Saturday, August 31, 2013

Ezra 3 part 9

Eza 3:13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people's weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away. (ESV)

The Hebrew's worship involved both nostalgia, implied by the weeping, and faith, implied by the rejoicing. Worship ties the past to the future in the present. It is about faith exercised in the context of the past faithfulness of God. Worship looks back at what God has done and then looks forward to what he is doing.

Perhaps one of the mistakes we make in worship is that we often understand it in the "now" rather than in the past and future. Worship is too often about what we are currently experiencing when we should be reflecting on God's past faithfulness and exercising faith in his future faithfulness. The present makes more sense in the context of God's past answers to prayer and his promise of future blessing. Thus the apostle Paul can say:

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Rom 8:16-18 ESV)

Certainly we need to live in the present, but it is the past and future that give context to the present. It is good for us to reflect on what God has done and anticipate what he will do. Worship helps us do just that.

Father, I admit that I quickly forget your past faithfulness in light of current problems. I confess that I want to live in the future, but I seldom allow the future to bring meaning to my present condition. Today may I walk by faith, rejoicing in your past faithfulness, anticipating your future faithfulness, trusting in your present goodness even if it is hidden from my eyes.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Friday, August 30, 2013

Ezra 3 - part 8

Eza 3:11 And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord,
"For he is good,for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel."
And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. (ESV)

Which is most important in worship: that it is biblical; that it is orderly; that it is from the heart? That's like saying which side of a triangle is the most important: the base or one of the sides? Without any one of the sides it is not a triangle. It's just an angle. In this chapter of Ezra we find all three aspects of worship.

If worship is not biblical it is not worship. It becomes something else. It becomes ritual, formality, dance, group singing, or a dozen other things, but it's not worship.

If worship is not orderly then it does not honor God. "Let all things be done decently and in order" was the Apostle's instruction to the Corinthians. We cannot expect an orderly God to be honored by disorderly, even chaotic "worship." Baal's prophets cried and pled; they cut themselves and threw themselves upon the altar. Elijah presented his offering in an orderly manner and prayed a simple prayer.

If worship is not from the heart it cannot be called worship. It becomes dead ritual. Jesus told the woman at the well in John 4 that true worshippers worship in spirit and in truth. Jesus instructed his disciples, in the Sermon on the Mount, that sin was not just what we do, but what we think. Adultery can be committed in the heart. Worship also begins internally.

Father, forgive me for too often settling for ritual instead of true worship. I can't say that I recall ever being disorderly in worship, but at times I have certainly settled for something less than biblical worship from the heart. May I never be willing to settle for something less than true worship.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Hebrews 8

Heb 8:7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. (ESV)

This verse raises the difficult question of why God gave the first covenant in the first place if it was faulty. Why didn't he just go straight to the New Covenant? Galatians and other passages address that question with the simple truth that the Old Covenant was given to lead us to Christ. Before we are ready to embrace an answer to a problem we must first be aware of the problem. The Old Covenant clearly demonstrates that our problem is one of the heart, therefore the New Covenant solves the problem of the heart.

But the force of this chapter is not the why of the Old Covenant, it is the contrast between the two covenants. That is, in fact, the force of this whole letter we call Hebrews. The Old Covenant had an inferior priesthood and an inferior sacrificial system. It couldn't change anyone's heart. It required the worshipper to come back again and again with more sacrifices. It was a copy. In Christ we find the real thing with an eternal and sinless High Priest who offers a once for all sacrifice and it is done. Hearts are changed; eternal destiny is settled and access to God is provided in a way the Old Covenant could only hint at.

Under the New Covenant we live by faith, not law. Under the New Covenant we live in love, not fear. Under the New Covenant we have rest, not burden. Under the New covenant we have open access to God, not veiled access through another human. Under the New Covenant we have assurance, not uncertainty. Under the New Covenant we have the real thing, not a shadow.

Why is it then that, having been saved under the New Covenant, we so quickly revert back to law? Father forgive us. Today may we walk in the rest and assurance of the New Covenant. May we boldly approach your throne, as you said we can do, and find help in our times of need. May we walk confidently, but never arrogantly, in the light of your grace.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Ezra 3 - part 7

Eza 3:10 And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments came forward with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord, according to the directions of David king of Israel. (ESV)

When they laid the foundation they celebrated. I'm not a big celebration guy. In the middle of a celebration I'd rather find a quiet corner and have a conversation with someone. But celebrations are important. I know that. I wrote earlier, on this chapter, about emotion. While celebration and emotion are related they are not the same thing. Here they are celebrating "according to the directions of David king of Israel." Celebrations are not only an important part of congregational life, they are biblical.

If I were Zerubbabel or Jeshua I would probably have waited until the building was finished before celebrating, but here they are celebrating the fact that the foundation is laid. It reminds me of ground breaking ceremonies that companies and organizations have. Theses ceremonies are about looking back to celebrate what we have accomplished and looking forward to celebrate where we are going.

My nephew, who grew up in farming country in North Dakota, shared with me the other day that when you are working a field it can be really discouraging looking forward all the time seeing how much you still have to plow, but when you look back and see how much you have accomplished it motivates you to keep going. You can't plow a field by looking back, but a glance backward occasionally is helpful.

I think that is what this celebration was about. It was a moment in the life of God's people to look around. To see not only the destruction that surrounded them, but to be reminded of how far they had come. Two years earlier they were sitting in Babylonia going about life as usual. They had no hope or expectation of ever going home to rebuild. Now here they are. They have survived a long and arduous journey. They have built an altar. They have been offering sacrifices on a regular basis for over six months. Now the foundation of the temple is laid. This was cause for celebration.

That raises a question in my mind. How often do I stop and take stock of how far I have come in my walk with the Lord? How often do I assess how I am doing and where I am going in my relationship with and service to my God? I cannot spend all of my time in soul searching or nothing will ever get done. Neither can I just keep pushing ahead without stopping to assess. We need these times both corporately and individually  to occasionally stop, look around, celebrate what God has done, and refocus for the task ahead.

Father, thank you for what you have accomplished in me. Never let me be satisfied with where I am. Never let me forget how far you have brought me. That gives me hope that you will finish the work in me that you have begun.

Phi 1:6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (ESV)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Hebrews 7

Heb 7:2; 22 and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. ... This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant. (ESV)

King of Righteousness and King of Peace are the names given to this priest. That is the gospel. Jesus fulfills the righteousness of God and offers us the free gift of peace with God. He serves as our High Priest to produce in us both the righteousness and peace of God. This is the better covenant.

Law can reveal God's righteousness but it cannot produce it. Law can expose the lack of peace with God and peace of God, but it can never provide it except on a temporary basis. In Jesus the righteousness and peace of God come together and the offer of grace is made. This is the better covenant. The Law, temporary at best, gave no assurances. But Jesus, because he is eternal and because he has conquered death, can save permanently and securely.

Heb 7:25 Consequently , he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (ESV)

This assurance is the foundation of our peace. We no longed worry if we forgot to confess a sin. We no longer worry about what happens before we get back to the altar with another sacrifice. We no longer approach life with the mentality that we will fail but we must do the best we can. By God's grace through faith in him on the basis of the death and resurrection of an indestructible High Priest we have peace with God. Our life is hidden in Christ and we have a better hope.

Heb 7:27 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. (ESV)

Father, thank you for your grace and mercy, righteousness and peace. In Christ I stand.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Ezra 3 - part 6

Eza 3:13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people 's weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away. (ESV)

Christians tend to sing a lot, but I wonder if we celebrate enough. The Hebrews were not a people to stuff their emotions. When they cried they really cried, and when they celebrated they really celebrated. In the circles in which I grew up we didn't trust emotion. The Hebrews embraced it. We tend to act like the saying, "Slow and steady wins the race" is about emotions. We like things, but there is danger in getting too excited. We dislike things, but let's not get too upset. Of course, often that stuffed emotion eventually bubbles out in an emotional explosion which we then pretend never happened as we go back to "slow and steady." Were the Hebrews sometimes carried away by their emotion into overreacting or even sinning? Yes. But then do those of us who stuff our emotions really sin any less? Aren't we really just as fickle?

So, little emotion or much emotion is not really the issue. But when I see Israel celebrating the laying of the foundation it makes me wonder. When I hear that the rejoicing and the weeping were so loud that people could not distinguish between them it makes me wonder. I wonder if perhaps we should celebrate a little more. I tend to be a sceptic. When someone makes a decision my natural tendency is to think, "That's great, but we'll wait and see what actually happens." But I wonder whether my own scepticism may even contribute to their failure. What if I celebrated their victory instead of waiting to see? Would that actually encourage them to continue on? What if my scepticism becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy? What if celebrating actually encourages people to persevere?

I don't think that I suddenly need to become someone I'm not by becoming all emotional. But maybe I do need to embrace the truth that emotion is from God just as much as every other aspect of my being. Maybe, just maybe, I need to celebrate more. Somehow worship is connected to emotion in this chapter. Maybe as I worship I need to learn to embrace the emotions God has given me. Maybe I need to be okay with the tears that sometimes quietly well up, or the shout of joy that I find myself holding back so I don't look foolish. Maybe that's the whole point. Maybe my lack of emotion is just as self-centered and self-focused as the excessive emotion I accuse others of having. Maybe in worrying about proper emotional expression I have hindered the Spirit and missed worship altogether because my focus has been on myself.

I'm not sure what the answers are to some of these questions, but I think that it may be time to at last consider them. Father, teach me what it means to properly respond to you. Help me discover the role of emotion in worship. Let me see you in a way I have missed because I have been too worried about what others might think, or how I might look. Let me worship you from the heart.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Hebrews 6

Heb 6:19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, (ESV)

I believe that the reason Hebrews was written was not because the Hebrew believers were mixing Moses ceremonial Law with their faith, but because they had begun mixing the uncertainty of the Mosaic Law with their faith. Under Moses Law one sacrifice was never enough. Week by week and day by day there had to be another sacrifice, another offering, another lamb killed, another expression of faith.

I think that the Hebrew Christians had fallen into a mindset whereby they began to believe that every time they sinned they had to get saved again just like in the law they would have to bring another sacrifice. Thus the author of Hebrews begins with an explanation of the superiority of Christ over the angels, the Law, the sacrifices, and the priesthood. He was establishing a foundation for the truth of this chapter. You can't go back and get saved every week. We have a sure and steadfast hope in Christ which is a one time event. You are secure in that. Getting saved every week does not make you more saved or more secure, in fact it is impossible.

Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Heb 6:9-12 ESV )

The promises of God are inherited through "faith and patience," not through repetitious ritual or through getting saved weekly. The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians that love "hopes all things." As believers in Jesus  Christ we are a people who live in hope, a living expectation of God's sure and gracious acceptance of us because of Jesus. That is the hope of our salvation. Upon that truth we rest. In that truth we experience peace.

Father, thank you that in Christ my sins are washed clean. May my life be characterized by the living and sure expectation of that truth. Forgive me for the times I have put ritual above rest. In you I trust.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Friday, August 16, 2013

Hebrews 5 - part 2

Heb 5:14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (ESV)

This verse fascinates me because I think we so often get it wrong. "Solid food is for the mature." What does that mean? Clearly he is asking people to move beyond the simple truths of the gospel. Not that we ever leave the foundation of the gospel, but the very next verse says, "Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God." I think that sometimes when we read Hebrews 5:14 the words "sold food" catch our eye and we begin to think, "difficult theology." So in churches with a heavy focus on Bible teaching we begin to reason that what God is requiring of us is a better understanding of all the "ologies": ecclesiology, eschatology, pneumatology, christology, etc., etc., etc.

I don't think that is what Hebrews is really getting at. Theology is good and necessary, but that's not the point here. This verse goes on to say that the contrast to milk, the definition of solid food, is the ability to discern good from evil. That comes, according to this verse, through the exercise of doing it. Now isn't that interesting! Satan promised Eve in the Garden that if she would eat of the fruit then she would have the ability to know good and evil. In Genesis the word "know" means to know by experience. God does not want us to "know" good and evil. He wants us to discern good from evil.

Maturity in the  Christian faith is the ability to discern good from evil. That necessitates that we move beyond the gospel to holy living. That necessitates that we actually exercise discernment rather than just constantly claim forgiveness. Spiritual discernment comes from knowing the mind of God, listening to the Spirit of God, and actively and intentionally evaluating life as we live it. That all takes practice.

Father, today may I be intentional about knowing your mind through thinking on your Word, listening to your Spirit as he guides, and intentionally evaluating life as I live it. May I move from milk to solid food.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Hebrews 5

Heb 5:7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. (ESV)

This verse says that Jesus prayers for deliverance to his Father, who could save him from death, were heard.  I have a feeling that Mary, watching him die on the cross, didn't think his prayers were heard. I have a feeling that Judas and Peter didn't think Jesus prayer for deliverance was heard. I have a feeling that the women slowly making their way to his grave that Sunday morning didn't think his prayer had been answered. But they were all wrong. Jesus prayers had been heard. He was delivered from death. He just had to go through it first.

Now we have a High Priest who understands our weaknesses and who has conquered death. Sometimes prayers are not answered the way we expect in the time frame we expect because God has something better in mind. From the earthly perspective it doesn't always make sense, but from the eternal perspective we will one day see the rich tapestry God has been weaving.

Had Mary, Peter and the others been told, that Friday night or the following Sabbath, that God had answered Jesus prayer they would not have believed it. Sometimes in the midst of the pain is not the best time to hear, "It is all for the best." We need to be reminded that we are in God's hands and that he loves us, but sometimes we need to wait for a little light in our lives before we are ready to hear that God has a better plan than what we thought should be done.

I find it significant that Jesus warned his disciples ahead of time that he was going to die. He explained to them afterwards why he needed to die. But, he did not send messengers to chastise them for their lack of faith when he was lying in the grave. Sometimes we need a little darkness in our lives to truly appreciate the light.

Father, I confess that there are many times when I wish you had answered prayers more quickly, or with a different outcome, but thank you that you know best. Be gracious to me in my times of doubt, and by your grace may I walk by faith in the darkest times of life. You know best.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Hebrews 4

Heb 4:12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two- edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (ESV)

This is a powerful verse, but I usually hear it quoted totally apart from its context. We talk about the power and effectiveness of the Word, but what is its connection to the verses that surround it? This is the "rest" chapter. "For good news came to us just as to them," Hebrews 4:2 says of the Israelites in the wilderness.  Why? Because "the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened."  But, the chapter goes on to say, "we who have believed enter that rest." After talking about rest for 11 verses the author then throws in verse 12 that we quoted above and follows with a statement of how nothing is hidden from the God. What's the connection?

God, through his Word, discerns our thoughts and intentions. He knows whether we are obeying because we fear his anger and believe that we can earn his favor if we stay under the radar and behave, or if we truly believe. Rest is entered by faith, not law. Rest is expressed in obedience that flows out of faith, not fear. Rest, Sabbath Rest (that's the word for rest used in verse 9) is not about keeping a day. It is not about keeping God happy. It is not about doing the right thing. Sabbath rest starts in the heart with what we believe and whom we trust. The power of this verse about the Word of God being living and active is that it can discern between faith and fear.

For my part, I cannot really tell whether a person is obeying God out of faith or fear. There are sometimes indications that give me an idea, but I need to be careful not to judge a brother's heart. Only God and his Word can distinguish the thoughts and intentions of the heart. But for myself, I need to ask, what is truly motivating me?

I had a weird dream last night that disturbs me, but perhaps not for the reasons one might imagine. My dream disturbs me because in my dream I made a decision based on what people might think of me rather than what was right and true. That bothers me because it reveals something about my character. I am too much concerned with what people think and too little concerned with what it means to rest in Christ. The truth is, in my dream the decision I made might have been the same whether I was fearing what people would think, or whether I was living out of my rest in Christ, but I knew the difference and so does God. The Christian life is about rest. "So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest..." (Heb 4:9-10a)

Father, I confess that my heart just naturally turns to the fear of what others will think, and the pride of thinking that I can somehow earn your favor. Forgive me for turning grace into law so often. Today may I rest in you.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Ezra 3 - part 5

Eza 3:2 Then arose Jeshua the son of Jozadak, with his fellow priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel with his kinsmen, and they built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the Law of Moses the man of God. (ESV)

What an incredibly rich verse when you read it historically and theologically. "Then arose Jeshua." This is the same name as Joshua, who originally led the people into the Promised Land. It is also the same name as Jesus, the Greek version of Joshua. Jeshua means "he is saved'" or just "savior." So the verse starts with a savior arising.

Jeshua is the son of Jozadak. Jozadak mean "Jehovah is righteous." Jehovah or YHWH is the self-sufficient covenant keeping God. This righteous, covenant keeping God fathered the savior. I'll come back to the part about his fellow priests later, but along with this savior, Jeshua, comes Zerubbabel, whose name means "sown in Babylon." Babylon, throughout the scriptures, from the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 through the end of Revelation, is consider the major center of evil in the world. So a savior, the son of Jehovah the Righteous, arises with those sown in sin, Babylon.

How does this happen? The one sown in Babylon is the son of Shealtiel, whose name means "I have asked of God."  Historically, in answer to Daniel's prayer to God of repentance, confession and request for restoration Jehovah the Righteous God answered by saving his people out of Babylon, though many of them had been born and raised there. In this one verse is the story of the book is Ezra.

In this verse is also the story of the gospel. Though we were all born in sin, spiritual Babylon, Jehovah, the righteous covenant keeping God, sent a savior, Jesus, to bring us out of bondage in answer to prayer. Now, that still leaves the phrase, "with his fellow priests." And here is where the story gets weird. Revelation 1 and 1 Peter 2 tell us that in Christ we have been made into a kingdom of priests, a royal priesthood. 2 Cor 5 tells us that we have been given the message of reconciliation and the ministry of reconciliation. So, along with the Savior we, Jesus' fellow priests, have the privilege of letting the world born in sin know that a savior, the son of Righteous Jehovah, has come to answer their prayers for deliverance. That's the gospel and the great commission,

What an amazing challenge that God has chosen to use us to take his message of deliverance to a fallen world! My initial response is, "God, surely you have a better plan than that." My second thought is, "This is beyond me. There is no way I can do it." But that is where the good news comes in. In this verse Jeshua, the savior, arose "with his fellow priests." In the Great Commission Jesus said, "Behold (look) I am with you always." We haven't been left to carry out this ministry of reconciliation alone. He is with us, and that makes it doable. And that is only the first half of the verse.

Father, thank you for your incredible gospel of deliverance. Thank you for the great privilege of being part of the ministry of reconciliation. Thank you. that you have not left me to do it alone. Open hearts to hear you Word.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Ezra 3 - part 4

Eza 3:7 So they gave money to the masons and the carpenters, and food, drink, and oil to the Sidonians and the Tyrians to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea, to Joppa, according to the grant that they had from Cyrus king of Persia. (ESV)

Israel began worshipping at the new altar they had just built, but they also realized that the work was not yet done. They still had a temple to build. In this verse they make plans and begin to gather resources to build. They haven't broken ground yet, but they are planning and preparing for the future.

In our culture we are told to save for the future. How many of us actually do that is questionable, but certainly it's a good idea. The older we get the more we realize that we should be preparing for our retirement. We know that we need to look to the future, not just live for today, despite the lyrics of the old Grass Roots song to the contrary. And yes I know that Jesus said not to worry about the future. The present, he said, has enough worries of it's own. That is absolutely true. But while we are not to worry about the future, there is certainly wisdom in making some preparations for the future, as the Proverbs instruct us.

Now this is where it gets interesting. I doubt that there are many who would disagree with me up to this point. Yes, we should not worry about the future. Yes, we should make some preparations for the future. But  this passage is talking about making preparations, not for their retirement nor for their children's education, but for building the temple.

1Pe 2:5 says "you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (ESV) In other words, we are being built up into both a priesthood and into the temple itself. As believers in Jesus Christ, we are the living stones that make up the walls of God's living temple. He dwells in us both individually and corporately.

That raises the question: not, what are we saving for the future, but how are we making plans to build the temple? We plan for vacations; we plan for retirement; we plan for holidays; we plan for large projects at work. But do we plan go build the temple, or is that just supposed to happen?

How do we plan to build the living temple of God? What preparations need to be made? As I think on this it seems that there are at least three things I need to do in order to prepare for the opportunities God will give to build his temple. First, I need to make personal preparation. I need to make sure that my heart is right with God and that I am prepared in such a way that were someone to ask me a reason for the hope that is in me I would be prepared to give an answer (Col 4:6). Second, I need to be praying that God would prepare hearts to hear the truth of the gospel and make opportunities for me to share (Eph 6:19). Finally, I need to be intentional about seeking out opportunities to connect with unbelievers (1Cor 9:22).

Father, I confess that I give more thought to just about everything else in life than this. By your grace, may I be intentional about building your spiritual temple today. Go before me and prepare hearts and opportunities to share the love and truth of  Christ. Give me eyes to see those opportunities and may I be prepared to seize the day.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Friday, August 9, 2013

Ezra 3 - part 3

Eza 3:1 When the seventh month came, and the children of Israel were in the towns, the people gathered as one man to Jerusalem. (ESV)

When the 7th "new moon" came the people gathered as one. This was the Jewish religious "New Year". There are occasions when the people of a region or a congregation are brought together by circumstances beyond our planning and control. In this case it happened to be a combination of fear of the nations around them combined with a significant date on the calendar.

On September 11, 2001 that happened on a national level in the USA when the twin towers were attacked. It happens in communities when a tragic death of a young person occurs, or a natural disaster strikes. It happens in congregations when certain joys or tragedies are shared across the congregation. Usually the leadership of the country, community or congregation has little warning. At other times, like this event in Ezra 3, circumstances are such that the leadership can see it coming. Either way, leadership needs to be prepared to point their people to God for comfort, strength or gratitude at these times.

It happens in families as well. A couple days ago I witnessed a neighbor's dog get hit by a car. A man with two boys and a dog were out in their yard when the dog saw me walking on the road. It came running out to greet me and ran right in front of an oncoming car. I saw it coming but could do nothing to stop it. The man and boys saw it occur as well but could not stop their dog. So there we had one shook driver, one dead dog and one Dad with two grieving boys. The only thing I could think was: How is he going to help those boys deal with this tragedy?

In Ezra 3 Zerubbabel and the Jewish leadership took the opportunity to turn the hearts of their people toward God. They didn't do it by preaching at them, but by inviting them to worship. Each of us, as believers, are in positions of responsibility and/or influence. Are we sensitive enough to the Lord and to the joys and pains of those around us that when these "God moments" occur we are prepared to gently lead people toward our gracious God?

Father, may I walk in sync with you in such a way that when you bring these moments together my heart would instantly turn to you and I would be the presence of Christ to those around me. Let people see Jesus in me.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

More on Ezra 3

Eza 3:13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people 's weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away. (ESV)

This verse is in the context of worship. The people of Israel had just laid the foundation of the second temple. They planned a worship service in celebration of this event and in anticipation of the day when their new temple would be built and active worship would be taking place there. Their worship on that day included trumpets, the kind that might be used on the battle field to sound an alarm. I would have expected them to use a ram's horn like Moses had used in the wilderness, but this was a metal trumpet they were using. Their worship also included cymbals, percussion instruments designed to make a lot of noise. This worship celebration was designed to be noisy. These were the loudest instruments they could produce in their day.

Not only were the instruments noisy, but they planned singing by the entire group. There would have been thousands of people gathered for this event and they joined in singing about the faithfulness of their God. Out of joy in celebration of worship, and perhaps a sadness in the memories of former times, the older people wept "loudly" while the younger people shouted loudly. The weeping would have not just been shedding tears, but wailing at the top of their lungs. The shouting was like the shouting of a war cry.

That's not how I worship. I worship in silence. I worship in a whisper. I've been in large groups of men worshiping where some were shouting. I wondered if that could truly be worship, or was it a bit disrespectful or even a bit contrived. But here we have people unafraid to express their grief and their joy. Maybe someday I need to bang together a pair of cymbals and shout at the top of my lungs as an act of worship.

That idea makes me smile because I'm too self-conscious to ever actually do that. But then, maybe that's the problem. These people allowed themselves to fully feel and fully express the emotion of the moment without worrying about what somebody might think. Maybe that is when worship truly occurs, when we stop thinking about us and allow ourselves instead to be caught up in the glory of who God is. I don't believe that can be contrived. It can be imitated. It can be pretended. The outward expression can be manufactured. But when we are overwhelmed with the greatness, glory and grace of our God it touches us at a deep level. It moves us not just intellectually, but emotionally. Perhaps in those times we do ourselves and our God a disservice by failing to shout. Perhaps we short-circuit our worship at that point because we become too self aware instead of being God aware.

I'm not advocating that we turn our worship services on Sunday mornings into shouting contests. I'm simply thinking out loud, wondering whether what we call worship is too much about us and too little about the God we claim to worship. I wonder if we worry too much about propriety in those times and so fail to allow ourselves to be caught up in the glory of God. Just wondering....

Father, I do acknowledge that I am too often concerned with how I look and what people think. Forgive me. Today may I be more concerned with you then with me. Teach me to worship from the heart.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Ezra 3

Eza 3:3 They set the altar in its place, for fear was on them because of the peoples of the lands, and they offered burnt offerings on it to the Lord, burnt offerings morning and evening. (ESV)

Fear. Why doesn't it say, "They set the altar in its place out of gratitude," or "They set the altar in its place out of their love for God," or "They set the altar in its place so they could worship their God"? It wasn't love, gratitude or a desire to worship, but fear of the nations around them that motivated Israel to set the altar in its place and offer their burnt offerings.

We could respond, "Well, whatever it takes to get them to do the right thing." And, I suppose that there is some truth to that, but I find it sad that Israel was motivated by fear of the surrounding nations rather than their fear of God. The pain and difficulties that surround us are too often more real to us than the God we serve. We are really no different than Israel. When things are good, comfortable and easy we find ourselves saying things like, "I know I really should pray more." When we find ourselves in crisis mode, prayer becomes our way of life.

I'm not sure how to change that, but for me I find that the daily discipline of thinking on the scriptures makes a difference. I find that the habit of talking to God before I climb out of bed, even if I'm floating in and out of sleep while I do it, sets a precedent for the day. But most of all a constant reminder of my inclined ability to quickly fall away motivates me to stick close to God. As the old hymn goes:

I need thee every hour, most gracious Lord;
no tender voice like thine can peace afford.

I need thee, O I need thee;
every hour I need thee;
O bless me now, my Savior, I come to thee.

I need thee every hour; stay thou nearby;
temptations lose their power when thou art nigh.

I need thee every hour, in joy or pain;
come quickly and abide, or life is vain.

I need thee every hour; teach me thy will;
and thy rich promises in me fulfill.

I need thee every hour, most Holy One;
O make me thine indeed, thou blessed Son.

I need thee, O I need thee;
every hour I need thee;
O bless me now, my Savior, I come to thee.

Maybe that is why the fear of the nations motivated Israel to worship. That fear is what reminded them of their need for God. Father, don't let me reach crisis mode before I remember how much I need you every day. Today may I walk in humble dependence on you.

By His grace,
Rick Weinert

Friday, August 2, 2013

More on Ezra 2 & the Gospel

The Gospel is a free and open invitation to move from captivity to freedom. It brings together people from different backgrounds, different perspectives and abilities, and different experiences. What unites the church is not our homogeneity (i.e. everybody is the same), but the truth that we are all captives freed by a benevolent God who acts in grace and mercy. That sometimes brings together the most unlikely people to work as a unit, a body with one head. It is our brokenness apart from grace and the healing truth of the gospel that unites us.

The gospel not only unites us, it changes us. It transforms stingy people into generous givers, bitter individuals into loving care givers, masters into servants and slaves into free men and women.  The gospel is not about us, it is about the grace of the God we serve who takes captives and turns them into a free people. It turns broken people into whole individuals. It takes separated people and turns them into a single unit that exercises and demonstrates acceptance and love in truth and holiness.

But the gospel doesn't turn unique individuals into homogeneous automatons (i.e. robots that all look and act alike). It leaves room, indeed it makes room for the fullness of our uniqueness expressed in a holiness that is in perfect harmony with the person, nature and character of the God we serve and yet looks slightly different for each one of us. As the Apostle Paul wrote, "If the whole body were an eye where would be the sense of hearing?" (1Cor 12:17)

I am deeply grateful for this gospel of grace that is Christ centered, not me centered. Father forgive me for how often I make it about me. Let me see your grace with fresh eyes today.

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...