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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Ordinary Grace

Every once in a while you run across a book that surprises you. It isn’t by any author you’ve heard of in the past, and there have been no rave reviews that prompt you to give it a try. You’re not even sure how you heard about the book, but something about it intrigues you. Maybe it’s the cover, maybe it’s the title, maybe somewhere in the recesses of your mind you’ve heard of the author. For whatever reason, you decide to give it a try. You pick it up and read the first page, and then the second, and pretty soon you’re hooked. Such a book is Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger.

The story takes place in Minnesota in the early 1960’s. It is narrated by Frank Drum, who tells of a summer forty years earlier, when, at age 13, a child in his town was killed by a train. It’s a summer that will change his life forever, and his story will resonate with you for a long time. The child’s death becomes the catalyst for a series of tragic events that brought his family to their knees, baptizing them in the “awful grace of God” where “people search for answers but in truth it all comes down to one’s ability to go forward. God’s grace allows us to question, to grieve and to heal.”

Frank’s family includes his father, a pastor and World War II veteran, who still harbors secrets and regrets from the war. Frank’s mother is a rebel against the strict confines of the church. She’s disappointed in her life as a pastor’s wife, but has an artistic side and enjoys leading the choir. Frank also has an older and talented sister who is headed for Juilliard and a younger brother, Jake, who chronically stutters.

I won’t spoil any more of the story for you. Instead I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the book:

“God never promised us an easy life. He never promised that we wouldn’t suffer, that we wouldn’t feel despair and loneliness and confusion and desperation. What he did promise was that in our suffering we would never be alone. And though we may sometimes make ourselves blind and deaf to his presence he is beside us and around us and within us always. We are never separated from his love. And he promised us something else, the most important promise of all.… That there would be an end to our pain and our suffering and our loneliness, that we would be with him and know him, and this would be heaven.”


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Growing Spiritually Strong Families

How can you grow a spiritually strong family? This is one of the questions our church is exploring as we began a series last week called, Building a Home: One Room at a Time. We’ll go from room to room in a typical house and talk about things like parenting, marriage, siblings, children, communication and conflict resolution. In my reading this past week I found a helpful little handbook by Dennis and Barbara Rainey called, Growing a Spiritually Strong Family. They had ten tips for couples who want their families to grow deeply in the soil of God’s love:

  1. Sink your roots: The best thing you can do for your kids is develop your own relationship with Jesus through the classic means of grace, like prayer, confession, reading the Bible and cultivating deep relationships with other believers. It starts with you. You can’t pass on anything you haven’t fully bought into.
  2. Pray with your mate: This may be the hardest yet most significant thing for couples to do. Less than 8% of believing couples pray together regularly and only 3% pray together every day. If you do this, I guarantee it will change your marriage! It’s hard to be mad at each other and pray at the same time. Find creative ways to do this. My wife and I have some of our best prayer times on long walks, and we’ve seen some remarkable answers.
  3. Give your children you: The greatest gift you can give your child is yourself. Carve out time for them. When they’re in the mood to talk, drop everything and give them your undivided attention. Give them lots of bear hugs, kisses and pats on the back. Give them you!
  4. Eat right: Find a way to read and discuss God, Jesus and the Bible as a family. Make this a part of your everyday conversation rather than a once a week mandatory sit down. Find creative ways to spice things up like discussing a movie that touches on some area of biblical truth, throwing out questions with no easy answers or letting one of your kids lead a devotional.
  5. Set the course: Determine what your core values are as a family. What’s non-negotiable? One day one of our daughters announced she would no longer be going to church with us. Yeah, right! Lynn and I decided early on that church wasn’t a negotiable activity for our kids as long as they were under our roof. She wasn’t a happy camper but her resistance didn’t last long and today she holds that value in her own family.
  6. Romance your mate: Go on regular dates together. Study your spouse and know her well enough to know what communicates love to her. By the way, there’s a high likelihood it’s different from what communicates love to you. Don’t be afraid to show physical affection to your spouse in front of your kids. They may act grossed out, but deep down they’ll love it!
  7. Train your disciples: One of the best things our family ever did when our kids were young was take a mission trip to Mexico. Experiences like this stretch our kids’ faith and give them the thrill of seeing God use them to change lives. Each of my kids has traveled with me on ministry trips outside of the country and it’s been a great way to instill in them a vision for something bigger than themselves
  8. Fight the darkness: You need to be aware of the darkness in our culture and how it threatens your family. What kinds of movies and TV shows will you watch? Who will your kids date? By the way, I’ve found that just because other “Christian” families allow their kids to do something doesn’t mean it’s right for your family.
  9. Rest and refresh: Every family needs to make time during the week to set aside the work and the chores and just be together. God created the Sabbath not as a noose around our neck but to bless us. Try to set aside one day a week that’s different from the others in that it’s not about “doing” but rather “being.”
  10. Keep your covenant: Your marriage is the foundation for your family. It’s a covenant relationship you entered into before God who has made you one flesh. There is no room for the “D” word in your vocabulary.

 

I appreciate the Raineys’ wisdom. We have no guarantees that our kids will follow Jesus as adults, but I believe these are the kinds of things God uses to draw them to himself. My wife and I have had seasons where we’ve done many of these well, and not so well. Perhaps you to go down the list with your spouse and ask how you’re doing in each area. Decide how you’ll shore up those weak areas. Families are always a work in progress and sometimes we just need some markers along the way to help us measure how we’re doing.


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Parenting Skill #3: Discipline

The third and final skill is that of discipline. Proverbs says a lot about the discipline of our children. It clearly lays this responsibility upon the parent’s shoulders. When Proverbs talks about discipline it’s clearly talking about somehow creating consequences for our children when they willfully disobey. This includes spanking, what Proverbs refers to as “the rod of discipline.” But as a child gets older and spanking is no longer appropriate it should include other forms of punishment such as taking away a privilege or assigning an unpleasant task or even allowing a child to suffer the natural consequences of his or her actions.

I realize that what I’m saying here isn’t very popular these days. Part of the reason for that is we have a tremendous problem in our society with out-of-control parents and child abuse. The discipline I’m talking about should only be done by a loving parent who is completely in control of his faculties. When done properly, it’s painful for a child, but it doesn’t injure a child. If there are parents who can’t control their own anger and are at all prone to be abusive, then they should find some other form of discipline.

But look at Proverbs 13:24, He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently.” The motive behind all discipline is love. The one who doesn’t discipline his child hates him. Proverbs has a radically different view of discipline than we often do. Many would say that the reason they don’t discipline their children is because they love them too much to hurt them. Parents are rightly concerned about being abusive, but the parent who won’t discipline his child is the truly abusive parent. The parent who won’t discipline his child is creating a situation where the child is bound to fail in life.

Part of the reason for this is the reality of sin in every child’s heart.  Look at 22:15, Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.” Proverbs has a very realistic view of children. It recognizes the presence of foolishness, sin, and self-will in every child’s heart. We might like to think that every child is born with kind of a clean slate or even a propensity towards good, but that’s not what the Scripture teaches. Yes, every child is of infinite worth to God, but they are born with a bent towards self will. It’s a parent’s job to train a child through discipline that he cannot always have his own way.  And this will pay off later on as that child grows up and learns to submit his will to God. I’ve seen many willful adults, even believers, whose was never broken and still insist on running their own lives.

But all of this is not negative. There’s a positive purpose and result in discipline. Proverbs talks about this in 29:17, Correct your son and he will give you comfort, he will also delight your soul.” The result of discipline is that a child will bring comfort and delight to his parents. In other words, he’ll be a joy to be around! One of the saddest things is to see a family with an undisciplined child that makes everyone, parents included, miserable. God wants us to enjoy being with our children, but that rarely happens automatically; it takes discipline. I see a profound psychology in this. In order to feel secure and happy, children need parents who are firm in their discipline. A disobedient child is often a child who is trying to find out where his parents stand. If his parents don’t take a stand, he’ll continue to test them until they blow up. Deep down, the child just wants to know that someone cares enough about him to enforce limits.

How do we train our children? We start by knowing them, being students of them. Then we seek to train them by being models to them of authenticity in our own walk with God. We also intentionally impart the truth to them with confidence, with clarity, and by sharing our own story with them. And finally we discipline them in love.


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Parenting Skill #2: Teaching

The second skill which is needed in training our kids is the skill of teaching and communicating truth to our kids. As crucial as it is, it’s not enough to be a model; there needs to be an intentional transmission of truth to our kids. Look at Proverbs 4:1-9 .

Hear, O sons, the instruction of a father,
And give attention that you may gain understanding,

For I give you sound teaching;
Do not abandon my instruction.

When I was a son to my father,
Tender and the only son in the sight of my mother,

Then he taught me and said to me,
Let your heart hold fast my words;
Keep my commandments and live;

Acquire wisdom! Acquire understanding!
Do not forget nor turn away from the words of my mouth.

Do not forsake her, and she will guard you;
Love her, and she will watch over you.

The beginning of wisdom is: Acquire wisdom;
And with all your acquiring, get understanding.

Prize her, and she will exalt you;
She will honor you if you embrace her.

She will place on your head a garland of grace;
She will present you with a crown of beauty.

Here we have an inside look at a father teaching his son or daughter. He begins by urging his child to listen to his teaching. He goes on to reflect on how his own father taught him when he was just a young child. He actually recalls some of the things his father said to him. In this conversation we have a very helpful model on how to teach our kids. There are at least three things we can learn from this.

First, we need to be bold. Both of the fathers represented here are not afraid to call their children to account. I see this in the number of commands here, as well as the fact that he seems to equate his own words with that of true wisdom. If we’re going to teach our children there needs to be a kind of godly confidence that we have something to say to them. We need to step up and accept the challenge to be grown ups in our kids’ lives and transmit to them truth that’s rooted in the Scripture. We need not apologize for this. We need not hem and haw.  We have something to say and we need to say it with confidence.

Second, we need to be specific. We need to be clear about what we’re trying to communicate to our kids. As I look at this father’s teaching I’m struck by the fact that he gives the child a very specific goal to pursue. We see it in v. 5 where he says, “Acquire wisdom!” To us wisdom is a nebulous concept, but to the Jewish mind it was a very concrete thing. It had to do with the truth embodied in God’s word. To acquire wisdom meant to revere God by embracing his truth. That’s the goal we must set before our kids—a life which values God’s word.

Third, we need to be personal. As he teaches his son, this father takes time to reminisce about his own childhood. He shares something of his own experience as a child. He recalls a very tender moment when he sat at his father and mother’s knees and learned from them. This isn’t just impersonal truth he is sharing with his son; it’s part of their family heritage. It’s something his own father had given to him and now he is giving it to his child. Our kids need to hear our stories! They need to hear how truth became a reality for us. If it’s part of your family heritage, tell them about that. If it’s not, tell them about how a relationship with God became a reality for you.

So these are three things we learn from the father of Proverbs about teaching our children. The best way to do this is simply as a part of everyday life. This doesn’t all take place in one half-hour you set aside to talk to your kids about God. That’s how a religious home operates. But you don’t want to have a religious home; you want to have a Christ-centered home. In a religious home, God is compartmentalized into one time of the day or week. In a Christ-centered home, He’s allowed to permeate everything we do.

How do we train our children while they are still young?  We model a life of authenticity. And we intentionally communicate the truth of God’s word to them as a part of our everyday lives.


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Parenting Skill #1: Modeling

The question remains how to train our kids. What are the skills we can develop as parents that will help us train our children in this way? The book of Proverbs gives us three such skills. I will discuss each one on my next three blog posts

The first is modeling. In Proverbs 20:7 it says, “A righteous man who walks in his integrity, how blessed are his sons after him.” This isn’t a promise but a statement that’s true most of the time. It describes a person who is righteous, who seeks to conduct his or her life with integrity. The idea here isn’t perfection, but it speaks of the overall pattern of a person’s life. The word that comes to mind for me is authenticity. When a parent lives a spiritually authentic life the result will be that his sons and daughters will be blessed. To be blessed means to be happy; to be fulfilled; to be content. Isn’t that what we want for our kids? We want them to live lives that are meaningful and fulfilling. We want for them a certain measure of happiness, joy and contentment.

The key to that is who WE are. This isn’t really a skill as much as it is a lifestyle. As we live lives of authenticity, as we engage the Lord with all of our hearts, as we allow the Spirit of God to have his way in our lives, the net result will be that our kids will be blessed. The biggest issue in parenting isn’t what we do but who we are. Nothing can happen through us that isn’t happening to us.

If we want our children to grow up to have a vital relationship with Jesus Christ, it starts with our own relationship with Christ. If we want our kids to be kind to others, it starts with our own kindness. If we want our kids to have a pure tongue, then our tongue had better be pure. If we want our kids to be able to forgive, then we had better be forgiving people. If we don’t really believe in the values we encourage our kids to live by, if those values don’t permeate our own lives, our kids will be the first to pick up on that.

We’re not talking about perfection here, but about authenticity. One of the most powerful things we can do for our kids is share our battles and even our sin with them. It’s a powerful thing to say to our kids, I know that I have been on you about how to speak to your mother. I know that I’m the worst culprit of this very thing. I’m sorry. Can we pray for each other in this?”

This verse recognizes the fact that truth is caught rather than taught. In other words, kids learn best as they simply watch you live your life. Parenting isn’t so much a set of skills but a living relationship; it’s life on life. One of the things we want to do as parents, one of our basic priorities, will be to simply spend time with our children. No lectures, just life on life; time to allow them in the natural course of life to “catch” what’s important to us.

Years ago I had the opportunity to take my eight-year-old daughter to a ball game. I was excited about our time together, and was praying for an opportunity to teach her something by my example at the game. About the eighth inning I began to worry because nothing much had happened. Finally, the game ended and still nothing had happened. We went home and I thought, “Why didn’t the Lord allow something to happen where I could be a model?” Soon it hit me that I had missed the point. The point was to just be with her and to be myself. Nothing unusual needed to happen for me to be a model to her. Being with her was enough.

How do we train our kids? We seek to be the kind of people we want them to become. As part of that, we give them access to our lives at the deepest level, allowing them to “catch” what’s important to us in the natural course of life.