Mark S. Mitchell

Pastor, Writer, Follower of Jesus

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Knowing and Doing God’s Will

Yesterday I preached at New North Church on the subject of knowing God’s will. My sermon big idea was that God is more concerned with who you are than where you are. Thus, God doesn’t always tell us what his will is beforehand. Instead, he matures us in wisdom and discernment so we make decisions that reflect his character.

Last week, Lynn and I spent five days in Montana. One of the things we wanted to do was go fly-fishing. The last two times we did this we hired a guide who basically did everything for us except pull the fish in. He rigged up our fly rods, chose the correct fly, told us exactly where to cast it, and even when to set the hook. It’s wonderful to have a guide like that. He makes all the tough decisions for us.

But this time we decided we were ready to do it on our own. To prepare, I read about fly-fishing in Montana. We brought our own equipment, rigged up our fly rods, got some advice from a local fly shop, waded out into the river not knowing exactly where to go, and fished for parts of two days. As you might imagine, we didn’t catch much. But, honestly, the experience was far more rewarding than hiring a guide. Why?Because we were learning. We’re learning to think like a fly-fishing guide. We’ll do it again and we’ll get better.

Sometimes we want God to act like a fly-fishing guide, but he wants something better for us. We want him to tell us exactly what to do every time we have to make a decision. “Wear these clothes. Take this class. Date this person. Choose this major. Buy this house. Accept this job. Marry this person.” But God has a loftier goal for us. His goal has more to do with the kind of people we become. He wants us to have the mind of Christ. He wants to conform us to the image of his Son. To get there, we have to learn to think things out, exercise judgment, make difficult choices in the face of uncertainty, and learn from our mistakes. It’s harder this way, but this process is indispensable for our growth. This means that many times when you seek guidance, God’s response will be: “Learn my ways, rely on me, seek wise counsel, pray, and then just make a decision. Because you’ll never grow if you don’t do that.”

And do you know what’s great about that? You can relax. You don’t have to fret about missing God’s will. If your heart is truly surrendered to him, you cannot, you will not, miss his perfect will.

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​Standing Against Racism

A week ago Saturday, as the elders, staff, and spouses of our church gathered for our annual party, a terrible scene of racism and violence was taking place in Charlottesville, VA. One of the things I love about our leadership team and our entire church is our diversity. We are a blessed collection of humanity that reflects a variety of racial, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. We want to be a church that proclaims the radical truth the Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). This means standing against the evil of bigotry and white supremacy.

Racism in all its forms is evil because it violates God’s creation of every human being in His image and it impedes His intent for all people to know that God loved them enough to send His Son to save them.

So this should be a time for all of us to do three things:

  • First, we should examine our own hearts and repent of the sin of racism, which very well may exist in our hearts without us really aware of it.
  • Second, we should pray that our nation and our leaders would reflect the biblical value that every human being is made in the image of God and loved by Him.
  • Third, we all should consider how we might be actively involved in the ministry of reconciliation in our neighborhoods, places of work, and even in our church.

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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?