A Year of Grace

365 Days of Grace From God's Word

Strengthen Others

Luke 22:31 – “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. 32 But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.” 33 Peter said, “Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you.” 34 But Jesus said, “Peter, let me tell you something. Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.” (NLT)

Mistakes, bad judgment, or just doing the wrong thing for the wrong reasons – we’ve all been there.  Take heart, the greats of our faith have been there, too!  In today’s reading, Peter (Simon) is being told by Jesus that he will deny Jesus three times.  We are all familiar with the story of Peter’s denial.  We are familiar with our own mistakes, and even with our own denials of Jesus.  What is important for us is what Jesus told Peter in verse thirty-two:  “So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.”  

Jesus was matter of fact with Peter – “you will deny me.”  He was also matter of fact about what Peter should do when he came to repent of his behavior.  He was to use the experience to strengthen others.  It’s been said that good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.  We should recognize our mistakes and bad judgment for what they are – opportunities to learn and grow, and opportunities to teach and strengthen others, as well.

We know that Peter did, indeed, go on to become a great leader of the early Christian faith.  He wrote two letters in the New Testament that bear his name.  Many biblical scholars also believe that he had a large part in the writing of the Gospel of Mark.  Peter’s influence over the centuries has been profound.  If we were to judge him on his early repeated denial of Jesus alone, we would not hold him in very high regard.  God, however, redeemed Peter.  God redeems us, and our actions, as well.

Today, let us learn from Jesus’ words to Peter.  Let us learn from our mistakes and use those experiences to strengthen others. 

Posted by Ramón Torres

Don’t Miss Jesus!

Luke 10:38 – As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (NIV)

I must confess that as a pastor tasked with the challenge of providing meaningful worship services twice a Sunday every week, that I can certainly identify with Martha.  When we have worship services I am easily distracted by many things.  I want to make sure the lighting is just right, all the microphones are on, the sound is good, and the list goes on.  In fact, I used to make notes during the service of every little thing that I thought needed to be mentioned to the staff.  I was missing an opportunity to experience Jesus through worship.  My wife put a stop to that practice, and I am thankful!  I must admit, I have enjoyed getting caught up in worship instead of being preoccupied with all of the preparations for worship.

Anyone who involves themselves in ministry runs this same risk.  Ministry is serving the Lord by serving others.  Martha had the opportunity to serve Jesus, and she missed the most important part – experiencing Jesus.  Serving Jesus is important, and we are all called to serve, but we must be careful.  We cannot get so preoccupied with serving that we miss the one we serve!

I encourage you not to make the same mistake.  Serve God with all your heart but remember to take time to experience God. 

Posted by Ramón Torres

Stay Prepared

Matthew 25:1 – “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’ “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’ 12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’ 13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. (NIV)

In 1985 I was a Park Ranger in the backcountry of Baxter State Park in northern Maine. Several times a month, as part of my duties, I would hike up Mount Katahdin.  Mount Katahdin is the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail and is also the highest point in the State of Maine.  It’s a rugged hike, and its peak is well above the timberline, exposed to the elements.  I set out for a routine hike up the mountain on September 2, 1985 (I remember the date because it was my birthday).  When I left my base camp, it was 58 degrees, not too cool at all for that time of year in northern Maine.  By the time I reached the peak of Mount Katahdin it was in the mid thirties, and the wind was blowing hard!  I was no greenhorn – I had hiked that mountain over twenty times before, but I had left without anything but a light windbreaker. I found myself in a bad situation.  My body temperature began to drop, and I knew I was in trouble.  Fortunately, I was able to make it down below the timberline and found shelter from the wind until I warmed up enough to continue back to camp.  I was trained in backcountry travel, yet I made what could have been a fatal flaw – I failed to prepare.

In the parable we have today from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us that we must be spiritually prepared.  When it comes to Christianity, we may know all the right things, but head knowledge won’t do a thing for us.  I knew enough about wilderness hiking to know that I should have brought warmer clothing, but I failed to prepare.  My head knowledge did little for me that day. 

In our spiritual lives, we must apply what we know.  John Wesley often spoke of faith that is practical – that is, our faith in Jesus Christ must be put into practice.  If we believe that Jesus is the Savior, then we must put into practice the things that he taught.

Today, let us not get caught unprepared – not even for a minute.  Today, let’s put our faith into practice. 

Posted by Ramón Torres

God’s Handiwork 

Ephesians 2:1 – As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions —it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (NIV)

If there were nine or ten verses from outside of the Gospels that I would want to share with someone who was unsure of the plan of salvation, these would be the verses!  Indeed, these ten verses contain the message of the Bible in its most condensed version.

Verses one through three tells us of our fallen sinful nature.  The influence of the evil one is great, and when we follow our sinful thoughts and desires, we are separated from God.  Indeed, we are dead in our sins, eternally separated from the giver of life.  God, however, has great love for us (verse 4), and God has given us – through Jesus – the opportunity to have life, even though our sin brings death (verse 5).  Just as Jesus was raised from the dead and brought into God’s glory, we will one day be able to share in that glory, as well (verse 6-7).

Verses eight and nine are particularly important to me, for I grew up trying to earn God’s favor, living life not knowing whether I was good enough to receive eternal life.  Eternal life is a gift.  It is not earned!  No one earns a gift, if we did it would be a wage and not a gift.  Verse eight makes it clear to all Christians that salvation is the free gift of God, and verse nine makes it clear that no one can earn this gift by being good enough (works).

What, then, is the result of good works?  Verse ten tells us that God has created us for good works, not to earn salvation, but to point others towards God.  We are God’s handiwork.  I love that word – handiwork!  A beautiful piece of woodwork (handiwork) created by a skilled craftsman exists to give witness to the skill of the craftsman.  Likewise, verse ten tells us that as God’s handiwork, we exist to give witness to the love of our craftsman – God!

Salvation is free, but we exist to point others to God as we glorify God through our life.  Let’s do our best this day to point others in the right direction!

Posted by Ramón Torres

It’s Going To Be A Great Week!

Psalm 100 – Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
    Worship the Lord with gladness.
Come before him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
He made us, and we are his.
We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good.
His unfailing love continues forever,
and his faithfulness continues to each generation. (NIV) 

It’s going to be a great week!  There’s nothing like a Monday morning, so full of hope and expectation!  What? Is this not the way you tackle the new work week?  (To be honest, my work week begins on Sunday, but the point is the same) Do you not great each new day as if it holds the promise of great things?  We should.  We should begin each day fully aware to the potential that the day holds.  Each day is a gift from God.  Each day is an opportunity to not only draw closer to God, but to draw others closer to God.

This type of attitude can only happen within us when we live a life of praise.  We went to church over the weekend and celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, but if we are to live resurrection lives, then we are to worship everyday!  Each new day should begin with a shout to the Lord!  Each new day should begin by singing songs of joy that acknowledge that we belong to God.

Verse five tells us that God’s love is everlasting.  Our troubles in this life, and our troubles even this day, will not last, but God’s love will last.  It’s Monday, but whatever this day and this week hold in store for you, live each moment knowing that God holds an eternity in store for you.  An eternity!  That, my friends, is Good Stuff! 

Posted by Ramón Torres

What Kind Of Messiah Are You Looking For? 

John 6:5 – When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. 12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. (NIV)

Today’s reading is a familiar story to most, if not all, Christians.  The stories of the feeding of the multitudes are as familiar as John 3:16.  What we don’t focus on very often is why Jesus left in such a hurry following the miraculous feeding.  If he had wanted to get his message of God’s love and grace out to the masses, here were some folks who hung on his every word.  Or did they?

The Jewish people of Jesus’ day were looking for a Messiah, but not the kind of Messiah that Jesus came to be.  They were looking for a political or military messiah, one who would ride into Jerusalem and remove the occupying Roman army.  If Jesus could miraculously feed thousands, they believed that he could certainly defeat the Romans, and I suppose that Jesus could have.  The people did not really listen to Jesus’ teaching as much as they saw his signs.  This is why Jesus so often told those that he healed not to tell anyone.

This makes me wonder – what kind of Messiah are we looking for?  I’ve know people who got mad at God and quit going to church because someone they loved died.  We all will die.  I’ve known people who have gotten disillusioned with God because they prayed and prayed, yet still lost their job.  We are all at the mercy of economics.  I could go on with more examples, but the fact remains, not all who call upon the name of Jesus are seeking the Messiah that Jesus came to be.  

Ultimately, Jesus came to make us right with God.  Our sin separates us from God, and Jesus bridges the gap.  This was Jesus’ goal.  He healed because he had compassion, but his ministry was to die for our sin.  Today, let’s celebrate a Messiah who makes us right with God!  

Posted by Ramón Torres

What Are You Expecting From Jesus?

John 12:9 – Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, 11 for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him. 12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,

“Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!”

14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:

15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;
see, your king is coming,
seated on a donkey’s colt.”

16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.

17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. 18 Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!” (NIV) 

To better understand what is going on in today’s reading, let’s consider what took place in the previous chapter.  After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, some of the Jewish leaders viewed Jesus as a threat.  It was no secret that a number of the Jewish leaders were well connected with the Romans.  It was in the best interest of those leaders to keep the peace, so that their own titles would be secure, not to mention their incomes.  Following the raising of Lazarus, it became evident that many of the Jews wanted Jesus to be their Messiah.  The only problem was that the long held Jewish belief was that the Messiah would remove the Romans from their land.  This would certainly pose a problem to the well-connected Jewish leaders.  In John 11:47-48 we read: “Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”” 

This debate amongst the Jewish leaders begs this question from us: What kind of Messiah do we believe Jesus to be?  There are many Christians today who believe that Jesus is some sort of free pass for material possession and wealth.  Indeed, preaching such a Gospel has made more than a few preachers wealthy!  Other Christians view Jesus as nothing more than a ‘get out of hell free card.’  Such Christians don’t take seriously Jesus’ call to “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:11).

I think it is important for us to regularly check ourselves as to what we are expecting from Jesus.  If we really believe that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6), then what does that mean for our daily lives? What truth about Jesus do we believe, and how are we living out this belief?  This, my faithful readers, is why daily reading from God’s Word is so vital.  Without it, we may be led to believe things about Jesus that are not true.

Jesus is the way and the truth and the life.  The life that Jesus gives is a life of inner peace, not a peace that the world says we can gain through material possessions or status.  To gain this peace, Jesus calls for us to live radically different than the rest of the world.

Today, reflect upon the question that Jesus asked in Mark 8:29:  “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” 

Posted by Ramón Torres

Confession

John 9:35 – Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” 38 Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”

40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?” 41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains. (NIV)

I wear glasses.  The very first thing I do when I get up in the morning is reach for my glasses.  I confess, I can’t see without them.  Imagine if I were arrogant enough to think that I did not need any help at all.  Imagine if I were to get up and say to myself, “I need no one’s help, I can see just as I need to see.”  If I were to do this, I would stumble over every little thing.  I would have a rough time making it through life. 

The simple truth of today’s reading is that left on our own, we are all blind.  Left on our own, we would stumble over every little sin that comes our way.  Left on our own we would have a rough time making it through life.  Likewise, left on our own without a Savior, the guilt of every little sin would remain.  Fortunately, with Jesus as our Savior, we are not left on our own, and our guilt is removed!

Let us freely confess to God that we cannot see our way through life on our own.  Let us confess that we need a Savior and let us celebrate a Savior who removes the guilt of our sin!

Posted by Ramón Torres

Clothed and Ready!

Luke 12:35 – “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks, they can immediately open the door for him. 37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. 38 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. 39 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (NIV)

In today’s reading, Jesus uses two analogies to teach us to be ready.  In the first, using the analogy of a wedding feast, he tells us to be dressed and ready.  This reminds me of Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus where he tells us to put on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:11).  Paul also tells us to clothe ourselves with Jesus (Romans 13:14 and Galatians 3:27).  Then, in Colossians 3:12, Paul writes: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” 

Clothing ourselves is something that we do every day. Likewise, preparing our hearts and minds for our service to God is also something that we should do every day.  To miss even one day of spiritual readiness is to set ourselves up for the possibility of being unprepared.  Unprepared for what?  Unprepared for service.  Unprepared for an encounter with someone God sends into our path.  Unprepared for an encounter with God. 

The second analogy uses the example of a thief coming in the night.  Thieves do not announce when they are coming.  Likewise, we never know when we will encounter Jesus, spiritually or physically upon our death.

Let us do everything that we can to stay prepared spiritually.  If we do, we will never miss an encounter with Jesus. 

Posted by Ramón Torres

Knowing Him

2 Peter 1:1 – This letter is from Simon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ.

I am writing to you who share the same precious faith we have. This faith was given to you because of the justice and fairness of Jesus Christ, our God and Savior. May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.

In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone. 

The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (NLT) 

In these opening verses of Peter’s second letter, we read through a list of characteristics that define the Christian faith.  We read about moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, patient endurance, and godliness.  Every Christian should be growing in these areas.  We may not have achieved all we should in these areas, but we should be growing and improving.  If we are having difficulty realizing any growth in these areas, we must ask ourselves: How well do we really know God?

How do I arrive at this question?  In verses three, Peter wrote: “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him.”  For anyone to grow closer to anyone else, they need to nurture their relationship with that person.  If we wish to grow as a Christian, we must know God better, and we can know God better by nurturing our relationship with God.  We can nurture our relationship with God through prayer, Bible study and worship. 

The Apostle Paul wrote several times to the churches that he was praying they would know God better.  In Ephesians 1:17 he wrote, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better (NIV).”  This is a good prayer for each of us! 

Take time this day to nurture your relationship with God.  Grow as a Christian.  Shine God’s Light! 

Posted by Ramón Torres

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