Ep.246: Psalm 115: Idol-Makers and Idols.

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

Psalm 115 begins:
    Not to us, O Lord, not to us, 
       but to your name give glory,
  for the sake of your steadfast love
      and your faithfulness. (v 1) 

Then Psalm 115 it raises the big question: does God really exist, saying:
    Why should the nations say,
      “Where is their God?” (v. 2). 

This question is relevant because the nations parked their gods in temples. Visible. Touchable. Easily worshipped. Israel also had a temple, but no image of God in residence, prompting the question, “Where is their God?” 

The poet responds:
  Our God is in the heavens,
    he does whatever he pleases (v. 2b). 

The poet contrasts his competent God with the inert idols of the nations, confined to their temples, unable to exercise power. He says:

   They have mouths, but can’t speak,
      eyes but can’t see.
  Ears, but can’t hear
      noses, but can’t smell.
  They have hands, but they can’t feel;
      feet, but they can’t walk. (vv. 5-8). 

The idols are dumb, deaf, blind, immobile, and unfeeling. Still, they present a dangerous risk to those who make and worship them. The poet says:
  Those who make them become like them
      so do all who trust in them. (v.  8).    

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we heed your warning not to become like the gods we serve. If we serve money, we become cold and calculating. If we serve conspiracy theories, we become distrustful and paranoid. If we serve social media, we develop short attention spans and thoughtless speech. 

Help us to serve you, our God, to become like you. Help us to be thoughtful, reflecting on your creation, agreeing with you that it is good. Help us become creative, inventing new solutions for old problems, developing new ways to help your world and love its people. Help us become patient with others, accepting mistakes as the road to growth, lending a helping hand. Help us become joyful, not despairing at everything that is wrong, but rejoicing  in faith and hope.  

Help us not to become like the gods of the nations, with unseeing eyes, unhearing ears, feeling hands, unspeaking mouths.  

With our eyes may we see the good and the bad in our world, looking with compassion on the hurting, with hatred on the evil, with obedience on your face. 

With our ears, may we hear your word calling us to repentance and faith, to righteousness and service of others. With our mouths may we speak your praise, delivering encouragement to the discouraged and hope to the depressed. With our hands may we help the weak, serve the poor, and bring about your justice. 

O father, with the poet we wait for your blessing, as he says:
  You have remembered us and you will bless us;
      you will bless the house of Israel;
      you will bless the house of Aaron.
  You will bless those who fear you,
      both great and small (vv. 12-13). 

And with the poet,
    We will bless you, Lord,
      both now and forever more (v. 18). 

Amen.

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.245: Sacrifice.

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

Hebrews 11 says:
  By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice.
  He who had embraced the promises
    was about to sacrifice his one and only son,
    even though God had said to him,
          “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”
  Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead,
    and so in a manner of speaking
    he did receive Isaac back from death.
              Heb. 11:13-16  

This story is shocking, almost repulsive. I can’t imagine myself in Abraham’s sandals, setting out with knife and firewood to sacrifice my son on a distant mountain. The law of Moses prohibits human sacrifice (Deut. 18:10). Parts of the Bible may condone killing in a just war or for capital punishment, but even here scholars disagree.

So what can we do with the story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac? 

First, we can grant it licence as an ancient story from a time and culture that we understand remotely and incompletely. Trying to put our modern minds and sensibilities into Abraham and Isaac’s story is stretch. 

But the story resonates deeply at another level. In our relationship with God, Abraham articulates some of the cautions and hopes we feel. 

Because it is a story about faith, about a man who spent his life struggling toward faith. When he was childless, God promised Abraham that he would be the father of nations. Over the years, Abraham risked that promise by letting his wife go into the harem of a local king and by having a child with his wife’s Egyptian slave. The child was Abrahams’s attempt to help God’s promise along. God protected Sarah in the harem and arranged her rescue. Having a son by the slave caused trouble in Abraham’s family until God said clearly the baby from that relationship was not the anticipated son of promise.  

Abraham waited another 13 years, until Sarah implausibly bore a son in her old age. Now, God said, this is the promised son. 

Fast forward a dozen or so years. The boy has grown and God is asking Abraham to sacrifice him. Recognizing and trusting God’s voice, Abraham sets out faithfully with a knife and wood and fire to make a burnt offering, telling his son, “God will provide the lamb for the sacrifice.” God did. 

What resonates with me is how God crowded Abraham into a place where all he had left was faith. Abraham failed to protect Sarah, but God did. Abraham tried to help God by having a son with a slave woman, but God didn’t want Abraham’s help. Only his faith. When it came time to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham had run out of options. He had no plan to help God fulfill his promises. He could only believe and hope that through life or death or resurrection, God would keep his promises. 

God has crowded me in a similar way. He teaches me to hold all things in open hands, even the things he has given me. He teaches me that I might have to relinquish every gift and relationship and possession, no matter how dear or how strongly they are connected to my heart. God teaches me to listen for his voice all my life, not with fear of what sacrifice he may require, but with the joy of hearing him call my name and trusting him to keep his promises. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, the life of faith you call us to is a holy and precious gift. We do not understand your ways, but we hold all we have in open hands. Give and take as you will, but hold us always in your heart, as you did Abraham and Isaac. And fulfill all your promises to us. 

Amen. 

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

Ep.244: Psalm 114: What’s Wrong with the Sea?

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

Psalm 114 asks: 
   What is wrong with you, Red Sea, that you flee,
      River Jordan that you turn back,
  mountains, that you dance like rams,
      hills, like a flock of lambs? (vv. 5-6)

Clearly, something has disrupted nature. Creation has become unpredictable. Mountains dance, seas flee, the river Jordan reverses itself. How so? 

Because when God marched Israel out of Egypt into the Promised Land, he created something new. He reversed the physical laws of the old creation. The world was disturbed by God’s power as he called out a people of his own. Pharaoh and Egypt bowed before a greater king. The Red Sea waters got out of the way of God’s awesome presence and let his people pass. The mountains danced an earthquake as God gave the law from Mt. Sinai. The river Jordan reversed its flow when Joshua marched in. 

The poet says,
  Tremble, earth, at the presence of the Lord,
      at the presence of the God of Jacob  (v. 7). 

Clearly, God’s creative power did not end at creation. His work continued in the world.

The poet concludes with the greatest and most stunning reversal of all. God:
    Turned rock into a pool,
      flint into springs of water (v. 8).  

In the Middle Ages, alchemy was supposed to turn lead into gold and wood into silver. Alchemy failed as a science. But when God wanted water, he produced it from a rock. When God finds that the old rules don’t accomplish what he wants, he overrules them, and does something new.

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we read the old stories of the Red Sea and Jordan and Sinai, but we hear them as yesterday’s news. They don’t connect us with your power and awesomeness as the poet did. 

O Father, show us that you are indeed the same God who created a new people in Israel, and a new people in Christ. Lead us through our Red Sea, across our wilderness, through mountain and earthquake and fire to the land you are preparing for us. Make us part of your new people today. 

You displayed your power at the Red Sea and Mt. Sinai. You displayed your power at the empty tomb and we rejoice in your great works of the past. Look on our present day, with all its mediocrity, its lack of power, its spiritual lethargy. Teach us in our modern day to live in the nearness and power of your presence that these stories teach us. 

Teach us the power of your truth, that we may discern the lies of consumerism and militarism and nationalism.  Teach the power of your righteousness so we can resist the temptations of legalism and individualism and arrogance. Teach us the beauty of your creation, that we may worship you as the maker of seasons and the God of life and light. 

Paul said, “If you are in Christ, you are a new creation. The old has passed, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17). But Paul also says the old creation groans with birth pangs, longing to be reborn (Rom 8:22). We too long to be recreated, to put on new bodies that will reveal our identity as your sons and daughters (Rom 8:23). Draw us fully into your new creation, we pray. Do something new for us in this life and the next.

Amen.

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

Ep.243: Looking for a Better Country.

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

After discussing Old Testament heroes like Abraham and Noah, Hebrews 11 says:
  These people were still living by faith when they died.
  They did not receive the things promised;
    they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance,
    admitting they were foreigners and strangers on earth.
  People who say such things
    are looking for a country of their own.
  If they had been thinking of the country they left,
    they could have returned.
  Instead, they wanted a better country–
    a heavenly one.
  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God.
              Heb. 11:13-16  

That’s what I’m looking for. A better country, even though the 2021 Best Countries report rated Canada as number one in the world.  

My list of suggestions for Canada includes milder winters, a more competent government, and better health care as I age. 

Those on the wall of faith in Hebrews also wanted a better country–a heavenly one. Earth didn’t offer what they wanted and they died believing that the heavenly country would be better. Perhaps what I want is unavailable on earth. Perhaps the next life will provide it.

In Mere Christianity, CS Lewis wrote, If I have a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for a different world.  

In another place he says, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who goes on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea” (CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory).

Perhaps so. But God was the first to play in the mud, when he formed humans and breathed into them the breath of life, and sent them to live in the muddy world he created. My true country is earth, not heaven. 

Jim Reeves sings, “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through”, but I sing, “This world is my home.” 

Yet, God cursed the world when Adam and Eve sinned, and that removed much of its homeliness. The earth grows weeds, reminding us our lives are full of weeds. Plants and animals and humans march steadily toward death, reminding us that our home is decaying. The world breeds viruses and pandemics, highlighting life’s frailty and uncertainty. This world is my home, but a dangerous and temporary one.

Like the heroes of the faith mentioned in Hebrews, if I could find a better country, I too would embark on that journey.  

Let’s pray.

Our father in heaven, we thank you that you made us for earth. But we live in a spoiled world that feeds our longing for a better country. The author of Revelation tells us the first heaven and earth will pass away, replaced with a new heaven and a new earth. In his vision, the New Jerusalem comes down from you in heaven, and a voice from your throne says, “My dwelling place is with humankind, and I will wipe away every tear” (Rev 21:1-4). 

That is our desire, O Lord. To be  in a world where you live with humans. Live with us in this world as we pass through it, and live with us in the renewed world when you recreate it. 

Amen. 

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

Ep.000: Trailer for Pray with Me.

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

I’m glad you’re interested in Prayer. God has been waiting to hear from you. Because that’s what prayer is — a conversation with God.  

But prayer isn’t just a conversation. For most of us, it’s also a big problem. Why so? Because how are we supposed to talk to God when he’s not talking to us? And what if you’ve asked God for stuff, but he doesn’t come through with it?  Is that the end of prayer? Time to give up? 

I say, “No! Don’t stop!” Instead, come with me on a journey into prayer. If you already have a great prayer life, I probably won’t be much help. But if your prayers aren’t so great, and if you think a fellow traveller might be helpful, come along for the ride!  The first three episodes are about the problem Jesus created for people who pray, the problem Abraham created, and the problem Luther’s barber created. 

It’s a great journey!

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


Links to the three episodes mentioned:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0l5t9FxhfeM&ab_channel=PraywithMe
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FpOXTjcFi5o&ab_channel=PraywithMe
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2Fv1zwH39c&ab_channel=PraywithMe

Link to YouTube Channel “Pray with Me”
    https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCTbwmlKjI4hbkvJPPlpzBTw 

Link to playlist “Best of Pray with Me”
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLuC77nLAoDuaWNY9np0VgLYTb7lBm-lTD

Summary of Content, Episodes 1 – 240

   Introduction to “Pray with Me”   Episodes 1-3

   Praying the Lord’s Prayer      Episodes 4-18, usually every 2nd episode

   Praying through Psalms
                      Psalms 1-80         Episodes 19-118.
Odd numbered episodes.
                      Psalms 90-113              Episodes 118-242. Some odd, some even.
                     Psalms 114-150         In progress, as of May 2021. 

   Comments and Prayers on Scripture    

                     O.T. Stories        Episodes 2-72.       Usually every 2nd episode.
                    Stories of Jesus         Episodes 74-180.   Usually every 2nd episode.
                     N.T. Epistles         Episodes 182-242. Usually every 2nd episode.

  Book Reviews.
                    Occasional.
                     

Ep.242: Psalm 113: Who is Like You, God?

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

Psalm 113 is the first in a sequence of six psalms of praise. At the end of the book of Psalms,.we will encounter another sequence of six. If you have felt, as I have, that the book of psalms has tilted too much toward grief and laments and enemies and trouble, then fasten your seatbelts. From here on the psalms will fly through the skies singing God’s praise instead of moping in the pit of despair. 

I’m not sure I’m ready for this. I have grown accustomed to the dark, to praying from deep in the mud rather than flying on wings of praise. The psalms have been a welcome companion in my darkness, but the poet doesn’t build his home there. He doesn’t give the last word to despair, but praise. God’s faithfulness is a lamp, his loving kindness a light.  Let’s go to that place with the poet. 

The first three verses of Psalm 113 are overloaded with calls to praise. Repeating his favorite word five times, the poet urges us to: praise, praise, praise, bless, and praise the Lord. Do you catch the hint? The poet praises God in time, both now and forevermore (v. 2b) and he praises God in space, from the rising of the sun to its setting (v. 3). Everywhere, every time, is a time for praise. No exceptions. 

The remaining six verses of Psalm 113 explain what God does that deserves our praise. 

Who is like our God, the poet asks, seated high above the heavens, looking a long way down to heaven and earth? God sees the poor in the dust and he lifts them up, he sees the needy on the dunghill and he makes them sit with princes. He sees the barren woman and he makes her a mother of children.  

Praise the Lord. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we welcome this day to look away from our pandemic ridden world, away from our menial employments, away from our cares for self and family. In the routine of life, we have become drudges, stuck in darkness, focusing on what is wrong, weary of pressing on. With the poet, we lift our eyes to you, rejoicing in what is right.

You, our God, are still above the heavens, above the dictators and presidents of the world. You watch this play we stage on earth, the politics we invent, the drama we generate. You see our exits and entrances. We praise you that you write the script and direct the play we stage.

We praise you for what you do. You see the needy and provide a food bank, the homeless and you create a home. You see the jobless and give them a vocation with princes. The childless woman you make a  mother. To struggling church members, you give grace. To the mentally ill a new life. To the war-torn countries you bring peace.  

Lord, if we look with cynical eyes, we see endless poverty and injustice. But in our moments of faith, we see Christ’s work of compassion and healing, delivered in medical missions and social programs and church potlucks and neighbourhood parties. With the poet, we praise you for every person who has a place to call home, has enough to eat, and a job and a family. Look upon those still in the dust and dung heaps of the world, and lift them also to a new life.

With the poet, we praise you as the God of nations and the God of individuals, the God who sustains the life of the world, who intervenes in the muddled mess, who creates joy and beauty. 

Who is like you, O God? We praise your holy name. 

Amen.

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

YouTube video with links to podcast at: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.241: The Tent-Dwellers.

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

Hebrews 11 says:
  By faith Abraham,
      when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance,
      obeyed and went,
      even though he did not know where he was going.
  By faith he made his home in the promised land
      like a stranger in a foreign country;
      he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob,
            who were heirs with him of the same promise.
  For he was looking forward to the city with foundations,
      whose architect and builder is God (vv. 8-10). 

This passage contrasts Abraham’s moveable tent with the permanent city he was looking for, a city with foundations built by God. 

This picture appeals deeply to me: Abraham on his life journey, not knowing his destination, camping out, looking for a city to call home. I have tried to settle in my city and build foundations. But my settling is unsettled as the world changes around me. My neighborhood, at the edge of town when we moved in, is now surrounded on all sides by city. Our once reliable spring and fall seasons shift with the shifting climate. The beautiful and innocent babies we brought into the world are adults now, making complex choices in a morally confusing world. The body that served me well for years begins to recycle itself into dust. 

This is my tent. Perhaps not as temporary and moveable as Abraham’s tent, but my life is makeshift and transitory. 

The Gospel of John says that Christ was made flesh and pitched his tent among us. Was his tent the body he lived in for thirty-three years? Or is it a picture of Christ as an immigrant, far from his father’s country, living in a refugee camp with fishermen and housewives and tax collectors? 

All of us tent-dwelling refugees are looking for a city with foundations, for a life of permanence, for a fixed theology. But like the tower of Babel, our most solid constructions are makeshift and temporary, doomed to disintegrate in the river of time and the winds of change.

Let’s pray. 

Our father, like Abraham, we are strangers in a strange land.The old song says,
    This world is not my home,
      I’m just a-passing through. . . 

Abraham reminds us to pass through with faith. Faith that our small slice of time finds meaning in your eternity. Faith that our narrow plot of land is a gift from your creation. Faith that our little tent is your promise of an eternal home. Life is worth living, and death worth dying, because Jesus’ life and death give meaning to ours. As Paul said, when our earthly tent is destroyed, we will have a building from God, an eternal home in heaven, not built by human hands (2 Cor 5:1). 

Amen. 

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

Ep.240: Psalm 112: Happy.

Ep241_Psalm112. Happy.  

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

Psalms 111 and 112 are alphabetic acrostic poems, in which each line begins with consecutive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Psalm 111 concludes:
  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. . . .
      To him belongs eternal praise (v. 10). 

Psalm 112 begins by repeating these themes, saying:
    Praise the Lord.
    Happy are those who fear the Lord,
      who find great delight in his commands (v. 1).

First, a comment on the word “happy”, a difficult word to translate well. The translation “blessed are those who fear the Lord” may sound pretentiously spiritual to modern ears, though we who are religious do long for God’s blessing. Translating it as “content” sounds lame –”content are those who fear the Lord”. How about “joyful”? Might be a good choice, but it unhappily limits the verse to one fleeting emotion among the many we experience. 

The sense of the original word is that in our life journey, those who honor God and keep his commands are on a path, a good path that leads to wholeness, integrity, health, and happiness. 

Walmart, Best Buy, and Amazon promise similar results to serious shoppers, but it does not happen. Purveyors of health food and natural medicines promise a simple, whole, and healthy life. Practitioners of yoga and meditation promise lower stress and more enjoyment, a place where body, mind, and soul are at peace. And the prosperity gospel treats Christianity as a vending machine with automatic and repeatable transactions: you do right by God and God will do right by you. A sweet package where God delivers health and wealth and success.

Psalm 112, in contrast, is about wholeness, not riches and health purchased by right living, but the fruit of a life lived humbly before God, a life that is the outcome of participating in community with God and others. “Happy are those who fear the Lord”–not because God immediately and conclusively delivers them from evil and pain, but because their lives move consistently against the curses and evil, against the river of self, moving toward the wholeness God intends for his creation. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, the relentless onslaught of news gives us  police brutality, pandemic deaths, economic disaster, and dysfunctional politics. With the poet we look for life as you intended, a fruitful life in a just society in a friendly world you created and continue to supervise.

With the poet, we reflect on your promise:
  Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,
      for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.
  Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely,
      who conduct their affairs with justice (vv. 4-5).

Idolaters of old sacrificed to fertility gods to get a good harvest. We, the new idolaters, prescribe the right theology and the right prayers, hoping for a happy life on earth and a comfortable place in heaven. 

O Lord, help us to lose our mechanical, transactional, and legal views of how you operate. Help us approach you daily with respectful and trusting hearts. Help us live with grace, compassion and righteousness in the world you created. Help us build societies of mutual respect and cooperation. Help us participate fully in the life of the world and the blessings of creation.

Happy are those who fear you, O Lord. Bring us to that deep sense of wholeness and integrity which flows from a rightly ordered life. 

Amen.

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

Ep.239: Psalm 111: Heart and Soul.

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

Psalm 111 is an acrostic poem, in which each line starts with the next  letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Its main theme is the mighty acts of God, which elicit praise from the poet’s mind and heart. 

The poets describes God’s mighty acts like this:
  – Great are the works of the Lord (v. 2)
  – Glorious and majestic are his deeds (v. 3)
  – He has caused his wonders to be remembered (v. 4)
  – He has shown his people the power of his works (v. 6)
  – The works of his hands are faithful and just (v. 7)
  – He provided redemption for his people (v. 9) 

The poet  responds to God’s work with statements like these:
  – I will extol the Lord with all my heart (v. 1)
  – His works are pondered by all who delight in them (v. 2)
  – He provides food for those who fear him (v. 5)
  – All his precepts are trustworthy (v. 7)
  – Holy and awesome is his name (v. 9) 

Let’s join the poet in a prayer of praise. 

Our father, we praise you for your great redemption. As you delivered the Israelites from slavery, so you have redeemed us from slavery to sin, adopting us into your family. 

With the poet, we ponder your works. You work in those  we love. Whether they seek or ignore you, they display your image in acts of kindness, in faithfulness to spouse and children, in sensible and honest approaches to life and work. Others we know seek you amid problems of physical and mental health, anxiety and trouble. We have felt the broadening and softening movements of your spirit, changing us from harsh judges to quiet companions as we travel through life, deterring us from becoming curmudgeonly and irritable as we age. 

With the poet we fear you. Not with the fear of a slave for a cruel master, nor with the fear of one held at gunpoint, but a fear of respect as your light penetrates the dark places in our minds and hearts. We fear you with awe as we ponder the vast unknowable universe. We fear you with desire, as we hunger to participate in your goodness, and with dismay as we feel our propensity to sin. Receive our fear as the worship that is due you, our praise as our expression of honor.

The poet says,
  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom
      All who follow his precepts have good understanding (v. 10).

O Lord, the foundation of our knowledge and understanding is not science that explains the laws of physics, nor artistic exploration that explores human potential. Our modern technologies bring knowledge and entertainment, but not wisdom and understanding. Modern psychology brings insight but not clear moral standards. You alone are the source of wisdom. Understanding follows obedience to your laws. A good life is one that seeks you. 

With the poet we conclude:
    To you belongs eternal praise (v. 10). 

Amen.

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