Isaiah 15

Because of the importance of Israel and its people, and my personal love for The Land, I’m inviting you to join me through the key Old Testament book of Isaiah.  Each day I’m posting some simple thoughts about this complex prophet.

Isaiah 15

“Moab is left in ruins.” (v1, CEV). Even its people who flee the land will be attacked.

Moab was what is now mostly the country of Jordan. It is just on the other side of the Dead Sea where many tourists float in South Israel.  It, like so much of the lands from 1000 BC, are in ruins. As will likely our lands be in 3000 years, right?

But what stands the test of time? God’s word.  Jesus says in Matthew 24:35 that even the heavens and earth will pass away but not His words.

We can be assured that His love and His promises for us will never fail. We are why He came. We can always trust the truth of His words! They will never be like the ruins of Moab, Israel or even the future ruins of any town in the USA.

And indeed, Jesus is the Word. “In the beginning was the one who is called the Word. The Word was with God and was truly God. From the very beginning the Word was with God.” (John 1:1-2, CEV). He is the One who came from Bethlehem, the house of bread. He is the one who said, “I am the bread of life.” (John 6:35). He is our sustenance. He is our life. He lives forever!

The soldier of God, Joshua, proclaims: “Not one word failed from all the good words God spoke to the house of Israel. Everything came out right.” (Joshua 21:45, MSG). Everything will come out for you and me as well!

I’m thankful that His words of life are truth. His words will never fail. He keeps His promises. His words stand the test of time. His word is eternal.

 

(c) 2020. Rich Ronald.

Isaiah 11

Olive shoots on a olive tree trunk at the Mt. of Olives in Israel.

Because of the importance of Israel and its people, and my personal love for The Land, I’m inviting you to join me through the key Old Testament book of Isaiah.  Each day I’m posting some simple thoughts about this complex prophet.

Isaiah 11.

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse, from his roots a branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD – Adonai – will rest on Him. The Spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, fear (awe) of the LORD. Fear-of-God will be all his joy and delight.” (v1, MSG).

Remember Isaiah 6:13? “But there’s a holy seed in those stumps.” The olive tree is fascinating and prolific in The Land. Even when an old tree dies, the roots are still alive. And new shoots rise up, sometimes many feet away from the old tree. And there are so many connections between the olive tree and Jesus. Again, our Messiah shows up on the pages of the Old Testament!

The Jewish word for olive press is transliterated into English “Get-She’me.” Do you remember what happened to Jesus on the night He was betrayed? He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mt. of Olives.  See how similar “Get-She’me” is to “Gethsemane?” The weight of what He was going to do in the next 24 hours for you and me caused Him to sweat drops like blood as He prayed. “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:44 NIV). He was being crushed in the Garden of Gethsemane as if in an olive press.

Here’s another connecting point to the olive tree branches and shoots. The word for “shoot” is transliterated “netzer.”   Jesus was from “Netzer-eth.” Nazareth.

Now look again at the second half of verse 1: “The Spirit of the LORD – Adonai – will rest on Him. The Spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, fear (awe) of the LORD. Fear-of-God will be all his joy and delight.” Jesus was full of the Spirit. It began with His baptism. Here’s what John the Baptizer said about Him: I was there and saw the Spirit come down on him like a dove from heaven. And the Spirit stayed on him. Before this I didn’t know who he was. But the one who sent me to baptize with water had told me, “You will see the Spirit come down and stay on someone. Then you will know that he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” I saw this happen, and I tell you that he is the Son of God.” (John 1:32-34 CEV).

Three years later we see this: “Then He took a deep breath and breathed into them. “Receive the Holy Spirit.”” (John 20:22 MSG). When Jesus breathed on His disciples, He breathed on us! So, this same Spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, fear/awe, joy and delight are ours too!

Thanks to the shoot from the stump of Jesse as foretold in Isaiah 11!

 

(c) 2020. Rich Ronald.

Isaiah 1

Growing up in a Christian, mainline denomination church we focused so much on Jesus that we didn’t spend much time in the Old Testament. As an adult, I’ve come to see that Jesus is on every page of the Bible, not just the New Testament! And that’s what makes the Text so wonderful. It’s God’s overarching story of His plan for the redemption of His children. Us.
     The story of Israel is both a New Testament story and an Old Testament story. It’s founding is detailed in the pages of Genesis through Malachi. And much of its history and future is found in the book of Isaiah. I had the chance to go to Israel twice in 2019.  I heard our Jewish tour guides quote from Isaiah daily.  So, I’ve decided to dive into the complex writings of the prophet for myself. What follows over the course of the next 66 days is my simple reading and pondering of what these words mean and how they might be applied in our context today.
     Here’s my highlight from Chapter 1 if you’re so inclined to join me…
“Wash yourselves clean! I hate your filthy deeds. Stop doing wrong  and learn to live right. See that justice is done. Defend widows and orphans and help the oppressed.”  I, the Lord, invite you to come and talk it over. Your sins are scarlet red, but they will be whiter than snow or wool.  If you willingly obey me, the best crops in the land will be yours. Isaiah 1:16-19 (CEV).
     “Wash yourselves clean…” The Jewish ritual bath is called a Mikveh and the ruins of these ancient sacraments are all over The Land. Unlike a Christian baptistry, a Mikveh has water flowing through the tank, usually by way of a natural spring. And they often have a wall separating the going down side from the coming up side. The idea is that one might enter the stream “unclean” or “filthy” and then, once the waters have washed over the person, they are free to ascend the steps on the clean side, washed a new.
     It’s not just a physical cleansing, which it is. It’s also symbolic of  being pure before God. The Old Testament people would go to the Mikveh every time they went to the synagogue or Temple. Some would go daily.
     Isaiah reminds those of us who are Believers in Jesus, we have been washed clean by His death, His sacrifice on the Cross, and His resurrection — once and for all.
Our sins are washed away and we are made clean because Christ gave His own body as a gift to God. He did this once for all time. Hebrews 10:10 (NLV)
     Our sins were scarlet red. But they are now whiter than snow!
But if we live in the light, as God does, we share in life with each other. And the blood of his Son Jesus washes all our sins away. 1 John 1:7 (CEV).
     Because of that sweet redemption, our response is to walk regularly “up the clean steps,” to be faithful in defending the oppressed, the widow, the orphan, those less fortunate.
     What steps can we take today to remember that we are redeemed and that we have a responsibility to “live right” before God and man?
     Oh, there’s a promise for us when we do. “The best crops in the land will be yours.” Our motivation for living right is to honor God, because it’s the right thing to do. An ancillary benefit is the gift of God’s provision and care. Because He loves us so.
     (c) 2020. Rich Ronald.

Light. Life. Jesus.

Jesus is the Light. He shines in the darkness. He brings Life!

Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus the Messiah. There is something very powerful and yet peaceful when His name is spoken in reverence and worship. His very name conquers fear. His very name lights our way when we feel trapped or alone or lost or consumed with darkness.

Remember when you were a kid and you were afraid of the dark? Maybe, like me, you had to have a light on in your bedroom at night. What was it about the light being on? It shined brightly in the darkness, didn’t it? It showed us that there was nothing else in the room, nothing would harm us or hurt us. The light was a comfort, wasn’t it?

Jesus said in John 8: “I am light to the world and those who embrace me will experience life-giving light, and they will never walk in darkness.” John 8:12 (Passion)

Light is not only a comfort, but it brings life! Like the sun on the leaves of a plant, Jesus, the light of the world, brings life!

Do you believe that? Let His light shine in you and on you to give you His life. As the dawning light of a new day chases away the darkness of night, the comfort and peace of Jesus can do the same thing in your life. There is nothing so dark that His light can’t shine through and bring calm.

Maybe you need His light to bring you comfort today? Ask Him to shine His light in your life. Ask Him to let His life drive the darkness out of your life! He loves you and He will do it.

 

(c) Rich Ronald. 2019.

God Never Fails.

God will help you catch your breath.
You’ll find God right there.

God Never Fails. I’m pretty sure I’ve written that before. Maybe multiple times. But it’s worth repeating. Over and over again.

God never fails.

We fail, right?

Can I assure you, however, that for those who trust God and who follow Jesus that it’s okay to fail. I believe we all actually need to have at least one moment in our life, or multiple moments in our life, where we we fail… where we are broken… where we take all of the burdens we’ve been carrying and finally fall to our knees at the foot of the Cross and say, “Here, Jesus. I can’t do this anymore.” I believe we all need to get to that point where we stop kidding ourselves that we can be self-dependent and we fully cross the line to being dependent on God and God alone.

For me personally, I could share story after story where I was so broken that I just couldn’t carry the load any longer.  They include:

      • Each of the six times my employer at the time decided to change directions without me.
      • Too many times to count when parenting teenagers or adult children.
      • And the recent death of my Mom.

On each occasion, my knees couldn’t hit the floor quick enough. Did I fail or did my situation fail me? No matter. I couldn’t bear the weight alone.

The strongest people are those who fail… who acknowledge that they are weak and empty.

One of the greatest, strongest people of all time was Israel’s King David. He writes, “If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there.”  Then, look at the word picture painted by the Message translation: “If you’re kicked in the gut, He’ll help you catch your breath.” (Psalm 34:18 MSG). What an encouraging image!

Even when bad things happen to good people, God is there for you. Every time.

Perhaps your tending to a broken heart? Perhaps you’ve wondered where is the promised victory of the Christian life? In Luke 4 Jesus says the whole reason He came was to heal the brokenhearted, to release the captives and to bring sight to the blind. No matter what broke your heart, no matter what is holding you captive, no matter that you can’t seem to see your way out of your situation, can I assure you that Jesus came for you.

You may have failed, but you are not a failure! Take time, maybe even right now, to tell God that you need Him. Admit that you can’t carry this burden on your own. Tell Him that you’ll trust Him.

And then… do it. Lay your burden down and trust Him.  Cross that bridge and breathe in the air of a new found freedom and peace.  Jesus is waiting to help you catch your breath!

 

(c) Rich Ronald. 2019

Blessed, happy…

The hillside that looks down to the Sea of Galilee from the Mount called the Mount of Beatitudes, or Mt. Eremos in Israel.

 

We started the day at the top of Mt. Arbel. The Master had taken us up the night before. At daybreak, we watched a gorgeous sunrise over the Sea!  Mt. Arbel is His favorite “get away from it all” spot. You can get a view of the whole lake from there.

We had spent much of the past few weeks all around this northern part of the Galilee. He had chosen 12 of us to be His closest followers, His talmudim. Many of us grew up around here, working the sea for fish and the land for grain.

As we journeyed down towards the shore, He warned us about the expected crowds today. There was something in His heart that He needed to tell the people… If people were going to receive any kind of physical healing from Him, they were going to hear why He healed first.  He told us of the story when He taught in the synagogue in Nazareth… when the reading from the Prophets for that day was from Isaiah. He affirmed the reason He had come… to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoner and recovery of sight for the blind… to set the oppressed free.

And now today, today would be the day when the Teacher revealed His yoke, His perspective, His views on the Law. And today, he would set the whole tone for the next year and a half of ministry…

As He began to teach, He did so just like He was in a synagogue. He sat down on a rock. And He preached with such authority.

“Blessed, happy are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven,” He began.

“Blessed, happy are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

“Blessed, happy are those who are meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 6:3-5).

With each blessing, more and more people made their way to the field below Him. He continued…

“Blessed, happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed, happy are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed, happy are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 6:6-8).

His voice echoed off the hillside and fisherman pulled their boats onto the shore to hear more.

“Blessed, happy are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed, happy are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 6:9-12).

The Master spoke for quite some time… I looked around as the crowd continued to increase. People elbowed each other to see His face. They wiped their brows as the warmth of the day increased. “Who was this?” I heard them murmur to each other.

He watched as fishermen on the shore began to pack their catch in salt to preserve it. “You are the salt of the earth,” He assured us. “But if the salt loses it saltiness, how can it be salty again?” (Matthew 6:13).

He looked east toward Hippos across the sea and proclaimed, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 6:14-16).

He then began to illustrate His views on Torah, His yoke, by noting what other teachers of the Law have to say… He would start by saying, “You have heard it said… “ and then He would add, “but I say to you…” It was His way of bringing grace and life to the Laws of Moses. For example, He said: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 6:43-45).

Some in the growing crowd were mesmerized by these teachings. Others were puzzled as this man appeared to be a learned rabbi, but was questioning much of everything we all knew of the Law.

He taught on murder, adultery, divorce, prayer and fasting. He summed up the Law and the Prophets with this straightforward statement: “Do to others what you would have them do to you.” (Matthew 7:12).

The topic that spoke most to my heart? Anxiety. I will admit, I’m a worrier. And yet, as He looked at the flowers in bloom on this very hillside, and saw the birds flying through the treetops, the Master urged us:

“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:25-34).

 As He concluded this powerful, yet simple message, the crowd was amazed. I looked at the others with a smile, humbled that He had chosen us to be His disciples… and wondering what else we might learn in the days and weeks to come as we followed our rabbi.

Some of the thoughts, perhaps, of one of the 12, as he remembered that day where Yeshua first spoke those words.

_____

There are so many amazing teachings in this, the first of Jesus’ public teachings. As we see often, Jesus flips many of the norms and teachings of old on their heads. You are blessed when you are poor in spirit. It’s okay to mourn. Be hungry for righteousness not the Law. Be a peacemaker. Don’t worry when you are persecuted, or when you are hungry or naked. Seek first the Kingdom. Be salt. Be light. Treat others as you want to be treated. This is how you are to pray.

He was going “on the record” … establishing His yoke, His ways, His views on Torah. And ultimately, Matthew 11:30: “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

So, say “Yes!” to the Law. But, more importantly, say “Yes!” to Grace. Say “Yes!” to the way of Yeshua. He spoke with the bold and loving authority of God.  This message is for everyone. Jew and Gentile alike. Believer and unbeliever. For those who heard it first-hand on a hillside along the banks of the Sea of Galilee as He spoke it – Matthew says in 7:28 that the crowds were amazed!”

AND the timeless message is for us today. Can we be amazed again? I hope so!

 

[1] Friedrich Hauck, “Theological Dictionary of the New Testament,” as cited in Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, by Kenneth E. Bailey, © 2008, p. 68.

 

(c) 2019 Rich Ronald.

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.