A Year of Grace

365 Days of Grace From God's Word

Our Guide

Psalm 119:105 – Your word is a lamp to guide my feet
and a light for my path.
106 I’ve promised it once, and I’ll promise it again:
I will obey your righteous regulations.
107 I have suffered much, O Lord;
restore my life again as you promised.
108 Lord, accept my offering of praise,
and teach me your regulations.
109 My life constantly hangs in the balance,
but I will not stop obeying your instructions.
110 The wicked have set their traps for me,
but I will not turn from your commandments.
111 Your laws are my treasure;
they are my heart’s delight.
 112 I am determined to keep your decrees
to the very end. (NLT)

Psalm 119 is the longest psalm, and the longest chapter in the Bible, as well.  This psalm is an Acrostic.  There are twenty-two letters in the Hebrew alphabet, and in this psalm there are twenty-two stanzas, one for each letter.  Besides all of this, Psalm 119 is a great psalm that speaks to the power of God’s Word!

This passage begins with what is probably a familiar verse for many: “Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.”  This is a verse that has been lifted up in song since it was written.  God’s Word may have been written ages ago, but the message is timeless.  Verse 105 is not only timeless, it’s priceless!  When I walk into a book store, I can’t help but notice all of the self help books – How to be a better parent, or a better spouse, etc.  Verse 105 tells us that if we want to be a better person, we need to first seek direction from God’s Word.

I like the New Living Translation for verse 106: “I’ve promised it once, and I’ll promise it again: I will obey your righteous regulations.”  We’ve promised it before, haven’t we?  We need to promise it again, and again!  We know that we are all sinners, and that we all fall short (Romans 3:23).  When we fall short, we need to look again at God’s Word, and promise again to obey God’s Word.

Consider verse 111: “Your laws are my treasure; they are my heart’s delight.”  As a pastor, and as a Christian, I am burdened by the dysfunction and breakup of many families.  It is my observation that many marriages and families are torn apart because what they treasure is not God’s Word, but the things of this world.  Many families treasure their possessions more than the members of their own family.  They may say that they don’t, but the time they give to their ‘stuff’, in relation to the time they give to the members of their family tells a different story.  When we make God’s Word our treasure and our heart’s delight, all of the other things in life are seen in a better light.  Some things become less important, while other things become more important.

Today, let us learn from this ancient psalm.  Let us make God’s Word our guide for this day, and every day!   

Posted by Ramón Torres

Dig Deeper

Matthew 13:10 – His disciples came and asked him, “Why do you use parables when you talk to the people?”

11 He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others are not. 12 To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them. 13 That is why I use these parables,

For they look, but they don’t really see.
They hear, but they don’t really listen or understand.

14 This fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah that says,

‘When you hear what I say,
you will not understand.
When you see what I do,
you will not comprehend.
15 For the hearts of these people are hardened,
and their ears cannot hear,
and they have closed their eyes—
so their eyes cannot see,
and their ears cannot hear,
and their hearts cannot understand,
and they cannot turn to me
and let me heal them.’

16 “But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. 17 I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but they didn’t see it. And they longed to hear what you hear, but they didn’t hear it. (NLT)

We all know that Jesus often taught in parables.  The word parable comes from a Greek word that means a comparison or analogy.  Using parables, Jesus would often make an analogy by saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like …”  To understand a parable, one has to – think!  One has to dig deeper to find the spiritual application of the parable.

When asked why he used parables, Jesus said that many people look but don’t really see, or they hear but don’t really listen or understand (verse 13).  To understand Jesus’ parables, or any of the Bible for that matter, we must dig into the text, for there is often more than meets the eye.  Unfortunately, many still do not really see or understand.  Many never dig deeper themselves, and churches exist that discourage people from digging deeper.   

For example, many Christians have been led to believe that any tattoo is ungodly and sinful, for the Bible clearly says: “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves.” (Leviticus 19:28).  Many Christians judge those who have tattoo’s because of this verse.  However, that very same chapter of the Bible says the following: “‘Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.” (Leviticus 19:19).  So, if we are to judge anyone with a tattoo as sinful, then we must also judge as sinful anyone who wears clothing with two types of material (almost everyone), and anyone who has a garden with more than one type of vegetable!  

IF we were to dig deeper, we would understand why those laws were given to the Jews at that time and place.  They were given because that was the behavior of the pagans.  Now, having dug deeper, we can make the spiritual application that we ought not to be doing what the pagans do.  To judge by taking a verse out of context, however, is not seeing or understanding!

Dig deeper when you read the Bible.  Don’t take any one preacher or teacher’s word for it (including mine), but dig deeper so that you can truly see and understand. 

Posted by Ramón Torres

Fruit Inspecting

Matthew 7:15 – “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. (NLT)

I once had a District Superintendent who said that he was not really a good judge of pastors, but that he was a pretty good fruit inspector!  We all knew what he meant.  In this passage, Jesus is speaking specifically about false prophets.  I do not believe that it is a stretch, however, to apply this passage to anyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to live a holy life (Romans 12:1; 2 Timothy 1:9; Hebrews 12:14; 2 Peter 2:21).  If our very lives are called to be holy, then it goes without saying that our very lives should be a witness. We must live carefully for the sake of the Gospel!  We must carefully examine ourselves to see what kind of fruit we are producing.  If we truly want others to believe that Jesus can do anything for them, they must first see that Jesus has done something for us.

In John 15, Jesus calls himself the true vine, and tells us that we are the branches of the true vine.  He encourages us to stay connected to him, so that we can produce ‘much fruit’ (John 15:5).  Indeed, Jesus says: “When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples”. (John 15:8).  According to Jesus, we are only true disciples of Jesus when we produce much fruit! 

Is the fruit that we are producing in our own lives love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? (Galatians 5:22).  Today, let each of us be a fruit inspector.  Today, let each of us look carefully at the fruit that we are producing.  Let us ensure that our lives are truly a witness to the life changing power of Jesus Christ!   

Posted by Ramón Torres

The Voice of The Lord

Psalm 29:1 (NLT) – Honor the Lord, you heavenly beings;
honor the Lord for his glory and strength.
2 Honor the Lord for the glory of his name.
Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.

3 The voice of the Lord echoes above the sea.
The God of glory thunders.
The Lord thunders over the mighty sea.
4 The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is majestic.
5 The voice of the Lord splits the mighty cedars;
the Lord shatters the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon’s mountains skip like a calf;
he makes Mount Hermon leap like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the Lord strikes
with bolts of lightning.
8 The voice of the Lord makes the barren wilderness quake;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
9 The voice of the Lord twists mighty oaks
and strips the forests bare.
In his Temple everyone shouts, “Glory!”

10 The Lord rules over the floodwaters.
The Lord reigns as king forever.
11 The Lord gives his people strength.
The Lord blesses them with peace. 

The story behind this Psalm was that David had watched a storm move across the land.  The power of the storm that David witnessed turned his thoughts towards God.  Many of us have witnessed firsthand the results of severe weather.  At such a time it is easy to think of the power of God.

The storm that David witnessed must have made him think of God speaking, for seven times we are told about the ‘voice of the Lord’.  The voice of the Lord echoes; is powerful; is majestic; splits the mighty cedars; it strikes with bolts of lightning; it makes the wilderness quake; it twists mighty oaks and strips the forest bare.  Wow!  Who could ever miss the voice of the Lord?

Well, I think we all miss the voice of the Lord at times.  I find it interesting that this Psalm, which at first glance seems to be all about hearing the voice of the Lord, begins with three calls to honor the Lord, and one call to worship the Lord.  Could there be a connection between our honoring and worshipping the Lord, and our ability to experience the voice of the Lord?  Yes, most certainly!

I’m sure that we would all love to hear from God.  When we have decisions to make, hearing from God would be great.  When life confronts us with what appears to be a dilemma, hearing from God would be welcomed.  Let’s strive to honor God with our lives.  Let’s worship God as we are able.  Let’s do this, and then let’s listen for the voice of God.

Posted by Ramón Torres

Spiritual Gifts

1 Corinthians 12:4 – There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. 5 There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. 6 God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.

7 A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. 8 To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge. 9 The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. 10 He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. 11 It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.

12 The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. 13 Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. (NLT)

Spiritual Gifts. The Holy Spirit. These are words that scare many Christians!  I believe it to be tragic that many Christians steer clear of all things ‘spiritual’.  Why fear God’s Spirit?  By definition, Christians should be Spirit filled!  Verse seven tells us that the Spirit is given to each of us – so that we can help each other!

There are two powerful things about verse seven that speak to me.  First, it says that each of us has been given some spiritual gift.  You may not know what it is, but you’ve got one!  This list of spiritual gifts that Paul gives here is not an exhaustive list, and there are other gifts mentioned in other New Testament passages.  However, each of us should pray that we would come to know what gift has been given to us.

Secondly, our spiritual gifts are given to us for the purpose of helping one another.  Spiritual gifts are not given to build ourselves up, but instead to build up others.  In this chapter, Paul goes on to illustrate how we are the Body of Christ, and the body is put together so that all its parts benefit the body.  Likewise, we are ‘put together’ here on earth so that we would benefit one another.

Today, let’s do what we can to benefit one another!   

Posted by Ramón Torres

A Desire to do the Will of God

1 Kings 8:54 – When Solomon finished making these prayers and petitions to the Lord, he stood up in front of the altar of the Lord, where he had been kneeling with his hands raised toward heaven. 55 He stood and in a loud voice blessed the entire congregation of Israel:  56 “Praise the Lord who has given rest to his people Israel, just as he promised. Not one word has failed of all the wonderful promises he gave through his servant Moses. 57 May the Lord our God be with us as he was with our ancestors; may he never leave us or abandon us. 58 May he give us the desire to do his will in everything and to obey all the commands, decrees, and regulations that he gave our ancestors. 59 And may these words that I have prayed in the presence of the Lord be before him constantly, day and night, so that the Lord our God may give justice to me and to his people Israel, according to each day’s needs. 60 Then people all over the earth will know that the Lord alone is God and there is no other. 61 And may you be completely faithful to the Lord our God. May you always obey his decrees and commands, just as you are doing today.”

62 Then the king and all Israel with him offered sacrifices to the Lord. 63 Solomon offered to the Lord a peace offering of 22,000 cattle and 120,000 sheep and goats. And so the king and all the people of Israel dedicated the Temple of the Lord.     64 That same day the king consecrated the central area of the courtyard in front of the Lord’s Temple. He offered burnt offerings, grain offerings, and the fat of peace offerings there, because the bronze altar in the Lord’s presence was too small to hold all the burnt offerings, grain offerings, and the fat of the peace offerings.

65 Then Solomon and all Israel celebrated the Festival of Shelters in the presence of the Lord our God. A large congregation had gathered from as far away as Lebo-hamath in the north and the Brook of Egypt in the south. The celebration went on for fourteen days in all—seven days for the dedication of the altar and seven days for the Festival of Shelters. (NLT)

In this passage we have Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple.  This passage is actually the latter part of the prayer, which takes up most of 1 Kings 8.  There is much to learn from this prayer, but unfortunately many people just focus on what seems odd to us – peace offerings with tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of animals.  I try not to get hung up on such matters, but it does remind me that peace with God comes at a mighty cost.  Indeed, we know that our peace with God came at the cost of God leaving heaven, coming to earth through Jesus, and dying for our sins.  That was costly! 

Unlike Solomon, we don’t need to sacrifice animals in an effort to have peace with God.  Romans 5:1 tells us, “we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Since our peace with God has been made, what now?  I think we can look to this prayer from Solomon for the answer.  In verse 58 Solomon asks that God would give us the desire to do God’s will in all things.  Jesus also teaches us to pray this prayer (Luke 11). Furthermore, Solomon knew that there could be no better witness for God than for he and his people to be truly living out God’s will (verse 60).

Today, let us seek God’s will for our lives so that others may know of God!

Posted by Ramón Torres

Our Hope Is In The Lord

Psalm 33:12 – What joy for the nation whose God is the Lord,
whose people he has chosen as his inheritance.

13 The Lord looks down from heaven
and sees the whole human race.
14 From his throne he observes
all who live on the earth.
15 He made their hearts,
so he understands everything they do.
16 The best-equipped army cannot save a king,
nor is great strength enough to save a warrior.
17 Don’t count on your warhorse to give you victory—
for all its strength, it cannot save you.

18 But the Lord watches over those who fear him,
those who rely on his unfailing love.
19 He rescues them from death
and keeps them alive in times of famine.

20 We put our hope in the Lord.
He is our help and our shield.
21 In him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in his holy name.
22 Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord,
for our hope is in you alone.

Recently, an out of work money manager in California who had lost his fortune murdered his family, and then he killed himself.  In Massachusetts, a housewife hid her mounting financial crisis, and then wrote a note to the mortgage company warning them: “By the time you foreclose on my house, I’ll be dead.”  A 90 year old Ohio widow shot herself in the chest as authorities arrived to evict her from her home.  Sad stories.  Tragic stories.

What is even more tragic is that similar stories play out each and every day.  In addition, countless marriages and families across our country and in our own communities are being torn apart over financial worries.  Verse seventeen warns us not to count on our warhorses to give us the victory.  What is a warhorse?  The ancient Hebrew word referred to a strong horse, which was a very valuable piece of property. What are our warhorses?  What are the things of this world that we look to for a victorious life? Our homes? Our bank accounts and our retirement accounts? Our stuff?

Let us remind ourselves that our hope is in the Lord (verse 20).  Our strength needs to be found in the unfailing love of the Lord (verse 22).  Today, let us share our hope with someone! 

Posted by Ramón Torres

Called Into Action

Romans 8:14 – For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.

15 So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” 16 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. 17 And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. (NLT) 

There is so much packed into these four verses, we could probably stay with this passage for a week!  So, just a couple of things I would like to share, you may have others.  First, in verse fifteen we are told that we have received God’s Spirit.  Really?  God’s?  God’s Spirit joins with ours?  I find this empowering and frightening all at the same time!  It’s empowering in that we should look to God’s Spirit for the strength to be who and what God calls us to be.  I find it potentially frightening for the very same reason. So my prayer is often that I would not be a fearful slave, but rather one with a bold spirit from my Abba, Father.

The second thing I take away from this passage is that we are heirs of God’s glory along with Jesus!  What an awesome thought, but then Paul goes on to say that we must also share in Jesus’ suffering.  Too often I would like to settle for the glory and forget the suffering.  Fortunately for most of us today, our suffering doesn’t compare to Jesus’.  However, we are called to action, and we are called to put the needs of others before our own. 

It doesn’t come close to Jesus’ suffering, but today let’s answer the call to be Christ-like to someone we would rather stay away from.  In our own small way, let us share in Jesus’ suffering and Jesus’ glory!  

Posted by Ramón Torres

Above All, Love!

1 Peter 4:7 – The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. 8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (NLT)

In this reading we are confronted with a text that would make us ask, “How near is the end?”  In the grand scheme of things, the end is near for each of us!  Psalm 103 reminds us: “The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; 16 the wind blows over it and it is gone.”  Most of us don’t live our daily lives thinking about the brevity of this earthly life, but it is a reality.  My sister told me shortly before she passed away from ovarian cancer, “We’re all terminal, I’m just more aware of it than most.”

This Scripture passages is a reminder that this life is fleeting.  So, what shall we do about it?  Verse eight says that above all else, we should love others deeply.  Above all else!  What will be the most important thing that you do this day?  I do not want to belittle anything that any of us may have planned, but the Word of God tells us what is most important.  Above all else love each other deeply.  This is the most important thing that any of can do during this day, or any day.

With life so fleeting, who knows if we have tomorrow to show our love for others?  We, or they, could be gone like a flower of the field.  So, make the most of this day, and above all else, love each other! 

Posted by Ramón Torres

Let Justice Roll!

Amos 5:18 – Woe to you who long
    for the day of the Lord!
Why do you long for the day of the Lord?
    That day will be darkness, not light.
19 It will be as though a man fled from a lion
    only to meet a bear,
as though he entered his house
    and rested his hand on the wall
    only to have a snake bite him.
20 Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light—
    pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?

21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
    your assemblies are a stench to me.
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
    I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
    I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your songs!
    I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 But let justice roll on like a river,
    righteousness like a never-failing stream!

 Today, across our nation, many will gather to remember the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King.  They will gather to remember not only the life of a man, but the life of a movement. This great movement, which for this country found its voice in Martin Luther King, did not begin with Martin Luther King.  This movement did not begin in this country.  From our reading from an ancient prophet, we hear that this movement was alive some twenty-eight centuries ago. 

 “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”  These words were spoken by a simple herdsmen named Amos who could not understand how a people who claimed to worship a God of justice could then turn around and use their system of human justice as an instrument of their own greed.  Indeed, in the days of Amos the name of God was used to oppress the poor, and Amos, a simple herdsmen by trade, could not stand idly by and watch as the children of God were ruthlessly burdened in the name of justice.  So, the prophet cried out, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

 Amos was not blind to the fact that the government of the land, which by all rights should have stood up for those who could not stand for themselves, was corrupt and unjust. The courts were easily swayed by money. Not only were the poor oppressed, but the opportunity for a fair trial was non-existent. Perhaps worst of all, Amos recognized that the religious institutions of the day, while busy with its various religious activities, was totally oblivious to the living conditions of the common people.  To be sure, there were sacrifices and prayers of every kind, but what did all this religion amount to except to nurture a false hope?

Likewise, Martin Luther King could clearly see things that many people refused to see.  He had the power to speak out against injustice.  Most of all, he realized that if religion was to be true to its nature it must be concerned not just with religious rituals and prayers, but that it must be concerned with all of life.  While still a young man Martin Luther King had the courage to face those who hated him and boldly proclaim that: “Any religion that professes to be concerned with the souls of men and is not concerned with the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them is a dry-as-dust religion.”

 It was a dry as dust religion that Amos sought to change.  Through Amos, God spoke to the people. God told them that it was not sacrifices that satisfied the heart of God.  It was not feasts; it was not elaborate shows of fanciful assemblies.  The songs that God’s children offered up in praise of God were nothing more than noise.  Indeed, God refused to even listen to their music!  What made Amos a visionary is the same quality that made Martin Luther King a visionary.  Like Amos, Martin Luther King challenged the entire religious system.  He did not challenge a few.  He did not challenge the black church. He did not challenge the white church. He challenged the Church – all of Christianity. He challenged the whole system, from smallest congregation in the backwaters of Mississippi to the largest and fanciest churches in New York City.  Martin Luther King, Jr., challenged the church to understand the true nature of God.

The issue for Amos came down to the understanding of the very nature of God.  That was the issue for Martin Luther King, Jr., as well.  This must be our issue today.  Our actions, our behavior, must be modeled after our beliefs and concepts of God Almighty.  This is true for our congregations, and this is true for us as individual Christians.  Because of our understanding of the nature of God, each of us must seek to relate to one another as God would, not as we would like. 

Amos, though he lived thousands of years ago, was ahead of his time when it came to spiritual insight.  Martin Luther King, Jr., knew those same insights.  And we, three millennia after Amos, nearly six decades after Martin Luther King, Jr., must continue to strive to achieve what they could see so well – injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.  Whatever we do to the least of the children of God, we do to God. 

Posted by Ramón Torres

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