Saturday, May 31, 2008

Today, my youngest daughter Lauren arrives in Africa for three months. She is excited about the whole adventure ahead of her, whereas I don’t think I’ll get a whole night’s sleep until she’s back home.

Podcast version here

Lauren has been planning this for a whole year. She wants to do something that will make a difference in the lives of the least. She will be working with the orphaned children of Tabora, Tanzania. Their parents have all died of AIDS, so Lauren will be tutoring, supporting, and leading a summer program to help these young people.

I am proud of what Lauren seeks to do because I know that within myself, I could not do it. I think if I ever got there, I would want to stay forever and help them the rest of my life. Perhaps Africa is Lauren’s calling of the heart, just as America has been mine.

Psalm 31:24 Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD.

This summer, my family may be spread all over the world. Evelyn’s mum is ill and it may turn out to be a terminal condition. If that happens, she will fly out to Glasgow to be with her for a while. This could mean that I’ll have a daughter in Virginia, one in Africa, and a wife back in Scotland all at the same time. It will be a strange feeling and the first time that all four of us have been separated from one another.

But, as our kids sing at church, God’s got the whole world in His hands, so I reckon He will be holding on to my family wherever they are and whatever they are doing. It will be a time to remain strong in faith and take heart that God is doing what He knows best. We all have our hope in the Lord, so no matter what happens, He is with us.

Prayer: Lord God, our lives never stand still and we undergo many changes, transitions, and transformations. Throughout those times, Your constant love and watchfulness over us comforts, strengthens, and encourages us. Thank You for never letting go of us, even during those trying times when our grasp of You is weak. In Christ’s Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

PS Lauren has her own blog page about the journey. You can find it at

Monday, May 26, 2008

Prince Caspian

I have now seen Prince Caspian twice. The reviews for it are generally mediocre. I thought it was fabulous, but I also fell head first through a wardrobe when I was 10. So, I may be a little biased -- oh, and then there was that whole crush on a talking mouse thing too.

Is there a Presbyterian Bloggers consensus on this one?


Saturday, May 24, 2008

Memorial Day Sonnet

Memorial Day Sonnet

If Liberty means anything to me,
I will remember what my freedom cost,
By those who gave their all to keep me free,
Whose lives were sacrificed, but never lost.
I will remind myself of what they did,
And keep them dearly cherished in my heart;
Their honor never from me shall be hid
And I will know they always did their part
To save our nation and its people here,
To pledge their lives in defense of our ways,
To show that freedom always outlives fear,
And sacrifice is hallowed all our days.
If Liberty means anything to me,
I will remember those who kept me free.

Audio for sonnet here

© John Stuart 2008
Pastor at Erin Presbyterian Church,
Knoxville, Tennessee

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Calling all Presbyterians!

Hi Folks, the last time I sent out this request for your help, it all came in too late.

I'm in the top ten again for a caption contest based on Prince Caspian. Most of the other jokers are have a hard time accepting that a Presbyterian pastor from Tennessee actually has a sense of humor.

Could you all visit the following webpage and vote for me? I'm the one called Stushie on the voting board.

So here's your chance to show them that Presbyterians have what it takes to beat the competition, as well as a sense of humor.

Go to the following webpage and please vote for me, Stushie

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Religious News: Pray Today - Pass Tomorrow?

So long as students have to take exams, there will always be prayer in our schools. But how effective are those prayers? And what if a special written prayer could reduce stress, bring calmness, and help a student focus during the hours of an exam? Would it help the student to pass the test?

The Church of England has come with a novel idea of internet prayers for high school, college, and university students to recite before they enter exam rooms. The prayers are also available for teachers who tend to worry about their students during exams. After all, the outcome of the final grades is also used to measure the effectiveness of a teacher’s ability.

The Rev Janina Ainsworth, chief education officer for the Church of England has stated that the prayers were initially written for student gatherings or school assemblies. With a little tweaking, the prayers could be altered to suit an individual’s needs.

Leaving prayer to the last minute is more like wishful thinking, but taking time to sit down and really pray may help stressed out students calm down and give themselves a better opportunity of making their grades. The peace that passes all understanding may soon become the peace that passes every testing.

The prayers can be found at

Monday, May 19, 2008

Presbyterian Art: Face to Face

The only way to eradicate racism is to celebrate and embrace our wonderful colors...

Face to Face

If you have some art creations of your own, please send them to me at

or you can join the new flickr group and upload your own submissions. the group is called Presbyterian Art. You can find it at Presbyterian Art

We may disagree vocally on a lot of issues, but I'm hoping that we can find common causes through our art.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Sunday Devotions: Clay People

My mother’s name was McClay, and I used to think that the name “McClay” meant “son of the earth.” It made me feel as though I came from some very common stock, of pitcher people from long ago, who made jars of clay for my Scottish ancestors. Because my father’s family were all Stuarts, who were once Scottish kings and queens, I tended to be a wee bit snooty regarding my heritage when I was much younger. I would rather have royal blue blood running through my veins than to be taken from old grey clay, any day.

Podcast version here

But when I researched the name McClay I discovered it had nothing to do with clay pots or working with mud. You see McClay is an anglicized form of the old Gaelic name “Mac An Leigh,” which means “son of the Healer.” My mother’s heritage didn’t come from clay workers; they were instead the ancient shamans, medicine men, and pagan healers of the old Gaelic tribes. Perhaps instead of royal blood in my veins, I’ve got pastoral blood from my mother’s side.

Job 33:6 I am just like you before God; I too have been taken from clay.

No matter what my heritage may actually be, or how fanciful I think it is, I am humbled by this one thought: that we are all created equal by God and, as far as the Bible is concerned, we are all made from dust and clay. In God’s eyes, it matters not how noble or powerful, wealthy or esteemed, famous or infamous that we are in the world; as far as He is concerned, we are all His creatures, whose purpose is to praise God and enjoy Him forever.

We are all sons and daughters of clay, yet we are also destined to become sons and daughters of God through the supreme sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God’s Holy Son. By placing our faith in Christ, we are not left to sink into the miry clay of darkness and oblivion; instead we are given the sacred opportunity of rising out of the mud, of being cleansed by Christ’s blood, and being led into the everlasting, holy, and joyful presence of God. Then, in my opinion, we all become the equivalent of immortal McClays – sons and daughters of the Healer of the world. My mother would just love that.

Prayer: Lord God, we all have different heritages and ancestry, backgrounds and cultures. And yet we have the same source of life, which comes from You alone. Thank You for allowing us to share this wonderful creation that is all around us. And we praise You for the glorious opportunity of experiencing this forever, through the noble sacrifice and royal blood of Your Son and our King, Jesus Christ. In His Name, we pray. Amen.

Stushie is the writer of the Heaven's Highway daily devotional blog.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Presbyterian Art: Neo-Celtic Cross Window

Stained Glass window design for 21st Century Church

Neo-Celtic Cross

as designed by stushie, writer of Heaven's Highway blog

Vision Casting: Catching the Spirit

This took place at the Living Waters Retreat center in Maggie Valley, North Carolina. I went there for a couple of quiet days to be with God and ask Him for a vision of our church.

As I looked out of my window, I saw four tall elm trees. Everything was quiet and still. It was a prayerful moment of peace and tranquility, and yet I felt there was something mysterious in the air.

As I looked at the trees, I marveled at how the slender trunks had taken years to branch out into smaller limbs, twigs, and leaves. I thought about Christ’s Church being the largest tree and all the denominations becoming strong branches on the new limbs.

Where was Erin on this great tree? In 2000 years of Christianity and throughout the numerous denominations, and even amongst billions of Christians, what part did we represent of the great tree?

As I contemplated our size and history, I realized that we were just a mere leaf toward the top of the tree. Amongst myriads of leaves, we were just like any other – a tiny leaf, on a small twig, connected to a big branch, attached to a large limb, growing out of a giant trunk. We were the smallest of the small – insignificant, unimportant, and ineffectual.

In the stillness of the moment, I felt stung in realizing that we had only made such a tiny contribution to the Great tree of Faith. It was humiliating and hurtful, shocking and surprising. I came to the retreat center looking for an almighty vision, and all that I was given was a divine reality check.

And then God showed me something totally unexpected. Everything was quiet and somber. As I looked at the little leaf that I had chosen as Erin, it slowly began to flutter. Nothing else was happening to the whole tree. Somehow that little, unimportant and insignificant leaf was catching the wind. It seemed as though it was dancing.

Soon other little leaves around it began to flutter and dance. They were also catching the wind and, for a while, they all fluttered alone as a group. And then, all over the tree, other tiny leaves began to catch the wind, and they also fluttered and danced.

The twig that was Erin began to sway ever so slightly, and then it began to swing to the music of the wind. Very soon other twigs were swaying and then the bigger branches joined the dance. The wind was beginning to pick up and the tree was full of its energy. Leaves were fluttering swiftly, twigs and branches were swinging, boughs and limbs were swaying rhythmically in the breeze.

As the dance continued, the sound of the wind picked up and it choreographed the whole tree. I then wondered when the great trunk of the tree would move. I didn’t see it, but I heard it. Throughout this great orchestration of the wind and leaves, I suddenly heard the deep moaning sounds of the trunk creaking in the wind. The whole tree was alive to the movement of the air. I was watching a great symphony that began with the fluttering solo of a little leaf called Erin.

That’s when God struck me with the vision. Erin is just a little church, the tiniest of leaves on this great tree of the Christian faith. Our role is not to be great or grandiose, important or significant. Our purpose is simply to await the coming of the Holy Spirit, to catch its wind, to flutter and dance as the Spirit moves us, so that other little leaves around us may be encouraged and influenced to do the same.

We are here at Erin to catch the wind of the Holy Spirit. The earth may never know who we are or that we exist, but God knows and our role is to delightfully dance before Him. If we wait upon the Lord and catch the Spirit, then we will have fulfilled our purpose. When the Spirit comes, those little leaves that are ready will dance joyfully and flutter faithfully, pleasing God and delightfully serving Christ.

Erin, God is preparing us to catch the Wind? Are we ready to begin the dance?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Only In America: Baptist Church Holds $500 Gas Card Raffle

SNELLVILLE, Ga. - Praise the Lord and pass the petrol.

The First Baptist Church in Snellville, Ga., is fuelling its membership drive with a sign in front of its sprawling campus proclaiming "Free Gasoline."

There's a catch, of course. The offer is a not a giveaway.


Instead, each time newcomers or members attend a church event during a Sunday-to-Wednesday revival they get a pink raffle ticket for a chance to win one of two $500 gas cards.

The church boasts a congregation of about 9,000, but church officials say only about 2,500 regularly attend Sunday services.

"We don't know how far it will go with these soaring (gasoline) prices," said Rusty Newman, the church's senior pastor. "But (winning) it may make someone's night."

The church, like others, has long relied on special dinners and giveaways to draw in members, but elders wanted something a little more timely.

They set up a sign advertising the offer outside the church's parking lot on a busy road near downtown Snellville, a traffic-clogged suburb northeast of Atlanta.

Read the rest of the story here…

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Book Study: A New Earth

(Our church is studying the book "A New Earth" for the next ten weeks. This is a page by page apologetic critique of Tolle's philosophy). If you want the weekly outline, please vist my website each Tuesday....Heaven's Highway)

Oprah is pitching a new book called "A New Earth" by Eckhart Tolle. Her advocacy is causing millions of viewers to buy into Tolle's philosophy. He presents his ideas as a necessary spiritual transformation that will take place this century, whether we like it or not. He also uses the Bible and teachings of Jesus to validate his points.

But Tolle's book is not Christianity and in many ways, it opposes Christ's teaching, diminishes His divinity, and replaces God with our spiritual selves. Our church is studying the book on Monday nights and Sunday mornings. This blog will reflect the teaching that Tolle presents and how it differs from actual Christian beliefs. I hope that readers of the blog will use these page by page reflections as a means to teach their own people about this new movement.

Chapter One

Page 1: Tolle begins with his opinion about what happened on earth 114 million years ago. Obviously because he wasn’t there, this is just his fanciful opinion. This sets the tone for the whole book: he is making up his own reality about the world.

Tolle suggests that there was no perceiving consciousness to witness the flowering of the world: in other words, God was not there and doesn’t seem to exist for Tolle.

Page 2: Tolle writes that flowers were the first things that human beings were drawn and fascinated to, outside of themselves – but where did that facility to be fascinated originate? From the flowers? From human beings? Or endowed by the Creator in our DNA?

He also states that Jesus told us to contemplate the flowers and learn from them how to live. When Jesus taught His “Consider the Lilies” lesson, He was using it to express our dependency on the providence and mercy of God. The parable is not about us – it’s about God.

(Note: Tolle will often use Christ’s teachings to express his own opinions, and not those of Jesus Himself.)

Flowers lead us to an appreciation of our own inner beauty. This will be a common theme throughout the book. This is spiritual narcissism – the love of ourselves as the source of our spirituality. This seriously opposes our love, wonder, and fascination with God.

Page 3: Flowers are messengers from another realm…and fragrance comes from the realm of the spirit. This sounds like New Age stuff.

He widens the conventional accepted meaning of ‘enlightenment’ to incorporate his own ideas…and yet his teaching is unconventional.

Tolle: enlightenment brings about discontinuity with the old, helping us leap beyond the past into experiencing a new evolved level of Being and Self Awareness .

Christian teaching ( Calvin) would suggest that enlighten is the process by which we are over-awed with the wonder of God and attracted to Him. Tolle is substituting our own self-awareness in place of becoming truly aware of God.

Page 4: Tolle talks about One Life, One Consciousness. This is not original. This is more Jungian (Carl Jung) than Tollian.

Tolle emphasizes “Presence” – Hebrews would call this shekinah – the glory of God, the sacredness of His presence. Tolle believes that we recognize this Presence within us and love it as ourselves. Once again, God is being displaced in favor of narcissism.

Page 5: Mainly deals with enlightenment in a Buddhist way of thinking.

Tolle states that the Holy Spirit is preparing the ground for a planetary shift of consciousness. This is very serious because this is blasphemy. The purpose of the Holy Spirit is to reveal Christ to the world, not to bring about an evolutionary consciousness.

Page 6: Tolle references Jesus as a great teacher and messenger. He will very rarely use the term Christ and never refer to Jesus as the Son of God.

Tolle also infers that Christ’s ministry was a failure because of the opposition to Him. His teachings did not transform many lives…and yet there are about 2 billion followers of Christ in today’s world.

Tolle describes his book as a ‘transformational device’ => he is trying to canonize his own text.

Reading the book will transform you….this is a frequent mantra in the book. Subliminal message and auto suggestion…also known as brainwashing.

Page 7: This book is about you. Tolle stroking the ego of his readers to gain their patronage and appreciation. Narcissism. In contrast, the Bible is not about you…it’s about God.

Tolle states that the book can only awaken those who are ready….this is the old Emperor’s New Clothes argument.

Begins to write about ego – becoming Freudian and will start to apply pseudo-psychology here.

Tolle states that the ego tricks the mind into identifying with it with no flexibility…this is going to morph into an argument against absolutes and Truth.

Page 8: Author suggests that when we triumph over ego, we become the light of consciousness – in other words, we are the light that we are looking for.

In contrast, Jesus would say that we are the Light of the world and that he is the Light we are looking for.

Tolle begins to reference religions as ancient…by implication, he is suggesting that they are outdated, instead of timelessly relevant.

He also begins to reference his idea that sin is a madness, a dysfunction of who we truly are.

Page 9: Equates sin with dysfunction => it is not a selfish choice.

He also interprets the NT Greek word “sin” as something that means missing the point of our human existence. This shows his shallowness of New Testament knowledge. The word for sin actually means to miss the mark – standard or expectation – that God has set for us. It’s not about our human existence; it’s about disappointing God.

Page 10: SIN = MADNESS…which will mean that we are not personally accountable for our sinful actions. This is New Age Narcissism.

Tolle begins the old argument that religion breeds violence and conflicts.

Page 11: Talks about the horrors of Stalin, Hitler and Pol Phot – Agreed. He also emphasizes the environmental wreckage of the planet that is brought about by our greed.

Page 12: Fear, greed, and the desire for power are the psychological forces that cause most conflicts. Tolle believes that they cause a misconception and distortion of our true human perception.

Dysfunction entirely replaces sin. Tolle suggests that we cannot get rid of this dysfunction without a shift in our consciousness. This means that there is no room for Christ as our Savior.

Page 13: We cannot be good by trying to be good; we can only do this by finding the good within ourselves.
This opposes Christ’s teaching: only God is good. For Tolle, there is no source of good outside of us…therefore Man replaces God.

Tolle: Good News – radical transformation of human consciousness. He is deliberately using the Gospel term to proclaim his own philosophy. This is in direct contrast to Christian teaching and promotes a false gospel.

Tolle suggests that Jesus called enlightenment ‘salvation.’ Tolle: salvation is truly understanding yourself….but for Christ salvation is the realization of needing to be rescued from God’s wrath and the process through Christ’s sacrifice in which it is done.

Page 14: Self-recognition is the greatest human achievement --- narcissism all over again.

Recognizing our insanity/dysfunction is the beginning of healing and transcendence….Jesus is kicked into the gutter and the Cross is absolutely useless.

Page 15: Tolle writes about the original teachings of religious leaders being changed through the generations and were not part of the original ministry. He is subtly attacking the veracity of the Gospels. He furthers expresses his own opinion that the unpopularity of the teachers’ teaching got them killed, which made others worship them as gods.

This is an attack on Christ’s ministry of atonement through sacrifice and His divinity as the Son of God.

Tolle also states that religions are more divisive than unifying – that’s an old argument which doesn’t hold water. Religions unify millions upon millions of people.

Tolle then expresses his rejection of some being right and others wrong. This is the modern non-absolutionists’ argument…there are no rights or wrongs…Goes against Gospel teaching.

Tolle suggests that Man made God in his image. Humanism. This is a direct attack on our Creator. He suggests that we have reduced the infinite and un-nameable to a mental idol. Christians, however, worship God as Christ’s Father.

Page 16: Tolle writes that the real message is the truth that lies within us…narcissism again. As opposed to Christ being The Truth.

Tolle references Gnosticism as a rediscovery of the real truth and intensification of the light. Obviously, he has not read the texts and is caught up in a false Da Vinci Code moment.

Gnosticism is emphasized as a true realization and inner transformation of self…and yet they rejected the physical self and believed that the body is bad.

Page 17: Tolle belabors the point that only a small minority had access to these truths because the Church oppressed and suppressed them. Obviously he hasn’t read the history of Gnosticism and its cultic practices.

Tolle extols the differences between spirituality and religion. This is what Christ also taught, BUT Jesus did not abandon His religion – He still went to synagogue to teach and to worship on the Sabbath.

Tolle suggests that our religious beliefs systems separate us from the spiritual dimensions within ourselves…Tolle is subtly enticing people away from God…our spiritual navels are more important that our relationship with God.

Page 18: Tolle writes about new spirituality movements arising out of the existing religious structures…for example, the New Emergent Church in Christianity.

Tolle describes the Western Church as the most mind dominated faith on the planet…he is going to equate this with egotism. He does not however, suggest that the Church’s domination saved civilization and actually engendered enlightenment.

Begins to state the old New Age argument that ancient Eastern wisdom is beginning to influence the West, as if the Eastern ways were better….but look at the state of most countries with Eastern wisdom…they are practically the poorest and most oppressed on earth! Did Eastern wisdom spawn documents like the Magna Carta or Declaration of Independence? Liberty and life are more valued in Western Church countries than in Eastern wisdom nations.

Tolle suggests that we let go of dogma in order to discover the true spiritual depth within ourselves…in other words experience spiritual narcissism over the teachings of the Church.

Page 19: Any opposition to Tolle new transformational conscious is called the ‘entrenchment of ego.’ He is stating that institutionalized religion is about idolizing the institution, but he has missed the point altogether. Religious institutions normally exist to serve God, not the believer.

Tolle writes that the collective ego will fight back…in other words, churches will oppose his philosophy.

They will be mentally closed to his ideas…no, we disagree with them. It comes down to this: whom do we trust? Tolle and Oprah, or Christ and God?

Tolle declares that religious institutions will disintegrate from within…but we’ve heard this all before – Voltaire & the French Revolution, as well as Soviet Communism (which lasted 100 years), but the Church still survives and thrives. Atheism & New Age keep declaring the death of God and the Church…but the fact is this: the Church is still growing worldwide.

Page 20: Tolle argues that through the process of evolution, species & life forms will either become extinct or rise above their limitations…to survive requires an evolutionary leap.

He writes about evolutionary processes…but these are physical changes, not spiritual ones.

Page 21: Tolle’s controversial statement about spiritually evolving or dying – This is fascism…submit or die…spiritual eugenics. He then claims that he is not promoting a new belief system…but that is precisely what he and Oprah are establishing.

Page 22: Tolle urges his readers not to take their identity from the old ways of consciousness. Yet Christians belong to Christ. Our spiritual identity is established in Him. Tolle is subtly arguing that we ditch Christ for ourselves.

Tolle then questions the reality of evil. It’s a matter of dysfunction and madness for him. If evil is not real according to Tolle, then Christ is the Savior of nothing and His death is meaningless.

Page 23: Tolle states that he took the title of his book from scriptural references…Isaiah 65:17 and Revelation 21:1. He argues that the new heaven and new earth represent his transformational consciousness as reflected in the physical realm. He believes that this is what Christ taught…that the new heaven and new earth are not places, but new transformational ideas.

However, both scriptures emphasize places…

Isaiah 65:17-18 "Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.

Revelation 21:1-2
21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.

Tolle is falsely advocating his view as being the same as Christ’s.

He ends the chapter with a suggestion that human life and human consciousness are intrinsically one with the planet…but this is not what Genesis teaches.

Tolle suggestion is perhaps borrowed more from the movie “Excalibur,” when the secret of the Holy Grail is discovered…that Arthur and the Land are one.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Presbyterian SNL (Sermon Night Laugh)

Alright folks. People say that we Presbyterians are very somber, too serious, and totally unhumorous. Let's show them that they're wrong.

Here's a scene from Iron Man with John Calvin viewing the movie. Any captions come to mind? Any Biblical quotes or Institutes illustrations? Only one rule: keep them clean.


If enough people respond, we could set up a regular contest. Now to get back to my sermon...