Mark S. Mitchell

Pastor, Writer, Follower of Jesus

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A Family Tree with lots of Knots

In recent years the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Society announced it had reached a conclusion that there was a “high probability that Thomas Jefferson fathered Eston Hemmings, and that he most likely was the father of all six of Sally Hemming’s children.” This came after over two centuries of denial and cover-up which was motivated by a desire to protect the reputation of one of our Founding Fathers. The idea that someone of his stature would have an illicit affair and several illegitimate children is scandalous. The idea that he would have a relationship of this kind with an African-American slave would be even more scandalous, which of course is a testimony to our own deep seated racism.

Perhaps thats why when we read the Christmas story in the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel we don’t start at the beginning. We usually start in the middle of the chapter with the angel’s command to Joseph to take Mary as his wife. But Matthew begins the story of the birth of Christ with a record of the family history of Jesus; we call it a genealogy. The genealogy of Jesus is about as scandalous as they come. For example, there were four women included in this genealogy. As you look closely at these women and their stories, it’s clear they’re not the kind of people you would expect to be in the bloodlines of the Son of God.

Take Tamar. Judah had chosen Tamar as a wife for his son. His son died and left her childless. The law required that his brother should marry her, so she could have children, but he refused. So Tamar, desperate to have a child, concocted a scheme where she dressed up as a prostitute, put a veil over her face, and waited by the roadside until her own father-in-law, Judah, strolled by and paid to have a little fun. Twin sons were conceived. One of them was Perez, a forefather of Jesus. What a story to have in your family tree! Try explaining that to your children!

Next, we meet Rahab in the Bible, she is a professional lady of the night. After wandering around the wilderness for forty years, Joshua sent spies into the Promised land. They came into the city of Jericho, and somehow these “nice, innocent guys” ended up in the red light district at Rahab’s house. It was providential because Rahab protected them and later came to be a follower of God.

And then there is Ruth. Ruth wasn’t a harlot, but she was a Moabite. The Moabite race was a product of incest. They were descendants of Lot. Lot was living in a cave with his two daughters after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. His daughters were afraid there would be no one left to marry them and give them children. So they got their father drunk and seduced him. One of their sons was named Moab. The Jews found the Moabites repugnant. Though Ruth married Boaz and became a Jew, she was one of those descendants.

The fourth woman mentioned is “the wife of Uriah.” Her name was Bathsheba. Her story is not pretty either. She had an affair with King David. They tried to keep it a secret, but their union had produced a child, and David had to knock off her husband and then marry her to cover it all up. That child died in infancy, but she had another son, Solomon, who became the next link in the royal line.

Put these stories together and the genealogy of Jesus makes Thomas Jefferson’s look rather tame! We have prostitution, incest, adultery, murder. Who needs Hollywood?  This stuff could keep the National Enquirer in business for years! This is not the Hall of Fame, this is the Hall of Shame.

The message of the family tree of Jesus shows why he came. He came to rescue the kind of people we find in his genealogy–weak, broken and sinful people. That’s why the angel said to Joseph, “You shall call him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). That’s why Jesus was called a “friend of sinners” (Luke 7:34).

Its hard news for some; its good news for others. Some of us have a spirituality of self-reliance. No matter how much we may talk about the grace of God, we’re still trying to be good enough for God and still trying to emulate the heroes. But the Gospel confronts us with the utter inadequacy of our own willpower. It shatters the myth that we can pull up our spiritual bootstraps. The fact is we can’t add a single inch to our own spiritual stature. Brennan Manning wrote, “Any spirituality that furnishes a do-it-yourself kit plants the seeds of discouragement and disappointment.” That’s good news though for those who could very well see themselves on this list of names, and who dare to believe that Jesus really did come to rescue and transform them. Could you think of anything better than that? A God who says, “I’ll take care of everything. You just trust in my Son.”

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Following Christ When it Hurts

A number of years ago, at a conference put on by Young Life in the former Soviet Union, I met Martin Hasik. We hit it off immediately. Martin is from the city of Prague in the Czech Republic. After that conference, he became the first Czech national to join the Young Life staff. He also got married to Jane and they now have two beautiful children. A while back Martin was diagnosed with leukemia. Recently, in a newsletter they sent out, Martin included a short reflection he called “Following Christ When it Hurts.” I would like to share it with you as it provides an excellent example of suffering well. After reading this, I encourage you to lift a prayer up for my dear friend.

It is over a year since my diagnosis of leukemia. God has not left me nor forsaken me. Neither was I guaranteed a safe and rich long life that I enjoyed for 37 years, nor can I claim any entitlement for it now. As the life circumstances changed, He has not changed. My life was changed. My relationship with Him is growing stronger, the false idols are useless and worth dropping off. Not even money can buy the way out of cancer. Giving Jesus my life was a decision to submit to His leading into the ways of His kingdom, not the success in this world. Life looks different from the hospital bed. The line between life and death is thinner, but the ties with Him are stronger. Praying for healing. Praying for remission. Praying for becoming a better witness of the hope that I have thru His love and grace. For the sick Jesus has something more… Praise God for that!


When Tragedy Strikes

I’m so sad about the tragedy that took place in Connecticut today. I can’t imagine the pain those families are experiencing. In our humanity, it’s normal for us to ask “Why?”. In our humanity, it’s normal for us to wonder how God could allow such a thing to happen. I really don’t have any answers, but I’m comforted to know that in the midst of such pain, God understands and offers Himself.

John Stott once wrote, “I could never believe in God if it weren’t for the cross.” His short story, The Long Silence, explains:

At the end of time billions of people were scattered on a great plain before God’s throne. Most shrank back but some near the front talked heatedly with belligerence.

“Can God judge us? How can he know about suffering?” snapped a pert young brunette. She ripped open a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number from a Nazi concentration camp. “We endured horror…beatings…torture…death.”

In another group, an African-American young man lowered his collar. “What about this?” he demanded, showing an ugly rope burn, “Lynched for no crime but being black!”

Far out across the plain there were hundreds of such groups. Each had a complaint against God for the evil and suffering he permitted in this world. How lucky God was to live in heaven where all was sweetness and light, where there was no weeping or fear, hunger or hatred. “What did God know of all people had been forced to endure in this world? God leads a pretty sheltered life,” they said.

So each of these groups sent forth their leader, chosen because he had suffered most. A Jew, an African-American, a person from Hiroshima, a horribly deformed child. In the center of the plain they consulted with each other. At last they were ready to present their case and it was rather clever.

Before God could qualify to be their judge he must endure what they endured. Their decision was that God would be sentenced to live on earth as a man.

“Let him be born a Jew. Let the legitimacy of his birth be doubted. Give him work to do that even his family will think he is out of his mind to try to do it. Let him be betrayed by his closest friends. Let him face false charges, be tried by a prejudiced jury, and convicted by a cowardly judge. Let him be tortured. At last, let him see what it means to be terribly alone. Then let him die. Let him die so that there can be no doubt that he died.”

As each leader announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs of approval went up from the throng of people assembled. And when the last had finished pronouncing the sentence, there was a long silence. No one uttered another word. No one moved. Suddenly they all knew that God had served his sentence.

At times like this, we can come to Him with our fear, our grief, our confusion and even our anger. He may not give us a list of answers, but He will give us Himself.

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Guidelines for Sexual Purity Among Staff

At the church I serve in, we’ve carved out some basic guidelines for our staff to encourage purity and to avoid even the appearance of evil. While we want to avoid legalism, we came up with the following parameters. By the way, these are not addressing any specific situations that are taking place right now. Most of these apply to both married and single people, but there’s probably some variation in how they are applied in each case:

  1. A church leader should not travel alone in a car with a member of the opposite sex, other than a spouse, except in cases of emergency.
  2. When at a restaurant or coffee joint with a member of the opposite sex, try to make it with at least with three people.
  3. Counseling members of the opposite sex should be limited to three sessions and should never be done at night or any time that another adult is not in an adjacent room. If the nature of the meeting allows it, keep the door open.
  4. Never enter the home of a member of the opposite sex when no one else is present. (The very sick or elderly are an exemption.)
  5. Since most affairs begin with conversation, avoid suggestive comments and any discussion of intimate subjects with members of the opposite sex. This includes email, texting and social media.
  6. Avoid inappropriate touching or suggestive hugging of members of the opposite sex. Use wise judgment to discern what is proper.
  7. Avoid suggestive clothing. 1 Timothy 2:9 tells us our clothing should be respectable and modest.
  8. When traveling out of town, try to avoid going alone, and don’t travel alone with a member of the opposite sex. Stay accountable with at least one other person about your conduct during the trip.


These guidelines may seem rigid, but I can’t help but think of what Paul wrote, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving” (Ephesians 5:3-4).

