Ep.315: Approaching God.

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

In July I was diagnosed with colon cancer. In September my church anointed me with oil and prayed for me and I had major surgery. Not exactly the summer I’d planned. 

Meanwhile, I’ve been reading Ephesians 3, about God’s great plan for the universe. He unveiled his mystery, hidden for ages, the mystery to make Christ’s family of believers a triumph of wisdom and leadership, and to expose and defeat unseen evil powers in the heavenly realms. 

God may have unveiled his plan, but it’s still a mystery to me. I keep up on the news, but they don’t report on evil powers in the heavenlies or the worldwide impact of the church. 

How did Paul fit his experience into this grand scheme? He says, “Don’t be discouraged that I’m in prison. My sufferings are for your glory” (v. 13). 

Really? Is Paul saying, “I’m stuck in a stinking Roman prison, but it’s all according to plan, because God is managing the big stuff”? Is he saying, “My orange jump suit and prison number don’t matter, because that’s just on earth and the important stuff is happening in the heavenly realms”?  

In my life, I read fantasy novels as an escape valve from cancer. In one novel, the protagonist, Thomas Covenant, is a leper on earth, divorced by his wife and rejected by his community. But sometimes he is transported into a different world, where he has power, honor, and respect. He is constantly conflicted, trying to live out his two identities. 

That’s how I feel in my post-operation recovery . . . as I wait for chemo. I wouldn’t mind being transported into a different reality–perhaps into God’s grand plan for the world, the church, and me. 

But the big plan escapes me. How and when will God work everything out? How much must the church suffer before he does? Does my life really make that much difference? 

My only comfort comes from one small sentence in Ephesians. “In Christ and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (v. 12). 

I don’t need to grasp the big picture. I can go to God, freely and confidently, bringing my cancer-inspired angst, my dread of chemo, and my doubts about God’s goodness. God doesn’t block my phone number or put my calls on ignore.

Let’s pray. 

Our father, the big picture confuses me. Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church supports Putin’s war, driving a new wedge between his Christian church and others.  

The American right fuses individualism, patriotism, and nationalism, with Christianity using the slogan, “Don’t mess with my faith, my family, my firearms, my freedom.”

How can I reconcile the fragility of my life with the robustness of your grand plan? What to make of modern western Christianity, fracturing into tribes over politics and pandemics and culture wars?  What of worldwide violence that gives no quarter to peace? 

I humbly accept Paul’s advice, to approach you freely, confidently, hopefully. Not because I am right. Not because I deserve to be heard. Not because I understand. But because you invite me to approach. Because you offer yourself as a refuge. Because you call yourself counselor. Because you love like a father. 

Hold me in your ever-loving arms. 

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.314: Wall of Hostility.

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

In Ephesians 2, Paul says Jesus broke down the wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles (v. 14). What wall?

Israel became a nation when a company of Israelites escaped Egyptian slavery, wandered in the desert, waged war against the inhabitants of Canaan, and took the land for themselves. 

After that, the nation of Israel vacillated between friendship and hostility with neighboring Gentiles and their gods. God had instructed Israel to be a unique nation—eat the right foods, sacrifice the right animals, keep right holidays, and observe many cultural and moral commands. The prophets constantly reminded Israel to be faithful to their scripture and their God, but the people were fatally attracted to the politics and religions of other nations. They often forgot their unseen God.

In more recent times, a remnant of Jews who survived the horrors of World War II established a Jewish nation, waging war to drive out the Palestinian inhabitants and create a Jewish state. 

A wall of hostility, Paul says, between Jews and Gentiles. When Jesus stepped into the middle of that hostility, he annoyed both groups. His God was too liberal for the conservative Jewish religion. He disrespected the Romans by refusing to answer Pilate’s questions. In a rare instance of Jews and Gentiles working together, they crucified Jesus. And we call him a peacemaker? 

In what way did Jesus break down the wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles? 

Paul says that Jesus “created in himself one new humanity, thus making peace” (v. 15). It’s a lesson our world needs. We all belong to one human race and we see Paul locating the center of a peace-loving new humanity in Jesus.

Meanwhile the old humanity continues to build walls of hostility-–between Jew and Gentile, between Gentile and Gentile. Since Jesus’ time, we’ve had European pogroms, we’ve had the Crusades, we’ve had inter-Christian conflicts and wars. Today, many North American Christians are sorting themselves into hostile camps: conservative, pro-gun, pro-life, anti-vaxx tribes, and inclusive pro-choice liberal camps. 

Where is the united center? Are Christians building the wall of hostility that Jesus came to destroy?

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we bring to you a fractured Christendom, a world in disunity, and a creation groaning under the weight of disordered humanity. 

Is Jesus still breaking down walls of hostility? Where is the new humanity he created? 

We thank you for places where his new humanity destroys walls of hostility. In ourselves, as we grow in respect for fellow humans and creation. As we resist the urge to splinter our families and churches into tribes based on politics and vaccinations and minor points of doctrine. 

We thank you for every agency that brings healing and relief in our world; for those who serve Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and flood victims in Pakistan and war casualties in Ukraine. Your work goes on, breaking down walls that we keep building. 

O God, teach us to feed the hungry, to accept strangers, to be true to your words of life, to think more of others and less of ourselves, to destroy walls instead of building them.

Bring quickly the time when the new humanity in Christ replaces this old humanity. 

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.313: Working with Mixed Motives.

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

In Ephesians 2, Paul says, “You are saved by God’s grace through faith, not by anything you do. It’s a gift, not something you worked for” (Eph 2:8-9).

Then Paul says, “[God] created each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the work he has prepared for us to do” (Eph 2:10, Message Bible, paraphrased).

What is Paul saying about faith and works? Is his message, “Right. We got the saved bit out of the way. The next step is to get busy! From now on, it’s the work you do that counts!” 

A classic evangelical formula is that we are saved by grace, then we work from a motive of love to express thanks for salvation. I find this a daunting standard, because it requires me to have pure motives.  Mine are anything but! 

It’s a long time since I was saved. I continue to be thankful, but the euphoria of first love is past. God leads me through darkness as well as light. Sometimes life is ice cream and joy, sometimes it’s sandpaper and discipline. Jesus calls me to an abundant life.He also calls me to to lose my life, to carry a cross. If you put a meter on how thankful and how motivated I am each day, that’s not a reliable indicator of anything! 

Another problem with my motives is that they are not always clear. Proverbs asks, “Who can say, ‘I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin’” (20:9). When I work for God, is my motive thankfulness? Is it half-hearted duty? Am I trying to manipulate God into answering my prayers? Proverbs’ says to me, Unanswerable question. Who can understand their motives? 

Paul says, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph 2:10). I have a lingering sense that I’ll never get it all done. As Calvin, of Calvin and Hobbes, puts it, “God put me on this earth to accomplish a certain number of things. Right now I am so far behind I will never die” (Bill Watterson). 

I need to discern which good works God has prepared for me to do, and which should be done by others. It’s not always easy to tell! Like Calvin, I’ll never catch up, so I choose instead to live into my uncertainty. To make choices about what to do. I hope that God who saved me by grace will also view the work I do, and the work I don’t do, with grace. 

My motives are obscure, even to myself. But God works in that obscurity to purify my motives and set me in the right direction. Hebrews tells us that God’s word is a two-edged sword, piercing to divide joints and marrow, soul and spirit; it exposes the thoughts and motives of the heart (Heb 4:12). 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, as Paul said to those who are saved by grace, Work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you (Phil 2:12). When we were experiencing the joy of first love, we had no idea how much our motives needed sorting and cleansing and healing. 

We thought we were working for you, but we were working for ourselves! We were trying to build your kingdom, but we were building our own. We thought our work was transforming us into your image, but we discovered our goal was to transform you into our image.  

O father, sort out our confused lives. Unmix the motives. Discard the rubbish. Strengthen what comes from faith, until all our work is in your vineyard, and none in our own.   

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.312: How Grace Works for Me.

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

God’s grace is a favorite theme with Paul—he cites it 86 times in the New Testament. In Ephesians he says when we were dead in sin, God was rich in mercy—he saved us by his grace (Eph 2:4-5). 

