Thursday, October 30, 2014

How's Your Altitude?

Photo by Eradio Valverde, Jr.

An Attitude of Gratitude Towards God Will Lift You Up

From the Psalmist in the 107th Psalm: 1-7; 33-37: O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those he redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south. Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to an inhabited town; hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; he led them by a straight way, until they reached an inhabited town.He turns rivers into a desert, springs of water into thirsty ground, a fruitful land into a salty waste, because of the wickedness of its inhabitants. He turns a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water. And there he lets the hungry live, and they establish a town to live in; they sow fields, and plant vineyards, and get a fruitful yield.

Nothing goes farther and higher than an attitude of gratitude towards God. It was David's son that said, "In all ways acknowledge Him and He will make straight your paths," (Proverbs 3:6). In all things we should say, "Thank You, God." This is what the Psalmist is saying, and he starts in the right place; If nothing else, give thanks for God's love. God's love is all around us, it is eternal, and it is steadfast. And evidence of that is that in all corners of the globe, God's love is there and has redeemed so many. From desert wastes to highly populated cities; hungry and thirsty, almost to the point of fainting, yes, their spirits fainted, but their cried to God did not go unanswered. Out of trouble God led them to the places where they needed to be.

And David goes farther in declaring God's power (With apologies to the Pope and his declaration yesterday) to create the unexpected and the highly debated: Rivers into deserts; springs of water into very thirsty ground (Yes, God's visited Texas!); fruitful lands into salty wastes; all because of people's unfaithfulness towards God. But, the reverse is true, when people return to Him: Deserts into pools of water; parches lands into springs of water. The hungry come back to life and begin the fullness of life again, filled with faithfulness.

Our gratitude should say a lot about our spirit. Those who seek to see the work of the Lord even during difficult times soon see that the difficulties are brief, and great blessed times return. Through all things we never give up, nor think we are alone.

PRAYER: Lord God, give me the faith and eyes of David. Give me a heart full of love towards You and others; and let me in all things and all ways, say, Thank You! In Christ Jesus I pray, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Your Feet Might Get Wet, But...

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Faith Sees You Through What Doubt Can't See From Joshua 3:7-17: The Lord said to Joshua, "This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, so that they may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses. You are the one who shall command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, "When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.' " Joshua then said to the Israelites, "Draw near and hear the words of the Lord your God." Joshua said, "By this you shall know that among you is the living God who without fail will drive out from before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites: the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is going to pass before you into the Jordan. So now select twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. When the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan flowing from above shall be cut off; they shall stand in a single heap." When the people set out from their tents to cross over the Jordan, the priests bearing the ark of the covenant were in front of the people. Now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest. So when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the edge of the water, the waters flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap far off at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, while those flowing toward the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, were wholly cut off. Then the people crossed over opposite Jericho. While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan.

Life is a series of first steps. A baby begins by crawling and exploring, and sometimes comes to the edge of the blanket set on the floor, and looks around before venturing off of it onto the floor. Then comes the literal first step, marking the day that child no longer holds onto the coffee table or wall, to take that step. Each time most babies will have a smile of joy, some even squeal with delight at that accomplishment. The first steps that follow are harder but necessary. As faith becomes a part of that child's life, it serves as strength to encounter and overcome the hardships and challenges that may come its way. Imagine the first steps Joshua had to take when the mantle of leadership fell on him. He had awfully big shoes (sandals?) to fill; Moses was "the man," and Joshua, at first, "not so much." Yet, both men had God on their side, and to both men, God said, "I am with you; do as I tell you." In this case, God wanted to show Israel that He was guiding Joshua just as He had guided Moses; but the big test came in selecting one man from each of the 12 tribes to carry the ark of the Lord into the Jordan River. Each man knew of the power of the ark and how the wrong person carrying it usually died; the first step would be to have the faith needed to touch the ark. Then to lift it and to begin walking with the ark into the bank overflowing waters of this river. Your feet might get wet, but the rest will be a cinch, might have been what Joshua said to these twelve. Ask yourself, Do I have the faith to get my feet wet as I set off to walk across a river?

We may not literally get asked by God to cross a river, but we are asked to cross the aisle in church; across the street from the church; and across rivers of difference between races, cultures, ideologies, and whatever else has for years divided our churches. Yes, our feet may get wet, or even stepped or stomped on; but the trip towards a promised land of new life and cooperation will make the whole journey worth it.

PRAYER: Loving God, strengthen my heart, my mind and my willingness to move forward in faith to cross over whatever has been dividing me and Your Church, towards a new life with new people, myself included. This I pray in Christ Jesus' precious name, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Living, Active Word

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Hearing, Doing, and Living the Word of God for Our Lives

From 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13: You remember our labor and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was toward you believers. As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God's word, which is also at work in you believers.

This passage made me think of some of those who were my pastor as a child first hearing and learning about God's love. My parents were key, thank God, and their role was very important; but as I think back to sitting and church and hearing key things here and there, I made an early decision to become a believer. And it truly was as Paul writes, seeing God's word "at work" in me and other believers that had me in awe. The labor of these pastors, preaching, teaching, joking, caring, all was a part of that work. It was their example and model for my life that made me want to believe and later, to become like them, as I heard God's call on my life to serve Him as a minister and pastor. But, as I have learned, it is the work of all of us to seek others and work among them, sometimes night and day, sharing, witnessing, living that which changed our life. Our conduct among others should be like the Word we have heard, pure, upright, and blameless; we should not burden others with the way we live or act. We should be as parents with some; all the while urging and encouraging one another to lead lives that will witness to others.

The best appreciation we can have of our pastors is to live a life that witnesses to the work they have lived among us. And to live it in such a way, others will want to join in!

PRAYER: For all, pastors and lay, who have given of their lives to witness to mine, thank You! And let me be among those who now live a life that speaks volumes of what You have and are doing among us. In Jesus Christ I pray, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Monday, October 27, 2014

Do You Suffer from an Enlarged Phylactery?

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Living and Being a true Follower of Jesus Christ

From Matthew 23:1-12: Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

There is a Dad's School my own Dad neglected to tell me about. A place where they teach sayings and practices that one does not hear very much any more. In some ways that's good, overall, well, the jury is still out. But in reading this passage I remember my Dad saying, "Do as I say, not as I do." In some ways Jesus was saying that about the religious leaders of His day. "You may do as they teach you, but not live they way they do." The reality was that these leaders were teaching their interpretation of what they believed God wanted taught, but their lifestyle reflected nothing of the demands and burdens they were placing on others. They sought recognition and places of privilege, but did nothing to show they were in any sense worthy of these. Their dress reflected commitment, but their life screamed convenience. Jesus said, you know better. Live a life worthy of God. Their phylactery were leather reminders of prayer and devotion, but these gentlemen preferred privilege over prayer.

Our role as followers and believers in Jesus Christ is to live as He did. A loving, humble servant of the Most High. Jesus sought to serve and save, and so should we. Our reward will come later, and for those obedient Jesus said our reward will be great.

PRAYER: Loving God, forgive me of the times I have sought that which the religious leaders of Jesus' time sought; help me to seek the truth of love and service, humility and devotion. This I pray in Jesus' precious and powerful name, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Friday, October 24, 2014

Secret Sins

We all pray they stay secret...

The psalmist writes in Psalm 90: 1-8, 13-17: Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. You turn us back to dust, and say, "Turn back, you mortals." For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night. You sweep them away; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning; in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers. For we are consumed by your anger; by your wrath we are overwhelmed. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your countenance. Turn, O Lord! How long? Have compassion on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us, and as many years as we have seen evil. Let your work be manifest to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands— O prosper the work of our hands!

The psalmist had them. We have them. Sins. Plural. Thoughts, words, deeds, that went against what we knew hurt God, and ultimately hurt others and us; but, for some unknown, and some very well known reasons, we went ahead and did them. Missing the mark is what some call the literal word of sin, as in you see the bull's eye, but you still aim low, usually low, and zap, there goes the arrow away from the spot where we knew the arrow should have hit. And until the Lord removes them, these sins gnaw away at us. Some painful, like the hunger in our stomachs; others subtle like butterflies, make that moths, fluttering around our faces.

David wrote these words first as an affirmation of faith, then a confession of sin and life. God is everlasting. We are not. A thousand years for God are like yesterday to us; all days like the renewing of grass by morning dew. And yet, on we sin, angering God, he declares; all while knowing of Your wrath. Before You, lay all our sins, even our secret sins, brightly exposed by God's countenance. Ouch! But, we like David, say, Have mercy on us, God; remove our sins and bring back gladness to our souls. Bring prosperity to the work of our actions; bring newness of life to us.

The gospel message is that God does remove sin, and does grant to us mercy and love. On the cross Jesus took away our sinfulness and offered to us a new relationship with God through Him. May it be that which we choose for ourselves today.

PRAYER: Loving God, like David, I confess that I am a sinner and need Your forgiveness. Remove from my spirit the sins that I have tried to hide from You. Make me a new creation that strives to please only You and not me. In Christ Jesus I pray, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Pastor's Appreciation

Are you easily discouraged?

From 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8: 1 You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, 2 but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. 3 For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts. 5 As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; 6 nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, 7 though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. 8 So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.

I returned home last night from a wonderful time with pastors from the Río Grande Conference at their annual Pastoral Convocation. It was a small group, but very Spirit-filled. As I drove there my prayer was that if I could be a blessing to someone, for God to please use me. And even if it were me going for the blessing, I was excited. The youngest pastor there on the second morning asked me an important question about staying encouraged in ministry. I responded honestly and said that I suffered from discouragement as easily as anyone else, and it was God who strengthened me and kept me going. I went in to some detail, but the point of Paul's words in this passage is about encouragement and pressing on. Paul is the model for pastoral ministry; he suffered and endured much, but on he went with an urgency of sharing Christ with all who would listen. Reread verse two, suffering and shameful mistreatment are mentioned as is "courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition." All with Paul's desire to please God with the honest message of getting right with God. I more fully understand the passage in verse 7, having a nurse living with us, "like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children." And he continues how he wishes to share not only the gospel but himself because they matter to him.

October is Pastor Appreciation Month. A month set aside to ask churches, parishioners, and all who would, to show some appreciation to their pastors. As a superintendent I encourage that for my pastors for I have been in those churches that show no appreciation as well as those who show much appreciation and love. Yes, my calling does not depend on whether I am appreciated or not, but it sure does help when a small kindness is shown that says that my work among people is appreciated. But, like Paul, I minister to please God, and appreciation from church folks or not, my work is still ever before me. I meet with pastors at the point of giving up. I meet with pastors who are raring to minister and are doing great things. No part of ministry, when done to please God and share God's love, is ever in vain. But prayer for, respect for, and laboring with, your pastors makes the journey for all, a much better one to travel.

If you've not yet shown some love for your pastor, please do. Start by praying for him or her. Write him a line or two of appreciation on a card or a note. The results will be wonderful.

PRAYER: God of our call, call our hearts to love one another, especially those who labor among us to please You. May your protection and blessing be with all pastors, and all who minister for You. Let our appreciation for them reflect the love and appreciation we have for You. Forgive us for those times when we have not shown love. This we pray in the name of Jesus our Lord, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

What Do You Think About Jesus?

My grandson, Liam, in the playground of St. Paul UMC, Corpus Christi, on Dedication Day.

Our Thinking May Be a Blessing to Others

From Matthew 22: 41-16: 41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42 "What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?" They said to him, "The son of David." 43 He said to them, "How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying, 44 "The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet" '? 45 If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?" 46 No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

Yesterday, one of my pastors came to share about her ministry in an improvised area of our city. Her church recently was awarded a generous grant which allowed for them to place a community playground on part of their property. It immediately became the playground of choice with its attractively painted equipment. Friday night a group of four were still on the playground and she went to check on them. These were community kids that she did not know and she talked to them. One of the children, Ricky, thanked her for having such a nice playground. She told him that the church was there to bless and help them, and invited them to church. Sunday morning, the four brought two additional friends and the six sat in the Sunday school room of an excited teacher and preacher. As the pastor was introducing them, Ricky held up a $5 dollar bill. "This is for your playground, " he exclaimed. "That's nice of you, Ricky! Where did you get five dollars? she asked. "I got good grades, and I want to use the money to help the playground." The pastor went and brought Ricky an offering envelope and a pencil and asked Ricky to write his name on it. The other five stared with expressions that gave them away, "Why did he get one and we didn't?" The pastor quickly went and brought them each an envelope and a pencil, along with some change she found to share with them. They also wrote their names on the envelope and the date. The six later joined an impromptu children's choir during worship, making it one of the largest choirs this church has seen in a long time.

What Ricky thought blessed him and his friends. Six little boys that I pray will soon come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior and their actions of faith will be a blessing to others. Such was the hope of Jesus in asking the question, "What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?" Given the date and time He asked it, the answer was a standard one, "The Messiah is the son of David." Correct, but not complete. They were on the right track, but not quite where they needed to be. Jesus then asked them, "How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord?" Stumped! No more questions.

Lord. Last night I sang two powerful hymns en español with pastors of the Río Grande Conference of the United Methodist Church. Lord was the message of both. Lord of my life, Lord of all who submit to Him as servants and believers in the Most High. Jesus is He who provides for us in all things. This is what I think, and I pray what I live, so that others may come to know the same.

PRAYER: Loving God, thank You for Jesus, Who is my Lord and Savior. As David said, "I shall not be in want," for in Him I have found all. Let it be so for those still seeking, and let me be a part of the discovery they can make in finding the love, mercy and joy that I have found in You. This I pray in Christ Jesus, my Lord, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde