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.
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A Shepherd meets the Baby

nightsky_blueThroughout Advent, let’s look at the people of the story of Christ’s birth. This week: a shepherd. Here is my take on a possible first person narrative from Luke 2.

It was just another night, really. Nothing too special about it. The sheep were grazing or sleeping on the rolling meadow, just north of Bethlehem. The air was cool, but not cold yet, so we let the animals continue to stay out in the fields rather than finding a cave for shelter.

My name? It’s not really important, for I am a lowly shepherd. There are none in all of Israel that think of our people as anyone special. We do not command much attention and merely go about our work in a quiet, nondescript manner. We feed the sheep and goats. We water the sheep and goats. We guard the sheep and goats. We move them about so they will find plenty to eat and just the right amount to drink. And this we do day in and day out.

Shepherding is the only job I have ever had. I know my sheep, and they know me. As of today, I have 109 sheep in my flock: 32 rams, 41 ewes, and 36 lambs. There are another 88 goats. Everything I own is in a pack on my donkey. It’s not much. Another tunic. Some candles and pottery. A few ropes and animal skins. A small bag of nuts and raisins.  Oh, and my flute.  I so enjoy the gift God has given me to play music. It is a joy to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all while simply blowing across hole in a hollowed out piece of wood. I think the sheep like it as well.

My brother has his flock just over there. My brother-in-law is along that ridge.

So, about “that” night… The air was crisp. The moon was full. The sky bursting with bright stars. We had just thrown another log on a small fire. We kept watch for coyotes, for this is the time of the year when they prey on the members of our flock. We were talking about heading back to our village and meeting up with our families as it was the season to go up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast. Of course, we do not ever get to go to the Temple, for we must be out here. But some in our family are blessed to be able to make the short journey to Mt. Zion.

We were making our plans when suddenly the night sky became very bright, as if it was the middle of the day. The sheep were startled and began to cry and low and move about anxiously. The three of us, did our best to keep them calm, all the while our hearts raced frantically. We had never seen this happen before. We had heard of earthquakes but had not experienced one. Was this that? Or some other natural phenomenon?  Was this some sort of army moving across the plains? The dogs were barking, the sheep bleating, the donkey braying. We were terribly frightened.

Through the bright light a man appeared… a man like we had not ever seen previously. His first words? “Do not be afraid!” And yet we were terrified!  It was truly a challenge to slow our heart rate and calm our breathing.

And then he said he was a messenger bringing good news, joyful news. Our Savior was born this very night and we were to go quickly down to the village of Bethlehem and see this new baby. A baby? Our Messiah? What was he saying? Who was this man? While he didn’t tell us he was an angel, we quickly figured that out when a multitude of others joined him and they started singing. Singing! And proclaiming the birth of a Savior.

“Glory to God!” they sang. “Peace on earth!” echoed across the valley, amplified by the night air.

Who were we to hear this message? We are not priests or rabbis or Pharisees or King Herod. Maybe they should go and proclaim this news to people of stature?

And just as quickly as they appeared, they returned again into the heavens.

So, of course, we did what they told us to do. We gathered our things; rounded up the flocks. And we ventured across the meadow in the middle of the night, down the rocky path to the village of Bethlehem. We looked and searched all over town. Can you see us? With our sheep? And our goats? And our donkeys? And the shepherding dogs? Oh, what noise we made as we meandered through the village in the middle of the night.

A man named Jacob came to greet us. He asked what we were doing wandering around? We told him of the angels and the singing and the bright lights in the sky.  We shared the message of good news they had shared with us. He was stunned and had this look on his face I’ll never forget. It was a look of disbelief and belief all at the same time… like something very real and very special just dawned on him.  With an eager jump in his step he led us to a small, dark, dank cave. He apologized as he motioned for us to enter.  Inside were a few animals and a woman, who he said was his wife, lying in some straw. Her face was illuminated by a single candle. And she nursed a new born baby.

“Miriam!” he whispered with enthusiasm.  “These men… they saw angels who told them to come find us… to find him… our son.”

We looked at each other with doubt in our eyes. Is this our Messiah? Our king? The savior of the world? But wouldn’t he be born in a royal palace attended to by a multitude of nurses and midwives and servants? Wouldn’t he be wrapped in silk or fine linens, not these swaddling rags?

Jacob could read our thoughts as our faces betrayed our skepticism. “He was born in this simple cave,” he said with humble honesty, “because he was born for you.”

“But we are lowly shepherds,” we explained. “And he is a king?”

“Yes,” Jacob replied. “Yes, indeed. He has been born for you and for them. You, however, you are the first to see Him. His name is ‘Immanuel. God with us.’ Go! Go tell everyone you see what a great thing God has done for all of us.”

And so, we did. Our suspicions turned to great joy. We returned to the fields and we praised the God of our Fathers … for the angels, for Jacob, for Miriam, but mostly for this baby, our Savior, born this very night!

 (c) 2013. Rich Ronald.

From the dust of the manger… to our heart.

Available at amazon.com in paperback or Kindle.

Christmas Day is one week away… wow! Where does the time go? Wasn’t it just spring break? Or summer vacation?

In the midst of all that is wrong in the world today, as we think about the Christmas story, the one thing that we might perceive to have been wrong, was actually right. Yes, it was right for Mary to place Jesus in a manger.

From Chapter Five of Be Born in Me:

While they were in Bethlehem, the time came for Mary to have the baby, and she gave birth to her first son. Because there were no rooms left in the inn, she wrapped the baby with pieces of cloth and laid him in a feeding trough.[1]

She placed Him in a feed trough.  In the Ancient Days most feed troughs in caves were merely hollowed out logs or rocks sitting on the ground.  You can’t get much lower than that.  Jesus, God in the flesh. God who sits on the highest throne in the highest Heaven, squeezed Himself into a human form. And if that wasn’t low enough, He was then placed mere inches above the dirt and manure that was in that animal cave.  Why would God do that?  Send His son.  To the lowest possible place on earth?!  To a feed trough?

Think about the trough being in the dirt and mud on the cave floor. Like Adam from the Garden of Eden, we all began our lives in the dust of the earth and Jesus knows that we all have dirt and mud in our lives.  That’s where we need Him most!

“Jesus, be born in me!” 

The apostle Paul also notes that Jesus gave up His place with God in heaven and made Himself nothing (Philippians 2).  Why? Simply because He loves us.

He loves you. He really does. Even though you may be a little dirty. Even though you may be a lot muddy.  It doesn’t matter to Him… He has been there too.

Isn’t that incredible!?! God in the flesh has been where you are… only His love can pull you out of the pit you are in. He is uniquely qualified to be our Savior. He knows how messy our lives are… and it doesn’t stop Him from reaching out His loving arms to lift us up.

May I encourage you to make this prayer, your prayer: “Jesus. Be born in me!”


Be Born in Me is divided into five sections and includes discussion questions so you can use in a weekly small group, family devotional or class setting.

Here’s the link to the amazon web site: http://amzn.to/SNOkND.
And here’s the link to the Kindle site: http://amzn.to/RI7ODe.
(c) 2012. Rich Ronald.

[1] Luke 2:6-7 (NCV)

 

“Somehow I believe that You chose me.”

Available at amazon.com in paperback or Kindle.

This is the second week in Advent, a time to celebrate Christmas for a whole month, not just a single day. How are you doing at preparing your heart for the season?

From Chapter Three of Be Born in Me:

God chose Mary for an incredible assignment, didn’t He?  Think about it, this is the biggest assignment of anyone in the Bible!  You think your wife fussed about what to eat and what to do when she was pregnant?  Mary is carrying God’s Son. No pressure there!  Can you imagine what she thought about having to climb up on the back of a donkey and travel for four days to the city of David?  Can you hear her in the cold of the night?  “Joseph, sorry I can’t do that, I AM carrying the Son of God here, you know!”

Looking again at Luke 1 we see that the angel, Gabriel, has told Mary that she has been chosen. Mary asks, “How?” The angel replies,  “Nothing, you see, is impossible with God.” [1]

Do you know that you have been chosen by God for an assignment today and everyday? How does that make you feel? For some, it is overwhelming. For others it is exciting. For me it is humbling.  Humbling, because most days I feel completely inept at doing something for our great (announcer voice here) GOD, THE CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE.

But that is the point, isn’t it? For the greatest impact, God uses the everyday person to reach the everyday person. You don’t have to have a Bible degree or years of ministry training. You can grab a cup of coffee and walk to the end of the driveway and share His story with your next door neighbor.  You can sit on the floor with a bunch of preschool students and sing simple songs. You can offer a hug to an elderly woman in a nursing home wheelchair.

He has chosen you to carry His message and His love to those around you. And there is no better time to do so than at Christmas. People in our culture are open to hearing about Jesus, and talking about spiritual things, more so during December than any other time of the year. So may He give you the heart of Mary to bring His joy to your world this Advent.

And be encouraged to know that He has chosen you to do so.

Be Born in Me is divided into five sections and includes discussion questions so you can use in a weekly small group, family devotional or class setting.
Here’s the link to the amazon web site: http://amzn.to/SNOkND.
And here’s the link to the Kindle site: http://amzn.to/RI7ODe.
(c) 2012. Rich Ronald.

[1] Luke 1:37 (The Message)