Monday, December 15, 2014

Worship devotion: What is Worship - Mark 7:7

Mark 7:7         They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.

            What is the purpose of worship? Why does it exist and is it relevant in today’s world for 21st century Christians?

            Simply stated, the purpose of worship is to glorify God. We gather together bringing Him our songs of praise, our heartfelt prayers, our hard earned gifts, and our minds to receive a message from His Word. From the beginning to the very end, worship should have this common theme: it’s all about God and it’s all for God. God is the audience and we present our praise to Him. If we come away from our worship services and say, “I didn't get anything out of the service,’ then there’s nothing wrong about that: Worship is about what we give and is never about what we get.

            Because we live in a consumerist society, we expect something in return for our time, our talents, and our gifts. If that’s how we view worship, then we’re no longer worshiping; we’re actually shopping for something spiritual to take with us. This is why some people shop from one church to another – they’re looking for what they can get, instead of seeing what they can give. They end up with something bland and dissatisfying, and can never truly find what they are looking for.

            Worship challenges our consumerist mentality and makes us honestly look at our faith. If we’re too preoccupied with ourselves, we’ll miss the point. If we’re too focused on something else during worship, we’ll become distracted, and eventually disconnected to God. God never expects to be worshiped nominally, vainly, or disinterestedly. He expects us to focus on Him, to praise Him, to keep our hearts and minds tuned to Him, in order to truly worship Him.

            So, next time we find ourselves at a worship service, let’s forget about us and totally worship Him.

Questions for personal reflection

How do I prepare myself for worship on Sundays? What can I bring and give to God in worship?

Prayer:            Lord God, help us to embrace the true meaning of worship. Enable us to become attentive to Your will during worship, so that we may please You with our praises and glorify You in our prayers. 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 ask questions or make comments about today’s message, please send him an email to

Today’s image is one of John’s latest Christmas drawings called ‘Star Angel.’ If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link: Angel.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Gospel devotion: A Woman's Touch - Mark 5:21-34

Mark 5:27-29            When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, "If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed." Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

            It’s one of the most remarkable healing stories in the New Testament. An elderly lady, completely unassisted and acting alone, secretly touches Christ’s robe and instantly she is healed of a chronic illness which has impoverished her. It’s a desperate act of a woman who has spent everything she owned to cure her blood disease. Jesus is her one last great hope, but she is so demeaned by her illness that she cannot bring herself to publicly ask for His help. She is ashamed of the disease which condemns her to being constantly ritually unclean by her religion. All that she wants to do is to be cured and go on her way. No one notices her; no one can help her with her plight. She is all alone in the midst of the people who are crowding Jesus. She is isolated from any act of compassion or kindness from her own community.

            But her act of faith does not go unnoticed. For some strange reason, Jesus feels His divine power being drained from Him by her act of faith. He knows that someone has touched Him seeking healing. He has felt God’s power being channeled out of His own body. Perhaps it felt like an electric current passing through Him to her. Perhaps she felt a wave of energy coming out of Christ to her. Whatever the case and however it occurred, one thing was certain: Jesus knew.

            The woman is scared out of her wits when she is discovered. She has tried to avoid public shame by keeping her disease a secret. Now she is being exposed as someone who has stolen God’s gift from Jesus. She fears humiliation and punishment, but instead she receives mercy, grace, and encouragement from Christ. He is not angry that she has taken something holy from Him; instead, He is glad that her faith in Him has made her well. He does not chide or condemn; instead, Jesus praises and blesses her. He has restored her to God’s favor, as well as the community. He has given her back her life by commending her faith. Christ has blessed her with a new beginning.

            Perhaps you are seeking a blessing from God, a hurt to be healed, a situation to be sorted, or something painful to be resolved. Maybe you don’t know how to put your request into words; perhaps you cannot even voice a prayer. As Jesus would often say, “Fear not! I am with you.” Allow His Spirit to enter you; permit His comfort to support you; let His love sustain you. He has God’s power to protect you, direct you, and even correct you because He totally accepts you. Your faith in Him can make you well; your belief in Him can grant you a new beginning. Take it, receive it, and be renewed.

Questions for personal reflection

What would I like Jesus to do for me? What would He like me to do for Him?

Prayer:           Lord Jesus, heal us of all that harms us in body, mind, heart, and soul. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. If you would like to ask questions or make comments about today’s message, please send him an email to

Today’s image is one of John’s latest Blue Christmas Candle drawings, simply called “Blue Christmas.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link: Blue Christmas

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Church devotions: A Winter's Tale - Mark 4:21

Mark 4:21       Jesus said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don't you put it on its stand?”

            Many years ago, when I was in 5th grade, I almost foolishly set fire to my home. It was during a cold winter’s night when there was an unexpected power cut in our street. I think I was doing my homework at the time, so I asked for a candle from my parents and took it into my bedroom. Everything went well until I dropped my pencil and it fell below my bed. Without thinking, I took the candle on the plate and put it under the mattress to see where my pencil had fallen.

            Whoosh! Flames spread out below the bed and across the dust on the carpet beneath. I quickly grabbed the candle away and managed to douse the flames. Another couple of seconds and the whole bed would have been ablaze, possibly catching fire to the wallpaper and around the room. Fortunately, there was very little damage and my parents or siblings never knew what had taken place.

            Reading today’s passage (Mark 4:21-29) always makes me think of my stupidity. Putting a candle under the bed illuminates nothing but can inflame everything. Jesus was, of course, talking about how the kingdom of God should be displayed throughout our lives. Our faith is not something that we are meant to keep to ourselves; we are supposed to proclaim our Christianity through our words and deeds, so that others may see Christ’s work in the world and be attracted to Him through our positive witness.

            At some point this week, we will all be given special opportunities to show our faith. As Christians, we are encouraged to share who Christ is with our families and friends, our fellow workers and neighbors. It’s never easy to do and sometimes we would like to hide our faith, but perhaps we should remember this: someone else shared their faith with us, so shouldn't we be doing the same?

Questions for personal reflection

Where am I currently most challenged to share my faith? Am I willing to let Christ’s light shine through me?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, help us to actively and positively share our faith with someone else today. Keep us focused on Your ministry and mission. Enable and encourage us to support Your Church as it spreads Your Kingdom throughout the world. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. If you would like to ask questions or make comments about today’s messages, please send him an email to

Today’s image is one of John’s latest Advent drawings. It’s called “A Christmas Wreath.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link: Wreath.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Church devotion: No Limits - Mark 3:35

Mark 3:35       “Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother."

            As church people, we are meant to be brothers and sisters in Christ. Our identity is defined through Him and, by our faithful works in the world for Him, people should be able to see that we are united. The trouble is this: the world sees a fragmented church which is constantly in turmoil and being broken by inner conflicts. Instead of being the vehicle of Christ’s peace, healing, and grace, His Church has become a symbol of religious strife, constant battling, and sadly, self-righteousness.

This is a complete shame because the world needs Christ more than ever. His words and ways, His life and love could repair a lot of the damage and destruction that is experienced all over this planet. Poverty and ignorance, illness and despair could be effectively diminished if Christ’s people could totally unite and fight the real foes of humanity. Tragically, Church people have got into the habit of creating doctrinal divisions and are rent asunder by definitions of what is sacred. I include myself in this tragedy because I have often compounded some of these issues, conflicts, and separations.

            I often hear preachers preaching messages about getting back to the basics, but what they really urge is a conforming to past doctrinal truths and rigid religious rules. I understand that structure is important, however I am more inclined to think that you can’t theologically systematize and narrowly limit God’s grace, goodness, and love.  If God’s love is everlasting and His grace is infinite, then how can there be boundaries? If there is a limit to God’s love, then doesn't that also mean that God cannot love the unlovable, which may further mean that He is limited, finite, and impeded by a boundary that He cannot cross?

