365 Days of Grace From God's Word

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Through It All

Isaiah 43:1 – But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. (NIV)

Through the prophet Isaiah, God spoke to the ancient Israelites who found themselves captives in a foreign land.  As the years passed, some began to look elsewhere, abandoning the God they had known since their childhood.  They saw others who worshipped foreign gods, and their lives seemed to be going well.  I suppose the grass does, at times, look greener elsewhere.  We soon discover, however, that the rain falls on everyone.  Hard times come to us all, no matter how strong we are in our faith.  Because of this hard fact of life, it’s important to note what God says in this passage. 

God has never told us that we can escape life’s troubles, but God does tell us that through our troubles, God will be with us. In today’s reading, God tells us that God is with us when we pass through the waters, when we pass through the rivers, and when we pass through the fire.  I suppose we would rather not pass through such difficulties at all, but such is life.  The Good News is that we are never alone, God is with us!

Today, let’s praise God for God’s presence, even when the waters rise and the flames get hot.  Maybe as you praise God, you will sing these words made famous by Andrae Crouch.

Through It All

I’ve had many tears and sorrows,
I’ve had questions for tomorrow,
there’s been times I didn’t know right from wrong.
But in every situation,
God gave me blessed consolation,
that my trials come to only make me strong.

Chorus
Through it all,
through it all,
I’ve learned to trust in Jesus,
I’ve learned to trust in God.

Through it all,
through it all,
I’ve learned to depend upon His Word.

 

Posted by Ramón Torres

Do Not Be Deterred

Luke 13:31 – At that time some Pharisees said to him, “Get away from here if you want to live! Herod Antipas wants to kill you!”

32 Jesus replied, “Go tell that fox that I will keep on casting out demons and healing people today and tomorrow; and the third day I will accomplish my purpose. 33 Yes, today, tomorrow, and the next day I must proceed on my way. For it wouldn’t do for a prophet of God to be killed except in Jerusalem!

34 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. 35 And now, look, your house is abandoned. And you will never see me again until you say, ‘Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (NLT)

In today’s reading, some of the Pharisees warn Jesus that he may be in danger for his life.  While some have believed that these religious leaders were sent by Herod, I believe it simply shows that not all Pharisees opposed Jesus.  (He was buried in the tomb of a Pharisee).  However, what I would like to focus on is a seemingly insignificant term that Jesus uses when referring to Herod Antipas.  Jesus calls him a fox, and we understand that term to be referring to someone who was cunning.  In ancient times, and in rabbinical literature particular, the term often had a different meaning.  Calling someone a fox meant that they were unimportant. The meaning here is that Herod, or anyone who stood in opposition of Jesus, was unimportant to Jesus.  He would not be deterred by opposition.

Are we easily deterred by opposition, especially when it comes to the things of God?  Do we allow threats and name calling to slow our resolve to live out a Christian life?  Do we act less than Christian around certain people because we know if we oppose their unchristian words or ways, they will argue with us?  Do we laugh along with the off color jokes because it’s easier to go along than to stand alone?

When it comes to living a Christian life, let us remember who it is that is our Lord.  Jesus is the One who is important.  We should not totally disregard any human being, however, when it comes to how we live out our daily lives, those that oppose the things of Jesus are unimportant.

Today, let us not be deterred by those who stand in opposition to the things of Christ.  Let us resolve to live out our faith in word and action. 

Posted by Ramón Torres

Doing All That We Can

Luke 13:10 – One Sabbath day as Jesus was teaching in a synagogue, 11 he saw a woman who had been crippled by an evil spirit. She had been bent double for eighteen years and was unable to stand up straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Dear woman, you are healed of your sickness!” 13 Then he touched her, and instantly she could stand straight. How she praised God! 14 But the leader in charge of the synagogue was indignant that Jesus had healed her on the Sabbath day. “There are six days of the week for working,” he said to the crowd. “Come on those days to be healed, not on the Sabbath.”

15 But the Lord replied, “You hypocrites! Each of you works on the Sabbath day! Don’t you untie your ox or your donkey from its stall on the Sabbath and lead it out for water? 16 This dear woman, a daughter of Abraham, has been held in bondage by Satan for eighteen years. Isn’t it right that she be released, even on the Sabbath?” 17 This shamed his enemies, but all the people rejoiced at the wonderful things he did. (NLT) 

John Wesley, the founder of all things Methodist and Wesleyan, wrote the following in his Rules of Conduct for Christians: “Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as ever you can.” Jesus taught us the same thing by his examples and words.

