A Year of Grace

365 Days of Grace From God's Word

Not One Of Us?

Luke 9:43 – While everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did, he said to his disciples, 44 “Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.” 45 But they did not understand what this meant. It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask him about it.

46 An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. 47 Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. 48 Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”

49 “Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.” 50 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” (NIV)

Years ago, while still in seminary, a friend and I went to pick his car up from the mechanic shop.  While we were sitting in the waiting room there was a commercial on the television for a local church.  The church was pastored by a couple who had a very different style of preaching than our own.  We chuckled and joked about their preaching style.  Just then a man walked over to us and said, “Don’t joke my pastors, they brought me to the Lord and saved my marriage.”  Needless to say, we were put in our place.  It was a lesson that I have never forgotten.

In today’s reading we encounter the disciples bickering amongst themselves about their place in the eyes of Jesus.  Then they had the nerve to complain because they witnessed someone doing great things in the name of Jesus, but they were ‘not one of us.’  Like my friend and I years ago, how easily we fall into this kind of thinking.  We tend to think that if someone doesn’t worship like us, pray like us, or do church like us, then they can’t have the truth like us.  

Jesus taught his disciples, and Jesus teaches us, that just because someone isn’t ‘one of us,’ does not mean that they don’t have the love of Jesus within them.  Our goal is not to be the greatest in Jesus’ eyes, and it is not to be the ones who possess the only way to be a Christian.  Our goal is to share the love of God in the manner in which we know.  Our goal is to worship God in truth and in spirit (John 4:24).  Worshipping God in truth and in spirit goes beyond our worship in church.  Worshipping God in truth and in spirit is about the way we live our daily lives (Romans 12:1).  We are called to live out this truth and spirit in different ways, yet we are all called.

Today, let’s not be critical of our Christian brothers and sisters who ‘do church’ differently than ourselves.  Let’s celebrate the varied ways in which God calls us to be the Body of Christ.

Posted by Ramón Torres

Don’t be afraid to follow!

Luke 5:1 – One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. (NIV)

In today’s reading, Jesus is calling his first disciples.  I love to read about Jesus’ disciples.  What amazes me about them is that Jesus did not choose people with special ‘church’ skills.  As far as we know, none of those chosen by Jesus had any experience leading prayers or Scripture studies.  They were not leaders in their local synagogues.  They were simply ordinary, hard working, people.  In my career as a pastor, one of my biggest challenges is to get ordinary people to step up and actively involve themselves in the ministry of Jesus Christ.

I, myself, was simply a Park Ranger, with no special ‘church’ experience when I began to hear Jesus calling my name.  I, too, protested for some time as many people do when Jesus calls.  Years ago, when I was fearful to follow Jesus’ call, I found comfort in reading about Simon Peter.  Jesus called Peter to follow him, and when Peter realized who it was who was calling him, he stated: “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”  We fear following Jesus because we know we fall short of Jesus’ glory.  We ask ourselves, what could I ever do to help God?  Jesus, however, told Simon Peter not to be afraid.  

Maybe you are hearing something from God.  Maybe God is speaking to you through a still small voice, or through the voice of another, and maybe you are fearful of answering that voice.  God calls to each of us.  God calls us to move forward in our life as a Christian, to take steps forward to be Jesus’ disciple, and to be a ‘fisher of people’.  Take comfort in the fact that God simply wants people.  Worldly status is of no consequence.  Your past level of success – or failure – has no bearing on Jesus’ call.  Like Peter, we are all sinful.  Like Peter, Jesus calls us anyway.  Like Peter, God can use us in great ways!  Don’t be afraid to follow! 

Posted by Ramón Torres

I Will Remember

Psalm 77:1 – I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands,
and I would not be comforted.

I remembered you, God, and I groaned;
I meditated, and my spirit grew faint.
You kept my eyes from closing;
I was too troubled to speak.
I thought about the former days,
the years of long ago;
I remembered my songs in the night.
My heart meditated and my spirit asked:

“Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favor again?
Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”

10 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.
11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
12 I will consider all your works
and meditate on all your mighty deeds.” (NIV)

Do Christians ever doubt God? Of course they do. Doubting is part of our lives, but as this Psalm shows us, when it comes to God, we can overcome our doubt.  We tend to doubt God when we bring God down to our level.  Like the psalmist wrote in verse three above, sometimes we ‘remember’ God.  This implies that there are times when we aren’t thinking about God.  We get busy with our lives, and we forget.  We then think that if we have forgotten God, God has probably forgotten us.  However, this is bringing God down to our level, thinking that God acts as we act.  Thanks be to God that God does not act like us!

Verses ten through twelve of Psalm 77 teach us that when we doubt God’s presence in our lives, we should remember all the things that God has done for us.  God has a plan for us, and that plan is sure and certain, it never changes.  When we doubt God, we should meditate upon God’s mighty deeds.

Thomas Chisholm had a difficult life for several years.  Due to an illness he was confined to a bed for long periods of time.  Chisholm recovered, and gave his life to Christ.  While on a mission trip, he wrote a poem and sent it to his friend and musician, William Runyan.  Runyan found the words so moving that he put it to music.  I leave you with the words of his poem, and a great hymn of the faith.  Consider these words as our prayer as we meditate upon God’s hand in our lives.

Great is Thy Faithfulness;
Great is Thy Faithfulness.
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided.
Great is Thy Faithfulness,
Lord unto me.

Amen! 

Posted by Ramón Torres

Honest Prayer

Psalm 25:1 – O Lord, I give my life to you.
    I trust in you, my God!
Do not let me be disgraced,
or let my enemies rejoice in my defeat.
No one who trusts in you will ever be disgraced,
but disgrace comes to those who try to deceive others.

Show me the right path, O Lord;
point out the road for me to follow.
Lead me by your truth and teach me,
for you are the God who saves me.
All day long I put my hope in you.
Remember, O Lord, your compassion and unfailing love,
which you have shown from long ages past.
Do not remember the rebellious sins of my youth.
Remember me in the light of your unfailing love,
for you are merciful, O Lord.

The Lord is good and does what is right;
he shows the proper path to those who go astray.
He leads the humble in doing right,
teaching them his way.
10 The Lord leads with unfailing love and faithfulness
all who keep his covenant and obey his demands. (NLT)

In the ancient Hebrew, this psalm is an acrostic – each line begins with the next letter of the alphabet.  In the ABC’s of prayer, honesty comes first.  How honest are we with God in our prayers?  This is the question this psalm asks of us.  In verse one, the psalmist gives his life to the Lord.  Other translations have, “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul” (NIV, NKJV).  For the ancient Jews, lifting one’s soul was not just an act of praise, but literally keeping nothing hidden from God.  This is true worship!  This is how our lives should be lived, and how our prayers should be prayed – keeping nothing hidden from God.  

Sometimes, it’s not just with God that we try to hide parts of our lives.  Sometimes, we are not honest with ourselves, and we ignore parts of our lives that should be addressed.  When we are not open to God in our prayers, we close ourselves off from God’s instruction in those very areas that may need the most instruction.  Maybe deep down inside there are parts of our lives we simply don’t want to change.  Perhaps, we fear change, or we fear failure in changing.  Being honest with God keeps us honest with ourselves, and this allows us to address those areas of our lives that need the transforming power of God’s Holy Spirit.

In verse four, the psalmist asks to be shown the right path.  Only through honest prayer can we find the strength to walk the right path.  Honesty and openness with God must be our way of life, and so in verse five the psalmist states” “All day long I put my hope in you.”

Let’s be honest with God – and ourselves – all day, every day.  Let’s keep nothing hidden from God, and let’s allow God to lead us in any changes we should make.

Posted by Ramón Torres

Can’t Do Nothing!

John 15:1 – “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. (NIV) 

Today we have one of my favorite passages from John’s Gospel.  I very much enjoy the imagery of staying connected to The Source.  In our world today, we hear a lot about staying connected.  There is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and literally hundreds, if not thousands, more.  The one thing that this should teach us is that humans want to stay connected in some way with others.  This passage, for Christians, teaches us that we must stay connected in some way with God. 

The word in this passage that we translate as ‘remain’, was the Greek word μένω. Some translations have it as ‘abide’, but the Greek word carries more weight.  It’s an interesting word, and we need to understand the fullness of this word.  The Greek implies that one should stay put no matter what the circumstance.  It even suggests that staying put would be a matter of survival.  For the sake of our spiritual survival, we must remain connected to the one true vine. 

I would imagine that if we were given the choice of holding something close to us, or dying, we would give all of our attention to holding that object close!  Sadly, there are times when the world easily distracts us from holding God close to us.  Jesus’ call for us to remain in him is for our benefit.  God desires us to be spiritually strong.  God does not want us to be tossed about by the forces that are loose in the world. 

In verse five Jesus says: “apart from me you can do nothing.”  In our language, double negatives give an opposite meaning, but in many other languages a double negative is used for emphasis.  In the Greek, Jesus said: apart from me you can’t do nothing!  The emphasis should not be lost on us.  Without God we are lost.  Without God, we are tossed about by the world and we will not produce any spiritual fruit.   

Let’s make it our priority to remain, abide, and stay put in God through prayer, Bible study, worship, and through our fellowship with other Christians.  Remember, apart from Jesus, we can’t do nothing!

Posted by Ramón Torres

More For Us!

Psalm 15:1 – Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?
Who may live on your holy mountain?

The one whose walk is blameless,
who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from their heart;
whose tongue utters no slander,
who does no wrong to a neighbor,
and casts no slur on others;
who despises a vile person
but honors those who fear the Lord;
who keeps an oath even when it hurts,
and does not change their mind;
who lends money to the poor without interest;
who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.

Whoever does these things
will never be shaken. (NIV) 

In my sermons I often point out that being a Christian is more than just attending worship services, and it’s more than attending Bible Studies.  These things are important, but God desires more.  It’s not that God desires more from us, rather it’s that God desires more for us. 

In today’s reading, we find a description of one who truly seeks more than a label such as ‘Christian’, we find a description of someone – who through the power of the Holy Spirit – has become a new creation.   Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17 – “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

Psalm 15 is just one of many places in the Bible that we find a description of the characteristics of this new creation.  God wants to create something new in each of us.  Does God desire this just so that we will behave, walk the line, and stay out of trouble?  No.  I mentioned that God desires more for us, and it’s true.  When we become a new creation we live life with strength for our days that we did not formerly possess. 

The final verse of Psalm 15 states: “Whoever does these things will never be shaken.”  The world seeks to shake us every day!  There are many events in life that can shake us and cause us inner turmoil.  God wants more for us than a life lived with inner turmoil.  God wants us to live with inner peace.  Paul tells us in Philippians 4:7 that when we live life under the authority of Jesus Christ that, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Today, let us remember that we are called to be a new creation through Jesus Christ, and that there is peace for new creatures!  Let us live life never shaken by life.  That, my friends, is Good Stuff! 

Posted by Ramón Torres

How Great Is Our God!

Psalm 8:1 – Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.

Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth! (NIV) 

Some three thousand years ago the psalmist looked at the night sky and thought to himself, “Wow, the God who made all of that is interested in me!” (That’s my modern take on verses 3 & 4).  Modern technology tells us that just within our own galaxy there are at least 100 billion stars, and perhaps four times as many!  Sophisticated telescopes have detected over 3,000 visible galaxies, each with billions of stars.  Astronomers stress that these are the visible galaxies, and that there may be more than 200 billion galaxies in the universe.  Mind boggling!  Yet, as mind boggling as those numbers are, we are still left with the mind boggling notion that the creator of all those stars knows how many hairs are on our head!

There are some who are challenged by a universe so large.  How, they wonder, could any being be in control over everything, and how could a creator of everything be interested in us?  The psalmist, like many today, wondered the same thing.  The psalmist wrote: “what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (verse 4)

When I ponder this question, two things come to my mind.  First, our God is infinitely great, and far beyond anything we can imagine.  Likewise, God’s wisdom is infinitely greater than anything we can imagine – and for that I am thankful!  When we consider the size of creation, let it be reassuring for us.  Let us not feel that we are insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but that our great God believes us to be extremely significant!  Indeed, we are so significant that the Creator came to this little planet in the person of Jesus, lived and died for us, and rose from the dead to purchase us a place with God for all eternity.

The second thing that comes to my mind when I consider the size of the universe and why God is interested in us is this: God wants us to think big thoughts!  When I consider your heavens – this is what the psalmist wrote in verse three.  Often, we get so caught up in life that we don’t stop to consider the bigger picture.  Our God is a big picture God!  The troubles and worries we have this day, in the big picture, are not so big.  I’m not belittling anything that any of us go through, but God has something greater planned for each of us than any of today’s worries.  We were made to fellowship with God in spirit now, and face to face for all eternity after this life!  That’s Good Stuff!

Posted by Ramón Torres

With Your Heart

Luke 16:13 – “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

14 The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15 He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight. (NIV)

In this short passage, Jesus gives us a profound truth about justification.  What does it mean to be justified?  To be justified means to be right.  Due to the power of sin in our lives, left on our own we are not right.  Most significantly, we are not right with God.  Justification, therefore, is when we are made right with God.  We know that Jesus died for the forgiveness of our sins, but his death alone does not make us right with God.  In order for justification to take place, something must be changed in our hearts.

John Wesley had grown up in the Church of England in a very religious family.  He studied at Oxford, and became a clergyman in the Church of England.  He served as a missionary to the British Colony in Georgia.  It wasn’t until after all of that, in 1738, while studying the Scriptures that he felt his heart ‘strangely warmed’, and that he knew that he was right with God.  Until that time, Wesley had tried to justify himself through his religious activities instead of depending upon God.  From that point on, Wesley’s life changed, and he would go on to lead the movement that is known as Methodism.

In the Scripture reading above, Jesus tells the religious leaders of his day that they were trying justify themselves, but that nothing had really changed within their hearts.  They were doing many religious things, and observing many religious rituals, but they did so only in an effort to justify themselves in the eyes of others (verse 15).  Paul tells us in Romans 10:10 that our hearts must be changed: “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified.”  There are many religious rituals that we observe, but let us never forget that the mere observance of such rituals does nothing to make us right with God.  We would be better served to spend time in prayer and study so that we, like John Wesley, might come to a place where our hearts are strangely warmed.

My prayer for you today is that your hearts have been changed, and that you believe and are justified. 

Posted by Ramón Torres

Free to Serve!

Psalm 130:1 – Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
    Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins. (NIV)

There are a number of Psalms that are called ‘penitential psalms’.  Psalm 130 is one of those psalms.  The penitential psalms stress repentance and forgiveness of sins.  Scholars also note that Psalm 130 was most likely one of the psalms that was written during the time of Babylonian captivity.  Sin and captivity – the two are certainly related.  The Jews believed that their sin as a people led to their captivity.  Likewise, our sinful behavior will hold us captive, as well.

Out of their depth of captivity (verse 1), they cried out to the Lord.  Whether we recognize it or not, this is humanity’s plea.  Humanity’s search for fulfillment – which often leads to sin – can only be found in the one who can forgive sin.  Our forgiveness can only be found in the one who, if we were left to stand upon our own merit, we could not stand before (verse 3).

The psalmist, speaking for those held captive, was waiting for the Lord (verse 6).  The Good News is that our wait is over!  In verse eight the psalmist looked forward to the time of redemption, and we know that that time has come, redemption has come through Jesus our Lord.

While this is a powerful psalm, I am drawn to verse four: “But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.”  This verse speaks to the age old question of the relationship between works and forgiveness.  We don’t work to receive forgiveness, for our sin does not deserve forgiveness.  We work – we serve – because we are freely offered forgiveness!  Verse four speaks to this – forgiveness is given and then we are free to serve.  Our service to the Lord is our loving response to the free gift of salvation.

Today, let us give thanks and praises to the Lord who forgives!  Let us thank God in tangible ways, as well – through loving service to our Lord. 

Posted by Ramón Torres

Total Commitment

John 6:53 – Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. (NIV)

Our reading for today has some very difficult words from Jesus.  Modern Christians are troubled by the imagery that Jesus’ words suggest.  However, I think if we understand them in the context of his day, we will still find them difficult! 

For a person of that culture to say something like, ‘unless you eat my flesh’, was an idiom.  An idiom is a saying that has a different meaning than what it appears on the surface.  For example, we know of the horrible events of People’s Temple led by Jim Jones.  We know of the mass suicide of nearly 1000 people.  We know that they drank Kool-Aid laced with cyanide.  As horrible as the root of the saying is, today when one is talking about being fully committed, they may say, “I drank the Kool-Aid”.  Drinking the Kool Aid means an all out commitment.

Likewise, Jesus was calling for an all out commitment.  In Jesus’ day, eating one’s flesh meant an all out commitment.  It meant that you took upon yourself the very same life of the other – the one whose flesh you would eat.  We spiritualize this saying of Jesus as we connect it to Holy Communion.  That is a good connection, but the saying truly meant an all out commitment.

Jesus is calling for us to make an all out commitment.  The body and blood of Jesus represent to us a sacrifice, and when we eat his flesh and drink his blood, we are committing ourselves to live sacrificially. We are committing ourselves to living like Jesus lived, and to love like Jesus loves.

Today, let us reaffirm our commitment to live sacrificially.  Let us live and love as Jesus.

Posted by Ramón Torres

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