Friday, May 22, 2015

Church Growth devotion: Rebuilding the Church - Psalm 102:16

Psalm 102:16           For the Lord will rebuild Zion and appear in His glory. (NIV)

            There’s a lot of rebuilding that needs to be done in many churches, including our own. The conflicts that we've all been involved in over the last three decades have taken their toll. Worship wars, culture wars, marriage wars, and atonement wars have diminished the life, work, and mission of the Church as Christ’s Bride on Earth. We are meant to be healers in a broken world; sadly, we have become so disjointed, disfigured, and disunited that we are broken, too.

            We need to ask God to rebuild us, one day at a time, and one person at a time. It will not be an easy process because it will require focus, energy, discipline, and commitment. There’s no other way to rebuild congregations or churches. There’s no magic wand, instant success, or easy button to do it. However, it is not insurmountable or unachievable. It can be done and it will be done among those churches who humbly yield to God and sincerely say, “Thy Will be done.”

            Five hundred years ago, the Christian Church faced a similar challenge. The early Reformers like Jan Hus, Martin Luther, and John Calvin knew that the people and priests had to get back to a form of basic New Testament Christianity. It was an uphill struggle – Jan Hus was burned at the stake; Martin Luther was declared an outlaw and hunted down; John Calvin faced death threats on a regular basis. They were successful in growing a new movement and a new church because their message was true to the Gospel. They accomplished much because they remained true to Christ.

            Today, let’s seriously think about reforming our ways and rebuilding the church. Instead of throwing stones at one another, let’s pick up those stones and rebuild our sacred places. Let’s call upon God to give us the grit and determination, as well as the resolve and focus to grow in His goodness, to advance Christ’s Kingdom, and to walk with the Spirit. We can do this. We can embrace this. We can rebuild.

Questions for personal reflection

What must I do to rebuild my commitment to Christ? How can I help others to do the same?

Prayers:         Lord Jesus, we are all a part of Your Church, Your Work, and Your Mission. In recent times, we have wandered away from Your Truth, forgotten Your Way, and have set aside Your Life. Forgive us for tearing down what You have built. Enable us to reform and allow us to rebuild. 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 message, please send him an email to Traqair@aol.com. John is always interested in your thoughts. And, if you ever find yourself in Knoxville on a Sunday morning, the people at Erin will make you feel welcome and will be delighted to worship with you.


Today’s image is John’s latest Pentecost drawing. If you would like to view a larger version, please click on this link: Pentecost.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Christian devotion - A Derailed Psalm - Psalm 101:1

Psalm 101:1  I will sing of your love and justice; to you, Lord, I will sing praise.

            Psalm 101 starts off so well. The writer declares his intent to sing of noble ideals like love and justice, as well as praising God. Sounds like a great idea and a wonderful way to express his faith; unfortunately, the rest of the psalm does not live up to the initial opening statement.

            Very soon, the psalmist goes into a self-righteous mode and quickly begins to condemn those who do not follow God’s ways. At one point he further declares that:

v5 - Whoever slanders their neighbor in secret, I will put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, I will not tolerate.

            We are all guilty of this and have experienced it on numerous occasions, from those with deeply entrenched views, as well from those who call themselves tolerant people. Sadly, we all currently see this all-too-human trait in the many forms of moral iconoclasm where opposing groups on abortion, sexuality, war, politics, or poverty tear down each other’s beliefs and standards, in the forlorn hope that the last person standing will win the day.

            As I read the rest of Psalm 101, I wish that the writer had just written a spiritual haiku, for his first words speak so well of what faithful folks like us should aspire toward. The world is full of wounded people and in need of a merciful holy healing, but if faithful people are wounding one another, then how can God’s message be effectively witnessed to, in our communities? I honestly think that if we get rid of our agendas and instead subscribe to the love, mercy, and truth of Christ, then we will have a substantial message to proclaim; otherwise we will fall like the wounded around us, and be of no use to anyone.

Questions for personal reflection

How can I support God’s work of love and justice? Where is God working in my congregation and community today?

Prayer:          Lord Jesus, we all have sinned and fall short of God’s standards and we know that we are unworthy of Your mercy. However, we do know that You love us and command us to love one another. Help us to see where You are working among us, in our congregation, our community, and our country. Enable us to become better servants of Your healing ministry. 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 attached image is one of John’s latest bulletin covers for churches for last Sunday. If you would like to view a larger version, please click this link: Easter7B.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Short devotion: Fly Girl - psalm 99:3

Psalm 99:3    Let them praise Your great and awesome name - He is holy.

            I've just been reading about Jackie Cochran, who was the first woman aviator to break the Sound Barrier on this day in 1953. She was born in a tiny Southern timber mill town of Muscogee, Florida, just north of Pensacola. The year was 1906 and she was a child of a very poor family, whose humble beginnings she tried to conceal in later years by claiming to be adopted.
           
Originally, she trained to be a nurse, and then a hairdresser, working for years in Pensacola. Eventually, she ended up in New York City, after being hired by a very prestigious salon. In the 1930s, Jackie began flying lessons and was so proficient at it, that she learned to fly and control an airplane within three weeks. She never looked back after that. Flying became her life. She won several special air races that were common at the time, broke many speed and distance records than any other pilot, flew a bomber across the Atlantic in World War 2, and eventually broke the Sound Barrier after being encouraged to do so by her long time famous pilot friend Chuck Yeager.

She did all these amazing things, but hardly anyone outside of aviation knows of her name. If she had died tragically, mysteriously, and young like her contemporary Amelia Earhart, more folks would have known about her. She accomplished much more than Earhart ever did, and could have been NASA’s first woman astronaut if the male participants in the early Mercury and Gemini programs had not objected to a woman being allowed to go through the training. However, her spirit was undaunted by any setbacks. She often spoke of her road to success with these words, "I might have been born in a hovel, but I determined to travel with the wind and the stars."

            In today’s psalm, we read the words about God’s glorious name which is revered and blessed throughout history because of His holiness, greatness, love, and mercy. There is no other god worthy of our worship; there is no other deity deserving of our devotion. God is our Creator whose mighty deeds have never been equaled, and whose works of salvation can never be diminished or forgotten. We bless His name because we are the beneficiaries of what His Only Son Jesus accomplished by His sacrificial death on the Cross. Christ may have been born in a hovel, but God was determined that He should follow a pre-destined path that would enable sinners like us to be embraced by His Spirit on Earth, so that we could at last reach for the stars of Heaven.

Questions for reflection
How grateful am I for Christ’s work of salvation? How do I honor His sacrifice with my life?

(If you would like to read more about Jackie Cochran’s amazing life, visit this PBS link: Jackie Cochran).

Prayer:          Lord God, we thank You for Your mighty and wonderful works of Creation which still amaze and astound us. However, we are infinitely more grateful for the precious gift of salvation that You have bestowed upon us through the life, death, and resurrection of Your Son Jesus. We can never repay the everlasting debt that we owe You, but we can remain eternally grateful by serving You in this life and the next. 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, he’d be happy to receive them via email. Send them to Traqair@aol.com.


Today’s attached image is one of John’s latest drawings of a Tiffany lamp. If you would like to view a larger version, please click on this link: Tiffany.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Worship devotions: What is Worship? - Psalm 95:6-7

Psalm 95:6-7                        Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for He is our God and we are the people of His pasture, the flock under His care.

            Humility is never easy for me. Just like most stubborn Scots, I want to be fiercely independent and completely free, individually shaped and personally motivated by my own choices. I like to think that what I say or do is important, insightful, and meaningful. I want my life to have a purpose, so long as I can mold it into whatever I want it to be. I desire to be a self-made person, which frequently leads to pride and vanity, causing me to get too big for my boots or become swollen-headed. The high horse I am riding or the pedestal I have made for myself begins to falter, and I am left sprawling on the proverbial floor, dispatched from the lofty heights I have proudly climbed. However, I also get the feeling that those around me know of that experience, too.

            Did you know that worship is meant to be an act of humility? Many folks misguidedly believe that worship services are meant to fill them, bolster them, support them, and uplift them. They feel that their time is precious, so worship should have a positive purpose that cheerfully changes them and really inspires them. Nothing could be further from the biblical truth. Worship, true and honest worship, is meant to humble us in the awesome presence of God. Even the old Hebrew words for worship, as in today’s psalm, literally mean to lie down prostrated, face first to the ground, as an humble act of faith before our Holy, Almighty, and Majestic God!

            Some congregations go halfway on this by kneeling during their worship services, but most Christian folks sit in their church pews and sadly sometimes get distracted by their mobile phones or devices which command more of their attention. People say they are ‘bored’ of worship, but what is really happening is that they are spiritually disconnected to God and don’t really understand that we bring worship to God. He is the audience, we are merely meant to be His humble servants.

            So, here’s a challenge for all of us: next Sunday morning, let’s all prepare ourselves to humbly worship God at church. Let’s also remember that the service is not about us in any shape or fashion – it’s all about serving God (why do you think it’s called a worship service, and not a worship experience?). Perhaps if we re-learn to be humble in worship, we will feel closer to God by the time the Benediction is given. J

Questions for personal reflection

What do I bring to God in worship? How does worship help me to serve Him humbly and faithfully?

Prayer:          Lord God, we want to worship You truly, but sometimes we let our pride or personalities get in the way. Help us to become aware of the humble nature of real worship, where You are at the center of its purpose, and that we are merely Your servants. 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 message, please send him an email to Traqair@aol.com.

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

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Church devotion: There Will Come a Time - Psalm 92:7

Psalm 92:7    Though the wicked spring up like grass and all evildoers flourish, they will be destroyed forever.

            There are times when I read and hear about suicide bombings, terrorist killings, and the slaying of innocents that I despair of humanity. Our inhumanity toward one another is an evil scourge that scars our planet, making me wonder that if there is other life in the universe, are those extra-terrestrial beings avoiding us because of our wretched wickedness.

            Every week, there seems to be another unbelievable violent incident reported across the globe. We spin through space, twirling around the Sun, making our way across the universe, leaving behind a trail of blood, war, and destruction that has become the hallmark of who we are in the great journey of Life. Sadly, our madness may one day become our unmaking, and our insanity may lead us into extinction.

            The world we live in is a beautiful place! We are surrounded with majestic mountains, wonderful seascapes, amazing land formations, and an abundance of living beings that make us unique in the entire universe. Why can’t we live peacefully and love one another? Why can’t we all just stop being brutal and learn to live together in this precious planet we all call home?

            According to our faith, there will come a time when our story ends and wickedness will be destroyed forever. Evil will be no more and death itself will be over and done. Then, as the scriptures tell us, God will once again abide with us and we will at last enjoy His Creation lovingly, peacefully, and eternally. No more bombings, no more slayings, no more war. No more cruelty, no more wickedness, no more evil – for those former things will have passed away, nevermore to be experienced, endured, or encountered.

            It is a future hope, but it is also something that we can aspire toward, apply, and advance today. As Christ Himself commanded, let us love one another, for after all is said and done, loving one another is the only thing that will endure forever.

Question for reflection:    To whom should I show God’s love today?

Prayer:          Lord Jesus, You have commanded us to love one another, but we have been poor witnesses of those words. Forgive our failure to live lovingly, peacefully, and faithfully. Help us to overcome our fear, pride, or even anger, in order to love all those we encounter this day. 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 on of John’s bulletin cover images called “Love One Another.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click this link: Love.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Family Devotion: A New Princess - Psalm 90:16

Psalm 90:16  May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children.

            It’s official! The new princess in Britain has been named as Charlotte Elizabeth Diana. News media around the world, as well as newspapers all over the globe have been busy speculating on what the new baby would be named. Personally, I’m glad to see that Queen Elizabeth’s name has been included. She has been a wonderful Christian Sovereign throughout her monarchy and may become Britain’s longest reigning Queen by the end of this year.

            Whatever the hype, there’s one thing that I hope this new wee royal lassie is given: a true seed of Christian faith in her heart. As she grows up, she will be constantly watched and pursued by the heartless paparazzi. She may go through heartbreaking moments and problematic times. On the other hand, because she is a princess, Lottie may be well protected from all of that and her life may become one of happiness, enjoyment, peace, and prosperity. No matter what she experiences, enjoys, or endures, my prayer is still the same: that she will come to know Jesus Christ as her Savior, Lord, and King.

            It’s a prayer that I hope can be fulfilled for every child born on this Earth. May the sacrificial deeds of Christ and the splendor of His resurrection be continually expressed, experienced, and embraced by every generation, including those born at this time, and by those yet unborn and unseen.

Question for reflection      Who are the youngest people in my life? Am I willing to constantly pray for their faith to be established in Jesus Christ? Will I continually pray that He will become the Savior of their hearts, lives, and souls?

Prayer:          Lord Jesus, thank You for the new generation being constantly born among us. May Your Spirit reach out to them all over the world, no matter who they are or what they will become. May they accept You as their Savior, Shepherd, and Sovereign. 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 questions about today’s message, please send him an email to Traqair@aol.com.


Today’s image is one of John’s latest Nativity drawings. It’s called ‘Starlight Strangers.’ If you would like to view a larger version, please click on this link: Nativity.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Devotion on Prayer: Praying Persistently - Luke 18:1

Luke 18:1      Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.

            Like many other Christians, I pray all through the day. Sometimes I pray when I’m driving my car; at other times I pray when I’m sitting at my desk, or lying on my bed. My thoughts and prayers cover all sorts of subjects, people, issues, and requests. And whenever I’m going through a difficult time, or perhaps a family member is, or even a church member, I pray continually for help, healing, and wholeness.

            I try to be persistent in what I pray. If a friend of mine is really ill or going through a hard time, I constantly ask God for mercy and grace, guidance and goodness to come into that person’s life. I try not to give up, not because I seek to pester God with my requests, but because I know that God has the power, grace, and love to bring about healing, restoration, rescue, and renewal. Prayer is both a great privilege, as well as a powerful gift, so I really try hard to focus on what I am actually asking God to do.

            All of my prayers have been answered. Sometimes the answer is “Yes.” At other times, the answer can be “No,” but usually the answer is “Not now, not yet.” So I continue to pray thankfully, faithfully, and persistently. It doesn't make me holy or saintly; instead it keeps me connected to God and seeking His guidance. It makes me realize that I am a creature and He is Creator; I am a servant and He is my King.

            Today’s parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8) was told by Jesus so that His followers would continue to use prayer as the vehicle of their requests, as well as the channel of their direct connection to God. Prayer keeps our faith activated, as well as joining our spirits to Jesus. Persistent and sincere prayer maintains our hope for healing and sustains our strength in Christ.

Questions for reflection:    How often do I pray? What do I frequently pray to God? How does God answer my prayers? How do I respond to His decisions?

Prayer:          Lord Jesus, thank You for teaching us how to pray faithfully and effectively. Keep us connected to You through the spiritual experience of focused prayer. Be with us and bless us this day. 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 John’s new woodcut type drawings called “Night Lights.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click on this link: Lights.