Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunday Devotions: Accepting Jesus - Luke 4:24

Luke 4:24 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown.”

We live in a strange age. Our society and civilization, our culture and traditions have all been shaped, established, and blessed by Christianity. The freedoms we share have been formed by the faith we once held dear. In fact, if we were to erase Christianity from the last two thousand years of history, most of us would be serfs or slaves, ignorant and illiterate, cruelly treated and cast aside.

That’s what makes the living of these days very strange because Western society, in Europe and the Americas, is turning its back upon Christ, the true Founder of our freedoms and faith. It’s as if today’s verse from Luke could be rewritten to read: “No Savior is accepted in His world.”

Jesus lived and died almost two thousand years ago, but His Spirit still captivates most of the religious hearts and minds in other places throughout the world. Africa is a prime example of this. At the beginning of the 20th century, 9% of the population was Christian and 36% were Islamic. A hundred years later, when we reached the year 2000, 40% of the African population was Islamic and over 44% of the population was Christian. The same thing is happening in China, where it has been estimated that by 2030 1.5 billion people will be Christians. Christ’s Church is growing at a rapid rate throughout the Earth, and yet on His home turf of Western Society people are forgetting what they really owe to His words and ways, His godliness and Gospel.

This morning our church has been closed due to the icy weather, so our people at Erin cannot collectively worship God. But for those of you who are reading this today, I want to say “Thank You” for taking time to accept Jesus into your heart and homes through the reading of God’s Word and the blessing of His Spirit.

Prayer:                        Lord Jesus, enable us to reconnect to Your words and ways, to find the time to rekindle our faith in order to make a recommitment to You. Help us to remember past days when we have needed You in our lives and the times that we have worshiped in our hearts and homes, as well as in our churches and cherished holy places. Thank You for being the Savior of our souls and the Lord of our lives. 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

Today’s picture is John’s latest drawing called “Moonlight over Maybole West,” featuring his first parish church. If you would like to see a larger version of the picture, please click on the following link:

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Lenten Prayer and Study Resources

Lent is almost here! Some of you may be looking for some resources for small group study or prayer for the Lenten season.

So...let's share! What are you using this year, or have you used in the past, that you can recommend to others?

The PCUSA publication Presbyterians Today offers a Lenten Devotional Guide. Justice Seeker recommends the prayer guide on Sacred Space. This site also has a self-directed one day retreat you may want to look at. The Upper Room offers a free Lenten devotional study guide each year that can be used with a small group. Here's the link to the 2010 study.

Some churches write their own Lent devotions or studies for their congregations. If yours does, and it is available on the church website, please share it in the comments!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Welcome Mat

I'm shoveling off the mat to greet our newest (updated) member to the unofficial PC(USA) web ring, James Kim of God Revolution: Thoughts and Reflections of a guy doing his best to love God, love people, and serve the world.

James has been blogging for three years, is a self-described conservative evangelical PC(USA) pastor, and has recently relocated from Texas to Washington state. He's also a husband and "daddy to 4 awesome kids."

Rev. Kim has some fabulous posts over at God Revolution; please go check him out!

(Note to James: I'm sorry the application process at Ringsurf was onerous. We have no control over how many characters a blog description must be; that's set by Ringsurf.)

My apologies to all. I'm a blog administrator on four blogs. (tongue-in-cheek) Shockingly enough, I'm not keeping up very well. (/tongue-in-cheek) But changes are afoot: new bloggers and new features are coming soon!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Read and Learn -- CT's Book Awards

Christianity Today has posted the 2010 Christianity Today Book Awards. The editors have chosen a winner and one or two Awards of Merit in the following categories: Apologetics/Evangelism, Biblical Studies, Christianity & Culture, The Church/Pastoral leadership, Christian Living, Fiction, History/Biography, Spirituality, Missions/Global Affairs and Theology/Ethics.

I have read exactly none of the winners.

Several look quite interesting, though, but I am more attracted to the Award of Merit winners (i.e., the runners up) than to the winners. For instance, ITold Me So: Self-Deception and the Christian Life by Gregg A. Ten Elshof, the winner in Christian Living, sounds really good for me; but I'm a lawyer. I'm already an expert at lying to myself. The Award of Merit went to Singled Out: Why Celibacy Must Be Reinvented in Today's Church by Christine A. Colon and Bonnie E. Field.

Although, I must admit that the winner in Biblical Studies sounds far more interesting than the runner-up. Sin, a History by Gary A. Anderson v. The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians by Gordon D. Fee just really isn't much of a contest.

Still, all pretty tame, CT kinds of stuff -- well, not quite. Did you ever think you would see an Anne Rice book on the CT book awards? Me neither, but an Award of Merit for fiction went to Rice's Angel Time.

The Award of Merit for History/Biography is the only thing that has made my to-read list. I just couldn't resist, The Sisters of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Discovered the Hidden Gospels by Janet Soskice. I may not get to it too soon, but I'll let you know when I do.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Sunday lectionary devotions: Psalm 36 - The Lost Ring

Psalm 36: 7     How priceless is your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings.

My wife Evelyn lost her engagement ring the other day. She had put some hand cream on her fingers and the ring must have slipped off. She left a message on my cell phone to let me know. It saddened both of us to think that something so significant could be lost.

We bought the engagement ring with my last tax rebate before I went to college to study to become a minister. That was thirty years ago. I can remember shopping for it in Glasgow’s Argyle Arcade where most couples in the city bought their rings. It was an exciting time for us and eventually we found the one clustered diamond ring that Evelyn liked after wandering from store to store. It cost us every penny that we owned at the time, and through the years it has become priceless.

Thankfully, Evelyn found the ring on the carpet next to her exercise bike. That was both a moment of relief and jubilation. This weekend, we’ll be taking it to a jeweler to have a clip put on it. We both don’t want the ring to be lost ever again.

When the writer of Psalm 36 talks about God’s unfailing love, he calls it ‘priceless.’ He cannot buy God’s love nor can he compare it to anything else in the whole universe. Believers in Christ know and understand this to be true, for how can we put a price on complete and everlasting salvation? How can we estimate the cost of Christ’s atonement for our sins?

Prayer:                        Lord Jesus, You are priceless to each and every one of Your followers. We can never repay the debt that we owe to You for redeeming our souls and restoring us to God. Thank You for such wonderful, amazing, and priceless love. In Your Holy Name, we cheerfully 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

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Read and Learn -- Blogging and Communication

I belong to a decent sized church. Like most we have a Sunday bulletin with announcements, a newsletter, a weekly email about the sermon; all of which I read faithfully. That puts me in a pretty small group from what I hear. So, on one hand I hear that many people in the Congregation don't read all of the Church news made available. On the other hand, I do read it all; and I still am frequently surprised about things that are going on. My guess is that isn't unusual. I have made the following suggestion to my church and would love comments or suggestions.

A blog, preferably a multi-column format so that different topics could be grouped into different feeds. This has to be lay run -- NO STAFF. I want the people doing things -- signing up families for Angel Food, singing in the choir, decorating for Christmas, working with a local homeless addict, serving on committees, teaching Sunday School, planning retreats and mission trips -- all the stuff going on in the church to post human interest kinds of things on one or another of the blog feeds. No ads, no staff, nothing formal just human interest stories, ideas being talked about in committees, problems with the new security system; just stuff. No full names, no personal info. The church newsletter can pick up a couple of the posts to include in each issue of the printed newsletter.

I see this as potentially solving three problems. First, assuming that I can get people from throughout the church to contribute and their friends all start reading, word should spread pretty rapidly about the things that are happening around us. Second, there is nothing more likely to encourage involvement than to see someone else who is just like you (and not clergy or other paid staff) involved. Third, it should provide great content for search engine spiders enhancing the Church's own Internet presence.

I realize that keeping the feeds fed will be difficult, and might be impossible. Trying to find the people to keep content flowing may be more than I can handle. Assuming, however, that the content end is manageable; what problems do you see and what do you think will come of it?


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Helping Haiti: Good News

Mark 1:15            "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!"

We talk a lot in church about the good news, but do we actually take it to others?

I’m thinking about the horrific devastation that has taken place in Haiti since yesterday and the hundreds of thousands of lives that have been taken away by the terrifying earthquake. It’s one of the poorest countries in the world and it’s right on our front porch. How can we talk about good news in the church when our neighbors are dying in poverty, squalor, and cataclysm?

Our town was raging last night about the sudden departure of our football coach. People were out on the streets of Knoxville angry and furious, feeling betrayed and embittered. This morning our local newspaper has devoted many pages to football. But it’s just a game; the devastating earthquake in Haiti is a disastrous reality.

If we’re actually serious about the good news of the Gospel, then we will mobilize our churches to begin collecting money and supplies for the devastated people of Haiti. The good news that they need right now is to know that they are not isolated in their grief and that they are not cast off by the rest of the world. These people are amongst the poorest on earth and right at this moment we need to stop focusing on our own little problems and insignificant worries. We need to show them compassion and love. We need to embrace them in their darkest time. We need to comfort, support, and rebuild their lives.

This coming Sunday, I’m going to ask our congregation to hold a special offering for the people of Haiti. Our first response will be to send money to buy and ship the supplies, food, and medicine that are desperately needed. We’ll do this through the Presbyterian Disaster Agency so that help can get there quickly. Then we’ll approach the Red Cross and other relief agencies to see what supplies we can gather that will help.

That’s how the good news of Jesus Christ operates. In the midst of death, there is the promise of resurrection. At a time of despair, there is hope.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, what can we do to help Your people in Haiti? How can we show them the good news of Your love? Grant us the focus to use our resources and our money to alleviate as much suffering as we can. Allow us opportunities to restore and rebuild this nation. 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

If you would like to help the Haitian people now, you can give online to the Presbyterian Disaster Agency at the following link:

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Only in Scotland or a Worrying Trend???

From today's Scotsman newspaper...

Union sets up hotline to help church ministers who are victims of bullying

Published Date: 10 January 2010
By Mark Smith

DOZENS of Scottish clergy have contacted a new hotline to claim they are being bullied or harassed by their parishioners.

The helpline has been set up by the trade union Unite, which says intimidation of ministers and priests from all denominations is a hidden problem.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Presbyterians Today: Minister Mothers

The January-February issue of Presbyterians Today (the official PCUSA magazine) is built around the theme of Minister Mothers. As many of you know, I write a column for PT called "Best of the Blogs". The purpose of that column is to highlight bloggers and blog posts that would be of particular interest to Presbyterians Today readers.

Following the theme of this issue, I wrote about "Online Minister Moms" , three of whom are also PresbyBloggers: Jan Edmiston of A Church for Starving Artists, Carol Howard Merrit of Tribal Church, Melissa DeRosia of Sacred Screaming. All three offered thoughtful comments about the role of blogging, Facebook and Twitter in their ministries.

You may can check out the rest of the issue which is posted online here.

I'd love to have your suggestions for future "Best of the Blogs" articles. If you have some, please leave them in the comments.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Happy New Year!

MB at 1000 thoughts/second is doing something new with her blog this year.

A New Way of Being: Living 2010 as a Spiritual Practice

After years of thinking that the ideal life is one that is authentic, fully integrated and non-compartmentalized, I've begun to see the limitations of that short (though worthy of pursuit) list. This year I am going to experiment with living all of life - as a whole - as a spiritual practice. I'm guessing in many ways this will be similar to beginning an intentional practice of living a more contemplative life.

"1000 thoughts per second" is definitely the way my brain works, so I am very interested in finding ways both to intentionally slow down and to effectively use my brain's natural way of processing information. Some of my content will be related to these 1000 thoughts per second and some will be specifically oriented to this journey toward Living 2010. Your ideas for being faithful stewards of a more intentional way of living are welcome in the comments. Or email me if you have something you'd like me to read or to comment on.

Peace & Presence, MB

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Sunday lectionary devotion: Bounty - Jeremiah 31 v 14

Jeremiah 31:14 I will satisfy the priests with abundance, and my people will be filled with my
bounty," declares the LORD.

One of my all-time favorite movies is "Mutiny on the Bounty", starring Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard. My Dad took me to it when it was first released in Britain. I was six years old at the time and although I didn't really understand it, I loved the Polynesian scenery, the old British naval costumes and, of course, the galleon itself. Years later, when I grew interested in building plastic airplanes, cars and ships, my Uncle Ian gave me model of the Bounty, which he patiently made and painted as a teenager.

"Bounty" is a word that we normally associate with rewards for capturing wanted outlaws, but in this context the old Hebrew word "tuwh" means something beautiful, something that gladdens the heart, and something that benefits the beholder. So when God declares that He will fill His people with His bounty, He is promising to do something beautiful that will gladden the people and strengthen them.

Today, we can experience the same through the gift of the Holy Spirit in our churches, homes and hearts. Christ's bounty is gladly given to Christian believers, so that we can share these cherished blessings to our broken community. And in the midst of a sad and dangerous world, the bounty of God's blessings is much needed amongst us.

Prayer: Bountiful God, we thank You for the beautiful blessings that bring gladness and strength into our lives. Help us to share these gifts with those who need to know of Your love and who seek Your loving grace. In Jesus' Name, we pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. He also writes the weekday devotional blog Heaven's Highway.