Preaching the Hard Stuff

I have a lot of sympathy for Pastors who are intimidated to avoid preaching the hard stuff. The Hard Stuff includes exposing errant belief, sinful attitudes and ungodly behaviour. The Hard stuff is calling people to sacrificial living, giving their whole life to God to use.

This must be difficult. As a lay preacher it can be hard enough speaking uncomfortable truths to friends. But throw into the mix the added complications of preaching to people who in effect ‘pay your wages’, or may leave your church for a more “comfortable one”…or at the very least, you will have to speak to over coffee face to face straight after.

And yet, we know that true unity, harmony and joy is not achieved by avoiding the hard stuff.

The apostle Paul, knew that challenging people was hard and so he encouraged the young leader Timothy in this area. The message of 1 Timothy 4 could be read: “convince, rebuke, exhort, correct, don’t let older people intimidate you or tick you off. Don’t be timid, guard your gospel carefully, don’t compromise and don’t let anyone whittle you down.”

But how, how can we be steadfast in our preaching:

  1. Be informed (spiritually, emotionally, intellectually and physically). Have you done your homework?
  2. With love. When we preach with love, this will produce in us a desire to be informed. When Paul wrote a challenging letter to the Corinthian Church he said: “For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears; not that ye should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you” (2 Cor 2:4). In fact, in 1 Corinthians 8, Paul emphasises the dangers of teaching with knowledge alone, and without love.
  3. Find confidence in the solid ground of scripture. I remember a time when I had been asked to preach on suffering, using Psalm 139. I remember feeling very inadequate as my life at that point, had had relatively little levels of suffering. I knew that many in the Church had faced intense trial and hardship, and here was a young 20-something, with very little life experience, teaching on suffering. I felt unqualified to say the least. What God taught me, was that my confidence in preaching, should never come from my own life experience, knowledge, education or anything else! Rather it must come in the steadfast truthfulness of Scripture. Again, Paul wrote to Timothy, that all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking and training in righteousness. When we preach the hard stuff, we must lean upon the power and authority of Scripture. It truly is a solid rock upon which to build our house.
  4. With a deep and searching prayer life. Not just for our congregation, this goes without saying. We need to be addressing issues that God places on our hearts for the Church, not just the latest trendy call to radical discipleship etc. But we must also have a deep and searching prayer life for our own hearts. Coming to God with questions like: why do I want to preach this, where am I in these lessons, where do I still fall short. Not only will these prayers promote in us a loving compassion on those we speak to, but they will also provide the crucial integrity check of our hearts. Many times we will need to preach a hard message, and confess that we are still struggling to apply the message ourselves.
  5. With vulnerability. After writing a challenging letter to one Church, Paul ended with the words: ‘not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. I do not consider myself to have already taken hold of it, but one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.” This will dismantle pride in us. This will provide hope for those who hear us. This will demonstrate that our need of God’s grace is just as great as theirs is. This will glorify God, for His power is [shown to be] perfect in our weaknesses.

A few awesome quotes on evangelism

Me and a group of guys have slowly (but surely) been working through a book on Discipleship over the last few months. Each week sharing our top three things from the particular chapter we were reading.

Coming to the end of the book, second to last chapter, we’ve hit on the great commission (Matthew 28:16-20)

For a very familiar passage, I wasn’t giving it my 100% receptive heart! But the under the sub-heading : Making Disciples by Baptizing, my highlighter got very busy.

Here are three thought provoking, challenging quotes:

1) Baptism is an act of initiation and conversion. It speaks powerfully of the time a person comes under the rule of Christ.

As someone who reads a lot I keep coming across the fashionable idea that people simply “drift” towards Christ. I can’t disagree, but we must be wary that this mentality drives us to complacency in our evangelism and discipleship. At some point people must choose to come under the lordship of Christ. This is baptism.

2) We need a surer understanding of the gospel, a deeper love for people, a strong commitment to intercession, a greater wisdom so we can share winsomely – at the right time and in the right way.. finally we need more courage.

I love a concrete list. These are definitely areas I want to pray into, and trust God to increase in me. Particularly commitment to intercession, courage and a deeper love.

3) we may need to repent of our lack of evangelistic passion, but we must not despair.

These words are much needed for the Church and for me. I tend towards despair when I consider the lack of evangelism in my own life and in the Church I see. But such despair is symptomatic of doubt in Gods power and conviction for His global mission. Great words!

To finish this post I want to leave you with a picture of some of my notes on a talk given by a friend. In it he shared 8 types of evangelism.

Faith mixed with Revelation

Genesis 6:22 says that Noah did everything just as the Lord commanded him.

It’s easy to do some of what God tells us. It’s easy to do everything God tells us, but in a slightly different way. (For example he could have made a slightly bigger boat etc). But the challenge is to do everything, just as commanded.

Noah mixes the revelation of the coming flood with the faithful obedience of a righteous man. It’s easy to keep these things separate: what God tells us and what we think is true and important.

The men and women of scripture challenge us to mix faithful obedience with the revelation of Gods will/word.

When God says go, do we go? When God says speak, do we speak? When God says turn the other cheek, love your enemies, bless those who insult you – do we?

Obedience isn’t easy, especially when we disagree. This is why faith is required into the mixture.

Today, may we be like Noah who did everything, just as the Lord commanded Him.

Peter: “But because You say so, I will” Luke 5:5

“Whatever God wants, whenever He wants it, whatever the cost”

Mary: “do whatever He tells you” John 2:5

Nuanced Initiative

Earlier this week I shared a post about the importance of taking initiative. I would recommend reading it, here. However, over the last couple of days I’ve been thinking a little more about initiative and I wanted to add this nuanced post-script.

Talking about taking the initiative is very empowering, it’s very popular and “go-getter” speech. But there are a few important caveats that we need to remember.

1) Initiative doesn’t negate listening to God

The Bible is filled with stories and characters who were so keen to “take the initiative” that they ignored the process of listening to God. We see the downfall of King Saul begin this way, so keen to take the initiative that he refused to wait for Samuel. We see the Israelites, led by Joshua making a hasty alliance with the Gibeonites without enquiring of the LORD. Even one of Jesus’ disciples took the initiative to “defend” Jesus against the Roman soldiers by slicing off an ear! Not a good idea.

Yes, let us take the initiative, especially in areas where God has led us to move. But let us be quicker to listen to God before we act.

2) Initiative doesn’t mean automatic (immediate) success

Just because we act, because we move first, or we move boldly forward, does not mean that we will be successful. (Even if we’ve enquired of God!) This isn’t talked about much, but is so important.

Remember Stephen, who preached the gospel, who did all the right things and was still stoned? Remember Joseph who took initiative to flee from Potipher’s wife – and who was still falsely accused? Remember the early Church, scattered and persecuted? Remember our Lord Jesus, who was without sin, who was crucified?

No, obedience to God, and initiative doesn’t always magically produce “success” (at least how we might define it). In our obedience and initiative, we must take the attitude of the three faithful men who said:

“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it…BUT EVEN IF HE DOES NOT, we want you to know…that we will not bow to the image of gold” [Daniel 3:17-18]

3) Initiative taking in one area, doesn’t mean you can relent in other areas

We all have strengths and weaknesses. It will be easy for us to take initiative in some areas of life, more so than in others. Just because we’ve taken the initiative in exercise, doesn’t mean we don’t have to care about our relationships etc.

Final Thought

I’ll come into land with this thought: God encourages initiative. This is why He selected 12 disciples to lead the Church movement forward. This is why repeatedly throughout scripture God is trusting men and women to co-labour with Him, to be His hands and feet, to represent Him in the world.