Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Devotion on Grace: The Gift of Grace - Matthew 20:15

Matthew 20:15        Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?

            Today’s Gospel passage (Matthew 20:1-16) has nothing to do with workers’ rights, shrewd employers, or salary compensation; it’s all about the grace of God and how He freely and independently chooses to bestow it upon anyone that He selects. Grace belongs to God, so when He blesses someone that we think doesn't deserve it, then we need to ask ourselves this question: who does deserve God’s grace?

            Of course, the honest answer to that question is no one deserves God’s grace, otherwise it would simply be a meritorious award or an honorary gift. We all for short of the standards that God expects of us; we all sin on a daily basis, so if God simply gave His grace to those who deserved it, no one would experience or know of God’s grace ever again.

            It’s because God is gracious that we can begin again each day with a clean slate. It’s because of God’s grace that we can turn away from our sin and turn toward His love. It’s because of God’s grace that we can live our lives not under the fear of judgment and wrath, but with the joy and gladness that only grace can bring. As the old hymn emphatically states, grace is absolutely amazing!

            Perhaps you still feel guilty about something you did in the past, or some wrong that you committed which hurt someone else. Maybe you regret something that you said or did which disappointed God and still makes you feel ashamed. Perhaps you believe that you cannot be forgiven, so all you deserve is God’s wrath and eternal punishment for a horrible sin in your life. To tell you the truth, every Christian feels that way; every church person knows that reality; every follower of Jesus has experienced those kind of faults and failures.

            However, because God is gracious and because He wants to give grace, we can all be forgiven and restored, pardoned and accepted of anything and everything that we have ever said or done. There are no limits to God’s grace when we come to Him humbly and sincerely seeking His pardon. When we acknowledge our sinfulness before Him in prayer, He gives to us His grace through Jesus Christ, His Son and our Savior.

Questions for personal reflection

What is the biggest regret in my life? Am I willing to confess it to God, in order to receive His grace?

Prayer:           Lord Jesus, You are the instrument of God’s grace and the channel of His mercy. We know that we do not deserve such a wonderful and amazing gift. We thank You for sacrificing Yourself so that we may be given God’s amazing and absolute grace in our sinful lives. In Your Holy Name, we thankfully 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 message, please send him an email to Traqair@aol.com.

Today’s image is one of John’s latest Nativity drawing for kids. It’s called “Babushka Nativity.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click on this link: Nativity.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Advent Devotions for Churches

As many of you know, I write a lot of devotionals throughout the year. This year, I have written a full set of devotions for Advent for the congregation that I serve. For each day of Advent, beginning on Sunday 30th November, I have written a short devotion to correspond to the daily lectionary reading from the prophets. A Bible verse is highlighted, a question for reflection is posed, and a prayer is written at the end of the devotional.

If any churches would like Word file copies of the templates, then I would be willing to send them by email. The price is only $10 for the full set of four. Payment can be made via Paypal or check. An invoice for church records will also be sent via email.

Anyone who is interested may contact me by email at Traqair@aol.com.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Christian devotions: Some Serious Doubts - 2 Kings 10:7

2 Kings 10:7             When the letter arrived, these men took the princes and slaughtered all seventy of them. They put their heads in baskets and sent them to Jehu in Jezreel.

            It’s one of the bloodiest moments in the Bible and it’s done in the name of God. Seventy young princes are beheaded by their guardians simply because their father’s enemy Jehu believes that he is fulfilling God’s prophetic word of condemnation upon Ahab and his descendants. It seems that men way back then, just like now in the Middle East, justified their most gruesome and inhumane acts through the trappings and convenience of religion.

            When I read of those macabre events, as well as the cruel beheadings of innocents that are taking place today, it causes me to both despair of religious humanity, as well as to ask serious questions about God. If the slaughtering of people is the means by which God’s promises are fulfilled, does that mean that we are following a capricious deity who could wipe out the entire planet on a whim? I feel uneasy about asking that question because it may appear to others that I am casting doubt in the true existence of God. Be assured that I am not - what I’m really exploring is the sinful human ability to use God as the means of justifying wicked acts.

            This reminds me of what happened to Jesus. Religious people conspired against Him and used their scriptures to justify the decision to destroy Him. Jesus was conveniently killed by a political capital punishment process, but make no mistake about this, it was God-fearing servants and clergy who put Him on the Cross. The irony of it all was this: the people who believed that they were following and fulfilling God’s will were actually killing His Son. The wickedness and defiance of religious people against embracing God’s Son revealed the absolute depths of brutality, vehemence, and sin that people of faith will often justify, even today.

            So what’s the lesson in all of this? What can we glean and apply in our own lives? I think that the answer is one of self-awareness. Our zeal for God can destroy our love for one another. Our religious stances can obliterate our Gospel witness. Our strong faith can overpower and oppress those who are weak, vulnerable, and alienated – the very people that Jesus meant for us to tolerate, support, and love.

Questions for personal reflection

Have I ever used my faith to put down or humiliate someone else? If so, have I sought Christ’s forgiveness, or do I still justify my sinful action?

Prayer:          Lord Jesus, protect us from our self-righteousness and religious bigotry. Open our hearts and minds to Your loving teachings that continually challenge our passions and principles. Keep us on Your faithful path and protect us from our unjust ways. 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 or ask questions about today’s passage, please send him an email to Traqair@aol.com.

Today’s image is one of my latest Halloween drawings, made with crayons and paper sculpting. It’s called “Halloween Hoot.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link: Owl.

Monday, September 29, 2014

World Communion Devotion: Feed the World - Matthew 15:36

Matthew 15:36         Then Jesus took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. (NIV)

            One of the first pictures that I ever saw of Jesus was contained in a children’s book. In my mind’s eye I can still see it. Jesus is standing at the top of a hill with his hands held up in prayer to God. Before Him, on a rock, loaves and fishes have been placed. His disciples are gathered beside Him and a great crowd of people are around them, all over the hillside. It was a beautiful picture of the miraculous feeding of thousands of people and it has stayed in my heart ever since.

            As an adult, the nearest that I ever get to experiencing this bounteous beauty happens each month during the Communion service at the church I serve. About a hundred and fifty people are offered a little square of bread and a small cup of wine; they are spiritually fed and soulfully satisfied. They are at peace with God and filled with Christ’s love. It’s a wonderful church moment of grace and hope. Needless to say, I look forward to this experience each month.

            This Sunday, the whole world will be celebrating Communion across the entire globe. People from other lands will share in this amazing and wonderful feast. To me, World Communion Sunday is almost as important as Christmas Day, Easter, and Pentecost. It’s the one day in the year when Christians everywhere share in the blessings of Christ’s sacrificial love. It’s about as close to ‘peace on Earth’ as we will ever experience on this side of glory.

            So wherever you are this Sunday, let me urge and encourage you to join in this celebratory feast of Christ. Isn't it amazing that little squares of bread and small cups of wine will unite millions of Christians across the world? Isn't it wonderful that Christ’s miraculous feeding of His people is still experienced today?

Questions for personal reflection

What does Communion mean to me? How will my spirit connect to other Christians across the globe on World Communion Sunday?

Prayer:          Lord Jesus, we thank You for the gift of Communion which has become a holy and precious experience in our lives. Thank You for the promises that are fulfilled through the giving of Your sacred body and blood on Calvary, as well as the receiving and partaking of the holy bread and wine that we are offered at Communion. Bless us and all Your people on Earth, especially during World Communion Sunday. In Your Holy Name, we thankfully pray. Amen.

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

Today’s image is John’s latest drawing for World Communion Sunday. If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link: Communion.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Gospel Devotion: An Art Lesson - Matthew 14:11

Matthew 14:11         His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother.

            When I was growing up in Glasgow, Scotland, my Dad used to frequently take my siblings and I to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery in the heart of the city. It was always a fascinating place to visit and because my Dad was a great city historian, he used to tell us stories about the museum, as well as some interesting facts about that part of Glasgow.

            The museum is one of the most important art galleries in the world because it contains paintings by Rembrandt, Renoir, Picasso, Dali, Van Gogh, Monet, as well as many others by famous artists. When we visited the museum, it took a whole day to walk the hallways and corridors, sections and levels. If ever I get back to Scotland, it will be one of the first and foremost places that I’ll visit.

            One of the museum’s sections contained art by Italian painters from before, during, and after the Renaissance. One of paintings both startled and shocked me when I saw it for the first time. It was Dolci’s rendition of Salome carrying the bloodied head of John the Baptist on a silver platter. The woman in the painting is beautiful, but the macabre sight of John’s the Baptist’s decapitated head is horrendous. When I first saw it, I found myself both appalled and attracted to the painting at the same time. It was entirely a weird experience for such a young schoolboy.

            The Biblical account of this event (Matthew 14:1-12) reminds us of the evil that is in the world and which innocent people face in every generation. We only have to glance at the current news headlines to see this type of wicked inhumanity occurring in the Middle East and, unfortunately, across the globe. As Christians, we are meant to confront evil with God’s love, which is never easy to do, especially when people of our own faith are victims of oppression and persecution.

            So today’s message deals with the reality of evil on our planet, but also challenges us to use the divine vehicles of hope, faith, and love to change the world. It may not be easy, but it is Christ’s way.

Questions for personal reflection

How do I initially respond to reports of wickedness across the world? What am I doing with my faith to make my community a better place?

Prayer:          Lord Jesus, following Your ways is often difficult, especially in the face of wickedness and violence, conflict and evil. Help us to rely upon You to fortify our spirits, so that we may become channels of Your mercy and instruments of Your peace. 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 Traqair@aol.com.

Today’s image is Dolci’s painting of Salome. You can read more details of the painting at the following link: Salome.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Christian devotion - Where Was I? - Matthew 12:7

Matthew 12:7           If you had known what these words mean, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent.

            I always find today difficult. The memories that I have of 9/11 are perhaps different from most people. When all of America and the rest of the world was shocked by the terrorist attacks, I was sitting at a hospital bed holding the hand of a friend who was dying. The quietness throughout the whole medical floor was unreal. Doctors and nurses were watching a portable television at the ward desk. No one spoke; all of them were absorbed in the catastrophic insanity and merciless attack on the World Trade Center towers. The whole ward appeared to stand still and you could sense a terrible fear permeating throughout the hospital. Soon everyone was on high alert, fearing the absolute worst because there were rumors that hundreds of planes had gone missing.

Meanwhile I was holding my friend David’s hand, watching the monitors slow down, waiting for that last moment of his life. Across from me, his wife Linda sat with tears streaming down her face, as she lovingly patted his hand and quietly pleaded with David to stay alive. We were powerless in a helpless world. A little side-story within a frightening moment of history. We really didn't know what was happening outside, but death also visited us on that dreadful and painful morning.

Later on today, I’ll go over to David’s grave, where Linda is now also buried, and place some flowers over them. I’ll talk to them about that sad day, but also remind them of the pleasant memories that we shared which I still carry in my heart. I’ll also promise them that one morning, I’ll see them again in that beautiful land where suicidal madness and fanatical martyrdom have no reward; where suffering, pain, and evil cannot penetrate; where God actually wipes away all of our tears.

May God be with us all as we remember the past, knowing that He still watches over us presently, and will lead us to a better, not bitter, life through His Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Salvation Devotion: Texting

Matthew 11:19         “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her actions.”

            Traffic on the interstate to church this morning was very busy, so I had be doubly alert about the vehicles around me. I hoped that the other drivers were doing the same until I noticed that the car behind me was getting very close to my own. From my rear view mirror, I could see the cause – the young woman behind me was busy texting as well as driving. No doubt she thought that she was multi-tasking and that her message was very important. Unfortunately, she was causing me to speed up and the drivers around her to do the same. She didn't know it, but she was also weaving in her lane. Thankfully, no accident occurred, but if she keeps doing it then one day she will probably cause a terrible crash.

            In today’s highlighted verse, Jesus said that ‘wisdom is proved right by her actions.’ Throughout my life I have found that to be the case, especially in Church world. The wisest people that I have known have usually been focused faithfully on ministry or mission, or have regularly participated in worship, study groups or classes.

            Much of what I do is in the preaching and teaching realm of Church world. I can’t make people do the right faithful things, but I can offer them Christ’s words and God’s guidance. However, much like the young woman who thought that she can text and drive at the same time, some people are going to do what they want to do and believe what they want to do believe. The trouble is this: they are potentially going to lose their salvation by doing their own thing, going their own way, and believing what they want to accept.

            ‘Wisdom is proved right by her actions.’ If God offers salvation to those who truly believe in Jesus, would it not be wise to do something about it now, on this side of eternity? Almost saved, as the old preachers used to say, is the same as not being saved. Almost getting it right has the same consequences of getting it totally wrong. As our young people would say: YOLO – You Only Live Once – which is absolutely right, but it also comes with this caveat: you only have this opportunity to be saved by Jesus before death; after we die, even Christ cannot change things.

Questions for personal reflection?

Am I saved? If not, what am I going to do about it?

Prayer:          Lord Jesus, Your teachings in the Gospels are mostly about making the right decisions in different circumstances and ultimately about making the One Great Choice to be saved by You. Enable us to diminish our pride, so that we may humbly accept You as our only Savior and Lord. 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 one of my latest paper sculpted drawings called ‘Caledonian Soul.’ If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link: Cross.