Welcome marathoners in and for Christ. (1 Corinthians 9:24; Hebrews 12:1; 2 Timothy 4:7) Exhausted, depleted from running the Godly, good, and being-a-blessing-to-others race? Welcome. Sit. Relax. Let’s feast.
Feast of the Heart exists to help bring about Christ-centered “reformation, revival, and constructive revolution” (Francis Schaeffer, Death in the City) so that God will be glorified and people blessed.
Reformation… we seek to abide by and serve up the true truth, pure doctrine of the Bible
Revival… we seek to model biblical Christians living in word and deed
Constructive Revolution… we seek to spread the true gospel right where God has planted us with urgency, compassion, and radical self-abandonment
God’s “Exactly When” Occurred So That Ours Might As Well
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1, 2)
Since the Trinity incorporates the incommunicable attribute of aseity [self-existence, timelessness, no beginning, middle, or end], you’ll have to give me a some latitude when I refer to God’s creation of the universe out of nothing [Ex Nihilo] as His “Exactly When” manifestation: “timelessness” and “when” defy non-contradictory logic, right?
What I’m referring to is the timeless Trinity’s loving intrusion into His creation of time and space to create the universe purely out of His love and truth and in cooperation between the three Persons of the Trinity. (Genesis 1, 2)
And here’s my point: God’s “Exactly When” in Creation coincides with every born-again human being’s “Exactly When” as we are, a) first, names written in The Book of Life (Rev. 20:15; 3:5; 20:12; Phil. 3:4) , b) secondly, regenerated by the Holy Spirit at just the right time (Tit. 3:5; Ezk. 36:26; Jn. 3:1-36), c) thirdly, repentant as we accept in faith Christ’s substitutionary act of using the cross to bridge the universe-wide GAP between God’s perfection and our own rampant [inherited] Sin and [habitual] sinning (Acts 3:19; 2 Pet. 3:9; 1 Jn. 1:9), d) forth, being born-again, brought from death to life, from above (Jn. 3:3; 1 Cor. 5:17; 1 Pet. 1:23), and e) fifth, increasingly committed to the dark [as God’s revealing light] and decaying [as God’s preserving salt] world in service of Christ until we’re dead or He returns (Mt. 5:13-16; 1 Pet. 2:9; Jn. 8:12).
This feast at the Training Table is about where the reality of God’s providence coincides, intersects with every personal, born-again human being’s “Exactly When.” There exists a line that every human being must cross: we must repent and be born from above… or stand separated, against God for eternity in hell.
E.g., Has the Infinite become intimate WITH YOU?
Please allow me to offer just one example of God’s / my point, and potentially huge gift, for all of us.
Please take careful note of how Psalm 23 is inspired by God and written down by the Shepherd-King David: It’s universally personal. [NOT Universalism! Everyone will NOT be saved; but everyone is grace-fully offered the door to salvation, should they choose to be real, humbled, repentant, and saved to serve… by faith alone.]
[John 3:16 declares that salvation is given to “whoever believes in Him.” Acts 16:31 proclaims, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.” See also Romans 3:28; 4:5; 5:1; Galatians 2:16; 3:24; Ephesians 1:13; and Philippians 3:9. Many other verses could be referenced in addition to these.]
But you and I… all of humanity… need to know if we’ve crossed the line between no faith — and the Biblical faith in Jesus Christ: first as Savior from hell and then as the Lord of our life. Period. Do you have a story of your story, your old life, and the advent of your re-birth? Have you crossed the line? The Bible is clear: In so far as God is concerned there are only two races of human beings: a) those who believe and b) those who do not. (1 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Timothy 4:10; Acts 16:31; Hebrews 11; many more)
The problem is there is a BIG problem: now more than ever in the Western Church the wheat is mixed-in with the tares big-time! The converted and unconverted, saved and unsaved, born-again and spiritually dead, softened- and hardened-of-heart… are, a) stirred-in with one another; b) mostly or many times unaware of the problem; c) led by lacking Pastor-Leaders who don’t help make the distinction more clear on a Scriptural, regular, personal, and more detailed level; and d) can’t understand why—if they are not regenerate and remain unsaved—their heart, emotions, psychological, and physical senses respond to God the way they do: often feeling cold, condemned, marginalized, ambivalent, compartmentalized, or simply unresponsive to God’s living Word, worship, calling, or community of faith.
And this is a needless, crying shame that only serves to please Satan and defame God. “It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.” (Senior Devil speaking to Junior Devil, C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters)
Before we use a popular, well-known part of the Bible to help make my point, let me set the stage: especially at events such as funerals that we’ve all been witness to, Psalm 23 is one of those places in the Bible where we can show up in a totally ROTE form. We can mouth the words and follow along with no sense of ownership; we may not believe in God and yet borrow some solace by means of God’s Common Grace as we recite the words that a big part of our heart instinctively hopes for… and yet may not have; we can even have a bona fide faith in Christ and not have taken any time to internalize His Word so that the wealth of meaning and depth of transforming mercy and truth won’t penetrate and soften our heart.
Psalm 23 is said to be the most universally familiar of all the Psalms. But is it as personal as God intends it to be… for YOU? For other loved ones who exist in your circle of concern or influence?
Closely akin to treating The Lord’s Prayer in the same way [impersonally, on the surface], the 23rd Psalm has the potential of being so familiar, and yet so impersonal, it could become contemptible if we’re not honest and careful: that’s how a divided heart works. First Shepherd, and then King, David, a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22), was inspired to pen these words from a very real, very personal, very broken, very forgiven, and very redeemed realm of his heart.
We need to be very honest about whether or not we’ve, by God’s grace in faith, made each inspired word… our OWN. In order to have a heart that is soft enough to be alive, to resonate with the Spirit’s presence, to hear, to listen, and to love to change, we must first be born again.
Please note the personal pronouns that dominate David’s hymn of fruitful subservience and adulation: what is most personal is most universal. Have you, by grace and faith alone, made God and David’s words your very, heart-of-your-heart, own?
Lastly, before we look more closely at a Psalm so familiar that you may not have ever applied it to your own life, please look closely at some words that describe what every funeral looks like: from the heart-level:
“There are only two kinds of people in the world! They’re both going to suffer [and die]. There’s the kind of person that suffering makes worse, because the source of their joy being taken away. And there’s the kind of person who suffering makes better because the suffering is pushing them towards the one source of joy that is not subject to circumstances. Jesus Christ suffered not so that we might not suffer, but rather when we suffer, we could become more like him!” (The Sufferer, Sermon by Pastor Tim Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, NY, March 7, 2004, parentheses added)
Lovingly offered: Which one, of “two kinds of people,” are you?
If the Lord—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is truly your shepherd, you have the choice to be bettered by every form or magnitude of the inevitable suffering that is derived from living in broken world (Gen. 3; Rom. 1:18-32); and if the Lord, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is truly NOT your shepherd, the only road is the one to embitterment, isolation, darkness, despair, Beloved. Choose the narrow road of faith, not the broad road of unbelief. (Matthew 7:13)
“Spirit of God, please help us, and those we can influence, be as honest and personal as possible as we read, Psalm 23 today… and each and every time You bring it, and any part of Your inspired Word, to our minds. Amen.”
The Lord is my Shepherd
THAT’S RELATIONSHIP—When did Jesus, The God-Man, Good Shepherd, become your good shepherd? What’s your conversion story? In what ways have you, or do you, personally feel cared for, watched over, “pastured”/fed, sought after when lost, lovingly goaded as a son or daughter, counted as most special-unique… guided and guarded by God the Father, Son, Holy Spirit? Can you describe what a relationship with Jesus is like to a family member, a friend, a co-worker, a stranger, an enemy?
I shall not want
THAT’S SUPPLY—What does your “contentedness dial” look like on the dashboard of your life? Red-lining on the low-to-empty side—with yesterday’s angst and tomorrow’s worries in control of today? Or, if you were stripped naked of all worldly things, would you still feel a deep, abiding, gratified, deep-breath-and-blessed level of peace? When you consider times of great abundance AND times of great desolation, do you feel like you’re resting on a Rock-Solid Foundation of your “first-importance peace”: a relationship with The Immovable, Unshakable, Never-Ending One? Is living the comparison, envious, not-quite-good-enough life crushing you in any way(s)?
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures
THAT’S REST—Did you know that sheep never lie down in an open pasture until four conditions are met? Sheep must be free of fear; free of torment by flies or parasites; free of hunger; and free of discord, clashing between their fellow sheep? (Philip Keller, “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23”). How free do you feel to deeply rest in the pasture cleared by God, and for just for YOU… right smack dab where The Good Shepherd has providentially placed you for today?
He leadeth me beside still waters
THAT’S REFRESHMENT—How would you answer the question, “What does it feel like to be spiritually parched, dehydrated?” Hard to put words to, or not? Please try… Better yet, can you recall a time when Jesus, The Living Water, and by the Spirit and/or another Saint, wonderfully and perfectly refreshed you in some way? Some folks have a very high threshold for feeling thirst; like me, I can go a whole day without a drink of liquid; and that’s not good. But FAR worse if I were to never feel parched for God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. What say you? “Got Refreshment?”
He restoreth my soul
THAT’S HEALING—Could you offer a story, testimony of what it looks like in your life as being downcast, in darkness, perhaps despair—an then moving to restoration, healing, hope, and an increased devotion to other’s healing and restoration? There is no human being who hasn’t experienced some iteration of the former; and some have experienced the joy of the latter. How about you? When have you been wracked with spiritual, emotional, psychological, physical exhaustion… and then move to being refreshed by God and some of His Saints? At the end of it, could you say, “God, His love, and Saints in my community, restored my soul!”
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness
THAT’S GUIDANCE—Akin to a shepherd’s staff being hooked at one end, or the crosier of a bishop or abbot, “The Good Shepherd’s crook” is used to guide an aberrant, lost, or confounded sheep; and is a discipline—from, a) either a harsh, legalistic, and prodding narcissist… or, b) from a loving, personal, forgiving, and eternally devoted Abba-Father-Daddy… God. God is full of manifold and mercies upon mercies. So the heart of the matter is a matter of our… YOUR… heart. How does your Abba-Father-God’s goading, discipline, course correction, cleaning up… feel to you? Are you full of gratitude, or grumbling? Or are you, perhaps, not even aware of God’s guiding hand at all?
For His name sake
THAT’S PURPOSE—Please take all of the above—Father, Son and Spirit… in a relationship to YOU of supply, rest, refreshment, healing, and guidance: Do you wake most days with first an identity and then a purpose to bless and glorify God, and bless others as well, under the auspices of these manifestations of the Lord as YOUR Good Shepherd? Is it your mission in life to remind anyone God places you in contact with how they’re loved by God?
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
THAT’S TESTING—Philip Keller [above] reminds us that the only way to the mountainous green pastures is through the dangerous mountain valleys where wolves and coyotes are in hiding, waiting for their next victim: suffering, death, disease, the full range of paper-cut to horrific, unspeakable trials of all sorts are an inevitable reality of living in a way-broken universe. And of all the things within this Psalm that will prove, reveal the reality and measure of one’s faith… The Good Shepherd’s providential control and use of suffering is seminal. We walk through the valley of death every day, will death and suffering make YOU bitter or better?
I will fear no evil
THAT’S PROTECTION—God’s covenantal, objective assurances, promises, and peace in Christ take a while to personalize, deepen, flourish and become OUR OWN. What forms of The Fall—the world, the flesh, and the devil—do you fear? Or, deep down inside, can you say, “I fear no evil! In fact, bring it! All evil can ultimately do is conform me more and more into Jesus’ likeness, or deliver me into Jesus’ everlasting arms.”
For Thou art with me
THAT’S FAITHFULNESS—If you were on trial as “a person of faith and made wise by our trials,” would there be enough evidence to convict you? What would the evidence look like for your life? What might you HOPE it would look like—and how could you get on course to make your faith and lived-out life… real?
Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me
THAT’S DISCIPLINE—I wonder how many of us were raised in homes—as a beloved Son and Daughter of a beloved Father and Mother—whereby discipline of any kind felt deeply corrective AND comforting? For me, raised in a trifecta of shame, criticism, and anonymity, “the rod and staff” were the furthest thing from comforting. Since my conversion 34 years ago, my Sonship has become more and more real and relational. How about YOU—then? And now?
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies
THAT’S HOPE—Can you name some attributes of transcendent, everlasting, eternal hope—that act as an unshakable foundation of faith for YOU? [Try and think about this in the context of stories, times of suffering, trials you endured, were transformed by, and provided a thimble- or cosmos-full of HOPE. What has made YOU a more hope-full person?]
Thou anointest my head with oil
THAT’S CONSECRATION—Do YOU have both an “elevator-ride length” and a longer, more detailed narrative of your story—and, in particular, YOUR conversion, “consecration into God’s family?” When, as an adult, did you a) see God’s holiness, b) repent of your sinfulness, c) beseech God to forgive you, and d) consecrate you, your life, in baptism and in service, in Christ?
My cup runneth over
THAT’S ABUNDANCE—As Stephen Covey said, there are two types of people in the world: those who have an abundance mentality, and those who have a scarcity mentality: the origins and motivations for either are complicated, but need to get worked out for the Good! The world is either an ever-expanding offering of “sustenance running over,” and a zero-sum, fixed, and shrinking amount. What does YOUR heart look like? Have you lost enough—again and again—to know you had nothing but God’s over-running, manifold, and great mercies to begin with?
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life
THAT’S BLESSING—God’s blessed assurance of this kind is only found in Christ: promises from a God Who cannot lie. Could you name, list, offer a testimony to how God’s promises have been a blessing—to YOU? If you only had the time between the first and tenth floor of an elevator ride, what attributes of God’s goodness and mercy would you recall to a fellow-person? This isn’t easily realized for many of us because we don’t “Stay Put!” in our suffering long enough to realize what we actually lack… So God’s REAL and PERSONAL goodness and mercy remain abstractions reserved for the Super-Saints more worthy than ourselves. Has God’s goodness and mercy followed YOU in the best AND the in worst of times?
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
THAT’S SECURITY—In exactly what, who, when, what if, if only… have you invested your eternal Hope and temporal hope in? In what 3-5 specific ways are you looking forward to The New Earth [HEAVEN]? How have you already experienced it here on earth? Or do you feel, in some deep, dark, and stinky-scary place, like you’re fearfully IN-secure? And might just miss heaven by one little mess up, or a biggie buried in your past, here on earth? Where does the Psalmist get off proclaiming, “…I WILL DWELL…!”? How can he be so sure? How can you be so secure-sure where will YOUR infinity be spent? And how will your finite influenced by your faith?
If This Feast of the Heart Has Been Polarizing, Challenging, Nourishing for YOU, Good!
Jesus lovingly yet boldly said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:43) There is no opportunity for healing, redemption, change of any lasting kind devoid of pain, surgery, a cutting or breaking of one’s heart. I truly hope this loving confrontation, offer to GetReal, has been, will be, used of The Trinity to internalize Reformation, Revival, and Constructive Revolution so that you and your do the same for those God has placed in your circle of concern and/or influence.
Until we feast again,