Friday, December 27, 2013

What has God been teaching you this year?

Ephesians 4:15 (ESV)

[15] Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,

It is God's desire that as believers we should all become mature in our faith and in our walk with God. A parent will often mark their child's growth with pictures or a mark on the door post or wall to indicate how much they have grown. As believers measuring maturity is a bit harder. There is no tape measure against which we can easily check our growth. The tape measure is the fruit of the Spirit and the character of Christ, but sometimes measuring how far we have grown by that measure is difficult. It is hard to save if I am more loving than last year or whether I have been more joyful. How many times I have gone to church and how much money I have given is much easier to measure, but it is far less accurate in terms of measuring actual spiritual maturity.

 

That being said, New Years is a time of traditional meditation on our lives. What have we accomplished? Where are we going? What needs to change? In looking back over the past year it seems that God has been teaching me three lessons. He has been reminding me again of the power and necessity of prayer. He has been reminding me that prayer is more than just "saying our prayers." Prayer is an act of faith. Prayer is an expression of dependence. Prayer is listening as much as talking. Prayer is vital in spiritual battle. Prayer is an essential blessing in times of spiritual rest. My prayer as the calendar ticks from 2013 to 2014 is, "Lord, teach me to prayer."

 

God has also been teaching me that we walk by faith, not by sight. Following Jesus is not about seeing and knowing where we are going and how things will turn out. It is not about having plans B and C in place in case plan A doesn't work out. It is not about walking familiar paths and staying comfortable. Sometimes when we follow God we discover that all of our plans with their contingencies fall apart. Sometimes God calls us to walk unfamiliar paths. Sometimes God stretches us far outside our comfort zones. We cannot know what tomorrow will hold. We can, and should, make plans, but we mist always remembef thwt our plans are contingent upon God's plans. We walk by faith, not by sight,

 

Finally, God has been reminding me again of the power of his Word. Our strength as believers is not in us, it is in him and his Word. The scriptures are the word of God himself. God's Word has the power to bring down spiritual strongholds when all our arguments fail. GDP's Word has the ability to bring peace when all of our explanations fall on deaf ears. God's Word has the ability to expose lies, reveal truth, change hearts and transform lives when all of our plans and programs fall apart. There is power in the Word of God.

 

This is what God has been impressing on me recently. The result is that I pray God will teach me to pray, remind me to trust him, and not let me get away with filling my mind and thoughts will a constant flow of nonsense when it is his Word that is truly powerful.

 

What has God been teaching you?

By His grace,

Rick Weinert


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Looking back & looking forward

1 Corinthians 6:11 (ESV)

[11] And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

"Such were some of you." The apostle Paul just ran through a list of grievous sins after which he reminded the Corinthian believers that they used to do those things, but they had been washed clean and made holy in Christ. As believers we are called to keep our eyes focused on Jesus and our hope set on eternity, but there is value in occasionally looking back to see how far we've come. By God's grace we are no longer the people we used to be.

Christmas is the time when we remember and celebrate the truth that God became man in order to save us from ourselves and our sin. New Years is the time when we reflect on where we have been and where we are going. So, in the light of God's grace expressed in the birth of his son, let's take a few moments this week to reflect on where we have come, what God has taught us and where he might be leading us.

What lessons have you been learning this year? What challenges do you think God might be calling you to? What is one thing you know God has been speaking to you about but you've been resistant to listening? Who has he been calling you to talk to? What decision or change in your life has been nagging at the back of your mind that you have been ignoring?  I know there are some lessons that God has impressed on me through this past year, and some changes he has been nudging me toward. I'm not much of a resolution kind of guy. I don't have much faith in my own ability to change. But right now I confess to God that I am willing to have him change me.

Father, thank you for what you have been teaching me over the past year. May I continue in those truths. Father, you and I both know the changes you have been calling me to. I am willing to have you change me, but I acknowledge that I am weak. By your grace may I cooperate with your Spirit and see you change me more and more into your image.


By His grace,

Rick Weinert


Monday, December 23, 2013

Daniel 3

Daniel 3:16 (ESV)

[16] Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. [17] If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. [18] But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up."

When I read these verses several thoughts occurred to me. First, these men did not have to think about this decision because they had already decided. Likely they had talked about what they would do before the actual event occurred. What we do know is that in chapter one they had already taken a stand for God even if it meant their lives. These were men of conviction. Too often we leave the hard decisions for the moment and then we are moved by fear, anxiety peer pressure, etc. Like these three men we need to decide ahead of find that we will follow God no matter what.

 

Second, these men had made it the practice of their lives to choose the right thing rather than the easy thing. They had chosen to eat vegetables rather than the rich food of the king. When we make it the practice of our lives to choose the easy over the difficult, the comfortable over the uncomfortable, the broad road over the narrow path it becomes much more difficult for us to choose the right thing when the pressure is on. We need to make it the practice of our lives to choose the right think over the easy thing in small decisions. When we do, the big decisions become easier to make.

 

Thirdly, it occurs to me that even though this story turned out well for these men, they had no way of knowing that up front. They were willing to put their lives on the line for truth. Too often we approach the Christian life as though it is a means to a comfortable life. We would likely never say it, but we often live as though we believe that worshiping God somehow obligates him to keep us safe and make us comfortable. These men were willing to stand for truth even if no deliverance came. When the littlest thing goes wrong in our lives we cry out, "Why me God? Where are you?" 

 

Walking with God is not for wimps, and it does not guarantee an easy, comfortable life. But it is the right thing to do. As we rapidly approach a new year, have we decided up front that we will walk with the Lord no matter where that takes us? As Joshua said to the Israelites, "Choose you this day whom you will serve."

 

By His grace,

Rick Weinert

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Colossians 1:15

Colossians 1:15 (ESV)

 [15] He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.


As the image of the invisible God Jesus clearly reveals to us the character and glory of God. He "is" the image of the invisible God. It doesn't say that he became the image, nor that he will be the image. It says that he is the image past, present and future. When we see Jesus we see God. Being the image of the invisible God makes a connection to us. People were created in the image of God. By disobedience we messed up that image. Jesus came as the perfect image of the invisible God to restore that image in us.


He is also the firstborn of all creation. The word "firstborn" can mean preceding. It can also mean preeminent. The Greek word does not necessitate that something had a beginning even though the English would seem to indicate that. We know from John 1 that in the beginning Jesus "was." He was, he was with God, and he was God. So Jesus did not have a beginning. With the Father and the Spirit he is eternal. As the firstborn of all creation he both preceded and has preeminence over all creation. He is the creator preceding and presiding over all that he created. As such he not only reveals the invisible God to us, he is God.


The Colossian heresy that Paul was addressing in this letter to the Colossians seems to favor mysticism and angelic messengers over Jesus. For them Jesus is perhaps considered their savior, but they seem to believe that in order to really know God they need something more. Even today we have all sorts of ways of adding to Jesus.  It may be experience, religion, personal commitment, philosophy, eastern mysticism, etc. Any time we believe we need something more than Jesus to really know God we have moved into the realm of heresy. Jesus is the perfect expression of the character and glory of the invisible God. He precedes and is preeminent over all that is created. He is God and we need no other. The gospel is clear: "Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved." Acts 16:31a


C. S. Lewis wrote that at this time of year there are two celebrations going on simultaneously, the secular celebration that includes gift giving, cards, etc. and the religious celebration of the birth of our savior. This Christmas let us not get so caught up in the secular holiday that we forget to worship the one who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. Put your faith in him alone today. Worship him this Christmas.


By His grace,

Rick Weinert



Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Colossians 1:23b

Colossians 1:23b (ESV)

[23b] … the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.


As Christians we often talk about the gospel as a personal relationship with Christ. That is true, but it is more than that. This whole passage of Colossians 1 is written in the context of creation. Jesus, who is the image of the invisible God, created all that exists. Adam and Eve were made in the image of God. That image was twisted and broken when Adam ate the forbidden fruit. Jesus, the image of God, came to reconcile all things to himself. The gospel "has been proclaimed in all creation" (or to every creature). Verse 20 tells us that his blood makes peace, reconciling "all things" to himself. In other words, the good news related to Jesus death is not just about people. It is about all creation. His death makes it possible to not only restore the image of God to a broken humanity, it makes the restoration of all creation possible,


The gospel is about a personal relationship with Christ, but it is also about the reconciliation of all creation. The way in which we have presented the gospel is often quite man centered. You cannot read this first chapter of Colossians without realizing that the gospel is not people centered. It is Jesus centered. Everything was created through him, by him, and for him. He is the head, the beginning and the firstborn so that "he might be preeminent." The gospel is not about us it is about Jesus. The art is about the artist.


Father, too easily I slip into thinking that everything is about me. Forgive me. Today, let me live, walk, listen, talk and minister in a manner that reflects you. "It's all about you Jesus."


By His grace,

Rick Weinert




Monday, December 16, 2013

Colossians 1:15-20

Colossians 1:15 (ESV)

[15] He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.


This is the great mystery of Christmas that the invisible God took on flesh becoming a man. The scriptures teach that no man can see God, that he is a spirit and that the closest any man came to seeing God was when Moses saw the backside of God's glory. When Jesus was born mankind saw God come in human form. They didn't see what God looks like, but they saw God.


He created all things. He existed before all things, and all things are held together by him. There are things that we can see and things that we cannot see, but he brought them all into existence. Science can seek to understand what is there, but it cannot explain where it came from. Something cannot come from nothing. Everything finds its source in this one who humbled himself taking on the form of man though he is the image of the invisible God.


This is the mystery and wonder of Christmas. We try hard during the holiday season to create a sense of mystery and wonder for our children, and that's appropriate. But, the greatest mystery and the greatest wonder is that eternal God would come as a man for the express purpose of dying on a cross in order to reconcile broken, rebellious people to himself. That is mystery and that is wonder.


Father as we rapidly approach the day we have chosen to celebrate the birth of your Son may I get lost in the wonder of this truth that you loved me and that your Son chose to become man for my sake.


By His grace,

Rick Weinert


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Colossians 1 -part 4

Colossians 1:6 (ESV)

[6] which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth,

The gospel was producing fruit and growth in the lives of the Colossians believers. But notice that the fruit and growth followed their hearing and understanding. When we understand the Christian life as primarily doing without hearing and understanding we end up with a Pharisaical hollowness, an empty shell of show without anything of substance underneath. Doing comes from being. Being comes from hearing and understanding the truth.

When we emphasize doing without being we are like the boy that brought chocolate covered horse droppings to school and gave them to his friends. They looked really good, but they still tasted like horse droppings. On the other hand  it is not uncommon in the West to find novelty chocolates that look like deer, elk or bear droppings. Personally I would rather eat the chocolates that look like elk droppings than to eat the horse droppings that look like chocolate.

Too often in the church people are not fully accepted because they look a little different, or are a bit rough around the edges, but people that put on a good show without any substance underneath are readily accepted.  That is backwards. Jesus readily accepted the sinners who came to him knowing that they were sinners. It was the Pharisees with their show of righteousness that he called "white washed tombs full of dead men's bones. God takes no pleasure in our doing without our first being. "Faith comes by hearing and hearing  by the word of God." Fruit and growth come by hearing and understanding.

Father, forgive me for the times I have been more focused on doing than being. Today may I hear you well, understand you deeply and follow you closely.

By His grace,

Rick Weinert

Friday, December 13, 2013

Colossians 1 - part 3

Colossians 1:28 (ESV). Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. [29] For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

Three thoughts stand out to me as I read through these two verses. First, it is Christ that is being proclaimed. He must be the center of all that we do as believers. Do you have some good ideas about childrearing? Good, but is Christ the center or simply something tacked on to make the teaching sound biblical? Do you have ideas about marriage, finances, work ethics, etc.? Good, but is Christ the center or simply something tacked on to make the teaching sound biblical? Jesus Christ is everything. He is our strength. He is our wisdom. He is our purpose and goal. It must be Christ that we continually proclaim.

Second, notice that the author says that he toils and struggles on behalf of those he is teaching, but his struggle is not in his own power. It is in the power of Christ. Verse 29 is clear. "For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me." Our toiling and struggling on behalf of others will have little eternal impact if it is struggling from our energy. My energy is very limited. I have no strength, power or ability to change lives, influence people for Christ or guide them through difficult times. Jesus does. Any ministry I do must be in his power, not in my own.

Finally, this proclaiming, warning, teaching and struggling is for the benefit of others. The Apostle doesn't minister so that people will think, "There goes a godly man." He doesn't minister so that he can personally enjoy hanging out with people that were trained by him. He doesn't minister because it makes him feel good, because it strokes his ego, because it makes him feel like he is doing something significant, or for any other personal reason. He ministers for their sake and God's glory, "that we may present everyone mature in Christ."

As believers in Jesus we are each called to ministry. We need to make sure that any ministry we do is centered on Christ, carried out in his power and done for the good of those we serve and the glory of Christ our Lord.

Father, too quickly and too easily I forget this and it all becomes about me. Forgive me. Today may my eyes be fixed on you, may my energy be drawn from you and may my focus be others instead of myself.

By His grace,

Rick Weinert



Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Colossians 1:7 (ESV)

Colossians 1:7 just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf. (ESV)

In this chapter Paul, the Apostle and author, rejoices in the faith of the Colossians and prays for them even though it was through the ministry of Epaphras that they came to faith, not through Paul's direct ministry. Too often, in our arrogance, we come to believe that we are the only ones that have the truth or that it is only through our particular presentation of the gospel that anyone can truly understand and come to faith. But Paul taught the Ephesians (Eph 4) that apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are not given to the church to do the work of the ministry, but to equip the church to do the work of the ministry. If church leaders are truly doing their job then they do not need to be on call 24/7 to answer every question and make every gospel presentation. Any believer should be equipped to do that.

 

Not only should any believer be equipped to minister the truth of God's word, but any evangelical minister should be able to equip them. Every church is different. I understand that. Some churches over-emphasize the ministry and gifts of the Spirit while others under-emphasize them. Some churches are more liturgical while others seem to have no order. Some churches are more contemporary while others don't seem to have made it out of the 19th century. But the gospel is the heart and soul of a biblical church. Rather than thinking that we are in competition with those who differ from us in any area of theology, we need to learn to rejoice that despite our faults God uses us to influence and impact lives for eternity. People don't get saved in our church because we have every theological i correctly dotted and every theological t correctly crossed. They come to know God by grace through faith. We need to learn to rejoice in that.

 

With Paul we should pray for one another, rejoice in what God is doing and hold our differences with humility. Father forgive me for the arrogance and fear that I have too often allowed to slip in to my own thinking. Thank you for how you are using those who are not me. In fact, thank you that everyone is not like me. Continue to build your church for your glory as you promised, and may I rejoice in that.

 

By His grace,

Rick Weinert

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Colossians 1

Colossians 1:3 (ESV)

 [3] We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, [4] since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, [5] because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel,
 
Faith, hope and love. 1Corinthians 13 says that those are the only three things that last. Spiritual gifts will end, but faith, hope and love abide forever. Faith is foundational to all that we do as believers in Christ. We are saved through faith. We walk by faith. We are protected in spiritual warfare by faith. Faith is foundational. Hope brings clarity of purpose and meaning. We endure hardship because we have hope. We are willing to forgo personal peace and affluence for a higher calling because of our eternal hope. We understand that there is more to life than this life because of our hope in Christ. Hope brings clarity of purpose and meaning. Love is the greatest.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8a; 13 (ESV)

[4] Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant [5] or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; [6] it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. [8] Love never ends...[13] So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

These verses in themselves could take volumes to expound. Love is what unites. Impatience, unkindest, envy and boasting divide. Love is what builds up and encourages. Irritability and resentment tear down and destroy. Love does wink at sin but seeks to restore a fallen brother because we truly care for them. Selfishness and impatience allows sin to continue unchecked. Love lives in the realm of truth, not personal comfort. Loves never quits.


Faith, hope and love, these three are the reasons for which the Apostle Paul gives thanks for the Christians in Colosse. Father, in this Christmas season and throughout the year may faith, hope and love dwell richly in me as well.


By His grace,

Rick Weinert

Friday, December 6, 2013

Colossians 2 - part 5

Col 2:6-7 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (ESV)

"As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him." What does that mean? These verses provide the answer. First, it means understanding that as believers we are "rooted and built up in him." Christianity is about the person of Christ, not a system of religious practice or rules. When we put our faith in Christ we can be assured that we are rooted in him and have begun the process of being built up on him. Tree roots provide both stability and nourishment for the tree. The same is true of Christ. He is both our stability, he promised to never leave us, and our nourishment causing growth. Jesus taught us to abide in him just as the branch abides in the vine and thus receives nourishment. Christians are rooted and built up in Christ.

Second, believers need to be established in the faith. The faith is that system of truth which Christianity embraces. The early church "devoted themselves to the apostles teaching" (Acts 2:42). As believers we need to both teach and be taught the biblical system of belief. We don't need perfect theology to be saved, by when we are saved we should strive to properly understand and communicate God and his word. Walking in Christ means being established in a biblical understanding of God and the world.

Thirdly, walking in Christ means super-abounding in thanksgiving. Gratitude is an expression of humility and trust. As believers we are rooted and built up in Christ, we need to understand and communicate the truth, and we need to be thankful. That's what it means to walk in him. It is not about rules, systems or traditions. It is not about religious activities, denying personal comforts or trying to win God's favor. Walking in Christ is first and foremost about Christ. He has rooted us in himself and is building us up. We need to then be understanding and communicating the truth with hearts of gratitude for all he has done.

Father, too often I slip into the mindset that somehow following you is about me. Thank you that it is all about you. I have no faith in myself, but I rest in your faithfulness.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Colossians 2 - part 4

What does it mean to be saved?

Col 2:13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, (ESV)

In three verses Colossians 2 explains three incredible truths concerning those who have put their faith in Christ. First, verse 13 tells us that we have been made alive together with Christ. Salvation in Christ is about more than just being forgiven. It is about being made new creations in Christ. As believers we died with Christ, we were buried with him, and were raised to new life. This is not just a metaphor for forgiveness. It is an empowering truth. We possess the life of Christ. We are not only forgiven, we are no longer sinners. We may sin, but we are no longer sinners by nature. We are alive to God.

Second, verse.14 tells us that we are forgiven. Jesus death canceled "the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands." It is not enough to say we are new creations in Christ. There is still our record of sin that stands as an offense to the righteous holiness of God. The death of Christ in our place satisfied God's justice and resulted in that record of past, present and future sins being wiped clean. We are forgiven if we have trusted God to save us because of Jesus.

Thirdly, verse 15 Jesus death, burial and resurrection "disarmed the rulers and authorities." Before faith in Christ we were, consciously or unconsciously, living in the realm of the Deceiver. We were under his influence and authority. Jesus death and resurrection disarmed him. The spiritual rulers and authorities of this world have no authority over us. By their very nature they will lie to us and try to convince us that this is not true, but we are free in Christ. Spiritual warfare is not so much a power struggle as it is a truth struggle. We are free. Believe it.

Salvation is so much more than, "You've been forgiven, now try to be good." When we put our faith in Christ we are forgiven. We are given new life. We are freed from the bondage of the Enemy. We are truly and completely saved.

Father, thank you for this incredible truth. Today may my life reflect who I am in Christ and may I live in gratitude for your gift of life.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Colossians 2 - part 3

Col 2:18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, (ESV)

There seems to be a close connection here between asceticism and mysticism. Both appeal to the "sensuous mind." When I hear sensuous I think sensual and sexual, but that's not the idea here. The word is most often translated "flesh" or "fleshly." It refers to who a person is apart from Christ. Both asceticism and mysticism appeal to the "flesh."

Asceticism appeals to the flesh in that the individual is doing something, in this case denying oneself comfort in some way, in order to gain or earn God's favor. This sounds plausible. Sin has consequences. God's wants us to obey him. Blessing seems to follow obedience throughout the scriptures. Surely denying myself certain comforts and pleasures in life will draw me closer to God. But that is bad theology.

In Jesus the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily. As believers we have been filled in him. (Col 2:9-10 ESV) We can't add anything to that. Our part is faith and thanksgiving (See Col 2:5-7). Denying ourselves certain comforts can add nothing to what we already possess in Christ. Certainly fasting for a time may remove some distractions on our part, and there may be value in that as an occasional practice, but it does nothing in terms of making God like us more or acquiring his favor.

Mysticism also is attractive to the flesh and has an appearance of wisdom. Didn't Abraham, Moses, Elijah and others in the Old Testament have encounters with angels? Don't we live in a world that contains both angels and demons? Didn't Ezekiel fall on his face when an angel confronted him? Shouldn't we honor those creatures who have access to God? Wouldn't having an experience with an angel strengthen our faith by making us more aware of spiritual things?

Mysticism is attractive, but just as asceticism can add nothing to what we already have in Christ, so mysticism fails as well. God's grace, his favor (that's what the word grace means) is a free gift. We access it by faith, not by ascetic practices and mystical experiences. We respond to it not by trying to deserve, earn or attain God's favor, but by giving thanks that in Christ we already have God's favor.

Father, it is so easy to slip into the mentality of the flesh that exalts what I do rather that what Christ has done. Thank you so much for your love and acceptance. May I live by faith and thanksgiving rather than by human effort and experience.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Colossians 2 - part 2

Col 2:4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. (ESV)

What is it that will guard us against the plausible arguments of false teaching? Is it a theology or philosophy class? Is it a better catechism? Is it taking notes during the sermon, or maybe a better, deeper preacher? Is it more Bible studies? It is none of those, although they seem to be our preferred methods of trying to inoculate people against false teaching.

Colossians 2:2-3 give us a different perspective. These two verses list three things: 1. Encouragement 2. Understanding 3. Knowledge. But here us where it gets interesting. What is the source of this encouragement, understanding and knowledge? First, the author's yearning is that their "hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love." So the first protection against false teaching is the encouragement that comes from the fellowship of love within the Body of Christ. We were never intended to live the Christian life on our own. It is a community of faith as much as a personal faith.

Second, the writer desires that out of that community of faith the Colossians "reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding." Perhaps this is where training comes in, but notice that this understanding also flows out of the fellowship of love within the body. This understanding is called "riches." There is a wealth found in biblical understanding that is worth more then all the Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals put together. The understanding results not in the ability to pass theology tests with flying colors, but to experience the wealth of full assurance.

Thirdly, Paul writes that his desire of for them to have "the knowledge of God 's mystery." This knowledge, however, does not come from theology classes, Bible studies and preaching. It comes from knowing Christ, "in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." Sitting under good preaching and teaching is valuable, but if one never comes to know Christ through experience then they have not been adequately prepared against false teaching.

Certainly churches and individuals can err on the side of emphasizing experience without understanding, but it is just as dangerous to emphasize understanding without experience. Having full and precise knowledge of God's mystery is necessary, but that knowledge is found in the person of Christ. Having the assurance of understanding and the encouragement to stand firm in the faith is essential but they result from hearts knit together in love. Relationship with God and his people are what protect us against the plausible arguments of false teaching.

Father, thank you for the people you have placed around me and for the grace and mercy I daily experience in Christ. May I grow in my appreciation for those gifts.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Monday, December 2, 2013

Colossians 2 - part 1

Col 2:23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self- made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (ESV)

Throughout this chapter the author continually refers to the Christian life in terms of growing and being built up. He warns against plausible arguments, philosophy, deceit, and twice he warns against the elemental spirits of this world. When I read that I think demons, Greek philosophy, New Age mysticism, cults and false religions. But that's not really what the apostle has in mind. He clarifies it for us in verse 23 when he defines these things as "self- made religion and asceticism and severity to the body." Certainly you will find these three concepts in demonic influence, Greek philosophy, New Age mysticism, cults and false religions, but you will also find then in Judaism, legalism and what appears on the surface to be biblical fundamentalism. He is not trying to identify specific religious systems that are dangerous. He is saying that any religious system is dangerous when it relies on rules, self-effort and personal discipline to produce what only the Holy Spirit can grow in us.

I have rules by which I live. I occasionally fast, or practice other forms of self-discipline. But I never assume that practicing those somehow makes me acceptable to God. Nor can I, by imposing those on others, produce spiritual life in them. Rules and self-discipline cannot change the heart. They can sometimes change behavior by establishing new habits and patterns of behavior, but spiritual growth starts on the inside.

The Christian life is not about keeping a list of rules. It is about understanding who I am in Christ and growing in that. It is about walking by faith. Being thankful is a key element in that walk. That's the point the author is making.

Col 2:6-8 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (ESV)

Father, thank you that you have not left it up to me to try and find you or earn your favor. I would fail. But you have gifted me with life. Today may I walk by faith, resting in Christ, not trusting in myself.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Colossians 3.- part 6

Col 3:10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (ESV)

As believers our life is hidden with Christ (vs 3). Our old self, who we are apart from Christ, has been put off (vs 9) and crucified (Romans 6). We are new creations in Christ (2Corinthians 5:17). But there is also a sense in which the new creation is a process. Colossians 3:10 tells us that the new self "is being renewed." Notice three things in this verse. First, the new self is in process. The Christian life is not just about the event of faith, i.e. trusting Christ as our savior. It is also about the process of faith. Disciples are not made overnight.

Second, notice that the new self is being renewed in knowledge. The word is actually "full knowledge." Walking with Christ is primarily a truth battle not a power struggle. What we know and believe affects what we experience. Following Christ us not about trying harder. It is about knowing and believing.

Third, notice that the new self is being renewed "after the image of its creator." When the Church split between east and west around 1054AD, theologically the western church had focused on the legal aspects if salvation. Jesus death satisfied the righteous justice of God. The eastern church focused on the need for the restoration of the image of God in man. Biblically both are true. As a fallen people who had been created in the image of God that image had been severely damaged. The death and resurrection of Christ, by satisfying the justice of God, not only saves us, but also begins the process of restoring in us the image of God.

When Colossians 3:2 tells us to set our mind on things above it is this image of God the passage is taking about. Father, by your grace restore your image in me. Teach me what I need to know and may I truly believe you. Thank you that you are faithfully recreating your image in me through Christ.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Friday, November 29, 2013

Colossians 3 - part 5

Col 3:17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (ESV)

What does it mean to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus? According to verse 11 it means that we no longer identify ourselves by our social standing, but by our identity in Christ.

Col 3:11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (ESV)

Verses 12-16 reinforce this by calling believers to live out the character of Christ in the peace of Christ according to the word of Christ. Verse 18 through Colossians 4:1 clarify that doing everything in the name of the Lord Jesus affects how we live in family and household relationships. Wives are to submit to their husbands. Husbands are to love their wives. Children are to obey their parents. Parents are not to provoke or discourage their children. Servants are to obey their masters as if they were serving the Lord, trusting God to set all things right. Masters are to treat their servants fairly and justly. All of that is done in the context of giving thanks.

In other words, doing everything in the name of the Lord Jesus affects how we think about ourselves, how we live and how we relate to other people. It's not so much about doing things well or with excellence as it is about doing things in a manner that reflects the character of Christ. In doing that giving thanks appears to be a key element. Verse 15 says to let the peace if Christ rule in us with thanksgiving. Verse 16 encourages us to let the word if Christ dwell in us with thanksgiving. Verse 17 instructs is to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus with thanksgiving. Colossians 4:2 reminds us to continue praying with thanksgiving. Perhaps we struggle with these other areas of our lives precisely because we are not thankful.

Father, forgive me for how often I live with my mind fixed on the messes of life. Today, with thanksgiving may I walk with my mind set on things above doing everything in the name of the Lord Jesus. Father, thank you for reminding me to look up.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Colossians 3 - part 4

Col 3:15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. (ESV)

I wrote about this verse earlier this week, but it struck me again this morning. Experiencing God's peace in this verse is clearly connected with living in unity. It then ends with, "be thankful." One of the reasons that the Christian community does not experience unity in peace is because we are not thankful, or because we are thankful for the wrong things.

In Luke 18 Jesus tells of the Pharisee who stood on the street corner praying, "I thank you that I am not like other men." He was thankful, but clearly not for anything that would lead to love, peace and unity. We gossip; we talk about what's wrong with people; we ruminate on others faults and secret sins; we pray that God would fix them, and we somehow believe that if God would just fix them then we could have peace and unity. We fail to recognize that our own failure to give thanks is undermining the very thing we claim to want.

What if we started thanking God for the people that irritate us rather than reviewing their faults? What if we told others what was good about people rather than what is wrong with them or how weird they are? What if we acknowledged to God that we are no better then anyone else instead of quoting the Pharisee's prayer? What if we rehearsed all the good things about a person instead if their faults? Maybe peace and unity is more closely connected to thanksgiving than we realized.

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the USA. Let's take a little time today to thank God for those irritating people in our lives, not just the comforts and fun people we know. Today let's truly be thankful.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Colossians 3 - part 3

Col 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (ESV)

Giving thanks is clearly connected, in verse 15, with the peace of Christ. In verse 16 it is directly connected to the word of Christ. What does it mean for the word of Christ to dwell in us richly? For me, I know what it looks like when his word is not dwelling in me richly. I read words but my mind is elsewhere. I study text but I promptly forget it. I quote scripture but the thoughts on the forefront of my thinking are disconnected from the word. To dwell richly means to inhabit copiously.

When the word of Christ fills my thinking affecting every area of thought it results in three things in this passage. First, we begin teaching and gently correcting one another. The Bible talks about the need for older people to be teaching the younger, but one pastor talks about reverse mentoring, i.e. the need for young people to help older people understand their world. Biblically we need both. Teaching is not a one way, top down thing. It is more like cross pollination where wisdom rather than pollen is being carried back and forth between us as we each learn, grow and let the word of Christ dwell in us richly.

Wisdom comes from experience filtered through the word of God. Studying the scriptures without experiencing life leads to a simplistic and often legalistic understanding of God's word. Experience without the filter of God's word can often lead to unbiblical and even sinful habits, attitudes and actions. Experience filtered through God's word leads to wisdom. Wisdom shared between believers helps all of us grow. When the word of Christ fills my thinking affecting every area of thought it results in teaching and gently correcting one another.

Secondly, when the word of Christ fills my thinking affecting every area of thought it results in singing. Not all of us are musicians, but music affects us all. We may not all sing on key, but we all sing on key in our heads. Music, songs, advertising ditties, songs on the radio are going through our minds often. When the word of Christ fills my thinking affecting every area of thought it results in songs running in my head that honor God and set my thoughts on heavenly things.

Finally, when the word of Christ fills my thinking affecting every area of thought it results in giving thanks. Thanksgiving reorients my mind, but it is also true that reorienting my mind through the word of God leads to thanksgiving. Reading and meditating on God's word is not just another discipline we add to a list of spiritual disciplines we need to do in order to make God happy. Rather, it is a lifeline that is foundational to growing in Christ and reflecting him to our world. It results in teaching and gently correcting, singing and worship, and a heart of gratitude.

Father, forgive me for too often doing my duty in reading your word rather than letting it dwell in me richly. Teach me what that means.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Colossians 3 - part 2

Col 3:15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. (ESV)

In this verse a heart of gratitude is somehow related to the peace of God ruling in our heart. Does peace lead to bring thankful? Does being thankful lead to peace? I'm not sure. Maybe both are true. They are clearly connected here. The way the passage develops I am inclined to understand this passage to say that experiencing God's peace moves us to gratitude.

That raises the bigger question of how we experience God's peace. "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body." Three things seem to be clear from this verse. 1. God's peace is rooted in the truth that leads up to this verse. Verse 2 says to set our minds on things above. Verses 3 & 4 tell us that our life, as believers, is hidden in Christ who is our life. Verses 5-10 tell us that we have put off the old self and that the new self, that is who we are in Christ, is being renewed in knowledge after the image of our creator. Verses 11-14 remind us that in Christ we are holy. The call is then to live out that holiness, letting God's peace rule in our hearts (vs 15). In other words, God's peace is not something we chase after and try to find. Neither is it something we try hard to produce. Rather, it is something we let in as we realize and believe who we are in Christ.

2. This peace of God that rules in our hearts is not just personal peace. It is also corporate peace. That is, when God's peace is ruling in our hearts we not only experience peace within our hearts and minds, it also flows out into our relationships with others. Inner peace produces outer peace. We can more easily forgive, give the benefit of the doubt, look past imperfections and truly love when we are experiencing God's peace internally. Inner peace produces outer peace.

3. When God's peace is ruling in our hearts we turn naturally to giving thanks. When we give thanks our hearts find peace. It's not a vicious circle, it's a blessed circle, a blessed circle of peace and gratitude.

Father, too quickly and too easily my heart is distracted by the problems of this world. Today may my mind be set on things above, trusting you and walking in peace and thanksgiving.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Monday, November 25, 2013

Colossians 3

What is the relationship between family relationships and giving thanks to God? I noticed that Colossians mentions giving thanks three times in 3:15-17. Verse 17 says:

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (ESV)

That is immediately followed by a discussion of household relationships: wives and husbands, children and parents, servants and masters. The very next verse, after dealing with these relationships, is about giving thanks. The discussion runs from Colossians 3:18-4:1. Colossians 4:2 says:

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. (ESV)

So, between "whatever you do ... giving thanks" and "continue steadfastly in prayer... with thanksgiving" we find instructions on household relationships. Could it be that without grateful hearts toward God we have a difficult time demonstrating holiness and godly behavior toward those we are closest to?

Here is a principle to try then. Next time you find you attitude toward your spouse, your parents, your children, or those with whom you work, to be out of kilter try thanking God. See if perhaps a heart of gratitude toward God didn't change your attitude toward others as well. After all, God not only connects thanksgiving with family relationships, he also connects it to experiencing the peace of God.

Col 3:15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. (ESV)

Let's give it a try. Father, I confess that I am too often grouchy and too seldom thankful. Today may I recognize your gracious gifts and give thanks.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Colossians and giving thanks - part 2

Col 2:4, 6-7 I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (ESV)

Two thoughts stood out to me as I reflected on these verses. First is that a thankful heart is one protection against "plausible arguments" that lead to false teaching and spiritual bondage. As you read this chapter you discover that some of the principles for guarding against false teaching and spiritual bondage include unity in love, a full understanding of who we are in Christ, and being firmly established in the faith. But along with those is "abounding in thanksgiving."

I think that a thankful heart is a heart focused on Christ and his grace. It is therefore less likely to be deluded by man-centered teaching. A heart that is not thankful is a dissatisfied heart that is looking for something and therefore open to wrong teaching. So, a thankful heart is one protection against "plausible arguments" that lead to false teaching and spiritual bondage.

Second, I find it interesting that thanksgiving is one of the things listed under the category of "as you received Christ Jesus the Lord..." Christ is received by faith. When we receive Christ we are "rooted and built up in him" and enter into a process of being "established in the faith." But we are also thankful. A true understanding of the gospel results in a grateful heart. Release from the guilt and bondage of sin produces thanksgiving. Perhaps when Jesus sent a message to the Ephesian church through John in Revelation 2 to "do the works you did at first" he was thinking about giving thanks among other things.

Giving thanks is a natural result of receiving blessing that we know we do not deserve. It is also an act of faith, demonstrating trust when we can't see the solution. It is where our faith began and it protects us from the deceptions of the ungrateful.

Father, forgive me for how quickly I complain and how slowly I give thanks. Today may that be reversed.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Colossians and giving thanks

Col 1:11-12 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. (ESV)

This letter to the Colossians starts out with a prayer of thanks for the Colossian believers. By the end of the prayer the author is praying that the Colossians become a people of gratitude. Giving thanks permeates this short letter written by the Apostle Paul.

Giving thanks to God for other people moves us to forgiveness, unity and love. It changes or perspective on them and on ourselves. It refocuses our minds on God's grace rather than on our brother's frustrating actions or our sister's irritating habits.

Giving thanks in difficult circumstances refocuses our hearts on God's sovereignty, God's promises, God's truth and God's love. It comforts us by reminding us that everything is in God's hands and he will never leave us. It encourages us by helping us remember that our life is about more then these short years on this earth. It strengthens us by recalling that our strength in found in Christ, not in ourselves. Giving thanks allows the searchlight of God's grace to penetrate the darkness of our soul. Perhaps we would do well to give thanks more often then we pray for rescue.

Father, I confess that I am too quick to complain and far too slow to give thanks. Today may I live with a grateful heart.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Ezra 10 - part 3

Eza 10:15 Only Jonathan the son of Asahel and Jahzeiah the son of Tikvah opposed this, and Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite supported them. (ESV)

Israel's unfaithfulness is being addressed in this chapter. A plan had been proposed, because of the weather and the enormous task involved, to take some time and deal with the problem in a dispersed but orderly manner. Everyone was to go home and select leaders in each town would deal with the issue on a case by case basis. These four men listed above opposed the plan. Were they opposed to requiring men to divorce their pagan wives, or were they opposed to a decentralized application of the solution? We are not sure. What we do know is that not everyone was in agreement.

I have known people who believed that if God was truly leading a congregation then there should be 100% agreement. We clearly don't see that here, and yet the solution seems to be from God and it seemed to work. I know other people who believe that as long as there is a majority vote then the church should move forward. Majority rules. Note that in this case neither of those principles is in play. Not everyone was in agreement yet they moved forward with their plan of action. Neither was this a simple majority vote. I think it is significant that the text says "only" two men opposed the decision and two additional men supported them. Four men opposed to the decision out of probably a few thousand inidicates more than a simple majority.

In this passage there is a proposal by leaders and a strong consensus among the people. We see this same principle practiced in Acts 15 at the Jerusalem Council. The Church faced its first major theological crisis in this council. After hearing all the testimony James makes a decision, but it is a decision that was supported by a strong consensus of the people. In Acts 15:19 James expressed his judgment after having demonstrated that his decision was based on both the work of the Spirit and the teaching of the scriptures. In response to his judgment verse 22 tells us that it "seemed good to the apostles and the elders" to send letters with certain men expressing this decision throughout the Church. A decision was made with the strong consensus of the others in the council.

Biblical leaders don't make every decision for those they lead, nor does every good idea need to originate with them. The decision made in Ezra 10 did not originate with Ezra. But, biblical leaders do need to make decisions and the wisdom of their decision is often validated by the strong consensus of those they lead. This takes wisdom and humility, sensitivity to the Spirit and the ability to listen well to those they lead. Biblical leaders are not commanders, they are leaders. There is a difference. Ezra was a leader.

Father, forgive me for the times my ego has gotten in the way of good leadership. By your grace may I lead with wisdom and humility. May I listen well to your Spirit and to those you have called me to lead. To your glory.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Ezra 10 - part 2

Eza 10:3-4 Therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God, and let it be done according to the Law. Arise, for it is your task, and we are with you; be strong and do it." (ESV)

Even in their revival Israel was caught up in the very sin that caused their captivity in the first place. It seems that each of us have certain sinful tendencies that we naturally gravitate toward. There is wisdom in knowing what those are and guarding ourselves in those areas.

The solution to this sin in their midst apparently came from a man named Shecaniah. It came as a result of a time of corporate fasting, prayer and grieving over their sin. Dealing with this sin involved three things. First, it was connected to fear of God and relationship with him. The solution came out of fasting, grieving and trembling before God. It involved a covenant with God.  There is a fundamental understanding of both the fear of God and the love of God in this. Fear of and relationship with him are key.

Second, the solution is grounded in the scriptures. "Let it be done according to the Law" was Shecaniah's counsel. Too often we neglect to understand that the counsel of the Spirit of God that flows out of relationship never contradicts the counsel of the scriptures which were inspired by that same Holy Spirit. Following the "Spirit" without a proper understanding of his "Word" can lead to hearing incorrectly, leading us into unbiblical behavior. Of course, the other side of that coin is just as dangerous. Exalting the Word of God without a vital, living relationship with him results in dead orthodoxy. Neither is healthy.

In this solution to sin there is fear of and relationship with God. There is also a respect for and proper understanding of God's word. Thirdly, there is a respect for and submission to God's leadership. Shecaniah says, "it is your task, and we are with you; be strong and do it." In our individualistic and independent society where individual rights and choices reign supreme, and in a society where authority has been routinely abused, we find the idea of respecting, submitting to and following our leaders scary. We might even say it is unwise. But that is why blindly following our leaders is never the biblical mandate. Respect for and submission to leadership is one of the principles here. It is not the only principle.  When we are fearing God and in proper relationship with him, and when we are respecting and properly understanding God's Word then we must also respect, support and follow the leadership God has  placed over us.

Too often, when dealing with sin, we practice one or two of these principles. There is Godly wisdom in using all three. They validate one another and bring balance and clarity to our lives. Father, thank you for your Spirit, your Word and your leaders whom you have placed over me. May I respect each and listen well.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Ezra 10

Ezra 10:2b "We have broken faith with our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land, but even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this. (ESV)

This is a difficult chapter. Ezra instructs the men of Israel to "put away" their foreign wives and children. When we read this we want to make the passage about marriage and divorce. I thought God said, "I hate divorce." How can he be pleased then with this decision to divorce foreign wives? They may be foreign, but they are still wives. I thought Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me." If God loves children then how can he be pleased with sending these children away with their mothers? Those are the questions that make this a difficult chapter, but they also miss the point.

This chapter is not about marriage and divorce. It is about a different marriage relationship altogether. This chapter is the Old Testament equivalent of Jesus words in Luke 14:26 "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple." This chapter is about the fact that Israel is first married to God. By taking foreign wives they have broken their marriage vows to God. They have been morally unfaithful. They have committed spiritual adultery, to use the words of the prophets.

Even as our society recklessly destroys the biblical definition of family they emotionally place high value on family. But family is not the highest priority in life; God is. Israel had forgotten that. By taking foreign wives they had stepped right back into the very sin that had caused them to be taken into captivity in the first place. When our priorities in life get turned around our moral decisions always veer off track. We think we see a clear track ahead but it is a trail to destruction.

When my wife or my children or my personal happiness is the primary force for moral direction in my life I end up losing what I thought I was preserving. Who knows what motivated these Israeli men to take foreign wives? It may have been lust. It may have been a shortage of Israeli women. It may have been loneliness. It may have been intrigue. What ever it was that motivated them, it wasn't God and it resulted in grief.

Father, forgive me for how often and how quickly I replace you as the first love of my life. Today may I take to heart your counsel to the church in Ephesus.

Rev 2:4-5 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (ESV)

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Friday, November 8, 2013

Ezra 9 - part 6

Eza 9:8 But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant and to give us a secure hold within his holy place, that our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our slavery. (ESV)

No matter how dark life gets there are those "brief moments" when God's grace shines through. Like the sun peeking through storm clouds reminds us that the sin is still there, so these moments of clarity remind us that God hasn't gone anywhere. He is still there and he still loves us.

Why do these moments come? Perhaps because God loves us in spite of our sin and so he extends grace to draw us out of darkness. Or perhaps it is because someone has been praying for us. Daniel didn't get to travel back to Jerusalem, but I believe that those who went back home with Zerubbabel and Ezra were the result of Daniel's prayer of confession in Daniel 9. This is a reminder for us as to why we must never give up praying for those who walk in the darkness of sin. I expect the answer as to why these moments of grace appear in our lives is a combination of both the steadfast love of God and the faithful prayers of God's people.

That leads us to two questions. First, when that sunbeam of grace pierces the darkness of our sin will we pay attention or will we hide from the light like Adam hid from God? As the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church in 1Corinthians 10:13 "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it." (ESV)

Second, who are you praying for? Have you given up or do you recognize that God's grace is greater than their sin? As Samuel said to the people of Israel in 1Samuel 12:23a "Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you..." (ESV)

Father, when faced with the darkness of sin may I recognize your way of escape and find victory in Christ. When my brother or sister is caught in sin, or my neighbor is lost without Christ may I never cease to pray for them. Father, shine the light of your grace through the storm clouds of sin and bring your peace.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Ezra 9 - part 5

Eza 9:15 O Lord, the God of Israel, you are just, for we are left a remnant that has escaped, as it is today. Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this." (ESV)

It has been my experience that when we are caught in sin we go looking for affirmation. We seek normal conversations with good people so that we don't have to think about our sin, or so we can convince ourselves that what we are doing is really not all that bad. As a result, when the conversation gets close to addressing our sin we tend to have one of three responses.

1. We look a little ashamed, admit that we've made some mistakes, and assure those we are talking to that we are trying to change or have changed. In other words we make light of both the severity of our sin and our personal responsibility.

2. We attempt to justify our sin by blaming others, insisting that we couldn't help ourselves, our sin is the fault of how we were made or raised (it is either God's fault or our parents fault), or explain that someone coerced us or deceived us.  In other words we make light of both the severity of our sin and our personal responsibility by shifting the blame.

3. We insist, no matter how much evidence there is to the contrary, that we haven't done anything wrong. We may try to explain why what we are doing is okay, or we may simply walk away or get angry because we are being "falsely accused" and attacked. In other words we make light of both the severity of our sin and our personal responsibility by living in denial or by attacking our accusers.

None of these responses to sin are helpful or healthy, but we do them all the time.

On the other hand, those throughout the Bible that were used mightily by God and honored never excused sin. David quickly broke down acknowledging and confessing his sin when Nathan confronted him. Samson, on the other hand, always had an excuse. Here in Ezra 9 we find Ezra quickly acknowledging their sin and the justice of God's judgment. He understood that they deserved far more judgment and far less blessing than they had received.

To their credit, we find the people agreeing with Ezra. They are not trying to pretend that what they are doing is acceptable. They are not trying to shift the blame. They are not trying to make light of either the severity of their sin nor their personal responsibility. They joined Ezra in brokenness over sin, acknowledged their guilt and sought a solution. Ezra admitted, "Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this." The people agreed.

Father, because you love us never let us get away with anything less than brokenness over our sin and biblical confession. We do not deserve your grace, but we treasure it.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Ezra 9 - part 4

Eza 9:11b 'The land that you are entering, to take possession of it, is a land impure with the impurity of the peoples of the lands, with their abominations that have filled it from end to end with their uncleanness. (ESV)

We have an enemy who is a liar. The Enemy would convince us that good is evil and evil is good. That is what he did in the Garden of Eden. As believers we need to learn to recognize the lie. The scriptures talk about the "pleasures of sin for a season." It is a short season. Sin always leaves its mark. We see the laughing and dancing. We don't see the vomiting, fighting, shame and hangover that follow. We see the tingle of excitement but we don't see the loneliness of a one night stand, the shame that follows the sin, the disease that ravages bodies because of an immoral lifestyle, and the emptiness and insecurity of a physical relationship without commitment. We hear about the freedom that results when a single, pregnant young woman chooses to get rid of the fetus. What we don't see is the guilt under which she lives, the physical damage to her body caused by the abortion, the times that she is haunted by doubt, wondering what might have happened to that little one she so violently had "removed" from her body. We see people who apparently live with no guilt, enjoying these "seasons" of sin. What we don't see is the scarred and callused conscience that dulls the joy along with the guilt. That's why addictions form and actions get increasingly sinful. It takes a little more drug, a little more alcohol, a little more depravity to bring the same tingle of happiness, until there is no enjoyment left and yet the sin persists.

We have an enemy who is a liar. We need to learn to see past the smoke screen to the truth and see the true nature of sin. It is, by its very nature, impurity, abomination and uncleanness.

Father, I confess that I have too often bought the lies about sin. Forgive me. Give me eyes to recognize the lies and see the truth. Give me compassion for those caught in the muck of sin, but the wisdom to know how vulnerable I am. Give me a love for truth and righteousness.

Gal 6:1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. (ESV)

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Ezra 9 - part 3

Eza 9:10 "And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken your commandments, (ESV)

Sin is not a popular subject. I would rather talk about our freedom from sin in Christ than to talk about sin. But sin is real. It is dangerous. It is seductive and addictive. Sin is slavery.

Israel was under a covenant of works with God. If they kept his commands then he promised to guard and bless them. If they broke his commands then he promised to judge them. Israel had been judged for her sin and here she was right back committing the very same sin all over again.

We need to ask the question: Why was breaking a few commands such a serious offense? If God's commands were simply arbitrary rules put together by God to keep people in line and make sure they know who is boss, then all of this cursing and judging because of a few broken rules seems a bit overdone. Some might respond, "But, he is the boss. God of the ultimate ruler so any sin is rebellion against the ultimate ruler." There is truth to that statement, but it doesn't explain why these rules are anything more than arbitrary. Someone else might respond, "Well, if you only understood how great and awesome and powerful God he is then you would understand why obedience is important." There is truth there also, but it still doesn't explain why breaking an arbitrary rule is such a big deal unless God just likes to throw his weight around.

A better answer, I think, is that God is a righteous, holy creator. We were designed to enjoy and reflect his glory. Sin destroys that. We were designed to be in close fellowship with a holy God who cannot allow anything that distorts his design or his nature and character to continue in his presence. Sin is ultimately defined as that which is contrary to God's design and inconsistent with his nature and character. Romans 3:23 defines sin as falling short of the glory of God. Sin is not about breaking arbitrary rules then. It is about messing up the glory of God we were designed to emulate and reflect. Sin, then, is a big deal.

Father, today may I reflect your glory to my wife, my friends and my world. May my heart be tender to your Holy Spirit's convicting, prompting and leading.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Friday, November 1, 2013

Ezra 9 - Part 2

Eza 9:3 As soon as I heard this, I tore my garment and my cloak and pulled hair from my head and beard and sat appalled. (ESV)

Too often, I think, we misunderstand what it means to confess sin. As New Testament believers we are quick to quote 1 John 1:9 "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Everyone knows John 3:16, but my guess is that within evangelical circles 1 John 1:9 is the next best known verse. That is not a bad thing in and of itself. It's a great verse, but do we understand it?

Unfortunately I fear that "If we confess" has come to mean "If we say we're sorry." The problem is: that's not what confess means. To confess means to agree. It means to speak the same thing. If we are confessing sin to God then we are demonstrating our agreement with him that what we did was reprehensible sin offensive to a righteous and holy God. I don't believe that God forgives sin if I grovel enough before him, but I do believe that if I am truly in agreement with God about sin then there will be a brokenness in me. Just saying words means nothing if we don't really believe them.

A child may say "I'm sorry," but only be sorry he got caught. A person can ask, "Will you forgive me?" without believing that they actually did anything wrong. A Christian can say to God, "I've sinned. Please forgive me." without having any sense of how offensive their actions were to God. "If we confess our sins" does not equal, "I'm sorry." Ezra understood Israel's sin not as simply an inconvenient rule that had been broken. He understood it in the context of God's righteous holiness, God's special call on Israel, the covenant relationship Israel had with God, and the history of Israel's former failures. When he heard about this sin the blood drained from his face and he "sat appalled."

If a person is broken over their sin then 1 John 1:9 is a wonderful promise. Unfortunately we have too often just turned it into a rote liturgy to get us of the hook. We need to see sin as God sees it or we will never see and appreciate God and his grace as they truly are.

Father, I confess that I have too often taken sin in my life too lightly. Thank you for your unfailing grace. May I learn to truly appreciate it by realizing better the depth of my own sin.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Ezra 9 - part 1

Eza 9:15  O Lord, the God of Israel, you are just, for we are left a remnant that has escaped, as it is today. Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this." (ESV)

Ezra becomes aware that the leaders of Israel, along with others, have married pagan wives. He is immediately broken over this sin, tearing his clothes, tearing his hair and sitting stunned over their sin. These are signs of brokenness, humility and fasting. Ezra grieves this sin.

How do we address sin in our lives? Too often we are angry at the sins of others, while quickly excusing our own transgressions. They are usually referred to as mistakes, poor judgment, or weaknesses, but rarely sin. How would things be different if we grieved the sins of others and admitted our own? What if we recognized that our sins and those of our brother/sister affect the whole body of Christ?

Ezra understood that Israel was in captivity because of sin. He recognized that God had graciously allowed them an opportunity to rebuild. This sin threatened that. This was why they had been in captivity in the first place. They were right back where they had started. This was not about sinning against other people. This was an offense against the God who had just graciously and abundantly brought them home.

David understood this. When he sinned with Bathsheba and had her husband Uriah killed he confessed to God, "Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight..." (PS 51:4a ESV) How can he say that? Hadn't he sinned against Uriah? Hadn't he sinned against Bathsheba? Hadn't he sinned against Joab by commanding him to place Uriah in a position where he would be killed? But, David understood that ultimately sin is about God.

We forget that. We tend to think that sin is about us. We tend to think that the sins of others are about those they have hurt. We tend to think that private sins that no one sees are private. But ultimately sin is about the nature and character of God and his creation. Every sin we commit distorts the image of God in us. Every sin turns the order of creation wrong side up. Every sin public or private affects everyone around us. Sin is a big deal. Every sin should lead us to brokenness and grief. It is time we stopped making excuses and recognized the destructive power of sin.

Father, forgive me for playing God by trying to punish others for their sins while excusing my own. May my heart break along with yours over sin.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Ezra 8 - part 4

Eza 8:21 Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. (ESV)

The Mosaic Law prescribed one annual fast per year. Because of the captivity however, the Jews apparently added four annual fasts (see Zech 8:19 where God says that these four fasts will be turned into feasts). One document lists 25 different prescribed feasts, although most of them were apparently never accepted by the general public. ( http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/6033-fasting-and-fast-days)

Most of us have a stubborn streak in us that doesn't like to be told what to do. We get irritable when we miss a meal, and we get a headache is we miss our sweets or our coffee. So, between stubbornness and discomfort we just do not fast. But, I have to admit that those are poor reasons to not fast. There are no biblically prescribed fasts for the Christian Church. That does not, however, mean that a fast is inappropriate. Jesus did say that his disciples would fast after he was gone, and the early church did practice occasional fasting.

Fasting is for the purpose of humbling ourselves before God. It indicates our brokenness and our dependence on Him. And it provides time, means and opportunity for us to seek Him and draw closer to him. That is exactly what Ezra is calling his people to in this passage. This is not a fast to twist God's arm or somehow get his attention. It is intended to demonstrate humility and dependence. Their only hope is God, and this is how they are expressing that truth.

Perhaps as our world changes around us we need to reconsider the value of a fast. We occasionally need those times when drawing near to God is our primary focus. We occasionally need those times when we humble ourselves before God and seek His face. We occasionally need those times when we acknowledge our dependence and our need.

Our Church just had our annual business meeting. It was a good meeting, but I wonder what would have happened if we had fasted and prayed and sought God's face before going into a meeting like that. I wonder if it would have been less business and more Spirit. We acknowledge that we want to be guided by the Holy Spirit. We affirm that we want Holy Spirit led living and teaching of the Word of God. This is good, biblical, and important. The question is: Do we put ourselves in a position where we can actually hear from the Spirit of God?

I'm not about to stand up on Sunday morning and impose a fast on everyone in the church. But as a church and as individual believers perhaps we need to give this some more thought. Father, guide us clearly, guard us carefully, and may we keep in step with you.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Friday, October 25, 2013

Ezra 8 - part 3

Eza 8:34 The whole was counted and weighed, and the weight of everything was recorded. (ESV)

I recently had a conversation with a property manager. They told me that when they rent a house they do a walk through once a month to make sure that the house is being properly taken care of. How do they keep the renter from feeling like they are being spied on? They make sure that the renter understands that they are also looking for anything that might need fixed or repaired. Accountability is a two way street. When Ezra set up a system of accountability for those carrying the gold, silver and bronze to Jerusalem, he was not saying that he did not trust them. He was guarding them against both false accusations and temptation.

Too often when a church asla us to be accountable in some way we are offended. We assume that they do not trust us. But churches and church leaders understand two things: 1. They understand that all people are subject to temptation and so systems of accountability protect us in that area. 2. They understand how people with responsibilities are subject to false accusations. Systems of accountability protect us in both of these areas. Carefully established systems of accountability both in the areas of money and morality are wise, not divisive.

Too often fragile egos has caused people to misunderstand this truth. Too often systems intended to protect have been misunderstood as mistrust. Too often a lack of systems of accountability have harmed the name of Christ and the church in this world. Church leaders have slid into misappropriation of funds and other grievous sins because of a lack of accountability. Ministries have been destroyed because of false accusations. For the sake of those who serve, those who are served, and the Lord God whom we serve established systems of accountability are clearly wise and biblical.

Father, thank you for this example of accountability that Ezra set for us. For the sake of your name may we be as wise.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ezra 8 - part 2

Ezra 8:15 I gathered them to the river that runs to Ahava, and there we camped three days. As I reviewed the people and the priests, I found there none of the sons of Levi.(ESV)

After listing the leading men in the first paragraph of this chapter Ezra then says "I" several times. "I gathered them to the river... I reviewed ... I found ... I sent ... Then I proclaimed a fast... I was ashamed to ask the king... Then I set apart twelve of the leading priests... I weighed out to them..." etc. Ezra gathered everyone together to prepare for the trip, proclaimed a fast, and set apart twelve leading priests. From that point on he never says "I" again. First it is "we." "Then we departed from the river..." After that it is "those" and "they." "Those who had come from captivity ... offered burn offerings... They also delivered the king's commissions... and they aided the people and the house of God." In this chapter Ezra moves from I to we to they. Isn't that what biblical leadership does?

Jesus said, "I am the light of the world." (John 8:12) In the next chapter, however, he reminds them that "As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." (John 9:5) In Matthew 5 he says to his disciples, "You are the light of the world." Jesus knew that when he left this world his role would change and the light would be seen through his followers. He spent three years training up his disciples in order to commission them to take on that ministry of reconciliation through the Great Commission. Biblical leadership trains and equips rather than controlling and commanding. Biblical leadership trains up people to replace us. It equips and then commissions those who follow. 

That is what Ezra did. He called people to a vision, brought them together, led them to the Lord, appointed leaders, and then apparently gave them room to lead. We will see his continuing influence and leadership in the following chapters, but it is significant that he moves from I to we to they. Maybe he was elsewhere on the kings business during the last part of the chapter. Indications are that he was given extensive responsibility by the king. But that only strengthens the point. When biblical leaders do their job they do not have to be around and in control. The influence of their teaching and equipping allows for the people of God to function quite well without them. 

As parents it is our biblical responsibility to raise up and train children that can make wise choices on their own. As church leaders it is our responsibility to train and equip believers to hear from and follow God whether we are there or not. Pastors and elders do not stand in for God telling people what to think and do. They train and equip so that believers under their care can understand the scriptures rightly, discern the Spirit's leading well, and carry on in life and ministry effectively. If we fail to do that then we have failed as leaders and we have followed the example of neither Ezra nor Jesus.

Father, I confess that too often I want to control rather than equip and release. Forgive me. Maybe it is fear; maybe it is arrogance, but I acknowledge that it is not right. Give me the wisdom, discernment and humility to grow, equip and release those under my leadership to follow you wherever you may take them.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Ezra 8

Ezra 8:15 I gathered them to the river that runs to Ahava, and there we camped three days. As I reviewed the people and the priests, I found there none of the sons of Levi. (ESV)

I find it interesting that no Levites had answered the call. The Levites should have been leaders in this expedition. They were the ones set apart to care for the temple and everything connected with the temple. This expedition was all about the temple and worship in the temple. Where were the Levites?

As a church leader I sometimes wonder whether I'm not the biggest hindrance to ministry. Church leaders feel responsible, but in that responsibility they sometimes put the brakes on ministry that is burning in the hearts of those they are leading. Sometimes that needs to happen when passion is not joined with wisdom and discretion, but more often I fear that it is a matter of church leaders wanting to control, or not listening well to the Lord themselves, or fear, or ...

I wonder how many times as a church leader/pastor I have quenched the Spirit by dragging my feet or by a lack of passion. I expect that when I stand before God he will not be all that impressed with my sermons. But, will he be pleased with my leadership or will he want to know why I didn't show up when he had placed a vision and passion for ministry in the hearts of his people? Leadership, whether in a home and family or in a church and ministry is not about being the commander and chief. It is more often about recognizing God's call on individuals and equipping and releasing then to run after it. Leadership is about service, not ego, control, power or personal comfort.

None of the Levites originally responded to the call. Thankfully, when they were challenged they responded positively. The lack of their presence could have seriously affected the effectiveness of the mission. Father, forgive me for the times I haven't shown up when you called. May I never be a hindrance to what you are doing in the lives of those around me.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Friday, October 18, 2013

Ezra 7 - Part 4

Eza 7:7 And there went up also to Jerusalem, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king, some of the people of Israel, and some of the priests and Levites, the singers and gatekeepers, and the temple servants. (ESV)

Ezra's leadership is indispensable to this mission of reviving the worship of God, but he cannot do it alone. Ezra's name means "helper." To often we look at churches and ministries as extensions of the pastor, founder or leader. Clearly their leadership is key, but the truly biblical leader understands their role a one of servant, not commander.

Ezra didn't go to Jerusalem alone. A whole contingent of temple workers went with him. The ministry of Northern Bible Church cannot accomplish its call to reach, grow and equip devoted followers of Jesus without the involvement of the entire body. It is the role of the pastor and the elders to serve and equip the body to do the work of the ministry.

When I, as the pastor, begin to think that somehow this church exists to serve me or my agenda then I am walking on dangerous ground. I am so blessed to serve in a church filled with growing, serving brothers and sisters in Christ. May we never lose sight of God's call on our lives. God forbid that I should ever begin to think that somehow the church is here to serve me.

Father, thank you for how you are working in the lives of those around me. Give me the wisdom and discernment to know how to effectively help and equip them for the unique ministries to which you have called them.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Ezra 7 - Part 3

Eza 7:10 For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel. (ESV)

Here is a man that God used mightily to influence others. A number of people made the trek from Babylon to Jerusalem because Ezra was going. People will repent and make major changes in lifestyle because of his ministry. People want to be an influence for good in their community. In certain individuals there is a yearning to be the one standing up front teaching. But there is a necessary prerequisite to being a godly influence and to teaching. James warns us, "Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment." (James 3:1)

So, if we want to teach, or if we simply want to be an influence for God in our families, our communities, or among our friends where do we begin? I think it is significant that before Ezra set his heart to teach he first set his heart to both know and do the Law of the Lord. Too often we divorce these things from one another. We find individuals who want to teach but aren't willing to do the hard work of study and practice first. Or, we find individuals who love to study and because they "learn" something they think they are ready to teach it, but they have never allowed the truths of scripture to actually change their attitudes and actions. Finally, there are those action oriented individuals who feel that deep study is a waste of time and energy. "Just do it" is their motto. Unfortunately when the focus is on doing without being we only communicate legalistic obedience. When the focus is on doing without understanding what the scriptures are accurately teaching we are likely to teach wrong, or even unbiblical behavior.

Ezra set his heart to study the Law of the Lord. If we want our lives to be an influence for God and for good then we must make sure that we are learning to handle God's Word accurately. If we want our lives to be an influence for God and for good then we must make sure that as we study, the things we are "learning" affect our lives first. God's Word must change what we think, feel and do first if we expect it to affect others for good. Finally, If we want our lives to be an influence for God and for good then we must be committed to not only do what God teaches us but to communicate it as God gives us opportunity.

Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel. May that be true of us a well.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Ezra 7 part 2

Eza 7:1 Now after this, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra the son of Seraiah, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah, (ESV)

Ezra has ancestors with names that mean things like wasting, rebellious, and retribution, but his father's name means Jehovah is ruler. His grandfather's name means Jehovah has helped. His great grandfather's name means my portion is Jehovah. Ezra's name means help.

Ezra is going back to Jerusalem to help his people set their hearts toward God. He is apparently the fifth generation of a line of priests who have turned their hearts to God. A man named "retribution" chose to name his son "my portion is Jehovah." That started the line of faith that brought Ezra into the picture.

No matter what our past holds, no matter what our history, it is never too late to start down a different path. Who knows where that may lead and what God might do down the road because we chose to honor him. "Retribution" likely never saw the fruit of his decision to transition from retribution to faith, but we still reap benefit from that choice every time we pick up and read the book of Ezra.

Father, thank you for your grace and mercy that can turn ashes into beauty and bitterness into humble service. Today may I make choices that honor you.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Ezra 7

Eza 7:1, 5 Now after this, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra the son of Seraiah, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah ...  son of Abishua, son of Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the chief priest — (ESV)

Ezra finally shows up on the scene in the book named after him. Almost 60 years pass between Ezra 6 and 7. The old leadership is gone but there is still much to do as the people of God. The king sends Ezra, but God qualifies him. What is it that qualifies an individual to serve in a leadership position over God's people?

Ezra qualifies on three counts. First, he is Biblically qualified. According to the Mosaic Law in order to serve as a priest he must be a descendent of Aaron. Verses 1-5 demonstrate this to be true. He is then Biblically qualified to step into that role of leadership. For New Testament leadership the qualifications are issues of character rather than ancestry. 1 Timothy, Titus and other passages list the biblical qualifications of church leadership. We need to pay attention to these.

Secondly, Ezra was adequately trained and skilled. Ezra 7:6 says that "He was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses..." Leadership is not just about being a godly individual. Jesus took three years to train his disciples before leaving them. When he left he instructed then to make disciples "teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." (Matthew 28:20) I have listened to preachers and church leaders who were arrogant about their ignorance. There is nothing biblical or godly about being ignorant. Yes, God can mightily use people with little or no training, but the biblical mandate is to train and be trained.

So Ezra was Biblically qualified and adequately trained. He was also called and gifted by God. Ezra 7:6 ends with these words, "the hand of the LORD his God was on him." God has uniquely gifted every believer. His places his call on the lives of those he has marked out for leadership. Churches do a disservice to themselves and their God when they settle for leaders who are not qualified, trained and called to leadership. Church leaders do themselves and their God a disservice when they neglect to train up a next generation of Biblically qualified leaders. Individual believers do themselves and their God a disservice when they live lives that disqualify them from service, fail to seek training to learn and grow in their faith, and neglect the gifts and calling God has placed on their lives.

Father, thank you for the example you have given us in Ezra. May we humbly follow his example. Open our eyes.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Isaiah 50

Isaiah 50:4-7 (ESV) The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him w...