Zachary Bright

The Wonder of it All


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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.

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Living Water

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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