Monday, January 26, 2015

Short devotion: The First Convert - Mark 15:39

Mark 15:39   And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, "Surely this man was the Son of God!"

            It’s just a short passage (Mark 15:33-41) and yet it contains a wealth of spiritual inspiration. Jesus cries out His last words from the Cross, which sound like He is surrendering to death and despair. Those below Him misunderstand His words and so they seek to crudely revive Him with some bitter vinegar alcohol. A Roman soldier, on guard duty beneath the Cross, has been observing Jesus throughout His crucifixion. When Christ actually dies, the centurion is a changed man – he believes that Jesus truly was the Son of God.

            What seemed like utter defeat is turned into a glorious victory at that pivotal moment in history. The centurion becomes the first converted sinner at the Cross after Christ’s death. He is also symbolic of what was yet to come – the Roman Empire that he represents will eventually reach the same conclusion about Jesus. It will take three hundred years, but the end result will be the same. The Roman Empire of the Caesars will give way to the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

            Individually, we all face the same pivotal moment. At some point in our lives, we have to deal with Jesus. For some, He will remain just another teacher who was unlucky to be crudely crucified for reasons of political expediency. For billions of others on Earth, He will be personally known as the Son of God, who saved humanity from a fate worse than death – a terrifying fate of being eternally separated from God, our Creator.

Question:      Who is Jesus in my life? If I claim Him to be the Son of God, how will that realization affect my deeds and decisions today?

Prayer:          Lord Jesus, open our hearts and minds to Your reality. Reveal to us Your Divine status and then challenge us to truly serve You today. Guide our decisions and allow us to be at one with You. 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 make comments or ask questions about today’s message, please send him an email to Traqair@aol.com.


Today’s image is one of John’s latest digital glass drawings for Pentecost. It’s called “Spirit Descending.” If you would like to view a larger version of the image, please click here: Spirit.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Short 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


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Half Time devotion: Hope and Strength - Psalm 31:24

Psalm 31:24  Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD.

            This is one of my favorite verses from the Bible. When I read or hear it, it reminds me that faith is a mysterious mixture of hope and love. I place my hope in Christ because He loves me. I love the God of my heart because He sustains my hope. This is what I experience as faith. This is what I know to be personally true for me.

            Life isn't fair and sometimes we struggle through each day. We all have troubles and disappointments in our lives. We all experience times of sadness and loss. We all have difficulties to overcome and problems to solve. Today’s Bible verse doesn't fix our issues or cure our ills, but it does enable us to cope, to endure, and to eventually get through whatever we are facing.

            Like you, I muddle through each day as best as I possibly can. I take what comes and try to maintain a course that will steer me through whatever confronts me. The source of my strength comes from God, and my ability to deal with my problems is empowered by Christ. Without Him, I am both hopeless and helpless. With Him, I am hopeful and strong.

            Whatever you are personally going through at this time, please know this: God gives strength to the weak and hope to the helpless. You are not alone and you are loved. Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.

Questions for personal reflection

What problems am I currently facing? Am I relying upon God for the strength I need? Am I hoping for His support and guidance?

Prayer:           Lord Jesus, You once said that each day has enough trouble of its own, in order to remind us not to worry about tomorrow. Be with us today and guide all of our responses and decisions. Let us know of Your comforting and abiding presence in our 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 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 winter drawings called “Northern Skies.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click on this link: Skies.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Short 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.


Thursday, January 08, 2015

Freedom Devotion - An Unalienable Right - Psalm 27:1

Psalm 27:1    The LORD is my light and my salvation-- whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life-- of whom shall I be afraid?

            I abhor terrorism and utterly detest any attack on free speech. The cowardly killings of cartoonists in France displayed the utter depravity and despicable disregard for freedom that religious fanatics often inhumanely espouse. To hide behind masks and be armed with automatic weapons against cartoonists who could only defend their lives with paper and pens, was not an act of bravery; it was satanic butchery and an evil brutality. Any so-called religious person who celebrates this attack as a godly act of glory is only serving their own sinful intolerance and worshiping their own wretched wickedness.

            I may not have liked what the French cartoonists drew or satirized. I may have been offended and shocked by what they published. But no matter what they did, they did not deserve to be gunned down by holier-than-thou religious renegades, whose absolutism and intolerance only displays their complete ignorance and wicked inhumanity. Free speech is an unalienable right on Earth. Those who would oppose it, through acts of barbarism and terrorism, show the rest of the world what kind of cowardly bullies they actually are.

            If we, as a free society, give in to terrorism because we are afraid of personal, national, or international harm, then we are no longer free. Our liberties will be violently curtailed and our cowardice will only grow deeper until we become fearful slaves of our own self-preservation, chained to our timidity, and doomed to our civilization’s utter denigration. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness will be totally eradicated and heinously replaced with strife, anxiety, and the paucity of hopefulness.

Questions for personal reflection

The LORD is my light and my salvation-- whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life-- of whom shall I be afraid?

Prayer:           Lord Jesus, the evil that some religious people commit in the Name of God is the worst kind of wickedness on Earth. You were crucified because of it, and millions of people have been slain in evil ways by religious fanatics who become satanic fiends. Grant us the strength and resolve to oppose religious intolerance and theological evil. Give us the courage to live freely, fearlessly, and faithfully through Your Love. 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 questions about today’s message, please send him an email to Traqair@aol.com.


Today’s image is one of John’s abstract drawings called “Monet’s Flag.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click on this link: Flag.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Encouraging Devotion: Needing Grace - Psalm 25:8

Psalm 25:8    Good and upright is the LORD; therefore He instructs sinners in His ways.

            Sometimes when I sin, I get both angry and disappointed with myself. I get angry because I've let temptation or pride overcome me again; I feel disappointed because I've let down God once more. There are also times when I think that if I wasn't a Christian, my conscience would'’t bother me and I could freely set aside my sins as insignificant mistaken choices. However, as I try to be a follower of Christ, so my sins afflict and convict me constantly.

            The Book of Psalms was written for sinners just like me. I constantly find that King David of old has put into words what I’m feeling or experiencing. He didn't pull any punches or dismiss any of his sins. Like me, he knew that he was sinful and therefore needed God’s forgiveness. Like me, he understood that his sins messed up his relationship with God, as well as those with other people.

            To me, Psalm 25 deals with sin through God’s grace. King David saw God as being constantly patient and consistently willing to forgive sinners, in order to help them start again. God could have condemned David completely and judged him terribly; instead, God allowed David to repent, and then begin again to relearn God’s ways and reapply His truths in the king’s life.

            We all sin. We all feel bad about disappointing God or hurting other people. We all want to make things right and start again. As Christians, we are given this wonderful opportunity to be forgiven through Jesus. His death on the Cross has paid all of our debts; His amazing resurrection has brought about our restoration to God’s favor and love.

            So wherever we are today, let’s take the gracious opportunity to let go of our sinful past, to be released of our constant struggles, and to experience the forgiveness of God and reassurance of Christ. Let’s begin again. Let’s embrace this new day as a new start in the rest of our lives.

Questions for reflection

What sinful things do I constantly do? When I ask Christ for forgiveness, do I also ask for my faith in Him to be renewed?

Prayer:           Lord Jesus, You know us completely and are totally aware of all of our sinful ways. You perfectly know how many times we sin and why we choose to defy, disregard, or disappoint God. Forgive us for our foolish and sinful ways. Restore us to God’s love and favor. 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 stained glass designs. It’s called “Spirit of Communion.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link: Communion.

Friday, January 02, 2015

New Year devotion: Asking for Help - Mark 10:51

Mark 10:51   "What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asked him. The blind man said, "Rabbi, I want to see." 

            So, we've crossed the threshold of yet another New Year and only God knows what lies ahead. We've probably still got that feeling of wanting to do something significant, something different, or something effective in 2015, but within a couple of weeks, that feeling will usually diminish and we’ll settle back into our old ways, old routine, and old ideas. After all, we’re human – we like to be challenged and changed, but we prefer being cozy and comfortable.

            Today’s Gospel reading (Mark 10:46-52) about Jesus and Blind Bartimaeus made me wonder about why Jesus asked the blind man what he wanted. Wasn't it obvious? Did Jesus actually need Bartimaeus to vocalize what he desperately needed? He was blind, so what does any blind person want, but to see again?

            There must be something more to this request. It’s blatantly clear to everyone that Bartimaeus wants his sight restored, but Jesus makes him clarify the request personally. In other words, Bartimaeus has to humbly ask in order to be healed. He also has to confirm that it’s only Jesus who can do this for him, which is why Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?”

            As we walk deeper into this fresh year, we could imagine Jesus asking of us a similar question: “What do you want ME to do for you in 2015?” Do we know? Are we prepared to ask Him? Are we willing to express our personal hopes and dreams to Him, as well as completely depending upon Christ to fulfill those requests? I guess we will have to wait and see.

Prayer:           Lord Jesus, You sustain our lives each day and we are thankful for Your love, mercy, and grace. Help us to turn to You at the start of this year, in order to confidently bring You our hopes and dreams, ambitions, and goals. Grant us the opportunities, power, and persistence to realize and fulfill them. In Your Holy Name, we gratefully pray. Amen.

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

Today’s image is John’s latest Epiphany drawing for church kids called “Epiphany 2015.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click the following link: Epiphany.