Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Lamentations 5

Lamentations 5:21 ESV

Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored!
Renew our days as of old—

This chapter is an expression of grief, despair and confession. Jeremiah not only expresses his grief at the conditions of his people, he also acknowledges that they are in this condition because of their sin and the sins of their fathers. The verse above is right at the heart of the matter. He writes, "Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored!"

Too often when we are in dire straits we cry out, "Restore us." But that misses the point. Jeremiah knows that there is no restoration until there is first restoration to God. Restoration from God depends on restoration to him first. Blessing from God depends first on relationship with him. Israel is experiencing God's discipline in this chapter precisely because they have moved away from relationship with him.

Father, forgive me for the many times I have been more interested in my own comfort than in you. Forgive me for crying out for relief but rarely crying out to know you more. Today, whatever comes, may I seek you with all my heart. You promised that if we seek you, we will find you.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Lamentations 4

Lamentations 4:11-13 ESV

The Lord gave full vent to his wrath;
he poured out his hot anger,
and he kindled a fire in Zion
that consumed its foundations.
The kings of the earth did not believe,
nor any of the inhabitants of the world,
that foe or enemy could enter
the gates of Jerusalem.
This was for the sins of her prophets
and the iniquities of her priests,
who shed in the midst of her
the blood of the righteous.

Three thoughts occur to me as I think through this chapter. First, their confidence was in the wrong thing. Nobody believed that "foe or enemy could enter the gates of Jerusalem." Whether their confidence was in the superiority of their defences, or in the mistaken assumption that God would protect them despite their sin and disobedience, they were wrong. No gate, no defence, no contingency plan can protect you when God says that it is time for justice. No misplaced faith can save us or protect us. The world says, "Just believe." God says, "Believe the truth." There is a big difference between those two ideas. Our strength and security is not in our faith, but in the object of our faith. We need to make sure that we are listening closely to him.

The second thought to occurs to me is the devastation of the people. Royalty are living in squalor. Those who had plenty are starving. Those who were known for their compassion are extremely cruel and selfish. When all the props are kicked out from under us then our true character is revealed. It's easy to be nice when everything is going our way. Difficulty reveals who we really are. When all the artificial pretences and social hierarchies of society come tumbling down we find out who is truly great and who were posers.

The third thought that struck to me in this chapter is the statement, "This was for the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests." It reminds me of the vital and weighty responsibility we have as a priesthood of believers to be speaking the truth. The prophets and priests of Jeremiah's day had gotten into the pattern of telling people what they wanted to hear. At some point the seem to have lost the ability to speak God's truth despite the consequences.

Father, you have called us to be salt and light in our world. May we truly be that. May our eyes be set on you. May our lips speak your truth. May our lives truly reflect your character no matter what circumstances we face.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Monday, October 29, 2012

Lamentations 3

Lamentations 3:18, 21-22 ESV

so I say, "My endurance has perished;
so has my hope from the Lord."

But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;

Reading this third chapter of Lamentations three thoughts come to mind. First is the steadfast love of God. In the middle of a five chapter lament over the destruction of Jerusalem we find these words, "his mercies never come to an end." In the midst of drama and trauma there is peace because God's love never ceases.

Second is the fact that in the midst of God's judgment against his people for their sin we find Jeremiah, the author of Lamentations, suffering at the hands of God's people who refuse to listen to his warnings. Remembering that at one point they threw him in a well, these words become even more meaningful:

Lamentations 3:53-55, 57 ESV

they flung me alive into the pit
and cast stones on me;
water closed over my head;
I said, 'I am lost.'
"I called on your name, O Lord,
from the depths of the pit;

You came near when I called on you;
you said, 'Do not fear!'

It is unfortunately true that the most painful abuse often comes from the very people who claim to be God's people. That brings me to the third thought. Jeremiah loved these people. It grieved him deeply to see the people and the city destroyed. That raises the question for me: Do I really love those around me who are living under the displeasure and even judgment of God?

It is hard to love the unlovely. It is even harder to love those who reject you, mistreat you and cover up their own sin. Father, forgive me for my lack of love and my lack of tears over their fate. Forgive me for my lack of pray and concern on their behalf. Today may I look beyond my own experience to see through your eyes of love and compassion.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Lamentations 2

Lamentations 2:13-14 ESV

What can I say for you, to what compare you,
O daughter of Jerusalem?
What can I liken to you, that I may comfort you,
O virgin daughter of Zion?
For your ruin is vast as the sea;
who can heal you?
Your prophets have seen for you
false and deceptive visions;
they have not exposed your iniquity
to restore your fortunes,
but have seen for you oracles
that are false and misleading.

This chapter is primarily a description of the horrific destruction of  Jerusalem. In the middle of this destruction we find verse 14, " Your prophets have seen for you false and deceptive visions..." I wonder how things might have been different if the "prophets" of Judah had spoken the true word of God rather than their "feel good" messages that led to this destruction. I wonder how much of the moral slide of my own country is the result of that same thing. I wonder how many of my own lessons and sermons have fallen into the feel good category rather than the truth category.

Truth isn't always comfortable. We don't always welcome truth. We like to live in our deception. We prefer our illusions of wellness. Messages that question our presuppositions, challenge our methods and motives, and expose our selfish inward looking approach to life are not fun to listen to. They rock us to our core and expose really nasty stuff that we prefer to ignore. But, a man with pneumonia doesn't get well because he sits at home pretending he's not sick. A woman with breast cancer isn't told by her physician, "Go home. Pretend that you're well and you'll live a long and healthy life." Doctors regularly are required to speak hard truth in order to save lives. What would have happened if the "prophets" of Judah had done the same?

Father, may I always preach truth. May I never shy away from the hard truths of your Word. May I speak with gentleness, grace and mercy, but may I always speak truth.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Lamentations 1

Lamentations 1:8, 22 ESV

Jerusalem sinned grievously;
therefore she became filthy;
all who honored her despise her,
for they have seen her nakedness;
she herself groans
and turns her face away.

"Let all their evil doing come before you,
and deal with them
as you have dealt with me
because of all my transgressions;
for my groans are many,
and my heart is faint."

This is the beginning of Jeremiah's lamentation over the fall of Jerusalem. Three things strike me in this chapter. First is the deep pain and sorrow over her fall. Second is the honesty of Jeremiah regarding the reason for her fall and the justice of it. Third is his call for her enemies to also experience God's justice.

Even when we know that consequences are deserved, judgement is due and the failure experienced is just, it is still painful to watch and to experience. We should never rejoice over the pain of our brother no matter how well deserved it is. The truth still remains that we rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.

That brings me to the second thought, however. Too often, rather than admit guilt and the truth that we deserve God's judgment and justice, we try to excuse own sin and our bad behavior. Our pain is always someone else's fault. Our failure was always caused by God, circumstances or other people. We are way too slow to admit guilt and culpability, and way too quick to point fingers. In this lamentation Jeremiah minces no words. "Jerusalem sinned grievously; therefore she became filthy," he writes. It is difficult to weep with one who is experiencing God's discipline in their life when they are blaming, pointing fingers and refusing to admit responsibility.

Finally, Jeremiah calls for Jerusalem's enemies to experience the same justice she has experienced. Too often we are calling for the demise of our enemies before acknowledging our own guilt. It is one thing to call for the justice of God to be carried out. It is a very different thing to call for God's judgment on others when we are refusing to admit our own guilt. Jeremiah's call for justice among the nations flows directly from his confession that God is just in judging his own city.

Justice and judgement will one day come to the whole earth. It will not be a good day, but it will be well deserved. Every person will stand before God's judgement throne to face the consequences of their own actions and choices. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Today we have the opportunity to be honest with God because in that day there will be no more secrets.

Father, forgive me for the times I try to excuse or cover up bad behavior. Thank you for your grace, mercy and forgiveness. By your grace, may I always be honest with you and with those around me.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Friday, October 19, 2012

Hebrews 13

Hebrews 13:20-21 ESV
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

This final chapter of Hebrews begins with some general teaching about Christian living. It includes directives about strangers and prisoners and marriage and money. The chapter then reminds us again of the gospel and its superiority over law. The author of Hebrews then asks for prayer, writes the verses quoted above and wraps up with some personal words abut Timothy and the hope of visiting soon.

At the heart of the matter are the verses quoted above. "Now may the God of peace ... equip you..." Therein lies the heart not only of this chapter, but of the entire letter to the Hebrews. The Christian life is about God equipping us through Christ in a manner that the law could only hint at. The Christian life is not a series of repeated requests for forgiveness like the law. The Christian life is not a set of rules that can't change the heart. The Christian life is not bondage. It is rest. It is hope and expectation. It is faith in a God who once for all dealt with our sins and who equips us "with everything good that [we] may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight." The Christian life is not about people trying to please God. It is about God working in people that which pleases him.

Father, I find it so easy to slide back into law. Thank you for your forgiveness, cleansing and empowerment. Today may I rest in you.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Hebrews 12

Hebrews 12:3-4, 7 ESV

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?

"You have not yet resisted to the point of blood." Hebrews 12 flows directly our of chapter 11? There is a whole "cloud of witnesses" that have gone before us. They believed God even when they did not receive the promise. Some of them believed God even when it meant losing their lives for their faith. This chapter is a call to follow in their footsteps.

God's discipline comes to those he loves. His discipline is for our good. Bad things happening in our lives are not a sign of God's displeasure, but of his love for us. We can endure because these "witnesses" who went before us endured. We can endure because Jesus endured for us. We can endure because God loves us. We can endure because our faith is rooted and grounded in something bigger and better than a mountain in the wilderness and a set of laws carved in stone.

Hebrews 12:22-24 ESV

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

Because of Jesus we can endure. We no longer need to default to our old sinful escapes. We don't need to default to anger, bitterness, immorality and unholiness. We have a higher calling, therefore:

Hebrews 12:1b-2 ESV

... let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Father, thank you for the example of those who have gone before me, and for the founder and perfecter of my faith, Jesus. Forgive me for my petty selfishness that often acts more like the world owes me something than like a son of the King. Today may I walk in faithfulness no matter what my circumstances. I rest in your sovereign love.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Hebrews 11

Hebrews 11:32-33, 35-36 ESV

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,

Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.

This chapter starts out with those who by faith did mighty exploits for God. But as I think back over the chapter and especially as I see how the chapter ends, I realize that this chapter on faith is just that. It's about faith, not about mighty exploits. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did not receive the promised land. Not every fallen believer was raised up. Not every danger was lifted. Not every bad thing was removed. God had a bigger plan. The power of this chapter is not in the truth that God did great things through people of faith. Rather, it is that ordinary people held firmly to their faith no matter what the circumstances. That's the example to which God is calling us.

Father, forgive me for my little faith. Forgive me for being more concerned about my own safety and comfort than about you, your plans and your purpose. Today may I follow in the example of those who went before me by standing firm in my faith whether you lift darkness or allow me to remain in it, whether you remove difficulty and pain or ask me to persevere through it, whether you use me to do mighty exploits in your name or simply call me to faithfulness.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Hebrews 10

Hebrews 10:10, 14 ESV

And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

For believers, the motivation to holiness is the truth that we are holy. There is no ongoing sacrifice for sin because there is no need for an ongoing sacrifice once covered by the blood of Jesus. The life of the believer is not one of believing, falling away, repentance and sacrifice, then believing again.

Hebrews 10:14 ESV

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

Because of Jesus we have full access to the Father. Because of Jesus we have been made holy and are being made holy. Because of Jesus we live in full assurance of God's acceptance and empowering. His motivation for holiness is not fear, but the reality that we are holy. Therefore, let us rest in him and move on toward holiness.

Father, thank you for the full assurance of faith we have in Christ. May we never take that for granted nor trample it under foot in disbelief. In you we rest.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Hebrews 9

Hebrews 9:27-28 ESV

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

This is the hope we have in Christ. His is not a sacrifice offered repeatedly, but a sacrifice once for all. We do not get saved again every week. We are saved once for all. We do not bring sacrifices and offerings every week. He is the once for all sacrifice. Our rest is found in him for that very reason. Jesus entered into the eternal tabernacle, the eternal Holy Place, into the very presence of the Father, providing acceptance and access to the Father for us.

I have heard people refer to a church building as a temple, a tabernacle, or the house of God. That is not biblically  accurate. We, God's people, are his temple. The building is just a building. It may be dedicated to God. It may be used for his glory. But it is only the temple of God when the temple, i.e. the Body of Christ, meets there. It only contains the presence of God in any unique sense when those who are indwelt by the Spirit of God gather there. We have access to God because of Jesus, not because of a building or a ceremony. In him everything changed.

Father, thank you for your grace and mercy. Thank you that I do not have to come back to you every week or every year seeking fresh forgiveness. Thank you that in Jesus I am saved once for all time.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Hebrews 8

Hebrews 8:10 ESV

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Three thoughts run through this chapter. First, the new covenant involves a new heart. Obedience is no longer imposed from the outside in, but flows from the inside out. Second, the new covenant makes the old covenant obsolete. When hearts are changed law is not needed. Third, the new covenant is founded upon a new high priest, Jesus. The result of this is that one day there will be no need of evangelism. 

Hebrews 8:13 ESV

In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

The old covenant is "growing old" and "is ready to vanish away." The need for evangelism is still here, but obedience flows out of changed hearts. It is not imposed upon hard hearts. As a parent and grandparent, it is one thing to impose obedience upon my children or grandchildren. By way of training we might ask, "What do you say?" when we are trying to get them to say, "Thank you." We make rules and enforce them. We impose obedience upon them. It is a very different thing when they voluntarily serve us, use good manners, or in some other way willingly and voluntarily demonstrate the good behavior we've been trying to teach them.

That's the difference between the old covenant and the new. Under the Law obedience was imposed. Under grace obedience flows out of changed hearts. Under the Law priests had access to God for us. Under grace we have direct access to God. Under Law there was punishment for disobedience. Under grace there is the discipline of a God who loves us and is in relationship with us. "In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete."

Father, thank you for your grace, and for the new covenant in Christ. Today, by your grace may I walk in holiness, peace and truth.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Hebrews 7

Hebrews 7:22, 27 ESV

This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.

He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.

A better covenant; so why is it that we constantly insist on going back to some form of law? Jesus "once for all ... offered up himself." The law has changed. We have a better system now. No longer is there a need for daily sacrifices. No longer is there a need for priests who are as sinful as the people they serve. We have a high priest that allows every believer direct access to God. We have a high priest who is faithful, sinless and eternal. We have a high priest who has fulfilled the law and offered us the gift of rest, and yet we so often continue to strive thinking that somehow we must earn God's favor, approval or blessing.

It seems to me that many believers today would fight for the gospel that says we do not earn God's favor. It is a gift from God based on the death and resurrection of Jesus. In that we are correct, but then we turn around and teach that it is through obedience that we fight our way to an acceptable lifestyle; it is through submission that we gain God's blessing on our life; it is through dedicated living according to some set standard (law) that we arrive at a level of holiness. We totally miss the truth that in Christ we are holy. In Christ we are blessed. In Christ we are acceptable to God. Holiness of life is not a matter of disciplined, painful obedience so that God will not only save us, but so that he will also like us. It is about rest in the indestructible high priest, Jesus Christ.

Father, thank you for the life you have given in Jesus. Thank you for the free access we have to you through him. Thank you for the acceptance and blessing in which we live. Today may we live in the rest you have freely given.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

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...