Monday, March 23, 2015

Sunday Sermon: Things to Come - John 12:20-33

vv20-21          Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request.
“Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.”

            I think that most ministers, when they reach the end of their ministry, must ask themselves this question: “Did I help the people see Jesus?” It might not be something that other people worry about, but I believe that most congregational pastors feel troubled by this challenging question. When I speak with my clergy peers, many of them carry a similar burden in their hearts and on their minds. They feel that they cannot do enough, be everywhere, and see to every need that each church member requires of them. And the longer pastors stay in a church, there are more occasions where people can feel let down, dissatisfied, and uncared for. This is why I believe most pastors only stay with a congregation between 4 to 7 years and move on to a new place, a new people, and new opportunities.
           
            When I became a Christian almost forty years ago, all I ever wanted to do was to make people aware of who Christ was, what He did for me, and how they could experience the same blessings. I gave out Gospel tracts in the busy downtown streets of Glasgow; I preached, sang, and witnessed to folks at street corners; I gave messages, played my guitar, wrote songs about Jesus in a young people’s Gospel Club. My whole life at that time was to help others see Jesus.

            These days, I preach, teach, write, and draw for the very same reason: I still want other folks to see Jesus – to know Him and love Him – to be known by Him and loved by Him. And this is not just because I’m a pastor or a Presbyterian; this is because I’m a Christian, sometimes a not very good one, whose only purpose is to serve and follow Christ. But this is not just my calling – it is the same calling for all Reformed Christians because we fundamentally believe in the priesthood of all believers, in the ministry of all followers, in the pastorate of all those who put their faith in Jesus.

            Today’s Gospel passage shows us something similar. Some Greek people, who have come up for the Passover feast, have heard other folks talking about Jesus. They have heard some interesting stories and amazing reports about this Carpenter-preacher-prophet from Galilee. Now they want to satisfy their own curiosity. They want to personally see and encounter Jesus. They want to come into His presence and experience His preaching, teaching, and healing for themselves. We may not realize it, but this was a pivotal moment in Christ’s ministry. His work went from being regional to becoming international. His fame was spreading and this meant that the Kingdom was advancing, not just all over Galilee and the Holy Land, but into the hearts and homes of Greek Mediterranean people, who would take His message when they went back home, and share it with their own families and friends, colleagues and peers.

Christ is pleased with the request from the Greeks, but He also uses the opportunity to present one of His special teaching moments.

v26      “Whoever serves Me must follow Me; and where I am, My servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves Me.”

            We no longer belong to a servant society, so a lot of Christians don’t understand what Jesus is actually saying here. We want other people to serve us continually – the restaurant server, the grocery clerk, the public servant, or the company representative for our cable, telephone, or internet service. We want immediate attention and instantaneous results. We pay for our taxes, rates, purchases, and even our church offerings with our hard earned dollars, so we expect results and demand respect. We sometimes don’t know how to serve, but we do know when we are not being served properly, fittingly, and satisfactorily.

            Do we misunderstand Jesus? Have we forgotten that we are His servants? Have we managed to set aside what He purchased for us with His blood? He saved us from our sins, and yet we still continue our selfish ways. He bought our souls with His sacrifice, and yet we still say ‘No’ when asked to serve. He gave everything of Himself, so that we might have everything from God, and yet when asked to give anything for Him, it takes too much time, too much effort, too much trouble. In other words, we want Christ to serve us – our prayers, our projects, our ideas, and our dreams.

            This week has seen our denomination redefine marriage as between two people, no matter what gender they belong to. It’s part of the ongoing Interpretation Wars that are destroying denominations and creating chaos across many congregations. How we interpret the Bible is important because it reveals to the world what we believe, who we are, and how we actually serve Jesus. And if you don’t think this has any relevance to what the Gospel passage reveals to us today, then let me introduce you to the beliefs of a PCUSA pastor on the West Coast. Just recently, he wrote these words:
“I believe that: Religion is a human construct

The symbols of faith are products of human cultural evolution
Jesus may have been an historical figure, but most of what we know about him is in the form of legend
God is a symbol of myth-making and not credible as a supernatural being or force
The Bible is a human product as opposed to special revelation from a divine being
Human consciousness is the result of natural selection, so there’s no afterlife
In short, I regard the symbols of Christianity from a non-supernatural point of view.
And yet, even though I hold those beliefs, I am still a proud minister. But I don’t appreciate being told that I’m not truly a Christian.

So who does he serve? Who does he follow? In whom does he place his beliefs? And how on earth has he been able to remain as a PCUSA pastor? Remember Christ’s words:

v26      “Whoever serves Me must follow Me; and where I am, My servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves Me.”

As well as teaching the Greeks and the others around Him of what following Jesus meant, he also used this incident to remind His disciples of His mission – He wasn't here for fame or fortune, His popularity or pride. So He told them:

v31      “Now is the time for judgment of this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the Earth, will draw all men to Myself.”

            Judgement is not a very popular word in Christian circles. It very quickly gets transformed into ‘judgmental,’ which is something that Christians are continually told that they should never be. Judging and judgement belong to God, or in this case, Jesus Christ His Holy Son. As He expresses it, the world is presently being judged by God. However, when folks tell Christians to stop being so judgmental, what they are really saying is this: no one has the right to judge me, not even God.

            When Jesus talked about judgment at this time, He was confronting evil and telling it that its course, time, and hold over humanity had run out. He would bring all the conflict in the world to a climatic point when Jesus Himself would be lifted up on the Cross to draw all evil from the past, present, and future and pinpoint its destruction on Himself. This is why we are constantly told that He who was sinless became sin itself. Christ bore God’s wrath for our sinful behavior. He took upon Himself the judgment of His Father so that we may be totally forgiven of every single one of our mistakes, in order to be fully cleansed, made holy, and eternally reconciled to God. Without Jesus, we would be eternally annihilated by God; with Jesus, we are entirely accepted by God.

So, what does all this mean for us here in church this morning? What should we do about Christ’s words and deeds from this Gospel passage?

Firstly, as Christians, we need to remind ourselves that we are the vehicles of faith, the channels of mercy, and the instruments of God’s love to enable other folks to see Jesus. We are not only meant to be believers or followers or disciples of Jesus, we are supposed to be witnesses of His grace and truth.

Secondly, we are servants of Christ and not just seekers of God. This requires commitment and consistency, humility and faithfulness. Servants are not meant to choose to come to church in order to get something out of it; servants are supposed to obediently come to church in order to give something into it – whether it be time and talents, money and meaning, or service and faith.

Lastly, judgmental Christians make poor witnesses, however setting aside or ignoring the fact that Christ is actually judging the world is spiritually dangerous, and may cause people to wander down into dark tunnels of their own misunderstanding, instead of paying attention to Christ’s words and ways, which are meant to lead us toward His Light and God’s gift of everlasting Life. In Christ’s Name. Amen.

Prayer & Apostles’ Creed.


(As we say the Creed, let’s be reminded of the fact that when Christ returns, He comes to judge the quick (those still alive) and the dead – in other words, everyone who ever existed in the past, lives now, or will be born until the Day in which He returns).

Church Meeting devotion: Topsy Turvy Teacher - Luke 9:48

Luke 9:48      Then Jesus said to them, "Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all--he is the greatest." (NIV)

            One of the earliest images of Jesus that most of us have, is usually of Him playing with and surrounded by children. Most church nurseries have pictures hanging on their walls with similar drawings. The best picture that I have ever seen was in an old Scottish Church where Jesus was encircled by children who came from all over the world, all wearing their national and ethnic costumes.

            We may not know it, but Christ upgraded the importance of children through His teachings. In His day, children were usually considered to be of little importance and their fathers had the authoritative right to fully direct their future. Indeed, in some Roman families, the father had the power of life and death over their children for their entire lives.

            When Jesus brought the little child into the midst of the disciples, He was teaching them a lesson about humility as opposed to pride, as well as weakness over strength. As usual, Jesus was turning everything upside down: in God’s eyes a little child was greater than an adult man. Christ was giving power to the powerless and a voice to the voiceless. He was exalting the least, as opposed to glorifying the best.

Question:       Who are the least in our present society? How should Christ’s Church highlight their value in the world?

Prayer:          Lord Jesus, You constantly challenge us through Your teaching and example. The things and people that we think should be honored and exalted tend to be the very opposite of what You would consider. Help us to see the world through Your eyes, so that we may apply Your perception in all that we would do for You. 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.


Today’s image is John’s latest Palm Sunday drawing called “Palm Cross.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link: Cross.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Short devotion: Listening to Jesus - Luke 9:35

Luke 9:35      A voice came from the cloud, saying, "This is My Son, Whom I have chosen; listen to Him." (NIV)

            Sometimes, instead of listening to Jesus, I listen to my own thoughts and ideas. I end up making foolish choices and stupid mistakes which Christ could have helped me to avoid. I thought that the older I got, the wiser I would become. That just doesn't happen. If I don’t listen to Jesus, I am not going to learn.

            I hear other people quoting Jesus, but not really listening or applying what He has said. It’s almost as if they have created their own fortune cookie Jesus who sagely expresses words of wisdom to justify their actions, choices, and decisions. I keep hearing things like “Judge not, or you’ll be judged,” or “Love one another,” or “Do unto others,” or even the apocryphal “We are all God’s children,” (which He never said). People misquote His words because they don’t read the Bible or truly listen to the Gospel. And what they don’t hear, they make up to suit themselves.

            When God candidly speaks to the three disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36), he does two things. Firstly, He reveals to them that Jesus is actually His Holy Son. Secondly, God commands them to listen to Him. We may not understand this at first, but what we have here is the true process of becoming and being a Christian. To be a Christian means that we have to believe that Jesus is God’s Holy Son. To remain a Christian, we have to keep listening to what He says, which we can only do if we consistently, studiously, and prayerfully keep reading the Gospels.

            So the challenge for all of us, including me, is this: Do I believe that Jesus is God’s Holy Son, and am I willing to listen to Him?

Prayer:          Lord Jesus, You are God’s Only and Holy Son. Open our hearts and minds so that we may truly listen to You. Enable us to consistently make the time to continually read the Gospels. Help us to serve You in all of our decisions and deeds. 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 ask questions or make comments about today’s message, please send him an email to Traqair@aol.com.


The attached image is one of John’s latest Celtic type drawings called “Celtic Communion.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click on this link: Communion.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Gospel Devotion: Who is Jesus? - Luke 9:20

Luke 9:20 "But what about you?" Jesus asked. "Who do you say I am?" Peter answered, "The Christ of God." (NIV)

            For the past fifty years, mainstream Christianity has been involved in what I term as ‘The Interpretation Wars.’ At some point during the 1960s, when every institution was being confronted, challenged, and changed, the Church also faced a return of an old conflict in a new form. The authority of scripture was undermined with the Death of God controversies, only to be countermanded by the Jesus movement. A couple of decades later, inerrant fundamentalism championed society and was immediately confronted by social justice liberalism. These days, we are still dealing with the fallout caused by past theological and Biblical differences; we are still fighting one another in a new phase of the Interpretation Wars where the sovereignty of God is being assaulted by the ascendance of humankind.

            No matter where we are located on the theological spectrum, or in which Interpretation Front we are entrenched in, there is only one crucial question that needs to be debated and answered: who do we say that Jesus is? At the end of our lives, when we are each on the threshold of Eternity, this is the only question that will be important. All of our pre-conceived ideas and life assembled opinions will pale in significance. The only question we will be asked is this: Who is Jesus?

            If Jesus is only an historical religious leader to us, we will have no future. If He is only a teacher of lifestyle morals, we will have no more life. If He is just an ancient person whose real characteristics are lost in the myths of time, we will never live beyond death. But if He is to us the Christ of God, sent to save us from our sins, we will be forgiven, we will be welcomed into heaven, and we will be given everlasting life.

Question: Who is Jesus to me?

Prayer:          Lord Jesus, You are the King of kings and the Christ of God. You came to Earth to draw us to Your Light and save us from our sinful ways. May we serve You throughout our lives and acknowledge You as our only Savior. In Your Holy and sacred Name, we humbly pray. Amen.

John Stuart is currently 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 John’s latest Celtic Cross drawings. If you would like to view a larger version, please click on this link: Cross.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Sermon on John 3:16,17 & 18 - Saving the World

John 3:16      For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (NIV)

The Gospel passage that we read this morning contains the three most important verses in the entire Bible. If ever we wanted to reduce Christianity to three foundational statements or encapsulate it in three simple verses, John 3:16-18 contains everything that we will ever need to know, believe, and live by. The words are so fundamental to our faith that without them, Christianity would just be a charitable philosophy based on tolerance, kindness, and niceness.

This morning, I’m going to attempt to convey the importance of these verses. Be aware, too, that these verses challenge me as much as they may challenge you. They are not easy to receive or digest, ponder or apply, but please know this from the outset: they are all about Jesus and God. What we do with these words will not change what is presented. In the end, and at the end of each of our lives, they will become fundamentally important.

            The first point that these verses make is this: God loves us and He loves the world that He created. This is a good start because we are immediately brought into God’s grace. As shameful, selfish creatures, we need to know that, despite our sinful selves, God does love us. He does not abandon us to our sinful ways; he does not forsake us to being separated from Him forever. He loves us and because of this love, He offers us a way to be restored to His mercy and grace.

            He gives us Jesus, His One and Only Son, the most precious person in God’s eyes, the most perfect gift to an undeserving world, the most complete sacrifice that any parent can make – He gives His sweet and precious child to a bitter and worthless world. Jesus is the One, Great, and Last Hope of humankind. All that we have to do is to believe in Him, place our hopes in Him, give our heart and mind to Him, put our lives into His hands – however we want to say and express that we believe in Him. It’s all that we have to do – a simple act of surrender and submission, and yet it is one of the hardest things that sinful, self-centered, and self-assured creatures can actually do.

17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 

            In ancient times, when a king sent his son into a region of his sovereign domain, the purpose of the visit was to give the King’s son time to evaluate that region. If there was anything wrong or if the local magistrates were corrupt, or if the people were disloyal and treacherous, the Crown Prince took back his report to his father. The son’s words were not challenged because the King usually trusted his son’s ability to see what was going on and to give a true account of what was happening. The King would then respond accordingly, based on what the report contained. If there was any corruption, those involved were condemned and punished. If there was any treachery, it was quickly stamped out.

            When God sent Jesus into the world, He could have given His Son the divine authority to condemn the entire world for its wickedness, its corruption, and its treachery. It would have been perfectly just and totally God’s divine right. But remember, God sent Jesus into the world to show His love, not His power; to show His grace, not His greatness – unless, of course, we understand that only the most powerful and greatest of Gods would convey His almightiness through love and grace.

            Jesus, therefore, did not come as a Divine Inquisitor or Heavenly Magistrate. He came as the world’s Savior. He came to sacrifice Himself for a world full of sinners. He came to save us from our wicked choices and sinful decisions. He came to rescue us from our stubborn and selfish ways. He came to save us because we were wroth rescuing, redeeming, and restoring. He came, because just like His Divine Father, and as the old children’s hymn tells us, Jesus loves us.

            Look at what verse 17 simply states: the world was saved through Him. Through Him – not by Him or for Him, or to Him or because of Him. It was saved through Him – not by anything we could do, but through all that Jesus accomplished. We are creatures of God who are saved through the unique and redeeming blood of Jesus Christ, our only and holy Savior. There is no other person who can give us this. There is no other way to procure salvation. There is no other spiritual process, good action, or deed of love that can restore us eternally to God. We cannot do anything to save ourselves – it can be only be done and won through Jesus. Anything else or anyone else is a delusion, wishful thinking, and entirely a dead end.

            When the great Scottish reformer John Knox was dying, he struggled with his mortality, conscience, and guilt. He knew that he had made many mistakes, but at the same time, he had accomplished many great things for God. If anyone could rely upon his deeds for God, and be rewarded for his unswerving loyalty, it was John Knox. But as he wrestled with this, he knew it was a temptation – no matter what he accomplished, no matter what he achieved, no matter what he built, none of it could ever buy salvation for his soul on his death bed. Only Jesus could save him – he could only get to heaven through Christ alone. And so the great reformer stopped struggling with his conscience and wrestling with the devil; he surrendered himself to Christ, for only the Son of God could actually save him.

            You know, friends, that’s a moment we will all face in this life. We don’t know when it will happen, where it will occur, or how it will take place. This is why I simply stated at the beginning of this sermon that these three verses are ultimately the most important of all of scripture. Why? Because when we are dying and cannot hold on to life, we can hold on to these words, and in the mysterious process, we can also know that Christ is holding on to us.

18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.

            At the beginning of this sermon, I emphasized God’s love for us and the world, and how thankful we all are for His grace in our lives. This last verse reveals to us how much God loves us – He loves us enough that if we choose to be independent of Him, we will get exactly what we choose.

            He gives us Jesus, His Only Son, as the Only Way through whom we can be reconnected and restored to God forever. However, because God loves us, he does not compel us to do what He wants. We still have the freedom to make our own choice; if that were not the case, then God would have imposed upon us His divine will, which is not love: that is coercion.

            Sadly, many people are going to make this the ultimate choice in their lives. They are going to choose to be independent of God and to set aside Christ’s accomplishments. They are going to decide their own priorities, their own mortalities, and their own eternities. God will offer everyone His Son, but not everyone will take God up on that remarkable, redeeming, and exceptional offer.

            In what I consider to be his best work, C.S. Lewis wrote about this in his book called “The Great Divorce.” In it he wrote:
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done." All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”

            We all choose our own path, we all make our own mistakes. We all decide our own destinies, and we all make our own lifestyle decisions. God graciously offers us salvation through His Son Jesus Christ. He gives us that option – He sacrifices everything that he loves, so that we might experience everything of His love – but He does not make us or force us, compel us or bully us into accepting that offer. God proves His complete love for us by permitting us to make our own ultimate choice. We cannot rescue ourselves, we cannot erase our sins, and we cannot save ourselves. Only Jesus can do that for us – it can only be done, made right, and fully completed through Him.

            Again, as C S Lewis wrote in the Great Divorce:
“I do not think that all who choose wrong roads perish; but their rescue consists in being put back on the right road. A sum can be put right: but only by going back til you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simply going on. Evil can be undone, but it cannot 'develop' into good. Time does not heal it. The spell must be unwound, bit by bit, 'with backward mutters of dissevering power' --or else not.” 

            My friends, I would urge us all to re-read these three verses this afternoon and to personally contemplate how we each value them in our lives. Death comes to us all and hopefully in the far off future, but salvation can come to us now through Jesus Christ, the Precious Holy Son that God gave to us because He loves us, and our Perfect Sacred Savior who can restore us to God eternally, when we freely and humbly choose to believe in Him.

Prayer and Apostles’ Creed

Gospel devotion - Just like Jesus - Luke 9:11b

Today’s Bible readings can be found at these links: Psalm 69:13-24 and Luke 9:10-17.

Luke 9:11b                Jesus welcomed them and spoke to them about the Kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.

            It’s just typical of Jesus. He has had a busy morning debriefing the disciples about their winter ministry exploits in other villages. In order to help them to de-stress, He decides to take them on a quiet retreat to Bethsaida. But things don’t go according to plan because the country folk get to hear of His location, and end up coming in their thousands to hear Him preach or see a miracle.

            No doubt the disciples were peeved for they wanted some quality time to be with Jesus. Christ could also have refused to meet the expectations of the crowd because He had something more important to do. But this is Jesus, so typically He gets among the people, speaking to them about the Kingdom of God, and healing those who needed healing.

            In theological terms, it’s called Incarnation ministry. Jesus is in the midst of His people, preaching to them about God’s ways, and showing those ways to be true by mercifully healing the sick. It’s the image of the compassionate and gentle Shepherd that most of us see in our minds when we think about Him. It’s also the way in which we hope that He will welcome us, talk to us, and heal us of all our sicknesses, whether they be physical or emotional, spiritual or cultural, personal or filial.

            Today, I need that typical Jesus to walk beside me, to show me the Kingdom of God, and to heal my hurts and disappointments, my anxieties and fears, as well as my sickness and sadness. Only He can do that for me; only Jesus can bind up my wounds, release me from my fears, and restore me to health. Perhaps, you are feeling or experiencing something similar. My prayer for you would be that Christ can do the same.

Question:      What is currently troubling me? Am I willing to let Jesus reach me and heal me?

Prayer:          Lord Jesus, You are the Savior of the World and the Healer of broken souls. Welcome us into Your heart today and heal us of all that harms us in body, mind, heart, and spirit. 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 ask questions or make comments about today’s message, please send him an email to Traqair@aol.com.


Today’s image is John’s latest Snowbird drawing called “Winter Woodpecker.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click on this link: Woodpecker.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Lent devotion: Sorry to God - Luke 7:48

Luke 7:48      Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” (NIV)

            There is not a day that goes by that I do not end up saying “Sorry” to God. There is not a Sunday in worship, when the prayers of confession are read and said, that I don’t feel guilty and in need of those prayers. Some folks would say that this is because of my Presbyterian Calvinist roots; however, I personally know it’s because I am a sinner who falls short of God’s standards, day after day, week after week, and year after year.

            Without Christ, there could be no forgiveness for any one of us. He was given total authority from God to pardon our mistakes. He compassionately listens to our personal pleas, especially when we humbly and honestly confess our mistakes to Him. He helps us overcome temptation, but He also is willing to forgive our faults when we recognize them.

            This forgiveness from Jesus can also be found in the Gospel story (Luke 7:36-50). The heartbroken woman who cried at Christ’s feet must have been carrying a lot of guilt, perhaps for many years. She saw in Jesus the source of her salvation. She recognized her unworthiness, but at the same time she clamored for His Holiness. She understood what the host of the house had failed to see: that Christ was the Only One who could forgive her, save her, and restore her as a beloved child of God’s grace.

            At the end of today, like many other Christians, I will remorsefully come to God and ask Jesus to forgive me. There is no other person or power that I can appeal to for real mercy. There is no other source or entity that I can pray to for total absolution. And at the end of my confessional prayers, from within my mind and heart, I feel the same beautiful words of Christ being conveyed to me, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Question:      When and how do I ask Christ to forgive me? Am I willing to see that same forgiveness at work in the lives of other people?

Prayer:          Lord Jesus, You are the Savior of the world, as well as our individual souls. You allow us to come to You each day to confess our faults in order to receive Your grace. Thank You for this blessing, as well as for Your patience and love. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

John Stuart is currently 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 John’s latest drawings called “Mountain Hummingbird.” If you would like to view a larger version of the drawing, please click on this link: Bird.