Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Turn the Cat Around

  Life of Christ 41

          The best homiletics textbook in the world is the Bible because in that Book we find the record of the best preacher, Jesus. One of the features that marked His preaching was authority (Mark 1.22, Matthew 7.29) and that authoritative preaching often rubbed people the wrong way.
          I am the first to admit that there is a line between confidence and arrogance in a preacher. I want to hear a preacher confident in the truth he is setting forth, but not arrogant in his opinion or presentation. Having said that, there are whole groups of people who view a confident preacher as an arrogant one, no matter what he says or does to the contrary.
          Part of this is a direct response to the fact our society has embraced the idea that not only does everyone have an opinion, but that those opinions are equally valid. One could argue the relative merits of such a position, but it is inarguable that such a position is disastrous when it comes to spiritual things. If I had a dime for every time someone has brushed aside a clear and plain instruction from God with, 'Well, that's just your opinion' I would be a millionaire. If the preacher is using Scripture clearly as his support then he isn't offering his own opinion, rather he is asserting God's truth. If that is the case, he ought to be assertive with that truth, even if that confidence in God's truth comes across as arrogance to an ill-informed carnal Christian.
          Part of this is also cultural. As our societal breakdown continues, whether in the home, the school, the workplace, the capitol, the military, the locker room, or the church, the concept of men being confident and assertive and strong in their leadership declines. More and more, any kind of strength in male leadership is increasingly viewed with suspicion, and consequently authoritative preaching in our day rings all sorts of alarm bells for the average person. This is becoming an instinctive reaction in an increasingly feminized society, and the authoritative preacher is automatically suspect long before the actual content of his preaching is accounted for.
          Part of the problem, as well, that our society has with authoritative preaching is the general weakening of respect for the very idea of authority. Parents are taught not to be authoritative, but rather to suggest, befriend, and coddle their children. The boss at work can no longer tell the employee what to do. Instead, he must seek to motivate him or manipulate him into doing things the way he wants them done. The drill sergeant in basic training is no longer allowed to forcefully confront the soldier. The policeman (or, more commonly woman) has to draw upon all the arts learned in sensitivity training in order to negotiate with those being disobedient to the law. You may think I'm going far afield, but these are just illustrations of the wide ranging breakdown in respect for authority present in our day. Thus, when a preacher attempts to exercise his God given authority, even in a carefully prescribed biblical manner, shouts of 'dictator' and 'sheep abuser' are hurled at his head.
          But perhaps the largest part of the problem that people have with authoritative preaching is simply the presence of sin in their life. 'Don't tell me I'm wrong. Give me, perhaps, your opinion that I'm in some small error, but don't stridently assert that I am flat wrong. A mild opinion in the form of a talk from my life coach doesn't bother me near as much, and lets me continue on in my sin with an unhindered conscience.'
          If you look at Jesus' preaching you will find repeated illustrations of how it rubbed people the wrong way. But whether the response to His sermon was an attempt on the part of the Nazareth synagogue to kill Him, or whether it was received gladly (Mark 12.37) He boldly and authoritatively continued to preach the truth.
          Not only did He preach this way, regardless of who it rubbed the wrong way, but He handed the same approach to preaching to His Apostles. You can see this, for instance, in the response of the crowd to Stephen's sermon in Acts 7 or the response to Paul's sermon in Acts 14. They both authoritatively presented truth to a crowd of people that didn't want to hear it, and they paid for it with their lives.
          Billy Sunday was once confronted by an angry woman who wagged her finger in his face and said, 'Billy, you're rubbing the fur the wrong way.' The average person today would expect the preacher to immediately apologize, and see that it never happened again. Billy just looked at her and eloquently remarked, 'Well, then turn the cat around.'
          I know hundreds of preachers, and every single one of us wants to be liked. But that desire to be liked, while not inappropriate, cannot rise above the desire to please the Lord whose herald we are. We are commissioned with His message. We are sent with His instructions. Let us give it authoritatively, even if it rubs people the wrong way.

          After all, that is exactly what Jesus did.   

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