A Year of Grace

365 Days of Grace From God's Word

Let Justice Roll on Like a River

Today many in our nation are pausing to observe Martin Luther King, Jr. day.  Dr. King’s most often quoted scripture verse was from Amos 5:24, “let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”   I’d like to consider the passage from which this verse is found. 

Amos 5:21 – 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!

If we believe, and we should, that as a prophet Amos was speaking for God, consider the weight of these words. The people were being told that their worship was offensive to God. They were being told that their songs of praise were nothing but noise to God!  That is some powerful preaching!  It is no wonder that Amos was run out of the Northern Kingdom by King Jeroboam II. 

The message of Amos, however, is as timely today as it was centuries ago.  Through Amos, God is telling us that what God wants from us is a life that is changed.  God is not saying that our hymns and worship are bad, but they are offensive to God if our lives are not reflecting the God that we worship. 

The people to whom Amos originally preached lived in a desert world.  Waters flowed for only a brief time every year.  A river and a never-failing stream are bodies of water that would flow year-round.  When Amos said, let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream, God was telling the people that God doesn’t want a part time commitment to godliness.  God wants our lives changed twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. 

As we pause this day to remember our country’s struggle with civil rights, let’s consider our own lives.  Do our lives reflect the God that we worship?  Let us strive this day and every day to let justice and righteousness never fail in our lives. 

Posted by Ramón Torres

Time For A New Song

Isaiah 42:8 – “I am the Lord; that is my name!
I will not yield my glory to another
or my praise to idols.
See, the former things have taken place,
and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
I announce them to you.”

10 Sing to the Lord a new song,
his praise from the ends of the earth,
you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it,
you islands, and all who live in them.
11 Let the wilderness and its towns raise their voices;
let the settlements where Kedar lives rejoice.
Let the people of Sela sing for joy;
let them shout from the mountaintops.


12 Let them give glory to the Lord
and proclaim his praise in the islands.
13 The Lord will march out like a champion,
like a warrior he will stir up his zeal;
with a shout he will raise the battle cry
and will triumph over his enemies. (NIV)

Today’s reading comes from one of my favorite prophets, Isaiah.  I have many favorite verses that come from this ancient prophet, and today’s reading includes one: “Sing to the Lord a new song” (verse 10).  I find this verse to be a challenge and a promise.  First, it’s a challenge because let’s face it, sometimes we get stuck in a rut, and singing a new song – a song of hope, a song of promise – is not really what we fell like doing.  We should note, God doesn’t ask us if we feel like singing a new song, God commands that we sing a new song!  Due to some of the events of life that we all face, we must begin each day singing a new song. 

I find verse ten to be a promise, as well.  Where is the promise?  We look to verse nine: “See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.”  It is in response to those former things, and looking to the future, that God tells the people to sing a new song.  Isaiah was ministering to the Babylonian exiles.  Those folks didn’t really see much chance of anything changing, but God was already working.  Because God was already at work, changing things that they could not yet see, God tells them to ‘change their tune!’  What’s done is done, God seems to be saying, and now they were told to prepare for something new.  I’m fairly certain they did not have any idea what that might be, but they were told to sing a new song in preparation for what God was going to do. 

When we find ourselves in a place in our lives where we don’t see anything changing, let’s remember God’s promise – what is done is done, and God is already at work, even if we don’t see it at the present time. 

Today, let’s sing a new song!

Posted by Ramón Torres

Looking Forward

It’s here!  A new year full of possibility and opportunity.  Twelve months.  Fifty-two weeks.  Three hundred and sixty five days.  Eight thousand, seven hundred and sixty hours.  Well, you get the picture.  We have a strange relationship with each new year.  We all feel compelled to make some changes in our lives, which is not a bad thing, yet we are often held back by our failures from the past.  Sometimes we make a resolution to change, but since we failed at making significant changes in the past, we figure there is no use in trying again.

If this depicts your struggle with resolutions, I would ask you to reflect upon the following Scripture verse: “No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead.” (Philippians 3:13) It’s important to note that Paul does not simply say to look forward to achieving the goal, but to first forget the past.  To press forward, we must let go of the things from the past that hold us back from moving forward.  That does not mean that we cannot learn from the past, but we should not dwell on the past.  We cannot let the past paralyze us with fear or guilt.

