Thursday, May 31, 2012

Isaiah 36

Isaiah 36:4 NIV

The field commander said to them, "Tell Hezekiah:
"'This is what the great king, the king of Assyria, says: On what are you basing this confidence of yours?

In reading this chapter it occurred to me that the strategy Sennacherib uses to try and discourage Judah is the same strategy Satan often uses. First he removes the human safety net we so often rely on. In the case of Judah, Sennacherib discredits Egypt. In our case the Enemy threatens the loss of a job, the inability to pay our bills, overwhelming medical expenses, immoral and/or insecure government, family conflicts, etc.

When our human sources of security are knocked out he hits us with the second punch. He questions God's willingness and/or ability to protect and deliver us. He brings to mind people who have trusted God and apparently God didn't come through. People lost their homes, people lost their families, people ended up in jail, people planned big outreach events only to have them go unattended. He whispers in our ear, "See, they trusted God and He didn't come through. What makes you think He will come through for you?" In the case of Sennacherib, he claims that YHWH won't help because Hezekiah destroyed His high places. Of course this is a distortion of the truth, but the enemy always deals in lies and half-truths.

Finally, when Sennacherib's envoy can't seem to convince the officials speaking on behalf of Hezekiah, they make sure the message is taken to the people. We have often seen over the years that if the Enemy can't get to a pastor then he often attacks his wife and children. If he can't discredit the leadership of a church, he attempts to divide the Body. Satan doesn't care how he stops the work of God, only that he stops it.

In taking the message to the people, Sennacherib's envoy promises what they never intend to deliver. Peace and prosperity is not what they intend for the people of Judah, but that's what they promise. It reminds me of Eden when the serpent says, "You can be like God." He promises us peace through drugs and alcohol, but delivers brokeness. He promises happiness through unbridled sex, but delivers loneliness and disease. He promises peace and happiness through wealth but delivers neither. Yet, somehow we seem to keep falling for the lies. 

The good news is that the people didn't fall for the lies, and we don't have to either. Recognizing the ploy of the enemy is the first step in avoiding the trap. We need to trust the God who loves us no matter what our emotions, our circumstances and the Enemy is telling us.

Father, thank you that you are always faithful. Thank you that you have given us victory. In you I rest.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Friday, May 25, 2012

Isaiah 34-35

Isaiah 34:2, 14, 16 NIV

The Lord  is angry with all nations;
his wrath is on all their armies.
He will totally destroy them,
he will give them over to slaughter.

Desert creatures will meet with hyenas,
and wild goats will bleat to each other;
there the night creatures will also lie down
and find for themselves places of rest.

Look in the scroll of the Lord  and read:
None of these will be missing,
not one will lack her mate.
For it is his mouth that has given the order,
and his Spirit will gather them together.

Isaiah 35:8 NIV

And a highway will be there;
it will be called the Way of Holiness;
it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
wicked fools will not go about on it.

Three thoughts stand out in stark contrast in these two chapters. First, God will judge the nations, and Edom in particular. Second, the desert creatures will find rest in the very place that God judged the nations. Third, the righteous will walk a highway called the "Way of Holiness" and none of the wicked will go there.

We live in a fallen, evil world filled with violence, bloodshed and pain, most of which is at the hands of people. God will only allow that to go on so long. At some point he will say, "Enough!" At that point people will get a taste of their own medicine.

We were created to oversee and care for the creatures of this world. Instead we have been destroying them and ourselves. They will find rest at the hand of God. Reading the first part of chapter 34 it would be easy to conclude that God is vicious, violent and angry. But when we see his treatment of the desert creatures we realize that he is only vicious, violent and angry with vicious, violent, angry people. Sin warrants judgement.

So how do we live in such a world? We trust God, resting in the assurance that violence will come to an end and all things will be restored. The wicked will not walk His highways and all will one day be right. We live today with an eye to eternity.

Father, sometimes it is easy to forget eternity when the joy or the pain of this world is so real. Thank you that I can rest in the truth that one day all will be set right.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Friday, May 18, 2012

Isaiah 33

Isaiah 33:2, 22 NIV

Lord , be gracious to us;
we long for you.
Be our strength every morning,
our salvation in time of distress.

For the Lord  is our judge,
the Lord  is our lawgiver,
the Lord  is our king;
it is he who will save us.

This chapter is a call to fear God, trust him and live in holiness despite the threats and difficulties the people of God are presently facing or will be facing. Essentially it is a call to live now in light of the future kingdom, or as the old hymn says, "With eternities values in view."

What does it mean to fear God? It means to recognize his fierce awesomeness. It means to tremble in his presence rather than in the presence of our enemy. It means to cry out to him in utter dependence, and more. We are to fear God not man. We are to fear God not circumstances. We are to fear God not the horrors of our imagination. In the end it is God before whom we will kneel. It is God to whom we will answer. It is God who is our hope and strength.

That leads us to trust. What does it mean to trust God? It means more than the ability to pass a theological exam about his power, strength and sovereignty. It means that the fear of all those threats to life, liberty and happiness begin to fade. It means that I begin to see life through the lens of his sovereign power rather than through my mortal weakness. It means that threats become opportunities for witness and ministry, and weakness becomes an opportunity for the strength of God to shine.

That brings us to holiness. How do people of fear and intimidation live? They live in compromise. They live by taking polls to see what other people think. They live spineless even when appearing to stand strong. On the other hand, people who fear God and trust him have nothing to prove and nothing to protect. They have nothing to hide. They live in the light and their lives are characterized by holiness no matter what the current culture demands, no matter what political pressure is brought to bear.

For the Lord  is our judge,
the Lord  is our lawgiver,
the Lord  is our king;
it is he who will save us.

Father, forgive me for settling for anything less than fear of you, trust in you and holiness for you. Today may I live in light of your kingdom.

By His grace,

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Isaiah 32

Isaiah 32:1, 15 NIV

See, a king will reign in righteousness
and rulers will rule with justice.

till the Spirit is poured on us from on high,
and the desert becomes a fertile field,
and the fertile field seems like a forest.

The Kingdom and the Spirit. All our insecurities, our false hopes and our complacent faith will disappear when the Kingdom comes and the Spirit is poured out. We are a people of hope who look eagerly for the coming Kingdom. We are a people of faith who trust daily on the indwelling Spirit. We are a people of blessing who, through faith in Christ, preach the message of the Kingdom, enjoy the presence and power of the Spirit, and experience a little bit of the Kingdom through the Spirit and the people of God.

Jesus said, "He that has an ear, let him hear." Jesus spoke often with his disciples about the Kingdom. He said that they would see it come. When the Holy Spirit fell upon them on the Day of Pentecost they experienced the Kingdom. It is by the Spirit that eyes and ears are being opened. There is coming a day when all who have ears will hear. Until that day we have the privilege and responsibility to be the presence of Christ, the message of Christ and the fragrance of Christ in a fallen world. We have a message of promise and hope. Let us live as people of faith and expectation.

Father, I confess that my life is often characterized more by dismay than by hope. Today, by your grace, may I keep in step with your Spirit walking in faith, hope and expectation. May others see in me and hear through me your message of the Kingdom and the Spirit.

By His grace,

Monday, May 14, 2012

Isaiah 31

Isaiah 31:3 NIV

But the Egyptians are mere mortals and not God;
their horses are flesh and not spirit.
When the Lord  stretches out his hand,
those who help will stumble,
those who are helped will fall;
all will perish together.

In the last chapter the issue of security arose. It is interesting that when our security is in the wrong thing our fear often increases. Do you look to the Egyptians for security? "But the Egyptians are mere mortals and not God; their horses are flesh and not spirit." Do we trust our credit rating, our home equity or our ability to always find work? Then a shaky economy where credit is not available, home values are plummeting and jobs are non-existent threaten our security. Every shaky economic indicator becomes a reason to fear. Realizing the frailty and vulnerability of the very thing we look to for hope becomes a source of fear.

God says of Egypt, "those who help will stumble'" and of Assyria in verse 9, "Their stronghold will fall because of terror." The very thing we look to for hope, protection and security is itself insecure. The thing we fear is itself fearful. Hope in the Lord. He is the immoveable rock, the hope of the nations, the fearless one that all else fears. He is the only source of security that does not lead to more fear.

Father, forgive me for the times I have looked to the wrong things for security. They have always failed, but you have always been there. Thank you for the times you have faithfully provided, protected and guided in spite of my own frailty. In you I trust.

By His grace,

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Isaiah 30

Isaiah 30:1, 10, 18 NIV

"Woe to the obstinate children,"
declares the Lord ,
"to those who carry out plans that are not mine,
forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit,
heaping sin upon sin;

They say to the seers,
"See no more visions!"
and to the prophets,
"Give us no more visions of what is right!
Tell us pleasant things,
prophesy illusions.

Yet the Lord  longs to be gracious to you;
therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord  is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him!

They look to the wrong things for their security. They listen to the wrong messages because it makes them feel good. Yet, the Lord longs to be gracious to them. With these thoughts we can run in so many directions. As I read these verses I wonder where my security lies. What is it that makes me feel secure. Where do I look when I'm in trouble. Only God will be there when all the other props are knocked out, yet how often we rely on the props of friends, property, government, credit, plans and preparations, our own craftiness, etc.

As I read these verses my mind goes to the American church that seems increasingly to want to hear comfortable truths that make us feel good and promise us comfort and wealth. We want to hear the comfortable truths about the demise of our enemies. We want to explore the biblical mysteries that strike our fancy. What we don't want are messages of conviction that challenge us to things like discipline, prayer, evangelism, commitment, serving the less fortunate and sacrificing for the good of those that may never appreciate it.

What most powerfully strikes me, however, as I read these verses is the truth that God longs to be gracious to a rebellious people. The implications of that are enormous. Why would God continue to love a church that only wants to hear comfortable truths? Why would he love a people that continually look in the wrong direction for security? How well do I reflect that gracious heart of God toward those outside the church? I have a feeling that for all the attention we give to the concept of grace, we really don't understand it.

Father, thank you for your gracious heart. May I reflect that heart to those around me today. May I be like Jesus.

By His grace,

Friday, May 4, 2012

Isaiah 29

Isaiah 29:13 NIV

The Lord says:
"These people come near to me with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
is based on merely human rules they have been taught.

Israel is practicing all the sacrifices and offerings. They are doing all the religious stuff. They know the right language, do the right things, perform the right activities, but their heart is far from God. It is possible to be in church every time the doors are open, give our tithes and offerings, pray lofty prayers and use holy sounding words and never know God. It's possible to have our theology down, quote biblical texts and contemporary evangelical authors, and listen to Christian radio and still not love God. Unless we love the things God loves and hate the things God hates, unless our lives are driven by a passion to know and be known by our Lord, unless our faith and our worship is about something more than ourselves can we really say that we know God?

Father, I am so grateful for your patience, mercy and grace toward me. May my faith and practice never be empty ritual. May I grow deeper in love with you every day of my life.

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

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Isaiah 28

Isaiah 28:1 NIV

Woe to that wreath, the pride of Ephraim's drunkards,
to the fading flower, his glorious beauty,
set on the head of a fertile valley—
to that city, the pride of those laid low by wine!

Three thoughts occur to me in reading through this chapter: what we take pride in, what we trust, and what we listen to. Reading the verse above I am reminded of our reality TV programs, our Pop Culture heroes and the faces we see on the front of magazines. People get engaged, get married, have children, get sick, break up, and die every day, but it's news when it's someone we have somehow decided is important. Let's face it,  some of these "important" people are pretty pathetic. What do we glory in? What do we take pride in? Why are we more excited about being in the same restaurant as some movie star than we are about visiting orphans and widows? It seems our priority system is out of sync with God's.

Maybe what we take pride in is twisted because of what we trust.

Isaiah 28:15 NIV

You boast, "We have entered into a covenant with death,
with the realm of the dead we have made an agreement.
When an overwhelming scourge sweeps by,
it cannot touch us,
for we have made a lie our refuge
and falsehood our hiding place."

"We have made a lie our refuge and falsehood our hiding place." That's what happened when Adam ate from the tree. That's what happens when we look to money, fame, positions, connections, or anything but God for our security. We make a lie our hope and God will never let a lie stand. Every lie will be exposed. Every falsehood revealed. In verse 17 God says he will sweep away the lie. We're like the man Jesus described as building his house on sand.

So, who will we listen to? The lies of our culture or the truth of God who has a time and place for everything? He knows what is appropriate. He knows how he created us. He knows how and when he will bring down the lies. Who will we listen to?

Father, I confess that I have too often been enamored with the glory and the lies of the world. Forgive me. May I walk in your truth and your light. May I listen well to you.

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...