Mark S. Mitchell

Pastor, Writer, Follower of Jesus

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Ordinary Grace

Every once in a while you run across a book that surprises you. It isn’t by any author you’ve heard of in the past, and there have been no rave reviews that prompt you to give it a try. You’re not even sure how you heard about the book, but something about it intrigues you. Maybe it’s the cover, maybe it’s the title, maybe somewhere in the recesses of your mind you’ve heard of the author. For whatever reason, you decide to give it a try. You pick it up and read the first page, and then the second, and pretty soon you’re hooked. Such a book is Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger.

The story takes place in Minnesota in the early 1960’s. It is narrated by Frank Drum, who tells of a summer forty years earlier, when, at age 13, a child in his town was killed by a train. It’s a summer that will change his life forever, and his story will resonate with you for a long time. The child’s death becomes the catalyst for a series of tragic events that brought his family to their knees, baptizing them in the “awful grace of God” where “people search for answers but in truth it all comes down to one’s ability to go forward. God’s grace allows us to question, to grieve and to heal.”

Frank’s family includes his father, a pastor and World War II veteran, who still harbors secrets and regrets from the war. Frank’s mother is a rebel against the strict confines of the church. She’s disappointed in her life as a pastor’s wife, but has an artistic side and enjoys leading the choir. Frank also has an older and talented sister who is headed for Juilliard and a younger brother, Jake, who chronically stutters.

I won’t spoil any more of the story for you. Instead I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the book:

“God never promised us an easy life. He never promised that we wouldn’t suffer, that we wouldn’t feel despair and loneliness and confusion and desperation. What he did promise was that in our suffering we would never be alone. And though we may sometimes make ourselves blind and deaf to his presence he is beside us and around us and within us always. We are never separated from his love. And he promised us something else, the most important promise of all.… That there would be an end to our pain and our suffering and our loneliness, that we would be with him and know him, and this would be heaven.”


How to Pray for Our Nation

Much like our nation as a whole, the Church is divided over our new President. One of the things we can all agree on is the need to pray for him and for our nation. Yesterday, in view of both President Trump’s inauguration and Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, many churches prayed for our nation. Adam Darbonne, High School Director at Central Peninsula Church’s North Campus, led us in prayer and I believe this is a fine example of how to pray for our nation at such a time as this.

Almighty God, Creator, Redeemer, Ancient of Days, we bow before you this morning, our only King, and the sovereign God, who rules with perfect justice and love. 

You have commanded us to pray for all those in authority, and as we have prayed for President Obama over the last eight years, we now pray for President Trump. First and foremost we pray that he would repent and believe in your resurrected son. We ask that you would convict him of sin, and bring him to his knees in repentance. That you would humble him under your mighty hand, and lead him by your glorious light. Until then, we pray that your will be done in the government. Surround our leaders with your wisdom. We ask that you would use the government to restrain evil, bring justice in our country, especially to the downtrodden, hurting, and vulnerable.

We also pray that you would use us, your church, to be salt and light in the world, that we would be a voice and force for justice and love in our country and around the world. And as Paul says, teach us to lead peaceful and quiet lives, godly and holy in every way, for this is pleasing to you. As we pray for justice for the vulnerable give us the courage and compassion we need to live as faithful advocates for human life—in all its expressions. How we long for the Day when “death shall be no more”—when life will flourish in the new heaven and new earth. Today we especially think about the lives of unborn children and the constant threat to those lives—even as we cry out to you on behalf of all kinds of women in all kinds of situations who are carrying those children in their wombs. Lord Jesus, we pray for the courage to stand up and care for the voiceless and vulnerable—those whom you are knitting together in their mother’s womb. Lord Jesus, may those here today whose stories are marked by abortion know your love, compassion and forgiveness this morning.

Finally, Lord, make us a compassionate church. Jesus, show us how to love and care for those women and men whose stories are marked by abortion. May we be a church who cares extravagantly for women in crisis. Lord, we long for your justice, compassion, forgiveness, and love. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

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7 Takeaways from the Book of Joshua

We’re all familiar with the well-worn acronym TGIF. Personally, I’ve never been able to relate. Why? Because I’m a pastor and my work week is just ramping up on Friday. For over 30 years my Sabbath has been on Monday, so Thank God It’s Monday fits much better for my life. Monday is a day of rest and refreshment for me. Often you will find me down at my favorite coffee place on Monday afternoon just hanging out and reading a good book.

I also like to write. For this reason, I am calling this new blog TGIM. I hope to write a bit each Monday and share my musings. It may not be anything profound, but more and more I find God shows up in the ordinary. Here is my first blog post with a few thoughts on a recent sermon series we did in the book of Joshua last fall at CPC.

Our teaching team at CPC just finished a series we started back in September on the book of Joshua. It was called “Ventures in Faith.” Here are my seven take-aways from the book of Joshua:

  1. Leadership matters: Joshua was a great leader who God commissioned to lead his people. He led with faith and determination from start to finish. At the end of the book he dies and he is given the highest honor—being called “the servant of God.” In what ways is God grooming you as a servant-leader?
  2. God calls us into situations that are over our heads so we will trust in Him: Throughout the book of Joshua, God calls his people to be strong and courageous because God is with them and he will fight for them. Israel was in way over their heads but God came through when they trusted in him. What is God calling you to that seems way over your head?
  3. God works in surprising ways through surprising people: Who could have predicted that God would use the faith of a harlot named Rahab to help deliver his people? Who could have predicted that Israel would defeat Jericho by marching around the city blowing horns? Do you underestimate God’s ability to surprise you in how he works and who he uses?
  4. God’s faithfulness in the past should fuel our faith for today: Over and over again God rehearses his past faithfulness to Israel to give them a foundation for faith and obedience in the present and the future. He even makes them set up stones of remembrance so they won’t forget. How well do you remember God’s faithfulness to you?
  5. We must not compromise in our obedience to God: Israel had to learn this the hard way as they watched Achan and his family stoned to death because he disobeyed God’s explicit instructions and hid some of the devoted things in his tent. Are you compromising in your obedience God?
  6. Pursue unity through truth and love: I love the story in chapter 21 of how a misunderstanding between God’s people that could have ended badly was worked out by practicing both truth and love. Do you pursue unity through truth and love?
  7. It’s never too late: Who can forget Caleb, as an old man, asking Joshua to let him take more land and defeat the giants that remained there? Are you letting your age limit your determination to make a difference for God?

I’ve loved studying and preaching this book! For those of you who heard these messages at CPC from our teaching team, I hope you won’t forget either. If CPC is not your home church, you can find all the messages on our CPC website.