When Jesus was a corpse in a grave, God brought him back to life. Paul says God does the same for us. When we were dead in sin, he made us alive with Christ, not because we deserved a new life, but because he is rich in mercy. 

For me, grace points to the good things God has done. He freed me from introspective self-absorption, from addictive habits, from my short-sighted view of life. He’s invited me to journey on an endless road of love, viewing the marvelous landscape of his goodness.  

I respond to God’s grace in three ways. 

First, I choose not to focus on negatives that appear to marginalize grace—on people God hasn’t healed, on wars and famines he hasn’t stopped, on pandemics he permits to migrate and mutate their way through the world. Instead, I focus on what God has done–on his world that produces food and sunsets for 8 billion, on his offer of forgiveness for all who ask. 

A second way I approach grace is to receive it, to accept the grace that accepts me just as I am. God doesn’t focus on my sin or load me with expectations of instant goodness. Though I don’t live up to his standard, God receives me and forgives me. I extend the same grace to God: though he is not achieving my standard of excellence for healing diseases and creating world peace, I approach him with thankfulness instead of anger, with hope instead of hate, with grace instead of resentment.  

The third part of receiving grace is for me to be patient with the process. Sometimes grace is a refreshing rain on my dry and thirsty life. Other times, it is a desert that draws me to pray for water.  

Let’s pray. 

Our father, Paul the apostle of grace told us about your goodness. He shaped his life and letters around your generosity, not around his complaints. He looked at his life in a mirror of healing. He saw the church through a lens of hope, our broken world through eyes of promise. 

O father, change our vision until we see your grace as Paul did. 

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.311: Paul and the Zombie Apocalypse.

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

In the 1968 horror movie, Night of the Living Dead, zombies invaded the world. They were animated corpses without soul or spirit, half dead and half alive, ghoulish characters, driven to eat human flesh. Yuk.

In Ephesians Paul says, “You were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live . . . gratifying the cravings of the flesh, following its desires and thoughts” (Eph 2:2-5). 

Does that nail zombies, or what? People dead in sin, animated by the spirit of disobedience, driven to gratify fleshly cravings (Eph 2:3). A strange description of zombie-people half dead and half alive. 

Do you think that’s what Paul means, “You were dead in your transgressions and sins?”

The Message Bible doesn’t use Paul’s metaphor of people dead and alive at the same time. It says, “you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience” (Eph 2:1-2).

One evangelical explanation of Paul’s metaphor says we are composed of body, soul, and spirit, but the spirit part is dead if you’re not saved. Sounds zombie-like to me: the body is active, but the spirit is dead. This explanation says when you are born again, God raises your spirit from the dead. 

But not so fast.

Paul doesn’t see it that way. He doesn’t say a Christian’s spirit is raised from the dead to a perfect life. He tells Christians to cleanse themselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit (2 Cor 7:1). Being born again is great, but it doesn’t immediately cure the problems in my spirit. I still struggle with greed, anger, envy, and lust. Paul urges me to cleanse my spirit, to get it into a cold shower with soap and shampoo. 

However, Paul’s words do nicely point out some zombie features of my pre-Christian state. I lived in the universe of me, where I was boss, where I was driven by the cravings of my sinful nature. I was dead to God and God was dead to me. 

I thought I was doing what I wanted, but I was mostly a zombie slave to the flesh-eating, relationship-destroying intuitions of my sinful self. 

But now, through Christ, I reject the God-is-dead philosophy. I’ve discovered it was me who was dead in trespasses and sins. Since God has inhabited my life, he has been renovating. He’s unstopping the plumbing so I can flush out the excrement. He’s rewiring the electricity so I can turn on the lights. He’s transforming my spirit to make me holy.  

Let’s pray. 

Our father, I neither imagined or wanted your renovations in my life. I thought freedom was being free from you. I thought my cravings were the key to satisfaction. I mistook my confused intuitions for sound conclusions. 

But in your mercy, you took the zombie me, and clothed me with a healthy mind and a new spirit and a longing for a life of wholeness and love. 

Continue your work in me. Save me from a zombie apocalypse. Bring me into your kingdom and your glory forever. 

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube