Ep.202: Images of God.

Ep.202: Hebrews 2: But We See Jesus

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

To explain where humans fit into God’s creation, the author of Hebrews quotes Psalm 8. He writes:
    What is humankind that you are mindful of them,
        their children, that you care for them?
    You made them a little lower than the angels,
      you crowned them with glory and honor
      and put everything under their feet (Heb. 2:6-8).

God made humans the rulers of the world, a job designed to bring us glory and honor. This is what it means to be made in the image of God: we represent his great universal kingship by ruling our bit of creation, the world he made for us. 

The second of the Ten Commandments says, “Do not make any graven images”, that is, don’t make sculptures of God from wood or stone. We don’t need sculptures because we already have lots of images of God. Seven billion of them. All living and breathing, people made in God’s image. 

If you need a sculpture of God, an idol to put in your holy place, God says, “Don’t do it. Your neighbors are my image. Go show them some love.” That’s how to honor an image of God.

The author of Hebrews is emphatic about the wide-ranging authority God gave us, his representatives on earth. He says:
  In putting everything under them,
      God left nothing that is not subject to them.
  Yet at present we do not see them ruling over everything (Heb. 2:8).

So what’s the problem with these rulers of earth? Why haven’t we imitated God’s example by implementing a just, orderly, and thoughtful regime? Why do we perpetrate wars and pollution and oppression and destruction? Why do we fight each other, clawing our way to be king of the castle, overthrowing God’s rule on earth, establishing our own religions and kingship? 

When God looked at the mess his images made, he launched a rescue operation. The Book of Hebrews says: 
   At present, we do not see everything subject to humans (Heb 2:8). 
   But we see Jesus
      who was made for a little while lower than the angels,
      now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death,
      so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone (Heb 2:9).

The big problem was death. We, who are supposed to be living images of God, instead pursued activities that promoted sin and death. We are no better than dead sculptures of God made of wood or stone. 

God’s rescue plan meant sending a new image of himself to earth: Jesus, made in a true human mold, a little lower than the angels, attired with the glory and honor God intended for humans. Jesus’ solution to a messed up humanity and our corrupt rule of the earth was to participate fully in a human life and a human death, so we could share a new life with God.  

Let’s pray.

Our father, with the author of Hebrews, we look away from the mess we have made of your world and from the deadness we have imposed on your image. We look upward and say, “But we see Jesus.” He is the recovery project manager for our failed project of ruling creation. He implemented a new way of ruling. He shares his life with us, and teaches us to be your living image on earth.

Help us to be his loyal subjects, for you have put everything under his feet. We wait for the day when Jesus will fully renew us in your image, and fit us for our vocation. 

Amen. 

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

Ep.201: Psalm 91: The COVID Psalm.

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

Psalm 91 is the only psalm that directly mentions a plague or pandemic. It talks about God’s protection:  
    You will not fear the terror of night,
      nor the arrow that flies by day,
    nor the disease that stalks in the darkness
      nor the pandemic that destroys at noon.
    A thousand may die at your side,
      ten thousand at your right hand,
      but it will not come near you (vv. 5-7). 

First, some notes from the Bible about disease. 

The Old Testament’s plagues and epidemics were one way in which God punished evil and corrected bad behavior. God sent plagues against Egypt to change Pharaoh’s mind about freeing the Israelite slaves (Exodus 7-12), though only one plague, the plague of boils, was a human medical condition. As the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, God sent at least  five plagues in response to their sins of idolatry, sexual immorality, and unfaithfulness (Exo. 32:35, Num. 11:33; 14:37; 16:46-49; 25:8-9).

The law in Leviticus treats infectious skin diseases, probably including leprosy, with strict rules for social distancing and cleaning infected articles (Lev. 13), rather like today’s handwashing and social distancing. 

About 500 years after Christ, bubonic plague killed 30-50 million people in Europe, about a third to half of the population at the time. More recently, the 1918-1920 Spanish flu in killed 50 million people, 3-5% of the world population (Wikipedia; List of Epidemics). To date, we’ve seen over 1.3 million COVID-19 deaths, and probably that many more that are wrongly attributed to other causes.

Psalm 91 points to God’s protection, promising that among other dangers, he will spare you from the deadly plague (v. 3), the disease that stalks at night (v. 6) and the epidemic that destroys at noon (v. 6). Sounds like COVID, doesn’t it?

Psalm 91 also has the rare distinction that it is a favorite with both Satan and me. Satan quoted this psalm to suggest that Jesus take a leap of faith from the temple. He said to Jesus:

   It is written:
        God will command his angels
              to lift you up in their hands,
              so you will not strike your foot against a stone (Mat 4:6). 

This introduces a long history of how to understand, interpret, and apply God’s promises. Satan liked the simple, literal interpretation: “Just do it, and trust God to protect you.” Instead of jumping, Jesus suggested a more nuanced approach. He pointed out that Scripture also says, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Mat 4:7).

Jesus’ point was that the promises must be claimed by a pure heart, in good faith; not by someone who wants God to put on a show for human benefit. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we have read news of churches that trusted you to protect them from COVID, but their meetings became superspreader events. Here, as in much of life, we walk an ambiguous path between faith in your protection, and taking reasonable protective measures.

Give us discernment, we pray, to walk wisely in this world. Help us to live by faith, trusting your promises. Help us to live responsibly, taking science seriously. Protect us, O Lord, not because we are right, but because you are faithful.

Amen.

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

Ep.200: God Speaks Again.

Ep.200: Hebrews 1: God Speaks Again

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

Today we look at the first verses of the book of Hebrews. They say:
   In the past,
    God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets. . .
    but in these last days he has spoken by his son,
          whom he appointed heir of all things,
          through whom also he made the universe.
    The son is the radiance of God’s glory,
          the exact image of his being,
          sustaining all things by his powerful word.
    After he provided purification for sins,
           he sat down at the right hand of the majesty in heaven (Heb. 1:1-3). 

Physicist Stephen Hawking’s book, A Brief History of Time, gives his view on the big bang that created the universe fourteen billion years ago.

The author of Hebrews gives an alternative history of the universe. He doesn’t describe physical forces operating at the speed of light, he describes the word that God spoke into a void, creating the universe out of nothing. 

God spoke this word through his son, who we know as Jesus. In Genesis, the six days of creation each begin with the phrase, “And God said.”  On day one, God’s word was, “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3). On day six it was, “Let us make humans in our image” (Gen 1:26). 

Having created humans, God spoke to them at many times and in various ways during the Old Testament. He sent prophets to rebuke and correct and teach. He spoke through dreams and revelations, through miracles and historical events, through violent storms and a still small voice. 

When this approach didn’t work, God spoke a new word. This time, he didn’t speak a universe-creating bang. He spoke through the person of his son who came into the world he created. The son’s job was to provide purification for sins–to clean up the mess humans had made, to refresh the polluted waters of humanity, to remove the garbage people collected in their lives and minds. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we’re not sure where Stephen Hawking and the dinosaurs fit into the history of creation. 

But this is our statement of faith: We believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth (Apostles Creed). We believe in your son, Jesus christ, through whom you created the world. He walked, bearded and sandaled in a dusty land among a people confused by the politics and morality and culture of their time. 

O Lord, we too are confused by world politics and modern morality and western culture and civilization. Walk among us, Jesus. Purify our sins. Give us a vision of God, for you are the radiance of God’s glory. 

Jesus, you are the exact image of God’s being. We who are spoiled images of God need your vision of what we are meant to be, and your power to restore us into the image of God.

Ours is a world of violence and war. Our churches are threatened by moral pollution,  compromise, and irrelevance. O you who sustain all things by your powerful word, send your word again into our world and into our churches. 

Speak, Lord, for we are listening. 

Amen. 

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

Ep.199: Psalm 90: Dwelling Place.

Ep199_Psalm090.  Dwelling Place.

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

The title of Psalm 90 reads, “A prayer of Moses, the man of God.” It begins,
    Lord, you have been our dwelling place
        in all generations.
    Before the mountains were born
        or you brought forth the earth and the world,
        even from everlasting to everlasting you are God (vv. 1-2). 

I have always loved Psalm 90. Its most compelling feature is the mood it creates, a mood of melancholy at the brevity and bleakness of life, a mood of yearning for God’s favor and blessing, a mood of quiet acceptance that our short life can be a good life in God’s care. 

The psalm contrasts God’s eternity with the brevity of our life on earth. It does so gently, not with stark factual language or high-tech theological language, but with expressions of relationship and hope. “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations” (v. 1). The earth is our brief home, but God is our dwelling place forever.

Continuing, the poet says to God,
    You turn us back to dust,
          saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”
    For a thousand years in your sight
          are like a day that has just gone by,
          or like a watch in the night (vv. 3-4).

This is a gentle picture, but powerful and realistic. God made us from dust, and one day he will return us to dust. For us, a watch in the night is a long time, especially when we lie sleepless in bed; but a thousand years is a mere moment to God. When our lives end, when our short watch in the darkness is over, God will sweep us gently into the long sleep of death. Like the grass we grow for a day, then the evening of our life is dry and withered, and we pass away with the sunset. 

Compare these beautiful and gentle images with philosopher Thomas Hobbes’ description of life outside a structured society. He says such a life is “nasty, brutish, and short” (Leviathan, i. xiii. 9). I prefer Moses’ hopeful and humane view. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, thousands or perhaps billions of years ago you caused the mountains to be born.  In the long reaches of time, wind and rain and ice and sand erode them back to dust. We too are dust, breathing for a moment the breath you give, then releasing it forever. 

As the poet says,
  The length of our days is seventy years,
        or eighty if we have the strength,
    yet their span is but trouble and sorrow
        for they quickly pass and we fly away (v. 10).
    So teach us to number our days,
        that we may gain a heart of wisdom (v. 12). 

Yes, Lord. In our brief years we may gain power or influence or pleasure, but they quickly pass. Help us to learn wisdom, to see our lives from your point of view. We journey briefly through trouble and sorrow, until our breath is lost in the air and our body returns to the ground. Help us with Moses to find our dwelling place in you, our shelter in your care, and our home in your eternity. 

With the poet we pray,
    Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted is,
      for as many years as we have seen trouble (v. 15).
    May the favor of the Lord our god rest on us;
      and establish the work of our hands for us–
      yes, establish the work of our hands (v. 17).

Amen.

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

Ep.198: Psalm 89: God’s Failed Promise to David.

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

Psalm 88 ended on the note, “Darkness is my closest friend.” Today, let’s consider Psalm 89, which also ends in an unresolved state, saying,
    How long, Lord? Will you hide yourself forever? (v. 46)
    Where is your former great love,
      which in your faithfulness you swore to David? (v. 49). 

The poet’s problem is that God promised David his heirs would rule forever on the throne of Israel. But at the time the poet was writing, the kingship of Israel and the Davidic line had been demolished in the brutal march of history. God’s love and faithfulness disappeared. His unconditional promise to David has failed.  

Let’s see how the poet came to this painful conclusion. He doesn’t start the psalm in despair, but with a song of praise:
    I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever;
      I will make your faithfulness known through all generations.
    I will declare that your love stands firm forever (vv. 1-2a). 

The poet praises the forever love of God, and then continues with God’s forever promise to David. God said:
        I have sworn to David my servant,
    “I will establish your line forever
        and make your throne firm through all generations” (vv. 3a-4). 
Certainly, no sign here of disappearing love and faithfulness!

The poet goes on to recount how God stilled the primal waters of chaos, creating the world and everything in it. God continued to be the strong king. ruling over earth, sitting on his throne of righteousness and justice, ruling with love and faithfulness (vv. 9-18). The poet loves this grand picture of God on the throne. This is how history is supposed to work out.

And then God made his good creation even better by choosing David as king of Israel, and promising to love David and support his kingship by:
-crushing his enemies (v. 22-23)
-expanding his territory (v. 25)
-and making David the greatest king in all the earth (v. 27)

And God went even further. promising that David’s heirs would be kings of Israel as long as the sun and moon endure (vv. 36-37). 

And to cap off the enduring promise, God added a clause about what he would do if David’s sons failed to worship God and keep his laws. God said he would punish the evildoers, but he would ensure David’s kingly line continued (vv. 30-35). This completes the poet’s joy. God made an unbreakable and forever promise to David. What’s left to say? What could possibly go wrong?

Then, unexpectedly, out of the blue, the poet’s glad recital turns to bitter recrimination. He turns from looking at God and God’s promise to looking at current events. And what he sees discredits all God’s promises, and all his faithfulness and love. He says to God,
    But you have rejected, you have spurned,
        you have been angry with your anointed one,
    You have renounced the covenant with your servant,
          you have defiled his crown in the dust (vv. 38-39).
      You have. . .cast his throne to the ground (v. 44).  
      You have exalted his foes;
          you have made all his enemies rejoice (v. 42).

So much for the poet’s joy. Now he asserts that God has been unfaithful. The poet says that the disappearance of the Davidic line was no accident of history, nor a coincidence of evolution, nor a failure of military strength. It is God who guides the events of history, it is God made the unbreakable promise to David. So it’s his fault that promise lies broken, that David’s throne is cast down and his line has ended. The orderly, reliable, loving world God made has turned to darkness and chaos. What is God doing? Where has he disappeared to?

Let’s pray. 

Our father, like the poet, we live by a clear promise of the everlasting rule of our king, who is Christ, an heir of David. But when we look at two thousand years of history or even a week of current events, we do not see his kingdom. We see earthly powers rise and fall, we see justice and mercy fail. We feel the absence of Christ and the chaos of the world. With the poet, we pray, 
   Lord, where is your great love?
      Where is your promise that Christ will reign on earth?

Amen.

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