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.

Sunday Summary 24th January – It’s Snowing!

Where we live, there is not very much snow…ever! But this weekend has seen a lot of it, our neighbours have made more snowmen and we managed to get a late night walk together in the middle of the heaviest part!

Aside from the snow, this week has been pretty good. I took a day off work on Friday to make up for some Christmas overtime. Went for a walk, played a couple of games of backgammon with wife and made significant progress on my ‘latte art’ technique!

This is the closest I’ve ever got to anything resembling a flower. Still a way to go, but making progress.

This week also saw me finish book 4 of the Wheel of Time series: The Shadow Rising. It was an incredibly good read, even if very long. I’m really enjoying watching the three main characters grow. And trying to keep track of what everyone else is doing, and whether they are good or ‘dark friends’.

I must admit…I’m using the glossary a lot!

I also managed to meet with a friend after work this week, we went for a long walk in the pouring rain. It was good to get out and see someone else for a change, even if we did get pretty soaked. One of the things we talked about was my future engagement with the Navigators UK. Something that has been put on the ‘back burner’ for me over the last year – not least of all because of COVID (I don’t think I’ve written about all the reasons, on this blog before, but I did mention it in this post: Reflections: A New Bible and a New Season

But this is something I’ll be thinking about over the coming month. Especially now that I’ve re-joined the preaching rota at my Church. Probably more detail on that later!

Any other highlights? Well, my wife has prepared her Valentines day card stock!

If you want to buy one and support a small business, you can order directly from her website, or order them through thortful.com here: https://thortful.com/profile/5f9f080bcdda5e0001499146 .

Systematic Theology 7: The Four Characteristics of Scripture (3) Necessity

Fun fact an easy way to remember how to spell Necessary is: Never Eat Cheese Eat Salad Sandwiches And Remain Young. Necessity is only changing the last three letters.

In this chapter we’re continuing our study of the four characteristics of scripture. We’ve already covered Authority (& Inerancy), Clarity and now [Never eat…]cessity.

The Necessity of Scripture means that the Bible is necessary for knowing the gospel, for maintaining spiritual life and for knowing God’s will, BUT it is not necessary for knowing something about God’s character.

Notice how this definition gives us three things we need the Scripture for, and one thing we don’t.

Necessary for Knowledge of the Gospel – This is mostly justified from Romans 10:13-17. Which reasons that in order to be saved we need to call on the Lord’s name, but in order to do that we need to believe in Him. In order to believe in Him, we need to hear about Him.

In this way one must read the gospel or hear it told to them in order to be saved. I have written about this elsewhere, in: “what about Jesus-dreams”. Where I wrestled with this Doctrine, on the basis of the stories I’d heard where people have had dreams/visions about Jesus and become Christians without the Bible.

Necessary for Maintaining Spiritual Life – Again, this is mostly justified by Matthew 4:4 where Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy “Man shall not live on bread alone”. But I guess we could also use 2 Timothy 3:16, where is says that all Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.

Necessary for certain knowledge of God’s will – We may have some knowledge of God’s will without it, but certain knowledge is different. Even if we could conceive a way for God’s justice and mercy to be reconciled, we wouldn’t have enough certainty on it for it to save us.

He has not revealed everything in the scriptures, obviously there is no knowledge of nuclear physics etc, but we do have enough that we may know His will (Deuteronomy 29:29).

From a philosophical point of view, the Bible is necessary for certain knowledge about anything. Because either we know everything (which we don’t). Or we have the words of Someone who knows everything and who never lies.

HOWEVER:

The Bible is NOT necessary for knowing that God exists (or some of His attributes) – The Bible tells us that the heaven’s declare His glory (Psalm 19:1), that rain and fruitful seasons are signs of God’s blessing (Acts 14:16-17) and that God’s invisible qualities have been made known to all so that no one is without excuse (Romans 1:19-21).

Wayne Grudem makes a distinction between “general revelation” and “specific revelation”. Whereas general revelation is available to all as a result of God’s general grace to all people, specific revelation is what God has specifically made know through the Scriptures. (see notes below for more detail).

The Bible is NOT not necessary for knowing something of God’s character or moral laws – Therefore we are still guilty of sin even if we never hear the gospel (Romans 1:32, 2:14-15). The law has been written on our hearts.

This doctrine should make us inspired and challenged to proclaim the gospel as Romans 10 reminds us: How can they call on One they have not heard about, and how can they hear unless someone tells them!”

Systematic Theology 4: The Four Characteristics of Scripture (1) Authority

We’re continuing our study of the Word of God, by looking at four distinct characteristics of scripture. These are:

  • Authority
  • Clarity
  • Necessity
  • Sufficiency
  • (Inerrancy)

These four characteristics can be rearranged for the purposes of memory into the acronym SCAN(I). Please find below my notes for Wayne Grudem’s chapter on the Authority of Scripture.

“The Authority of Scripture means that all the words in Scripture are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God”

The chapter asserts that all the words in Scripture are God’s words because 1) this is what the Bible claims for itself, 2) we are convinced of this as we read the Bible, 3) other evidence (such as historical & internal consistencies, anecdotal, fulfilled prophecies etc) is useful but not finally convincing!

4) The words of Scripture are self attesting. This means they appeal to their own authority, whilst this is a circular argument, it does not disqualify the claim. Since any argument for ultimate truth but do so by appealing to itself. (E.g. I know the tower is real, because I see it, therefore my seeing it makes something real, I am appealing to my sense of sight to determine truth).

Grudem then goes on to explain that dictation from God is not the sole means of communication. He also uses prophets, writers, dreams, visions, Jesus and other mysterious and unknown methods.

As always if you want to support this blog, and you’re interested in studying Systematic Theology for yourself you can get the textbook using my affiliate link here.

*Apologies for any zooming you will have to do to see these notes properly.

This paragraph was especially meaningful to me, as it links the Doctrine of the Authority of Scripture to preaching! I loved it!
Finally Grudem lays out the truthfulness of Scripture as a source of it’s authority.

As a side note, for those readers who are invested in the schedule of Blog posts. This was intended to be published last Saturday. However due to circumstances with “two socially distanced” weddings this weekend I was unable to post. I intend to offer a fuller explanation on Sunday, with my month summary!

Reflections: A New Bible and a New Season

This week I got myself a new Bible.

Christmas 2011, my Nan gave me an NIV leatherbound Bible. It was the last Christmas gift she would ever give me, passing away the following summer. It would replace the tattered Youth Bible I’d taken to many a Christian camp.

Since then, I have read that Bible through so many times I’ve actually lost count. I’ve even had to tape back in Romans 8 from when I memorised it. Most pages contain, notes in the margins, highlights, emphatic underlines, messy circles and various squiggly shapes. On one read through I even tried to highlight with blue every time there was a lesson on integrity. Another time, I put a red dot every time ‘blood’ was mentioned in Leviticus. These pages are littered with nuggets of gold gleamed from the hundreds of sermons that I listened to. Clever cross references that I’ve come across in books and talks and in my own quiet times.

This book has a weight of history and intimacy, and not just because it contains the very words of God. I have held this book in prayer, in preaching, in worship, in study. I have held this book and prayed my heart out, this book has seen me through my whole time at university and into the first five years of marriage.

Since my “old” Bible had scribbles everywhere, it is interesting that the cover page had not been touched at all. So when I got the new Bible, I decided I wanted to fill it up

Old and New

In the top left, I’ve listed all the people who I’ve befriended and ended up studying God’s word alongside. At the bottom left I have listed the 6 significant mentors I’ve had the honour of meeting over the last 9 years. These people taught me to pray, to read, to study. They inspired me to pursue God’s heart and to encourage others.

Then below these are an extensive list of everyone (I can remember) who has taught me important truths about God. It is a combination of people who I know personally and closely, as well as far off preachers whose sermons I have listened to over and over again, or whose books I have treasured.

In the bottom right corner are all the places that I have been allowed to preach. All the Churches, groups, camps and conferences. Truly humbled to think through this list. I was actually taken a back. How many pastors, vicars, leaders, youth workers, trusted me to speak and teach. Even at the young age of 16/17…How God has grown this gift in me over the last few years. I am especially grateful to St. Christopher’s who’ve undoubtedly had to bear with the good, the bad and the ugly – when it comes to my preaching. And yet, they steadfastly sought to encourage God’s Spirit at work in me.

All these lists fill my heart with gratitude! Surely I have not walked this path alone. God has truly surrounded me with a great cloud of witnesses, of fellow travellers, teachers, guides, mentors, friends. He has given me such fantastic opportunities and experiences.

So I would lastly like to thank the Author of this fantastic book. The author and perfecter of my faith. Who has not only spoken to me, but also connected me with the right people at the right time, and spoken through them.

A New Season

So why a new Bible?

Back in December 2019, I felt God leading me into a time of Isolation, an extended period away from Church ministry. No longer preaching on a monthly basis, not helping with youth group, worship ministry, community groups, Navigators, 1-on-1 discipleship…It’s a long story, but now 8 months into this (for want of a better word): Sabbatical, I feel like I might be being nudged slowly back towards public ministry. I think there is still more hidden work to do, and I’m in no rush, but it does feel ‘just around the corner’.

Nevertheless, I wanted a new Bible to represent the new work that God has done in me and has prepared me for in this next season.

Tuesday Tools: Take the Initiative

I recently read through the Book of Jonah and one of the things that struck me was the complete lack of initiative on Jonah’s part. For those who don’t know, Jonah is the man who God told to go somewhere and preach, who then refused, got eaten by a fish and then spewed out and given another chance to obey God.

So where is Jonah’s lack of initiative? Firstly, it is God who tells him to preach. He doesn’t see the need, and if he does, he has been ignoring it til now. Secondly, in an attempt to flee God’s will he joins a ship heading in the opposite direction. A storm comes and all the sailors are trying to work out a solution. Jonah is burying his head in a pillow when they ask him to help.

Rather than immediately explain that the storms are probably here because he’s disobeying God, he lets the sailors draw lots (in the middle of a storm)…only then (when he is found out) does he explain. Even then its the minimum amount of information. At every point Jonah is hesitant and reluctant, every time he is waiting for someone or something to initiate for him. Be it God, a storm, a lot draw, a fish, a plant to be provided, an immature attitude to be corrected…

Thankfully, the Bible goes on to tell of a God who is not so reluctant, or stagnant, who does take the initiative to rescue us (- even while we were still sinners!)

I found this table produced by John Maxwell, it summarises why we fail to take initiative, perhaps you can relate (I know I can):

But initiative isn’t just a useful approach for living the Christian life. It is also a great benefit in many other areas.

1) Building Friendships – Over the last few weeks, I have taken the initiative to plan getaways with several groups of friends, and a couple of meet ups. I have been so surprised how eager people are for meeting. Likewise, another friend recently took the initiative for meeting with me. It is an amazing feeling when a friend makes the first move. It communicates value, both to me and to the friendship.

2) Exercise – One of the reasons I don’t struggle to exercise regularly is because I take the initiative. I don’t wait for motivation to strike, I just start lifting. Even when I don’t feel like it! Often, it is only when I have started that the mood actually “takes me”. This also applies to studying, reading, working, and lots of other areas. If we want something done, we need to take the initiative. We won’t be spoon fed.

3) Battling Sin – We are all tempted, each by certain things. Sin abounds in our human nature. But we don’t have to be passive about it in our life. If we struggle we lust, let’s take the initiative to put in place accountability procedures, remove trigger points as far as we can, learn to process and understand our unwanted behaviours. What battles do you face? Think of three things you can do today to take the initiative against it. For me, I recently realised how frequently I was buying things from Amazon on an impulse. So I took the initiative to uninstall the app on my phone.

What do you want to happen, what do you feel needs to happen, where would you like to be in five years time? Now take the initiative.