Mark S. Mitchell

Pastor, Writer, Follower of Jesus


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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!


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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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Eating Together

They all ate and were satisfied…  Luke 9:17

A few days ago, Lynn and I and two other couples drove up to San Francisco and had dinner at an amazing restaurant. The food and atmosphere were out of this world, but the community around the table was even more memorable. Three couples sharing life, love and good food — it doesn’t get any better than that.

What is it about sharing a meal that unites us? Food has a knack for bringing people together, forging bonds and creating conversation. It’s a centerpiece of holiday celebrations. It’s how neighbors welcome new folks into their community. In the dining room, families share traditions. In restaurants, relationships and romance blossom. And in many homes, the kitchen is hailed as one of the most important spaces to meet.

An early disciple of Jesus named Luke would agree. Scholars have noted that one of the distinctive elements of Luke’s gospel is the emphasis upon meals. It progresses the narrative along, and it provides the setting for major teaching moments in the gospel. On at least eight occasions, Jesus can be seen sitting down to meals with others. In two additional accounts, a meal seems to be implied.

There is a phrase that occurs in Luke’s gospel when Jesus feeds a great crowd of well over 5,000 people: They all ate and were satisfied… In fact, this phrase occurs in both Matthew and Mark’s gospel as well. They didn’t have to say that. They could have just said they all ate. But, no, they all ate and were satisfied. Maybe I’m reading into it, but I think more than their stomachs were satisfied. I think their souls were satisfied as well.  Can you imagine it? Families and friends sitting out in the fields of Palestine, talking, laughing, playing, and most of all marveling at the miracle of Jesus filling the hungry bellies of thousands of people with just a few loaves and fish.

You might think it wasn’t quite so enjoyable for the twelve disciples. After all, they were tasked with passing out the bread and fish. I’ve spent a bit of time waiting tables, and it’s some of the most demanding work I’ve ever done. But, when all the distribution was finished, the gospel writers are careful to reveal that there were twelve basketfuls of bread left over just for them. I can see the disciples wearily sitting down and having the time of their lives. Imagine the conversation at that meal!

It’s certainly no surprise, then, that Jesus would later institute a meal as the centerpiece of Christian worship with the words, Take and eat, this is my body. Followers of Jesus come together to commemorate his death by sharing a simple meal. In those moments, it is true in the most significant way possible that we all eat and are satisfied. But that’s not all, one day we will sit together in heaven and share in another meal — the marriage supper of the lamb!

It was true then, it is true now, and it will be true in the new heavens and the new earth: and they all ate and were satisfied.


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Happy Eastertide!

Yesterday we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus on what we call Easter. One of my favorite things we do at Easter at our church is baptize new believers. This tradition of Easter Sunday baptisms goes way back. In the early church, Lent was a season for new believers to learn about the faith and prepare for baptism on Easter Sunday. All Christians also prepared for Easter by fasting. At first, the fasting lasted one day; later it was extended to 40 hours, to symbolize the 40 days Jesus spent fasting and praying in the wilderness.

By the early 200s, baptism often included renouncing Satan and all his works, making a statement of faith, being baptized (naked) in water, being clothed in a white robe, receiving anointing with oil, and immediately celebrating the Lord’s Supper.

Here is something I learned just this week: According to the liturgical church calendar Easter is not just one day, but rather a 50-day period. The season of Easter, or Eastertide, begins at sunset on the eve of Easter and ends on Pentecost, the day Christians traditionally celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church (see Acts 2).

So let’s celebrate Easter for the next 50 days! To me, Easter is a season of joy because we celebrate our new life in Christ. He is alive, not just “up there” but in each one of us who believes! This extended season gives us more time to rejoice and experience what it means when we say Christ is risen. It’s the season when we remember our baptisms and how we’re “in Christ.” As “Easter people,” we also look forward to the birth of the Church and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost), and how we are to live as faithful followers of Christ.

Happy Eastertide!


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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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Is Grace Common?

Do you know what an oxymoron is? An example of an oxymoron is the phrase “jumbo shrimp.” With an oxymoron, the words that are used to describe a particular thing seem to be self-contradictory, or at least they are two things that don’t seem to go together. From this perspective, one might say that the phrase “common grace” is such an oxymoron. How can God’s grace be deemed “common?” Though God’s grace in one sense is commonplace, it is always something that He gives that is undeserved by us. That God bestows any grace at all upon us is an uncommon manifestation of His kindness. We don’t earn or deserve such benefits.

Common grace is a term used to describe the goodness of God to all people universally. Common grace restrains sin and the effects of sin on the human race. Common grace is what keeps humanity from descending into the depths of evil that we’d see if the full expression of our sinful nature were allowed to have free reign.

We’re totally depraved—tainted with sin in every aspect of our being (Rom. 3:10–18). People who doubt this ask, “How can people who are totally depraved enjoy beauty, have a sense of right and wrong, perform acts of goodness, know the pangs of a wounded conscience, or produce great works of art and literature? Aren’t these accomplishments of humanity proof that the human race is essentially good? Don’t these things testify to the basic goodness of human nature?”

The answer is no. Human nature is utterly corrupt. “There is none righteous, not even one” (Rom. 3:10). But common grace is what restrains the full expression of human sinfulness. God has graciously given us a conscience, which enables us to know the difference between right and wrong (Rom. 2:15). He maintains order in human society through government (Rom. 13:1–5). He allows us to admire beauty and goodness (Ps. 50:2). He gives tokens of His kindness on both the good and the evil (Matt. 5:45). All of those things are the result of God’s goodness to people in general.

Common grace does not pardon sin or redeem sinners, but it is still a sincere token of God’s goodwill to mankind in general. The apostle Paul said, “In Him we live and move and exist … for we also are His offspring” (Acts 17:28). That includes everyone on earth, not just those God saves. God deals with us all as His offspring, people made in His image. “The Lord is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works” (Ps. 145:9).

Acts 14 contains a nice description of common grace. Paul and Barnabas were ministering at Lystra, and Paul healed a lame man. The crowds saw it and someone began saying that Paul was Zeus and Barnabas was Hermes. The priest at the local temple of Zeus wanted to organize a sacrifice to Zeus. But when Paul and Barnabas heard about it, they said, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you in order that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them. And in the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”

That is a fine description of common grace. While allowing sinners to “go their own ways,” God nevertheless bestows on them tokens of His goodness and kindness. It is not saving grace. But it is a genuine manifestation of God’s love to all people.


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ISRAEL BOUND!

As you read my Monday morning blog today, I will be arriving in Israel with 20 friends, most of whom are part of our staff at Central Peninsula Church, along with their spouses. For a long time I’ve dreamed of making such a trip. Being a pastor, I’ve felt incomplete not having been there. I’ve spent over 35 years teaching people about the Bible. I’ve talked about places like Kiriath-Arba, Beersheba, Capernaum and Bethany. I’ve tried to have a handle on the geography of Palestine. I’ve seen many photos and heard many stories, but having never been there I’ve always felt a bit lacking. Now, finally, Lord willing, as you read this, I have arrived.

I’ve always been intrigued by the connection God’s people have had to this land, and now I will be able to discover why. The stories of the Bible are deeply embedded by geography and can’t help but be enhanced by actually being in the places they took place. The stories of Sodom and Gomorrah, the crossing of the Jordan River, and Jesus asleep in the boat on the Sea of Galilee during a massive storm should take on new meanings by visiting their settings. In Judaism, the traditional process of analyzing Scripture is called midrash, from the Hebrew term meaning to investigate; in Christianity, we call it exegesis. I’ve done a lot of textual exegesis over the years, but now I get to do what, in effect, is  geographical exegesis.

I am grateful to our church for allowing this to happen. Prayers for a safe and rewarding trip are much appreciated!