Monday, December 15, 2014

Worship devotional - 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.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Advent devotion: Poles Apart - Mark 6:20

Mark 6:20       Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.

            Even evil people know the truth when they hear it. King Herod was no exception. Like his wicked father before him, he was a cruel despot who retained his power by wiping out his enemies. He was also a puppet-king who sovereignty solely depended on the reports of the Roman Governor and the whims of the Emperor. If Herod did anything to displease the Romans, he would have been immediately assassinated or executed. On the other hand, if he did anything which displeased the people, he could always rely upon the Roman garrison to back him up.

            Herod’s fascination with John the Baptist is full of contradictions. He imprisons John for preaching against Herod and his wife, and yet the king visits him in prison because he liked to listen to him. He was a despotic ruler who ruthlessly crushed his enemies, and yet he is afraid of John because he speaks the truth. Herod is used to being pampered in his palaces and lives a life of luxury; John, however, is the exact opposite – he lives in the rough outdoors, surviving on locusts and wild honey. The two men are worlds and poles apart – and yet Herod protects John because likes to listen to him.

            I wonder what would have happened if Herod had not made the rash promise which resulted in John’s beheading. Would Herod have eventually repented and been restored to God? If so, would he have intervened on Christ’s behalf or kept him protected as a prisoner so that the king could listen to the carpenter? We’ll never know, but at some point in his life, Herod listened to what God had to say through John; his only trouble was this: he never fully accepted or personally applied the truth of John’s words.

            As we approach Christmas, our churches become fuller because of the special programs and great festivals that take place in our sanctuaries. People like to listen to the Christmas carols and hear the Christmas story. However, just like Herod in the past, they miss the wonderful opportunity to make a direct connection to God through Jesus. They like listening to Christ’s words; they’re just not ready to live accordingly.

Questions for personal reflection

What truths do the Gospels convey to me, especially during this season of Advent and Christmas? Do I like listening to them, or am I willing to go further and live by them?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, speak Your Truth to us throughout this season of Advent. Allow our hearts and minds to embrace Your words and to live according to the challenges that they contain. Be with us and strengthen our faith in You this day. 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 him an email to

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

Monday, December 08, 2014

Church Devotion: A Woman's Touch - Mark 5:27-29

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

Friday, December 05, 2014

When Good Cops Become Bad Cops

Mark 5:4         For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him.

            After reading and hearing about how Eric Garner died through an illegal choke-hold in New York, I cannot believe that the cop involved was not indicted. Usually, I don’t comment on things like this because I don’t want to add to the anger and resentment, as well as the distraught and division that events like this cause across our community and nation. I am very supportive of the Law Enforcement agencies throughout the United States because I do believe that the police should protect and serve the people at all times. However, Mr. Garner’s death has shaken that belief and now I am of the opinion that good cops become bad cops when they protect, shelter, or ignore the violent cops in their precinct.

            Policing the streets of any major city must be one of the hardest jobs that we ask any person to do. There is a lot of violence in our communities, so I do not envy or even know what our cops have to face on a day to day basis. As I wrote before, I am highly respectful and greatly admire the work of the police among us, but let me also state this again: good cops become bad cops when they protect, shelter, or ignore the violent cops in their precincts.

            If we freely give our law enforcement people the rights to police our public streets in order to protect and serve our citizens, then we must also expect them to rigidly police themselves. If there are rogue and racist cops in a precinct, then they need to be removed by their peers and not tolerated or supported in any way, shape or form. If there are violent and overly aggressive officers in their stations, then they have to be ousted publicly. If good cops protect bad cops out of a false sense of camaraderie or tribalism, then the good cops have become bad cops and we no longer have a police service; we end up with a misanthropic militia of which everybody in the community fears, instead of respecting and supporting.

            Eric Garner was killed by the cops who violently restrained him. The good cops of that precinct know the cops involved. They know their history of arrests. They know of any brutality. They know of any racism that exists. If the good cops continue to turn a blind eye to what’s going on, then there are no longer any good cops in that precinct.

            I may have trodden on a few toes, or upset some law abiding people, or angered friends who have family members that are good cops. To them, I write this: Justice and freedom can only be protected and served by just and free citizens. A just and free community can only be policed by just and free cops. A bad cop is an unjust cop who ignores our freedoms and tramps all over our liberties. Good cops become bad cops when they allow those bad cops to freely and unjustly operate in their midst.

Questions for personal reflection

Where have I seen injustice in my community? What am I doing about it?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, we pray for our community and our nation which is divided and disturbed over recent racist and violent events. Sometimes we feel helpless and powerless, so we choose to ignore what’s going on and end up denying the truth. You once said that ‘the truth will make you free.’(John 8:32). Help us to overcome our fears in order to embrace and advance the truth which will set us all free from violence, racism, and injustice. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor at 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

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Devotional: 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 01, 2014

Grace 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.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Christian devotion: Forgiveness for Ferguson - Mark 2:5

Mark 2:5          When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven." 

            Forgiveness is something important that we all need in our lives. We all make mistakes and do daft things. We all say something snarky or do something dorky that ends up annoying our families, friends, neighbors, or working colleagues. Even in church, where we all should know better, we hurt others with our words and harm relationships with gossip.

            Forgiveness is one of the key elements of Christ’s message. In His own time, He was widely known as a preacher, teacher, and healer. However, there are many Gospel passages that reveal to us His main role – He was a Forgiver, or as we say in church world, He was (and still is) the Savior.

            As we watch the overnight violence in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, and see how rage and fear, injustice and racism are manipulated into anarchy, people have quickly forgotten that the parents of Michael Brown asked for the inevitable protests to be peaceful demonstrations, so that justice, mercy, and forgiveness could be at the heart of reconciling, restoring, and renewing the whole community. It’s sad to see that their words went unheeded.

            Long after the last store is looted, the last car is burned, the last canister of tear gas is launched, and the last word of hate is spoken, forgiveness will be needed to heal the wounds. Without it, there will be no progress towards real peace. Perhaps then, this is a special time when the Church can intervene and help guide the many sides towards reconciliation, hope, and healing. Christ’s power of forgiveness can do this, but only if and when the community seeks His help.

Questions for personal reflection
What do I feel about the riots in Ferguson? What should I be praying for?

Prayer:                 Lord Jesus, we call You the Prince of Peace and Savior of the World. Today, we ask that Your Holy Presence may be found and experienced in the streets and stores, homes, and churches in Ferguson, Missouri. We pray that Your followers may be inspired to seek peace and reconciliation by offering forgiveness and love. Help Your churches in the area to come together and empower them to bring healing to the hearts that are hurting, as well as faith to those who are afraid. 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 drawings called “Face to Face.” It represents dialogue and embracing between races. If you would like to view a larger version, please click on this link: Face to Face.