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.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

2014 Advent devotions for Churches

As many of you know, I write a lot of devotionals throughout the year. This year, I have written a full set of devotions for Advent for the congregation that I serve. For each day of Advent, beginning on Sunday 30th November, I have written a short devotion to correspond to the daily lectionary reading from the prophets. A Bible verse is highlighted, a question for reflection is posed, and a prayer is written at the end of the devotional.

If any churches would like Word file copies of the templates, then I would be willing to send them by email. The price is only $10 for the full set of four. Payment can be made via Paypal or check. An invoice for church records will also be sent via email.

Anyone who is interested may contact me by email at

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Advent devotionals for Kindle

This e-book contains short devotionals for every day of Advent. They can be read at any time of day. Each daily section has a lectionary Bible reading, an emphasized verse, a devotional, an art image for meditation, personal questions for contemplation, and a communal prayer at the end.

The Advent readings that I’m using this year all belong to the Old Testament Prophets, whose ancient words reveal to us the promises of God that have been fulfilled through Christ’s Birth, as well as those that have yet to be completed when Christ returns.

Get your copy at the link below…J

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Committee devotion: Real Faith - Matthew 9:29-30a

Matthew 9:29-30a   Then Jesus touched their eyes and said, "According to your faith will it be done to you"; and their sight was restored.

            Faith is a very rare commodity these days. I’m not talking about a religious notion, or a spiritual feeling, or even a mystical experience. I’m talking about real solid faith in Jesus. I've been a pastor for almost thirty years and during that time I've seen many people mistakenly think that what they believe in is faith. What they actually hold on to is wishful thinking, just like in the old Peter Pan stories, where if you think good thoughts and add some pixie dust, you can really fly.

            Faith isn't a feeling, nor is it a daydream. Faith in Jesus actually requires focus, commitment, service, and humility. Because people are so one dimensional in their thinking, they naively believe that just thinking good thoughts about Jesus is all that is required. They delude themselves into the notion that being nice is what counts, and they wrongly equate that with being faithful.

            Faith is much more than a spiritual trivial pursuit; it is the life quest that we are all given from the moment we are born to the day that we die. We have one opportunity to get it right, to be found by God through faith in Jesus. If we set Him aside or falsely think that everything we do is blessed, approved, and condoned by Christ, then we’re tragically and eternally fooling ourselves.

            Faith, real faith, is not just something that we live for, it’s also a divine gift that we die with. If we go to meet our Savior without following, worshipping, or serving Him, then we won’t find Him at all. The Gospels give us all of the material, resources, and clues that we need about what real faith looks like; if we think that we can make it up for ourselves and wing it through life, then we’ll end up on the wrong side of glory. Faith requires commitment, but commitment is so inconvenient at times.

            So, let’s all truly, sincerely, and honestly ask ourselves this today: to whom am I being faithful? To Christ or myself, to His teachings or my own ideas? We cannot hide the truth from ourselves, and we certainly cannot fool Jesus either.

Questions for personal reflection

Am I faithful to Christ or am I just living a lie? Am I committed to His Church or am I just committed to myself?

Prayer:          Lord Jesus, we all want to have real faith in You. We really want to be Your followers and servants, disciples and messengers. Forgive us for playing at religion, or for feigning spirituality. Challenge our choices when they conflict with Your guidance. Change our lives when we contradict Your Word. 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 artworks. It’s called ‘Chalice,’ and it was made using paper sculpting and crayons. If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link: Chalice.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Church Meeting devotion: Passing On The Faith - 1 Kings 19:19

1 Kings 19:19           So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him.

            Yesterday, both of our Middle School and Senior High Youth groups led the worship service. They presented to the congregation their own music choices, their own prayers, and their own messages. Their words were wonderful and their enthusiasm was inspiring. They were confident about their Christian faith and they were effective with their combined witness. It was amazing to see the level of Christian maturity that they all have, so my heart was almost bursting with the joy I was feeling.

            Over the years, our wee church has heavily invested in the life and faith of our young people. Through our Planet Worship programs on Sundays, they get to know the rubrics of worship, so they always feel connected to God when we sing, pray, and glorify Him. With our Creative Expression’s ministries, we build up their confidence for public speaking, singing, and acting. And with the faithfulness, reliability, and leadership of our Youth Director, we have grown a superb bunch of church kids who are now becoming spiritual leaders to their own peers. It has been a long process, but the fruits that they are bearing are worth all of the time, effort, and resources that we’ve used to get them this far in faith.

            As I was reading today’s Old Testament passage (1 Kings 19:19-21) concerning Elijah’s appointment of Elisha as his successor, I could not help but thinking about the mantel of Christian faith that our church has placed over our young people. The experiences that they have had in the past will bear a lot of fruit in the years to come. Wherever they go, I think that they will remain strongly connected through the faith events that they have shared together. The Church is in good hands, so my hope and prayer for them is simple: “Lord Jesus, bless them all.”

Questions for personal reflection

Do I have any special faith-forming memories from my youth? How can I encourage the youth in my church?

Prayer:          Lord Jesus, thank You for Your message which still continues to inspire people from one generation to the next. Thank You also for the future of faith among our young people and the tasks that You are going to set them. Bless them for the many ministries and missions which they will undertake, accomplish, and fulfill. Be with them and help them to boldly take our faith to new heights and ways. In Your Holy Name, we thankfully pray. Amen.

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

Today’s image is one of John’s psalm drawings. It depicts a verse from Psalm 67. If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link: Psalm 67.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Opening Devotion: Limping Around - 1 Kings 18:21

1 Kings 18:21           Elijah went before the people and said, "How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him." But the people said nothing. 

            I can still remember translating today’s passage of 1 Kings 18 from the original Hebrew into English many years ago at seminary. This verse doesn't just say “How long will you waver between two opinions,” the actual Hebrew reads, “How long will you go on limping from your left foot to your right foot?” Elijah had a great way with words and was rebuking his people for their obstinacy and idolatry.

Instead of following God and His words, Elijah’s people worshipped foreign idols and strange deities. They had been led astray by King Ahab and Queen Jezebel who made the people forsake their old faith and embrace the savage gods that the original Canaanites had worshipped. Despite being delivered from their One True God over many generations, the people decided to reject the past and dabble with idolatry. They followed the example of their leaders, instead of letting themselves being led by God. They chose the wrong path, so Elijah was sent among them by God to trouble the whole nation and redirect them back to God.

Eventually, the idolatrous and scandalous ways of Ahab and Jezebel would be defeated and true worship of God would be restored. But it would take several years to be accomplish and not even Elijah would see the fruits of his prophesies.

Every generation is faced with the same temptations. These days, we are prone to worship celebrities and follow their false lead. Much of the ambivalence in today’s society is caused by people ‘limping from the left foot to their right foot.’ There does not seem to be any consistency among faithful people and so we suffer from the same idolatry that almost ruined Elijah’s people.

It’s time to reclaim who we are as Christians by re-establishing the foundational truths of our faith. If we continue down the same path of inconsistency that we've been travelling on for years, then faithlessness and meaninglessness will devour the spirits of our people. True worship of God is based upon three simple things: daily Bible reading, daily prayer, and daily service to God. If we honestly think that we can get by without these three elements then we are sadly deluding ourselves and will end up making our own idols. However, if we truly want our lives to change for the better and for God, then we absolutely need to stop limping around and start walking toward Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

Questions for personal reflection

How strong is my Christian faith? What do I do to keep it strong?

Prayer:          Lord Jesus, You invite us to follow You in order to become Your disciples and servants of God. We cannot do this on our own, nor by wishful thinking. Help us to turn to You in order to truly change our lives. Keep us mindful of the foundational role that the scriptures, prayer, and service have in sustaining and strengthening our faith. 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 a drawing of Elijah in the wilderness that John drew for Vacation Bible School this year. If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link: Elijah.