Ep.283: Benediction, Renovation.

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

Hebrews 13 closes with this benediction:
  Now may the God of peace,   
    who through the blood of the eternal covenant
    raised from the dead our Lord Jesus,
          that great Shepherd of the sheep,
    equip you with everything good for doing his will,
    and may he work in us what is pleasing to him,
          through Jesus Christ,
          to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
                                      (Heb 13:20)

How would you describe God? Perhaps as the God of creation? The God of righteousness? Maybe the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? 

The Bible describes God in many ways. The Old Testament’s favorite description points to history, calling him the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, or Israel. 

The author of Hebrews sees God as “a consuming fire” (Heb 12:29), and warns, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31). 

But now, as the author closes his letter, he casts God in a more gentle light. Here, he’s the “God of peace” (Heb 13:20), who presides over an eternal covenant of peace made through Jesus Christ, who is pictured as a shepherd caring for his sheep. 

The benediction in Hebrews 13 also describes two changes God wants in our lives: an interior renovation and an exterior change. 

First the exterior. Hebrews says, “May the God of peace equip you with everything good for doing his will” (v. 20). I take this to mean, May God set you up with resources to do his work in the world. 

God’s “Mission Impossible”, which he has chosen to accept, is to reclaim and restore the world and its people to a peaceable relationship with him and an ordered relationship with each other. Our mission is to be missionaries in God’s big mission. God equips us for his world-restoring mission by making us part of his family, giving us skills to use in the world–such as hospitality, teaching, prayer, and others/ And he shows us how to use them. 

God’s second renovation project is to renovate our hearts. Jesus said, “From within, out of the heart, proceed evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander” (Mark 7:21-22). God wants to turn off the taps of bad stuff that comes from our hearts, and turn on the taps that will cause love, joy, and peace to flow from within. As the author of Hebrews says, “May he work in us what is pleasing to him”.

Let’s pray.  

O God of peace,   
    who through the blood of the eternal covenant
    raised from the dead our Lord Jesus,
        that great Shepherd of the sheep,
    we ask you to
          equip us with everything good for doing your will,
          and to work in us what is pleasing to you,
    through Jesus Christ,
          to whom be glory for ever and ever. 

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.282: Psalm 140: Snakes and Other Enemies.

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

Psalm 140 is the first of five lament psalms that describe the poet’s enemies and their evil deeds. The poet moves through lament to faith. Faith that God will save him by overthrowing his enemies and setting his world right. 

The psalm opens like this:
  Rescue me, Lord, from evildoers;
    protect me from the violent,
  who devise evil plans in their hearts
    and stir up war every day.
  They make their tongues sharp as serpent’s;
    the poison of vipers is on their lips (vv. 1-3). 

It looks like the snake from the Garden of Eden is still at work. The poet’s unscrupulous enemies speak sharply and falsely, they plan violence and war, they threaten the poet’s life. His only recourse is to God:
  Keep me safe, Lord, from the hands of the wicked;
    protect me from the violent,
    who devise ways to trip my feet (v. 4). 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we stand in a long line of believers who have studied how to be faithful when evil is everywhere. As our weary world plods on, as power corrupts leaders, as the Internet distributes the snake venom of divisiveness and lies, as entertainment grows more violent and pornography more hardcore, we pray to you, our God, to protect us from the ruin of our society, from the ruin of the world, from the ruin of unbelief. 

When we look at ourselves, we hear Jesus’ words, “From within, out of the heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit” (Mark 7:22). Perhaps as Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and he is us” (Walt Kelly, Pogo (comic strip), April 22, 1971. 

With the poet, we pray against all our enemies, those within and those without; those who are subtle and well-spoken like the snake in the garden; and those who are forthright and violent as they run roughshod through the world. 

We believe that you,Lord, will rescue and redeem us. As the poet says:
  Keep me safe from the hands of the wicked;
      protect me from the violent,
      who devise ways to trip my feet (v. 4).
    Sovereign Lord, my strong deliverer,
      you shield my head in the day of battle (v. 7).
  I know that you secure justice for the poor
      and uphold the cause of the needy.
  Surely the righteous will praise your name,
      and the upright will live in your presence (vv. 12-13). 

O God, you carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. Christ carries the world’s sin on his cross. The Spirit shines in all dark corners, bringing light and truth.. 

Teach us to live in the truth. Expose the lies of the snake. Confound his conspiracy theories. Paralyze the hands of the violent. Stop the tongues of rage and slander. In the strong name of Jesus, protect the upright. Build your church into a community of life and truth. 

Amen

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.281: Psalm 139: Perfect Knowledge, Perfect Hatred.

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

Psalm 139 is popular for the poet’s description of himself as Exhibit A of God’s amazing creation. He says:
    I will praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
      wonderful are your works,
      I know that full well (v. 14).

But the poem is not so popular for the poet’s attitude toward his enemies. He says:
    Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord. . . .
    I hate them with perfect hatred,
        I count them my enemies
(vv. 21a, 22; KJV translation “perfect hatred”; see also Walter Brueggemann). 

How does the poet transition from wonder to hatred? Let’s follow his trajectory by praying parts of the psalm. 

Let’s pray.

   Lord, you have searched me
    and you know me.
  You know when I sit and when I rise;
      you know my thoughts from afar.
    You search out my path and my lying down,
      you are familiar with all my ways.
    Before a word is on my tongue
      you know it completely, O Lord.
    You hem me in behind and before,
        you lay your hand upon me.
    Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
        too lofty for me to attain (vv. 1-6).

O Lord, we keep our inner lives hidden, where evil thoughts lurk, where unclean desires rule and unkind words arise, where we judge our neighbors and excuse ourselves. But all is visible to you, for you search us and know us. To you “all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hidden” (“Collect for Purity”, Book of Common Prayer). As the poet says,
    Where can I go from your Spirit? 
        Where can I flee from your presence?
      If I go to the heavens, you are there;
        If I make my bed in hell, you are there.
      If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
        and settle on the far side of the sea,
      even there your hand will guide me,
        and your right hand will hold me fast.
    If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me,’
      and the light becomes night around me,
    even the darkness will not be dark to you;
      the night will shine like day,
      for darkness is as light to you (vv. 7-12).

O Lord, this is our comfort and our fear. We have nowhere to hide, no darkness for cover, no location too distant, no place of escape in heaven or hell. Teach us to bring our lives willingly into the light of your presence, to rejoice that you have wonderfully created us, to trust that you think well of us. As the poet says:
    You created my inmost being,
      You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
    I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
      your works are wonderful,
      I know that full well.
    Your eyes saw my unformed body;
      all the days ordained for me were written in your book
      before one of them came to be.
    How precious are your thoughts to me, God,
      How vast is the sum of them (vv. 13-15, 17). 

And then, surprisingly, the poet changes direction,180 degrees, asking you to destroy the wicked:
    If only you would slay the wicked, God!
    They speak of you with evil intent;
        your adversaries misuse your name.
    Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
        and abhor those who rebel against you?
    I hate them with perfect hatred;
        I count them my enemies (vv. 19a, 20-22). 

With the poet we celebrate you as the God who sees. You created us in the womb, you formed us into human beings, you watch over us forever. 

But one thing still mystifies and confuses the poet, and us. If you are so good and great and life-giving, why don’t you deal with your enemies: those  death-dealers who speak maliciously against you, who want to destroy your creatures and your creation. 

The poet, and we with him, identify ourselves with your cause, God. Your honor is our honor; your judgments are our judgments. You are our friend, God. Your enemies are our enemies. We reserve our hatred for their evil ways, their misuse of your name, their opposition to all that is good.

Finally, in the last stanza, we join the poet to rest peacefully in your presence, to receive your intimate knowledge of us, to turn from the sins we know and the sins we don’t yet know. We affirm you as our everlasting guide:
    Search us, O God, and know our hearts;
        test us and know our anxious thoughts.
    See if there is any wicked way in us,
        and lead us in the way everlasting (vv. 23-24). 

Amen

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.280: Outside the Camp.

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

Hebrews 13 says,
  The high priest carries the blood of animals
        into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering,
        but the bodies are burned outside the camp.
  Likewise, Jesus suffered outside the city gate
         to make the people holy through his own blood.
  Let us, then, go to him outside the camp,
        bearing his reproach.
        For here we do not have an enduring city,
            but we are looking for the city that is to come. (Heb 13:11-13)

First, about the camp. The Book of Numbers tells us that, after the Israelite slaves escaped Egypt, about 600,000 men and their families camped out in the desert (Num 1:46). This made a rather large camp. In contrast, the nine-day Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, has a maximum attendance one seventh that large–80,000 campers.  

The largest camp in the world today, located at Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, is a refugee camp for 600,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. 

At the centre of the Israelite desert camp was the Tent of Meeting, a portable worship place. This tent was like the computer room in a modern business, which only high priests of technology may enter, swiping their coded key cards, performing their service of worship, and retreating quickly to the outer courts of the temple. 

In the Israelite religion, priests who sacrificed animals and entered the tent were permitted to eat the sacrificial meat. But on the annual Day of Atonement, when the high priest sprinkled blood in the Most Holy Place, the animals that supplied that blood were taken outside the camp and burned.

What role do you think the author of Hebrews gives Jesus in the day of atonement ceremony? Earlier, the author assigned Jesus the role of high priest. But in Hebrews 13, Jesus gets the role of a sacrificial animal that is taken outside the camp and burned. 

Perhaps an apt metaphor. Jesus carried his cross to an unclean place outside Jerusalem, where he was crucified and his body disposed of. 

The author invites us to go outside the camp with Jesus, sharing his rejection. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, through many sermons we have grown accustomed to seeing Jesus as our high priest, taking his blood into your holy presence for our cleansing. It’s a stretch to think of him as an animal whose body is discarded in the desert. 

As we receive his forgiveness and cleansing, teach us to follow him outside the camp. 

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.279: Psalm 138: Though I Walk in the Midst of Trouble.

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

In Psalm 137, the poet refused to sing for his captors in Babylon. Psalm 138 places the poet in Jerusalem, singing, praising, and worshipping in the temple.

Psalm 138 follows a trajectory we have come to know and love in the psalms. The poet opens with thanks and praise because God heard and delivered him (vv. 1-3). Then he says that God is worthy of world-wide praise because he looks after the world, not just Israel (vv. 4-5). Finally, the poet gives a personal testimony, saying:
  Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
      you preserve my life.
  You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes,
      with your right hand you save me (vv. 6-7).

The psalm ends with hope and a request: 
   The Lord will vindicate me;
      your love, Lord, endures for ever–
      hold fast the works of your hands (v. 8). 

The poet’s prayer is that this God of everlasting love will hold him tight, and never let him go. 

Let’s pray. 

We praise you, Lord, with all our hearts,
  before the gods we sing your praise (v. 1). 

We praise you above the gods of consumerism that rule our greedy society. Black Friday sales and Christmas discounts and Boxing Day extravaganzas are nothing compared to the glory of your name. As Jesus said, “Is not life more than food and your body more than clothes?” (Mat 6:25). 

We praise you above the gods of violence that rule the military-industrial complex. Armed drones roam the skies. Satellites spy on the earth. Ballistic missiles are armed and ready. But you are God of the world, king over the presidents of America, China, and Russia. 

  May the kings of the earth praise you, Lord,
    when they hear what you have decreed (v. 4). 

  Though you are exalted, God, you look on the lowly. As the poet says,
    Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
      you preserve my life (vv. 6a, 7). 

Thank you for not running credit checks to determine if we’re worthy. Thank you for not charging interest on our outstanding balance. Thank you are not mercenary, your motives not mixed, nor your advertising false. Thank you that as we walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve us.   

Thank you that your love endures forever,
    That you do not abandon the work of your hands (v. 8). 

We are the work of your hands, you are the breath that we breathe, you are the light in our darkness. Heal us of our sin sickness. Give our churches light and life. Restore our nations to sanity, our leaders to reality, our philosophers to wisdom. Do not forsake the world you made. Then with the poet:
  We will praise you with our whole heart,
      singing your praise before the gods (v. 1).    

Amen

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube