Saturday, December 22, 2007

Sunday Devotions: Gift Giving

Podcast version here

This week, I had lunch with two young men who both want to serve the Lord. One of them is a pastor who is in-between churches at the moment. The other is a person who survived a horrific accident three years ago. They both are gifted people and their common desire is to do something that will make a difference in the lives of others. In other words, they want their own lives to have a special meaning and divine purpose.

As I listened to them, I was touched by their eagerness to serve God. It reminded me of my own journey of faith that started over thirty years ago. I had just managed to overcome alcoholism and was beginning to experience my zeal for the Lord and His work. I wanted to change the world because I was so thankful that the Lord had changed me. I wanted to bring everyone into the Kingdom because I desired that everybody should experience the joy of serving God. It was a beautiful time in my Christian life and I’ve tried to keep that flame of faith burning within me. I see it as a gift from God.

Deuteronomy 16:17 Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the LORD your God has blessed you.

1 Peter 4:10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.

When I read these two verses of scripture from Deuteronomy and 1 Peter this morning, I was struck by how different they are. In the Old Testament, the emphasis is placed upon bringing gifts to the altar for God; in the New Testament, gifts are to be taken out into the world in order to share His grace with others. It may be too simplistic for some people, but for me this confirms Christ’s work of salvation. He made the ultimate sacrifice, so there is nothing that we can bring to God that will be worthy of His Son. However, we can use our gifts as a means of sharing the Gospel to the world, so that others may receive the blessings and riches of Christ’s grace.

I know that God has a plan for each of the two young men that I shared lunch with yesterday. He has given them different gifts and experiences that He will shape into future ministries and missions. The gifts have already been given; the blessings are ready to be shared. I am both excited and in awe of what God is doing in their lives. I look forward to the sharing of Christ’s grace that is yet to come.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for being the greatest Gift of God and to the world. Without Your Presence in our lives, we would wander aimlessly through life and end up making no difference. By Your sacrifice, You have given each of us a holy opportunity to share Your grace and to encourage others to come into Your Kingdom. Bless us today with situations and circumstances that we can use to glorify Your Name and to spread Your gifts of faith, hope, and love. Amen.

Stsuhie is the writer of the presbyterian daily devotional "Heaven's Highway."

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Sunday Devotion: Tuning Out

How a music teacher’s negative attitude in High School discouraged a lot of students. Why faith is a complete turn-off to the world if God is always presented as being judgmental.

When I was in High School, I used to enjoy music and looked forward to learning how to decode all of the notes and symbols on paper. Then one year a new principal of music took over the department and she turned out to be the most obnoxious teacher in the whole school. She had a sour attitude towards most of her students and even though we tried hard to please her with our efforts, it was never enough. Thus, instead of carrying on with music, most students like myself gave it up as soon as we could. If only her demeanor had been different, it may have produced a lot more musicians and singers in our school.

I remember one day that I was hurrying to get to my after school work. In order to save time, I changed out of my school uniform into my working clothes. Just before I left the school building, I met the music principal. She berated me for twenty minutes about not honoring the school by being out of uniform. I tried to explain, but she wouldn’t listen to me. All she was interested in was teaching me a lesson that had no relevance to my life. I was late for work and had some of my precious pay docked. To this day, I have been unable to remember a single music lesson that she ever gave; all that I recall is her ugly attitude.

Verse of the Day: Job 34::9 For he says, 'It profits a man nothing when he tries to please God.'

Sadly, for some people, God seems to be the same. Churches and preachers present a judgmental and vindictive God who wants to destroy sinners by their billions and wreak havoc in their lives. How can people be in love with a God that absolutely terrifies them? How can they cheerfully serve a deity who wants to eliminate them? If God is presented as being critical of people all of the time, then no wonder that the world is tuning out. Divine judgment is a serious issue, but there also has to be a generous helping of grace applied for the Gospel to be effective and attractive.

Christ came into the world to encourage, comfort, and unite us by His love. He gave up His life because God loves this world. And Jesus was raised from the dead because God wants that love to continue for ever. Isn’t that the message of the Gospel? Isn’t that the hope we all have faith in? Isn’t that the lesson we all yearn to learn?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we can never applaud You sufficiently for the work of salvation that You wrought for our world. We are truly grateful for the wonder of Your Life, the power of Your Sacrifice, and the glory of Your Resurrection. We are attracted to You because You embrace, comfort, and guide us. Help us to encourage others around us to do the same, by presenting to them the grace of Your Gospel. In Your Precious Name, we pray. Amen.

Stushie is a Scottish Presbyterian Pastor in Knoxville, Tennessee. He writes the daily devotional "Heaven's Highway." He also illustrates a political cartoon blog called "Pushing the Envelope."

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Sunday Devotional: Children of Light

In the midst of a dark and fearful world, Christ's message is a light of hope for all of us. As Christians, we are called to be children of Christ's Light in our community.

Podcast version here

Ephesians 5:8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.

Recent events have displayed a lot of darkness and fear in the world, but it’s not any different from Paul’s time. The technology may be far more advanced, but the same anxiety that pervaded much of the ancient world is still with us today. No matter how far we travel or how much progress we make as a species, we are still fragile and frail, fearful and finite.

I see a society where a lot of people are struggling with who they are and what their purpose is in life. Some of them are broken by injustice; others are wrestling with relationships; and still others are fighting illnesses. All of us depend upon each other at times. We are not islands of isolation; we are all connected as human creatures who struggle with life’s problems.

This is where I believe that the Christian message, above all other faiths and spiritual traditions, has the most hope for people who are helpless and hopeless. Jesus Christ has come into our dark world to show us the light that leads to God. We are no longer left scrambling in the darkness trying to get through each day. He stands beside us, bidding us to follow Him, and asking us to trust Him. We are not alone on a planet that is swirling through space. We are placed on earth because God has a purpose for our lives and through Jesus we can effectively change the world that we live in.

Paul’s calls us to be “children of the light.” In his world, total darkness at nighttime was very common. People didn’t have electric switches, lights or power to use at night time. Lamps and candles were precious possessions and were not to be used frivolously. They were kept for emergencies and treated as essential items. When the Gospel was first being preached, people knew exactly what Paul was talking about when he called his people “children of the light.” Christians lit up the world with their love of one another, their compassion for the community, and their courage in the face of death. They had nothing to fear because the darkness could not overshadow them.

Let’s continue that ministry of Christ in our own lives and our own wee world. Let us all seek to be “children of light” to all that we meet today.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You truly are the Light of the world and we feel privileged to be Your servants. Empower us this day with hearts of love and compassion, so that we may reflect and express Your influence over our lives. May we become children of Your light to those around us. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

Feedback Question: How can we be children of light to our communities?

John Stuart is the Scottish pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. He writes the daily devotional "Heaven's Highway."

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Omaha Shooting: Where is God?

The shooting of innocent bystanders at the Omaha shopping mall yesterday has shocked our nation once again. It makes us all ask the question: where was God in the midst of this tragedy and how can we trust in His Sovereignty?

Podcast version here

Hosea 6:1 "Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds.

The shootings and slayings in the Omaha shopping mall have once again shocked our nation. Another deluded young man has selfishly and cowardly taken the lives of innocent people, in order to make someone pay for his dissatisfaction with life. Instead of dealing with his problems, he chose to end his life. Instead of facing up to his deficiencies, he chose to kill people unconnected to his burdens. It was insane and satanic, evil and unholy. Whatever infamy he thought he would achieve, the memory of his callous execution of bystanders will obscure any notoriety he hoped to accomplish.

In the midst of all this pain and anger, how do we come to the Lord for help and healing? At this time of year, when peace and goodwill are supposed to be experienced amongst us, how can we remain confident in God’s Sovereignty? The Nebraskan families of those who were slain will be absolutely shattered and their lives will never be the same. Man’s inhumanity to man has reared its ugly head again – where is the faith, hope, and love of God in such a terrible situation?

No doubt the TV newshounds, cable show hosts and bloggers will offer their many opinions as to what caused this carnage. They will discuss the trigger points along the way of the young man’s life and ask the futile question of how this could all have been avoided. They will all play parlor games of second guessing what went wrong, and the victims’ families will be paraded before the cameras for high ratings and public exhibition. We will be inundated with images of Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Omaha for days on end. And then, when the media frenzy is over, the families will still be heartbroken, lives will be ruined, and communities around the nation will be fearful.

Despite the pain, we will still turn to the LORD, expecting Him to heal us, bind us, comfort us, and strengthen us. We may never find the answer to our agonizing question of “Why?” Our Creator, however, has endowed the human spirit with a mysterious capacity of carrying on, despite the crosses that we bear. In the end of the hallmark of hope which is imprinted on our souls will prevail. Killers kill people, but their bullets cannot confine us to be defined by their deluded concept of humanity. In God, we trust; in Christ, we have hope; and with the Spirit, we persevere.

Prayer: Lord God, our hearts bleed for the people of Omaha and for all the victims of this cruel and savage tragedy. We cannot comprehend the pain and heart break of those who have been impacted by this evil. We pray that You will surround them with professional caregivers and therapists, counselors and clergy who will support, love, and guide them through this agonizing journey. In Christ’s Name, we pray. Amen.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Sunday Devotional: God's Sense of Humor

Sometimes God answers our prayers in completely unexpected and humorous ways.

Podcast version here

Ezekiel 30:30 Then they will know that I, the LORD their God, am with them and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Sovereign LORD.

My eldest daughter was traveling from Roanoke to Cincinnati this week for a business conference. Even although she is twenty one, I always pray for her safety whilst flying. I woke up early on the morning of her flight and prayed exclusively for her, asking God to take care of her and get her to the conference safely.

It’s funny how God answers prayers. When she got to the check in line that morning, they couldn’t match her ticket. The conference was really important and she burst into tears. She didn’t know what to do and, being a single female traveling alone, she had no one to help, or at least that’s what she thought.

Behind her in the line were sixteen professional wrestlers (including The Undertaker), who were also traveling to Cincinnati. These burly guys took control of the situation and managed to get everything sorted out for my daughter. They looked after her all the way through to the last airport, so she arrived safely and in time. I couldn’t have asked for a bigger or better company of angels to escort her across the country. God works in mysterious ways and has a great sense of humor!

Prayer: Sovereign Lord, thank You for the many ways that You answer our prayers every day. We sometimes take Your blessings for granted and forget to thank You. Grant us grateful hearts and help us to cheerfully express our devoted thanks to You. In Jesus’ Name, we pray. Amen.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Presbyterian Cartoons: Peace Talks

Sometimes I get really frustrated with the hypocrisy of international politics...

Peace Talks

President Bush believes he can broker Middle East Peace, but at what cost to Human Rights?

Stushie writes the daily devotional Heaven's Highway, but also illustrates current political cartoons at Pushing the Envelope

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Sunday Devotional: Boxer

Audio version here

2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

A couple of years ago, the WWJD movement swept Christian circles. I can remember seeing many young people wearing bracelets with those initials on them. It all had to do with the much loved book, “In His Steps” written by Charles M. Sheldon. The book was all about a church being transformed by an event that caused the congregation to ask themselves “What Would Jesus Do?” in every situation.

Like most movements, this one has had its day, and people have moved on to something else. Sheldon’s book can still be purchased online, but how many people are reading and applying it?

Sheldon wrote a much better book called “Broken Earthenware,” which is sadly out of print. It tells the story of a fierce thief called Boxer, who is dramatically converted one night during a burglary. Instead of remaining a thief, Boxer becomes an itinerant preacher, who is slain by the Spirit and washed in the blood of Jesus. Instead of bullying the people in his community like some sort of Bill Sykes, he changes the thieves and vagabonds, drunks and prostitutes in his part of London. He gets them to build a church and the book tells of his struggles with faith. In the end, his young son becomes a pastor and continues the work of Christ.

It’s a great book based on a true story. I owe my ministry, marriage, and children to Boxer’s conversion. Why? Well, you see Boxer’s son was known as Pastor Howard and when he was in his late eighties, he came to the 428 Gospel club in Glasgow, Scotland and preached a message about his father, which reduced everyone to tears, including my own wife Evelyn, who gave her heart to Christ when Pastor Howard gave the call. Boxer’s legacy of faith continues in the love of the Lord that both our children have in their hearts. God does indeed work in mysterious ways.

It is my fervent hope and prayer that you have also given your heart to Jesus in a personal way. All it takes is surrendering yourself to God’s love, looking for His forgiveness, and receiving His blessing through Jesus Christ, God’s Holy Son.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for the people in the past whose lives and faith have touched our own. Thank You for the Spirit of conversion that transforms even the wickedest of people into becoming Your most devoted servants. Give us the courage to surrender our hearts to You today, and help us to place our lives into Your hands, both now and forever. Amen.

Stushie writes the daily devotional Heaven's Highway, which is now podcast on Stushie's Stuff and listed on ITunes.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Sunday Devotional: Monkey Puzzle

Audio Version here

Have you ever seen a monkey puzzle tree? They are also known as Chilean Pines and come from the Andes regions in South America. They prefer a cold, wet climate so you see a lot of them in Scotland. I guess some intrepid Victorian explorer brought the seeds back home with him and they started to flourish in Scottish gardens.

I think that they are beautiful trees and love seeing them around the world. I know that there are some in Virginia, but I’ve not come across any in Tennessee. They make beautiful ornamental trees when they are young, but as they grow older they reach massive heights. The leaves on the tree are packed tightly together and look like cacti. I suspect that they were called monkey puzzles because South American capuchin monkeys would have a hard time getting to the top to eat the tree nuts.

Some verses from the Bible are like that. Take today’s for instance:-Luke 18:8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?

It’s from a parable about prayer and justice, which seems to conclude when Christ teaches His listeners that God hears those who persevere in prayer. But then Jesus tags on something completely different. He challenges the people by asking ‘will faith be found on earth when He returns?’

What does Jesus mean by this? You would think that people who persistently pray have faith and those who uphold justice would be godly. Why is Christ not expecting much faith on the earth when He returns? This is one of those verses that I wish Jesus hadn’t uttered. It just makes my head go round and round in circles.

And then a light goes on: it’s a lesson for all of us not to get too preoccupied with our needs or to be overwhelmed by the woes of the world. If we are too focused on the here and now, we will disregard what’s to come and forget that, as well as having earthly experiences, we also can have an eternal life with Christ. So I guess instead of trying to make everything perfect in the world, we should be willing to wait for that perfection when Christ eventually arrives. If we concentrate too much on what happens here, we end up having faith in ourselves; but if we hold on to that sacred hope that when Christ returns peace and justice, blessings and happiness will be ours, then we will be constantly looking forward to that precious time. And if we do that, then Christ will indeed find faith on earth when He at last returns.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we constantly talk to You about our needs and seek justice throughout the world. Help us to do whatever we can to make this world a better place, but also remind us that perfection and peace, justice and true enjoyment will only come to all the earth when You arrive. Be with us and bless us as we wait to serve You forever. Amen.

Stushie writes weekday devotionals at Heaven's Highway and illustrates current political cartoons at Pushing the Envelope.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Mentioned in Dispatches

Presbyterian Outlook has just published a special issue on some Presbyterian bloggers, which may be of interest to you.

Go to their home page and check under reports and resources.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Sunday Devotional for Veteran's Day

Romans 8:36 - As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. (KJV)

Many years ago, a paramedic in Scotland showed me a soldier's knapsack Bible. It belonged to his uncle, who had been killed in World War I. The Bible, along with his other possessions, had been returned to his grieving family. As they looked through the Bible, they discovered these words from Romans were underlined in pencil: "For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter." They seemed to describe the young man's horrifying experiences of trench warfare.

Alec, the paramedic, felt as though his young uncle was speaking to him beyond the grave, letting him know that his death at the Somme was a sacrifice for the freedom of the people back home. But his message didn't end there. Verses 38 to 39 were double underlined, revealing the young soldier's faith, which death could not diminish nor destroy.

Romans 8:38-39 - For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (KJV)

In the midst of all our carefree leisure, happy pursuits, and personal freedom, does our faith match up to that of the young soldier?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, nothing can ever separate us from You, but sometimes we take that for granted. Remind us of Your sacrifice, Your loss, Your passion that has given us this wonderful opportunity to live beyond death, to hope above adversity, to have faith in the face of danger and trouble. In Your holy name we pray. Amen.

Stushie writes the daily devotional Heaven's Highway

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Sunday Devotional - Beware the Golden Compass

Audio version here

There’s a new movie coming out just before Christmas called “The Golden Compass.” It’s a fantasy movie based on a best selling trilogy by the author, Philip Pullman. It’s the usual good vs. bad story, with the heroes winning the day. The only trouble with the book is this: the Church is perceived as being bad, whilst being a free spirit - without being encumbered by God – is the ultimate good.

In the first book, the clergy are portrayed as being kidnappers of children, who want to enslave their spirits to serve the Authority, which is God. The whole series is about rebelling against the Church and ultimately killing the Authority, in order to achieve true freedom. There’s a subtle message of atheism being glorified and religion being diminished in the book. Philip Pullman is aiming the series at children because he wants to mess up their relationship with God and lead them into the lonely wilderness of atheism and chaos.

You may decide to take your kids to the movie or read the books for yourselves. That is your own free choice. But don’t do it without evaluating your relationship with God and Christ’s Church first. If your faith is ambivalent and your notion of the Church is flimsy, you may put your beliefs on the line and end up disregarding God’s sovereignty. You may also be putting your kids in harm’s way and leaving them with more doubts about God, Christ, and the Church.

Whatever you decide, remember that Pullman has his own agenda, which certainly isn’t God’s. He wants God dead in the hearts and minds of people, so that we can live in a free-spirited world where anything goes. We had that once before, in the centuries preceding Christ. Human sacrifices, paganism, and dark forces ruled the hearts and minds of men during those times: are we sure that we want to regress back into those days, or do we instead choose to remember that God rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of Christ?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, grant us the rare gift of discernment in our lives, so that we will make better choices. Help us to know what to do about this movie and these books. Keep us from being persuaded by the hidden messages that we may encounter. Help us to deepen our faith in You by remembering that the seasons of Thanksgiving and Christmas are times when we honor and glorify You. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

Stushie writes the daily devotional "Heaven's Highway," as well as illustrating the political cartoon site "Pushing the Envelope."

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Special Devotional: Nov 1 - Every Christian is a Saint today

Acts 26:17, 18 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.' (NIV)

Today is All Saints’ Day in the Christian Calendar. We don’t usually celebrate it as Presbyterians, but Roman Catholics are required to go to mass today, for this is what’s called a Feast of Obligation. To them, it’s one of the holiest days in the year.

There are more than 365 saints in the Roman Catholic Church, so a special day was set aside to commemorate and celebrate all the saints who ever lived on earth. It’s a day to give thanks to God for the past witnesses of church leaders and holy people. It’s also a day to make special prayers to your favorite saint from the past, in the hope that he or she will intercede on your behalf.

