Zachary Bright

The Wonder of it All


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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.”


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Three Things; No, Four – Numero Cuatro

wave

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find until after death… I must make it the main object of my life to press on to that other country and help others do the same.” – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Our fourth wonder, and the last in this list, is the California ocean wave: a truly awesome thing, not something to turn your back on; complex, yet simple; beautiful; challenging and overwhelming.

California wave

Or more specifically, the way of a surfer with a wave.

Jon Foreman in wave

The surfer in the above picture is Jon Foreman, solo artist and frontman for the band Switchfoot. The band is from Southern California and takes it’s name from a skill in surfing of being equally able to anchor oneself on the surf board with either foot.

I also grew up in Southern California, and visited our beaches summer after summer. For surfing and body-surfing, I liked Huntington Beach. The waves were usually about the right size; Newport Beach and others had smaller waves and some beaches featured complex currents and waves that seemed too big.

One of our sayings back in the day was “He who hesitates is lost.” The saying is related to a bit of counter-intuitive surfing wisdom: when one is out in the waves, one must either ride the wave, if one can catch the crest of the wave just right, or one must dive under the wave, and stay under, no matter how thrashed one is, until the wave goes over. The temptation is to surface too soon or to run from the wave; both are usually mistakes, as one will find out. This must be a metaphor for something, like the paradox of the Gospel: Jesus died that we might live; Jesus carried our sin so that we might be clothed in his righteousness; the way up is down; the first shall be last; one must be willing to lose the world to gain one’s soul; one must die to be resurrected to eternal life; the greatest in the kingdom of God must be the servant of all; and we could go on.

I hope you have begun to see that when one places apparently unlike realities along side each other, one sees fresh and unsuspected meanings. Think of the items on our list from Proverbs 30: eagle, snake, ship in the sea, and the way of a man with a girl. We have laid out four realities in four posts and maybe we might be able to tie some of them together or see some meanings that are new for us when we place these realities along side each other.

Speaking of juxtaposition, I’m not going to spell out for you the connections between the C.S. Lewis quote above and waves or all the other wonderful things that we encounter. Some of my posts seem to be as long term papers. Not this time; no thank you! And besides, Jack is waiting for me to prepare a portion for him of that high-protein diet that his ancestors ate on the African Savannah. By the way it’s amusing to see Jack’s consternation as he watches a TV commercial in which CATS are offered a similar diet. Jack almost said, “That is just WRONG!”

This post was powered by, “Twenty Twenty: The Essential T-Bone Burnett [Disc 1 and Disc 2]” (2006) by T-Bone Burnett.


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Living Water

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Did I tell you that I love water? You could have guessed it from my post, “An Amazing Place”. Today is the day for this post because the temperature is about 94 degrees Fahrenheit (!) here in Monrovia, CA. and the temperature for the next week is predicted to be similar. Did I tell you that I avoid heat? Yes, I did (in some post). Jack has learned to avoid heat also, watching me from the shaded porch now while I go to check the mail box. Smart dog. He will make his exercise up, like many of you will, in a nocturnal romp. Speaking of Jack (the Bible Study Dog), he’s wondering why we are not having our Thursday Night Bible Study, that he helps to host, in our home tonight. That’s because tomorrow is Independence Day and we are taking tonight off. However, the heat has us thinking about water, so thus this post.

More specifically, I am writing about “living water”. It’s a biblical term, and basically means running water instead of still water. So living water could be a stream, a river or a fountain but not a pond, a stagnant pool or a still lake. I suppose the ocean is a special case, but for me, that’s alive.

But in the Bible, “living water” is used as a metaphor for the life of God which he shares with humans. This can be seen in the offer of Jesus to the Samaritan woman, as he breaks through social barriers out of love to bring her forgiveness, acceptance, salvation and eternal life. Jesus has this habit of crashing into peoples’ lives and love-bombing them whether they think they are ready or not. This is not to say that Jesus is not spiritually calm and collected and focused on his Father, but his effect on people is explosive! World-views are turned upside-down, hearts are melted or hardened, people fall hopelessly in love with Jesus or they run for their lives (literally!), Jesus becomes a best Friend or the Enemy. Let’s listen for a moment to Jesus’ conversation with a Samaritan woman. “The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink,” you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?'” (John 4:9-11, NRSV) Good question. And reasonable. There’s the well: deep. And the bucket: non-existent (unless you want to use mine? No?). Sooo… The attractions of Jesus and his mysterious offer are pressing in on the Samaritan woman.

The question, universalized, is also our question: Where does one get living water? I’m not sure that we’ve ever asked any other question. Or at least, don’t so many questions boil down to where can I find deep, satisfying life that is not just an idea, but an overwhelming reality that soaks and saturates me to the core? Other ways to ask it: Where can I find refreshment? How can I find (know) God? Where can I find the power, ability to live a good life? Sometimes I think that even when we are asking mundane questions like getting driving or walking directions, we are still asking at a deep level ‘Is this real? Just like with the Samaritan woman, Jesus wants to scratch the itch, inflame the desire. C.S. Lewis wrote to the effect that Jesus doesn’t think that we desire too much or too strongly, but too little and too weakly. We are, Lewis wrote, like children, who when offered a holiday by the sea, not being able to imagine it, would prefer to remain in a slum and make mud-pies in the dirt.

Jesus is bold and proclaims that he has what we want. “On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”‘ Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive…” (John 7:37-39b, NRSV) Really Jesus proclaims that he and the Holy Spirit are what we need!

I’m ‘thirsty’. I’m ‘thirsty’ most of the time. I will go to Jesus. Will you join me?

Do you doubt that, at some deep level, we all, even if in a disguised way, are asking the God question and the satisfying life question? If we will not receive life in Jesus, we will create idols (see the post “What We Are”), something or someone we look to instead of God. Through the prophet Jeremiah, the LORD declares that “…those who turn away from me… have forsaken the fountain of living water, the LORD.” (Jer. 17:13, NRSV, margin Heb.) The LORD says that it is appropriate to be “appalled” (Jer. 2:12, NRSV) and “shocked” (Jer. 2:12, NRSV) because “…my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living water,
and dug out cisterns for themselves,
cracked cisterns
that can hold no water.” (Jer. 2:13, NRSV)
So let’s get this straight: 1) it’s evil and tragic to forsake the living God, the fountain of living water; and 2) it’s evil and sad to dig out for ourselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water. Cisterns were used to collect rain water in a semi-arid climate for domestic use. It’s sad to make arrangements apart from God for our sense of life, vitality and meaning because it doesn’t work.

Let me play with this idea of leaky cisterns a bit. So many of us find that our lives are like leaky containers. Vitality, a sense of meaning, spiritual life, the will to live just seem to leak away continually. And so we desperately fill ourselves up with whatever we can find. We desperately need to feel good, to have a sense of meaning, of purpose.
We suck the people around us dry. I have a huge need for meaning myself. I also seek life desperately sometimes. But the LORD assures us that he is the fountain of living water, a fountain that always overflows so that we may be constantly filled and saturated with the life of God. Living under the fountain of living water takes the panic out of life!

A final scripture text looks to the future. “And there shall be continuous day (it is known to the LORD), not day and not night, for at evening time there shall be light. On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea; it shall continue in summer as in winter. And the LORD will become king over all the earth; on that day the LORD will become king over all the earth; on that day the LORD will be one and his name one.” (Zechariah 14:7-9, NRSV)

If you need some reading for July 4th, try my earlier post, “True Freedom”. Well, Jack is looking forward to his bed-time ritual. He gets some treats and then lays down and sleeps along the outside of my right leg. So until the next post, may the LIVING WATER be yours now and always.

This post was powered by “To Heaven and Back” (1998), “The Best of the Call” (1997) and “Live Under the Red Moon” (2006) all by The Call.

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Split-View of Sipadan Island, Borneo


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This Is The Way Life Is

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This is a big day for Jack and me. Most Thursdays are big for us because we host a Bible study in our home on Thursday evenings. I have the privilege of actually teaching God’s Word and the exhilaration of crafting and combining the words and gestures that will help someone see what God has been teaching me. Jack, the Bible study dog, especially enjoys the fellowship time and the opportunity to play with the people and untie their shoe laces. He also has culinary interests: last week he stole my pizza. Sometimes Jack will sleep in someone’s lap while we are studying our text.

On a day like this, I am determined to spend the day in joy and praise and in preparation for tonight. Right now I’m listening to the new Jesus Culture album, “Unstoppable Love”, to help me keep going and finish this post. Jack has dragged one of his beds into my office so that he can lay down nearby me whenever he can’t tempt me to play with him. Except that right now he is barking his big, deep, deafening bark. He has other vocalizations: the howl for social misery, the whine for impatience, the normal bark for an alert. But this bark means: “There are Vikings coming up the walkway carrying spears and swords”. I just went to look out the door. Nothing, nada, zero, zippo. Maybe Jack has a screw loose and is responding to his own ‘issues’.

I pray to God every morning that I may believe, understand and obey his Word, especially as he speaks to me through the Bible, but also through the books, magazines, music and people in my life. Then I pray to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to be a blessing to everyone that I meet. I try to speak the names of people I am likely to meet this day. I pray also that God will cause me to understand better who he is and to understand better who he is calling me to be and what he is calling me to do. Finally, I pray that he will make me winsome and attractive for the sake of his Kingdom. This last prayer means that I will not worry about how I appear to people today because I assume that God has answered this prayer. Therefore, I know that, at least today, I’m awesome and people are seeing Jesus through me. There’s no reason to be overly self-conscious. Am I ready now to start the day? Check.

Nonetheless, like Jack, I have a screw loose and have issues. Sometimes in the evening, in fact the last three evenings, some word or action by another is the occasion for me to feel hurt over something that I even know at the time is ridiculously small, unimportant. Somehow, I feel undervalued or that decisions about my life are being taken out of my hands (hey, these are my issues!). Full disclosure: sometimes I weep or almost weep. However, I try to avoid what C.S. Lewis often called “the tyranny of the sensitive” (he had many opportunities to observe this in his domestic arrangements). The tyranny of the sensitive is seen when someone has cultivated a reputation for being “sensitive” so that everyone around must ‘walk on eggshells’ for fear of causing pain. The ‘sensitive’ one can then shut down any discussion or activity that is not welcome. Now everyone knows what the ‘sensitive’ one is doing, but they have grown weary of dealing with the drama or “martyr complex”, and so the ‘sensitive’ one repeatedly, and unfairly it is felt, gets her or his own way. Hence, the tyranny. Like I said, I try to avoid doing this and I think I have succeeded mostly. But the last few nights, I got darn close to it. Did I tell you I have a screw loose?

I remember Kim Walker-Smith (Jesus Culture) talking about living with an unoffended (my spell check doesn’t like this, but it should be a word) heart toward God. She is saying one can focus on the ‘why’ questions or the “Why me?” question or one can focus on pressing in to God’s presence. And I would add that God’s presence really is the answer to the why questions (see the Book of Job). I aim, at my best, to live with an unoffended heart toward God and an unoffended heart toward people. My Dad would express this, thinking of 1 John (which, by the way, we are studying tonight), as “roof off and walls down”. In 2003, during a protracted illness I learned something like this. See my older post: “Thick Skin and Tender Hearts”. Maybe you should do it now, before you forget. I’ll still be here when you get back.

We live amidst huge spiritual realities and God’s promises to enable us to live whole and holy lives are true and effective. I know frequent joy and sometimes ecstasy and a sense that Jesus is still teaching me how to live. His “burden” is still “light” and his “yoke” is still “easy”. There is no better way to live. And the abundant life that Jesus promised is a reality that we live in. And yet, the smallest things can trip us up. I used to say to a friend something like this: “Yes, they are out to get you and they feel threatened by your vision and energy and I will continue to speak to them about their wrong attitudes. However, you know you have a screw loose! You need to lean against over-sensitivity.” And then we would laugh because everyone has a screw loose. Wait! I hear a rattle. Is that you or me?