Awkward Texts and Unfamiliar Books

God's "Immoral" Acts

"How am I supposed to see the love of God in the conquest of Canaan?" 
"Should I pray the imprecatory psalms?" 
"Does God approve of slavery?"
If you haven't faced questions like these, get ready, because you will. Pastors cannot avoid the challenging portions of Scripture. So how can we prepare in such a way as to faithfully respond to the difficult questions? Pastors J.D. Greear, Bryan Chapell, and Mike McKinley reflect on some of the trying questions and passages they have dealt with to offer practical tips for shepherding the body of Christ well.

J.D. Greear is the Lead Pastor of The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina. Bryan Chapell is the Senior Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois and former Chancellor of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. Mike McKinley serves as senior pastor at Sterling Park Baptist Church in Sterling, Virginia.

What have been the most challenging biblical questions asked of you? How did you deal with them? Was your response helpful in the longterm? If not, why not?
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Mike noted how sometimes the issue comes down to a lack of information, like the issue of slavery and the differences between the biblical context and the more modern form that comes to mind for us today. Are you aware of reliable resources that could help you with these kinds of misunderstandings? Do you feel confident in your ability to use them well? If not, who could you reach out to help you grow in this way?
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Bryan encouraged a response that starts with the character of God, especially as He has revealed Himself through the cross of Christ. When we view the cross, we see both God's justice over sin and His goodness towards sinners. How might this lens contribute in shaping conversations about the difficult portions of Scripture? How does assuming God's righteousness change our perspective?
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Deuteronomy 29:29 (ESV)

29“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Psalm 131:1-2 (ESV)

I Have Calmed and Quieted My Soul

A Song of Ascents. Of David.

1O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;

my eyes are not raised too high;

I do not occupy myself with things

too great and too marvelous for me.

2But I have calmed and quieted my soul,

like a weaned child with its mother;

like a weaned child is my soul within me.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

As J.D. pointed out, there are some times when Scripture simply asks us to walk in mystery by faith. God does not reveal all things to us. How might this truth unburden you from feeling as though you need an answer to everything? Does it comfort you? If not, why? What would it look like to calm and quiet your soul before the mysteries of God?
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We must always engage the difficult questions of the Bible with humility. Simplistic answers are often unhelpful. As you think back on the times you've dealt with challenging topics, how well would you say you did so with humility? Can you see potential for growth? What will you do to grow in humility in the ways you respond to difficult questions?
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Pastors cannot avoid the hard parts of the Bible. When we do, our people know it. Instead, we need to be willing to step into challenging and awkward places with humility, all the while trusting that God is big enough for our questions. Pray that God would increase your humility and strive to point those in your midst to the cross of Christ when confronted with the difficult portions of Scripture. 

Move From Information to Application

In addition to the challenging ethical questions of Scripture, many passages seem bizarre and confusing. Our congregation may end up wondering how the "weird" books apply to modern life. Take for example the instructions in Exodus for building the tabernacle, or the cleanliness codes of Leviticus, or the minor prophets of the Old Testament—how are these significant today? Pastors J.D. Greear, Bryan Chapell, and Mike McKinley continue their discussion on dealing with the seemingly alien and unfamiliar portions of the Bible.

Have you run into a text or book that you felt unprepared to preach? Or even unexcited about preaching? How did you work through it? Can you see any specific ways God used His Word in your people? If so, how?
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Bryan mentioned how sometimes we can struggle with a text because we are simply unprepared to teach. When these times come, we need the freedom to admit this and wait until we are ready. Do you feel comfortable admitting you are unprepared for preaching certain portions of the Bible? If not, why? How might waiting for God to prepare your heart better serve your congregation?
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When we are able to show people how the Bible applies to their lives, it unburdens them from some of the difficulties of facing confusing passages. When you consider your own preaching, how well would you say you are able to communicate application to your people? Do you know others who do it well? How might they be able to help you grow in this area?
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Sometimes preaching through a particular book will feel like repeating the same thing over and over, but God has different people in different places to receive His truth in ways unique to their needs. Does this truth comfort you? If so, how? In what ways do you rely upon the Holy Spirit to make your preaching effective? How have you seen Him move in the lives of your congregation?
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As J.D. shared, pastors are stewards of God's Word. We are not called simply to exchange information, but to introduce people to the nourishment of Scripture trusting that God will use it in their lives. How have you seen the Word of God nourish your congregation? In what ways do you invite God into your preparation for preaching? What changes could you make in your routine to more intentionally seek God to nourish the church with Scripture?
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We are information-based people, which is why we tend to avoid those portions of the Bible that seem foreign or impractical. But God intends all of Scripture to be profitable for His people (2 Tim. 3:16–17). Commit yourself to the faithful stewardship of God's Word. Work hard to uncover biblical application in order to teach your people what it means to love and live by Scripture.

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