Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Manchester - A Christian's Response

Luke 6:9 Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” (NIV)

            Like most people, I cannot understand why religious extremists think that killing other human beings with suicide bombs will honor God in any shape or form. The evil thoughts that go through these cowards’ minds must be diabolically offensive to the Creator who gave us life – a divine gift which is to be enjoyed, not obliterated. In my opinion, these inhumane acts have no connection to God whatsoever; they emerge from deranged human beings whose allegiance to evil is clearly displayed to the rest of the world. They might think that when they invoke God that they are glorifying His sacred name: all that they are really doing is giving voice to their own cowardly delusions and will end up being separated from God forever.

            In today’s Gospel passage (Luke 6:6-11), Jesus confronts a group of religious extremists who were so shackled by their own rigid rules that they could not even grant grace to a person in need of healing. Jesus both shamed them for their lack of compassion and showed them how God truly operates. Most of the folks who saw this event gladly accepted it for what it was: a beautiful display of God’s love. Sadly, those who most needed that visual lesson retreated behind their religious restrictions and ended up with murder on their minds. Instead of embracing the mercy of God, they hung on to their fanaticism; rather than being released from their self-created chains of legalism, they clung to its links of hatred, pride, and intolerance.

            Despite all of the pain I see in the world and the evil that tries to terrorize us, I believe in the goodness of God, the joy of Jesus, and the sweetness of the Holy Spirit. Others may try to obliterate the love I feel for this broken planet, but I will not give way to the cowardly wickedness that others use to try to break my faith in Christ. His love sustains me and His mercy guides me. He is the Savior of the world and the Healer of the planet, now and forevermore.

Point to ponder

In times like these, how severely is my faith tested? How do I share Christ’s love with others during troubled times?

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, we pray for those whose lives have been devastated by the recent suicide bombing in Manchester and other places. Help us to reach out to those in need of help, reassurance, and comfort. Draw us closer to You and one another, so that love and grace will prevail against fear and evil. In Your Holy Name, we humbly pray. Amen.

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

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

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Marginalized Ministry

Luke 14:13-14 “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (NIV)

            When I first met Brian Merritt, I knew that I liked him. Theologically, we were poles apart and had traveled different routes in Presbyterian ministry. I was a typical church pastor who had spent much of my career looking after congregations, preaching the Word of God, and trying to care for church members. Brian was out there on the streets of New York, protesting against injustice and being a burr under the saddle to both church and community. Despite our differences, however, we were both passionate about ministry and Christ’s mission to the world. It was that similarity which sealed our friendship.

            Brian started a mission in Chattanooga called ‘Mercy Junction,’ which ministers to people on the margins of society. It’s not your typical church mission either. It involves a lot of risks, especially with people who have been broken or damaged by the mainstream church. The St. Andrews Center in Chattanooga, where a federation of inter-faith groups connect and meet, is where Mercy Junction resides. The Center has become a sanctuary for the homeless, a place of safety for marginalized people, a feeding place for the hungry, and even a shelter for abandoned dogs. Its mission goes where most churches drawback and retreat from; its focus is Christ inspired and humane.

            This kind of ministry depletes the energy of its leaders very often. Brian and the other leaders have constantly emptied themselves through giving to, advocating for, and supporting the powerless. The area of Chattanooga where they minister does not have a lot of resources; quite recently, the last grocery store in the area closed leaving local people with the hardship of traveling further for everyday needs, food, and other items. The Mercy Junction leaders set up a food distribution bank and are politically advocating the city for more help. All of this requires time, energy, and resources leaving the Center stretched almost beyond its own capabilities.

            This week the Center has been through a lot of turmoil due to a major disturbance caused by a couple of misguided people. The Center has had to close until the situation can be rectified. This is very distressing for Brian and the rest of the leadership because it means that vulnerable people are being turned away with only a little help. You can read about the situation from this press report: http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/local/story/2017/may/18/church-leaders-occupy-mercy-junction-forcing/428716/

            Ministering to the marginalized is never easy, otherwise, all churches and congregations would do it. Mercy Junction is in need of prayer, as well as resources to keep it open because this sort of negative publicity diminishes the mission and depletes the means by which the Center can be sustained. So, please be in prayer for Brian Merritt, Beth Foster, and the other leaders at Mercy Junction. If you can also give an online gift to help, then please do so at this link: http://www.mercyjunction.org/

            As I wrote above, Brian and I are poles apart theologically and as different ministerially as chalk from cheese, but I admire his courage, dedication, and passion for the marginalized and powerless, which is why I personally support his work and mission, for even though I may not often understand it, I believe it is a part of Christ’s crucial work in that city.

Point to ponder

Who are the marginalized in our community? How can our churches reach out and help them?

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, You were often accused of being in bad company and feasting with sinners. Your ministry was disturbing and radical to the leaders in Your own community. Help us not to be afraid of our differences, but to look beyond them, in order to see the lonely, broken, powerless, and marginalized who need our understanding and embrace. In Your Holy Name, we humbly pray. Amen.

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

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

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Pharaoh's Folly - Exodus 7:3-4

Exodus 7:3-4 But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites. (NIV)

            There are some parts of the Bible that both intrigue and disturb me. Take, for instance, today’s passage from Exodus 7. Moses is being told by God what to do in order to free his people. It requires a face-to-face meeting with Pharaoh. Moses is scared about the encounter, but God promises him two things: that the Egyptian ruler will receive him, but God will also harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he will not listen to what Moses has to say.

            I can understand God allowing Moses being permitted to see Pharaoh; what I have difficulty with is that Pharaoh does not appear to have any free choice in discussing the matter. And, because the Egyptian ruler hardens his heart and will not listen to what Moses has to say, the Egyptian people will suffer the consequences of several devastating plagues. From what the Bible is teaching, it seems to be that whatever the choices ancient rulers made, whether voluntary or involuntary, it was the nation that ended up suffering.

            For one of my own ancestors, this was tragically true. In the seventeenth century, when King Charles the First surrounded himself with sycophants and ignored the appeals and requests that came from his own Parliamentary leaders. A Civil War ensued and Charles ended up being executed by his own people for treachery. Ever since then, British sovereigns have never again been given an absolute monarchy. Too many people died in that Civil War for their rights to be a free and democratic people – which is something that their American descendants also fought for in 1776.

            So, what can we learn from the Bible and history today? This: there are always consequences to our choices, which may be good or bad, depending on whether we listen to sound advice from others, or just do things our own way.

Point to ponder

What mistakes have I made in my life by rejecting good counsel? What have I learned from those mistakes?

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, not one of us is perfect and we are sometimes too stubborn for our own good. Help us to listen to those around us who lovingly offer us wise and sound advice, so that we may avoid the pitfalls of making bad and uninformed decisions. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. You can view the church website online at www.erinpresbyterian.org.

Today’s image is one of John’s cat drawings called ‘Queen of the Nile.’ If you would like to view a larger version, please click on this link: Queen.