Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Isaiah 9

Isaiah 9:10, 21 NIV

"The bricks have fallen down,
but we will rebuild with dressed stone;
the fig trees have been felled,
but we will replace them with cedars."

Manasseh will feed on Ephraim, and Ephraim on Manasseh;
together they will turn against Judah.
Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away,
his hand is still upraised.

This chapter begins with hope. "The people ... have seen a great light." "You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy." Referring to the coming Messiah, "...to us a child is born." There is hope, joy and expectation, but before hope comes judgment. Before judgment comes false hope. In their arrogance the people brag, "the fig trees have been felled but we will replace them with cedars." In the face of God's warning they brag rather than repent. God, however, has a way of knocking out all the props from under us.

It makes me wonder about our own country, our own churches, our own households. Where does our hope lie? Are we always coming up with another scheme to avoid God's discipline? Do we always have a contingency plan? Do we falsely find hope where God has promised failure?

I'm not sure what our future holds. God hasn't specifically said that he will judge and destroy us like he prophecied about Israel and Judah. We are not under that same Mosaic Covenant that promised blessings and curses. But, where are we looking for our hope? We can craft contingency plans, scheme, manage, devise and manipulate, but ultimately God will be God. Whether he will judge this nation in our lifetime I do not know. That he will judge this world at some point is clear. In that judgment the world will be looking to a false Christ for false hope, believing a lie that will all come falling down around them. When God decides to judge there is no holding back his wrath.

The good news is that he started this chapter with good news.

Isaiah 9:6-7 NIV

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David's throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.

This child was born 2000 years ago. He lived, taught, died and rose from the dead. He is our hope. Contingency plans will fail. Savings accounts will dwindle and disappear. Dreams and schemes will dissipate like fog on a sunny day. Friends will fail us, or even turn against us. Our hope is in the Lord, the maker of Heaven and Earth. He can be trusted.

Father, thank you for the reminder that my hope goes beyond this life. May those reading these words find their hope in Christ as well. Father, I believe that Jesus is my only hope. I believe that you will accept me in spite of my sin because Jesus carried my sin to the cross and satisfied your justice. I thank you that in him I am accepted. I believe.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert
District Superintendent
EFCA Northern Mtn District

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Isaiah 8

Isaiah 8:10, 13 NIV

Devise your strategy, but it will be thwarted;
propose your plan, but it will not stand,
for God is with us.

The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy,
he is the one you are to fear,
he is the one you are to dread.

In this chapter God has declared judgment against Israel and Judah. It is coming; it is unavoidable. In light of the coming judgment three thoughts stand out. First, their own strategies and plans will be thwarted. It makes me wonder about the plans of those who stashing away emergency supplies for when this nation collapses. Is it wise to prepare for an emergency? Certainly; but if God decides to bring down a nation no stash of food and water will stop him. No contingency plan will keep God from doing what God has determined to do. That is really what Isaiah was facing. Some people were making plans for their own protection. Others were looking for someone to tell them that nothing bad was going to happen. Isaiah was counseled by God to not resist. Turning the hearts of a few back to their God was far more important that preserving a lifestyle.

Second, Isaiah was warned not to do what everyone else was doing nor to believe what everyone else was believing. He was not to see a conspiracy behind every event. He was to understand that God is God and nothing can change that. God will accomplish his purposes. The coming events really had nothing to do with the political machinations of corrupt politicians. It had nothing to do with the greed, violence or ulterior motives of the Assyrians or of anyone else. Ultimately this was about God working his purpose and keeping his word. It was about a covenant people facing the consequences of their own hypocrisy. Are there sinister forces at work in our own world striving to change the world for their purposes and according to their theology or philosophy of life. Sure. Can they do anything more than God has chosen to allow. No, but I think we sometimes forget that. We love the quote that says something like, the only thing needed for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing. Certainly there is truth in that statement, but we must also remember that in the book of Job, even Satan could only go as far as God gave permission.

Finally, conspiracies, threats to our security, forces in opposition to us and/or our way of life, enemies set to destroy us should send us running back to our God. He is holy. Worship him. Don't go looking for some other religious, theological or philisophical approach to life that promises answers. Look to God. Seek him. Worship him. God is our only hope. He is the Holy Place. When we begin to look to teachers that promise answers, emergency systems that guarantee safety, promises of wealth if we'll only send a check to this or that "ministry", or any other system of hope we have turned from our God. He is our only hope no matter what happens in life.

Father, I fear that even as believers we have too often placed our hope in letter writing campaigns, petitions and boycotts to exclusion of trusting you. May we learn what it truly means when Isaiah writes, "The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread."

By His grace,
Rick Weinert
District Superintendent
EFCA Northern Mtn District

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Isaiah 7

Isaiah 7:8-9 NIV

for the head of Aram is Damascus,
and the head of Damascus is only Rezin.
Within sixty-five years
Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people.
The head of Ephraim is Samaria,
and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah's son.
If you do not stand firm in your faith,
you will not stand at all.

