Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Jesus devotion: Talking to Jesus - Revelation 20:14-15

Revelation 20:14-15   Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (NIV)

            When I first read today’s passage from Revelation, I was a teenager who had rebelled against God and my family. The words shocked me and cast a dire shadow over my soul. I felt quite anxious about the whole scenario depicted in Revelation 20, and fearfully convinced myself that God was waiting to punish me for all of my sins on the other side of death. I felt miserable and alone, unloved and hopeless.

            Instead of making me turn my life around, this frightening knowledge only made me worse. I flippantly cast aside God’s judgment for two reasons. Firstly, I was in denial about my own selfish and sinful ways. Secondly, my self-destructive attitude was summed up in an old saying: “I may as well be hanged for stealing a sheep, rather than a lamb." Defiance and rebellion against God fed my despair. Since God was going to punish me anyway, I might as well just sin as much as I could.

            Thankfully, Jesus saved me from myself, as well as from God’s wrath. Giving my heart to Jesus was the best decision that I have ever made in my entire life. It did not make me perfect, holy, or sinless, but that personal commitment offered me a hope to hold on to, as well as a Savior who has never let me go. Each day, I depend upon Him to accept, correct, and direct me; each day I need Jesus to both forgive and fortify me. Without His grace, I cannot truly find God. Without Christ’s love, I cannot truly live.

            Perhaps you are worried about your future with God. It may be the case that you’ve been burdened with a personal mistake, or a deep regret, or a secret shame which makes you fearful of God’s final judgment. Whatever it is, know this for a fact: it can be forgiven; it can even be forgotten. All it takes is a simple act of faith, a prayer of sincere confession to Jesus. Talk to Him about it and ask for His pardon. He will forgive you. He will save you. He will always love you.

Questions for personal reflection

What sins am I still carrying from the past? When will I bring them to Jesus and ask Him to forgive me?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, You are the Only One who can forgive our past mistakes and bless us with an everlasting future. We carry our burdens too long and ask too little of You. Forgive our pride and resentment, pardon our shame and disappointment. Help us to come to You today, praying for mercy and asking for love. In Your Holy Name, we earnestly 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 drawing is John’s latest digital glass image called ‘Tree of Life.’ If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link: Tree of Life.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Millennial Devotion: The Oldest Sin - 1 Kings 12:14

Rehoboam followed the advice of the young men and said, “My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.” 1 Kings 12:14

            Quite recently I read a statement, written by a ‘millennial’ ministerial candidate, who has given up on the mainstream church entirely. He doesn't want to be part of the traditional institution and expressed his reason for doing so as follows: ‘I don’t want to accept what others have created.’ It sounds like a very bold and radical statement, but actually it’s not. It’s just the usual anti-disestablishmentarianism that every generation expresses, which has been going on for as long as people have been on this planet.

            To me, it sounded like the original sin of Adam and Eve, when they decided to go against what God had created, in order to take what was forbidden and make themselves equal to Him. Boomers like me, and millennials like my counterpart, have constantly walked on the ledge next to the abyss of what may be described as untraditional, unfaith, and unbelief. We want to change the church and the world, but not necessarily for the better; we just want to shape them according to our own ideals, tastes, and principles. And when we do that, I strongly believe that we commit the first sin all over again, generation after generation, civilization after civilization, even denomination after denomination.

            The sin of Rehoboam in today’s Bible passage (1 Kings 12:24) was similar. Both he and his peers wanted to prove that their generation was stronger, better, and more powerful than any other before them. Instead of encouraging the people by following God’s ways, Rehoboam arrogantly imposed his own demands. It was absolutely the wrong thing to do and, subsequently, it caused the breakup of the Kingdom of Israel. By rejecting the past, Rehoboam ruined his future. By forcing the people to accept his ways, he caused God to reject him.

            As I see it, the challenge for every generation of Christians is not to wholly give up on past traditions. We have a long history of putting Christ at the center of who we are and what we do. The great temptation that each generational layer of our population faces is this: are we trying to reshape the church in our own image, or are we willing to be shaped by the church, which is the Bride of Christ? We should always seriously remember this – by imposing our own ways on the Church, we may actually be deposing those of God.

Questions for personal reflection

What is Church? How does it shape my Christian faith?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, You are the Head of the Church and we are Your members on Earth. Keep us from being arrogantly self-serving. Help us to be humble. Remind us that the Church is Your Bride and that we are merely called to be servants of Your Kingdom, and not masters of our own faith. In Your Holy Name, we sincerely 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 a print of John’s latest Tennessee drawing called “Smoky Mountain Dawn.” If you would like to see a larger version, please click on this link: SMDawn. If you would like to purchase a print (only $20), please send John an email to Traqair@aol.com. For a further $5, John is willing to mail the print to you or to family or friends in the United States. Contact John for details by email (50% of the proceeds will be donated by John to Erin Church’s Annual Art Exhibition Fund).

Friday, July 25, 2014

Marriage Devotion: Wedding Invitation - Revelation 19:9

Revelation 19:9           Then the angel said to me, "Write: 'Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!' " And he added, "These are the true words of God."

            I think that I have presided over 200 weddings in my ministry. Some of them I remember very well, so when I see a Facebook post of a special anniversary or some photos of the wedding, I happily congratulate the couple. It takes a lot of energy, focus, forgiveness, and encouragement to keep a marriage going. Those who survive their relationship issues and keep their love alive should be commended and celebrated.

            Sadly, for some folks, their marriages have not survived the rigors of the years. What started out as a loving partnership, has ended up as a depleted relationship. No matter what the cause of the divorce, I think that most people who undergo a final separation feel a lot of pain, mixed with guilt and regret. The wedding celebrations of yesteryear are largely forgotten and the feeling of making a mistake will probably always be there. Divorce tears at the heart and mind, as well as the bank account and life resources. This is why more churches are setting up divorce recovery groups because the burdens of grief and regret can be difficult to carry alone.

            As Christians, there is a wedding feast and a marriage that we can all look forward to occurring in our future lives. It will be the moment when Christ is finally united with the Church, His Bride. When He returns among us, He will invite all of His people to the celebration. It will be a time of great joy and jubilation, of everlasting love and eternal happiness. We may not always get things right with our relationships on Earth, but as Christians we do have this wonderful event to joyfully experience when Jesus is at last reunited with His followers and we are all welcomed into His Kingdom forever.

Questions for personal reflection

What does marriage mean to me? How does Christ’s marriage to the Church differ from what we experience on Earth?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, thank You for inviting us to Your wedding feast. May our hearts be open to Your love, so that when it finally happens, we may joyfully celebrate the eternal union of Your Kingdom in Heaven with Your Church on Earth. In Your Holy Name, we wait and 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 devotion, please send him an email to Traqair@aol.com.

Today’s image is John’s latest Appalachian drawing. It’s called ‘Smoky Mountain Dawn.’ If you would like to view a larger version of the drawing, please click on the following link:

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Faith 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.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Peace devotion - A Call to Co-Existence

Revelation 17:14         They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings--and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers."

            This morning I have been reading some troubling reports about Christians suffering in Northern Iraq. Supposedly a Catholic cathedral has been burned and razed to the ground. The Islamic terrorist organization, Isis, is reportedly telling Iraqi Christians to convert to Islam or prepare to be slaughtered. I don’t know what the whole truth is about these different reports, but the sources appear to be reliable. CNN has a report at the following link: Christians Flee Mosul.

            I can’t imagine what it must be like for those Iraqi Christians to abandon everything in order to escape persecution. Christians have lived in Iraq for centuries, so this type of religious tyranny is very similar to the Europeans pogroms that regularly took place against the Jewish communities across several centuries in different nations.

            What really disturbs and appalls me is that this is all being carried out in the name of God. There is no justification for this and there is no divine command calling for this. Religious man’s inhumanity to man is at the root of it all. This is a fanatical evil which besmirches both the Christian and Islamic faith of billions across the world who peacefully co-exist.

            Those who go to war against the Lamb of God and His people will end up on the losing side. Those who use their religion as a means to cruelly persecute others will not find any paradise or reward awaiting them beyond death. These baneful bullies are religious renegades who are drunken with the deceit and delusion that accompanies religious fanaticism. All that they are doing is drinking a cup of wrath that one day will destroy them completely.

            Pray for the fleeing Christians in Iraq and also for the brave Islamic people who will try to support and protect them as they escape. Pray against the cruelty of those who would use faith as a means of transmitting fear, and for fanatically empowering themselves. Pray for peace to prevail and common bonds of humanity to be extended between those who value human lives and compassionately co-exist with their neighbors.

Questions for personal reflection

How can I promote peace between the different faiths in my community?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, there is a lot of suffering and pain in the world and most of it is driven, perpetrated, and advanced by religious fanaticism. We pray against those who would use their faith to promote fear and inhumanity; we pray for those of any faith or even none at all, who are presently enduring hardship, persecution, cruelty, and tyranny. Lord Jesus, help us to do whatever we can to promote peace, compassion, goodwill, and co-existence in our community and throughout the world. In Your Holy Name, we earnestly 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 latest religious drawings called “Mother and Child.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link: Mother and Child.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Peace Devotion - Aid Instead of Arms - 1 Kings 16:20-21

1 Kings 16:20-21        All the people left from the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites (these peoples were not Israelites), that is, their descendants remaining in the land, whom the Israelites could not exterminate--these Solomon conscripted for his slave labor force, as it is to this day.

            The current explosive situation in Gaza is affecting the entire world politically, economically, and even spiritually. Ever since the establishment of the Jewish State in 1948, Palestinian refugees have posed a large scale humanitarian problem. Prior to 1948, the British maintained the government on a colonial basis which was set up after World War 1. When Britain left the Palestine Protectorate, both the Jordanians and Jews carved territory for themselves, ousting the Palestinians from both sides of the River Jordan.

            War was inevitable between Jews and Arabs, with the Palestinians often being caught in the middle. Bigger Arab States like Syria and Egypt tried to eliminate Israel, but they were beaten back on several occasions by Israeli forces. Throughout the following decades, the situation worsened, which meant that the whole region became ripe for terrorist groups to take over the leadership of the displaced Palestinians.

            Extermination is a terrible word, but the region has experienced it on many occasions. In today’s passage (1 Kings 9:20-28) we sadly read about the extermination of regional peoples and the enslavement of the remnant by the ancient Israelite nation. Throughout the centuries, extermination of the regional people – whether Philistine or Israelite – continued through the barbarism of the Egyptians, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Islamists, and Crusaders. Rural Palestinians and Jewish communities were often uprooted, attacked, and slaughtered at the hands of invaders. Sadly, much of the history of the whole Holy Land region has been anything but holy: ‘Inhumanity Land’ may be a more appropriate term.

            So what can we do about the current crisis? What can Christians do to help? Praying for peace helps, but until extremists on both sides lose their power over the masses of the people, the ceasefires will always be broken and the wickedness of war will be prevalent.

            We should choose to be neutral and be wary of propaganda from both conflicting sides. When we pass on unsubstantiated reports or heavily support one side over the other, we are not promoting peace: we are just escalating and expanding the conflict. If we truly follow the Prince of Peace, then we need to do our best not to get caught up in the conflict. Cooler heads and sincere prayers, humanitarian support and expressing the truth are what is needed. Children on both sides of the divide cannot sleep because they are afraid of war, and of one another. That fear escalates into hatred where ignorance, falsehoods, and propaganda are unchecked. As Christians, we need to find a better way than continuing the bitter wickedness.

Questions for personal reflection

What do I truly know and understand about the present conflict between Israelis and Palestinians? Are my sources of information unbiased?
Prayer:            Lord Jesus, we pray for both the Palestinian and Israeli people. We ask for a cease fire to be resumed quickly and accepted by both sides. We pray for the protection of innocents, as well as for strong compassionate leaders to emerge from both sides who will truly  seek peace instead of war, justice instead of revenge, conciliation instead of conflict. Help us to do whatever we can by seeking truth over propaganda, as well as providing aid instead of arms. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

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

Today’s image is John’s Siochain Celtic Cross. Siochain is an ancient Gaelic word for peace. The cross depicted has the Holy Spirit descending as the Dove of Peace. If you would like to view a larger version, please click the following link: Siochain Cross.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Bible 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.