Heading to Israel!

One of my favorite places in all the earth is the Jordan River. I’m heading to the Holy Land on an advance trip to plan for a Biblical Study Tour that I’ll be leading in October.

I’m going to try to post a video each day to give you a glimpse of what you can expect if you join me this fall.

For more info on the trip, click here.

Shalom!

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You May Have Failed, but You Are Not a Failure.

Sunrise. Breakfast with Jesus.

 

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).

It’s the same for you and me.

 

(c) 2018. Rich Ronald.

The Power of The Holy Spirit!

Do the clouds have to move, or does the wind have to blow, in order for us to know the Holy Spirit is moving in our lives? I hope not.

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?

 

 

 

(c) 2018. 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.

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.

 

 

We followed a star and our lives changed forever.

 

Following a star... lives changed forever.
Following a star… lives changed forever.

We have just left the place where I, personally, experienced the most significant event in my life! We saw Him, the infant, the child, the true King of Israel, indeed the King of all kings!  And we gave Him gifts. And we worshiped Him. And we are changed forever.

Let me back up for a minute. My name is Geshnavadar. I am a Magi of the east, from Babylon in Persia. I have two companions with me, one is twenty years my senior, the other is twenty years my junior. They call us “wise men,” and I guess, we are just that, but we are not kings, we are Magi.

Our people go back to the prophet Daniel, who was one of our own. He prophesied about a Messiah. Although Daniel was a Hebrew, we are Gentiles. But we love the same God as those of the 12 Tribes of Israel. He has given us this unique gift of interpreting dreams. Some also call us astrologers, for we study the stars in the sky. But we do so with a specific purpose and anointing, as we believe they point to what God is doing now and in the future.

Recently, something strange occurred in the night sky… three stars lined up and pointed to the West, right to the city of Jerusalem in Palestine. And what was significant about these stars is they were of the constellation Aries, the Ram. Three stars, from a ram, pointing to the City of David?

Ever since King Nebuchadnezzar took the people of Judah into captivity in our home country, we have known of the stories of God’s deliverance of His people. One oft-told account recalls a ram, stuck in a thicket that God provided as a sacrifice. It was on Mount Moriah in what is now Jerusalem. The intended sacrifice was Abraham’s son, Isaac. But God had another plan. And we have heard that one day God will deliver all of Abraham’s children, both Jews and Gentiles, by way of a ram, or a lamb.

So, the stars pointed to Jerusalem and we, along with a cavalry of slaves and servants, ventured out to seek the meaning of the stars. You should know that some have called us Magi “king makers” for no king in all of the East became royalty without the blessing of our little fraternity. And if the stars were calling out that a new king had arrived, it was our job to sanction his monarchy. Yes, we knew Herod was the so-called “king of the Jews” in Palestine, but that was merely a title bestowed on him by Caesar Augustus so he would have some clout in collecting taxes.

We arrived in Jerusalem a couple of months, and over a thousand miles, after our departure from Persia. When Herod heard we were in town looking for a new king he was shaken and irritated. Was his make-shift reign coming to an end? He called for a meeting with us immediately. We told him of the prophesy and the stars. He was familiar with the Ancient Word, but had no knowledge of the night sky pointing us here at this time. He suggested we search the neighboring town of Bethlehem, for his advisers recalled the Biblical text of Micah that says “You, oh Bethlehem, will be the birthplace of my King…” He told us to return to Jerusalem and let him know if we found this new monarch so that he might worship this King as well.

It took just a day and a night to reach the sleepy little village. Again we sought the night sky for direction. Another star appeared, and its travel actually stopped and reversed and stopped again… right over a simple peasant home in Bethlehem.

We approached cautiously. A carpenter appeared in the doorway, amazed at our large caravan. Could this be the man we were seeking? He assured us, no, he was but a simple man. However, his son… his son…

We entered the home and immediately we knew. We just knew. The Spirit of God was in that place. God’s peace was overwhelming. The boy’s mother was radiant. The child, now at least a year in age, sat in her lap. He was not the King we expected, but He was most certainly the King that the God of the Hebrews had anointed. We were instantly humbled in His presence. We offered Him gifts we had brought, although honestly they seemed insignificant… the gold, the frankincense and myrrh… a lifetime of gifts, if you will.  And we bowed before Him, no we fell before Him and worshiped… worshiped… worshiped… The little child alternated his gaze between us and his mother. And he smiled.

We stayed as long we could. Our lives and hearts changed forever. Transformed, really.

We are heading back to Babylon, by a different route. God has told us in a dream that we must protect the new King and not tell Herod of His whereabouts. Not really sure what we will do once we get home. I know we cannot merely go back and live the life we had been living. No, it will be different. After almost 500 years, He is here now! We sought out the new King, and we found Him! We found Him!

And we will tell the people of Judah living in our land that they, too, must seek out and find their new King! And if they let Him into their life, and into their heart, they will be completely transformed as well.

 

Some of the words, actions and thoughts, perhaps, of one of the Magi of Matthew, Chapter 2.

(C) 2016 Rich Ronald.

Something so simple can be such a blessing!

"I Care So I Run" for children around the globe with Team World Vision.
“I Care So I Run” for children around the globe with Team World Vision.

I’m training for the New York City Marathon. My “Long Run” this past week was 14 miles. In the brutal heat of August in South Texas. When the sun comes up and it’s 90+ degrees before you know it.

About Mile 12 I’m running up a long hill. For those of you in San Antonio, it’s New Braunfels Avenue, up from Austin Highway into Alamo Heights. It doesn’t seem like much of a hill when you are driving a car…

Anyway, I’m a hot, sweaty mess as the cadence of my feet pound out eleven-minute-miles. Up ahead I see an older guy mowing his lawn. He stops mowing and disappears into the garage. He reappears right as I’m approaching his driveway. In his hand is a single bottle of water, which I initially assumed he has gotten for himself. And then, with a big smile on his face, he reaches out and hands it to me! “Looks like you need this!” he says.

I told him he was a blessing. And truly he was! You see, I carry water on my belt. And I was rationing my water for the last two miles. I really didn’t need the water. But let me tell you… his water was COLD! Refreshing. It was extra, so I could drink some and then pour some down the back of my neck. Oooh, it was invigorating! It was a luxury. It was a true blessing!

And then I turned my thoughts to World Vision and their efforts in Africa. The water the kids walk 6 miles for each day is like the water on my belt. But then, when the local water committees team with World Vision to bring a water system to the village, that’s a luxury. It’s an abundant blessing!

I’m reminded of the words of Jesus to the woman at the well in John 4:14: ” whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The image I see when I hear the phrase “welling up” is a waterfall. An abundant flow of God’s love that rushes in us to refresh us, then out of us to refresh others.

Like a cold bottle of water from a total stranger. A blessing.

And when we run for kids — for World Vision’s Clean Water or Child Protection programs — that’s what we get to do! We’re blessed to be a blessing (Genesis 12). And when you partner with those who are running, you are that blessing too! Thank you!

Running with joy,
-rich

 

*If you’d like to help children around the globe, go to teamworldvision.org/NYC and make a donation today! Thank you! *