Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Lost Will Be Found

And We Might Have a Part In It!

From Ezekiel 34:11-16; 20-24: For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice. Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.

For many this is the time of year some question, "Who will join us at the table this year?" Some ask, "Who can I join at the table?" The question is asked as preparations are beginning for the biggest meal in the USA, Thanksgiving. If you have walked the aisles of your grocery store you have seen and perhaps already bought turkey gravy, a huge pumpkin/pecan pie (or both). Many will remember the loved ones who sadly, for the first time ever, will not join us, because they have departed this earth. Imagine God's heart as God seeks those children who have left His table, to wander the earth in search of meaning and purpose, and are looking in all the wrong places. Such was the purpose behind Ezekiel's word from God. God is a seeking God, who rests and rejoices when the lost are found. God is a protecting God, who even in the midst of life's most terrific storms, can reach out a strong, loving hand and bring the lost back into safety.

The image used by the prophet is similar to the one used by Jesus from the Matthew text of Monday. Sheep matter to God; so much so, the one being neglected matter the most to God. In this passage, that theme is again stated this time in terms of those who are well fed, and those who are hungry. The injured, the weak, will all be restored to health; those who neglected them will be dealt with accordingly.

God is a God of salvation, meaning that God desires and will establish a loving relationship with those who are lost and seek it. God is a God who knocks on the door of all hearts; our job is to make sure others hear it. If we have heard that knock and have invited Christ into our lives, we should live it! We should be the light that leads people out of darkness. We may even have to knock on some doors ourselves.

PRAYER: Loving God, lead us to faithful obedience. Help us be those who helpers of those still wandering. Thank You for your love that seeks and protects. Let me be a part of Your work. In Jesus' precious and powerful name I pray, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Monday, November 17, 2014

This is Serious, Y'all!

Image from textweek.com

Christ is Coming; Be Busy!

From Matthew 25:31-46: "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' Then he will say to those at his left hand, "You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' Then he will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

I do not like movies where children die. I do not like reading books where children die. And I especially do not like news reports where children die. Imaging God's heart on seeing the same thing from His throne in Heaven. And God sees not just the death of children, but the slow death of people of all ages, from hunger, disease, nakedness, loneliness, friendlessness, and thirst. So the message from His Son, Jesus Christ to us in this passage is serious, y'all. We, you and me, through our churches, and our nation, and especially ourselves, have a life-saving, life-affirming responsibility to care for one another, especially those in need. It is interesting to note that this powerful message comes after the disciples ask about His return to earth. Jesus' message is simply this: be ready, but be working in the meantime, for there is much to do.

At the time of this writing, there are only nine days before most of us will sit down to the greatest meal we have in our year. Most Thanksgiving tables at which I have sat, both mine and others, have been laden with food; more food than we can consume in one sitting. There is, if grandmas and moms of college students home for the holiday have anything to do with the choices, foods of all kinds. Not just the roasted or fried turkey, but the dressing, mashed potatoes, corn, green beans, casseroles of all kinds, and the list goes on and on. On the dessert table; okay, I'll stop. I'm hungry, too. Yet, our hearts and minds should be attuned to those who have nothing; who, if they wander into a place that feeds the hungry, get a similar meal; but do not enjoy the setting of family and love. Yes, even those in homes of family may feel some loneliness or experience tensions of past hurts and pains; but the message should be clear: Do for one another as God has done for us.

Feed the hungry. Quench the thirst of the thirsty. Welcome the stranger. Clothe the naked (and Christ did not mean, at low prices in a rummage or church garage sale!). Care for the sick. Visit the prisons. This was a partial list of all that is needed even today. And, Jesus said, when you do this for the "least of these, you did it for me." By the same token, if we neglect to do that, we are neglecting Christ. The rewards are there because they are real in my opinion. Heaven is as real as hell; and it will be us who decide in which we will reside.

Choose to share life, and you will enjoy the fullness of life here, and when it is time to return home; there with God.

PRAYER: Loving God, prepare our hearts, minds, spirits, and hands to care for one another. Help us to be all about being YOU in the midst of those who do not yet know You. Give us courage, boldness and vision, to do Your will. This, we pray in Christ Jesus' precious and powerful name, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Thursday, November 13, 2014

No Better Place to Dwell

Photo of Eliana Beth Garcia

Where Do You Come Alive?

From 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!

To think of a dwelling for some reason, takes my mind back to cartoons of the Flintstones. Not that they live in a cave, but they should have! Dwelling is a word that I seldom, if ever, use. We use home, or house, or whatever you may call the place where you "live." The question I ask is, Where do you come alive? For many of us it is our home. I laugh as I have seen how my grandchildren love their homes and how relaxed and carefree they become in them. Most of them relax immediately upon arriving home. They undress. Some put on comfortable clothes; others choose to stay undressed. They watch and dance to videos on television or on iPads; they yell at action on screens or laugh uncontrollably at the silliest things. In other words, they come alive!

