Ep.086: Free Lunch.

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

In John chapter 6, a large crowd followed Jesus into the wilderness. Jesus said to Philip, “Where will we buy bread for these people?”–clearly a trick question, because Jesus wasn’t planning to buy bread at all. Philip said, “That’s expensive. We don’t have enough money.” On hearing this, Andrew said,  “There’s a boy with here five buns and two small fish.” So Jesus multiplied the fish and buns to feed the crowd. There were baskets of leftovers and the people said, “Wow. Free lunch. We like this prophet.” 

They liked him so much that they followed him the next day. Jesus said, “All you want is another free lunch! But what you really need is the bread of God that comes from heaven and gives life to the world.” The crowd  replied, “Is that like free lunch every day? We’re in!”

Then Jesus dropped a bombshell. He said, “I am the bread of life that came from heaven. Anyone who comes to me will never go hungry. Anyone who believes in me will never be thirsty. The bread you need is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”  

The people said, “That’s crazy talk. What kind of bread are you? You’re not from heaven. We know your father and mother and your home in Nazareth. You are just a peasant like us. We’re not cannibals; we can’t eat your flesh.”

Once again Jesus’ teaching led the people into mystery and confusion. Some of the things Jesus did were really attractive– making wine, providing free lunch, healing the paralyzed. But some of his sayings are just crazy: be born again, eat my flesh, drink my blood, take up your cross and follow me.  

Let’s pray. 

Jesus, we’re never sure how you move from literal meanings to metaphors. We understand  free lunch. But when we come back the next day, you stop the food truck and suggest we eat your flesh. If you were a salesman, we’d press charges of false advertising or bait-and-switch. 

Jesus, so much of our life is physical. We eat and shave and sleep and shop. But how can we connect with the spiritual world? Will Donald Trump teach us how to cut a deal with you? Will Justin Trudeau coach our smile and and furnish our wardrobe? We need your metaphors, Jesus, to guide us into a spiritual life, to give us a vision of the kingdom of heaven. In our darkness, shine your light. In the silence of the universe, speak your word. When we are hungry, feed us with your body. When we are thirsty, help us drink your water.

Help us to see through your impossible metaphors to the new experience you offer us, to the new relationship you invite us into. Jesus, we receive your  words as gifts. Help us to be born again, to eat your flesh and drink your blood. In our daily routines of eating and sleeping and working and playing,  help us live a new life in the spirit. 

Amen.

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

Ep.085: Psalm 34: No Broken Bones.

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

Psalm 34 paints a bright picture of hope against a bleak background of suffering and terrors that break the heart and crush the spirit. Poet Luci Shaw wrote, 
    A piece of hope spins out
    bright, along the dark, and is not
    lost in space. . . 
    (Luci Shaw, “But Not Forgotten” in Listen to the Green (Colorado Springs: Harold Shaw Pub, 1973) 

Yes, that summarizes Psalm 34.

The first part of the psalm is a hymn of praise as the poet tells how the Lord delivered him. The second part encourages us to seek God because he rewards those who seek him. The last part is another section of praise for God’s deliverance. 

When my brother was in his early twenties, he suffered a broken hip on a mission trip to Sudan. He declined their medical treatment when they produced a used needle to inject painkillers. Back in Canada, he spent a year in and out of hospitals trying to save the hip. It never recovered, so the doctors finally fused it with a metal rod. My brother said that verses 19-20 of Psalm 34 tormented him all year. They read,
      The righteous person may have many troubles,
        but the Lord delivers him from them all;
      he protects all his bones,
        not one of them will be broken.
In the hospital, as my brother lay awake long nights in pain, he did a lot of thinking and feeling about that verse, “God protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.”

Perhaps our spiritual lives are more complex than naming and claiming the simple, straightforward promises. My brother’s experience connects with my prayer life. Jesus’ promise:  “I will do whatever you ask in my name” (John 14:13) does not work for me every time. In Psalm 34, the bright promises are painted against a backdrop where the poet describes the experience of the righteous as afflicted, troubled, fearful, crying, broken-hearted, and crushed in spirit. God is always present to us, sometimes protecting our bones or healing them, sometimes strengthening us to endure seemingly endless troubles.

Let’s pray. 

     I sought the Lord and he answered me,
        he delivered me from all my fears (v. 4).
Yes, God, you are the one who can drain the swamp of our fears.

      Those who look to you are radiant;
        Their faces will never be ashamed (v. 5).
May it be you, God, and not the cosmetics industry, who brings light to our eyes and joy to our faces. 

       This poor man called, and the Lord heard him,
          And saved him out of all his troubles. 
Yes, Lord, you hear, and you deliver us from our troubles (v. 6). 

        Taste and see that the Lord is good,
            Blessed is the one who takes refuge in him (v. 8).
Lord, we have tasted that you are good. We feel it when your face shines on us, we feel it when you give us peace in our confusion and light in our darkness. Turn our tasting into feasting, until we experience with all our heart that you are good.  

          Whoever loves life
             and desires to see many good days,
          Turn from evil and do good;
            Seek peace and pursue it (vv. 12, 14).
Yes, Lord, we love the life you offer — not a life of wealth and safety and escape from troubles, but a life of turning from evil to do good, a life of pursuing peace.

       The Lord is close to the broken-hearted,
            and saves those who are crushed in spirit (v. 13). 
Lord, we feel the brokenness of our spirit, our life, our world. Thank you for drawing near to broken hearts and crushed spirits.

        The Lord will rescue his servants;
            No one who takes refuge in him will be condemned (v. 22).
Thank you for looking out for us. Thank you for freeing us from all condemnation. Thank you for being our refuge in life and our hope in death. We wait quietly in your presence.

Amen.

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

Ep.084: The Healing Pool.

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

In John chapter 4, Jesus offered living water to the woman at the well. In John chapter 5, we have another story about water. Jesus went to the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem and he met a man who had been sitting by the water for 38 years, waiting to be healed. The man’s story was that when the water moved, perhaps stirred by an angel, it healed people. Sadly, the man had no one to help him get into the pool when the water moved. Someone always got in ahead of him. 

Jesus didn’t talk with the man about water. Instead, he asked, “Do you want to get well?” The man replied that someone always beat him into the water.

Jesus said, “Pick up your mat and walk.” And for the first time in 38 years, the man picked up his mat and walked. The command of Jesus became this man’s healing pool. Jesus’ word baptized him in life-giving water. 

Let’s pray. 

Jesus, we are the paralyzed man. For too many years, we have been stuck in a routine of family and work and church and busyness, but inside we ache with emptiness and loneliness. We long to be immersed in water that will heal the pain and ease the memories and silence the dark voices within. But all the sermons and Bible studies, all the scoldings and seeking haven’t healed us. Our angst continues, self-doubt grows. Depression hovers in the background, darkness threatens our souls. We set out to be saints, but we remain champion sinners. 

Jesus, we hear you ask us the question you asked the paralyzed man, “Do you want to be healed?” Shockingly, your words expose our willingness to be content with half-hearted religion in unhealed hearts. We try to bathe in your healing waters, but we remain sick. Who will help us into the water? What can bring us healing? And when we give up, we hear you say again, “Do you want to be healed?”  

Yes, Jesus, we do. But our chains are too strong, our paralysis is unyielding, our corrupting thoughts too deeply embedded. O Jesus, we need living water. Free us from our pool of paralysis, stir the water of our lives, speak your life-giving word, immerse us in your healing fountain. Teach us to pick up our mat and walk.

Amen.

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

Ep.083: Psalm 33: Sing a New Song.

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

In Psalm 33, a hymn of praise, the poet encourages us to sing a new song, accompanied by stringed instruments. Perhaps the poet had composed something new and wanted an enthusiastic and skillful performance. Today, we still need new songs. But when the worship team at my church strikes up an unfamiliar tune, old curmudgeons like me grumble, “Really? Aren’t the old songs good enough?”

The poet introduces two reasons for praise: The first is God’s word in creation (vv. 6-9) and the second, God’s role in history (vv. 10-19). Let’s look at both these reasons.

At creation, God spoke and the universe came into being. The poet says,
  By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
      and the stars by the breath of his mouth (v. 6).
What a beautiful picture. In winter, my breath creates a  small puff of water vapor and ice. But’s God’s breath at creation sent the the galaxies and stars and planets spinning into space. 

When God spoke again at creation, the world organized itself into sea and dry land and sky. The poet says, 
   He gathered the waters of the sea into mounds,
      the deep into storehouses (v. 7). 

After reviewing creation, the poet moves on to a history lesson, comparing God’s words with the words of humans. He says,
   The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing,
      he frustrates the plans of the people.
  The counsel of the Lord stands forever
    the thoughts of his heart to all generations (vv. 11-12). 

Yes, God is the overseer of human history, overriding the words and plans of the superpowers and the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund, and Republicans and Democrats and conservatives and liberals everywhere. Perhaps God is not as supportive of your political opinions as you imagine!

Let’s pray. 

Our father, Psalm 33 says,
    A king is not saved by his great army,
      A warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
  Truly, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him,
      on those who hope in his steadfast love (vv. 16, 18). 

O you who breathed the stars into place, look upon the history of our time. Confuse the counsels of the nations, frustrate the plans of the people.  As the US rachets up the trade war with China and shuts out immigrants, as Britain brexits and Canada elects a new leader; as Russia seeks to resurrect the Soviet glory days, as China flexes its military muscle and oppresses Uighurs and Tibetans, as India reasserts control over Kashmir, and Pakistan threatens nuclear retaliation; we come to you, O God of the nations. We pray to you, O God of history. 

Bring the nations to sanity. Frustrate the plans of the leaders. Stay the engines of war, guard the nuclear arsenals, keep your eye on those who hope in your steadfast love. Protect your people. 

O Lord, ours is a fearsome time in history as nations vy for power and reject your word. But you called the world into being, you supervise the rise and fall of empires, you watch men wage war and peace, but mostly war. In our lives and sometimes in our churches, we see your gracious hand heal the sick and bring peace and unity. We look to you to guide our personal history and the history of the world with your same steady hand that holds the universe in place. 

With the poet, we say
  Our soul waits for the Lord,
    you are our help and our shield.
  Our heart is glad in you,
    because we trust your holy name.
  Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,
    even as we hope in you. 

Amen.

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

Ep.082: Living Water.

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

In John chapter 3, Jesus talks with Nicodemus. In chapter 4, he talks with a Samaritan woman. The stories are opposites. The first is about Nicodemus, a Jewish man, and the second about an unnamed Samaritan woman. Nicodemus came to Jesus at night to ask a question. The woman came to the well at noon, and was surprised when Jesus, a Jewish man, approached her for a drink. Nicodemus was a ruler of the Jews, the woman was from the lowest social strata. She had had five husbands, no identifiable religion, and no social standing or respect. 

No respect that is, except from Jesus, who asked for a drink. She replied, “What’s up? Jewish men don’t speak to Samaritan women, much less drink from their unclean cup.” Jesus said, “You should have asked me for a drink, and I would give you living water so you would never be thirsty again.” She replied, “I like that. Please give me some.” 

Then, out of the blue, Jesus dropped a bomb on the conversation. He said, “Get your husband and come back,” and the woman replied, “Uh, I don’t have a husband.” Jesus said, “Very true. You’ve had five of them and number six isn’t your husband.” That’s a strange turn in the conversation. Whatever happened to the discussion on living water? 

The woman has known Jesus for only a few minutes. She didn’t know his name, didn’t know where he got embarrassing information about her, and wasn’t interested in discussing her romantic history with a stranger. So she switched topics. “You must be a prophet,” she says. “The Samaritans worship on this mountain and the Jews worship in the temple. What do you say?” 

Jesus said, “Place is not important. God is spirit. True worshippers worship in spirit and truth.” She responded, “When the Messiah comes, he will explain this.” And Jesus replied, “That’s me. I am the Messiah.” 

What an amazing place for the conversation to arrive at, especially compared to the discussion with Nicodemus. Nicodemus met Jesus in the dark and Jesus gave him a dark saying about being born again. The woman met Jesus in the light, and Jesus told her clearly who she was and who he was. “I am the Messiah.” 

Let’s pray.

Jesus, we are the woman at the well. You have come to us, you have reminded us of our sordid history, you have questioned our distorted views of God and religion. We have been exposed to the core of our sorry lives. But in the shock of exposure, you offer living water that calls us to healing and change.

We pray to you, Jesus. Do not leave us in the dark like Nicodemus. Stay with us in conversation until our hearts are ready to hear you say, “I am your Messiah, I am the one who saves, I am the one who gives living water, I am the one who teaches you to worship God in spirit and in truth.” 

Jesus, Messiah, we wait for you. 

Amen. 

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

Ep.081: Psalm 32: The Big Cover-up.

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

Psalm 32 tells the story of great sin and great forgiveness. The presumed background is David’s adultery with Bathsheba. After David got her pregnant, he arranged for her husband to get killed in battle. 

The psalm has four movements. 

The first movement is joy (vv. 1-2). It is a joy that forgiveness exists, a joy that instead of covering my sin and living in fear of exposure, I can confess them to God and ask him to cover them up. The poet says,
    Blessed is the one
      whose transgressions are forgiven,
      whose sins are covered (v. 1). 

Verse two is also reassuring.  It says, “Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them.” God is not the great accountant tracking sin on one side of the ledger and good deeds on the other, calculating which side wins when you die. The good news is that God has quit counting. The poet’s transgressions are forgiven, his sins are no longer counted against him.

The second movement in Psalm 32 tells how the poet felt when he covered up his sin.
  When I kept silent,
    my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
  For day and night
    your hand was heavy on me;
  my strength was sapped
    as in the heat of summer (vv. 3-4).

The third movement is the poet’s confession. When he quit hiding his sin, he told God the truth about what he had done. He lost that crushing burden of guilt and shame. He found that God had taken over the covering up, leaving him free and forgiven. Here’s how he says it:
    Then I acknowledged my sin to you
      and did not cover my iniquity.
    You forgave
        the guilt of my sin (v. 5).

The fourth movement is heartfelt thanksgiving which encourages others to follow the poet’s example of confession and forgiveness (v. 8-9). 

Let’s pray.

Lord, we pray the confession from the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship, 1994 edition:  

Gracious God,
    our sins are too heavy to carry,
    too real to hide, and too deep to undo.
Forgive what our lips tremble to name,
    what our hearts can no longer bear,
    and what has become for us a consuming fire of judgment.
Set us free from a past that we cannot change;
    open us to a future in which we can be changed;
    and grant us grace to grow more and more in your likeness and image;
    through Jesus Christ, the light of the world.

And finally, a prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr.

Look with mercy upon the peoples of the world,
    so full both of pride and confusion,
    so sure of their righteousness and so deeply involved in unrighteousness,
    so confident of their power and so imprisoned by their fears of each other.
Have mercy upon our own nation.
    Purge us of the vainglory which confuses our counsels,  and
    give our leaders and our people the wisdom of humility and charity.
Help us to recognize our own affinity with…[the] malice that confronts us, 
     that we may not add to the world’s woe by the fury of our own resentments. 
Give your Church the grace in this time
to be a saving remnant among the nations, reminding all peoples
    of the divine majesty under whose judgement they stand, and
    of the divine mercy of which they and we have a common need. 
(Reinhold Niebuhr in The HarperCollins Book of Prayers compiled by Robert Van de Weyer (New York: HarperCollins, 1993), p. 272.

Amen.

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

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”.