Mark S. Mitchell

Pastor, Writer, Follower of Jesus


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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).


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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.