Wednesday, December 07, 2016

God Will Come to Save You!

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,    the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,    and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,    the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord,    the majesty of our God.  Strengthen the weak hands,    and make firm the feeble knees.  Say to those who are of a fearful heart,    ‘Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God.    He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense.    He will come and save you.’  Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;  then the lame shall leap like a deer,    and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,    and streams in the desert;  the burning sand shall become a pool,    and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,    the grass shall become reeds and rushes.  A highway shall be there,    and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it,    but it shall be for God’s people;    no traveller, not even fools, shall go astray.  No lion shall be there,    nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there,    but the redeemed shall walk there.  And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,    and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;    they shall obtain joy and gladness,    and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 35:1-10)

The coming of the Lord will mean a new world, with a new order of things.  The expected will no longer be welcomed.  The same will no longer be tolerated.  The barren will be fruitful.  The sad will be joyful.  The secular will give way to the sacred.  Such is the message of the prophet for the people of faith:  God has done, and will continue doing, a great thing.  Such is the message of Advent.  Christ's first coming has brought these things and many more to the lives of those who have received Him and live in a relationship with Him.  New converts are daily receiving these manifold blessings; but the day is coming when ALL will see just what God has had in store for the world.

God has a role in all of this and so do we.  Notice the second part of this reading; we are to help the weak and be proclaimers of a new message, "Be strong, do not fear!"  We can point to our lives and the way we have been transformed and to those being transformed around us; God is a saving God!  Salvation has brought new sight to the blind; people are seeing the hand of God at work in the world.  The deaf now hear things they had never before stopped to hear.  The lame are now active, leaping at chances to serve God, and the once quiet are now singing for joy in loud voices.  Areas of drought are now awash with God's grace, new life is present where once there was nothing.  This is God at work.  And this is us working alongside Him.

Tell somebody the Good News:  God is now here and at work, join us!

PRAYER:  Loving God, thank You for the joy that is ours.  May our lips and limbs proclaim the Good News.  Use us to bring others to the place where You need all of us to be.  This we pray in Christ Jesus' precious and powerful name, amen!

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

God Gives Us Strength and Peace

Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. (James 5:7-10)

The bumper sticker sums up how many of us feel:  God, I want patience and I want it NOW!  Does that describe you?  Advent is a season of patience.  Imagine how your children or grandchildren feel about the coming of Christmas.  Nellie and I have grandchildren of the age who are "working on their wish list."  They go online and decide which toy they want us and their aunts and uncles to get for them.  Remember laying on the floor with your siblings fighting page by page over the Sears catalog?  If you do, you're old like me! ;)  

Patience is what distinguishes farmers from weekend growers like me.  A farmer knows to wait for the right time for the right step in the cultivation and growth of his/her crop.  We must have patience like them.  We also must have strong hearts for the coming of the Lord.  Our strength comes from the Lord through our daily practice of reading the Bible, praying, reading this devotional, telling others about this devotional, worship, singing and helping others.  And strength and peace also come with our being in peace with each other.  Indeed, as the writer says, "The judge is standing at the doors," meaning that the Lord watches our every action and thought; how better for Him to see us than people of long suffering and patience, just like those ancient prophets of God.

PRAYER:  Loving God, fill me with Your strength and peace.  As I open the catalog of today, help me choose wisely that gift that will bless You and Yours.  In Christ Jesus I pray, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Monday, December 05, 2016

Questions We Ask During Times of Struggles

Image from angusday.org

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’ As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.” Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." (Matthew 11:2-11)

Advent is a time to reinforce our faith in Jesus Christ.  Each sermon, thought, study, talk, etc. related to Advent should remind us why we needed Jesus in the first place; why we need Him now, and why we need Him to come back for us.  Times of struggle and testing are those times doubt becomes a close friend, and quite frankly doubt is healthy if it leads us back to Jesus in a stronger way.  Such was the case with John the Baptist.  He served God and did all that God expected of him and yet, when found in a prison cell awaiting certain death, he wondered, "Is Jesus really who we think He is?" and has his disciples to ask Jesus.  Jesus responds with what we need to hear as well:  Jesus came to fulfill God's word.  He helped the blind to see, as scripture had foretold, the lame could walk, again a fulfillment of scripture; the lepers were made clean, deaf could hear, the dead raised from the dead, and good news shared with the poor; uh, yes, this is the One!  Jesus did not judge John for this time of weakness, nor will He judge us, for He understands all things even things we do not understand and His mercy far exceeds any comprehension of what we could possibly have, sinners that we are.

