Ep.110: Way, Truth, and Life.

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

In John 13, after Judas left the Last Supper to betray Jesus, Jesus made two pointed statements: First he said, “I am going away, to a place where you cannot come” (John 13:33) and then he said, “I give you a new command: love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34). 

Which statement do you think Peter wanted to discuss? How he could love his brothers better? Or where Jesus was going that Peter wasn’t invited? Peter said to Jesus, “I’m your disciple. You can’t go places I won’t follow. I’ll go anywhere with you even if I die doing it.” But Jesus said, “Really? I think by tomorrow morning you will say you don’t even know me.”

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “I’m going away to prepare a place for you. You know where I am going and how to get there.”  Thomas said, “Hold it, we don’t know where you’re going and we don’t know the way to get there.” 

Jesus replied, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). 

What did Jesus mean,“I am the way, the truth and the life?” Did he mean that the truth is available in the scriptures? Did he locate truth in Paul’s doctrinal statements in the New Testament? Or did he really mean he was the way and the truth and the life?

Jesus’ statement addresses three problems the disciples had. We modern followers share these problems. Let’s look at them. 

  1. The first problem is this: Peter was confident he had the commitment and courage to follow Jesus anywhere, any time, into whatever lay ahead. Peter’s path, his way was to go where Jesus was planning to go. Our modern version of the way is to read the New Testament and do what it tells us to do. But at the last supper, Jesus didn’t say to Peter, “Follow me.” He said, “I am the way.” It was not enough for Peter to trace Jesus’ footsteps. It is not enough for us just to do what we’re told. If Jesus himself is the way, we need to participate in him, not just obey his commands. 
  1. Second, Thomas wanted a clear statement of the truth. Just like today we want the right interpretation of scripture and the right doctrinal statement. But Jesus said, “I am the truth.” What Jesus offered Thomas was not an infallible book or a carefully constructed belief system. The truth Jesus offered is himself. He is the truth. To learn the truth, we need to share in Jesus’ life, not just agree with statements he or others made.
  1. Third, the disciples wanted life. Peter said he was prepared even to sacrifice his life to follow Jesus, perhaps hoping for a gift of resurrection like Lazarus recently received. But what Jesus offered him was not a concrete and external gift of something called “life”. Instead, Jesus invited the disciples as he invites us to find life by sharing his life. “I am the life,” he said. “It’s me you’re looking for.” 

Let’s pray. 

Jesus, it is a mystery how you can be the way and the truth and the life for us today. For the way, want a clear map, like Google provides. For the truth, we want a rational and systematic statement of what to believe. For the life we live, we want success and comfort. 

Jesus, we give up our view of how the way and the truth and the life should work. We come instead to you. Share  yourself with us, until you are our only truth, our only way, and all our life.

Amen. 

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

Ep.109: Psalm 46: Refuge.

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

Many years ago when I was experiencing severe depression, I memorized Psalm 46. One day, I was overwhelmed, full of fear and anxiety and darkness and despair, so I went for a walk and recited the psalm.

  God is our refuge and strength
    a very present help in trouble.
    Therefore we will not fear
      though the earth give way,
    and the mountains fall into the sea,
        though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging (vv. 1-3).

The poet’s picture of chaos mirrored my life: a rising storm, an earthquake, a threatening tsunami, and waves of the sea pounding the rubble of my life.  

But when I looked at the noonday sun, everything was quiet and peaceful, the air fresh and energizing. I stood in surprise, as Psalm 46 gave me its best gift, telling me that my dark feelings were a lie. Life was not hopeless and meaningless and black. God was present, making the sun shine, the sky blue, the grass green. At creation he overcame chaos to create world, and he still holds the universe in his loving hands. Perhaps he would hold me in his hands. Perhaps he would be my refuge and my strength, a very present help in trouble (v. 1). 

After describing the depths of chaos, Psalm 46 says,
    There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
      The holy place where the most high dwells.
    God is in the midst of her,
        She will not be moved (vv. 4-5). 

A light went on for me: God wanted to create that stream of gladness in my life. He wanted to shine his light in my dark corners. He wanted to shine a ray of hope into my despair with. He wanted to give me a vision of life bigger and more beautiful than the depression I felt. 

Let’s pray. 

God, when the forces of chaos threaten us, when the foundations of our world crumble, when the floods  overwhelm us and all seems lost, we ask you to be our refuge and strength. In the 9-11 crisis of our lives, strewn with wreckage from political and social and personal disasters, help us hear your voice over the storm. No waters of chaos can sweep us away; no darkness of disaster can dam your river of gladness. “You are in the midst of us, we will not be moved. You will help us when morning dawns” (v. 5). 

We live in the world Psalm 46 describes:
  Nations are in an uproar, kingdoms fall,
      you lift your voice, the earth melts (v. 6). 

Lord, lift your voice above the uproar of nations, above the tumult of waters, above the call of despair.
    Make wars cease
      to the ends of the earth (v. 9).
    Break the fighter planes, 
      sink the destroyers,
      burn the missiles with fire.

O Lord, you say,
    Be still and know that I am God (v. 10).

We rest from the chaos in the news, from the chaos of the changing climate, from the chaos of our own hearts. You are lord over the raging nations. You are lord over the blustering politicians. You are Lord over the military-industrial complex. You are Lord over the sickness and violence of our world. 

We calm our hearts.
We release our fear.
We breathe in your spirit.
We receive your presence.
The refuge and strength you give is more real than all the world’s sound and fury. 

   The Lord Almighty is with us,
      the God of Jacob is our refuge. 

Amen.

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

Ep.108: Judas' Point of View.

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

In John 13, Judas left the last supper early to betray Jesus. Today we look at Judas’ point of view.

As chief accountant for the disciples, he managed the generous money gifts Jesus attracted, and he was aware of Jesus meagre living expenses. As a disciple of Jesus, I  Judas probably felt that an occasional contribution from the common purse to his own ministry and personal expenses was reasonable. Some people, like John who wrote the gospel, took a narrow view of this and called it stealing. But Judas was a practical man, and in the air of super-spirituality that was consuming Jesus and the disciples he was the only one who had the foresight to think about things like salaries and pensions. 

Perhaps Judas saw more clearly than the other disciples when things began to go sideways. Jesus had damaged his own cause by offending the whole Jewish political and religious establishment, and he wasn’t interested in doing damage control or in improving his  public relations skills. He just kept thumbing his nose at the leaders, doing healings on the Sabbath and parading into Jerusalem. Life with Jesus was becoming a walking disaster. Judas didn’t want to walk into disaster. A bit of planning and management was in order.

Judas also had a lot of respect for Jesus’ skill. Jesus was an amazing miracle-worker, and he had other strange powers, like the time he just walked away from that crowd that was trying to push him over a cliff. So if the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, surely he would just walk away again. In fact, Judas rather liked the irony of his plan: he would take a bit of money to betray Jesus, and then watch Jesus walk away from the betrayal. And Judas would walk away from Jesus. It was too bad that Jesus didn’t offer the disciples a separation package if they quit, but Judas worked around that. He got the Pharisees to fund his package with 30 pieces of silver.  

I wonder if the Last Supper was the last straw for Judas. Jesus stooping to wash the disciples dirty feet? Silly thing to do, acting like a servant. That’s not the ministry Judas signed up for. And that bit where Jesus called the wine his blood and the bread his body? Judas was ok with a feast, but this was getting a bit weird. 

John describes what Judas did: “As soon as he had taken the bread he went out. And it was night.” Yes, it was night. Judas went into the night to betray Jesus. Soon Jesus would go into the night and begin his journey to the cross. The disciples would go into a night of fear and disillusionment and denial. In a few years, Jerusalem and the temple would go into a night of Roman destruction and spiritual darkness.

Let’s pray. 

Jesus, the world in our time is headed into night. Can we avoid it by going off the grid, as Judas wanted to do? Or should we follow you into the night? Will your body be bread for us? Will your blood be our drink? Is faithfulness to you and to your community of disciples a higher value than survival and escape? Jesus, in the night it seemed you threw away your life. We are not yet willing to throw ours away. Help us not to join Judas in choosing a separation package and Plan B. Help us to follow you into whatever night is coming and to wait with you for the dawn. 

Amen. 

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