Television News Man-turned-Marketing Executive-turned-Pastor.
In the parable of the talents in Matthew 25, two of the three servants successfully multiplied the number of talents given them. But the Master didn't say "well done, good and successful servant." He DID say, "Well done, good and faithful servant." My prayer is that I will be found to have been faithful.
-Rich Ronald, Coshocton, Ohio
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!
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?
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
Day Two of our Biblical Study Tour in Israel found us in the Wilderness. There are three words, three meanings, which we find in the Text.
The first is “midbar,” which is an area that is more like a large open space that has plenty of grass and pasture for sheep to graze.
The second is “tzi’ya,” where it’s pretty desolate, little to no vegetation or water, but an oasis within a day’s journey (approximately every 25 miles).
Then there is “Yeshimon,” where it is completely empty, nothing for a hundred miles. Think “surface of the moon” or Tatooine from Star Wars.
We have seen all three types of “wilderness” in the two days we’ve been in The Land. Today, we journeyed deep to the southern part of Israel, to The Wilderness of Zin. David was here. So was all of Israel as the people wondered in this region for 40 years.
The faith lessons can be found in Psalm 1 or Jeremiah 17.
“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
We saw trees with deep, deep roots near the waters that flowed through Ein Avdat, where the rocky walls are over 300 feet high. Could this geographic spot have been the inspiration for these Biblical word pictures?
What is the key to bearing fruit in the Kingdom? How do you have hope when you are being tested or you feel like you are in a season of wilderness? Can you really be free of worries? Yes! When you trust in the Lord!
We can all be encouraged to stay firmly rooted near streams of the living water of Jesus! Two of His words come to mind… In John 4:10-14, He tells the woman at the well that He will give us Living Water. And in Matthew 6:25-34 He tells us why we don’t need to worry.
Even in the desert. Especially in the desert. When you are parched and weary, He is there to give you Living Water!
Today we also enjoyed the hospitality of bedouins, those who make the desert their home. This included sweet hot tea, baklava to eat and even a camel ride!
We concluded Day Two with a fun dip in the Salt Sea… like floating down the Comal or Guadelupe Rivers without the tube!
Tomorrow: Massada, Ein Gedi and Qumram.
If Israel is someplace you’ve always wanted to see, join me in October. I’d love to show you what I’ve learned. Go to gtitours.org/trip/ronald19 for more info.
I’m here in Israel on a pastor’s tour… learning how to teach and bring people to the Land. Today was our first official day on tour. We went to four stops, but saw a lot of the central plains region called the Shephelah.
+We studied 1 Samuel 4 at Kiriath-Jearim. We noted how the Israelites forgot about God and the encouragement for us is to not follow in their ways.
+At Bet Shemesh we studied the story of Samson and how his compromises led to some awful problems.
+At Azekah we looked down on the Valley of Elah where the Philistines and Goliath mocked the One True God and how David, the courageous shepherd boy took God at His word and, by the miracle of God, defeated the enemy with a single stone. (1 Samuel 17).
+And at Bet Guvrin we learned about cisterns and how we need God to constantly fill us up!
Tonight is a special Shabbat dinner and tomorrow is the Dead Sea Sea the desert.
To join me on a Bible Study Tour in October go to gtitours.org/trip/ronald19
It was ten days after the resurrection. Another day had passed. Like the previous ones, we pondered what to do next. Last thing we remember was Jesus telling us to wait. So, we had waited. And frankly, the waiting was boring. Today, I decided to do something different. Today my restlessness got the best of me. So, today, I decided to return to that with which I was very familiar.
“I’m going fishing,” I told the others.
It was just after midnight, when the Sea of Galilee typically teemed with active, easy to catch fish.
Thomas, the sons of Thunder and two others joined me. It was fun to go back to something we had once enjoyed regularly. The past few months, even the past three years, had all been such a blur. Jesus had turned our world upside down. We had been fishing… but for new souls, new converts, not Tilapia and Herring.
There was something joyful and peaceful about the repetitious nature of throwing our nets out and bringing them back in… And yet, as the moon passed from one end of the horizon to the other, that peace and joy turned to angst and frustration. We caught nothing. Absolutely nothing! All night long. Here I am… a fisherman… Sure, I’ve been away from this day to day life since we were on the mission with Jesus… but, this is in my blood… same with James and John… My mind raced back to the night Jesus was arrested… I felt like such a failure then, too!
At daybreak we saw a man on the shore. He asked about our luck with the nets. I hid my face as John told him we had caught nothing. The stranger told us to try the right side of the boat; we’d find our fish there. That riled me up even more! “Right side of the boat. Left side of the boat. What difference does it make? Are we going to listen to some guy on the shore?” I queried to no one in particular. Thomas urged us to give it try… Thomas!
So, we cast our nets out the right side of the boat. You wouldn’t believe the haul of fish that weighed our nets down! The seven of us couldn’t even bring them on-board. Who was the stranger on shore? Could he have something to do with this? Nah…
Just then the dawning light of the new day shown right on the man. John looked out over the water and recognized the figure. He shouted, “It’s the Lord!” My heart skipped more than a beat or two as I plunged into the icy water and swam as fast as I could towards the shore! Jesus helped me out of the water and we enjoyed a laugh-filled embrace.
The others met Jesus around the fire as I pulled the net ashore and laid out all of the fish… 153! What an amazing catch. We enjoyed a breakfast together with fish that He had already caught. It was such a joy to be with Him again!
He took me aside and asked me three questions… well, it was the same question, but He asked it three times. “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” That caught me off guard. He hadn’t called me by my birth name in three years! Of course I loved him! With each affirmation He asked me to take care of and feed the sheep He was leaving in my care. By the third time I realized what He was doing… I looked over at the others around the camp fire and remembered the last time I warmed my hands at a fire and the shame I felt at rejecting Him to a servant girl. I fell at His knees and wept… Three times I denied I knew Him. Three times He asked if I loved Him. Three times He commanded me to tend to His sheep. He was asking me to join the ranks of shepherds like Abraham, Moses and David.
Along that sandy beach, in the middle of a pile of flopping fish and the distant stare of my best friends… I was humbled, broken, really. He was recommissioning me as He did that day back at Caesarea Philippi, when He last called me “Simon” and the first time I truly confessed that He was the Messiah, the Son of Living God.
Some of the words, actions and thoughts perhaps of Simon Peter, from John 21.
We have all failed at something, right? For some of us… it might be many, many things… Maybe you’ve failed at a job or a career. I have. Maybe you’ve failed at a being a friend. I have. Maybe you’ve failed your parents, your spouse, your kids. I have. Maybe you feel like you have failed God. I have. But hear me: you might have failed at something. But God says you are NOT a failure!
The steps of good men are directed by the Lord. He delights in each step they take. If they fall, it isn’t fatal, for the Lord holds them with his hand. Psalm 37:23-24 (NLT)
I don’t understand why I act the way I do. I don’t do what I know is right. I do the things I hate. What a miserable person I am. Who will rescue me from this body that is doomed to die? Thank God! Jesus Christ will rescue me. Romans 7:15, 24-25 (MSG)
So, here is Peter… he feels like a failure. He denied Jesus. And now he can’t even fish anymore! Yet he’s been fishing his whole life, right? But, he was now trying to do it on his own terms.
Jesus gets his attention in a big way, right?! As if to say… “Peter, you’re not a fisherman any more… you tried… all night long you tried… but you couldn’t catch anything without me… and that’s because I’ve got a greater purpose for you now!”
It’s morning… a new day has dawned… for Peter and for all of us. Each new day is a new day to start afresh. Peter recognized the Lord. And he leaped out of the boat and swam to Jesus to be with the Lord. It was a simple step. Like throwing the nets out of the other side of the boat.
I think that sometimes we all believe that we must take a giant, Grand Caynon leap of faith in order for us to be right with God. No, it’s as simple as turning from left to right… or just running to Jesus.
“Apart from me, you can do nothing,” Jesus had told them all in the Upper Room (John 15:5).
I’m an entertainer. A showman. I love being the center of attention. I love dazzling the people with illusions and tricks and sleight of hand. I wear only the finest silks. I love to pretend that I am a really important person, even though I’m just a common Samaritan. They call me Simon, the Great Wizard! And everywhere I go, people are in awe. But what’s really ironic, is that I’m not at all powerful. It’s just an act.
This man Philip, a follower of the Nazarene, came to town recently. He gathered such a large crowd as he preached that the people began to forget about me. He took my audiences away from the town square to the river where he was baptizing people in the name of Jesus. I was fascinated at his ability to inspire and was so touched by his words, that I too, decided to become a follower of Jesus and was baptized. You wouldn’t believe all the things that Philip could do. He would put his hands on a person, say a quick prayer and they would be healed in the name of Jesus! And let me tell you… Philip’s power was real! Not like my illusions.
One day, some others they called “disciples” also came to town. Peter and John were two that walked with Jesus in Jerusalem and were considered in His inner circle when He was alive. They also drew large crowds here in Samaria and they said that not only did new followers of Jesus need to be baptized, but they might also receive the power of the Holy Spirit. I watched in wonder as they laid their hands on people, prayed for them and then, they received the Holy Spirit.
I thought how amazing it would be, how amazing I would be, if I had that power, too! So, I decided right then and there that no amount of money would be too much to pay for me to have that kind of power! I approached the one they called Peter after he healed a man with a deformed arm. I pulled him aside and asked “How much? Please show me how you did that! Name your price! I’ll pay anything if you show me your secret!”
Peter, who up until that moment was filled with laughter and great joy, suddenly turned very angry! “May you and your money perish for thinking that God’s gift can be bought!” he said! “You can have no part in what we are doing if your heart is not right before God. Turn from your wicked ways, Simon, for you are jealous and there is sin in your heart!”
He was right! I wanted to follow Jesus. But I also wanted the power to dazzle and thrill audiences. I fell to my knees right then and there. My heart broke with fear and with awe at who God was and what Jesus had done for me. “Pray for me, for my soul, Peter!” I cried out through my tears…“I only want to know Jesus, the power of His resurrection and the joy of truly following Him,” I thought to myself.
Peter and John returned to Jerusalem after that… Philip left too… Those of us who remained in Samaria saw the power of God continue to change hearts… even mine!
The words, actions and thoughts, perhaps of Simon the Sorcerer, as it is recorded in Acts 8… with the hopeful conclusion that Simon’s heart was changed too!
How about you? Do you embrace the fullness of the Holy Spirit? God gives us the gifts of the Holy Spirit for His glory and our joy… not for our glory! Simon the Sorcerer was attracted to the gifts he saw in Philip… confidence, boldness, compassion and joy. And Simon saw those things and wanted them… but he was interested in making his own name famous and thought the power of the Holy Spirit could be bought for a price. The Apostle Peter called him out on it! Peter told him to repent, and we see that the wizard asked Peter to pray for him. We can be hopeful that he was truly repentant.
We need not fear the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives. If we know what gifts God has given us through His Holy Spirit, when we know how we are wired, we can serve Him in our sweet spot and can grow deeper and deeper in our faith and dependence of Him. That’s where God wants us. That’s where I want to be.
The list of the gifts of the Holy Spirit can be found in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12 and Ephesians 4. The fruit, or confirmation, of the Holy Spirit in our lives is shown in Galatians 5.
But don’t focus on the gifts. Focus on the Giver. Don’t focus on signs and wonders. Focus on the wonder of God instead!
I recently watched the TV series AD, Kingdom and Empire, on Netflix. It’s the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, up to about Acts 9. An amazing thing happens every time there is a miracle, or work of the Holy Spirit… whether it is by Peter or one of the other followers of the Nazarene… the wind blows, the music swells, the clouds move. As I watched I thought, “why doesn’t that happen to me?” And, I honestly believe it is because God wants us to see that using our gifts everyday is as miraculous as when people are healed instantly or something supernatural happens. Can we get to that place where we don’t need to see the wind blow, the clouds move or the music swell to know the Holy Spirit is real?