            Boundaries remind us that we are finite, mortal, frail, limited, and human. Jesus invites us to cross the limitations that are set upon us by aligning and uniting our lives to Him. He becomes our way of rising above our boundaries in order to be restored, reconnected, and reunited to the boundless grace and love that belongs to God. Through Christ, the unlovable are loved, the unreachable are reached, and the sinful saved. And when we faithfully do His work in the world beyond church world, we are further blessed to become not just brothers and sisters in Christ, but also brothers and sisters of Christ. In other words, we are adopted by Him into the everlasting heart, life, and love of God.

Questions for personal reflection
Where can I work for Christ and do God’s will today? How can I encourage others in church and my community to do the same?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, we seek to truly serve You and yearn to please You. Today, and throughout this week, You will give us opportunities to share Your love and grace with other people. Help us to do all that we can to do God’s will among our families and friends, our neighbors and community. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

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

Today’s drawing is John’s latest Nativity picture called “Outsiders.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link: Outsiders.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Short devotion for meeting: Before the Altar - 2 Kings 19:14

2 Kings 19:14             Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD. 

            Sometimes it’s not good to be king. Take Hezekiah, for instance. A faithful and wise ruler, who sought to please God and bring peace to his people. Throughout most of his reign things were going well, and then the Assyrian army shows up and besieges the city of Jerusalem, threatening to destroy everything and everyone in it. Ouch! So much for being faithful to God.

            Hezekiah knew that the Assyrians were powerful. He understood that they could overrun Jerusalem and overwhelm the people. He was also under no delusions about his own fate when the city was defeated – the Assyrians would put him in chains and cut out his eyes, making him a laughing stock to the haughty Assyrian leaders and humiliated before his own people.  In other words, for Hezekiah, it was not good to be king.

            But the old ruler knew of a power greater than the Assyrian army; he had faith in his Almighty God. The king believed in the LORD of hosts who could destroy Judah’s enemies and deliver the people of God. So Hezekiah took the ultimatum letter he had received from the Assyrian general and placed it on the altar in the temple. He sincerely and humbly appealed to God for the deliverance of the people. He expressed to God that the Assyrians had insulted the LORD and that they deserved to be punished. He placed the letter before God to let Him see what was written. He prayed from his breaking heart and the LORD for help. As king, he could have negotiated a peace which may have allowed him to escape, but his people would have been enslaved. Instead, Hezekiah took the matter directly to God and asked Him to intervene. This wasn't a gamble; this was a real act of faith which God honored.

            We all carry burdens in our hearts and worries in our minds. Perhaps we should write down our problems, issues, and fears, and then present what we've written to God. Sometimes the writing down of what we feel clarifies the problematic situations we are experiencing. By giving them wholly over to God and seeking His help, we may begin to turn those circumstances around in positive and effective ways. As long as we are willing to pray, God is always ready to listen.

Questions for personal reflection

What is currently worrying me the most? Am I willing to completely hand over this worry in prayer, or do I keep cradling it in my heart?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, You once taught that people should not be anxious about tomorrow because there are enough problems to deal with today. You were teaching Your followers and us that the future is in God’s hands, so we should concentrate on what is presently happening. Help us to come to You today with our worries and concerns, issues and problems. Grant us the courage to leave them in Your care. Guide us throughout today. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. If you would like to ask questions or make comments about today’s message, please send him an email to

Today’s image is one of John’s latest snowman drawings called “Best Buddies.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link: Buddies.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Church Meeting devotion: Street Corners - Matthew 22:9

Matthew 22:9 Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.' 

            When I first became a Christian, I wanted to tell everybody about Jesus. He filled my heart and my life with an amazing and wonderful joy. It was a liberating experience for me because from the moment that I gave my heart to Jesus, my life changed.

            On some Saturday nights, instead of going to the city pubs, I joined a group of young folks who stood on street corners in the city center, preaching the Gospel to any passers-by. Sometimes we were jeered and mocked; on other occasions, people stopped to listen, although most of them were drunk. I don’t know if we changed any lives, but it did change us. It made us more connected to Christ and more willing to serve Him wherever He sent us.

            When I look back on those times I often envy those young free-spirited Christians. These days, I preach from the safety of behind a pulpit or a laptop. The message is still the same, but it doesn’t have that raw and wild component to it. There’s a lack of spontaneity, and sometimes a lack of spirit.

            I think this is why Presbyterians are losing ground across the world. We don’t like chaos or improvisation; we feel compelled to present the message decently and with order. We want to lecture people about the faith instead of living it. We want to safely control the Spirit and keep things cozily contained, instead of being moved by the Spirit and sent out into the shopping malls and city streets.

            Perhaps the real point of today’s parable (Matthew 22:1-14) is that Christians are meant to invite people to participate in God’s Kingdom. We get too focused on church attendance and denominational concerns that we forget that Christ’s real work is out there on the city streets and in the busy malls.

Questions for personal reflection

Have I shared my faith with someone else recently? Have I displayed the reality of God’s Kingdom where I live, where I work, and where I shop?

Prayer:           Lord Jesus, You want to invite everyone to come to Your Kingdom and celebrate with God. Forgive us for being focused on too many other things, as well as for forgetting that Your ministry takes place mainly in the world, outside of the church. Grant us the courage and wisdom to share our Christian beliefs humbly and joyfully. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. If you would like to make a comment or ask a question about today’s message, please send him an email to

Today’s image is one of John’s popular Fall drawings. It features a wee chipmunk eating an acorn and is called “Fall Break.” If you would like to view a larger version of the drawing, click on the following link: Chipmunk.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Church devotion: A Good King - 2 Kings 15:6

2 Kings 15:6    As for the other events of Azariah's reign, and all he did, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Judah?

            Azariah began to reign over Judah when he was sixteen years old. According to the Bible, he was king for fifty two years. He was a good king, but we really don’t know anything about his reign. Today’s Bible verse hints at a book that has never been rediscovered – The Annals of the Kings of Judah. We don’t know what it contains because it was lost thousands of years ago, probably during the time of exile. There may have been many events, circumstances, and miracles during Azariah’s reign that would interest us, but we will never know of them unless archaeologists actually find those lost scrolls.

            The fact that he reigned over the nation for fifty two years must have meant that the land and his people had continuity, peace, and prosperity. Most of the countries around Judah were in turmoil at this time, so he must have been a strong leader, astute diplomat, as well as a wise king. Perhaps, one day in glory, we’ll get to hear about Azariah’s reign from his own lips because he appears to have been a very faithful king, too.

            In Shakespeare’s play ‘Julius Caesar’, Mark Anthony says this about the lives of leaders:
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;’

This, sadly, may be the case concerning Azariah’s life. Evil kings around him had their deeds recorded in the scriptures, but the life, work, and faithful ways of good King Azariah are unknown. Whatever he accomplished has been forgotten; how he faithfully served God is not remembered. However, this may be the case on Earth, but I don’t think that his goodness has gone unnoticed in the Heavenly realms.

            Sometimes faithful people despair at trying to be good. Taking and keeping the high road in personal circumstances, as well as against the tide of public opinion, can be grueling, exhausting, and often unrewarding. However, for those who endure despite the opposition, as well as the injustices smeared against them, the eternal reward is far greater than anything we can ever know, experience, or receive on Earth. As St. Paul wrote: “Blessings beyond our seeing, hearing, and knowing are prepared by God for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Questions for personal reflection

Where and when do I display the goodness of God in my life? What will other people remember about me?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, we try to be good people and faithful servants. We know that we don’t always succeed, but we pray that You will continue to grant us opportunities and circumstances that will allow us to positively witness to Your love, compassion, and kingdom. 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 ask questions or write a comment about today’s message, please send John an email to He enjoys reading and receiving your feedback.

Today’s image is one of John’s fun drawings for Halloween called “Text Hex.” If you would like to see a larger version of it, please click on the following link: Text Hex.