A Year of Grace

365 Days of Grace From God's Word

We All Have Jesus

Acts 23:1 – Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.” 2 At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. 3 Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!”

4 Those who were standing near Paul said, “How dare you insult God’s high priest!”

5 Paul replied, “Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: ‘Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.’”

6 Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” 7 When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8 (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees believe all these things.)

9 There was a great uproar, and some of the teachers of the law who were Pharisees stood up and argued vigorously. “We find nothing wrong with this man,” they said. “What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” 10 The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks.

11 The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” (NLT)

In today’s passage we have some tense drama! Paul had been brought before the ruling council of the Jewish faith.  Remember, Paul remained a Jew his entire life.  In the early years of Christianity, Jews and Christians had yet to become separated into two distinct groups.  Paul was a great missionary, but his mission work was primarily to the non-Jewish people.  Bringing in different cultures was bad enough for some of the rulers, but Paul was also advocating that one did not have to adhere to the Jewish dietary laws, not to mention his radical teachings on the law itself.  This did not set well with many of the Jewish leaders.

So, here is Paul before the council, and things do not look good.  Paul surveys the crowd and recognizes that it was comprised of both Sadducees and Pharisees.  Paul capitalizes on the division that he knows exists.  He knew that the two groups were divided on the subject of life after death.  He makes one statement, and with that statement disorder breaks out: “I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.”  Paul did not even mention Jesus, he did not even mention anything about whether or not one had to keep the law.  He simply mentioned a hot topic amongst the Jews, and division ruled.

While this may have been was a stroke of genius for Paul (or perhaps he was led by the Holy Spirit), I believe that when it comes to various hot topics, many Christians act in the same manner as the Jewish leaders. How many Christians cannot get past one issue without disorder reigning?  Consider some of the things that Christians have allowed to divide us: baptism, communion, ordination, style of music, biblical translations, the death penalty, sexuality, and the list goes on and on.  Like the Jews that Paul stood before, chaos could reign with the mention of any one of these topics, and quite possibly no one would even mention Jesus.

We have differences, each of us, but we all have Jesus.  Our task as Christians is not to make everyone think just as we think.  When we try, nobody wins, and everybody loses.  Our task is to model Christ, for that is the definition of Christian.  That does not mean that Christians cannot discuss amongst themselves their convictions, but it does mean that we must see beyond our differences.

Today, let us show others the Christ that lives within us.  For the sake of a hurting world, let us not argue our faith, but rather live it.

Posted by Ramón Torres

God’s Blessings

Psalm 107:33 – He changes rivers into deserts,
and springs of water into dry, thirsty land.
34 He turns the fruitful land into salty wastelands,
because of the wickedness of those who live there.
35 But he also turns deserts into pools of water,
the dry land into springs of water.
36 He brings the hungry to settle there
and to build their cities.
37 They sow their fields, plant their vineyards,
and harvest their bumper crops.
38 How he blesses them!
They raise large families there,
and their herds of livestock increase.

39 When they decrease in number and become impoverished
through oppression, trouble, and sorrow,
40 the Lord pours contempt on their princes,
causing them to wander in trackless wastelands.
41 But he rescues the poor from trouble
and increases their families like flocks of sheep.
42 The godly will see these things and be glad,
while the wicked are struck silent.
43 Those who are wise will take all this to heart;
they will see in our history the faithful love of the Lord. (NLT) 

Does God bring hardships upon those who do not follow God’s ways? Do those who lead a godly life prosper?  These are questions people have wondered about since the dawn of time.  I do not believe in a prosperity Gospel.  If it were true that God blesses those who follow God’s ways in a material way, then why are there so many poor yet godly people in the world?  However, when one reads a text such as the one above, the question remains: does God allow the godly to prosper?

Yes, God does prosper the godly! We must ask ourselves, however, what do we mean by prosper?  In this psalm, as in many others, we read about the godly having bumper crops, large herds of livestock, and large families.  In light of this text, consider the words of Jesus: “God gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.” (Matthew 5:45).  How can we reconcile the words of Jesus with a passage such as the one above?

We need to consider the entire work of the Bible, and refrain from the temptation of pulling certain texts out context.  When I try to reconcile verses that speak of only the godly being blessed with Matthew 5:45, I consider what Jesus tells us in John 10:10 – “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” God does bless the godly, and God blesses them with life to the full! 

When we seek God in our daily lives, we find a fullness of life that the world cannot give.  When we do not live a godly life, we seek fullness of life in what the world offers, and that will always leave us frustrated and seeking even more from the world.  Jesus said: “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give.” (John 14:27).  When we follow God in our daily lives, we will find that what we once thought were deserts have been turned into pools of water, and the dry places of our lives into springs of water (verse 35). 

Verse forty two tells us: “The godly will see these things and be glad.” Let us walk with God in our daily lives so that we, too, will see the blessings we have been given, and be glad! 

Posted by Ramón Torres

Our Helper

Psalm 121 – I look up to the mountains—
does my help come from there?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth!

3 He will not let you stumble;
the one who watches over you will not slumber.
4 Indeed, he who watches over Israel
never slumbers or sleeps.

5 The Lord himself watches over you!
The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.
6 The sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon at night.

7 The Lord keeps you from all harm
and watches over your life.
8 The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go,
both now and forever. (NLT)

Most Bibles have titles over each individual psalm.  The title of Psalm 121 is: A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.  There are a number of psalms with this title.  These psalms represent songs that were sung by Jewish pilgrims as they made their way to Jerusalem.  For many of the pilgrims, this was a once in a lifetime trip.  We must note that in those ancient times, a journey to Jerusalem from even fifty to one hundred miles away was huge undertaking, and often a perilous journey.  At night the pilgrims would have to post sentries on the tops of the hills to keep watch for bands of robbers who made a living by stealing from the pilgrims.  One can imagine the pilgrims looking up to the hills, and as they noticed the sentry, they also acknowledged that there was one even greater who kept watch over them.

While this psalm was sung for a specific journey in ancient times, the spiritual application for modern day Christians is an easy one to make. Like people of any era, we look for help.  We pay money to read books or to attend seminars that teach us how to have a better marriages, raise better children, have larger bank accounts, have better bodies – we all want help!  The first place anyone needs to look for help is to the maker of heaven and earth (verse 2).  Our helper is always aware of us (verse 3 and 4), and is aware of our need.

While singing this psalm, the ancient Jewish pilgrims were on their way to worship God.  With every step along the perilous journey they were aware of God, and aware of worship.  If we truly want to receive help from the Lord, we must be aware, too!  We must strive to be aware of God in every step of our journey through life.  With each step we take, we need to be aware of our worship to God.  The Apostle Paul wrote: “I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.” (Romans 12:1).

Today, let us live each moment aware of our helper!  Let us worship with every step. 

Posted by Ramón Torres

Praise The Lord!

Psalm 146 – Praise the Lord!

Let all that I am praise the Lord.
2 I will praise the Lord as long as I live.
I will sing praises to my God with my dying breath.

3 Don’t put your confidence in powerful people;
there is no help for you there.
4 When they breathe their last, they return to the earth,
and all their plans die with them.
5 But joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper,
whose hope is in the Lord their God.
6 He made heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them.
He keeps every promise forever.
7 He gives justice to the oppressed
and food to the hungry.
The Lord frees the prisoners.
8 The Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are weighed down.
The Lord loves the godly.
9 The Lord protects the foreigners among us.
He cares for the orphans and widows,
but he frustrates the plans of the wicked.

10 The Lord will reign forever.
He will be your God, O Jerusalem, throughout the generations.

Praise the Lord! (NLT)

Psalm 146 begins and ends the same way as all of the last five of the psalms: Praise the Lord!  In Hebrew this word is familiar to us: Hallelujah!  With all that he was, the psalmist would praise God (verse 1).  Verses seven through ten tell us why: God’s justice; God’s sustenance; God’s freedom; God’s healing; God’s gift of power in our lives; God’s protection; and God’s reign.  While these gifts are available to all people, not all people receive these gifts.  Why not?

The answer is there verse three: “Don’t put your confidence in powerful people;
there is no help for you there
.”  Throughout the centuries, many have put their confidence in people, or in the things of this world that people offer.  I don’t believe the psalmist outright rejected counsel or help from people, but if we seek a certain quality of life from the people and things of this world, at some point we will be left disappointed.  How can we gain the quality of life that comes only from God?

The answer to this question is in verse five: “joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper, whose hope is in the Lord their God.”  We all need help in life.  If a joyful life is what we desire, then we must seek our help first from God.  God does provide people to help us, but we will not recognize who those people are unless our help first comes from God.  So, ultimately our hope must be placed in God. 

We will all need help or counsel for some situation of life.  Let us be quick to go first to our helper, the God of Israel, the God of us all.  Praise the Lord! 

Posted by Ramón Torres

It’s Called Good News For A Reason

Galatians 3:6 – In the same way, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” 7 The real children of Abraham, then, are those who put their faith in God.

8 What’s more, the Scriptures looked forward to this time when God would declare the Gentiles to be righteous because of their faith. God proclaimed this good news to Abraham long ago when he said, “All nations will be blessed through you.” 9 So all who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith.

10 But those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law.” 11 So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” 12 This way of faith is very different from the way of law, which says, “It is through obeying the law that a person has life.”

