God IS with us. Always!

The Jordan River in Israel. A Land flowing with milk and honey is just on the other side. Photo by Rich Ronald.

Inheritance. Moses had been promising a Land flowing with milk and honey for 40 years. And now it’s ours! Somedays it’s truly hard to believe that we are actually here. Living in this inheritance hasn’t been easy. But it is so worth it.

Over and over again we were told that God would be with us as we entered the Promised Land. Forty years earlier, Moses sent an advance team to scout out the territory. They reported that there were giants in the Land and we’d be better off staying in the wilderness or going back to Egypt. But Caleb and I saw the beauty of the rolling hills, the fertile acreage, the amazing size of the crops and we were certain that Yahweh was blessing us…We were honestly dumbfounded that He would give us cities we didn’t have to build and allow us to eat from olive trees we didn’t plant. And now, we were the only two given the privilege to return.

First things first, we had to cross the Jordan River. While normally it flows lazily from Mount Hermon down to the Dead Sea, it was spring time, and the water had overflown its banks. It was time to see God’s amazing hand lead us as He had led our forefathers at the Red Sea.

The people nervously gathered by the water’s edge. We heard the Canaanites on the other side we’re confident the river would protect them as we moved from East to West, just south of Jericho. The Lord told me to put the priests out front and to have them carry the Ark of the Covenant. If God was going to be with us, His presence should lead the way.

With great fear, one by one and step by step the Levites waded into the rushing rapids… all while balancing the great Ark.  Honestly, I wasn’t so sure what would happen next as thousands of our people watched from the muddy banks of the Jordan. Would the priests slip and fall in? Would the Ark topple and get carried downstream by the current? But we had faith. We knew God hadn’t brought us this far to leave us stranded.

A miracle for our generation happened next! The water began to pile up, like it was splashing against an invisible dam. Some started shouting and praising God. “Look! It’s just like the Red Sea, Joshua!” I smiled as I thought of my parents being chased by Pharaoh, and then watched as my own children skipped across the dry river bed  holding their mother’s hand! 

Everyone was laughing; some were dancing!

We built a monument to the Lord in the middle of the river bed to remind generations after us of the great beginning to our crossing into the Promised Land.

We didn’t really know where we going or what to expect next. God continued to guide us and deliver us… There were victories at Jericho, Ai, Gibeon, Lachish, and many others… 180 towns altogether west of the Jordan.

We’ve been living on the Land in peace for a long time now. All of the tribes of Israel have just gathered for a delightful and moving celebration at Shechem. I reminded the people of God’s faithfulness through the generations… how He has fought for us, just as He promised. Our enemies ran from us, not because of our swords or our military strength… for we are just wanderers… They fled because of God. Some tried to fight us, but God gave us the victories, just as He gave us the Land.  Oh, how He has kept every one of the promises He has ever made to His people! How sweet God’s inheritance has been to every one of us.

I may not be here much longer… but for however many days I have left… as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord!

 

The story of the people of God and their leader, Joshua, from the book of Joshua.

Do you ever feel like each new day is a brand new expedition, full of unknown diversions, diasters or battles with people you don’t even know? You wake up to new challenges that you didn’t expect to encounter? Today’s toddlers are achieving greater computer mastery than IBM executives in the 1950’s. Nothing is like it was. Everything is changing. It seems we live in a completely different world than just a decade ago. How do we find our way with daily, new unknowns?

God. It’s a simple answer, but it’s true. He is constant. And the same Holy Spirit that was with God in Genesis 1:1 at the creation of the world is with us today. As we follow the Spirit’s prompting, we receive God’s intended inheritance.

 Only those people who are led by God’s Spirit are his children. God’s Spirit doesn’t make us slaves who are afraid of him. Instead, we become his children and call him our Father. God’s Spirit makes us sure that we are his children. His Spirit lets us know that together with Christ we will be given what God has promised. We will also share in the glory of Christ, because we have suffered with him. (Romans 8:14-17 CEV).

No matter where we go, no matter whether we’ve been there before or not, no matter if it is a place of joy or a place of suffering, be assured of this: God is with us.

Even Jesus walked an uncharted path at least once… on the via Dolorosa… The Painful Way… the walk from the palace of Pontus Pilate to the Hill of the Skull. It was a walk He had not ever taken before. He knew the destination; He knew His Father in heaven was with Him. He knew it was part of His inheritance… but He had never been there. It was a place of suffering for His glory and our inheritance.

Open up your hands and receive His inheritance today!

 

(c) 2017. Rich Ronald.

 

 

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You can defeat the enemy, the Devil… the same way Jesus did!

 

The Israeli desert can be brutal. Satan tried to use it to his advantage. To no avail!

I am known as a tempter, a deceiver and schemer. My goal is to take anything good and wreck it. I have had many, many successes. Eve is the earliest. I was able to confuse her. Oh she had it so good there in the garden… By manipulating the truth just a bit I totally wrecked her life, her relationship with Adam and with God.

I also messed with Abraham, Moses, Saul, David, Solomon, even Peter. The list is endless. And, I’m sure I’ve messed with you.

So the day Jesus entered the wilderness I was poised for another great victory. I watched as he spent 40 long days in solitude.  I waited until he was at his weakest… he was lonely, hungry, and he was likely preparing for his next move. At just the right moment, I pounced!

The Israeli desert is rocky, dry and dirty. Loose stones the size of fists cover the landscape. Just walking can be a chore. And finding a spot to kneel and pray is impossible. With just the right amount of prompting, and the early morning light just so, I knew that Jesus was famished, I figured I may be able to convince him to see small loaves of bread where the path was covered with rocks. This was going to be easier than Eve.  He hadn’t eaten in 40 days. Appealing to his flesh and his position, I said: “If you really are the Son of God, and since you are hungry, why not turn these stones into bread… satisfy your hunger. Can’t you taste a fresh baked loaf, Jesus? Mmmmm.”

Even though he was famished and his body weak, his mind was sharp. He quoted Torah and said: “No one can live on bread alone. People need every word that God has spoken. The word is life. The word is my sustenance, Satan.”

He was stronger than I thought he’d be after 40 days without food.

We walked along for awhile together.  I took him to the City.  The air was hot, not a cloud in the sky. Although no one could see us, we went to the top of Solomon’s great temple. We looked down from the height above and saw people going about their day… the women to the markets and the men to their work. Bright colored awnings peppered the walkway below. I pretended to push him off and challenged his ego. If this is about words supporting him, how about these words from Scripture: “God will give his angels orders about you, Jesus. They will catch you in their arms. Jump, Jesus, Jump!”

He replied by quoting other words from God: “Don’t try to test the Lord!”

I schemed again how I might tempt him… I knew that God has given me the power over this earth, so I used that authority as a bargaining chip… I would gladly give that up if I could get Jesus to merely bow to me!  I’m still angry at God… It was supposed to be me on that throne in heaven! So we went north to Mt. Hermon, the highest elevation in all of the Promised Land. He was still physically weak. Surely I could get him to yield.  “Look to the mountains in the east and the great sea to the west.  This can all be yours, Jesus… all you have to do is bow before me. Think of it… you can bring your people your kind of peace, for all time… think of the wealth of this land, the bounty and riches of the fertile crescent, the many palaces of King Herod… I’ll see to it that it is all yours to do with as you wish… merely worship me.”

This time, he didn’t bow, he bellowed: “Go away, Satan!” Again he quoted the Word of God: “Worship the Lord, the One True God and serve only Him.”

Others were so much easier to cripple… I will continue to press on this one, the Son of God… but for now, I will leave him. I will leave him. But I will be back!

 

The words, actions and thoughts, perhaps, of Satan during temptation of Jesus in Matthew, Chapter 4.

 

Do you know you have the power to defeat the enemy? Use the words of God and the truth of the scriptures. Use the authority Jesus gives to all of us. Most important, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the Devil and he will flee from you.” James 4:7 (NIV).

 

Original sermon video is found here.

Photo by Matthew J. Parker. More info here.
(c) 2017. Rich Ronald.

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