A Year of Grace

365 Days of Grace From God's Word

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Towards Perfection

Matthew 5:43 – “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (NIV)

Today’s reading continues from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and Jesus continues to teach us about holy living.  My favorite quote from Mark Twain is from when he said, “It’s not the parts of the Bible that I do not understand that trouble me, it’s the parts I do understand that trouble me!”  Today’s reading is certainly a challenging, if not troubling, passage.  Through his teachings, Jesus makes it clear that love is often not a warm feeling, but a deliberate action – and it doesn’t always come naturally.  We are sinful, and as such it is not natural for us to love those who treat us poorly, but that is what Jesus commands of us.  Love is an action that takes the power of God’s Spirit working in us, or else we will fall short. 

Jesus was God in the flesh, and he modeled for us the perfect example of a godly life.  Our goal, as Christians, is to be Christ-like.  This is why, in verse forty-eight, Jesus tells us to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect.  Jesus modeled godly love throughout his life, and he even modeled godly love as he forgave those who killed him.  Can we be perfect?  Paul tells us in Romans 3:23 that we have all sinned, therefore we know that we are not perfect, at least not for long!  Perfection, however, is what we strive for. John Wesley is often quoted as saying that our goal is to move on towards perfection.  He was, however, preaching from Hebrews 6:1, which states: “Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection” (NKJV).

Perfection may seem too high a goal to shoot for, but if we set our sights lower and fail, how less of godly love will we achieve than if we set our sights on perfection!  Today, let us deliberately, and consciously, love everyone.  Let us seek the power of the Holy Spirit, and strive for perfection, as we seek to live as Christ-like as we possibly can. 

Posted by Ramón Torres

The Power of Our Thoughts

Matthew 5:27 – “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell”. (NIV) 

Throughout the Old Testament, the people of God were well aware of sin, and they were well aware of their own sin.  They knew of two types of sin.  First there were sins of commission.  These were the things that were sinful to commit, such as the seventh commandment found in Exodus 20:14 – “You must not commit adultery.”  The second type were sins of omission, or things that were sinful if when failed to do something.  An example of this would be the fourth commandment as found in Exodus 20:8 – “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” 

In the reading we have for today, Jesus raises the bar significantly when he tells us that even when we think of sinful things, we have committed a sin: “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).  Jesus tells us that holiness is truly a matter of the heart.  Can the transforming power of God really change our thoughts? Absolutely!  In Romans 8 we find these words: “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:5-6).  Our minds must be governed by the Spirit.  Then, Paul tells us in Romans 12:2 – “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” 

How dangerous are our thoughts?  Proverbs 23:7 tells us, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he” (NKJV). If left unchecked, our actions often follow our thoughts.  Using exaggeration to make his point, as was the practice of Jewish Rabbi’s of Jesus’ day, Jesus tells his followers that it would be better to gouge out an eye, or to cut off a hand, than to be led astray.  In other words, our thoughts are serious business!

Today, let us seek the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, that our thoughts would lead us into holy living. 

Posted by Ramón Torres

Glorify God Through Relationships

Matthew 5:21 – “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny. (NIV)

Last week we looked at how God desires for us to live holy lives.  Christianity is not just about the free gift of salvation, but about living distinctively different lives in a fallen world.  In today’s passage, Jesus continues this teaching, and he shares with us a very important lesson – being right with God means that we will do everything we can to be right with one another.

This passage begins with Jesus telling us that even being angry is subject to the same judgment as murder! That’s powerful!  He teaches us that when we call someone a fool, or Raca (which was an Aramaic term of contempt, akin to calling someone an idiot), we are in danger of the fire of hell.  Could this be true?  Yes, it is!  Christianity is not just about salvation, it is about living peacefully with one another.  If we trust in Jesus for a future event (eternity in the presence of God), then we should trust the teachings of Jesus and seek to live differently right now.  It comes down to this: our relationship with others should model our relationship with God.  This is radical teaching, but this is Christianity.

This was not a new biblical teaching.  Speaking for God, the prophet Amos told spoke these words centuries before Jesus: 

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
 Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
 But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:21-24, NIV).

Through Amos, God was basically saying the same thing that Jesus taught – we must be right with one another before we can be right with God.  Amos, like Jesus, tells us that worship is worthless if we have not sought to live in a right relationship with one another.  Paul teaches us in Ephesians: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32, NIV).  

Today, let us strive to live in harmony with one another.  Let us glorify God through every interaction we have with each and every human being.

Posted by Ramón Torres

Holy Lives

Matthew 5:17 – “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.  (NIV) 

During the first several centuries of Christianity, there was a group of Christians known as the Gnostics.  The word Gnostic comes from the Greek word gnosis, which means knowledge.  There were several forms of Gnosticism, but one early group got their name by claiming that the knowledge of salvation through Jesus was all that we needed, that one could live however they wished as long as they had the knowledge of Jesus.  It’s fairly easy to see that there are many Christians still today who live like those ancient Gnostics.

We are saved through grace, and Jesus did pay for our sins, but Christianity calls for holy living.  Throughout the New Testament we get this message of changed lives.  In the opening verses of Paul’s letter to Rome, he wrote: “I am writing to all of you in Rome who are loved by God and are called to be his own holy people” (Romans 1:7).  Paul wrote this again in 1 Corinthians 1:2 – “I am writing to God’s church in Corinth, to you who have been called by God to be his own holy people.”  We are called to be holy.  The Greek word that we translate as holy can be translated several ways, but primarily it means to be set aside for God. 

Jesus tells us the same in the reading for today.  We are called to be righteous people.  We are called to live lives dedicated to God.  Salvation is free, but our response is to live differently.  We are all sinners, and we will stumble from time to time, but that is no excuse for accepting a life of sin.  Jesus even said in verse twenty above: “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Let us strive not to live as the Gnostics lived, but as children of God who have been called to live holy lives.  Yes, we trust in Jesus’ sacrifice, but we respond through faithful living.

Posted by Ramón Torres

World Changers

Matthew 5:13 – “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (NIV)

Have you ever heard the old expression, “Children should be seen and not heard?”  To paraphrase that saying, the passage above tells us that Christians should be seen and heard!  Let’s consider salt and light as Jesus’ followers would have understood.

In the days of Jesus, salt was not just added to food in order to add flavor, but more importantly, it was added to preserve the food.  If perishable foods had no salt added, then they soon became unfit to eat.  Without salt, the food would become rotten.  In light of how they thought of salt, Jesus is essentially telling us that without Christ-followers, the world would soon become a rotten place.  This should cause us to think long and hard when we are tempted to complain about the state of the morals and ethics of society, for we are the very ones called to change the world.  Also, it would have been clearly evident if one came across food that had not been preserved with salt.  One could clearly see the difference.  Likewise, people should be able to clearly see the difference in a Christians’ life.

The people to whom Jesus spoke could not have been able to imagine how our homes are lit up as bright as day during the night.  Indeed, much of our world is lit up as bright as day during the night.  Their homes were dimly lit.  The light for a small family home may have come from a single small oil lamp.  It would have been senseless to put a bowl over the only source of light.  Likewise, it’s senseless to follow Jesus and not let others see the light of God which is within us.

We are not called to simply accept Jesus as our Savior and then go about our lives.  We are called by our Savior to be noticed by the world.  We are called to be world changers.  Today, let’s do what we can to be world changers in our world.  If we can bring light into one dark life, we can help preserve a soul for all eternity!  That’s Good Stuff!

Posted by Ramón Torres

No Condemnation

John 8:1 – Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (NIV)

Our passage for today has been the subject of debate for several reasons.  You may note a footnote in your Bible concerning this passage.  Basically, the debate stems over whether or not this passage is found in the oldest documents, and that it was in centuries past found in different places in the New Testament.  Regardless, we have the text, and we need to learn from it.

Some people use this passage, and others, to state that Christians have no business judging anyone.  To say this is to misread this passage – and the New Testament.  Jesus does judge her actions, but he does not condemn her for her actions.  We find this in verse eleven:  “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”  By telling her to leave her life of sin, Jesus was making a judgment call.

We, too, face times when we must judge the actions of others (as well as our own).  Some may say, “Jesus told us not to judge in Matthew 7”. If we read that passage carefully, what we discover is that Jesus is telling us that we will be judged with the same severity by which we judge others, so caution is called for.  Likewise, in 1 Corinthians 5, Paul tells the members of the church to make a judgment against a man who was sleeping with his father’s wife.  Life is full of judgments, but we must be careful in how we judge.  What we must never do, however, is condemn.

Condemnation is not ours to give.  Indeed, each of us, without Jesus, stands before God deserving condemnation. It is only through Jesus that we escape condemnation.  Paul tells us in Romans 8:1 –“ there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

There will be times this day, and every day, when we must judge right from wrong, but let us refrain from condemning others.  Instead, let’s celebrate the one who bore our sins and removed our condemnation! 

Posted by Ramón Torres

Regard The Lord

Psalm 28:1 – To you, Lord, I call;
you are my Rock,
do not turn a deaf ear to me.
For if you remain silent,
I will be like those who go down to the pit.
Hear my cry for mercy
as I call to you for help,
as I lift up my hands
toward your Most Holy Place.

Do not drag me away with the wicked,
with those who do evil,
who speak cordially with their neighbors
but harbor malice in their hearts.
Repay them for their deeds
and for their evil work;
repay them for what their hands have done
and bring back on them what they deserve.

Because they have no regard for the deeds of the Lord
and what his hands have done,
he will tear them down
and never build them up again.

Praise be to the Lord,
for he has heard my cry for mercy.
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.
My heart leaps for joy,
and with my song I praise him.

The Lord is the strength of his people,
a fortress of salvation for his anointed one.
Save your people and bless your inheritance;
be their shepherd and carry them forever. (NIV) 

Who do you trust? When it comes to advice, who do you trust?  We live in age when those who would give advice have instant access to spread their advice around the world via the internet, television, and radio.  Some people have made a great living dispensing advice to the masses.  Some, to be fair, give great advice.  Others, however, offer questionable advice, at best. 

In verse one of this Psalm, the psalmist makes it clear that the Lord was his Rock.  For the ancient Jews, the rocks were a place of refuge.  Amongst the rocks they found shelter from the storm, and they found a safe haven as they hid from their enemies.  The rocks were a place of safety.  When we make the Lord our rock, we find refuge and safety.  The Lord should be our Rock.  The Lord’s counsel should be the counsel we trust above all others. 

In verse three the psalmist states that the wicked speak cordially of others in their presence, but harbor malice in their hearts.  Have you ever known such people?  They speak nice words to someone when they see them, but speak evil of them when they are away.  Verse five tells us that such people ‘have no regard for the deeds of the Lord’.  When we have no regard for the Lord, we fall into all types of ‘wicked’ behaviors.  Trusting the Lord is to have regard for the Lord.  Regard means not only to look upon something, but to have respect for something. 

Let us be people who have Regard for the Lord.  Let us respect the Lord, and put our trust in the Lord.  Trusting in the Lord does not mean to just hope for eternal life.  Trusting in the Lord means that we regard the teachings of the Lord to be true, and we live by them day by day. 

Today, let us have regard for the Lord.  Let us trust the Lord and live as the righteous, not the wicked. 

Posted by Ramón Torres

Lessons From Apollos

Acts 18:18 – Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sisters and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchreae because of a vow he had taken. 19 They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to spend more time with them, he declined. 21 But as he left, he promised, “I will come back if it is God’s will.” Then he set sail from Ephesus. 22 When he landed at Caesarea, he went up to Jerusalem and greeted the church and then went down to Antioch.

23 After spending some time in Antioch, Paul set out from there and traveled from place to place throughout the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.

24 Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.

27 When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. 28 For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah. (NIV)

In today’s reading from the Book of Acts, we encounter a man named Apollos.  Who was Apollos?  In 1 Corinthians 4, Paul includes Apollos as an Apostle, so he must have been a very important person in the early Church. We know from today’s reading that he was an Egyptian from Alexandria, and we know that he was a bold preacher.  Jerome (347-420 AD) recorded that Apollos eventually became the Bishop of the Christian Church in Corinth.  There are many scholars who believe that Apollos wrote the book of the Bible that we know as ‘Hebrews’, though we do not know for certain.

What I find most interesting about Apollos from our reading today, is that he loved God so much that he humbled himself before others and was teachable.  Have you ever met a Christian who would not listen to sound teaching?  Oh, there are more than a few out there!  Apollos knew the Scriptures well (our Old Testament), and so when others explained Christian doctrine to him, he was able to understand and accept their teachings.  Therefore it is important for us to make Bible study a regular part of our lives.  When someone teaches us something, and we have a basic knowledge of the Scriptures, we can better know if what they are teaching is of sound doctrine.

Apollos presents to us a great lesson for today.  Read and study God’s Word, and be open to what others would teach you, while always returning to God’s Word for affirmation!

Posted by Ramón Torres

When We Are Afraid

Psalm 56:1 – Be merciful to me, my God,
for my enemies are in hot pursuit;
all day long they press their attack.
My adversaries pursue me all day long;
in their pride many are attacking me.

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
    In God, whose word I praise—
in God I trust and am not afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?

All day long they twist my words;
all their schemes are for my ruin.
They conspire, they lurk,
they watch my steps,
hoping to take my life.
Because of their wickedness do not let them escape;
in your anger, God, bring the nations down.

Record my misery;
list my tears on your scroll—
are they not in your record?
Then my enemies will turn back
when I call for help.
By this I will know that God is for me.

10 In God, whose word I praise,
in the Lord, whose word I praise—
11 in God I trust and am not afraid.
What can man do to me? (NIV)

We all face fears in life. What do you fear?  We may fear the loss of health, the loss of a job, the loss of a loved one.  We may fear for family and friends who are facing hardships.  We may fear economic hardships.  Whatever it is, we all have fears in life.  The Bible is filled with stories of men and women who feared, but it is also filled with stories of men and women who trusted in the Lord to see them through those times.  Psalm 56 was written by David during a difficult time in his life. We should note that David had many warriors who were loyal to him, and who would have laid down their lives for David.  When David faced difficulty, the very first place to which he turned was to God.  He wrote in verse three: “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”

Where do we turn first when we are afraid?  Where do we seek security?  Many people, when they are fearful of the days ahead, turn to destructive behaviors, chemicals, and addictive behaviors.  They claim that they find comfort in such things.  None of those things last and are of no benefit.  When we are afraid, we should turn to God.  In verse four, David said that he would turn to the Word of God, which he would praise.

Today, when we face fearful moments, let us turn to God’s Word.  Let us praise the one who knows us better than we know ourselves.  Let us trust God and no longer be afraid, for what can anyone do to us when God is for us?

Posted by Ramón Torres

Resisting Temptation

Luke 4:1 – Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
11 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”  13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time. (NIV)

Today’s reading is the familiar story of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness.  We must resist our own temptation of reading too casually the familiar stories of the Bible.  There are, indeed, many lessons to learn from this short passage, but let’s focus on two.

First, we cannot escape temptation.  We can pray to God, praise and worship God, read God’s Word, and be at church every time the doors are opened, but we will still face temptation.  If God in the flesh faced it, there is no escaping it for us.  It’s a given – we will be tempted.

This leads us to our second point for today. What should we do when we face temptation?  We should do the same thing that Jesus did – we should turn to God’s Word.  When Jesus was hungry and tempted to turn a stone into bread, he turned to Deuteronomy 8:3.  When he was tempted to use his power for worldly fame, he turned to Deuteronomy 6:13.  Even when the devil used Scripture to tempt Jesus (he quoted from Psalm 91:11-12), Jesus responded with Scripture (Deuteronomy 6:16).

Perhaps, I am preaching to the choir, since those of you reading this are studying Scripture, but today’s reading teaches us that we must be grounded in God’s Word.  We don’t have to be able to quote chapter and verse, but we should be familiar enough with Scripture so that when we need it, we can recall what we need.

Today I thank you for your faithful reading and studying of God’s Word, and I encourage you to persevere even when the Scriptures are difficult to understand. 

Posted by Ramón Torres 

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