Thursday, January 22, 2015

Opening Devotion: Wonders of His Love - Psalm 36:5

Psalm 36:5      Your love, O LORD, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. (NIV)

            Late last night, as I was taking the weekly garbage out, I looked up at the night sky. It was full of bright stars. I love this time of year because the skies at night are generally cloudless, so there is a vast array of planets, constellations, and even galaxies that can be seen with the naked eye.

            I always get thrilled when I see them so clearly. In response, I usually thank God for such a glorious sight and then I wish that I could actually travel through space to see the wonders of creation in close proximity.

            I also find myself closer to God through looking at His amazing handiwork. I feel His presence in a deep absorbent way that I never experience elsewhere. I guess it’s because I feel so tiny compared to the gigantic astral globes that beautifully sparkle across the heavens. I think to myself that if God could create all the vastness of the Universe, then how almighty and powerful He truly must be.

            Perhaps you are feeling downhearted or vulnerable today. Maybe you think that you’re not important or significant. Perhaps you’re depressed about your life or feel forgotten by everyone around you. Please know this: the One Who created the stars and calls them by name fully knows and loves you. You are not forsaken or abandoned; you are not unimportant or insignificant to Him. You are a child of His grace, made of the same stuff of the glorious stars, and given an everlasting soul that will always be loved, embraced, and known to God through Jesus Christ.

Question for reflection

When was the last time I looked at the stars? What does their existence tell me about God?

Prayer:            Lord God, You are the Creator of all things and the Lover of all living beings. Your power is majestically displayed across the heavens and also intimately felt within our souls. Thank You for allowing us life and letting us enjoy the wonders of Your making. In Jesus’ Name, we thankfully 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 Traqair@aol.com. John is always delighted to receive your feedback on these devotions.


Today’s image is John’s latest winter drawing. It shows the Oliver’s Cabin at Cades Cove in the heart of the Great Smoky mountains. John has signed 8x10 prints available. If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link: Cabin


Monday, January 12, 2015

Grief devotion: A Much Needed Miracle - Psalm 30:11

Psalm 30:11              You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.

            In ancient times, people had different ideas about what to do when mourning. Bible folk used to wear uncomfortable coarse goatskins to physically augment their set period of grief. The skins were normally used for making sacks and must have been very itchy to wear. Usually, they were worn for at least seven days; at the end of that time, the mourners went back to wearing their own clothes. Sometimes people wore their sackcloth for longer periods, depending on how severe their grief actually was.

            The wearing of sackcloth was also practiced by those who felt the need to repent of past mistakes. It was a public display of their remorse and must have been a very humbling experience. In medieval times, monks and priests still practiced the wearing of hair shirts beneath their tunics or robes. Their discomfort was meant to be a constant reminder of their own unworthiness and unholiness before God.

            These days, we tend not to go to these extremes when experiencing grief or expressing our regrets. We can cry out directly to God without adding any ritual in between. We can pray to Him privately about our grief and pain, or express to Him our remorse and shame. We can voice our feelings or vent our spleen; we can think about our regrets and inwardly confess our faults. No matter how we do this, God hears and knows what’s in our hearts and on our minds, even before we give voice to our grief, our repentance, or our complaints.

            In the end, we rest in God’s arms and sob in His presence. Then a miracle occurs – the one described by the Psalmist – He turns our wailing into dancing, removing our sackcloth, and clothes us with His joy. It may take a while and cost us many tears, but of this we can be assured: God’s love can heal our wounds, forgive our sins, and restore our lives.

Questions for personal reflection

Am I presently experiencing a hard time in my life? How am I expressing my feelings to God? What do I hope to receive from Him?

Prayer:           Lord God, we are human and frail, shaped by our experiences and affected by our feelings. You know what we are presently enduring; You understand completely all that we are currently undergoing. Be near to us and embrace us. Hold on to us and guide us. Grant us faith, hope, and love for the days and times ahead. In Christ’s 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 Traqair@aol.com.

Today’s image is John’s latest drawing for Holy Week. It’s called “Heaven Came Down.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link: Heaven.


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 Traqair@aol.com.


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 Traqair@aol.com.


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 Traqair@aol.com.

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 Traqair@aol.com.

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 Traqair@aol.com.


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.