I highly recommend the movie "The Letters" about Mother Theresa of Calcutta, for it deals honestly with her life and work, and how she came to have great doubt towards the end of her life about whether she had done the right thing.  It's easier for outside parties to tell us about our work, for we are harsh judges of ourselves.  We struggle to forgive ourselves and to accept the grace and forgiveness Christ gives to us.  The message is to keep on keeping on, a 60s expression that sums up our need to continue forward with our work and faith.  Those times of doubt and sad reflection should pale to what we need Jesus will tell us one day:  "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Is Jesus the One?  You decide.

PRAYER:  Loving God, thank You for Jesus and His work and word.  Bless us with strength of faith and character as we seek to continue to be His servants in a world that could care less.  Make us care more and lift our spirits when we think we can care no longer.  This we need and pray in the name of Jesus our Lord, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

It's time to wake up!

Image from salvadordaliprints.com

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.(Romans 13:11-14)

Advent is all about time.  Time for this.  Time for that.  Part of the time is spent hurrying up, but most of the time should be about waiting for the Lord.  The Apostle in this passage calls for believers to wake up from sleep.  His was an urgent message:  There's work to do, and "salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers!"  He wanted all people made right with God and he needed help doing it.  Nothing has changed.  Now more than ever, with declining interest in church, the church needs to be us going and doing the work that we usually took for granted that would happen on Sunday mornings.  It is a matter of people caring for people's souls and telling them why Jesus came in the first place, and why He's coming a second time.  Paul's description of what's going on in the meantime still speaks of what is going on now; revealing and drunkenness, debauchery and licentiousness, quarreling and jealousy - we're wearing the clothes of Satan when we do these things.  Paul instead says we should dress with Christ; spiritual clothese that help us live out the sacred.

May it be so.

PRAYER:  Loving God, clothe me with Christ Jesus.  Wrap me in those wraps of holiness and purity.  Cover my mind with thoughts of grace and love, my mouth with phrases of praise; use my feet to take me to those in need, and use my hands to care for the hurting, the lost, the last, and the least.  This is an Advent message and I want to be faithful.  I pray in Christ Jesus' powerful name, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

If You Knew, Would You Be Ready?

Image from angusday.org

‘But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.(Matthew 24:36-44)

When we were kids we knew to know the signs that Christmas was coming.  Aside from the calendar, but who had time to stop long enough to look at one? The signs were there.  A stroll, yeah right, a run through downtown and Roy's Camera Shop, you'd see the signs!  The little evergreen trees alongside the miniature train track with blinking lights, and before too long all the stores would have something "Christmasy" in their display windows, and soon school would be out for a long time!  Oh joy, oh joy!  It seemed as soon as trick or treating's candy stash was finished, the holiday season would be upon us.  The Thanksgiving-Halloween mash would not be as bad as it seems today, but it was still a grand time of year. 

In the Christian year, this Sunday is Advent Sunday One.  A time to prepare.  We celebrate and remember Jesus' first arrival as a baby, visited by the wise men and the shepherds; sung to by choirs of angels, forced to escape his homeland to a foreign land, where his parents had sought safety and a better life for their child; yes indeed, an undocumented immigrant in the Egyptians' midst.  And Advent is also a time to remember, as we say every time we celebrate Communion, "Christ will come again."  And I believe He is coming again, as do you, but we don't know when.  It will come when God is ready, and for our sake, we should be ready as well.  The story Jesus employs in today's passage is that it will be a day like any other day, just like in the days of Noah; party after party, marriage feasts after marriage feasts, then that day came when the flood took them away.  And to further illustrate, Jesus said, "Two will be working in the field, side by side; one will be taken and one will be left.  Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.  KEEP AWAKE THEREFORE, FOR YOU DO NOT KNOW ON WHAT DAY YOUR LORD IS COMING."  And then again, if a homeowner knew when the burglar had him or her on his scheduled homes-to-hit list, he or she would be ready.  We must be ready as well, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour we do not expect. And He's coming back for His own.  Are you in that number?

PRAYER:  Lord, for this week of preparation and travel for many of us, grant us Your pace and peace.  Grant us safety and joy, a time for love and sharing; a time for remembering and giving thanks for those who have joined You but have left us behind.  Help us live our lives in ways that glorify You and signify to others that we are ready. This we pray in the name of He who died for us; in Christ Jesus we pray, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Monday, November 21, 2016

Jesus is the Bread of Life

Image from panera.com

When they found him back across the sea, they said, "Rabbi, when did you get here?" Jesus answered, "You've come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs - and for free. "Don't waste your energy striving for perishable food like that. Work for the food that sticks with you, food that nourishes your lasting life, food the Son of Man provides. He and what he does are guaranteed by God the Father to last." To that they said, "Well, what do we do then to get in on God's works?" Jesus said, "Throw your lot in with the One that God has sent. That kind of a commitment gets you in on God's works." They waffled: "Why don't you give us a clue about who you are, just a hint of what's going on? When we see what's up, we'll commit ourselves. Show us what you can do. Moses fed our ancestors with bread in the desert. It says so in the Scriptures: 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'" Jesus responded, "The real significance of that Scripture is not that Moses gave you bread from heaven but that my Father is right now offering you bread from heaven, the real bread. The Bread of God came down out of heaven and is giving life to the world." They jumped at that: "Master, give us this bread, now and forever!" Jesus said, "I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever. (John 6:25-35 The Message)

This is the week!  If you're like me, and most other Americans, this is feast week!  I'm a sucker for turkey and dressing, and all the trimmings.  (I'm gaining weight just by thinking about all the food that will be prepared and served in our house and in the big celebration we are having with family in the Valley.  But, it goes way beyond food as this passage explains.  Food was not as abundant in Jesus' time as it was now, so Jesus' miracles with bread and fish were awesome and some folks followed Jesus to get more.  Jesus was using these miracles to point to God and the feeding of the multitudes was no exception.  Those who wanted to see and get more, come to Jesus and ask how long He had been there.  Jesus honestly says, "You're not recalling looking for me because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs - and for free."  And then He proceeds in sharing the truth about God and life.  They question Jesus and go back to their Sunday school teachings on Moses and the manna shared with the people of God; but Jesus speaks of the bread from heaven, Who gives life to the world.  They get excited about that and ask how they could get in on it.  Here's the key:  Jesus said, "I am the Bread of Life.  The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever."

That is the true feast, feasting at God's table with The Bread of Life; Jesus Himself.  May that be a part of our prayers, our words, actions, and thoughts this week as we return thanks to God for this past year.  May those things reflect that we have faith and trust in God and that God provides.  May it also be a time for celebrating the joy of life as found in Jesus Christ.  Our tables may be sad because loved ones who were with us last year are not so this year, but our hope is in the Lord who promised life beyond this life.  So our hearts should be glad for the promises that keep us going, and giving.  Give thanks to the Lord for all things; rejoice in the hope we have for each day that is found in Christ Jesus.

PRAYER:  LOVING God, may we not lose sight of what this week is all about.  May our Thanksgiving be truly about what You have shared with us.  May we bless others with that same joy as we give You thanks.  This is our prayer in Jesus' precious name, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Prayer Update:  Mrs. Cassandra Cochran underwent a successful surgery and initial reports are that the tumor was benign.  May we continue praying that this be so and that healing is coming to her soon.  In Jesus' name, amen!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

A King Above Politics, And Everything!

Image from haikudeck.com

God is a safe place to hide, ready to help when we need him. We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom, courageous in seastorm and earthquake,  Before the rush and roar of oceans, the tremors that shift mountains. Jacob-wrestling God fights for us, God of angel armies protects us. River fountains splash joy, cooling God's city, this sacred haunt of the Most High. God lives here, the streets are safe, God at your service from crack of dawn. Godless nations rant and rave, kings and kingdoms threaten, but Earth does anything he says. Jacob-wrestling God fights for us, God of angel armies protects us. Attention, all! See the marvels of God! He plants flowers and trees all over the earth, Bans war from pole to pole, breaks all the weapons across his knee. "Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything." Jacob-wrestling God fights for us, God of angel armies protects us.(Psalm 46 The Message)

Before this last presidential election, the memes on social media kept saying, "It Matters Not Who Our President Is, Jesus is Still Our King!"  Amen to that.  Interesting though, this psalm is written by a king, but a king who knew his place in the order of things.  If ever there were a king who knew the True King, it was King David.  He knew Who had the real power, the real strength, the control of all things, and that was God.  And so should we.  The language of The Message version of the Bible speaks an assurance and an affirmation of the God in Whom we believe.  All we could ever or possibly need is found in God.

We don't have to wait until Sunday to proclaim that Jesus is the King of Kings!  It starts now in our hearts and minds; it should carry over to our actions and words.  We serve an awesome King, so let everyone know!

PRAYER:  Loving God, Come into my heart as King and Lord.  Save me from my sins, restore me to life and give me life to the fullest.  Help the words of my mouth be those that glorify You and bring others to a deep knowledge of You.  I pray in Christ Jesus' strong name, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde