|Isaiah 2:4 He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
Years ago, I attended a church conference in Duluth, Georgia. It took place at the world-renowned Crosspointe Church and throughout the conference, I felt refreshed and renewed in my spirit. I enjoyed the worship and the preaching, the testimonies, and faith sharing. It was a very uplifting time for me and I still gladly remember it.
On the last day of the conference, I was listening to a conversation by one of the deacons at the church. He was explaining to a visitor that the church building used to be a Sidewinder Missile factory forty years ago during President Reagan’s administration. After the taking down of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent thawing of the Cold War, the factory was no longer needed. Eventually, the growing Crosspointe congregation bought the building and converted it into an amazing church space, where thousands of people gather each week to praise the Lord. Instead of a place of death and destruction, it has become a house of peace and prayer. The Lord has truly turned swords into plowshares!
In our own lives, we go through times of conflict and argument, disagreement and trouble. We fall out with family and friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Our hearts become hardened and our tongues fire verbal missiles that are meant to hurt, anger, or upset other people.
God wants to turn the swords of our spirits into plowshares of peace. As always, He has the power to make those changes, but we need to begin the process by swallowing our pride, humbling ourselves, and acting upon God’s guidance.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are the Prince of Peace to our planet and the Healer of the Nations. We pray that You will help us overcome the conflicts and disputes in our lives by leading us with Your Spirit to resolve the differences and disagreements we have with others. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.
John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. Come and join us for worship on Sundays at 11:00 AM. You will be made very welcome :)
1 Corinthians 5:3 Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present.
The apostle Paul didn't pull any of his punches, nor did he mince his words. He spoke directly and firmly, as well as candidly and clearly, which must have made him an awesome preacher in his day. Even now, when we all read his uncompromising words in 1 Corinthians 5, we flinch at his tone. In a sexually liberated society, we all have trouble dealing with his unyielding judgment.
Does this mean that Paul was wrong to write about sexual immorality? Are his words meant for an ancient time and therefore have no place in our present cultured Christianity? Do we find him offensive because his words reek of archaic authoritarianism and joyless judgmentalism, or are we pushing back because there’s a strong element of truth to his point?
Traditional Christians have sometimes been ridiculed and attacked for trying to maintain nineteenth-century standards in a twenty-first-century world. They are pressured to capitulate so that the whole Church can present itself to the current culture as being worthy of popular ideals. During the last part of the twentieth century, the Church went to war with itself over sexuality and marriage issues. The first two decades of this new century seem to be peppered with the same conflicts.
In my darkest moments, I mourn as the Church rips itself apart, at a time when the world is so divisive and broken. Our ministries become stagnant and our missions are harder to maintain. People become devoted to personal causes instead of the person of Christ. Jesus becomes just another religious teacher instead of the Redeemer Savior of the world.
And then I remind myself that the Church is the Bride of Christ, so He will not let it be diminished or blemished, anguished or finished. He continues His ministry and mission both in the Church and across the world. His promises are still being fulfilled and His words still bring people to God. His work never ends and His Kingdom will last forever. All we have to do is to continue to follow Him faithfully, even though we are all sinners and imperfect. His Way, His Truth, and His Life will always endure…and in the end, that is all that is important.
Questions for personal reflection
What is Christ doing in my community today? Is the Church there with Him?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, we are all struggling as Christians in a world that is constantly changing. We continually clash with one another and go to war over words, works, and ways. Forgive us and help us to be restored to one another so that we can effectively help to heal this broken world. In Your Holy Name, we humbly pray. Amen.
Today’s image is one of Bible card drawings. It’s taken from Psalm 113v3.
Matthew 5:43-44 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (NIV)
It was, and still is, the most profoundly radical religious teaching in the history of the world which sets Jesus apart from all other great philosophers or faith leaders. His bold words must have shocked His own people when they were initially uttered; their old Levitical laws demanded a fanatical hatred of enemies, which led to the total destruction of many established communities who were confronted by Joshua and his army as the Hebrews sought to secure their place in the Promised Land. This absolute hatred had been carried across the centuries, as well as the Jordan River, until it was foisted upon the Romans in Christ’s time. The Jewish people resented the imperial invasion and longed for the day when the Messiah would appear to vanquish all of their foes and restore their community to their proper place of being first among the nations and as the favored people of God.
When Jesus spoke about loving the enemy, it must have perplexed and infuriated some of His followers. They wanted Christ to be the Messiah, but this teaching about embracing their foes was not what any legitimate Messiah should be saying. Probably a number of people wrote Jesus off as being an appeaser of their enemies, a religious snowflake who snubbed their pious patriotism and put their destiny in jeopardy. It was as if He was bowing down before the Roman Imperial Standard and giving up His sacred Judaism.
There’s some truth in some of that because Jesus was extending their faith in unknown ways. He was tearing down the political and religious barriers which only served to divide people and destroy human kindness. In fact, Jesus was only preaching what God was already doing because sin had not only separated people from God; sinfulness meant that humanity had become enemies of God. If God had dutifully followed the old Levitical rules of hating and punishing His foes, then no people, no community, no nation or empire would survive, including the Jewish people. Instead, God chose love which is why God sent Christ into the world, so no wonder Jesus ended up radically preaching, “Love your enemies.” Jesus was just preaching what God was already practicing.
In these very divisive and partisan times, it’s very easy to treat people who disagree with us as our arch-nemesis and despicable foes. It’s even easier to mock and humiliate them through social media and end up feeling quite smug about what we’ve done. We buy into the world’s way of believing that fierce pride can excuse a multitude of sins. As long as we are sticking into our opponents and making them squirm, then we can maintain our standards and sustain our beliefs. However, if we claim to be Christian, then our beliefs originate with Christ who candidly tells us to love our enemies, and not to hound, harass, or hate them.
Who are my enemies and how do I love them?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, Your words often comfort and strengthen us, especially in times of trouble, fear, or distress. However, sometimes Your words challenge us directly and make us aware of what You demand of Your disciples and expect of Your followers. Prevent us from allowing our pride to jeopardize our faith; keep us from being unjust and judgmental. Help us to love our enemies. In Your Holy Name, we humbly pray. Amen.
Today’s image is one of John’s latest worship bulletin drawings called ‘Denial.’ If you would like to view a larger version, please click this link: Denial.
Isaiah 1:18 “Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”
I once didn't write a devotional for several weeks. A lot of things were going on in my life at that time – some good, some bad, some really sad. It was about the rockiest two weeks that I had known in quite a while.
Part of my writer's block was caused by some of the decisions that took place in my denomination. I tried to come to terms with it and sought to understand what occurred, but honestly, I did not have any real peace. It was a hard place for a leader to be in because if I lost my sense of God’s Spirit, then how could I know the right path to take on behalf of the people I shepherd?
When I am unsettled, my style is usually to retreat and get back to the basics. It’s like getting lost and then trying to retrace your steps in order to reach the point where things went wrong. In this case, I went right back to God’s grace, my need for repentance, and Christ’s love. Those are the points where my faith sprung from, so those seemed to me to be the very places that I spiritually needed to revisit.
In today’s verse from Isaiah, God is once again taking the initiative by allowing His people to turn from their sinful ways in order to rediscover their salvation. Even though their sins are as brazen as scarlet, God’s grace can clean and purify them completely. That’s where I need to be; that’s where we all need to be: at the wonderful moment of true grace where our sins are completely forgiven.
It’s from that turning point, at the foot of Christ’s Cross, that we can all begin again. So, that’s where I am this morning; are you here too?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are the Savior of our souls because Your sacrificial blood from the Cross has washed, cleansed, and purified us. We are made holy through Your sacredness; we are restored to God’s favor through Your righteousness. Help us today to kneel before Your Cross and to begin our faith journey anew. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.
John Stuart is currently the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. Come and join us for worship on Sundays at 11:00 AM. You will be made very welcome :)
Acts 2:46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.
I envy the First Christians. Their faith seemed very simple and straightforward. They worshipped and studied each day, and made time to frequently share meals and break bread together. They weren’t encumbered with almost two thousand years of ecclesiastical history, denominational divisions, or cultural conflicts. They just simply, purely, and innocently practiced their faith in cheerful, faithful, and joyful ways.
Where did we go wrong? What moved us off the simpler path to Christ? Christians today are fiercer than ever and fighting battles that are not important. Whenever I read something belligerently written by some Christian group, whether they be conservatives or progressives, which berates the other side, I feel bad inside. In the past, I’ve created and contributed to these self-righteous invectives, but I’ve now reached a point where I ask myself this: what does it prove? How does it help Christ’s Kingdom? What do people outside of the Church think of us?
I’d like to get back to those simpler days of sharing the Gospel and breaking bread together. I’d like things between all Christians to change, so I know that it has to begin with me. I may not get it right all of the time; I hope I don’t wander from the simpler path, but I know that the Church – whether local, national, or even international – can’t go on beating itself with its own stick. The world is broken and we need to be healers sent from Christ, but we can only do that if we honestly heal ourselves of our self-sustained prejudice, arrogance, and ignorance.
What is the role of the Church in the world? How does it present that role in my local community?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, we are all sinners saved by Your grace, but sometimes we forget that we are essentially unworthy and unholy. Redirect our lives and re-position us on a simpler path of faith. Cleanse us of ecclesiastical arrogance and cultural conflict. Teach us Your Way, so that we can faithfully present Your Truth and live Your Life. In Your Holy Name, we humbly pray. Amen.
John Stuart is currently the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. Come and join us for worship on Sunday mornings at 11:00 AM. You will be made very welcome :)
Today’s image is one of John’s latest drawings. It’s called “Spirit of Autumn.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click on this link: Spirit.
More Recent Articles