Monday, March 3, 2014
2 Timothy 2:23 Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.
I love debating with other people. It’s part of my training as a pastor. At seminary or university, candidates for ministry are taught apologetics through class presentations or theological debates. The arguments usually spill over into the canteen area and can get very heated at times. I guess when people are really passionate about their beliefs, confrontation and conflict are inevitable.
This happens quite a lot on Facebook, too. Ever since I joined it, I've found myself sucked in to various theological tussles and inter-church conflicts, which have been quite severe at times. I wish that I could write that I have always kept to the high ground and not become embroiled in fiery free-for-alls; the truth is this: Facebook brings out the worst in me at times, and also among my Christian friends.
So, here’s what I'm doing for Lent: I am going to seriously attempt to give up quarreling on Facebook. It’s so easy to get involved in a fight or write a comment that does not help the situation. Now this won’t be simple for me either, because I can be quite self-righteous and highly opinionated at times. However, if the main purpose of Lent is to help me grow closer to Christ and value His sacrifice, then perhaps avoiding negative belligerent comments and making positive posts instead, may help me overcome this bad habit. And, in order to enable me to be reminded of this commitment, I've taped today’s verse to my laptop keyboard.
Perhaps you may feel led to do the same thing as well. It’s better than giving up chocolate or candy…J
Questions for personal reflection
How do I interact with other people on social media sites? Do I honor Christ with my comments and posts?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, from the Gospels You taught about the consequences of careless words and thoughtless deeds. You commanded us to love one another, including our enemies. Forgive us when our foolish pride and strident stupidity diminishes our Christian witness before other people. Help us to use this sacred season of Lent as a special time to review what we write, post, and express in our emails and comments. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today’s image says it all…J You can view the original here: http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7390/12908123824_60c78b1bc9.jpg
Thursday, February 27, 2014
Romans 1:5 Through Christ, and for the sake of His Name, grace and apostleship were given to us, in order to call people from all over the world toward faith and obedience.
(Passage context: Romans 1:1-7)
What the world needs now is the grace of Christ.
We've all become insecure and defensive, easily offended and constantly aggressive. We talk about toleration and coexistence, but we don’t practice or even exercise them. We are still hostile to our enemies and appalled by other ideas. We are quick to point out the weaknesses, faults, and inefficiencies of other people, but pride and self-centeredness won’t allow us to admit our own wrongs, failings, and inadequacies. We live our lives as we see fit, and justify whatever we do. We don’t accept blame easily, but we are often ready to identify other people as blameworthy. In short, everything that goes wrong in the world is someone else’s fault; everything that needs to be fixed in our lives is someone else’s problem.
Our lives were never meant to be like this. We were made to obey God and give our days to Him. We are the heart of His Creation, which He wants us to enjoy forever, but because we busy ourselves with other things and burden our lives with trivia, superficiality, and false senses of importance, we lose those precious moments of sacred presence, and drift further away from God’s love.
We need Christ’s grace in our lives to halt our weary un-holiness and put an end to the digital urgency that exhausts our minds and souls. We need Christ’s grace to re-open our eyes in order to see the beauty and wonder of Creation that we once knew as little children. We need Christ’s grace to help us both understand and cherish that each day is a gift, full of moments where God can be found and His love experienced. We need Christ’s grace to fully realize that we are just children, playing on a planet, under the watchful gaze of our Loving Creator.
Question for personal reflection
Where have I seen God in the world today?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, help us to see the world through Your eyes. Enable us to embrace Your love and receive Your grace. 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 or ask a question about today’s message, please send him an email to email@example.com.
Today’s image is an old stained glass picture that John designed several years ago. It’s called “A New Earth.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link: http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3084/2432537217_e82364bff8_b.jpg
Friday, February 21, 2014
1 Timothy 5:8 If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
Money can be a terribly divisive thing. In my many years as a pastor, I've sadly seen families falling out over wills, estates, property, and heirlooms. I’ve seen an old man give up his home because his stepchildren forced him out. I've known of an old lady being duped of all of her finances by a greedy nephew. I've seen divorces destroy partners because of money. And I’ve also known of families forcing other relatives to give up their rights of inheritance because of greed.
These types of wickedness (because that’s what these are) always astound me. I grew up in poverty, so money and possessions don’t mean a lot to me. I’m also just a pilgrim who is travelling through this world, so earthly objects don’t possess me. When it’s my turn to go, my loved ones will have what I presently own. I won’t be needing them any longer. And even if I could, I won’t be wanting to take them with me either.
Paul’s admonition to Timothy which we can read in today’s passage (1 Timothy 5:1-15) is about caring for our loved ones and relatives. Providing for our families is of prime importance; if we neglect to do this then, according to Paul, we have denied the faith and are worse than unbelievers. That’s a harsh and severe judgment. However, it makes me wonder if those who duped loved ones or greedily pressed others to give up their rights will ever get to Heaven. It seems to me that Jesus also covered this with His ‘camel through the eye of a needle’ story.
So what’s the lesson for today? Simply this: Practice our faith by providing for our families. Sounds like good advice to me.
Questions for personal reflection
Does greed ever get the better of me? If so, how does it affect my faith and family relationships?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, help us to be better Christians by providing for our loved ones. Keep us from being greedy and enable us to support our families when they are in need. Be with us and bless us this day. Amen.
John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, TN. If you would like to ask a question or make a comment about today’s message, please send him an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today’s drawing is one of John’s latest in a new art series called ‘Art Gecko.’ This one is called ‘Geckosville.’ If you would like to view a large image, please click on the following link:
Monday, February 17, 2014
1 Samuel 16:7b “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
Unlike its summer counterpart, I prefer watching the Winter Olympics because snow and ice are great equalizers when it comes down to individual performances. Even the best winter athletes can slip on the ice or fall on the snow, so you never really know who is going to win an event. There also doesn’t appear to be as much self-promotion and personal aggrandizement that you now sadly get with the Summer Games. In fact, I stopped watching the Summer Olympics years ago because it was more about good looks, commercial success, and money marketing than the sports themselves.
Today’s highlighted verse derives from a special event in the life of the Old Testament prophet Samuel and that of Israel’s most famous king, David. Samuel has been sent on a special mission by God to anoint a successor to the failed King Saul. When Samuel sees the sons of Jesse, he initially thinks that the most powerful and strongest among them should become king.
But God intervenes and reminds Samuel that He looks at the heart of man, and not his outward appearance, when He chooses a person for a special purpose or calling. Samuel should have easily remembered this because he was chosen by God as a lowly child to become a great prophet.
Churches often call upon their members to take up ministries, missions, and tasks for which the individuals may not feel worthy or best suited. In my own time as a minister, I have seen some people turn down a request or invitation to do something special for the church, simply because they do not feel adequate. But if the calling ultimately comes from God, then He believes that the person can fulfill the task and He will provide them with the ability and strength to carry out His plan. Feeling unprepared or unworthy shows both integrity and humility, two beautiful qualities that actually delight the Lord, and also enable Him to work with that person to fulfill their calling.
Questions for personal reflection
Have I been asked to serve the church in a special capacity? How did I respond?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, You call all of us to follow and serve You in our churches and communities. Open our hearts, minds, and lives to do Your bidding, even though we may feel anxious and unworthy about being asked or called. Guide us and grant us the acceptance and ability to do whatever we can for You and Your church. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.
John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, USA. If you would like to ask a question or make a comment about today’s message, please send John an email.
Today’s drawing is one of John’s latest Snowbird drawings called “Bluebird Dawn.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link: http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3685/12497934525_c52a6c7ca1_b.jpg
Friday, February 14, 2014
My new Lent devotions e-book “Walking to Calvary,” is now available. It has 40 new daily devotions, along with artwork, Bible verses, prayers, and personal reflection questions for each day in Lent. You can purchase the book on Amazon at the following links:
Thursday, February 6, 2014
Sometimes when I read Paul’s letters, I wonder what kind of situation he was writing about and actually dealing with. It seems to me that all of the Young Churches that he was sending letters to, had internal problems which were negatively affecting the growth of the congregations. Time and time again, Paul reminded folks that God wasn't blind to the antics of these troublemakers; if they troubled the church, then payback would occur, because God would trouble them.
I get concerned when I hear of pastors and congregations that are experiencing conflict. I wonder if the people causing the damage really understand what kind of fearful judgment they are placing themselves under. Conflict in the world usually gets settled by arbitration; conflict in the church will be settled by God. The Church is Christ’s Bride, so anything that stains or contaminates or damages the Church, affects that which Jesus deeply loves.
Now I’m not free of this troublemaking myself. Every pastor that I know causes ripples in every congregation that he or she serves. Even the apostle Paul was known to stir up more than a few conflicts of his own. But the message from this letter should be clear to all of us – God looks after His own and payback really does occur, especially if pride gets in the way of peacemaking, or if self-righteousness blocks self-repentance.
Today’s message is as much meant for me, as it may be meant for anyone else.
Questions for personal reflection
Have I contributed to or caused conflict in the church? How can I seek forgiveness and find a way to make peace?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, as Christians we belong to Your Bride, the Church. Sometimes we fail to honor and cherish Your Love because we allow our pride to override our faith. Help us to see ourselves as both You and others see us, so that we may be challenged by the truth and changed for the betterment of Your Bride. 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 a question or make a comment about today’s message, please send him an email to email@example.com.
Today’s image is one of John’s latest drawings called “Celtic Lights.” It depicts the northern lights seen from the shoreline of Scotland. If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link: http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5539/12142272273_07a289b38b_b.jpg
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
1 Thessalonians 5:9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.
For some people, the biblical words ‘wrath’ and ‘salvation’ have no meaning in their regular lives. They go about their daily routine, not giving a second thought to God, or of the Christian understanding that one day everything will come to an end. They probably think that Doomsday beliefs are for deluded fools and, as for a God who punishes people for their sins, that’s just a negative way that the outdated Church uses to control people with fear.
If I was going to dissuade folks from the need to believe in Christ, I think that I would tell people that what they do doesn't matter, nor will it ever count against them, and that life beyond death is given to everyone. I think that I would convince people that sin doesn't exist anymore and that God loves to indulge us. I would tell them that Christ’s blood had nothing to do with the forgiveness of sins and that His execution was just an historical accident – He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I would finally tell them that we are gods and all the God that we ever need to be, that humankind is the pinnacle of existence, as well as the greatest beings who will ever live.
If I told them all those things, then words like ‘wrath’ and ‘salvation’ would have no meaning, and I could add to that list words like ‘church,’ ‘prayer,’ ‘faith,’ and even ‘Christianity.’
But if I did that, then I would be a vile liar and a peddler of untruth. I would be guilty of leading people astray and away from the Gospel. I would be damaging their souls and wounding their beliefs. If I stayed in the church and preached those things, I would be a heretic. If I left the church and said those things, I would be apostate. However, for some people, those last two words, ‘heretic’ and ‘apostate’ have no meaning in their regular church lives….
Questions for personal reflection
What does God’s wrath mean to me? How do I interpret the word ‘salvation’?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, You never said that following You was ever going to be comfortable or easy, so keep us from trying to make our faith cozy and bland. Forgive us, Lord, for following our own ways instead of Yours. 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 make a comment or ask a question about today’s devotion, please send him an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today’s image is one of John’s latest Celtic drawings. It’s called “Celtic Mandala” and features a Celtic Cross surrounded by many other Christian symbols. How many can you find? If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link: http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7416/12126875254_8e9f12c2a7_b.jpg