Blessed Like a Tree

Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord.

Ever feel like you’re on the cusp of something big? Like you are “this close” to a receiving a blessing of some sort? A really big blessing?

The Bible is full of “blessing” stories. The first is a promise from God to Abram.

Genesis 12:

The Lord said to Abram:

Leave your country, your family, and your relatives and go to the land that I will show you. I will bless you and make your descendants into a great nation. You will become famous and be a blessing to others. I will bless anyone who blesses you, but I will put a curse on anyone who puts a curse on you. Everyone on earth will be blessed because of you.  Genesis 12:1-3 (CEV)

This is the promise to Abram, which means “Father” … who later became Abraham… “the Father of Many.”

Abram had no children. Yet because of his faithfulness to God, he became the father of Isaac, who became the father of Jacob, who’s name was later changed to Israel.  He had twelve sons, the heads of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, God’s chosen people, who crossed the Jordan River at Jericho and inherited the Promised Land.

This idea of Abram’s blessing is the picture of a conduit.  We are blessed with the express purpose of being a blessing to others. There is a continual motion with our hands of receiving and giving… receiving and giving… receiving and giving. Can you see yourself as both a receptacle and dispenser of God’s grace and joy and blessing?

Let’s jump a couple of thousand years to David, Psalm 1:

God blesses those people who refuse evil advice and won’t follow sinners or join in sneering at God.

Instead, the Law of the Lord makes them happy, and they think about it day and night.

They are like trees growing beside a stream, trees that produce fruit in season and always have leaves.

Those people succeed in everything they do.

Psalm 1:1-3 (CEV)

The Psalms are  mostly David’s journal, his intimate thoughts with God. These prayers detail his struggles, his joys, his defeats and his victories. He gets the concept of blessing through the Word of God. The idea of “thinking about the law” — or other translations suggest the phrase is “meditating on the Scripture” — is the picture of a dog, chewing on a bone. Or more precisely a lion growling over his prey, followed by licking and chewing it up. Taking his time. Enjoying the blessings of his spoils. Usually in solitude.

So, it is THAT person, who is like a tree growing beside a stream. Its roots are long and deep. Have you ever seen a tree growing on the bank of a river and its roots run long down the bank until they are touching the water? That’s the kind of tree we are to be, someone with long and deep roots. And that tree? It produces fruit!

These are trees that do not worry. They are blessed.

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8 (NIV)

And  just like trees “those people succeed in everything they do.” They are blessed.

Proverbs says “the roots of the righteous give life, and more life.” Proverbs 12:12 (MSG)

Blessing happens when we enjoy our times with God. Please hear that the only way we produce fruit, or more accurately when God produces fruit in us and through us, is when we enjoy, when we relish, when we love quiet times of digging into and digesting His word, lingering over it, often; when our heart is connected to His heart.

One more Bible story about blessing:

When Jesus taught His first sermon, what’s the key word He used? At the Sermon on the Mount, He affirms eight additional Blessings.

God blesses those people who depend only on him. They belong to the kingdom of heaven!

God blesses those people who grieve. They will find comfort!

God blesses those people who are humble. The earth will belong to them!

God blesses those people who want to obey him more than to eat or drink. They will be given what they want!

God blesses those people who are merciful. They will be treated with mercy!

God blesses those people whose hearts are pure. They will see him!

God blesses those people who make peace. They will be called his children!

God blesses those people who are treated badly for doing right. They belong to the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:1-10 (CEV)

One thing each of these Blessings have in common? These Blessings are given to those who are active, not passive.

You’ve heard “God helps those who help themselves.” That’s not in the Bible. That’s a quote most often ascribed to Benjamin Franklin. That’s not what I’m saying. Indeed, God’s grace is offered to all, because we really cannot help ourselves, right?

Here’s the true statement. Again from Proverbs: The one who blesses others is abundantly blessed. Those who help others are helped. Proverbs 11:25 (MSG)

Jesus is describing actions taken. Who receives blessings? Those who are depending and grieving. Those who are humble, obedient, mercy givers. Those who have a pure heart and who make peace and who do right.

Proverbs has two additional blessing promises:

God blesses everyone who trusts him. Proverbs 16:20 (CEV)

And then there’s this one:

When God blesses his people, their city prospers, but deceitful liars can destroy a city. Proverbs 11:11 (CEV)

I believe God wants to bless your city, your state, our county. But I don’t believe we are called to sit around and wait for it. I believe He will continue to bless this Land through each person who trusts in Him.

Jesus had an encounter with a dad who was hoping that the Messiah might heal his son. The boy’s father says: “Please have pity and help us if you can!” Jesus replied, “Why do you say “if you can”? Anything is possible for someone who has faith!” Right away the boy’s father shouted, “I do have faith! Please help me to have even more.” Mark 9:23-25 (CEV)

Maybe that’s our prayer too? “God, please give me more faith.”

That takes us full circle back around to Abraham. It was his faith that allowed him to see and believe that he’d have as many descendants as the stars in the heavens. It will be our faith, and our taking action steps — not passively sitting around waiting — to receive God’s blessings. And then its up to us to be obedient to pass them on… to our family, our neighbors, our city, and our country. And through our passing them along, we are blessed!

 

(c) Rich Ronald. 2019.

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Want peace? Trust Jesus.

This is Graduation season! It’s “Pomp and Circumstance” for everyone from Kindergarten to College and beyond.  Graduates are parading across stages and moving tassels from left to right (or is it right to left?).  It’s a grand and glorious season for families everywhere.

What are the two emotions most people have during this time of the year? For both parents and graduates it is excitement, joy and pride for what they just accomplished. And simultaneous to that, it is fear for what is next on life’s journey. Will they be going away to college? Parents are worried about fall semester, freshman year and what their children might get into outside of the classrooms. Will they be off to boot camp? New recruits worry that they might be going off to battle. Will they start a new full-time job? New employees wonder if they will be able to do the work and then pay their own bills and live on their own.

When I graduated high school, a friend shared this promise with me, given by God to Joshua: “I have commanded you to be strong and courageous. Do not fear, do not be afraid or discouraged. I am the Lord your God and I will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

Jesus echoed the same words in Matthew didn’t He?  The final words as He ascended into heaven are this: “Surely, I am with you always, even to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

Whether you are a graduate or someone going through the seasons of life, fear can be paralyzing. Are you between a biopsy and a diagnosis? The silence can be debilitating. Did you do something you regret and now have to have a crucial conversation with your spouse? The guilt can be crippling.  Are you facing a new transistion? I heard this recently: “I know I need to get a new job, but I hate change.” Fear in all of these situations can prevent us from taking action, right? Fear nibbles at our heels and creates static noise in our heads.

But Jesus silences fear with His love. He brings peace… His perfect peace to all who trust in Him. Practically, it might be a bit of rough road getting from here to there. That’s okay. Remember, He is always with us. Give Him your fears and your anxious heart and enjoy the harmony of His peace.

 

 

(c) 2019 Rich Ronald.

Christ is Enough. He is more than Enough!

The Cross Before Me

We sang Hillsong’s “Christ is Enough” this past weekend at our church. Like many worship songs today, it is a mash up of a new song with an old hymn. The lyrics to the new song:

Christ is enough for me.

Christ is enough for me.

Everything I need is in you.

Everything I need.

Through every trial.

My soul will sing.

No turning back.

I’ve been set free.

Then, the lyricist adds the words to the 19th Century hymn “I have decided to follow Jesus:”

I have decided to follow Jesus. The cross before me. The world behind me. No turning back. No turning back.

Christ is enough for me. How do I know this? Personally, I have experienced His provision first-hand during trial after trial. And, the Bible is peppered with God’s promises proclaiming it:

Luke writes, “Salvation comes no other way; no other name has been or will be given to us by which we can be saved, only this one.” Acts 4:12

Christ is enough for me. How do I know this? Paul writes, “You can be sure that God will take care of everything you need.” Philippians 4:19

Christ is enough for me. How do I know this? The Psalmist writes, “You’re all I want in Heaven! You’re all I want in earth. When my skin sags and my bones get brittle, God is rock-firm and faithful.” Psalm 73:25-26

Christ IS enough. No matter if we think all our good deeds means we get to go to heaven, it doesn’t work that way. No matter how much we exercise or how many skin tightening facial cremes we use at night, we cannot control that we age, that our flesh and heart will fail. No matter how much we try to plan and control all the many and mini details every day, failure is a part of life. And that’s the point. Only when we get things in the right order can we find true freedom. God is our strength! He is enough. He is more than enough! The cross in front of us. The world behind us. No turning back.

The story behind that old hymn is inspiring:

“I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” is sung to a traditional folk tune from India, and it is named after the northeastern Indian state once home to tribes known as “head-hunters” due to their custom of collecting heads and hanging them on their walls. In his book Why, God, Why?, Dr. P. Job says that 150 years ago a Welsh missionary converted a man, his wife, and his children to Christianity. After the village chief demanded that the man renounce his faith, he spontaneously sang the now-famous words, “I have decided to follow Jesus.” Reportedly, the chief ordered his archers to kill the man’s two children, threatening to kill his wife as well; but the man sang, “Though no one joins me, still I will follow.” The archers shot his wife, but still the man refused to deny Christ, and he was executed while singing: “The cross before me, the world behind me.” It was said that the chief was so moved that he declared, “I too belong to Jesus Christ!” and the entire village converted.

Can I assure you: Christ is enough. He is more than enough for whatever weakness,whatever stress, whatever illness, whatever failure, whatever brokenness you are facing today. He will meet your every need. Let Him be your strength. Put the cross in front of you and the world behind you. Jesus is enough. He is more than enough!

(c) 2019 Rich Ronald.

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Notes:

“Christ is Enough” by Hillsong Worship. Written by Jonas Myrin and Reuben Morgan. CCLI # 6514035.

Story behind “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” from Christian Classic Ethereal Library, CCEL Times 6.10 (October 3, 2011), accessed May 22, 2019.

Come Holy Spirit

Join us weekly for the Overflow sermon series at Oak Hills Church, San Antonio.

When I was a college student in the late 1970’s, I went to a Christian Woodstock-like event. 30,000 young adults, camping and worshipping Jesus in a farmer’s field in Western Pennsylvania.  Keith Green, Phil Keaggy and The Sweet Comfort Band were among the lineup of musicians. It was a week of worship and praise and teaching and fellowship. It was a spiritual milestone for me as I acknowledged and “received” the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It was the first time I felt free to raise my hands in worship.

When I called my mom later to tell her all about the event, I told her I had been filled with the Holy Spirit. Her response? She was very encouraging. Then, with great wisdom, she affirmed my step of faith by saying, “I believe being filled with the Holy Spirit is a daily practice; we are to be constantly filled, even to overflowing!”

It was my mom’s way of quoting Acts 13:52 which says this: “And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” (NASB)

Each day, every day, we can say “Come Holy Spirit. Fill my thirsty soul. So that we might overflow with your love and grace and mercy and joy to those around us.”

 

(c) Rich Ronald. 2019.

 

Blessed, happy…

The hillside that looks down to the Sea of Galilee from the Mount called the Mount of Beatitudes, or Mt. Eremos in Israel.

 

We started the day at the top of Mt. Arbel. The Master had taken us up the night before. At daybreak, we watched a gorgeous sunrise over the Sea!  Mt. Arbel is His favorite “get away from it all” spot. You can get a view of the whole lake from there.

We had spent much of the past few weeks all around this northern part of the Galilee. He had chosen 12 of us to be His closest followers, His talmudim. Many of us grew up around here, working the sea for fish and the land for grain.

As we journeyed down towards the shore, He warned us about the expected crowds today. There was something in His heart that He needed to tell the people… If people were going to receive any kind of physical healing from Him, they were going to hear why He healed first.  He told us of the story when He taught in the synagogue in Nazareth… when the reading from the Prophets for that day was from Isaiah. He affirmed the reason He had come… to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoner and recovery of sight for the blind… to set the oppressed free.

And now today, today would be the day when the Teacher revealed His yoke, His perspective, His views on the Law. And today, he would set the whole tone for the next year and a half of ministry…

As He began to teach, He did so just like He was in a synagogue. He sat down on a rock. And He preached with such authority.

“Blessed, happy are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven,” He began.

“Blessed, happy are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

“Blessed, happy are those who are meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 6:3-5).

With each blessing, more and more people made their way to the field below Him. He continued…

“Blessed, happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed, happy are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed, happy are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 6:6-8).

His voice echoed off the hillside and fisherman pulled their boats onto the shore to hear more.

“Blessed, happy are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed, happy are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 6:9-12).

The Master spoke for quite some time… I looked around as the crowd continued to increase. People elbowed each other to see His face. They wiped their brows as the warmth of the day increased. “Who was this?” I heard them murmur to each other.

He watched as fishermen on the shore began to pack their catch in salt to preserve it. “You are the salt of the earth,” He assured us. “But if the salt loses it saltiness, how can it be salty again?” (Matthew 6:13).

He looked east toward Hippos across the sea and proclaimed, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 6:14-16).

He then began to illustrate His views on Torah, His yoke, by noting what other teachers of the Law have to say… He would start by saying, “You have heard it said… “ and then He would add, “but I say to you…” It was His way of bringing grace and life to the Laws of Moses. For example, He said: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 6:43-45).

Some in the growing crowd were mesmerized by these teachings. Others were puzzled as this man appeared to be a learned rabbi, but was questioning much of everything we all knew of the Law.

He taught on murder, adultery, divorce, prayer and fasting. He summed up the Law and the Prophets with this straightforward statement: “Do to others what you would have them do to you.” (Matthew 7:12).

The topic that spoke most to my heart? Anxiety. I will admit, I’m a worrier. And yet, as He looked at the flowers in bloom on this very hillside, and saw the birds flying through the treetops, the Master urged us:

“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:25-34).

 As He concluded this powerful, yet simple message, the crowd was amazed. I looked at the others with a smile, humbled that He had chosen us to be His disciples… and wondering what else we might learn in the days and weeks to come as we followed our rabbi.

Some of the thoughts, perhaps, of one of the 12, as he remembered that day where Yeshua first spoke those words.

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There are so many amazing teachings in this, the first of Jesus’ public teachings. As we see often, Jesus flips many of the norms and teachings of old on their heads. You are blessed when you are poor in spirit. It’s okay to mourn. Be hungry for righteousness not the Law. Be a peacemaker. Don’t worry when you are persecuted, or when you are hungry or naked. Seek first the Kingdom. Be salt. Be light. Treat others as you want to be treated. This is how you are to pray.

He was going “on the record” … establishing His yoke, His ways, His views on Torah. And ultimately, Matthew 11:30: “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

So, say “Yes!” to the Law. But, more importantly, say “Yes!” to Grace. Say “Yes!” to the way of Yeshua. He spoke with the bold and loving authority of God.  This message is for everyone. Jew and Gentile alike. Believer and unbeliever. For those who heard it first-hand on a hillside along the banks of the Sea of Galilee as He spoke it – Matthew says in 7:28 that the crowds were amazed!”

AND the timeless message is for us today. Can we be amazed again? I hope so!

 

[1] Friedrich Hauck, “Theological Dictionary of the New Testament,” as cited in Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, by Kenneth E. Bailey, © 2008, p. 68.

 

(c) 2019 Rich Ronald.

Where to find Living Water? Jesus.

Living in the Overflow… Jesus says, “Come to me and drink.”

This city is such a madhouse. I love coming up to Jerusalem for the feasts, but Sukkot is always crazy! Not only does all of Israel make pilgrimage, but then we are commanded to build booths to live in for the eight days of the festival. It reminds our people of the years of wandering in the desert, and how Jehovah provided for our every need then… And we trust that He will be our Jehovah Jireh, our Provider, for us today and in the New Year.

The already crowded and narrow streets are packed with people, animals and sukkahs. The weather has turned cooler the past couple of days and so each little hut also has a small fire going, so smoke fills the air. The smell of animals, coal fires and people crammed together is, let’s just say, unique at this season! Each year, my wife and three children make the five day journey from The Galilee to the City of David. It is a time of rejoicing, for sure! We celebrate the fall crops of grapes and olives. And we begin our prayers in earnest for the grain we have just planted and that our One True God would bring rain to the land. Each day as part of this celebration of Tabernacles, the priest will walk from the Temple to the Pool of Siloam with a golden pitcher. It takes several hours of the day as the journey is about a mile. He retrieves Mayim Chayim, living water, from this spring-fed pool to pour out on the altar with the sacrifices. The amount of water is minimal. But its significance is everything! We are trusting that God will provide rain and good weather for the kernels of wheat and barley tucked under the soil on each family’s small plot of Promised Land. There’s nothing further we can do for the grain. The rest is up to YHWH.

On the Final Day of the Feast, the priest makes eight trips to the Pool. Along the voyage those of us in the crowd shout the Psalms of Ascent from King David. Hour after hour, it’s a raucous time of joyful celebration. The priest works the crowd as we all shout “Hosanna — God Save Us!” The higher the pitcher over his head, the louder we cheer. The lower the pitcher, the softer the crowd murmurs our “Hosanna’s!” It was during one of those quiet moments… the priest had lowered the pitcher of life giving water, the crowd was quietly singing “Hosanna…” Suddenly in a loud voice someone among the people shouts “SH’MA! Listen!” We all turned towards the commanding speaker, stunned to realize that it was not a priest, but it was the new rabbi Yeshua, from our hometown.

His words still reverberate off my heart: “Sh’ma! Listen… Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them!” We turned one to each other nodding our approval. Who wouldn’t want Mayim Chayim, living water, every day?! I heard some near me say He must be a prophet,likely thinking of the prophesy from Ezekiel that says living water will flow from the Temple deep enough to swim in. Others said He must be the Messiah.

I’m still undecided… I knew Yeshua as a boy. We grew up together. I heard Him at our synagogue in the Galilee recently… I want to believe, but the priests there chased him out.

But I keep wondering, what would it be like for me, for my family, to have living water flow from my heart… to overflowing… Is it possible? Is it really possible?

 

Some of the words, actions, thoughts perhaps, of a bystander at the Feast of Tabernacles from John 7.

Are you thirsty? We all have seasons of weariness, don’t we? Where we find our hearts so conflicted or broken. Or we are sitting on anger or unresolved hurt. Or we are so busy with life that we are brittle and about to crack. Would you let the living water of Jesus fill you up?

 On the last and most important day of the festival, Jesus stood up and shouted, “If you are thirsty, come to me and drink!  Have faith in me, and you will have life-giving water flowing from deep inside you, just as the Scriptures say.”  Jesus was talking about the Holy Spirit, who would be given to everyone that had faith in him. John 7:37-38 (CEV)

Some might say this is the most important part of the story. This is a promise for “everyone that has faith in Him.” Look at who the Holy Spirit is:

The Father… will give you another Comforter, and he will never leave you. John 14:16 (LB)

The Spirit will show you what is true. John 14:17 (CEV)

God’s Spirit doesn’t make cowards out of us. The Spirit gives us power, love, and self-control. 1 Timothy 1:7 (CEV)

It is the Holy Spirit who is our comforter, who gives us hope when we see no way out. It is the Spirit who gives us boldness to proclaim the hope of the Gospel to a friend at work or our neighbor. It is the Holy Spirit who guides us into all truth, and gives us wisdom to make right decisions.

Drink. Everyone! From the Life-giving springs of Jesus.

The invitation is from Jesus to you and to me. This is not just a once a year thing like the Feast of Tabernacles. I believe we need to empty ourselves of our self everyday. What does that mean? To wake up each morning and say as Jesus did in Luke 22: “Lord, not my will, but your will be done.”  John Eldredge says to ask God this prayer everyday: “What is the life You want me to live?”

Be eager to drink from the springs of living water everyday. And then, let His love, joy, hope and peace overflow through you to others all around you.

 

(c) 2019 Rich Ronald.

The Last Day is really the First Day!

As we concluded our time in Israel our tour guide, Ronen, challenged us with these encouraging words: “Make your nine days in The Land a collective Day One.”

Days Two and Beyond are what we do with the experiences we just encountered.

This has been my fourth trip to Israel. And each time I’ve enjoyed a very special heart-to-heart connection with my Father and Savior.

But we are always encouraged to give away that which we have received, right? And that’s why I’m passionate about The Land. That’s why I want as many people to experience it for themselves.

On our final day in Israel, we began it six miles south of Jerusalem in Bethlehem. Amazing to see the Herodian, the ruins of Herod’s palace. To think that Jesus was born in its shadow, and to see what became of the followers of Herod and the ways of Rome. I’m thankful for the grace and life of the little baby born in Bethlehem! And the significance of that life on all mankind, even you and me 2000+years later!

Children, you belong to God, and you have defeated these enemies. God’s Spirit is in you and is more powerful than the one who is in the world.
1 John 4:4 CEV

We then went up to Jerusalem and followed the path of Yeshua from the Mt. of Olives on Palm Sunday, to the Garden of Gethsemane, to the Antonian Fortress along the Via Dolorosa, to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is the site of the crucifixion and the tomb.

My favorite spot today? Praying with a young man in our group on the Mt. of Olives. It was a special last day! Or like our guide says, the first day!

Off to Turkey for a few sites and then home!

I’m so very thankful for this opportunity to experience The Land. It’s such a special place.

Shalom!

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Come with me to Israel! I’ll be bringing a group back to The Land in October. Please join us!For more info go to www.gtitours.org/trip/ronald19