Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Carousel of Life?

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Powerful Psalm of Pain and Promise

From Psalm 22: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest. Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame. But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people. All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads; "Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver— let him rescue the one in whom he delights!" Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother's breast. On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled; I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me; they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots. But you, O Lord, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid! Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog! Save me from the mouth of the lion! From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me. I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him. From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him. The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations. To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

The list of animals in the psalm is long. Let's start with worm, and how the psalmist feels like a worm. You've been there, haven't you? How about bulls encircling you? Yep. Yet, these are bulls which remind him of hungry lions. Dogs are all around him. Wild oxen are in there. So are lions. That's why I thought about a carousel; for some, it's a fun ride; some are afraid to get on it because of the animals. I have always loved carousels, and I have enjoyed them recently with my little ones. But imagine your life being like a carousel of real live symbolic animals because of your situation. You believe you've come to the end, an end with no hope. Haven't we heard this psalm somewhere else before? Think about it... Weren't these words uttered by a man hanging on a cross? Yes, Jesus shared these words as part of what we now call the Seven Last Words of Christ. (Mt. 27:26) And verse 18 of this same psalm appears in the crucifixion in John 19: 24.

The Lenten Journey may be like this for you or for people around you. Your search for hope takes you through dark valleys of loved ones or close friends. It is our job to take those hands of sorrow and lead them to the hands of salvation; the hands of Jesus. The psalmist ends this psalm on a positive, hopeful note. The fear and despair of the first part is replaced by praise to God, a God who will deliver His people.

PRAYER: Deliverer God, help me be delivered from sorrow and sadness, so that I may join those who seek to praise You to those still hurting and sad. This I pray in Jesus' name, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Walk Blameless before God

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God bless us with every new step to be a blameless one.

From Genesis 17:1-7; 15-16: When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, "I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous." Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, "As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. God said to Abraham, "As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her."

Rev. Charles Allen, the late pastor for First UMC in Houston, used to say, "Old age has a way of boiling away who you pretend to be, to who you really are." And he would share examples that we've seen as well; some old people become the sweetest, most loving people you ever hope to meet, and some become bitter, angry persons who hate everyone, especially themselves. This passage speaks to the need of all people to start early with walking blameless before God so that as the years peel away our facades we will be exposed as people of love. The blessings will be countless! Father Abraham, in this passage, is called by God to walk before God in a blameless way, and God promises a covenant to him. And with that covenant a promise of great blessings. And a name change. From a name meaning "exalted father" to "the father of multitudes." And keep in mind his age; Father Abraham is 99 years young.

So, it matters not how old or young you are, God wants us to walk with Him. He wants us to love Him and His in a way that blesses Him and blesses us. To walk blameless is to love God and please God. It means to put others before ourselves and to care and love one another.

Ready to take that first blameless step? God is! And blessings will be ours!

PRAYER: Loving God, let me walk blameless before You today and all days. I do it just for loving You, but I know great blessings will be mine as I care for You and Yours. This I pray in Jesus' name, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

God is Able

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Faith vs. Law

From Romans 4: 13-25: For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, "I have made you the father of many nations")—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become "the father of many nations," according to what was said, "So numerous shall your descendants be." He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faith "was reckoned to him as righteousness." Now the words, "it was reckoned to him," were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.

Our Lenten Journey should take us to the place where we can say, God is able. For, if nothing more, as we seek to grow closer to God and deeper into His Word, we find passages like today's, that say that very thing. Jesus came to show that it is faith in God's power and promise that brings fullness of life, not simply adhering to do's and don'ts. Abraham became the father of nations when he was as "good as dead," and when he considered his wife's womb as barren. His faith was strengthened by giving God glory.

As we walk these 40 days, stop to give God glory. It is in so doing that we are made stronger, and that which we know becomes real: God is able.

PRAYER: Loving God, as I face whatever comes my way during my days, help me to give You glory in all things. Help my faith to strengthen and help me honor and bless Your precious and holy name. This I pray in my Savior's powerful name, Jesus the Christ, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Monday, February 23, 2015

What Did You Say?

Image of a painting by Jason Rodriguez, and the admiration of that by our grandson, Liam Carlos Vasquez. Taken at Beacon of Hope in Aransas Pass.

I lost You after You said You were going to die!

From Mark 8: 31-38: Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."

Jesus shared some serious things with His disciples, and one of them in return, shared some serious things with Him. Jesus said, I will suffer greatly. I will be rejected by the elders. I will be rejected by the chief priests. I will be rejected by the scribed. I will be killed. And, I will, after three days, rise again. Where would Jesus have lost you? Peter was lost with probably the first thing. Peter was so upset with that first thing, he didn't hear any of the things after, especially the part of resurrection. Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes Him! Jesus calls Peter Satan, and tells him to behind Him. Jesus also told Peter that he was setting his mind on human things, not the divine things.

Here comes somer more serious stuff: If you want to become Jesus' follower, you must 1) deny yourself, 2) take up your cross, and 3) follow Jesus. This Lenten Journey has been about denying ourselves; putting Christ and spiritual things first over the physical. Taking up the cross, especially in recent days, could mean marking yourself for death. The ISIS group before executing 21 Christians from Egypt said their enemy was now "the people of the Cross."

We should fear not, for like Jesus, we too, will rise again through Him. We should live our lives not ashamed or afraid to follow Jesus, but live a life with confidence and love. Help somebody come to that same life.

PRAYER: Loving God, in spite of all the dangers, we place You first. Help me to deny myself, to take up my cross, and to follow Jesus. This I pray in His name, Jesus my Lord and Savior, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Lenten Covenant

Image by Joseph Anton Koch

Everything You See One of These From Genesis 9:8-17:

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, "As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth." God said, "This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth." God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth."

Covenant is a special word. It is found in our scriptures, and comes to mean something along the lines of a holy contract, but more special. If it were a contract, God would be the party of the first part, the central party; the one party that will never break His end of the promise. We find such a contract in today's passage. Noah, after the flood, as he and his family is worshiping God, hears God say, "I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you...that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth." And to emphasis that covenant, God placed a rainbow in the sky as a sign of that promise. But we should note the word in the Bible for rainbow is the word for bow as in bow and arrow, emphasizing the seriousness of that promise.

A greater covenant was the one made with us through Jesus Christ. One that is called Good News. Christ took away our sins and gave us victory over death.

PRAYER: Loving God, help me to never forget the seriousness of Your love towards me. May we seek You in all things to glorify You. In Christ Jesus our Lord we pray, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Friday, February 20, 2015

Step Three of Forty

Leading Me to God

From 1 Peter 3:18-22:

For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

We are people of the cross. To have received a cross of ash or oil on Wednesday identified us as believers in all that the cross represents; Christ suffering for our sins once and for all, the Righteous (Jesus) dying for the unrighteous (you and me!) to put to death death in the flesh and to bring to life the spirit. It is believed that while in death, Christ visited those dead without Him; and now sits at the right hand of God, with everyone and everything subject to His reign.

Let us live a life that glorifies the power of Jesus to defeat death and sin in our lives. Let us be not afraid to tell others about this awesome act.

PRAYER: Loving God, in You I have found life. Let me share it with others. I pray this in Christ Jesus' precious name, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Step Two of Forty

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Jesus is in Sight!

From Joel 2: 1-2; 12-17: Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near— a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come. Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God? Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep. Let them say, "Spare your people, O Lord, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, "Where is their God?' "

As quiet as we make Lent out to be, our silent observation of spiritual disciplines should shout out the glory of God in our actions and attitudes. Our return to God should involve every aspect of our being, starting with our love, and not just for God, but for all people; our fasting, what we have taken up should include doing for others and being aware of others; our emotions, yes, weep for the injustices we see and read about, mourn with those who mourn; inwardly show God you're sincere and mean what you are trying to and be.

As people may wonder or ask, "Where is God," they should be able to see Him in us. Anything or anyone else is a sham. Lent is real. And so should we be.

PRAYER: Let me be real in every aspect of my being; remove what is evil and bad, guide me to the pure and good; let my life shout that I belong to You, O Living God. Amen!

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde