Ep.091: Psalm 37: Land, Logic, and Heart.

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

Psalm 37 highlights three notable topics: land, moral logic, and the heart. Let’s look at these three.

First, the land. Five times, God promises that those who trust him will inherit the land. Jesus borrowed verse 11, “The meek will inherit the land” (v. 11) for his beatitudes, widening it to “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” The land is both local to Israel, and also a picture of God’s gift of the whole earth to the human race. I like this promise, I’d like to inherit some land, but I’m not expecting God to deliver a title deed to me any time soon.

A second striking feature in Psalm 37 is the confidence with which the poet states his moral logic: God blesses the righteous and punishes the wicked. Of the righteous he says,
  I was young and now I am old,
    yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken
    or their children begging bread (v. 25).
And of the wicked he says, 
   But the wicked will perish:
      though the Lord’s enemies are like the flowers of the field,
      they will be consumed, they will go up in smoke (v.

John Calvin commented his reservations about this moral logic, saying, “It is certain that many righteous men have been reduced to beggary.” He cites Jesus’ story in Luke (Luke 16:20) about the righteous Lazarus begging at the rich man’s door (Calvin, John. Commentary on the Psalms–Volume 2 (Christian Classics Ethereal Library: http://www.ccel.org/c/calvin/calcom09/cache/calcom09.pdf, p. 32)). Calvin’s opinion was that life isn’t as logical as the poet describes it: Sometimes God blesses the righteous with health and wealth, sometimes he doesn’t. 

To the poet’s credit, he also recognizes shades of grey. In the first verse he says:  
    Don’t fret because of those who are evil,
         Don’t be envious of wrongdoers (v. 1).
When evil succeeds, we are tempted to think, “Life isn’t working out right. God is supposed to reward good, and punish evil.” But the poet reminds us that God is in charge and we can afford to wait patiently because,
            The Lord laughs at the wicked, 
               for he knows their day is coming (v. 13). 

A third topic in this psalm is the heart. God’s promise of land, his moral logic, and his laws are not simply promoting good behavior. The poet looks beyond behavior to the heart. “Trust in the Lord,” he says (v. 3). Don’t just obey God or submit to him. Open your heart to him.  “Delight yourself in the Lord,” he says (v. 4). Our posture toward God is 
– not just to believe right doctrine, 
– not just to keep his laws, 
– not just to be afraid of judgement. 
No, our posture is to love him and delight in him. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, once again we feel the smallness of our religion. We like the simple formula of moral logic: Obey and be blessed, disobey and be punished. We want our right behavior to earn an inheritance. We want a guarantee that we will never become beggars. 

But under the poet’s formula, he describes a heart turned to you. Whether our life is comfortable and well-behaved, or miserable and stumbling, you continue to care for us, God. When we stumble, you help us up (v. 24). When circumstances overwhelm us, you lead us to a future and an inheritance (vv. 6, 11. 37). When we envy the wealthy and comfortable, you offer us lasting delight and riches. 

Our father, with the poet we look to you in the present where you are our refuge and strength (v. 39) and we look to you in the future where you will give us the desires of our heart (v. 4). 

Amen.

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

Ep.090: Jesus and the Birther Conspiracy.

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

In John chapter 7, every time Jesus spoke, he stirred up controversy. His brothers in Galilee said, “Your miracles are making you a celebrity. You should go to Jerusalem and get wider exposure.” But Jesus replied, “They hate me up there and it’s not time for me to go.”  But soon after, he went to Jerusalem anyway.

The people didn’t recognize him, but they found his teaching amazing. They said, “Where did he learn this stuff? He’s not a graduate of any school we know.” Jesus replied, “I’m from God and you are trying to kill me.” Amazement turned to scorn and the people said, “Are you demon possessed? Who is trying to kill you?” 

Then Jesus explained who he was, “I healed one man on the Sabbath, and now the narrow-minded Pharisees think I’m such a threat to their religious system, they want to kill me.” 

“Ohhhh . . .” said the people. “This is the man the Pharisees hate. Why aren’t they trying to stop him? Perhaps he is the Messiah. Where is he from?” Jesus said, “You know where I’m from. God sent me.” But the people said, “Impossible. The next prophet comes from Bethlehem, not Galilee like you.” 

Sounds like the Obama birther arguments! Was the president born in America or not? Did Jesus come from Bethlehem or not? Jesus ignored the conspiracy theories and the furore. He didn’t produce his Bethlehem birth certificate, he just proceeded with the business of being Messiah, and let people be offended if they chose to. 

In the midst of this controversy, Jesus said, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me. . .rivers of living water will flow from within them” (John 7:37-38). Is that your experience? Do rivers of living water flow from within you?

Let’s pray. 

Jesus, we don’t know what to make of all the controversy you stirred up. What kind of celebrity are you? When are you going to Jerusalem? Where are you from? Are you thumbing your nose at the Pharisees? Is it necessary to alienate them? Why won’t you answer a simple question about your birth certificate? 

In our confusion your promise draws us to you, for you said, “Whoever believes in me, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” We picture a river flowing through dry country, watering trees, irrigating gardens, satisfying thirsty people and animals. Is that what you offer us? To be a source of water that will flow into a dry and desert world? To be people who give your gifts to others–healing of the body, healing of the memories, knowledge of God, loving relationships, wisdom in walking through life? 

Jesus, our lives are dry, narrow, constricted, calculating. Open within us the sources of living water, let it flow freely through our lives, let it flow freely to the world around us. May the power of your spirit melt the glaciers that constrain us and burst the dams that constrict us. May it turn our lives from stagnant ponds to flowing, life-giving rivers. 

Amen. 

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

Ep.089: Psalm 36: River of Delights.

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

Psalm 36 paints a dark picture of the unrighteous. Here’s how the poet describes them. They flatter themselves, not caring about sin or goodness. They operate in post-truth mode: if news annoys them they call it false news, if it flatters them they call it true. They are all image and no substance. Because they do not fear God, their only morality is self-promotion. Whatever enhances their ego and image, whatever get votes, whatever makes money, whatever paints their opponents in a bad light is OK by them. They lie in bed making evil plans.

Against this dark background, the poet sketches a colorful picture of God whose love reaches to the heavens, whose faithfulness is bigger than the skies, whose righteousness is like a high mountain, whose justice plumbs the ocean depths (vv. 5-6).  What a contrast to the small minded, self-interested, scheming perpetrators of evil.

God cares for people. We take refuge in the shadow of his wings, we feast in the abundance of his house, we drink water from his river of delights, in his light we see light (vv. 7-9). God’s generous gifts are in stark contrast to the greedy, grasping evildoer who schemes in the darkness.

Given this picture the poet says to God, “Continue your love to those who know you.”  

Let’s pray.

Lord, the news we read, both true and false, is often a meditation on darkness and evil. Each month brings mass shootings, crushing accidents, vicious wars, and economic collapse. 

But you invite us to turn away from our obsession with evil, and to turn toward evidence of your goodness. The world you have given us is good–each year it produces food for seven-and-a-half billion people. We live on the bounty of your faithfulness: wheat grows and we make bread, grapes grow and we make wine, olives grow and we have oil.

Your faithfulness reaches the heavens; the sun shines each day, the moon and stars rule the night. Like the mountains, your righteousness watches over us. Like the ocean, your justice plumbs the depths of our unjust world. Like the mother eagle, you spread your wings over our precarious lives. 

You are at home in this world (v. 8), and you wine and dine us at your table. You are the host who delights us with stories, who gives us gifts of welcome and well-being and life. We drink at your river of delights, in your light we see light (vv. 8-9).

With you is the fountain of life. You teach us to leave our fears and to play in the fountain. Nothing can separate us from your love, so we need not fear sickness or death or darkness or evil. With the poet we pray,
  Continue your love to those who know you,
      your righteousness to the upright in heart (v. 10). 

Amen.

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

Ep.088: Walk on Water.

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

In John chapter 6 after Jesus lectured the crowd about free lunch and spiritual food, he disappeared for a while. That evening, the disciples set out across the Sea of Galilee in a boat and as it grew dark, the wind picked up. The waves grew rough and rowing was difficult. Sometime in the night, they saw a figure walking on the waves toward the boat. They were afraid.

The figure on the water said to them, “It’s me, don’t be afraid!”. They recognized him as Jesus and welcomed him into the boat. 

Let’s pray. 

Jesus, often we feel like the disciples at night on that rough sea, lost in the dark, making no progress. 

We feel this in our bodies as they age and deteriorate. Once we were healthy and carefree, we now know sickness and pain. Some of us survived chronic fatigue, and now row cautiously through life, conserving our limited supply of energy and health. Some of us live with Krohn’s disease or fibromyalgia, rowing through nights of pain. Some of us have mental health issues, caught in bipolar swings or self-harming obsessions. And some of us are fortunate enough to be aging normally, feeling the onset of arthritis and forgetfulness, fearing the signs of dementia. 

Jesus, you who had a body, you who walked on water, come to us in our pain and distress. Climb into our boat, take us where our rowing cannot go. 

Jesus, thoughts and dreams disturb our nights and take away our rest. We obsess about health, family, jobs, and the politics of our world. We imagine a comfortable life with more money, better friends, a richer love life, and a more fulfilling job. Why does no one see our hidden talents, our inner beauty, our real potential? Is there no end to this lethargy and resistance through which we row? 

Jesus, walk to us on the water of our troubled thoughts. Still the storm, steer the boat, take us where cannot row. 

Jesus, we rise and fall on waves of emotion. Some waves are high with hope and grace, some plunge us into troughs of despair. Sometimes there is joy and laughter, sometimes pain and loss. We ride the waves and keep rowing, but the harbor is never near.  

Jesus, come to us on the sea of our emotions. Join our journey, share our joys, comfort our pain, soothe our losses. Row with us through the rough seas to calm waters. 

Jesus, we feel our spiritual life going nowhere. We read the Bible, but it seems dry and tasteless. We say our prayers, but they bounce off an iron ceiling. We try to meditate but our thoughts are lost in distractions. We lift our hearts to worship, but they sink into the waves of busyness.

Jesus, walk to us on the sea of your spirit. Rescue us, live your life in us, take our spiritual lives to places where we cannot row. 

Jesus, we sink in many difficulties. But we hear again your word, that our duty and glory is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Oh you who walk on water, walk to us on the sea of life, take us where we cannot row, take us where we need to go. 

Amen. 

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