Zachary Bright

The Wonder of it All


Leave a comment

Focus

faith to walk on water

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and the sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV

Immediately [Jesus] made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
– Matthew 14:22-33, ESV

“Pressing On” (1980) by Bob Dylan

Well I’m pressing on, Yes I’m pressing on
Well I’m pressing on, To the higher calling of my Lord

Well I’m pressing on, Yes, I’m pressing on
Well I’m pressing on, To the higher calling of my Lord

(Repeat chorus yet again)

Many try to stop me
Shake me up in my mind
Saying, prove to me that he’s the Lord
Show me a sign
What kind of sign they need
When it all comes from within
What’s lost has been found
What’s to come has already been

(Repeat chorus twice)

Shake the dust off of your feet, Don’t look back
Nothing can hold you back, Nothing that you lack

(Repeat chorus)

Temptation’s not an easy thing, Adam given the Devil reign
‘Cus he sinned I got no choice, it runs in my vein

(Repeat chorus about one thousand times lol)

Speaking to Jack Lewis, the Bible Study Dog (BSD), this morning, I asked him what he thought of the pack leader going to the hospital tomorrow to have yet another foot surgery. His reply was to lunge at me, continuing the Predator Game, as if to say, “Tomorrow can worry about itself. Let’s play!” Jack lives in the moment, but not passively. He is alert and curious: watching and sniffing for food, staring intensely into human eyes, and attempting to ingratiate himself to other pack members. Alertness and focus are qualities that the BSD usually displays, but more about that later.

The Bible Study Dog was rather well-behaved at Bible study tonight. Jack slept on someone’s lap, then engaged in silent prayer for table scraps, and finally walked folks to the yard gate at the end of the evening. He is now waiting for me to come to bed, bringing his customary tasty treats.

Our theme today, as you can see, is “focus.” I know someone with focus: Mr. Jack Lewis, the Bible Study Dog. Arriving home from worship recently, we found Jack Lewis waiting for us in the closest shade he could find (Jack doesn’t like heat any more than I do) near the gate. I remarked to my wife, Terry, that I am fascinated that some dogs, especially Jack, will look into one’s eyes for a long time, or at inappropriate times, in a way that many humans would consider bad manners in another human. Terry said, “You know that Jack lives for you, don’t you?” We laughed. But it’s true that the BSD was appointed to be in a symbiotic relationship with me as surely as a giant fish was appointed to swallow Jonah.

Someone else who, at least briefly, had focus was St. Peter. As St. Matthew tells the story, when Yeshua (Jesus) came walking on the water to the disciples’ boat, Peter asked Jesus to “…command me to come to you on the water.” Yeshua said, “Come.” The Word that commanded, “Let there be light” and there was light, through whom all things were created, could of course, accomplish this small thing of enabling Peter to walk on water. Though I saw a cartoon recently that said something to the effect that, if someone was seen walking on water today, people would say it’s because she can’t swim; people are perverse. But I digress.

Fear runs through this story. When the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water, they thought he was a ghost, and “…they cried out in fear”; they were “terrified.” Jesus said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” (I have written in another blog post about the relationship between ‘heart’, courage, and encouragement; and how ‘heart’ can leak out of us.) When Peter, walking on the water, saw the storm, “he was afraid.” Just as Yeshua was present to the disciples, reaching down to rescue Peter, when he began to sink, and calming the waters, so Yeshua has promised us, “Lo, I am with you, even to the end of the age.”

Jesus’ powerful Word, his command to “come”, sparked faith in Peter so that he could step out of the safety of the boat (perhaps a symbol of the church), into the world of wind, waves and storm. Have you heard the call of Yeshua, “Come, follow me”? I hope you said “yes”, and if not, you can say “yes” right now. However, so many that trust in Yeshua as Savior for forgiveness of their sins, and as Lord of every area of their lives, don’t follow him very far. They become distracted by “conditions”, the threatening winds of life, and lose their focus on Jesus, and begin “to sink.” Peter cried out, “Lord, save me!” It’s a short and succinct prayer, understandable under the circumstances, but it has all the necessary elements: 1) it’s addressed to the Living God, to the Lord Jesus, not “to whom it may concern”, or the forces of nature, etc.; 2) it gets to the point, to be saved, and there are many ways in which Yeshua saves us, depending on what ‘pit’ we are in: and 3) “me”, we should not be too proud or ‘spiritual’, to ask for our own needs.

We are to focus on our aim in life, as can be seen in our text from Hebrews 12, and keep moving in the same direction (“endurance”), or we will not make progress. If the goal keeps changing, we will not make any progress, and if we aim at nothing, we will surely hit it (ha! ha!). The “cloud of witnesses”, who have run this race of faith before us, and the example of our Lord Jesus, “…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross…” encourage us. We must not look back. Jesus said that, whoever put his hand to the plow and looked back, was not worthy of him, and I would add, will not plow straight. Think of trying to look over your shoulder while driving a car or riding a bicycle. It is interesting that the text not only instructs us to lay aside sin (we expect that), but we are also to “…lay aside every weight…” A weight to give up could include ‘dead weight’, anything that slows us down (if you have been backpacking you know all about this – no, you can’t take a six-pack) or it could be a distraction, like the siren calls of “the world, the flesh and the Devil”, or unfruitful drama in your life, or the consumption of culture that does not build up, or just the winds of life.

I also think that sometimes ‘focus’ is just another word for ‘perspective.’ The Virgin Mary magnified the Lord; God’s name was great in her eyes. But sometimes we magnify ourselves: we are great in our own eyes and God is small. It’s a matter of perspective, seeing what really matters most. It’s like looking through the right end of a telescope instead of the wrong end. Perspective: don’t start your day without it. I’m thinking of the story about the twelve spies sent into Canaan to “spy out” the land before invasion. Two spies, Joshua and Caleb, gave an encouraging report, but ten spies gave a “bad report”, a discouraging and faithless report. The majority report said that, “…all the people that we saw in [the land] are of great height…and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.” (You can read about this in Numbers 13:32-33.) My Dad called this “grasshopper faith”, what Jesus called “little faith.”

Sooo…, we are called to follow Yeshua, and to focus on him, not turning back or looking to the right or the left. The majority report that says, “look out for #1”, survival is the aim, competition is the means, “all is fair in love and war”, try to be in the “in-crowd”, have sharp elbows, “live and let die”, self-esteem must be protected at all costs, and “power” or some other idol (God-substitute) is god, will eventually leave you discouraged, unfulfilled, run over, overwhelmed, hopeless and helpless.

However, the minority report, the report of faith, trust, confidence, and faithfulness, teaches us that one plus YHWH is a majority, that as we magnify Jesus, and not ourselves, ironically, we become confident, hopeful, able to keep going and able to withstand the winds of life. It’s a matter of perspective. I am little and weak, but I serve a God who is great and powerful! I wouldn’t have it any other way; I’m thinking of that band called “Thousand Foot Crutch.”

…I press on to make it my own… [O]ne thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 3:12b, 13b & c, 14, ESV

5.0.2

5.0.2

This post was powered by the albums, “Saved” (1980) and “Shot of Love” (1981), both by Bob Dylan, and the album, “Brutal Romantic” (2014), by Brooke Fraser; and Hannah Kirby, quarter-finalist from “The Voice”, singing Bob Dylan’s “Pressing On”, a couple of days after returning home from “The Voice.” The best version on YouTube is titled, “Hannah Kirby Sings Bob Dylan.”


1 Comment

Saturated Souls

woman under waterfall5

Yeshua (Jesus): “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.” – Matthew 12:43-45, ESV

“Winds of Time” (1984), a song by Mark Heard
It takes more than a good intention
It takes more than than a cursory line
It takes more than mortal vigor
To withstand the winds of time
To withstand the winds of time

It takes more than an eager heart beating
It takes more than an enigmatic smile
It takes more than positive thinking
To stand against this tide
To stand against this tide

It takes a saturated soul
And a faith that will never let go

It takes a saturated soul
And a faith that will never let go

It takes more than mindless passion
It takes more than dogma in mime
It takes more than virtuous fashion
To withstand the winds of time
To withstand the winds of time
To withstand the winds of time

It takes a saturated soul
To withstand the winds of time

There is a renewed energy in our home for several reasons. After wearing a surgical boot for a couple of weeks, I am back in the foot brace which allows me more mobility. I did a brief jig, which so excited Jack Lewis, the Bible Study Dog (BSD), that he has been in a better mood ever since. We went out on the porch and sat on the bench like we used to do. We greeted the people and dogs as they went by. Jack and I had a discourse about the people and animals that we observed: squirrels, of course, and the parrots that are back from Central America. Jack Lewis prefers to not have moving objects above his head. Here is a recent picture of Jack Lewis, the Bible Study Dog (BSD), being his handsome self:

New Jack 5:15

After taking a hiatus in April, the Thursday Evening Bible Study in our home is meeting again. I need the conversation to help steer me toward working on the questions that people are asking. The Bible Study Dog lays respectfully in someone’s lap, and sometimes, he seems to be attending to the teaching. We had a good attendance at the Bible Study, and we expect more people next week.

While I continue on disability (I will need to use a walker from now on), I seek to share the blessings of God’s kingdom, through this blog, the Thursday Evening Bible Study, occasional phone conversations, Facebook posts, and praying for people who ask for prayer on Facebook. Sometimes I say that, “I seek to spread seeds of dissatisfaction and rumors of glory wherever I go.” I try to scratch the itch that people have, of longing for something more, which brings us to the theme of this post.

But first, I must say that I had an unintended ministry this week. I drove my car for the first time in awhile and did some shopping. I sometimes needed to look down to see if my foot was touching the brake. I had some sudden accelerations and abrupt stops, surely making other drivers uneasy. I like to think that some people thought to themselves that perhaps they should make an effort to find the meaning of life, and that, followers of Yeshua were moved to gratitude and praise, having escaped unharmed from an erratic driver. I’m glad to be of service!

I read so much about repentance on Facebook. Jesus preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!” The apostles of Yeshua, in the Book of Acts, called people to, “Repent, and believe the Good News!” To repent is to change one’s mind, agree with God, make a U-turn, and surrender to God and his Messiah. Repentance may involve emotions of sorrow and regret, but it is essentially changing one’s mind and surrendering to God. C.S. Lewis has written something to the effect that, repentance is not a work that God requires of us, but rather, it is simply a description of surrendering to God.

Merely saying “no” to the world, the flesh, and the devil, is not the point of the Christian life. I read a comment of someone on Facebook, to the effect that he must sit under continuous, red-hot preaching of repentance in order to battle his sin. The point of the Christian life is to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4, ESV), and to not only consider ourselves “dead to sin” (Rom. 6:11), but “alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 6:11)

Some Christians have come to enjoy the cathartic effect of “repentance” and to identify a sense of the conviction of sin as the primary evidence of God’s presence. But we must not only say “no” to sin but “yes” to the new life in the Spirit, the resurrected life. Will power, just saying “no,” does not give us victory over sin, or lead to holy lives, for two related reasons:

1) just focusing on saying “no”, and thinking about the sin continually, leads to the likelihood of giving in (think of when your mother said, “Stay out of the cookie jar”);
2) what you struggle with shapes you.

I want to suggest that we must be overwhelmed, baptized in the beauty, holiness, goodness and love of God. We want to be inundated, saturated with the presence of the triune God. Then sin will be seen as tawdry, stupid, and not worth the trouble, compared to the awesome presence of God. I am so passionate about this point and I have tried to write about it in various ways in my blog posts. And now I am taking another run at it.

Consider Yeshua’s parable at the top of this post. The background to this text is the water baptism of John for repentance (Matthew 11:1-19) and comparisons between the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth. The casting out of the unclean spirit from the tormented person represents John’s ministry of repentance. Note that descriptions of John’s ministry go beyond mere baptism to a call for new behavior appropriate to repentance; there was a real attempt to not only cast out the old sinful practices, but to live a new quality of life. In the words of Yeshua’s parable, the cleansed person was “empty, swept, and put in order.” (Matthew 12:44c, ESV)

And yet in Yeshua’s view all this was not enough. Someone who just, as we say, cleans up her act, is undefended against the overwhelmings of evil, sin, life, and death; Jesus’ judgement is that a life that is merely repentant and cleaned up can result in “..the last state of that person is worse than the first.” (Matthew 12:45c, ESV) The ministry of Yeshua would provide something more. John predicted that something more.

John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize
you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Luke 3:16, ESV)

Before his ascension into heaven, Yeshua ordered his disciples “…not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father…” because “…you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit…” (Acts 1:4-5, ESV) And then that ‘something more’ came upon them. The baptism of fire and the divine wind, the Holy Spirit, that John prophesied about, empowered the disciples to boldly do what they had cowered from doing before.

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire
house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak
in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:1-4, ESV)

The basic idea of “to baptize” is: to be overwhelmed, dunked, submerged, inundated, saturated, and the like. Until we are overwhelmed by the presence of God, following Yeshua will be a frustrating, and largely joyless, duty. The overwhelming, fiery love of the Father changes everything!

Mark Heard sang about how we need “a saturated soul” to “withstand the winds of time.” My hope and prayer is that we can move beyond just saying “no” to also saying “yes”, beyond only dying to sin to also living to righteousness, beyond cleaning up our lives to walking in the Spirit, and yes, beyond repenting of the same sins over and over to setting our minds on heavenly things. Will power and saying “no” is a losing battle. The Puritan writer, Thomas Chalmers, had the right idea when he entitled one of his books, “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” Nothing overcomes the old like the new, nothing overcomes hate like love, and nothing overcomes sin and evil like baptism into the overpowering love of God.

woman prause2

This post was powered by Hannah Kirby, quarter finalist on The Voice, performing “Pressing On” by Bob Dylan from his “Saved” album, just a couple of days after Hannah left The Voice. You can see this performance on YouTube.