Reflections on a Massive Feeding

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In recent days I have spent some time focusing on the four accounts from the New Testament of Jesus feeding the 5,000 men (Matthew 14, Mark 6, Luke 9, John 6). I have been looking at these various accounts of this famous event by means of that old spiritual practice known as the Lectio Divina. Some reflections from my experience with these passages include the following items, as recorded in my journal:

“First, I was immediately drawn to the compassion that Jesus owns for the great crowd that has sought him out, and this especially considering Jesus himself had to have been hurting. Oft overlooked is the reality that John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin and comrade, has just been beheaded. We little appreciate the grief of this for Jesus. Had it been me I am sure I would have shut down; been unwilling to care about the crowd. Jesus, however, seemed energized.

“Secondly, it is peculiar to me that the Lord invited the disciples to go away to a desolate place to rest, only to have them arrive in the midst of a waiting and needy crowd. No doubt the Lord knew this would be the case. It could not have escaped him. Indeed, it seems there was no opportunity for them to rest, for even following the day with the 5,000 men the disciples are hurriedly placed into a boat only to row furiously against a wind throughout the night.

“Another item that my heart and mind is drawn to is the crowd itself, the sheep who appear as those without a shepherd. It is one thing to be a sheep working under the watchful care of a shepherd, but these had nothing like that. Those who do can be ornery enough, but sheep without any leader watching them must be a real mess. This was that kind of a crowd. Into this crowd Jesus waded to heal and to teach. And, ultimately, to feed. This compassionate one who arrived so as to rest gave himself fully to a crowd that was no doubt very tough.”

Further into my journal I penned these thoughts, summaries of my reflections:

“I think I have needed to be reminded of the compassion of Jesus, a compassion I am to model to those around me, but one also I need to receive more comfortably from Jesus. The reality is that I cannot give away what I do not already have.

“Secondly, I’ve needed to see how powerfully Jesus works in desolate places. Whether this is one’s heart—even my own—or a seemingly remote place of ministry, Jesus loves to invade the desolate places with his presence; with his peace.

“Related to these is a third thing: how much the Lord cares about shepherd-less sheep in all their vast array. I little think about the variety of people within the crowd: the mothers who have dreams about their children, or who are exhausted from their labors. The men who are oppressed by the Romans, harassed by Jewish legalism, who worry about making ends meet; those whose bodies are broken, or those for whom Jesus is a mere circus side-show. Jesus doesn’t appear impatient about these realities. As I said earlier, he seems energized by it all; so patient and, well, good.

“Yet another piece of interest for me is that Jesus so thoroughly satisfies the crowd. They ate until they were full. Not one who remained with Jesus was left wanting. Oh that I could remember this for my days. I am so quickly willing to believe that things other than Jesus satisfy. Only Jesus ultimately can; and yet it is noteworthy that he employs as tools simple things like bread and fish to do the job. Just as I’ve been sharing with my precious girls lately, it is often the very simple things through which the Lord most resoundingly gets our attention.”

Perhaps that’s enough for now. There’s more. Maybe I’ll share it later.

Comments

  1. Michael The Red says:

    FYI, posting with an android phone will create funny typo’s. Apparently the 4 ecumenical councils were about money..

  2. Michael The Red says:

    I would like to chime in and point out a few observations.

    1. Just because something has its roots in Catholicism or was performed by a catholic priest does not make it wrong. This is clearly a logical fallacy (guilt by association). You cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater. Mind you, I have been called many things but never a supporter of Catholicism.

    2. Just because something is non-biblical does not mean it is un-biblical. If we take this view we can no longer stand on the shoulders of our church fathers for an orthodox understanding of scriptures. We would throw out everything written and recorded about the 4 economical councils, the epistles of people such as Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Ignatius, Martyr, Etc.

    2. There has been more than just a little bit of tension on the blog regarding Pastor Matthew’s view regarding the Doctrines of Grace and such. I would encourage each of you who are struggling with this to take up Matthew on his coffee invitation. John Calvin and those who agree with his view of soteriology do not do so without painful study of the scriptures.

    3. If you are a member of Bethel and take that much issue with Matthew’s sermons than address him face to face. We should be in unity in essential things such as the core truths in Christianity. In non-essentials or those things that if misunderstood do not prevent our relationship with Christ, we should have liberty so we can each follow our conscience by His Word and Spirit. In everything, we have to show love (Col 3:14). Don’t sit by on this blog and debate Matthew, go talk to him.

    Finally, I myself took issue with a number of issues in the article on “lectio divina”, but that’s for another post.

  3. Jeremy says:

    Harold–thank you for the follow up. Matthew, my concern remains—and I agree with Harold that the warning must be sounded.

    It is through reading God’s Word that we are cleansed, strengthened, built-up, encouraged, challenged, and so much more. But practicing “gentle listening” and seeking “an ‘atunement’ to the presence of God in that special part of God’s creation which is the Scriptures” sounds quite a bit more mysterious.

    Meditating on God’s Word is part of the lifestyle of the blessed man of Psalm 1. Scripture is clear, however, that our meditation is to be on our God or His Word. We are not to empty or quiet our mind but rather fill it WITH God’s Word. Meditation as taught by lectio divina, “gently repeating it to ourselves, allow it to interact with our thoughts, our hopes, our memories, our desires” sounds much more mystical.

    No student of the Word would deny that prayer is integral to spiritual life. However, “just as a priest consecrates the elements of bread and wine at the Eucharist, God invites us in lectio divina to hold up our most difficult and pain-filled experiences to Him, and to gently recite over them the healing word or phrase He has given us in our lectio and meditatio” sounds more like reciting mantras than biblical prayer as taught or practiced in the Bible. (I’m assuming I don’t need to draw any more attention to the fact that the catholic author relates it to the critical moment in the Mass when the bread and wine are “consecrated” into the real body and blood of Christ.)

    James warns the man who comes to God’s Word, looks into it, sees what needs to change, but then goes away unchanged. Lectio divina teaches advocates to contemplate–to “practice silence, letting go of our own words; this time simply enjoying the experience of being in the presence of God.” I find no scriptural support for the Spiritual Discipline of Silence that is becoming increasingly mainstream in evangelical circles.

    With all due respect, Matthew, if (as your response indicates) you weren’t “really” practicing lectio divina–then why say that you were?

    As one called to be “an example to the flock”, if you weren’t advocating lectio divina, then why describe it as “that old spiritual practice” as though it were something we should all be doing?

    Shepherds are to “give instruction in sound doctrine and rebuke those who contradict it”. Why then would you introduce this practice and expose your congregation to a catholic monastery which proclaims a false gospel and teaches disciplines including lectio devina without scriptural support?

  4. Harold says:

    Pastor Matthew, do you really think it would disappoint me if you weren’t an overly mystical person? I am not looking for reasons to be critical of you. I’m sure Jeremy isn’t either. But we see you bringing up extra-biblical (even anti-biblical) teachings and introducing them to your flock.
    Please don’t confuse lectio divina with Biblical meditation. I am no way denying Biblical meditation such as the examples you brought up along with meditating on God’s works, His precepts, His statutes, His wonders, along with remembering and meditating on what He has did for you and me. Biblical meditating is meditating on something.
    However, just as an aside, regarding what you said about Gen. 24:63, “And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening”. You explain, “He had no Scriptures, but went in a spirit of prayer and reflection to a quiet place to focus his attention upon YHWH.” How do you know this is what Isaac did? According to Strong’s Concordance the exact meaning of the Hebrew word translated “meditate”, which is only used here, is unknown.
    But back to the point. Please don’t confuse lectio divina with prayer either. Of course prayer is good and necessary and finding time to pray to God away from the world’s activities is a wonderful thing. Combining prayer with meditating on God’s word is what is necessary to sanctify us through the Holy Spirit so that we become more like Jesus.
    However, Lectio Divina is a method which uses the truth of the Bible and the truth of prayer to accomplish something which is unbiblical – to bring us into the silence. This of course sounds good, but did the Lord tell the Israelites to latch on to the good things that the Philistines and Caananites had to offer in their religion? Of course not. Nearly all false teaching involves some truth. Look at my previous comment again regarding how all of this relates to the New Age movement, Hinduism, etc. then let’s look at some snippets from the website which you had linked to your page:
    “lectio divina – a slow, contemplative praying of the Scriptures which enables the Bible, the Word of God, to become a means of union with God.”
    “ONCE WE have found a word or a passage in the Scriptures that speaks to us in a personal way, we must take it in and “ruminate” on it.” (This is mantra meditation. Notice how this can be accomplished with only one word?)
    “…we practice silence, letting go of our own words; this time simply enjoying the experience of being in the presence of God.”
    “PLACE YOURSELF in a comfortable position and allow yourself to become silent. Some Christians focus for a few moments on their breathing; other have a beloved “prayer word” or “prayer phrase” they gently recite in order to become interiorly silent. For some the practice known as “centering prayer” makes a good, brief introduction to lectio divina. Use whatever method is best for you and allow yourself to enjoy silence for a few moments.”
    “IN THE early monastic tradition contemplation was understood in two ways. First was theoria physike, the contemplation of God in creation – God in “the many.” Second was theologia, the contemplation of God in Himself without images or words – God as “The One.” From this perspective lectio divina serves as a training-ground for the contemplation of God in His creation.” (This is panentheism – God is in all things. It’s not that God created all things, they say He is actually in all things. That means God is in all people too, not just Christians.)
    I would love to sit down and have coffee with you sometime but since you introduced people to lectio divina via this blog, we need to warn people as well via this blog. Again, I pray that the Lord may open your mind to understand the deception that is coming into the church.

  5. Matthew says:

    Jeremy and Harold . . .

    Thank you for your contributions. I’m quite aware of the concerns some have with Lectio Divina. I welcome your feedback, and am grateful for your confidence in sharing it.

    I suppose I am going to disappoint you both, and, I am sure others. I am frankly not an overly mystical person, and certainly mantras and such were nothing close to my experience. I simply enjoyed the idea of carving out a private place at a structured spiritual retreat so that I could focus on my regular study of the Scriptures and of prayer regarding what I was reading.

    The things motivating me were not weird mystical rhythms or breathing exercises or things of that nature. Actually the things that were motivating me in this experience were these:

    “And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening” (Genesis 24:63). He had no Scriptures, but went in a spirit of prayer and reflection to a quiet place to focus his attention upon YHWH. This is one of my favorite images in the Bible.

    “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8). This has been and remains one of my lifelong plumb-lines.

    “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35). I love this picture of our Lord taking time to find a place of solitude, away from the activity, to give concentrated time to his Father.

    And Jesus prayed to his Father, saying, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). One of my steadfast prayers is that God’s Word would always be exfoliating my soul, making me teachable, tender, filled with grace and courage, spiritual wisdom and nobility, and, most of all, set apart daily for his honor.

    I get, of course, that some may take the structure of Lectio Divina or any number of other so-called spiritual disciplines and twist them for personal or devilish gain. On the other hand, one need not do that either, any more than having the Internet means I must look at pornography. Clearly the computer is a structure that can be useful for good, presuming the heart of the individual is mature and responsible. I happen to think spiritual discipline structures can be used for good too.

    For me the opportunity I had with this particular spiritual exercise was well-suited for what I needed. I spent time worshiping God in song, praying through the things that God had lain upon my heart, and, most of all, meditating upon the Word. As I look at the reflections gleaned from that experience, some of which are mentioned in my blog post, I am encouraged that I could learn more about the boldness and compassion of Jesus, his willingness to love the crowds in their vast array, and the reality that in ministry rest is found not so much in a quiet spot but being right in the center of God’s will, serving him faithfully and with joy and obedience.

    Again, Jeremy and Harold, I’m thankful for your correspondence. Knowing that these thoughts, offered humbly and prayerfully, may not fully satisfy, let me personally invite you to coffee and/or lunch so that the love and grace of Christ can shape our fellowship where mere words in print (or, in this case, on a computer monitor) may not.

  6. Jeremy says:

    With all due respect, I too would ask, “what are you doing”?

    I am surprised that you would shamelessly link to the website of a Roman Catholic monastery detailing Lectio Devina. Was it of no consequence that the article describing it was written by a catholic priest? Even beyond the origin and authorship–aren’t there other warnings signs in the content itself?

    The first sentence attempts to give Lectio Devina credibility by stating that it was “practiced at one time by all Christians”. However, we find nothing of the sort in scripture. Scan through the article and notice that apart from 1 Kings 19:12 and Luke 2:19 (both of which were sorely taken out of context)–there is no scriptural support provided for this practice. Lectio Devina wasn’t taught by the Lord Jesus, wasn’t practiced by the early church, and certainly wasn’t further developed theologically by the New Testament writers. On the contrary, the practice can be traced back only as far as Origen (AD 220) and was systematized much later by the twelfth-century monk Guigo II.

    The sentence goes on to describe how this practice enables to the Bible to “become a means of union with God.” 1 Timothy 2:15-16 tells us that scripture is “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” Paul describes several proper uses for scripture, but gives no indication that we are to seek a mystic union with God via reading of the scripture.

    And what about these other warnings in the first paragraph:
    – “an underlying spiritual rhythm”?
    – “accept the embrace that God is continuously extending to us”?

    Paragraph two is no better indicating that we should seek extra-biblical revelation via listening for “the still, small voice of God; the faint murmuring sound which is God’s word for us, God’s voice touching our hearts.” Those who are commanded to “hold firm to the trustworthy Word” must be most cautious not to seek extra-biblical revelation.

    It would be a good exercise in spiritual discernment to continue on through the article, but I’ll stop here–hoping that you are convinced of the danger.

    Lectio Divina promotes a super-rational experience in which God speaks to an individual beyond the words on the page in imaginative and non-cognitive ways. I must agree with Harold that this heretical, mystical practice should not be promoted or propagated.

  7. Harold says:

    Pastor Matt, what are you doing? First you introduce your congregation to the man-made tradition of Calvinism, and now you bring them to Catholicism and the New Spirituality (New Age) movement via Lectio Divina. Lectio Divina is so-called Christian mysticism. It is an attempt to bring people into the silence so they can supposedly hear from God. This is the same silence in which New Agers hear from their spirit guides, Hindus hear from their guides, Sufi mystics hear from their gods, and Christians supposedly hear from our God.
    When Christians go into this silence, they don’t hear from God, they hear from demons. People that enter into the silence regularly, whether it’s via Lectio Divina, mantra meditation, breath prayers, etc. almost always end up with a new understanding of Christianity, the Bible, etc. Their theology changes. It becomes more universal.
    Pastor Matt, when Jesus speaks of the end times, deception (not only in the world, but in the church as well) is mentioned as a sign of the times four times as much as anything else. Do you truly want to be a part of this deception?
    My prayer is that you will stick only to the word of God to feed the flock in which you were given.

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