Ep.185: Paul Cleans Up In Corinth.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.

Today, let’s look at the mess in the Corinthian church and at Paul’s opinion of it. 

First the seven messes in the Corinthian church: 

1. First, the church members had aligned themselves with various religious teachers, arguing endlessly about who was right. Something like the modern arguments about the merits of Bill Johnson’s ministry at Bethel Church in California. The internet is awash and aghast with Christian analyses of why he is a dangerous heretic and where he’s so badly wrong. And there are alternate opinions about what a great Johnson does for God.  

2. Another part of the mess was serious sexual sin, like incest (chapter 5). Today we have internet pornography.

3. Third, Corinthian church members sued each other in the court. Paul thought it was  bad news to mix lawyers and courts into already complicated church relationships and church politics (Chapter 6). 

4. Some church people were unhappy being single; others were unhappily married (chapter 7). Welcome to the human condition. 

5. Fifth, some Corinthians had no problem eating food sacrificed to idols, others wouldn’t touch the stuff (chapter 8). Christians today make similar decisions about Hollywood entertainment.  If it comes from Hollywood, it’s probably been offered to idols, but we Christians have different views on how much violence and sex and language we consume with our popcorn and soda.

6. When the Corinthians threw a potluck to celebrate the Lord’s supper, it was a raucous affair (Chapter 11). Some overate, some got drunk, and some went hungry. 

7. And finally, Paul castigated the Corinthians for misusing spiritual gifts (Chapter 14). If corporate worship degenerates into a random babble of prophecy and tongues, he asked, how does that help anyone learn about the Christian life? If our worship today is an unhappy collection of modern music and spiritual platitudes and Greek exegesis of scripture, do we create a similar babble of tongues? How can we communicate God’s word to needy hearts?

So if you were Paul, what would you say in light of this mess? 

Listen to what Paul says to the Corinthians:

“I always thank God for you because he gave you grace in Christ Jesus. He made you rich in every way, with all kinds of speech and knowledge. . .You don’t lack any spiritual gift as you wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:4-8).

Let’s pray. (Scene)

Our father, we see the mess in your church today.
– Divided over the prosperity gospel and which politicians to vote for.
– Divided over gender and inclusion issues, confused about how to live holy lives in a decadent modern culture.
– Divided over the gifts of the spirit, whether you still give the church prophecy, miracles, and tongues.
– Divided over pandemic restrictions that inhibit our freedom of worship.

Our father, instead of despairing over the state of your church, we rejoice with Paul that the gospel has gone around the world, that spiritual gifts are everywhere, even when unrecognized or misused. With Paul, we wait for the Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed, trusting him to bring his modern church to a blameless future, with Paul and the Corinthians, in the day of Christ. 

Amen. (Scene)

I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”. 

Ep.184: Psalm 82: God Demotes the “Gods”.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray with Me”.

In Psalm 82, the poet imagines a court scene where the God of Israel conducts an enquiry into the competence of lesser gods who look after the nations on earth. God, the presiding judge, castigates the rulers of earth for favoring the wicked instead of dealing out justice for the poor and needy. Clearly, these rulers have failed in their role of supervising the nations, so the God of Israel summarily demotes them from god status to mortals who will die (vv. 6-7). 

Author Robert Alter summarizes the worldview of this psalm by saying: “In the ancient world, the multiplicity of nations is associated with a multiplicity of gods: Each nation has its patron god . . . as well as a variety of gods and goddesses who preside over the various realms of nature. But [in Psalm 82] that order has now proven to be judicially and morally bankrupt, and it is the God of Israel alone Who holds . . . all the nations of the earth.” (Alter, Robert. The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary. W. W. Norton & Company: eBook, Chapter 82.) 

Alter continues, “…this poem is concerned with the infuriating preponderance of injustice in the world . . .God speaks out in the assembly of lesser gods and rebukes them for doing a wretched job in the administration of justice on earth.” Alter says this poem transitions from a mythology of multiple gods to a monotheistic perspective, as God rudely demotes the lesser gods from their divine status.

The apostle Paul echoes some of the same themes when he urges Christians to put on the full armor of God, because “Our warfare is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we thought the problems of our world could be traced wholly to the decisions of humans and their rulers. But we see in this psalm an interplay of visible earthly forces and invisible heavenly powers.

