Monday, June 26, 2017

And Sometimes We Laugh

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Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’ And he laid his hands on them and went on his way. (Matthew 19:13-15)

How I wish there was a simple verse that said, "Jesus laughed."  I've looked and looked.  There isn't one.  But as I thought about what could make Jesus laugh, I thought about the above passage.  After speaking on a subject that moved His emotions (read the entire chapter on your own), children are brought to Jesus for a blessing and His ever protective disciples want the children sent away.  Thankfully, Jesus overhears this exchange and says for the children to be brought to Him.  I thought about the number of children sermons I've done, and seen; not once have I seen the person sharing God's word with kids frown or do it angrily.  And, that's my prayer, Lord, I don't want to see that or be that person!  You always see them smile.  Some even laugh knowing that if a question is asked, no telling what sort of answer one will receive.  One child, during one of my children's sermon, before I even started said, "My daddy spanked me this morning!"  The church laughed, well, except for the Dad.  

Laughter has been called "The best medicine," and its special place in life is worth noting.  Laughter reminds us that even to the sometimes overly seriousness of life, we counter it with this expression of joy.  And those of us who have seen or experienced some difficult things, do find healing in laughter.  Laughter sometimes disarms those who mean us harm.  Laughter sometimes expresses the gratitude for an unexpected blessing.  Laughter connects us with children.  And, I believe laughter connects us with God.  It is easier to share God with those who have laughed and have been put at ease.  The late Zig Ziglar, noted speaker and author, used to tell his students that the best message would have humor every seven minutes.  

Dear one, as you reflect on your life and what may be ahead for you this week, think on Jesus and His love for life and His love for us.  Think of yourself as one of the children blessed by Him on that day.  Look at His face and try to imagine the huge smile or laugh as He picks you up and says things of God to you.  Yes, Jesus loves us that much.

PRAYER:  Lord, even in the darkest moments of life, shine Your smile on us and grant to us the calm and peace that is ours because of You.  Bless this dear reader in whatever she or he may be facing, and let the gift and healing of laughter come to them at the appropriate time.  Bless us especially when we think we cannot or should not, laugh.  This I pray in Christ Jesus' strong name, amen.

Have a great and blessed day.  And laugh more today than ever!

Eradio Valverde

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Sometimes We Cry

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Jesus wept.  (John 11:35)

This verse is perhaps the most famous and chosen back in the days of Sunday school and Bible memorization.  Usually our teacher would ask us to choose a verse from the Bible, memorize it and share it the next Sunday.  Some of the smarter kids would choose longer verses; the boys (usually) would giggle and shoot glances at one another and say almost laughingly, "Jesus wept."  And what does a kind, loving Sunday school teacher say or do?  "That's fine.  Thank you."  I now wondered how she felt about hearing that verse about four or five times in the same class?

Crying is the one emotion most of us try to hide.  It's the one addressed by some cultures as not being a part of true manhood, as in "Los hombres no lloran."  (Men don't cry); yet, as I have shared, I saw my dad cry and cry hard; sob might be a better word.  Crying is an expression of an emotion that cannot be held inside, and spiritually, I believe if sighing, as Romans says, is a form of prayer, crying is a sung expression of deep feelings that say to God, "I cannot handle this, I don't know what to do, but I know Who I can turn to, and that is You.  Take my hand, my heart, and just hold me."  And crying is usually the first step towards healing and coping.  Notice that the shortest verse in the Bible, according to King James' bible, contains two words; Jesus and wept.  Jesus, the symbol of salvation, hope, and all that could be good and strong in the world; and wept, which some take as a form of surrender or weakness.  Some have questioned why the Man who can restore life, cried at the end of the life of someone.  Remember, that Jesus was fully human as well as fully God, and few other verses show the connection that God has with our situation than to express His emotions because He knows how we feel.  Lazarus had died.  Jesus knew that, but as He is surrounded by people whom He loved and they are crying, Jesus cried too.  What a connection God desires to have with you and me!

I will always remember a young man with political ambitions at my university.  I would see him every morning and he would always ask, "How are you?"  He was known by almost all students as the guy who asked that question.  And what would everyone say to him?  "I'm fine."  Most were not.  The stress of college life, finances, food, friends, the big life-decisions were looming; and as fast as this guy walked and as soon as he asked the question, he would respond, "That's great!"  Many were the times my friends would say, "We can't tell him, 'Oh, man, I can't face this any longer!'" He would be almost of range and we'd hear, "That's great!"  God is not like that and though our prayers may say, "God, I'm fine," God knows better.  Look at the graphic for today.  The word says FINE, but it is made up of the truth we hold inside:  Notice the first word is "crying," followed by a list of things that can make us cry:  depressed, hurt, frustrated, disgusted, disheartened, rejected, misunderstood, bitter, and broken.  What a list, but what a life that sometimes brings these to us.  We have Jesus.  Jesus understands and He wept.  Sometimes we have to as well.  Read the words of the psalmist who wrote, "You (God) have collected all my tears in Your bottle.  You have recorded each one in your book."

PRAYER:  Loving Father, you know best what we hold inside and why sometimes we cry.  We surrender to You in hope of being held, loved, and comforted.  We know You will sustain us and guide us to a deeper life as we move forward with You.  I pray an extra special blessing on those reading this who have been crying; especially those who have hidden it from others.  Comfort them in a mighty way; in Jesus' name, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord.  Cry if you need to.  But cry with hope.

Eradio Valverde

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Sometimes We Are Afraid

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For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1: 6-7)

Our oldest granddaughter, Saraí Evangelina, 10, is staying with us.  Last night Nellie went in and prayed with her, and I went in after.  I like to share a story with her from the Bible and she is a brilliant girl with a great grasp of all that we have shared with her.  Last week I started to share the story of David and Goliath, but grandpa had to go back to Samuel and his call.  I tried to catch up last night and I think I did too good a job of making Goliath scarier than I should have.  "If Goliath would try to get into this room, he'd have to kneel down and crawl in; and once he stood up he would hit his head on the ceiling!"  Great, grandpa.  I spoke of the power of God and how David knew how to access it and overcome all enemies that he encountered.  I prayed, turned out the light, went to bed.  This morning as I'm making my way through the mountain of boxes to my home study, I see that Saraí slept with the light on.  I felt bad.  But, you know, sometimes we are afraid. Some things scare us and make us wonder of possible outcomes.  And it is okay to tell God, "God, I'm afraid!"  And sometimes we can call on someone we trust and share with them our feelings of fear.  I have shared how two dear colleagues in ministry facing early death from cancer, both called, and both said in the same words, "I'm afraid."  

Paul knew fear, but he also knew Christ.  His life story was one death scare after another, and his end here on earth would have frightened any one.  But listen to the words he shares with young Timothy.  And I encourage you to read the entire first chapter, for in it he reminds Timothy of his family member Eunice and her faith.  The Message version for verse six says, "Keep that fire of faith ablaze" meaning remember what you received from Jesus and still claim it and use it.  At your baptism, someone laid hands on you and you were blessed by God Himself.  And when you do remember that, know this:  God does not give out the spirit of fear (cowardice); God gives out these three things; 1) A spirit of power. What words come to mind when you think of power?  Strength.  Victory.  Overcoming.2) A spirit of love. It's hard to go up against love.  Love conquers all is the saying we've heard, also, "And the greatest of these is love."  3)  Self-discipline.  The power of self-control; other versions say "a sound mind," meaning that along with power and love, it helps to keep all in perspective.

In other words, dear friend, what can possibly come against that would defeat us?  If we believe God as Paul did, the answer is nothing.

PRAYER:  Loving God, bless this dear reader in the struggles of today.  Yes, we sometimes get afraid and wonder about our finances, our health, our family, our friends; but Lord we ask that we keep burning brightly and strongly, the fire of faith that You have given us along with those three special gifts of power, love, and self-discipline.  May those bless us in ways that glorify You.  I also ask a special prayer for Rev. Bill Henderson as he recovered from unexpected surgery last night.  We pray that full strength be his and You bring him back to wholeness.  This we pray in Christ Jesus' awesome name, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord.  Live an undefeated life today.  Tackle your problems head on!

Eradio Valverde

Prayer Update:  Rev. Bill Henderson had an appendectomy last night close to 11 p.m.  He knew from early morning this was coming and he had to wait until that hour for it to be removed.  The surgery took longer than expected, but he is out and resting in his room.  Please continue to pray for Bill throughout the day.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Hard Part of the Passage

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‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father,and a daughter against her mother,and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:34-39)

A dear reader of this devotional pointed out that most preachers ignore this part of the larger passage for this coming Sunday.  Another dear reader pointed out that I was ahead; he was right.  I don't know how that happened; goes to show what happens when humans try to share God's word.  So, I will address the "hard part of the passage."  It is confusing at first reading.  How can the Prince of Peace say He did not bring peace, but a sword?  What I believe Jesus is saying is what we should already know; it is not easy bring a disciple.  And Jesus is bring honest that sometimes we will find that in our homes there will be those opposed to a full commitment to Jesus Christ.  While a campus minister, a young man came to Jesus through our ministry.  He got excited about Jesus and went home and tried to tell his mother.  She was furious!  This young man had his own church and how could he say he now had faith?!  She forbid him to continue attending our Bible studies and events.  So, the young man would tell his mother he was going to a dance, and she okayed that.  In truth, he was coming to our events.  There have been others that have told their parents they felt a calling into ministry only to have one of them say, "Lord, forbid!"  (You can't make this stuff up!).  But, these two, of many, illustrations show exactly what Jesus was talking about.  Some people are okay with wearing the label of being a Christian, but to say that one will abandon plans for a secular career for a spiritual one, will cause some division in their home.  A dear friend, successful in law, had his wife leave him when he said God called him into ministry.  She said she was called to marry a lawyer and left him for a lawyer.  You may have your own story of how your inner peace came with a price of discomfort or worse within your own family.

Jesus says to be worthy of Him means to love Him above anyone or anything else.  And that includes fathers and mothers, sons and daughters.  And that also includes taking up the cross and following Him.  The cross will mean the insults, the criticisms, the setbacks, the denials, the rejections that come to those who follow Jesus more than they follow the world.  And is it worth it?  You know it is!  So much so, that Jesus says, "Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it."  Is it worth it?  Is it worth dying and spending eternity separated from God simply because you wanted a few years of peace here?  It's a decision we all have to make.

PRAYER:  Heavenly Father, we trust in You and we want to follow and serve You.  Guide me to a discipleship that puts You above all else.  Help me to share Your love in a way that convinces the world that fleeting things don't last, but Your love does.  This I pray in Christ Jesus' name, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!  Love Jesus today in a way that shows where He stands in your life!

Eradio Valverde

Monday, June 19, 2017

Cool Water.  Cool Work!

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‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’ (Matthew 10:40-42)

As a superintendent, I heard all of my churches say they were welcoming churches.  And some were telling the truth.  As a regular visitor now in retired status, we enter churches virtually unknown and thus far, we have been welcomed by some.  Why is that important?  Welcoming is a part of connecting and the start of belonging.  We long to belong.  And that is a key part of worship and a key part of what we do as believers.   Jesus was big on welcoming all.  He wanted people to welcome His Father and the message the Father had sent through Him.  And in today's passage He stresses it again.  To welcome Jesus is to welcome God.   And if you welcome one who comes with a word from God, you will receive a prophet's reward, and the same for those who welcome the righteous.  And it's the little things, like giving someone a cup of cold water that seems to sum up the message of welcome.  My wife tells the story of the day she and her siblings followed their mom down the dusty back road from La Joya all the way to Rio Grande City.  The purpose of the trip was to go and surprise my father-in-law on his birthday.  They only had one car, and my mother-in-law did not drive.  They walked in the hot summer sun and came by a small place where the old woman who lived there called for them to stop and come in to her place.  She saw the little band of travelers in their greatest need; thirst, and so she offered them cool water.  She had also boiled some potatoes for lunch and offered them that meal.  It was a gesture they never forgot for they were blessed by this lady's kindness and care.

Whom will you bless this day with your kindness?  Whom will you welcome into a relationship with God?

PRAYER:  Loving Father, may I welcome all today in ways that bless You and Your message.  Help me to be one who offers the coolness of living water.  This I pray in Christ Jesus' strong name, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!  Be a glass of water for someone today!

Eradio Valverde

Friday, June 16, 2017

Stay Strong in the Lord!

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Because of you I look like an idiot, I walk around ashamed to show my face. My brothers shun me like a bum off the street; My family treats me like an unwanted guest.  I love you more than I can say. Because I'm madly in love with you, They blame me for everything they dislike about you. When I poured myself out in prayer and fasting, All it got me was more contempt. When I put on a sad face, They treated me like a clown. Now drunks and gluttons Make up drinking songs about me.And me? I pray. God, it's time for a break! God, answer in love! Answer with your sure salvation!Rescue me from the swamp, Don't let me go under for good, Pull me out of the clutch of the enemy; This whirlpool is sucking me down. Don't let the swamp be my grave, the Black Hole Swallow me, its jaws clenched around me. Now answer me, God, because you love me; Let me see your great mercy full-face. Don't look the other way; your servant can't take it. I'm in trouble. Answer right now!Come close, God; get me out of here. Rescue me from this deathtrap. (Psalm 69:7-18 The Message)

We have all had those days, months, sometimes even years.  We do what we believe are the right things for the Lord.  We give God all we have, and it seems we don't progress.  We seem stuck in Neutral.  But, have you ever had a day when your words have equaled those of the psalmist?  We can't question his love for God, but he certainly is questioning God and the situation(s) he finds himself.  His faithfulness has made him, he believes, "look like an idiot."  He feels shame to the point of wanting to hide from others.  His sibling has shunned him, and the family treats him like an unwanted guest.  Yet, his love for God continues strong.  And he believes it is that love for God that has caused all this.  He still prays, and he still asks for salvation, and for God's mercy.  The model for us is to follow his continued devotion to God.  No matter the situation or circumstance, we cannot waver from God, for we know that God never wavers from us.

PRAYER:  Loving God, let me not waver in my faith and devotion to God.  No matter what I face or how hard I believe life to be getting to me, I shall love You, pray to You, and never give up on You.  And Lord, I pray for my dear brother/sister and whatever they may be going through.  See them through it and guide and bless them.  This is my prayer and I lift it up in Christ Jesus' strong name, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!  Try looking on the bright side today.

Eradio Valverde

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Common Father.  Family Feud

The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac.So she said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.’ The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, ‘Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named after you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.’ So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, ‘Do not let me look on the death of the child.’ And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.’ Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink. God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt. (Genesis 21:8-21)

There are many things I love about the Bible, but its honesty is what really impresses me.  There is no one perfect in its pages, save God and God's Son, Jesus.  The rest of the persons portrayed in it are just like you and me.  Its message to me is that we keep striving and walking with God; we should not falter nor give up.  And from each story we should receive what it may share with us.  Take this morning's story.  You perhaps know the background story, and you may know the reality of the consequences of this story as well.  Abraham is known as the Father of the Faith by Jews and Christians alike, but he is also known as father by the Muslims.  When he and his wife Sarah had difficulty in producing an heir, Sarah has the idea of giving him Hagar his servant woman as his second wife, and she conceived and bore a son named Ismael.  And eventually, Sarah conceived and bore Abraham the son that was named Isaac.  You can imagine the fun both women had with their own sons and the relationship between them, each other, and with the other mother.  And that's what we read about today.  The sons seemed to get along, but the presence of Ismael troubled Sarah to the point of saying, "It's either her and her son, or me and my son!  What's it gonna be?"  I'm making it too nice, Sarah said basically, "Ditch the woman and her son."  And though it troubled Abe much, he did just that.  Keep in mind that Isaac plays a very important role in the story of faith for Jews and Christians, so does Ismael for the Muslims.  And keep in mind that since that day when the two families split, there has been no love lost between Jews and Arabs; a feud that continues to this day.  They share a common father and a common hatred towards each other.

God provided for the two families, even for the one who wandered the desert to the point of death; and God does the same for families who find themselves feuding with each other about other things.  As I read this passage I thought about Adam and Eve's first children and the first murder in the Bible.  I thought about the children of Isaac and the fight for birth rights.  I thought about a dear friend and his family's struggle with the last will and testament of their parents.  And I thought about myself.  "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!"  There are certainly no perfect families.  I jokingly say, "Jesus said, 'where two or three people are gathered, there's going to be trouble,'"  And while that is usually true, it was not what Jesus said.  Jesus said, "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I will be also."  The key is to invite and keep Jesus present in all of our dealings with others and with ourselves.  The peace of Christ that we read about on Monday sometimes does seem like a sword as He said.  But onward and upward we press; sure and confident that God is with us and God will help us sort all things out.

PRAYER:  Loving Father, help us love You more and more each day.  Help us love ourselves as we should, and help us love others in the same way we love ourselves.  Bless each family represented in the reading of this devotional and prayer; help us overcome the challenges and struggles to become the people You have called us to be.  And we pray in Christ Jesus' strong name, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord.  Tell a family member you love them.

Eradio Valverde