Yesterday I preached my first sermon as the senior pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Apex, NC (you can watch the sermon here). We began a new series examining the “I Am” statements in the gospel of John. In John 6:35, Jesus declares;
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
Earlier in chapter 6, Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 men, plus women and children. I believe that this miracle feeds into the proclamation of verse 35 that Jesus is the bread of life. In other words, what Jesus did in that miracle of feeding reveals who He is. It helps us understand that Jesus satisfies the deep hunger of our souls. My goal in the sermon was to help my church family fight to find their satisfaction in Christ alone.
All of us long to be satisfied. In fact, the passage states that the crowd sought Jesus out because they ate their fill of the loaves. They had their meal and were satisfied, but were hungry again. Simply put, they wanted Jesus to satisfy their stomach, but Jesus was not there to satisfy their stomachs. Jesus was there as their savior to give eternal satisfaction of the soul.
Satisfaction is one of the good gifts of God. The problem comes when we seek satisfaction in the gifts of God, and not in God himself.
There are many people that seek satisfaction in food and drink in order to find comfort from their troubled life. There are many people that seek satisfaction in money and possessions to find meaning and purpose. There are many people that seek friendships and relational intimacy in order to satisfy the deeper longings of their hearts.
But in these things no one will never be fully satisfied. There is always more, there will always be a rumbling in the stomach, an emptiness. However, the call of this passage is clear. Jesus satisfies the deep hunger of our souls.
It would seem that it is not lack of desire that keeps people from Jesus. We all have a desire to be satisfied. What keeps people from Jesus is having misaimed desires or wrong ideas about how those desires can be met. Sometimes this is true of Christians also.
What if we really believed that Jesus satisfied the deep hunger of our souls? It would change everything.
Instead seeing food and drink as a way to satisfy our longing for comfort, we would find our comfort in Jesus Christ alone. Instead of seeking meaning or purpose in money or possessions, we would find our meaning and purpose in Jesus Christ alone. Instead of demanding others fill our needs of love and companionship, we would find that where others let us down, Jesus will always be more than enough.
The fight of the Christian life, the work mentioned in verse 29, is to truly believe that Jesus is the answer to all human need, our primary source of nourishment.
It is not an accident that Jesus used the analogy of bread here. Bread is the most basic food of nourishment, even in third world countries today. It’s not like filet mignon, something only a select few can enjoy. No, bread is available to everyone.
Oh that we would be satisfied in Jesus, the bread of life. When we taste and see that the Lord is good, our satisfaction in Him brings Him the glory, and allows us to lay down all the things of this world for the cause of Christ. May we also invite everyone to the table to feast and be satisfied!
Jesus alone satisfies the deep hunger of our souls.
“Many Christians have unwittingly embraced the idea that “church” is a once-a-week event rather than a community of Spirit-empowered people; that “ministry” is what pastors do on Sundays rather than the 24/7 calling of all believers; and that “discipleship” is a program rather than the normal state of every follower of Jesus.”
Jeff Vanderstelt, Saturate: Being Disciples of Jesus in the Everyday Stuff of Life
This blog was origionally posted at The Gospel Project.
Bible Reading and Spiritual Formation
We consume countless messages day in and day out. It has been estimated that the average American is exposed to more than 5,000 marketing messages a day—most of them involuntary. It’s also been estimated that most Americans voluntarily consume 9-11 hours of media a day. That is a lot of information consumed both voluntarily and involuntarily.
The messages we are exposed to tend to shape our thoughts, feelings, and decisions over time. As Christians, we believe that the Bible is the Word of God. Accordingly, it follows that lasting spiritual change comes from the prayerful study of God’s Word as God’s Spirit conforms us to the image of Christ (see Heb. 4:12).
Therefore, it is important that we take time to consider carefully how we ought to listen. I fear that far too many Christians allow God’s Word to pass through their eyes without changing their heads, convicting their hearts, or conforming their hands. So here are three intentional ways to approach Bible reading that will shape your spiritual formation.
Allow God’s Word To Change Your Head
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. – Romans 12:2
In Romans 1, Paul talks of the pagans who exchanged the truth of God for lies and were conformed to the patterns of the world. Implicit in Paul’s argument through Romans is that the present evil age still threatens the formation of those who belong to Christ. That which forms our minds affects our lives.
As our minds are made new as we “discern” God’s will through the study of God’s Word, we thus pattern our lives after God’s will. The first step in reflective Bible reading, therefore, is allowing God’s Word to register in your mind. The command “be transformed by the renewal of your mind” is just that—a command.
We must focus our minds on God’s word so that over time transformation will take place. So when we read God’s Word, our minds must be fully engaged. Being attentive requires self-discipline. If God is speaking to us through His Word, we should listen.
Allow God’s Word To Convict Your Heart
You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. – 2 Corinthians 3:2-3
In this portion of 2 Corinthians, Paul focuses in on the work of the Holy Spirit. In this passage, Paul contrasts the old covenant, in which God wrote on tablets of stone, to the ministry of the Spirit that writes on the tablets of the human heart when the word of God takes root.
The Spirit’s work of changing the Christian’s hearts is a result of the ministry of the Word. There is a spiritual connection between what’s in our hearts and what comes out in our behavior. In Luke 6:43-45, Jesus tells us that we live out of our hearts and uses the example of a tree. There is an unbreakable connection between the roots of the tree (heart) and the fruit of the tree (behavior).
In the Bible, the heart represents the center of our being. Out of the abundance of the heart our lives speak. God’s Word must take root in our heart for change in our behavior to take effect.
Allow God’s Word To Conform Your Hands
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. – James 1:22-25
The central theme of this section in James is everyday Christianity guided by “the word of truth.” James argues that true Christianity is characterized by deeply “hearing” and then decisively “doing” what God’s Word calls for. Being doers of the Word, and not hearers only is the only proper response to the Word of God.
Obedience to the Word is the mark of the true child of God. Looking intently at one’s face in a mirror and then forgetting what he was like demonstrates the foolishness of examining oneself in the mirror of God’s Word and then doing nothing about it. When one sees imperfections (as when looking in a mirror), common sense says something should be done.
If we are honest, there are times that we do not want to be obedient to God’s Word. However, the Bible wastes very little time on the way we feel. Pastor and author Eugene Peterson argues that we can act ourselves into a new way of feeling much quickly than we can feel ourselves into a new way of acting. Being obedient, even when we do not feel like it, will eventually reshape our hearts from seeing God’s commands as mere duty to enjoying them with genuine delight.
Strategies for Spiritual Formation in Bible Reading
There is always something God wants us to do in response to His Word. We must allow God’s Word to change our heads, convict our hearts, and conform our hands. Here are a few strategies to let God’s Word richly dwell in you (Col. 3:16).
Prayerfully take notes as you read. This is an excellent way to stay focused while studying. It is also a valuable aid to memory. The physical act of writing something down helps to fix it in our minds.
Talk about God’s Word with others. We gain added benefit from studying the Bible when we talk about it with someone else. Moreover, working out the implications of a Bible passage in conversation with others can not only help reaffirm those truths in your own mind but can also benefit you by hearing the insights of others.
Allow the Spirit to search your heart as you read. In other words, apply Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the everlasting way.” While studying God’s Word we should be asking the Spirit of God to search us at our very root, deep in our souls, and reveal sin and teach us godliness.
Last night my Dad sent me an encouraging email that expressed how proud he was of me and all that “I have accomplished as a young man.” I am very thankful for parents who love me and continue to push me in my faith and calling.
In the email he attached this video, and its a good word of warning for a young pastor like me. As a pastor that strives for biblical and theological faithfulness, it is important to remember that good theology must bear fruit in faithful living.
Are you planning on attending the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention in Columbus? If so, here is a list of events happening during the annual meeting that would be worth your consideration. As you can see, they are organized by meal time…since we are baptist.
Monday, June 15th
- Breakfast: The CBMW panel on marriage, gender, and the future of Christian ministry in a post-Christian age. The panelists include Danny Akin, Jason Duesing, Nathan Lino, Thomas White, and Owen Strachan. Register here.
- Lunch: Send North America Lunch sponsored by NAMB and IMB. Hear the future of SBC missions from Kevin Ezell and David Platt. Register here.
- Late Night: Connecting Church and Culture: A Conversation Hosted by the ERLC (Russell Moore) and 9 Marks (Mark Dever). Join the conversation by asking Dr. Moore and Dr. Dever your questions about the Church and cultural engagement. Register here.
Tuesday, June 16th
- Breakfast: The Gospel Project panel discussion on Biblical Preaching with Ed Stetzer, JD Greear, HB Charles Jr., and Chip Henderson. Each attendee will receive over $125 worth of books on preaching. Only 400 seats available. Register here.
- Lunch: Baptist 21 panel discussion with David Platt, Albert Mohler, H.B. Charles Jr., Russell Moore, and Danny Akin. The panelists will be discussing the most pressing issues facing the church and cooperative missions. Register here.
- Lunch: For The Church conference luncheon, designed to encourage and equip pastors and leaders with Jason Allen, Matt Carter, Mark Dever, Ronnie Floyd, Paige Patterson, and Jared Wilson. Register here.
- Late Night: Nine Marks at Nine with SEBTS. Mark Dever, Danny Akin, Albert Mohler Jr., and David Platt will discuss the state of the SBC. Register here.
Wednesday, June 17th.
- Breakfast: SBC Men’s Breakfast sponsored by LifeWay and NAMB, focused on how you can invest in the lives of the men of your church. The speakers include JD Greear, Matt Carter, Michael Catt, Mark Dance, Jason Ellerbrook, Michael Lewis. Register here.
- Breakfast: Women’s Leadership Breakfast by SEBTS and NAMB. A panel discussion from gifted leaders who will share their expertise and wisdom about the importance of equipping for leadership. Panelists include: Lizette Beard (moderator), Denise O’Donoghue, Elicia Horton, Kathy Litton, and Selma Wilson. Register here.
- Make sure you attend your alma mater seminary gathering. You can find the full list of events here.
- Take time to visit the exhibit hall and LifeWay store.
- Here is a list of the 2015 annual meeting reports.
I recently picked up Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction at a used book store (I love the title). I have always found Peterson’s writing soul stirring. In this book Peterson offers an honest and reflective journey through the Psalms of Ascent (120-134). Consider this thought on worship based on Psalm 122:1, “I was glad when they said to me, Let us go to the house of the LORD!” (ESV)
But very often we don’t feel like [worshiping], and so we say, “It would be dishonest for me to go to a place of worship and praise God when I don’t feel like it. I would be a hypocrite.” The Psalm says, I don’t care whether you feel like it or not: as was decreed, “give thanks to the name of God.”
I have put great emphasis on the fact that Christians worship because they want to, not because they are forced to. But I have never said that we worship because we feel like it. Feelings are great liars. If Christians worshiped only when they felt like it, there would be precious little worship. Feelings are important in many areas but completely unreliable in matters of faith. Paul Scherer is laconic: “The Bible wastes very little time on the way we feel.”
We live in what one writer has called “the age of sensation.” We think that if we don’t feel something there can be no authenticity in doing it. But the wisdom of God says something different: that we can act ourselves into a new way of feeling much quicker than we can feel ourselves into a new way of acting. Worship is an act that develops feelings for God, not a feeling for God that is expressed in an act of worship. When we obey the command to praise God in worship, our deep, essential need to be in relationship with God is nurtured.
The Bishop Basil of Caesarea is well known in church history for being one of the most influential theologians of the early church. Basil was a stout theologian who supported the Nicene Creed and opposed the heresies of the early church. At the same time, Basil was also known for his care of the hurting and neglected. It was once said of Basil that “his words were like thunder because his life was like lightning.” This is powerful imagery for pastoral ministry, imagery that connects our pastoral calling with our Christian character.
When one examines the character qualifications for pastors in the New Testament, especially in the Pastoral Epistles, it becomes clear that there is a standard for spiritual and moral maturity (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9). In short, pastoral character is vital for faithful ministry. Don Carson has said on many occasions that what is most remarkable about the qualifications for a pastor is that they are so unremarkable. In other words, the quality of character called for in pastors can be found mandated for all Christians in other parts of God’s word.
So, while the pastor is not expected to be the ideal of perfection, pastors are to be mature exemplars of the character demanded of all Christians. One way to think of it is that pastors lead with a limp. While not perfect, pastors are to set an example in Christian character (1 Peter 5:3). This has several implications for pastoral character, and for the development of Christian character within the congregation.
First, as pastors, we must apply God’s word to our own lives as we call the congregation to do the same. The unique element found in the qualifications for pastors, other than being a recent convert, is that a pastor is to be set apart for the teaching of the word. As we know, the teaching of the whole counsel of God includes how to live a God honoring life (1 Timothy 4:16). Pastors must submit their lives to the word they proclaim. For example, it is hard for us to call the church to care for the hurting and neglected, unless we too are committed to the same.
Second, pastors are to lead in repentance. Philosopher Charles Taylor has described our secular age as “the age of authenticity”. Taylor’s analysis is helpful in showing us that confession of weakness and repentance can actually help to endear us to our people. Our people need to see that the character in the Christian life isn’t marked by the sinless life; it’s marked by the repentant life (1 John 1:9). Christ is the only sinless shepherd. We cannot call people to repentance when we are not repenting ourselves. In many ways, the bedrock of pastoral character is a willingness to repent (Ephesians 2:8).
Third, pastors are to commit themselves to the community of faith in which they serve. The Christian life is not meant to be lived alone, even for pastors (Hebrews 10:25). The church community is the primary context where Christians are called to work out the application of God’s word. Moreover, the church community is the place where your need for the gospel is powerfully revealed. This is why it is important for the pastors to be deeply invested in the community of the church (Ephesians 4:11-16). God uses those around us to reveal our sin and encourage us to godliness.
I think all of us want churches full of people with honorable Christian character. This starts with the hard work of developing character within our own lives. Too often pastors want the rain of God’s blessing in their ministry without passing through both thunder and lightning. Pastor, we are expected to lead the congregation not just with the words of our lips, but by the fruit in our life. Our words will be thunder when our life is like lightning.