Ep.162: Party-Time Jesus.

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

In Luke 15, when the prodigal son returned, his father threw a welcome-home party. When his older brother, who was busy working the farm, smelled the beef barbeque and heard the party music, he was angry. His father was rewarding the prodigal’s evil behaviour instead of censoring and correcting it. Any sensible father would assign the prodigal a stretch of probation with hard labor to ensure he’d really changed. 

The brother said to the father, “This son of yours who wasted your wealth with prostitutes shows up and you throw a party? What about me? I’ve slaved away for you all these years, and I don’t even get a skinny little goat to celebrate with my friends. Isn’t my faithfulness worth more to you than his wastefulness?” 

At a retreat once, I had a similar feeling. The man who got all the interest and attention was a guy who had been an alcoholic and had wrecked his marriage and finances and family with drink and sex and drugs; and then he’d had an amazing and liberating conversion. What a great story! But was anyone interested in my story of plugging away at this Christian thing for thirty years with no tales to tell of a miraculous deliverance or remarkable results?

Perhaps Party-Time Jesus has a message for me and for other older brothers. We have been busy working in God’s field, holding down a job, supporting the church, raising a family. We’ve been serious about living righteously and avoiding the temptations of alcohol, sex and drugs. Why does the father throw parties for prodigals instead of showing a bit of support for us? Aren’t we the ones implementing his program here on earth? 

But Jesus kept showing up at parties and telling stories about parties.
..He made buckets of wine for the wedding at Cana. 
..He went to parties with Levi the tax collector and Simon the Pharisee. He partied with almost anybody!

And in his stories,  
..The shepherd partied when he found his lost sheep.
..The father partied when the prodigal came home.
..The servants waited with lamps lit for their master to come home from, you guessed it, a wedding party (Luke 12:36).
..Jesus starts one story, “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who prepared a wedding banquet for his son” (Mat. 22:1). 
..And on the night before he died, Jesus was feasting with his crew.

What is it with Jesus and parties?  

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we are like the elder son. We resent that we work long and hard for you, but all the attention and fun goes to people with stories of deep sin and miracle salvation.

Ah, Jesus, perhaps we who focus on righteousness need a change of heart. Have we grown bitter, hard, and unlovely in our pursuit of righteousness? (Harry Emerson Fosdick. Meaning of Faith. New York: Association Press, 1917. Cited from Good Press ebooks edition, 2019). Pull up the weeds of resentment that grow in us. Help us to accept our unremarkable lives as  your gift. Teach us to party with the prodigals who come home. May we be glad with everyone you welcome into your big house.

And most of all, as we work for your kingdom, help us to know the father. For though we do the father’s work, we are prodigals from the father’s heart. Teach us to come home to the heart of God.

Amen. 

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

Ep.161: Psalm 71: Praying the Problems of Aging.

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

In one of his books on prayer, Father Thomas Green said he expected as he grew older that faith would grow easier. As a younger man, he did not understand the older priests’ experience of new difficulties and new temptations. But, he wrote, his advancing age brought understanding. 

My experience has been similar. Things once simple and obvious when my beard was black became confusing and unclear as my beard turned white. I discovered that God accommodates many strange points of view I had dismissed, and that he is patient with many souls who drive me to impatience. I have lost my rigid approach to scripture, and I am moving into the mystery of living in partnership with Christ who lives in me. The God I worship today is bigger and wiser and more merciful than the God I worshipped when my beard was black. 

In Psalm 71, the poet shares the same experience. Keenly aware of advancing age, greying hair, and declining strength, he says,
  You have been my hope, Sovereign Lord,
        . . . since my youth (v. 5).
    Do not cast me away when I am old;
        do not forsake me when my strength is gone (v. 9).
And he also says,
    Even when I am old and grey,
        Do not forsake me, my God (vv. 17a, 18).

