Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Church Devotion: Solomon's Sin - 1 Kings 11:1-13

Click on the links for today’s Bible readings: 1 Kings 11:1-13 and Revelation 18:1-10

1 Kings 11:4   As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been.

             I feel sad for old King Solomon. Things did not turn out well for him. At first, his reign brought in a golden age of prosperity, esteem, and power. He was blessed by God with wisdom, so that powerful people from near and far sought his personal advice. His kingdom expanded as his reign endured. He had more wealth than many other kings, and he certainly had more wives than anyone else in the Bible! And yet, for all of these blessings and gifts from God, Solomon went astray.

             Instead of honoring God, Solomon began to indulge himself. Rather than being devoted to the Lord, he devoted himself to his own selfish desires. In other words, he gave up his faith and replaced it with fantasy; he set aside his beliefs by displacing them with banality. Solomon wrecked his reign with idolatry, immorality, and indecency. He killed the newly born kingdom with his carnality, as well as his contempt for God. Instead of growing older and wiser, he became solo-centric and foolish. Whatever his accomplishments were at the beginning of his reign, they were totally eclipsed by his depravity and desertion of God in his later years.

             Added to this sadness, was the fact that the people in his kingdom followed the same route away from God. The whole nation became profligate and prodigal. The Holy Temple, which had been recently built as a sacred place where God’s presence was experienced, became an empty place. Like Solomon, the people returned to pagan ways worshipping nature, adoring the stars, and sacrificing their children. In only one generation, faith was forgotten and God was neglected. Solomon and his people forsook the LORD and so, in turn, God also abandoned them to their apostasy.

             How does this affect us three thousand years later? What lesson is here that we can learn, appreciate, and apply? I personally think that this passage of scripture (1 Kings 11:1-13) is both cautionary and challenging. It confronts our own ways and the decrease of our own worship of God, as well as our Christian beliefs. Are we as faithful to God now as we were ten, twenty, or even fifty years ago? Do we still live Christo-centric lives, or have we also become solo-centric? As we grow older, have we become closer or further away from God? These are very important personal questions, the answers to which both only we as individuals and God fully know. We may deceive other folks and delude ourselves, but we cannot ever fool God.

Questions for personal reflection

How has my commitment to Christ changed over the last ten years? Am I nearer to God now or further away?

Prayer:            Lord God, You know absolutely everything about us, so we cannot fool You with our words and ways, our good intentions or personal promises. Challenge us today, so that we may make the serious changes needed in our lives to become more committed, devoted, and faithful to You. In the Name of Christ, we pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin 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.

Today’s image is one of John’s latest summer drawings called ‘Sunflower Power.’ If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link: Sunflowers.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Church devotion: A War of Wills - Revelation 16:9

Revelation 16:9           They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him.

            The sixteenth chapter of Revelation always scares me. It’s a part of the Bible that I don’t want to read and I sometimes wish that the Apostle John had never received such a vision. It reveals the wrath of God in a terrifying way, as well as the rebellious spirit of man. On one side, you have God meting out punishments on a sinful world; on the other, you have sinful man remaining defiant to the end. It’s a war of wills; the sadness is that humanity has no chance of ever winning.

            Some people reject this imagery and refuse to believe in a God who would cause such pain, distress, and torment upon humanity. They do not wish to worship such a wicked, tyrannical deity. They think that this is noble and worthy of humankind, however they are falling into the very position of stubbornness and defiance that is actually described here! Those who suffer the terrible wrath of God defiantly refuse to repent or glorify God. Isn't that the very same thing?

            This is why this particular chapter scares me. John was being very candid and absolutely clear about God’s power, judgment, and wrath. We post-modern Christians discard his descriptions far too easily; we cast aside these images as religious science fiction with no place in the real world. That’s exactly the point of this frightening chapter – as long as we remain sinful, we are separated from God; so long as we remain defiant, we are in danger of being damned.

            Maybe you wanted to read a light, heart-warming, and cozy devotional today. There are plenty of them to be found all over the internet. Truth, however, is a rare commodity. When I read the scriptures, I ask myself “What does this mean?” I try not to fall into the self-serving trap of asking, “What can I make it mean for me today?” God’s Word is meant to challenge our human delusions by confronting us with Divine Truth. Being a Christian is never easy, which is why the symbol of our faith is a cross and not a couch.

Questions for personal reflection

Where are my delusions confronted by God’s reality? Am I willing to accept His Truth in order to repent and glorify God?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, we want to live faithful lives but sometimes our misguided ways and misperceptions of Your reality differ from Your will. Help us to be more in tune with Your understanding about our lives and keep us from becoming obstinate or defiant. In Your Holy Name, we humbly pray. Amen.

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

Today’s image is one of John’s Christ icons. It’s based on an ancient Syriac drawing of Jesus. You can view a larger version here: Christ Icon.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Church Devotion: The Real Thing - Revelation 14:6

Revelation 14:6           Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth--to every nation, tribe, language, and people.

            Do you remember that old Coke commercial which begins with one person on a hilltop singing “I’d like to teach the world to sing.” By the end of the advert, hundreds of people in different national costumes, and of all races, have gathered together to sing and drink coke. It was one of the most successful ads ever made and people bought into the idea of One Harmonious World, while conveniently forgetting that the actual message behind the commercial was for one brand of soda to be purchased everywhere on Earth. It was very clever and very sublime at the same time. It preached a message of equality, while it simultaneously invoked worldwide capitalism. Whoever created the ad was certainly worth all of the salary that he or she was getting.

            In the Book of Revelation, the idea of one world is expressed through the eternal gospel being proclaimed everywhere on planet Earth. As it states in today’s verse, every nation, tribe, language, and people will have the Gospel proclaimed to them in the Last Days. This represents the mercy of God, for He gives everybody the opportunity of hearing and receiving the Good News of Jesus Christ. No one is coerced to accept the Gospel, but everyone is given the opportunity to hear it. In other words, God’s sees the unity of humankind through the ministry of His Son Jesus Christ.

            This is why Christianity remains a missionary faith, even in a cosmopolitan world. The mission of our faith is to reach people everywhere with the Gospel. We do this through preaching, teaching, and proclaiming, as well as through education, medicine, and support. Through what we say and do as faithful Christians, other people may be attracted to Christ. By all that we proclaim and present in our congregations, other people may be drawn into Christ’s Church. The life, work, and ministry of the Church has one great assignment – to proclaim the eternal gospel to those who live on the Earth – to every nation, tribe, language, and people.

            Our role in this great task is to be messengers and proclaimers of Christ. The people around us and closest to us see the Gospel through us. Our personal mission is to lead them to Christ because, in some cases, there will be no one else in their lives to do this.

Questions for personal reflection

As a Christian, who have I brought nearer to Christ? Am I willing to proclaim the Gospel to my loved ones? Do I actually know what the eternal Gospel is?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, our Christian faith is never meant to be private or personal, exclusive or introverted. We need to remember that someone else in our past brought us to You. Take away our fears of embarrassment about sharing the Gospel. Grant us the courage to share our faith in those precious moments and gracious opportunities that You create in our lives. 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 email him at Traqair@aol.com.

Today’s image is one of John’s bulletin cover drawings, based on a verse from Luke 14. If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link: Bulletin.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Opening devotion: Constantly Amazed - 1 Kings 8:27

1 Kings 8:27   Solomon said, “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!”

            God often amazes me. In the littlest things like a blade of grass, I see His handiwork. In the vastness of space and the colossal starry sky, I recognize His hallmarks of creation. In the people I love, I see His image constantly before me. In the work of the church I serve, I watch for His ways. Every day is a special gift from His goodness, so no matter how I feel, what I am experiencing, or what I face, I still find sacred seconds in which He just plainly and truthfully amazes me.

            My mind cannot contain the infinite wisdom and boundless glory that is God’s. My heart overflows with His love because it cannot be kept personally within me. He makes me glad to be one of His creatures and He makes me proud to be a child of His. I know that I do not deserve such goodness and love, or His compassion and mercy, but I am joyful at knowing these beautiful blessings. Sometimes my heart is fit to burst with God’s overwhelming love; in those sacred moments, I wish that the whole world could be filled with the same feelings.

            Ages ago, when King Solomon had completed the building of the First Temple in Jerusalem, he knew that God could not be contained with the bricks and mortar of a mere building. However, Solomon understood the symbolism of God’s dwelling with humanity and felt humbled by God’s favor on his people. It must have been a glorious and sacred day for all of God’s people.

            The older I get, the more that I realize that because God is gracious, He allows His Spirit to reside on this paltry planet we call Earth. Humanity does not deserve such a blessing because of our broken and sinful ways, but the love of God persists in the midst of all the evil in the world. We are still His people. We are still His children. We are still loved and never alone.

The infinite God abiding in a finite planet – this is what constantly and will always amaze me.

Questions for personal reflection

Where do I see God’s handiwork around me today? When do I feel His love in my life?

Prayer:            Lord God, You have created the entire universe with its vast array of galaxies, solar systems, stars and planets. You have also made the tiniest of things like atoms, cells, seeds, and people. Thank You for the wonders of creation that are all around us, which constantly amaze us. And we especially thank You for Your deep and abiding loving presence which will always gladden our hearts and give meaning to our lives. In Your Holy Name, we cheerfully pray. Amen.

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

Today’s image is one of John’s Psalm pictures which depicts God as Creator. If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link: Psalm 115.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Salvation Devotion: The Seventh Trumpet - Revelation 11:15

Revelation 11:15         The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign for ever and ever."

Just as all things have their beginnings, so all things must end. The universe that we see all around us, especially in the night sky, will one day be starless and lifeless. The Milky Way, with its billions of stars, will no longer exist, and the Solar System that is home to our beautiful planet will be no more. All life will end and even humanity will be terminated.

As Christian people, we believe that the end of all things will actually come when Christ returns to Earth and He truly becomes King of our planet and Lord of our Lives. His Kingdom will be firmly established and His Sovereignty will be ceaseless. Nations and governments, peoples and races will all end. Those who are Christ’s followers will be part of the new Creation, the new World, and the new Kingdom that is to come. This will be the reward for those who remain faithful to Him throughout their lives on Earth. This will be the final destination and outcome of all who believe in Christ as their Savior, Lord, and King.

Wishful thinking will not get anyone there. Unrepentant people and disconnected hearts from God will not abide in the new Heaven and the new Earth. And no matter how unfair or how unpleasant this may sound, this is how it is. God’s sovereignty is not diminished by our partiality. Christ’s Kingdom is not compromised by our cultural beliefs.

The mission of the Church is, and always will be, Christ’s means of bringing sinners to salvation. Everything else is incidental, no matter how good, how great, or how glad it seems to us. Without salvation, a trillion good deeds ultimately mean as much as a trillion finite stars. Without salvation, a zillion good intentions still amount to zero. When the End finally comes, without salvation, there will be no new beginning. We can kick and fuss, complain and protest as much as we like, but when the Final Day arrives, only one thing will be important: our salvation in Christ.

Questions for personal reflection

Have I really repented of my sins and truly confessed them to Christ? Do I take my salvation for granted, or do I truly know that only Jesus is my Savior?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, we all want to be saved and welcomed into Your Kingdom. Some of us have become careless with our Christian faith and sloppy with our ideas about salvation. Forgive us for forgetting the ultimate truth about Your presence in the world and Your ministry to all people. In Your Holy Name, we repent and pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin 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 one of John’s latest Communion drawings called “Cup of Salvation.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link: Cup of Salvation.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Church devotions: Nothing New - 1 John 5:20

1 John 5:20    We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true--even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

            The Apostle John lived in a multicultural and diverse world. The Roman Empire contained many different people from all sorts of backgrounds, nations, and religions. The success of the Empire lay not just in its military strength, but also in its tolerance of different cultures. Romanization of different ethnic groups and races did not involve the complete wiping out of local traditions, gods, and cultures. As long as people did not rebel and paid homage by paying taxes to the Emperor, they could remain under the protection of Rome.

            However, when Christianity appeared on the scene, it came into conflict with the Roman authorities almost immediately. The fact that Christ had been crucified under Roman Law meant that His followers were seen as insurrectionists who could not be tolerated or allowed to grow across the Empire. This is why so many of Christ’s original disciples were martyred; they were considered to be hostile extremists whose sole mission was to bring down the Roman Empire. In fact, only the Apostle John who wrote today’s verse, lived to a ripe old age, albeit in exile on a lonely island in the Aegean Sea.

            John was writing his first letter to new Christians who may have been frightened by the persecuting power of the Roman authorities. He expressed to them his absolute certainty that Jesus was sent by God in order to lead people to the Truth, so that his readers would know where and from whom to find eternal life. John states it simply and succinctly: ‘we are in him who is true--even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.’

            Today, we have the opportunity of sharing in and experiencing the same reality. Christ alone forgives our sins, draws us to God, and grants us eternal life. In a cosmopolitan, multicultural world, this is currently interpreted as being narrow-minded, exclusive, and intolerant. So what’s new? Those were the very same criticisms and charges that were raised against the Apostle John and the First Century Christians – why should we think that the world would see us any differently?

Questions for personal reflection

What makes me a Christian? Do I accept John’s ancient words that Jesus is the true God and eternal life? Why?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, we are all seeking the Truth so that our lives can be lived out purposefully, genuinely, and effectively. Keep us mindful of the original beliefs that the Apostles like John had and which the First Christians embraced. In Your Holy Name, may we remain devoted to You. 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 message, please send him an email to traqair@aol.com.

Please feel free to share and forward this message to your friends and families.

Today’s image is one of John’s Pentecost drawings called “Spirit Window.” You can view a larger version at the following link: Spirit Window.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Church Staff devotions: This is Love - 1 John 4:10

1 John 4:10    This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

            I like to read what the Apostle John has written about faith. Whether it comes from his Gospel writing, his letters, or even the Book of Revelation, John had the gift of writing something succinctly and directly. He was usually not confrontational like Paul; he just wanted people to receive Christ’s message through the power of love.

            His description of love in today’s verse shows us what God did to prove that He truly loved us: God sacrificed His own Son to atone for our sins. Think about it: the Creator of the Universe gave up what was the most precious thing to Him – His own Son – in order to rescue the vilest sinners in the Universe – human beings. I cannot fully fathom why God would do such an awful thing to save us; it just doesn’t make sense. Instead of sacrificing Jesus, God could have destroyed everything that He made, and then have started again, making sure that sin never came into the equation at all. That would have been the easy way out, but God has never been One for taking things easy.

            The hardest thing that God could do in order to save us and restore creation, was to sacrifice His loving, precious, and dearest Son. Only a God who was loving and just could have done that; a capricious demiurge would have backed away from such a terrible sacrifice. True love is not just about embracing, accepting, and encouraging – true love always includes sacrifice, selflessness, and surrender. For love of us, God surrendered His Son to our demented depravity in order to deliver us from ourselves, our sins, and our deaths. For love of His Father, Jesus gave up His life to ensure our salvation, to overcome evil, and to honor God. It sounds crazy to us, but there is a deeper love involved here than we could ever imagine, know, or experience for ourselves.

            As John wrote long ago: This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

What more could God ever do to show that He loves us completely?

Prayer:                        Lord God, we can never fathom the depths of Your amazing and almighty love. To sacrifice Your sinless Son for despicable sinners like us is incomprehensible for us to fully understand. All that we can simply do is gratefully and humbly accept Your remarkable grace and unequalled love. In Jesus’ Name, we pray. Amen.

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

Today’s image is John’s latest drawing called “Surfing Style.” To view a larger version, click on the following link: https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3670/14082073517_ceeae46cc7_b.jpg