In the 1950s when Geoffrey Bull, a missionary to Tibet, was imprisoned for three years in Maoist China, he underwent a brutal program of torture and indoctrination into Marxist thought. But his faith enabled him to believe the abuse and indoctrination were delivered under a false and passing worldview.  His book God Holds the Key describes the battle for his mind and heart, and affirms you, God, as the source of life and truth. 

As you did for him, our God, we invite you to open our eyes to the false politics, the false gods, the spiritual powers that want space in our hearts and minds. Cast down every ruler but Christ, demote every god but yourself, strip away all our beliefs and all our allegiances to any power but you. With the poet we pray,
    Rise up, O God, judge the earth,
      for all the nations are your inheritance (v. 8). 

Amen

I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.

Ep.183: The Apostle Paul at Prayer.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.

Over the next few weeks, we will consider prayers from the apostle Paul. But first, a confession: I find Paul’s personilty and his writings difficult. He seems a driven man, first when he persecuted the church, then when he travelled the world as a missionary and wrote hard-hitting theological letters. I might enjoy interviewing him for a news story, but I wouldn’t want to travel with him. And I would not be enthusiastic about sharing his arguments and imprisonments and beatings and shipwrecks.

Even today, his harsh judgments and confrontational style intimidate me and make me feel guilty.

Here’s an example. In Galatians, Paul says, “When Peter came to Antioch I opposed him to his face because he stood condemned. . . . I said to Peter in front of them all, ‘You are a Jew yet you live like a Gentile. So why do you force the Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?” Sounds like a Type-A personality–tightly wound, intense, impatient, verging on hostility. “I opposed him to his face,” he says.

And there’s Paul’s lovely little suggestion to those advocating circumcision for Christians. He says, “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and castrate themselves” (Galatians 5:12). Was circumcision really that big a deal? 

At one point, Paul parted company with his friend and colleague, Barnabus, rather than give Mark, who had deserted him, a second chance (Acts 15:36-29). I would not have fared well under Paul’s supervision. 

And yet, from this hard nosed Type-A personality comes some of the most compassionate and fatherly statements in scripture. He calls Timothy “My dear son” (2 Tim. 1:2). He writes to the Thessalonians, “We were gentle among you like a nursing mother caring for her children” (1 Thess. 2:7). And he writes to the Corinthians, “We have spoken freely to you . . . our heart is wide open.” (2 Cor 6:11).

Perhaps I shouldn’t fear Paul’s volatile emotions and extreme statements. Maybe I should see him as a fellow human and fellow servant of God. If he’s too confrontational, I am too reticent. If Paul is too hard-nosed, I am too soft. If Paul is too driven, maybe I am way too comfortable.

I agree with Peter who said, “[Paul’s] letters contain .  .  .  things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort. . . to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16). God guided Paul’s writings and heard his prayers. Maybe I should listen instead of distorting. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, there is much in scripture we stumble over. The fifth commandment says, “Do not murder”, but the Old Testament makes a grand exception for the wars that Israel perpetrated and endured. 

The first two commands are “Love God” and “Love your neighbor.” But Jesus engaged in scathing word battles and endless conflict with the religious leaders of his time. Paul did the same, turning a scorching pen on those he felt were enemies of himself and God and the gospel.

But he was your servant, and you heard his prayers, and guided his mission. And like Christ his Lord, you led him to execution by the Roman Empire. And brought him to everlasting life in Jesus’ name. 

May it be so for us.

Amen. 

I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”. 

Ep.182: Psalm 81: Worship Band and Obedience.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray with Me”.

Psalm 81 opens with a hymn of praise, performed with vocals, drums, a stringed instrument (perhaps an ancient ancestor of the guitar) and a unique wind instrument–a ram’s horn. Sounds almost like a modern worship band!

This rollicking celebration at the new moon festival was part of Israel’s constitution–the standard operating procedures given by God when he freed them from Egyptian slavery. God didn’t legislate a culture of dour, straight-laced correctness. He invited people to celebrate, to rock a bit. 

He also wanted a culture that honored him as the God who gives freedom. Author Vernard Ellard in his book, The Mad Morality paraphrases God as saying to Israel, 

   “I’m the God who set you free, right?”
    Right.
  “I’ve adequately demonstrated that your freedom is my prime concern, right?”
    Right.
  “So I’m going to give you 10 suggestions for how to stay free. I’ve dealt with your slavery to Egypt. But beware of other people and other things that offer freedom. Because I’m the only God out there who wants people who are free, not a nation of slaves.” (Paraphrased from Ellard, Vernon. The MAD Morality or the Ten Commandments Revisited. New York: Abingdon Press, 1972. pp. 16-17). 

But the people broke God’s rules and his heart by giving their freedom to false gods. Listen to God’s cry:
    If only my people would listen to me,
      if Israel would only follow my ways,
    how quickly I would subdue their enemies
      and turn my hand against their foes
    I would feed you with the finest of wheat;
      with honey from the rock I would satisfy you (vv. 13-14, 16). 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we bring to you the false gods that offer us freedom.

Billionaire Jeffrey Epstein worshipped the god of sex, but ended his life hanging in his prison cell. Lord, help us not to offer our freedom to the god of sex. 

We think of the T-shirt that reads, “Don’t mess with my freedom, my firearms, my family, my faith”. Is the wearer confident that if anyone messes with him, he is strong and wise enough to mete out justice with a gun? O Lord, help us not to offer our freedom to the god of individualism, the god of self.

We think of rigid doctrinal purists who are confident they have the right method to interpret scripture, and the right doctrines derived from scripture, and the right morality based on scripture. O Lord, help us not to offer our freedom to the god of rationalism, the god of rigid systems, the god that places our own definition of truth above the command to love you and people and creation.  

We think of people who are slaves to conspiracy theories, waiting anxiously for the next cryptic revelation from QAnon or the next announcement of world-ordering decisions from the Illuminati or the next hint of suspicion about which evil actors developed and distributed COVID-19. Lord, help us not to lose our freedom to anxious thoughts and to fearful imaginings about the great evils that stalk our world.

With the poet we pray, 

  • help us listen to your voice.
  • help us believe your words more than all the clamor on the Internet.
  • help us rest in the fact that it is you, not the Illuminati nor the wealthy nor the powerful, that rule our world.
  • help us hope in your soon coming that will set the world to rights. 

Amen

I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.

Ep.181: Psalm 80: God of Gardens, God of Armies.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray with Me”.

Today we look at Psalm 80, a lament for the overthrow of Israel, and a plea for God to make a U-turn, to stop delivering the country to destruction and to begin restoring it. 

The psalm is marked by several striking pictures of God. It opens,
    Hear us, shepherd of Israel,
        you who lead Joseph like a flock.
    You who sit enthroned between the cherubim. . .
      Awaken your might;
      come and save us (v. 1-2).

In these two verses, the poet addresses God as shepherd of Israel, as king whose throne is in the temple, and as a mighty saviour who ought to rescue his people. 

Then follows a refrain that occurs three times in the psalm (vv. 3, 7, 19). The poet says,
    Restore us, God of Armies,
      make your face shine on us
      that we may be saved (vv. 3, 7, 19).

Do you find it odd asking God, the commander of armies, to smile at you? President Trump is the commander-in-chief of the U.S. army, but he isn’t famous for his smile.

As the poem continues, it describes God as a gardener who transplanted his vine, Israel, from Egypt into the Promised Land.There, he carefully tilled the ground and planted the vine, tenderly caring for it until it covered the whole Promised Land from the Euphrates to the Mediterranean. But now, God has let the wall around his vineyard crumble. Wild boars trample the vines, insects infest them, and passers-by help themselves to the grapes. “Why have you let this happen?” asks the poet. “After all the trouble you took transplanting and tending the vine, have you suddenly quit caring about it?” 

Let’s pray the pictures of God from this psalm. 

Our father, God of Armies, the nations of our world look for strongman leaders. 

  • Leaders who project decisiveness and strength in the face of racial and economic and social conflict. 
  • Leaders who express sympathy for the troubles and prejudices of common people. 
  • Leaders who do not care about political correctness or moral values. 
  • Leaders with simple solutions to complex problems. 

God of Armies, it is your strength we need, for the time is coming when the strength of human leaders will fail, when their power will be revealed as weakness, and their wisdom as foolishness.

Our father, shepherd your people in these times. Lead us to wisdom. It is simple to believe in you, but not easy. In much of your church we see rigid theological opinions, strange political affiliations, unscriptural belief in individual freedom, and little understanding of community. Bring us out of our worldly values into the fellowship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Expose our illusions of self-sufficiency and lead us into community.

You who sit enthroned in your holy temple, help us live as holy people, as members of your family, as people set apart to serve you. Anxiety disorders increase during COVID-19, government support for the unemployed draws to an end, the count of sick and dead surges. O God, repair the wall around your garden, care for your vineyard again, look in mercy on all you have created, for the sake of your son Jesus Christ, who shared our human condition.

Amen

I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.