Mark S. Mitchell

Pastor, Writer, Follower of Jesus

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A Sad but Hopeful Anniversary

Today is the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision we know of as Roe v. Wade, in which a woman’s right to privacy was ruled to be broad enough to encompass a woman’s choice to end her pregnancy. The decision was hailed as the decisive victory for advocates of the “pro-choice” cause. Since Roe, more than 55 million unborn lives have been terminated in this country with government approval. As Ecclesiastes says, “There is a time to mourn…”

But there is some good news. I recently read a BreakPoint Commentary that explains how the counter movement to the Roe decision is making significant progress. Last year, the abortion rate was down 5 percent. Recently, that counter movement succeeded in restricting access to abortion through state laws and offering viable alternatives for women in need. And, the mood of the country has shifted. For the first time since Roe, most Americans describe themselves as “pro-life,” and those that don’t favor at least some restrictions on abortion.

But there is still much work to do. The church in which I serve is careful not to get involved in many political issues, but we believe this isn’t as much a political issue as a moral issue. We try to embrace and “love on” those women who have made the choice in the past to have an abortion, or are making the choice now to keep their baby. I’ve seen God’s healing grace poured out on these women through the love and support of the body of Christ. We also actively support First Resort, a Pregnancy Counseling Women’s Health Clinic that provides counseling and medical care to women of all ages who are making decisions about unplanned pregnancies.

On this anniversary, it’s important that we mourn for lost lives, and it’s important that we continue the fight.

Read the BreakPoint Commentary.


Ruthlessly Eliminate Hurry

In an article in Leadership Journal, John Ortberg tells about a time he asked Dallas Willard how to be spiritually healthy in the midst of a demanding schedule. After a long pause, Willard said, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”

After another long pause, John responded a little impatiently, “Okay, I’ve written that one down. That’s a good one. Now what else is there?” John wanted to cram as much spiritual wisdom into a short phone call.

After another long pause, Willard said, “There is nothing else. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”

Hmmm. I’ve thought about this a lot. I’m a task oriented kind of guy. I live in an area where the pace of life is notoriously fast. I serve in a church that moves pretty fast as well. Eliminating hurry from my life isn’t easy. But the more I’ve tried to do this, the more benefits I’ve seen in my walk with God and my relationship with others. Slowing down allows me to pay attention to God in the present moment. It allows me to be fully present for those people I am with or happen upon. Eliminating hurry doesn’t necessarily mean I do less. I can have a lot to do on the outside but remain unhurried on the inside.

I like what John writes about this: “If you want to follow someone, you can’t go faster than the one who is leading; following Jesus cannot be done at a sprint. Jesus was often busy but he was never hurried. Being busy is an outer condition; being hurried is a sickness of the soul. Jesus never went about the busyness of his ministry in a way that severed the life-giving connection between himself and his Father. He never did it in a way that interfered with his ability to give love when that was what was called for. He observed a regular rhythm of withdrawal from activity, for solitude and prayer. He ruthlessly eliminated hurry from his life.”

Read John Ortberg’s article in its entirety.

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A Stranger in the House of God

Have you ever felt like a stranger in the house of God? If you have, I’d like you to meet a friend of mine.

His name is John Koessler. John is the chair of the Pastoral Studies Department at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. He’s the author of several books, including True Discipleship and the award winning Folly, Grace and Power.  John also writes a regular column for Moody called Theology Matters. I am stoked because John will be our Men’s Retreat speaker this year at Mt. Hermon on February 22-24. He will speak on The Surprising Grace of Disappointment.

I discovered John about 18 months ago while on sabbatical. A friend suggested I read John’s memoir, A Stranger in the House of God. In this well-written book, John shares his own coming-of-age and coming-to-faith story. He’s disarmingly transparent and humorous, at first curiously observing people of faith as an outsider, then eventually sharing spiritual insights while never positioning himself above his readers.  A Stranger in the House of God addresses basic questions and struggles faced by seekers and believers alike, tracing the author’s journey through Catholicism and various tribes within evangelical Christianity. It also describes his transformation from religious outsider to pastor and professor.

I’m excited that John will be with us not only for the Men’s Retreat but also on February 21-22 to address our pastors and directors at CPC about cultivating the life of the mind. If you would like to find out more about John you can go to his website.

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How Faith Grows

I’ve been reading a book by Andy Stanley called Deep and Wide. The sub-title is Creating churches unchurched people love to attend. I don’t agree with everything in the book, but it’s a good book that I’ve found helpful.

Andy is the Pastor at North Point Church in Atlanta. Their mission statement is: to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. After much thinking and praying, they also decided that faith is what grows in a growing relationship. Specifically, confidence in God. Confidence that God is who he says he is and that he will do what he has promised to do.

But then they took this even further and came up with five faith catalysts; five things that God uses to grow a person’s faith. Everything they do in that church revolves around at least one of these catalysts. They are:

  • Practical Bible Teaching: The emphasis here isn’t on knowing the Bible but understanding how the Bible affects the way we live our lives. Stanley believes topical sermons achieve this the best. I happen to disagree and believe expository preaching is more effective when done well.
  • Private Spiritual Disciplines: When people develop a private devotional life (prayer, reading and memorizing the Bible, etc.) they experience intimacy and accountability in their faith walks.
  • Personal Ministry: When people overcome their fears and step into personal ministry such as a short term missions trip, leading a children’s small group or sharing their faith story in front of a group of high school students, their confidence in God grows. Few things stretch our faith like jumping into a ministry environment where we feel unprepared and seeing God come through.
  • Providential Relationships: When people tell their own faith stories, they always share about the individuals that God placed in their path to help them grow. When we hear from God through someone else or when we see God in someone else, our faith gets bigger.
  • Pivotal Circumstances: We often call these “defining moments”. These include times of blessing as well as times of trial and disappointment. The key here is learning to interpret these events through a biblical worldview.

Take some time and think about how each one of these has contributed to your own faith journey. I find these five catalysts very helpful in thinking through what we do as a church to help people grow. Are we providing a context in which these five things are nurtured and experienced?


At The Movies

I love going to the movies, but I don’t get to see many of them. This past Christmas season, I indulged myself and saw four of the biggest hits out there. They were all long films, but they all held my interest, and I left each of them glad I went. Here is my personal “take” on each, listed in the order of my own preference:

  1. Lincoln Abraham Lincoln is one of my heroes. I have a painting of him on the wall in my office. He reminds me of integrity, humility and humor. It’s hard to believe a story about the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment could be so exciting. I loved this movie. As far as the best performance by an actor is concerned, it has to be Daniel Day—Lewis.
  2. Les Miserables I never would have thought I could sit through a movie that’s almost all singing. But Victor Hugo’s story is just so compelling that it didn’t matter. To me, there’s no story outside the Bible that depicts themes of grace and redemption as well as this.
  3. The Hobbit Maybe not as good as the previous movies in the Lord of the Rings series but still worth seeing, especially if you’re a Tolkien fan. I’ve read all four books and I enjoyed them so much I practically needed counseling when I finished. I love the male camaraderie and sense of adventure that Bilbo, Gandalf and his friends share.
  4. Skyfall I’m a big Bond fan. I love watching these movies with my son. Great action and great cinematography. I think Daniel Craig rates right below Sean Connery as the best man to play James Bond. It has a really gnarly bad guy played by Javier Bardem.


Should I have a Quiet Time?

How important is it for believers to spend time alone with God? As you can tell from what I write below, I believe it’s worth the effort. Since New Year’s is typically a time many of us make renewed commitments to do such things, I’d like to offer a few thoughts that might help.

As I observe the life of Jesus, I see even He needed time alone with the Father. The Gospels confirm He had a lifelong practice of withdrawing from people to be with God (Luke 5:16). While it doesn’t say He was regimented about when He did it and for how long, it’s clear He did this with regularity. He even appeared to have a special place. His times with God were not cluttered with a list of things to do; they reflect a remarkable simplicity. He simply would spend time away from the crowds in prayer. I have no doubt that this prayer involved both pouring His needs and concerns out to His Father, as well as listening to what the Father was saying to Him as He reflected on the Scripture and listened to the Spirit’s prompting in His own heart. One of the most remarkable things about this is that He often withdrew when the demands upon His life were the greatest. While I so often use the demands on my life as an excuse for putting this time off, Jesus saw them as reasons to pursue God more intently.

Each of us needs to find our own devotional style; one that fits with the particular rhythms of our own life. There is no one right time, place, or way to have a quiet time. Many people have found early in the morning is the best time for them because it sets the tone for the entire day. Others can’t see beyond their coffee cup or crying infant in the morning and choose to snatch some time in the midday or evening. It will help a great deal if you have a place where you can truly be alone and free to express yourself to the Lord without fear of being walked in on. Whatever you do, simple prayer along with reading and meditating upon God’s word ought to be the center of this time. Many people have also found that it’s helpful to write down their thoughts, prayers and revelations in a journal. I suggest you try to think creatively about this time too. Some of us need to get out of a routine that has become dry and lifeless. I have often broken the routine by taking “prayer walks” where I spend an extended time praying, singing, weeping, and worshipping the Lord on a nearby trail.

Don’t place yourself under an impossible burden of having to meet with God too early or for too long. The need for discipline in this area can easily become a source of condemnation, especially for those performance—oriented types like myself. Remember that you’re cultivating a relationship, not trying to set a record or impress someone! It’s God who draws you near, not your own spiritual heroism. There will be days when you daydream more than pray. There will be days when you miss. When you come to Him after a series of missed days, just thank Him that He has continued to draw you near and enjoy His welcome.

Be careful about your expectations for this time. Don’t expect the Lord to give you some “lightning bolt” experience in each quiet time. Just as in any relationship, there will be times when you feel close and there will be times when you feel distant and can’t seem to connect. Don’t get discouraged! Keep pursuing Him! Keep showing up! It’s a process. Like putting pennies in the bank, over time, you’ll notice a difference. You will notice yourself practicing and enjoying His presence throughout the day. You will walk together as familiar friends rather than estranged former acquaintances.

I can’t remember who it was that first encouraged me to have a quiet time, but for them I am grateful. Some have let this practice go after repeated attempts and failures. Others are struggling to keep it consistent. Still others are hearing about this for the first time. Whatever your own situation is, commit yourself afresh to spending your best time each day with God. May it be said of us as it was said of Him: “But He Himself would often slip away to the wilderness to pray.” Luke 5:16