365 Days of Grace From God's Word

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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

What Are We Living For?

John 12:20 – Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. (NIV)

Today we encounter some strong words from Jesus.  Jesus speaks of dying, losing our life, and hating our life.  What can all of this mean?  After all, Jesus told us in John 10:10 that he had come to give us a satisfying life, and now Jesus says we must hate our life.  Does Jesus contradict himself?

It basically comes down to what are we living for? Each of us can have a satisfying life, but we will not find that satisfaction in the things of this world.  A death is required to find satisfaction – a death to this world.  The Apostle Paul spoke of this dying to the world (sin) in Romans 6:2-4: “We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

Our satisfying life – a life of peace – begins when we die to the world and live for Christ.  This is what Jesus is talking about when he says:  “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (verse 25).  Hating our life is turning from worldly ways and desires, and so eternal life actually begins now.  When we turn from our worldly ways and desires, we then follow Christ, and will be where Jesus is (verse 26).

We will be tempted this day, and every day, to love the things of this world more than God.  It is a constant battle, but a battle that can get easier as we persevere in following Jesus.  Today, let us be steadfast in dying to the world and living for Christ!

Posted by Ramón Torres

In The Shadow of Your Wings

Psalm 57:1 – Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me,
for in you I take refuge.
I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings
until the disaster has passed.

I cry out to God Most High,
to God, who vindicates me.
He sends from heaven and saves me,
rebuking those who hotly pursue me,
God sends forth his love and his faithfulness.

I am in the midst of lions;
I am forced to dwell among ravenous beasts—
men whose teeth are spears and arrows,
whose tongues are sharp swords.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
let your glory be over all the earth.

They spread a net for my feet —
I was bowed down in distress.
They dug a pit in my path—
but they have fallen into it themselves.

My heart, O God, is steadfast,
my heart is steadfast;
I will sing and make music.
Awake, my soul!
Awake, harp and lyre!
I will awaken the dawn.

I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
I will sing of you among the peoples.
10 For great is your love, reaching to the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches to the skies.

11 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
let your glory be over all the earth. (NIV) 

Before I became a pastor, I was a park ranger.  Naturally, I spent a lot of time outdoors.  I also had a lot of experience with wild animals.  Of all my experiences with wild animals, I was only attacked once.  Now, you might be thinking that it was by something exciting like a bear or a mountain lion.  Well, believe it or not, the only animal that ever attacked me was a Ruffed Grouse.  A Ruffed Grouse is woodland bird that as an adult weighs in around two pounds!  The attack happened one day when I was hiking through the woods and walked too close to the mama Grouse’s clutch of chicks. Mama Grouse was relentless!  Over and over again she would fly towards my face with her talons extended.  Needless to say, I backtracked at double speed! 

I share this story because ever since that day, the opening verse of this psalm has held for me a special meaning: “I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.”  I used to think this verse quite strange – just how safe could the shadow of wings actually be?  Well, I found out that they can be a very safe place for baby birds!

The psalmist must have known something of the protective nature of a mother bird, for he used the imagery to convey God’s protective nature.  Have you ever stopped to consider that God wants to protect us from danger?  God is not only faithful to us, God is fiercely loyal, and has gone to great lengths to protect us from evil.  God has given us God’s Word to guide and teach us, as well as God’s Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth (John 16:13). To seal our victory over death, God has even given us a Savior through Jesus!

Today, let us give thanks for refuge in the shadow of God’s wings!

Posted by Ramón Torres

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

1 Peter 1:13 – So think clearly and exercise self-control. Look forward to the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. 14 So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. 15 But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. 16 For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”

17 And remember that the heavenly Father to whom you pray has no favorites. He will judge or reward you according to what you do. So you must live in reverent fear of him during your time as “foreigners in the land.” 18 For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. 19 It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. 20 God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but he has now revealed him to you in these last days.

21 Through Christ you have come to trust in God. And you have placed your faith and hope in God because he raised Christ from the dead and gave him great glory. 22 You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart. 23 For you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God. 24 As the Scriptures say,

“People are like grass;
their beauty is like a flower in the field.
The grass withers and the flower fades.
25     But the word of the Lord remains forever.”

And that word is the Good News that was preached to you. (NLT)

Many Christians have some difficulty understanding the concept of salvation through faith alone.  Most Christians profess to believe in it, but when you get them talking, they really aren’t so certain.  Is salvation a gift, or do we have to do certain things in order to earn it?  Passages such as the reading for today may make the water a little muddier for some, so let’s take a closer look.

In this passage, we encounter some things that we ought to be doing: exercising self control (verse 13); living as obedient children and not living only to satisfy our own desires (verse 14); being holy in everything we do (verse 15); showing sincere and deep love for one another (verse 22).  All that would seem well and good, except that Peter says the following: “He will judge or reward you according to what you do” (verse 17). Will God really judge us according to what we do?  Didn’t Jesus pay the price for salvation for us by dying on the cross?  Are not our sins paid in full?

We encounter numerous different writers throughout the New Testament, and each writer had a particular emphasis for his intended audience.  Most of the letters in the New Testament were written to particular churches, and those particular churches may have had questions about particular subjects.  Many of the people to whom Paul wrote were struggling to believe that Jesus really paid for all of their sins.  So, in those letters, Paul stresses that salvation is free.  Some letters were written to churches in which some people believed that since they knew about Jesus paying for their sins, that meant that they could live however they wanted.  In those letters, we find an emphasis on holy living.  1 Peter is one such letter. 

Salvation is free, and Jesus really did pay for our sins.  However, faith in Jesus should not just be faith in some future event (eternal life).  Jesus spent much of his ministry teaching us how to live, love, and to forgive.  If we really have faith in Jesus for some future event, then we should have faith in Jesus’ teachings about daily life, and our faith in those teachings should be evident in our daily lives.  In the end, our actions will reflect whether or not we really had faith in Jesus.

Will we be perfect, and will we always be holy?  Certainly not, but there should be a difference in the way we lived before we had ‘saving faith’ and the way we lived after coming to such faith.  In verse twenty-three, Peter reminds us that we have been born again.  This new birth should be evidenced by new life.  Our actions really do speak louder than our words.  Today, let’s be sure to put our faith in Jesus into practice so that our actions speak loud and clear! 

Posted by Ramón Torres

The Way We Live

Colossians 1:1 – This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and from our brother Timothy. We are writing to God’s holy people in the city of Colossae, who are faithful brothers and sisters in Christ. May God our Father give you grace and peace.

We always pray for you, and we give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all of God’s people, which come from your confident hope of what God has reserved for you in heaven. You have had this expectation ever since you first heard the truth of the Good News.

This same Good News that came to you is going out all over the world. It is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives from the day you first heard and understood the truth about God’s wonderful grace.

You learned about the Good News from Epaphras, our beloved co-worker. He is Christ’s faithful servant, and he is helping us on your behalf. He has told us about the love for others that the Holy Spirit has given you.

So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10 Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.

11 We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, 12 always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light. 13 For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, 14 who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins. (NLT)

Today’s reading comes from the opening verses of Paul’s letter to the Church in Colossae.  The letter opens as most of Paul’s letters open – with Paul giving thanks for the church, and then his prayers for them. 

In verse nine, Paul writes that he and his companions had been faithfully praying for the Colossians.  He then states what their prayers have been asking: “We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding” (verse 9).  It may be that Paul chose the words of this verse to set up his letter which would, in part, discuss doctrinal issues.  Nonetheless, we can ask for nothing greater than to have spiritual wisdom and understanding.  

Christians ask for many things through prayer.  I always find it interesting when I see someone praying before a sporting event.  Yes, the person could indeed be praying for safety, and that the players would be sportsman like.  I wonder sometimes, though, if they are praying for a win!  We must be careful in our prayer life.  Not that it is wrong to pray before a sporting event, indeed, I would like to see more of it – I just desire for all people to have the right motives for their prayers.

After Paul prays for the Colossians to have knowledge, spiritual wisdom and understanding, he then shares what his motive was for such a prayer: “Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better” (verse 10). 

We pray for many things.  Let’s also pray that we – and other Christians – would gain spiritual wisdom and understanding so that we will always honor and please the Lord!

Posted by Ramón Torres

Does Jesus Have a Friend In You?

John 15:9 – “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. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other. (NIV) 

On my very first appointment as a pastor, I was at a very small rural church located in the mountains of southwest Virginia.  Wonderfully sweet people!  Some Sunday’s we didn’t have a pianist, and they sang a cappella.  Oh, how some of those hymns could drag along!  It seemed as if they only had a handful of hymns, and whatever we sang was from that handful.  One of those hymns was “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”  It is a great hymn, and the theology is certainly solid: “What a friend we have in Jesus, All our sins and grief’s to bear!” 

We know that we do, indeed, have a friend in Jesus.  Jesus is there to carry all of our sins, but the question we must ask ourselves today, in light of this Scripture reading, is this: Does Jesus have a friend in us? 

Today’s reading from the Gospel of John is from what is commonly referred to as Jesus’ Farewell Discourse.  It takes place on the night before Jesus was crucified, and is the longest single section of John’s Gospel.  Jesus makes it clear what he expects from those that would follow him – to love one another as Jesus loves us (verse 12).  Jesus would soon lay his life down for all of us, and he tells us that this is the greatest way to show love (verse 13).  Then Jesus tells us in verse fourteen: “You are my friends if you do what I command.”   

There are countless ways in which we can lay down our lives, but it basically boils down to living unselfishly.  Earlier in this chapter, Jesus spoke of the fruit that we will produce if we would stay connected to Jesus spiritually.  In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul tells us what this fruit is: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  Not only is this the fruit of the spirit, these are the characteristics of a life lived unselfishly.  These are the characteristics of friends of Jesus.  

We know that Jesus is our friend, today let’s make sure that we are Jesus’ friend!

Posted by Ramón Torres

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