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.

Simply Sit and Be Still

God’s presence is so good. We can just sit and abide in it.

Bring Him questions, ideas, thoughts, fears, wishes and dreams.

Jesus has worked this privilege for us. We can enter God’s presence and dwell there.

Try it. Make yourself physically comfortable, and sit, be still. Once you’ve finished pouring yourself, emotionally, mentally etc, to Him…let Him pour Himself out to you.

It really is incredible. We can become one with God.

On that day you will realise that I am in my Father, and you are in Me, and I am in you (John 14:20)…. may they also be in Us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. I have given them the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as We are One – I in them and You in Me…. (John 17:21-23)

We would be foolish to pass up the opportunity.

Propoganda – Cynical

I recently read a BBC news article that says they’re banning Fairytale of New York on the radio…(or at least their ‘radio 1’, and they’ll play a censored version). Because ‘young listeners were particularly sensitive to derogatory terms for gender and sexuality’.

I’m not really one to engage in the so called ‘Culture Wars’, especially on the blog. (I don’t know enough, and I’d probably knot myself in inconsistencies!) But when my brother informed me that the same radio station is happy to play WAP – I found myself feeling pretty cynical.

And I wanted to share one of my favourite songs by a rapper called Propoganda:

In the song, he aims his words at both ends of the spectrum, those on the right and the left, both those running to ‘trump rallies’ and the ‘white and woke’. I can’t articulate it near half as well, so please do listen to the music!

The song ends with this refrain:

I don’t take too kindly to being lied to
If I could look inside you
And I’ll hate you if I fear you
And we fear what we’re blind to
So if I sound cynical… It’s ’cause I’m cynical

Propoganda, is a gritty-Christian artist, who presents his faith in an honest, down to earth, deep and profound way. It’s not the poetry of a perfect man and his faith, but a man who struggles with his religion, wrestles with it’s people and remains faithful to his God. I’d also recommend songs: Crooked, Precious Puritans, Three Cord Bond.

And that’s just my opinion. 😉

Question: in a world of increased ‘fake news/media’ and yet increasing atheism, in a world where leaders are frequently found guilty of hidden crimes and betrayal…do we think the [western] world is becoming more cynical – or more gullible?’

In conclusion, it doesn’t really bother me if Radio 1 want to play the song or not. (I’m not a real radio listener anyway!) Upon reflection it’s odd that the article played on my mind so much, after all as a Christian surely I want to see less and less ‘derogatory’ language for gender and sexuality.

I just wish they could acknowledge the inconsistencies of the culture, to see how crooked we all are (left and right). It’s like how the culture wants (so-called) “sexual-liberation” and yet takes offence at an underwear billboard because it “sexualises” men/women. It’s like how the culture want us to stop judging people on their appearance, and yet would refuse a job to someone who arrived to an interview in jeans and t-shirt. I don’t get it, surely it’s one or the other. It’s like the Pharisees who taught that people should honour God, but could insult their parents in order to do so. It’s like me when I preach on patience, and then am unfairly-angry with my wife for “making me late”. Inconsistent.

Deep down I long for the world to realise it’s inconsistencies because I hope that it will lead them back to Christ.

God doesn’t use a broad brush

God sees that the human race is inclined towards sin. He searches every heart, looking for anyone who is willing to receive His mercy, to receive Him.

Then he finds Noah.

He determines to destroy the human race completely because they all have turned away from Him. But He saves Noah, because He has examined every heart and found but one man who walks with faith.

The story of Noah, isn’t the only occasion where God’s grace is demonstrated by the abandonment of the convenient broad brush of judgement. Does He not also save Lot from Sodom’s destruction? Does He not pass over the Israelite first born because of the faithful obedience of the parents? Does He not look upon Jesus crucified between two sinners?

Just as God avoids the broad brush of judgement, may we too seek to be merciful. To look for the best in each person (1 Cor 13:7 AMP). Do we assume all the people who hold different opinions to us, be they political, cultural, ethical, theological, are evil? Or do we see past the stereotype, and consider the individual heart.

It is generous of God to weigh us as individuals, may I extend that generosity to others. And not just to individuals within groups, but to the person in the individual circumstance.

Broad brushes are imprecise and harmful to fine art, and we humans are indeed fine art.