Who Are You Talking To?

We like learning in school because what we learn there tends to be abstracted from our actual life situations. Math is clearly objective – not need for emotion or conflict there. History – we might argue over interpretation of various events, but whatever it was was way back when.

Some models of Christian education take this same tack and major on learning facts – what we might call head knowledge. We can learn tons about theology and the bible and still hold it at a distance, away form our lives. Unfortunately – so we think – that wasn’t Jesus’ style and isn’t what we followers of Jesus most need. Jesus spoke to people in the moment of their need. He provoked them and challenged them on what they were in the process of doing. No dry theory for him.

Jesus’ method provoked pain in his hearers – enough pain in some that they had him nailed to a cross and killed. His objective was not merely to fill their heads with knowledge but to change their lives. Since my calling to preach and teach came from Jesus, that ought to be my goal also.

But some times people don’t like it. “Have you been spying on me?” “Did so and so tell you what I said?” “How did you know that?” “I felt like you were preaching right at me this morning.” I’ve heard all these before. When I hear those kind of comments I know I’m doing something right. After all, isn’t it people I’m supposed to be talking to? Surely it’s a waste of time to address myself to pews & walls? What’s the point in saying things people don’t need to hear?

So how do I know what people need to hear? Three things:

  1. I pay attention to what’s going on around me. Some things aren’t that hard to figure out. Consider the loss of the feed store. Is any one shocked that I talk about comfort in times of loss – about our mission being larger than buildings? When the decisions about renovating the sanctuary were made a few years ago there was some conflict in the church. I wasn’t here during that time, but I’ve had wide enough experience in church to not be shocked. So if I talk about conflict now with the loss of the feed store am I exhibiting extraordinary knowledge? I think not.
  2. I creatively move from that I see out there to what I know of myself. Being a sinner, I know a bit about how sinners think – and act. I know what temptations I face. Sometimes you may here a sermon or teaching, or read something I write (this piece?) and think I’m talking to you. If so, give thanks someone loves you enough to talk to you. But many times from my own perspective, I’m addressing my own temptations, fears, and problems. I just happen to be enough of an ordinary human being that other people share some of my problems and insecurities. Surely you wouldn’t want any other kind of preacher.
  3. I pray a lot. Many times what I preach, teach or write on has no inspiration whatever in what I see. This is a good thing, since though I work at paying attention to what’s happening around me, I’m still oblivious to too much of it. God seems to figure that I don’t have any need to know who needs to hear a particular message – only that some do. I not only listen to God, I also ask God to let what I say and write speak to the needs of the people. Most of us don’t have needs for abstract knowledge and theories. We need a word spoken into our lives where we are right now.

So – if in my speaking and writing it seems that I’m speaking directly to you – give thanks for it. But chances are I don’t have a clue what’s happening unless you tell me.

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