Mark S. Mitchell

Pastor, Writer, Follower of Jesus


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Excel Still More

This past weekend my church celebrated 50 years of God’s faithfulness. On Saturday night over 700 people gathered to remember all that God has done, and on Sunday morning we focused on what God might do through CPC in the next 50 years.

We all love stories. People have stories and churches have stories, too. Over fifty years ago a handful of families from Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto began meeting, thinking they might start a church. Today, CPC is a church of over 2,500  people meeting on two campuses, and we just planted a church of over 1,000 people on the North Peninsula. It’s quite a story!

But the questions I asked our church are: Where are we at in our story? Are our best years behind us or in front of us?

The odds are against us. Churches like ours, more often than not, are like shooting stars in the night’s sky. THEY flame out and eventually disappear. Very few have a trajectory of continued growth and impact. Some stay stuck in the past. They have their heyday but never move beyond 8-track tapes and overhead projectors. A core group that started in the church in their 20’s now reach their 70’s and wonder why their kids are going to other churches. Other churches experience “mission drift.” They change too much, not just in their methods and strategies, but in their core beliefs and values. Little by little, they accommodate to the culture and soon their “saltiness” is lost. Still, other churches just become complacent. A kind of self-satisfaction sets in. There may still be a veneer of activity, but they’re just maintaining the status quo. There’s no burning passion or vision.

Any one of those things could cause our best years NOT to be in front of us but behind us.

What’s interesting is there was a church much like ours found in the New Testament — the church at Thessalonica. Like the San Francisco Peninsula, this city was wealthy and strategically placed in the capital city of Macedonia. And like CPC, this church had a great beginning. At the start of his first letter to them, Paul praises them for their “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3). This was an impressive and influential church.

But then you come to chapter 4 and you can almost feel the tension in Paul. He doesn’t want them to make the past a hero; to become complacent. And so twice in vv. 1-12 he repeats the same three words: “Excel still more.” It is like he’s saying, “You’ve done so well and I’m proud of you, but you’re not finished yet. You can do more. You can do better. I want you to excel still more!”

So this is our call as a church, but it is also something we can all apply to our own lives. I am 61 years old. As I told our church on Sunday, I won’t be around in 50 years, but are my best years behind me or are they ahead of me? Will I make my own past a hero, or in the years I have left in my earthly story, will I excel still more?


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​Standing Against Racism

A week ago Saturday, as the elders, staff, and spouses of our church gathered for our annual party, a terrible scene of racism and violence was taking place in Charlottesville, VA. One of the things I love about our leadership team and our entire church is our diversity. We are a blessed collection of humanity that reflects a variety of racial, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. We want to be a church that proclaims the radical truth the Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). This means standing against the evil of bigotry and white supremacy.

Racism in all its forms is evil because it violates God’s creation of every human being in His image and it impedes His intent for all people to know that God loved them enough to send His Son to save them.

So this should be a time for all of us to do three things:

  • First, we should examine our own hearts and repent of the sin of racism, which very well may exist in our hearts without us really aware of it.
  • Second, we should pray that our nation and our leaders would reflect the biblical value that every human being is made in the image of God and loved by Him.
  • Third, we all should consider how we might be actively involved in the ministry of reconciliation in our neighborhoods, places of work, and even in our church.


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Remembering Haddon Robinson​

I have been blessed with a handful of wonderful mentors in my life. One of them was Haddon Robinson. On July 22, 2017, Haddon “fell asleep” in the Lord after battling Parkinson’s Disease for about three years. Haddon served as a Professor of Preaching at Dallas Seminary, and later at Gordon-Conwell Seminary in Boston. In-between, he served as President of Denver Seminary. Ironically, though I was a student at Denver while Haddon was President there, I never met him until later when I became a doctoral student under him at Gordon-Conwell. Haddon wrote many books, but he is best known for his book Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages—first published it in 1980. This book is still the gold standard for training preachers.

I am eternally grateful that the Lord allowed me to get to know Haddon. Here are a few things I learned from him:

  1. He taught me how to preach
    In 1996 a Baylor University poll named Haddon one of “The 12 Most Effective Preachers in the English-Speaking World.” The first time I heard Haddon preach was at a commencement ceremony at Denver Seminary. I was mesmerized. It was an exposition of the parable of the sheep and the goats. I still remember his big idea: “There are going to be a lot of surprises at the judgment. A lot of surprises.” Hearing that sermon, I knew I wanted to learn everything I could from that man about preaching. About 15 years later, he accepted me into the Doctor of Ministry program in preaching at Gordon-Conwell. He taught me that a sermon should be more like a bullet than buckshot — one single idea that encapsulates the thrust of a passage of Scripture. He taught me the importance of story, and not just to tell a story but to live it. He also tried to teach me not to use any notes in the pulpit, which I have never managed to learn. No matter how hard we all tried to preach like him, he was unique.
  2. He taught me to be available
    Over the course of my friendship with Haddon, I made three invitations to him. First, I invited him out to lunch to ask him some advice as I was considering a change in my ministry. A few years later, I asked him to come across the country to meet with our elders and preach at our church. Finally, I asked him to come to California again and speak at our Men’s Retreat at Mount Hermon. The amazing thing about Haddon was that, to my great surprise, he said, “Yes” to all three requests. It may sound like a small thing, but he was at a stage in his life when he really didn’t have to agree to any of those requests. But Haddon was a man available to God and to others. The people of my church still talk about the time Haddon Robinson came and preached to them from the book of Philemon in a sermon called, “Put That On Master Charge.” He also continued to be available to his doctoral students as we met with him to hone our preaching skills at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin for many years after receiving our degree. Reflecting on Haddon’s availability to me and others, I am reminded that each time he said, “Yes” was like a personal affirmation of my value to him. Perhaps more than anything else, that affirmation changed my life.
  3. He taught me humility
    Haddon was not full of himself. When asked about the honor of being named one of the 12 best preachers in the world, he shook his head and asked, “How in the world do you come up with a conclusion like that?” As he has famously said: “There are no great preachers, only a great Christ.” As you might imagine, a man of stature like Haddon Robinson had a few critics. For example, I have heard pastors and scholars accuse him of not preaching expositional sermons. But I never heard Haddon speak unfairly or harshly about his critics. For me, his humility was best exemplified in his prayer life. To listen to him before the throne of God, was like eavesdropping on a private conversation between a beloved servant and his honored master.

Needless to say, I will miss Haddon Robinson. Please pray for his wife of 66 years, Bonnie; his daughter, Vicki Hitzges, a motivational speaker; and his son Torrey Robinson, Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Tarrytown, New York.


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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!