Healing devotion: Forgetting the Past

Isaiah 43:18     “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.”

Living in the past is a sure 26645650554_f2e3c3a9e1_nfire way to spoil the present and sabotage the future. As human beings, we are both blessed and cursed with powerful memories. Some of them are really good and cause us to be cheerfully nostalgic. Other remembrances are very painful and can sometimes be unhealthy.

Letting go of the past is something that God calls us to do. It’s not easy to accomplish, but neither is lumbering a lot of baggage which weighs us down emotionally, spiritually, and even physically.

God urges us to forget former things and not dwell on the past. His Son Jesus died painfully on the Cross, but God does not dwell on that terrible moment. Instead, He looks forward to the brightness of an eternal future where we will abide in His Kingdom and enjoy His everlasting love. This is why God wants us to let go of the past – so that we can look ahead to our future with Jesus.

Questions for reflection

What am I still carrying as a burden from the past? Am I willing to let it go and allow God to grant me a better present, as well as a brighter future?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, You are our Savior; please save us from ourselves. Release us from the past and guide us to a hopeful future. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. Please feel free to share this email with family & friends.

Today’s image is one of John’s Creation drawings called “Let There be Light.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click on this link: Creation.

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Short Devotion: What is Church? Ephesians 3:10-11

Ephesians 3:10-11      His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpPentecost3ose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Some people these days question whether or not churches should exist. Rather than bring people together for worship, missions, or programs, would Christianity not be better served by individuals and small groups going out into the community at large, doing good deeds and showing compassion to those who are unloved, unwanted, and uncared for? After all, didn’t Jesus Himself go from place to place, offering His compassion and healing those who needed His help? Surely, it is argued, local congregations should do the same.

So why were churches established in the first place, and what purpose do they serve now?

I like what the Apostle Paul has to write about church, especially in this passage from Ephesians 3. He describes church as being the established vehicle through which the wisdom of God is made known. Churches are receptacles, gathering places, or domains where the rich teaching, history, and experiences of our knowledge of God are faithfully kept. They become storehouses for people who are hungry for God’s Word; they become wells where folks can quench their spiritual thirst with Christ’s teaching. In other words, churches equip people with faith to help them in their daily lives, current events, and personal circumsta
nces.

We are all seeking meaning for our lives, which comes to us through our relationship with God. His knowledge shows us the best ways and paths for our lives. Churches can help us find that wisdom by providing teaching and encouragement, studies and support, opportunities and missions which will bolster our faith and give us a worthwhile purpose throughout our days on Earth.

Questions for personal reflection

What wisdom and guidance has God given to me through the church? How have I shared those gifts with others in my life?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, we sometimes forget that the Church is Your Bride, so You are always supporting, caring, and loving toward it. Bless our churches with Your Holy Spirit and grant them opportunities to share God’s wisdom in positive, cheerful, and effective ways. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

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

 

Today’s image is another of John’s Pentecost drawings for 2016. If you would like to view a larger version, please click this link: Pentecost

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Christian devotion: Life’s Greatest Gift

Ephesians 2:8-9          For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves26580297445_25c4df8d4e_n, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.

If ever there was a Christian who did a lot of great works and fulfilled many mighty tasks for God, it was the Apostle Paul. After his conversion on the road to Damascus, he spent the rest of his life sharing the Gospel, planting new churches, and writing inspirational letters which have largely shaped our faith for over 1900 years. He was an exceptional servant of Christ and an amazing church leader, the likes of which we shall probably never see or experience again. If Heaven was only granted to us through what we do, then Paul could stand at the very beginning of the line of billions of people waiting to get in.

And yet, even with all of the great and important things he fulfilled, Paul understood that his salvation did not depend upon what he did, but it absolutely hinged on everything that Jesus accomplished.

The gift of Heaven comes to us through Christ’s grace. We are saved because He allows us to be forgiven and restored to God. Without Christ, we would end up being eternally separated from God; with Christ, we are uniquely given the promised opportunity of entering God’s everlasting and loving presence. Salvation is not awarded to us because of who we are or what we have done; salvation is given to us because of who Christ is and what He has fulfilled. His crucifixion has given us forgiveness; His painful death has granted us everlasting life.

Today, we should all feel blessed to be Christians and cheerfully share that blessing with others – our families, friends, neighbors, and colleagues – for in the end, isn’t this the gift that everyone is looking for at the end of their lives?

Questions for personal reflection

What do the words ‘salvation’ and ‘grace’ mean to me? How have I experienced them in my life?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, thank You for the gift of grace and the opportunity of salvation. Remind us each day that these promised gifts are real blessings in our lives. Give us the courage to share these blessings with our loved ones and others. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. Today’s image is one of his latest Pentecost drawings. If you would like to view a larger version, please click on this link: Pentecost.

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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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