Ep.236: Believing What We Do Not See.

Ep.236: Hebrews 11: Believing What We Don’t See

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

Hebrews 11, the great faith chapter of the Bible, begins:
  Faith is confidence in what we hope for,
      assurance about what we do not see. . .
    By faith we understand
      that the universe was formed at God’s command
      so that what is seen was not made out of what is visible.
        (vv. 1,3).

Talking once to a university student who majored in science, I said, “The Big Bang theory says the universe originated suddenly out of a very small, dense, hot bit of something, in a way the laws of physics can’t explain. I’m not sure it’s all that much different to say, ‘A power called God made it happen.’ Both explanations require faith in something we don’t understand and can’t explain.” 

Or as the author of Hebrews put it,   
   By faith we understand
      that the universe was formed at God’s command
      so that what is seen was not made out of what is visible (Heb 11:3). 

So what is faith? Today, we look at faith that explains what we cannot see or prove. 

The science student felt that since modern science has explained so much, it must be well on the way to explaining everything, eliminating the need for God-explanations. This is faith at work: faith in progress, in the scientific method, in reason and logic. 

Conspiracy theories function in a similar manner. The QAnon theory explains that a cabal of evil white politicians and business leaders control politics, economics, coronavirus vaccines, and the Suez Canal. This too is faith at work, faith that the theory gives deep insight to an enlightened few into the causes and progress of evil. Faith that the rest of us are passive sheeple, lapping up a liberal education and eating ourselves sick at the trough of the liberal left media. 

Like scientists and conspiracy theorists, we all try to make sense of the world and of our own lives. We are all influenced in many ways we do understand. For example:

– Invisible genetic DNA affects health, skills, capabilities, and behavior.

– Society and culture fill our heads with news, Facebook rants, adventure movies, and conspiracy theories. We cannot process everything into a coherent worldview.

– We are influenced by our moods and feelings. Happy or sad, sometimes our emotions make sense.
Sometimes they appear from nowhere. Perhaps the state of our digestion drives more decisions than logic and reason.

– Churches give us their view of what life means and what God wants. But how to find our way through their jungles of conflicting interpretation?

Back in Hebrews: it tells us twice that faith looks into things we cannot see, saying:  Faith is the confidence of what we hope for,
    the assurance of things we do not see.
And:
  By faith we understand
    that the universe was formed at God’s command
    so that what we see was not made from what is visible. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, as we live the mystery of our faith, we do not see you, but we believe in you. We see the beauty of sunsets, of love, of logical science, of a well-ordered society, of a faith-filled religion. We see the horror of mass shootings, lying politicians, racial injustice, and absurd conspiracy theories. By faith we give you credit for the good in our world, and blame Satan and ourselves for the evil.  

O Lord, you are the focus of our faith. by you we make sense of our crazy world, our disordered lives, our hopes and aspirations. With the poet Whittier we say,
    Yet in the maddening maze of things
      and tossed by storm and flood,
    to one fixed trust my spirit clings,
      I know that [you] are good. (Whittier, John G. The Eternal Goodness. stanza 11). 

Amen. 

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

Ep.235: Psalm 109: A Pox on My Enemies!

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

Psalm 109’s message sounds like the opposite of Jesus’ prayer on the cross. Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing.” In Psalm 109 , the poet prays:
  Appoint someone evil to oppose my enemy . . .
  When he is tried, let him be found guilty,
      may his prayers condemn him.
    May his days be few,
      may another take his place of leadership. 

    May his children be wandering beggars,
    May a creditor seize all he has,
      may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.
    May no one extend kindness to him,
      or take pity on his fatherless children (phrases from vv. 6-15). 

How’s that for a sustained and vengeful list of curses! I have four comments:

First, Jesus sometimes confronted great evil with great anger. In Matthew 23, he calls the Pharisees hypocrites, snakes, murderers, and tombs full of bones. He asks, “How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (Mat. 23:1-36). His anger is an appropriate response to evil and injustice. We accept Jesus’ anger at the Pharisees and the poet’s anger at his enemies as legitimate emotional responses to people who perpetrate evil. 

Second, there is at least one major difference between Jesus’ anger and the poet’s anger: Jesus expressed anger by pointing out and giving examples of the Pharisees’ sins. The poet’s approach? He wants revenge! He steps beyond the Old Testament’s “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” rule by inviting evil to avalanche destructively on evildoers and their descendants. 

Third, I like the poets’ description of his enemy:
    He wore cursing as a garment,
          it entered his body like water
          and his bones like oil.
      May it be like a cloak wrapped about him,
            like a belt tied forever round him.
      May this be the the Lord’s payment to my accusers,
            to those who speak evil of me (vv. 18-20). 

What an interesting word picture–an enemy wearing curses like a garment. The enemy’s garment begins to shape his identity. The attitude and practice of cursing seeps into his body like water, into his bones like oil, consuming his thoughts and life. 

Words are powerful. By constantly cursing others, the enemy creates a culture of verbal abuse and violence and he must live in the culture he creates. The poet praysGod permit this to occur, that God will let the enemy inhabit the cursed world his curses create. The poet here is not seeking vengeance on his enemy, just asking that he will experience the consequences of his speech and actions.

And finally, I note that the poet does not take up weapons or make plans to avenge himself against his enemy. His words are a prayer that God will avenge him. A wise choice, not to loose our vengeance and violence on the world, but to express our anger in prayer and invite God to bring about justice.

Let’s pray. 

Our father, the anger and vengeance of this psalm are words expressed to you. Help us, like the poet, to see clearly the injustices in the world, to be angry at perpetrators, to bring evil to your attention. Help us to walk with the poet in praying, to walk with Jesus in confronting evil, and to learn to say with Jesus, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” 

Amen.

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

Ep.234: Waiting Out the Disaster.

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

Hebrews 10 says:
  You need to persevere
      so that when you have done the will of God,
      you will receive what he has promised. For . . .
          The righteous will live by faith.
                And I take no pleasure
                in the one who shrinks back.
    But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed,
        but to those who have faith and are saved (Heb. 10:36-39).

This passage comments on the relationship between faith and righteousness by saying, “The righteous will live by faith.” That’s a memorable phrase: the Bible uses it four times. 

The first time is in the Old Testament, when the Babylonian army moved across the Middle East with its evil eye on Israel. The prophet Habakkuk complained to God that Israel was in great danger, so what was God going to do about it? 

God’s response?
  Surely the Babylonians will come and not delay.
  The proud of heart will be destroyed,
      but the righteous will live by faith” (Hab 2:3-4) 

Hardly a comforting thought for Habakkuk. As the doom approaches, don’t be proud. Just wait for the inevitable, trusting that God will take care of you. 

Paul takes up the same verse in Romans 1, changing the context from a military invasion to God’s gift of salvation. He says, “In the gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed–a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, as it is written, ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Rom 1:17). Like Habakkuk, the world Paul knew had descended into a mess of sin that encompassed Jews and Gentiles. Paul asserted that faith was the key that made people right with God, lighting their way through an evil world.  

In Galatians 3:11, Paul used the verse again, putting it this time into the picture of a courtroom, “Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God,” he wrote, “because the righteous will live by faith.” In this courtroom, our failure to keep the law makes us guilty as charged. We escape this condemnation, not by putting a better spin on our behavior, but by relying on Christ for forgiveness and righteousness. 

The fourth use of the statement, “The righteous will live by faith”, is in today’s passage  from the Book of Hebrews. The Hebrew Christians faced persecution, so the author encourages them not to shrink fearfully back from their commitment to the Jesus way. Losing faith like that would trash the meaning of their lives. Instead of despair, they can choose faith, pressing on through the difficulties of life in the strength God gives to those who are faithful, or full of faith. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we see these pictures of faith. Habakkuk waiting quietly for the Babylons to destroy Jerusalem, trusting his life to you. Paul seeing himself and others failing to keep your law, but believing you give righteousness to failed law keepers who put their trust in Christ. The Hebrew Christians, experiencing the difficulty of living under persecution, turning to faith to sustain their lives and their relationship with you.  

Help us, we pray, to become righteous ones, living fully by faith. 

Amen. 

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

Ep.233: Psalm 108: Over Edom I Cast Out My Sandal.

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

Psalm 108 was composed by combining part of Psalm 57 with part of Psalm 60. An original poem it is not! But it does remind us that old prayers can be reformatted and recycled to fit new and changing conditions of our lives. 

In this psalm, the poet is among the nations, singing to the God of Israel (v. 3). Presumably, he is in exile, perhaps Babylon. From that location, he views God not as the local God of Israel, but as the God who has travelled with him to a foreign land. He states that God’s mercy and truth reach to the heavens, covering all the earth: homeland and land of exile and everything in between. God’s presence encompasses the world. 

But the poet’s mind and heart are drawn to his homeland, to the Promised Land. He thinks of God in relation to familiar places like Gilead and Manasseh, to tribal territories like Ephraim and Judah. He quotes God’s rude comments about the local enemies, as God says, “Moab is my washpot, over Edom I cast out my sandal” (vv. 8-9). 

Then the poet remembers his present desperate plight and prays:
  Is it not you, God, who have rejected us,
    and no longer go out with our armies?
  Give us aid against the enemy,
    for human help is worthless.
  With God we shall gain the victory,
    and he will trample down our enemies (vv. 11-13). 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, the poet reminds us that the whole earth is yours. With him, we see your glory in the clouds that sail over all the world–over ancient Ethiopia, riven by famine and violence; over Syria, largely destroyed by recent war; over your ancient land of Israel, with its confusion of traditional orthodox Jews, modern liberal Jews, Palestinian Arabs, and endless variations.

The poet also reminds us that in this big and dangerous world, you care for your people. Wherever we are captive to identity politics and racial injustice; wherever dictators rule by coercion and violence; wherever we walk that narrow line between use and abuse of creation; we do so under the heavens you built, under the clouds that remind us of your faithfulness, under the blue sky you fixed above us and the sun that is the source of our energy.  

The poet reminds us that in this journey, human help is worthless. James says, human wrath will never achieve God’s righteousness (Jas. 1:20). Help us with the poet to see you always present in creation, to pray for your help in the complex politics of our world, to worship you with a steadfast heart, and to trust ourselves to your glory, which is over all the earth (vv. 1-5). 

Amen.

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

Ep.232: Confidence Man.

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

Hebrews 10 says:
  Since we have confidence to enter the most holy place
    by the blood of Jesus,
    by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain,
            that is his body,
  and since we have a great priest over the house of God,
  let us draw near to God
    with a sincere heart
    in full assurance of faith,
        having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience
        and having our bodies washed with pure water (vv. 19-22). 

The ancient Israelites approached God a bit like we might approach a nuclear reactor. If you get too close without proper precautions, you get burned or vaporized. 

The tabernacle, a tent of meeting, which Moses built, had a staged approach for those who wanted to come near to God. First, was an outside courtyard where priests conducted animal sacrifices. 

Next, the holy place inside the tent, where only priests were permitted. No animal sacrifices here. It was a quiet room with candles, incense, and bread on a table. At the back of this holy place, curtained from view, was the VERY holy place, also known as the Holy of Holies: God’s special place. It contained the mercy seat, sometimes called God’s throne. 

Only the high priest could go into the VERY holy place, and only once a year. On the day of atonement, he took a bit of blood into the VERY holy place, stood for a moment in the presence of God, and sprinkled blood on the mercy seat. If God didn’t annihilate the priest for coming too close, another year of forgiveness was granted. 

We don’t know when the tabernacle disappeared, but we know the Babylonian army destroyed Solomon’s temple in 587 or 586 B.C., carting off the valuables and burning the temple. Surprisingly, God didn’t annihilate the invading army when they entered his VERY holy place. In one of Ezekiel’s visions, it appears that God had abandoned his special place in the temple before the invaders arrived (Ezekiel 8-10). Ezekiel explains that the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and the exile to Babylon, was God’s nuclear option for Israel, punishing them for abandoning true temple worship to participate in competing religions. 

But back to the Book of Hebrews. Using the image of the VERY holy place where the priest went once a year, the author says Jesus opened the way for us to enter the VERY holy place whenever we want. We do not fear annihilation as the Israelites did. Instead, we expect a welcome from God, based on a new relationship Jesus negotiated for us.

Let’s pray. 

Our father, Jesus changed our view of how to approach you. We no longer fear that your presence will consume us, or your holiness burn us, or your light blind us, or your anger destroy us. We go confidently through the curtain into the VERY holy place of your presence because our hearts are sprinkled with the blood of Jesus’ sacrifice, and our bodies washed with the pure water of his word. 

Amen. 

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