Saturday, September 29, 2007

Sunday Devotional (a wee bit early): Erin - a beautiful isle of faith

Daniel 2:4 Then the astrologers answered the king in Aramaic,"
O king, live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will interpret it." (NIV)

I studied Aramaic for a year at seminary. It’s a bit like Biblical Hebrew, but not quite as lyrical or refined. It was fascinating to me to read the old language because scholars believed that Jesus Himself actually spoke Aramaic. You’ll perhaps remember Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of Christ.” Throughout the movie, Jesus and His disciples speak in Aramaic. It was Gibson’s way of creating authenticity for his film.

Old languages have some wonderful single words that encapsulate a feeling, a phrase or fascinating idea. Take the name of our church, for example; we’re called Erin. In the old Irish language, the name means ‘the beautiful isle.’ It was used to describe the whole island of Ireland, especially to those who lived on other shores. And when Irish immigrants came to America, they referred to the old country endearingly as ‘Erin.’ It captivated a heartfelt connection to the people and places they had left behind.

130 years ago, those same Irish and Scots-Irish immigrants established the first church in West Knoxville and called it ‘Erin Presbyterian Church.’ In the midst of their busy lives, they wanted a place of faith where they could share friendship and faith together. ‘Erin’ was chosen as a reminder of where they had come from, but it also designated a beautiful isle of Christianity for the whole community; anyone was welcomed through its doors, and for years many Methodists worshipped alongside Presbyterians until they established their own church in the area.

Erin Presbyterian is still a beautiful isle of faith in the midst of a rapidly growing community. Today, we celebrate our 130th anniversary with joy and humility for we realize that God’s blessing has allowed us to preach and practice Christ’s Gospel to this community of Bearden for all of those years.

Wherever you are and wherever you worship, may your church be a ‘beautiful isle of faith’ for the people of your community. May they discover in your congregation a fellowship of faith and a sacred sanctuary, where all sorts of people find God’s blessing, healing, and loving through the power and presence of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we all seek a special place in our lives where we can rest in Your love and abide in Your peace. Lead us to the beautiful isles of faith in our community, so that we may experience the holy joy and sacred gladness that You freely bestow on all who come to worship and glorify Your precious Name. Amen.

Stushie writes the daily devotional blog "Heaven's Highway" and draws the weekday political cartoon blog "Pushing the Envelope."

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Extra Devotional: Defying Dictators - why Lee Bollinger was right

Daniel 2:18 He urged them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that he and his friends might not be executed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. (NIV)

A lot has been made of yesterday’s visit by the President of Iran to Columbia University in New York. I watched the live debate yesterday because it was an historical moment. Right from the beginning, Ahmadinejad was put on the hot seat by the university’s President Lee Bollinger. Instead of courteously introducing the Iranian president to the audience, Bollinger interrogated the guest speaker and castigated him for the many human rights abuses that are taking place in Iran. In my humble opinion, it was a courageous and probably career-busting move to make.

The media, however, have condemned Bollinger for his discourtesy and undiplomatic confrontation of Ahmadinejad. A leader of any nation should be accorded respect because he or she represents their nation. Any insult against the president is taken to be an insult against the Iranian people. And sadly, into today’s divided world, any insult to an Islamic leader is considered an insult against the Moslem faith.

However, no matter what the diplomatic repercussions are, I believe that Lee Bollinger was right to do what he did. Ahmadinejad is a tyrant whose political regime terrorizes his people. A recent article in Time magazine, written by a female Iranian journalist, expresses some of the major concerns that free-thinking intellectual Iranians face in their country. People are imprisoned for expressing political views; women are killed for being raped; and young teenage boys are hung for being homosexuals. Much of what goes on in Iran is reported by Amnesty International. Ahmadinejad is a callous despot who only cares about power, not people.

When Daniel and his companions faced the possibility of execution, they turned to God for deliverance. They lived under a tyrannical king, whose anger at his advisers caused him to send forth an order to kill all of the wise men, clever teachers, and mathematical scholars in his nation. And that’s usually how tyranny manifests itself – by killing the educated people, in order to rule by fear and ignorance. In modern times, the names of Hitler, Stalin, and Phol Pot have been synonymous with such vicious cruelty. Perhaps Ahmadinejad's name will also be entered into that Hall of Shame one day.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You alone know the hearts and minds of all people, so You know all of the atrocities that the president of Iran may have committed. If he is such a monster, then allow free people to castigate him for what he really is. Remind us that we have all promised never to let the Holocausts of the past happen again. Keep us from being bystanders and help us to confront evil wherever it exists. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sunday devotional - Doctrine: A dirty word or a way to salvation?

1 Timothy 4:16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (NIV)

Doctrine is a word that we don’t use very often these days. We tend to associate it with the word ‘dogmatic’ and so it has some negative connotations for a society full of free-spirited people. The New Testament Greek word for doctrine is didaskalia which means teaching and learning. It’s not meant to be a negative word – it’s supposed to positively encourage us to learn more about God through the life, ministry and works of Christ.

I’ve been a pastor for over twenty years and throughout that time, I’ve watched society sadly reject Christian doctrine, only to replace it with individual ideas and personal opinions. People who hardly read the Bible make up their own ideas about God. Even church people, who do nothing to grow spiritually, carry around quaint and quixotic superstitions in their hearts and heads. They think that their own ideas are going to save them; they erroneously believe that God will accommodate their self-made teaching and personal doctrine.

The scriptures were given to us through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit so that we might not depart from the truth. And the proper teaching of this truth relies upon our devotion to Christ and a proper understanding of the scriptures. If we make up our own beliefs, then we have no salvation. God will not set aside His Son in order to accommodate us. That would exalt us and diminish Christ. We would be in danger of making ourselves our own gods first, and then placing Christ at the bottom of the pile.

So, perhaps we all need to really reflect upon what we actually believe. And then we should ask ourselves this tough question: are my beliefs based upon Christian doctrine, or are they something that I have made up to accommodate my personal feelings instead of the Christian faith?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, help us to understand how important doctrine is for our salvation. Teach us Your ways and enable us to learn what is sacred, holy and true to You. Give us the courage to set aside our own ways, in order to let the Holy Spirit fill our hearts and minds with Your ways. In Your Holy name, we pray. Amen.

Stushie writes the weekday devotional "Heaven's Highway" and draws cartoons on the political humor site "Pushing the Envelope."

Friday, September 21, 2007

Friday Review. . . . What Pastors Get Paid

A blog hosted by Christianity Today has posted some survey results on pastoral compensation.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Pirate's Psalm

Today is speak like a Pirate Day. Aarg! I wonder how Blackbeard would have written the 23rd psalm....

Pirate psalm

Aarg! The Lord is me Cap’n
And I ain’t wantin’ nuthin’.
He shivers me timbers,
And sails me through blistering barnacles.
He refreshes me rum
And guides me
To Spanish galleons
For his booty. Aarg!

Even though I walk the plank
Over shark-infested waters,
I ain’t afeared,
For my Cap’n is wi’ me.
Along with the bo’sun
And first mate. Aarg!

He gets ready the mainsail
And broadsides the enemy,
The deck o’erflows
Wi’ powder and blood.

Surely pillage and plunder
Will be my pirate life,
And I will dwell in
Davey Jones’ Locker
Forevermore. Aarg!

(c) 2007 John Stuart

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Camera Obscura

Job 28:24 - For he views the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens. (NIV)

At the top of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland, there is a tall building in which resides the famous Camera Obscura. Thousands of people each year walk up the lofty stairs to the tower to gather in a small, dark room around a large circular table. Just as their eyes are getting used to the dimly lit room, a wonderful thing happens: light boldly shines out of the table, showing a breathtaking panoramic view of the city. The table is not a table at all; it is a large lens, and it displays a mirror image of most of old Edinburgh.

People gasp as they watch the scenery unfold: the castles, the palaces, the gardens, great gothic churches, and classical Greek buildings -- all are clearly displayed on the Camera Obscura. It is an amazing event, giving each spectator a never-to-be-forgotten view of the whole city. The participants go home with a sense of wonder in their hearts. They didn't just experience a bird's eye view of the old city; they felt that they had been given a God's-eye view of the people and places of Edinburgh. They saw the divine bigger picture.

In the book of Job, we're often confronted with this idea of God knowing everything and seeing the bigger picture all of the time. We get so caught up in our own lives, troubles, and issues that we forget that God is looking after the whole of humanity, not just ourselves. We think that we see clearly what needs to be done to fix the world and heal the earth, but only God knows what is required. Instead of advocating for political groups, justice organizations, or personal rights, we should ask ourselves this first: What does God see that needs to be changed? Perhaps the answer to that question will be something like: He needs to change me first.

Prayer: Lord God, for countless generations, You have watched over our people. You have seen kingdoms rise and fall. You have experienced the clashing of civilizations and the changing of cultures across the globe. Throughout all of those events and times, You have never abandoned or forsaken us. Speak to our hearts today, and let us know what You want us to do with our lives. In Your holy name, we pray. Amen.

Stushie writes the weekday devotional "Heaven's Highway" and draws cartoons on the political humor site "Pushing the Envelope."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Never Forget 9-11

A stained glass design depicting the Twin Towers, an American flag, and a jet airliner flying overhead. Never forget 9-11.

Never Forget 9-11

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Sunday Devotional - Saving

Titus 3:4, 5a But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. (NIV)

The most enduring moment in the movie, “Saving Private Ryan” comes at the very end. Ryan, now an old man, is visiting the graves of American troops in France. As he stands before the crosses of his rescuers, he bursts into tears and asks his family, “Have I been a good man?” He wants to know if he has lived a life worthy of being rescued; he needs to know that those who died to save him did not die in vain.

I guess the same question could be asked of ourselves, for we also have been rescued and we owe our faithful lives to the death of one man. Jesus died for our sins and we know that none of us are worthy of this grace. We may accomplish great things in our lives, we may do good things and fulfill lofty ambitions, but none of it counts against Christ’s sacrifice. We cannot do anything to make things even with Jesus. We cannot work our way out of needing His salvation. In the end, we will always owe more to Christ than we can ever possibly give. At the final moment of our lives, it will not be our goodness that will rescue us from oblivion; it will be Christ’s mercy and grace that will pull us through death to eternal life.

This is what being saved means. This is why we hope. This is why we have faith in Jesus.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, our lives are made eternal in the precious moment that we give them to You. Our souls are saved forever when we acknowledge You as the Savior of the World and the Lord of our lives. Help us to share this Good News, so that others may not worry about death, but instead they may also glorify Your goodness and experience Your mercy. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

Stushie writes the weekday devotional "Heaven's Highway" and also illustrates the political cartoon site "Pushing the Envelope."

Friday, September 07, 2007

Friday Review. . . Google Apps

I'm on the road today, so this will be short and sweet. In fact, I may have done this before. If I have chalk it up to advancing age.

We have all used the Google search engine. In fact, "to Google" is now a verb. However, Google has introduced a number of useful new features that suit churches well where some tasks are done partly by volunteers and partly by staff members.

First of all, there is Google mail, or Gmail. To use any of the Google apps, you need a Gmail account. They are free and don't require hoards of personal information to register. Sure, it is the gatekeeper to the rest of the applications, but Gmail probably has the best threaded mail reader for managing high volume email environments out there. If you are on a high volume mailing list that generates lots of replies and replies to replies -- run it through Gmail. You will really simplify your life.

More to the point is the rest of Google applications. The one I use most is in Documents. I can set up a spreadsheet (or a word processing document) that is then accessible to whomever I give access to. So, I can set up a spreadsheet for class registrations. It is maintained behind Google's commercial level security. I can log on whenever and make changes. The church secretary can log on whenever and make changes, and we are both making changes to the same original. No one must be the designated official keeper of the list. You can give people read only access as well as giving them access that lets them make changes.

I haven't tried the calendar function, but I am told you can do similar things with calendars for scheduling purposes. I can imagine a small, young church using a Google calendar (or maybe even BaseCamp -- more on that later) for all church scheduling.

Log on and give it a look. See what uses you can come up with for this free and surprisingly powerful online Applications Suite.


Sunday, September 02, 2007

Monday Question . . . Self Care and Feeding

Since most of the ring's members are ministers or otherwise active in church leadership, I thought I would ask about personal spiritual development.

What do you do to make sure that you stay spiritually fed?

For me, daily Lectio Divina and a prayer journal.


Saturday, September 01, 2007

Sunday Devotional - Re-emerging

2 Timothy 4:3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. (NIV)

It’s a hard time to be a Presbyterian right now, because our mainline denominations are failing. It’s as if we've reached the end of the line and that after 400 years of Reformed Faith, people no longer want to hear the doctrines of predestination, total depravity, or the atonement of Jesus Christ.

Instead, people want to make up their own brand of faith, something that will suit their life-style choices, which will not interfere with their decisions or make any judgments about the way they live their lives. What people want out of religion is something that will guarantee immortality at the end of their earthly lives, without any catches, conditions, or commandments to disbar them. It’s a bit like being in someone’s garden and wanting to steal apples from their tree without there being any consequences. It’s the same old sin of Adam and Eve – wanting to be immortal like God and trying to steal it from Him.

I'm not perfect, even although I'm a pastor. I've sinned many times against God and let Christ down time and time again. Each day I always say or do something that I'll regret later on, or I forget to do something and break a promise. Time just seems to consume me and I'm left wondering if I'm making any difference in the world that I know.

My role is to counter the culture that is choking the Christian faith. My call as a pastor is to help the people I know get past the sickness that is killing our society. My place is to be a prophet who preaches against the ways of the world that are leading people astray from Christ. At times, I feel like I'm chosen to be the Shepherd’s collie dog, snapping at the feet of the sheep in order to keep them in the fold and out of danger.

And then I read Paul’s letter to Timothy and I realize that the church has seen times like these before. When Timothy became a bishop to his people, he had to deal with the world; he had to preach against secularism; he had to keep people on the right track in order to get them home to Jesus. The people in Timothy’s time were itching to hear what they wanted to hear…and people are still the same today. Things may look different, but people are still the same – they want short cuts to salvation; they want the express lane to immortality; they want to cut in ahead of everybody else to get Christ’s blessings.

It’s hard being a Presbyterian these days, but it’s not harder than what Timothy’s people had to endure. It’s not harder than what pastors in China are suffering; it’s not harder than what Christian families in Nigeria are enduring; it’s not harder than what millions of Christians around the world have to overcome for the faith each day. And because of that, I've got to start drawing a line in the sand and say this day, we retreat no further. We will not quietly acquiesce to the world’s demands. We will not fade away into faithlessness. We will not continue to compromise our Reformed beliefs, our Calvinistic codes, our Presbyterian traditions.

It’s time to re-emerge. It’s time to revive. It’s time to reform. The itching has gone on long enough. It’s time to stop scratching and start fighting the good fight.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, our Presbyterian church is in a mess and people like me have caused it to be so. Instead of waiting and watching for Your return, I've been wallowing in sin and at ease in Zion. Forgive me, Lord, for all of those wasted years and sinful moments. Restore me, Lord, to the love and zeal that I once had for You alone. Help me, Lord, to climb out of this religious rut and back on to the highway to Heaven. In Your Holy Name, I pray. Amen.

Stushie writes the Daily Devotional "Heaven's Higway" and draws a weekday politcal cartoon blog called "Pushing the Envelope."