For my post on preaching today, my topic will be the question of whether a message should be convicting or encouraging, or if it can be both. A sermon that I heard a while back comes to my mind.
heard this sermon over a decade ago, when I was visiting a Christian
college. The college was holding a conference whose theme was Romans
1:16, in which Paul emphatically declares that he is not ashamed of the
Gospel of Jesus Christ. As I looked at the brochure, the conference
appealed to me (for whatever reason), and so I took a couple of college
days from high school so I could attend it, while also learning about
the college, of course (and I did, since I got to talk with some of the
students there, plus I took a tour).
At the conference, I
was on a spiritual and a religious high, as I heard inspiring messages,
saw a drama about the life of Jesus, attended interesting seminars, and
(most importantly) sang beautiful, sentimental praise songs. But there
was one message that sort of ruined my spiritual high.
Actually, I think it was the main message of the event, since the
brochure advertised the guy who gave it as the speaker. This speaker
was essentially telling us that the true test of whether we are ashamed
of the Gospel or not will come after we have left the conference. At
the conference, he said, of course we're not ashamed of the Gospel, for
everyone around us is unashamed! But will we stand for Jesus Christ
when we go back to our regular lives, when there are pressures not to
stand for Jesus Christ?
I didn't care for the message, to tell you
the truth. One reason was probably that I didn't like my religious
high being questioned----as if I felt the way I did simply because
people around me felt as I did. I mean, shouldn't I be commended for
being in an attitude of worship, rather than being asked if that
attitude was sincere and would last after I've left the conference?
Second, after a period of sentimentality and "God loves you"
messages, the speaker's no-nonsense, confrontational (albeit not
pounding-the-pulpit) style somewhat took me aback. I didn't find this
speaker's message particularly inspiring!
my surprise, when I was eating breakfast at the cafeteria the next
morning, what I was hearing was that other young people at the
conference actually liked the speaker's message. A lady was
coming around to each table, asking us what we liked about the
conference. Someone replied that she liked the message from that one
speaker, and the lady responded that she heard others say that they
liked that speaker's message. The speaker must have left an impression,
for he spoke at the conference the following year, and (if I'm not
mistaken) the speaker became a part of the campus' faculty.
did people like about this speaker's message? I didn't hear specific
reasons that they liked it, but I'll hazard some guesses. I think one
reason was that he spoke with authority, and I've discussed the issue of
speaking with authority over the last few days. But another reason was
probably that he was challenging people to live out their faith. There
are many people who want a faith that is real, and they like being
challenged to go out there and to show their devotion to Jesus Christ.
It's like being in the marines----there are people who want to commit to
something (or someone) greater than themselves.
tend to be turned off by those sorts of messages, however. One problem
is that, when I'm told to do something for God, I fear that I'll do it
wrong. Another problem is that I can be rather timid, and so the
prospect of going out into the real world and being unashamed of Jesus
Christ frightened me, a bit. I much preferred messages that soothed my
soul----messages about Christ's love for me. In my opinion, the
way for me to become unashamed of Jesus Christ is for me to be reminded
why I love Jesus Christ----because he is good and loves me. Having a
no-nonsense, confrontational message thrown in my face doesn't really do
the job. I wished that I saw more tenderness in the speaker's message.
There was one thing that I really liked about the message, though.
I remembered this last night while I was doing my daily quiet time in
Leviticus. I was reading Leviticus 19, and v 19 says that you shall not
put a stumbling-block in front of the blind. The speaker was telling
us a story about students at a high school who were putting a
stumbling-block (desks and chairs, I think) in the path of a blind
person, and he was stumbling around. The speaker was asking us what we
would do in that situation: Would we speak out or try to do something to
stop it, or would we be silent? I appreciated his point
because, in this case, one did not have to proclaim a bunch of dogmas to
be unashamed of Jesus Christ; rather, one could show one's commitment
to Jesus by standing up for what is right----and by empathizing with
someone in a position of vulnerability. I'm not into telling people
that they'll go to hell unless they sign onto a creed. But I do hope
that I will stand up for the right way to treat people.
my sermon this coming Sunday, will I be confrontational and convicting,
or will I be encouraging and inspiring? God's love will be a
significant aspect of my sermon, and so there will be a sense in which
it will be encouraging (or at least that is my hope). But I will also
share some insights and thoughts that are hopefully
practical---spiritual challenges, if you will. But I won't be in-your-face, for behind even the challenges should be the conviction that God is love.