Mark S. Mitchell

Pastor, Writer, Follower of Jesus


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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.


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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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YOU’VE GOT (NO) MAIL

When was the last time you wrote a letter, I mean a real letter? When was the last time you received one?

I have been slowly reading a very fine book by C. John Miller called, The Heart of a Servant Leader. It is a series of letters that Miller wrote to various friends and ministry associates during his years as a pastor and leader of a mission organization. As I have read through these letters, I have been struck by the power of a personal letter to bring encouragement and counsel, especially when born out of a caring and humble heart of a true servant leader.

Another book that I have found intriguing of late is, Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Comprehensive Correspondence Deserving a Wider Audience, by Shaun Usher. This is an amazing collection of some of the most famous letters ever written. There is a 10-year-old Fidel Castro’s letter to the President of the United States, and Mary Stuart’s letter to the brother of her ex-husband hours before she is to be beheaded: “Thanks be to God, I scorn death and vow that I meet it innocent of any crime.” Once again, the power of a letter!

It is rare these days for people to write real, handwritten letters. It takes time and it can be hard work. Most of our communication these days happens through the medium of technology: email, text, social media, cell phone, etc. I think we have lost some important things in all of this: the ability to express our ourselves carefully and intelligently, something to hold in our hands that is real and personal (just for me), as well as a physical record of our own communications for future generations to enjoy and learn from. Oh, and the skill of penmanship as well!

Is there no longer any practical use for letter writing? Has literary eloquence become relegated to the obsolete past? I hope not. I challenge you to sit down and write a real letter, with a real pen (get a really good one) and real paper. I’ll bet it will do you and someone you care about some good. Fifty years from now, maybe someone will even find your letter in an old, dusty box and read it. If it will make you feel better, you can still sign off with a B4N or LOL.