Today’s devotion: Opening New Doors – 2 Corinthians 2:12

Guiding Light

2 Corinthians 2:12 Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me.

Quite frequently, I get asked to say prayers for church members, families, and friends when they are considering changing jobs, careers, or homes. It’s very humbling to be asked because it means that the person making the request trusts me to pray for what’s best in their situation. Usually, I take time out that day to say a short prayer and then on the day of an interview or a house viewing, I pray as close as possible to the time of the event itself.

Sometimes the person comes back to me with good news, so I can say a quiet ‘thank you, God’ prayer later on. At other times, I hear nothing else, so I keep praying for God to give guidance and open up the right door for the person.

I guess that most of us do the same, especially for our loved ones and dearest of friends. As we pray, we hope that God will indeed open doors and grant new opportunities for the person concerned. Prayer becomes a vehicle of God’s goodness, as well strengthening the bonds of faith and friendship between the one who prays and the other who is prayed for. It’s a remarkably effective and personal way to both practice and apply our faith on behalf of other people.

Questions for personal reflection

Has someone asked me to pray for them? Is there someone that I can be praying for today?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You taught us to pray and showed us the value of being a praying people of God. Help us to make time today to pray for others, especially those who are looking for new doors of opportunity to be opened for them. In Your Holy Name, we humbly and cheerfully pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. If you would like to ask a question or make a comment about today’s message, please send him an email to traqair@aol.com.

Today’s image is one of John’s lighthouse drawings called “Guiding Light.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link: http://farm7.staticflickr.com/6225/6290707518_a96fd3c801_b.jpg

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Today’s devotion: Get Real, People!

Pastor Youcef NadarkhaniLuke 12:11-12            “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”

We don’t really know what religious persecution actually is in Western Society. We tend to exaggerate the unpopularity of our Christian beliefs into something that isn’t true. We are not being physically attacked, imprisoned unjustly, or tortured for our allegiance to Christ. In fact, most of society totally ignores us; we’re no longer relevant and most people pay no attention to our whines and complaints.

Now this isn’t true in other places, nations, and societies around the world. Christian people are being beaten, imprisoned, oppressed, and killed for their beliefs. They are being persecuted; for instance, Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani in Iran has spent years in prison for refusing to teach his children the Islamic faith. He’s been sentenced to death, but when the rest of the world protested, his sentence was reviewed. He’s still in prison, on the equivalent of Iran’s Death Row. His lawyer is now also in prison and new charges of rape, insurrection, and high treason have been made against Pastor Youcef. He’s enduring real persecution, so when I read about Christians over here in the United States getting really upset about the banning of prayer in schools, displaying the Ten Commandments, or marketplace nativity scenes in malls, I really wonder what Pastor Youcef would have to say. He’d probably shake his head in disbelief and state something like “Get real, people. This is not persecution.”

If we as Christians want to become influential again in society, then we have to stop whining. After all, who would be attracted to a faith community that just wanted to get its own way all of the time? We seem to forget that the symbol of our faith is a wooden cross and not a silver spoon.

Question for personal reflection

 Are my ways Christ’s ways? Do I cheerfully express my faith to others, or do I forcefully impose it on others?

 Prayer:            Lord Jesus, teach us the difference between paranoia and persecution. Give us a passion to express our faith through works of compassion. Keep us from turning minor inconveniences into major upsets. Help us to win souls for Your Kingdom instead of selfishly whining about the world. In Your Holy Name, we humbly pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. If you would like to comment on today’s message, please send him an email to pastor@erinpresbyterian.org.

Today’s image is a photo of Pastor Youcef. Please continue to pray for his release, as well as for the safety of his family and friends.

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Today’s devotion: Life Haters – Ecclesiastes 2:17

Ecclesiastes 2:17         So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

The horrendous mass-murders that took place last week in Norway shocked the world. Norway, after all, is known to be one of the most peaceful and tolerant nations on the planet. The Norwegian people are known for their openness and friendship, as well as their care of the environment and community. The murders devastated the whole nation and we are all grieving because a noble people have been terribly wounded.

The shooter’s hatred for life and all things different from him displayed a wickedness and callousness that can only be described as satanic and inhumane. The pain and torture that he inflicted upon his young victims is hard to fathom or understand. In his heart and mind, he probably thinks that he is a crusader hero to his chosen cause. In reality, he is a monster whose murderous ways will not go unpunished either by society or by God.

Almost all of these kinds of shootings are perpetrated by angry men. They are incapable of controlling their anger or of analyzing what is real. Just this weekend, another shooting with multiple deaths took place in the US at a skating rink where children were having a birthday party. The shooter killed his ex-wife and a few of her relatives before turning the gun on himself.

I don’t like guns, either here or abroad, but I can’t stop people from possessing them. I would however say that every three years, gun owners should have to go through a compulsory anger-management class, possibly run by the local sheriff’s office. I also believe that young men in High school should also have to go through anger-management courses before they are allowed to graduate. This might cut down the number of irate boyfriends hurting, injuring, or killing their ex-girlfriends.

Some people will say that you cannot legislate against angry feelings; I would argue, however, that you can provide people with coping mechanisms and emotional knowledge to counter this kind of hatred, anger, and destructiveness.

Yesterday in church, we read the prayer for Norway that was written by the World Council of Churches. The concluding line of the prayer speaks directly to this kind of terrible and violent tragedy. May it also be our prayer for today:

These prayers and the heavy silence of our hearts we offer in the Name of Your Son Jesus Christ who trod the path of peace in the face of violence. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. If you would like to comment on today’s message, please send him an email to pastor@erinpresbyterian.org.

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New year Devotions: A Congregational Prayer – Philippians 1:9

Philippians 1: 9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.
If ever a prayer was written for a local congregation, it must certainly be this one of Paul’s. I love these words because of the encouragement and faith that is expressed in them. Our wee church at Erin has just completed some major renovation and expansion work on the building. Now it’s time to apply this verse and work on the people who congregate there.

 

Just recently someone was telling me about the welcoming love that they have experienced at Erin. I was proud to hear that the people I serve are embracing visitors and welcoming them as friends in Christ. To me, that is the main part of what a church should be doing. Whenever someone new walks through the doors of any church, they should be met with a sincere joy and delight that will make a good and lasting impression.

I also want that love to be spread into our local community. There are hundreds of people in our parish who do not know the love of God in Jesus Christ. If we can discern who these people are and make the right effort in reaching out to them, we can keep a light on and an open door for them to walk through when they need God most.

Paul’s prayer to the Philippian church was highly effective because it became a major base for the spreading of the Gospel all across the Mediterranean. My hope and my prayer is that with the right encouragement, vision, and faith, all of our local churches can begin to do the same throughout this New Year.

 

Prayer: Lord Jesus , we thank You for our churches and the congregations to which we are attached. In this New Year, we pray that You will equip and encourage us to undertake local outreach projects and missions that will enable us to embrace and welcome new visitors and new friends into our midst. Thank You for the power of the Gospel in our lives and for the potential that it has to spread across our community. In Your Sacred Name, we pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. If you would like to comment on today’s message, please send him an email to pastor@erinpresbyterian.org.

Today’s drawing is one of John’s latest lighthouse prints. It’s called “Light Snow” and depicts the Portland Head Light in Maine during a snowstorm. You can view a larger version of the print here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/traqair57/5286516317/sizes/l/

All of John’s drawings can be found on the Web at his artsite at http://www.stushieart.wordpress.com/

Signed, numbered and matted prints are available for only $20 each (plus shipping if necessary).

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New Year devotions: A New Path for a New Year

Ephesians 4:26b         “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry”

At every wedding to which I have the privilege of conducting, I usually quote this verse from Ephesians. I say something like: “Each day do two important things – firstly say “I love you” to one another and secondly, never let the sun go down with anger or bitterness in your hearts because life is too short to hold grudges against each other.” After the wedding service a couple of guests usually come up and complement me on the practical advice that I’ve offered to the newly married couple.

There’s a lot of wisdom in what Paul had to write long ago. I try to practice what I preach, but sometimes I fail and allow grudges to ruin my week with my wife, my children or even my friends. I carry the burden of emotional pain and hold on to my hurt for too long. Instead of letting go of the trivial past, I nurse my troubles and pander to my bruised feelings.

With the coming of a New Year, there is always a golden opportunity to let go of past pain and instead to let God heal my hurts. I can begin again and throw off previous disappointments, broken promises, and harsh words. I can forgive myself and others through Christ, but only if I choose to let Him. I can start the New Year with an act of faith and allow myself and others a clean slate.

If I can do this, then surely you can too?

Prayer:                       
Lord Jesus, at the threshold of this New Year there are many positive possibilities and fresh starts. Help us to embrace Your guidance and goodness, Your love and laughter, Your mercy and grace. Rid us of our anger and disappointment. Heal our hurts and subdue our hostilities. Grant us peace and a new path for a New Year. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian church in Knoxville, Tennessee. If you would like to comment on today’s message, please send him an email to pastor@erinpresbyterian.org.

Today’s image is one of John’s last drawings for the year. It’s called “Star Messiah” and depicts the baby Jesus in the Bethlehem manger. If you would like to view a larger version of this drawing, please visit the following link:
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Daily Devotions: Christ’s Chosen One

Ephesians 4:19           Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more. 

The trouble with Paul is that he knows humanity so well and bluntly speaks the truth. He could have written today’s verse a couple of seconds ago because it’s highly relevant to the issues that the Church and our society are currently facing. We seem to have lost our sensitivity to God and instead we indulge in our sensuality. Instead of being fully devoted to Him, we are desirous of fulfilling our own pleasure.

Let’s be honest with ourselves: we are all contaminated by the brazenness of our culture. We view things we should never see. We act out scenarios we should never do. We tolerate sexual idolatry and excuse it as artistic, sophisticated, and modern. In short, we fall far short of what God expects and end up expecting Him to accept our sinful lifestyles and embrace our selfish whims.

The older I get, the odder the world seems. Traditional values are treated disrespectfully and the Word of God is woefully described as being outdated, hypocritical, and irrelevant. Even so called church people, who hardly ever open or read their Bibles, seem to believe that their own opinions, ideas, and tolerances trump God’s advice, guidance, and truth. Paul is berated as being hostile, homophobic, and hypocritical by Christians who could not walk two paces in his shoes. They honestly and arrogantly believe that they know better than Christ’s Chosen Apostle simply because they live in the here and now as opposed to living in the way back then.

I shudder to think about God’s wrath which will come as a complete shock to this present generation of ungodly people. They will not know what hit them and will never understand why they are so completely wrong. Unless they make time to repent, they will never be released from the cultural weeds that are choking their spiritual sensitivity and replacing it with ungodly sensuality.

Prayer:                       

Lord Jesus, how dare we diminish the writings of Paul; after all, he was Your Chosen Apostle. Forgive our Biblical ignorance and spiritual arrogance. Reclaim our souls and restore our minds to Your ways, Your works, and Your words. In Your Holy Name, we fervently pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. If you would like to comment on today’s message, please send him an email to pastor@erinpresbyterian.org.

Today’s image is one of John’s latest winter drawings. It’s called “Edinburgh Blizzard” and depicts the world-famous castle and Princes Street during the 2010 snowstorm. If you would like to view a larger version, please go to the following link: http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5049/5282150038_e7aeb19b56_b.jpg

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Christmas Prayer for Our Troops

Point Duty

Almighty and Everlasting God, as we celebrate the birth of Your Son in this world and experience the peace He has to offer us today, we remember our troops at home and abroad who dedicate their lives to protecting our people on this planet.
We are sorry that war is still a part of our lives and that we call upon our young people to risk their lives for us, putting themselves in harm’s way for our freedom. We pray that You will enable us one day to put an end to war and truly experience peace on Earth, so that our Christmas celebrations will be full of joy.
We pray for our troops stationed both here and abroad. We ask that You bless, protect and preserve them wherever they are located. Help us to let them know how much we truly appreciate their service and give us opportunities to care for, encourage, and embrace them.
We pray for their families this Christmas who suffer from separation and distance at this time of year. Surround them with good friends and strong families. Be near to the wives, daughters and mothers, husbands, sons, and fathers who miss their loved ones.
We also remember those who have been wounded in action, who are recovering at home or in Veterans’ hospitals. We pray for their healing, recovery, and tender care. We especially remember those who are permanently injured whether emotionally, mentally, physically, or neurologically. May they be deeply cared for and honorably respected.
We pray for our military leaders and Commander in Chief who need to make tough and unenviable decisions. We pray that You will grant them guidance and discernment to act upon the fresh challenges to peace that occur around the world.
Finally, we pray for those service families who have an empty chair at their Christmas tables that will never be filled. In the midst of their loss, surround them with caring friends and loving people. Let the real sacrifices that they have made, and still sadly experience, be humbly honored and deeply respected by all of us. May we cherish the freedom that our troops have accomplished through the giving of their lives.
Hear us now as we silently pray for those who serve our nation today and as we quietly remember those who have actively served and sacrificed in the past.
Silence – lighting of red, white & blue candle.
In the Name of the Holy One Who made the Supreme Sacrifice for the world – Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.
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