Sunday, May 12, 2024

Sunday Shorts: Christ's Church

John 17:9 I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. (NIV)

            I see a lot of memes on Facebook that appear to condemn the Church for not being the Church that the world expects. The memes usually attack the Church for being hypocritical, intolerant, and not compassionate enough. There is some truth to what is posted, but these barbs often don’t offer a solution. It’s very easy to poke the Church in the eye for being so blind, but the negativity of those posts doesn’t act as an encouraging remedy; instead, they discourage folks from changing because there’s no guidance to do so being presented.

            When Jesus established the Church, He didn’t go looking for perfect people – He wouldn’t have found them anyway. What He did do was to take a bunch of sinners and set them on the right path toward God.  Despite their weaknesses and faults, sinfulness and selfish ways, He managed to put together a band of devoted people who would try to live their lives according to His teachings. He never expected them to be perfect which is why in today’s highlighted verse we have something that Jesus constantly did – He prayed for the ones given to Him by God; He prayed for His Church.

            Today’s Church has many problems and issues, but that’s what you get when sinful people are called by God. Despite the setbacks that the pandemic brought upon the Church worldwide, the world still needs Christ’s Spirit of compassion, healing, and love to fix our broken planet – which is why Christ is still praying for His Church and this is what we should be doing for our local congregations, national denominations, and international situations. The Church is Christ’s Bride and will always exist, even beyond Time itself.

Point to ponder: What should I be praying for in my local congregation?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, the Church exists because You brought it into being. Its purpose is to spread the Good News of the Gospel through word and deed. Despite our sinful and fallen ways, You still pray for Your Church and for us. Help us to align our prayers with Your will for the whole Church. In Your Holy Name, we humbly pray. Amen.

 

John Stuart is a retired Scottish Presbyterian pastor now living in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Sunday, May 05, 2024

Sunday Shorts: Asking God

John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. (NIV)

This is one of those Bible verses that is mistakenly used by people who believe in the Prosperity Gospel. They focus on the second part of the verse where Jesus states that ‘whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.’ They think it means that to get anything they want, they just have to ask for it, using Christ’s name as their guarantor, so God will be compelled to give them whatever they desire. But that is not based on faith, it’s actually a form of magic which is called an enchantment. God becomes the Great Genie in the Sky who grants people their wishes, so long as they use the right words.

This mistake occurs because people forget about the first part of the verse where Jesus states that He chose and appointed people to follow Him for one purpose – to bear fruit; in other words, to expand God’s Kingdom and make faith prosperous, not the person, nor their individual desires. It’s what God wants that is important, not what we want. Christ’s name is honored by being associated with the bearing of fruit and is not trivialized or taken in vain by trying to coerce God into doing what we want. We align ourselves to God’s purpose – the sharing of His love through the life, work, and ministry of His Son – instead of maligning God by expecting Him to give us everything we desire. 

So next time when we’re praying about something that matters to us, let’s be careful about what we ask for, by personally pondering whether or not we are attempting to manipulate God to our will, rather than consolidate ourselves to God’s will.

Point to ponder: When I pray in Jesus’ Name, am I asking for things that will bear fruit for God’s Kingdom or just myself?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we come to You very often with our needs, wishes, desires, and dreams. We pray for things that we want and forget to ask You what it is that You want for us. Help us to reconsider how we pray and what we ask of You, in order to make our requests more fruitful for God’s Kingdom. In Your Holy Name, we humbly pray. Amen.

John Stuart is a retired Scottish Presbyterian pastor now living in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Thursday, May 02, 2024

Short devotion: Return Home

Luke 8:38-39 The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him. (NIV)

The conclusion of the Gospel story where Jesus heals the demon-possessed man has always intrigued me. The cured man wants to follow Jesus probably because he is so thankful for having regained his senses. After years of being excluded from his own community, he knows he can trust Jesus, so he would like to become a disciple or a servant to help Christ with His ministry.

            In my own life, I felt that same thankfulness when Jesus rescued me from alcoholism. I was enslaved to my addiction and even though I knew that I was harming myself physically, as well as mentally, I could not liberate myself from the chains of compulsion. It took a life changing moment of trusting Jesus completely before I was released from my obsession. I couldn’t have escaped my drinking problem without Christ’s grace and peace. When I understood what Jesus did for me, I just wanted to serve Him like the demoniac.

            Although the healed man wanted to go and serve his Savior, Christ had other plans for him. Jesus told him to go back and share his amazing experience with his own community. The people there were fearful of Jesus because of His almighty power, so Christ gave the man a personal mission and an individual calling to return home to his people as a witness to God’s mercy and grace. Instead of being afraid of Jesus, the cured man could convince them of God’s compassion and love.

            This is a challenge for all of us – to be effective witnesses of Christ’s love to our own people, our own families, our own friends. Whatever goodness that God has wrought in each of us through Christ, we are meant to share it with others and not just keep it to ourselves. We live in a broken world whose madness is creating a lot of fear in our communities. Christ can heal this, too, but only if we are willing to share faith, hope, and love in compassionate ways to repair the damage around us.

Point to ponder: How do I share my faith with my own community?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You came into our lives to heal our broken lives and restore us to God’s love. Encourage us to become personal witnesses of the healing and hope that You bring to the world. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

John Stuart is a retired Scottish Presbyterian pastor now living in Knoxville, Tennessee.