Mark S. Mitchell

Pastor, Writer, Follower of Jesus

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A Saint Goes Home

Yesterday the Lord brought home a saint named Howard Hendricks at the age of 88. Howard was a longtime professor at Dallas Theological Seminary and a popular speaker at events like Promise Keepers. He was considered a mentor and friend to many of today’s prominent Christian leaders. Despite authoring 18 books and preaching around the world in more than 80 countries, Hendricks was perhaps best known for his influence on other Christian leaders such as Charles Swindoll, Tony Evans, Joseph Stowell and David Jeremiah.

My own connection with Howard came as result of the biography I wrote on Ray Stedman, A Portrait of Integrity. As I was doing research for the book, my wife and I were able to spend a weekend with Howard and his wife Jeanne on the Oregon coast. I found him to be humble, gracious and very witty. I learned that Ray and Howard were the best of friends. They used to sit under a grove of pecan trees at Dallas Seminary and talk about what they called “Nutty Theology.” They lived on campus in an area Howard called “Trailerville.” Howard was quick to name Ray the Mayor of Trailerville after Ray failed to show up at a board meeting. From that time on, Howard could call Ray whenever anything went wrong! Not only did Howard have a great sense of humor, but he was an incredibly loyal friend. He showed up unexpectedly at Ray’s 25-year anniversary at Peninsula Bible Church, interrupting Ray after he had just begun preaching, and announced, “Sit down, Stedman. It’s my turn.” He was also there at Ray’s side when Ray was in his final days. Ray’s last words to Howard were, “Carry on, Howie.”

And he did! Howard carried on for two more decades, faithfully serving the Lord he loved so dearly. We will miss Howard Hendricks. He is another member of the greatest generation that we have lost. I leave you with one great quote from Howard that sums up the kind of man he was: “I’m not what everybody in the world says is great. I’m just a servant of Christ, that’s all.”

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How to Preach on Marriage, Divorce and Singleness

Marriage, divorce and singleness can be some of the most difficult but rewarding subjects we cover in our preaching and teaching. I generally preach through books of the Bible, and these subjects come up quite often as I do so. At other times, I have chosen to specifically address these subjects as part of a topical series. Either way, these messages always seem to draw more attention and scrutiny than others. The following are ten things I have learned about preaching on these subjects.

  1. Don’t avoid the subject. Preaching on marriage, divorce and singleness can feel like entering a minefield. Besides creating controversy, few of us really enjoy offending people. But these are issues that are immensely significant in people’s lives and the Word of God has lots to say about them. We are called to preach the whole counsel of God. If we avoid the subject we fail to fulfill our calling.
  2. Don’t compromise or apologize. God’s Word has some very clear—cut things to say about marriage, divorce and singleness. We dare not compromise his Word and we need not apologize for it. For example, when it comes to marriage, it is good to remind people that God invented it. It was his idea! Therefore, it stands to reason that we should listen to what he has to say in this area.
  3. Understand the culture. As preachers, we should not have our heads in the sand. We should study our culture and communicate to our people as one who knows how people think in this area and why it makes sense to them. For example, many single adults live together before marriage because of the financial pressures of maintaining two homes. We may not agree with that decision, but at least we can acknowledge the reality of their dilemma.
  4. Show compassion and empathy. There is a great deal of pain, hurt and brokenness in this area, either in people’s family of origin or their current family. Some of that pain has resulted from their own sin and some from the sin of others. If you want people to listen to some of the more challenging things God has to say in this area, it is crucial that you come across as a person who identifies with their brokenness and cares.
  5. Be real. One of the ways you can show that you understand their pain and brokenness is by sharing your own personal struggles and failures in this area. Obviously, you need to exercise discernment as you do that. The pulpit is not your own confessional, but there is a place for appropriate transparency and vulnerability.
  6. Don’t betray confidences. If you are going to share anything about your own family, be sure that they know what you plan to say and give you their permission to share it. Whether it is family or friends, never betray a person’s confidence when using examples or illustrations.
  7. Acknowledge unique scenarios. One of the biggest challenges of preaching on these subjects is there are so many unique scenarios that don’t have easy answers. For example, the Bible seems clear that the only two legitimate reasons for divorce are infidelity or abandonment. But what about physical abuse? Does this constitute a form of abandonment? While you cannot possibly address all of the issues, you should at least acknowledge that they exist and try to give people a wise framework for making hard decisions.
  8. Point them to additional resources. Since you cannot address every situation, you should point people to other resources that can help them, such as counselors, mentors, books and conferences.
  9. Don’t glorify being married or being single. Some believers want to glorify marriage while others want to glorify being single. The fact is, both are legitimate callings and both have their own challenges. While marriage does seem to be the norm for people, we should never forget that both Jesus and Paul were single adults!
  10. Preach that no one is beyond God’s grace. You will preach to people who have experienced failed marriages. You will preach to single adults who are involved in inappropriate relationships. But they are listening to you because in some way God is at work in their life. You must proclaim God’s grace to them through the work of Jesus on the cross. You must give them hope for both forgiveness and change. Think of what Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 NIV).

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The Way of a Man with a Young Woman

“I’m in love!”

She didn’t have to tell me. It was clear from the look on her face—excitement, wonder, joy, and just a tinge of anxiety. All the signs were there.

As followers of Christ, we are sometimes a bit skeptical about this business of falling in love. We say that true love is not something we can “fall” into. We talk about how Hollywood has distorted our view of love to make it more about romantic feelings than true commitment. There are some good reasons to be skeptical.

But, if we are not careful, we who follow Christ will miss out on something the Bible embraces as wonderful and mysterious:

There are three things which are too amazing for me,
four which I don’t understand:
The way of an eagle in the sky,
The way of a snake on a rock,
The way of a ship on the high seas,
and the way of a man with a young woman.
—Proverbs 30:18-19

In this ancient proverb, the climax is found in the final line: the venturesome and mysterious ways of the soaring eagle, the slithering snake (not poisonous in Palestine), the sailing ship (a source of wonder to the Israelites who, unlike the Phoenicians, were not at home on the sea and on ships)—these build to a climax in the mystery and adventure and attraction between a young man and an eligible young woman.

I don’t understand it! 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 one tries to explain it, words cannot be found. 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.

It’s too wonderful for me! How does an eagle handle invisible air? How does a snake handle unforgiving rock? How does a ship handle unpredictable seas? It is not easy to negotiate air, rock and sea, much less a young woman! How does it happen? How does he capture her invisible, unforgiving, unpredictable heart? I don’t know, but I’m glad it does happen. I’m glad God created a world where there is something as unpredictable and surprising as this. Aren’t you?

There is one more thing that is even more wonderful than the way of a man with a virgin. It is the way of a man with his wife of 10, 20, or 30-plus years. It is the way of love which grows deeper and stronger and even more wild as the years go by. How come we don’t get tired of each other? How come we still get anxious to meet after a week’s separation? How come our love is kindled again and again through long talks and walks?

It is too wonderful for me. I don’t understand it.

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The Greatest Story Never Read

It was the perfect comedy routine. Jay Leno roved through the audience of his late night talk show and asked people how much they knew about the Bible. “Name one of the Ten Commandments,” he asked. A hand went up: “God helps those who help themselves?” Leno went on: “Name one of the apostles.” No answer. But when he asked his audience to name the four Beatles, the names “George, John, Paul, and Ringo” sprang from the crowd.

Obviously, we live in a post-biblical age where a general knowledge of the Bible cannot be assumed. As a book, the Bible has been removed from most reading lists of secular schools long ago. We lament that fact. But what about the church? Is biblical illiteracy as commonplace in the evangelical churches as it is in secular schools? There is evidence that it is.

For several years, the Bible and theology department at a leading evangelical liberal arts college, Wheaton College in Illinois, studied the biblical literacy of incoming freshmen. Wheaton’s students represent the “best and the brightest” of Bible-believing churches around the country. What they discovered was disturbing. Only one-third of the students could put the following in order: Abraham, the Old Testament prophets, the death of Christ, and Pentecost. One-third could not identify Matthew  as an apostle from a list of New Testament names. Half did not know the Christmas story was in Matthew or the Passover story was in Exodus. A similar survey of high school seniors in youth groups of strong evangelical churches showed similar results. On a simple 25-question test, these students averaged 50-55 percent. Fully 80 percent could not place Moses, Adam, David, Solomon, Abraham in chronological order. Only 20 percent knew to look in Acts to read about Paul’s travels. Only 33 percent could find the Sermon on the Mount in the New Testament, and 80 percent did not know how to find the Lord’s Prayer.

Of course Bible knowledge does not guarantee a life of Christlikeness and obedience to his commands. But, is it possible to grow in Christlikeness and obedience without an understanding of his Word? Gary Burge puts it well, “To disregard the source— to neglect the Bible—is to remove the chief authority on which our faith is built. We are left vulnerable, unable to check the teachings of those who invite us to follow, incapable of charting a true course past siren voices calling from treacherous islands such as TV programs, popular books, and enchanting prophecies displayed on colorful Web sites.”

A problem such as this requires that the entire church family take a hard look at itself. The problem is not just with the secular culture in which we live; it’s within the church. Elders, pastors, youth leaders, Sunday School teachers, parents and children all need to find ways to simply read the Bible. This is why it is so crucial that the Scriptures are taught at weekend services instead of just offering timeless principles from random tidbits of God’s word. This is why Sunday Schools should use curriculums focused on systematically teaching kids the Scripture from the time they enter Kindergarten to the time they leave fifth grade. But listening to Sunday morning teaching is not enough. Every believer should make an effort to engage in a systematic Bible reading program. If you have never read through the Bible from cover to cover, start now. “Like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the Word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Peter 2:1).