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Lessons from the Life of Solomon

I just completed a three—month study of the life of King Solomon of Israel. We called this series “The Wisest Fool” because that describes Solomon to a tee—he was incredibly wise but squandered his wisdom on foolish living. There are several lessons from his life that stand out for me. Here are just a few:

1. Wisdom is an infinitely valuable gift from God. As a young man, Solomon asked God for a “wise and discerning (listening) heart.” God was pleased with this request and granted him unsurpassed wisdom. How important to me is the pursuit of Godly wisdom? We don’t acquire wisdom innately; no one is born wise. We don’t acquire it by reading a lot of books and having a lot of knowledge. We don’t acquire wisdom just by getting older. We get it by asking God for a heart that listens and heeds His Word. James wrote, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”

2. It’s not what you have that matters, it’s what you do with what you have. Solomon had so much going for him. Besides wisdom, God granted him wealth and fame. He also had a Godly father who did everything he could to set him up to succeed. But Solomon demonstrates that being blessed by God in these ways will not keep us away from sin if our hearts turn away from God. Solomon’s wisdom, wealth and fame did not keep him holy, and neither will ours.

3. God graciously and relentlessly pursues us even when our hearts are divided. God showed up in a very personal way three times to Solomon. The first time he offered to grant any request. The second time was more ominous—God presented him with a choice: “If you walk before me faithfully, I’ll bless you, but if you turn away from me, there’ll be consequences for you.” The third time he presented Solomon with the consequences of his action. God raised up three adversaries against Solomon, but even in that there was an opportunity to come clean. I’m so glad I have a God who pursues me and even disciplines me when I am headed in the wrong direction!

4. Disobeying God’s clear commands sets us on a trajectory in which our hearts turn away from Him. Solomon started falling into sin far before he fell into disgrace. As a young man he made an alliance with the king of Egypt and married his daughter. No big deal, right? I mean, he didn’t really love her. It was just the politically expedient thing to do. But it was a big deal. Sin is always a big deal. Before long, Solomon made more and greater compromises until towards the end of his life it says “he loved many foreign women” and built worship centers for their gods! It’s a lesson for us that we need to tend to the little things in our lives. Sin almost always starts with a small compromise, a minor concession, a brief indulgence, but that can make a huge difference in your eventual destination. There’s no telling what we might do if our hearts turn away from God.

5. Solomon gets us ready for another King. Solomon ruled over Israel in what was really the apex of her existence. But as great as his kingdom was, it eventually crumbled. But Solomon prepares us for another King whose kingdom will last forever. Spurgeon wrote, “The kingdom of Israel under the sway of Solomon was a fair type of the reign of our Lord Jesus Christ. The present state of the church may be compared to the reign of David: splendid with victories but disturbed with battles. But there are better days to come, days in which the kingdom shall be extended and become more manifest, and then the Lord Jesus Christ shall be even more conspicuously seen as the Solomon of the kingdom.”

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Sobering Up for Christmas

Just a few weeks ago I was driving to work. As usual, I was absorbed in my own thoughts about what the morning would entail, but as I peeked in my rear view mirror I saw these flashing lights on top of that car going round and round. As you can imagine, my heart started pounding, and though I hadn’t been speeding, my foot backed off the accelerator. My mind immediately began to race with the different possibilities of what I had done wrong. I started thinking of ways I could artfully let him know that I was a pastor on my way to some kind of emergency. It turns out I had rolled through a stop sign and the officer was kind enough to just give me a warning. I drove away with a sigh of relief, and was extra careful to make a full stop at every stop sign. Seeing those flashing lights always changes the way you drive. It’s a sobering experience. It snaps us back to attention and causes us to make the changes that need to be made.

This kind of experience describes how we ought to prepare for Christmas. Most of us get excited about Christmas; some of us dread it, but either way, there needs to be a sobering up. There needs to be a snapping to attention. There needs to be a willingness to straighten up and make whatever changes are needed in our lives. Most of us wait until January 1 for that kind of thing, but the time is now.

For centuries, the Christian church has called this season leading up to Christmas, Advent. Advent has always been viewed as both a time of anticipation and preparation for the coming of Christ. During Advent, we anticipate both the first and second comings of Christ. Certainly this brings hope and expectation because the coming of Christ means salvation for those who trust in Him. But the coming of Christ also requires preparation; it requires a kind of sobering up; it’s like looking in the rear view mirror and seeing the flashing lights. It ought to cause us to look at our lives and make the changes that need to be made in order to be ready. Imagine what you might do for the next three weeks if you knew Christ would actually come back on December 25. How would you prepare for that day? How would your shopping list change? Would you eat too much and run too fast or would you take the foot off the accelerator and sober up? Advent is a time to snap back to attention.

