Friday, March 23, 2018

Jesus said, "I am the True Vine..."

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‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunesto make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.' (John 15:1-8) Dear Friend, good day to you and yours! I trust this finds you well and you are preparing for a great weekend leading up to a glorious Lord's Day when we will remember and celebrate Palm Sunday! Having just returned from our time in the Holy Land, the Bible has come alive for those of us on the trip. Many of you will remember that on Fridays I had been sharing a bit on Jesus' "I Am" sayings, and today we conclude those with this powerful declaration from our Lord: "I am the true vine."

Above you will see a photograph I took on one of our many walks. This walk was relatively easy compared to the others, for the bus took our group to the very top of a beautiful mountain and we descended slowly down it to see all there was to see. Our professor stopped to point out the grape vines on that mountain that were a part of an ancient settlement on this mountain.

Grapes were key to the Jewish people. We read about them in both the Old Testament and New Testament. Vineyards and the work associated with them were key in Jesus' teachings. But, this passage stresses the truth about our relationship with Him and God: Jesus is the vine, and God is the vine-grower, the owner, el jefe o el patrĂ³n. We as the branches are called to bear fruit and this comes only by our abiding in Jesus. To abide means to live in Him, as He lives in us. No other way will allow us to be fruitful. "Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing." Our faithfulness and fruitfulness depends on how we seek to live in Christ. Do we start, live, and end our day in constant prayer? That to me says we are abiding. Do we seek to make decisions guided by our thoughts centered on Christ? That to me says again, abiding. Do we seek to bring others to that same knowledge of love and forgiveness that Christ offers to all of us? That say abiding and it also says life.

We're about to end our Lenten Journey. We have walked many a mile and many a day with the Lord leading to His triumphant entry into Jerusalem this Sunday. Much is still to happen in Jesus' life in the coming week, and we know what Friday next holds. But, thank God, we know what Resurrection (Easter) Sunday also holds! Ours is a faith of victory and triumph, and nothing nor no one can defeat us as we seek to abide in the Lord. I pray that as we live this day with all its blessings and challenges we would be victorious in the Lord.

PRAYER: Loving God, bless and protect this dear reader as they live out this day. Abide in us as we seek to abide in You. Help us be faithful and fruitful. May the challenges and obstacles that we encounter be only temporary. This we pray in Christ Jesus' holy name, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord! Abide in the Lord as He will abide in you!

Eradio Valverde

Thursday, March 22, 2018

A Psalm of Victory!

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O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures for ever! Let Israel say, ‘His steadfast love endures for ever.’ Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it. I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Save us, we beseech you, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech you, give us success! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.We bless you from the house of the Lord. The Lord is God, and he has given us light.Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar. You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you. O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,for his steadfast love endures for ever. (Psalm 118:12, 19-29)

Good day, dear Reader!  I'm praying this is a wonderful day for you and yours!  May this devotional and time you spend in prayer today, bring rich and wonderful blessings to you and your loved ones and circle of friends.

During out study program in Israel, our professor took us to many city gates.  In fact, our time in Jerusalem was in the Old City, which still has remnants of the city wall and our hotels were located near the Jaffa Gate.  We visited an ancient city where Jacob lived and the government has taken great pain in preserving the entire structure to protect the city from the elements.  For some reason, the sun shines brighter in Israel than here and we had to wear hats or caps and sunglasses to protect ourselves from it.  But the city gates are not as large as one would think; they were small to allow about four people across to enter and leave the city.  The gates were the weakest point of defense against enemies; but for those invited and returning home, the city gate was a sight for sore eyes and the gates would open wide in celebration.  This psalm is one considered prophetic about Jesus' entering the city gates of Jerusalem for His ministry and purpose during His last week on the earth.

