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.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Special devotion: Babs - Serving Others

Revelation 15:3           They sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb: “Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages.

            Of all the titles that are given to people on Earth by God, the word ‘servant’ is the most honorific. To serve God and to serve others in this life are wonderful gifts, and for those of us who have been the recipients of true service, the blessings are many.

            My mother-in-law, Barbara Smith, was such a person. She truly served her family all of her life. She looked after her ageing parents on a daily basis and her sense of duty toward them was both humbling and amazing to see. Babs cared extensively for her mom when she was dying of cancer; and she looked after her father lovingly each day when he became a widower. She did his laundry, cooked his meals, and looked after his medication without any real complaints. She was tired, weary, and exhausted at times because she had a full time job, as well as looking after her own family, but she always served her Dad respectfully and dutifully.

            Babs was also an excellent wife to Bill. She looked after everything for him, and devoted much of her life to serving him. Like most of their generation, Bill and Babs had their struggles. Their firstborn son John died of leukemia as an infant, which must have been a terrible heartache for both of them. However, in the midst of their pain and loss, they stayed together and raised three more children – Evelyn, Billy, and David – who were constantly loved and served by Babs. Whatever they wanted, she provided. Whatever support they needed, she gave. Her role as matriarch to her own family was built upon her decades of service that she sacrificially bestowed upon them as wife and mother. As expected, she cared deeply for Bill, especially in his later years when he was suffering from dementia. She served him as well as any wife could, right up until the time when he required full professional care.

            When grandchildren came into her life, Babs opened her heart and home for all of them. She was proud of each and every one of them. As usual, she served them fully with love and care, food and friendship. In her later years, after decades of working as a home help in the community, she devoted her retirement to all of her family. She lived for them because she loved them; she served them because cherished them.

            As her son-in-law, Babs and I had a good relationship. She allowed and welcomed me into her family life, as she did for Jacqueline, her daughter-in-law. We did have our moments, but overall I felt very fortunate to have someone as caring as Babs in my own life. When I lived with her Dad for two years, I also was well looked after. Her home cooking and wonderful baking were amazing. Her homemade tripe soup and coconut cake were the best I've ever tasted.

            Tragedy revisited Babs when her youngest son David died suddenly a couple of years ago. Her heartache at losing two sons in this life must have deeply wounded her emotionally, but she still continued on, living her life for the rest of her family. She truly was a remarkable woman.

            Her faith in God was severely tested throughout her life, however she remained a servant of His Kingdom despite the struggles and pain that she endured. She has now gone beyond the surly bonds of Earth into the eternal realms of Heaven, to be reunited with all of her loved ones, whom she served dutifully and beautifully in this world. As I stated before, there is no greater honorific title on Earth than to be called a servant by God. Babs exemplified that title with her own sacrificial life. The beauty about her is this: I see those same gifts and qualities in the life of her daughter Evelyn, who is my wife, as well as in the lives of my daughters Lynsey and Lauren.

May God bless you all this day; and may He also give us opportunities to serve our loved ones and others. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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

Monday, July 14, 2014

Gospel Devotion - The Real Thing - Revelation 14:6

Revelation 14:6           Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth--to every nation, tribe, language, and people.

            Do you remember that old Coke commercial which begins with one person on a hilltop singing “I’d like to teach the world to sing.” By the end of the advert, hundreds of people in different national costumes, and of all races, have gathered together to sing and drink coke. It was one of the most successful ads ever made and people bought into the idea of One Harmonious World, while conveniently forgetting that the actual message behind the commercial was for one brand of soda to be purchased everywhere on Earth. It was very clever and very sublime at the same time. It preached a message of equality, while it simultaneously invoked worldwide capitalism. Whoever created the ad was certainly worth all of the salary that he or she was getting.

            In the Book of Revelation, the idea of one world is expressed through the eternal gospel being proclaimed everywhere on planet Earth. As it states in today’s verse, every nation, tribe, language, and people will have the Gospel proclaimed to them in the Last Days. This represents the mercy of God, for He gives everybody the opportunity of hearing and receiving the Good News of Jesus Christ. No one is coerced to accept the Gospel, but everyone is given the opportunity to hear it. In other words, God’s sees the unity of humankind through the ministry of His Son Jesus Christ.

            This is why Christianity remains a missionary faith, even in a cosmopolitan world. The mission of our faith is to reach people everywhere with the Gospel. We do this through preaching, teaching, and proclaiming, as well as through education, medicine, and support. Through what we say and do as faithful Christians, other people may be attracted to Christ. By all that we proclaim and present in our congregations, other people may be drawn into Christ’s Church. The life, work, and ministry of the Church has one great assignment – to proclaim the eternal gospel to those who live on the Earth – to every nation, tribe, language, and people.

            Our role in this great task is to be messengers and proclaimers of Christ. The people around us and closest to us see the Gospel through us. Our personal mission is to lead them to Christ because, in some cases, there will be no one else in their lives to do this.

Questions for personal reflection

As a Christian, who have I brought nearer to Christ? Am I willing to proclaim the Gospel to my loved ones? Do I actually know what the eternal Gospel is?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, our Christian faith is never meant to be private or personal, exclusive or introverted. We need to remember that someone else in our past brought us to You. Take away our fears of embarrassment about sharing the Gospel. Grant us the courage to share our faith in those precious moments and gracious opportunities that You create in our lives. 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 email him at Traqair@aol.com.

Today’s image is one of John’s bulletin cover drawings, based on a verse from Luke 14. If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link: Bulletin.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Daily Devotion: 666 is Just a Number - Revelation 13:18

Revelation 13:18         This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man's number. His number is 666.

            I can remember a time in my youth when the number 666 both scared and fascinated me. It was also a season in my life when I was into Ouija boards and communing with dead spirits. I guess that as a teenager, I didn't really have any fear or trepidation that I was dabbling with things beyond my knowledge. It was a dark time in my young days and I am just so glad that I have come away from those negative forces; instead, I have turned towards the light of God and His Son has reclaimed me.

            666 is still a fearful number to many people, but what I've discovered is this: numbers, signs, and symbols only have the power that we place upon them. If that number or, for instance, a swastika, makes us fearful, it’s only because we allow our fear to be maintained by the symbol. If we loathe them instead of fearing them, then both numbers and symbols will have no power over us. Also, if we re-read the Bible verse for today, we will soon realize that 666 represents human evil, or what we call man’s inhumanity to man.

            Love counters fear and hope overcomes despair. If there is a symbol that encapsulates this, then surely it must be the Cross of Christ. Evil, sin, and death were all nailed to that dreadful tree along with Jesus – but He was the only One to come back! This conveys to us the real power of God that is still in the world today – the holy, almighty Spirit of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

            Perhaps you are presently undergoing a time of uncertainty, worry, fearfulness, or despair. Maybe your problems and issues seem insurmountable and threaten to overwhelm your heart, mind, body, and soul. As Jesus would often say, “Fear not, for I am with you to the very end.” In Him, you will find comfort and assurance, courage and hope. Signs and symbols, numbers and beasts will come and go, but, as the old hymn plainly states, the Cross of Christ will tower above the wrecks of Time itself. Through it, we are completely rescued, restored, and renewed, for Jesus will never abandon, forsake, or let go of us, both now and forever.

Questions for personal reflection

What does the number 666 mean to me? What does it mean to Jesus?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, because we are totally human, we are still fearful of things that we do not understand and of symbols that we cannot accept. Help us to know that You are the Lord of All creation and the King of all the Earth, so who or what can make us afraid. Your loving presence is our strength; Your holy Cross preserves and protects us. Be with us this day and grant the reassurance of Your abiding love. 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 one of John’s Cross drawings called “First Dawn,” which shows the empty Cross silhouetted against the dawning of the Day of Resurrection. If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link: First Dawn.