Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Last Supper, for Now

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Maundy Thursday is Here

From Matthew 26: 17 On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?" 18 He said, "Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, "The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.' " 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal. 20 When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; 21 and while they were eating, he said, "Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me." 22 And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, "Surely not I, Lord?" 23 He answered, "The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born." 25 Judas, who betrayed him, said, "Surely not I, Rabbi?" He replied, "You have said so." 26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." 27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom." 30When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Saturday I shared with the Confirmands of our district how as a child when I first heard Maundy Thursday, I heard Monday Thursday. I thought an out of sequence week or what? How can it be Monday and Thursday? And what happened to Tuesday and Wednesday? The name refers to commandment and the new commandment that Jesus gave while celebrating the Last Supper. A new commandment I give you, that you love one another. Love is key and very present in the celebration of the Last Supper. God loved enough to give Jesus and Jesus loved enough to give Himself for us. Can we not give love to one another, no matter who the other is?

There was also an element of betrayal in the supper. Jesus knew this was His last night with the disciples and that one of them was to betray Him that night. The disciples upon hearing that question Jesus if it was them one by one. Even Judas. For Maundy Thursday as a pastor, I would set up two tables and twelve chairs around it. People were invited to come and sit at the tables. One year I made twelve cards of each disciple. I found the symbol of each and placed it on the card. I shared a little of the history and legend of each below the symbol and I turned each card face down before the people sat. The Judas card was marked and those assisting me were told not to give the Judas card to children. I shared Jesus' words about betrayal and how we still continue to betray or deny Jesus in our lives, and then I asked them to turn the cards face up. It was always an audible gasp for those receiving the Judas card. If not a gasp a look around as if to ask, You want to trade with me?

Jesus took the bread and broke it and said, "Take, eat, this is my body." A body soon to be given and broken like the bread. The sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb, killed to pay for our sins.

He then took the cup, gave thanks and said, "Drink from this, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for the forgiveness of sins. I will never drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom." Within hours, Jesus' blood would flow from the cross, each drop precious with power to forgive and make new OUR lives.

Today is that day we associate with the first Last Supper and one that should be spent in God's house if possible, to truly share among believers our joy and pain for all that Jesus endured for our sake.

This is God's love for us in action.

PRAYER: Loving God, I know that I am not worthy of any of the things You offered through Christ Jesus for me, but because of Your great love You still invite me to sit at the same table as Jesus. What it represents does make me worthy and for that I am humbled and thankful. Be glorified in my life today is my prayer. In Christ Jesus' name I pray, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

What the World Needs Now is Love, Sweet Love

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While you're at it, get some for yourself!

This is Wednesday of Holy Week. Much was said by Jesus during this last week of his earthly life and I've chosen to highlight this passage from Matthew 22: 34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" 37 He said to him, " "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

If you grew up attending Sunday school, what stands out as the greatest teaching about God? This is basically what the Pharisees were asking Jesus, but with a malicious intent. They knew the Law and expected all people to know the Law as well. They knew this passage in their scriptures read that this was the great commandment, but so did Jesus and He shares it with them: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." This is first found in the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 6, as part of the central teaching of the Jewish faith called The Shema. It is a great commandment because it focuses on God and our need to love God with all we have; our heart, our soul and our mind. Every aspect of our being must be filled with love for God because we know that God is filled with love for us. Yet, Jesus adds on to it something He read in Leviticus 19:18 as a commandment equally as important: You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Then He adds, "These two commandments hold all the laws and the prophets together. And if we follow them, it might just hold us together, too.

We should love ourselves in a positive way. No with conceit or arrogance assuming a posture that we are better in any sense of the world than everybody else, but with the proper respect and gratitude for being who we are regardless of anything else. This assumes our knowing God made us and in the right light, e.g. God's, we are worthy of love. And with that love that we should have for ourselves we should love others, no exceptions. Think of bitter people, many of them at their core, do not love themselves. They criticize others, make fun of others maliciously, and all because they think they have been mocked and criticized as well, and it's usually in their own minds.

Keep it all together with love. Love God. Give Him all you got. Love yourself in a healthy, positive way. Apply that same love to those around you. No exceptions.

PRAYER: AWESOME GOD, we love you with all we have, and we pray You should help us love ourselves. Help us overlook negative thoughts about ourselves that others may have put in our thinking to know that You love us, warts and all. And with that same love, help us apply it to our neighbors who are everybody we see and know. We pray this in the One who loves us enough to die for us, Jesus our Lord, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Prepare your hearts for worship tomorrow in the house of God where you attend.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Doing the Father's Will

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Tuesday of Holy Week in Jesus' Life

This is Tuesday in Jesus' last week on earth in His human form, and we read this in Matthew 21: 28 "What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, "Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' 29 He answered, "I will not'; but later he changed his mind and went. 30 The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, "I go, sir'; but he did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

Jesus loved the temple. His desire was to pray and worship His Heavenly Father, but during the last year of His life every trip to the temple was an opportunity for the chief priests and scribes to trip or trap Him. Of all the lessons Jesus taught on this day we'll start with the one shared above, The Parable of Two Sons. Jesus wanted those who questioned His authority to be sure who among them was really doing the will of God; Them or Jesus?

The story is simple enough, a dad who owns a vineyard has two sons. He asks the first to go and work for him. The son gave a ready answer: No. Sound familiar in your household? It does in ours. Our grandson has learned the word no well. But in this case that son who has said no changes his mind and goes and works as requested in the first place. The father goes to the second son and says the same thing. This son, an obvious people please or at least a daddy pleaser says, "Sure! I'll go!" And does not. Which, asks Jesus, has done the will of his father? The answer is easy, the first one the chief priests and scribes reply. They must have patted themselves on the back until Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John (the Baptist) came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him."

Some religious people love their religion so much they stopped hearing from God long ago. As has been shared in this devotional, the time of Jesus was a time when people had given up on God because of the religious people. But those who seek God and God's will can hear God and are led by God. Their hearts are open to all people, especially those hated by society and they reach out to them in love to get them into relationship with God. They matter to God is the message we like, John the Baptist, shared with them. John's message was one of righteousness and love, not condemnation. It did call for repentance but it also offered a way out of their sins.

Do you love God enough to love others who seem unloveable? Careful in your answer, because you might just be unloveable yourself to some.

PRAYER: In this sacred week Loving God, speak to me and let me hear honestly about myself. I seek to love You and Yours more than ever before. Help me to do Your will. This I pray in Christ Jesus' precious and powerful name, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord.

Eradio Valverde

Monday, April 14, 2014

Monday in Jesus' Last Week

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Lessons About Faith

This is Monday in Holy Week. From Matthew 21:18 In the morning, when he returned to the city, he was hungry. 19 And seeing a fig tree by the side of the road, he went to it and found nothing at all on it but leaves. Then he said to it, "May no fruit ever come from you again!" And the fig tree withered at once. 20 When the disciples saw it, they were amazed, saying, "How did the fig tree wither at once?" 21 Jesus answered them, "Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, "Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,' it will be done. 22 Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive." 23 When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, "By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?" 24 Jesus said to them, "I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things.25 Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?" And they argued with one another, "If we say, "From heaven,' he will say to us, "Why then did you not believe him?' 26But if we say, "Of human origin,' we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet." 27 So they answered Jesus, "We do not know." And he said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

I learned to eat figs behind my church in Houston, Texas. El Buen Pastor UMC when located at the corner of 75th and Avenue K, had a large fig tree behind it. It grew some delicious figs and it never occurred to me that this would be a teaching tree for me. I learned how the leaves of that tree would make the teaching in Genesis come to life when God saw that Adam and Eve had made for themselves sand paper underwear. The leaves of the fig tree are very soft on one side but sandpaper rough on the other. And today's lesson about Jesus being hungry and finding a fig tree with nothing on it but leaves made me long for that tree myself. We see Jesus' humanity come out as he says to the tree in anger, "May no fruit ever come from you again!" The gospel records that the tree withered immediately. The disciples were amazed at Jesus' power and authority to do this and talked about it. Jesus answered them and said this about faith: "If you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what has been done to this fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,' it will be done. Whatever you ask in prayer with faith, you will receive."

Probably your problems and challenges, like mine, do not involve barren fig trees. You face bigger obstacles in your life that are depending on your faith in Jesus to overcome. That verse about praying with faith and receiving what we need is true. Sadly, so many times we will pray after we have tried our own remedies or those of friends, leaving our asking God for help for the very last. But God understands and God still replies and provides that which we need the most. The next part of today's story involves the asking of Jesus' authority in all the things He was doing and saying. The chief priests and elders were still trying to trap Jesus and Jesus asks them a question: "Did the baptism of John come from heaven or of human origin?" These holy men did not know the answer and said, "We don't know." And Jesus said to them, "Then I won't tell you by what authority I am doing these things."

May our faith be bigger and stronger than to question the why behind what we ask and what we receive. May we always know the love behind the answer of God to our prayers, for that is the greatest authority there is. We may not receive exactly what we asked, but God was still with us and loved us in all things.

PRAYER: Lord, on this Monday of Holy Week, speak to our hearts. Grant us time and strength for prayer and grant us faith strong enough to receive awesome and wonderful things from You. This I pray in He who died for me, Jesus my Lord, amen.

Have a great and blessed Holy Week in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Eradio Valverde

Thursday, April 10, 2014

No Longer Business As Usual (In The Temple)

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House of Prayer Trumps House of Money-Makers

From Matthew 11:12 Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13 He said to them, "It is written, "My house shall be called a house of prayer'; but you are making it a den of robbers." 14 The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, "Hosanna to the Son of David," they became angry 16 and said to him, "Do you hear what these are saying?" Jesus said to them, "Yes; have you never read, "Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself'?" 17 He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.

The same day as the Triumphant Entry into the Temple by Jesus, we find this passage that shares what happened next; Jesus enters the Temple and drives "out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves." Quite a racket going on in the temple. Business was good. With the emphasis by the religious rulers on the Don't List of the Law, people flocked to the temple to pay for their sins. There were animals to buy and money to be changed (We can't put a $20 bill in the plate, give me four-5's!"). And these, and the temple leaders were making money from the people's sinfulness and willingness to offer a sacrifice to be "forgiven" of their sins. You can imagine this to be quite troubling for the Son of God. Besides the odors one can imagine with all the livestock in the church, the attitude was what angered Jesus the most. The temple, the crowning architectural triumph of Jerusalem, built as a house for God, is now a flea market of sort. Jesus' words reflect the truth: "It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer'; but you are making it a den of robbers."

The second event of that day was the healing of the blind and lame in the presence of the chief priests and scribes. Add to this, children still giddy from the parade were still shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" Not pleasing to the religious leadership. So, they become angry. Jesus asks, "Have you never heard, 'Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise of yourself'?" He leaves them and goes to Bethany to spend the night there.

Jesus set the stage for what really mattered in this life, and that was a right relationship with God. The sacrifice of animals had for so long had its place in the religious life of Israel, but they had wandered away again from the love of God as expressed in the Law. God's purpose in sending Jesus was to restore that relationship with you and me. He wanted our hearts cleansed, like the temple, to become places of prayer. Jesus wants our illnesses and infirmities healed, like those praying for such in the temple. And Jesus wanted all of us, like those children and babies to have our mouths filled with God's praise.

Jesus is a man of action and fulfillment. His mission on earth was to make all things right between God and ourselves, and He did whatever it took to keep pointing back and up towards God. Our response is to believe and to allow Christ to be at work in us. Our hearts should be cleansed by Him, our lives made whole by Him, and our attitude be always one of praise.

PRAYER: Holy God, may my life become what Jesus meant it to be. Cleanse me. Heal me. Mold me and Use me to be one who praises You all the time. Amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Open The Gates of Righteousness & Give Thanks!

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Yet Another Look at Palm Sunday and Us

The Psalmist continues what he shares in Psalm 118:19 Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord. 20 This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it. 21 I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. 22 The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. 23 This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.

Palm Sunday is not just an event that happened over 2,000 years ago. It's an event that happens every day, when we do what was shared prophetically by the psalmist. Jesus comes and we have the choice of opening up the gates of our life to Him or to let Him stand patiently there while we think we are living our lives in a good way. Looking at it in another way God offers us a gate through which to enter. Entering in results in that right relationship that God has always desired with you and me. If we open the gates of our heart to Jesus, Jesus enters and shares with us an abundant life, with Jesus becoming the cornerstone of our lives. All of this is God's working in our midst; what a marvelous event it is!

Too often we take the spectator position in all things biblical and Godly. We think we're safe on the sidelines watching or along a parade route from the best possible place to view it. But our invitation is to be in the midst of the action that God is doing on our behalf. When one of our daughters was in middle school she was in the marching band and as parents were recruited to march along the streets in a parade, yours truly signed up. What a different view of a parade! You see all the marchers before it even starts, you get a close up view of the floats, and you see the horses that the sheriff's posse always ride. Then the parade starts and you march alongside the band and you hear friends call to you, trying to make you laugh and you do. But you keep marching and feel the thrill of hearing the song by the band in its entirety not wishing they would stop and play it right in front of you. You march along to the music and you hear the whole song.

Marching with Jesus allows us to hear the whole song. We're not denied bits and pieces of great music, we're in the entire performance. Imagine the feeling of the Disciples who marched behind Jesus not fully sure of what was going on but realizing it was going to be something great. The same is true for us. As we walk with Jesus we may not know who'll be along the route or what awaits us when we get to certain places, but Jesus is with us and with Him by our side, all will be well.

PRAYER: Lord, let me joyfully and thankfully walk alongside You. You know my needs and pains and yet You invite me to Your side. Bless me to be a blessing; this I pray in Thy Name, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

God's Love Endures Forever!

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Palm Sunday Sets The Stage for Christ's Love To Be Shown

The Psalmist sang this from Psalm 118:1 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever. 2 Let Israel say: "His love endures forever."

Some churches focus more on the Passion of Christ on this Sunday so the Lectionary shares only two passages for Palm Sunday. The only problem I have with celebrating the Passion so early is that we miss out on the events of this last week of Jesus' earthly life in human form, Maundy Thursday, and a gathering together in God's house for Good Friday. But for our study today and the rest of this week we'll have sufficient to study. What better way to continue with the themes of Palm Sunday than to celebrate the love of God? The psalmist said we should give thanks to God because God is good. The back and forth in our churches goes: God is good! The congregation responds, "All the time!" The pastor then asks, "And all the time?" The people answer, "God is good!" Amen. The goodness of God cannot be measured on whether you and I have received what we wanted from God. God in God's goodness knows what we need and the prayer comes back sounding and looking a lot like a No. The psalmist and we should, have the faith to say even in spite of what we still believe we need, God is good. The parade on that day brought Israel's attention back to God. Jesus came at the right time when the attention had shifted away from God and back to the people. The established religion was concerned only with the negative side of the Law and people just gave up on knowing God and the love of God. For Jesus to enter into Jerusalem was for the people to know and to declare, God is good and God's love endures forever!

Think about it, as crowded as Jerusalem was that day, word quickly spread about this itinerant rabbit whose words and works were getting well-known, and that he was approaching Jerusalem. Somehow the people knew that perhaps this was indeed the coming of the expected Messiah, but their focus and shift was more on the temporal and political than on the spiritual, but still the parade forms and the crowds welcome Jesus with their hosannas.

Ours is not a personal needs based faith. Ours is a God-based faith, where God comes first and we worship and praise Him. But as we come to know and love God we know that God provides His love to us always and along with that love comes the provisions for our lives as we have need. We learn also that we should care for one another, letting all loving share what God has given with us and in turn that pleases God to know that we love one another. The parade can keep happening as we surrender ourselves to God and join the crowds in shouting, "His love endures forever!"

PRAYER: May I join those who shout to You, Your love endures forever! I sing this and pray this in Christ Jesus' precious and holy name, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde