Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Good Friday devotion: From Life to Death - Hebrews 10:17-18

Hebrews 10:17-18      Then the Holy Spirit adds: "Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more." And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.

Every day, a past mistake or a deep regret crosses my mind and saddens my heart. I remember clearly the circumstances of my misdeed and the pain or disappointment that I caused. I feel ashamed at what I did, either as a teenager or an adult, a child or an old man. The past haunts my soul for a time and I shake my head miserably. Once again, I ask God for forgiveness; once again, I pray to Jesus for pardon.

The strange thing about this is that I’m not letting go of what Christ has already forgiven. Emotionally, I revisit my sins in a Calvinistic masochistic way. I want to experience my depravity and punish myself for past foolishness or selfishness. I want to be dour and depressed, wallow in my waywardness, and spirituality meander in my own morbidity. I’m only hurting myself. I’m only hating who I am because of pride. It’s easier to beat my breast and say ‘I am to blame,’ rather than humbling myself and truly asking for mercy. To be human is to hold on to my sin; to be divine is never going to happen.

And then I read wonderful verses in the Bible about God’s love for me, Christ’s mercy for me, and the Holy Spirit’s grasp of me. My sins are totally forgiven and remembered no more by God. I don’t need to keep beating myself emotionally, physically, spiritually, or mentally because Christ’s sacrifice at Calvary is infinitely more than enough to wipe away my tears and cleanse me of the past. I don’t need to wallow in sin; I just need to follow Him.

Holy Week does incredible things for all of us. It reveals our humanity being rescued by Christ’s humanity and divinity. It takes us from the depths of utter despair to the heights of true happiness. We journey through this week as dying, hopeless creatures and end up becoming everlasting children of God. We are forgiven and lifted up because we are meant and made to be Easter people. This is the Gospel Truth. This is the Good News!

Questions for personal reflection

Is there a past mistake in my life that I have never forgiven myself for committing? Am I willing to bring it humbly to Jesus and truly seek His pardon this week?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, our times are in Your hands, and You know our past mistakes. Help us to let go of our bad choices, foolish deeds, and sinful events by bringing them humbly and sincerely to You. Take us from despair and death; lead us to love and life. 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 of today’s message, please send him an email to

Today’s drawing is one of John’s Holy Week images for 2014. It’s called ‘Lazarus.’ If you would like to view a larger version of the drawing, please click on the following link:

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Holy Week devotion: Annual Reminder - Hebrews 10:3-4

Hebrews 10:3-4          But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Usually, when we break a promise or disappoint someone, we seek their forgiveness and hope to be given an opportunity to redeem our mistake with a gift. Sometimes parents do this with their children, especially if they've been unable to keep a special promise because of work related commitments. At other times spouses, who disappoint their partners, have a lot of giving to do in order to make amends. And even businesses, that unexpectedly fail their customers, usually offer a discount or free gift to make up for the disappointment. In all of these cases, some process of sacrificial giving is necessary in order to restore relationships, confidence, and trustworthiness.

In Old Testament times, when God’s people disappointed Him, they quickly offered a ritual sacrifice of a bull, a goat, a sheep, or some pigeons. Their mistakes and sins damaged their relationship with God. Because the people absolutely depended upon His bounty and blessings to sustain them, their livestock, and their crops, they sacrificed the best of their animals or the first of their produce to placate Him. They feared God’s wrath in ways that we cannot understand or even accept today.

But no matter how many times they sacrificed, the people still sinned. No matter how often they kept special feasts or religious rites to glorify God, they still were contaminated by their past mistakes and personal regrets. Their sacrifices were not sufficient to meet God’s requirements. Their regular religious rites could not effectively redeem and restore them to God.

This is why Christ came from God to enter into history and the world. This is why He sacrificed Himself so that our sins, as well as those of Christ’s own people, may be absolutely forgiven by God. After all, if the sacrifice of God’s Only Son was not enough to satisfy the demands of God’s holiness and justice, then there is nothing in all of existence that can save human beings from sin. We may not like the idea of God’s just demands; we may not ever fully understand why Christ had to die; but this we can know: Jesus died for our sins, so that we can be absolutely forgiven and eternally restored to God. This is also why the other name for Holy Week is “Passion Week’ – a sacred commemoration and faithful focus on Christ’s suffering, His Passion, for us.

Questions for personal reflection

Do I accept that Jesus died for me? Do I realize that His Death has given me Life?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, we cannot fully comprehend why our sins would condemn You to death on a Cross. We don’t fully understand why God’s justice demanded such an awful and shameful thing. However, we are fully thankful that Your personal sacrifice has completely atoned for our sins, as well as restoring us to God forever. In Your Holy Name, we humbly and gratefully pray. Amen.

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

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

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Peacemaking devotion: No More War - 2 Samuel 1:27

2 Samuel 1:27             "How the mighty have fallen! The weapons of war have perished!"

Like most people on Earth, I long for a day when war will be no more. Tragically, I don’t think that it will ever happen in my lifetime, or indeed anyone else’s. I personally think that it’s going to take the Return of Christ on this planet before war will be over. Between now and then, a lot of nations, peoples, and ethnic races will still raise arms and fight one another.

For instance, presently we’re ending a long and fruitless war in Afghanistan and Iraq, with another Russo-Slavic war in the Crimea on the horizon, as well as a conflict between the two Koreas. Just when we’re successfully bringing our military folks home, another conflict arises and man’s inhumanity to man raises its ugly head again. As creatures, we’re supposed to be the greatest work God ever made because we’re hallmarked with His image. In reality, we are abysmal warmongers, whose depths of cruelty, aggression, and hostility denounces and shames the good work of God within us.

            As we draw closer to the historical events and commemorations of Holy Week, we will be reminded of the loathsome betrayal and unjust arrest, trial, and execution of Christ. We will see humanity at its best in Christ’s obedience, meekness, and sacrifice, compared to mankind’s abominable acts of cruelty, injustice, and even insanity. If we are really honest with ourselves, we will recognize that all of us are capable of the same despicable deeds that sent Christ to the Cross. We are no different than the vilest characters depicted in the Gospel stories; we are no better than anyone else.

            The good thing about this self-awareness of human depravity is this: it brings us humbly before Jesus, from whom we receive undeserved grace and total mercy. Even though our sins nail and kill Him on the Cross, Jesus pours out His godly love to rescue and redeem us, as well as to save and sanctify us, so that we may be eternally restored to God’s favor, love, and peace.

Questions for personal reflection

What areas in the world are currently experiencing conflict? What are my prayers for the people of those warring regions?

Prayers:          Lord Jesus, today we call upon You as the Prince of Peace and the Royal Redeemer who rescues and reconciles the world. We pray for all those regions where war and conflict, unrest and division are painfully affecting the lives of many innocent people. Help us, as Christians, to pray for peace continually. Grant us peaceable attitudes to help reduce hostility, disagreement, anger, and aggression in our own lives. 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

Today’s image is on of John’s new Holy Week images called ‘Cup of Salvation.’ If you would like to view a larger image, please click here: Cup of Salvation.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Holy Week devotion: Real Heroes - 1 Samuel 31:12

1 Samuel 31:12          All their valiant men journeyed through the night to Beth Shan. They took down the bodies of Saul and his sons from the wall of Beth Shan and went to Jabesh, where they burned them.

The last chapter of the book of 1 Samuel reveals to us the sad and ignoble end of Israel’s first King. Saul had been chosen by the reluctant prophet Samuel amidst the cheers and jubilation of the people. His reign, however, was cursed and eventually he killed himself after a fierce battle in which all of his sons were killed and his army totally defeated.

Saul’s body was taken by his enemies and cut into pieces, to be shamefully displayed by his victorious foes. It was a terrible dishonor to him and his own family. His enemies gloated over their bloody success as they gazed upon the broken and abused bodies of Saul and his unfortunate sons which were impaled on spears and tied to the city wall.

But then a wonderful and courageous thing happened. The valiant men of Saul’s own tribe went on a dangerous night mission to recover the bodies in order to give the king and his family a decent and honorable ending. This band of brave men went into the heart of their enemy’s territory and brought back the remains. It was a noble act that diminished some of the shame Saul’s people felt at this time. The fact that we have this daring deed recorded in the Bible shows how Saul’s tribe truly loved their king, even with all of his faults.

The whole incident reminds me of Christ’s crucifixion and how shamefully He was treated by His enemies. He was brutalized beyond recognition by the Roman guards. He was jeered at and taunted by the religious clergy. He was totally degraded by his public nakedness, hanging on a bloody cross for all to see. His death was not only one of the most torturous ever devised by the inhumanity of man, it was also meant to be completely shameful, ignoble, and detestable.

And then Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the clergy, valiantly steps forward to claim Christ’s body in order to put an end to His public shame. He didn't want to see Christ shamefully rot on the Cross, and even though it would have made Joseph ritually unclean during the holiest time of the Jewish year, he was still willing to bravely beg Pilate for Jesus’ corpse in order to place it in his own tomb.

There are heroes in the Bible, as well as heroes all around us. We just have to open our eyes and see those who stand against injustice, who speak for the powerless, and who seek to eradicate the shame that our society uses to subdue the weak, poor, and the voiceless in our communities and across the world. They are valiant people and deserve our praise and support.

Questions for personal reflection

Who speaks up for the poor and powerless in my community? How can I support them?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, help us to recognize the true heroes in our community, who give of their time, resources, and lives to speak up for the voiceless and speak out against injustice. Remove the prejudices against them and help us all to pray for and support them. 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

Today’s image is one of John’s recent drawings for Holy Week. It’s called “Passover Moon.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link: Passover Moon.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Holy Week devotion: Crown Prince - Hebrews 5:5

Hebrews 5:5    So Christ also did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father. 

The main purpose of a priest is to make prayers before God on behalf of the people. Mostly all religions appoint holy men and women to intercede between their deity and the community at large. Festivals and feasts, holy days and religious celebrations from all over the world have this in common: at the center of the event, prayers are made to God, as well as petitions, confessions, and thanksgivings.

As Presbyterians, we practice the priesthood of all believers which is why we make our prayers of intercession and confession together in church. The only High Priest that we recognize is Jesus Himself and so we offer our prayers in Christ’s Name. Some people say that we miss out the ‘middlemen,’ but that’s not really what we do. Our prayers are always sacred and so we make them sincerely to Jesus, in the confidence and knowledge that He is always in the presence of God, His Father.

When Jesus left Heaven to come to Earth, He did not feel entitled to His appointment as the Chosen One. He still had to be given that High Office directly from God. This is why we read several times in the Gospels about God declaring and proclaiming that Christ is His Son. It is not just a public statement made in the presence of the disciples and other witnesses, it is a genuine calling from God to Jesus. It is the act of a High King conferring the title of Crown Prince on his son; it is the divine deed of the Creator bestowing the highest honor upon His child.

Today, we will all say prayers. We will make confessions about our mistakes, as well as intercessions about our circumstances. Whatever the case, and whenever we pray, we all need to remember this: our prayers are made to Christ and we send them to Him because He can then take them on our behalf and bring them before God. This is what our High Priest does; this is Christ’s duty as the Crown Prince of all Creation.

Questions for personal reflection

What am I praying for today? Am I truly giving my prayers to Christ?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, we worship You as our High Priest and Heavenly King. We praise You as the Crown Prince of all Creation and the Lord of all our lives. Thank You for receiving our prayers, as well as for interceding each day on our behalf. May we serve, glorify, and honor You forever. 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 a question or make a comment about today’s message, please send him an email to

Today’s image is one of John’s latest Holy Week drawings. It’s called “Tormented Sky,’ which depicts Christ in silhouette carrying His Cross to Calvary. If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link:

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Short Lent devotions: Slavery Today - Titus 2:9-10

Titus 2:9-10    Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.

This is one of those passages in the New Testament which, on the surface, appears to condone both the injustice and inhumanity of slavery. I personally find it troubling and I’m certain that Southern preachers in the past used this verse to support plantation owners, especially when those same slave masters financially strengthened the local congregation.

Superficially, it’s about slaves humbling themselves before their masters, no matter what they are asked to do. They are urged by the apostle Paul not to talk back or to protest about their circumstances. Instead Christians, who happen to be slaves, were supposed to be absolutely loyal and trustworthy in order to attract their owners to Christ. In other words, they were to endure all sorts of oppression in the hope that their acquiescence might make their masters come closer to Jesus.

This is a very high standard of faith and is very difficult to maintain. However, strangely enough, it also underpins much of the great work of civil disobedience that the likes of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr displayed in order to change American society. Their policy of non-retaliation, in the midst some of the most horrifying and inhumane acts of brutality that our nation has ever seen in modern times, is a continuing credit to their dignity, integrity, and faith. On the surface, the verses from Titus may appear to be unjust and unfair, but at a deeper level they convey the non-aggressionist teaching of Christ Himself.

Perhaps instead of being so insular and insecure because of the in-fighting within our churches and denominations, we should all get back to the proper ministry of Christ of standing with the weak, vulnerable, and oppressed, who are enslaved by loan sharks and unjust economies, in order to show the money masters and powerful people both the needs of the poor and the teachings of Christ at the same time.

Questions for personal reflection

Where does injustice occur in my community? What is my church doing to help overcome it?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, You constantly challenge us to spread the Gospel and live according to Your teaching. Sometimes we get in the way of Your words and cast aside Your commands. Forgive us for our obsessive ecclesiastical navel-gazing in a time of increasing poverty and economic slavery. Challenge our cozy ways and change our outdated ideas. In Your radical and 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

Today’s image is one of my latest Lenten drawings. It’s a Lenten Prayer wheel and features many symbols associated with the sacred season of Lent. If you would like to view a larger version, please click the following link: Lenten Prayer Wheel.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Ash Wednesday devotion: Lentbook - 2 Timothy 2:23

2 Timothy 2:23           Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.

I love debating with other people. It’s part of my training as a pastor. At seminary or university, candidates for ministry are taught apologetics through class presentations or theological debates. The arguments usually spill over into the canteen area and can get very heated at times. I guess when people are really passionate about their beliefs, confrontation and conflict are inevitable.

This happens quite a lot on Facebook, too. Ever since I joined it, I've found myself sucked in to various theological tussles and inter-church conflicts, which have been quite severe at times. I wish that I could write that I have always kept to the high ground and not become embroiled in fiery free-for-alls; the truth is this: Facebook brings out the worst in me at times, and also among my Christian friends.

So, here’s what I'm doing for Lent: I am going to seriously attempt to give up quarreling on Facebook. It’s so easy to get involved in a fight or write a comment that does not help the situation. Now this won’t be simple for me either, because I can be quite self-righteous and highly opinionated at times. However, if the main purpose of Lent is to help me grow closer to Christ and value His sacrifice, then perhaps avoiding negative belligerent comments and making positive posts instead, may help me overcome this bad habit. And, in order to enable me to be reminded of this commitment, I've taped today’s verse to my laptop keyboard.

Perhaps you may feel led to do the same thing as well. It’s better than giving up chocolate or candy…J

Questions for personal reflection

How do I interact with other people on social media sites? Do I honor Christ with my comments and posts?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, from the Gospels You taught about the consequences of careless words and thoughtless deeds. You commanded us to love one another, including our enemies. Forgive us when our foolish pride and strident stupidity diminishes our Christian witness before other people. Help us to use this sacred season of Lent as a special time to review what we write, post, and express in our emails and comments. 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 image says it all…J You can view the original here: