in line with ours, but when we wait and watch we learn to get our thinking in line with God’s.

It reminds me of something I read in a book called, Peace like a River, by Leif Enger. He tells the story of a family of four: Jeremiah, the father, and his three children ,Davy, Swede, and Rueben, who narrates the story. Davy gets himself into serious trouble. He’s arrested and put on trial. Knowing that the jury is about to convict him, he breaks out of a county jail and flees. A few weeks later the rest of the family piles into an Airstream trailer and goes in search of him.

Jeremiah, the father, is a praying man. He’s humble and discerning. But he can’t understand what God is up to. He senses God wants him to cooperate with a federal agent who is hunting for Davy, but he doesn’t want to betray his son. So he decides to have it out with God. He stays up all night and wrestles with God in prayer. While this was happening, a friend named Roxanna sat in the hallway and overheard the argument. She, of course, only heard Jeremiah. She wasn’t privy to God’s voice, though she sensed God was speaking and fighting back.

Enger writes: “At this Roxanna covered her mouth, for it occurred to her with Whom he wrestled. Having long ago accepted the fact of God, Roxanna had not conceived of going toe to toe with Him over a particular concern. Make me willing if you can, Dad cried, a challenge it still shakes me to think of. What Roxanna heard next was a tumble like man thrown.” The conflict between God and Jeremiah continued through the night. Roxanna eventually fell asleep in the hallway. When she awoke in the morning all was quiet. She went into the kitchen and found Jeremiah sitting at the kitchen table. He was at perfect peace.

Someone has said that prayer can do one of three things. First, prayer can change things. It really can make a difference in what happens. Second, prayer can change God. It won’t change his nature, but it can change what he chooses to do. But, finally, and perhaps most importantly, prayer can change us. One thing I’m certain about, waiting on God changes us.

Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.

Psalm 27:14


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What’s The Good of Prayer?

This is a question Oswald Chambers asks in his classic devotional, My Utmost for His Highest. I thought his reflections on this were insightful and helpful. Here are a few nuggets:

“It is not part of the life of a natural man to pray. We hear it said that a man will suffer in his life if he does not pray; I question it. What will suffer is the life of the Son of God in him, which is nourished not by food, but by prayer. When a man is born from above, the life of the Son of God is born in him, and he can either starve that life or nourish it. Prayer is the way the life of God is nourished.”

“We look upon prayer as a means of getting things for ourselves; the Bible idea of prayer is that we may get to know God Himself.”

“Give Jesus Christ a chance, give Him elbow room, and no man will ever do this unless he is at his wits’ end. When a man is at his wits’ end it is not a cowardly thing to pray, it is the only way he can get into touch with Reality. Be yourself before God and present your problems, the things you know you have come to your wits’ end over. As long as you are self-sufficient, you do not need to ask God for anything.”

“It is not so true that ‘prayer changes things’ as that prayer changes me and I change things…. Prayer is not a question of altering things externally, but of working wonders in a man’s disposition.”


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Mickey Mantle and Hearing God

While on vacation a couple of weeks ago I read two very different books. Each book dealt with subject matter I’m interested in. One was about God and the other was about baseball. It wasn’t until I was finished with both that I realized the connection.

The baseball book I read was a biography of Mickey Mantle called, The Last Boy, by Jane Leavy. Although I was a National League fan growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, I remember hearing a lot about Mickey and the Yankees. He always seemed to be the guy who had it all. Despite blowing out his knee his rookie season, he could hit with legendary power and run like a gazelle. But Mickey’s life was dark and tragic. He was both a helpless alcoholic and a chronic womanizer. For the most part, he left his four sons a legacy of abandonment and pain.

The other book I read was Dallas Willard’s, Hearing God. This is a book about developing a conversational relationship with God. Dallas deals with such questions as: Does God really talk to us? How do we discern his voice? How do we know we’re not just hearing our own voice? What part does the Bible play in all of that? This is a subject in which there has been much misunderstanding and debate. I must admit, I have been one of those guys who downplayed the idea that God speaks to us in very personal and specific ways. Willard’s book was a great corrective for me. I am now listening far more intently.

What does Mickey Mantle have to do with hearing God? Well, for one, at the end of his tragic life Mickey heard from God. While in the Betty Ford Center getting treatment for his alcoholism, Mickey got sober. Even better, Mickey heard from God and began a relationship with Jesus. His old friend and fellow Yankee, Bobby Richardson, wrote this, “Some years later in Dallas, Texas, he was in the hospital, already had a liver transplant. And my phone rang in the hotel, it was early in the morning. It was Mickey and he said, ‘I’m really hurtin.’ We had prayer together on the phone. Mickey and I talked together and as I was leaving to come back to South Carolina, I received a call that he’d taken a turn for the worst. Immediately we were on a plane flying out to Dallas. And one more time, I wanted to be bold because I wanted him to spend eternity with me in heaven – walked into Baylor Medical Center, he had a smile on his face. He said, ‘Come over here, I can’t wait to tell you this.’  He said, ‘I want you to know I’m a Christian, I’ve accepted Christ as my Savior.’” Bobby cried a little bit and helped Mickey to take his first steps as a baby Christian. A few months later Mickey died of liver cancer, but Bobby still looks forward to seeing his friend again. So do I.

Mickey’s biography also spoke to me on a personal level. His was a cautionary tale. I don’t want to wait until the end of my life to hear from God. I don’t want to leave my kids a legacy of pain. I don’t want to live in such a way now that I will die with more regrets than contentment.

Then Eli realized it was the Lord who was calling the boy. 

So he said to Samuel, “Go and lie down again, and if someone calls again, 

say, ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’”

1 Samuel 3:8-9


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Growing Spiritually Strong Families

How can you grow a spiritually strong family? This is one of the questions our church is exploring as we began a series last week called, Building a Home: One Room at a Time. We’ll go from room to room in a typical house and talk about things like parenting, marriage, siblings, children, communication and conflict resolution. In my reading this past week I found a helpful little handbook by Dennis and Barbara Rainey called, Growing a Spiritually Strong Family. They had ten tips for couples who want their families to grow deeply in the soil of God’s love:

  1. Sink your roots: The best thing you can do for your kids is develop your own relationship with Jesus through the classic means of grace, like prayer, confession, reading the Bible and cultivating deep relationships with other believers. It starts with you. You can’t pass on anything you haven’t fully bought into.
  2. Pray with your mate: This may be the hardest yet most significant thing for couples to do. Less than 8% of believing couples pray together regularly and only 3% pray together every day. If you do this, I guarantee it will change your marriage! It’s hard to be mad at each other and pray at the same time. Find creative ways to do this. My wife and I have some of our best prayer times on long walks, and we’ve seen some remarkable answers.
  3. Give your children you: The greatest gift you can give your child is yourself. Carve out time for them. When they’re in the mood to talk, drop everything and give them your undivided attention. Give them lots of bear hugs, kisses and pats on the back. Give them you!
  4. Eat right: Find a way to read and discuss God, Jesus and the Bible as a family. Make this a part of your everyday conversation rather than a once a week mandatory sit down. Find creative ways to spice things up like discussing a movie that touches on some area of biblical truth, throwing out questions with no easy answers or letting one of your kids lead a devotional.
  5. Set the course: Determine what your core values are as a family. What’s non-negotiable? One day one of our daughters announced she would no longer be going to church with us. Yeah, right! Lynn and I decided early on that church wasn’t a negotiable activity for our kids as long as they were under our roof. She wasn’t a happy camper but her resistance didn’t last long and today she holds that value in her own family.
  6. Romance your mate: Go on regular dates together. Study your spouse and know her well enough to know what communicates love to her. By the way, there’s a high likelihood it’s different from what communicates love to you. Don’t be afraid to show physical affection to your spouse in front of your kids. They may act grossed out, but deep down they’ll love it!
  7. Train your disciples: One of the best things our family ever did when our kids were young was take a mission trip to Mexico. Experiences like this stretch our kids’ faith and give them the thrill of seeing God use them to change lives. Each of my kids has traveled with me on ministry trips outside of the country and it’s been a great way to instill in them a vision for something bigger than themselves
  8. Fight the darkness: You need to be aware of the darkness in our culture and how it threatens your family. What kinds of movies and TV shows will you watch? Who will your kids date? By the way, I’ve found that just because other “Christian” families allow their kids to do something doesn’t mean it’s right for your family.
  9. Rest and refresh: Every family needs to make time during the week to set aside the work and the chores and just be together. God created the Sabbath not as a noose around our neck but to bless us. Try to set aside one day a week that’s different from the others in that it’s not about “doing” but rather “being.”
  10. Keep your covenant: Your marriage is the foundation for your family. It’s a covenant relationship you entered into before God who has made you one flesh. There is no room for the “D” word in your vocabulary.

 

I appreciate the Raineys’ wisdom. We have no guarantees that our kids will follow Jesus as adults, but I believe these are the kinds of things God uses to draw them to himself. My wife and I have had seasons where we’ve done many of these well, and not so well. Perhaps you to go down the list with your spouse and ask how you’re doing in each area. Decide how you’ll shore up those weak areas. Families are always a work in progress and sometimes we just need some markers along the way to help us measure how we’re doing.


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Mentoring Young Pastors

men·tor  ˈmenˌtôr,-tər/
an experienced and trusted adviser. “he was her friend and mentor until his death”
synonyms: advisor, guide, guru, counselor, consultant

Many people are talking about mentoring these days. Last week I prepared a message that had a lot to say about this from the story of Elisha’s succession of Elijah as the lead prophet in Israel. Before Elijah’s departure, there was an “in-between” period in which Elisha walked with Elijah and received his invaluable mentoring. Whether it’s Elijah and Elisha, Moses and Joshua, or Paul and Timothy, there’s a lot to learn about mentoring from these biblical examples.

A couple of years ago I ran across a verse that has come to define what I feel my purpose is for the rest of my life. Here it is: “Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come” (Ps 71:18). Mentoring is all about declaring His power to the next generation.

I have the privilege of serving at Central Peninsula Church(link) church as Lead Pastor. I am going on my twenty-eighth year there. My greatest joy right now comes in mentoring some of the young pastors on our staff. God has blessed us with some amazing young men and women that are very much in their formative years of leadership. My own focus is on mentoring the young men. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned in mentoring them:

  1. Pick strong guys. Maybe this goes without saying, but some older men are threatened by strong, talented young men. But as long as this strength is tempered with humility and a teachable spirit, I’ll take a young stallion any day over a gelding.
  2. Take them with you. I have the opportunity to travel a good deal on ministry trips outside the country. I rarely go alone. Usually, I bring one of these guys with me. The experiences we share on these trips is worth a thousand staff meetings!
  3. Meet regularly. This sounds so simple and obvious, but I’m often surprised how few Lead Pastors take the time to sit down and meet one- on-one with the guys on their staff. I meet with them at least every other week, apart from regular staff meetings.
  4. Speak hard truth in love. David Roper used to say, “God’s men bounce.” The idea is you can hit them hard and they’ll bounce back. I have found this to be true, so I don’t hold back, but also try to do it in the context of committed love.
  5. Invest in their marriage. If the enemy is going to pick one of these guys off, he’ll often try to do it in the context of their family. My wife and I try to meet often with them as couples. We share our own struggles and challenges and encourage them to put their marriage before ministry.
  6. Share history. Every church has a unique story. Learning and honoring that story is part of being a good shepherd. Young guys have a tendency to want to change that story instead of honor it, and certain things do often need changing! But for change to be truly redemptive, it must be born out of a respect for what God has been doing there all along.
  7. Expose them to other leaders. I’m not the only one who they can learn from. There are areas in which they would be much better off learning from someone else.
  8. Let them preach. Most young guys want to preach more. I try to balance the responsibilities I have to preach with the need they have to grow in their pulpit skills. While some guys are naturals, most need time in the pulpit to hone their craft. As much as you can, give it to them.
  9. Talk them up. Talk them up to the church, elders and key leaders. They will lap it up like thirsty hounds. We all like encouragement, and the young men you mentor need to not only hear it from you, but to hear it from others who have heard it from you.
  10. Learn from them. There is so much I learn from the young guys on our staff. I’m way behind when it comes to technology, current trends in churches and the right kind of jeans to buy. I try not to say, “We’ve never done it that way.” Okay, sometimes I say it, but not too much.

I love mentoring. I love this stage in life where I’m “in-between” the call to mentor others and my own departure from the scene. What a privilege it is to declare his mighty deeds to all who are to come!

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