Bad news? You can go from mourning to great joy!

Broken walls. Broken hearts. The story of the People of God from Nehemiah.

Do you remember a time when your heart was so broken you cried for days? You mourned and wept without ceasing? Maybe a spouse or child had died? Maybe something horrible happened to a friend? Maybe you moved across the land only to find that that which was supposed to be beautiful, turned out to be awful. It’s hard to weep and mourn for so long, isn’t it? It’s a challenge to recover from news that is so devastating, right? That’s my story.

My name is Nehemiah. And I was a cupbearer to the king, a wine steward.

I worked in the palace of the King in Susa. All of us Jews were scattered like the wind. Some were in exile, like me hundreds of miles away from our home. But the times had changed, some had weathered the exile in the Land and others had the good fortune to return to the beloved City of David.

My brother was one of those who had an opportunity to visit Jerusalem recently. Upon his return, I asked him about our fellow Israelites. I was hopeful that life in Judah was going very well. Deep in my soul I longed to return to the land of our roots.

The news from Hanani broke my heart. He said those who were there were in bad shape, adding that the conditions there were appalling. The walls of Jerusalem were in rubble. The city gates burned and in cinders. The city was unprotected and vulnerable.

What?

But hadn’t the people returned under Zerubbabel under the direct order of King Cyrus to rebuild the temple? Wouldn’t they have rebuilt the walls too? At that moment I was brought to my knees. I realized that the People of Israel, including me, had sinned greatly against the God of Heaven. We had built our own houses before building His house. We married foreign wives. We turned our backs against Him.

After all He had done for us. For years we didn’t even worship Him. And now, the walls of Jerusalem had been attacked. The gates were burned. And all the work and effort of the people to rebuild would be for naught. And more importantly God’s glory would be tarnished by us, his selfish children.

I wept for days. I couldn’t believe how the people had sinned against God… and I counted myself in that group as well.  We hadn’t followed His commands. I was a broken man with a broken heart.

I fasted. I prayed. I humbled myself before God. He gave me a plan. He told me that I should personally see to the rebuilding. Me? But where would I get the funds to rebuild the walls of great city of Jerusalem? Who would help? And what about those who would plot evil against this plan, and thwart our effort?

I love God. I trust God. So, I asked Him to move in the heart of King Artazerxes.  When I asked the monarch of this distant land, and others, to help me… God granted me favor! And the walls were rebuilt in record time. But more than that, the hearts of the people of Israel were rebuilt as well!

There was sadness. There was prayer. Then there was hearing from God. Then there was action. And finally, there was great, great joy!

Some of the words, actions and thoughts, perhaps, of Nehemiah, from the book in the Bible that bears his name.

This story opens with sorrow and mourning… and a call to God to please forgive our stubborn ways. And I wonder, who mourns today for that which breaks God’s heart? Who mourns for the most vulnerable of children? Who mourns that our nation turns away from God? Who mourns with the widow?

But Nehemiah’s story didn’t end there… no… when the people had ears to hear… and when they acted with courageous faith, this story ends with great joy!

And that’s our story, isn’t it?  That’s the truth of the Gospel. When you align your life to God’s word, when you are obedient after hearing from God, there is joy!

If you are in a season of mourning… a season where your heart is broken… let Jesus and His Holy Spirit rebuild your broken heart, your broken life.  He can do it. He will do it!

 

This is an excerpt of a sermon based on Chapter 21 of THE STORY. You can watch it here.

 

 

(c) 2017 Rich Ronald.

Dry Bones Come Alive!

Dry bones in the dessert? God will bring life to them. He will bring life to you!

Dry bones in the desert? God will bring life to them. He will bring life to you!

It was a sunny, hot, dry day. I had been praying when God grabbed me. God’s Spirit took me up and set me down in the middle of an open plain strewn with bones. It was a curious site. He led me around and among them—a lot of bones! Human bones. Skeletons. They were scattered everywhere. Dry bones, bleached by the sun.

God said to me, “Son of man, do you think these bones can live?”

Believing that God can do anything I replied: “Master God, only you know the answer to that.”

He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones. Say this: ‘Dry bones, listen to the Message of God!” He continued: “I’m bringing the breath of life to you and you’ll come to life. I’ll attach sinews to you, put meat on your bones, cover you with skin, and breathe life into you. You’ll come alive and you’ll realize that I am God!”

Being a man of God, I spoke as He commanded. There I was, standing on a dry plateau. Nothing but sand, cracked earth, rocks and small stubble for brush at my feet. As I spoke, there was a sound and, oh, the rustling! The bones moved and came together, bone to bone. My eyes got “this big!” I kept watching. Sinews formed, then muscles on the bones, then skin stretched over them. But they had no breath in them.

Again, God said to me, “Prophesy to the breath. Prophesy, Ezekiel. Tell the breath, ‘God, the Master, says, Come from the four winds. Come from the north, the south, the east and the west. Come breath. Breathe on these slain bodies. Breathe life!’”

Beads of perspiration formed on skin. And again, nervously, I opened my mouth. To be honest, I stuttered and stammered quite a bit. Wondering if what was happening was real or a dream or a vision of some sort.  The breath of GOD entered them and they came alive! They stood up on their feet, a huge army. Hundreds of men. They began shouting! And marching! They were alive! The dust of the ground was kicked up in a cloud as their legs stepped off… right, left, right, left. Small desert animals awoke from naps in the sunshine and scattered in every direction.

I shook my head in wonder as I watched from the safe vista above. I smiled at God in disbelief.

Then the Father said to me, “Son of man, these bones are like the whole house of Israel. Listen to what they’re saying. They are crying out: ‘Our bones are dried up, our hope is gone, there’s nothing left of us.’

Speak! Tell them, “God, the Master, says: ‘I’ll dig up your graves and bring you out alive—O my people! Then I’ll take you straight to the land of Israel. When I dig up graves and bring you out as my people, you’ll realize that I am God. I’ll breathe my life into you and you’ll live. Then I’ll lead you straight back to your land and you’ll realize that I am God. I’ve said it and I’ll do it. This is my plan for my people. This is God’s Decree!’”

 

The story of Ezekiel in the Valley of Dry Bones as recorded, with some interpretation, in Ezekiel 37.

I love this image… is it a vision or did this really happen? Well, Ezekiel was a prophet, so this is likely a future vision, for the people of Israel… and for us.

Can you see what he saw? Human bones. A femur over there. A skull over there. A tibia. An ulna. A ribcage. Bleached white from years in the desert sun. As he spoke there was a noise, a rattling, as they reassembled into full skeletons. Then muscles, tendons, organs, skin, hair. Finally breath. Life! One by one these people began standing to their feet.  Until the whole desert valley was full of an army of God. Amazing! A miracle. A picture of what is to come.

Jesus says:

I tell you for certain that the time will come, and it is already here, when all of the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God. And those who listen to it will live!  John 5:25 (CEV)

Are you listening? I’m wondering if God is calling you to hear? Or to be someone like Jeremiah or Ezekiel? Someone who cares deeply for the hurting. And someone who will speak life into places where there are lonely souls, broken hearts and dry bones.

There’s a new song on the radio called “Come Alive!” Maybe you’ve heard it? It’s based on Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones coming to life. I watched an interview with the songwriters Lauren Daigle and Michael Farren. Their intention in writing the song was to encourage people like you and me who know others who are living a dry-bone kind of life.

Maybe they are prodigals? A daughter? A brother? Do you know a few? I do.

Maybe they are waiting to die? Do you know someone in hospice who fears what is next? I do.

Maybe they have no life outside of their home? They live in virtual deserts. They wander aimlessly. Do you know someone who is lonely? Lifeless. I do.

And yet, God…

With a heart of love God has called each one of us to speak… to pray… to sing over them with words of hope, words of healing, words of life. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 14:1: Go after a life of love as if your life depended on it—because it does. Give yourselves to the gifts God gives you. Most of all, try to proclaim his truth. (MSG). “His truth” is the gift of prophesy. That’s what He asked of Ezekiel. We, too, are called to speak to others the hope we have in Jesus… it is our testimony of His faithfulness and His love in our lives. And it encourages and brings life to others!

Come on, Church! Can you see an army rising up from the dry bones of the desert?

Or,

Maybe you are one of those dry bone, broken hearted children of God? Maybe your life is in ruins right now, like Jerusalem was?

Can I assure you, there is hope! You see… Jesus ultimately comes to the people of Israel… from the Tribe of Judah… all the way to Jerusalem. There is life and love in Jesus! And He will come again!

Can I speak “life” to you, Church? Trust God. Trust Him as Jeremiah did. You can be assured that God’s mercies are new every morning and great is His faithfulness.

Are you willing to receive the life that Jesus has for you? Are you willing to receive the mission that He called Jeremiah and Ezekiel to… to be someone who speaks life to someone else? The prodigals, the dying, the lonely.

If you are in a dry bone kind of place,  receive God’s breath and Come Alive today!

In your heart AND in the lives of those you love.

(c) 2017 Rich Ronald.

The Secret to Solomon’s Wisdom? Hearing God.

"Shema Israel. Hear o Israel." Solomon asked to hear God.

“Shema Israel. Hear o Israel.” Solomon asked to hear God.

Whenever we think of Solomon we think of wisdom, right? We say that he asked for wisdom so God gave him wisdom… and more!

Interestingly, he actually did not ask for wisdom.

 So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours? (1 Kings 3:9, NIV)

Yes, that collection of words translates to what we know to be wisdom, but he actually asked God for “a discerning heart.” Or some translations say “an understanding heart.” When you dig into the root of that word in Hebrew it is the word shama’ or “hear.”

If you are Jewish you say the “Shema’” prayer every day. In English it is:

“Hear O Israel. The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might!”

Hear.

Shema.

So I think Solomon asked to be able to hear God… to have this open communications pipeline from God’s heart to his heart. To have one of those new fiber optic cables that has an almost unlimited bandwidth to allow God to have the fastest amount of data transfer available. From God’s lips to Solomon’s heart. Instantly.

And with that endless and open line, Solomon was indeed wise.

Do you know that you and I have that same access to God?

“Through him (Jesus Christ) we both share the same Spirit and have equal access to the Father.” (Ephesians 2:18, The Message).

Yet, often our pipeline is clogged so that we are distracted from hearing God… with the things of the world that take our heart off of God’s best for us. With our job. Our family. Our finances. Our health. Our worries.

James encourages us to ask God for wisdom. “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5, NIV). As you do, recall that when Solomon asked for the same thing, he actually sought to HEAR from God.

May you have an open pipeline to hear from God’s heart to your heart. May you give God all your worldly distractions. Give Him those things that choke the conduit of His grace and His love.

Then, as you hear God’s voice today, may you have the strength and boldness to act and go where He leads.

 

© 2017 Rich Ronald.

 

 

Can We Be Prayerfully Expectant in 2017?

We kick off 2017 in just a few hours! What will God do in us and through us this coming year? I’ve continued to ponder the words of Simeon who lived in “prayerful expectancy” of the hope of Messiah (Luke 2:25). I’m wondering if Simeon was on to something? What if we might expect to see Jesus every day this year? What if we earnestly looked for Him? What if we made it our goal before we got out of bed each day to pray: “Lord, may I see you today!” And what if we took it to the next level and prayed: “And Lord, when I see you, may it be as You work through me to bless others.”

Can we expect to have a daily encounter with Jesus in the New Year? I hope so. I pray it will be so.

 

 

 

To view the sermon from where I unpacked Simeon’s story,  click HERE.

God promised. So Simeon waits and watches…

Simeon perhaps? God promised that he would see Messiah before he died. And he did!

The Old Man by Annu from trekearth.com   Simeon perhaps? God promised that he would see Messiah before he died. And he did!

I’ve tried to live a devout life. My parents were good Jews. They brought me up in the traditions of the Temple.  My father’s name is Hillel. We lived along the Coast of the Great Sea. Three times each year, the whole family journeyed to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feasts.

I married and had my own family and repeated the same traditions. We also came up to Jerusalem three times each year.  We celebrated Pesach, the Passover, in the Spring… Shavuot, Pentecost, in the summer… and Yom Kippur and Sukkoth each fall. These are special times for all of Israel, but especially for us devout Jews. It’s a time to remember how Jehovah delivered His people from the bondage of Egypt, how He gave us His Law and how he cared for us during our wanderings, before we entered the Promised Land.  Since my wife died I’ve decided just to stay here in Jerusalem.  It’s easier on this old body of mine. I spend my days near the Temple. God is present in my life every moment.  I pray. I sing. I do odd jobs for the priests. I pray for people who come by. I enjoy Jehovah’s presence in my life. I can sense His Spirit. It is real. He has blessed me more than I’ll ever begin to be able to tell you.

It was about 50 years ago… during the Feast of Tabernacles when we all came up to remember the roamings of our ancestors through the desert… we set up small tents called Sukkahs to live in for the week. And we gathered for a festive time of remembering.  It was during the worship celebration at the temple; the high priest had just returned back from the Kidron Brook with a vessel of water from Siloam’s Pool to pour out on the altar. In the frenzy of the crowd shouting “Hosanna” I heard the voice of Jehovah.  He spoke to me as I am I speaking to you now.  All the noise of the crowd went silent in my head. And He said: “Simeon. You will not die before you see my Chosen One, the Messiah, in Whom I will deliver all of Israel. From Him will come streams of Living Water, not just a pitcher of water. And He will be poured out for the redemption of all of Israel.” In the midst of this great worship service, I was stunned! Living water?  Poured out? The Messiah. Yes, we know He will come some day. But in my lifetime? How wonderful that day will be!  Will it be as Joel has promised? Will the prophesies come true?  Will Elijah truly come again before Messiah?

I am an old man now and I have dreamed dreams of His coming again. I’ve spent the rest of my life watching, waiting, wondering… who could it be? Will he be like Moses or more like Joshua? He must be a young adult, at least, and God is shaping Him into our powerful King and Messiah. Every time I see Herod speak before the crowds I look around and ask myself… could Messiah be a Jewish officer in Herod’s castle waiting to be revealed? What mighty legion of soldiers does he lead?  Or maybe he is a governor, or a synagogue ruler by this point in his life?

Some have said he will come from the Galilee. Ha! There’s nothing but farmers and fishermen up there!

Whoever he is, I know I will recognize him in the blink of an eye. He will be as strong as David when He routed the Philistines! He will be as wise as David’s son Solomon.  He will rule our people with power in one hand and grace and love in the other. He will deliver us from the oppressors, be it Rome or Egypt, once and for all. Isaiah says he will come to heal the brokenhearted. And those who mourn in Zion? They will rejoice!

Ah, look. There is a couple with a young baby. They always want a blessing, these new parents. I must go into the temple.  Funny, the priest is quite capable. But he always asks me. “Simeon. Come bless this new child,” he says.  “They rather have the old man’s blessing than the priest’s.”

So, I will go.  And I will keep looking. Yahweh promised me… I’m confident He will be true to His word.

I wonder if they are of the tribe of Judah?  Maybe the father is someone special?

 

The actions and musings, perhaps, of Simeon, the one who blessed Jesus and his parents, at the temple on the appointed day. As recorded in Luke, Chapter 2.
Is there a promise you are waiting and watching for God to answer? Have faith that He will keep His promises!
(C) 2016 Rich Ronald

While shepherds watched their flocks at night.

shepherd

The shepherds’ encounter with Jesus began just like every other day. They were nearby, working as they do — all day and all night. They were going about their ordinary life. And into one average night angels appeared with Good News of great joy! “Today, in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” Luke 2:11

 

It was just another night, really. Nothing too special about it. The sheep were grazing or sleeping on the rolling meadow, just north of Bethlehem. The air was cool, but not cold yet, so we let the animals continue to stay out in the fields rather than finding a cave for shelter.

My name? It’s not really important, for I am a lowly shepherd. There are none in all of the Land of Judah that think of our people as anyone special. We do not command much attention and merely go about our work in a quiet, nondescript manner. We feed the sheep and goats. We water the sheep and goats. We guard the sheep and goats. We move them about so they will find plenty of grass to eat and just the right amount to drink. And this we do day in and day out.

I’m almost 60 years old and shepherding is the only job I have ever had. I know my sheep, and they know me. As of today, I have 109 sheep in my flock: 32 rams, 41 ewes, and 36 lambs. There are another 88 goats. Everything I own is in a pack on my donkey. It’s not much. Another tunic. Some candles and pottery. A few ropes and animal skins. A small bag of nuts and raisins.  Oh, and my flute.  I so enjoy the gift God has given me to play music. It is a joy to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all while simply blowing across hole in a hollowed out piece of wood. I think the sheep like it as well.

My brother has his flock just over there. My brother-in-law is along that ridge.

So, about “that” night… The air was crisp. The moon was full. The sky bursting with bright stars. We had just thrown another log on a small fire. We kept watch for coyotes, for this is the time of the year when they prey on the members of our flock. We were talking about heading back to our village and meeting up with our families as it was the season to go up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast. Of course, we do not ever get to go to the Temple, for we must be out here. But some in our family are blessed to be able to make the short journey to Mt. Zion.

We were making our plans when suddenly the night sky became very bright, as if it was the middle of the day. The sheep were startled and began to cry and low and move about anxiously. The three of us, did our best to keep them calm, all the while our hearts raced frantically. We had never seen this happen before. We had heard of earthquakes but had not experienced one. Was this that? Or some other natural phenomenon?  Was this some sort of army moving across the plains? The dogs were barking, the sheep bleating, the donkey braying. We were terribly frightened.

Through the bright light a man appeared… a man like we had not ever seen previously. His first words? “Do not be afraid!” And yet we were terrified!  It was truly a challenge to slow our heart rate and calm our breathing.

He said he was a messenger bringing good news, joyful news. Our Savior was born this very night and we were to go quickly down to the village of Bethlehem and see this new baby. A baby? Our Messiah? What was he saying? Who was this man? While he didn’t tell us he was an angel, we quickly figured that out when a multitude of others joined him and they started singing. Singing! Right out there in the open fields! And proclaiming the birth of our Savior.

“Glory to God!” they sang. “Peace on earth!” echoed across the valley, amplified by the night air.

We asked each other: Who were we to hear this message? We are not priests or rabbis or Pharisees or King Herod. Maybe they should go and proclaim this news to people of stature?

And just as quickly as they appeared, they returned again into the heavens.

So, of course, we did what they told us to do. We gathered our things; rounded up the flocks. And we ventured across the meadow in the middle of the night, down the rocky path to the village of Bethlehem. We looked and searched all over town. Can you see us? With our sheep? And our goats? And our donkeys? And the shepherding dogs? Oh, what noise we made as we meandered through the village in the middle of the night.

A man named Jacob came to greet us. He asked what we were doing wandering around? We told him of the angels and the singing and the bright lights in the sky.  We shared the message of good news they had shared with us. He was stunned and had this look on his face I’ll never forget. It was a look of disbelief and belief all at the same time… like something very real and very special just dawned on him.  With an eager jump in his step he led us to a small, dark, dank cave. He apologized as he motioned for us to enter.  Inside were a few animals and a woman, who he said was his wife, lying in some straw. Her face was illuminated by a single candle. And she nursed a new born baby.

“Miriam!” he whispered with enthusiasm.  “These men… they saw angels who told them to come find us… to find him… our son.”

We looked at each other with doubt in our eyes. Is this our Messiah? Our king? The savior of the world? But wouldn’t he be born in a royal palace attended to by a multitude of nurses and midwives and servants? Wouldn’t he be wrapped in silk or fine linens, not these swaddling rags?

Jacob could read our thoughts as our faces betrayed our skepticism. “He was born in this simple cave,” he said with humble honesty, “because he was born for you.”

“But we are lowly shepherds,” we explained. “And he is a king?”

“Yes,” Jacob replied. “Yes, indeed. He has been born for you and for them. You, however, you are the first to see Him. His name is ‘Immanuel. God with us.’ Go! Go tell everyone you see what a great thing God has done for all of us.”

And so, we did. Our suspicions turned to great joy. We returned to the fields and we praised the God of our Fathers … for the angels, for Jacob, for Miriam, but mostly for this baby, our Savior, born this very night!

 

Some of the actions, words and thoughts, perhaps, of the shepherds and others as found in Luke, Chapter 2.

 (c) 2016. Rich Ronald.

“Have mercy on me, oh God…”

You do still love me, right?

You do still love me, right?

I know a lot of things. It comes with the territory. God speaks to me. He reveals His truths to me. And He puts me in positions to hear and to learn of things. He then calls me to act.

And right now, He has graciously given me the assignment of watching over our king.

My name is Nathan. And I serve in the royal court of David, the King of Israel.  Our majesty has a good heart. He truly does. Like all of us, sometimes he is selfish, and his pride gets in the way of God’s best.

Such is the case of the shepherd boy turned monarch and his major lack of judgement. I honestly had trouble believing it when Bathsheba confided in me. Certainly I could understand how any man would be swayed by her beauty. But first it was one thing, then another and another… and as she unveiled each new plot twist of the story my heart broke for both of them.

By now the whole kingdom knows what kind of man our sovereign is… He is a voyeuristic, lustful, conniving, wife-stealing, adulterer, who committed murder to cover up his wretched ways.  Sounds horrible, doesn’t it? And, indeed, it is. Who wants a ruler like that? Aren’t those in power supposed to be above the fray of life’s messes? Or, do we, just maybe, prefer someone in a seat of power whose day-to-day family life is as chaotic as ours? Could it be that it shows how human and ordinary they are?

Time elapsed and worry increased. Fear of being caught began to enter the scene. When confronted with his sin, David had two choices… more coverups, more lies, more asserting his standing and power, more murders, perhaps? Indeed, as I spoke to him in quiet whispers that cool day in his chambers, I wondered if my own life might be at stake… Or, the other choice: David could open his heart and concede to his disgraceful acts. When the Lord revealed David’s muddled mess to me and I challenged the king about it, our ruler did the right thing. The gravity of his actions began to make his heart race and his lips quiver. He uttered six words: “I have sinned against the Lord.”  And he began to sob uncontrollably. He fell to his knees and grabbed my tunic.

As his mentor and friend, can I say I’m proud of him? Lessor men, like his predecessor Saul, are full of excuses. Certainly David could have suggested it was a combination of Bathsheba’s and her husband Uriah’s doing. David might have blamed it on his wife Michal and her coolness to the way he worshipped before God. David could have invoked some sort of royal privilege, I suppose. No. Our king confessed.

He later showed me how he wrestled with Yahweh about this terrible sin. You know, David really connects with God through worship. So, the musician wrote a song that began with this plea: “Have mercy on me, oh God, according to your unfailing love…”

David knows that God and only God can blot out man’s transgressions. Only God can wash away our iniquities. Only God can restore to us the joy of His salvation.

God’s judgement against David and Bathsheba was to take the life of their son. Again, that is horrible. But God’s grace is new today, and every day. The royal couple will have another son soon. And God has assured me that His hand will be on this heir, in ways that reflect God’s steadfast spirit and astute wisdom. They will call this child “Solomon.”

 

Some of the words, actions and thoughts, perhaps, of Nathan the Prophet and David the King from 2 Samuel 11 and 12 and Psalm 51.

 

(c) 2016 Rich Ronald