Ep.080: Born Again.

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

In John chapter 3, Nicodemus visits Jesus at night. As a religious man and a ruler of the Jews, he is drawn to Jesus’ miracles. He likes what Jesus does. But his colleagues in Jewish religion and politics see Jesus as a scammer. They wouldn’t dialog with him; it was easier to disapprove and criticize. 

Though Nicodemus understood their dislike of Jesus,he also felt God’s beauty in Jesus’ teaching and miracles. Jesus’ religion differed from that of Nicodemus and his associates, because Jesus had something deeper than dry interpretations of scripture and detailed codes of conduct . Somehow, God’s life and goodness splashed out in Jesus’ actions and touched Nicodemus’ heart. So he went at night, when no one would see, asking Jesus to explain. 

Nicodemus said, “We know you are a teacher from God, because of your miracles” (John 3:2). Jesus replied, It’s not religion and culture that bring the life of God. You have to be born again.

Nicodemus said, “What? That’s impossible! I can’t get back into my mother’s womb and start over.” 

Jesus replied, “Don’t be so literal. You need to be reborn in your spirit, you need to become free like the wind. The wind blows where it pleases, you hear it, but you can’t tell where it comes from or where it’s going.” Jesus did not offer Nicodemus a new interpretation of scripture or a new list of rules. Instead, he offered Nicodemus a form of religion born in the spirit, full of freedom and refreshment and life. Nicodemus was deeply attracted by this possibility. But he was not prepared to give up his rigid interpretation of scripture, his morality-based religion, and his influential social circle. 

Does your religion fill you with freedom and refreshment and life? My religion is often dry and insipid and powerless. Perhaps you and I need to come to Jesus at night, like Nicodemus did. .  

Let’s pray. 

Jesus, we are Nicodemus. We are evangelicals with rigid doctrines based on literal interpretations of scripture. We have become like our doctrine–rigid and legal and right. Like Nicodemus, we are stuck in our religious culture.  

But when we are honest, we find much of it is hollow. Our lives are not like the wind–rich with vitality and freedom and refreshment. We are earth bound, walking in the dirt of sin, barely a step ahead of anger and envy and lust. Jesus, we are living the bad news of behavior management, not the good news of life that is spirit and wind. 

Yes, we are Nicodemus, mired in a formal religion that does not transform our lives. Like Nicodemus, we are attracted to you, we come to you, saying, “Show us something better. Surely there must be more.” O Jesus, Savior, blow the wind of the spirit through our lives. Replace our suffocating religion of dry dogma with the movement of your Spirit and the fresh breeze of your presence..

O Jesus, give us every day the gift of a new beginning, the gift of being born of the Spirit. 

Amen. 

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

Ep.079: Psalm 31: Into Your Hands.

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

Psalm 31 brings us to familiar territory. Once again the poet is in crisis, once again he pleads with God to deliver him. Once again he moves through crisis to a place of confidence in God.

Billy Graham read through the psalms monthly. That’s about five psalms a day, with some adjustments around the long Psalm 119. On such a monthly schedule, the reader passes quickly through most of the difficult psalms. My experience is different, because I spend a whole week in each psalm preparing for the “Pray with Me” channel and blog. If consecutive psalms have themes of desperation and pain, that’s a whole month in the pit for me. I begin to feel weighed down. I’m glad most psalms, including our psalm today, move toward praise and hope. 

Here are some famous phrases from Psalm 31. 

“Lord into your hands I commit my spirit” (v. 5). Jesus quoted these words while dying on the cross. 

“You have set my feet in a spacious place” (v. 8). The poet feels hemmed in by his enemies, by traps laid for him, by accusations against him, by life’s emotional and physical pains. But God frees him from his prison and locates him to an open field under a blue sky. The poet’s difficult situation may be unchanged, but renewed trust in God brings hope and life and freedom. 

Another famous phrase from Psalm 31 is “My times are in your hands” (v.15). What a classic statement of trust, promising that God watches over the timeline of our life. 

Psalm 31 also says, “Keep them safe in your dwelling from the strife of tongues” (v. 20). I like this King James translation, “strife of tongues” better than the modern versions. The word “strife” describes the worst features of evil speech — bickering, dissension, quarreling, animosity, conflict. Perhaps James had this in mind when he wrote in his epistle, “The tongue is a fire, a world of evil, it corrupts the whole body, sets the whole life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:6). 

Let’s pray. 

Lord, our times are in your hands. Facebook keeps a timeline of my life. So does Google. Medical information systems track the timeline of my health. Work keeps a timeline of my projects. The bank, a timeline of my finances. How refreshing to believe that my times are in your hands, O God. Big brother may be watching, but you count the minutes and keep the score.

Lord, keep us safe in your dwelling, far from the strife of tongues. We brace for another cycle of elections, with attack ads and acrimonious messages. Churches chew up their pastors and spit them out. Supervisors manipulate and mismanage. Dictators falsely accuse and threaten. Customers dump rudeness and arrogance on hapless service people. Keep us, O Lord, in your dwelling. Keep us safe from the strife of tongues. 

Lord, set our feet in a spacious place. We are imprisoned by poor health, difficult relationships, and stressful demands. Our blood pressure rises and our coping strategies fail. Bring us out of our prison, O Lord. Show us a place of freedom and beauty and choice.  

Lord, into your hands we commit our spirit. You see the inner person. You see your breath of life in bodies of clay. We commit our spirit to you. Keep us from evil, keep us safe in your dwelling, form us in the image of Christ.

Amen.

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

Ep.078: Angry Jesus.

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

Today in John 2, Jesus expresses violent anger in the temple. Here’s why. In the temple courts he found merchants selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and foreign currency traders negotiating exchanges. All in support of the normal temple requirements for offerings and sacrifices. Jesus made a whip out of cords and cleared the temple of animals and merchants. He scattered the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. To the dove sellers he said, ‘Get these out of here! You  have turned my Father’s house into a market!’”

Jesus, the hospitable winemaker of Cana, has inexplicably become an angry whip-maker. 

I prefer the winemaker Jesus to the whip-maker. Those who bring wine to a party are my kind of people. Those who get angry in public are not my kind of people. Do you too find Jesus’ hostility disturbing? Was it helpful for him to make a whip, dump tables, and tell retailers to get out? Couldn’t he have offered a friendly explanation of what he thought was wrong? Couldn’t he have discussed the problem over a glass of wine? 

In response to the scene Jesus made in the temple, the people reasonably asked, “Show us a sign that you have authority to create this disturbance.” Jesus replied, “If you destroy this temple, I will build it again in three days.” Today, China builds major projects in mere weeks, but the temple in Jerusalem took forty-six years to build. Jesus’ listeners were dumbfounded that he said he could do it in a weekend. They thought he was delusional. Seeing the unclear message, John in his gospel explains, “Jesus wasn’t talking about the Jerusalem temple. He was talking about the temple of his body.” If that’s what Jesus meant, why didn’t he say so? 

Let’s pray, putting ourselves into the story.

Lord, we are the retailers and money changers in the temple of our body. We treat it as a market of exchange, filling it with sugars and starches and fats. We fail to give it proper exercise. We poison our minds with modern entertainment, instead of worshipping you in your temple. 

We are the people to whom you said, “Destroy this temple and I will raise it in three days.” This is the first of your mysterious sayings. Later, you tell us to eat your body and drink your blood. You say, “Sell everything, give it to the poor and follow me.” You tell us something went wrong the first time we were born, and you tell us to be born again. You tell us to take up our cross and follow you. Will that bring us to an early and unjust death like yours?

Jesus, we are good Christrians. We have developed comfortable explanations for your hard sayings, explanations that permit us to sell animals and exchange money in the courts of your temple, explanations which support our moderate religious experience, free of zeal and passion. We find your anger and zeal disturbing. Forgive us Lord, draw us into your life, help us to be angry at things that anger you, help us join you in confronting our sins and the sins of the church. 

John chapter two introduces you as a winemaker and the whip-maker. We receive you as both. Help us learn when to share a quiet glass of wine, and when to act in righteous anger. 

Amen. 

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