In Psalm 71 the prayer of aging is not a prayer of settled confidence and unshakeable hope. The writer is not rocking away his life on the porch, waiting for a sunset ending. Instead, he prays desperately while his enemies attack; he struggles toward hope and faith. He cries, “My enemies say that God has forsaken me” (v. 11a) They say,
        “We will pursue him and seize him,
        for no one will rescue him” (v. 11b,c). 

In his fear he says:
      Do not be far from me, my God;
          come quickly to help me (v. 12).

Let’s pray. 

Our father, in my senior years I reflect on 50 years of seeking you. Like the poet, 
      You brought me forth from my mother’s womb (v. 6b).
      Since my youth, God you have taught me (v. 17).
And like the poet,
      Though you have made me see troubles,
          many and bitter,
          you will restore my life again (v. 20a). 

Yes, Lord, I have not lived a hugely successful life, arriving at a pinnacle of wisdom and faith. Rather, my life has been dissonant and erratic. I have learned slowly, through many troubles. Sometimes, I felt your great love and care, but often I was angry and desperate and afraid. 

But you have been faithful since my youth, and I am confident your faithfulness will continue. As the poet says,
    . . . I shall always have hope;
        I will praise you more and more (v. 14).
    My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds,. . .
        though I know not how to relate them all (v. 15a, 15c).
Somehow in the midst of the years, the habit of hope has grown strong. The clamor of complaining falls silent as the voice of praise grows stronger.

Our father, I feel the weakness that comes with age. My hairline recedes, my beard turns white, the wrinkle cream stopped working long ago, and my strength begins to wane. With the poet I pray,
      Even when I am old and grey,
          do not forsake me, my God (vv. 17a, 18)..
Give me strength against my enemies of criticism and gossip and complaining. Instead of reciting my medical history, may I recite your praises. Instead of despairing at the evil everywhere may I trust in you. Instead of disparaging the young for their shallowness and foolishness, may I pray them on the road to wisdom. As the poet says, help me to:
    Declare your power to the next generation,
        your mighty acts to all who are to come (v. 18b). 

May I finish the journey with confidence, with assurance that you care, with hope that you will welcome me into your presence forever.  

Amen.

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

Ep.160: A Drop of Water in Hell.

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

In Luke 16, Jesus told about a rich man who lived in fashionable luxury and ate sumptuous food. Camped outside his front gate, with dogs licking his sores, lived the homeless beggar, Lazarus.

When Lazarus  died, the angels carried him to paradise and he became friends with Abraham. When the rich man died, he ended up in hell, tormented with fire. Looking across the gulf to paradise, he shouted to Abraham, “I’m in agony in this fire! Send Lazarus to dip his finger in water and cool my tongue.” 

Now that’s a typical rich man, giving suggestions to another rich man on how to deploy the servants.

But Abraham replied, “It doesn’t work that way any more. You had comforts in life, but now they’re gone. Lazarus had trouble in life, but now he lives comfortably. Besides, there’s no road from heaven to hell, so I can’t send him over.” 

This didn’t stop the rich man. He had another brilliant idea to keep the servants busy. “Why don’t you send Lazarus to my brothers on earth to warn them about the fire here, so they won’t have to join me.” 

Abraham said, “They have the Bible. They can read it.” 

“But they don’t listen to the Bible,” said the rich man. “They need a real shocker, like someone coming back from the dead. Then they’ll listen!” 

“Not likely,” said Abraham. “If they ignore the Bible, they’ll ignore someone from the dead too.” 

This story leaves more questions than answers. 

  1. What did the rich man do to deserve hell? If he left his dead body on earth, why were fire and a drink of water a problem to him?  
  2. How did the beggar earn his place with Abraham? 
  3. Like the rich man, I’m in the top 10% of the world’s wealthy. Does that give me an uncomfortably hot prospect for life after death? 
  4. What does Jesus’ story mean for me, if I’m neither a rich man living in luxury nor a poor beggar with dogs licking my sores? 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, the accounts don’t add up in this story. What did the rich man do to deserve hell? How did Lazarus become Abraham’s friend? 

Still, we feel the weight of your story, Jesus. That our store of wealth and status and privilege will soon vanish, that our rich and narcissistic lives will be burned away. That the lonely and troubled will be comforted. 

Jesus, you say that not even someone raised from the dead will convince the comfortably rich to believe. You came back from the dead, Jesus, and how many people listen to you? But we accept your message of resurrection. We believe your plan for the future. We believe that you give our lives meaning, both now and after death. And we believe that you will settle whatever accounts need settling. 

Amen. 

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

Ep.159: Psalm 70: Seekers, Rejoice!

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

Psalm 70 is a short, sharp and passionate cry for help, with only five verses. The first and last verses ask God to come quickly to help. Verses two and three ask God to reverse the fortunes of the writer’s enemies, replacing their power and success with failure and disgrace.  And verse four is an amazing affirmation of those who seek God. It says,
  May all you seek you, God
      rejoice and be glad in you;
  may those who long for your saving help always say,
    ‘The Lord is great!’ (v. 4).

I like that. “May those who seek him rejoice in him.” Often the picture I see in the psalms is a fearful believer, hiding in shadows from his enemies, hoping they won’t attack, crying desperately to God to save him before it is too late.  

In this psalm, the poet counters that fearful view with the strong remedy of faith. May those who seek God rejoice and be glad in him, may those who wait for his salvation say, “The Lord is great.” The writer’s focus is: 

  • not on the enemies, but on God
  • the mood is not desperation, but hope
  • the scene is not fearful hiding, but public praise
  • the speech that was formerly a desperate plea has turned to confident assertion. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we pray first for ourselves. When we cringe because of COVID, when we dread the disintegration of society, when we are dismayed by violent police and protesters, we look to you for salvation. We rejoice in you. You are great, Lord, in your rule over creation. Great in your kingship over the nations. Great in the salvation you bring to your people.

We think of Brazil, where the president is in COVID-denial, not believing the devastation the pandemic wreaks in his country, suppressing the statistics of death, desperately imagining a quick return to normal. Oh Lord, as your people in Brazil see mass graves, as they seek you and pray for your salvation, sustain them in faith and hope. 

We think of Yemen, torn by years of civil war, as Saudi Arabia indiscriminately bombs the Houthi-held territory, as the infrastructure is destroyed and the pandemic runs unchecked. O God, may those in Yemen who seek you and pray for your salvation cling to the faith that you are great. 

We think of Russia where 74 years of Communism failed to extinguish the Orthodox church, and of China where 72 years of Communism coincides with growth in the house church movement. O Lord, may those who seek you under repressive regimes everywhere find joy in your help and salvation.

We think of America, where the T-shirt says, “Don’t mess with my faith, my family, my firearms, my freedom”. Where many Christians have a fatal attraction to authoritarian leaders. Where the myth of freedom enslaves the country to violence and the myth of exceptionalism breeds the sin of arrogance. O Lord, may all who seek you in the culture of firearms and freedom find you and rejoice in you and trust in your salvation. 

We think of Canada, adrift in a sea of moral and spiritual relativity. We are tolerant of everything, except clear moral values and righteousness. We pride ourselves on social progress, but we are progressing toward anarchy where everyone does what is right in their own eyes. We pride ourselves on a multi-ethnic society, ignoring the racial prejudice that simmers below the surface. May those of us who seek you here find joy in your presence and hope in your salvation. 

Our father, this is your world of which we are stewards. This is our world in which we live. Be present and powerful in it. Come quickly to help us. We seek you with hope and joy. 

Amen.

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

Ep.158: Ripping Off the Master?

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

After the story of the prodigal who wasted his inheritance on wild living, Jesus tells another story about wasted wealth. In Luke 16, a rich landowner summons his manager and says, “I hear you’re wasting my wealth instead of managing it. You’re fired!” 

The manager doesn’t know what to do. He has no unemployment insurance. He could try begging, but that’s way below his social status. He’s not strong or humble enough for manual labor. And he certainly doesn’t want to tend pigs like the prodigal.

Then he gets a brilliant idea! What he really needs to tide him over is not money, but friends. Friends who will supply bed and breakfast, take him for a leisurely lunch, and open a bottle of wine in the evening. But where can he find friends like that? “Perhaps among my master’s tenants,” he thought. “I just need to reinvent myself as a helpful friend instead of a hard-hearted rent collector. “ 

So the manager made friends by writing off part of every tenant’s debt. He gave the first one a 50% discount on the olive oil he owed. And the next one a 20% discount on the wheat he owed. And so on, down the list of tenants.

When the owner heard about the deals his ex-manager was cutting, he changed his mind and said, “That’s a creative solution to your problem. I like your style. Why don’t you stay on as my manager?”

What’s up with this? Wasn’t the manager ripping off his master by cooking the books? 

There are three ways we can look at this.

The first thought: maybe the ex-manager was not falsifying accounts. Maybe these were deadbeat accounts, and the master was glad to get any payment out of them. This view makes the bookkeeping in the story work out. But when did Jesus ever show concern for accurate bookkeeping? In another story, the master forgave a multi-million dollar debt with a shrug of his shoulders.

Here’s a second thought: perhaps the owner gave the manager a contract to collect rent. In this view, all the owner wanted was a fixed franchise fee. The manager could charge the tenants whatever he wanted–fair commissions or wild extortions–and he could keep the overage. If this is how it worked, then the manager was shrewd but not dishonest, because it was his own commissions he reduced to make friends.

And there’s a third way to look at this curious story: Perhaps the manager did indeed act illegally and immorally by reducing debts that were not his to forgive. The master’s response was completely unexpected and surprising. Perhaps he was a friendly, jovial, party-throwing type of owner, almost like the prodigal son’s father who didn’t complain that his wealth was wasted in a far country. Maybe this owner didn’t care that his manager was giving away bundles of money. Instead, he was pleased that the manager finally focused on building relationships instead of counting and accounting for all the money.  

Whatever interpretation you choose, here’s Jesus’ conclusion. He said to his hearers, ”Use the wealth of unrighteousness to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9). 

Let’s pray. 

O Jesus, your story points out that we are far too focussed on bookkeeping. We in the rich world have accumulated the “wealth of unrighteousness” and we hoard it to protect our lifestyle. 

We are the unjust manager. You gave us the world, and we waste its wealth to make our lives comfortable. We rip off your tenants all over the world to maintain our standard of living. We pollute the atmosphere, oppress migrant workers, and treat the poor like slaves. We are hard managers, proudly self-sufficient and independent. In the economy we have built, the man robbed by thieves or choked to death by police is “Not Our Problem.” 

O Jesus, help us be like the manager in your story, to use the wealth you give us for good, to share it with every tenant who works on your land in the world.

May we gladden the heart of God by using his resources to make friends for this life and the next. 

Amen.

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

For interpretations of the parable see: 

Beavis, Mary Ann. Ancient Slavery as an Interpretive Context for the New Testament Servant Parables with Special Reference to the Unjust Steward (Luke 16:1-8) in Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 111, No. 1 (Spring, 1992), pp. 37-54. Found at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3267508?Search=yes&resultItemClick=true&searchText=luke&searchText=16&searchText=1-8&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Dluke%2B16%253A1-8%26amp%3Bfilter%3D&ab_segments=0%2Fbasic_search%2Fcontrol&refreqid=search%3A2272f7cd05dbb56c7c242b2363b3d17e&seq=15#metadata_info_tab_contents

Gachter, Paul. The Parable of the Dishonest Steward after Oriental Conceptions in The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 12, No. 2 (April, 1950), pp. 121-131. Found at:
https://www.jstor.org/stable/43720193?Search=yes&resultItemClick=true&searchText=unjust&searchText=steward&searchText=oriental&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Dunjust%2Bsteward%2Boriental&ab_segments=0%2Fbasic_search%2Fcontrol&refreqid=search%3A2c508063082f61a10cb2640420da4f1e

Capon, Robert Farrar. The Parables of Grace. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1988. pp. 145-151.