A Year of Grace

365 Days of Grace From God's Word

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

Imitators or Imposters?

1 Thessalonians 1:1 – Paul, Silas and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you.

We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. (NIV)

Today’s reading comes from the opening verses of Paul’s first letter to the church in Thessalonica.  Paul had great success as a church planter in Thessalonica, and this letter was written as a follow up sometime around the year 52.  There are two great lessons to be learned from these opening verses, and I would like to look at a couple of those today. 

First, the Christians in Thessalonica became imitators of not only those who preached the Gospel, but of Jesus (verses 6).  There is no higher calling in the life of a Christian than to be an imitator of Jesus.  The Apostle John, in 3 John 1:11, warns us not to imitate the things of this world.  As we seek to live out our daily lives, let our goal be to imitate the characteristics we find modeled throughout the life of Jesus. 

Secondly, Paul writes that the Christians in Thessalonica became a model to all believers (verse 7).  When we imitate Jesus, our example will be noticed.  Paul tells them that the Lord’s message rang out from them (verse 8).  A good question for us to ask ourselves daily is this: What message is ringing out from our lives?  Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord is ringing out a message.  That message may be a passive message, or one of indifference to the things of Jesus.  Our message should be that we take Jesus seriously, and that we believe not only in the salvation that Jesus offers, but in the life he calls us to live. 

Today, let the great message of love and peace ring out from our lives, so that the world may see!

Posted by Ramón Torres

 

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

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