Mark S. Mitchell

Pastor, Writer, Follower of Jesus


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Sacred Pathways

I’ve been reading Gary Thomas’ book, Sacred Pathways. His premise is that we’re all wired differently in terms of how we relate to God and express our love for Him. For example, many of us have been taught that having a “Quiet Time” is the best way to do that. It’s usually about 30 minutes long and composed of prayer, worship, Bible reading, and maybe even journaling. But, for some, having a Quiet Time quickly moves from delight to drudgery, as it can become mechanical. Thomas says, “There are certain foods I really like, but I don’t want to eat them every day. I have certain running routes and workouts that I earnestly look forward to, but I wouldn’t want to run the same route, at the same speed, the same length, every time I run.” He confesses, “Certain parts of me are never touched by a standardized quiet time.”

Thomas argues that the reason for this is that we all have a different mix of spiritual temperaments, therefore, connecting with God differently. The book identifies nine spiritual temperaments or sacred pathways. These aren’t to be confused with spiritual gifts or even personality types, although they’re certainly related. Most of us will have a predominant temperament but also resonate with a few others. Here they are:

Naturalists: Naturalists prefer to go outdoors. They want to leave the books and lectures aside and pray to God by a river or on a walk in the woods. They might learn more from staring at an ant colony than listening to a sermon.

Sensates: For these folks, the five senses are the most effective inroads into their hearts. When they worship they want to be filled with sights, sounds, and smells. It might be incense, architecture, music, or even liturgy that sends their hearts soaring.

Traditionalists: They’re drawn by the historic dimensions of the faith: rituals, symbols, and sacraments. They want to live a disciplined and ordered life of faith with regular church attendance and predictable worship.

Ascetics: Ascetics want to be left alone to pray; to remove all the trappings of religion and left alone to pray in silence and simplicity. They tend to live internally and introspectively.

Activists: These folks love God through confrontation. They define worship as standing against evil and injustice and calling sinners to repentance. They’re energized more by interactions with others, even through conflict, more so than from being alone. Needless to say, Activists love the story of Jesus clearing the temple!

Caregivers: Caregivers love and serve God by caring for others. Mother Teresa exemplified this. She wrote, “God died for you and for me and for that leper and for that person dying of hunger and for that person on the street. It’s not enough to say you love God. You also have to love your neighbor.”

Enthusiasts: These folks thrive on excitement and unpredictability in worship—they’re inspired by joyful celebration. They want to have their hearts moved and experience God’s power. They want to clap their hands, shout “Amen!”, and dance with excitement.

Contemplatives: Contemplatives think of God as their Father, Bridegroom, and Lover. They focus not on serving God or even obeying God, but on loving God with the deepest love possible. They identify most with Mary of Bethany, who sat at Jesus’ feet in worship and listening.

Intellectuals: These folks love God most with their minds. Their minds need to be stirred before their hearts come alive. They love to study God’s Word and biblical doctrine. Intellectuals live in a world of concepts. Faith is something to be understood as much as it is to be experienced.

Do you see your dominant spiritual temperament in this list?


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The Lost Art of Friendship

Studies show that we have less true friends than past generations. We may have 1000 followers on Twitter, but last I heard the average American had two people to talk to about things that were important to them. Perhaps even more striking, the number of Americans with no close friends is about 25 percent. Joss Whedon, director of The Avengers, said, Loneliness is about the scariest thing out there.” Albert Einstein wrote, “It is strange to be known so universally, and yet to be so lonely.”

Our society does little to help us in this area. Fifteen-year-olds spend months learning how to drive but rarely learn how to be a friend. College students spend years learning the skills of engineering or architecture, but the skill of friendship is left up to osmosis. So we have a lot of people who aren’t succeeding in this area and it affects every area of their lives.

The book of Proverbs offers advice on both choosing friends and being friends. When it comes to choosing friends Proverbs teaches us to choose our friends carefully. Proverbs 13:20 says, He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will suffer harm.” If we develop intimate friendships with the wise, we’ll become wise. If we develop intimate friendships with fools, we’ll suffer harm. This is an encouragement to walk with people who will influence us the right way.