13 But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” 14 Through Christ Jesus, God has blessed the Gentiles with the same blessing he promised to Abraham, so that we who are believers might receive the promised Holy Spirit through faith. (NLT)

Just yesterday a family member was telling me about a friend of hers.  She said he was a religious man, and that he goes to church, but he believes that we earn points with God by doing good things.  She told me that this man believed that when our life is over, God will count our points and see if we have made the cut! Two things amaze me about such thinking.  First, I am amazed at just how many Christians believe something to this effect.  Secondly, how can anyone who has actually read the Bible believe that we must earn something from God?! 

For centuries the Jewish people lived under the system of the law.  They believed that if they kept the law, then they could make things right with God.  The problem was, no one could keep the law!  Everyone stumbled, everyone slipped up.  Many of the pagan people of that time also had elaborate rituals and sacrifices that they performed in an effort to make their gods happy. When Christianity began to spread, the people called it “Good News” because it was so radically different from anything that anyone had ever heard.  How sad that many Christians still insist on taking the “Good” out of the “Good News”. 

Paul’s letter to the Churches in Galatia was written in response to Christians who were trying to earn points with God by keeping the law.  In verse eleven from the passage above, Paul writes: “So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law.” Consider what Paul says later in this letter: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1, NIV).  When we try to earn God’s favor, we have put on the yoke of slavery.  There is not much good about that news!

Today, let us celebrate our freedom from the yoke of slavery.  Let us give thanks to God that God loves us so much that we do not have to earn anything.  Thanks be to Jesus Christ that he has made us right with God.  That’s Good News!  That’s Good Stuff! 

Posted by Ramón Torres 

Humility and Peace

Psalm 131 – Lord, my heart is not proud;
my eyes are not haughty.
I don’t concern myself with matters too great
or too awesome for me to grasp.
2 Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself,
like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother’s milk.
Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me.

3 O Israel, put your hope in the Lord—
now and always. (NLT)

Psalm 131 is one of the shortest psalms but contains a great lesson.  Some scholars believe that this psalm was written by David in defense of himself when he was accused by Saul’s generals of trying to take Saul’s crown.  Others believe this psalm was written during Jewish captivity, and that it speaks to the manner in which the Jews should behave under their oppressors.  Regardless of who wrote it, or when it was written, it speaks to us today. 

Verse one speaks of humility.  ‘My eyes are not haughty’ was a Jewish way of saying that one was not arrogant.  Christians need to be concerned with those who do not have a relationship with God through Jesus, but we win no converts with self righteousness.  We win no one to Jesus by telling them how sinful they are, but instead by showing them the nature of Jesus.  We do this by imitating Jesus.  Jesus lowered himself to be a servant, and so our nature should be that of a servant. 

Years ago, I was hunting on some land owned by a couple in my church.  I joined them that evening for dinner.  Since the day was rainy, and my boots were muddy, I removed them before I entered their house.  When the meal was over, the husband excused himself from the table and was gone for ten minutes.  He returned but made no mention of where he had been.  When I left their home that evening, I discovered that he had cleaned my boots!  Without saying a word, he showed me Jesus!  Some claim it to be St. Francis, others maintain it was someone else, but whoever it may have been, this psalm reflects the saying:  “Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.”  We all can be powerful preachers by our actions.

Verse two speaks of a peaceful attitude.  When confronted with issues that can divide or cause others to become excited, we must maintain a peaceful position.  When we speak to one who questions the authority of Jesus, we must remember Proverbs 15:1 – “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.” Our goal must never to be to win an argument, but instead show others the character of Jesus.

Today, let us strive to be humble and peaceful servants, so that we may show others the need to put our hope in the Lord, now and always! 

Posted by Ramón Torres

Staying Focused

Psalm 17:1 – O Lord, hear my plea for justice. Listen to my cry for help. Pay attention to my prayer, for it comes from honest lips. (NLT)

Matthew 7:7 – “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

9 “You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? 10 Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! 11 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” (NLT)

Many Christians struggle with prayer.  It’s not so much that they don’t pray, but they wonder about prayer’s effectiveness.  I have been asked, “If God knows everything, and God knows the future, then why pray?”  A great question! 

I believe that prayer is often more about changing our own hearts than it is about persuading God to do something.  Regular and persistent prayer can keep us focused.  If we pray as Jesus taught us, we will remain focused on what we need, and not on what we want.  In the passage above from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus speaks of a child asking for bread and fish.  Bread and dried fish were the basic daily food for the people of that time and place.  We should note that the example given by Jesus was of one asking for basic needs.  Do we often get extravagant in what we are asking of God?  The passage from Psalm 17 speaks of honest lips.  I believe that honesty is asking God for what we need.  Honest prayer can keep us focused on our needs.

We have all found ourselves in situations of life where we honestly don’t know what we really need.  There are times when we are confused as to what would be best for ourselves, or for others.  The Apostle Paul wrote about this in his letter to the church in Rome. Romans 8:26 – And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.  When we find ourselves in those confusing situations, we need to ask the Holy Spirit to pray for us, trusting and expecting God to reveal to us what is best.

Today, let us pray honest prayers to God, asking God for what we need for this day.  If we are confused, let us ask the Spirit to intercede. 

Posted by Ramón Torres

A New Year.  A New Song.  

Psalm 98 – Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done marvelous things;
his right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.
2 The LORD has made his salvation known
and revealed his righteousness to the nations.
3 He has remembered his love
and his faithfulness to Israel;
all the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.

4 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth,
burst into jubilant song with music;
5 make music to the LORD with the harp,
with the harp and the sound of singing,
6 with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—
shout for joy before the LORD, the King.

7 Let the sea resound, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it.
8 Let the rivers clap their hands,
let the mountains sing together for joy;
9 let them sing before the LORD,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples with equity. (NIV)

Today’s reading is a familiar passage to many Christians.  Some scholars tell us that it was written to celebrate deliverance from captivity, while others tell us that it was prophetic in that it looked to Jesus.  I believe it is both.  Because of Jesus we have been delivered from captivity!  Let’s take a look at some of the verses from this great Psalm.

Verse 2: “The LORD has made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness to the nations.” Biblically speaking, righteousness refers to the things of God.  This verse tells us that the things of God have been revealed to the nations. They have revealed through the Good News of Jesus Christ! The word we often translate as nations might be better translates as ‘people’.  However, the thought behind the word is to describe all the different types of people.  In the Greek the word is ‘ethnos’, from which we get the word ethnic.  God’s offer of salvation through Jesus (the Good News) is offered to all the people of the earth.  We are told in Titus 2:11 – “For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people.”  God’s grace is for all people, and we must do what we can to get the word out to all people!

Verse 3: “He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to Israel.”  Remembering that we who call on Jesus are part of the new Israel, this verse speaks of God’s promise to all people that was made throughout the centuries. The prophets said: people from many lands will come and honor you (Micah 7:12); and, my name is honored by people of other nations from morning till night (Malachi 1:11).  The Apostle Paul said: God promised this Good News long ago through his prophets in the holy Scriptures (Romans 1:2).  We should rejoice, for God is faithful to God’s promises! 

The remainder of the psalm speaks of all creation worshiping and celebrating what God has done.  Verse one, however, speaks to me in a powerful way: “Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things.”  When I was a child, if I found myself talking to my mother in a way that was somewhat disrespectful (surely a rare occasion!), my mother would say, ‘you better change your tune, young man!’  This verse reminds me that I have good reason to change my tune – today and everyday!  The song in our hearts should be a song of praise.  The victory has been won, salvation is here, and we are made right with God!  That’s Good Stuff! 

Here is a great New Year’s Resolution – let the Good News of Jesus Christ change your tune.  Today, let’s sing a new song!

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 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. 

Merry Christmas!,

Posted by Ramón Torres

Unity – Our Common Goal

Psalm 133:1 – How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!

2 It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe.
3 It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the LORD bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.  (NIV)

I once was the pastor of two small country churches in southwest Virginia.  When one of the churches decided that the time had come to re-shingle the roof, much time was spent amongst the members as to what color shingles would be used.  When the decision was finally made, one couple was so unhappy with the decision that they left the church.  Much to my dismay, that coupled simply went to my other church – and caused even more division! 

If Christians who worship together cannot get along, can we blame anyone for calling us hypocrites?  Divisions among the people of God is nothing new.  In the Christian age, divisions within the church have been around as long as the church!  Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth was written in response to the many factions that were dividing the church.  Paul wrote: “I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.” (1 Cor. 1:10, NLT).

Psalm 133 gives us a picture of the ideal.  Unity among the people of God, according to this passage, is a good and pleasant thing.  The word ‘good’ in verse one, and the word precious in verse two, are the same Hebrew word which can be translated as desirable.  It is desirable that the Church get along!  This is true within a local congregation, and it is true with Christians worldwide.

This past week I attended the monthly breakfast of the Cleveland Ministerial Network.   Twenty to thirty pastors from a number of different churches and denominations sat together in unity, as we enjoyed coffee and breakfast.  Did we all believe the same way on every issue?  Of course not.  Did we all believe that women should be pastors, or that babies should be baptized?  Again, of course not.  We do, however, believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we share a belief in our common duty to live out our lives as a witness to the transforming power of the Good News.  We will not let our differences break our unity, but instead continue to seek common ground on which to stand together as we go about kingdom work.

Today, we all have kingdom work to do!  Let us not let our differences slow us down.  Let us continue to stand upon our common ground, remembering the words of Psalm 133:1 – How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity

Posted by Ramón Torres

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