But Presbyterians don’t celebrate this day because we don’t believe in the veneration of saints. Instead, we believe in the sanctifying (making of saints) of the people of God through the conversion of our souls and the forgiveness of our sins. That’s the process that the apostle Paul is expressing here. He’s talking about the saintliness of ordinary people through the extraordinary holiness of Jesus Christ.

Therefore, for Presbyterians to celebrate All Saints Day, we should remember the people who have made a positive impact in our lives with regard to the faith that we carry in our hearts and minds. We should give thanks to God for the Sunday School teachers and pulpit preachers who have helped us to become Christians. We should honor those who work hard for our local congregations in our ministry and mission programs. We should remember those who work in foreign lands bringing the Gospel to millions of people throughout the earth. And we should also remember our own service to the Lord in our congregations and communities.

So, let this day be sanctified in all of our hearts. Let it be an occasion to be grateful for the saints in each of our lives who bring us closer to the Lord. And let’s also look for positive opportunities to be Christ’s sanctified servants to all whom we meet and encounter today.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for this special day and for all the saints who are working for Your Kingdom here on earth. Thank You for their focus and faith, their devotion and dedication, their example and encouragement. Bless and sanctify all of us, so that we may faithfully and effectively carry on Your ministry and mission to our community and world. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

Stushie writes the daily devotional blog "Heaven's Highway"

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Sunday Devotional - Picking Blackberries in Scotland

Audio version here

2 Corinthians 12:7 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. (NIV)

Years ago, I used to go bramble picking with my brothers, usually during the Fall. I think that you call brambles ‘blackberries’ over here. They look like dark colored raspberries and they grow wild in Scotland. They have a bitter sweet taste to them, but you can make a delicious jelly with them, which our mum used to do when we brought them home.

To get to the biggest and sweetest brambles, you have to be willing to fight your way through some really nasty thorns. In order to pick the brambles off the thorns, you cannot use gloves. Inevitably, my brothers and I would all come home with painful thorns stuck in the palm of our hands. So as well as making jelly and sewing our ripped clothes, mum had to be our nurse by removing the thorns with tweezers. In the end it was worth all of the discomfort, trouble, and pain. The jelly she made was delicious, especially on buttered slices of toast.

Paul writes about a ‘thorn in the flesh’ that he experienced in his life. As a preacher, he could easily have become conceited by the amount of power and esteem he was given by his listeners. But God gave him some sort of impediment, which caused him a great deal of discomfort. He does not mention what this thorn was precisely, but it was enough of a problem for Paul to ask God to remove it. God, however, says “no” to Paul’s prayer and so he has to learn to live with it.

Sometimes as Christians, we think that we’re entitled to live our lives free from worries, stress, or attack. We think that just because we follow Christ then our lives should be free from trouble. The advocates of the heretical prosperity Gospel have caused Christians throughout the world to believe that God is a great genie in the sky that supplies all of our wants and removes all of our burdens. But this is not the case. God gives us the ability to cope with our problems and to adapt our lives accordingly. He never promises to remove them, otherwise saints like Paul would never have had to live with their thorns in the flesh.

If you’re carrying a burden in your heart or mind, and it seems like a thorn in your flesh which is always troubling you, take it to God. He may not remove it from you, but He will give you his strength to enable you to cope.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we all have thorns in our sides and troubles in our lives. Sometimes we just want them to go away, so that we can live our lives peace and prosperity. Remind us that we have faith in You to help us through those times when we struggle. Grant us the courage to face our fears and enable to cope with the pressures we experience. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

Stushie writes the daily devotional Heaven's Highway

Monday, October 22, 2007

Malibu Presbyterian Church Building Destroyed

A PCUSA congregation, Malibu Presbyterian Church, has lost its building to the wild fires raging in California this weekend.

The second half of this article provides considerable information about the church and its activities.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Sunday Devotional: Tertullian: A Braveheart Warrior in Heretical Times

Romans 2:8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. (NIV)

For a long time, I have wanted to read the works of an ancient presbyter called Tertullian. He lived during the second century AD and spent most of his life fighting the heresies that were prevalent in the Early Church. His writings laid the foundation of much that we believe in the church today. He was a warrior for the faith and he influenced a whole new generation of church leaders, who went on to strengthen Christianity and protect it from the false teachings of the Gnostics.

In my heart, I feel that there is something gravely wrong with the Western Church today. We have gone down a path that leads to a dead end. For decades, I have heard people say that the church needs to be more inclusive, politically correct, and tolerant of other people’s life styles in order to be accepted by the world. But if this is the case, then why is Western Christianity dying?

Even in our own denomination, the PCUSA, diversity is worshipped and glorified as the best way to keep us relevant in society. But if this is true, then why has our denomination declined by over 15% in the last ten years? If embracing the new culture is meant to be the panacea to keep us strong, then why are PCUSA congregations diminishing in size, influence, and relevance?

This is why I am reading Tertullian. He was a man of his times who confronted the heretical threats to the church. In reading his works, I personally hope to find a way to counter our Christless culture and find the right path for the church to grow, be more influential, and make a positive impact in society.

I am working on an online study series of Tertullian’s works, as well as a parallel 21st century apologetic to confront the new heresies in the church today. If you would like to sign up for the online study, then send me an email at . Write "Tertullian" in the subject line and I will get you signed up via the church’s webmail. If you would like to see what the apologetic looks like, then please visit my wordpress blog at

Prayer: Lord Jesus, these are confusing and conflicting days for Your Church. We are being crushed by society and ignored by our culture. We are trying to please everybody, forgetting that we should only please You. Forgive us for taking the wrong path and help us to return to Your Highway. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

Stushie writes the daily devotional "Heaven's Highway", as well as illustrating the political cartoon on "Pushing the Envelope."

Friday, October 12, 2007

Friday Review . . . The Divorce Wars

There is an interesting article on Christianity Today interpreting the New Testament verses on divorce in light of first century practice and custom. I don't know enough to know how accurate or well researched it is. Hopefully, someone here does. I did think it might be helpful in providing suggestions to difficult questions.

The article is called, What God Has Joined by David Instone-Brewer.


Monday, October 08, 2007

Columbus Day Stained Glass Window

Stained Glass window commemorating Columbus Day...

Columbus Day

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Devotion for Sunday: When God says "No."

Isaiah 46:10 I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. (NIV)

For a while, I’ve been praying hard about something that I think is important and I’ve been trying to convince God of the same. My prayers have been carefully spoken and well thought out. I’ve been looking to God to do what I want and I’ve been disappointed that he hasn’t acted sooner.

A couple of days ago, I stopped praying and started to accept that this wasn’t what God wanted. It was hard to let go, but it was important for me to understand that God decides, not me. Instead of being agitated, I have a great peace. Instead of being disappointed, I am content. God’s purposes stand and he chooses to do as He pleases. His sovereignty is supreme. His decisions are final.

It may be that you’ve praying hard for something, too. Perhaps you want God to do you a favor, get rid of an obstacle, or give you a sign. Maybe you’re tired of asking and frustrated by God’s inaction. I know I was until I realized that God was saying “No.” Perhaps it’s time you also surrendered to His will and let God be God. He decides; we serve Him, not the other way around.

I personally know that it can be hard to yield to God’s sovereignty, but this message may be the vehicle that God is using to tell you, “No; not now, never.” Think about it and when you’re ready, take a leap of faith – let it go.

Prayer: Father God, sometimes we want things to work out in ways that are pleasing to us and for our own personal reasons. Sometimes we try to bend Your will and make You serve us with Your power. Forgive us for being focused on things that will never happen. Pardon us for using our faith to fulfill our own needs. Be with us and comfort us as we let go. In Christ’s Name, we pray. Amen.

Stushie writes the weekday devotional blog "Heaven's Highway", as well as the weekly Sunday liturgy blog "Aaron's Beard."

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."

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Friday Review. . . Ordering Your Private World

I recently read Ordering your Private World by Gordon MacDonald. Then I read it again.

I did not want to like this book, and I really didn't want to agree with it -- but I found too many phrases in it that struck way too close to home.
And those like me, who relied heavily upon our natural giftedness, would reach some high point early in our lives and, more than likely, trail off into averageness for the last half of our days on earth.
I am not by nature an organized person. I do not pick up things automatically. I do not finish things before I start something else. I am not good with details. I can easily forget things I've promised to do. And I can get easily distracted. I am a daydreamer (having a very rich imagination); I can be very playful; and I can fall effortlessly into the trap of trying to please everybody. As you can imagine, there was a lot that needed renovating here.
I really wish this man I have never met would stop writing about me so publicly.

There is already a good synopsis of the book on the web. So, I won't re-describe the five sections of the book.

I read this with a group of women, and we all got such different things from it that I am reluctant to say what it says; because that would only be what I took from it. What I will say is that it has brought home to me AGAIN that doing things for my reasons produces disaster. Ignoring God's commandments (like resting on the Sabbath) produces no fruit worth eating, and most importantly the lesson of Frank Laubach. The only way to walk peacefully and productively is to walk with God -- always.

If you find yourself tilting at windmills, running faster and faster and falling further behind, losing site of why you are doing what you do; read this book -- and then read it again.


Monday, August 27, 2007

Monday Question . . . . Gut Check

This week's Monday question is thanks to Rev Bill
  • Am I listening to the voice of God?
  • Am I taking risks?
  • Am I understanding how big God is?
  • Am I surrounding myself with the right people?
  • Am I giving it my best?
Rev Bill got these from another web page, and they are labeled as gut checks for ministers. He points out, rightly, that they make a good gut check for all of us who follow God.

I do think I'm listening, but I'm spending way too much time creating inventive ways out of taking real risks.
Do I understand how big God is? I cannot imagine, but that doesn't stop me from wanting a God just big enough to buy my arguments and do exactly what I want.
The right people -- no. This question is way too timely.
Am I giving it my best? Oh, please. I'm not even going there.

How about you?


Saturday, August 25, 2007

Sunday Devotional - Need

Audio version here ... or here

2 Peter 1:3 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.(NIV)

Burden Bearer

I’ve almost completed John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” for the fifth time. I love the way Bunyan mixes the stories of Christian, the pilgrim, with verses and promises from the Bible. Page after page, the book overflows with words of encouragement and caution, inspiration and instruction. At one time, it used to be required reading in some schools. Sadly, a lot of people don’t know that it even exists.

John Bunyan was imprisoned for his faith, just like the apostles Peter and Paul from the New Testament era. In his day, preachers were required to obtain a license in order to preach the Gospel. Bunyan refused to do this and so he was treated as an antagonist. He went to jail several times, but he persevered in his faith.

Pilgrim’s Progress was mostly written during his times in prison. Being unable to preach on the outside of his captivity, he wrote the book to reach the hearts and minds of people that he never met. His book influenced more lives than his itinerant preaching ever did. His prose and poetry are almost Shakespearean. What began as a project to help him get through the tedium of being in prison became a vehicle for his faith to inspire the same in others. The book has been translated into many languages and it still touches the hearts and souls of thousands of Christians throughout the world today.

In today’s scripture passage, Peter emphasizes that God secures all that we need for life and promises an enrichment of godly knowledge, both of which enriches our hearts and souls. It reminded me of Bunyan because he lived a simple life, devoted to God and enhanced by faith.

In our rush to succeed and to obtain all that we Westerners can, we sometimes forget that life is for living and giving, not for getting and collecting. Perhaps if we enjoyed the simpler things of life, we would discover a brand of happiness, health, and hope that would completely satisfy our hearts and souls.

There’s an old chorus that perfectly sums up these thoughts:“He is all I need, He is all I need; Jesus is all I need. He is all I need, He is all I need; Jesus is all that I need.”

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we complicate our lives by surrounding ourselves with many possessions that end up possessing us. Help us to let go of the things we have, and to let God have a hold on us. Grant us the discernment and wisdom to dedicate our ways to You alone. You are all that we need. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

Stushie writes the weekday devotional "Heaven's Highway" and also the Sunday prayers blog "Aaron's Beard." He also draws daily political cartoons at "Pushing the Envelope."

Friday, August 24, 2007

Friday Review. . . . Mother Teresa's Dark Night

This morning published a review from Time magazine of a new book about Mother Teresa. Actually, if I understand correctly, it is taken directly from her letters to her Confessors. According to this book, Mother Teresa experienced the purest form of Dark Night for over 50 years. Essentially the entire time she was working in Calcutta she experienced no presence of Christ. This period, obviously, began after the amazing visions that began her ministry.

Here is a link to the review.,8599,1655415-1,00.html


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Friday Review . . . Global Mission and Empty Nests

Ring member Quotidian Grace attended the Presbyterian Global Fellowship Conference last week and has posted a series of posts about the conference beginning on Friday August 17, 2007
Since most of us, presumably, did not have the opportunity to attend the conference, these short, well-written comments on the days' events are well worth the few minutes it takes to read through them.

Several of our member blogs have been writing about a more familiar adventure this week -- sending children off to college. Jane's Journey has a great story about college roommates -- oh, and Presbyterians.


Saturday, August 18, 2007


John 17:3 Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (NIV)

I was having an interesting discussion the other day about church with a long time member. This person volunteers three days a week for a special organization because he wants to do something that makes a difference in the world. He doesn’t feel that organized religion can supply his personal needs to be doing something meaningful. Somewhere along his spiritual journey, his attitude about church has become detached. I listened carefully to what he was saying and tried to understand his dilemma. He wants his church to make a difference in the world, but he can’t see that what we are presently doing accomplishes that goal.

I think that what he was expressing is something that many people feel about church today. It’s an institutional monster which constantly needs fed to maintain buildings, ministries, and missions. There’s nothing exciting about giving money to fix a wall or sending money to other religious institutions. There’s nothing dynamic about maintaining ecclesiastical cisterns and pipes, rooms and roofs that constantly need attention. If you think that church is just a religious business or commercial caring center, then you may indeed lose any sense of relevance that is has. If all that we are doing in church is oiling the machinery of ministry and keeping the momentum for mission support going, then there is no meaning or purpose. We are just collecting dollars in order to spend them. We’re just recycling money in a religious way.

But what is the purpose of the church? Is it to make an impact on the community, so that life on earth is better? If that’s the case, then we’re no different from all the other philanthropic clubs, organizations, and foundations in our community. We may as well merge with other compassionate associations that promote the well-being of the community. Church life would be no different and church membership would just be like joining a club.

Yet there is a difference. All those clubs, organizations, and foundations will eventually diminish and fade away. The church goes on into eternity. Where we have made a difference in the world is preparing people to meet their Maker, is in helping others to get into God’s Kingdom. Our churches, ministries and missions are vehicles for one eternal and everlasting purpose: to bring people to Christ and to help them find salvation for their souls. At the end of history, when all of humanity is judged, it will not be the amount of philanthropic organizations that we have financed, joined or helped that will save us; it will be our sincere belief in Jesus Christ, as the Son of God who forgives our sins and saves our souls, that will be of the utmost and eternal importance.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, there are many good causes in our community that need our time, talents, and treasures of support. They specialize in making a difference in the world for those who are helpless, powerless, and in great need. Your churches are in the same business, yet they are called to have an impact, not just in today’s world, but throughout all of eternity. Give us a better understanding of why our churches exist, what we are supposed to do, and how we can expand, extend, and enhance Your ministry and mission in the world. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

Stushie writes the daily devotional Heaven's Highway

Friday, August 17, 2007

Friday Review . . . Found at Kairos Blog

Ok, so today's post on Kairos blog, although fascinating, probably wouldn't get a mention here by itself. (Kairos is trying to choose a new cell phone). However, scrolling back a few entries produces a couple of very interesting posts. The first is dated May 31 (ok, so I'm slow) and is titled, Media Portrayal of Religious Voices. It includes a graph showing the 10 most prominent conservative and progressive religious leaders in terms of media coverage. When talking to people outside the church, it is good to be reminded what church related voices they hear the most.

The post before that is called True Love Waits. . . ? This discusses an article at Slate called Even Evangelical Teens Do It. In turn, this article discusses a book written by a Professor of Sociology at UT-Austin called Forbidden Fruit: Sex & Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers. This is a look at sexual beliefs, activity and when and why beliefs stop controlling actions that focuses specifically on American teenagers within the context of their religious beliefs.

Just a little something different from around the Blogring.


Sunday, August 12, 2007

Monday Question . . . Bookshelf

Ok, a question from me for a change.

If you could get every member of your congregation to read one book -- what would it be?

I will start by offering Dallas Willard's Renovation of the Heart. Although, I must qualify this by saying that virtually my church's entire active membership read the Bible cover to cover earlier this year.

Anyone else?


Saturday, August 11, 2007

Friday, August 10, 2007

Friday Review. . . The Leadership Summit

Ok, this is late. Sorry, but I had to stop by the office on my way home. Home from where? I'm so glad you asked. I have spent today, yesterday and will spend half the day tomorrow at a satellite location for the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. Now, anything Willow Creek is not going to be terribly Presbyterian; but so far we have had two Presbyterian speakers. Today we had John Ortburg from Menlo Park, and yesterday we had a New York minister who must have been Presbyterian. He spent several years in the U.S. House of Representatives and said he was never afraid of losing an election -- because God had elected him first. I don't think most of the Baptists got it. . . . then again, I'm not completely sure the speaker got it. . . .

Ok, the Conference. The schedule was:
  • Bill Hybles, Vision to Die For;
  • Carly Fiorina, Tough Choices;
  • Floyd H. Flake, The Heat of Responsibility;
  • Marcus Buckingham, Go Put Your Strengths to Work;
  • Michael E. Porter, Strategy and Leadership;
  • Colin Powell, Leading at the Highest Level;
  • John Ortberg, A Leader's Greatest Fear;
  • Richard Curtis, Living for the Greater Good;
  • Jimmy Carter, Building Humanity; and
  • Bill Hybels, Whatever You Do, Inspire Me!.
Jimmy Carter starts tomorrow. So, I haven't heard him yet. Several of the others were worth the price of admission by themselves. Granted, I was at a satellite location, not the live venue; and I was there on a bought way in advance in quantity for cheapest possible amount ticket.

John Ortberg basically preached a sermon on the Book of Esther that was so good I was trying to figure out if I could afford to live in a box under a bridge in Menlo Park when I discovered that his sermons are on his church's web page.

Marcus Buckingham teaches a way of focusing on your strengths instead of your weaknesses. The message was good. The presentation was wonderful. Michael Porter is a Harvard business professor who is an expert on strategic planning. He made a number of excellent points about focusing mission projects where the church's resources and strengths lie, focusing on maximizing the value that you produce, setting clear goals and making sure that your strategy for reaching those goals is sustainable. The weakness in the presentation was that he focuses exclusively on the perspective of a Ph.D. in finance. Nonetheless, the presentation was very valuable. Richard Curtis is a filmmaker who has used his vocation to raise incredible amounts of money for charitable relief in Africa. Those were my favorite presenters so far.

Any discussion of the speakers doesn't convey the atmosphere. I don't generally care for contemporary worship, but there were a number of aspects to the music and worship interspersed among the speakers that were intensely memorable. Assuming that my church buys seats in bulk again next year, I plan to go again. If nothing else, it is interesting to consider church work as leadership in the same way that CEO's lead corporations and Generals lead armies.


Thursday, August 09, 2007

Monday Question of the Week . . . Google

I love it when we get emails with suggestions for Monday's Question. Here is the lastest from the mail room.


I have blogged in an effort to find out how other churches use the web to their advantage for things like google searches.

My question for the group would come out of the same notion of using the freeness
of the internet (i.e. searches) to drive people to your website?

God Bless,

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Sunday Devotional - Would Christianity Survive without the Bible?

Colossians 2:17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. (NIV)

Someone recently posed the question: could Christianity survive without the Bible? That’s a tough question to answer. For three thousand years, God’s people have looked to the sacred scriptures to build a foundation of faith and tradition in order to give their lives meaning and purpose.

The stories of the Bible have become timeless examples of how ordinary people overcome their troubles in extraordinary ways. How solid would our faith be without the heroic exploits of Noah and his ark; of Joseph and his brothers; of Daniel in the lions’ den? These ancient tales of faith have inspired generations of God’s people in every country and culture throughout the earth.

But what if the Bible suddenly disappeared from our world? What would happen if we as Christians could no longer read the Gospels? What would our faith become? Could it survive?

If we look back to the faith of the first Christians, we come across an amazing fact: they didn’t have any scriptures to sustain their beliefs. The Gospels were written thirty years after the Church was established. The Old Testament wasn’t canonized in its present form until AD93. This must mean that the first Christians established their faith on maintaining their relationship with Christ. Their reality of faith depended upon their connection to His Spirit and not to words written on a scroll of papyrus.

I’m not advocating that we do away with the Bible. It is very important as a guide book for how we ought to live our lives, but in the end it will not be our knowledge of scripture that will get us into heaven. It will be our living, day-to-day relationship with Christ that will secure our salvation. He is the Eternal Word of God – the true Word that is alive, dynamic, and everlasting. Jesus is not someone who is confined to the pages of history, nor is He a mere character in a holy book. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, in whom our faith abides and through whom Christianity survives.

The scriptures are a shadow of the things that were to come, and as Paul would say, “the reality, however, is found in Christ.”Books will one day turn to dust, and even our computers will become redundant and decay, but the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ, will never pass away.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we thank You for the scriptures and for the many things with which they teach us about You, about Your messages, and about Your mighty deeds. These sacred words bring us closer to You, but they are not the source of our salvation. Only Your Spirit can connect us to God; only Your power can restore us to His favor. Enable us this day to grow closer to You in prayer, in devotion, and in service. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.
Stushie writes week day devotionals at the Heaven's Highway blog.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Sunday devotional - One Stormy Night

Luke 11:42 "Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone. NIV

Many years ago, when I was a preacher in Scotland, two young women appeared at the manse door on a stormy winter's night. Both were slightly inebriated and had come to make a special request. One of them was a single mum, who doted on her five-year-old daughter. She wanted her only child baptized and was wondering if I would do it. Suddenly she burst into tears and couldn't say another word.

Her friend then continued the conversation. "Minister," she said, "she came here five years ago when the baby was born, but the last minister wouldn't christen her daughter. He told her the church didn't baptize that kind of child here."

I was shocked, but not surprised. My predecessor had a stern reputation for upholding church law and neglecting compassion. I told them I would be delighted to baptize the wee girl and asked if her mum would come to church on Sundays. The young mother stopped weeping, and her whole face brightened. For the first time in years, she felt accepted.

She came to church with her daughter the following Sunday. She soon became a member of the congregation and her daughter was baptized. She became a Sunday School teacher and brought her child up as a Christian. Her whole life changed because she was no longer burdened with shame. Before I left to minister in the United States, she thanked me for helping her and for accepting her daughter.

We have good rules, well thought out regulations, important teachings and holy traditions in our churches, but when we use them to oppress individuals and neglect to show compassion, we're no better than the Pharisees whom Jesus condemned. Justice and love of God are key elements of our faith. We should never forget to practice those things first, instead of hiding behind doctrine and dogma.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, guide us today when we come across other people who need help. Enable us to listen to their requests and empower us with enough love and compassion, mercy and grace to fully support and care for them. In doing so, may we bring them closer to You, their Savior and Lord. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.
Stushie is the writer of weekday devotionals on the Heaven's Highway site.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Sunday devotional - God's Truth

Romans 1:25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator-who is forever praised. Amen. (NIV)

Driving home late the other night, I was listening to a radio host ranting and raving against evangelical Christians. He declared that they had no right whatsoever to say that people of other faiths weren't going to get into heaven just because they didn't believe, serve or worship Jesus.As far as the talk show host was concerned, nobody was excluded and that the God he believed in was non-judgmental. Each time a Christian tried to call in and refute his beliefs, he quickly terminated the call. He was in no mood to be confronted; he wasn't interested giving evangelicals a fair say. After all, it was his radio show and, at that moment in time, he was god of the airwaves

That's the trouble with modern beliefs; everyone has their own individual god. We pick and choose what we want to believe as if God comes pre-packed, vacuum-sealed and perfectly sized from a spiritual supermarket shelf. If we want our perfect God to suit our modern lives, let's just select our own. After all, we are the center of our own universe, so why shouldn't God conform to our personal wee world?

The same old things were happening in Paul's time, too. The apostle, however, was bold enough to confront those beliefs and those kinds of people. "They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator." Paul wasn't ready to compromise the truth or let go of God. His way of faith meant he had to battle with his culture, people and trends everyday. If he had simply given in to society or dumbed-down his belief in Christ, we might never have read any of his letters, nor ever have heard the Gospel.

The truth of God challenges every one of us each day. It confronts our decisions. It meddles in our lives. It changes our opinions. God, who truly revealed Himself to us through Jesus, cannot be ignored or re-shaped into something we want to make our lives easier. The whole point about faith is to lead us to something bigger, better and eternal. None of it is a given. We need to meet God on His terms, not on our own. Our only choice is whether we will do it on this side of eternity or not. After death, we don't get to make any more choices. Game over. Christ wins.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, keep us free from making up our own images and worshipping our own ideas about who You are and what God does. Deliver us from pride, conceit and self-deceit, for those temptations have the potential to turn Your truth into a lie. Help us to read Your Holy Word, so that Your sacred ways may be revealed in our hearts and minds. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Montreat 2007

One of the best places to go for a Youth Conference - Montreat, North Carolina

Montreat 2007

Monday, July 16, 2007

UFO over Knoxville, TN

I was taking a sunset photo tonight - captured a UFO that looks like a Star Trek shuttle over Knoxville, Tennessee.


It begs a question: if life exists in other planets in the universe, what does that do to the uniqueness of Christianity?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Candid Camera

Romans 1: 7a To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: (NIV)

I’ve written several times about St. Jude, the Roman Catholic patron saint of lost items and hopeless causes. My mother taught me to pray to him if I needed to find my keys. Over the years, despite being a Presbyterian pastor, when I get exasperated looking for something I’ve lost, I hear my mother’s words and say a silent prayer to St. Jude. Within a short period of time, I’ve always found what I’ve lost.

Well, at least that was the case until last weekend. My eldest daughter Lynsey was moving to Blacksburg, Virginia to begin her graduate course at Virginia Tech. The town is beautiful and the college buildings are exceptional. It all looks Ivy League to me.

I wanted to take some photos of the town, so I took my digital camera with me (if you want to see some of my past photographs, check out my photos, cartoons and drawings at ). So, I drove the U-Haul truck to Blacksburg on Saturday morning with all of Lynsey’s furniture.

Evelyn, Lauren, Lynsey and I unpacked the furniture and set up Lynsey’s new apartment. In the middle of the afternoon, we were finished and so we decided to visit downtown Blacksburg. It was then that I sadly discovered my digital camera was missing. We hunted all over the apartment, in cupboards, boxes, purses and even the garbage bags.

I drove back to U-haul and asked if they found a camera in the truck. They hadn’t. I looked over the grounds outside of Lynsey’s apartment and even the parking lot, but the camera was nowhere to be seen or found. That’s when I started to pray to good old St. Jude, but this time it didn’t seem to work.

Glum would describe my mood for the rest of the weekend. Blacksburg was beautiful, but I was carrying my own shadow around with me. Even during worship at Northside church on Sunday morning, I couldn’t stop thinking about the camera, so when it came to the offering, I said a prayer inside of myself like this: “Lord, I give my camera to whoever has found it. May he or she enjoy using it just as much as I have done. Amen.”

St. Jude had obviously missed an opportunity to make a Presbyterian pastor happy, so I just put it down to good old Presbyterian predestination. St. Jude had greatly disappointed me, so the Calvinist within me took over. Praying to the saints is not something that Presbyterians, especially pastors, should be doing. In my mind’s eye, I could see John Knox sternly rebuking me for asking St. Jude to intercede. I felt ashamed.

And then on Wednesday morning, the U-Haul guy in Blacksburg called me to say that he had found the camera hanging under the seat of the truck. Good, old St. Jude had come through! Maybe I’m a Calvinistic Catholic after all!

All together now!...“Oh, when the saints, go marching in…”

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for the saints of old and for their past ministries. We know that You alone intercede on our behalf for our salvation. Thank You for saving lost souls and for the work of the saints in Your earthly church that goes on throughout the world today. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

Stushie writes the devotional blog "Heaven's Highway."

Friday, July 13, 2007

Friday Review. . . . A Tour Around the Blogosphere

Frequently on Friday, our member blog, Heaven's Highway, (whom you should recognize as the author of the devotions featured in this spot on Sundays) has been doing a Blogachute. Ok, so what is a Blogachute? It is simply a brief introduction/discussion of a bunch of different blogs -- who they are, what they are posting -- that kind of thing.

This week the Blogachute covers the Progressive Sphere. Now, these blogs aren't ring members, they aren't necessarily Presbyterian; but if you would like a quick look through a number of different progressive blogs, then this week's Blogachute is a good place to start.

Sometimes there is a theme like Progressive blogs or atheist/New Age spirituality blogs. Sometimes there isn't except that so far they have all been religious or spiritual blogs in some ways. Well, assuming you can call atheist blogs religious or spiritual -- but you get the idea.

Check it out. It is a fast and easy way to take a short tour around the Blogosphere


Sunday, July 08, 2007

Accepting the Unacceptable

Acts 15:8 God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. NIV

When I was at High school, I worked in a store that sold both work clothes and fashion items. It was owned by a Jewish family, the Freedmans, who had been in the business for a very long time. Mrs. Freedman, who was widowed, and her eldest son, Joe, ran the store. My job was to initially look after the stock, wash the floors, and lift the heavy wire grates from off the windows first thing in the morning. At the end of the day, I had to re-mop the floors, tidy the stock, and put the grates back on the windows.

Eventually, I also got to sell items to customers and discovered that I had a knack for making sales. The Freedmans were good people to work for; they believed in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. Mrs. Freedman taught me a lot about dealing with people, especially difficult or fussy customers. Much of what she impressed upon me has helped me throughout my years of ministry.

She also taught me about Judaism and engendered a great love of things Jewish within me. When I went to university to become a minister, she was delighted. And when I let her know that I was studying Hebrew, she was ecstatic. It was almost as if I was the son who became a Rabbi that she never had. Her acceptance of me as a teenager and her respect for me as a minister were two gifts that I will always cherish.

Our denominational church is deeply troubled and divided right now. There seems to be an atmosphere of antagonism and intolerance on both sides of the ordination debate. Each side claims to be right. Each oppose the other vehemently. Acceptance is unacceptable. Toleration is intolerable.

It seems to me that Peter faced the same kind of issues way back in the past. Some of the Jewish Christians wanted the Gentile Christians to follow their own traditions. But Peter spoke out against intolerance and expressed a great truth that we seem to have forgotten: God, who knows the heart, may be more accepting of others than we are.

It is my fervent prayer that God grant our church the gift of discernment, that is the ability to know, understand, and accept these things according to His ways, and not our own.

Prayer: Lord God, the church has always struggled with itself, but throughout the ages You have given guidance about who or what is acceptable to You. During these restless days, grant us Peter’s courage to declare that where there is evidence of Your Spirit, there is acceptance by You. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

Stushie writes the daily blog "Heaven's Highway" which is listed at the right hand of this page.