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. Even though crowds came out to hear him, there was confrontation with the Pharisees and controversy about his methods.

“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

Not Your Average Rabbi

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”! 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. John 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. Farm to table restaurants are in vogue now, but John was more natural than that: he went straight up wilderness to table.

John the Baptist didn’t unpack Scripture, he exhorted people with it. He challenged the status quo. John prophesied. In spite of his apparent eccentricity, large crowds came out 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.”

Not What Everyone Expected

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.

Simple Preaching

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.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
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
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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A Different Kind of Kingdom for a Different Kind of World

More Than One Option

There are many different kinds of rulers in the world, and their influence affects the nations and provinces they govern. If you look at the shape our world is in, what with poverty, wars, corruption, genocide, nuclear weapons, taxes, etc., you could ask, like Dr. Phil, “How’s that working out for you?” Perhaps a different kind of Kingdom would result in a different kind of world…

Which Promise?

“For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bond-woman and one by the free woman. But the son by the bond-woman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also.” (Galatians 4:22-23, 28-29 NASB)

According to the Bible, Abraham had a son (Isaac) born to fulfill a spiritual purpose according to the promise of God, and a son born according to the flesh (Ishmael). Isaac was a miracle, born out of time to a 99-year-old man whose 90-year-old wife was also well past the age of child-bearing; Ishmael was the result of Abraham’s own effort to jump-start the promise by impregnating his servant girl. Ishmael, the son born according to the flesh, later bullied Isaac, and there was conflict between them and their offspring that persists to this day. This dichotomy between the flesh and the spirit is a common Biblical theme, and it applies to us individually just like it applied to Abraham’s sons.

Flesh or Spirit

In John three, Jesus told Nicodemus that everyone is born of the flesh but that you must also be born of the Spirit. He said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’” This conversation was popularized during the Carter administration when the phrase “born again Christian” was used to describe Jimmy Carter and other evangelical Christians. When writing the introduction to his gospel, John said that “to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (1:12-13)

kingdom of God

Different Kingdom, Different Values

If you are a follower of Jesus, you are a child of God who has been adopted into His family. You are also part of a spiritual Kingdom with new potential and new possibilities. Christians hope for a redeemed and perfect world, achieved not through evolution or progress or science or technology, but through the Spirit of God. It is God’s Spirit that will bathe the world in love, that will be present in heaven, and will power the kind of kingdom where “the lion will lay down with the lamb”. It won’t be built on any kind of earthly power, but on the Graceful presence of God’s Holy Spirit.

Paul says here in Galatians that everyone born of the Spirit is a child of the promises to Abraham. In Romans 7 and 8, Paul describes the natural conflict that exists between man’s fleshly nature and God’s Spirit. Romans 8:5 says, “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.”

Spiritual Differential

One of the things that makes Christianity unique is its reliance upon the Spirit of God as opposed to the works of man. Hindus believe in cause and effect; Karma teaches that what goes around, comes around. Islam proscribes keeping the law (efforts of the flesh) to be acceptable to God. Anyone who tries to achieve righteousness in the flesh will always be at odds with those who accept grace. The kingdom of the flesh will always be opposed to the spirit. Based on the human logic of getting what you deserve, grace will never seem fair to those who work according to the flesh…

Jesus’ kingdom was spiritual, not physical. It confused Pilate, and it has confused lots of folks ever since. It seems logical that we should work our way to God, but He has confounded that logic. Two takeaways: 1) it might be a good thing to depend upon God’s spirit, rather than your own effort; and 2) don’t expect a cessation in persecution anytime soon. It’s been going on for 3000 years, and as Paul said in Galatians, “so it is now also”.

Different

Abraham was a shepherd man
Without much wealth and without a plan,
But God told him to start afresh,
To walk in faith, but not in flesh.
So Abram started, not by sight,
To walk with God both day and night,
Beginning a spiritual family that actually changed history,
And somehow the genealogy was opened up to you and me…

Sometime later in history, two men discussed a mystery:
Nicodemus–a Pharisee–went out at night and tried to see
If he and Jesus could agree on how God’s plan was meant to be.
Jesus said,
“Nick, the problem is sin.
To live, you must be born again!
And Nicodemus sat in his room,
and said, “I can’t go back in the womb!”
Jesus said, “not that kind of birth!
I’m speaking of heaven, and not of earth!
As a teacher, you should be smart–or near it–
So understand this: Be born in the Spirit.
Only by being born again
Can you free yourself from the power of sin.
(Like Pilate, Nick couldn’t see the worth
Of a spiritual kingdom that’s not of this earth.)

What Jesus told Nicodemus to do
Is still correct and still holds true,
And is still the best option for me and you:
Like Abraham, just start anew, like Jesus told Nicodemus to do,
Not of this world, and not of men, just this: You must be born again.
Spiritual birth makes all things new
If that is something you’re willing to do. I’ve done it, so I know it’s true. If you want to do it, that’s up to YOU.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
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
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

Heaven: Do You Want to Know What It is Really Like? Then Read This

Where Everybody Wants to Go

Everybody wants to go to heaven, but only one person has ever been qualified to talk about what it will be like when we get there. His teachings abound with references to heaven, and they are not about harps, angels, and streets of gold. In fact, most of them–like this one–should make us scratch our heads and think:

What It’s Really Like

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money. After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them.” (Matthew 25:14-19 NKJV)

So, Where is Heaven, Anyway?

What on earth did Jesus mean about heaven?
In these verses, as He often does in the book of Matthew, Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven. It was a major theme in his preaching (see the Beatitudes, and read through his parables), and is certainly highlighted in Matthew, where Jesus used the phrase more than 50 times. Some scholars think that “heaven” is actually interchangeable with “God”, but that Jewish sensitivity to using God’s name prevented Jesus from using it unnecessarily. Since Jesus did occasionally use the phrase “kingdom of God”, I think when he says the Kingdom of Heaven, he is pointing us to something specific.

The Only Eye Witness

Consider this: of all the people who ever lived, Jesus alone is qualified to make distinctions about heaven. In all of history, He’s the ONLY man who ever lived who had been there BEFORE he came to earth. His Father lived there, and even while on earth, Jesus spent time with him every day. And when Jesus tells us about the kingdom of heaven, he is talking about a real place with a real King, and he is reminding us that we are subjects in that kingdom. So, what does that mean?

In this somewhat unusual story, Jesus describes how subjects of the king are given talents and expected to invest them wisely. Wait, what?! Does that mean heaven is all about investments, banking, and ROI? What will it be like to live in God’s kingdom? What observations can we make from this passage?

When Does it Start?

First, it appears that our citizenship in heaven begins here and now. Second, there is accountability in the kingdom; and third, all of the citizens of heaven are given assets to be accountable FOR. As you reflect on your daily activities, what resources have you been given? Would you say that you are bearing fruit? Are you creating a profitable return?

heaven investment

Your Journey Has Already Started

In terms of heaven, how do we apply this story? I think a good way to start is to understand the benefits and responsibilities of living in the Kingdom. Retell this story to yourself by putting God in the place of the man who was traveling, and your own name in place of the servants. “The kingdom of heaven is like the Lord, who called ____________ (YOUR NAME HERE) and gave talents to you, according to your ability. After a long time, God came and settled your account.”

So, what talent(s) do you think the king given has given you? And what have you done with them? Have they been used profitably? Being a good subject means that you can’t hide your talents. What are you doing with them? Someday you will settle accounts with the one who gave them to you: invest them wisely.

Invest Wisely

Heaven Starts Here

Thoughts of heaven may inspire a throne that burns with Holy Fire,
Or angels sitting on a cloud and singing songs of praise real loud.
But Jesus knew of heaven’s ways–
He’s the Alpha-Omega, the Ancient of days–
He spoke of a king that none could denounce,
Who will look at our books and will settle accounts.
He will show us our talents and tell us our story,
Asking if we used our gifts for His glory;
And we will be utterly chastened to find
That we wasted our talents and gifts, and our time…
He’s the King we are serving, we don’t have to wait
‘Til we’re standing in front of the heavenly gate!
The Kingdom of Heaven begins here, today:
Don’t take all your talents and hide them away,
But put them to work for the King and his Son;
When He settles accounts, He will tell you, “Well done.”

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
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
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