Mark S. Mitchell

Pastor, Writer, Follower of Jesus


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Sacred Pathways

I’ve been reading Gary Thomas’ book, Sacred Pathways. His premise is that we’re all wired differently in terms of how we relate to God and express our love for Him. For example, many of us have been taught that having a “Quiet Time” is the best way to do that. It’s usually about 30 minutes long and composed of prayer, worship, Bible reading, and maybe even journaling. But, for some, having a Quiet Time quickly moves from delight to drudgery, as it can become mechanical. Thomas says, “There are certain foods I really like, but I don’t want to eat them every day. I have certain running routes and workouts that I earnestly look forward to, but I wouldn’t want to run the same route, at the same speed, the same length, every time I run.” He confesses, “Certain parts of me are never touched by a standardized quiet time.”

Thomas argues that the reason for this is that we all have a different mix of spiritual temperaments, therefore, connecting with God differently. The book identifies nine spiritual temperaments or sacred pathways. These aren’t to be confused with spiritual gifts or even personality types, although they’re certainly related. Most of us will have a predominant temperament but also resonate with a few others. Here they are:

Naturalists: Naturalists prefer to go outdoors. They want to leave the books and lectures aside and pray to God by a river or on a walk in the woods. They might learn more from staring at an ant colony than listening to a sermon.

Sensates: For these folks, the five senses are the most effective inroads into their hearts. When they worship they want to be filled with sights, sounds, and smells. It might be incense, architecture, music, or even liturgy that sends their hearts soaring.

Traditionalists: They’re drawn by the historic dimensions of the faith: rituals, symbols, and sacraments. They want to live a disciplined and ordered life of faith with regular church attendance and predictable worship.

Ascetics: Ascetics want to be left alone to pray; to remove all the trappings of religion and left alone to pray in silence and simplicity. They tend to live internally and introspectively.

Activists: These folks love God through confrontation. They define worship as standing against evil and injustice and calling sinners to repentance. They’re energized more by interactions with others, even through conflict, more so than from being alone. Needless to say, Activists love the story of Jesus clearing the temple!

Caregivers: Caregivers love and serve God by caring for others. Mother Teresa exemplified this. She wrote, “God died for you and for me and for that leper and for that person dying of hunger and for that person on the street. It’s not enough to say you love God. You also have to love your neighbor.”

Enthusiasts: These folks thrive on excitement and unpredictability in worship—they’re inspired by joyful celebration. They want to have their hearts moved and experience God’s power. They want to clap their hands, shout “Amen!”, and dance with excitement.

Contemplatives: Contemplatives think of God as their Father, Bridegroom, and Lover. They focus not on serving God or even obeying God, but on loving God with the deepest love possible. They identify most with Mary of Bethany, who sat at Jesus’ feet in worship and listening.

Intellectuals: These folks love God most with their minds. Their minds need to be stirred before their hearts come alive. They love to study God’s Word and biblical doctrine. Intellectuals live in a world of concepts. Faith is something to be understood as much as it is to be experienced.

Do you see your dominant spiritual temperament in this list?


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Remembering Haddon Robinson​

I have been blessed with a handful of wonderful mentors in my life. One of them was Haddon Robinson. On July 22, 2017, Haddon “fell asleep” in the Lord after battling Parkinson’s Disease for about three years. Haddon served as a Professor of Preaching at Dallas Seminary, and later at Gordon-Conwell Seminary in Boston. In-between, he served as President of Denver Seminary. Ironically, though I was a student at Denver while Haddon was President there, I never met him until later when I became a doctoral student under him at Gordon-Conwell. Haddon wrote many books, but he is best known for his book Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages—first published it in 1980. This book is still the gold standard for training preachers.

I am eternally grateful that the Lord allowed me to get to know Haddon. Here are a few things I learned from him:

  1. He taught me how to preach
    In 1996 a Baylor University poll named Haddon one of “The 12 Most Effective Preachers in the English-Speaking World.” The first time I heard Haddon preach was at a commencement ceremony at Denver Seminary. I was mesmerized. It was an exposition of the parable of the sheep and the goats. I still remember his big idea: “There are going to be a lot of surprises at the judgment. A lot of surprises.” Hearing that sermon, I knew I wanted to learn everything I could from that man about preaching. About 15 years later, he accepted me into the Doctor of Ministry program in preaching at Gordon-Conwell. He taught me that a sermon should be more like a bullet than buckshot — one single idea that encapsulates the thrust of a passage of Scripture. He taught me the importance of story, and not just to tell a story but to live it. He also tried to teach me not to use any notes in the pulpit, which I have never managed to learn. No matter how hard we all tried to preach like him, he was unique.
  2. He taught me to be available
    Over the course of my friendship with Haddon, I made three invitations to him. First, I invited him out to lunch to ask him some advice as I was considering a change in my ministry. A few years later, I asked him to come across the country to meet with our elders and preach at our church. Finally, I asked him to come to California again and speak at our Men’s Retreat at Mount Hermon. The amazing thing about Haddon was that, to my great surprise, he said, “Yes” to all three requests. It may sound like a small thing, but he was at a stage in his life when he really didn’t have to agree to any of those requests. But Haddon was a man available to God and to others. The people of my church still talk about the time Haddon Robinson came and preached to them from the book of Philemon in a sermon called, “Put That On Master Charge.” He also continued to be available to his doctoral students as we met with him to hone our preaching skills at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin for many years after receiving our degree. Reflecting on Haddon’s availability to me and others, I am reminded that each time he said, “Yes” was like a personal affirmation of my value to him. Perhaps more than anything else, that affirmation changed my life.
  3. He taught me humility
    Haddon was not full of himself. When asked about the honor of being named one of the 12 best preachers in the world, he shook his head and asked, “How in the world do you come up with a conclusion like that?” As he has famously said: “There are no great preachers, only a great Christ.” As you might imagine, a man of stature like Haddon Robinson had a few critics. For example, I have heard pastors and scholars accuse him of not preaching expositional sermons. But I never heard Haddon speak unfairly or harshly about his critics. For me, his humility was best exemplified in his prayer life. To listen to him before the throne of God, was like eavesdropping on a private conversation between a beloved servant and his honored master.

Needless to say, I will miss Haddon Robinson. Please pray for his wife of 66 years, Bonnie; his daughter, Vicki Hitzges, a motivational speaker; and his son Torrey Robinson, Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Tarrytown, New York.


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You Did It For Me

A friend on mine recently passed away. Her name was Patricia. You probably didn’t know Patricia, although it is quite possible you noticed her walking along a local sidewalk, looking a little lost. I often saw Patricia in a variety of Peninsula cities, as far north as San Mateo and as far south as Los Altos. She was hard to miss as she never wore more than a t-shirt.

Patricia was homeless and mentally ill. She was what we call a Germaphobe; I am sure she had other disorders as well. About 25 years ago a few of us at CPC met Patricia and began helping her stay off the streets and stay fed. We learned that Patricia had once led a normal life. She had parents, siblings, a husband and a daughter. Sometime in her 40’s, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor that left her mentally disabled. Over time, we became Patricia’s friend. She was really a delightful person when you got to know her. She loved the old time actress Jennifer Jones. She had a way with numbers. And she had quite a sense of humor! I will never forget how, as my hair grayed over the years, she would tease me about it. I loved that about her. Many people at CPC took a personal interest in Patricia, listening to her, helping her in practical ways, laughing with her, and considering her a friend.

Often times, I must admit, I’m afraid of people like Patricia. I avoid even making eye contact with them. But as I reflect on my friendship with Patricia, I’m the one who loses out when I do this. Jesus once said of people like Patricia, Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me (Matthew 25:40). It seems that in an almost mysterious way Jesus identifies with people like Patricia. Perhaps that is why we who knew her were so blessed by her friendship — as we loved and served her, somehow she was mediating the presence of Jesus to us. Through Patricia, we were somehow able to enter more deeply into His heart. From now on, whenever I hear those words, You did for me, I will think of Patricia.


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The Lost Art of Friendship

Studies show that we have less true friends than past generations. We may have 1000 followers on Twitter, but last I heard the average American had two people to talk to about things that were important to them. Perhaps even more striking, the number of Americans with no close friends is about 25 percent. Joss Whedon, director of The Avengers, said, Loneliness is about the scariest thing out there.” Albert Einstein wrote, “It is strange to be known so universally, and yet to be so lonely.”

Our society does little to help us in this area. Fifteen-year-olds spend months learning how to drive but rarely learn how to be a friend. College students spend years learning the skills of engineering or architecture, but the skill of friendship is left up to osmosis. So we have a lot of people who aren’t succeeding in this area and it affects every area of their lives.

The book of Proverbs offers advice on both choosing friends and being friends. When it comes to choosing friends Proverbs teaches us to choose our friends carefully. Proverbs 13:20 says, He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will suffer harm.” If we develop intimate friendships with the wise, we’ll become wise. If we develop intimate friendships with fools, we’ll suffer harm. This is an encouragement to walk with people who will influence us the right way.

Several years ago an actor named Don Johnson starred on a TV show called Miami Vice. When his career took off he got caught up in the Hollywood lifestyle and spent a decade taking drugs, abusing alcohol, and “living it up.” Finally, he got his life straightened out and got sober. He was asked once if he had any regrets. He said, Yes, I regret wasting lots of time with a bunch of jerks that I wish I hadn’t spent 10 minutes with now, let alone ten years.”

The way this influence happens is brought out vividly in Proverbs 27:17: Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another.” Two people brought together in close friendship are like iron sharpening iron. Our personalities rub together and are shaped by that contact. This can be a painful process; sparks can fly when iron sharpens iron; but the end result is that both parties are changed. So you should choose your friends carefully because they’ll have a huge impact on us. This is a person whose advice you’ll seek, who you’ll turn to in times of trouble, who you’ll share good times with and who you’ll learn from. Don’t approach the task of choosing friends lightly.

Proverbs also talks a lot about being friends. One skill that’s needed in friendship is loyalty. Proverbs 17:17 says, A friend loves at all times, And a brother is born for adversity.” A true friend is one who loves us in every circumstance of life. There’s a hint here that the true colors of friendship are seen in the midst of adversity. When our lives are falling apart a true friend will stand with us. Or when our friend has failed, we’ll be there to pick them up.

But the most difficult skill of all in friendship is forgiveness. Someone has said that there are three things we must do for a friendship to last—forgive, forgive and forgive! Proverbs puts it this way: He who covers a transgression seeks love, But he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends (Proverbs 17:9). Covering a transgression doesn’t mean we ignore it; it means we see it and acknowledge it for what it is and by an act of our will we choose to forgive that person and not make it public. We don’t repeat it; we don’t stir it up so that every angle of the scandal is exposed and every last drop of shame is drawn from the offender. A good friend will try to contain the damage of our sin. Every close friendship gets to a point where a decision has to be made. Will we cover the offensive actions and annoying traits of that person, and will the relationship then move to a deeper level, or will those things cause us to move away from our friend? Every friendship will have to deal with the reality of sin, weakness, failure and conflict. Many people get to that point in the friendship and because they’re unwilling to endure through the sin they bail out and move on to the next relationship. But, unless we’re willing to love someone at their very worst, we can’t have the very best of friendship.

The skill of friendship is not easy! In fact, I’d say it’s impossible in our own strength. But all of this was meant to be a picture of the kind of love God has for us. Jesus said to his disciples, No longer do I call you slaves, but I call you friends.” Jesus has given to each one of us the promise of friendship. Ultimately, he’s the friend who sticks closer than a brother. Jesus is the friend who covers our transgressions. As we come to grips with that reality we can be that kind of friend to others.


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Tell The Truth

In the movie Liar, Liar, Jim Carey plays Fletcher Reed, a lawyer, habitual liar, and divorced father who builds his career on lies. This has come at quite a cost in his relationship with his son, Max because Fletcher continuously breaks promises to him. There is a poignant time in the movie where Fletcher tries to explain to Max why adults lie: “Sometimes grown-ups need to lie. No one can survive in the adult world if they always had to tell the truth.” If we were honest, deep down, many of us would agree with that statement. Arent there times when we need to lie? 
 
The ninth commandment says, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” (Deuteronomy 5:20) Basically, this commandment is telling us, “Do not lie.” A lie is any attempt to distort, shade or misrepresent the truth. But what is truth? Truth is an elusive concept that is misunderstood by many today. We live in a culture that often parrots this all-too-familiar mantra of postmodernism: “Whats true for you is your truth, and whats true for me is my truth. Whatever you do, just dont push your truth on me!” But for the follower of Christ, truth is important because it is intimately connected with a person— Jesus Christ. Truth is not an abstract idea; its an attribute of God. Because God is Truth, He can be trusted. Jesus claimed to be truth personified. His words are true and faithful. The Holy Spirit leads us into the truth. The Bible teaches us to know truth, tell the truth, and to abide in the truth. As we pursue the living truth found in Jesus and His Word, we also must remain committed to telling the truth.


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Rejoicing in Wrath

I’ve been thinking about God’s judgment and wrath lately. Maybe I’ve been thinking about this because I’ve been watching a documentary on Netflix called “The Keepers.” It’s a gruesome story about startling acts of injustice surrounding the murder of a nun back in the 60’s. It’s a case in which the perpetrators of both murder and sexual abuse were not brought to justice.

A belief in God’s judgment and wrath is one of those beliefs that all Christians everywhere have always believed. Besides being one of the most basic assertions of the Bible, this belief appears in the Apostles’ Creed: “He will come again to judge the living and the dead.” In fact, I don’t just believe in God’s judgment and wrath, I rejoice in it. Why? I’m glad you asked. Here’s why…

I rejoice in it because judgment and justice go together. Christians talk a lot about justice these days, but very little about God’s judgment. We all desire justice. Life isn’t fair, but for some reason, we think it should be fair. Though life isn’t fair now, Scripture still points to a day when wrongs will be righted and justice will be served. That’s why the idea of God’s judgment brings comfort. To those who suffer at the hands of the unjust, it is comforting to hold on to the promise that one day all will be made right. This upside-down, evil world will not go on like this forever. God will execute justice. He will put an end to all that is wrong with the world, including terrorism, famine, disease, human trafficking, and so on. Psalm 96:13 declares, “Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness.” The psalmist clearly celebrates judgment as good news. Take away the idea of judgment, and you rob Christianity of any hope of satisfying our longing for justice, a longing built into us by God.

Judgment also demonstrates God’s love. God is not bipolar—part wrathful and part loving. Love is his essential attribute, but this love is not like the sentimental love we think of today. God’s love is holy and even jealous. The wrath of God is based on his love. When we do away with the notion of God as Judge, we’re left with a sappy, sanitized deity whom we can easily manage. But the evil of our world is much too serious for us to view God as a kind grandpa. The Bible’s picture of God is much more satisfying. He is angry because he is love. He looks at the world and sees the trafficking of innocent women and children, the destructive sale of drugs, the atrocities in Syria, and out of his love for us he is rightfully angry. The god who is truly scary is not the wrathful God of the Bible, but the god who shrugs his shoulders to evil, ignoring it in the name of “love.” What kind of love is this? A god who is never angered at sin and who lets evil go by unpunished is not worthy of worship. A judgment-less god isn’t too loving; he’s not loving enough.

Larry King used to ask Christians if they believed Jesus was the only way to God; he also asked them about the murderer who trusts Christ: Does he get off the hook? The idea that a criminal could go free is astounding, but God has acted in a way that upholds justice and bestows grace at the same time. There is hope for rebels who desire justice and yet don’t want to suffer. We see justice and mercy most clearly in the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross of Christ satisfied justice. His judgment against evil was poured out upon his only Son on the cross. Justice and mercy are not at war with one another; they meet at the cross. And we can find both judgment and mercy as good news once we recognize our guilt in light of God’s holiness, and then bask in forgiveness in light of God’s grace.

At a confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill this week Sen. Bernie Sanders pressed a Christian nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget about his beliefs on this subject. “Do you think that people who are not Christians are condemned?” Sanders kept asking. Sanders clearly believes that thinking like that has no place in a government official. But Bernie Sanders, and others like him, simply fail to understand that a god who does not judge is neither a god of justice or of love — both attributes that even Bernie would claim to be committed to.


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Through All Generations

We had all five of our grandchildren together last week for several days five—kids from seven years old down to six months. Three of them live in Kentucky so this was the first time we have had them all together. It was so fun. We even bought a bounce house and set it up in our backyard. Of course, our house was a bit of a disaster zone and we were exhausted when they all went home, but I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than spend time with my children and grandchildren.

But sometimes I look at those kids and I think what they’ll have to face during their lifetime. I think how things have changed in my own lifetime and how the rate of change is accelerating. I think of the trouble our world is in, on so many different fronts. Besides just the everyday challenges of life, I wonder how these kids will get through it all. I could worry about that to the point of despair, but then I remember something the psalmist said about God in Psalm 100:5b, “For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”

Psalm 100 is a worship psalm. At the start of this psalm the writer broadens our horizons by calling all the earth to shout for joy to the Lord. Here, he does something similar—he lengthens our view, reminding us that his steadfast love and faithfulness continues through “all generations.” Despite all the change and all the escalation of bad in our world, there’s hope because his steadfast love and faithfulness is not just true and real for me and my generation, but it will endure through all generations. God’s love and faithfulness are not like an hourglass that gets turned over and only has  enough sand in it to last a few years. God’s love and faithfulness remain inexhaustible over time. The world will never get to a place where his love and faithfulness are not available. It will never run out because God will never change. That is good news, not just for me, but for my children and grandchildren!