Preaching What People Need, Instead of Preaching What They Want

When John the Baptist heralded the coming Messiah, he was preaching a pretty simple sermon. Apparently it was pretty hard to follow.

“In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ ” (Matthew 3:1-3 NIV) John the Baptist was a fascinating character. He didn’t approach religion the same way the established teachers did.

preaching

His sermons were direct, convicting, and powerful, full of exhortations and pointed advice about reform. In his preaching he called the religious Pharisees a “brood of vipers” and he challenged his listeners to humble themselves before God, confess their sin, and turn away from it. He didn’t teach in the Temple in Jerusalem, as did the outstanding Rabbis of the day, but he lived out in the wilderness, preaching far away from the centers of commerce and power. He dressed in rustic simplicity and ate locusts and wild honey.

John the Baptist didn’t unpack Scripture, he exhorted people with it. He prophesied. In spite of his apparent eccentricity, large crowds came to hear him preach and many stepped forward to take the radical step of baptism, signifying that they hungered to commit to the Lord in a new way. When asked who he was, he quoted Isaiah 40:3: “He said: “I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Make straight the way of the Lord.”

Although he was sent to prepare the way of the Lord, his message was simple: “REPENT, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!” John didn’t call for the overthrow of government, no matter how much they hated Roman occupation. He didn’t call for a new building. And he didn’t advocate revolution or reformation to prepare for the Kingdom. He called for personal repentance.

He knew that for the kingdom of heaven to be present anywhere, it first had to be present in the hearts of those who hungered to see it. Is it present in yours? I think we all avoid repentance a little bit, and associate it with wild-eyed Mystics holding signs by the road. But probably, if you’re honest, you are doing something in your life that is taking you down the wrong path–something motivated by pride, or selfishness, or greed…

If John the Baptist showed up in your neighborhood, would you go listen? Would you like his preaching? Would you repent? The very Kingdom of Heaven is waiting! Confess. Turn away from your sin. Make straight the path of the Lord.

Of all the sermons ever preached,
From all the sinners ever reached,
There’s just one message you should hear,
So let me make this crystal clear:
(Jesus preached this, so did Paul;
Stephen, Peter, really all
Great preachers throughout history
Have emphasized this mystery.)
Every preacher God has sent
Said this: Repent. Repent. REPENT!
I’m pretty sure that’s what they meant.

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For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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Repent. Refresh. Renew: Three Words That Will Keep You From Getting Spiritually Stale

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.“ (Psalm 51:10-12, NIV) David was not a man of half measures. When he fell into gross sin, he did so dramatically and completely by committing first adultery and then murder.

Does it surprise you that David could fall so far ever when he knew God’s law so well and loved God so much? How did that happen? Christian take note: we are never immune to sin. Bible knowledge and perfect church attendance do not create a guarantee that you won’t ever follow your heart into stupid choices: every Christian I know is a dirty rotten sinner, including me.

The Apostle Paul, who was certainly one of the most spiritual men who ever lived, said that he struggled mightily with sin, and followed his fleshly desires against his own better judgment: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do… For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” (Romans 7:15; 19-20)

Paul describes an internal spiritual battle that all believers experience when the indwelling presence of God’s Spirit does battle with our selfish, carnal nature. The flesh wants to slide into sin, and the Spirit wants to renew. David gave in to his fleshly desire and fell deeply into sin. When he came to his senses and repented, he did that deeply too. He not only acknowledged his sin and felt remorse, he begged God to restore their fellowship.

In David’s great prayer of confession in Psalm 51, he asks the Lord for several things. I’m thinking that this passage would be a pretty good one to pray through every day, and not just when you are battling sin. Here are David’s requests: 1) “Create in me a pure heart”. David understood that God was the only source of purity, and he asked God to sanctify him.

2) “Renew a steadfast spirit within me”. David didn’t want to return to the Lord for a moment or a day, but for a lifetime. He had already proven that he could follow his own evil desires, so he asked the Lord to make him steadfast, consistent, and persistent. Having tasted once the Spirit of the Lord, he understood that only God’s Spirit could renew his heart and restore his fellowship.

3) He wanted to hang out with God all the time. He had traded God’s eternal presence for temporary delight, and found only disappointment and heartache. He now understood that only God’s presence offers true delight, and only God’s Spirit sustains. David wanted to exchange the regret and remorse of sin for the renewal and refreshment of forgiveness.

4) “Restore to me the joy of your salvation”. Do you remember being relieved, glad, secure, content, and joyful in your first knowledge of salvation? Return to that moment. The honeymoon is never over, and the great romance continues! Rejoice anew in your salvation. As John says in 1 John 1:4, “These things we write to you so that your joy may be FULL.”

5) “Grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” David did not beg for wisdom, discipline, or for the ability to control—he begged God for sustenance. What sustains you? How willing is your spirit? If you ask God to purify and dwell in your heart, to grant you the JOY of your salvation, and to sustain you, and MEAN IT, I think that you will find that your heart is willing indeed. Repent. Renew. Be restored. Be sustained.

I don't know why I ever thought myself above reproof,
When I saw Bathsheba bathing as I walked upon the roof;
She brazenly displayed herself and all her worldly charms,
And I knew that as I watched her, she would soon be in my arms.
I didn't see where it would lead, or all the consequences,
And every day I wish I would have come back to my senses.
I might have kept from taking steps and breaking Yahweh's trust,
Instead of giving in to sin and falling into lust.
I'm sorry, Lord. Forgive me for my wicked, selfish sin,
Create in me a brand new heart. Renew me from within.
Be present with me, Lord, and make my heart a new creation,
And please restore within me all the joy of my salvation!
Grant me a willing spirit, let me walk in all your ways;
Sustain my soul, and let me humbly love you all of my days...

To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
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Here’s a Refreshing Thought: The Righteous Judge May See You Differently Than You Think

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:19 NIV)
Peter’s exhortation to onlookers in Acts 3 echoes his sermon in Acts 2, and it contains a simple message that resonated through the prophets, the Gospels, and the book of Acts: Repent! It’s the kind of dramatic message that calls us to make drastic changes and live differently. But do we really like listening to this kind of sermon? I know he preached repentance, and I know we are supposed to turn away from our sin. It’s what Peter preached, it’s what John the Baptist preached, and it’s even what Jesus preached as he initiated his public ministry. Maybe like most people, I don’t always embrace repentance the way I could or should. If somebody tells me I need to repent then it means I am doing something wrong, and if I accept the admonition to repent it implies that I need correction, and am failing somehow. It seems like a drastic admission and a drastic move, especially in a public setting where I have to broadcast my failure to everyone. These sermons weren’t feel-good platitudes, they were personal challenges that shook people up and called for immediate response, right there in front of God and everybody. Peter meant business. The image of the crazy guy with a beard holding a sign on the street corner comes to mind: REPENT!

I’ve always been focused on the negative side of that equation: I’m doing wrong, so I have to change. I need to do business with God. God is mad at me and I better give up my evil ways or I will pay the price. But I hadn’t really noticed part “B”—the result of repentance, “so that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” Our motivation to repent doesn’t have to focus exclusively on the negative. Yes we need to humble ourselves, to keep it real, and to be honest before the Lord. But instead of thinking about repentance as what we need to turn FROM, maybe we should remember who we are turning TO. Peter says that we should repent to clear the decks, to have our sins wiped out, to BE REFRESHED. What, exactly, does that mean? “Times of refreshing from the Lord”? Imagine a delicious breeze on a muggy day, a freshening wind that invigorates and cools, blowing away the humidity and the stale, stagnant air of inactivity… Imagine newborn joy, fresh delight, first love… those are the fruits of repentance. Maybe the crazy guy on the street corner needs to be holding a sign that says, REFRESH! That’s what awaits us. Had a tough week? Repent! Been slogging through a hard time? Repent! Bored, tired, stale, impatient, dissatisfied? You know what to do…

When I think "repent" I think of broken-ness and sin;
I think of feeling guilty for the mess I've gotten in.
I often think of standing there before the Righteous Judge,
Afraid that in my sentencing, from judgment He won't budge!
I think about repenting, (I confess it has me stressing),
Forgetting that the Prodigal Father loves to offer blessing,
And loves to throw away my guilt to offer me refreshing!
When we approach the Father with a heart of true repentance,
Remember that He longs to put refreshment in your sentence.
No matter where you've run from God, if you will just repent,
He'll offer you His open arms, and you'll be glad you went.

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Turn Around: the non-Sailor’s Guide to Repentance

If you’re sailing against the wind, Turn That Boat Around!
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 3:1-2 NIV) John wasn’t preaching some casual message about being a little sorry for what you had done. He was issuing a challenge to a people who lived by the law to a fanatical degree, who sought righteousness through legalism, and who probably saw themselves as righteous already. The average Israelite in John’s day probably did not see themselves as having very much to repent FROM. “Did I take too many steps on the Sabbath? Did I do something that made me unclean? After all, I am a pretty righteous guy!” And yet John called these practitioners of self-righteousness to turn away from sin and REPENT. He said the Kingdom of Heaven did not involve self-righteousness, but a whole different approach. He was challenging his listeners to change their lives by changing their direction.

The Greek word metanoeo literally means to have a change of heart, but it was also used as a sailing term to describe coming about, and sailing back in the opposite direction. Sailors would use it to describe how a boat could “turn away, go the other direction.” This meant the boat had to reverse its course, tack against the wind, and make a commitment to head 180 degrees back the other way. It meant altering your course, and it involved full commitment to the new heading. Ever get frustrated? Ever feel selfish? Ever experience a lack of love? Repent! Change your approach! Turn around and travel the opposite direction from where you are currently headed. John the Baptist preached it; Jesus proclaimed this message repeatedly in the gospels; so did Paul. It must mean something important in the Kingdom of Heaven, right? So, ask yourself: what do you need to repent FROM? And, Where are you sailing TO? Is it time for you to turn around?

John the Baptist preached this sermon everywhere he went;
Jesus preached it, too: He called on people to REPENT!
They called on men to turn around, to make a brand new start,
And change their lives by changing what they had inside their hearts.
Repentance meant to come about, to sail the other way--
To do things differently tomorrow than you did today.
If you have run from God, or balked at having His protection,
REPENT! And make your way back in the opposite direction!
When you repent, I think you'll find your vessel needs less bailing;
There will be smoother seas in the direction you are sailing.
Turn about. You'll find the Father loving you--not hating--
And as you head for home, you'll find He has safe harbor waiting.

To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread