Ep.317: A Life Worthy of God’s Calling.

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

In Ephesians 4 Paul says, “Live a life worthy of God’s calling.” A lofty goal, indeed. But what does this worthy life look like? 

Paul says it is a life lived in community, using the gifts God gives.  

First, community. In the evangelical circles where I grew up, the word “community” was not used much. I think we assumed that when we excluded bad Christians, Roman Catholics, liberals, and cults, we’d be left with a tribe of true believers that would automatically be a close and loving community.

Not surprisingly, it didn’t work. We didn’t become a close community. We became a  closed community. Stricter rules and rigid doctrine created arguments and exclusions instead of growth and fellowship.

As I said jestingly to a friend, “I think it’s just you and me who have got things right. And I’m beginning to have doubts about you.” 

In Ephesians, Paul presents a simple list of things to believe. He says, “There is one body and one Spirit,. . . one hope. . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:4-6). Perhaps we try too hard to pin down the details, deciding which baptisms to include in the one baptism, and which body is the real body of Christ. But God is over all, and in all, and through all.  

Paul says, “Be humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Eph 4:2-3). We build community through patience and unity; not through excluding those we disagree with. 

Besides being a life in community, Paul describes the life worthy of God’s calling as a life which recognizes and uses God’s gifts.He says, “To each of us, Christ has given a measure of grace.” Then he quotes an obscure psalm:
    When he ascended on high,
      he took captives in his train
      and gave gifts to people (Eph 4:8, quoting Psalm 68:18). 

Christ gives to the community people who help it become mature–apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. He also gives each member of the community a 

a measure of grace, a gift to be shared with others. The community grows as we recognize and value Christ’s gift of others, and Christ’s gifts in others.

Let’s pray.

O father, our Christian community is a stumbling, inefficient, wounded collection of misfits. As Paul said, God did not call the wise, the influential, the noble, the strong. He chose foolish things to shame the wise, the weak things to shame the strong (1 Cor 1:26-27).

Jesus, you built your community with small-time fishermen, a political agitator, and a thieving treasurer. Give us your vision, help us receive your gifts, grant us wisdom to build a remarkable community with the unremarkable people you choose. 

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.316: A Tour of God’s Love.

Ep.316: A Tour of God’s Love.

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

Psalm 48 takes a tour of Jerusalem, saying: 
    Walk about Zion, go round her,
    count her towers,
    consider well her ramparts,
    view her citadels . . . (vv. 12-13). 

The Message Bible uses a tourist image to translate Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3: 
   I ask God that . . . with all followers of Jesus you will take in
the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love.
      Reach out and experience the breadth!
      Test its length!
      Plumb the depths!
      Rise to the heights!
  Live full lives, full in the fullness of God (Eph 3:17-19). 

Yes. Take a tour of God’s love.  

The Oceania cruise company fills my mailbox with flyers. I can cure my problems with a warm-weather cruise to the Caribbean or Mediterranean. How about Around the World in 180 Days, for a bargain price of only $120,000 per couple.  I went to the Oceania website to see if I could stop the flood of mail. They they don’t make it easy. 

Meanwhile, I’m still on God’s mailing list. But I’m not sure how to sign up for a tour of his love. I follow the usual prescriptions–read the Bible, pray every day, meditate, attend church, fellowship with believers. But I don’t feel immersed in God’s love. I feel more like a camper, dipping my toes in a glacier-fresh lake, shivering against the plunge that would immerse me.

Is this God’s problem or mine? How can I, as Paul says, test the length and plumb the depths of Christ’s extravagant love? Is the experience of God’s love a gift he gives, or withholds? Sometimes, he takes me on amazing tours; sometimes he lets me sit under a vine and lament. 

God teaches me what I’m willing to learn. He’s patient with things I need to unlearn. He’s making a way for me to go deeper.

Pray with me.

Our father, you journey with us, not to reward us for being good, but to be our friend in bad times and good. 

You hear our prayers, but you give us what we need, not what we want. You sympathize with us when we feel forsaken. You rejoice with us when we feel loved. We sense your presence with us in a place beneath our flow of thoughts and feelings, beneath our pains and pleasures. 

Guide us by your Spirit. Make us true to your presence. Reveal to us the Christ who dwells in our hearts by faith (Eph 3:17). 

Now to you who can do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine, to you be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus, now and forever (Eph 3:20-21).   

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.315: Approaching God.

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

In July I was diagnosed with colon cancer. In September my church anointed me with oil and prayed for me and I had major surgery. Not exactly the summer I’d planned. 

Meanwhile, I’ve been reading Ephesians 3, about God’s great plan for the universe. He unveiled his mystery, hidden for ages, the mystery to make Christ’s family of believers a triumph of wisdom and leadership, and to expose and defeat unseen evil powers in the heavenly realms. 

God may have unveiled his plan, but it’s still a mystery to me. I keep up on the news, but they don’t report on evil powers in the heavenlies or the worldwide impact of the church. 

How did Paul fit his experience into this grand scheme? He says, “Don’t be discouraged that I’m in prison. My sufferings are for your glory” (v. 13). 

Really? Is Paul saying, “I’m stuck in a stinking Roman prison, but it’s all according to plan, because God is managing the big stuff”? Is he saying, “My orange jump suit and prison number don’t matter, because that’s just on earth and the important stuff is happening in the heavenly realms”?  

In my life, I read fantasy novels as an escape valve from cancer. In one novel, the protagonist, Thomas Covenant, is a leper on earth, divorced by his wife and rejected by his community. But sometimes he is transported into a different world, where he has power, honor, and respect. He is constantly conflicted, trying to live out his two identities. 

That’s how I feel in my post-operation recovery . . . as I wait for chemo. I wouldn’t mind being transported into a different reality–perhaps into God’s grand plan for the world, the church, and me. 

But the big plan escapes me. How and when will God work everything out? How much must the church suffer before he does? Does my life really make that much difference? 

My only comfort comes from one small sentence in Ephesians. “In Christ and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (v. 12). 

I don’t need to grasp the big picture. I can go to God, freely and confidently, bringing my cancer-inspired angst, my dread of chemo, and my doubts about God’s goodness. God doesn’t block my phone number or put my calls on ignore.

Let’s pray. 

Our father, the big picture confuses me. Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church supports Putin’s war, driving a new wedge between his Christian church and others.  

The American right fuses individualism, patriotism, and nationalism, with Christianity using the slogan, “Don’t mess with my faith, my family, my firearms, my freedom.”

How can I reconcile the fragility of my life with the robustness of your grand plan? What to make of modern western Christianity, fracturing into tribes over politics and pandemics and culture wars?  What of worldwide violence that gives no quarter to peace? 

I humbly accept Paul’s advice, to approach you freely, confidently, hopefully. Not because I am right. Not because I deserve to be heard. Not because I understand. But because you invite me to approach. Because you offer yourself as a refuge. Because you call yourself counselor. Because you love like a father. 

Hold me in your ever-loving arms. 

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.314: Wall of Hostility.

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

In Ephesians 2, Paul says Jesus broke down the wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles (v. 14). What wall?

Israel became a nation when a company of Israelites escaped Egyptian slavery, wandered in the desert, waged war against the inhabitants of Canaan, and took the land for themselves. 

After that, the nation of Israel vacillated between friendship and hostility with neighboring Gentiles and their gods. God had instructed Israel to be a unique nation—eat the right foods, sacrifice the right animals, keep right holidays, and observe many cultural and moral commands. The prophets constantly reminded Israel to be faithful to their scripture and their God, but the people were fatally attracted to the politics and religions of other nations. They often forgot their unseen God.

In more recent times, a remnant of Jews who survived the horrors of World War II established a Jewish nation, waging war to drive out the Palestinian inhabitants and create a Jewish state. 

A wall of hostility, Paul says, between Jews and Gentiles. When Jesus stepped into the middle of that hostility, he annoyed both groups. His God was too liberal for the conservative Jewish religion. He disrespected the Romans by refusing to answer Pilate’s questions. In a rare instance of Jews and Gentiles working together, they crucified Jesus. And we call him a peacemaker? 

In what way did Jesus break down the wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles? 

Paul says that Jesus “created in himself one new humanity, thus making peace” (v. 15). It’s a lesson our world needs. We all belong to one human race and we see Paul locating the center of a peace-loving new humanity in Jesus.

Meanwhile the old humanity continues to build walls of hostility-–between Jew and Gentile, between Gentile and Gentile. Since Jesus’ time, we’ve had European pogroms, we’ve had the Crusades, we’ve had inter-Christian conflicts and wars. Today, many North American Christians are sorting themselves into hostile camps: conservative, pro-gun, pro-life, anti-vaxx tribes, and inclusive pro-choice liberal camps. 

Where is the united center? Are Christians building the wall of hostility that Jesus came to destroy?

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we bring to you a fractured Christendom, a world in disunity, and a creation groaning under the weight of disordered humanity. 

Is Jesus still breaking down walls of hostility? Where is the new humanity he created? 

We thank you for places where his new humanity destroys walls of hostility. In ourselves, as we grow in respect for fellow humans and creation. As we resist the urge to splinter our families and churches into tribes based on politics and vaccinations and minor points of doctrine. 

We thank you for every agency that brings healing and relief in our world; for those who serve Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and flood victims in Pakistan and war casualties in Ukraine. Your work goes on, breaking down walls that we keep building. 

O God, teach us to feed the hungry, to accept strangers, to be true to your words of life, to think more of others and less of ourselves, to destroy walls instead of building them.

Bring quickly the time when the new humanity in Christ replaces this old humanity. 

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.313: Working with Mixed Motives.

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

In Ephesians 2, Paul says, “You are saved by God’s grace through faith, not by anything you do. It’s a gift, not something you worked for” (Eph 2:8-9).

Then Paul says, “[God] created each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the work he has prepared for us to do” (Eph 2:10, Message Bible, paraphrased).

What is Paul saying about faith and works? Is his message, “Right. We got the saved bit out of the way. The next step is to get busy! From now on, it’s the work you do that counts!” 

A classic evangelical formula is that we are saved by grace, then we work from a motive of love to express thanks for salvation. I find this a daunting standard, because it requires me to have pure motives.  Mine are anything but! 

It’s a long time since I was saved. I continue to be thankful, but the euphoria of first love is past. God leads me through darkness as well as light. Sometimes life is ice cream and joy, sometimes it’s sandpaper and discipline. Jesus calls me to an abundant life.He also calls me to to lose my life, to carry a cross. If you put a meter on how thankful and how motivated I am each day, that’s not a reliable indicator of anything! 

Another problem with my motives is that they are not always clear. Proverbs asks, “Who can say, ‘I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin’” (20:9). When I work for God, is my motive thankfulness? Is it half-hearted duty? Am I trying to manipulate God into answering my prayers? Proverbs’ says to me, Unanswerable question. Who can understand their motives? 

Paul says, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph 2:10). I have a lingering sense that I’ll never get it all done. As Calvin, of Calvin and Hobbes, puts it, “God put me on this earth to accomplish a certain number of things. Right now I am so far behind I will never die” (Bill Watterson). 

I need to discern which good works God has prepared for me to do, and which should be done by others. It’s not always easy to tell! Like Calvin, I’ll never catch up, so I choose instead to live into my uncertainty. To make choices about what to do. I hope that God who saved me by grace will also view the work I do, and the work I don’t do, with grace. 

My motives are obscure, even to myself. But God works in that obscurity to purify my motives and set me in the right direction. Hebrews tells us that God’s word is a two-edged sword, piercing to divide joints and marrow, soul and spirit; it exposes the thoughts and motives of the heart (Heb 4:12). 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, as Paul said to those who are saved by grace, Work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you (Phil 2:12). When we were experiencing the joy of first love, we had no idea how much our motives needed sorting and cleansing and healing. 

We thought we were working for you, but we were working for ourselves! We were trying to build your kingdom, but we were building our own. We thought our work was transforming us into your image, but we discovered our goal was to transform you into our image.  

O father, sort out our confused lives. Unmix the motives. Discard the rubbish. Strengthen what comes from faith, until all our work is in your vineyard, and none in our own.   

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube