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.
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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

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.