Matthew 4:16 “The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” When I first became a minister, I worked for a while in an ophthalmic ward as its part-time chaplain. All the patients in it were recovering from eye surgery. Some of them needed implants, some suffered from glaucoma, and still others had been involved in car accidents which meant that the surgeons had to patiently pick out small fragments of glass and metal from their eyes. Most of the time, the surgeries were successful. Some patients had to undergo several different operations before their eye ailments were cured. Sadly, a small number of people each year remained blind. Dealing with those patients was amongst the saddest pastoral experiences I ever had. For the rest of the patients, recovery took several days. They were gradually brought into the light so that their eyes would not be permanently damaged by the sudden brightness of daylight. I can remember that large wooden shutters were placed over each window in the ward. The merest ray of sunshine, if prematurely exposed to the patients, could ruin their eyes forever. The best experiences in the ward were those great days when a patient was wheeled out into the courtyard in full sunlight. Their joy was ecstatic and tears of gladness were often shed by the patients, nurses, as well their families. It was indeed a fulfilling of the old Biblical prophecy – “the people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” Spiritual darkness occurs in the hearts and souls of many people in the world today. Sometimes they’ve allowed fear, disbelief, and distance from God to take them back into the shadows of doubt and despair. Sometimes painful events, grief, and illnesses cause people to retreat within them, cutting themselves off from God’s love and His people. Whatever the causes or the circumstances, as a pastor I have seen the light of Christ heal, restore, and reclaim people like them for God’s Kingdom, in words and ways that cause them to rejoice in the Lord and delight in His glory. Perhaps you are currently undergoing some pain, hardship, or trouble. Maybe you feel vulnerable, isolated, and alone. Dark clouds may have almost overwhelmed your soul and you may feel depressed. Know this: Christ has the capacity to bring you back into the light. Allow Him to do what He is best at accomplishing – restoring lives and returning people to God’s Love. All you need to do is ask Him to do this for you, even now as you are reading this message. When I have experienced dark times in my life? How can Christ’s light heal me of those moments? Prayer: Lord Jesus, You know the struggles we are all experiencing and the issues that over-shadow our lives. In the midst of all the darkness that we feel, bring to each of us Your Everlasting Light. Encourage and embrace us; empower and enable us to follow Your Path. In Your Holy Name, we sincerely pray. Amen. Today’s picture is one of John’s seasonal drawings called “Halloween Jack.” If you would like to view a larger version of this drawing, click on the following link: Jack.
Acts 10:43 Peter concluded, “All the prophets testify about Jesus that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.” Guilt is something that a lot of us struggle with on a regular basis. As we go through life, we carry a lot of baggage, some of which include regrets from the past. This might be something wrong in our teenage years, an old family conflict, a foolish and embarrassing choice, or even a mistake that affected our relationships or careers. Whatever the case, our guilt is usually about something that remains unresolved and unforgiven. From its very beginnings, the message of Christianity has always included the gift of forgiveness, which Jesus offers to us in His name. He can do this because God allows Christ to claim us as His own. This means we can be both pardoned and restored to God at the same time. All of the baggage that we carry from past mistakes can be personally removed when we trust Jesus. We also don’t have to go through religious acts of penance or make major sacrifices to appease God. We only have to embrace Christ and rely on Him to keep His word. Perhaps there is still something in your life that constantly casts a shadow over you. Maybe there is an unhealed memory that haunts you or a deep regret that weighs you down emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Please know that you can bring those things to Christ in prayer, express to Him your sorrow, and ask Him to forgive you in His name. As soon as you do this, God will forgive you, Christ will release you, and the Holy Spirit will help you to start again. What is my greatest regret? Am I willing to let Jesus forgive and heal me of this burden? Prayer: Lord Jesus, You know all that we carry in our hearts and play over again in our minds. You are aware of the burdens of guilt that we carry and the sources of sorrow in our lives. Please help us to quietly come to You to ask for mercy and grace. Hear us now as we humbly pray in Your Holy Name. 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 John an email to Traqair@aol.com. You can also read the church website at www.erinpresbyterian.org. Today’s image is one of John’s digital glass drawings called ‘Time to Pray.’ If you would like to view a larger version, click this link: Pray.
Acts 9:16 “I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” After his Damascus Road experience, things would never be the same for Saul of Tarsus – nor would they ever be easy, according to Christ’s words. Saul was being called to bring the message of the Gospel, which he initially hated, to the very people he was meant to be striving against. Groups on both sides of the Christian persecution now had no reason to trust him. To the Syrians Christians, Saul would be considered as a tremendous risk for the fledgling faith; to his religious overseers in Jerusalem, he would be known as an unholy traitor who betrayed his own faith and dishonored God. And even though Saul was put in this situation against his own will, Christ would not fully protect him from the many years of suffering that would come. His calling was not just to spread the Gospel, but to suffer the consequences that came along with it. As post-modern Christians, we tend to avoid suffering for our faith as much as possible. We want laws to protect our beliefs and advance our causes. We want other people to follow our moral codes to prove that we are right and they are wrong. We want our faith to be individually shaped and personally convenient. We want God to operate within our timetables and according to our goals. We disown anything about our faith that interferes with our desires and we embrace everything that makes us feel good about ourselves, no matter if it conflicts with Christ’s teaching. If Christ were to meet us on our own Damascus Road, we would probably put up with our own blindness rather than have Jesus change everything about us. As for suffering for our faith? – that belongs to the saints in the past or fanatics in the present. It seems that being nice to one another is more important than being honest with Christ. To be secure is better than suffering; to be comfortable is way much better than being called. Perhaps we should re-read the New Testament passage again (Acts 9:1-22) and then honestly ask ourselves this question: Am I willing to let Christ call me, even though He will change everything? Prayer: Lord Jesus, sometimes we are scared to give You our hearts and open our lives to Your calling. We don’t want things to change and we would rather turn away from suffering. Help us to approach You honestly so that we may serve You faithfully and do what You want for the rest of our lives. In Your Holy Name, we humbly pray. Amen. John Stuart is currently the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. If you would like to comment or ask questions about today’s message, please send him an email to Traqair@aol.com. You can also read the church website at www.erinpresbyterian.org. Today’s image is one of John’s latest Christmas drawings called “Mary Had a Baby.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click this link: Mary.
An act of grace, knees on the ground
That shows their dignity.
We all are lost and need re-found
We’re blind to what we see.
‘Twas hate that caused our hearts to fear,
And made those fears believed;
How furious did that hate appear,
When we were first deceived.
This hateful anger spoils our cares
No matter where it’s from;
It’s hate that causes us to fear,
And hate destroys our home.
The Law has promised rights to me,
Its Word my life secures;
It will protect and keep me free
O we’ve been here ten thousand times,
And nothing still is done,
We’ve no less ways to heal each race,
Amazing Grace! How sweet it is,
When we shall all be free.
When hate and fear are nowhere near,
And Love wins you and me!
Acts 7:58 They dragged Stephen out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. I never knew my great-grandfather Andrew Stuart, but I heard some stories about him from my Dad. A hundred years ago in 1917, my great-grandfather was in the Royal Scots Guards who were fighting in the trenches of World War One. He was wounded a week before the Armistice was declared in November 1918. He lost an arm but he didn’t let it debilitate his life. He was born in 1875 and lived until 1955. By all accounts, he was a remarkable man and I would have liked to have personally met him. In November of this year, my first grandson is due to be born. I hope I have many stories to tell him about my family and our roots in Scotland. I also find it fascinating that if he lives into his mid-eighties, he will experience the beginning of the 22nd century. That’s six generations covering four centuries – how amazing is that? Each time a life story ends, a new one begins. In the New Testament passage from Acts 7:54-60, we read about the sad ending of Stephen’s life, but we are also introduced to another significant life story – that of the young man named Saul. Christ’s work may have been completed for Stephen, but the ministry wasn’t over. Instead, it was being mysteriously transferred to an enemy of the Church called Saul. God’s story was continuing despite what may have been seen as a major setback by Christ’s followers. And the amazing thing is this – that very same story still goes on in our own lives today – person after person, follower after follower, generation after generation, and century after century until Christ’s Kingdom truly comes. Isn’t it wonderful to be a part of God’s never-ending story of salvation? Who helped me become a Christian? Have I passed on my faith to someone else? Prayer: Lord Jesus, Your ministry is remarkable and we feel privileged to play a part in Your continuing mission. Encourage us to be a blessing of faith to someone else, especially among those of a different and future generation. 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 this devotion, please send him an email to Traqair@aol.com. Today’s image is one of John’s latest art nouveau drawings called “By Any Other Name.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click here: Rose.
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