Zachary Bright

The Wonder of it All


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Taste and See That The LORD Is Good

Only the Word of God can do this

“O taste and see that the LORD is good!” (Psalm 34:8, ESV for this post)

“How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Ps. 119:103)

“I open my mouth and pant,
because I long for your commandments.” (Ps. 119:131)

“My eyes are awake before the watches of the night,
that I may mediate on your promise.” (Ps. 119:148)

“In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.” (Ps. 119:14, 16)

Jack Lewis, the Balding Bible Study Dog (BBSD) hasn’t had much energy to pursue his biblical studies this week. He has been absorbed in his culinary interests, including his highly vocal prayers for the high-protein diet that his ancestors ate on the African Savannah, anytime he believes I might be receptive to his entreaties. Jack, the BBSD, has learned well the lessons of his early Bible study on the unjust judge and the widow (see my post of 7/21/14, “Prayer – Part Uno/Uns/Eins/One”). However, Jack has not finished his studies on the importance of seeking, not only the hand, but also the face. When Jack Lewis’ prayers are in the discernment phase, he stares intently into my eyes, with his eagerness offered as a sign of intense desire. But when Jack smells the food, his interest turns completely to my hand or wherever he suspects the food is. People are like this too. Sometimes, we seek God’s Hand and not his Face; we are more interested in what God can give us, than we are in him, and spending time with him; more interested in the gifts than the Giver. We treat God like a Coke machine: we place our money (prayers) in the Coke machine (God) and automatically receive what we want.

But a few days ago, I gave Jack Lewis a bone with a little meat on it, from my plate. He ran off with it protectively, which is typical canine behavior (there are a lot of nutrients in the marrow, and a dog/wolf may bury it to dig it up later when nourishment is scarce). In a few minutes, the BBSD returned with the bone, to enjoy it in my presence, while he lay beside me companionably, as I worked at my desk. Was he grateful? Or had he found that his pleasure is greater when he is with the Pack Leader? In any case, Jack has made progress in understanding personal relationships. And, I felt warm inside, enjoying Jack’s pleasure.

Jack18

In Psalm 1, we can read that the happy/blessed one, who doesn’t sit in “the seat of scoffers” (see my post, “How To Treat A Fool” of 1/22/15), has “his delight is the law [torah, instruction] of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.” In the past we have considered several kinds of Christian prayer and meditation. Now, I want to point to a Word-focused (Bible) meditation that: 1) involves one’s senses (taste, sight, hearing, touch, etc.); 2) is continuous, “day and night”; and 3) is before the face of God (Lat. coram Deo), with an awareness of his presence.

1) The Hebrew word behind the word in Psalm 1, usually translated in English as “meditates”, has the idea of rolling the words around in one’s mouth, like say, a lozenge or smooth stone, and enjoying, not just the meaning of the words, but also the sound, feel, almost taste of the words. This has been compared to a cow chewing its cud. I see this sort of meditation as not only a focused time of meditation, but also the reality of taking portions of the Bible, maybe even just a couple of words, and repeating them, memorizing them, considering them along side of one’s everyday experiences. This can also be an audible reality. Jack makes varied sounds as he pursues his culinary interests: he snorts, moans, yelps, snaps his teeth, his nails clicking on the tiles, as Jack Lewis dances with delight.

2) A video was commended on the internet recently, encouraging us to focus more on face-to-face encounters than on our Iphones, lap-tops, androids, computers, etc. I agree that face-to-face encounters are best. However, technology helps me to continuously feed on the Word. My rehab period from my foot surgery keeps being drawn out, but I keep thinking of others too, like stay-at-home mothers, who will understand what I am talking about. I still believe in the quiet forms of prayer and meditation that I have written about in earlier posts. But, here is how a few hours of continuous meditation on Scripture sometimes looks for me: 1. I listen to four Scripture readings on a podcast; 2. I read several devotional readings on my Kindle; 3. I copy down some Bible texts to memorize, and paste some quotes found yesterday on the internet, or in my reading, in a notebook. I look at and repeat the memory verses throughout the day, so that they become more a part of me (eating), and so that the verses and everything else I experience today can be seen together, and so that they shed light on each other. 4. I turn on the Christian praise music loud; alternative and/or mainstream music is for later in the day. 5. I begin my work, checking in with my Christian friends from around the world (BTW, this blog is read in many countries, and I’m grateful for every reader). I live in the story of God’s kingdom coming, surrounded by the Word and words like this:

reading for life

It is noisy and it is a kind of multitasking. Let me say two things about that: one) I value the life of the mind and would not be a Christian today with out it, because once you have been educated beyond a certain point, you cannot go back; reading the Bible only is not an option. But, you must go forward to love God with all your mind. Still, I probably would not be a Christian today without music; I thank God frequently that I lived long enough to hear The Violet Burning. I am an unreconstructed rocker and still play my electric and acoustic guitars. This is an important “love language” that God has for me. two) Isn’t multitasking a logical application of Brother Lawrence’s “Practicing the Presence of God”? Brother Lawrence would recall God to mind in his daily tasks, like washing the dishes.

3) Finally, I am calling for multitasking before God! I assume God is speaking to me through the Bible texts I have been led to. I talk with him noisily, softly and silently about every bit of torah (instruction) that comes from his mouth. I talk with him about all the opportunities that are before us today. When a skill is needed, I ask Jesus, the Smartest Man Whoever Lived, about what I should do. Yeshua ALWAYS comes through! Sometimes we just sit companionably and enjoy each other’s company while I eat noisily, feasting on the Word. I think often of these words from the song, “You Won’t Relent” (2008) by Jesus Culture: “I don’t want to talk about You, like You’re not in the room; Wanna to look right at You, Wanna sing right to You…”

Note that the one who “meditates day and night” on Scripture is given these promises:

“He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.” (Psalm 1:3)

the Word of God is more precious tha gold

This post was powered by the CD, “Saved” (1980) by Bob Dylan, the CD, “Hearts In Exile” (2011) by Journey Worship, the CD, “Your Love Never Fails” (2008) by Jesus Culture, and the CD, “Borderland” (2014) by John Mark McMillan.

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How To Treat A Fool

Faith & reason

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 3b, 7, NRSV)

“Do not answer fools according to their folly,
or you will be a fool yourself.” (Prov. 26:4, NRSV)

OK, wait for it…WAIT for it…

“Answer fools according to their folly,
or they will be wise in their own eyes.” (Prov. 26:5, NRSV)

Events of the last few days have led me to ponder when to apply each verse; or more precisely, when, because of compassion (1), should I stay in a conversation, with the hope that, at least, seeds of the kingdom of God, rumors of glory, might be planted, OR…when should I extricate myself from obtuse fools and unedifying conversation? The story begins about a week I ago.

The Rev. Dr. Jim Miller, a pastor of the thriving Glenkirk Church in the quiet, suburban city of Glendora, authored a book: “Hardwired: Finding the God You Already Know” (Abingdon Press, 2013). Jim Miller, my former presbytery colleague and current Facebook friend, asked me recently to “like” the “Hardwired” Facebook page. Last week, I read the book on my Kindle. A variety of worries and concerns met me as I read, though now after reading the book a couple more times, I have a more appreciative view of the book.

I began a blog post to respond to the concerns I had about the book. Often when I make a post, it is as long as a term paper, and requires two or three days to write. I was determined that I was not going to produce a critique that long; when I make a long post, I try to make one that works on several levels, has humor, a spiritual point, unexpected content, and is seeded with a few spiritual time-bombs that will go off later, opening up unexpected prospects for the reader (I believe this is why this blog is read in so many countries). I gave myself one afternoon to write the post. However, as the afternoon wore on, I saw that for me to be fair to the author, and understood by my readers, a long post would be required after all. So after writing several pages, I just threw them in the trash. I would just try to continue to exemplify in my blog posts, my approach to Christian apologetics, or what I prefer to call commending a Christian faith and worldview.

Then I thought I might receive some help from an online discussion. I was a member of a group that I had never used. You might think that with “apologetics” in the title, the group would be mostly sympathetic to Christian faith, though of course, some members might not be Christians. You would be wrong. I asked what members thought of the book, “Hardwired”, and then asked a longer and more nuanced version of this question: “Isn’t the use of the metaphor, ‘hardwired’, a double-edged sword? When used outside of the original context of computer science/artificial intelligence, it seems to be a pseudo-scientific term that gives an unearned patina of science to arguments. It was used in this way first by anti-religious materialists.” At first, I received some short, helpful responses. Then the anti-Christian trolls came out from under the bridge, so to speak. Anything I said was deemed so obviously false that it did not need to be refuted. Responses that I made that got too close to their targets, were met with lazy misunderstanding or attempts to distract me (and the group) with irrelevant questions. You’ve probably seen in political discourse, that sometimes questions about an issue are met with just changing the subject by bringing up another issue. One member exemplified the very worry I had, by attempting to debunk religious beliefs by explaining how they are hardwired into us because they have an evolutionary survival value. Insults to Christian faith, and a kind of bullying that involves the words “of course…”, flowed freely for the next 24 hours. My instinct is too stay with a conversation and too never give up. But this conversation had sunk into a morass of willful misunderstanding and foolishness. And so, I applied the proverb, “Do not answer fools according to their folly…” With Jack Lewis, the Balding Bible Study Dog (BBSD), out of the room, I was bold to also remember this verse: “Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who reverts to his folly.” Leaving the reversionists behind, I ‘unjoined’ the group with “extreme prejudice” (to paraphrase the film, “Apocalypse Now”).

Remembering that, “Fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God.'” (Ps. 14:1a. NRSV), the question before us is: When should we apply Proverbs 26:4, and when should we apply Proverbs 26:5? I do believe that all humans bear the image of God, and so, even foolish or evil ones have dignity, and should be treated with respect. Two thoughts come to mind. 1) One of the principles of L’Abri Fellowship, founded by Dr. Francis and Edith Schaeffer, is to give an honest answer to every honest question. There is a presumption of staying with the conversation, even if the answer is, “I’ll get back to you on that, after I’ve done some work on it.” But, if the questioner is insincere, unwilling to seek and acknowledge truth, then one’s time and energy is better spent elsewhere. 2) Dallas Willard, in the DVD series accompanying his final book, “Living In Christ’s Presence: Final Words On Heaven and the Kingdom Of God” (InterVarsity Press, 2014), said that he will not debate with atheists/agnostics/materialists/etc., but that he will engage with them in a common search for truth.

Another way of thinking about this is to remember that Christians are to be “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15a, NRSV). Some of us are ostensibly more oriented to the truth-speaking command, and some, to the love command. We need to live out both parts of the instruction, or we risk being cold and pedantic, on the one hand, or mushy and intellectually flabby, on the other hand. It seems to me though, that without love, one’s truth-seeking becomes distorted, and one’s truth-speaking drives people away. And, love entails willingness to help people acquire the knowledge that they need (1).

(1) See my post of 10/12/14: “Lack of Knowledge Is a Compassion Issue.”

“To watch over mouth and tongue
is to keep out of trouble.
The proud, haughty person, named “Scoffer,”
acts with arrogant pride.” (Prov. 21:23-24, NRSV)

This post was powered by the CD, “The Banner Days Sampler” (2014) by The Banner Days, the CD, “Modern” (1999) by Battered Fish, the CD, “Love Songs And Prayers [A Retrospective]” (1994) by the Choir, and the CD, “Brutal Romantic” (2014) by Brooke Fraser.


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Jack’s New Year Bible Study*

Jack4

Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.
Give a portion to seven, or even to eight,
for you know not what disaster may happen on earth. (Ecclesiastes 11:1-2, ESV)

In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good. (Eccl. 11:6, ESV)

Remove vexation from your heart, and put away pain from your body, for youth and the dawn of life are vanity. (Eccl. 11:10, ESV)

“No Ship Coming In”

It’s all breaking down
Crushed into the ground
But I will love you forever

It’s falling apart
Hopeless and dark
But we’re gonna see it through together

Caught in a landslide
Earthquakes and high tides

It’s gonna be a rough ride
But I’ll stay by your side

By grace we remain
With hands in the flame
But I will love you forever

Times may be hard
We’re crippled and scarred
But we’re gonna see it through together
(we’re gonna see it through)

Dreams of a lifetime
Way past the deadline
We’re pushing up an incline
But we’ll be just fine

No money to spend
(hard times are comin’ again)
No ship comin’ in
(We’re here through the thick and the thin)
But we’re gonna see it through together (“No Ship Coming In” from the CD, “Little Red Riding Hood” (1993) by The Lost Dogs)

So, how’s the new year working out for you so far? Well, I’m already behind in two reading groups that started at the beginning of the year and I have not even finished reading the New Year’s resolutions list I thought I would adopt. Someone has moved my books and magazines around, and whichever calender I eventually choose (don’t you get multiple calenders in the mail too?), still doesn’t accurately reflect my schedule. No worries mate; we’ll work this out together.

In the canine-human relationship, sometimes one lifts the other’s spirits, and sometimes, one brings the other down. I’m leaving out, for now, the happy case where the companions’ energy is more equitably and subtly shared. But the past few days, Jack Lewis and I have both been tumbling together, for various reasons, into the abyss.

After a few days of focused tasks, the Bible study last evening, and before that, the last post, “A Dog’s Christmas”, my motivations are what I call under-determined. If I knew what the right, best action was for now, then one thing would lead to another, and I would be in the groove, with duty and delight leading me forward. I can’t speak for Jack Lewis, the Balding Bible Study Dog (BBSD), but right now I’m at loose ends.

But something, is bothering the Balding Bible Study Dog. To the barks I’ve told you about (the warning that Vikings are coming up the walkway, the preemptive challenge, the social misery howl, and the bark suggesting that “SOMETHING is going on outside and I won’t stop until everyone shows signs of panic”), must now be added the whoo-whoo anxious bark, various high-pitched vocalizations, and the bark that says, “I know you don’t see anything out there, but can you SMELL what I smell?”

I found this definition for the word, ‘ennui’: a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement. Ennui seems to describe both Jack and me. To that could be added the word,’acedia’, which is associated with sloth, langour, sadness and torpor. Whatever the case, I have just been aroused from torpor by the BBSD’s clumsy wrestling with his Bible. Sometimes, like now, Jack uses the unreliable method of choosing his verse for the week, by closing his eyes, placing his paw in an open Bible, wherever it opens; and wherever his middle nail points, that will be where the Balding Bible Study Dog begins his studies. Jack Lewis laments that dogs do not have opposable thumbs, which would allow him to select a more rational method for finding guidance and inspiration. Of course humans have less excuse. (1)

Jack’s paw descended into Ecclesiastes, and landed (I kid you not!) on Eccl. 9:4: “But he who is joined with all the living has hope, for a living DOG is better than a dead lion.” (ESV, but emphasis added by the BBSD) What does this mean? ‘It’s not over til it’s over’? ‘While there’s life, there’s hope’? Or the modern materialist version: ‘If you’ve got your health, you’ve got every thing’? Or the glass half-full or half-empty version: ‘At least your alive’? Or ‘It’s not over until the fat lady sings’ (Oops! Just kidding)? Or what about: at least you’re alive and have a chance of changing your circumstances; or, to be alive is essential, but dignity, not so much…? Jack Lewis and I are going to ask how our randomly selected verses might address our ennui and depression? At the very least, this verse says ‘no’ to suicide, and not only physical suicide, but emotional and spiritual. Hang on! God may act in some wonderful way soon! Don’t give up. Also, don’t give into mind-numbing lethargy, but stay alert to all of God’s creation around you and the opportunities God has set before you (Jack, the Opportunistic Predator: “Did someone say, op?”). (2)

The next verse that the Balding Bible Study Dog found was: “Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?” (Eccl. 4:11, ESV) Immediately, Jack Lewis thinks of our sleeping arrangements: Jack sleeps tightly packed against my right leg, while I drift off to sleep with my hand on his back. A couple of nights recently the temperature was down to F34. Even last night, with the temperature up in the 50s, Jack was shivering. Do you know the band, Three Dog Night? Their name is an Eskimo expression for a very cold night, so cold it takes three dogs to stay warm. Do you know that normal dog temperature runs a few degrees higher than normal human temperature? Companionship, warmth and touch make the world a little easier to face.

Jack’s nail slipped down to the following verse: “And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him – a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Eccl. 4:12, ESV) Who would you choose to be with you in a dark alley? The last phrase in the verse is brought out for weddings and anniversaries and is found sometimes on greeting cards. But back to our project: some realities require other people and some situations are best faced with others, like ennui or depression. The New Testament uses locutions for ‘one another’ about 323 times. There are commands to: “love one another”, “encourage one another”, “forgive one another”, “build one other up”, etc. The Christian life is not merely me alone in my room with God, or in my solitude, like Soren Kierkegaard. A Christian is a member of the Body of Christ and is connected in specific ways to other members of the Body. A Christian is adopted into the Family of God, which includes not only Jesus our elder brother, but a host aunts, uncles, siblings, mothers and fathers. Share a blessing or thanksgiving or praise with another Christian and your joy is doubled and the experience is completed and sealed. Share a sorrow or challenge or difficulty or need with another Christian, and your burden is cut in half. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Rom. 12:15, ESV) This would be a good time to reread the lyrics for the song, “No Ship Coming In”, printed above.

Look at the Bible texts at the beginning of this post. They are saying, at least, that even if you do not have a lot of confidence in a positive outcome of your problems, even if, in your ennui and depression, the glass is half empty (and there is a leak in the bottom of the glass), do something. The old Nike commercial said, “Just do it!”, as if you know what you want to do, and just need encouragement or permission. But our texts call us to do something, to do SOME thing. If you have ennui, you don’t know what you want to do, so don’t be paralyzed in indecision. Do SOME thing; try everything; send out 25 resumes; plant 25 flowers; send out 25 orders; sing 25 songs; make a phone call; take your dog for a walk, and so on. Try everything; you don’t know what will work. The more bread you throw on the waters, the more orders you send out, the more chances you have of a good outcome.

And then from Ecclesiastes 9:7-10, I take that one should enjoy what is before one: food, wine, clothes, hair products (!), “the wife whom you love” (3). But note the Preacher does not believe in the full Christian hope of eternal life with God. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.” (Eccl. 9:10, ESV) This is the only life you have, so do what you want and enjoy the moment. I will object to some of this later.

So to face depression, ennui, acedia, the night, or just the morning:

1. Stay alive and alert to God, creation, people, beauty and dogs. No kind of suicide is on our ‘to do list’ today.

2. Stay connected. Touch, people and dogs are almost always a good idea; they ground us in immediate reality, and wake us up.

3. Everyone needs friends (like the tag line on our morning news program: “Mornings are better with friends.”). Everyone could use some help sometime. We need the family of God. And what a comfort it is to know that someone has your back, and of course, that we are needed to help someone else.

4. Do something! Do SOME thing! Do. Some. Thing.

However, I must acknowledge that just doing something, doing whatever, is not enough for me. I’m not wired that way. I need to sense that I am basically doing the right thing each moment: right for me, right for God, right for the people I love, right for the Kingdom of God. I am not thinking of a legalistic attitude, nor am I trying to impress God or earn his favor (I already have God’s, love, acceptance and forgiveness because of Christ’s work in his life, death and resurrection). I’m just thinking that one’s life should be a work of art. I like a French translation of Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the meek”: “Heureux sont les debonaire”. Debonaire, like Fred Astaire! Moment by moment guidance from Yeshua, and partnership with him in bringing something of beauty into this world, while subverting the old world order (like a secret agent!) is my aspiration. That is why I cherish verses like these: “The sheep hear his [Jesus’] voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3b, ESV); “And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.” (Isaiah 30:21, ESV)

Well, I gotta go; Jack is begging me to go to bed. But I will leave you with this:

not freaking out

*Copyright Jack Lewis, the Balding Bible Study Dog, for lolstc productions. All rights reserved.

(1) God can, and sometimes does, speak through the Bible text one sees first. I think of St. Augustine hearing a child’s voice saying, “Take up and read”, and that he felt compelled to open the Bible and take as God’s word to him the first verses that he saw: “…interpreting it to be no other than a command from God to open the book, and read the first chapter I should find.” (“Confessions”, ch. XII) The verses he saw? Especially Romans 13:13-14. However, one should read longer texts, like whole Bible books, and maybe use a Bible reading plan to read the Bible in a year or three. Here’s why: 1) texts should be interpreted in context, that is a verse in the context of the chapter, a chapter in the light of the whole book, the book in it’s place in the narrative of God with his creation, especially Israel and Jesus; and 2), we desire to live in the light of the whole story of God’s rescue of his creation and his passionate love for us. We desire to live the Story, and we want the Story to describe for us all of our encounters.

(2) No actual Bibles were damaged in the making of this post.

(3) I can’t help noting what seems to me to be an odd way of speaking, though it may be perfectly innocent. Is the author referring to a favorite wife, maybe the second wife? The whole passage is advice for living “the days of your vain [meaningless?] [Heb., hebel – “vapor” or “mere breath”] life” (Eccl. 9:9, ESV), without the prospect of a meaningful afterlife. Many kings in ancient Israel and Judah had multiple wives and concubines. King Solomon, who may be behind Ecclesiastes, especially had a reputation for having many wives and princesses (700) and concubines (300). Many of his marriages were to cement political alliances (“princesses”), it’s true, but there is no way that Solomon can be construed as monogamous, nor can the author of Ecclesiastes be construed as often denying himself sexual pleasure with multiple women (see Eccl. 2:8, 10; 11:9). So the song “Love The One You’re With” (1970) by Stephen Stills, with lyrics like, “If you’re down and confused and can’t remember who you’re talkin’ to; Concentration slip away,¬† Because your baby’s so far away… If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with… There’s a girl right next to you, and she’s just waiting for something to do; get it together; make it nice; You ain’t gonna need any more advice…” This kind of thinking has screwed up my generation; and living for the moment or acting with disdain for consequences, are attitudes that many of us need to lean against in ourselves.
Probably many of us think of the biblical, “wife of your youth”, when we read, “wife whom you love”; but that doesn’t seem to be the spirit of our text. However, that brings me to a comparison of the two phrases and what I’m trying to do in this MOAF (mother of all footnotes). “Wife of your youth” appears exactly four times in the Bible, for instance, “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth…” (Prov. 5:18, ESV) Three of the four verses encourage faithfulness in marriage to one partner (Prov. 5:18; Malachi 2:14 and 2:15). What is interesting to me is that the reason for faithfulness in marriage, given in Malachi 2:15, is that God is seeking, “Godly offspring”. This is not to say that the only divine purpose for marriage is procreation; but note that faithfulness makes sense when one has a long-term perspective, a perspective lacking in Ecclesiastes 9:7-10. Some projects, and some relationships, are only possible if one is committed until the end. Ironically, sexual promiscuity leads increasingly to an inability to feel the most profound emotions, and to missing the deep intimacies that can only be found with dedication and time.

This post was powered by the song, “Sometimes I Don’t Feel Like Doing Anything” (2014) by Tweito, the CD, “The Best Of The Lost Dogs” (1996) by The Lost Dogs and the song, “Love the One You’re With” (1970) by Stephen Stills.