Wednesday, May 24, 2017

We Have Work to Do!

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So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’ Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers. (Acts 1:6-14)

My first two years of college I worked in the school's cafeteria.  It was a fun job and it paid the bills for my being there.  The downside was working breakfast; getting up ridiculously early, eating fast, then washing dishes.  I had a first period English class immediately after and I smelled like egg for that class.  I would endure class, or maybe they endured me, rush back to the dorm, shower again and I was again ready for the day.  My first boss was a European man with a heavy accent, who expected hard work from us all.  More than once we heard him tell a guilty worker, "What are you going to do, stand around all day with your hands in your pocket?  Get your hands outta yer pockets!"  Somehow, I think of that loud statement every time I read this passage.  The disciples were still a bit confused with Jesus and He risen and among them, but they kept wondering and asking, "What's next?"  In this passage they wondered if now was the time that He would restore Israel back to greatness.  Jesus calmly explains that what was next was the coming of the Holy Spirit's power upon them to be His witnesses.  And not just where they were, but in the entire city, the region, and neighboring regions all the way to the ends of the earth.  Jesus then ascended into heaven, and the disciples saw then another unexplainable thing done by our Lord.  Almost immediately, two angels ask the question asked in the cafeteria:  "What are you going to do, stand around all day with your hands in your pockets, looking up?"  (Okay, I added that last part).  "You have work to do!"

Indeed, we still do.  Our Sunday school classes, if they still exist, have dwindled down to nothing.  The question we should be asking is, Who is teaching our children about God and God's love through Jesus?  Another close question, What are our children learning these days if not about God?  And as our churches also dwindle in size, we should ask why, and what can I do about it?  This is the work, dear friends, and we have much to do.  What we do learn from this powerful passage is that Jesus equips us for the work with His Holy Spirit, and He leads, guides, and blesses us not only with opportunities, but with the words we need to use.  You may have felt God tugging at your heart to be a Sunday school teacher; volunteer!  God will give you words!  You may have felt a call into ministry, go and talk to your pastor!  You may have felt you were letting your spouse or family down; change and be the person you know God intended you to be.  This is the work, dear friends, and we have much to do.

PRAYER:  Loving God, use me.  I want to work for You.  Show me what I should do.  Grant me the power to be and do what You expect of me.  In Jesus' name I pray, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!  Get your hands outta your pockets!

Eradio Valverde

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

God Cares for Us!

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Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves; keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sistersthroughout the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. (! Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11)

One of the things I disliked most about school were the tests.  I liked more coloring, cutting, pasting, recess and refreshments.  As I advanced in grades, the notion of being tested was slowly introduced (induced?) into me.  I remember going into junior high and hearing about Pop Quizzes, and that really freaked me out.  And I can clearly remember the first one, when the teacher said, "Clear your desks, take out a clean sheet of paper and your pen or pencil - we're having a pop quiz!"  Gulp.  For that reason, I cannot understand the number of "tests" that appear on FaceBook and the number of tests that my darling bride has asked me to take.  "Find out what region of the country you are from."  Well, I know what region of the country I am from.  And at different points of ministry, a list of events and questions were handed to me which asked these to determine what level of stress I was under.  I thought there should be only one question on this test/survey:  DID YOU WAKE UP THIS MORNING?  The obvious answer is of course, YES; and if YES, you're under stress!

I'm making light of what some of us are enduring right now, but to illustrate the power of this passage.  Some are facing major medical challenges.  Some have loved ones who are near the end of their earthly journey.  Some are discovering the wedded bliss has turned into a blister; and some are doubting or questioning their faith.  Peter writes from experience that no matter the "test" we are facing, we are to rejoice knowing that we are sharing Christ's sufferings, and Christ's presence in our lives.    Peter says we are blessed!  Why?  Because, he write, "the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you."  If the testing gets too hard, that same Spirit stops resting and goes into action on our situation.  All we have to do, Peter writes, is to "humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, so that God may exalt us in due time.  Listen to this: "Cast ALL your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you!"  We still have to stand steady in our faith; we need to say no to the temptations of the devil, and know that God will soon Himself, "restore, support, strengthen, and establish you."  And we say, "To Him be the power for ever and ever.  Amen."

Dear friend, that is powerful.  God will restore you.  That means make well and whole that which you feel right now is falling apart.  God will support you.  That means that as weak as you feel and you think you are about to just fall on your face, God will hold you up, strong and steady.  God will strengthen you.  That means our weakness becomes God's strength in us.  God will establish you.  That means that people will recognize in us the presence and strength of God in our lives.  They may even wonder where the old you went!

PRAYER:  Bless this dear reader, Lord.  That which Peter wrote, let it be ours.  We need for you to restore, support, strengthen, and establish us.  We need victory over all we face for You to be glorified.  This we pray in Christ Jesus our Lord, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord.  Don't let the test of life bring you down.  Regardless what region of the country you're from!

Eradio Valverde

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Prayer of Jesus Proves It!

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After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed. ‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. (John 17:1-11)

The other night Nellie and I attended our oldest granddaughter's choir program which was called JukeBox Time Machine, which allowed the kids to travel through different eras of music.  One of those eras was the Sixties and the song was The Beatles' "She Loves You."  I remember hearing about the Beatles, then seeing them on Ed Sullivan, and later on their first movie, "A Hard Day's Night," and the song that really hooked me was "She Loves You."  As my Pakistani roommate in college said on hearing them for the first time, "They sing with such authority!"  But that song made me wonder, "Who is she?  Who is this girl that loves me?  I want to find her soon!"  Well, it didn't happen in elementary school, nor junior high, nor in high school - not even in college, nor the first years of seminary.  Not until my internship year did I find the girl that The Beatles sang about.  How did they know?

You may have a yearning to belong to someone, and here's today's message:  You and I belong to God!  If you're reading this near someone, tell them in a nice way:  "You and I belong to God!"  And here's the second special part of this text in John's gospel, Jesus prays for us, and in that prayer asks God to bless and protect us.  And that protection that Jesus seeks for us also seeks to make us one in Jesus.  That means a lot.  God and Jesus are one; as you and I should be one.  We know God's love.  We know God's love includes those not yet in this circle of love and it is our task to go and tell and invite and bring into this circle those who need to know God's love.  God will show us how, if we but ask.

PRAYER:  Loving God, thank You for loving and claiming us.  Help us never feel alone or unwanted; for  being wanted by You is greater than anybody else.  Thank you for the families that love us as well as the special people in our lives. We pray as Jesus prayed, that You bless and protect them and us; make us one in You.  This prayer we lift up in Christ Jesus' precious name, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!  Tell someone that they belong to God today!

Eradio Valverde

Thursday, May 18, 2017

God Listens and God Cares

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Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard, who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip. For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs; you let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a spacious place. I will come into your house with burnt-offerings; I will pay you my vows, those that my lips uttered and my mouth promised when I was in trouble. I will offer to you burnt-offerings of failings, with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams;I will make an offering of bulls and goats. Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for me. I cried aloud to him and he was extolled with my tongue. If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; he has given heed to the words of my prayer. Blessed be God,because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me. (Psalm 66:8-20)

Have you ever felt like you were on a  journey that would never end?  As I read this psalm I thought back to my days of public school.  There were times either at the beginning of the school year or the end of one, where I would think, "This schooling stuff is never going to end!  I still ____ number of years to go.  I had done the kindergarten thing, finished the six years of elementary, and it may have been the junior high years when I wondered, "Will the day ever come when I no longer have to go to school?"  And, thank God, it did; only to open up years of college, university and seminary.  Now there are some days when I think, "Wouldn't it be great to be in school again?"

God has seen you and me through many things, including those that seemed like they would never end, and thus you can understand the psalmist as he wrote these words.  His heart is thankful and worshipful; God has done so much for him and seen him through so many things that he just says, "I'm praising God!"  And he even invites people to come and listen to what God has done for him.  Have you ever done that?  Last night Nellie and I had supper with some old dear friends and our conversation went all over the place, but especially to the places where we had seen and experienced God at work in our lives and ministries.  We said in our words, "God has listened."  And God has answered our prayers because God loves and cares for us.  God will never remove His steadfast love from me.

What was yesterday like for you?  Someone lost their father yesterday.  Another had his wife in the emergency room while he was in a church meeting.  Someone welcomed a new child into the world.  Someone heard about a new job or setting in which they were to move.  I know those around these situations and settings have said, in their own way, God is here and God cares because He loves me.  I pray dear friend, that whatever you may have experienced, you have said the same thing.  Why not say it out loud:  God is here and God cares because God loves me.

PRAYER:  Lord, the road may seem long, and the journey difficult, but You and I will make it through.  Grant me the peace, the pace, and the patience to overcome all obstacles.  You rock, loving God!  I pray this prayer of faith in Christ Jesus' precious name, amen!

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord.  Say it out loud and use words if necessary:  God is here and God cares because God loves me!

Eradio Valverde

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

"We're the God-created!"

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So Paul took his stand in the open space at the Areopagus and laid it out for them. "It is plain to see that you Athenians take your religion seriously. When I arrived here the other day, I was fascinated with all the shrines I came across. And then I found one inscribed, to the god nobody knows. I'm here to introduce you to this God so you can worship intelligently, know who you're dealing with.  "The God who made the world and everything in it, this Master of sky and land, doesn't live in custom-made shrines or need the human race to run errands for him, as if he couldn't take care of himself. He makes the creatures; the creatures don't make him. Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him. He doesn't play hide-and-seek with us. He's not remote; he's near. We live and move in him, can't get away from him! One of your poets said it well: 'We're the God-created.' Well, if we are the God-created, it doesn't make a lot of sense to think we could hire a sculptor to chisel a god out of stone for us, does it? "God overlooks it as long as you don't know any better - but that time is past. The unknown is now known, and he's calling for a radical life-change. He has set a day when the entire human race will be judged and everything set right. And he has already appointed the judge, confirming him before everyone by raising him from the dead." (Acts 17:22-31)

The Apostle Paul took every advantage to share Jesus.  On this trip to Athens he found statues to gods all over the city, including the one shown above, which was inscribed "To the god nobody knows" or as other versions state "to an unknown god."  That was the only opening he needed to share with them the truth about God.  In a marvelous way Paul sums up the gospel from creation to resurrection which includes the judgment of the world.  Paul knew their literature and shares from a poem that says, "We're the God-created," and begins to share the truth about God being everywhere and not being confined to a statue or a site; and our God calls us all to "radical life-changes."  Paul is challenging the religiousness of their faith to the relationship of our faith; we trust God and we walk with God and from God we seek forgiveness and mercy and receive it through Jesus Christ.  And as such we await the day when we will be judged and Christ' intervention has saved us from eternal separation to eternal life in God.

The God-created should know the wondrous nature of God, and once they know it, they share Him; “In Him we live and move and have our being.” We know that God is near and we should live our lives with that assurance and knowledge.

PRAYER:  Loving God, help me to know You more today than I did yesterday.  I truly desire a relationship with You.  Forgive my sins and trespasses, and help me be one who shares You to those who do not yet know You.  This I pray in Christ Jesus' precious and powerful name, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord.  Show people that you are God-created!

Eradio Valverde

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

"There's Something Different About You"

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Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight people, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God fora good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him. (1 Peter 3:13-22)

I spent sixteen weeks at 1111 Texas Avenue in downtown Houston back in the mid-70s.  I was in marketing school for Southwestern Bell Telephone.  I had wonderful classmates that during those weeks became like family; we laughed, cried, worried, and celebrated together.  We heard each one's story, and learned how it was that we ended working for the then-telephone monopoly.  I will never forget there was a point where one of my classmates asked, "What is it about you?  There's something different about you."  I smiled and shared my faith.  I hoped that it was my attitude and outlook towards life that even though I was in the "belly of the whale," this huge corporation in downtown Houston, that God still favored me and was watching out for me.  I knew that I was being trained to make good money and to help this company make great money.  I tried hiding my sadness at having dropped out of seminary and having run away from God; but God's grace was with me even there.  The graphic above is a more gentle version of the text printed above; "Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence."  There was hope in me even in that place at that time.  My desire was to do good for God even if it was away from the pulpit.  I thank God that I did not suffer other than my feelings of disappointment towards myself and my call, but I knew that God would use me for His purposes even after this training.  The result was that this training helped me in my self-confidence, my shyness, and pushed me further into being the person I needed to be when I did become a pastor.  

Whatever you might be facing, dear friend, may be only for a season; soon it will be a fleeting memory and you will realize that God has been with you all along, and as Peter writes, "You are blessed."  We may not understand it now, but through prayer, Bible study, worship, and listening; God will make it every clear what it is that you can now do that you couldn't have done had you not passed through this.  Your prayers should be always of gratitude even in the midst of suffering, and the blessings will continue to be yours.

PRAYER:  Loving God, bless the life of this dear reader; whatever they may be going through, be it good or bad, is only for a season.  Grant to this dear person, strength and patience, and open their eyes to see the blessings that You're still sharing with them even now.  To You be all honor and glory we pray in Christ Jesus' precious name we pray, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!  Smile more!  People will wonder what is different about you!

Eradio Valverde 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Jesus Invites Us to Abide with Him

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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)

I don't know if it was because they were around old people, but something prompted a conversation between Caleb Eradio, 7, and Eliana, 4; our grandchildren.  The conversation part I heard went something like this.  Eliana:  "Caleb, when we get older I'm going to live with you."  Caleb:  "No Eliana, when we get older I have to live with a different girl."  Eliana:  "No, I need someone to take care of me."  Caleb: "When we get older, our parents die, and you live with a son."  Eliana: "I don't want a son, I want my Daddy!"

For our four year-old, who she lives with at this point is very important.  In her mind, she is content and happy right where she is, and rightly so. She is well provided for, she is loved; she has lots of toys and a big brother and little sister with whom she can play with; life is good, thank God. She cried after that little conversation and Caleb calmed her by winking at Grandma and telling her she could live with him when she was older.

Jesus continues his prepare for the future talk started in John 13, when He revealed He would suffer much and die in Jerusalem.  That set off most of chapter 14 and now he speaks of where they disciples should live.  Remember these 12 men left family and home to be on the road with Him.  His invitation was to stay with Him in spirit.  "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."  Hear these words:  "I an the vine, you are the branches."  Jesus speaking of our need to stay connected with Him always.  There is no better place to live than staying connected with the Lord.  Nellie and I have been married 39, almost 40 years.  It's safe to say we abide in each other.  Trips away from her I cannot stand; nor can she (or at least she tells me that! But I believe her!).  But Nellie and I abide in the Lord, and the blesses our abiding in each other.  Almost everything we do is done to stay connected with Jesus and with each other; and that makes the rest of life easier to face and love.  Our abundant living comes from that connection.  Together, the three of us; Jesus, Nellie, and I, can do great things.  Next time you reach for a grape still connected to branch, remember that grape would not be in your mouth had it not been part of a branch, nor the branch would not have produced it had it not stayed with the vine.  You and I are vine people joined at the heart with Jesus; connected, we can do all things for God's glory!

PRAYER:  Loving God, Vine of us all; gather us in closer to You and to each other; may we seek to live as vine people, connected to You to do all things for Your glory.  As branches joined to You as our Vine, we will not fall, nor fail; for in You we find all that we need.  We love You and praise You in Christ Jesus' strong name, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!  Hold on to the Vine!

Eradio Valverde