365 Days of Grace From God's Word

Month: May 2022

Hitting The Mark

Ephesians 5:8 – you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14 This is why it is said:

“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

15 Be very careful, then, how you live —not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (NIV)

Ephesians is one of my favorite books of the Bible.  I love its challenging call to live differently than the world.  This has been an emphasis of mine as a pastor and as a preacher.  I suppose pastors – like all people – have certain things that they emphasize.  Some pastors emphasize missions, others salvation, while others focus on evangelism.  All of these are vital to the Christian life, but my emphasis has always leaned toward our call to live in ways radically different than the world.  No one can discount the unmeasurable worth of salvation, but grace is not cheap, and we must not lessen its value by ignoring the biblical call to holy living (sanctification).

In this passage, Paul reminds us that we are to be light to the world.  Jesus told his followers the same in Matthew 5:14.  Paul gives us an imperative in verse eight: “Live as children of light.”  We must give careful consideration to our actions.  Our words and our behaviors should be a witness to the light that lives within.  Verse fifteen tells us to be very careful in how we live.  In the Greek, the word we translate as ‘careful’ literally meant to be accurate.  As we seek to live holy lives, we must be sure to be accurate – we must ‘hit the mark’.

Today, let us examine our walk and our witness.  Are we hitting the mark?  Does our life accurately depict the life of a disciple of Jesus? 

Posted by Ramón Torres

Our Very Good Shepherd!

John 10:1 – “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.[a] They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 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. 11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (NIV)

For a number of years, a Church that I pastored was involved with a mission in Mexico.  This particular mission involved reaching out to a small community in the northern Mexico desert.  We called it a desert, but those who lived there called it home.  To look at the land, we at first did not believe that anything could live there, as there were only small shrubs, and very little water.  It looked like a hard place to live. 

As we became more and more involved with the people of the community, we began to see shepherds leading large flocks of goats into town. After a few days, in which some of the goats would be sold, they headed back out of town, and into the desert.  This truly aroused our curiosity!  How could anything live out in that desert?  We learned that quite a bit lived in the desert, including wolves that would prey upon the goats.  The shepherds were experts at leading their goats.  They knew where the water was, and where they could find vegetation.  The really good shepherds were able to keep the wolves at bay, and would always safely bring their goats back.  I asked a shepherd how he kept his goats safe, and he replied, “I never really sleep, and I always watch my flock.”

Jesus is our good shepherd.  We are always under the watchful eye of our Lord, and it’s a good thing because sometimes our world is a hard place to live!  Oh, sure we have more than enough food and water, but sin is always ready to devour us.  Our shepherd protects us from sins power.  Our shepherd has laid down his life for us, so that we might live.

Today, as we begin our week, let’s take a moment to celebrate our Good Shepherd. 

Posted by Ramón Torres

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

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