Psalm 119:163 I hate and detest falsehood but I love your law. (NIV) Luke 4:13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left Christ until an opportune time. (NIV) A culture of integrity is absolutely essential for the health, unity, and longevity of any group, community, or society. When the truth is diminished and lies are embraced, fragmentation occurs which will eventually lead to the destruction of the group. Denial sets in, causing fear to trigger hostility and hatred. Falsehood creates confusion as people struggle to recognize the truth and the community becomes divided which is exactly what liars want to increase their importance and power because a fragmented group is so much easier to conquer, manipulate, and oppress than a united one. When Christ wrestled with Satan in the wilderness, He encountered the father of all falsehood and lies. The devil even used scripture to justify the temptations he placed before Jesus, claiming that this would be exactly what God wanted. Against anybody else, this demonic ploy would have worked, but Christ saw right through the devil and knew that scripture was being twisted in order to manipulate Jesus. Just because Satan used holy words and perfectly recited them did not make him faithful or truthful. The devil was trying to separate Christ from God using quotes from the Bible, almost the diabolical equivalent of Facebook memes in our time. But no matter how devious the devil was, or how much slickness and charm he used to persuade Jesus, our Savior knew exactly what was truthful and what was false. An important part of our responsibility as Christians is not only to seek the truth and do what is right, but to confront falsehood and lies. If we pander to or excuse powerful liars in our midst then we are failing to follow Jesus. We are expected to be messengers of the truth and not harbingers of lies; we are supposed to judge what is right and not justify anything that is wrong. If we feel confused or conflicted about these things, then we have to defer and default to Christ. He constantly confronted corruption and lies in His lifetime and successfully fought against Satan, the father of all lies, so should we expect Him or His followers to do differently in our present age? How do I differentiate between what is true and what is false? Am I a sharer of the truth or a spreader of lies? Am I honestly following Christ or my own ways? Prayer: Lord Jesus, we have sinfully made it difficult to distinguish between truth and falsehood, as well as right and wrong these days. We allow our prejudices to persuade us that what we want for ourselves must be right and all that we believe must be true. Forgive our foolish notions and guide us back to Your godly ways. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen. John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. Come along and join us for worship on Sundays at 11:00 AM. You will be made very welcome. 😊 Today’s image is one of John’s latest art nouveau designs called ‘Seussitoshi.’ If you would like to view a larger version, please click this link: Seussitoshi. Luke 1:76-78a And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, through the tender mercy of God. (RSV) I’ve tried to be a Christian for forty-two years. When I first gave my heart to the Lord as a teenager, I thought that everything would get easier and my faith would grow stronger. As the decades have sped by, I realize that being a Christian is a daily struggle between doing what is right rather than what I want. Each day, I can choose to justify my sinful mistakes and selfish choices, or I can decide to repent of my wrong deeds and foolish notions. I wrestle with my conscience and fight with God, usually when I let my doubts and fears overshadow my faith and weaken my connection to Christ. Instead of enjoying my salvation, I allow my insecurities to rob me of my relationship with God; rather than experience the assurance of His love, I permit my worries to pick away at my Christian beliefs. So, each day, I need someone to guide me back to God; I look for a path to restore my peace of mind and salvation. As I read today’s Gospel passage about the birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:57-80), I quickly realized that the answer to my struggle is plainly written there. When Zechariah prophesies about his newborn son, he says that John will become a herald of the Messiah by proclaiming a message of salvation to his people, ‘in the forgiveness of their sins through the tender mercies of God.’ In other words, John’s people will be restored to God’s favor and love through the gift of grace, which we now know was manifested in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. So, what does this mean? Will our spiritual struggles end? Will things become easier for people of faith? I think the answer during our lifetime will depend on how much we really believe in grace. The true power of forgiveness does not lie in the fact that our mistakes are pardoned, but in the ultimate reality that our connection to God is eternally restored. With forgiveness, we can move on from the chains of our sinful past, enjoy what life has to offer in this present time, and look forward to the everlasting love of God in the future. And that, my friends, is salvation in a nutshell which we can experience both now and forevermore. What am I looking for in my life? How can salvation from God bring that to me? Prayer: Lord God, You fully understand our human frailties, fears, and failures. We often make mistakes and carry a lot of regrets. Encourage us to come to You for the gifts of forgiveness and grace. Restore us to Your peace and love through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. Come and join us for worship on Sunday mornings at 11:00 AM. You will be made very welcome 😊 Today’s image is one of John’s latest Communion drawings called “Mungo’s Mission.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click this link: Mungo. Psalm 118:6 With the Lord on my side I do not fear. What can anyone do to me? (RSV) We’re just days into the New Year which means we are still carrying many of our dreams and ambitions in our hearts and minds. The next twelve months are full of opportunity, as well as uncertainty. Not one of us really knows what we will individually face, but we hope for the best and try to plan ahead. I’m already filling up my calendar with events and tasks that look good on paper, but I also know there will be some of them that I will have to discard or be unable to accomplish. Within a couple of weeks, I’ll settle into a manageable routine which will help me to complete most of the things that God wants of me, as well as to fulfill a few dreams and new ideas that I want to accomplish. I also know that some of my folks are anxious about the future and feel uncertain about where they are headed. Work, health, and relationship issues are normally at the heart of their insecurity – not knowing what is in front of them can create a fearfulness which, if fed enough dread, can become overwhelming. Despair may set in, which is always hard to diminish, and feelings of guilt or regret can sour any hopes or dreams for the new year. Being human is never easy and the burdens we carry can bring us down. The emotional baggage from last year can be carried over into this year, spoiling our good intentions and new resolutions. However, we are not alone. God is always with us and His love, indeed, does endure forever. No matter what we face, God stands beside us; no matter what confronts us, God is willing to support, counsel, and guide us through it. As the psalmist simply stated long ago, “With the Lord on my side I do not fear. What can anyone do to me?” – we can depend on God to help us through anything; we can rely on Him for strength when we are weak, hope when we are down, and love when we feel lost. May God bless you and all of your loved ones throughout this new year. May all of your dreams be fulfilled and may God let your plans succeed. Prayer: Lord God, when we are afraid and insecure, help us to find faith and rediscover our dependence on You. In Christ’s Name, we pray. Amen. John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. Come along and join us for worship at 11:00 AM on Sundays – you will be made most welcome 😊 Today’s image is one of John’s latest drawings called ‘New Year Communion.’ If you would like to view a larger version, please click this link: Communion. Mark 14:22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” (NIV) One of the highlights of the holidays for most folks takes place at the dinner table. I love it when my family is gathered together for a traditional Christmas meal and we get to catch up with one another. It’s a beautiful festive time, but it also becomes sacramental to me. We’re making a special memory and creating a unique moment in each of our lives. As the years go by, precious times like Christmas dinners will become holy remembrances for a couple of generations. When Jesus initiated communion, He was sharing a sacred moment that has continued for almost two thousand years. As He spoke those special words and distributed the bread and wine, Jesus was creating a fixed time in history that will never be forgotten and cannot be erased. So long as human beings celebrate Christmas and Easter, the words of Jesus will be spoken and shared until that wonderful moment when He will return among us to usher in God’s everlasting kingdom throughout the Earth and invite us all to come to His table. Wherever you are in this new season of Christmas which lasts until Epiphany – January 6th – may Christ’s loving spirit abide in your hearts and homes, and be shared with your family and friends. Prayer: Lord Jesus, fill us with Your peace and love. Enable us to hopefully and joyfully share it with our loved ones and all whom we encounter during this season of goodwill. In Your Holy name, we thankfully pray. Amen. John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. Come and join us for worship on Sunday mornings at 11:00 AM. You will be made most welcome 😊 Today’s image is one of John’s latest Christmas drawings called “Long Ago.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click this link: LongAgo.
Mark 12:7-8 “But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So, they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.” The greed of the tenants in Christ’s parable (Mark 12:1-12) causes them to lose their rationality and humanity. They want to possess the cultivated land for themselves, so they conspire to rid their community of any outsiders. Their selfish attitude makes them narrow-minded and eventually defeats their purpose. Instead of owning a fertile vineyard, they end up destroying their own inheritance; instead of being successful, they meet a miserable and justifiable end. When Jesus first told the story, He aimed it at His religious contemporaries. They were so focused on their own power and control, they forgot that the land and the people belonged to God. They thought it was both their religious and patriotic duty to keep themselves isolated and pure from any outsiders, but God had other plans – plans that would expand His compassion and grace way beyond any physical or spiritual borders that were being imposed. In His own way, Jesus was warning His oppositional contemporaries that their attempts to maintain their elitism and isolation was doomed to failure. God had moved on from their narrow views; Jesus had come to save the entire world, not just one nation. When I read passages like this, it reminds me that the world belongs to God. The whole planet is His vineyard and we are merely tenants who are charged with its upkeep and sustainability. If we think that we can carve out our own place and be disconnected from the rest of the Earth, we are deluding ourselves and sustaining a lost cause. The whole world belongs to God, not just some of it, so our true and utmost allegiance must belong to Him, too. If we fail to recognize this, then we will end up like the selfish tenants – left with absolutely nothing. Do I honestly put God first in my life? If not, what is obstructing me and how can I remedy that? Prayer: Lord Jesus, we call You the Savior of the World and the King of all Creation. Constantly remind us that this world belongs to You and that we are only tenants here, whose lives are meant to serve You and Your purposes, and not our own. In Your Holy Name, we humbly pray. Amen. Today’s image is one of John’s latest Nativity drawings called “Roomless.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click this link: Roomless.
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