Zachary Bright

The Wonder of it All


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My Hapless, Fickle Heart

Cross palms

Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” – Matthew 16:16, ESV

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” – Matthew 16:21-23, ESV

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the Highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowd said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” – Matthew 21:1-11, ESV

And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” And Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” – Mark 15:13-14, ESV

And they spit on him [Jesus] and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him. = Matthew 27:30-31,ESV

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I could write about how Jack Lewis, the Bible Study Dog (BSD), is sometimes fickle, shifting his attention to whoever has food. But, that would not be fair to the BSD; dogs are “opportunistic predators” (especially Jack!), and they are doing what is natural for them, seizing opportunities. What is worth noting, though, is how often Jack Lewis displays remarkable loyalty and affection.

Fickle – changeable, unreliable, going after anything that sparkles.

I am writing this the night before Palm Sunday, when Christians celebrate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, as King and Messiah of Israel, in the week before he was crucified. The details are memorable: the miraculous provision of the donkey; the crowd of people acclaiming Yeshua as the One who was to come in the name of the Lord, and as their Messiah (“Son of David”), their King; the people throwing their cloaks and palm branches on the ground before Yeshua and crying, “Hosanna!” (meaning “O save!”). Preachers often note that probably most of the people proclaiming Jesus as King on Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, a few days later are screaming “Crucify him!” Fickle, treacherously so.

The two stories above tell us much of what we need to know about who we are. Peter moves from recognizing that Yeshua is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” to rebuking Jesus and refusing to accept that Jesus’ saving path went through death on a cross. Jesus calls Peter’s rebuke the work of Satan (Adversary) and declares Peter’s mind is not “on the things of God, but the things of man.” Wow! From divine revelation to tool of Satan; from remarkable insight to the usual human, self-protective, suffering-avoiding human point of view.

Here are a few observations that struck me while thinking about the Palm Sunday story:

1. We are made to worship. This is one reason that a crowd could be gathered to proclaim Jesus as Messiah and King. This is also why if we don’t worship the living God we will worship an idol – our life-style, our families, our nation, some religion or philosophy, etc. And this is why it is so pleasurable to praise an excellent performance or to admire the good qualities of others (whatever is of good repute, worthy of praise, lovely – think on these things). Or would be pleasurable, if we were not twisted by sin into competitive critics. So, there is worship of the living God, worship of idols, and admiration and appreciation appropriate to reality.

2. We are social creatures. This is another reason a crowd could be gathered around Jesus as he entered Jerusalem, drawn partly by curiosity and the excitement of a crowd. The support of others makes it much easier to be honorable and courageous. But the support of others also makes it much easier to do something shabby, cowardly or brutal, to scream, “crucify him!”; to do something that we would never do on our own. We may need extraordinary courage in the gathering storm of persecution. We must gather with faithful sisters and brothers to support each other in our various callings.

3. We are fickle, changeable. One day we are filled love and passion for God, committed to being radically obedient to our Lord. A few days later the passion has leaked out and we want a break from Jesus. One moment we want peace and safety. Another moment we want excitement and adventure. This is human nature and is built into us by God. But this means we will need to make plans to be faithful, regardless of how we feel. My mother said to me, “Never doubt in the dark what you have seen in the light.” We must continue to live according to what we have seen when we were thinking well, even when boredom, mental fog, confusion and doubt become our experience.

4. Among some Christians today there is an obsession with denial and suffering, almost as a good in itself. And of course, there have always been Christians who are down for the blessing but not faithfulness when it is hard; they want the crown without the cross. Not our preferences, but communion with Christ, in both his death and resurrection, should be our aim: “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith – that I may know HIM and THE POWER OF HIS RESURRECTION, and may SHARE HIS SUFFERINGS, becoming like him in his DEATH, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-11, ESV, emphasis added)

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This post was powered by the EP, “Dear St. Isaac” (2014) by Dear St. Isaac, the CD, “The Good King” (2013) by Ghost Ship, the CD, “Flying” (1997) by Grammatrain, and the CD, “Pete Stewart” (1999) by Grammatrain.

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Shelter In The Storm

lighthouse in storm

The name of the LORD is a strong tower;
the righteous man runs into it and is safe. – Proverbs 18:10, ESV

Lead me to the rock
that is higher than I,
for you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the enemy.
Let me dwell in your tent forever!
Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! Selah – Psalm 61:2b-4, ESV

You are a hiding place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah – Psalm 32:7, ESV

Jack Lewis, the Bible Study Dog (BSD), likes to sleep beside me, packed as tightly as possible between my right leg and the arm of the recliner chair. Waking up one morning, I was reminded of a remark of Caesar Milan, to the effect that, typically dogs are often comforted by tight places. That might partly be because dogs, like humans, are social animals, and perhaps they carry a memory of coming into this world amidst a liter of squirming, writhing, cuddling puppies around their mother. But this is also because wild dogs, wolves and hyenas live in dens; perhaps just a depression in the dirt, a cave dug out of a hillside, or a hole taken over from other animals. After a day or night of hunting, the wild dogs come back to the den and re-establish their sense of order in the pack, care for the puppies that have been left behind, share food, and cuddle for warmth and comfort.

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Humans also need a base of operations, a place to go out from, and come back to. We need a place to nurse our wounds from the world, re-establish our sense of where we fit in our family or with other allies, a place to share meals and other essentials of life, a place to care for and raise children, a place where we are understood; a place to go for shelter from the storms, pressures, chaos and enemies we all know. We must have some place to regroup, catch our breath, recharge our sense that we matter to someone, and to make plans for the struggles ahead. We call this place HOME.

When I was young, boys would build “forts.” I think that girls ‘playing house’ are reflecting a similar instinct (please no haters, I could qualify my statements in order to be PC, but hey!, we’re all adults here). We all seek a place of safety and protection, where we can exercise our God-given, Adam & Eve, before the Fall, gifts to exercise benevolent, royal dominion. In the Bible, this is called a: FORTRESS, TOWER, SHELTER, HIDING PLACE, ROCK.

The little parable (Mt. 7:24-27) at the end of Yeshua’s Sermon On the Mount is realistic: both those who hear and obey Yeshua’s words and endure; and those who hear, but do not obey his words and are washed away; experience the storm. “And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew…” (Mt. 7:25, ESV, comp. vs. 27) In the parable, hearing and doing Yeshua’s words is the Rock on which we may build and secure our lives. But in the Hebrew Bible texts that I have chosen, our Shelter is YHWH himself. Remember that “the name of the LORD” does not point to just using the words, but connotes the entire character of God. The same is true when we invoke the trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So we are talking about how Yahweh himself, his presence, and all of who he is, is our fortress, our safe place.

But what happens when the storm comes inside our homes, and there is literally no safe place on earth for us? Well, praise be to Yahweh, we can run to him, our Rock, at any time, and receive the refreshment, the encouragement, and just a place to be, that we need!

What are the elements of your storm right now? Financial difficulty, child custody battle, sickness, tensions with coworkers, failure, meaninglessness, confusion of voices in your world, loved ones who need to believe the Good News, a broken relationship? I could go on and on. But we all may run to the Rock, the Strong Tower, the Fortress, the Hiding Place! And I do mean RUN! Life is too dangerous to spend it exposed, without supernatural help! I’ll see you inside.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my Fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear… – Psalm 91:1-5a, ESV

Well, if I were you I would read the whole of Psalm 91 as soon as possible.

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You are my hiding place and my shield;
I hope in your word. – Psalm 119:114, ESV


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Filled and Overflowing

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…Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive… – John 7:37b-39b, ESV

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. – Ephesians 5:15-21, ESV

A great many think that, because they have been filled once, they are going to be filled for all time after; but O, my friends, we are leaky vessels, and have to be kept right under the fountain all the time in order to keep full. If we are going to be used by God we have to be very humble. A man that lives close to God will be the humblest of men. I heard a man say that God always chooses the vessel that is close to hand. Let us keep near Him. – Dwight Lyman Moody (1837-1899), “Glad Tidings”, 1876.

Jack Lewis, the Bible Study Dog (BSD), is known for his impressive vocalizations. I have written about some of them, including the deafening, ear-splitting bark that means: “There are Vikings coming up the walkway carrying swords and spears, and I won’t stop until I see definite signs of panic from everyone in the house!” But this morning, shortly after Terry left for work, Jack Lewis began the plaintive, mournful howl which I call “the social misery howl”. In addition to the Bible Study Dog’s scholarly (see “Jack’s New Years Bible Study” – 1/13/15 or “A Dog’s Christmas” – 12/30/15 ) and culinary interests, the BSD has social interests. Jack’s internal clock must be off a bit, so that he doesn’t realize that tonight is Bible study night, when Jack Lewis can sleep on somebody’s lap during the study or perhaps receive a bit of food from the refreshments. Still I would expect the BSD’s sense of well-being to be high, considering how much went Jack’s way yesterday and last night. He had a generous portion of the kind of high-protein diet that his ancestors ate on the African Savannah, followed by play time, laying down with me to watch the Voice, then laying down with me later for sleep, but not before receiving his dog bed-time treats, and then up this morning for a rousing game of Predator. I guess happiness leaks away for Jack, like it does for the rest of us. That led me to think of the above Scripture texts and the quote from D.L. Moody. And a couple of helpful observations about being continually filled with the Holy Spirit.

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Just like a sense of well-being leaks away from us for so many reasons, our awareness of the presence and power of God in our lives leaks out, because of neglect or sin or sadness about the state of our world or falling once again into the delusion that we can build and secure our lives in our own strength. Of course, spending time humbly seeking the face of God and renewing our relationship, as suggested in the D.L. Moody quote above, is essential. But, I would like to reflect for a bit on the Ephesians passage, and then take a couple of themes from the John passage, and finally suggest an invigorating image of what continually being filled with the Holy Spirit can look like.

In the verses in Ephesians 5, before our text begins, there has been a warning about “foolish talk”, “crude joking”, “sexual immorality” and “covetousness”. And then exhortations follow, to “not become partners with” those who practice these sins, but rather to “walk as children of light”, and to “try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord”. And there are these rousing words:

“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

How are we to do this? How are we to escape partnership with “the unfruitful works of darkness”, and to “walk as children of the light”? Of course self-discipline (which is part of the fruit of the Spirit – Gal. 5:22-23) and vigilance are part of the answer. St. Paul recognized that “the days are evil”, and looking around us, you and I can only agree. Therefore, we should “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time…” (Eph. 5:15-16a, ESV) This is the self-discipline and vigilance counsel.

It seems to me though, that the deeper answer is to not only to be disciplined and vigilant, but to be filled to overflowing with a powerful new affection, with God himself, with the Holy Spirit. The good drives out the evil and the light drives out the darkness. St. Paul wrote: “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit…” (Eph. 5:18, ESV) Part of being drunk with alcohol, is to be controlled by one’s inebriated state; “that’s the alcohol talking”, as we say. So to be filled with the Spirit is to be controlled by the Spirit (rather than wine, fear, pride, lust, idolatry, the world, etc.) and empowered by the Spirit.

This command in Ephesians 5 to be filled with the Spirit, has, in Greek, a continuous sense, rather than a sense of a one-time decision to be filled with the Spirit. Though it is not good English, we could translate the command as, “be continually being filled with the Spirit”. We need to be continuously seeking and opening ourselves to the presence and power, the filling, of the Holy Spirit. As in the D.L. Moody quote above, “we are leaky vessels”, and Spirit leaks out of us, and must be continuously replenished.

The result of this continuously being filled, is that the abundant life overflows out of us into others, like water in a glass under a running faucet. Our praise of God in “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs”, is also to be addressed to our sisters and brothers, encouraging and building them up. To be sure the Holy Spirit (in my experience), inspires a musical sound track for our lives; we are “singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Eph. 5:19b, ESV). And we are “..giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Eph. 5:19, ESV)

Here is an interesting observation. Our text ends with, “…submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph. 5:21, ESV) And then, follows the teaching about family relationships, between husbands and wives, and parents and children. I take from this order, that we cannot submit to one another, unless we are filled, controlled, empowered by the Holy Spirit; and that all of the family teaching flows out of mutual submission; and that the family teachings also presuppose the filling of the Holy Spirit. These principles are not meant to work without the power of the Holy Spirit. Husbands are not expected to love their wives as Christ loved the church, and as they love themselves, nor are wives expected to respect their husbands, in their own strength.

Using the metaphor of water for the Spirit, and remembering that Jesus, in John 7, proclaimed that out of the believer’s “…heart will flow rivers of living water” and that Jesus understood ‘water’ as a metaphor for the Spirit, we are now in a position to use the refreshing picture of flowing, clean water to understand two powerful truths that will help us to stay filled with the Spirit even though we are leaky vessels (or containers or glasses).

Numero uno, we should always seek to be as close to God as possible and to be wherever the Spirit is falling. I hope that one of those places is me, so that when people get close to me some of the living water will splash on to them. We will need to spend time with God, seeking his face, and we will need to spend time with Spirit-filled sisters and brothers so that what they have will splash on to us, and we will need to be radically open to every motion and leading of the Spirit in our lives. The picture I see here is of someone or maybe a group of people standing under a waterfall or a fountain on a warm day.

Numero dos, we are blessed to be a blessing, and as the living water flows from us to others, we are continually filled. We can think of this from a different angle: as we bless others, we are blessed; as the living water flows through us to others, we also are refreshed. The picture I have for this, is of people standing under the water source as the water flows out of them to others, in turn making room for more water in the people. In our emphasis on being fed or ministered to, we have subtly fallen away from this picture. Think of a pond that has water flowing in to it, but not flowing out of it. It becomes stagnant of course. Christians who are continually fed with teaching that they do not live out or with spiritual blessing that they do not give away, become like stagnant ponds. You don’t want that: moss, fungus, bacteria, insect larvae, yuck! Enough said.

I gotta go. The Bible Study Dog, even after all the stimulation of Bible study and fellowship time, is already empty, and making that ear-splitting howl, saying he needs some time with the pack leader. I will be fortunate if I can concentrate to proof read this post!

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This post was powered by the EP, “This Is Living – EP” (2015) by Hillsong Young & Free, the CD, “Worldwide Favorites” (1999) by Adam Again, and the CDs, “Lackluster” (2004) and “Water & Guns” (2013), by Aaron Sprinkle.