A Year of Grace

365 Days of Grace From God's Word

Share The Light!

Psalm 53:1 – Only fools say in their hearts,

“There is no God.”

They are corrupt, and their actions are evil;

not one of them does good!

2 God looks down from heaven

on the entire human race;

he looks to see if anyone is truly wise,

if anyone seeks God.

3 But no, all have turned away;

all have become corrupt.

No one does good,

not a single one!

4 Will those who do evil never learn?

They eat up my people like bread

and wouldn’t think of praying to God.

5 Terror will grip them,

terror like they have never known before.

God will scatter the bones of your enemies.

You will put them to shame, for God has rejected them.

6 Who will come from Mount Zion to rescue Israel?

When God restores his people,

Jacob will shout with joy, and Israel will rejoice. (NLT)

When we read through this psalm, it appears that when he wrote this, David had a pretty dim view of the world around him: “all have turned away; all have become corrupt.  No one does good, not a single one!”  Surely, there must have been a few godly people in Jerusalem.  Why was David so downcast?

When we consider the recent events that have been taking place in our world, not just the pandemic, but issues of violence, poverty, and deep divisions amongst a nation, we can understand that many people probably feel the same as David once did.  Sometimes it is easy to take a dim view of the world around us, for there is much darkness.  The Gospel of John 1:5 tells us that the world is a dark place.  That in itself is not good news.  The Good News, however, is found in the complete verse: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.”

Darkness cannot overcome the light of Jesus Christ. I pray that you are seeing light and not darkness, no matter what is happening in the world around you.  Furthermore, as Christians, it is our duty to spread that light throughout the world.  Verse two of today’s reading tells us that the truly wise people will seek God.  I believe that many people are seeking, but they do not know where to look. 

David asks in verse six: “Who will come from Mount Zion to rescue Israel?” We know what David didn’t know.  Jesus has come to the rescue!  Let us remember that the one who has made rescue available to all has come.  He paid the penalty for our sins, and has prepared a place for us in heaven.

People still seek, and many still stay confused as to what they are seeking.  Perhaps, the best thing that we can do for others during these trying times is to help someone find what it is they are truly seeking.   Maybe we can be more than wise.  Maybe we can help others become wise.  We do know how David must have felt, so the time for Christians to share the light is now! 

Posted by Ramón Torres

Our Family

Mark 3:20 – Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” 22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”

23 So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. 27 In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. 28 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.” 30 He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.”

31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” 33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked. 34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (NIV)

In today’s reading from Mark’s Gospel, we have two lessons.  First, we find Jesus accused of being possessed by a demon.  The teachers of the law called this demon Beelzebul.  Beelzebul literally translates as ‘Lord of the Flies’.  It originally was a title for a Philistine god, but was used by Jews, and later by Christians, to refer to Satan.  The people could not understand how Jesus, who by outward appearances seemed to be like everyone else, could do the wondrous deeds that he was doing.  Jesus makes it clear that demons cannot drive out demons.  His power came from God’s Holy Spirit that dwelled within.  

The second lesson is sometimes difficult to understand.  Jesus told the crowd that his family were those that did the will of God.  I do not believe that Jesus was rejecting his family of origin.  We know that even on the cross Jesus made sure his mother would be taken care of.  We also know that his brother James led the early church in Jerusalem.  What Jesus was doing was broadening his family.  As close as his family of origin may have been, he was now including those who sought to live out God’s will in that family.  

What can we take away from these two lessons?  First, we are called to live with God’s Holy Spirit within us.  When we do, people will look at us differently.  For those who do not understand spiritual things, they might even think we are a bit strange!  Secondly, those who seek to live out God’s will are our brothers and sisters.  We may live out God’s will through different callings, but we are still family.  There may be times when we disagree with members of our own family of origin, but we always love them.  Likewise, we may disagree at times with those who seek God’s will, yet like our family of origin, we must always extend love.  

Today, let’s seek to live with the notable difference of God’s Holy Spirit, and let’s seek to live in love with all people, especially those who seek God’s will.

Posted by Ramón Torres

Let’s Enter The Kingdom!

Luke 11:37 – As Jesus was speaking, one of the Pharisees invited him home for a meal. So he went in and took his place at the table. 38 His host was amazed to see that he sat down to eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony required by Jewish custom. 39 Then the Lord said to him, “You Pharisees are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and wickedness! 40 Fools! Didn’t God make the inside as well as the outside? 41 So clean the inside by giving gifts to the poor, and you will be clean all over. 42 “What sorrow awaits you Pharisees! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore justice and the love of God. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. 43 “What sorrow awaits you Pharisees! For you love to sit in the seats of honor in the synagogues and receive respectful greetings as you walk in the marketplaces. 44 Yes, what sorrow awaits you! For you are like hidden graves in a field. People walk over them without knowing the corruption they are stepping on.”

45 “Teacher,” said an expert in religious law, “you have insulted us, too, in what you just said.” 46 “Yes,” said Jesus, “what sorrow also awaits you experts in religious law! For you crush people with unbearable religious demands, and you never lift a finger to ease the burden. 47 What sorrow awaits you! For you build monuments for the prophets your own ancestors killed long ago. 48 But in fact, you stand as witnesses who agree with what your ancestors did. They killed the prophets, and you join in their crime by building the monuments! 49 This is what God in his wisdom said about you: ‘I will send prophets and apostles to them, but they will kill some and persecute the others.’ 50 “As a result, this generation will be held responsible for the murder of all God’s prophets from the creation of the world— 51 from the murder of Abel to the murder of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, it will certainly be charged against this generation.

52 “What sorrow awaits you experts in religious law! For you remove the key to knowledge from the people. You don’t enter the Kingdom yourselves, and you prevent others from entering.” (NLT)

Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus opposed the practice of legalism.  Legalism is following the letter of the law without any awareness of what the law points toward.  When we read the Gospels, we discover that Jesus dealt with this issue many times.  For all of Jesus’ teaching, many Christians still follow religious rules without any thought to the spirit of why they do what they do.  This is seen most clearly in Christian worship services.  We are very fortunate in that our congregation knows the value of offering different types of worship services.  I would dare say that all Christians today worship far differently than the Christians of the early church.  The history of Christian worship teaches us that worship styles have changed many times throughout the centuries.  This does not necessarily mean that any particular style was wrong, just that they changed.  My point is that worship must first be worship, regardless of what musical instruments are used, or what hymns are sung. 

In the reading today, Jesus doesn’t confront worship style, but he does address various religious practices.  The religious leaders of his day were expecting people to observe many rituals.  If the people did not observe the rituals, they were looked down upon by the religious leaders.  The key to this entire passage is found in the final verse: “You don’t enter the Kingdom yourselves, and you prevent others from entering.”  Kingdom life begins when we live in a relationship with God.  Our religious rituals and practices should help us live a kingdom life.  They should be practiced in a way that reminds us of Jesus and his desire for our lives.  If we observe rules only for the sake of observing rules, then like the religious leaders that Jesus spoke to, we have not entered the kingdom.  When we expect others to observe the same rituals as we do, simply because that’s the way we do church, then we, too, have prevented others from entering the kingdom.

Let’s observe our religious rituals, but let us never forget why we do the things we do.  Let us remember the One to whom all of our religious rituals should point towards.  Let’s enter the kingdom!

Posted by Ramón Torres

Is Jesus in your Boat?

John 6:16 – When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17 where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. 18 A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles,[b] they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” 21 Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading. (NIV).

I find today’s reading most interesting for several reasons, but one sentence really catches my eye.  The disciples were in a rough situation. The waters were rough, and they were having difficulty reaching their destination.  Jesus appears to them, and we are told in verse twenty-one: “Then they were willing to take him into the boat.”

This one sentence opens up a lot of questions! Then they were willing?  Why had they not been willing to take Jesus into the boat earlier?  We’re told they had been frightened, but what about before that? They did, after all, leave without him instead of waiting for him to arrive. 

Why did they do that? Were they so busy that they couldn’t wait for Jesus? Why was it that it wasn’t until they faced difficulties that they were willing to take Jesus along? 

Strange, isn’t it? Actually, it’s not so strange.  We often do the same thing.  How many times do we get so busy that we don’t take Jesus with us? 

During these crazy times, maybe we get stressed to the point that the we begin to lose focus.  How many storms of life do we struggle through because we failed to let Jesus ‘get into the boat’?  How many of our difficulties along the way come upon us because we left Jesus behind? 

Let’s start everyday reaching out to Jesus.  Through prayer, let us always invite Jesus along our way.

Yes, of course Jesus is present with us, but we are not always aware of that presence, and often we do not seek Jesus’ presence and power in our lives. 

Let’s invite Jesus to get into the boat with us today! 

Posted by Ramón Torres

Rescued From Darkness!

Psalm 12:1 – Help, Lord, for no one is faithful anymore;
those who are loyal have vanished from the human race.
Everyone lies to their neighbor;
they flatter with their lips
but harbor deception in their hearts.

May the Lord silence all flattering lips
and every boastful tongue—
those who say,
“By our tongues we will prevail;
our own lips will defend us—who is lord over us?”

“Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan,
I will now arise,” says the Lord.
“I will protect them from those who malign them.”
And the words of the Lord are flawless,
like silver purified in a crucible,
like gold refined seven times.

You, Lord, will keep the needy safe
and will protect us forever from the wicked,
who freely strut about
when what is vile is honored by the human race. (NIV)

A common thread amongst the prayers that make up the psalms is this: The wicked seem to be winning!  This psalm opens with a cry for help, and then a proclamation that all of the faithful people have vanished from the earth.  Certainly, the psalmist uses a little hyperbole, but we can understand the emotion for we have been there ourselves.  Just as the psalmist often laments the lack of good people, when life hits us hard we are prone to do the same.  If we were to stay with such an emotion, depression and hopelessness would soon direct our every step.  

Because we live in a fallen world tainted by sin, we must look beyond the evil that often surrounds us.  There is much that is flawed in our world, but like the psalmist, we must look to God, for “the words of the Lord are flawless” (verse 6).  The lesson from Psalm 12 is that when we are feeling overwhelmed by the evil in the world, we must stop and remind ourselves that God is our protector and will keep us safe (verse 7).  We cannot let the woes of this world keep us down.  The Apostle Paul told us in Colossians 1:13 that God, “has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son.” 

Today, no matter what is going on around us that would seek to bring our spirits low, let us remember that while there is much wickedness around us, God is our protector.  We have been rescued from the dominion of darkness!

Posted by Ramón Torres

Through It All

Isaiah 43:1 – But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. (NIV)

Through the prophet Isaiah, God spoke to the ancient Israelites who found themselves captives in a foreign land.  As the years passed, some began to look elsewhere, abandoning the God they had known since their childhood.  They saw others who worshipped foreign gods, and their lives seemed to be going well.  I suppose the grass does, at times, look greener elsewhere.  We soon discover, however, that the rain falls on everyone.  Hard times come to us all, no matter how strong we are in our faith.  Because of this hard fact of life, it’s important to note what God says in this passage. 

God has never told us that we can escape life’s troubles, but God does tell us that through our troubles, God will be with us. In today’s reading, God tells us that God is with us when we pass through the waters, when we pass through the rivers, and when we pass through the fire.  I suppose we would rather not pass through such difficulties at all, but such is life.  The Good News is that we are never alone, God is with us!

Today, let’s praise God for God’s presence, even when the waters rise and the flames get hot.  Maybe as you praise God, you will sing these words made famous by Andrae Crouch.

Through It All

I’ve had many tears and sorrows,
I’ve had questions for tomorrow,
there’s been times I didn’t know right from wrong.
But in every situation,
God gave me blessed consolation,
that my trials come to only make me strong.

Chorus
Through it all,
through it all,
I’ve learned to trust in Jesus,
I’ve learned to trust in God.

Through it all,
through it all,
I’ve learned to depend upon His Word.

 

Posted by Ramón Torres

Do Not Be Deterred

Luke 13:31 – At that time some Pharisees said to him, “Get away from here if you want to live! Herod Antipas wants to kill you!”

32 Jesus replied, “Go tell that fox that I will keep on casting out demons and healing people today and tomorrow; and the third day I will accomplish my purpose. 33 Yes, today, tomorrow, and the next day I must proceed on my way. For it wouldn’t do for a prophet of God to be killed except in Jerusalem!

34 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. 35 And now, look, your house is abandoned. And you will never see me again until you say, ‘Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (NLT)

In today’s reading, some of the Pharisees warn Jesus that he may be in danger for his life.  While some have believed that these religious leaders were sent by Herod, I believe it simply shows that not all Pharisees opposed Jesus.  (He was buried in the tomb of a Pharisee).  However, what I would like to focus on is a seemingly insignificant term that Jesus uses when referring to Herod Antipas.  Jesus calls him a fox, and we understand that term to be referring to someone who was cunning.  In ancient times, and in rabbinical literature particular, the term often had a different meaning.  Calling someone a fox meant that they were unimportant. The meaning here is that Herod, or anyone who stood in opposition of Jesus, was unimportant to Jesus.  He would not be deterred by opposition.

Are we easily deterred by opposition, especially when it comes to the things of God?  Do we allow threats and name calling to slow our resolve to live out a Christian life?  Do we act less than Christian around certain people because we know if we oppose their unchristian words or ways, they will argue with us?  Do we laugh along with the off color jokes because it’s easier to go along than to stand alone?

When it comes to living a Christian life, let us remember who it is that is our Lord.  Jesus is the One who is important.  We should not totally disregard any human being, however, when it comes to how we live out our daily lives, those that oppose the things of Jesus are unimportant.

Today, let us not be deterred by those who stand in opposition to the things of Christ.  Let us resolve to live out our faith in word and action. 

Posted by Ramón Torres

Doing All That We Can

Luke 13:10 – One Sabbath day as Jesus was teaching in a synagogue, 11 he saw a woman who had been crippled by an evil spirit. She had been bent double for eighteen years and was unable to stand up straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Dear woman, you are healed of your sickness!” 13 Then he touched her, and instantly she could stand straight. How she praised God! 14 But the leader in charge of the synagogue was indignant that Jesus had healed her on the Sabbath day. “There are six days of the week for working,” he said to the crowd. “Come on those days to be healed, not on the Sabbath.”

15 But the Lord replied, “You hypocrites! Each of you works on the Sabbath day! Don’t you untie your ox or your donkey from its stall on the Sabbath and lead it out for water? 16 This dear woman, a daughter of Abraham, has been held in bondage by Satan for eighteen years. Isn’t it right that she be released, even on the Sabbath?” 17 This shamed his enemies, but all the people rejoiced at the wonderful things he did. (NLT) 

John Wesley, the founder of all things Methodist and Wesleyan, wrote the following in his Rules of Conduct for Christians: “Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as ever you can.” Jesus taught us the same thing by his examples and words.

In this particular passage, Jesus is once again confronted by the religious leaders for what they believed to be a transgression against the Sabbath law.  The Sabbath is God’s gift to us.  We should all have a Sabbath, a time to draw closer to God.  What better way, however, to give glory to God than by doing good for someone!  We serve God by serving others.  If we can’t show kindness, love, and compassion to others on the Sabbath, then when can we?

This teaching, however, goes beyond Sabbath teaching.  It speaks of the many people who are held in bondage of one type or another.  Even the leader of the synagogue was held in bondage, for he was not really interested in sharing God’s healing power.  We, too, are called to share God’s healing power.  Few will ever have the power to heal as Jesus healed, but we can all share God’s power that heals us from the bondage of sin.  There are people around us who have been held in sin’s bondage as long, or longer, than the woman in this reading.  They are waiting for someone to share with them God’s healing.  Jesus told us in John 14:12 – “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.”

For those of us who believe, let’s stay busy doing the works that Jesus did.  Let’s do all the good we can for as long as we ever can! 

Posted by Ramón Torres

Guest of Sinners

Luke 19:1 – Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.  When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”  Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (NIV)

The religious people of Jesus’ day had a problem with reaching out to people who were not connected to the religious establishment.  I wish things had changed in two-thousand years, but for many, this hasn’t changed.  Jesus didn’t merely tell people that they needed to get to church, and the doors were open if they chose to go.  He went to the people who needed a relationship with God.  He entered into their homes.  He built relationships with them.  

Today’s passage reminds me of the story of Jesus calling Levi (Matthew) to be his disciple.  The story is in Luke 5.  We are told in that story that Levi was also a tax collector, and that Levi held a banquet in Jesus’ honor, and invited many of his tax collector friends.  The religious people weren’t too happy with Jesus at that time either.  Remember, tax collectors worked for Rome, and were judged to be traitors by the Jews.  Jesus did not care what label the people gave, he sought out all people.  

We are told in verse seven above that the people said that Jesus had gone to be the guest of a sinner.  Praise be to God that Jesus sought out – and seeks today – sinners!  All are lost without Jesus, for all are sinners.  Jesus has chosen to have a relationship with you and I – sinners all.  Like Jesus, we must seek out those who do not have a relationship with Jesus.  We should never avoid anyone due to any label our world has given, for we all wear the label of sinner.

Today, let us open ourselves to all people, regardless of any labels.

 

Posted by Ramón Torres

Victory In Jesus!

1 Corinthians 15:51 – Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (NIV) 

This passage has been the subject of much debate throughout the centuries.  Some claim that these verses speak to an end-time event, a ‘rapture’, if you will.  Other critics of the Bible say that Paul was looking for the return of Jesus in his lifetime, and since Paul was wrong about that event then everything else that Paul wrote should be disqualified.  Others debate as to whether or not this passage speaks to ‘soul sleep’ – the idea that when we die we will stay dead until such a time when all who have ever lived and died in Christ will be raised.  As for me, I really don’t try to wade into debates over what the text might say, I just want to understand what this text can tell me. 

While there might be some things in this passage that make me wonder (and I, like many, have my own opinions), there are other things in this passage that speak to me loud and clear.  First, this passage tells me that there will be an end to my mortal life.  It also tells me that for those who are in Christ, there is something better waiting beyond this life.  In fact, this passage tells me that what is waiting is victory, and that death will have no sting.  This is comforting!  No one looks forward to the moment of death, but we can certainly look forward to the victory that lies beyond.

Sin causes each of us trouble in this world.  We all battle sin in one form or another.  This passage tells us that sin – our enemy – will be defeated.  While I believe that most of the teachings of Paul deal with living life here and now, in this passage Paul teaches us that there will be a reward after this life.  This reward is our gift from Jesus, he paid for the reward.  Our sin would keep us from receiving our final reward.  “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  That’s Good Stuff!

Posted by Ramón Torres

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