Zachary Bright

The Wonder of it All

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Prayer – Part Tres/Trois/Drei/Tre/San/Three

Let’s reflect a bit more about prayer. A helpful device for remembering some of the essential aspects of prayer is the acronym ACTS (like The Book of Acts in the New Testament).
1. “Adoration” This means to praise God for just who he is: good, loving, holy, all-knowing, all-powerful, beautiful, majestic, faithful, source of life, creating, saving, redeeming, etc. (I’m getting excited. Let me stop here and praise the One Who deserves all glory! OK, I’m back.) You can think of many more attributes or find names, titles and attributes for the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in the Bible. To adore and praise the living God is to do what is deeply congruent with our created nature. We come alive and enjoy the pleasure of admiration and appreciation. My early instruction on prayer, contemplation, meditation and other spiritual practices came from immersing myself in the book, “Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth” (Harper & Row, Publishers, 1978) by Richard J Foster. I read almost every other book mentioned by Foster in that book. He has also more recently written, “Prayer: Finding the Hearts’ True Home” (HarperSanFrancisco, 1992), but I have not read it. For a L’Abri approach, you might try, “The Heart of Prayer: What Jesus Teaches Us” (P&R Publishing, 2008) by Jerram Barrs. Also review again my post, “What We Are”.

2. “Confession” This means that entering the Presence of the holy God, we acknowledge that we are sinful. We agree with God about our sins, what we have done and what we have left undone, sinful acts and words but also sinful attitudes in our hearts. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8, ESV) (Yikes! I have something to confess. OK, I’m back.) Now we are ready to hear once again the good news: “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9, ESV) If we are disciples of Jesus, that is if we have thrown ourselves into his arms and he is everything to us, God sees us clothed in the righteousness of Jesus. Because Jesus paid the penalty for our sin on the cross with his blood, we are now justified before God, just-as-if-I’d never sinned.

3. “Thanksgiving” It is right that we should thank God for all the good he has done for us and others. In older language: “Forget not all his benefits”. Gratitude is so important for what we can see (epistemology). Gratitude is central to the question of whether each of us will bend our knees and acknowledge God as God. “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Rom. 1:21, ESV) Our primary role in life should not be that of the critic, squinting-eyed, suspicious. We should be wide-eyed with wonder and thankfulness. You can see so much more and it is much more fun! Thank God for everything: salvation, life, healing, protection, guidance, answered prayers, family, friends, the Church, creation, the fruit of the Spirit, the Word of the Lord, the pleasures of music, your mind, the grace of bodies in motion, the amazing sight of Jack catching a ball and so much more. Read anything in Psalms 103 -107 to get started.`

4.”Supplication” I have already discussed this in “Prayer – Part Uno, etc.”. I will add this though: everyone prays. If one does not pray to the true and living God, one will pray to an idol or just to the “principles” of reality (I’m thinking of so many laughable projects like that guy on Oprah who suggests that just thinking about what you want will cause it to come to you, for instance, money; yeah, – sarcasm alert – try this where there are immediate dangers, like Nigeria, Sudan, etc.), or maybe one will just whistle in the dark or cross one’s fingers. Intercession is supplication for other people, taking hold of God in behalf of others. My Mother has written about this kind of prayer in her book, “A Passion for Prayer” (Regal/Gospel Light, 2012) by Vonette Bright.

Some day I will probably write about the “Jesus Prayer”, from Eastern Orthodoxy, and the “Lord’s Prayer” (really the “Disciples’ Prayer”) and Jesus’ teaching on prayer in Matthew 6-7. But the next few posts are to be about other themes I have been preparing.

This post has been powered by “Kathryn Scott – Live At Focusfest” (2009) by Kathryn Scott and “Brother,Sister” (2006) and “It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All A Dream! It’s Alright” (2009) both by mewithoutYou.

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Prayer – Part Dos/Deux/Zwei/Due/Two

we can ignore

When Jack the Bible Study Dog (BSD) is not studying the Bible, he is often studying me. In the post, “Prayer – Part Uno, etc.”, I reflected, with Jack’s help, on prayer as supplication or asking. But now I want to reflect on prayer as focus on God himself and prayer as hearing from God.

As I said, the BSD often seems to be studying me. To be sure Jack has culinary interests and is alert for the opportunity to eat. And he also is a social/pack animal and likes to be near the pack and to sleep and play with the pack leader (C’est moi.). But he seems to study me for long periods of time, even when food is not offered. He drags his bed into my office to be near me. Jack often stretches his long body on the floor and watches me for a half hour or more. Part of a relationship with God is seeking to know him, to study him, to watch him, if you will. We must not be too proud to ask, to beg for what we need and for the needs of others. And yet, we should seek not only God’s hand, what he gives and does, but also God’s face, to soak in who he is, to enjoy him. I am reminded of the posture of the Psalmist before God:
“Behold as the eyes of servants
look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maidservant
to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the LORD our God,
till he has mercy upon us.” (Psalm 123:2, ESV)
I remember my Dad saying in a speech that he was touched when I came in to read where he was working and I said, I just wanted to be with him. I imagine that God, who has loved us since before creation, also desires us to want just to be with him and receive the blessings of his Presence. Our eyes could be focused on our Lord, alert to his every desire, like a good servant. Think of an attentive waitress or waiter in a restaurant. See also my earlier post, “Thick Skin and Tender Hearts”.

How does one see, watch, study and attend and wait upon God? We can listen to his Word to us in the Bible. We can spend time quietly before him enjoying his Presence and love. Since God is everywhere, we might catch a glimpse of him in the people we encounter, in nature, in the story of our lives, the patterns we see in our lives, in dreams and in worship. The first question and answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism reads something like this: Q. What is the chief end of man? A. The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. John Piper has famously changed that: To glorify God by enjoying him forever. And Piper often says: “God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him.” We are made for joy and delight in the Presence of God. C.S. Lewis said: “Joy is the serious business of heaven.”

I wrote in an earlier post about living with an unoffended heart. We can ask why the bad things happen and think that we need to have an explanation before we can open ourselves to God and spend time before his face. But it is only now that we can meet God. The past is gone. The future is not here. Rather than let regret for the past or anxiety about the future bleed into today and distract us from being alert to God, let us spend time before God now and live in day-tight compartments.

Jesus said: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27, ESV) Many people think the voice of the Lord is rare. How can people who are disciples, “sheep” of Jesus not hear his voice? What if Jesus is speaking to us continually, but through disobedience or sloth we have come to have a habit of not hearing Jesus? Maybe his voice has become background noise, like the air conditioner whoosh that we don’t notice. But if we respond to what might be the voice of Jesus, we begin to learn to recognize his voice more clearly and quickly. What if we make a mistake? So what? We learn only by responding to God and taking a risk. Some of the content of this paragraph was suggested to me over 35 years ago by my friend Chuck Shoemake.

Well the BSD has delayed this post by seducing me into playing ball with him. It is really cool to see Jack catch the ball in the air. We used to have an amazing rat terrier that could catch a frisbee very well. But I am told that Jack is a better catcher than Chesterton was at Jack’s age. Jack has interrupted his studies and gone to sleep. I will join him soon, but I expect Jesus to speak to me in my sleep.

Let me tell you an old joke. A dog looks at her master and thinks “Wow, he feeds me, gives me shelter and cares for me! He must be God!” A cat looks at his master and thinks “Wow, he feeds me, gives me shelter and cares for me! I must be God!” Which one models the attitude we should have before God? You can see that I am not a big cat fan, LOLSTC!

This post was powered by “Invisible Empires” (2011) by Sara Groves, “Before the Mountains” (2012) by Sarah Brendel and “Crimson Cord” (2014) by Propaganda.

1902058_725863554119978_1937886333_nnot offended


Prayer – Part Uno/Uns/Eins/One

Coffee an alternative

Jack, the Bible Study Dog, has recovered quite well from his difficulties noted in an earlier post. Tonight, Jack and I have been involved in prayer, more specifically in supplication, which means simply asking, and more specifically still, supplication to Terry that she go to Starbucks and use my free birthday drink to buy me a quad venti skinny caramel macchiatto, and then to the store to buy double shot coffee plus energy drinks, one of which I require each morning. Jack knows that I am more responsive to his interests if I am not comatose. When first supplicated, Terry said she would go tomorrow morning. That’s O.K. But, out of the blue, she said, “Maybe I’ll put some clothes on and go out tonight.” Immediately our ears perked up (though it’s hard to tell with Jack because his ears are almost always erect) and our eyes brightened. Our hope is leaking away now.

Coffee is very important to some generations of Presbyterians, like mine. It has been called the third Presbyterian sacrament. Presbyterian and Reformed theology can be placed under the categories of Guilt, Grace and Gratitude, in that order (see especially the first two questions of the Heidelberg Catechism). Part of what this means is that instead of serving God to gain his favor and acceptance, we serve God out of Gratitude for what he has done for us in creation and redemption (in Grace). Well, I used to joke with my congregation that truly Reformed coffee should be a near-death experience. It should be so strong that after a swallow, as the constricted throat begins to open up and we gasp for air, great praise and gratitude begins to rise to God because we are alive (or we survived)! Don’t get me started on how coffee may help in avoiding and treating dementia. The life of the mind is so valued by Presbyterians (ha, ha)!

People at the Thursday Night Bible Study often remark that Jack seems to be praying. And he is, though perhaps not to God (yet I remember the Scripture text, “the young lions seek their prey from God”). Jack will look intently at me while I am teaching or praying, hoping I will give him a table scrap. He is a firm believer in the Scripture, “you have not because you ask not”. He has also been experimenting with different postures of supplication, noting the relative results of his prayers. Of course, since dogs are opportunistic predators, Jack might take closed eyes as an invitation to steal food off a table.

These experiences point to common patterns in our supplications to God. Sometimes I pray for something (wisdom, answer for an issue, healing of body or soul, to find the keys, etc.) and the answer comes immediately, tonight or in the morning. Other times I think I know when in the future an answer will come, and it comes then or doesn’t and maybe comes at a later time. And some prayers do not seem to have been answered yet (though the answer could, of course, be “no”). See my post, “We Shape One Another”, to see how we take on God’s character and desires, and so praying God’s desires back to him, we participate in shaping our world along with God. But we are not talking about that now.

We are talking about continuing to pray with mixed results. Jack sometimes judges that his persistence is likely to go unrewarded at this time, and so, he retires from the field of battle to take a nap and gather his energy for another assault. But persistence will result in greater alertness to ‘answers’ or opportunities, what Jack calls “ops”. Also over time we find that our desires and prayers are being sorted out so that we learn what kinds of prayers God desires or what kinds might be successful.

But then there is this, embodied in a parable/story by Jesus. Jack could tell this kind of story in his sleep. Watching his rapid eye movements, I suspect he is. The story:

“And [Jesus] told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, “Give me justice against my adversary.” For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, “Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.”‘ And the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?'” (Luke 18:1-8, ESV)

Of course God is not “unrighteous” and I hope that Jack does not think that I am. Also, “justice” is a more profound, and in a sense, ‘bigger’ prayer than prayer for finding a parking place. But Jesus himself said that the story was simply told that we might always pray and never lose heart. As a child I sang the song: “Seek and ye shall find; Knock and the door will be opened; Ask and the love will come a-tumbling down.”

May we all not lose heart but live with courage and hope!

This post was powered by “Forever and a Day” (2003) by Anthony Skinner and “Dig” (1992) and “Homeboys” (1990) both by Adam Again.


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You Make Me Brave

You Make Me Brave.

This heart-warming post by a young woman that I have not met before, reminds me so much of myself in earlier times, including the Jesus Movement in the early ’70s, and later the Charismatic Movement in the Presbyterian Church. Though I might not be able to move as much as I once did, I still am, to quote alternative singer-songwriter, Michael Knott, “holding hands in my heart with my Maker, to make it better…”


Making the Best of the Unendurable


“An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered; an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered.” – G.K. Chesterton (On Running After One’s Hat, All Things Considered, 1908)

I have not posted for a few days because I did not want to spread discouragement. Sometimes discouraging someone is a wicked thing to do. When we live in a world where people are slimed with evil or corruption and where entropy (The 1st and 2nd Laws of Thermodynamics) is a drag on all that we do, so that we must, with effort, create and maintain some beauty and order in our world, and keep some kind of hold on truth and reality, we all need all the courage we can get. C.S.Lewis wrote: “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” Courage is required for every other virtue. For instance, courage helps to make a love that endures. To endure the costs of our projects and dreams or merely to endure with patience, faith and hope the difficulties of life, requires courage.

What motivates these reflections? After an upcoming surgery on my foot, I am facing six or more weeks of non-weight-bearing and some time in a rehab center or skilled nursing facility. I have been in this position before: almost a year of not walking in 2003 and four months of being non-weight-bearing earlier this year. I’m not worrying about the future; I see the future. If you read my post, “True Freedom”, you might have a clue that I have ‘issues’ with loss of control and not being able to produce and just the whole captivity with no definite end in sight. Notice that I said ‘captivity’, not ‘confinement’ or ‘convalescence’. ‘Incarceration’ might not be far from the mark. For awhile I collected pictures of dogs, wolves and foxes caught in traps. I have heard that they will sometimes gnaw a leg off to get away. I would do that without hesitation. I have done not literally that, but some things very like that. I understand that millions of people around the world are going through great suffering that I may never face: Christians facing persecution or people with a terminal illness. Pain is not my issue; I may even have a high pain threshold. When I have broached this subject, people have said something like, “Oh yeah that must be uncomfortable but necessary for the desired result or to avoid something worse.” Well that is true as far as it goes, but I do not then feel understood on a deep level. Someone who could understand that with my temperament and experiences, the captivity might almost be worse than the disease, would give me some hope of being understood. Everyone that is working with me on health issues wants what is best for me and some of them love me. Sometimes I wish though, that one person on my health team would have the single aim of getting me out of captivity as soon as possible.

I believe everything that I wrote in other posts. Underneath me are the Everlasting Arms. God knows what is best for me and he is faithful and has never let me down. God will still use me for his glory, and to serve him is perfect freedom. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28, ESV) Moreover, I understand the wisdom of living in ‘day-tight compartments’. We should not let regret for the past or worry about the future to bleed into today, and it is only today that I can meet with God and know his presence. Perhaps, like many, your thoughts have leaped to St Paul’s declaration: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:13, NRSV) I can add to that. Job in his understanding, by the end of the book, of God’s revelation of himself proclaims that, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42:2, NRSV) Jesus assured a desperate father with a demonized son that, “All things can be done for the one who believes.” (Mark 9:23cc, NRSV) I suppose you know that a ‘but’ is coming. Well, yes…

But still, while relying on God’s purpose and provision, the question remains of how to face and endure a known reality. Finding the quote above from G.K. Chesterton helped me to decide to make the time in captivity an adventure, especially an adventure in reading. I remember that C.S. Lewis sometimes enjoyed being home ill, because he could then plan and execute an ambitious reading plan for the duration. So I will try to go into receiving mode and make the best of it. I have tried this before with mixed results. I will certainly tell you if it doesn’t work.

Someone will suggest that if something must be done, it can be done. That is pretty cold comfort, and besides, not always true. However, I have observed that often when we think we can’t endure any more, we can endure a little more, and then we can add a little more to that, and so on.

“Alone of all the creeds, Christianity has added courage to the virtues of the Creator. For the only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point and does not break.” – from Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton

This post was powered by the album, “Worldwide Favorites” (1999) and the song, “Hopeless, Etc.” (1992, from “Dig”) both by Adam Again, and the song, “You” (1997, from “The Legend of Chin”) by Switchfoot.

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You Say It’s Your Birthday…


Several people in my life have had birthdays recently. My mother just had her birthday on July 2nd. Today is my birthday. I have received birthday wishes from friends on Facebook and by email and I am grateful for all of them. I don’t know when Jack’s birthday is. Jack was rescued when he was just a few weeks old when some people abandoned their house and Jack. So since Jack and I share a particularly close canine-human symbiotic relationship, we have agreed that we will celebrate our birthdays on the same day. I have the words from that Beatles song going through my head: “You say it’s your birthday; well it’s my birthday too, yeah…” So, Happy Birthday Jack! Jack is with the vet today, so I have a rare time at home without Jack. Last night at Bible study, a friend noticed that the Bible Study Dog had what turned out to be an anal gland abscess. The anal glands release the scent that dogs are so eager to sniff when they get together. So Jack is spending part of his birthday at the vet.

Last year I had one of my best birthdays in recent years. I was non-weight-bearing in a a rehab hospital after breaking my leg on June 18th. I was wheeled to the cafeteria after hours for a birthday party. Friends from several eras of our life were there along with my Mother who was visiting from Florida because she had a speaking engagement in California. The food was excellent. My son Chris was mainly responsible for getting me a new Apple computer. Chris told a hilarious autobiographical story in a way only he can! Did I tell you that he was a theater major at university? Well he was. Chris is very talented. The next day my brother, Brad, and his wife Kathy, visited, also from Florida.

I was planning to publish a post before my last post, “Speak to Your Soul”. I came to acknowledge that, though I had spent a lot of time gathering materials and my thoughts for the post, I would not be able to write the post now, because I needed to do some more thinking about the theme. Here is some of what I would have written, so that you can follow this theme if you are interested. The post would have been entitled, “Guard Your Heart”. Then I would begin with this text: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4:23, NRSV) Then I would explicate Dallas Willard’s understanding of the distinction between the heart and other parts of the human being.

Willlard thought that often the biblical words for “will”, “spirit” and “heart” point to the same reality. The heart receives input from reason, emotions, the body, the soul and the external world, and using that input, makes decisions and judgements about the essential direction of one’s life. The soul is the most encompassing part of the human and seeks integration of the whole human. But, Willard wrote that the heart/will is a very small thing. To find out more about these distinctions, see the book: “Renovation of the Heart: Putting On the Character of Christ” (NavPress, 2002) by Dallas Willard. This caused me to think of the heart/will/spirit as a fine instrument which can be damaged and misdirected or programed with lies, hence the title. I had a long list of scriptures that I would have used and then I would have made some practical suggestions about how one can guard this precious instrument so that it operates properly for human flourishing.

If you are having a birthday soon, or even if you are not, live today in the presence of Christ, and with hope and courage!

This post was powered by “Flags” (2011) by Brooke Fraser.

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Speak to Your Soul


“Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.” (Psalm 42:11, ESV)
When Terry and I studied at the Swiss L’Abri in the 80s, Prof. Donald Drew would tell us: “Speak to your soul; don’t let your soul speak to you.” This thought is related to the example of the Psalmist in texts like the one above and also to the desire to not merely drift along with whatever chatter is happening in our heads, but to order our emotions to reflect what we believe, to Reality, to Truth.

In our culture, at least since the 19th century Romantic Movement, it seems natural to place a priority on emotions. I believe that, though we might not express it this way, we assume that we must obey our emotions and feelings. Otherwise, we are not ‘authentic’ or we are denying our ‘true selves’ or we are ‘phony’. I believe that what seems so obvious to us is really a largely unexamined assumption of our culture. I remember Woody Allen trying to justify his sexual relationship with his adopted step-daughter. He said, “The heart wants what it wants.” I remember a Christian television celebrity entitling her book, “I Gotta Be Me”.

Now emotions and feelings are not bad. They are part of our response to reality; they are an avenue of knowledge. They are also essential for motivation to act. C.S. Lewis found that a feeling of longing was part of what drew him to God, as he discovered repeatedly that what he thought he wanted did not satisfy his desire. God has made us so that we can appreciate beauty, order and truth. He has made us for delight and joy. I do not want to suggest that we should deny what we feel or repress our emotions. I just want to suggest that our assumption that we must obey our emotions is a particular cultural attitude that is relatively recent in human history and is in tension with our call to live in the light of God’s revelation of himself and of our world.

It follows then that we should feed our emotional life with that which helps to bring our emotions into harmony with what we believe. Daily Bible reading is important. The Psalmist’s “delight is in the law (torah, instruction) of the LORD and on his word he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1 from memory). We are promised the mind of Christ. This is where my saying, “The devil gets no space on my hard drive” comes in. For you IT nerds, I might have said “no space on my CPU”. I have a God-given mind with particular abilities. I will not use my mind for cynicism or lies. I will not engage in obsessive doubt. There is a place, of course, for asking honest questions where we really seek answers. But for a long time in our culture, since Rene Descartes (“I think therefore I am”), there has been an assumption that we must find an indubitable starting point for our thought, and then must engage in systematic doubt, so that we may believe only what cannot be doubted. Post-modernism has at least undermined this program and we should have understood earlier that this is an impossible program. I remember being caught in this mental hamster wheel. But now I seek to allow God to use my mind for his purposes. I am a ‘think tank’, if you will, for God’s people and I seek to understand my culture so that I can enter into the cultural stream and plant seeds that will change minds and maybe slightly move that culture toward openness to God’s love and reign.

What goes into our minds at the end of the day has great power to affect our emotions, especially if we have not taken the time to reflect on how our thoughts and feelings of this day fit into God’s story with us. Here is my theory of dreams. Dreams are mostly the mind processing the experiences of the day, coding them with emotion, making connections and starting memories on the way to storage in long-term memory. Sometimes God speaks to us or begins to heal us in our dreams. God has spoken to me in dreams. We all dream or have Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, but only some of us remember our dreams. Dreaming is very important to our spiritual and emotional health. This can be seen in studies where people were given adequate time to sleep but were repeatedly awakened before they could enter REM sleep. Eventually, as soon as they were allowed to sleep, they would enter into REM sleep. People deprived long enough of REM sleep begin to hallucinate.

Many of us work or play hard all day long. At the end of the day we are exhausted. So we do something mindless or watch television (but I repeat myself) until we collapse, and then wonder the next morning where our feelings are coming from and why we are in a funk. Our unexamined experiences and emotions have gone into our subconscious. How much better would we feel if we followed the Hebrew pattern of beginning the day in the evening? We might reflect on our day and how it fits into God’s story and then think about our opportunities of the next day. We could begin our day in the evening by committing our night and day into God’s hands through prayer. God gives his people peace in their sleep.

Think also about how we might see films. Let me suggest that rather than just view them as entertainment, we see them with other Christians, and then go out for coffee together and discuss what we have seen from the perspective of what we believe about God, humans, creation, salvation and all that God has revealed to us through the Bible. If the film is important for our cultural engagement, I am not very concerned about what it is rated. What is important is that we place the film in relationship with our Christian worldview.

Let us speak to our souls:
“Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 103:1-5, ESV)

This post was powered by “Hollow Songs” (2008), “Mercy Songs” (2010), “The Vault 1: Live in Kansas City, December 2006”, all by Michael Pritzl, and “The Story of Our Lives, Pt.1 – The Fantastic Machine” (2012) by The Violet Burning.


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Living Water


Did I tell you that I love water? You could have guessed it from my post, “An Amazing Place”. Today is the day for this post because the temperature is about 94 degrees Fahrenheit (!) here in Monrovia, CA. and the temperature for the next week is predicted to be similar. Did I tell you that I avoid heat? Yes, I did (in some post). Jack has learned to avoid heat also, watching me from the shaded porch now while I go to check the mail box. Smart dog. He will make his exercise up, like many of you will, in a nocturnal romp. Speaking of Jack (the Bible Study Dog), he’s wondering why we are not having our Thursday Night Bible Study, that he helps to host, in our home tonight. That’s because tomorrow is Independence Day and we are taking tonight off. However, the heat has us thinking about water, so thus this post.

More specifically, I am writing about “living water”. It’s a biblical term, and basically means running water instead of still water. So living water could be a stream, a river or a fountain but not a pond, a stagnant pool or a still lake. I suppose the ocean is a special case, but for me, that’s alive.

But in the Bible, “living water” is used as a metaphor for the life of God which he shares with humans. This can be seen in the offer of Jesus to the Samaritan woman, as he breaks through social barriers out of love to bring her forgiveness, acceptance, salvation and eternal life. Jesus has this habit of crashing into peoples’ lives and love-bombing them whether they think they are ready or not. This is not to say that Jesus is not spiritually calm and collected and focused on his Father, but his effect on people is explosive! World-views are turned upside-down, hearts are melted or hardened, people fall hopelessly in love with Jesus or they run for their lives (literally!), Jesus becomes a best Friend or the Enemy. Let’s listen for a moment to Jesus’ conversation with a Samaritan woman. “The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink,” you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?'” (John 4:9-11, NRSV) Good question. And reasonable. There’s the well: deep. And the bucket: non-existent (unless you want to use mine? No?). Sooo… The attractions of Jesus and his mysterious offer are pressing in on the Samaritan woman.

The question, universalized, is also our question: Where does one get living water? I’m not sure that we’ve ever asked any other question. Or at least, don’t so many questions boil down to where can I find deep, satisfying life that is not just an idea, but an overwhelming reality that soaks and saturates me to the core? Other ways to ask it: Where can I find refreshment? How can I find (know) God? Where can I find the power, ability to live a good life? Sometimes I think that even when we are asking mundane questions like getting driving or walking directions, we are still asking at a deep level ‘Is this real? Just like with the Samaritan woman, Jesus wants to scratch the itch, inflame the desire. C.S. Lewis wrote to the effect that Jesus doesn’t think that we desire too much or too strongly, but too little and too weakly. We are, Lewis wrote, like children, who when offered a holiday by the sea, not being able to imagine it, would prefer to remain in a slum and make mud-pies in the dirt.

Jesus is bold and proclaims that he has what we want. “On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”‘ Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive…” (John 7:37-39b, NRSV) Really Jesus proclaims that he and the Holy Spirit are what we need!

I’m ‘thirsty’. I’m ‘thirsty’ most of the time. I will go to Jesus. Will you join me?

Do you doubt that, at some deep level, we all, even if in a disguised way, are asking the God question and the satisfying life question? If we will not receive life in Jesus, we will create idols (see the post “What We Are”), something or someone we look to instead of God. Through the prophet Jeremiah, the LORD declares that “…those who turn away from me… have forsaken the fountain of living water, the LORD.” (Jer. 17:13, NRSV, margin Heb.) The LORD says that it is appropriate to be “appalled” (Jer. 2:12, NRSV) and “shocked” (Jer. 2:12, NRSV) because “…my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living water,
and dug out cisterns for themselves,
cracked cisterns
that can hold no water.” (Jer. 2:13, NRSV)
So let’s get this straight: 1) it’s evil and tragic to forsake the living God, the fountain of living water; and 2) it’s evil and sad to dig out for ourselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water. Cisterns were used to collect rain water in a semi-arid climate for domestic use. It’s sad to make arrangements apart from God for our sense of life, vitality and meaning because it doesn’t work.

Let me play with this idea of leaky cisterns a bit. So many of us find that our lives are like leaky containers. Vitality, a sense of meaning, spiritual life, the will to live just seem to leak away continually. And so we desperately fill ourselves up with whatever we can find. We desperately need to feel good, to have a sense of meaning, of purpose.
We suck the people around us dry. I have a huge need for meaning myself. I also seek life desperately sometimes. But the LORD assures us that he is the fountain of living water, a fountain that always overflows so that we may be constantly filled and saturated with the life of God. Living under the fountain of living water takes the panic out of life!

A final scripture text looks to the future. “And there shall be continuous day (it is known to the LORD), not day and not night, for at evening time there shall be light. On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea; it shall continue in summer as in winter. And the LORD will become king over all the earth; on that day the LORD will become king over all the earth; on that day the LORD will be one and his name one.” (Zechariah 14:7-9, NRSV)

If you need some reading for July 4th, try my earlier post, “True Freedom”. Well, Jack is looking forward to his bed-time ritual. He gets some treats and then lays down and sleeps along the outside of my right leg. So until the next post, may the LIVING WATER be yours now and always.

This post was powered by “To Heaven and Back” (1998), “The Best of the Call” (1997) and “Live Under the Red Moon” (2006) all by The Call.


Split-View of Sipadan Island, Borneo

1 Comment

What Horse Training Has Taught me About Life

This is an excellent post.

Justified Faith

I am now primarily a philosophy professor, but for years I was a primarily a horse trainer. Riding two to seven horses a day is intense, and the experience shaped me. I sometimes reflect on some of my lessons learned from horses, and how it has influenced how I live.  Here are some of those lessons.

1. Quit worrying. Bad things are going to happen that you can’t control. Good horses will get sick and you could get hurt. However, if you are paralyzed by worrying about things that might go wrong, you miss out on the enjoyments of the present and still have to face inevitable problems. Worry does not prevent disaster.

2. If you panic when something problems arise, the situation will only get worse. Horses get stuck in fences, step on nails, and can manage to nearly kill themselves in a multitude of creative ways. Your panic does nothing productive, and another creature is relying on…

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