Ep.274: Psalm 135: Creator Redeemer.

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

Psalm 135 celebrates God as creator and redeemer. About God as creator, the poet says,
  The Lord does whatever he pleases,
    in the heavens and on the earth,
    in the seas and all their depths.
  He makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth;
    he sends lightning with the rain,
    and brings out the wind from his storehouses (vv. 6-7). 

Following an ancient view of the universe, the poet declares that God can do whatever he pleases in all three parts of creation: the heavens above, the earth around, and the waters of chaos beneath. The creator overcame the violent waters below, making them bubble up into the seas and oceans. And then God created an irrigation system with the tamed waters, sending rain clouds with lightning and wind to water the earth. Clearly the creator was and still is in control.

The creator also became redeemer when he intervened in political chaos on earth. Having chosen Israel as his treasured possession (v. 4), he persecuted Pharaoh and his Egyptian slave-drivers until they released his people (vv. 8-12). God then struck down the evil kings of Canaan to create a home for his people.

Creator. Redeemer. This is the God that Israel loved and worshiped!

The poet disparages the gods of the nations, calling them idols of silver and gold who are blind, deaf, and mute. But the poet’s most striking criticism is that the idols can’t breathe. Israel’s creator God breathed the breath of life into humans, but the idols who pose as gods neither breathe nor give the gift of breath. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, with the poet, we praise you as creator and redeemer. Your spirit brooded over the waters of chaos, preparing for creation. Your spirit brooded over the Red Sea, preparing Israel’s great redemption. Your spirit brooded over Jesus’ life and death, preparing salvation for the world. In creation and redemption, you alone are God.

Our father, Israel did not understand why you chose them out of all the nations on earth. And we do not understand why you chose us out of all the people on earth. But we have heard and received your message of freedom and redemption. You have made your home with us, and you have begun to conquer the powers that rule our lives–lust and greed and anxiety and fear. 

You who breathe into us the breath of life, teach us to walk in the Spirit. You who send the wind and rain to irrigate the earth, send us the water of life. 

You who redeemed Israel through the Red Sea and the thief on the cross through death, redeem us from our wandering and bring us to your eternal home. 

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.273: Psalm 134: Closing the Conference.

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

Psalm 134 reads, 

  Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord

    who minister by night in the house of the Lord.
    Lift up your hands in the sanctuary
        and praise the Lord.
  May the Lord bless you from Zion, 

    he who is the Maker of heaven and earth (vv. 1-3). 

This is the last of 15 psalms that share the title, “A Song of Ascents”. We don’t know exactly what this title means, but scholars suggest they are road trip songs for pilgrims on a journey up to Jerusalem to worship at the temple. 

Psalm 134 reminds me of a week-long Bible and missionary conference I attended. When it ended, I had a feeling of let-down, of unreality, as I released the intensity of the conference, gathered my notes, and prepared to travel home. Mundane duties awaited. The problems I avoided by attending a conference now needed urgent attention. I think this psalm transitions the Jerusalem pilgrims from their time of worship to the long road back home, from the beauty of the temple back to the homeliness of daily life.. 

Let’s review the conference highlights with the pilgrims, accept the poet’s end-of-conference blessing, then  move on from this collection of psalms. First the highlights:
– Psalm 120: “I call on the Lord in my distress”
– Psalm 121: “I lift up my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from?” 
– Psalm 122: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go the house of the Lord’.”
– Psalm 126: Those who go out weeping carrying precious seed
                  will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.
– Psalm 127: Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.
– Psalm 130: “Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord” and
              “I wait for the Lord,
                  more than watchmen wait for the morning.
– Ps 133 “How good and pleasant it is when families live together in unity.” 

Psalm 134 concludes this 15-psalm collection with a last invitation to worship, “Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord” (v. 1). Then it sends the worshipers home with this blessing:
    May the Lord bless you from Zion,
        he who is maker of heaven and earth (v. 3). 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, our lives are a pilgrimage in search of your presence. When we feel your face smile on us, we are glad. When we feel your absence or disapproval, we are sad. 

Thank you for these psalms that lift our eyes above the hills, to you who gives us help. Thank you that these poems bring our lives and feelings into the light of your presence. Build with us this house we are building, sow with us the seeds we sow in tears, cry with us in the depths from which we cry to you, teach us to live in unity with our family and community. 

Send us back to our daily lives with the blessing of this psalm:
  May the Lord bless you from Zion,
    he who made heaven and earth (v. 3). 

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.272: A Tale of Two Mountains.

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

Hebrews 12 says:
  You have not come to a mountain that can be touched
        and that is burning with fire; 
        to darkness, gloom, and storm; 
        to a trumpet blast or to a voice speaking words such that 
            those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 
           because they could not bear what was commanded,
            “If even an animal touches the mountain,
              it must be stoned to death.”
  The sight was so terrifying that Moses said,
            “I am trembling with fear” (vv. 18-21).  

This passage reads almost like a Victorian novel: It was a dark and stormy night, deep gloom hung on the mountain, lightning flashed vivid warnings, a trumpet blasted dangerously. This is how the book of Hebrews describes the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai. A death sentence hung on any who came too close. Even Moses was terrified.

To the author of Hebrews, the law given this way had two important characteristics: 

– First, it was God’s law, his very words, warning humans about sin and judgment.
– Second, the law was a revelation of God’s goodness. It gave his guidelines for a community to live together in love and justice, escaping the calamity of evil. 

The author struggles with the question: Why did God’s law not produce the society he wanted? What made God’s project fail?

This search led the author of Hebrews to Christ, who he introduces as another word of God, saying, In these last days God has spoken to us by his son whom he loves, through whom he created the worlds (Heb 1:2). 

Jesus, who is himself God’s word, gives a different message than the words spoken from Mt. Sinai. Hebrews says: 

  But you [who trust in Jesus] have come to Mount Zion,
    to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,
    to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly,
    to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven.
  You have come to God, the Judge of all,
    to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,
    to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant,
    to the sprinkled blood 
           that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (vv. 22-24). 

Yes, Jesus speaks a better word. He speaks to us not from gloom and tempest, but from a mountain of joy, a city of light, in the company of saints and angels. On this mountain, Jesus consecrates a new covenant, not founded on a legal system delivered in the terror of night, but given as a  gift: his own life. On this mountain, gentle hope replaces overriding fear. Quiet confidence replaces the dread of making a misstep. Glad community replaces lonely angst. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, all our lives we have done our duty, obeyed your law, kept your commands. We have lived in fear of judgment, anxious lest we should misstep or overstep or fall.

Today we come to Mount Zion,
  to a joyful assembly of angels and saints,
  to a savior who washes us clean
      and teaches us to live out of love, not fear. 
We walk with him on a path of glad obedience. 

Establish our hearts on this mountain.

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.271: Psalm 133: Unity.

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

Psalm 133 reads, 
   How good and how pleasant it is
      when families live together in unity.
  It is like precious oil poured on the head,. . .
      running down on Aaron’s beard,
      down the collar of his robe.
  It is like the dew of Hermon
      falling on Mount Zion.
  For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
      life forevermore  (vv. 1-3). 

What’s your take on the good life? In this psalm, the poet sees it as a family living together peacefully. They have a wider family, a community of faith that follows after God. Morning dew refreshes their land, bringing days of peace and nights of rest. God blesses the family and the community with his best gift: life forevermore. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, how good it is when families live in unity. When they don’t permit differences in wealth or success or politics or vaccines to cause dissension. They may cheer for different hockey teams, but always for each other. Though some are liberal in their theology and politics and others conservative; still, they feast together at Thanksgiving and Christmas and love each other in between. 

The goodness of unity is like the anointing oil running down the hair and beard of Aaron, a sign of peace and plenty. Perhaps in our day it is like standing in the shower, hot water massaging sore muscles, soap cleansing hair and body, the rhythm of the water soothing mind and heart. O God, wash us with the water of your word. Anoint us with the oil of your Spirit. 

You respond to this unity of families and community by blessing their land, as morning dew refreshes the earth, the crops grow, and their world is at peace.

O God, we honor you and each other and creation. Bestow the blessing you promise, protect our temporary home in this world, and prepare our forever home with you. As the poet says,
    The Lord bestows his blessing,
      life forevermore (v. 3). 

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.270: Psalm 132: An Oath and an Oath.

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

Psalm 132 is framed around two oaths: David’s oath to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, and God’s oath to create a dynasty of kings in David’s line. 

First, David’s oath. Before David’s time as leader, the Israelites once took the Ark of the Covenant into battle against the Philistines, assuming God’s presence in the Ark would guarantee their victory. But oops, the Philistines captured the Ark and set it beside their gods in their temples. The Ark caused so much chaos and destruction everywhere they took it, that after seven months they sent it home to Israel.  

When David became king, he wanted the Ark, which represented God’s throne on earth, to reign with him in Jerusalem. So he brought it from obscurity into the capital city, ushering in the glory years of Israel’s monarchy–years of peace and success under a strong shepherd-king and a faithful shepherd-God. 

Psalm 132 tells us David swore an oath to bring the Ark to Jerusalem, and then he fulfilled that oath. Just as God honored the shepherd boy by raising him from distant fields to national prominence, so David honored God by bringing his throne, his ark, home where it belonged.

The psalm says God responded to David’s oath with an oath of his own: a promise that as long as David’s descendents kept the covenant with God, David’s dynasty would rule Israel.

Let’s pray. 

Our father, our lives, unlike David’s, are obscure and inconsequential. Yet we have invited your son to rule us  and your presence to go with us. We do not ask you to set up a dynasty for us as you did for David. But we hear the words of the poet,
    The Lord has chosen Zion,
      he has desired it for his dwelling. 

We believe you are a God who desires a home on earth. We believe you call us, and your Spirit invites us to make ourselves your home. Take up residence in us and in our churches, conquer the strongholds of evil, renovate our hearts, make us into temples where you are pleased to dwell.

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.269: Inheritance Sale.

Ep.269: Hebrews 12: Inheritance Sale.

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

Hebrews 12 says:
Make every effort to live in peace with everyone
     and to be holy;. . .
See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God
       and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
See that no one is sexually immoral,
    or is godless like Esau,
    who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son.
Afterwards. . . when he wanted to inherit this blessing,
    he was rejected.
    Even though he sought the blessing with tears,
      he could not change what he had done (Heb 12:14-17). 

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone. That’s a broad statement. I can list lots of people I don’t need to be at peace with–drug dealers, motorcycle gangs, people who stage anti-vaccine rallies outside hospitals. 

And what about those who have left the faith? Like Esau, who was in line to inherit the blessing God gave Abraham, but swapped it for lunch when he was hungry.

I make three comments on this passage. 

First, we need to exert ourselves to build and maintain peaceful relationships. “Make every effort,” the passage says. It’s helpful to be a peacemaker. It’s unhelpful to stir up dissension. 

Second, a lot of trouble in relationships comes from a lack of inner peace. If I know I’m right and you’re wrong about vaccines or masking or politics or religion, it’s very difficult for me to engage in peaceful discussion. I want to prove a point instead of engaging in dialog. I’d rather list your faults than hear your heart. I need a Facebook moderator inside me to edit out the shouting and suggest I start listening. 

Third, the author of Hebrews describes Esau as sexually immoral, godless, and with messed up priorities. The author’s solution to Esau’s character, and to mine, is his statement,
  See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God
      and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. 

There’s the solution: don’t fall short of God’s grace. Instead, receive his grace whatever your calling–whether the elder son inheriting the blessing or the younger son in submission to others. Resist the bitter thought that life hasn’t treated you well or that God shortchanged you. Being at peace with others starts by being at peace with yourself.

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we release to you the bitterness in our lives. Our lack of progress in becoming spiritual, our inability to be at peace with ourselves and you, our need to project our problems onto others. 

Help us not to fall short of your grace as Esau did. 

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.268: Psalm 131: Like a Child.

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

Psalm 131 says: 
  My heart is not proud, Lord,
      nor my eyes haughty;
  I do not occupy myself with things
    too great and too marvelous for me.
  I have calmed and quieted my soul,
      like a weaned child with its mother;
      my soul is a weaned child within me (vv. 1-3).

In Ecclesiastes, the preacher said, “There is a time for everything” (Eccl 3:1a). The poet in today’s psalm talks about a time to be quiet, a time to let go of ambition, a time to be content with our lot. Perhaps it is a time to set aside our endless questions and doubts, a time to rest in the answers we have, even if they are incomplete and ambiguous.We can rest from organizing and categorizing our lives and our thoughts and theology. It is a  time to simply be still in God’s presence.  

Our lives are full of unread books, people we should have coffee with, social media to review, and incessant debates about politics and religion and war. But the poet suggests we won’t solve the world’s problems this week. Let’s give ourselves a break from being grown-ups. It’s time to be still like a child.

Like a weaned child with its mother–not desperate to find a meal, not concerned about taxes or pandemics or enemies of the state. Just peaceful and calm in the mother’s arms, trusting her care, content in her love.

Do you ever find a quiet place like that with God? Or are you always asking, doing, seeking, striving? 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we settle quietly into your presence. As thoughts disturb us, we let them go. 
– We release to you the problems of nuclear proliferation and ballistic missile testing
– We release to you our obsession with COVID
– We release to you our fears for our children and their future
– We release to you our anxiety about aging 

We rest in your arms, God, like a child with its mother. We trust you to watch over us today and tomorrow. We trust you to gather our small thoughts into your big thoughts, to collect our small works into the big work of your kingdom. 

We trust you to hold the world together. We trust you to hold us together as we rest in you. Teach us to live in the sabbath of your eternal rest. 

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.267: Psalm 130: Out of the Depths.

Ep267_Psalm130. Out of the Depths.

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

Psalm 130 begins with the well-known phrase, “Out of the depths”. The psalm says:  
   Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
      Lord, hear my voice,
    Let your ears be attentive
      to my cry for mercy (vv. 1-2). 

Out of the depths I cry to the Lord. When I pray that phrase, I sometimes experience a sinking feeling in my stomach. A feeling that things have gone wrong again; this time, to the depths of my being. And I am unable to fix it. 

Part of the poet’s genius is that he doesn’t describe the depths he was experiencing. He creates space for us to bring our depths to the psalm and to God. In the poet’s world, the deepest depth was the primeval sea of chaos that God conquered at creation. That ancient sea serves as metaphor and mirror for chaos in the poet’s personaI, national, and international experience. Maybe it works for us too, as we bring our modern depths to the ancient poem. Think about some of the things we might bring.
 
  – We bring to the psalm the chaos of  politics and wars, recently highlighted in America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.

  – We bring to the psalm the COVID chaos, a disease of the body that has inspired a disease of the mind with conspiracy theories about blame and control and loss of freedoms and microchips in vaccines.

  – We bring to the psalm people hunkering down in survival mode as they and their friends grow old and forgetful and sick.

  – We bring people who pray from depths of regret for past mistakes, whose present is filled with confusion, and whose future is bleak. 

Gillian Welsh sang about the depths, saying:
  There’s a world of trouble
  trying to take its turn.
  I can hear it shaking underground. 

        (David Rawlings and Gillian Welsh. Lyrics to “One and Only”. Revival, 1996.)

Let’s pray. 

Out of the depths we cry to you O Lord. We have tried to organize and control our lives, to calm our troubled sea and ignore its black depths. But we sense, like Gillian Welsh, a world of trouble shaking underground. The monsters in our sea churn the waters. Unresolved troubles pull us under. Violence and war cause fear. Tension and disharmony sadden us. 

O gracious Lord, walk with us. Lift us from the depths that confound us. Calm our troubled waters. Heal the diseases we cannot cure. 

With the poet,
   We wait for you, Lord,
      more than watchmen wait for the morning,
      more than watchmen wait for the morning (v. 6).

As we wait and watch through our dark night, we hear your promise of morning. We wait patiently for your help. 

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.266: Scourging, Training, and Discipline.

Ep.266: Hebrews 12: Scourging, Training, and Discipline.

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

Hebrews 12 says:
The Lord trains those he loves
    and chastens all his children (v. 6). 
Our human fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best,
    but God trains us for our good,
    so that we may share in his holiness.
Training is painful, not pleasant.
    But it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace (vv. 10-11).
Therefore strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.
    Make level paths for your feet,
     so that what is lame may not be disabled, but healed (v 12).      

When I was young and full of fear, I tried my hardest to be a good Christian. My efforts had an unintended result: instead of getting better, I got worse. I discovered that my sin problem ran so deep in mind and body and soul that I could not eradicate it. The harder I tried, the more I failed, and the more discouraged I got. 

And then I encountered Hebrews 12 in my King James Bible: 
  Whom the Lord loves, he chastens,
      and scourges every son he receives (v. 6). 

Comforting thought, that. God loves me so much he’s getting his whip ready to scourge me? Maybe that would help with the sin problem. 

Or maybe not. 

Then I found author Martyn Lloyd-Jones. He wrote a chapter on Hebrews 12, giving it the title, “In God’s Gymnasium” (Lloyd-Jones, Martyn. Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure. London: Pickering and Inglis, 1965). His point: God did not want to scourge me, but train me. Perhaps I was right about the depth of my problems. But the solution was not pain and punishment, it was an exercise program. As exercise can strengthen and heal feeble arms and weak knees, so God’s training of my inner life can bring restoration and healing.

Let’s pray. 

Our father, it makes a difference whether we think of you as actively punishing us to correct our sins, or if we see you as our personal trainer in the gym, promoting exercise and a healthy diet. 

Forgive us where we have wrongly felt you judge harshly and punish vigorously.  Teach us to embrace your training program that will grow our capacity to hear and obey your  word, correcting our confused thinking, and helping us run the race you have set before us.

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.265: Psalm 129: The Anti-Harvest.

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

Psalm 129 says:  

 They have greatly oppressed me from my youth,
    but they have not gained the victory over me.
  Ploughmen have ploughed my back
      and made their furrows long.
  but the Lord is righteous;
      he has cut me free from the cords of the wicked (vv. 2-4). 

This psalm returns to a frequent theme: oppression and persecution. The poet uses a striking agricultural image: his enemies have ploughed a furrow in his back. Despite this cruel and inhuman treatment, God has seen and rescued him. 

The second part of the psalm invites God to punish the wicked ploughmen. It says:
  May all who hate Zion
    be turned back in shame.
  May they be like grass on the roof,
    which withers before it can grow;
  a reaper cannot fill his hands with it,
    nor one who gathers fill his arms (vv. 5-7). 

Using grass to thatch a roof or sod to waterproof it doesn’t produce a harvest. The grass dries up and withers. The hopeful reaper finds the opposite of harvest–no grain to rub in his hands, no stalks to gather into sheaves.That’s how the poet wants God to deal with his enemies: uproot them from their native soil, place them where there is no opportunity for growth, no hope of harvest, no joy and blessing from arms full of produce. 

Let’s pray. 

Ou father, with the poet we pray:
  They have greatly oppressed me from my youth,
      but they have not gained the victory over me (v. 2). 

We invite you to sustain us in our long battle against things that oppress us.
– When we sink into depression, draw us into joy
– When we react in anger, teach us peace
– When we isolate ourselves, restore us to community
– When we are lazy, help us to show initiative
– When we are critical, teach us to be helpful

May the grass of our old life dry up and wither, producing no harvest. May the new life you give us find rich soil and grow. We do not curse our enemies as the poet does, but we pray that you will prevent harvests of evil, and bless a harvest of good.

We ask you to break every curse against us. Where family or teachers or preachers have thought ill of us and highlighted our failures, grant us justice. Define our present and future by your promises, our growth by the good rain you send on us. May our lives yield a harvest of righteousness. 

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube