Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Lord is My Shepherd!

Image of Coastal Bend families, watched over by our Shepherd

Psalm 23 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

During my internship as a pastor-in-training, I majored in funerals. I did my first solo funeral and was a part of nine (9) funerals. That number pales by what is being experienced in our churches today, but every funeral is important and has an impact on the person officiating. A dear friend often said funerals were the toughest for him and he would eat almost a gallon of ice cream before the funeral to coat his stomach. In all nine of those intern funerals, this Psalms was used. My mentor and dear friend in ministry, the late Rev. José M. Galindo would give a powerful introduction to this psalm. This introduction would catch the attention of all there, and then the words of the psalm would take over and bring the beginning of peace to those gathered in grief. Yet, this psalm is not just about the end of our life, it is about all of it. Every child should know it by heart and use it as part of their prayer life, for indeed, it speaks of God's presence, power, and peace.

God provides for our every need. We may not be aware of it, and even some may claim they don't need it. Yet, God is there, walking with us, providing us the opportunities for receiving and enjoying what our bodies and spirits need: rest, restoration, and renewal. God provides strength in the face of fear, just by our knowing that God is right there with us; we face nothing alone. Whatever enemy we have, sees our God preparing a wondrous meal of victory and celebration, yes, even before the battle - that sends a strong message to our enemies: You are defeated even before you begin!

In moments when we think we don't matter or count, God's anointing oil of belonging and love comes upon us. And if you glance and see a shadow or two or three, it might just be God, God's goodness, and God's mercy walking with you. And if ever you felt homeless in any sense of that word, think again; God even provides His house for us in which to dwell. Not just for now, but our "whole life long."

PRAYER: I pray, Lord, that You are my shepherd; there is nothing I need more than You. You walk with me, You provide the times and places for my rest; You lift me up when I feel down. You lead me, and if I follow, I will find myself on the right way. And when I face things that cause me great fear, You are there and You protect me. Lord, I love when an enemy, such as illness or loneliness or sadness comes to attack, and there You are preparing a victory celebration. Thank You, Lord. And when I feel invisible to others, pour over my head that oil of joy and meaning. May the shadows of You and Your goodness and mercy be cast over me as I walk this day. In Christ Jesus, my Good Shepherd, I pray, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Build Me a House?

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2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16 Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, "See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent." Nathan said to the king, "Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you." But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, "Why have you not built me a house of cedar?" Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.

God has blessed me with many places to live all my life. I started life in a small concrete house behind a larger house that my dad and mom rented from someone. The day came that my dad purchased a lot and had a wooden home on blocks build there. Later, he bought an old railroad building that he turned into my grandmother's house behind ours. Then, to Houston, and living in a rented, wooden apartment in a fourplex building. Then our own new home, college dorms, my apartment with my bride, several parsonages, our own new home, and back in parsonage. I am thankful that God has always provided a roof over my head, sheltered me from the elements, and given me all things that I have needed. Such was David's feeling in the story told above. He had risen from the pasture to the palace, and as king, was living in the nicest home in the country, made of cedar, so you can imagine the wonderful smell (for those of you not allergic to cedar!). But he said, "Wait a minute. Here I am in this nice house and yonder lives God in a tent!" He shares this with the prophet Nathan, with his desire to build God a similar home to his, but the word comes to the prophet from God that it would not be David to build God a home, God instead would build David's house. The ancients struggled with housing God. We do, too. God early on said He did not want a house, but would take a throne, thus the ark of the covenant, symbol of where God may sit if He so desires. The tabernacle was the symbol of God's presence as God traveled with them in the Exodus; but the point was this: God wants to be, and is, everywhere. God did not expect us to journey to certain places to say that we went there to worship God. We have churches that we do call the "house of God," but indeed, God lives within us, if we so invite Him.

And the desire of God was for David to realize that all that he had and would have, came from God. His earthly possessions, his offspring, all gifts from above. The best house David could build was a dwelling place in his heart and in the hearts of his family. God knew the best house for peace was in David's heart; and for us as well. All that we strive to do for God, and all attempts to build, pale when it comes to the truth of what God truly wants from, and for, us; a home in which to share His love and peace - in the ole ticker (heart, for you young'uns).

So, dear friend, seek to build God the best house God can have, in your heart, your own home, your family, your work, your play; in all that you do, and then step back and see if it hasn't been God to build something for YOU!

PRAYER: Loving God, build me in that which will glorify You. In Christ Jesus I pray, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

One in Christ

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Ephesians 2:11-22 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called "the uncircumcision" by those who are called "the circumcision"—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Say this with me, "I am Citizen Saint!" Say it again, this time with enthusiasm! Yes, let the caffeine do its work in you, o weak of flesh! Now, let's see what that means according to God's Word in this passage. First, in Christ Jesus, we, who were once far from God in more ways than one, are now living with God. We were "aliens" and "strangers" to the covenants of promise, and we were living as "hopeless" people. You may not even have been able to see that you would land where you are because of Jesus Christ; it may not have been on the horizon for you, or so you thought. Now, as Citizen Saint, you have peace; that deep-seated and firmly grounded peace that no one but Jesus Christ can give. You have it, use it! You are now a part of the Body of Christ and you should see no differences in other believers - you are one people! You are part of the new humanity that lives above divisions, barriers, obstacles, and differences. You are a nonviolent person. You are now a citizen with other "saints" (Believers in Christ Jesus), and a member of God's household. What an address to have! You're in the rich zip code now! Your life is "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone." You are a true spiritual being, growing in love all the time, because God lives in you!

PRAYER: Awesome and Loving God, live in me, and grant to my heart, mind, spirit and soul the promises shared above because I do want to be Citizen Saint. I want to live and share all that is mine in faith with those who do not yet have faith. And I ask this in the Name of He who saved me, Jesus my Lord, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Monday, July 13, 2015

We Have a Shepherd!

Image of Coastal Bend District families

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while." For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

The family gathered around the hospital bed of their dying father. Grandchildren and their families were there as well. The dad had been a faithful pastor for most of his life. After their visit, knowing that this may be the last time they may see their dad and grandpa alive, they decided to have a prayer and they formed a circle around him. After the prayer, one of the daughters said, "Why don't we say the 23rd Psalm together as part of our prayer?" Everyone agreed and they started. "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want..." They looked around and they started to giggle and laugh because that was all they knew of that psalm. What saved them is that they knew the Shepherd if not His psalm. They were people of faith, perhaps lacking in memorization skills; but they knew God.

Every part of this coming Sunday's Gospel lesson speaks of that Shepherd at work, bringing to life the words and teachings of the 23rd Psalm. Jesus provided a place for rest and renewal. And as people saw Him and recognized Him they gathered and Jesus shared as He usually would. A wise pastor once told me, "Jesus usually will attract a crowd," and He does if we present Him as alive and powerful as ever. Our God is a God of love and compassion, and as the psalmist knew Him, a God of wholeness and healing. Do you know Him in that way? The key to these people was their search for Jesus as we should daily seek Him and His face for our lives and the day ahead. I arise early each day to connect with God in hopes that I may know Him more deeper and learn from Him what I need for my day. John Wesley used to believe that 5 a.m. was the time to connect with God, and I chuckled this morning because I knew that to mean that by 5 o'clock you had to be dressed and in his chapel to begin worship. I do good to drag myself out of bed at that hour and begin my time of worship as close to 5:25 as I can. It matters not the time, we must connect with God and in a way that will show Him off to others during our day so that others will seek the same for themselves.

PRAYER: Loving Shepherd, come into my heart today; come in to stay. Come in to say through me that the world needs to hear; give me boldness and courageous words to bless You and Yours. Bring healing to this dear reader and me, in whatever we may be needing. This I pray in Christ Jesus, my Lord and my Savior, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Leaping, Dancing, and Praising God!

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2 Samuel 6:1-5; 12b-19 David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. David and all the people with him set out and went from Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim. They carried the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart with the ark of God; and Ahio went in front of the ark. David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing; and when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet. As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart. They brought in the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before the Lord. When David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts, and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes.

There are different denominations for a reason. There are different churches within each denomination for a reason. Whether those are good or bad reasons, we'll leave that to God and you to decide. There are different styles of worship in each of those churches, and even within some churches there are different styles of worship. One common thread should run between all styles of worship: We gather to worship God. And if this passage serves any purpose at all it is to say that sometimes when we worship, we have to, as was the expression back in the day, "To let it all hang out." Worship should be a victory celebration of sorts. God's victory over sin and death, God's victory in us when we surround to God, and turn over to Him our sins and seek to enter into the fullness of life. And worship should be a joyous celebration with music that lifts our spirits high before the Lord. And sometimes that worship music may move our souls to just move back and forth, and in some cases, like David's, we just can't help ourselves as we truly and honestly dance before the Lord. And with good reason: The ark, long a symbol of God's presence, was making its way back among the people of God. An army of 30,000 was marching with it, a new cart had been prepared for it; the holy men of God were riding with it - it was like a Fourth of July in small town America with the loudest band and as many soldiers and veterans as that town can muster up, and folks gathered to see it and to be moved by it. But it was more than that; it was the symbol of a people of God returning to the symbol of God as a sign of hope and peace. And leading the parade was the king of Israel himself and as the scripture says, "David danced before the Lord with all his might." He held nothing back in his worship celebration; and while some would question his modesty, among them his wife, daughter of the old king; David danced as he believed and felt was right and joyous for him. The people were so caught up in the moment, they too, were about God and what God had done in their lives and I doubt many, except those not fully into worship, that paid any attention to David's attire (or lack thereof). Michal, Saul's daughter and David's wife "despised (David) in her heart." Worship continued and all, except Michal, were blessed by the day's events.

Our worship time should be between God and our individual self. Whatever moved us to worship should motivate us to live and celebrate in the way that is expressive of our love and praise to God. God has done so much for us that we should not keep quiet as we worship. Some churches even allow vocal "amens" to escape worshipers' mouths! And some churches actually allow expressions such as dancing; all that of does not matter if we are truly trying in our own way to worship God and give God thanks and glory for all that God does in our lives every single day. And our attention should be drawn, not to how others are dressed or not dressed, but to God. I'm old enough to remember that in some churches, the expected dress of the day for men was a coat and tie; those who dared enter without those were looked down upon and not welcomed. These days we welcome, in most churches, anyone regardless of how they are dressed, as it should have always been. This passage ends with a covered dish supper for all who gathered, and all went home blessed and satisfied that they had indeed been in the presence of God.

Dear friend, God loves you and has done so much for you, how can you not give God thanks and praise? I'm not saying you're not, but I am urging you to give God your all in every way that you possibly can. Our world needs to see us blessed and thankful to God and to be for those who do not yet know God the way that we can live in a genuine relationship with God.

PRAYER: Loving God, equip me to be. Equip me to love. Equip me to praise. And let me do it in ways that please You so that others may come to know You. This I pray in Christ Jesus' precious name, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Sealed with a Kiss

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Ephesians 1:3-14 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory.

I date myself when I say I remember fondly the days of handwritten letters as the primary way of staying in touch. When I went away to college, I looked forward to any letter from home with news, updates, words of love, and money! I would usually get a letter from my mother and my grandmother. Mom would send one at least once a week with a couple of dollars and a note, "For buying gum!" My grandmother would send a dollar or two, usually the same note. They both said they loved me and those letters made my day. Years later, a dear friend said that when he wrote to his daughters, he would say, "I have enclosed some money to help you this week," and not put any money in it. "That way," he said, "I know they will call home, "Dad, I got your letter, but there was no money in it!"

The writer of this letter that we read begins by giving thanks for He who sends His very best to us. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as He chose in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before Him in love." He then lists all the gifts that have come our way because of our faith: adoption, when we thought we were unloveable; grace, that awesome love that comes with no conditions or strings attached; redemption, being rescued from sin because He took our place; forgiveness, that sound of joy that says, everything had been paid for and you are free to live in joy and love!; inheritance, not only do we now belong to a heavenly Father, we are to inherit all that is His for us; the word of truth, the "love letter" of life that sustains us and keeps us going; salvation, that rescue from certain death to the fullness of life - and all sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit, a "kiss" as it were, by God to us. I can think of no better letter, nor email, nor text that can come our way with better news.

There we have the news and update for this and all days. God loves us, provides for us, and has shared with us that which we need to be examples and blessings to all who do not yet know God. It is our joy and job to share those Good News with all people.

PRAYER: Awesome God, thank You for Your love and gifts. Thank You for the seal of the Holy Spirit upon us. Bless and protect us for the joy and work ahead; this we pray in Christ Jesus' precious and powerful name, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Monday, July 06, 2015

John the Baptist Gave All!

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Mark 6: 14-29 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus' name had become known. Some were saying, "John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him." But others said, "It is Elijah." And others said, "It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old." But when Herod heard of it, he said, "John, whom I beheaded, has been raised." For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, "Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it." And he solemnly swore to her, "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom." She went out and said to her mother, "What should I ask for?" She replied, "The head of John the baptizer." Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter." The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John's head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

The ministry of Jesus showed the great power that God had given Him. In the passage immediately before this one, Jesus has sent the Twelve out to do His work and they were very successful, driving out demons, and healing the sick; and in the midst of this comes one of the most disappointing and heartbreaking moments in Jesus' early ministry, the death of his kinsman, John the Baptizer. The author takes this opportunity as Herod is questioning who Jesus is, to relay the details of John's death. Herod, upon hearing of Jesus' ministry, asks if Jesus is John the Baptist raised from the dead. And this caused him fear, for he had personally put to death one of his chief critics. John, you see, could not keep quiet about immorality, namely that Herod had taken his brother's wife as his own, but no one wanted him dead more than Herodias herself, but she feared that Herod would protect John as he was afraid of his power and influence. You know the rest of the story; a great party takes place, the daughter of Herodias dances and as a reward for her great dance gets to ask for whatever she wanted, even half of the kingdom. But Mommie dearest wants only one thing: The head of John the Baptist on a platter. And that was what she got.

John was faithful to his God and to the calling that God had placed on his life. John feared nothing for he knew the extent of God's power and love, and knew that even facing death he would be with God upon his death and lived and shared the truth about God's justice and demands for our righteous living. Unlike many of us who encounter a setback or challenge and we feel like giving up. John surrended all for the sake of being faithful to God. He knew the great cost that God had already paid for his life and he assumed that a greater price would be paid in the life of his cousin, Jesus.

What about you? What are you facing that you believe you cannot go on because it would cost a lot of you or from you? You may not be asked to surrender your head, but whatever challenge or cost you face, God faces it with you. What you may show others may just be the blessing that others have been waiting to see from you.

PRAYER: Loving God, to You I surrender myself and my life. Whatever you may be asking of me, I accept and I want to go forward and serve You. Grant me boldness and courage. This I pray in Christ Jesus' precious and powerful name, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde