Feeding on the Lord: So Much More Than a Metaphor

breadHunger. It’s one of the most basic of human desires. And in the Bible it is one of the most important concepts related to salvation, faith, and one’s experience with God.

Physically, hunger and our attempts to fill our stomaches are experiences that unite all mankind. While experienced differently in famine-afflicted Africa or affluency-afflicted America, an “empty stomach” is something that speaks to everyone.  We cannot go without food, and thus we search for something to fill us up and give us life.

Spiritually, the language of food, famine, eating, nourishment, and emptiness fills the Bible. From the plethora of fruit trees given to Adam and Eve in the Garden, to the Manna in the wilderness, to the loaves and fishes that Jesus provided for his followers, God has provided physical sustenance. At the same time, food has been a source of destruction—sin entered the world through eating the forbidden fruit; Esau lost his inheritance when he chose stew over his birthright, and Paul says that men ate and drank destruction on themselves when they wrongly ate the Lord’s Supper.

So clearly, food plays a key role in our physical and spiritual pursuit of God. At the same time, Scripture often speaks of eating metaphorically. Psalm 34:8 reads, “Taste and see that the Lord is God.” And Psalm 36:8 says that the children of man “feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.” Apparently, our experience with food—physical bread, meat, and drink—is meant by God to teach us what it means to feed on the Lord and drink from his streams of life.

Still, I suspect that for all we know about food, we may struggle to understand what it means to feed on the Lord. If God is Spirit (John 4:24), then how do we feed on him? And if he is invisible, where do we go to find fullness in him?

Just this last week, I preached a message on feeding on the Lord. My repeated command: Feed on the goodness and grace of God. But how? I can imagine someone saying, “That’s sounds great, but what does that mean?” So here is my answer to that question: What does it mean to feed on the God who is invisible? Continue reading

‘Cardiac Discipleship’: Five Ways to Pursue the Heart in Spiritual Formation

you-areYou Are What You Love is a needed corrective to overly cerebral approaches to discipleship. It is a challenge to followers of Christ to evaluate how ‘secular liturgies’ are training our hearts to love things other than God and our neighbor. And it presents a vision of discipleship that does more than just cement spiritual disciplines in new believers; it calls us seek first the kingdom and to live with hearts enlarged for Christ and his glory.

In what follows I share a few quotes where Smith speaks directly about discipleship. I hope they will whet your appetite for your book and pique your interest in how discipleship is a matter of heart cultivation.

1. Discipleship cultivates the appetite and curates the heart.

While discipleship is a matter of learning, it is more like learning how to cook than to read code. Disciples hunger and thirst for the things of God and know how to feed on him, and good ‘disciplers’ seek to cultivate cravings in the heart of new believers. So,

Discipleship is more a matter of hungering and thirsting than of knowing and believing. Jesus’s command to follow him is a command to align our love and longings with his—to want what God wants, to desire what God desires, to hunger and thirst after God and crave a world where he is all in all—a vision encapsulated by the shorthand ‘the Kingdom of God.’ (2) Continue reading

Seeking God in His Word (Psalm 119:9–16)

rhythms-of-holinessYesterday, Ben Purves, our Pastor for Student Ministries at Occoquan Bible Church, continued our series on spiritual disciplines. What follows are some discussion questions and resources to go deeper in Psalm 119.

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Psalm 119 is one of my favorite Psalms. Both the longest chapter and prayer in the Bible, this 22 stanza psalm is a literary masterpiece. Written as an alphabetic acrostic, it is a beautiful celebration of God’s Word. The psalmist calls the reader to delight and rejoice in God. This last Sunday we looked at the second stanza (vv. 9-16) and considered how we might treasure God’s Word as we head into the New Year. You can listen to the sermon here.

Psalm 119:9-16

How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
10  With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
11  I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
12  Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes!
13  With my lips I declare
all the rules of your mouth.
14  In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.
15  I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.
16  I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.