Do you come alive in God? I've been amazed at the ways some truly do come alive in God in different settings, whether it be worship or study or prayer. It's a change of attitude because of gratitude or become hope becomes real on the inside and we can face all things that we are facing. This psalm is attributed to Moses, whose life we know all too well. Interesting infancy, raised as a prince of Egypt, murderer, fugitive, deliverer, prophet, and a man of God. He saw God face to face and did not die. In all that he did and encountered, he lived a life secure in knowing that in God he came alive. He knew God and and trusted and loved Him.

How about you? Do the external things affect your internal spiritual side? Or is it, as it should be, the spiritual side affects your external side? Come alive in God and you'll be alive and well to face all things.

PRAYER: God of the fullness of life, come alive in me, and le me come alive in You. In Christ Jesus I pray, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Woman of God

photo by Eradio Valverde. Painting by Jason Rodriguez of Corpus Christi.

The Prophetess Deborah From Judges 4:1-7 we find these words: The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, after Ehud died. So the Lord sold them into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-ha-goiim. Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help; for he had nine hundred chariots of iron, and had oppressed the Israelites cruelly twenty years. At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment. She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, "The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, "Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin's army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.' "

The Concert for Valor was held last night in Washington, DC, to honor Veterans and to raise money to assist those in need. Top name musical acts and celebrities from other art forms were on hand to honor our warriors. Video clips introduced some heroes that were present on stage. One such clip featured one of the first female combat officer. The first words from her were, "I am five feet tall; so I don't consider myself an officer who can be looked up to..." but her valor and leadership gained her the respect of her troops, proving herself three days into combat.

The Bible introduces us to a woman of faith, valor and leadership; Deborah. She is the fourth judge of Israel, and the only female judge ever to serve in pre-monarchic Israel. She was married to Lappidoth. She had great faith for God and as prophet, spoke for God. God used her to answer a great cry for help from Israel, after they had done "again...what was evil in the sight of the Lord." Their unfaithfulness and wickedness led them to be "sold...into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan," a cruel oppressor of Israel. God speaks to Deborah the answer they are seeking and it will involve a military campaign.

God answers all prayers. Sometimes the answer is no, other times, not yet. But these are answers. Sometimes the answer involves work on our part, assisted at times by the wisdom of those in tune with God, who understand our situation and guide us to next steps or even first steps towards that prayer being answered. The photograph above features Melanie, a young woman from our church in Port Lavaca, Texas. She was the only child who spoke during our Witness part of our charge conference there, sharing "My hope for the church is..." She is standing beside the painting our worship painter shared during the worship hour, which he entitled, after being inspired at earlier charge conferences by children and youth, "My Hope For The Church Is..." These children and youth are part of our hope for the Church, and we know they are, and will, work hard to answer our prayers for the future of His work on earth.

What is God calling you to do?

PRAYER: God, please grant us the faith and strength of Deborah in all facets of our spiritual life. Help us to have courage and boldness, like her, to face the enemies of doubt, discouragement, indifference, apathy, and evil. We know we are more than conquerors in all things because of You. And it is in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior that we pray. Amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Jesus Will Come Again. You Ready?

Photo from Beach Retreat 2011 with Rusty Freeman, by Eradio Valverde

Instructions on Preparation

From 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11: Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, "There is peace and security," then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

Some people are ready for whatever in a matter of minutes. Others, and you can't see me pointing at myself, or you for that matter; take our time. Very few people like to leave for an event or a journey in a rushed manner. I never like to leave the house for an extended stay without my medicines. Life would become too interesting without them. I know from experience. So, now my medicines never leave my suitcase, and my suitcase never leaves the side of my bed. Okay, TMI. But it lets us understand how the author of this passage took being ready for Christ's return. One thing was certain, it is emphasized, no one knows the day nor hour. "A thief in the night" is the most common illustration. Nor should we be lulled by a false sense of security and peace. And, taking a lesson from pregnancy, the start of labor for some is the start of a long day or night; the longer the delay the more the urgency for wanting the baby born. And, like a pregnant woman who cannot tell her baby to wait until a more opportune time, can we expect that the coming of the Lord will depend on our readiness or willingness.

The good news is that we who believe an trust the Lord, are ready now. And we should be awake and sober, keeping to our task of helping us know and be ready for Jesus. Here, the writer uses the illustration of the Roman soldier's armor: Protect our hearts with the breastplate of faith and love, and keep our thoughts protected with the certainty of our salvation; for we are ready, not for wrath or destruction, but for eternal life through Jesus Christ, who is our Lord and Savior. Live a life that encourages and builds up one another.

In other words, brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, live a life that says Yes, I know Jesus. I love Jesus, and I'm ready right now for Jesus to return.

PRAYER: Loving God, may that be my prayer; that I live a life that reflects and encourages others to believe and be ready for Your coming. In Christ Jesus I pray, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Monday, November 10, 2014

My Hope for the Church Is...

Photograph by Eradio Valverde

Jesus Wants Us Prepared, but Working

From Matthew 25:14-30: "For it will be as when a man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted to them his property; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them; and he made five talents more. So also, he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.' And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.' He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, 'Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.' But his master answered him, 'You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.'

The young lady above in the photograph is named Melanie. She's from First United Methodist Church of Port Lavaca, Texas. She participated in the Witness part of our charge conference. She was the last of a good group of children and youth who have shared their hope for the Church. We have had with us at each charge conference, an exciting worship painter named Jason Rodriguez, who yesterday, painted this awesome painting that he named, My Hope for the Church Is... He said he was inspired by the words shared by these children and youth about the church.

In the same way, we can say that this parable is Jesus' Hope for the Church. It is a parable of preparation and utilization. In other words, what has God shared with you; and what are you doing with it? The use of the word talent in this parable lends itself to be limited to just ability; but it goes beyond that. Jesus is talking about something valuable entrusted to the care of these three servants/slaves. The Master obviously has everything, and these slaves have nothing, even limited freedom. Each is entrusted with different amounts of this prize possession and the master leaves on a journey. The first received five talents or five shares of this entrusted property. He is a wise and savvy person and goes and makes five more. He risked what had been entrusted to him and reaped a reward double in size to the initial gift. The second, does the same. Risks and wins. The last, who was entrusted with only one share, does nothing. Risks nothing, and buries his entrusted possession in the ground, and gains nothing. His concern was more about not losing so he risked nothing.

What has God entrusted to your care and what risks have you taken with it? If we were to with an ability that we call a talent, what talents has God entrusted to your care and what risks have you taken? For those who preach, great risk occurs every time we step behind a pulpit or podium. To open our mouths to share that first word scares the honest ones more than we care to share. For Jason to have one day felt that his talent was good enough to paint a picture was to risk trying it out and risk being criticized for that first painting. You see above what great talent this risk has brought to God's Kingdom.

In the same way, Jesus' hope for the church rests in you and what He has shared with you. What are you doing with it? If you're scared of taking that first step or speaking that first word, or lifting that first paint brush, or entering into a Sunday school room as teacher; what have you got to gain?

PRAYER: Loving God, thank You for putting Your trust and hope for the Church in me. It is a daunting task, but one, with your help and blessing that I can take. Help me to grow your church with risks that I need to take. But I take comfort in knowing that You are with me. In Your name I pray, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Stay in Touch

Image by Eradio Valverde of Caleb, Eliana, and Liam; grandkids!

Touch, Touching, Touched

From the Psalmist these words from Psalm 78: 1-4, 12-16: Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their children; we will tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. In the sight of their ancestors he worked marvels in the land of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan. He divided the sea and let them pass through it, and made the waters stand like a heap. In the daytime he led them with a cloud, and all night long with a fiery light. He split rocks open in the wilderness, and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep. He made streams come out of the rock, and caused waters to flow down like rivers.

Facebook has done more to keep people in touch. Some of it has been great; seeing old friends and meeting relatives we did not know we had or with whom we had lost touch. Some of it not so good; spouses making contact with old lovers or ex's that have led to breakups of marriages and destruction of families. We'll focus on the good for this morning. You have probably reconnected with someone you had been thinking about and had not seen, and been blessed to have received a message from them. You've seen pictures of new family members. We've even seen how some cannot live without Facebook. (I won't ask for a show of hands...) But imagine how in touch with God we could stay if we rushed to the Word of God as some of us to to see updates or messages on Facebook? This is what the Psalmist is sharing in this psalm. As he has stayed in touch with God, he wants to share the same urgency and need that he has discovered in his times of prayer, fasting, and worship. God, he reminds all, has done great things, spoken great things and these must be shared with everybody, starting with our children or little ones around us. I won't forget the time my two grandsons were playing in our living room where we have a large family Bible with pictures; they stopped their playing because there was a picture that had lions all around this man. "What's going on in this picture, grandpa?" they asked. And I had a marvelous opportunity to tell them the story of Daniel in the lion's den. It is a great story and it helped bring two young minds to the thinking and teaching of God's power to help us in our time of need.

What are the great things God has done in your life that you have not yet shared? Whom have you told? When has God provided life-saving, life-affirming help to you that you should be telling others about? They may be facing what you did and your taking time to share with them might be exactly what they need to hear.

Okay, at least post it on Facebook.

PRAYER: Loving God of love and touch; touch me anew and bring me to fullness of life. Help me to share all things that You have done so that the touch given me may help me touch others and let them touch someone and they someone new. In Christ Jesus I pray, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde