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.

_____

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

Praying at The Wall.

Day Seven.

Although many might disagree, it’s just a wall. God does not live in the wall. He does not need to open and read the prayers inscribed on tiny pieces of paper and left in small crevices. The prayers offered here at the wall won’t be answered with any greater priority. It’s just a bunch of massive stones that Herod had taken from a nearby quarry and stacked on top of each other.

But for many, these 2000+ year old stones are the closest they’ll ever get to the Holy of Holies today. You see, the ancient temple, destroyed in 70 AD, used to run east and west at the top of Mt. Moriah. The eastern porticoes were for the Gentiles. The further west you went, the holier it became, until finally one reached the Most Holy Place, which was fairly close to this foundation wall in the heart of Jerusalem.

So, did I offer a prayer at the wall? Sure! Was there something special about those few moments of one-on-one communication with the One True God? Absolutely! But it’s not about the stone! And I know that those who pray here regularly understand that.

It’s awesome to get to pray here. It’s not about the stone, it is about who is your sure foundation?! What is the bedrock of truth in your life. Does that make sense?

On this day, many families were celebrating their son’s bar-mitzveh. The dads beamed with great pride! The sons were greatly moved at this new direction in their journeys.

There was prayer, reciting and reading Scripture, music, dancing and great joy! At first, we felt like outsiders. But this is a public celebration, and our group was included, even if just for a few minutes. Fun!

We also went up to the Mount, where the temple used to be. There’s a Muslim shrine in its place now. Part of the politics of The Land. And a good reminder that for those of us who believe, thanks to the sacrifice of the Lamb, God makes His residence in our hearts.

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? …for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.
1 Corinthians 3:16‭-‬17 NIV

The Southern Steps are always one of my favorite sites. We get to stand on 2000 year old stones and read Acts 2, which is the story of the day the Church was born. The people of God were celebrating Shavuot. We call it Pentecost. They were celebrating the day Moses brought the Law of God down from the mountain. And God chose that very day to release His Holy Spirit for us all!

So many amazing sites and stories in this Land!

Shalom!

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I’m here in Israel preparing for a Biblical Study Tour in October. I would love to have you join me in The Land! For more information go to gtitours.org/trip/ronald19.

#gtipastors

Let us go up to the House of the Lord!

Day Six.

We said goodbye to the Sea of Galilee this morning and traveled across the Land to the west and south and up to Jerusalem!

Our first stop was the Roman city of Scythopolis. Interesting, before it was a Roman city it was the Israelite tel called Bet She’an. A tel is a large hill upon which multiple civilizations were built on top of each other. Then, when the Romans came to the Land, they built a major city at the base of the tel.

Why here in this spot?

It has water. It is defensivable. It has crops and agriculture nearby. And it is along a major crossroad and highway.

It is a major cultural hub. And a place with great influence in the Land. I think the faith lesson for us here is a reminder to not let us be influenced by the culture, but rather we can make it our aim to be people of faith who influence the culture for the Kingdom of God. (See Romans 12:2, for example). Whether it was the judgment of God against the excesses and carnality of Rome, or merely a natural event, this beautiful city was destroyed by an earthquake in 749 AD.

From here we visited Magiddo, Mt. Carmel and Caesaria along the Mediterranean Sea.

Tonight, we have reached the House! We will spend the next three days in Jerusalem! Why? To see the sites, to study the Word and to praise the Lord!

That is where the tribes go up— the tribes of the Lord — to praise the name of the Lord according to the statute given to Israel.
Psalm 122:4 NIV

Shalom!

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I’m here in Israel preparing for a Biblical Study Tour in October. I would love to have you join me in The Land! For more information go to gtitours.org/trip/ronald19.

#gtipastors

Walking and praying where Jesus walked and prayed.

Day Four in The Land brought us to the northwest corner of the Sea of Galilee. Today we went where we know Jesus was! We made eight stops, so it was a very full day!

Sunset behind Mt. Arbel

We began at the community ruins of Chorazin. Rich Ferreira opened up the Text to several examples of community. One of these passages was from Mark 5:28 where we read about the woman who dared to touch the corner of Jesus’ robe or likely His prayer shawl. Instantly she was healed! This woman, because of her bleeding and uncleanness, had been cut off from her family and community for twelve years. In an instant, Jesus welcomes her back by healing her!

I also got the chance to pray with a couple from Indonesia. Daniel and Ani, seen here praying in the synagogue, asked me to join them in praying for her parents to come to know Jesus the way she knows Jesus. Will you join with me in prayer?

Daniel and Ani

The next place was the Mt. of Beatitudes. I was blessed to share the teaching here from Matthew 5-7. This is the Sermon on the Mount — the first of Jesus’ public teachings. The encouraging words of our Master are to be salt. Make the world a better place. Be light. Treat others as you want to be treated. We can all be amazed and marvel at His words of grace and peace.

View from Mt. of Beatitudes to the east

We also visited Jesus’ hometown of Capernaum where we were reminded of the humanity of Jesus. He walked these streets and interacted with the people here daily. Randy Alonso told us “There is an answer to every problem of man found in the humanity of Jesus.”

Randy Alonso teaches at Capernaum that “people who were not like Jesus liked Jesus.”

Our day continued with a trip some quiet time at the top of Mt. Arbel where you can see this whole region of the Sea of Galilee. It is believed that Jesus prayed up here on this mountain top. We took time to pray as well.

The view from high atop Mt. Arbel.

And we concluded the day with a boat ride across the Sea and a traditional St. Peter’s fish dinner.

I came to Israel this time with my hands open wide and a hope for a significant heart-to-heart connection with Jesus. He has joyfully surprised me with such moments every day. There is something special about making time to connect. And I must say, it’s even more special here in The Land.

Shalom!

gtitours.org/trip/ronald19

From the Dead Sea to Living Water!

Day Three in the Land.

First things first. When you travel to the other side of the world, sometimes “Jet Lag” can really mess with one’s natural sleep patterns. The first two nights for me were okay. But sleep last night was a bit tricky. By 2:30 a.m. I was wide awake. I tossed and turned for over an hour. By 4 o’clock I decided to get up. I’m a bit of a runner, so before another hour passed it was time to lace up the running shoes and hit the bike trail that parallels the shore. The benefit of a pre-dawn run, you get to see the sunrise over the Moab Mountains!

Sunrise on the Salt Sea

The curious thing about the Salt Sea, the water is greater than 30% salt. So there is no life in it. It’s beautiful on the surface, but completely void of any substance underneath. The good news, One Day it will be teeming with life!

Wherever this water flows, there will be all kinds of animals and fish, because it will bring life and fresh water to the Dead Sea. Fruit trees will grow all along this river and produce fresh fruit every month. The leaves will never dry out, because they will always have water from the stream that flows from the temple, and they will be used for healing people.
Ezekiel 47:9‭, ‬12 CEV

We visited five additional sites today. The first was the southern border palace of King Herod called Massada, which means “strong hold.” It sits high atop a mountain on the edge of the Dead Sea. There is an amazing historical significance for the people of Israel that is not unlike the story of the Alamo in my town of San Antonio.

A five minute bus ride from the base of Masada is Ein Gedi, which means “Springs of Wild Goats.” David and his band of warriors hid out in the caves around here and you’ll find the Bible story in 1 Samuel 23 and 24.

There are also a number of springs of living water here. It’s really amazing to see water in the desert and if it were a warmer day, I’m certain we would have cooled off in the waterfall!

We also went to Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in one of eleven caves in the desert.

The next destination was one of two stops we’ll make along the Jordan River. This location was opposite Mt. Nebo, where Moses looked into the Promised Land and urged the people of Israel to remember God as they crossed into the New Land without him. It’s the same spot where John baptized Jesus. It is believed that the reason John chose this spot to baptize was to remind the new followers of The Way to repent and remember the faithfulness of God from generations past, to bring His children into The Land at this very crossing. It’s a faith lesson for us today, right? Even every Sunday when we observe the Lord’s Supper or Communion we are urged to remember… remember the sacrifice of Jesus and the life eternal that we share with Him.

Tonight, well after dark, we arrived up north to the Sea of Galilee, where we’ll spend the next three days. This is clearly my favorite area of the tour!

We’re only three days in and this study trip has been very refreshing for me… like Living Water!

Everything is finished! I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will freely give water from the life-giving fountain to everyone who is thirsty.
Revelation 21:6 CEV

Shalom!

If Israel is someplace you’ve always wanted to see, join me in October. I’d love to show you. Go to gtitours.org/trip/ronald19 for more info.