Discussion Questions

  1. What words are used to describe the Scriptures, and how do they open up different dimensions of God’s Word?
  2. What attributes of God are revealed in the text?
  3. What are the two petitions of the psalmist in vv. 9-16? What does each petition reveal about the psalmist?
  4. Practically — what does it look like to guard our hearts with the Word of God?
  5. What should the relationship be between our love for God, his word, and sharing the gospel?
  6. How would you characterize the heart of the psalmist?
  7. How does one get his heart to be like that of the psalmist?
  8. How might your heart become a treasure storehouse of the Word of God?
  9. What steps might you take to increase your joy in God and His Word in 2017?

Further Resources

Articles

Books

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

How the Spirit and the Word Prepare You for the Lord’s Supper

bibleWho can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
— Psalm 19:12–14 —

How do you approach the Lord’s table when your heart is uncertain of it’s spiritual condition? If you question the errors of our heart, as David did in Psalm 19 (“Who can discern his errors?”), what will compel you to confidently take the Lord’s Supper? Will you withdraw from the bread and the cup when sin plague’s your soul? Or might the Lord’s Supper be an appointed means of reconciliation via remembrance?

These are not hypothetical questions, but realities Christians face as we commune with a holy God. Paul warned that anyone who takes the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner “drinks judgment on himself” (1 Corinthians 11:29). Therefore, he calls us to “examine” ourselves and “then . . . eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (v. 28).

But how do we do that? If our hearts are deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9) and lead us to evil and idolatry (see Jeremiah 3:17; 13:10; 18:12) how shall we be able to examine ourselves? Thankfully, as with all aspects of salvation, God provides what he demands, and the answer comes in the working of God’s Word and God’s Spirit.

By means of God’s Word, the Holy Spirit enables God’s children to rightly examine themselves and to come to the Table with fresh faith and repentance. Indeed, consider three ways the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to prepare you for the Lord’s Table. Or to put it the other way, here are three ways you should, by the Spirit, prepare your heart for communion with the Word of God. Continue reading

Getting into the Word: A Sermon on Psalm 19

elfAt the beginning of the year, it only makes sense to turn our attention again to the Scriptures. Over the last week, I’ve written a few posts on getting into the Word (see here and here). Yesterday, I preached on the same topic from Psalm 19: “Getting into the Word.”

Here’s an illustration from that sermon that got left on the cutting room floor. May it encourage you as you read the Word.

Getting into the Word Depends on Craving the Word

By nature I love sweets. When Elf speaks of the four food groups as candy, candy canes, candy corn, and syrup, I’m all in. Well, except for candy corn. I’ll take chocolate instead.

I remember when I was four going to the coffee station where my mom worked and finding sugar cubes. I would sneak one. Eat it. And return for more.

Thirty years later, I still love sugar. And so do my kids. Who taught them to do that?  No one. As if by genetic predisposition, they have a craving for sugar.

The same thing happens when God regenerates a person. Continue reading

Believing and Belonging: Which is the Source for True Fellowship?

fellowsThe next time you read through the books of Acts, underline every time you find the word “believe.” At the same time, circle every time you find a mention of the Scriptures, the word, or preaching. What you will soon discover is how radically committed the New Testament church was to proclaiming the Word of God and calling for belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Everywhere the apostles went they proclaimed the Word. Empowered by the Spirit, they were called to be witnesses (Acts 1:8). Indeed, filled with the Spirit they fulfilled their calling of proclaiming the Word (Acts 4:31). As a result, in just a few short decades churches were planted all over the Mediterranean. And within three centuries, the early church would become the dominant world religion. Continue reading

The Word of God (Genesis 1:3)

Genesis 1:3

“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”

“God speaks, and it is done. The centrality of the word of God in the acts of creation anticipates the deeper truth given in John 1:1, that the second person of the Trinity is the Word” (History of Salvation in the Old Testament: Preparing the Way for Christ,” in the ESV Study Bible, p. 2635).