Of all the Gospel writers, Luke is tuned in the most to this idea of preparation. Luke believed that when God made a flesh and blood appearance in the world preparation was required. You can see it by the way he wrote his book. His book, like the other Gospels, is about Jesus Christ. But Luke takes longer than any other Gospel writer to get to the life of Christ. It takes him 80 verses just to get to Christ’s birth. And then it takes him 70 verses just to get to Christ’s ministry. Luke believes that anything worthwhile is worth preparing for.

How does he prepare us? He prepares us by giving us a snapshot of one very important person. John the Baptist’s singular mission was to prepare the way for Jesus. How did he do that? Luke says “he preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” What is repentance? We think of this word exclusively in religious terms, but back then repentance wasn’t a religious word. It was part of a culture where people lived with no street signs or maps. It’s easy to get lost walking through the wilderness. You walk and walk and then you realize that the countryside is unfamiliar. You finally say to yourself, “I’m going in the wrong direction. I need to turn around.” That’s repentance. Not only do you see you’re going in the wrong direction, but you turn around.

A number of years ago I was working at a church in Pleasanton. I was going through a time of deep burnout. I was spiritually dry and not sure I could keep going. In the midst of that time we went down to San Diego to visit family. While we were there we attended church with them. When pastors go to other churches we like to check things out. We like to sit back and critique the music and grade the preaching. But on this particular Sunday I was caught completely off guard. The preacher started to preach and I started to melt. He was speaking about how we can give and give and yet neglect the necessity of allowing the Lord to fill our lives. He was speaking to me. At the end of his sermon he held up a half empty glass of water. He wanted to know if anyone there felt a need to just be filled up again with the Lord. He wanted us to come forward. I sat there and thought of a hundred reasons NOT to go forward. Among those reasons was the simple fact that I was a pastor. Pastors don’t go forward! We don’t walk the aisle! We know the Lord. We know His Word. We teach others this stuff; why should we go forward? I was fighting the Lord at that moment, and I lost. I finally got up and went forward. I cried and I got prayed for and the Lord restored me. It was one of the most humbling things I’ve ever done. That’s repentance!

John prepared the way for the coming of Christ by calling us to humble ourselves and repent. John’s message was like seeing the police car lights flashing as you’re driving along thinking that everything is going fine. His message ought to cause our hearts to pound and our feet to back off the accelerator. But John’s ultimate purpose was not to condemn us or judge us, but to prepare us for the one who could save us. But we can’t be saved unless we come to this place where we realize we have been going in the wrong direction and we need to be washed.

How do we get ready for Christmas? How do we prepare for the coming of God’s Son into the world? By recognizing that perhaps we’ve been going in the wrong direction. By humbling ourselves and admitting to God and to others that we need to be washed. By beginning to turn outward in a spirit of generosity. Don’t wait until January 1 to do this. New Year’s is not the time to change your direction. New Year’s is too late. The time to turn around is now. Advent is the time.

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One of the things my wife Lynn and I have a passion for is helping young couples establish a healthy marriage. Three months ago, we started a new ministry at CPC called Converge. Converge is an informal, once-a-month meeting, open to any young couple in their 20’s and 30’s. We meet in a home, hang out, have a potluck style dinner, and take some time as a group to discuss different aspects of marriage and family. Our desire is to provide a setting where young couples can connect and build community with one another, as well as learn from a “mature” (that’s a nice word for “older”) couple who shares a bit about their own marriage.

Last Saturday night we squeezed 52 people into our house in San Carlos. We had a great discussion about how to handle the holidays as a young couple. This is an area that can often be a source of struggle for young marrieds and it was great to learn from one another some of the ways we have handled this, especially as it relates to in-laws. I found a decent article on the Focus on the Family website that deals with this very issue. Here is the link:

If you would like to attend Converge, or you know a young couple who might benefit from this ministry, contact my assistant, Mike Northcote at Mike is the ”go to” guy for this ministry and he and his wife, Megan, have done an amazing job at organizing it. We are taking the month of December off but will reconvene on January 25, 2013.