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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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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Focus On Yeshua

Y'shua

Here are a few quotes to help us focus our lives:
“Jesus is the center of all, the object of all; whoever does not know him, knows nothing aright, either of the world or of himself.” – Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)

“The means to know God is Christ, whom no one may know unless they follow after him with their life.” – Hans Denck

“Our passion for Jesus is the only passion that will not destroy us.” – Larry Crabb

“I have only one passion. It is He, only He.” – Count Zinzendorf (1700-1760)

“Jesus said…’I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” (John 14:6, ESV)

Note that in the photo from Israel above, the white sign above the arrow says ‘Yeshua’ in Hebrew.


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Prayer – Part Uno/Uns/Eins/One

Coffee an alternative

Jack, the Bible Study Dog, has recovered quite well from his difficulties noted in an earlier post. Tonight, Jack and I have been involved in prayer, more specifically in supplication, which means simply asking, and more specifically still, supplication to Terry that she go to Starbucks and use my free birthday drink to buy me a quad venti skinny caramel macchiatto, and then to the store to buy double shot coffee plus energy drinks, one of which I require each morning. Jack knows that I am more responsive to his interests if I am not comatose. When first supplicated, Terry said she would go tomorrow morning. That’s O.K. But, out of the blue, she said, “Maybe I’ll put some clothes on and go out tonight.” Immediately our ears perked up (though it’s hard to tell with Jack because his ears are almost always erect) and our eyes brightened. Our hope is leaking away now.

Coffee is very important to some generations of Presbyterians, like mine. It has been called the third Presbyterian sacrament. Presbyterian and Reformed theology can be placed under the categories of Guilt, Grace and Gratitude, in that order (see especially the first two questions of the Heidelberg Catechism). Part of what this means is that instead of serving God to gain his favor and acceptance, we serve God out of Gratitude for what he has done for us in creation and redemption (in Grace). Well, I used to joke with my congregation that truly Reformed coffee should be a near-death experience. It should be so strong that after a swallow, as the constricted throat begins to open up and we gasp for air, great praise and gratitude begins to rise to God because we are alive (or we survived)! Don’t get me started on how coffee may help in avoiding and treating dementia. The life of the mind is so valued by Presbyterians (ha, ha)!

People at the Thursday Night Bible Study often remark that Jack seems to be praying. And he is, though perhaps not to God (yet I remember the Scripture text, “the young lions seek their prey from God”). Jack will look intently at me while I am teaching or praying, hoping I will give him a table scrap. He is a firm believer in the Scripture, “you have not because you ask not”. He has also been experimenting with different postures of supplication, noting the relative results of his prayers. Of course, since dogs are opportunistic predators, Jack might take closed eyes as an invitation to steal food off a table.

These experiences point to common patterns in our supplications to God. Sometimes I pray for something (wisdom, answer for an issue, healing of body or soul, to find the keys, etc.) and the answer comes immediately, tonight or in the morning. Other times I think I know when in the future an answer will come, and it comes then or doesn’t and maybe comes at a later time. And some prayers do not seem to have been answered yet (though the answer could, of course, be “no”). See my post, “We Shape One Another”, to see how we take on God’s character and desires, and so praying God’s desires back to him, we participate in shaping our world along with God. But we are not talking about that now.

We are talking about continuing to pray with mixed results. Jack sometimes judges that his persistence is likely to go unrewarded at this time, and so, he retires from the field of battle to take a nap and gather his energy for another assault. But persistence will result in greater alertness to ‘answers’ or opportunities, what Jack calls “ops”. Also over time we find that our desires and prayers are being sorted out so that we learn what kinds of prayers God desires or what kinds might be successful.

But then there is this, embodied in a parable/story by Jesus. Jack could tell this kind of story in his sleep. Watching his rapid eye movements, I suspect he is. The story:

“And [Jesus] told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, “Give me justice against my adversary.” For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, “Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.”‘ And the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?'” (Luke 18:1-8, ESV)

Of course God is not “unrighteous” and I hope that Jack does not think that I am. Also, “justice” is a more profound, and in a sense, ‘bigger’ prayer than prayer for finding a parking place. But Jesus himself said that the story was simply told that we might always pray and never lose heart. As a child I sang the song: “Seek and ye shall find; Knock and the door will be opened; Ask and the love will come a-tumbling down.”

May we all not lose heart but live with courage and hope!

This post was powered by “Forever and a Day” (2003) by Anthony Skinner and “Dig” (1992) and “Homeboys” (1990) both by Adam Again.

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