Word and wisdom; Logos and logic. Imbedded in creation is the capacity for (in)finite communication. That God’s relationship with man comes through the medium of words reveals the necessity of speech and the essence of who God is.  He is the speaking God. Creation happened when God spoke, because as it is revealed later in Scripture, the God who created the world with his word, is “the Word” himself (John 1:1). Continue reading

The Word of God: Written, Eternal, and Incarnate

Three times in the first verse of John’s gospel, the beloved disciple speaks of the Word, “the Logos.”  It is quickly seen that this name or title describes Jesus.  John 1:14 unmistakably unites the eternal Word with the babe born in the manger.  But why does John use this term?  What does Logos or the “Word” mean?  Today, we will examine this term in brief to help us better understand the son born of Mary, who was eternally the Son of God.

The Word (Logos)

John uses a word that would have been familiar to his hearers.  Interpreters of John have pointed to all kinds of influences: Greek philosophy (Stoicism), Jewish theology (Philo), or mystery religions (Gnosticism).  However, it is speculative that he depended upon any of these other views.  While the idea of the Logos was “trending” in John’s day, it is unlikely that the apostles derived such terms from extra-biblical sources.

Jesus followers were men of the Hebrew Scriptures, who were taught by Jesus how to read the Old Testament (Luke 24), and who were moved by the Spirit (John 14:26).  They were not students of culture, they were not writing for peer-reviewed journals, nor were they attempting anything novel.  They were simply writing for the edification of the saints and proclamation of the gospel.  Thus, the content of their words was the person and work of Christ and its earlier explanation in what we call he Old Testament.  So we should ask, what does the Old Testament say about “the Logos”?

Old Testament

In the Old Testament, the word is a central feature because God does everything by his word.  John Frame, says: “God’s word . . . is involved in everything he does—in his decrees, creation, providence, redemption, and judgment, not only in revelation narrowly defined.  He performs all his acts by his speech” (The Doctrine of God, 472-74).

The quickest glance at just a few verses show this is true.  Some of things that the Word does include the following:

God spoke the world into existenceBy the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host (Ps 33:6)

God’s word effected salvation.  He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction (Ps 107:20)

God’s word governs and energizes all of creation.  He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow and the waters flow.  He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and rules to Israel (Ps 147:18-20).

All together, “the word of God enlivens and kills; it sustains the world humans live in; it never fails in its purpose” (Thomas Schreiner, New Testament Theology, 256).  Thus, two things emerge in Old Testament that inform John’s theology. 

First, the Word is presented as divine. In the Old Testament, we that the word does a number of divine things—it creates, it kills, and it saves.  More than that, it is given divine attributes: eternal (Ps 119:89, 160), perfect (Ps 19:7-11), omnipotent (Gen 18:14; Isa 55:11), life-giving.  Nearly 300 times it is called God’s word. In many ways it is one with God.

Second, the Word is distinct from God.  In the Old Testament, the Word does not fully describe all that God is.  Rather, it is an instrument by which God works (cf. Prov 8:22ff). It is used by God, and sent out by God, and thus is not one and the same with God.  Even as there is unity between God and his word, there is difference.

But this should not come as a surprise.  God’s inscripturated Word is unified.  The Old anticipates the New, and the New depends (i.e. quotes, alludes, echoes, and builds) upon the Old.  Thus, John’s trinitarian theology of the Word in John 1:1 is not a new invention that comes from outside the Scriptures, but comes from the very Scriptures that the eternal Word inspired as he sent the Spirit to the prophets who wrote of his coming.

In the end, John 1:1 is one more evidence of how God’s progressive revelation prepares the way for Jesus Christ.  And how the eternal Word is the incarnate Word is the written Word.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Beware of False Worship (Sermon Notes)

Exodus 32 is a tremendous vision of all that God hates about false worship.  If we pay careful attention, the problem is not absence of worship, but absence of divine sanction. In other words, the problem is not rejection of religion or indifference to worship. The problem is that worship derives its origin from some place other than God himself. This is not too different from the church today.

In an age of creative ventures in worship, the Golden Calf incident is worth our attention, because it provides a powerful counter-example to false forms of Christian worship. And what is most shocking and indicting is the fact that in Exodus 32 we find that false worship looks a lot like true worship, and that only in the light of divine revelation, can we tell the difference.

False Worship Looks A Lot Like True Worship

False religion is so dangerous because of how closely it apes true religion.  It doesn’t come with a surgeon generals warning on it.  In fact, if you use Christianbook.com as a resource for getting “good, Christian resources,” beware.  There is no warning for the likes of Osteen, Boyd, Eldredge, Meyer, or Jakes.  Today, too many Christian booksellers make a killing selling false doctrine.

In Exodus 32, we see a number of ways that ancient Israel apes true religion, and how Satan deceives God’s son.

First, while the need for leadership is real, the request is wrong.  Moses has been gone for weeks, and Israel feels its need. So they come to Aaron earnestly; unfortunately, their worry is premature.  The pillar of cloud is still on Mount Sinai.  There is no evidence that it has departed.  They were told that when Moses ascended, he would return and lead Israel to dwell with YHWH.  But like in the garden, Satan plays on the emotions of Israel, and they fall for his temptation.

Second, the worship that Israel offers looks sacrificial.  Here Aaron, failing to guard Israel, like Adam failed to guard his wife, calls for gold to fashion an idol.  And the people give.  They give liberally! It is a major act of spirituality–false spirituality.  Sadly, they miss God’s mark.  Part of God’s plan is for Israel to gather gold, silver, fabrics, etc (Exod 25, 35), thus, what Aaron calls for seems very natural. Sadly, his construction will distance Israel from God, it will not bring them near.  Access to God requires God’s revelation.

We learn something very important here: Sacrifice does not equal spirituality.  Spirituality calls for sacrifice. David says of Araunah’s threshing floor in 1 Sam 2:24, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing”  True spirituality will cost you  (cf. Luke 14:25-33), but just because you offer costly service, does not mean your spirituality is pleasing to God.

Third, the materials Israel offers for worship are essentially the same. The people of God build an altar, offer burnt offerings and peace offerings, and feast with the Lord (v. 5-6).  Yet, while in name these offerings and elements of worship are the same, they are different because they are invented by men and not God.  Aaron is not responding to God’s revelation, he is building the altar and offering the sacrifices according to all that he had seen in Egypt.

At this point in the narrative, Moses alone had God’s instructions.  He is still on the Mountain.  Israel does not yet have Exodus 25-31.  We do.  They don’t.  Worse: Because of the sexual promiscuity often associated with temple worship in the ancient world, the “playing” in Exodus 32:6 is likely to have a sexually perverse element.  Overall, the offering is an abomination, because it fails to do what God’s word says; it offers worship according to the vain imagination of fallen men.

Here is the application, via negative example, for us: It is natural and easy for the worship of God’s people to reflect more of the culture than of the court of heaven.  False worship is indeed what will happen whenever God’s word is minimized.  Unless we employ a regulative principle that allows Scripture to define and delimit our worship, we run the risk of offending God with the very thing with which we intend to please him.

Worship Without the Word Invokes God’s Wrath

The reaction of God is evident to all.  YHWH was incensed.  Verse 7 describes the distance that now existed between God and Israel.  He calls Israel “Moses’ people,” and he tells Moses that he brought them up from Egypt.  YHWH wants to have nothing to do with Israel.  In verse 8, he condemns them legally for breaking the part of the law that they had.  Remember, more than once, Israel swore that they would do all the words the Lord had spoken (Exod 25:3)They knew that failure to obey meant death.  And so, God was fully within his rights, to say in 32:10, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them & I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you’

The people of God worshiped YHWH (v. 5), but not according to the way YHWH designed.  Thus, they invoked his wrath.  How many churches today do the same?  As they creatively invite the presence of the Spirit through smells, bells, dramas, and personal interviews, they may actually distance themselves from the Christ they name.  For churches and their leaders, it is worth asking: What biblical sanction is there for such activity in corporate worship?  Failure to think through these things, invites God not to write his name on our churches, but rather the word “Ichabod.”

May God protect us from false worship, and may we pursue true worship as we look to the Word of God and worship according to all that he has revealed and prescribed in his sufficient revelation.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss