Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Listening to Jesus - Mark 4:9

Mark 4:9 Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” (NIV)

            As a child, I often got into trouble for doing the wrong things, despite being pre-warned by my parents. I can still hear them saying to me, “This would never have happened if you had listened in the first place.” As a teenager, I promised to follow their instructions, but I still ended up making foolish choices which put me in reckless situations that I was lucky to survive. And then as a young man, instead of heeding the words of my family and friends, I almost destroyed my life completely through alcohol. In all of those circumstances, I just didn’t listen to the advice I was given. I wanted to make my own decisions and only ended up learning things the hard way.

            In the Gospel passage (Mark 4:1-20) where Jesus tells and explains the parable of the sower, I can hear some of His frustration with His own people. He has come among them to bring the good news of their salvation through the gracious Word of God. He is attempting to tell them, by means of this parable, about the consequences of listening to and applying God’s Word. Some of them get it and bear a fruitful faith, but most of them either discard His words or take them for granted and end up being fruitless. He is giving them the opportunity of a lifetime to get reconnected to God, but they just don’t listen and become separated from God forever.

            Christ’s words still challenge us across the centuries and His parable is highly relevant in today’s world. Sadly, some folks who consider themselves to be Christians are taking Jesus for granted and tossing away their opportunity of being saved. Instead of listening to His words, they make up their own beliefs and end up falling away. What little faith they have is fruitless, so whatever life they make for themselves is eternally pointless. They are choked with the cares of the world instead of cherishing the Word of God. In the end, they leave Jesus no choice but to say, “If only they had listened.”

Point to ponder

Is my faith fruitful or empty? Am I hearing what Christ has to say or just listening to my own voice?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, speak to our spirits and guide us to Your godliness. Open our ears to hear Your word and let our hearts embrace Your teaching so that we may bear a fruitful faith. Keep us from taking Your for granted and remind us of our dependence on You alone to restore us to God. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. You can visit the church website at this link: www.erinpresbyterian.org.

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

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Preaching the Word - Mark 1:38

Mark 1:38       Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”(NIV)

            I would love to have heard Jesus preaching in any of the synagogues that He visited during His lifetime. What we have in the Gospels is only the tip of a whole mountain of messages that Christ must have preached to His people all over Galilee. We know that He always attended worship each week, so in the preceding days, Jesus must have prepared what He was going to say. I would also have liked to watch Him do that and pick up a few new methods of how to fully prepare a sermon. He didn’t have the books or devices that I have to help me research the scriptures for a Sunday message, but I’m certain that His illustrations and interpretations of God’s Word must have been amazing and life-changing for His listeners.

            The purpose of preaching is to help people understand the salvation history of God. It’s not about being entertained or charmed by the charisma of the preacher; it’s about being confronted with God’s Word and becoming connected to God’s Spirit. This makes preaching a controversial form of communication instead of it being a comfortable expression of faith. I know many preachers who, like myself, often struggle with the Bible passages that are preached on Sundays. They don’t want to offend anyone or disappoint someone, but in the end, preachers need to preach what God places in their hearts.

            I think this is also why some of Christ’s major conflicts took place in the synagogues where He preached. His message was both traditional and radical, authoritative and demanding. Perhaps if I had been in one of those synagogues where Jesus preached, I may have been offended, too. I know this much, He certainly would have challenged me, as He still does today.

Point to ponder

Have I ever heard a sermon that changed my life?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, Your Word is always alive and relevant, as well as challenging and resourceful. Open our hearts and minds to receiving, embracing, and applying the messages that You give to us through preaching today. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

Today’s image is one of John’s iconic drawings of Jesus called ‘Christ Icon.’ If you would like to view a larger version, please click this link: Icon.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. You can read the church website at this link: www.erinpresbyterian.org.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Fisher Folk Faith - Mark 1:17

Mark 1:17       “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” (NIV)

            For the first nine years of my ministry, I was privileged to serve in a Scottish fishing village called Dunure. It was situated on the West coast of Scotland, overlooking the Firth of Clyde, which is the waterway to the Irish Sea. It’s a picturesque village with an old ruined castle that once owned by the powerful Kennedy clan. Quite recently, Season 3 of the popular Outlander television series has just been filmed down at Dunure harbor.

            The fishermen and their families taught me a lot about faith and ministry. They were very supportive but were also willing to let me know when I made mistakes. Their hard work and determination gave me many insights into courage and endurance; their faith and family ties helped me to understand the strength of being a community in both good and adverse times.

            When Jesus called the fishermen to be His first disciples, I think He knew that their tenacity and loyalty, as well as their candid and honest outlook on life, would bless His ministry and continue His mission long after He was gone. Christ may have given them a new calling to find, fish, and gather people to God’s Kingdom, but their own skills and determination would ensure the future successes of the Christian faith. In fact, we are indebted to those Galilean fishermen for the faith we embrace today, just as I am indebted to the Dunure fisher-folk for teaching me many lessons about life and ministry which I still practice years later.

Point to ponder

Who taught me about the Christian faith? What lessons of theirs do I still practice today?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, we thank You for the calling of the disciples and especially the fisher-folk who supported and encouraged You throughout Your ministry. We also praise You for the success of their mission to the larger world and the blessings of faith that are now ours today. Grant us opportunities to share our Christian beliefs with other people in our own lives. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

Today’s image is one of John’s crayon drawings of Dunure. If you would like to view a larger version, please click this link: Dunure.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. The church website can be read at this link: www.erinpresbyterian.org.