Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Ezra 2

Some passages of scripture are clearly easier to understand and apply than others. The Sermon on the Mount has some pretty clear teaching. Who cannot understand what God expects from us when he says, "even if a man looks on a woman to lust after her he has committed adultery already in his heart"? That's pretty clear. Ezra 2 is not one of those passages.

Ezra 2 is pretty straight forward. It is just a list of exiles who left Babylon to go home to Israel. As far as that goes it is pretty clear. But the scriptures teach that all scripture is "profitable." It is passages like Ezra 2 that make me wonder about that. What possible profit could there be in me reading a list of names I can hardly pronounce? But there is profit when we understand the context of the passage and take the time to think about what it is saying.

The first verse of Ezra 2 is interesting. It reads, "Now these were the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of those exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried captive to Babylonia. They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own town." (ESV) Three things in this verse catch my eyes first, the captives are no longer captive. The prisoners have been set free. Second, the word "captive" is a very different word than the word "captivity." Finally, they didn't all go to Jerusalem. They all went to their towns.

Le's talk about the difference between captivity and captive. The word "exiles" is more closely related to the word "captive" than is the word "captivity." Captivity is a Hebrew word that means they were prisoners. They were held captive in a foreign country and were not allowed to go home. Captive and exiles are words that refer not to their imprisonment, but to their shame. To be captive, or to be an exile means to be stripped naked and shamed. It was what a conquering nation would do to their captives to shame them and flaunt their fall.

When Israel is coming "home" from Babylon they are leaving their shame. When they get home, however, they still have to face the consequences of their shame. Their city is a shambles and their temple is in ruins. They need to rebuild. Sin is like that. It shames us. It shames the name of the God we serve. And, unfortunately, we sometimes strut around in our shame not realizing how shameful it is. It reminds me of a nose bleed I had in the 5th grade. I had gotten the bleeding stopped, but I didn't realize that my face was still covered in blood. Sin on the part of believers always damages the reputation of Christ and leaves us looking bad. Too many times, for the sake of protecting our reputation, we try to cover up sin. That only makes it worse.

It takes time to rebuild when God and his people are shamed by our actions, but rebuilding can be done. As with Israel, we may never be restored to our former glory, but we need to rebuild. It was for freedom that Christ set us free Galatians 5 teaches us. When the people of God are not living in that freedom we bring shame and dishonor to his name. When the people of God are still living in the captivity of sin we shame him. But when we rebuild, when we move from slavery to freedom, when we learn to rest on his finished work then the glory of our Lord begins to shine again and rebuilding has begun.

Father, let the light of your glory be seen in me, and if there is anything in my life that brings shame to your name reveal that to me that I might live in your freedom and honor you.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Spiritual Smog

Over 100 years ago, because of the dangerously poor air quality in London, the word "smog" was coined. A combination of the words smoke and fog, it describes that filthy haze that hangs over many large cities in our world. It covers our buildings and monuments with grunge and blackens our lungs while we breath. More dangerous, however, is a spiritual smog that hangs over our communities. We have become so accustomed to it that we cannot see it. Although we feel it's effects daily we often do not recognize it. Our spiritual eyes burn and we have a hard time breathing with our spiritual lungs, but we have lived in the spiritual smog so long that we somehow have come to believe this normal. Smog was a word created by combining the words smoke and fog. Maybe we need another new word to express the spiritual smog in which we live. We live in a world draped in deadly spog, spiritual smog.

In 1892 nineteen people drowned in London by accidentally walking/falling into the Thames. The air quality was so bad they never saw the river. About that same time a newspaper article was written explaining that this was a natural phenomenon and had nothing to do with the coal that was being burned all over the city. Similarly we live in a fallen, broken world filled with the spog of sin and spiritual darkness. This is not normal. It is not how we were created to live. Unfortunately, as believers we sometimes excuse it by saying, "It's a sign of the end times." That may very well be, but wouldn't it be better to recognize the spog as a sign of a fallen world that desperately needs the cleansing wind of the Spirit and the light of a risen Savior?

Father, forgive me for getting too comfortable with the spog of my world, forgetting that the clean air of your gospel is our only hope. Give me fresh vision for the clean air of you gospel and a burden for a world blind to the spog that surrounds them.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Friday, July 26, 2013

Ezra 1:2

Eza 1:2 "Thus says Cyrus king of Persia:The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. (ESV)

This is actually a pretty incredible verse. That a pagan king should acknowledge Jehovah, the God of heaven, as the source his kingdom rule is quite amazing. That he would then recognize and act on a charge from God to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem is almost unbelievable. Who would have thought that God would use a Persian king to accomplish his purposes? Except, God had already prophesied, through Isaiah (see Isaiah 44:28; 45:1), that this is what Cyrus would do.

God sees the end from the beginning. God is not bound by time, as we are. God is sovereign, not just over the righteous, but over all. He used a hard hearted Pharaoh to do his bidding in Egypt. He used Herod and Pilate and hard headed Pharisees to accomplish his purposes in the gospels. Even Satan's demise will bring him glory in the end. God is not bound by resources we can see. He is not limited to working within the borders and boundaries that seem impenetrable to us. He is sovereign Lord.

As such, when people seem unreachable, when circumstances seem impossible, when our grip is slipping we know that he has only begun to hold on. He has the answers all lined out ready and waiting. He is not there as a celestial butler waiting to make our life better. He is sovereign Lord working in and through us a cosmic purpose that is greater, higher and more grand than anything we can imagine. He can be trusted.

Father, I confess that I sometimes give up hope. I am often overwhelmed by the needs around me, or by my own pain. Forgive me for my unbelief. I do not have the ability to see the future, but I trust you because you hold the future in your hands. Thank you.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

More on Ezra 1:1

Eza 1:1b that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia (ESV)

I would have expected Ezra to start out something like this: "The exile of God's people moved him to stir up the spirit of Cyrus," or "the barrenness of God's land moved him to stir up..." Instead it begins, "that the word of the Lord ... might be fulfilled."  God takes his own word seriously. How much more should we do so?

I know you've heard this before, I have, but as believers in 21st century United States of America we have greater access to God's Word than any people in any time in history. The sad truth is that most of us have multiple Bibles that sit on our shelves while believers in much of the world would die to have a copy of the Bible for themselves. It seems that the old saying is true, familiarity breeds contempt. In a country where the Bible is so accessible it is increasingly looked upon as just another old moldy book of writings from some obscure source. God forgive us.

Sitting here in my living room I can see three hard copies of the Bible while I hold an Android tablet in my lap with multiple digital versions of the Bible. The real question is not whether I have a Bible, but whether it makes any difference in how I live. Do I actually read it? Do I think on it? Do I treasure the access I have to God's word? Does it affect change in my life? Does it make any difference in how I do business, how I interact with people, how I face difficulties and conflict in my life, or how I view my future? God took his Word so seriously that he stirred the spirit of a pagan king to do his bidding. How seriously do I take it?

Father, I confess that I have often neglected your Word. I confess that even when I read it I have often failed to follow it. Thank you for your patience with me, but from now on may I take your Word as seriously as you do.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Ezra 1:1

Eza 1:1 In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: (ESV)

YHWH (Jehovah), the self existent covenant keeping God, in order to keep his word, which he had given through the prophet Jeremiah, stirred up the spirit of a pagan king. This verse answers a couple of key questions. Can God be trusted to keep his word? Yes. His promise through Jeremiah was about to be kept. Given Israel's circumstances how can God possibly keep his word? God is bigger than circumstances. He can even move the heart of a pagan king to accomplish his will and purpose.

Will God keep his word to us today? Yes. The God who kept his word to Israel is the same God we serve today. He never changes. He can be trusted. If he said it then you can bank on it. Sometimes we put words in God's mouth that he didn't actually say. We never want to be presumptuous concerning God. But he will always keep his word. Often he does not work in ways that we expect, or in the time frame we would prefer, but he will always keep his word. He can be trusted.

But, how can he possibly keep his word given our circumstances? When God's time frame is not ours we begin to doubt. When God chooses to work in ways we cannot see or understand we begin to doubt. 2 Peter 3 tells us that people will look at their circumstances and ask, "Where is the promise of his coming?" Our circumstances, what we can see and feel, are often more real to us than the God of our circumstances. We need to learn to look past the circumstances in which we live to the eternal, sovereign God who always keep a his word. The God who stirred the heart of a pagan king to return and rebuild his temple will always keep his word. He can be trusted.

Father, forgive me for my myopic unbelief. Give me eyes to see your hand at work, and a heart to trust you even when I cannot see you clearly.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Philemon part 4

Phm 1:15 For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, (ESV)

Sometimes bad things happen for good reasons. A nurse sticks a huge needle in you. That's not fun, but there are good reasons for it and you are grateful when you begin to feel better. Truth is spoken that is not easy to hear or accept, but you are eventually grateful when it facilitates healing in your life.

Apparently Onesimus had run away from his master, Philemon, and had likely stolen some money or goods in the process. Having traveled to Rome, somehow Onesimus got connected with the Apostle Paul who was imprisoned there. There Onesimus came to faith in Christ and became a brother.

Wrong has occurred. Paul doesn't ask that it be overlooked. What he does ask, however, is that Philemon see the good that is coming out of the bad. "For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever," no longer as a slave, but as a brother in Christ, as a fellow worker for the Kingdom and the gospel.

Sometimes bad things happen for good reasons. We cannot always see the good that will come. When Onesimus ran away Philemon could not see how the story would play out. He had no expectation that Onesimus would wind up in the same city, let alone in an encounter with, Paul. He had no way of knowing that Onesimus would hear the gospel, and humbly return home a new man.

In the midst of the mess and the mud of sin and broken relationships we are often blinded by our emotions and the circumstances that whirl around us. We cannot see what God will do. Often he works in ways we could never predict. The good news is that we can trust him when we are in the dark.

Father, I confess that when I am in the middle of the pain it is often more real to me then you are. Thank you that you are still in the process of working things out for my good and your glory in spite of me. In the midst of the dark night may I be reminded of your light and may I trust you.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Friday, July 19, 2013

Philemon 3

Phm 1:8-9a Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love 's sake I prefer to appeal to you (ESV)

Authority. Everyone likes to have it, but no one likes to have it enforced upon them. It is comfortable, easy and uncomplicated when people just unquestioningly do what we tell them. Having authority with humility is another story.

The Apostle Paul writes in this short letter that he could pull the "I'm an apostle so do as I say" card, but he would rather have Philemon choose to do the right thing rather than being coerced. There are appropriate times when authority must be exercised, but for the most part the Christian means of leadership is humble service rather than authoritative commandeering.

Leadership by humble service necessitates trust. Those who are led need to trust the judgment of the leader. Leaders need to trust those they lead. Ultimately it is about trusting that God is his sovereignty never loses control even when people make bad decisions. It seems to me that most conflicts in churches result from pride, mistrust and the attempt to lead or influence through authority and intimidation like the world. We have much to learn from this passage. The first thing we need to learn is to love, respect and trust God as he works in, through, and sometimes in spite of his people.

Father, forgive me for the times I have commanded and demanded instead of humbly leading in my marriage, my family and my ministry. May I trust you enough to walk in humble service.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Philemon part 2

Phm 1:6 and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. (ESV)

"Sharing of your faith" is commonly understood in our day to mean evangelism, but that's not what Paul has in mind here. Other translations say "fellowship of your faith," or "communication of your faith." It is the Greek word koinonia which we often think of as Christian fellowship.

What is interesting in this verse is what this Christian fellowship is supposed to accomplish: "the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ." When we think of fellowship we often think of people eating together and talking about ... well, talking about just about everything except "every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ." We talk about fishing and hunting, work and vacations. We talk about babies and grandchildren, getting old and losing weight. We talk about old friends, irritating people and fond memories. What we don't usually talk about are the good things in us for the sake of Christ.

Perhaps, as believers, we need to be a bit more vulnerable. Maybe sharing our struggles and our victories helps us communicate all that we have in Christ. Maybe walking through life together helps us discover all that is in us for the sake of Christ. Maybe it's not so much about deep "spiritual" conversations, although there ought to be those, but about doing life together because we are the body of Christ. Maybe the biggest problem with our American lifestyle isn't our materialism or our immorality, but our adamant independence.

Father, teach me what you mean by this verse. I sense that I have a lot to learn.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Philemon 1

Phm 1:1-2

Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house: (ESV)

Philemon is only one chapter, twenty five verses long, but it is rich. I've been reading through it for several days and it feels like I could spend time meditating and writing on every verse. The letter is put together in three parts. The first part is personal, reconnecting with and encouraging old friends. The second part is no less personal, but it is an appeal on behalf of a new friend. The final three verses pass on greetings between common friends.

In this short letter Paul is dealing with some difficult and potentially explosive issues of broken relations, betrayed trust and dishonest gain. As he writes this letter he knows two things. First, he knows the character of Philemon, Apphia and Archippus. Second, he writes out of a deep relationship of trust that has been built with them. I'd love to know more of the back story. Why does Philemon owe Paul? How much time had Paul spent with these people and the church in their house? I may never know those things. But I do know that there was relationship.

In our mobile, digital, isolationist world I feel that we have often traded communication for relationship. We quickly pass on prayer requests, and that's a good thing. We easily inform one another about meeting times and schedule changes with a quick email, text or phone call. And that is convenient. We easily jump in our cars and cover miles that separate us in order to attend the same meetings, and that is convenient. But how much time to we take actually getting to know one another? Do we really know the character of the person sitting beside us in church, or do we only know that (s)he is polite when we exchange pleasantries?

Church is about relationship based on a common faith being lived out in a world opposed to that faith. Our busyness, our personal weariness, and our extended but superficial "relationships" often hinder us from the very thing church is supposed to be. Maybe today we need to take the time to get to know somebody.

Father, forgive me. I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to superficial relationships and allowing weariness and business to hinder those from going deeper. Today may I listen better, care more deeply and actually get to know someone.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

2 Thessalonians 3

2Th 3:1 Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, (ESV)

Two separate ideas struck me as I read through this chapter. First is the verse quoted above. Paul asks for prayer "that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored." As Christians we talk a lot about the need to reach people with the gospel, but do we really understand that ultimately reaching people is not about means and methods? It is about the Spirit of God and the Word of God. Prayer needs to precede evangelism.

The second idea that struck me is found in verse 6:

6 Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. (ESV)

When was the last time you heard of a church exercising discipline because a brother was lazy? The passage about sexual immorality we can all quote, or at least refer to. This passage seems to have escaped us. Idleness? Really? Hmmm, maybe God really does take this work thing seriously. Maybe quitting work and doing nothing really shouldn't be our goal in life. Maybe we, as American believers, have bought into the lie of our own culture and not really understood what God is calling us to do or how he is calling us to live.

Interestingly being a busybody is connected with idleness in this passage. Certainly there is a danger of people becoming workaholics. Paul closes the chapter praying that the Thessalonians will experience peace. Some of us are so busy that we never know peace. That is wrong. But, perhaps because of that we value idleness too highly and it becomes our dream and our goal. And when we reach it we then become susceptible to the sin of being a busybody. God hasn't called us to be in everyone else's business. He has called us to diligent about our own business. Maybe that is the real issue.

Father forgive me for my lack of prayer for unbelievers. It is easy to give lip service to evangelism. May I talk less and pray more. Forgive me too for my own laziness. May I honor you today with faithful diligence rather than curious interest in the business of others.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

2 Thessalonians 2

2Th 2:7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. (ESV)

Lawlessness and unrighteousness coupled with deception are the rule of the day. We have an enemy and he is bent on twisting all creation to his own ends. I spent some time yesterday reading a web site dedicated to belittling the idea the existence of God. Most of those writing did not believe in God or Satan, but according to their reading of scripture if God and Satan existed then Satan was more moral than God. They held absolute intolerance for what they considered intolerance. If God said that something was an abomination or a sin, that was considered evidence that God was an intolerable tyrant. Lawlessness and unrighteousness are the rule of the day.

So how do we respond and how do we live in a world ordered by lawlessness and unrighteousness? 2 Thessalonians gives us several appropriate responses. First, don't be surprised, shaken or alarmed. It seems that our first response to increasing evil is often panic and fear. We need to remember that no matter what happens, God never stops being God. He never loses control. He is simply allowing evil to reaching its logical conclusion.

Second, don't be deceived. When we hear a lie enough times it begins to sound like truth. When the world says, "The God of the Bible is an intolerant tyrant and here is the evidence..." eventually people are tempted to believe it. But a lie spoken with conviction as truth is still a lie.

Thirdly, we ought to give thanks for those who believe, and stand firm in the truth. That doesn't mean that we stand on a street corner with signs reading, "God hates ..." You can fill in the blank with whatever sin is particularly onerous to you. That is not what we mean by standing firm in the truth. The ethos of this little letter we call 2 Thessalonians seems to be love and truth. God calls us to rejoice in those who believe. He calls us to live lives characterized but grace and truth. He calls us to live in holiness despite the world's view. That is what he means by standing firm.

In our world it would be easy to lose hope. It would be easy to listen to lies. It would be really easy to begin to believe those lies. It seems that every news outlet, every television show, every movie and every political debate is framed in lies. But God says, "Don't lose hope."

2Th 2:16-17 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. (ESV)

Father, forgive me for the unbelief that too often moves me toward despair and fear. Thank you that you are truly in control and are working your purposes. May Paul's prayer in 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 be a reality in my life today.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

2Thessalonians 1

2Th 1:3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. (ESV)

In this verse the Apostle Paul voices an obligation to be giving thanks for the Thessalonian believers. Toward the end of the chapter he says that "we always pray for you." The brothers in Thessalonica were evidently experiencing persecution and affliction because of their faith. Paul has problems of his own but he is here thanking God for and praying for these brothers and sisters in Christ.

It is so easy to become clouded by our own pain, overwhelmed and distracted by our own issues and conflicts, and jaded by our own difficulties. When that happens we forget two things. First, we forget the good things God is doing around us. Have you ever seen someone so distracted by a little smudge on their glasses that they never see the beautiful scenery around them? We can become like that, missing the glory of what God is doing in people around us because we are so distracted by our own discomfort.

Second, we forget the pain of others around us. Too often I have found myself complaining to someone only to discover that their problems made mine look like a cake-walk. We can easily become so overwhelmed with our issues that we forget or neglect to lift up our fellow-believers before God's throne of grace.

Father, forgive me for my self-focused insensitivity. Today I ask that you would turn my heart and my thoughts to the needs of others. With Paul may I recognize my obligation to give thanks for the good things you are doing in the lives of others and may I pray earnestly for those who are hurting. 

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...