Zachary Bright

The Wonder of it All

1 Comment

What Is Reformed Coffee?

medical need for coffee

Question: What is your only comfort, in life and in death?
Answer: That I belong – body and soul, in life and in death – not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who at the cost of his own blood has fully paid for all my sins and has completely freed me from the dominion of the devil; that he protects me so well that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that everything must fit his purpose for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
The Heidelberg Catechism (1562)

I have been confined to home since I came back from the hospital on Sept. 6th, except for a trip to the doctor. The weather has been in the 90s and 100s and Jack has decided he does not like heat – smart dog. If the BSD must go out, for instance to see someone off, he tries to remain in the shade. And now when Jack Lewis gives an alert, he stays inside waiting for the intruder, and then lets loose an ear-splitting bass bark. He would frighten me, if I didn’t know that Jack is a small dog that is essentially friendly (well, except for that predator thing). Jack Lewis is not really satisfied until the intruder has been identified as friend or foe, and if not a friend, until he has driven everyone in the house to panic. I guess everyone needs a task/role that they excel at.

This morning my occupational therapist (ot) came and Jack felt he had come to play, so the Bible Study Dog was especially frisky: trying to untie the ot’s shoe laces, jumping up on him, licking, sniffing, trying to pull at my bandaged foot, etc. But, there are other things that Jack excels at. When I ask Jack to go into his kennel, he does so immediately, as he did this morning. With just a little whining, Jack Lewis allowed me to finish my exercises. Which reminds me, if I say to the BSD, “Jack, remember we are the non-whining pack”, he will stop whining. Amazing dog, right?

We have had a break in the heat the last few days, so Jack has been staying outside longer. But today, the temperature is expected to rise into the 90s; so the BSD is hunkering down inside and making preparations to survive this day. The Bible Study Dog has noticed that something is missing: the Thursday Night Bible Study. That will not start until I am weight-bearing and we can get the hospital bed and other equipment out of the living room. However, another of our traditions begins again tonight: watching The Voice with a friend (though sometimes I feel like the only one watching, because the others are playing games on their cell phones or iPads or my wife is doing audio to text messaging, which sounds like this: “Blah, blah, blah, Period” repeatedly; maybe I should be the only one allowed to vote, since I’m the only one paying attention). So Jack Lewis is dreaming expectantly about tonight, about shoelaces and culinary opportunities and maybe a voice that he likes.

Let’s talk coffee. But first let’s talk theology (bear with me) so that I can explain what Reformed coffee is. The Reformed tradition is that theology and Christian practices which are especially influenced by the reformer John Calvin of Geneva (la Suisse). Presbyterian churches and other Reformed churches and even some Baptist churches are ‘Reformed’. The above quotation from the Heidelberg Catechism (1562) articulates succinctly some of our convictions. However, the second question and answer gives a basic outline and basic categories for thinking about Reformed theology:

Q. 2. How many things must you know to live and die in the blessedness of this comfort?
A. Three. First, the greatness of my sin and wretchedness. Second, how I am freed from all my sins and their wretched consequences. Third, what gratitude I owe to God for such redemption.

Or I sometimes say:

Or you could think of it as: 1) problem, 2) solution and 3) response.
1. We need to acknowledge how great our sin is, especially against the holy God, and it’s awful consequences. I think of this as whatever pit you’ve got yourself into, along with the horrible things that are in there.
2. We need to acknowledge that we cannot save ourselves but that God offers to free us from our sin and it’s consequences through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus (that is, the penalty for our sin is paid and the righteousness of Jesus is counted as ours by the Father) apart from anything we have done. We cannot earn God’s love and forgiveness. But we may reach out and receive from God freedom both from the guilt and power of sin in our lives. God finds you and pulls you out of your pit.
3.The appropriate response to all that God has done and does for us is gratitude and thanksgiving. We cannot earn God’s smile, his love, acceptance and forgiveness. Nor can we earn our salvation. We cannot place God in our debt by our good acts, such that he would owe us. On the other hand, once we have received God’s love and forgiveness and thrown ourselves into the arms of Jesus, becoming trusting disciples of Jesus and learning from him how to live, we may do what pleases God; doing it because we are grateful. Your whole life may become a living out of thanksgiving and praise. Remember that worship, praise and appreciation is what we are created for (see the post “What We Are”); we are happier looking up!

Some studies suggest that coffee has health benefits. I am especially interested in the studies that suggest that caffeinated coffee can help prevent and treat Alzheimer’s and dementia. For many years I have said that Alzheimer’s might be my least favorite way to die. Coffee facilitates social interaction. Until recently, coffee was ubiquitous at Presbyterian churches, causing some people to suggest that it was almost the third Presbyterian sacrament.

But when we speak of Reformed coffee, we have in view the spiritual benefits of coffee. Reformed coffee is strong coffee; I would never accept anything less than a quad (4 shots of espresso). Reformed coffee should be a near-death experience. As the grainy coffee hits the throat and one’s throat and esophagus begin to close, causing desperate attempts to breathe, and suddenly, miraculously the throat opens, oxygen rushes in, then one is so grateful to God to be alive. Gratitude and thanksgiving rise to God!

Note that the last paragraph was written with tongue firmly in cheek and is only half serious. But it is half serious!

This post was powered by the album, “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” (2001) by U2, the albums, “100 Million Eyeballs” (1998), “Triumphantine” (1999) and “Time and Space” (2010), all by Miss Angie, and “Your Love Never Fails” (2008) by Jesus Culture.


Leave a comment

Joy Is Meant To Be the Dominate Note


“There is no blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice.” – John Calvin (1509-1564)

“Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul. Pessimism is at best an emotional half-holiday; joy is the uproarious labor by which all things live.” – “Orthodoxy” (1909) – G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

“Joy…is the gigantic secret of the Christian.” – “Orthodoxy” (1909) – G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

“He is a [sane] man who can have tragedy in his heart and comedy in his head.” – “Tremendous Trifles” (1909) – G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

“The truth about life is that joy and sorrow are mingled in an almost rhythmical alternation like day and night.” – “Charles Dickens” (1903) – G.K. Chesterton & F.G. Kitton

Let’s talk about ‘joy’.  Jack probably does not feel anything so profound in his canine heart, though he sometimes seems to be on the verge of speech. Except…in the sense that “all the trees of the field will clap their hands”, “even the stones would cry out” and “the young lions seek their food” from God. So there is an appropriate potential level of response to God for all his creatures. But of God’s earthly creatures, only humans, homo adorens, experience in this time, joy, as I will use the word.

Joy is deeper and more profound than what we typically call ‘happiness’. Switchfoot sang “happiness is a yuppie word.” We all want to be ‘happy’ in some sense, but one can be quite shallow and be ‘happy’. Typically we are happy or miserable depending on circumstances. If we lose the relationship, the job, the financial security, the good reputation, the good food and drink, the health, the sense of accomplishment, the sense of being valued by others, the cool posture in life or whatever we hang our happiness on, we are unhappy, at a minimum stressed or even overwhelmed (see the post, “Overwhelmed”). Another way to say this is, that one cannot be happy and sad at the same time or hold tragedy and happiness in one’s heart at the same time.

However, joy is something deeper. It is a deep river that runs through the soul, while emotions related to circumstances come and go. One can hold joy and tragedy in one’s heart at the same. The word ‘joy’ can be used in several valid ways, but I will derive a definition of ‘joy’ for our purposes from a Bible text. St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians was written from a prison cell. I have visited an ancient prison cell in Rome that may be the cell that St. Paul wrote from. My advice to you is don’t go in there if you are very claustrophobic, especially if the air is hot and muggy, you are trying to film a short spot and a group of school girls come in speaking another language which you understand. Just saying… Philippians is filled with the theme of joy even though St.Paul is in prison and writes that his imminent death is a real possibility. Here is the Bible text:

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.
Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and
supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Phil. 4:4-6, ESV)

And here is my definition based on the above text: Joy is an attitude, action and experience that responds to an awareness that the Lord is present (“The Lord is at hand”) combined with an expectation of good from him (“…with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”). I remember a few words from a song used in the early Charismatic Movement in the mainline churches: “Joy is the flag flown high over the castle of my heart when the King is in residence there.” Exactly. I almost want to say that joy is the infallible sign of the presence of the Lord. It continues “always” despite challenges, needs, suffering or tragedy. It does not depend on circumstances; it comes from within.

Allow me to make two observations about the joy of the Christian. 1) It is not a “Positive Mental Attitude”, positive thinking, mere optimism, a sunny disposition or anything we might try to work up. All these are focused on us and are influenced by our genetic inheritance. Christian joy is focused on God – Father, Son & Holy Spirit – his presence, his work in our lives and his awesome power and goodness. 2) Joy from the awareness of God in our lives leads to trust (“do not be anxious”) in God for what we and others (“supplication”) need. Also, our confident expectation of good gifts from God and of answers to prayer results in “thanksgiving”.

Disciples of Jesus, those who follow him and learn from him how to live, find that a subterranean river of joy flows through Jesus. He “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit” as he thanked the Father that things hidden from the wise have been revealed “to little children” (Luke 10:21, ESV). Being filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus must exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, which includes joy: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” (Gal. 5:22-23a, ESV) If you are filled with the Spirit, you also may have these virtues and qualities growing in your life like a fruit. Approaching his own death and going to the Father, Jesus leaves his joy with his disciples: “But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” (John 17:13, ESV) And again: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be full.” (John 15:11) The joy is a response to the content of the words that Jesus has spoken; it is not worked up by a technique. It is not based on my attempts to be positive or optimistic, but on my “reasonable” response to the realities of my life of following and learning from the Lord Jesus.

May you be filled with joy and may joy and praise be the permanent pulsation of your soul!

This post was powered by the Waterdeep albums, “Live At The New Earth” (1999), “Everyone’s Beautiful” (1999) and “Sink Or Swim” (1999).


Leave a comment

Focus On Yeshua


Here are a few quotes to help us focus our lives:
“Jesus is the center of all, the object of all; whoever does not know him, knows nothing aright, either of the world or of himself.” – Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)

“The means to know God is Christ, whom no one may know unless they follow after him with their life.” – Hans Denck

“Our passion for Jesus is the only passion that will not destroy us.” – Larry Crabb

“I have only one passion. It is He, only He.” – Count Zinzendorf (1700-1760)

“Jesus said…’I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” (John 14:6, ESV)

Note that in the photo from Israel above, the white sign above the arrow says ‘Yeshua’ in Hebrew.



God who is awesome

I am back! I have returned home after foot surgery on August 19th and a couple of weeks in the Transitional Care Unit. I will continue to be non-weight-bearing for awhile, but I will heal closer to family and friends, my books, my computer, and of course, Jack Lewis, the Bible Study Dog (BSD). Jack was not evidently excited to see me after several weeks. But I was told that the BSD was restless and hard to handle while I was gone, and that, upon my reappearance, became suddenly his sweet self again. He was probably missing Bible study.

If you have been following this blog, you have witnessed my struggle to come to terms with another time of confinement. I must acknowledge that all that I foresaw of the humiliations, confusions and random acts of limitation washed over me, swirled around me and within me. Even as I tried to be light and salt to my tormentors and tried to live out the various positive responses that I have written about in the last several posts, I was sometimes overcome with a sense of being devalued. I know I have a screw loose (see “This Is The Way Life Is”) and I do come to a truer and more faithful view of my world eventually. These words from C.S. Lewis are so true: “If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable; think of it as a place of training and correction and it’s not so bad.”

Nonetheless, God met me in the hospital, and sometimes, I would awake overflowing with gratitude to God for the machines I was using, the skill of the surgeons, good air-conditioning, whatever devotional readings I had read that day and the creativity of RNs, LVNs, CNAs and physical therapists. One morning in particular, I found mentioned in one of my devotional readings a text from Proverbs that spoke to my condition and offered attitudes that I could hang my life on. I looked it up quickly on my Kindle English Standard Version Bible (ESV) between a multitude of mundane tasks. God somehow enabled me to memorize Proverbs 3:5-7 in less than five minutes and I still repeat it to myself from time to time.

The text:
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD, turn from evil.” (Proverbs 3:5-7, ESV)

Every word of this passage deserves to be understood and expounded. However, I will make just three points.
1) “Trust…with all your heart” is a way of loving God, as we are commanded to love the LORD “…with all your heart, soul and strength” (Jesus added “mind”!) We are not to trust our loving and faithful God as though we are hanging on by our fingernails, as if trust is a small, desperate hope. We are to be filled from head to toe with trust. Trust should fill our hearts so that fear, worry and secular (that is without God) attitudes are driven from our hearts.
2) “…do not lean on your own understanding” does not mean that we should not use our God-given minds, that we should be passive or mindless (something that God does not approve, see Romans 12:2) before reality. It means that we should not put our weight on, depend on, place our trust in what we understand but in God himself. Currently, I am non-weight-bearing on my right leg. However, I may bear weight on my left leg, lean on it, stand on it, hop on it, depend upon it.
3) “In all your ways acknowledge him…” We are not just organisms seeking survival and comfort. We are daughters and sons of God who will live forever. We ‘have bigger fish to fry’ than our own comfort and happiness. We are living for eternity. All the time and in every way we should reflect God’s agenda, and in my case, God’s agenda for my caregivers. Our paths become crooked, convoluted and confusing when we fail to live for God in every area of our lives.

Let me say a bit about ‘overwhelming’. Though I mentioned being overwhelmed by the love and presence of God in my last post, “Trust In Spite of Everything”, I am surprised that I have not written more about this theme, since it makes an appearance often in my teaching and no one else that I know of brings all the parts together. I still will not be able to give the full teaching because I must limit time with my computer because of the heat (105 F is just wrong) and my need to keep my leg elevated. There are good overwhelmings and bad overwhelmings. Bad overwhelmings might include all the unresolved issues of your life, a schedule that is too packed, broken relationships, diagnosis of disease, like cancer or AIDS, the pace of technological change, political or cultural change, threatening world events, etc. Bad overwhelmings are only overcome by greater good overwhelmings. I am struck by Jesus’ story of the man who had seven demons cast out of him. The demons wandered around looking for a new host, and not finding one, came back to the man and found a house swept and in order. So they went and got their friends and moved in. Jesus comment is: “The last state of the man was worse than the first.” I take away from this that it is not enough to say no to evil and sin. Repentance and commitment to change are not enough! One must be filled with something positive and good.

Considering how overwhelming the world and the realities of our lives are, the good overwhelming better be huge! I submit that only God is enough to overwhelm us with himself and drive out or make bearable the bad overwhelmings. He wants to baptize us in the realities of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We need a God who is awesome, holy and amazingly loving and generous! Our tame pictures of God or our idols are not big enough and will disappoint us and let us down. St. Paul instructs us, “Do not be conformed [from the outside – in, like a cookie cutter] to this world…” We are instead to “…be transformed [from the inside – out] by the renewal of your mind.” (Rom. 12:2, ESV) I picture the Holy Spirit, the abundant life, the living water, the overwhelming love of God rising up within us to meet and then push back the external overwhelmings.

This was my experience in the hospital. Sometimes, in the early morning I would see that all was right and that God had placed before me amazing opportunities to plant seeds of the good news of God’s kingdom, to be light [to bring out the God colors of the world – The Message], to be salt [to bring out the God flavors in the world – The Message].

Well the nurse will be here soon to change my bandages and Jack has been giving his social misery howl. The BSD needs my attention (what an amazing creature; God’s design of all that I see of God’s creation is so precise, intricate and wise).

This post was powered, of course, by the new free U2 album, “Songs of Innocence” (2014) which has already been downloaded to your iPod or iTunes account if you have one. Excellent and evocative.

that the mountains would quake