Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Hottest New GA Game: Jesus Says!

All week long, I watched the 218th General Assembly. It astounded me how many times people stated that Jesus would do this or say that to bolster their arguments. What a load of baloney! None of us were around with Jesus in New Testament times. We have no earthly idea about what He would do or say with regard to our cultural dilemmas and ecclesiastical issues. We question the authenticity of the Gospels and the authority of the scriptures. We transfer our own cultural preferences and see our own societal prejudices in the texts that were written by the people who truly knew Him.

We are a bunch of narcissistic hypocrites looking to justify our politically correct ways and cultural orientations. We cast aside our allegiance to Christ because we don’t want to submit to Him. We change what the Bible says because we want everybody to like us. And then we get up to the microphones and tell other people what Jesus would do as if He’s our best buddy, turning Him into a theological ventriloquist’s dummy by putting words into His mouth and thoughts into His head.

Bovine manure! We are the biggest bunch of failed followers in the history of Christianity and we have so diluted the Gospel that we have deluded ourselves into shaping Jesus like play dough and making Him a bobblehead character to sit beside our PCs. Our modern Presbyterianism is a theological tacky, mood manufactured, and cheapened grace of a faith. Even the word faith is false when applied to us – we have spiritual trends, and that’s about all.

Perhaps we still have time left. Perhaps we can return to what we once were. Perhaps the Church will go through a revival, instead of cultural capitulation and doctrinal denial. Philippians 2:9-11 can be the starting point.

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

John Stuart, aka Stushie, is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee

Friday, June 27, 2008

Very Interesting...and timely, too?

Va. judge: Church Secession law is constitutional
6/27/2008, 5:34 p.m. EDT
sd The Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Eleven conservative Episcopal churches won a legal victory Friday when a circuit court judge upheld a Virginia law allowing congregations to vote to secede from their parent denominations.

The conservative church members invoked the law to split from the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia after disagreements over the role of homosexuals in the church. Those churches seek to take tens of millions of dollars in property with them. But the diocese says it's entitled to the property and has a right to settle church disputes without state interference.

In a 49-page ruling, Circuit Judge Randy Bellows of Fairfax found that the state law breaks no rules governing the separation of church and state.

Read the rest of the story here

Pledge of Allegiance???

1 Corinthians 15:30 And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour?

The First Christians were incredible people. They came from all walks of life. Some were slaves and others were slave owners. Some were fishermen and others were merchants. Some were Jews and still others were Gentiles. Most were common folk who just wanted to get through life as peacefully and quietly as they could. But when they found Jesus, all of them had this in common – their lives were endangered.

Why did they do that? What made them public enemy number one as far as the authorities were concerned? Why did they put their lives on the line, as well as their families, throughout the Roman Empire? What was so important to them that made them stand up and be counted? What caused them to be harassed, hunted down, arrested, tortured, and executed in town after town, city after city, region after region?

After all, there were hundreds of religions that were tolerated throughout the Roman Empire. People of different faiths could live peaceably under the wings of the Roman eagle. What made these Christians so exclusive that brought down the wrath of the Emperor and his regional rulers across the vast Empire? If other religions could do it, then why couldn’t these followers of Christ? Why couldn’t they just be like everyone else?

They couldn’t do it because they were unlike other people. They endangered their lives because they wouldn’t swear loyalty to Caesar. Their loyalty was to Christ. They were His servants. He was their Lord. Their fealty was not to mighty Rome or its powerful Emperor. The First Christians pledged their allegiance to Christ, and they did this publicly, unashamedly, and uncompromisingly. Nothing stood between them and Jesus. It was all or nothing. It was His Way or none at all.

Fifteen hundred years later, Christianity had become a European institution. The Roman Empire was gone, but in its place a monolithic, monstrous, and corrupt hierarchy had arisen. Christian fealty was replaced with Church Law. People were being led astray from the original tenets of the faith. Salvation could be purchased with gold and positions of power were established through nepotism, cronyism, and bribery.

A few concerned Christians like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Knox longed for the Church to shed its sinful ways, in order to return to New Testament Christianity. Their loyalty was to Jesus and so, like their First century counterparts, they and their followers endured criticism, harassment, arrest and imprisonment, injustice and execution. Their allegiance was to Christ alone, and only faith in Him brought them salvation. Their courageous stance and theological endeavors brought forth the Reformation, which set people free from the scourge of medieval Catholicism and its ubiquitous corruption of Christ’s ways.

Four hundred years later, another group of courageous German Christians, spoke out against their Church. The people were guilty of pledging their lives to Nazi ideology and idolizing their insane leader as a militaristic and racist Messiah. The Reformed German Church was in danger of becoming apostate, and so a group of theologians, preachers, pastors, and lay people formed the Confessing Church. Once again, these Christians suffered for their uncompromising beliefs and complete allegiance to Christ. They would not surrender their faith to the predominant culture, nor would they sacrifice their fealty to Christ in order to live peaceably with their neighbors. They were beaten up and arrested, tortured by the Gestapo and sent to die in concentration camps. They were betrayed by the ecclesiastical authorities and ruthlessly silenced by the Fascists. Those who survived still persevered. After the war, their complete allegiance to Christ was vindicated and recognized throughout the entire world.

Just sixty years later, an American Presbyterian denomination, in an effort to be politically correct, to be socially acceptable, and culturally comfortable, rejected the courage of these past Christians, staunch Reformers, and German Confessors. When given the opportunity at the 218th General Assembly to publicly confess their loyalty to Christ in an overture from Sequoyah Hills Church in the Presbytery of East Tennessee, the commissioners twice deleted the word “allegiance” because they were uncomfortable with it. Instead of proclaiming their allegiance to Christ, they were more comfortable in saying that they shared a common faith. With the stroke of a pen and the scoring of a line through the word “allegiance,” the PC(USA) forsook its Christian heritage and capitulated to socially acceptable expressions.

In other words, had the PC(USA) been amongst the First Christians, they would have gladly thrown off their allegiance to Christ and paid their respects to Caesar. If Luther had been amongst these bold commissioners, he would have accepted the institutional shackles and given up any allegiance to Christ alone. And sadly, the same Assembly would have been like-minded with the majority of German Christians, giving way to what was politically correct under the Nazis, instead of confessing with the minority that their true allegiance rested in Christ alone.

Finally, the scriptures give us this warning from Christ Himself: If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. Luke 9:26

Prayer: O Lord, we may have stepped over a dreadful theological, ecclesiastical, and historical line that is offensive to You and detrimental to our Christian heritage. Help us to understand that allegiance is not simply a word that can be cast aside, but it is a condition of truly accepting You as Lord and Savior. Forgive us for cowering under social niceties and politically correct pressures. Grant us the courage to publicly pledge our allegiance to You, instead of embracing our stubborn pride and collective ambivalence. Give us the opportunity to stand with our courageous and noble predecessors, for whom allegiance to You was a costly and sometimes fatally commitment to make. In Your Holy Name alone, we pledge and pray. Amen.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

4 Minute Devotions: Holding On

The PC(USA) is holding its General Assembly in San Jose this week and I'm worried about the cultural decisions it may make. Why do we think that 21st century Christianity is any better than 1st century Christianity?

Podcast version here

I worry about the Church. Not my local congregation, but the denomination we are identified with. The PC(USA) is having its bi-ennial General Assembly this week, and I’m worried about the whole process.

Sometimes I think that I’m an old dinosaur for holding on to traditional beliefs. I feel as though I’m on a different journey than most of my peers and denominational colleagues. It can be very lonely, isolating, and draining on my soul. I just want to do the right thing, and I wish that the Church would do the same.

I struggle with many of the cultural issues and theological tangents that the denomination has become obsessed with. Everybody has their own agenda. Everybody wants their own way. Everybody desires to reshape the Church into something new, something emergent, or something progressive.

But what’s wrong with the old ways? Are they broken? What’s wrong with believing that the spiritual truths of the 1st Christian century are worth holding on to in the 21st century? Are we so sure that our cultural ways are right and that the first Christians are outdated, archaic, and wrong?

2 Thessalonians 2: 15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

I like what Paul has to say to the Thessalonian church: ‘Stand firm and hold on to the teachings we passed on to you.’ I understand that. I get that. I’m with him all the way. If we lose our grip of what we initially believed, then we’ve lost our faith, our purpose, and our Lord. If we allow the times to shape the Church, then we’ve set aside the Lord of Time. Christianity is not easy to believe; Christ is not an easy Teacher to follow, nor is He a soft King to serve. Our beliefs are meant to challenge our society, and our faith is meant to keep the message alive. Committees and councils, assemblies and organizations won’t do that for us.

It takes focus and determination, resolve and dedication, as well as commitment and humility to be real Christians. The disciples in the 1st century knew that; do 21st century Christians know it too?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are the Head of the Church, its Master and Leader, its Sovereign and King. If ever we needed You before, we sure do need You now. Guide us and goad us; lift us and lead us; push us and pull us until we do what You truly want, and not what we falsely desire. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. If you would like to comment on today’s message, please send him an email to:

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Out of Africa: The Massai Creed

My daughter Lauren is on a three month mission trip in Tanzania, Africa. Just north of her, are the Massai people, who have their own Christian creed.

Podcast version here

Most of you know that my youngest daughter Lauren is on a three month mission trip in Tanzania, Africa. She is working in a mountain town called Tabora, where she is leading a summer school program for orphaned children, whose parents have died from HIV/AIDS.

1 Corinthians 1:27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

Tanzania is mainly an Islamic country, but north of where Lauren is, the beautiful and noble Masai people live. Some of them are Christians and have a very sincere faith. About fifty years ago, they wrote a wonderful creed that just captivates everything about their Christian beliefs. They are largely poor people, but they are rich when it comes to faith. I’ve written out their creed in this message and I am certain it will touch your heart, just as it did mine.

The Masai Creed

We believe in the one High God, who out of love created the beautiful world and everything good in it. He created Man and wanted Man to be happy in the world. God loves the world and every nation and tribe on the Earth. We have known this High God in darkness, and now we know Him in the light. God promised in the book of His word, the Bible, that He would save the world and all the nations and tribes.

We believe that God made good His promise by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, a man in the flesh, a Jew by tribe, born poor in a little village, who left His home and was always on safari doing good, curing people by the power of God, teaching about God and man, showing the meaning of religion is love. He was rejected by his people, tortured and nailed hands and feet to a cross, and died. He lay buried in the grave, but the hyenas did not touch him, and on the third day, He rose from the grave. He ascended to the skies. He is the Lord.

We believe that all our sins are forgiven through Him. All who have faith in Him must be sorry for their sins, be baptized in the Holy Spirit of God, live the rules of love and share the bread together in love, to announce the Good News to others until Jesus comes again. We are waiting for Him. He is alive. He lives. This we believe. Amen.

Prayer: Lord God, we tend to think that our Western faith is strong and powerful throughout the world. You are teaching us, however, that the least amongst us and the weakest economically have a far greater hold of faith than we do. Help us to learn from the wisdom that You bestow upon Christian peoples of other nations. Open our hearts and minds to their simple, true, and devoted faith. In Christ’s Name, we pray. Amen.

John Stuart (aka Stushie) is the Scottish pastor at Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. If you would like to comment on today’s message, send him an email to

218th General Assembly: Sands of Time

When one of the first pieces of decided business in committees is about paying legal expenses for denominational schism issues, is it time to call it a day?

Sands of Time

What do you think?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Sunday Devotions: A Nice Surprise

Just when I thought I was going to have a painfully miserable day, the Spirit surprised me through the kindness of a stranger and fellow pilgrim.

Podcast version here

At this time of year, I find it difficult to type things on my keyboard. The dry heat of summer dehydrates my hands, and I end up with horrendously painful hacks on my fingertips. Ten years ago, it really didn’t bother me, but now that most of my work involves keyboarding, it can make me miserable.

Yesterday I was feeling that way and, because of the pain, I couldn’t put together a devotional. My weakness was hard to overcome and my heart yearned to write. I was feeling quite sorry for myself, when the Spirit blessed me with a beautiful and completely unexpected surprise.

A cardboard box was waiting for me at the church office. I thought it contained a couple of books that I ordered three days ago. When I looked at the label, I quickly realized that this was a different delivery. It was a special overnight package from Canada. I was both intrigued and excited at the same time.

Leslie in the office helped me open the box and we discovered another package tightly wrapped in special foil bubble wrap. I still didn’t know what it was, and it took me a couple of moments to break the seals. Inside I found another package which contained ice, and beneath it was a wonderful surprise. It was a special box of handmade Purdy chocolates from Vancouver. I had never tasted them before. I now know that they are deliciously exquisite.

There was no card with the package. Someone must have read my chocoholic devotional recently and kindly decided to send me the chocolates. They arrived at the best of times because I was feeling sorry for myself, and miserable about not being able to type a devotional. Instead of me writing to inspire someone else, a kind heart cheered me thoroughly with this beautiful gift. I don’t know who that person is, but I want to truly thank them for being so thoughtful.

Romans 8:26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.

Today, my hands feel better and my fingers are beginning to heal. The Spirit helped me in my weakness through the kindness of another Christian. Isn’t God wonderful?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, everyday You surprise us with the blessings from other Christians. Sometimes they offer us a kind word and a smile, a loving hug, or an act of kindness. This world is made more beautiful through the gifts of Your servants and the thoughtfulness of Your people. Thank You Lord for allowing us to be influenced by You and inspired by Your Spirit. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.
John Stuart is the pastor at Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee.
He writes the daily devotional "Heaven's Highway."

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tim Russert: Moving on Up

I liked Tim Russert. I think we all did. He was a good guy and he made TV politics captivating.

Moving on Up

We'll all miss him.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Sunday Devotions: The Quiet Life

Paul urges us to lead a quiet life, minding our own business, and working with our hands. It's a Christian pipe dream, because the world always invades our space. In China, a Christian businessman has been arrested for national security reasons because he was letting other Christians worship there. The crime is punishable by death.

Podcast version here

1 Thessalonians 4:11 Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you.

It sounds like the ideal way to live a Christian life. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all just get along together? Leading a quiet life and minding my own business seems like an idyllic way of existing. No squabbles, no arguments, no worries, and no concerns. Just keeping your head down, working at your business, and getting on with life. It would be heaven on earth.

But then reality invades my world and I realize that this is just a Christian pipe dream of Paul’s. Life is far from quiet and is in fact much too noisy. No matter how hard I try to mind my own business, someone always says or does something that affects me. And often, when I go to do my work, something occurs which changes my schedule and I have to set aside the projects I wanted to accomplish. I would love for Paul’s Utopia to exist, but unless I joined a silent monastery in a far off place, I’m never going to accomplish it.

I’m also reminded that Christians around the world don’t have it so easy either. Take Alimujiang Yimiti for example. He was quietly working at his business in Uyghur, China in September last year, when Chinese government officials closed it down. They stated that he was using his business as a cover for “preaching Christianity among the Uyghuri people.” Four months later, Alimujiang was arrested and accused of “subversion of the national government and endangering national security.” This crime is punishable by death. Ali has been in prison for six months awaiting trial.

So much for just living a quiet life and working with your hands! Ali became a Christian more than ten years ago and has been an active member of the growing Uyghur Church.

We Westerners get so upset in our churches when things don’t go our way, but I really wonder what we would do if we were threatened with arrest for national security reasons just because we are Christians? The things that are perhaps important to us pale into insignificance when we put them beside what Alimujiang and thousands of other Christians in China are enduring.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we all want our lives to be smooth and trouble-free. We want our needs to be met and our desires to be fulfilled. Sometimes we forget that our wishes and ways are not what You ask of us. Sometimes we need to be reminded that faith isn’t a leisure pursuit or a group activity; it’s a serious life commitment and one that others are being imprisoned, tortured, and even killed for, across the world. In Your Holy Name, we humbly pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. If you would like to comment on today’s message, please send him an email to:

Decoration Day Dilemma

Decoration Day

I know - this is not the kind of thing that you would expect to see on a Presbyterian Bloggers site. Whilst I may not agree with what some people use the old Confederate flag for, artistically it's a beautiful design. if I was making a stained glass window, this is probably how I would approach it.

Here in Knoxville, it's Decoration Day and some people will go down to the Old National Cemetery to commemorate the Civl War dead. They will be wearing Civil War uniforms and costumes, and the Confederate flag will be prominently displayed.

As a Scotsman, I do not have the Civil Rights controversial feeling surrounding this flag, but I would be deeply interested in your thoughts. Is this flag about heritage and history, or racism and revenge?