Tuesday, May 15, 2012

"You Talkin' to Me?"

One of the more overused lines amongst movie quotes is the Robert De Niro in "The Taxi Driver," "You Talkin' to Me?" But if it doesn't aptly describe what I'm talking about today, I don't know what movie quote does.

One of the most interesting aspects of ministry, probably the most fascinating to me, when I was a pastor is when I would preach a sermon and then be approached afterward by someone within the congregation asking me if I was specifically addressing him or her in the sermon. I would always tell him or her, "No, I don't do that," but he or she would never believe me. It sounded too much like him or her, in his or her mind, for me not to be addressing him or her.

I can see this of course. I knew them well. What I was saying sounded like I was talking to them. Hence, in their minds, I was specifically talking to and about them. But that's not what I do when I discuss something. I only ever think about the idea, not the person who may believe or practice the idea, unless that person is the main advocate of an idea in the popular sphere, and only then I mention them as the source of what is said.

Of course, it has its negative elements as well, since people who are offended that I would call them out in such a way ended up becoming bitter toward the preaching event--yet another work of God I believe, as those who do not humble themselves to the conviction of the Spirit have their hearts hardened against the truth. But it was sad to see nonetheless.

However, the funniest, and almost most offensive, time it happened was when I was approached by a young man who thought that someone had told me all about him and that he was coming to church that day. I had never heard of nor seen this man before, so I had no idea who he was or what he was talking about. I told him, again, "No, I wasn't speaking about you or to you," but like so many others, he didn't believe me. I finally just asked him who he was, because I honestly had no idea and knew absolutely nothing about him.

This phenomena can be explained naturally, of course, along the lines I've talked about before. People aren't freethinkers. People are pretty much cookie cutter in what they believe and do, so of course, if you address ideas and lifestyles common to many people, most people will think you're talking about them. It's like walking into a Mormon Church and speaking against Mormonism. Everyone is going to think you are specifically speaking against him or her. We, in fact, do live in a cult, and as much as everyone wants to be unique and different, everyone is pretty much the same in terms of their core ideas and practices. I would expect nothing less inside of this box that is the cult of Western Society.

However, there is also a supernatural element to it from which I don't want to detract. As an example of this, along the above lines, I would often experience the phenomenon while driving to or from church where I would turn on another preacher and hear the exact thing I was addressing that morning. It was funny when it happened once. It was a weird coincidence when it happened another few times. But then it seemed that it happened more times than not. I could chalk that up to the above, where we were all just addressing similar things within the cult, but addressing the same exact topic within the cult on the same exact Sunday?

This is where I think people underestimate what is happening from the pulpit on Sunday morning. God reveals that His presence is with His Word, from Sinai, where He speaks the Ten Commandments to the moving of those commandments into the tabernacle, then to the temple later, then to the canon, which is then preached in and by the local church. In each case, the Spirit of God moves in and from these places only because He is present with His Word.

Indeed, I saw such supernatural things happen whenever I preached, it caused me to turn down a colossal dream job teaching at a Megachurch in Florida and stay in a small corner of the world in a church hidden away from most of society. I was continually amazed at the transformational power and the reconstructed ministry of the Lord Jesus created by the preaching of the Scripture. I knew, theologically and theoretically, that God's Word was the means to this, but seeing it was another thing entirely. I was simply amazed by what was happening, and could never be convinced that what was happening at church, good or bad, was anything other than primarily a supernatural event.

And this is why church is so important. You're not going to get God's presence in nature. That's where the false religions go according to Scripture. That's where the idolaters go, because they can mold God in their own image that way. There is no correcting Word for the Holy Spirit to use in nature in order that their minds and hearts might be drawn back to Him. That's why we are missing the presence of God and His transformational work in our lives and the lives of our families when we miss church, and should weep when we can't go rather than casually dismiss it. That's why we should immediately stop what we are talking about and listen. We are entering the presence of God, and even though the preacher may not be speaking to you directly, God is. God is convicting you of your beliefs and sin, and if you will unite this conviction with humble faith, He will change you. If it is demoted to the words of a man, and discarded as yet another person's opinion or efforts to change your mind, you will lose out on the presence of God in your life via your unbelief.

The Bible makes this very clear. The Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Truth. He speaks truth through the gifts He has given, the primary gifts that direct the others being prophetic (in a time when the canon was not complete) and teaching (both in the time of canon, but especially since it has been completed). He convicts the world of sin and judgment. If we take this seriously, then we should not be surprised when a person thinks he or she is being addressed specifically. He or she is being addressed specifically. It's just not often through the human preacher. Instead, the conviction of the Holy Spirit is the means through which we bow our lives to God in worship of Him. Hence, He is always active in the pulpit, and this why the preaching event should be revered: not because of the intentions of the preacher, who likely has lesser intentions than most people think, but because the intention of the Holy Spirit is to draw you into an encounter with Him, encourage you in the truth, and deal with any wayward beliefs and practices that will lead you away from glorifying God in your life by being conformed to the image of His Son.

So, "No, I am probably not even thinking about you when I speak," but I know you won't believe me. Either way, however, the Holy Spirit is speaking to you through the truths of His Word, so I would ignore me, and with all fear and respect and love, listen to Him, because He is talkin' to you.

"But the Helper, the Holy  Spirit , whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. (John 14:26)

"It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. (John 6:63)

"And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not become anxious about how or what you should speak in your defense, or what you should say; for the Holy  Spirit  will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say. " (Luke 12:11-12)

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