Ep.311: Paul and the Zombie Apocalypse.

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

In the 1968 horror movie, Night of the Living Dead, zombies invaded the world. They were animated corpses without soul or spirit, half dead and half alive, ghoulish characters, driven to eat human flesh. Yuk.

In Ephesians Paul says, “You were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live . . . gratifying the cravings of the flesh, following its desires and thoughts” (Eph 2:2-5). 

Does that nail zombies, or what? People dead in sin, animated by the spirit of disobedience, driven to gratify fleshly cravings (Eph 2:3). A strange description of zombie-people half dead and half alive. 

Do you think that’s what Paul means, “You were dead in your transgressions and sins?”

The Message Bible doesn’t use Paul’s metaphor of people dead and alive at the same time. It says, “you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience” (Eph 2:1-2).

One evangelical explanation of Paul’s metaphor says we are composed of body, soul, and spirit, but the spirit part is dead if you’re not saved. Sounds zombie-like to me: the body is active, but the spirit is dead. This explanation says when you are born again, God raises your spirit from the dead. 

But not so fast.

Paul doesn’t see it that way. He doesn’t say a Christian’s spirit is raised from the dead to a perfect life. He tells Christians to cleanse themselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit (2 Cor 7:1). Being born again is great, but it doesn’t immediately cure the problems in my spirit. I still struggle with greed, anger, envy, and lust. Paul urges me to cleanse my spirit, to get it into a cold shower with soap and shampoo. 

However, Paul’s words do nicely point out some zombie features of my pre-Christian state. I lived in the universe of me, where I was boss, where I was driven by the cravings of my sinful nature. I was dead to God and God was dead to me. 

I thought I was doing what I wanted, but I was mostly a zombie slave to the flesh-eating, relationship-destroying intuitions of my sinful self. 

But now, through Christ, I reject the God-is-dead philosophy. I’ve discovered it was me who was dead in trespasses and sins. Since God has inhabited my life, he has been renovating. He’s unstopping the plumbing so I can flush out the excrement. He’s rewiring the electricity so I can turn on the lights. He’s transforming my spirit to make me holy.  

Let’s pray. 

Our father, I neither imagined or wanted your renovations in my life. I thought freedom was being free from you. I thought my cravings were the key to satisfaction. I mistook my confused intuitions for sound conclusions. 

But in your mercy, you took the zombie me, and clothed me with a healthy mind and a new spirit and a longing for a life of wholeness and love. 

Continue your work in me. Save me from a zombie apocalypse. Bring me into your kingdom and your glory forever. 

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.310: Paul, Marx, and Opiate Addiction.

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

Philip Yancey describes a Bible college reunion, writing:
“. . . my classmates speak in phrases we learned as students: ‘God is giving me the victory . . . I can do all things through Christ . . . All things work together for good . . . I’m walking in triumph.’ Yet they speak a different vocabulary when relating their lives after college. Several suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, and others are clinically depressed. One couple recently committed their teenage daughter to a mental institution.”

Yancey says, “I wince at the disconnect between these raw personal stories and the spiritual overlay applied to them.”  (p. 294) 

I wince with him, and think of Karl Marx’s words, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed . . ., the heart of a heartless world . . . . It is the opium of the people.” (Wikipedia article Opium of the People, quoting Marx in A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of the Right.) 

The apostle Paul was a prime candidate for pain relief via opium. He said, “Five times I received of the Jews forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked. I spent a night and a day in the open sea. I have gone without sleep, I have known hunger and thirst, I have been cold and naked” (2 Cor 11:24-27, excerpts). 

Listen now to Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians, and ask, “Is he overdosing on religious opiates to dull his sense of pain?” 

Paul prays,
  I have not stopped giving thanks for you,
      remembering you in my prayers.
  I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father,
      will give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation
        so that you may know him better.
  I pray that the eyes of your heart will be enlightened
      so that you may know
        the hope to which he has called you,
        the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
        and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Eph 1:16-19a)

Doesn’t sound like the prayer of a homeless man looking for a fix. Nor of a heroin-induced escape from pain. This prayer comes from one who lived fully, who found a savior and a cause, who invested his life in things seen and unseen. Paul found in the unseen Christ something Marx was never able to see. 

At his college reunion, Yancey winced at the discrepancy between religious bromides and harsh realities. He quoted his unbelieving brother, “What is real, and what is fake?”  Yancey concludes, “I know of no more honest book than the Bible, which hides none of its characters’ flaws.” (p. 295). 

And how does this apply to me? Is prayer my opium to avoid life’s pain? Or does it give me access to another reality, where hope calls, and a glorious inheritance beckons, and the power of the resurrection awaits? 

Let’s pray. 

O God of our Lord Jesus Christ, O glorious father,
  give us a spirit of wisdom and revelation to know Christ better.
Enlighten the eyes of our hearts, that we may see
    the hope to which you call us,
    the riches of your glorious inheritance in us who believe . . .
    that we may see your incomparably great power for all your children,
      the same power that raised Christ from the dead
      and seated him at your right hand, 
       far above all rule and authority, dominion, and power,
      and every name that can be named,
          both in this age and the age to come.

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.309: Grand Visioning, Ordinary Living.

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

As I read chapter 1 of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, I find he uses striking superlatives to create a magnificent vision of the Christian life. 

Paul says God’s grace is glorious, lavish, and freely given. We are part of his world-encompassing plan to work out everything the way he wants it. He made an expensive downpayment on our future, giving us the Holy Spirit as promise and proof we will participate in his world-changing future.

Paul says God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing (not just a smattering) in the heavenly realms in Christ. 

I meditate on this greatness while I wash dirty dishes. While I mow our tired lawn. While I walk the dog and pick up after him. While I scrub the car at the carwash. 

My life seems very ordinary. Is it really connected to the grand vision and countless spiritual blessings Paul writes about?

Jesus didn’t live an ordinary life. His was extraordinary–healing the sick, sighting the blind, freeing captives. But Jesus-in-me doesn’t do those miracles. If he did, I’d be healthy, visionary, and free! 

I think John the Baptist felt much as I do, when he was in prison and sent a message to Jesus asking, “Are you really the one who is coming?” 

Like John, Paul was a common Roman prisoner when he wrote Ephesians about his grand vision. I wonder about Paul in prison. Did he lose touch with reality there, substituting spiritual fantasies about the heavenlies to escape the poverty of his life on earth? 

Or did Paul live in two realities at once? Perhaps he believed God was in charge of his mediocre prison existence and his future inheritance as God’s son. 

What does that say about my ordinary life? Evangelical books give me advice about closing the gap between my daily experience and my riches in Christ. Most of them say, Try harder. Try harder to believe. Try harder to love your neighbor. Make a plan to study the Bible. Limit your social media and try more prayer! Just try harder

Methinks that’s the path to madness. Hard work might move the needle on my life from mediocre to uninspired. But what I really need is not incremental improvement but inspiration. I need something to enable me to live out Paul’s grand vision. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, once again I am pained by the gap between my ordinary experience and Paul’s glorious vision of the Christian life. I am unable to close that gap. Self-improvement books and projects aren’t much help. 

Perhaps it’s not about how I can up up my game and become better. Perhaps it’s not about techniques to connect me with your reality. Nor about ways to improve my spiritual perceptions and obedience. 

Perhaps it’s not about me at all. Maybe it’s about Christ. Maybe you want to make him  the center of everything, even my life. 

O God, John found peace in prison while Jesus preached and healed and freed others. Paul found peace in prison writing about your world-changing plans and activities. Help me to find peace as I mow the lawn and do the dishes and meditate on Paul’s grand themes. 

Draw me out of myself, into the new reality you are creating in Christ. Do in me your  invisible work, preparing me to exchange my ordinary existence for the extraordinary reality I do not yet see. 

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.308: Today’s Questions Answered Yesterday.

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

To conclude our thoughts on the Book of Ecclesiastes, I want to ask the author a few questions. 

1. First question. What do you think of Trump’s Make America Great Again campaign? 
   Ecclesiastes says,
      Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?”
          For it is unwise to ask such questions. (Eccl 7:10)

Hmmm. Didn’t expect that! And question #2:

2. Should we fear death? 
   Ecclesiastes says,
      There is a time for everything,
        and a season for every activity under the heavens,
        a time to be born and a time to die. (Eccl 3:1-2)

3. Next question. What do you think of prognosticators and pundits and podcasts, who pontificate about every topic under the sun?
  Ecclesiastes says, 
      Do not be quick with your mouth,
        do not be hasty in your heart
        to utter anything before God.
      God is in heaven
        and you are on earth,
        so let your words be few. (Eccl 5:2)
  I have spoken many words. Perhaps too many!

4. Another question: What do you think of Elon Musk, the richest man in the world, owner of Space-X and Tesla?
    Ecclesiastes says,
      I have seen a grievous evil under the sun:
          wealth hoarded to the harm of its owners,
          or wealth lost through some misfortune.
      Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb,
          and as everyone departs naked. (Eccl 5:13-15)

   One day soon, it will be said of Elon Musk, “The emperor has no clothes.”  

5. Question #5: What do you think of the Internet’s vast treasury of knowledge? And of Wikipedia and modern science and universities?
    Ecclesiastes says,
      The more the words,
            the less the meaning,
            and how does that profit anyone? (Eccl 6:11)

You may have heard about the scientist who said, “When I was in school they taught that a million monkeys typing for a million years would not compose a single Shakespeare play. Now, thanks to the Internet, we’ve proved that it’s true.” I think Ecclesiastes would agree. A million monkeys typing for a million years. 

6. Next question. Do you believe the doctrine of original sin?
    Ecclesiastes says,
        This only have I found:
            God created humans upright,
            but they have gone in search of many schemes. (Eccl 7:29) 

7. And a question on meaning: In Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the computer Deep Thought calculates that the meaning of life, the universe, and everything is 42. What do you think?
    Ecclesiastes says,
      I saw all that God has done.
      No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun.
      Despite all their efforts to search it out, 
           no one can discover its meaning.
      Even if the wise claim they know,
          they cannot really comprehend it. (8:17)

8. Ecclesiastes, do you believe in the law of cause and effect?
    Ecclesiastes says,
    I have seen something else under the sun: 
        The race is not to the swift,
            or the battle to the strong,
        nor does food come to the wise,
            or wealth to the brilliant
            or favor to the learned,
        but time and chance happen to them all. (Eccl 9:11)

9.  And a final question: Is wisdom stronger than folly?
    Ecclesiastes says,
    As dead flies give perfume a bad smell,
        so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor. (Eccl 10:1)

Let’s pray. 

Our father, Ecclesiastes tell us to:
     Remember your Creator
        in the days of your youth. . .
        before the silver cord is severed,
        and the golden bowl broken;
      Before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
        and the wheel broken at the well,
      and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
        and the spirit returns to God who gave it. (Eccl 12:1, 6-7)

Yes, Lord, our lives often feel like a broken wheel bumping through life; like a golden bowl easily broken, like a pitcher soon to be shattered. 

Yet you have set eternity in our hearts. You have put this treasure in jars of clay. As we live in our fragile and failing bodies, help us drink the water of everlasting life. Help us hold the treasure of righteousness and truth. Help us remember you, our creator, all our days. 

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.307: Confused Philosopher?

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

Today, I ask five questions, and listen to answers from the Book of Ecclesiastes. 

First question: Is it better to hate life or to enjoy it? Ecclesiastes 3 says: 
  – I hated life, because the work I did was grievous to me (v. 17).
  – It also says, A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their toil. I see this too is from the hand of God (v. 24). 

Second question: What makes human life meaningful as we journey toward certain death? Ecclesiastes 5 says:
  – The fate of humans is like that of animals; as one dies, so dies the other . . . humans have no advantage over animals (v. 19). 
   – It also says, God has made everything beautiful in its time. And he has set eternity in their hearts (v. 11). 

Third question: What’s better? Being dead or alive? Or is it better never to be born at all?  Ecclesiastes 4 says: 

  – I declared that the dead
      who had already died,
    are happier than the living,
      who are still alive. 

    But better than both
      is the one who has never been born,
    who has not seen the evil
      that is done under the sun (vv. 2-3). 

 – It also says, Two people are better than one
      because they have a good return for their labor;
    if either of them falls down, 
      one can help the other up (vv. 9-10). 

Fourth question: Should we despair in the face of life’s injustices? Ecclesiastes 8 says: 
  – There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: the righteous get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked get what the righteous deserve (v. 14).
  – It also says, So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days that God has given them under the sun (v. 15). 

And a fifth question: Should we keep trying to figure life out? Ecclesiastes 12 says:  
  – Of making many books there is no end, much study wearies the body (v. 12).
  – It also says, Here is a conclusion of the matter:
      Fear God and keep his commandment,
          for this is the duty of all.
      God will bring every deed into judgment,
          including every hidden thing,
          whether  good or evil. 

Let’s pray. 

O father, we live in tension:
– between present life and pending death
– between today’s decisions and eternity’s call
– between despair that nothing changes and faith that Christ makes all things new 
– between working to build wealth and legacy, and pausing to enjoy the fruit of our labor

O father, Ecclesiastes the philosopher tells us there is no escape from these tensions. No way to resolve them. Teach us then with him to embrace life’s paradoxes. As he says,
  Do not be over-righteous,
      or overwise –
      why destroy yourself?
  Do not be over-wicked,
      and do not be a fool – 
      why die before your time?

   It is good to grasp one,
      and not let go of the other.
      Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes (7:16-18). 

Yes, Father, help us embrace life with its tensions and paradoxes. Help us accept the evil within and around us, yet not give way to wickedness. Help us grow in righteousness and wisdom, without trying to be over-righteous and over-wise. Help us hear the whisper of eternity you set in our hearts. Help us live these fleeting lives with integrity and joy, as we journey toward eternity. 

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube