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.