Jesus said: “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62)  When we focus on our past, we begin to believe that what we have been is what we will always be.  The Bible promises us that with God the opposite is true!  Indeed, consider 2 Corinthians 5:17 – “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”

I would encourage you to make resolutions that would glorify God.  Sure, that could mean reading your Bible more, but it could mean many things: improving a relationship; furthering your education; taking control of health issues; and the list could go on and on.  My point is this, as Christians we should always seek to glorify God.  Indeed, we are told in 1 Corinthians 10:31 – “whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

So, make plans to improve yourself, and look forward to it!

Happy New Year!

Posted by Ramón Torres

Christmas – A Time to Celebrate!

I love the Christmas season!  I love the music, the food, the fellowship.  I love it all!  I never feel as if Christmas celebrations start too early!  Why do I feel this way?  Well, what is the first part of Christmas?  Christ!  What I love celebrating is Christ.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we really could celebrate the presence of Jesus Christ all year long?  What if we could celebrate in July the presence of Jesus Christ as we do in December?  No doubt, some of you may be saying, “I’m not cooking pecan pies and pumpkin rolls in July!”  And, I suppose we would grow weary of the continual business of the celebration.  Or would we?

When we consider what we celebrate – the prescreens of God Almighty, who came to earth to pay for our sins and secure our place in heaven – perhaps we should strive to live out our lives in continual celebration for Jesus, our Christ!  I am reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul who said: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).  I find it interesting that Paul says, “I will say it again!”  He stresses the again because sometimes we need to hear it again, and again. 

My prayer for each and every one of you this Christmas season is that you will rejoice!  I pray that you will rejoice again and again throughout the year, and every day, for what God has offered to you at no price – grace, forgiveness, and eternal life. 

On a personal note, as we reflect upon all we are thankful for during this time of year, Lisa and I would like to thank all of you for the way you have cared for us in what has been a difficult year for us.  We are so thankful for your kindness, grace, and patience!  You have enriched our lives, and we feel blessed to be a part of this wonderful faith community!

Blessings!

Posted by Ramón Torres

Taste and See

Psalm 34:1 – I will praise the LORD at all times.
I will constantly speak his praises.
2 I will boast only in the LORD;
let all who are helpless take heart.
3 Come, let us tell of the LORD’s greatness;
let us exalt his name together.

4 I prayed to the LORD, and he answered me.
He freed me from all my fears.
5 Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy;
no shadow of shame will darken their faces.
6 In my desperation I prayed, and the LORD listened;
he saved me from all my troubles.
7 For the angel of the LORD is a guard;
he surrounds and defends all who fear him.

8 Taste and see that the LORD is good.
Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!
9 Fear the LORD, you his godly people,
for those who fear him will have all they need.
10 Even strong young lions sometimes go hungry,
but those who trust in the LORD will lack no good thing.

11 Come, my children, and listen to me,
and I will teach you to fear the LORD.
12 Does anyone want to live a life
that is long and prosperous?
13 Then keep your tongue from speaking evil
and your lips from telling lies!
14 Turn away from evil and do good.
Search for peace, and work to maintain it.  (NLT)

Have you ever eaten at a restaurant that was so good that you just had to tell your friends?  Have you watched a movie that you enjoyed so much you soon shared your experience with somebody else?  Have you ever found such a great bargain while shopping that you shared the news with others?  I think we have all had some experience in life that we shared with others, but the question this psalm begs of us: Have we ever experienced God in such a way that we had to tell others? 

Here in Psalm 34, the psalmist has experienced God in such a way that he wants others to share his experience.  In verses one through three, the psalmist says that he will not only praise God, but that he will boast about God.  Then he invited others who have experienced God in such a way to share with others what they have experienced.  The verse from this psalm that really grabs my attention is verse eight: “Taste and see that the LORD is good.”

Maybe you haven’t much felt like bragging about God lately.  Maybe it’s been a while since you experienced God in some great way.  We all have seasons of life.  We have our ups and downs.  The psalmist reminds us that if this is the case for us, then we need to taste and see.  How do we taste and see?

We taste and see God by being disciplined.  Certainly prayer, Bible study, and worship take discipline, and these may help us to experience God – to taste and see.  For each of us, there may be other ways to experience God.  We must be intentional at looking for God.  For me, when I find myself stressed from life, I go hiking.  My wife has told me more than once to take a hike, and she meant it!  When I take time to get away and take a Sabbath walk, I begin to experience God once again.  Taking time to look for God’s greatness is something we should all do.

How do you look for, and experience, God’s greatness?  Let us be disciplined in our efforts to experience God.  Set aside some time today to taste and see that the Lord is good! 

Posted by Ramón Torres

Clear The Road!

Matthew 3:1 – In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, 2 “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” 3 The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said, “He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for him!’”

4 John’s clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild honey. 5 People from Jerusalem and from all of Judea and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John.

6 And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. (NLT)

I’ve always found John the Baptist to be an interesting character.  I picture him as an ancient Middle Eastern mountain man!  Living as he did, and dressed as he was, he must have been a sight to behold.  His message, however, is what truly makes him interesting.  Today, I’ve chosen the New Living Translation because I like the way John’s message reads. 

He tells the people to prepare the way for Lord, and then he says something that really catches my attention: “Clear the road for him!”

First – prepare the way – our theme in 2020 was walking in the way. It is, indeed, a biblical theme.  We want to be people of the way. We want our lives to reflect the way of Jesus.  But to do this – to walk in the way – we’ve got to clear away those things that would keep us from walking in the way. 

Then note what John the Baptist says – clear the road for him!  Clear the road speaks to me.  It speaks to me of the clutter that we so often let take over our lives.  It speaks to me of the things that we let come between us and our relationship with God. 

Later, in this passage, John speaks of Jesus baptizing with the Holy Spirit.  We all need the Holy Spirit in our lives, for the Spirit directs us our steps.  We can never be led by the Holy Spirit, however, if we allow the clutter of life keep us from focusing on Godly things. We literally need to clear the road!

What are those things that are preventing us from living life guided by God’s Holy Spirit?  Today, let’s take some time to consider those things that are taking us away from the fullness of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. 

Posted by Ramón Torres

Strength For Our Days

Isaiah 40:25 – “To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.

27 Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?

28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint. (NIV)

I have a friend who likes to say, especially when life presents him with difficulties, “God is still on the throne.”  It’s good to remind ourselves of this awesome truth!  In today’s reading from the prophet Isaiah, God is reminding the people that God is still God, and that God is still in control.

In this passage, God asks the people, “To whom will you compare me?” We would do well to reflect upon this often.  God has ordered the universe, created life, and given us every good gift that we need.  The ancient people to whom God spoke these words were facing difficulties, and at times we do, as well.  Sometimes we wonder about God.  We wonder if God cares, or if God is aware of our plight.  For God, who has created all things, our problems are certainly not insurmountable!

God asks the people why they are complaining (verse 27).  Then we have a popular litany beginning in verse twenty-eight in which God asserts God’s power and authority.  You, or someone you know, may be going through some difficulties in life.  If so, it is good for us to reflect upon, or share, these powerful truths: God is the everlasting creator; God never grows weary; God desires to give each of us strength for our days.  Most importantly for those who are facing difficulties in life, God tells us that those who keep their hope in God will find their strength renewed.  Indeed, they will become stronger than before!

This is Good News for each of us, and great news to share with others.  Let’s share this good news today! 

Posted by Ramón Torres

Give Thanks to The Lord!

Psalm 136:1 – Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!
His faithful love endures forever.
2 Give thanks to the God of gods.
His faithful love endures forever.
3 Give thanks to the Lord of lords.
His faithful love endures forever.

4 Give thanks to him who alone does mighty miracles.
His faithful love endures forever.
5 Give thanks to him who made the heavens so skillfully.
His faithful love endures forever.
6 Give thanks to him who placed the earth among the waters.
His faithful love endures forever.
7 Give thanks to him who made the heavenly lights—
His faithful love endures forever.
8 the sun to rule the day,
His faithful love endures forever.
9 and the moon and stars to rule the night.
His faithful love endures forever. (NLT)

This week we celebrate Thanksgiving, a national holiday.  In our country, as in others, the original thanksgiving observances were harvest festivals.  Many pilgrims of Plymouth Colony had already succumbed to disease and starvation.  Indeed, the colony lost 45 of the 102 settlers during their first winter.  Given the circumstance, I imagine that the feeling of thankfulness and gratitude must have been felt deeply by those of Plymouth Colony, for without a harvest many more would most likely have starved.  Very few of us, if any, have or ever will know of extreme hunger, much less starvation.  Living with plenty has a way of moving us away from a spirit of thankfulness, and we begin to take things for granted.

It is good for a nation to pause and give thanks.  Even though our nation is experiencing what we call shortages of various goods, we live with plenty.  While it is good for a nation to give thanks, as Christians we should seek to live thankfully every day.  Indeed, in his letter to the church in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul told them to be careful in how they lived.  He then told them: “And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20). 

Like those Christians in Ephesus long ago, we should be careful in how we live.  Let us start our days by giving thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever! 

Posted by Ramón Torres

Does Prayer Work?

Luke 11:1 – One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” 2 He said to them, “When you pray, say:

“‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread. 4 Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’”(NIV)

As a pastor, I frequently field questions about prayer.  Some of the most frequent questions about prayer are: “If God knows everything, then why pray? “Does prayer really work?”  The answer to the first questions is fairly simple, while the answer to the second question is a little more complex.

Why Pray?  We should be people of prayer because Jesus taught us to pray.  Jesus taught us to not just pray a little bit, but to pray fervently.  And why wouldn’t we pray when we are told that for everyone who asks receives.

Does prayer really work?  My answer to this question would be: “It depends.”  You may be surprised to that answer, but think about it.  If someone prays that their favorite team would win the big game, are we to think that God will answer that prayer?  Will the winner of the game depend upon which team has the most people praying for a win?  To answer the question of whether or not prayer really works, we need to look at the prayer that Jesus taught us.  It’s quite simple, yet quite profound.

First, we address God in a reverent manner: “Father, hallowed be your name.” This keeps us focused on God, who we are and who God is. 

The next line of the prayer keeps us focused on God’s purpose for us, and for others: “your kingdom come.”  Kingdom life begins when we live under the authority of Jesus Christ.  Even though we will not experience the fullness of the kingdom until we meet Jesus face to face, we seek the kingdom now.  Kingdom life directs our life, our thoughts, our words and our actions. 

Next, we pray for our needs: “Give us each day our daily bread.”  I wonder how often our prayers for ourselves goes far beyond our true needs. 

Next, whenever we pray, we should pray for forgiveness: “Forgive us our sins.”  God is quick to forgive, but we must confess our sins to God in order to receive God’s forgiveness.  Likewise, our prayers for forgiveness should remind us of our need to forgive others: “for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.”  A forgiving spirit should be our goal as Christians. 

Finally, we pray that God would direct our every word and action: “And lead us not into temptation.”

Does pray work?  Yes it does, when we pray for the right things.  Praying for the right things keeps us focused on God’s will for the world, and for ourselves.  Let’s be people of prayer, trusting that God will answer. 

Posted by Ramón Torres

Enriching The Lives of Others

1 Thessalonians 5:12 –  Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance. 13 Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work. And live peacefully with each other.  14 Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone.  15 See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people.

16 Always be joyful. 17 Never stop praying. 18 Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.  19 Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. 20 Do not scoff at prophecies, 21 but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. 22 Stay away from every kind of evil.

23 Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. (NLT)

A great truth of the Bible is that God intends for us to live in community with others.  God does not want us to keep to ourselves.  Some of us may have a wider circle of friends and acquaintances than others, but we all should be people who live in relationships with others. 

Today’s reading comes from the closing verses of Paul’s first letter to the church in Thessalonica, and is rich with practical teachings on living a Christian life, and in particular, living our life in relationship with others.

First, Paul encourages Christians to honor their spiritual leaders, and to live peacefully with one another.  This is great advice for all churches!  He then goes on to write that we have an obligation to one another in the church.  This is something that I, as a pastor, try to stress to our church members.  It is the duty of the members to care for one another.  Paul tells us that we should warn those who are lazy – referring to those who are not living up to Christian standards.  Likewise, we are to encourage those who are finding it difficult to make a stand for Christ (the timid).  We are to be patient with everyone, and do good to all people. 

Paul then writes some things that appear to be more personal (be joyful, pray, be thankful).  These things are personal, but as people who live in community with others, these are way to witness.  Our attitude is contagious, and we should be people who want others to see – and know – the joy that Christ has put within us. 

Wherever you find yourself today, remember that God has put you there to be a light to the world.  Let’s live today enriching the lives of those around us. 

Posted by Ramón Torres

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