Glory from Beginning to End: Ten Things About Psalm 29

michel-porro-vfaFxFltAvA-unsplashIn preparation for Sunday’s sermon, here are ten things about Psalm 29.

1. Psalm 29 is the third creation psalm and third “mountain top” in Book 1 of the Psalms.

This point is easier to show than to tell. In the following graphic, we see how Psalms 8, 19, and 29 stand at the center of various chiastic structures (“mountains”) in the Psalter. (You can hear how this outline works here).

Book 1

Arranged in this way, we might read Psalms 8, 19, 29 together and see how the God of creation was to be worshiped by mankind (Ps 8), in response to the word of God (Ps 19), and in the temple (Ps 29). Even more, we can see how glory connects these creation psalms together.

Psalm 8 says God crowned mankind with glory and honor. Psalm 19 speaks of God’s glory displayed in creation. And Psalm 29 speaks of God’s glory coming into the temple. In all of these ways, we discover how manifold God’s glory is.

2. The creation imagery of Psalm 29 recalls the ancient battle songs of Israel.

For instance, the Song of the Sea (Exodus 15) uses creation imagery to describe God’s power to destroy his enemies. Deborah’s song (Judges 5) does the same. And according to Derek Kidner, this is a common way ancient Near Eastern songs were composed.

Early Canaanite poetry was similar in this respect.. Whether David was building the psalm out of an ancient fragment, or turning to a style that would recall the old battle-hymns of God’s salvation, the primitive vigour of the verse, with its eighteen reiterations of the name Yahweh (the Lord), wonderfully matches the theme, while the structure of the poem averts the danger of monotony by its movement from heaven to earth, by the path of the storm and by the final transition from nature in uproar to the people of God in peace. (Psalms 1–72142). Continue reading

The Need for Expositional Preaching (part 1)

james-coleman-tcGU1VaCtDw-unsplash.jpgIt has been said, “There is no genuinely good preaching except exposition.” Such serious words require us to consider what expositional preaching is and why it is so important that preachers commit themselves to this kind of preaching.

In an attempt to answer that question, this is the first in a four-part series on biblical exposition. It is an update from a previous blog series I wrote when I pastored in Indiana. It relates to this week’s sermon on Deuteronomy 4:32–40 and it attempts to show why our church is committed to biblical exposition.

If you have never heard of expositional preaching, I hope this might be a helpful introduction and biblical apologia. If you are already convinced that biblical exposition is the best form of preaching Scripture, I pray this short series might help give you something to share with others who are less persuaded.

Today I will start with defining biblical exposition. In the following days I will make a biblical theological argument for the practice. Along the way, feel free to share your feedback and/or why you are committed (or not) to biblical exposition.

What is Biblical Exposition?

In short, expositional preaching is the kind of preaching that makes the main point of the biblical text the main point of the sermon. Mark Dever defines it this way: “An expositional sermon is a sermon that takes the main point of a passage of Scripture [and] makes it the main point of the sermon, and applies it to life today.” Therefore, he continues, it does not mean that exposition is narrowly focused on one or two verses; expositional preaching can have small, medium, or large sections of Scripture (i.e., one verse or one book). An expositional sermon need not be lifeless, boring, or overly technical. Surely many “expositors” are dull or have preached overly technical messages, but those examples simply illustrate bad exposition, not true exposition.

Expositional preaching demands the preacher know the Word he is preaching and the Word as it was originally intended by the biblical author. Such a method defends the congregation from hearing a small sampling of “hobby horse” sermons, and it enables (and even demands) the pastor and the church to move through the whole counsel of God. In the life of a congregation, only expositional preaching will expose a Christian to all the doctrines of the Bible presented in their original contexts, along with their original applications to life.

Expositional preaching stands in opposition to a number of other popular, but less powerful forms of preaching: topical, (auto)biographical, felt needs, etc. Over time expositional sermons demonstrate how one ought to interpret the Bible; they communicate doctrine with application to life; and they ground the life of the believer in the Word of God, not the personality of the preacher or the most recent psychological fad.

For all these reasons and more, we find a strong reason for committing to biblical exposition. Still, is this the way commended in Scripture? And if so, why has it fallen out of fashion in many pulpits today? What follows will answer the latter question; tomorrow we’ll begin considering where Scripture models biblical exposition. Continue reading

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