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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Reflexiones para Adviento y Navidad – parte uno

Mary1

And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God. And behold your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the six month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:30-38, ESV)

When I find myself in times of trouble,
Mother Mary comes to me,
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
And in my hour of darkness,
She is standing right in front of me,
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be. by The Beatles (1970, Lennon-McCartney, really written by Paul McCartney)

Jack Lewis the Balding Bible Study Dog (BBSD) is a little at loose ends in Advent and the time before Christmas, because schedules have caused us to suspend the Thursday evening Bible studies until after the holidays. The social interaction, culinary opportunities, excitement, shoe laces to be untied and times of comfort on someone’s lap, all combine to make the Bible study a high point of the BBSD’s week. In the Bible study community, if Jack Lewis has not become a Christian, at least he lives under the blessings of God’s kingdom where humans exercise something of the dominion over creation they were meant to have. In this season, Jack usually has about two good days and one bad day. A good day is when Jack Lewis is not too demanding, after he has had his basic ritual of the predator game, he sleeps without anxiety, and greets all visitors that Jack knows with canine courtesy. On a bad day, Jack Lewis demands a lot of attention and he gives his challenge bark to all visitors, even those he knows. The challenge bark is different from the ear-splitting, deafening bark that I have told you about, which seems to mean, “There are Vikings coming up the walkway, brandishing swords and shields, and I will not stop until I see clear signs of panic from everyone (and I mean everyone!) in the house.” No, the challenge bark is a briefer deep bass guttural bark which seems to translate as, “Who are you?” In these moments, what Jack lacks in courtesy, is matched by his conscientious performance of what he sees as his role in our pack.

Jack the Bible Study dog is relearning the protocols of living in a house where Christmas is celebrated. For instance, one does not take an ornament off the Christmas tree and proudly bring it to the pack leader to play with or one does not take the stocking off of the front door and drag what’s left of it all over the front lawn. For Jack Lewis, the blessings of Advent and Christmas are mixed with challenges.

For many of us, the holiday season brings challenges. Shopping, decorating, partying, worry, the blues can crowd out poise, calm, peace and worship. What we need is an inner center focused on the One that we worship, out of which our words and actions flow. One of the various types of Christian meditation is to focus on a word or phrase. The word could be “love”, “peace”, “joy” or some other meaningful word. A phrase might remind us of what we believe about God, perhaps even a biblical phrase or sentence like, “God is love”, “the peace which passes all understanding”, “God is light and in him is no darkness”, “My peace I give to you”, “the Light of the world”, “I AM” or “the LORD will provide”.

I learned the following meditation many years ago. Let me guide you. Find a place free of distractions, and a comfortable position, or you can walk if you prefer. Set aside about 10 minutes. Relax and slowly turn your heart toward God. Be present to him. We are going to take a portion of a Bible verse, break it down and just live with whatever associations come to us with each phrase or word: “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10a, ESV) Let’s proceed like this:

“Be still, and know that I am God.” – Ponder and feel. Consider what this means for your life.
“Be still, and know that I am…” – Ponder and feel. Lean back in God’s ‘arms’.
“Be still, and know…” – Ponder and feel. Let trust and confidence arise within you.
“Be still…” – Do it.
“Be…” – Consider how over time this word can point, for you, to all the meanings of the whole sentence.

Now come back to your everyday world slowly and gently. Try to bring awareness of God with you into all your activities. Thank God for what you have seen and understood.

It is hard to believe that the Beatles’ song, Let It Be, could be written in a culture that has no Christian memory. The words, “let it be” echo Mary’s words in response to the angel’s announcement of Mary’s call as a virgin to bear the Messiah, the King to rule in David’s line, the Son of God. Also, several other phrases in the song seem to be direct quotes from the Psalms. The choice of the name, Mary, can’t be ignored either. However, Paul McCartney insisted the song was about a dream of his mother, who died of cancer when he was 14 years old. Mary, his mother, whispered to him to “let it be”, that everything would “be alright”. The religious overtones of the song, in the studio, seemed obvious enough to John Lennon that he tried to dial them back. Let It Be was performed by three of the Beatles at Linda McCartney’s memorial service. (1)

In any case, there is a wide canyon between “let it be” and “…let be to me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38b, ESV). A great space yawns between “take it easy”, “it’s all good”, “no worries mate”, “chill”, “don’t worry, be happy”, “everything will work out”, on the one hand, and “I am the Lord’s servant; I trust You; do with me as you will, or as you have promised (and announced); and I offer myself to be an instrument of your kingdom, an instrument of revolt against the evil and disorder of this world”, on the other hand. There is a big difference between trusting your life to the universe and trusting your life to a loving, wonder-working God. There is a big difference between ‘whistling pass the graveyard’, mere psychological comfort, and joining the revolution, expecting to meet God and his guidance, as we step out moment by moment, in obedience. After all, as the angel said, “…nothing will be impossible with God”!

Mary2

If you find belief in miracles, like a virgin birth, difficult, I ask you to suspend disbelief for awhile, and to try on Mary’s attitude. Let’s make Mary’s words, “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word”, our mantra this season of Advent and Christmas.

(1) To verify the Beatles lore, see the book, “The Gospel According to The Beatles” by Steve Turner (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2006). Find the song, “Let It Be”, in the index, for page numbers. This is probably the most accurate, fair and profound book about the Beatles and their beliefs.

This post was powered by the CD, “Divine 3.0 – Songs for Christmas” by The Violet Burning, by the CD, “Songs for Christmas” (2014) by Branches, the CD, “Midwinter EP” (2013) by The Western Den, the single, “Oh, Holy Night! (Single)” (2013) by All Delighted People, the CD, “Advent One” (2014) by Already Not Yet, the song, “Let It Be” (2000) by the Beatles, and the CD, “Christmas” (1993) by Bruce Cockburn.