Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Life Filled with Gladness

Picture of the Valverde grandkids this Easter weekend: SaraĆ­, Liam, Caleb, and Eliana. What gladness they always have and gladness they share with me! Bless and protect, dear Lord.

What Else Could Living in the Presence of God bring?

From Acts 2: 14a: But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 22 "You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23 this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24 But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. 25 For David says concerning him, "I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; 26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope. 27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption. 28 You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.' 29 "Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, "He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.' 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.

God has blessed me with some great ushers. Pastors know the value and worth of good ushers, and we dislike it when we have bad ushers. But great ushers never stop their work for the Lord Jesus Christ. One was retired from working and so he gave his life to missions work across the border. He would attend and worship in Mexican churches and help usher there. One night as the pastor of that particular church was preaching two drunks came and began to heckle him. "He's no good, why do they have him preaching!" The other chimed, "Yeah, he doesn't know what he's talking about!" My usher walked over to them and quietly said, "Don't worry fellas, you're next!" They walked away.

Such pressure may have been in Peter's heart called on at the last minute to preach this first post-Easter, post-Pentecost sermon to a crowd bewildered by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. He begins by identifying them and with them. We're all israelites, but listen to the story of Jesus of Nazareth. Another identity point; if they weren't from Nazareth they must have heard of it and some may have even heard about Jesus. Then the point of the story; Jesus rose from the dead! And not only that, Peter adds, David, the prophet, foretold all this! Another connecting point and one from their own scriptures. He quotes a life-affirming, hope-giving source about Jesus: Because I can see the Lord always before me, I will not be afraid and my heart is glad. You can't stop my tongue from singing praises and this body lives in hope. I know gladness! Then, some reality; David died and his tomb is still with us, but David knew the Messiah would not die forever nor would his body experience corruption; He rose! And of that we are His witnesses.

Bam! The sermon is good at this point and it's not over. It continues next week in the next passage from the lectionary for next week. But Peter has made His point. All that Jesus did and experienced was foretold in the scriptures we have. And what David said should be our life's experience and testimony as well; If we put Jesus before us always, strength, hope, joy, praise, and health are always before us, with us, and in us.

PRAYER: Loving God for Your Word we are so thankful. We are blessed and we are joyful. Speak to our hearts and bring us all that we need, and let us bless others. This we pray in Christ Jesus, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Salvation! (Can We Say That?)

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Easter gives us permission to say that and more!

1 Peter 1: 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7 so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

I often say that we as United Methodists seldom use the word salvation because we are afraid of reprisals from the Baptists. Whatever the reason though, we do not share the concept of salvation as much as we should. The above graphic shows a Methodist camp meeting, where Methodist preachers and/or circuit riders, would gather as many people as would come and deliver a sermon on righteous living. And an invitation was given for people to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. This right relationship is salvation or whatever name you wish to call it. Salvation is what God does when we surrender to Him and turn over to Him our sins. God saves us from our sins. And God saves us to a life of abundant living (John 10:10).

The epistle reading for this week stresses that. We should give thanks to God for Jesus Christ. God's mercy was shown to us in the "new birth" (born again??) that led us into a "living hope" because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We were made heirs of that which is "imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you." And those who believe this are being watched over and protected by God's power for this salvation that is coming at the last day. And this should bring us rejoicing in spite of what we are enduring or suffering at this moment.

Christ has invited us to a living faith that helps us with whatever the world may throw at us; hope in spite of unrest and doubt; joy in spite of great sorrows; peace in spite of turmoil; and love when it seems no one really cares. Yes, this is salvation/new birth living, and yes, we should be able to find it in all churches that profess Christ as Lord and Savior.

We may not physically see Jesus but we love Him; we may not see Him now, but we believe in Him, and all that serves to bring us unmeasurable joy as a result of our faith which began with our salvation. (v. 9).

Live a life that invites others to faith. Say the words that help build up people to a new hope. Pray the words that bless you into becoming a blessing for others.

PRAYER: Lord of all, help me to live the life that invites others to faith; grant me words of life affirmation especially around those who are about to give up on life. And help me become a person of faith that blesses You and Yours. In Christ Jesus' Holy Name I pray, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Monday, April 21, 2014

While You Were Out, Jesus Came By!

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Wrong Place at The Wrong Time?

We find this in John 19:19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe." 26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." 27 Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." 28 Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" 29 Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

"You should have been here yesterday!" How often have we heard that about something or someone that we missed because we were a day late? "You just missed him!" That's another phrase we have heard, isn't it? "If only I had been here then!" Is one of regret when we realize our timing was terrible and we missed seeing or experiencing the important visit or event we wanted to see.

John's Gospel has the disciples believing in what Mary Magdalene has shared with the disciples. Remember they were locked up in the Upper Room filled with fear. Their doors were locked and their greatest fear was that the Jews would come for them next. It is the first day of the week and already evening and there Jesus appears to them. His greeting? "Peace be with you." And as scared as they were, He was able to show them his wounds as evidence that this dead man is now alive. Their fear subsides and turns to joy and again, Jesus says, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." Jesus is sharing evidence and a command for them. He then breathes on them and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." And so, with the blessing of believing comes responsibility; Easter is not just about rejoicing, it is about going and continuing the work of Jesus Christ.

Yet, someone was missing. Thomas, then called the Twin, now called by some (forever) "Doubting Thomas," was not there. He is the one who did use the three opening statements about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. We don't know where or what Thomas was doing, we just know that he missed Jesus' appearance. So, what's the first thing his fellow disciples say when he joins them? "We have seen the Lord!" His response is why he is called the Doubter, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe." What are you really thinking, Thomas boy?

One week later, Jesus visits again, but this time Thomas is there. Jesus opens with His "Peace be with you" greeting and comes right to Thomas and offers him the request he had made; Here touch my wounds. And more strongly says to him, "Do not doubt but believe." Thomas makes a declaration of faith, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus says what can apply to me and you, "Don't believe just because you have seen; believe even with those who have not seen!"

Yesterday, Nellie, our four daughters and their families, and I worshipped with my dad at his church. It is like most churches filled with the elderly, but I saw Jesus. My dad has been in a wheelchair now for many years and the love and ownership of his fellow members, also elderly, and they way they help him out of his wheelchair onto his pew and later as he asked to go to the bathroom; I saw Jesus. As the sermon was being preached, my faith was being strengthened; I saw Jesus. And as the last song, one of my favorite, "He Lives," I saw a woman raising her hand joyously at the refrain. On the other side of the aisle a man joyously raising two hands; I saw Jesus. These, along with you and me, have not physically seen Jesus, but they, like us, believe. May Jesus be seen in us today and all days.

PRAYER: Father, take away my doubt and bring me to a deeper faith, not just in worship but outside of worship in the world, so that more may see Jesus in me and in those praying this prayer with me. We pray in His precious name, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Sunday, April 20, 2014

He is Risen, Indeed!

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Hope is born anew in the Resurrection of the Lord!

From John 20: 1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes. 11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." 16 Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, "I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.' " 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

What more can we add to the tremendous story that the Gospels tell? Jesus rose from the dead! Jesus conquered sin and death and gave to us new hope in the power and love of God.

The efforts of humanity to silence the One sent by God were themselves silenced by the awesome event of the Resurrection.

That shows to us that all that we face is temporal; they will pass away. God will have the last word and that word is good!

Happy Resurrection Day! Happy Easter!

Eradio Valverde

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Sunday's Coming!

Image from Good Friday worship, St. Luke's UMC, Houston, TX.

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

From Matthew 27: 57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth 60and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb. 62 The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, "Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, "After three days I will rise again.' 64 Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, "He has been raised from the dead,' and the last deception would be worse than the first." 65 Pilate said to them, "You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can." 66 So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.

Yesterday was a sad day for those who took to heart the pain and suffering of Jesus. If you were in church you may have heard great music and a short meditation on the significance of the day. Some preachers may have gone into more details of the day's painful events; but it's all painfully true. Jesus died. His body had to come down from the cross. And someone had to claim the body to bury it. Most modern prisons have their own cemeteries of those bodies whose families did not claim them. Sad way to die, but Jesus' body was claimed by a rich man named Joseph of Arimathea who wrapped the body in clean linen cloths and buried Jesus in his own tomb in a man-made cave which he secured with a great stone. The discussion among His enemies was not stopped by His death; this passage shows the same scoundrels, the chief priests and Pharisees going before Pilate to ask that Jesus' body be guarded. Notice they call Jesus an "imposter" who had predicted that in three days would rise again. Their fear, besides that He really might do it, was that His disciples might just come and get it out to create the illusion that He really did rise from the dead.

No one can secure a tomb strong enough to prevent God's power from coming in and breaking it loose with new life. And that is what we believe. We wait today for a glorious day of tomorrow when heaven and nature sing along with the Church that Christ the Lord is risen today. Victory is ours!

PRAYER: Lord God, You know what tombs have surrounded us and call to us; some of us have even entered them because of despair and fear, but break forth the great stones and bring new life to us and set us free! This we pray in Jesus' name, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde

Friday, April 18, 2014

It Is Finished

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The Hope and Fears of All The Years...

Now is the day when Jesus died for you and me. From John 19: 1 Then Pilate had Jesus taken and whipped. 2 The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and dressed him in a purple robe. 3 Over and over they went up to him and said, "Greetings, king of the Jews!" And they slapped him in the face. 4 Pilate came out of the palace again and said to the Jewish leaders, "Look! I'm bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no grounds for a charge against him." 5 When Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, "Here's the man." 6 When the chief priests and their deputies saw him, they shouted out, "Crucify, crucify!" The soldiers took Jesus prisoner. 17 Carrying his cross by himself, he went out to a place called Skull Place (in Aramaic, Golgotha). 18 That's where they crucified him—and two others with him, one on each side and Jesus in the middle. 19 Pilate had a public notice written and posted on the cross. It read "Jesus the Nazarene, the king of the Jews." 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city and it was written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek. 28 After this, knowing that everything was already completed, in order to fulfill the scripture, Jesus said, "I am thirsty." 29 A jar full of sour wine was nearby, so the soldiers soaked a sponge in it, placed it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to his lips. 30 When he had received the sour wine, Jesus said, "It is completed." Bowing his head, he gave up his life.

It should have been me on that cross, dying to pay for my own sins, but it was not me, it was Jesus. Since Jesus' death on the cross nothing nor no one has had to die for my sins. Jesus paid it all.

The hymn writer said it best, "On a hill far away, stood an old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame; and I love that old cross where the dearest and best for a world of lost sinners was slain."

PRAYER: God of life, this day reminds us again of the suffering and shame that Your Son endured for us. We can but only thank You for that great love shown in that way. We pray in Jesus' precious and powerful name, amen.

Make your life count because of today.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Last Supper, for Now

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Maundy Thursday is Here

From Matthew 26: 17 On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?" 18 He said, "Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, "The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.' " 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal. 20 When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; 21 and while they were eating, he said, "Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me." 22 And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, "Surely not I, Lord?" 23 He answered, "The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born." 25 Judas, who betrayed him, said, "Surely not I, Rabbi?" He replied, "You have said so." 26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." 27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom." 30When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Saturday I shared with the Confirmands of our district how as a child when I first heard Maundy Thursday, I heard Monday Thursday. I thought an out of sequence week or what? How can it be Monday and Thursday? And what happened to Tuesday and Wednesday? The name refers to commandment and the new commandment that Jesus gave while celebrating the Last Supper. A new commandment I give you, that you love one another. Love is key and very present in the celebration of the Last Supper. God loved enough to give Jesus and Jesus loved enough to give Himself for us. Can we not give love to one another, no matter who the other is?

There was also an element of betrayal in the supper. Jesus knew this was His last night with the disciples and that one of them was to betray Him that night. The disciples upon hearing that question Jesus if it was them one by one. Even Judas. For Maundy Thursday as a pastor, I would set up two tables and twelve chairs around it. People were invited to come and sit at the tables. One year I made twelve cards of each disciple. I found the symbol of each and placed it on the card. I shared a little of the history and legend of each below the symbol and I turned each card face down before the people sat. The Judas card was marked and those assisting me were told not to give the Judas card to children. I shared Jesus' words about betrayal and how we still continue to betray or deny Jesus in our lives, and then I asked them to turn the cards face up. It was always an audible gasp for those receiving the Judas card. If not a gasp a look around as if to ask, You want to trade with me?

Jesus took the bread and broke it and said, "Take, eat, this is my body." A body soon to be given and broken like the bread. The sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb, killed to pay for our sins.

He then took the cup, gave thanks and said, "Drink from this, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for the forgiveness of sins. I will never drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom." Within hours, Jesus' blood would flow from the cross, each drop precious with power to forgive and make new OUR lives.

Today is that day we associate with the first Last Supper and one that should be spent in God's house if possible, to truly share among believers our joy and pain for all that Jesus endured for our sake.

This is God's love for us in action.

PRAYER: Loving God, I know that I am not worthy of any of the things You offered through Christ Jesus for me, but because of Your great love You still invite me to sit at the same table as Jesus. What it represents does make me worthy and for that I am humbled and thankful. Be glorified in my life today is my prayer. In Christ Jesus' name I pray, amen.

Have a great and blessed day in the Lord!

Eradio Valverde