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.
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A Baptism on the Side of the Road

Look! Here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?

Ah, to worship in Jerusalem. Yes, I’m one who will travel 700 miles, by caravan, just to spend time with the Lord in the city of David. I love the One True God. At least once each year I’m allowed leave to travel from the land of Cush to the Land flowing with milk and honey. It takes about a month to get there. I stay for a few weeks and then travel another 30 days back home.

My name is Zenabi and I am a eunuch. Because I work for the Queen, I’m permitted to take a full entourage for my annual pilgrimage. I’m thankful for that. We were heading back home to Meroe. It was a pleasant Spring afternoon, the third day since we left the city. My scribe had procured a copy of the Septuagint and I was reading as we traveled along.

Since it is preferred to read the Text out loud, that’s what I was doing. So, imagine this… the noise of my carriage along the rocky road, chains and wheels clanking, along with the animals ridden by my escorts — harnesses and leather straps, snorts and braying, I was reading at the top of my lungs; honestly not understanding much of anything.

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a young man jogging alongside of the chariot. This was a strange site in the middle of the day, here on this desert road. He heard me reading and shouted: “Kind sir, do you understand what you are studying?” “How can I?” I replied back. “I have no one to explain it to me!”

The stranger asked if he might join me and I nodded in affirmation. He jumped onto the landing and made himself comfortable as we bumped along.

The section of God’s Word that had me puzzled was from the prophet Isaiah:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter. And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he does not open his mouth.”

Now, what did that mean? Who was this lamb?

My new friend, whose name was Philip, explained the lamb was Jesus, the Nazarene. The Messiah. He is the One whom Isaiah said was pierced for my sins, and by his stripes we are all healed.  He was condemned to die recently and he offered no defense at his trial. He was brutally crucified. Philip said Jesus had risen from the dead — he had seen the Messiah alive! There were new followers all throughout the Land.

My teacher also noted the author spoke of the flood waters of Noah and God’s great love for His children. And he talked about the baptism of the earth, and the baptism of man. Philip suggested that baptism was like being buried with Jesus and rising again like Jesus.

At that moment, we crossed over Lakhish Stream. I said to him, “Look, here is water. What prevents me from being baptized?”

Philip laughed with delight. He told me he had baptized many people just recently in Samaria.

I ordered the caravan to stop. We climbed down from the chariot and entered the cool water. The sun reflecting off the surface caused me to squint my eyes quite a bit.  He asked me if I believed with all my heart. “Yes!” I jubilantly replied. “I believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.”

And with my confession of faith, Philip lowered me into the water. And I rose up out of the river as Jesus came out of the tomb! I’ve never been so full of great joy as I was that sunny day.

My friend Philip disappeared. I never saw him again.

My entourage continued on back to Ethiopia. I told many friends, and even the Queen, of my new faith in Jesus. And following Philip’s example, I had the privilege of baptizing many others in Africa who began to follow the ways of the Messiah as well.

Some of the words, actions and thoughts perhaps, of the Ethiopian and Philip from Acts Chapter 8.

I have to confess, this story for me has always been about the Ethiopian and the baptism. Only recently did I really see that this is more a story about the Evangelist Philip.

When the Upper Story assignment to reach the continent of Africa comes up, God chooses Philip. He’s the one who gets the call to head out to the desert road. He’s the one who obediently shares the Gospel. He’s the one who brings to faith the Ethiopian eunuch. He’s the one who gets to share in the joy of baptism!

 

 

(c) 2017 Rich Ronald.

When You Meet Jesus, Your Heart Will Change. 

Walking along the Road to Emmaus when suddenly…

It truly was the saddest season of my life. Everything had come crashing down. We had believed in Jesus. We had followed Jesus. We loved him! We knew that He would bring peace to Jerusalem and to our people. And yet, he died. He was brutally murdered.

My name is Cleopas. My friend Thadeous and I had just left Jerusalem for Emmaus. We were talking about the past seven days.  Last Sunday we were cheering and rejoicing over the Nazarene as he rode into the city on the back of a donkey. A week later, with the afternoon sun casting long shadows along the rocky path, we argued back and forth about a very bleak future without Jesus. Our shoulders were slumped. Our gait was slow. We kicked up the dust as we shuffled along.

A stranger approached us as we walked west among the rolling foothills. He asked what we were talking about. I looked at my friend Thadeous as if this man was crazy. He encouraged me with his eyes and so I queried the outsider: “Are you the only man alive in Jerusalem who doesn’t know what just happened?” His blank stare in reply prompted a nervous babbling. “Surely you know,” I stammered.  “About Jesus. The prophet. He did many miracles. With great power. We believed he would free Israel. But our leaders handed him over to be killed. And now it’s the third day…”

“Calm down,” he motioned to me with his hands. Then starting with Moses and all the prophets, this very ordinary looking man patiently explained everything ever written in the Ancient Text about the Messiah and how he must suffer.

We invited the man home for supper. He asked if He might offer the blessing. He lifted his eyes to heaven, broke the bread and began to pray. “Barukh Atah Adonai Eloheynu Melekh ha’olam ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz.” Praised are you, Lord God, King of the universe, who brings froth bread from the earth.

We took a piece. And at that very moment we realized it was the Master. Jesus!  The loaf fell to the table as he vanished.

Oh, how our hearts burned inside us as He explained the scriptures. He was so graceful, so patient. It showed His great love for us.

The Story IS true. It has happened indeed, just as it was written in the Canticles of old.

Some of the words, actions and thoughts perhaps of Cleopas and Jesus, from Luke 24.

Corrie ten Boom used to say, “When the train goes through a tunnel and the world gets dark, do you jump out? Of course not. You sit still and trust the engineer to get you through.” Why did Jesus tell the story to Cleopas and his friend? So they’d know the Word is true. They could trust that God is in control. He says: “I’ve got you.”

You can trust Him, too.

Once they realized it was Jesus, the two ran back to Jerusalem. Knowing the story changed everything!  Knowing that Jesus was alive, just as He said, meant every other promise in the Word is true! They lifted up those slumping shoulders and their slow gait became a sprint.

How about you?

Whenever you meet Jesus, your heart will change.

 

(c) 2017 Rich Ronald.

Who Do You Say That I Am?

“Who do you say that I am?”

The question cut through the nighttime air with certainty. I remember thinking in that moment, it all comes down to this, doesn’t it?

The Master had taken the twelve of us to Caesarea Philippi. It was a field trip like none other we had ever ventured. Three years we had walked where He walked. Three years we had followed. And now, He brought us here?

This place was unlike any we had ever been before. I had heard of this worship center to the Greek fertility gods, but always with the admonition “you don’t ever want to go there… the sin is as vile as Sodom and Gomorrah.” And in the first few minutes of our arrival we understood why. We tried, in vain, to hide our eyes from the immorality that was on public display for all to see. The beat of the music was rhythmic. The chanting and cheering, deafening. The bonfires illuminated moving shadows on the rocky walls of the cliffs. There were people and animals everywhere.  And nothing was considered taboo.

Most of us were young men, just beginning to get a handle on life… and what it might mean to live worthy of being called His disciple.  And this sure didn’t look like anything Almighty God would be pleased about.  We saw the cave from where the Jordan River began. And we knew that this was the place where the Greeks said was the opening to death, to Hades, itself.

He called us together and against this backdrop He asked: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” John said, “Elijah.” Andrew replied: “John the Baptist.” I looked at Matthew as he said: “Some say Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

Jesus then looked my direction. A fire behind me flickered in His eyes. “What about you, Simon? Who do you say that I am?”

Three years I had watched Him heal the brokenhearted. Three years I had witnessed chains falling off of people. Three years of seeing miracle after miracle. I honestly don’t know if I had truly made up my mind until that very second, but I knew it to be true. “You are Yeshua Hamashiach. Jesus, the Messiah.” I looked at the people all around us worshipping these false Greek gods and added. “You are the Son of the Living God.”

He smiled for the first time since we had arrived and said: “Blessed are you Simon. You didn’t come to this conclusion by seeing what is all around you… but your Father, my Father in Heaven, spoke this to you… Spirit to Spirit.”

And then He said: “From now on, I will call you Peter, the Rock.” And with one hand on my shoulder and another pointing at the stone cliff behind us, He said, “And on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

Truly, my life changed in that instant. I felt this great mantle being placed on me… this spiritual anointing. I knew it was up to me, and to all of the disciples… we were being commissioned for a monumental assignment… to go into all the world.

My life has been a major up and down ever since… I challenged Him the next day or so and He replied by calling me Satan. A week later, we had a sweet and tender Passover together… He was arrested…  I denied I knew Him… He was crucified… and rose again… Days later, we saw Him on the seashore… had breakfast with Him. And three times He asked me if I loved Him… oh, how I love Him…

It’s been years since that Spring night in Caesarea Philippi. I try, but I still fail at life so much, I’m not much of a rock…

He’s the Rock, really. He’s my Rock.

 

Some of the words, actions and thoughts, perhaps, of Peter and Jesus and the disciples, found in Matthew 16.

Many will say the confession at Caesarea Philippi, is truly the turning point in Peter’s faith journey.  He comes face to face with a query every single one of us have faced, or will face. Maybe today is your time to answer this key question: Who is Jesus? Who do you say that He is?

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9 (NIV)

 

(C) 2017. Rich Ronald.

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

“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

Wrestling with God and Receiving His Blessing

I'm not letting you go 'til you bless me.

I’m not letting you go ’til you bless me.

 

They called me “The Deceiver” at birth. And yes, I have lived up to the name.  But others have deceived me as well. I guess butting heads with people is just something I’ve always done. They say my twin brother and I even wrestled inside our mother’s womb.

Esau was born just a few minutes before I was. He was dad’s favorite. I was mom’s. Even though we shared the same birthday, Esau had certain rights as the first born. For some reason, he didn’t value the privilege. There was this time when he came in from hunting and I been preparing lunch. Some say he sold his inheritance for a bowl of soup. Truthfully, I actually sold him a bowl of soup for his inheritance.

That was just the beginning. One day, our mother Rebekah came to me with a command, not a suggestion. She wanted me to outright steal Esau’s blessing from our father Isaac. He was old and almost blind, so we worked out a scheme. It worked better than I imagined. 

He spoke words over me that God had spoken over my grandfather Abraham. The same words spoken by God to my father also: “People will serve you. Nations will bow down to you. Those who curse you will be cursed. Those who bless you will be blessed.”

Now Esau was not very pleased when he found out that I had parlayed a bowl of soup into a direct blessing for my future. He hated me. But a word is a promise and my father stuck to his word. He blessed me and sent me back to our homeland to find a wife. And again my father Isaac gave me the blessing of Abraham.

So I went and I’m thinking this life of treachery is paying off. I like it. 

One night, on my way to the lands of our ancestors, I had a dream. I saw angels on a ladder to heaven. And then God himself declared to me words in the vision I had heard often in our family: “Your descendants will be like the dust, spread out in every direction on earth. And you will be blessed.” When I awoke I made an altar and a vow: If God takes care of me, then He shall be my God.

So, as I journeyed further I met a beautiful woman named Rachael. She was a shepherdess and I was determined that she was to be my bride. And I worked for her father for seven years to earn his trust and her hand. But it was my turn to be deceived as her father Laban, my distant relative, forced me to marry her older sister Leah first. So then I worked another seven years for Rachael.  And Laban and I did not get along well. He forced me to work another four years. And during this time Leah gave me six sons and a daughter. I fathered four other sons through servant girls and Rachael gave me Joseph.

After many more struggles with Laban, thankfully, we finally reconciled, and I took my wives, my sons, my daughter, my sheep and cattle. And I knew it was time to meet up again with my estranged brother Esau. Last I knew he hated me. And I couldn’t blame him.

God said He’d take care of me. Yet, I felt I wasn’t worthy to receive His mercies. I sent my family and the gifts of many heads of cattle on ahead of me hoping it would impress my brother, even soften his heart for our first meeting together in over 20 years. I remained back in a solitary spot by the Brook of Jabbok.

That was yesterday. And you wouldn’t believe what has happened since.

Last night, I couldn’t sleep. The air was crisp and the moonlight bright. I tossed and turned as I began thinking about my family, my life, who I was and how the promises of God would hold true for me. Wondering if I deserved His grace? Anxiety and fear filled my mind as I imagined what would happen today when I met my brother.

I stared up at the stars, pondering the words of my grandfather that our family would be as many as those twinkling lights. A man approached in the shadows of the night. He challenged me. Threw me to the ground. Wrestled with me. This continued for hours. I would not be defeated. We tumbled down the banks and splashed into the water. And then rolled up again to the camp. He grabbed the socket of my hip and it hurt with intense pain. And as the new day began to dawn this very morning He commanded me to let go and concede defeat.

I’ve been wrestling with people since the womb, I would not let go. In fact, I told Him so. I said the only way I’d release my grip would be to receive His blessing. He asked my name and I said: “Jacob.” The Man replied, “From now on, your name is Israel. For you have wrestled with God, and with man, and have prevailed.” I have wrestled with God? What was He saying?

At that moment, I released my grip on the Almighty Himself. And He blessed me.  As promised, God has dealt graciously with me!

When I looked up, I saw my brother Esau across the way. He and 400 men. I thought to myself, “this can go one of two ways.” With great humility, I bowed low before my brother. It was the moment of truth. He would either embrace me or murder me.  He jumped on me and grabbed my neck! And then he kissed me. We wept together. We are reconciled! As I am with God.

I introduced Esau to all my children and Rachael and Leah. And all the cattle… the flocks and the herds. We are journeying home now. He’s gone up ahead. We’re a little slower with the children and all.

God has blessed me time and time again. With my all sons, I believe we will soon be those people… those whom will be blessed to be a blessing to all the world.

And even though, because of the overnight struggle, I’ll likely walk with a limp the rest of my days, it’s good to be home. It’s good to be home.

 

Some of the words, actions and thoughts perhaps of Jacob, the son of Isaac the son of Abraham. As recorded in Genesis 25-35.

 

(c) 2016. Rich Ronald.