The Imperfect Church

March 22, 2012

“The unchurched are hostile to the church, friendly to Jesus Christ” (John Stott).

The church is such an easy target for cheap shots and criticisms. Human weakness is so apparent, hypocrisy so obvious. It is for this reason that so many have said, “I don’t like organized religion” (perhaps they like their religion disorganized?). Or “Jesus I like, but not the church.”

Let’s admit it from the start; the church is not always lovable. But let’s be candid; do you suppose Jesus finds it any easier to love the church than we do? Do you suppose it is any easier for him to love us individually?

The imperfect church is thus because it is made up of imperfect people. Is there another kind of person with which to populate a church? As someone has said, if you are searching for the perfect church, and find it, it has just become an imperfect church.

Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God, died for the church. Yes, the fussing, feuding, hypocrite-filled, mistake prone church. Please pause and be stunned all over again by that truth!

“Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).

While we carp and complain, disassociate ourselves from and criticize the church, the Lord of Heaven and earth placed the ultimate value on the church. He loves the church because he loves the human beings that comprise the church.

Young people, when will you become an integral part of the church? Four years of inactivity in college does not bode well for subsequent dedicated service to God’s people. I hear people endlessly blame the church for the loss of its young people. Yet there is another side to this. When will young people take responsibility for the church? The church needs your talents and energy.

Senior saints, when you retire from your secular job, don’t retire from the church. Your accumulated wisdom and the extra time on your hands are needed by the church.

Parents with children, don’t make school and little league and other activities your priority over the church. Demonstrate to your children that God’s kingdom and his righteousness are paramount (Matthew 6:33).

Single saints, take advantage of the fact that you can concentrate your energies for the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:32-34).

The Lord loved the church; do we?

“I love thy kingdom Lord, the house of thine abode, the church our blessed redeemer saved with his own precious blood” (Timothy Dwight).

-Stan Mitchell

Hello, I Am A Visitor to Your Congregation

March 18, 2012

Do you remember that awkward moment when the school principle interrupted class to introduce a new kid? “Good morning, everybody. I want you to meet a new student in your class. She’s from Cleveland. Everyone say hello to Candace…” Candace’s new classmates look – and act like – the Crips and Bloods of Los Angeles gang fame.

You can be sure that Candace is eating by herself at lunch today. Candace will sit by herself in the library, walk by herself down the corridor, enter the wrong room because no one cared enough to tell her where Mrs. Wormwood’s class actually met. It will take a youngster of great courage to break the tenth-grade protocol and actually befriend poor little Candace.

Please tell me the plight of the visitor to church will go better than a junior high school, only degrees less hostile than a Middle eastern war zone!

* A visitor to church should be greeted by several members, but not made to stand before the whole congregation and be humiliated.

* A visitor should have someone direct his/her children to Bible class, not wander the halls without so much as a GPS device.

* A visitor should be allowed to sit anywhere in the auditorium he wishes, even if it’s my pew he has unintentionally chosen.

* A visitor should be welcomed generically from the pulpit (“Visitors, you are our honored guests”), and personally by more than just the preacher.

* A visitor should be invited back; he should never have to stand near his pew in isolation while we eagerly converse with our special friends (you know, the ones we eagerly converse with every week).

* A visitor might even be invited to a special event held by the church in the near future, or be invited to join a family or families to eat lunch.

A visitor to church might appreciate a warm friendly visit to his home in the next week or two, or at least a card saying how delighted we were to have them come our way.

Remember, you are the insider. You are the one who already has friends in church. So draw him in.

“And when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me …” (Galatians 2:9).

-Stan Mitchell

Hypocritical?

February 28, 2012

A young man speaks to his wife of ten years: “I don’t love you any more and it would be hypocritical of me to continue acting as if I love you when I don’t. I’m leaving you for (whoever it is he mentions). What we have is real love.”

What’s fascinating about this scenario is that the one speaking has made a virtue out of an act that would normally be considered spectacularly immoral. Our man might be selfish, feckless and cruel, but please note he’s no hypocrite!

* Where did we get the idea that if we felt anger or resentment toward someone we should give our wrath full vent rather than controlling our words?

* Where did we get the idea that if someone did not merit our love we could simply dismiss them from our minds?

* Where did we get the idea that biblical love, godly love, was something we could fall in to, or out of?

* Where did we learn that we could simply walk away from God and his people and make a virtue of that action because to do otherwise would be “hypocritical”?

The lesson from hypocrisy is not to become a foul pagan, but to do the right things with sincerity!

The book of Proverbs frequently counsels us to control our words, not just blurt them out: “Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin,” (Proverbs 13:3).

One of the fruits of the Spirit is “self-control” (Galatians 5:23).

The problem, of course, is that we have confused the nature of biblical love with hormones overflow. If all it took to be in a loving marriage was hormones, then thirteen-year-olds would be the prime candidates for marriage. Their raging hormones seem to occur at an optimum level! Hollywood (and our selfish hearts) has told us that love equals romance, the heart, something we fall in to, or logically fall out of. Biblical love insists that we be loving to those who do not deserve it, when we no longer feel like it, when it is not convenient. Biblical love is a behavior, not a warm, fuzzy feeling. Love is tough. It overcomes obstacles. It does not walk out on its commitments. It is selfless. In a word, it is what Christ did for us.

Can you imagine Jesus declaring, “I don’t feel like dying for those people (he didn’t); they’re not worthy of my love (we weren’t); and it would be hypocritical of me to act as if I do feel like it.”

People walk away from church because they do not understand that true love is a commitment to others; people leave the Lord because they do not understand that commitment is an integral part of love; people turn their backs on marriage because they see it only as in terms of how it makes them happy.

True love does not desert when something better comes along; it exhibits determination when the times get tough.

-Stan Mitchell

Sweating the Small Things

February 17, 2012

You have probably heard the saying that we shouldn’t sweat the small stuff. This seems to suggest that there are matters of little consequence over which we should not worry. There are big things over which we should exert a little sweat. Drop the matters of little consequence.

Decades of ministry have enabled me to witness some extraordinary things:

* Supposedly Christ-like brethren berating a church secretary in the church foyer for forgetting someone’s birthday in the bulletin.

* An older man who berated an elder for mispronouncing his wife’s name in a prayer. For years he would insist the elder had “done it on purpose.”

* A Christian who claimed he had greeted the preacher’s wife in town and she had not responded.

* A man who stormed out of assembly because someone had read his prayer rather than recited it “from the heart” (how he knew the man had read the prayer, or how he knew the man had not read it from his heart is as mysterious to me as the Bermuda Triangle).

I could go on. And on and on. Which raises the question:

Are we in kindergarten?

There are things over which we should have broken hearts. Lost souls all over the world should break our hearts. Brethren who have left the faith should break our hearts. The plight of widows and orphans should break our hearts. Teachers who have ceased to teach the truth should break our hearts.

Can I be kind and clear? Please grow up!

One writer put it this way: “Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the basic principles of God. You need milk not solid food” (Hebrews 5:12).

Another put it this way: “Brothers I could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:1).

A friend of mine used to say you can know a great deal about a person by the things that bother him. It bothers me when good people are berated over things that could not possibly affect eternity. It bothers me that brethren of considerable years of church going have apparently soaked up little of the love and compassion of Christ. It bothers me that God’s servants (church secretaries, preachers, leaders in worship, preacher’s wives) quit serving God because their brethren have lost perspective.

There are times it is true when we need to thoughtfully, prayerfully, lovingly speak to an erring brother about his sin. Ensure, however, that we are seeking to save his eternal soul, and not just to express our petty and childish impudence. It’s time that someone stood up and declared that the Lord’s cause is too great for it to be stymied by petulance and childishness.

-Stan Mitchell