The psalmist, like he almost does, begins with a word of thanks and praise to the Lord God.  Then the word about the city gates opening as gates of righteousness, so that this one from God could enter in and give thanks to the Lord.  The gates become gates of righteousness for the righteous to enter in.  He who was bringing salvation could come in and share that gift with the righteous.  The image of Christ as the rejected one who becomes the Chief Cornerstone is mentioned here.  And the part of the psalm most of us know by memory, "This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it," but it is followed with a plea, "Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!"  We know what happens next.  Jesus finds the Temple not as a place of worship, but as a market place, and a corrupt one at that; an entire economy of greed operating in a sacred area.  Salvation was needed and Jesus came to bring it.

Jesus' entry into our lives, hearts, minds, and spirits is still a reason for celebration and great joy.  It is God working for our good and for our salvation; more reason to invite Him in and celebrate with Him.  All we have to do is think about the areas of our lives that are not where they should be, the sins, the doubts,, the fears, worries - any and all things impeding our forward movement - Jesus can remove them and restore us to the right relationship with God which is salvation.  And all we have to do is to ask and believe.

PRAYER:  Loving God, open wide the gates of my heart and life, and enter in.  Become the salvation that I need.  Overturn the tables of greed and self-centeredness and drive away with whips the fear and doubt in my life; restore me to righteousness and let me be a light to others.  This I pray in Christ Jesus' strong name, Amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord.  Invite the Lord in and drive the devil out!

Eradio Valverde

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Humiliation & Vindication

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The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens— wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backwards. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame;  he who vindicates me is near.Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty?All of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up. (Isaiah 50:4-9a)

Dear Friend, may this be a great day for you and all you have to do in it!  This passage is part of Jesus' passion, for the passion followed the triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  It was written by the prophet Isaiah and it described all that Jesus would face and His attitude that would see Him through all that He suffered.

The word that jumped out at me was the word flint.  Just last week our group was in the Wilderness outside of Jerusalem.  For years I have tried to imagine what the wilderness looked like and I finally saw.  It is not in any sense of the word a forest.  It is high mountains, mostly barren of much vegetation.  The little there is helps the shepherds who take their flocks there during this season, for in a couple of weeks what is green now turns brown.  But as we stopped to take in the view of the wilderness, our professor took up the different sorts of rocks and stones, and he picked up a piece of flint and said a few words about it.  It is among the hardest of rocks, used for instruments both good and bad because of the way it stands up to most things.  And the prophet uses it to describe how the face of our Savior endured the hits and spitting that came upon Him.

Jesus was and continues to be, a teacher; our teacher if we but ask and listen.  His word still sustains the weary.  Each morning He was on the earth, He relied on God to speak to Him and to guide Him.  More importantly Jesus' heart was tuned in to the sorrows and needs of those around Him.  He had an open ear and a caring heart.  And He still does.  Once taken into custody, He faced the Father for strength and peace. As He was mocked and struck, He stayed calm, and as the prophet had predicted, He never felt disgrace nor shame.  He knew God was near and God would see Him through.  All who came at Him as adversaries soon found they had lost everything by siding against Jesus.  Even today, we are called to stand with and proclaim Jesus as Lord and Savior; and as King of Kings.

Whatever it may be that has come against you, you stand not alone, but with He who has endured so much to love and save you.  Jesus still has a loving and listening ear, and a strong and caring heart.  Turn it all over to Him and He will care for you.

PRAYER:  Loving God, as I see the end of this Lenten Journey, strengthen me and guide me.  Let me be a blessing to You and to those who look to me.  As I pray I turn over to Your loving hands that which has hurt or paused me a bit; I want to move every onward and upward with Thy help; this I pray in Christ Jesus' precious name, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!  You belong to the Lord! Show that to someone today!

Eradio Valverde

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

No Special Privileges

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Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,  he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

Dear friend, I trust this finds you well and enjoying the blessings of spending time with Jesus during our Lenten Journey.  The days are drawing to a close of this Lenten Season and soon we will be remembering some powerful moments in the life of Our Lord Jesus.  Today's lesson calls us to have the same mind or attitude of Christ as we walk alongside Him.  The key words to me are faithfulness and obedience.  To Jesus, faithfulness meant identifying completely with the mission field in which He found Himself.  He heard the cries, He knew the aches and pains causing them, and He cared enough to identify with all who were hurting and lost.  He also knew that obedience was that which was calling Him towards the cross.  That He would be the sacrificial lamb of the Lord, and while a hard thing even for Jesus, sacrifice is required many times for those who would follow Jesus.  

Jesus' obedience and faithful life led Him to have the name above all names; and at the hearing of that name, we should bend our knees in prayer and worship and the confession that Jesus Christ is Lord, bringing honor and glory to God the Father.  Never did he seek, as The Message version of this passage says, "special privileges" for Himself, and neither should we.

Many have sacrificed something during this season.  Many have taken up disciplines that are not normally a part of your life; these will be blessings to you soon if they haven't yet been.  Onward and upward we march in faithful obedience to Christ Jesus, seeking to be the blessing that may change someone else's life forever.

PRAYER:  Loving Father, pour out your blessings on this dear reader, and those around them who matter.  Bless us to be a blessing and help us to bring light and love to those in darkness and isolation.  Make Yourself real in us so that many will come to know You soon.  This we pray in Christ Jesus' precious and powerful name, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!   Count it a special privilege to sacrifice yourself for the good of Christ.

Eradio Valverde

PRAYER REQUEST:  Nellie and I were able to attend the interment of Mrs. Melba Lewis yesterday, but that only served to make us a bit weaker and sicker.  We have been on bed rest since then.  Please pray for our healing.  Please pray for the family of William J. "Billy" Leo as his funeral is today.  Remember to pray for one another, and lift each other up in prayer.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Palm Sunday!

Image from When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” ’ They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’ Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. (Mark 11:1-11)

Just this past week, we sat near where Bethphage and Bethany used to be.  They're suburbs of Jerusalem, and Jesus' actions fulfilled prophecy about the coming Messiah for Israel.  As one comes to know the geography of the land, many questions have been answered, and some arise.  Please keep in mind that Jesus walked everywhere He went.  His ministry covered many regions of Israel and His entry into the capital city confirmed His rightful place as the Messiah, the Anointed One of God, sent to be King and Deliverer of Israel.  The timing was perfect for it was God's time, and the purpose was clear; act now on behalf of God for the good of all.

Spiritually and politically, the people were ready.  Some wanted the Roman presence out of their country.  Others wanted to hear the truth about God and what God desired for His people.  And some just wanted someone to address the problem of sin and doubt in their hearts.  Jesus came at the right time with the right message.

As Jesus enters Jerusalem, the people as we read above, speak their cloaks on the street and waved palms and leafy branches from their fields and all shouted, "Hosanna!  Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessed is the kingdom of our ancestor David!  Hosanna in the highest heaven!"  These were the shouts of expectant people.  Keep those in mind as by the time Friday rolls around, they would again shout, but not praises to God.

Jesus came to enter into our lives, our hearts, minds, and spirits.  He came to rule and guide those who invite Him.  He came to bring peace and comfort to the troubled souls of those who had not yet heard of any comfort or peace from God; and His work and purpose are as strong today as they were back then.  Receive Jesus as He means to be received and become His people!

PRAYER:  Loving Jesus, enter into my heart and life today as Lord and King.  Make this coming week before Your triumphant entry into Jerusalem be a time of rededication and recommitment to You and Your plan.  Use me as You would.  Bless me into being a blessing to You.  This I pray in Christ Jesus' strong name, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!  Share Jesus with those who have not yet met Him!

Eradio Valverde

Friday, March 02, 2018

BONUS: JOHN 14:6: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life."

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I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

Dear Friend, do you remember learning how to drive?  Was it fun?  Or, was the scariest thing you've ever experienced?  Most guys would say it was the fun-nest thing they ever experienced, as would some gals.  Some thought, "This is crazy!  I'm too young/little/scared to be driving this monstrous thing!"  I learned how to "drive" at about ten.  It was a family outing to visit my grandfather on the ranch where he worked.  It was south of Kingsville, mid-way between Riviera and Falfurrias.  I had to be the gate boy; I got off and opened the gate, waited til the car drove past, then secured the gate.  I thought all sorts of terrifying things.  "I'm no longer in the safety of the car, a rattlesnake could sneak up on me, as could a raging bull, or a javelina, or, or, or..."  I got back in the car and my dad said for me to come around to the other side and take the wheel.  It was the fun-nest thing ever!  The car was old and it featured a manual transmission affectionately called in those days, "three on the tree, " which meant the shift on the steering column had first, second, and third gears on it, as well as reverse.  My dad basically said, "Keep it between the ditches."

As we have learned to drive, besides getting from Point A to Point B, we have to be careful and try not only to stay between the ditches but also to avoid danger with pedestrians or other drivers; getting to our destination involved prayer, caution, and alertness.  We've come a long way from simply knowing where we are going to relying on satellites to guide our GPSs to help us on the way.  We can no longer, though some still do, say, "Turn over where the rusted out red truck is rusting away, near Aunt Gertrude's house!"  

In today's look at Jesus' "I am" statements we find one that speaks of knowing where to do, and how to go.  After speaking about His death and about Heaven being under construction, Jesus has this encounter with Thomas, who says he doesn't know where Jesus is going.  "How can we know the way?" was Thomas' question.  The I Am statement was Jesus' answer:  "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."  Through Jesus we know a better way to live and the road that takes us from sin to life to life in abundance, then to life eternal.  If we pay attention to Jesus and His word, we know how to act.  We know how to treat others.  We learn compassion and caring.  We put others before ourselves and we seek to love like never before.  We truly can be led from a self-serving, selfish existence, to one who models the presence and power of God in our midst.

Jesus' statement also included the fact that He is truth.  Jesus is the one man who never lied.  He was always honest in His dealings with people.  He was purity in motion, guided by God's love and peace; and that is ours as well, just for the asking.  Jesus has shared the truth about this life and all its challenges; and He spoke about the life beyond and how those who die in Him will receive eternal life and those who die apart from God will suffer eternally.  Jesus never denies anyone entrance into the kingdom who repents of their sin and seeks to live in peace with God and one another.  Those set on their evil ways, will get the recompense they deserve.  And we cannot blame God for condemning us to hell; we chose it.

Jesus also is life.  There is such an awesomeness to a life lived in Jesus.  Nellie and I are trying to finish our homework given to us by Jerusalem University to prepare us for our time in the Holy Land.  We have been giddy with the sites we have marked on maps and the readings that have told us about the geopolitical situations throughout that region's history.  And, we look forward to stepping on the ground on which Jesus walked; touching the waters where He spoke and was baptized; seeing where He suffered and died. A life lived in Jesus is a life of excitement and awe.  It is the fulfillment of truth in Jesus' statement about having a childlike faith in God; seeing all things with awe and amazement.  Jesus takes us by the hand and leads us out of a mundane existence into the fullness of glory all around us.

Dear one, let Jesus' love for you bless and change you today.  Only He and you know your greatest need or fear or weakness; and He can change it all for you.  Are you seeking peace?  You've found it in Jesus!  Are you seeking answers?  You can find them in Christ Jesus.  Walk with the One who is 'the way, and the truth, and the life.' 

PRAYER:  Loving Father, may all the above serve as our prayer today.  You know the heart of this dear reader, and I pray for their needs, weaknesses, fears, doubts, illnesses, worries, all be found in You.  And it is in Christ Jesus that we pray, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

SPRING BREAK:  Since we will be out of the country, our devotionals will be on spring break for two weeks or so.  I invite you to spend time reading another devotional as well as await the return of ConCafe.  May the Lord bless you all during these days is my prayer!

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Give God Glory!

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The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech,and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens,and its circuit to the end of them;and nothing is hidden from its heat. The law of the Lord is perfect,reviving the soul;the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right,rejoicing the heart;the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is pure,enduring for ever;the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold,even much fine gold;sweeter also than honey,and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. But who can detect their errors?Clear me from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from the insolent; do not let them have dominion over me.Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19)

What a wonderful day we had yesterday, dear Friend!  I say that because in this area, after cold, dreary foggy mornings, the sun came out and we enjoyed a beautiful day.  We had three Bible study classes and that was the universal comment by students.  And today's psalm certainly was brought about by a beautiful day in the writer's life and as he penned the words of this psalm, he gives glory to God, as should we.

The best sermon you might see or hear might come from the hand of Nature as it praises God.  There is speech and voice in creation, as well as sights to behold that tell us of God's majesty and might.  The images used by the psalmist reflect those, and in The Message version the modern version shares those as well.  Here is a sample:  "2 Madame Day holds classes every morning, Professor Night lectures each evening. Their words aren't heard, their voices aren't recorded, But their silence fills the earth: unspoken truth is spoken everywhere. God makes a huge dome for the sun - a superdome! The morning sun's a new husband leaping from his honeymoon bed, The daybreaking sun an athlete racing to the tape. That's how God's Word vaults across the skies from sunrise to sunset, Melting ice, scorching deserts, warming hearts to faith."

Later in that same version, he compares God's word to red, fresh, juicy strawberries.  It reminded me of one spring break that the family vacationed in California.  We packed the car and drove for a long time; our destination was Los Angeles, but we got as far as Palm Desert.  It's one of many beautiful desert cities, chief among them is Palm Springs; but we managed to get a nice room at a nice price given the lateness of the hour and a cancellation the hotel got at the last minute.  The next day we saw that we were near a very fancy market days type of event.  We walked over there and we saw several stands with the reddest, juiciest strawberries we had ever seen!  And they were huge!  To bite into one was pure heaven and we can imagine that that's how David felt as he studied God's word.  Wouldn't it be nice to feel the same way as we read what God has shared with us?

The passage closes with what many a preacher and layperson has used either vocally or silently as they prepared to present something from the Lord:  "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my Rock and Redeemer."  How best can we give God glory than by what we say and what we think?

PRAYER:  Loving Father, now I know many who have just read this are wondering if they have strawberries in their fridge.  I am one as well.  But, more importantly, give me the faith of David and the zeal he had so that every word from You is like a huge, red, juicy strawberry, filling, refreshing and nourishing.  Help me also to speak words that bless and heal, uplift and glorify You; the results of a heart focused on You.  This I pray in Christ Jesus' precious and powerful name, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!  Give God glory today!  Even with strawberry stained lips! ;)

Eradio Valverde

PRAYER REQUESTS:  We ask for continued prayers for Charlotte Wilson, who continues to struggle with recovery in her legs after multiple surgeries.  She's at home and needs our prayers.  Prayers for Joseph Latham and his recovery.  Also prayers for baby James who had some health concerns as well.  He was the baby that had emergency neck surgery some time back.  May the Lord heal him is our prayer.  Prayers for Mr. Dane Sullivan; one of the screws from a back surgery has come loose and is causing severe pain for him.  He faces another surgery along with a blood clot they have found in one of his legs.  Prayers for our brother's healing.PRAISE REPORT:  Cliff Bryant, who had a bleeding adrenal gland is doing much better and does not need surgery.  Doctors found no tumor or mass.  The family, John and Edith Lucas (his in-laws) are thankful for your prayers.  And again a reminder for prayers for Nellie and I as we leave for Houston tomorrow, followed by a flight on Saturday to Israel where we will study and tour the Holy Land for the first time in our lives.  We're excited, the family is nervous.  God is good!