Aram and Israel have conspired together against Judah. Israel and Judah together make up the Chosen People of God. They should at least be allies but Israel has rejected her God. This threat has turned Judah's heart to jello. They are extremely frightened. God responds, "The head of ___________ is only ..." "The head of Damascus is only Rezin ... the head of Samaria is only Remaliah's son."

These are just people. God is still God. Too often we are intimidated by people because of their demeanor, their size, their volume or their position and posture. Intimidating people can only intimidate if we allow them to. Intimidating people can take over a church business meeting or a Bible study. Intimidating people can fill us with fear. Intimidating people can manipulate and coerce us into doing that which we know is not right.

Intimidating circumstances can overwhelm us. Debt can be intimidating. Illness can be intimidating. Government processes, policies, procedures and systems can be intimidating. A task to which God has called us can be intimidating. We need to remember that people are just people. Stuff is just stuff. Circumstances are just circumstances. God never stops being God and he will work his purpose. We are in His hands. Even death stops being intimidating when we rest our hope in Him.

Father, I confess that I have too often sucumbed to intimdation and fear. You are my hope and peace. Today may I rest in you. All else is temporary.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert
District Superintendent
EFCA Northern Mtn District

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Isaiah 6

Isaiah 6:5 NIV

"Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty."

This chapter has two parts but both parts build on one concept; that is brokeness. The first part of the chapter is Isaiah's call to ministry. It begins with brokeness, moves to cleansing and ends with a willingness to serve. The brokeness is not primarily centered on Isaiah's sin, nor on the consequences of his sin. His brokeness comes from an encounter with God. His sin is foundational to his brokeness. He cries out, ""I am ruined! I am a man of unclean lips..." But how own uncleaness is revealed not by facing his sin, but by his encounter with God. It is the person of God at the center of Isaiah's personal brokeness.

Our own sin and uncleaness can look pretty clean by comparison when our standard is that of the world, or the holiness of those around us. Cleaness is a relative term to some extent. A house that most would consider spotless might be considered grossly unclean compared to an operating room. We like to think of ourselves as pretty good and our tendency is to look at others to prove it. But, when we come face to face with the Holy One we see what holiness really is and with Isaiah we fall on our faces.

Brokeness leads to cleansing. In the second part of the chapter God talks about the hardheartedness of his people. They will not listen and they will therefore be broken. By God's grace and because of God's promises however, they will one day be restored. God is faithful to his word even when we are not faithful. He will faithfully discipline and break us for our own good. Brokeness leads to cleansing which then results in reflecting God's glory.

I don't like the brokeness part but I am convinced that true repentance, true submission, true ministry rarely if ever comes without brokeness. Father, thank you for your faithfulness in my life to work through brokeness to ministry for your glory. You are faithful.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert
District Superintendent
EFCA Northern Mtn District

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Isaiah 5

Isaiah 5:4, 15-16 NIV

What more could have been done for my vineyard
than I have done for it?
When I looked for good grapes,
why did it yield only bad?

So people will be brought low
and everyone humbled,
the eyes of the arrogant humbled.
But the Lord Almighty will be exalted by his justice,
and the holy God will be proved holy by his righteous acts.

In spite of God's blessings the people of God have produced "only bad" fruit. God will bring just judgment against them as a result. Two thoughts come to mind as I think on this chapter. First, God cannot be called just and holy if he allows the wickedness of his people to go unpunished. Why does God judge? Because he is holy and just. Why does God not just give people the benefit of the doubt and wink at their indescretions? Because he is holy and just.

The concepts of ethical morality (i.e. holiness) and justice find their roots in the nature and character of the creator. We cannot demand that God conform to some ethical standard that we randomly create in our minds while simultaneously requiring that he be so loving that he never judges. Holiness and justice stand together. Holiness ceases to be holy if it ignores justice.

The second thought that occurs to me is that if God is truly holy and just, we would do well to understand what the issues are that are bringing down God's justice upon these people. Here is the list:
     Increasing wealth and isolation
     Partying while ignoring God
     Pride and arrogance
     Promotion of and enticement to evil
     Calling evil good and good evil
     Self-defined wisdom
     Experts at drinking and mixing drinks
     Taking bribes and guarding the interests of the wealthy while denying justice to the poor

This list sounds surprisingly contemporary. It makes me wonder how many I am guilty of and how many we have perhaps even promoted within our churches. How much of our "wisdom" and counsel is actually just self-defined wisdom rather than God's wisdom? How often have we expressed pride and arrogance over our goodness in contrast to that of the world around us? To what extent have we ignored the needs of the poor or given inordinate attention to those of wealth? It is easy to read through the list above and point fingers. Perhaps it's time to look in the mirror rather than pointing fingers.

Father, I stand convicted. I confess that my perceived holiness has been a self-defined illusion all the while ignoring your standard a of holiness and judgment. Today may I reflect your holiness in all I think, say and do.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert
District Superintendent
EFCA Northern Mtn District

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Isaiah 3-4

Isaiah 4:2 NIV

In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel.

In these chapters God announces judgment against Jerusalem and Judah, but he wraps up with the promise of the Branch of the Lord. God will remove from Judah those things upon which they are trusting, including their leaders. He will remove those things they think of as their glory. The beauty of the women will be removed, their jewelry gone, and their glory turned to shame. Supplies will be gone, heroes will be gone, soldiers will be gone, and leaders will be nonexistent. The security and glory of Israel will disappear. In the absence of leadership they will look to anyone and anything for leadership and help. In the end Messiah, the Branch of the Lord, will come and be all that they have lost.

God has a way of taking away those things in our lives that substitute for God. He is to be our Lord, our security, our hope and our glory. Anything else is idolatry. I fear that we give more lip service to the Lordship, sovereignty and glory of the Lord than real belief. I fear that our security is found much more in government, checking accounts, credit scores and temporal stuff, positions and titles than in God. He will not let us get away with that, but it is often not until the rug is pulled out from under us that we refocus on our true source of strength, hope and glory.

Father, I'm not pointing fingers at others here. I realize that in the previous paragraph I'm describing myself. Forgive me. May I find in you my all in all. As the song says, "You are my strength when I am weak. You are the treasure that I seek. You are my all in all."

By His grace,
Rick Weinert
District Superintendent
EFCA Northern Mtn District

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Isaiah 2

Isaiah 2:7, 22 NIV

Their land is full of silver and gold;
there is no end to their treasures.
Their land is full of horses;
there is no end to their chariots.

Stop trusting in mere humans,
who have but a breath in their nostrils.
Why hold them in esteem?

"Their land is full of silver and gold." That sounds like a good thing, but it's not. Israel's kings had been told not to amass wealth and horses and yet that is exactly what they had done. They were also worshiping false gods and neglecting the Lord. Their hope was in their own strength, possessions and wealth. God knows better.

Isaiah 2:11 NIV

The eyes of the arrogant will be humbled
and human pride brought low;
the Lord alone will be exalted in that day.

Our security is not found in our savings accounts, secret food stashes, strong locks, hidden weapons, or even in our friends. God can destroy all of those in an instant. He will not share his glory. When our hope and security is founded on anything other than God we have become idolators. There is nothing wrong with any of these things in themselves the problem comes when we look to them for our security. When we have no worries because of these things we have failed to take into account how vulnerable we really are and how undependable they really are.

We ought to have no worries, but not because of our "preparations." Our peace finds its roots in the God we serve not in the stuff we amass. Our confidence lies in a God who has promised that he will never leave us, not in a cache of food and weapons that can easily be destroyed in an unexpected natural disaster. In the midst of our relative wealth we need to honestly ask the question: Where is our hope? The answer will reveal the god we serve.

Father, I confess that it is sometimes easier to trust that which I can see, feel and touch. But, I realize how undependable those things really are. You are my hope. In God I trust.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert
District Superintendent
EFCA Northern Mtn District

Friday, February 10, 2012

Isaiah 1

Isaiah 1:2, 13 NIV

Hear me, you heavens! Listen, earth!
For the Lord has spoken:
"I reared children and brought them up,
but they have rebelled against me.

Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.

Were it not for the Abrahamic Covenant God would have destroyed Judah like Sodom and Gomorrah. He took no pleasure in their religious exercises. We have a tendency to focus on activity and ignore the heart. We excuse hypocrisy with religious activity. We feel justified in our thinking that God is pleased because we said our prayers and went to church. That is what Judah was doing. Despite their sin, their idolatry, their disobedience, their abuse of justice, their ignoring of the needs of the poor, they assumed that God was somehow obligated to bless and protect them because they offered their sacrifices. God says otherwise. Religious activity does not cancel out bad behavior.

This chapter makes me wonder how often we, the church, sit in religious smugness all the while condemning the world around us for their sin, their drunkeness, their rowdiness, their uncouth behavior, their immorality and bad language. Meanwhile, when someone in the community is hurt and in need it is often the bars that step up first to help. There is a discrepancy between the compassion we claim to believe in and the lifestyle we often practice. They give sacrificially because they've had a bit too much to drink. We withhold help because ... Well, we've always got good excuses. Which "spirit" do you think people will respect as a result? I wonder how pleased God really is with our behavior.

Father, I sometimes wonder whether you have lifted your blessing from this country, not because of the gross immorality of unbelievers, but because of the hypocrisy of believers. Today, give me a heart that listens well to your Spirit. Give me eyes to see the opportunities for ministry that you place around me. Give me hands to serve in your name. Forgive me for the times I have settled for religious activity instead of living faith.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert
District Superintendent
EFCA Northern Mtn District

Reflections on Psalms 77-78

Psalms 77:7 (ESV) [7] “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?   The first nine verses of this psalm express abso...