Mark S. Mitchell

Pastor, Writer, Follower of Jesus


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A Mother’s Day Meditation

Mother’s Day is this Sunday, May 14. I’m so blessed to be surrounded by wonderful examples of motherhood in my family. I had a fantastic stay-at-home mom who died when I was only 33 years old. I still miss her. My wife is an amazing and devoted  mother and grandmother. My two daughters have followed in her footsteps and embrace their calling as mothers with grace and joy. Needless to say, we’ll be celebrating Mother’s Day at my house — big time!

But Mother’s Day is one of those events in which the church has not always known what to do with. Originally, there was a Sunday in the year set aside to celebrate the Church as mother of the faithful. Somehow that got confused with Mother’s Day. Then Hallmark got involved and the rest is history. The Mother’s Day we celebrate today just doesn’t have much spiritual pedigree.

Others factors complicate the matter. Many people had mothers who were far from ideal. Still others have lost their mother. And, let’s face it, not every woman is a mother. There are those who are single, either by choice or because they haven’t found the right person yet. And there are those women who have decided not to have children, or can’t have children. Mother’s Day can mean a lot of hurt for all of these women. To have children handing out flowers at church only to those women who have biological children can add insult to injury.

So if Mother’s Day is to be celebrated it needs to be done with lots of sensitivity. Still, I believe it is so important to celebrate and honor mothers, even at church. Here are three reasons we should all celebrate motherhood.

First, the Bible celebrates motherhood. One of the Ten Commandments tells us to honor both our father and mother. Proverbs 31 says of a godly wife and mother, “Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.” As Jesus was suffering on the cross He was worried about His mom and who was going to take care of her after He was gone. He made plans for her provision. He put one of His disciples in charge of taking care of her (John 19:26-27). From Genesis to Revelation, motherhood is seen as an honorable vocation.

Second, mothers generally exemplify some amazing characteristics. It takes a lot of courage to be a mother. I’ve been there when all three of my children were born. There is no way I could handle what my wife did three times! It also takes commitment. The last thing anyone wants to do is threaten an infant in front of its mother. Mothers put their children first. Mothers deeply care about their children from the moment of conception. Their concern shows itself in both hope and worry. While a father may overlook a child because of work, a football game, or even a round of golf, nothing will make a mother forget her children.

Third, mothers live with a difficult tension in modern society. There are some mothers who work outside the home, either by choice or by necessity,  and feel guilty for not staying home. Other mothers stay at home and feel guilty for not working. Any guilt that working or stay-at-home mothers have is a result of a society that peddles the idea that mothers can have it all. They can’t, and they often must make hard choices that usually result in them feeling like they have sacrificed either spending time with their kids by working or their own career by not working.

Celebrating Mother’s Day can be an important reminder in the midst of these tensions that motherhood in and of itself is a high calling by all means worth celebrating.


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Do-Gooders

For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 1 Peter 2:15

There are a lot of negative things said about followers of Christ these days. We’re labeled as narrow and intolerant, compassionless, hateful, hypocritical, archaic in our beliefs. Sometimes those accusations are accurate. But, I must tell you, I think most of the time they are flat out wrong.

So did the Apostle Peter. His readers were being slandered and bullied. They were being publicly shamed because they rejected emperor worship and excused themselves from family gatherings at pagan temples. I’m sure this felt like social suicide to them. At times it was these believers who felt like ignorant fools. But Peter reminds them that their critics are the ones who are ignorant and foolish; they don’t know what they’re talking about.

But how do we fight back? How do we overcome the negative stereotypes? We live in an age where Facebook and Twitter practically hand us megaphones to shout our opinions, hoping our voice will be louder than all the other megaphones competing for attention. But adding to the noise with our words isn’t going to change people’s opinions or hearts. Peter says doing good is what makes a difference.

I think of the many ways the people in my church are doing good. A group of women just put together “bags of love” for women in unintended pregnancies. A man in our body collects jackets for the homeless, brings them to the city and passes them out to those in need. Another man leads a ministry to homeless veterans who need help getting back on their feet. A woman leads a ministry at an elementary school in Redwood City helping Hispanic children learn how to read in English. A Community Group serves at Shelter Network bringing food and birthday celebrations to those living at the shelter. CPCers are feeding and providing bible study for day laborers at a Worker Resource Center where immigrants go to wait and look for work for the day. This church is delivering practical help to impoverished families suffering in Ukraine, to women trying to escape the sex trade in Thailand, and to orphans in Honduras.

Can we do more? Can we do better? Of course we can. But those are the kinds of things people notice; those are the kinds of things that silence critics — not talking, not tweeting, but DOING! That’s what Peter is talking about: Let your Christ-like lives in the community earn favor and silence your critics. That’s how we make a difference, not just through our words but through doing good.


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An Ode to Romance

We’re all sometimes a bit skeptical about this business of romance or falling in love. We sometimes hear that true love isn’t something we can “fall” into. We all know Hollywood has distorted our view of love to make it more about romantic feelings than true commitment. But, if we are not careful, we will miss out on something wonderful and mysterious.

Listen to what the Bible says about this in Proverbs 30:18-19:

There are three things which are too wonderful for me,
Yes, four which I don’t understand:
The way of an eagle in the air,
The way of a serpent on a rock,
The way of a ship in the midst of the sea,
And the way of a man with a maiden.

In this ancient proverb, the high point is found in the final line: the venturesome and mysterious ways of the soaring eagle, the slithering serpent, the sailing ship – these build to a climax in the mystery, adventure and attraction between a young man and woman.

It’s hard to fathom! How does an eagle soar through the air? How does a snake slither on a rock? How does a ship glide through the sea? Think of each of these images. Each portrays a seeming ease of movement with no trace being left behind. It seems so natural, but when you try to explain it, words cannot be found. How does an eagle handle invisible air? How does a snake handle unforgiving rock? How does a ship handle unpredictable sea? It’s not easy to negotiate air, rock and sea, much less a young woman! How does it happen? How does he capture her invisible and unpredictable heart? I don’t know, but I’m glad God created a world where there’s something as unpredictable, surprising and wonderful as this. Aren’t you?

This is the mystery of a man and woman in love. The first glance of the eye. The rush of the heart. The conversations that flow long into the night. The scary revelation of mutual admiration. The moving towards greater commitment. How does it happen? I don’t know, but I’m glad it does.

There’s one more thing that’s even more wonderful than the way of a man with a maiden. It’s the way of a man with his wife of twenty, thirty, or forty plus years. It’s the way of love which grows deeper and stronger and even more wild as the years go by.


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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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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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Words Matter

Words matter. If there’s anything the Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin situation teaches us, it’s that. The old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me,” is nonsense. Words do far more damage than sticks and stones. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but they can’t kill our spirit like words can.

The Bible talks a lot about the importance of our words. This past year, if someone paid you ten dollars for every kind and helpful word you spoke about others or to others, but also collected ten dollars from you for every unkind word you spoke about or to others, would you be rich or poor? If the New Testament is right, we might all be broke. James writes, All kinds of animals have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It’s a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

The words we say create most of the problems we face. Most problems at church or in the workplace are the result of words. Most divorces aren’t caused by adultery or desertion; they’re caused by words. Most conflicts between parents and children aren’t the result of some generation gap; they’re the result of words. Think about your own relationships for a moment. What has been said to you that has stung or crushed your spirit or just took the wind out of your sails for days? It might have been something said to you many years ago, but you remember, and it still hurts. Think about the things you’ve said that had the same impact on others. Once those words were out of your mouth they could never be retrieved. You really can’t take it back, can you? Our words become an enduring part of every relationship we have.

That’s why the Bible says so much about our words. It teaches us the words we speak will make or break the relationships we have. Learn to season your speech with grace and your relationships will grow in depth and in joy and in peace. Leave your tongue unbridled and it will poison your own life and those you love the most. No where is this more clearly stated than in Proverbs 18:20-21:

With the fruit of a man’s mouth his stomach will be satisfied; he will be satisfied with the product of his lips. Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.

These verses speak of the power of the tongue to impact our lives and those around us. The tongue has the power to inflict both life and death. Because of its power, we’re encouraged to “love it,” which means to respect it and to use it with care. If we do so the product of our speech will bring satisfaction to our lives. We’ll “eat its fruit” and enjoy the blessing the wise use of our speech brings to our relationships.

The tongue can do great harm or it can do great good. When Daryl Green was being inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame, he reflected on the impact his father had on him. He said, “Everyone else told me I was too small. But my dad said, ‘You can run the ball.’ Everyone else said, ‘No,’ but my dad said, ‘Go.’” Green was reflecting on the difference words made in his life. Words contain the power of death: “You’re too small.” But they also contain the power of life: “You can run the ball.” What a difference words can make! With your words you can hurt or you can heal, you can build up or you can tear down.

In my next few posts, I’ll get more specific about the kind of words that bring life and the kind that bring death.


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Does Your Work Matter to God?

It’s Labor Day and perhaps a good time to ask the question, why do you work? There can be two extremes in answering that question. There are those who see work as a necessary evil. They work because they have to. Work is a means to an end. “I work because I have to pay my bills.” Or “I work because I want to be able to pay for the things I want out of life.” Or “I work because some day I want to retire.” For these people, work has little intrinsic value. It’s something they do because of something else they want. Some of these people, of course, aren’t neutral about their job; they HATE their job. Like the David Allan Coe song from 1978, Take This Job and Shove It, they loathe their work. Tim J. McGuire, former editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune once said in a speech: “Work is brutal. Work is a four-letter word. Most people don’t think that work could possibly have anything to do with spirituality. They assume that these two worlds cannot mesh.”

The other extreme sees their jobs and their work as central to their worth and identity as a person. Not only do they love their work, their work is everything to them; it’s their religion. One study showed that Americans work an average of 49 1/2 weeks a year, more than any other developed nation. My oldest daughter used to work for Facebook. It was great because you could eat three very nice meals a day there; they would even do your dry-cleaning. All this for free! But after awhile she realized part of the deal was you never needed to go home! For some, work is an obsession.

God is the One who invented work. When God created Adam and Eve, he gave them work to do. He told them to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 2:28). Before sin ever entered the world, there was work in paradise. The Bible also hints strongly there will be work in heaven. But work isn’t everything. God also instituted the Sabbath; a day of rest. Life is to be lived in a sacred rhythm of rest and work.

How do we capture God’s purpose for our work? How can work become for us more than just a necessary evil? How can our work take on it’s rightful place in our lives? I believe the answer to that question lies in the whole idea of what the Bible calls our calling. We need to understand how our jobs connect with our calling. Paul wrote about this in 1 Corinthians 7:17, 20, Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk… Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called.” Paul calls our job the place “the Lord has assigned to each one.” He says, “Wherever you were at when Christ called you, that’s your assignment.” Then in v. 20 he says something very surprising. The word translated “condition” is actually the same word he uses in the rest of the passage for “calling.” It should read like this: “Each man must remain in that calling in which he was called.” You see, our jobs are a calling. You might say, there is Calling with a big “C” and calling with a small “c.” Calling with a big “C” is the same for every believer; we are called into a relationship with Christ.  Calling with a small “c” is a little different for every believer. Our different jobs are a kind of calling; they are an assignment from God. This is where the word “vocation” comes in. We use that to speak of our careers, but the word comes from the Latin root which means “to call.” We each have a vocational calling. Our vocation is the unique place God has called us to live out the implications of our big “C” calling.

Paul gives us a a very strong hint of what that might mean later in v. 24 when he says, “Each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called.” Those two words, with God” make all the difference in the world. The idea seems to be that, whatever our work is, God is not only right there with us, but we do our work for Him; he is the One we are to please. In Colossians, Paul put it this way, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily as for the Lord rather than for men” (Col. 3:23-24). Paul says do you work as if it were an act of worship. What difference would it make if you did your job every day before an audience of One?

It would make a difference in how we work. When we are doing our work for God we strive for excellence in all that we do. Sweeping floors, pounding nails, pulling teeth, fixing computers will be done with diligence and conscientiousness. It should never be said of Christian workers that they are halfhearted, chronically late, irresponsible, whiny, and “too heavenly minded to be any earthly good.”

Working for God should also make a difference in who we are. This goes beyond just being good workers. The idea here is being people of Christlike character in the marketplace. We should be marked by integrity. We should be known as people who don’t shade the truth to make the deal. Expense accounts are not padded. Petty cash is not pilfered. That’s only the start. We should actually model a lifestyle that is directly opposed to the typical standard. The typical marketplace mentality centers on the bottom line: profits, quotas, sales reports, balance sheets and getting ahead of our co-workers. Yet, we should be people marked by compassion, servanthood, putting people above the bottom line. Its so easy to slip into self-centeredness. When you go to work tomorrow, who do you need to reach out to? Who needs your encouragement? Who needs you to listen?

Being Christlike also means being vulnerable — admitting when you make a mistake. As followers of Christ we are going to blow it at times. We will lose our tempers, say something unkind, fall into gossip, or just fail to do a good job. We should be known as people who refuse to shift blame or rationalize, but who say, “I’m sorry. I blew it. I shouldn’t have said that. I was wrong.”  We can also be vulnerable by just being honest when we’re struggling with something. We don’t have to be “Joe Christian” with a plastic smile. We need to be human, sincere and transparent.

Finally, working before an audience of One should make a difference in what we say. Once we earn credibility in how we work and who we are, then we’ve earned the right to share Christ with our co-workers. I like what Bill Hybels says about this, “Jesus never commanded us to engage in theological debates with strangers, flaunt four-inch crosses and Jesus stickers, or throw our Christian catch phrases. But he did tell us to live and work in such a way that when the Holy Spirit orchestrates opportunities to speak about God, we will have earned the right.”

At the end us his life Jesus prayed something to his Father we would all want to be able to pray. He said, “Father, I have finished the work you have given me to do.” That work was his calling to be obedient to his Father in everything, including the work of dying on the cross. Jesus finished his work; he fulfilled his calling. But sometimes we forget that for twenty-plus years that obedience found expression in climbing out of the sack six days a week to make plows and repair broken furniture. When Jesus went to his hometown of Nazareth and began to teach in the synagogue like he was a rabbi, his old buddies came by to see him and said, “Is this not the carpenter?” We forget that for most of his life he was the carpenter; it was only the last three years of his life that he was a preacher. But whether he was at the workbench pounding nails or in the synagogue preaching, he did his work before an audience of One; what drove him was His call to live for the Father. And at the end of his day his reward was to hear his Father say, “Well done! Well done in your calling. Well done in your job.” Would that be what he could say to each of us?