In this particular passage, Jesus is once again confronted by the religious leaders for what they believed to be a transgression against the Sabbath law.  The Sabbath is God’s gift to us.  We should all have a Sabbath, a time to draw closer to God.  What better way, however, to give glory to God than by doing good for someone!  We serve God by serving others.  If we can’t show kindness, love, and compassion to others on the Sabbath, then when can we?

This teaching, however, goes beyond Sabbath teaching.  It speaks of the many people who are held in bondage of one type or another.  Even the leader of the synagogue was held in bondage, for he was not really interested in sharing God’s healing power.  We, too, are called to share God’s healing power.  Few will ever have the power to heal as Jesus healed, but we can all share God’s power that heals us from the bondage of sin.  There are people around us who have been held in sin’s bondage as long, or longer, than the woman in this reading.  They are waiting for someone to share with them God’s healing.  Jesus told us in John 14:12 – “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.”

For those of us who believe, let’s stay busy doing the works that Jesus did.  Let’s do all the good we can for as long as we ever can! 

Posted by Ramón Torres

Guest of Sinners

Luke 19:1 – Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.  When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”  Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (NIV)

The religious people of Jesus’ day had a problem with reaching out to people who were not connected to the religious establishment.  I wish things had changed in two-thousand years, but for many, this hasn’t changed.  Jesus didn’t merely tell people that they needed to get to church, and the doors were open if they chose to go.  He went to the people who needed a relationship with God.  He entered into their homes.  He built relationships with them.  

Today’s passage reminds me of the story of Jesus calling Levi (Matthew) to be his disciple.  The story is in Luke 5.  We are told in that story that Levi was also a tax collector, and that Levi held a banquet in Jesus’ honor, and invited many of his tax collector friends.  The religious people weren’t too happy with Jesus at that time either.  Remember, tax collectors worked for Rome, and were judged to be traitors by the Jews.  Jesus did not care what label the people gave, he sought out all people.  

We are told in verse seven above that the people said that Jesus had gone to be the guest of a sinner.  Praise be to God that Jesus sought out – and seeks today – sinners!  All are lost without Jesus, for all are sinners.  Jesus has chosen to have a relationship with you and I – sinners all.  Like Jesus, we must seek out those who do not have a relationship with Jesus.  We should never avoid anyone due to any label our world has given, for we all wear the label of sinner.

Today, let us open ourselves to all people, regardless of any labels.

 

Posted by Ramón Torres

Victory In Jesus!

1 Corinthians 15:51 – Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (NIV) 

This passage has been the subject of much debate throughout the centuries.  Some claim that these verses speak to an end-time event, a ‘rapture’, if you will.  Other critics of the Bible say that Paul was looking for the return of Jesus in his lifetime, and since Paul was wrong about that event then everything else that Paul wrote should be disqualified.  Others debate as to whether or not this passage speaks to ‘soul sleep’ – the idea that when we die we will stay dead until such a time when all who have ever lived and died in Christ will be raised.  As for me, I really don’t try to wade into debates over what the text might say, I just want to understand what this text can tell me. 

While there might be some things in this passage that make me wonder (and I, like many, have my own opinions), there are other things in this passage that speak to me loud and clear.  First, this passage tells me that there will be an end to my mortal life.  It also tells me that for those who are in Christ, there is something better waiting beyond this life.  In fact, this passage tells me that what is waiting is victory, and that death will have no sting.  This is comforting!  No one looks forward to the moment of death, but we can certainly look forward to the victory that lies beyond.

Sin causes each of us trouble in this world.  We all battle sin in one form or another.  This passage tells us that sin – our enemy – will be defeated.  While I believe that most of the teachings of Paul deal with living life here and now, in this passage Paul teaches us that there will be a reward after this life.  This reward is our gift from Jesus, he paid for the reward.  Our sin would keep us from receiving our final reward.  “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  That’s Good Stuff!

Posted by Ramón Torres

What Are We Clinging To?

Luke 18:18 – A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’” 21 “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. 24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

26 Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” 27 Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” (NIV)

Today’s passage can be troubling for some.  Some read this passage and ask themselves, “Do we really need to give away all of our possessions in order to have eternal life?”  Jesus was not in the habit of telling people to sell all of their possessions, but he certainly was in the habit of telling people what it was that was standing in the way of their relationship with God.  At the end of Luke, chapter 9, Jesus confronts several men with the cost of discipleship.  The men had answers as to why they couldn’t follow Jesus at that time.  To those men, and to this rich ruler in this passage, the answer is essentially the same – that which comes between us and God must go.

After Jesus confronts the rich ruler, the disciples ask Jesus how can anyone be saved?  Jesus did not respond by telling them to go and sell their possessions.  Instead, he tells them that left on our own, it is impossible to be saved, but with God it is possible.  How do we tie this in with the man who was told to sell his possessions?  There are things that each of us cling to – things that we do not want to give up at any cost.  These may be material possessions, or they may be things like anger, resentment, or certain habits.  Often, these are the very things that come between us and a rich relationship with God.  On our own, we cannot overcome these things that destroy our relationship with God.  We can, however, overcome with the power of the Holy Spirit.

In John 16:33, Jesus told us that he had overcome the world.  Jesus offers to us the strength and power to overcome, as well.  Today, let us ask the Holy Spirit to help us overcome the things of this world that are coming between us and God. 

Posted by Ramón Torres 

Praise The Lord!

Psalm 117:1 – Praise the Lord, all you nations;
extol him, all you peoples.
For great is his love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.

Praise the Lord. 

Today we look at an entire psalm, but it is the shortest psalm.   If we were to divide the Bible by all 1,189 of its chapters, Psalm 117 happens to fall right in the middle.  That’s just a bit a trivia and comes to you at no extra cost!  While Psalm 117 is the shortest, it does contain a couple of powerful lessons. 

The first lesson we discover is that praising the Lord is not something we do only when we feel like it.  We are commanded to praise the Lord!  While it is my hope and prayer that Christians would always choose to praise God, let’s be honest with ourselves – sometimes, due to circumstances of life, we just don’t feel like praising God.  So, it’s good that we have a command. 

Why do we need this command? We need it because praising God changes things.  It changes our hearts, and lifts our spirits.  Furthermore, when we praise God we become open to God’s action in ways we might otherwise have missed.  Remember when Paul and Silas were in prison, at midnight they began to praise God.  Midnight – for some, midnight is a metaphor for the dark times of life.  Praising God during our dark times changes things.  It certainly changed things for Paul and Silas! As they prayed, God showed up in a mighty way and they were freed from their chains.  Praising God can free us from our chains, as well.

The second lesson we learn from this short psalm is that God’s faithfulness to us endures forever.  I think we have all been let down by other people, and we have probably let a few people down ourselves.  Even good people stumble and fall short.  God, however, is always faithful.  God’s love and mercy for us endures forever.  That is truly good reason to praise God!

Today, let us be mindful of praising God, especially during those times when circumstances make it appear dark. 

Posted Ramón Torres

Leave Babylon!

Isaiah 48:17 – This is what the Lord says—
your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
“I am the Lord your God,
who teaches you what is best for you,
who directs you in the way you should go.
18 If only you had paid attention to my commands,
your peace would have been like a river,
your well-being like the waves of the sea.
19 Your descendants would have been like the sand,
your children like its numberless grains;
their name would never be blotted out
nor destroyed from before me.”

20 Leave Babylon,
flee from the Babylonians!
Announce this with shouts of joy
and proclaim it.”  (NIV)

In today’s reading from Isaiah, God is commanding the people of God to flee from Babylon.  This passage follows the prophecy of the fall of Babylon to king Cyrus.  When Babylon fell, and when Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to their homeland, why would God need to command them to flee?  Wouldn’t they be eager to return home?  Wouldn’t they have a deep desire to return to their homeland, to reunite with long lost relatives?  We would like to think that this displaced group of people made a mass exodus much like their ancestors did when leaving Egypt centuries before.  The truth of the matter, however, is that only a small percentage of the people left Babylon.  There were several waves of returning refugees, but many chose to remain.  Why would they remain in Babylon?  They remained because they had grown accustomed to life in Babylon.  They had, in essence, become Babylonians.  They were comfortable. 

What a lesson for us!  Sometimes, we grow comfortable in our own ways.  We become comfortable with the language that we use, the grudges that we keep, and the prejudices that we hold onto.  We become comfortable with who and what we are.  While we may be good people, or not as bad as others, God calls us forward.  True, God loves us as we are, but God loves us too much to leave us this way! 

God’s love and grace continuously calls us to move forward in our discipleship.  God wants nothing more for us than to look back at where we are today from a year forward, or a month forward, and say, “Thank you God, for bringing me closer to you.”

Whatever it is that may be our Babylon – whatever it is that we have grown comfortable with – let us flee from it today!  Let us heed God’s call and move forward in our discipleship. 

Posted by Ramón Torres

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

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