Several years ago an actor named Don Johnson starred on a TV show called Miami Vice. When his career took off he got caught up in the Hollywood lifestyle and spent a decade taking drugs, abusing alcohol, and “living it up.” Finally, he got his life straightened out and got sober. He was asked once if he had any regrets. He said, Yes, I regret wasting lots of time with a bunch of jerks that I wish I hadn’t spent 10 minutes with now, let alone ten years.”

The way this influence happens is brought out vividly in Proverbs 27:17: Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another.” Two people brought together in close friendship are like iron sharpening iron. Our personalities rub together and are shaped by that contact. This can be a painful process; sparks can fly when iron sharpens iron; but the end result is that both parties are changed. So you should choose your friends carefully because they’ll have a huge impact on us. This is a person whose advice you’ll seek, who you’ll turn to in times of trouble, who you’ll share good times with and who you’ll learn from. Don’t approach the task of choosing friends lightly.

Proverbs also talks a lot about being friends. One skill that’s needed in friendship is loyalty. Proverbs 17:17 says, A friend loves at all times, And a brother is born for adversity.” A true friend is one who loves us in every circumstance of life. There’s a hint here that the true colors of friendship are seen in the midst of adversity. When our lives are falling apart a true friend will stand with us. Or when our friend has failed, we’ll be there to pick them up.

But the most difficult skill of all in friendship is forgiveness. Someone has said that there are three things we must do for a friendship to last—forgive, forgive and forgive! Proverbs puts it this way: He who covers a transgression seeks love, But he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends (Proverbs 17:9). Covering a transgression doesn’t mean we ignore it; it means we see it and acknowledge it for what it is and by an act of our will we choose to forgive that person and not make it public. We don’t repeat it; we don’t stir it up so that every angle of the scandal is exposed and every last drop of shame is drawn from the offender. A good friend will try to contain the damage of our sin. Every close friendship gets to a point where a decision has to be made. Will we cover the offensive actions and annoying traits of that person, and will the relationship then move to a deeper level, or will those things cause us to move away from our friend? Every friendship will have to deal with the reality of sin, weakness, failure and conflict. Many people get to that point in the friendship and because they’re unwilling to endure through the sin they bail out and move on to the next relationship. But, unless we’re willing to love someone at their very worst, we can’t have the very best of friendship.

The skill of friendship is not easy! In fact, I’d say it’s impossible in our own strength. But all of this was meant to be a picture of the kind of love God has for us. Jesus said to his disciples, No longer do I call you slaves, but I call you friends.” Jesus has given to each one of us the promise of friendship. Ultimately, he’s the friend who sticks closer than a brother. Jesus is the friend who covers our transgressions. As we come to grips with that reality we can be that kind of friend to others.


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Rejoicing in Wrath

I’ve been thinking about God’s judgment and wrath lately. Maybe I’ve been thinking about this because I’ve been watching a documentary on Netflix called “The Keepers.” It’s a gruesome story about startling acts of injustice surrounding the murder of a nun back in the 60’s. It’s a case in which the perpetrators of both murder and sexual abuse were not brought to justice.

A belief in God’s judgment and wrath is one of those beliefs that all Christians everywhere have always believed. Besides being one of the most basic assertions of the Bible, this belief appears in the Apostles’ Creed: “He will come again to judge the living and the dead.” In fact, I don’t just believe in God’s judgment and wrath, I rejoice in it. Why? I’m glad you asked. Here’s why…

I rejoice in it because judgment and justice go together. Christians talk a lot about justice these days, but very little about God’s judgment. We all desire justice. Life isn’t fair, but for some reason, we think it should be fair. Though life isn’t fair now, Scripture still points to a day when wrongs will be righted and justice will be served. That’s why the idea of God’s judgment brings comfort. To those who suffer at the hands of the unjust, it is comforting to hold on to the promise that one day all will be made right. This upside-down, evil world will not go on like this forever. God will execute justice. He will put an end to all that is wrong with the world, including terrorism, famine, disease, human trafficking, and so on. Psalm 96:13 declares, “Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness.” The psalmist clearly celebrates judgment as good news. Take away the idea of judgment, and you rob Christianity of any hope of satisfying our longing for justice, a longing built into us by God.

Judgment also demonstrates God’s love. God is not bipolar—part wrathful and part loving. Love is his essential attribute, but this love is not like the sentimental love we think of today. God’s love is holy and even jealous. The wrath of God is based on his love. When we do away with the notion of God as Judge, we’re left with a sappy, sanitized deity whom we can easily manage. But the evil of our world is much too serious for us to view God as a kind grandpa. The Bible’s picture of God is much more satisfying. He is angry because he is love. He looks at the world and sees the trafficking of innocent women and children, the destructive sale of drugs, the atrocities in Syria, and out of his love for us he is rightfully angry. The god who is truly scary is not the wrathful God of the Bible, but the god who shrugs his shoulders to evil, ignoring it in the name of “love.” What kind of love is this? A god who is never angered at sin and who lets evil go by unpunished is not worthy of worship. A judgment-less god isn’t too loving; he’s not loving enough.

Larry King used to ask Christians if they believed Jesus was the only way to God; he also asked them about the murderer who trusts Christ: Does he get off the hook? The idea that a criminal could go free is astounding, but God has acted in a way that upholds justice and bestows grace at the same time. There is hope for rebels who desire justice and yet don’t want to suffer. We see justice and mercy most clearly in the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross of Christ satisfied justice. His judgment against evil was poured out upon his only Son on the cross. Justice and mercy are not at war with one another; they meet at the cross. And we can find both judgment and mercy as good news once we recognize our guilt in light of God’s holiness, and then bask in forgiveness in light of God’s grace.

At a confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill this week Sen. Bernie Sanders pressed a Christian nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget about his beliefs on this subject. “Do you think that people who are not Christians are condemned?” Sanders kept asking. Sanders clearly believes that thinking like that has no place in a government official. But Bernie Sanders, and others like him, simply fail to understand that a god who does not judge is neither a god of justice or of love — both attributes that even Bernie would claim to be committed to.


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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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I Don’t Get It

A couple of weeks ago I had a challenging week of travel and speaking. One of my engagements was in Knoxville, Tennessee. I was scheduled to speak at a conference for those involved in sports ministry at the high school, collegiate and professional levels. I had agreed to speak at this conference almost a year ago and had worked hard on my two keynote messages.

It all started out fine. I spent time on the plane going over my messages and praying that God would use them. My flight took me through Chicago where I boarded a new plane bound for Knoxville. But then we proceeded to sit on the runway for about 90 minutes. Frustrating! Even more frustrating was the fact that the pilot finally announced that the flight was cancelled due to weather.

By now it was about 8:00 pm and there’s was no way I was going to make it to Knoxville that night, or even the next day for the conference. I tried everything, but in the end I had to call the host of the conference and tell him I wasn’t going to make it. I then hopped on a flight that got me to Sacramento. I spent the night there at my sister and brother-in-law’s house, and the next day I rented a car to drive home.

It’s hard to describe how I felt. As you can imagine, I was exhausted. But disappointment, discouragement and even confusion haunted me. It struck me that this was the first time in 35 years of ministry that I had missed a speaking engagement. Why did this happen? Did God not want me to give these messages? Was there something wrong with me?

Some would say this is just the reality of living in a fallen world. Others would say this was the work of the enemy. Still others might try to find a reason for what happened, like maybe the plane would have crashed if it had tried to make it to Knoxville. Or maybe he wanted me to spend that time with my sister and brother-in-law (it was a sweet time as we remembered a good friend who had just passed on to glory).

I really don’t have the answers to these questions. I trust God’s sovereignty, but I don’t always get it. Without trying to compare myself to the apostle Paul, I am somewhat comforted that scripture says he was “kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia.” And then, when he and his friends tried to enter Bithynia, “the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to” (Acts 16:6,7). I wonder if Paul had the same questions I did.

Life is full of confusing things. We don’t have to even like what happens to us, and we don’t always get answers to our questions. We walk by faith and not by sight. In the end, we just have to live with what the writer of Proverbs wrote, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps” (Proverbs 16:9).