Thursday, May 30, 2013

Ezekiel 44

Ezk 44:12 Because they ministered to them before their idols and became a stumbling block of iniquity to the house of Israel, therefore I have sworn concerning them, declares the Lord God, and they shall bear their punishment.

This is a puzzling chapter. Ultimately it is about the holiness of God.  In that context God twice makes a statement about the Levites bearing their punishment. Both times he is apparently talking about restoration because he says that they will be "ministers in my sanctuary," and yet he says they "are not to come near me to serve as priest nor come near any of my holy things." Apparently there will be some restoration to ministry, but not full restoration.

When we talk about forgiveness we love to focus on the idea of being made "white as snow," being declared  acceptable, righteous, holy and just by God, and being invited to come boldly before His throne of grace. All of that is true, but when those who are the people of God violate that trust there are consequences. Will God forgive? Absolutely! When we agree with God (that is the essence of the word confess) that our actions and attitudes are sin then he is willing to forgive them. But that does not mean that everything goes back to the way it was.

A minister who has been caught up in immorality may be forgiven, but that does not mean that he is immediately ready to step back into the pulpit. This is just one example, but when God entrusts his people with a ministry and they violate that trust there are consequences. Evidently there are times, if this chapter in Ezekiel has any bearing on it, when certain roles, responsibilities and ministries are lost permanently.

Why is this? Doesn't God forgive? I thought forgive and forget was God's practice, so why should he hold this against me if I've confessed? At this point we need to remember that it is the holiness of God that is at stake. These principles are built upon that seminal truth. The God we serve, the God who called us and declared us holy by the blood of his Son, the unapproachable, holy God is the God we serve. When we take his name our actions reflect on his holiness. Sin is not just about me, or God and me, or God, the person I offended and me. My actions reflect upon the very nature and character of the God I serve. Sin offends that deeply and there are sometimes long standing consequences.

Father, forgive me for how often I begin to think of my faith as just about you and me. Forgive me for how often I forget how my words and actions reflect on you. Today may people see Christ in me. May I never reflect poorly on you.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Ezekiel 43

Ezk 43:12 This is the law of the temple: the whole territory on the top of the mountain all around shall be most holy. Behold, this is the law of the temple. (ESV)

The end of this chapter contains the measurements for the altar of the new temple, but the reason for all the specific measurements is given in the first half of the chapter. Essentially it is because the people have failed to obey God in the past. This chapter contains two specific charges.

First, in their sin they have been way too familiar with God. He says that they have been practicing their sin while living with only a single wall between them and God's holy place. There is a principle in scripture that God is both approachable and unapproachable. He invites us to draw near in holiness. He warns us to keep our distance because he is holy and we are not. In Christ we are declared holy and invited to come near. But even there we ought to guard against inappropriate familiarity. God is not Santa Claus nor the Easter Bunny and we must never treat him as such. He is Holy God.

The second sin addressed is the lack of shame over their sin. In verse 10 Ezekiel is instructed to describe the temple "that they may be ashamed of their iniquities." Too often we excuse or make excuses for our sin, blame others for our indiscretions, or even revel in our sin describing it as freedom or enlightened behavior. Even worse, we justify our sin as somehow being biblical. In the mean time lives are being destroyed, people are being hurt, God is being mocked and we can't see it.

When Israel crossed the Jordan under the leadership of Joshua they were told to follow, but not too close so that they could see where the ark was leading. Perhaps that is the concept here. In their familiarity with the presence of the temple they had forgotten who the great, holy unapproachable God is that they serve. With the measurements of the temple and the altar they are being called to step back and look again at the God they claim to serve.

Father, thank your for your grace and your glory. May I forget neither your grace nor your glory. May I live in that tension of having an open invitation to approach freely the unapproachable God that you are. And by your grace may I never excuse my sin.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Ezekiel 42

Ezk 42:20 He measured it on the four sides. It had a wall around it, 500 cubits long and 500 cubits broad, to make a separation between the holy and the common. (ESV)

This concept of a separation between the holy and the common (profane) raises all kinds of questions in my mind. Ultimately though, I think it refers to the unapproachable holiness of God. The good news is that through the death and resurrection of Jesus the unapproachable God is approachable. When he died the curtain in front of the holiest place was torn from bottom to top, providing access to God's presence.

Not only, however, does this refer to the unapproachable holiness of God, it also refers to the separation between the holy people of God and the ungodly who do not serve Him. Now that raises more questions for me. Wasn't Jesus referred to as a friend of sinners? Didn't Jesus sit down next to an immoral woman at the Samaritan well? Didn't Jesus allow a prostitute to wash his feet? Didn't Jesus say that he came not for the righteous, but for sinners? So how does that apply to us? Do we avoid "sinners" because "bad companions corrupt good morals?" Or, do we follow the pattern set by Jesus and live as friends of sinners?

This passage makes me wonder if Paul had this in mind when he made reference to the middle wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles being broken down. And that, perhaps, brings us to the application we really need to consider. Who are the people that we want to have nothing to do with even if they are believers? In different parts of the country and the world that answer may be different. Often we claim to have no prejudice but we require those who are different from us to become like us, not realizing that there is a difference between biblical principles and cultural norms. To expect an Hispanic brother to look, act and value the same things as a northern Minnesota Norwegian is a stretch at best. Yet somehow, we expect that if a person is truly a believer then they will look, sound, act and value the same as us. God broke down the middle wall of partition between us, but that does not mean that he made us alike. Therein lies the rub, that little irritating truth that we are brothers with people we consider weird.

Father, thank you that you allow me to approach you, the unapproachable God. May I be as approachable as you are and as your Son was on this earth. May I never separate fellowship based on personality and cultural differences that I find difficult to enjoy, accept or understand. May I reflect Jesus to a fallen world. May I be the window through which they see Christ, rather than a wall that hides him.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Ezekiel 41

Ezk 41:25 And on the doors of the nave were carved cherubim and palm trees, such as were carved on the walls. And there was a canopy of wood in front of the vestibule outside.

These chapters describe the new temple that will be built. Throughout this description several times cherubim and palm trees are mentioned. Why cherubim and palm trees?

Cherubim are the angels that attend the throne of God. Ezekiel saw them earlier in his visions. They were described as four faced, winged beings above which rode the throne of God. In the wilderness tabernacle two cherubim were designed for the mercy seat, the golden cover of the Ark of the Covenant, Additionally in Solomon's temple two large carved cherubim stretched their wings from wall to wall over the Ark in the holiest place. Cherubim then speak of heavenly things. They attend the very presence of God.

Palm trees are related to earthly things. Date palms feed the people and sweeten their lives. Palms indicate an oasis in the desert. They have to do with earth. So why are there palm trees in the temple? Cherubim we might expect. The temple is the place to meet the God of heaven. But why palm trees?

I think the significant thing about the temple is that it is the place where heaven and earth intersect. Earth is not bad. It was designed for us, and we were designed to care for it. What is bad about earth is that we failed to do our job. Rather than care for earth, we turned it upside down with our sin. Reconnecting earth to heaven is the role and purpose of the temple. In the New Testament that role transfers to the person of Jesus Christ.

Jesus, the God/man is the one in whom heaven and earth intersect. In the Old Testament Jacob saw a stairway to Heaven with angels ascending and descending upon it. Jesus said to Philip, "You will see angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man." (John 1:51) He was saying that he is now the connection between heaven and earth.

Do you need to connect with God? Don't seek "spiritual" experiences. Look to Jesus. Don't search for holy places . Look to Jesus. Don't pursue "holy" men, teachers with great charisma, or leaders who make empty promises. Look to Jesus. He is the connection between heaven and earth. In him we encounter God.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Monday, May 6, 2013

Ezekiel 40

Ezk 40:1 In the twenty- fifth year of our exile, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after the city was struck down, on that very day, the hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me to the city. (ESV)

Beginning in Ezekiel 40 and running for 5 chapters is a description of the new temple that will be built. It is easy to get bogged down in the measurements and descriptions of the walls, doors, rooms, steps, etc. But the significant thing is the timing of this chapter. On the day the city fell God shows Ezekiel, in a vision, the new temple with it's impressive size and design.

God is a God of hope. Even as Israel is experiencing his judgment, which he had repeatedly warned about, he offers hope. God promises restoration. God is still a God of hope today. Lives can be broken, relationships shattered, destructive behavior embraced, but there is always hope for restoration,

Restoration begins with the humility of brokenness, repentance and confession. It cannot be built on self delusion, self will and the inherently selfish behavior of narcissism that so pervades our present day society.   Restoration of human relationships and rebuilt trust takes much time and healing. Restoration with God is foundational to restoration with others. Some human relationships are so shattered they may never be restored. But God can use even that. He is a God of hope.

It would have been easy for Israel to look at the devastation of Jerusalem and blame the Babylonians. For us it is easy to see the fault of others and cast blame. But, ultimately we need to take personal responsibility just as Israel/Judah needed to take personal responsibility for the fall of their capital. Once we admit guilt God can begin to rebuild. This chapter needs to be read and understood in the context of the promises and curses of the Mosaic Covenant. The fact that God is promising Ezekiel that the temple will be rebuilt is evidence that Israel will one day repent and accept responsibility for their sin.

Father, it is always easier for me to blame others than for me to admit my own guilt and responsibility. Today may I walk in the humility of your grace rather than the proud arrogance of my own self righteousness. May my life be an instrument of restoration.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Friday, May 3, 2013

Ezekiel 39

Ezekiel 39:7-8 ESV

"And my holy name I will make known in the midst of my people Israel, and I will not let my holy name be profaned anymore. And the nations shall know that I am the Lord , the Holy One in Israel. Behold, it is coming and it will be brought about, declares the Lord God . That is the day of which I have spoken.

How had Israel profaned God's name? It is one thing for a Hittite, or an Ammorite to live in a profane and ungodly manner. It dishonors God because he is their creator whether they acknowledge it or not, but it is expected. It is another thing altogether when an Israelite bows before an idol, or in some other way acts in a profane and ungodly manner. Their actions reflect on the nature and character of the God they claim to serve.

The command that warns not to take the name of God in vain is not so much about using what we would call vulgar speech. Certainly that applies, but the real force of that command is that Israel is not to be called the people of God and then live as though He did not exist. They were not to take his name upon themselves, (i.e. the people of God) and live as though they served some other god, or no god at all.

This is a huge lesson for us today. One of the first and most common complaints heard about Christians is that they are hypocrites. Granted, that is not always valid, but too often it is true. And it is a valid complaint. When believers worry like there is no God, when we treat others with prejudice, unkindness or animosity, when we lie, steal or cheat, it reflects on the nature and character of the God we claim to serve. We are taking God's name in vain. His name is profaned.

Father, forgive me for the many times my life does not reflect well on you. Today may people see Jesus in me.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Reflections on Psalms 77-78

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