Ep.204: God, the Family Man.

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

Hebrews 2 presents God as a family man, stating,
  In bringing many sons and daughters to glory,
      it was fitting that God . . .
      should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering.
  Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy
      are of the same family.
  So Jesus is not ashamed to call them
      brothers and sisters (Heb. 2:10-12). 

To evangelical ears, the term “Father God” sounds normal, but saying “Brother Jesus” sounds a bit weird. And churches where they call each other “Brother Bill” and “Sister Sarah” strike us as a bit affected. If I called my siblings “Brother Steve” and “Sister Ruth”, I think they’d refer me to a psychiatrist. 

While it is true that people at church are my siblings (because God is our father and Jesus calls us brothers and sisters) I still don’t invite them all to my house Christmas morning, and I do encourage them to cook their own turkey at home. I have separate compartments in life for my birth family and my church family. At the door between those two families, I have a surveillance camera and an armed guard. 

Yet, there is crossover between the two. Because the word “family” explains something important about my relationship to God, Jesus, and fellow Christians. God wants me to connect with them and show some responsibility and love. God wants me to share life with his people instead of self-isolating in front of the computer. 

Hebrews describes Jesus’ relationship with his brothers and sisters this way:
  Since [God’s] children have flesh and blood,
      Jesus too shared in their humanity
      so that by death he might break the power. . .of death. . .           
            and free those who all their lives were slaves
            to the fear of death (Heb 2:14-15). 

Jesus was born into the human family, taking on flesh and blood and human culture. He experienced death to free his family from the fear of death. 

On a personal level, Jesus wants me, as his brother, to be free from the fear of death. My first fears are the little deaths that threaten me daily–a lack of status and respect that makes me feel inferior, a mediocre spiritual life that doesn’t visibly demonstrate my identity as God’s son and Jesus’ brother, a disappointing church life that is often more duty than family, more obligation than participation. Sludge and drudge instead of ladders and open windows.

Perhaps when Jesus invites me to carry my cross, it looks like this: to die to the narrow view I have constructed of a successful Christian life, to perform small acts of kindness in Jesus’ name, to live graciously in the community of my brothers and sisters, and eventually, like Jesus, to die unknown and uncelebrated.

After all, belonging to God’s family means I follow Jesus in life and in death.

Let’s pray. 

Father, our view of family is that if we are children of the king and siblings of your son, we are princes and princesses. Surely you want your royal family to be wealthy and happy, to live with style and status. Don’t you? 

Or did you send Jesus to die, and did he invite us to carry a cross? Did he associate with an unsavory crowd of common people, and love them with his life? Help us then to follow in his footsteps. 

Amen. 

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

Ep.203: Psalm 92: A Fruitful Old Age.

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

Psalm 92 is constructed like a Big Mac. The bun on the outside and in the middle is praise to God. The top and bottom halves are identical twins: each contains a meaty offering of the poet’s experience of God’s faithfulness, garnished with an assortment of predictions about the overthrow of God’s enemies. 

Or, to describe it more technically, the first half of Psalm 92 begins with praise to God,then  predicts the downfall of his enemies, and climaxes by stating the central theme, “You, Lord, are forever exalted” (v. 8). The second half of the psalm repeats these themes in reverse order, predicting the destruction of God’s enemies and concluding with a confident statement that yes, the righteous will flourish and praise God. 

Let’s pray some phrases from the psalm. 

   It is good to praise you, Lord,
    and make music to your name,
  proclaiming your love in the morning
      and your faithfulness at night (vv. 1-2).

Lord, in the evening I  see a full moon over a glittering field of snow. In the morning I see sunlight sparkling in the winter white. You paint a beautiful world, Lord, with palettes for each season. In our dark northern winter, we sing your love and faithfulness in morning sun and evening moonlight,

    You make me glad by your deeds, Lord,
        I sing for joy at what your hands have done.
    How great are your works, Lord,
        How profound your thoughts (vv. 4-5). 

We praise you for your works: creating and sustaining the universe, giving your son to save us. We thank you for healing our minds from fear and superstition and ignorance, for freeing out hearts from narrowness and isolation, for caring for our bodies with medicine and exercise and food, for our souls with salvation and communion. 

How great are your works, Lord, how profound your thoughts. Johannes Kepler, an early pioneer of the hypothesis that the earth circles the sun, said his research was “Thinking God’s thoughts after him.” In the 15th century, he studied the motions of the planets and cast horoscopes for his classmates and tried to explain scriptures where the sun was circling the earth. Lord, take our modern minds with their modern superstitions and assumptions, and change them until we think your thoughts after you. Give us the mind of Christ.

As the psalm says,
      Senseless people do not know,
          fools do not understand,
      that though the wicked spring up like grass
          and evildoers flourish,
          they will be destroyed forever.
      But you, Lord, are exalted forever (vv. 6-8). 

Yes, Lord, your presence and your thoughts are light to our darkness, overshadowing senseless and foolish worldviews. With the poet, we believe that those who reject the light of your truth and reality and morality will be consigned by their choices to darkness. But you, Lord, will reign forever in light, you are forever praised. 

   Your enemies, Lord, will be scattered,
      but the righteous will flourish like a palm tree.
    They will still bear fruit in old age,
      proclaiming, “The Lord is upright” (vv. 9c, 12a, 14a, 15a).

Yes, Lord, you alone are upright, you alone are our rock in the shifting sands of modernity, you alone are our compass in a morally bankrupt society, you alone our health in a diseased and decaying world. Care for us, that we may flourish like trees, bearing fruit even in our old age. 

Amen.

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

Ep.202: Images of God.

Ep.202: Hebrews 2: But We See Jesus

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

To explain where humans fit into God’s creation, the author of Hebrews quotes Psalm 8. He writes:
    What is humankind that you are mindful of them,
        their children, that you care for them?
    You made them a little lower than the angels,
      you crowned them with glory and honor
      and put everything under their feet (Heb. 2:6-8).

God made humans the rulers of the world, a job designed to bring us glory and honor. This is what it means to be made in the image of God: we represent his great universal kingship by ruling our bit of creation, the world he made for us. 

The second of the Ten Commandments says, “Do not make any graven images”, that is, don’t make sculptures of God from wood or stone. We don’t need sculptures because we already have lots of images of God. Seven billion of them. All living and breathing, people made in God’s image. 

If you need a sculpture of God, an idol to put in your holy place, God says, “Don’t do it. Your neighbors are my image. Go show them some love.” That’s how to honor an image of God.

The author of Hebrews is emphatic about the wide-ranging authority God gave us, his representatives on earth. He says:
  In putting everything under them,
      God left nothing that is not subject to them.
  Yet at present we do not see them ruling over everything (Heb. 2:8).

So what’s the problem with these rulers of earth? Why haven’t we imitated God’s example by implementing a just, orderly, and thoughtful regime? Why do we perpetrate wars and pollution and oppression and destruction? Why do we fight each other, clawing our way to be king of the castle, overthrowing God’s rule on earth, establishing our own religions and kingship? 

When God looked at the mess his images made, he launched a rescue operation. The Book of Hebrews says: 
   At present, we do not see everything subject to humans (Heb 2:8). 
   But we see Jesus
      who was made for a little while lower than the angels,
      now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death,
      so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone (Heb 2:9).

The big problem was death. We, who are supposed to be living images of God, instead pursued activities that promoted sin and death. We are no better than dead sculptures of God made of wood or stone. 

God’s rescue plan meant sending a new image of himself to earth: Jesus, made in a true human mold, a little lower than the angels, attired with the glory and honor God intended for humans. Jesus’ solution to a messed up humanity and our corrupt rule of the earth was to participate fully in a human life and a human death, so we could share a new life with God.  

Let’s pray.

Our father, with the author of Hebrews, we look away from the mess we have made of your world and from the deadness we have imposed on your image. We look upward and say, “But we see Jesus.” He is the recovery project manager for our failed project of ruling creation. He implemented a new way of ruling. He shares his life with us, and teaches us to be your living image on earth.

Help us to be his loyal subjects, for you have put everything under his feet. We wait for the day when Jesus will fully renew us in your image, and fit us for our vocation. 

Amen. 

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

Ep.201: Psalm 91: The COVID Psalm.

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

Psalm 91 is the only psalm that directly mentions a plague or pandemic. It talks about God’s protection:  
    You will not fear the terror of night,
      nor the arrow that flies by day,
    nor the disease that stalks in the darkness
      nor the pandemic that destroys at noon.
    A thousand may die at your side,
      ten thousand at your right hand,
      but it will not come near you (vv. 5-7). 

First, some notes from the Bible about disease. 

The Old Testament’s plagues and epidemics were one way in which God punished evil and corrected bad behavior. God sent plagues against Egypt to change Pharaoh’s mind about freeing the Israelite slaves (Exodus 7-12), though only one plague, the plague of boils, was a human medical condition. As the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, God sent at least  five plagues in response to their sins of idolatry, sexual immorality, and unfaithfulness (Exo. 32:35, Num. 11:33; 14:37; 16:46-49; 25:8-9).

The law in Leviticus treats infectious skin diseases, probably including leprosy, with strict rules for social distancing and cleaning infected articles (Lev. 13), rather like today’s handwashing and social distancing. 

About 500 years after Christ, bubonic plague killed 30-50 million people in Europe, about a third to half of the population at the time. More recently, the 1918-1920 Spanish flu in killed 50 million people, 3-5% of the world population (Wikipedia; List of Epidemics). To date, we’ve seen over 1.3 million COVID-19 deaths, and probably that many more that are wrongly attributed to other causes.

Psalm 91 points to God’s protection, promising that among other dangers, he will spare you from the deadly plague (v. 3), the disease that stalks at night (v. 6) and the epidemic that destroys at noon (v. 6). Sounds like COVID, doesn’t it?

Psalm 91 also has the rare distinction that it is a favorite with both Satan and me. Satan quoted this psalm to suggest that Jesus take a leap of faith from the temple. He said to Jesus:

   It is written:
        God will command his angels
              to lift you up in their hands,
              so you will not strike your foot against a stone (Mat 4:6). 

This introduces a long history of how to understand, interpret, and apply God’s promises. Satan liked the simple, literal interpretation: “Just do it, and trust God to protect you.” Instead of jumping, Jesus suggested a more nuanced approach. He pointed out that Scripture also says, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Mat 4:7).

Jesus’ point was that the promises must be claimed by a pure heart, in good faith; not by someone who wants God to put on a show for human benefit. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we have read news of churches that trusted you to protect them from COVID, but their meetings became superspreader events. Here, as in much of life, we walk an ambiguous path between faith in your protection, and taking reasonable protective measures.

Give us discernment, we pray, to walk wisely in this world. Help us to live by faith, trusting your promises. Help us to live responsibly, taking science seriously. Protect us, O Lord, not because we are right, but because you are faithful.

Amen.

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

Ep.200: God Speaks Again.

Ep.200: Hebrews 1: God Speaks Again

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

Today we look at the first verses of the book of Hebrews. They say:
   In the past,
    God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets. . .
    but in these last days he has spoken by his son,
          whom he appointed heir of all things,
          through whom also he made the universe.
    The son is the radiance of God’s glory,
          the exact image of his being,
          sustaining all things by his powerful word.
    After he provided purification for sins,
           he sat down at the right hand of the majesty in heaven (Heb. 1:1-3). 

Physicist Stephen Hawking’s book, A Brief History of Time, gives his view on the big bang that created the universe fourteen billion years ago.

The author of Hebrews gives an alternative history of the universe. He doesn’t describe physical forces operating at the speed of light, he describes the word that God spoke into a void, creating the universe out of nothing. 

God spoke this word through his son, who we know as Jesus. In Genesis, the six days of creation each begin with the phrase, “And God said.”  On day one, God’s word was, “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3). On day six it was, “Let us make humans in our image” (Gen 1:26). 

Having created humans, God spoke to them at many times and in various ways during the Old Testament. He sent prophets to rebuke and correct and teach. He spoke through dreams and revelations, through miracles and historical events, through violent storms and a still small voice. 

When this approach didn’t work, God spoke a new word. This time, he didn’t speak a universe-creating bang. He spoke through the person of his son who came into the world he created. The son’s job was to provide purification for sins–to clean up the mess humans had made, to refresh the polluted waters of humanity, to remove the garbage people collected in their lives and minds. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we’re not sure where Stephen Hawking and the dinosaurs fit into the history of creation. 

But this is our statement of faith: We believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth (Apostles Creed). We believe in your son, Jesus christ, through whom you created the world. He walked, bearded and sandaled in a dusty land among a people confused by the politics and morality and culture of their time. 

O Lord, we too are confused by world politics and modern morality and western culture and civilization. Walk among us, Jesus. Purify our sins. Give us a vision of God, for you are the radiance of God’s glory. 

Jesus, you are the exact image of God’s being. We who are spoiled images of God need your vision of what we are meant to be, and your power to restore us into the image of God.

Ours is a world of violence and war. Our churches are threatened by moral pollution,  compromise, and irrelevance. O you who sustain all things by your powerful word, send your word again into our world and into our churches. 

Speak, Lord, for we are listening. 

Amen. 

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