Monday, June 29, 2015

Bible devotion: Forty Years Ago - Psalm 116:12

Psalm 116:12           What shall I return to the Lord for all His goodness to me?

            Forty years ago this month, I tried to take my own life by overdosing myself with the tranquilizers that I was taking. I was eighteen years old, very selfish and self-centered. I wanted to end my life as a means of punishing my parents for the misery that I felt was all their fault. I even wrote a dramatic suicide note which was very spiteful, as well as melodramatic. I felt that I had the right to end my life because it wasn’t going the way I wanted.

            My girlfriend Rhona, and two of my best friends, Stevie and Rose Mary, found me unconscious in my bedroom. When they couldn’t wake me up, they realized that something serious had taken place. They very quickly took me in a taxi to the ER, where my stomach was pumped to get rid of the pills, in order to lessen the impact of my foolish suicide attempt. I spent three days in the hospital recovering from my stupidity.

            The following forty years could never have happened without their life-saving intervention. Somehow God allowed me to live, through their immediate response and quick thinking. I would never have known all of the blessings that I have experienced since then – my marriage to Evelyn, the birth of my two daughters, my faith in God, and the calling He has given me. I was young, rash, and foolish, but God was patient, loving, and merciful.

            Life never gives us everything that we want, but I believe God gives us all that we need. I owe my life to three people on Earth and will always be indebted to them. I also owe absolutely everything to God, who placed them in my life at one of its most crucial and critical of times. I am eternally indebted to God’s grace and goodness, which I can never repay nor given anything equal in return.

            Life is good. Each day is a gift. Every friend that we have is more precious than gold. All the love we experience in life comes directly from God. How can we ever repay those blessings? What shall we return to the Lord for all His goodness to us?

Prayer:          Lord Jesus, we love You. We thank You for the gift of life and love, as well as friends and faith. Help us to share these blessings with all whom we encounter and meet today. In Your Holy Name, we cheerfully 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 him an email to Traqair@aol.com.


Today’s image is John’s latest bird drawings called “Allyson’s Bird.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click on this link: Lilac Bird.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Family Devotion - The Man Who Has Everything - John 4:10

John 4:10      Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

            The Man who has everything – that’s who Jesus was, still is, and will always be. I often wish that I could find some positive way of letting my family and friends know this amazing truth about Jesus. They all seem to be constantly striving, under a lot of pressure, and continually trying to keep on going with no real understanding about where life is headed. They are all good people and I love them dearly. I just wish that somehow I could convince them that in Jesus they would find all that their restless hearts, minds, and souls is looking for.

            I enjoy seeing their pictures on Facebook, with all of the different and wonderful experiences they have, as well as seeing the places they visit all over this planet. Yet, I sometimes wonder, when they get back from their exciting trips and amazing events, what do they think about when they are alone with their thoughts? What are their hopes and dreams? What do they ponder and wonder about their own existence? Do they have any understanding of their mortality? What beliefs do they have about life after their own inevitable deaths?

            In today’s passage, Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman who has no earthly idea about who He is, what power He possesses, or how He can significantly change her life. She is surprised by His presence and even more amazed at His asking of her for some water. She knows that Jesus is Jewish, so she is startled that He is having a conversation with someone that His race was known to vehemently despise.

            At one point in the conversation, Jesus relates to her about what He can actually do for her. He could refresh her weary soul with His power. As Jesus says, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

            I hope and pray that all of my loved ones, my family and friends, will one day realize, recognize, and receive all that Jesus – the Man Who has everything – can actually give them. It will be wonderful day for them, and a great blessing to me.

Questions for personal reflection

Which of my loved ones do I wish that Jesus would become their personal Savior? Am I willing to continually pray for this to occur?

Prayer:          Lord Jesus, thank You for saving me and for Your wonderful love being continually present in my life. Please help my loved ones open their own hearts and minds to Your presence, so that they may also experience the wonderful joy of truly, personally, and eternally knowing You. In Your Holy Name, I 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 sunflower drawings called “Just Around the Corner.” If you would like to view a larger image, please click on this link: Sunflower.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Community devotion: Why, God, Why? - Psalm 109:26

Psalm 109:26           Help me, Lord my God; save me according to your unfailing love.

            The inhumane horror that was unleashed last night at a Bible Study in Emanuel AME Church, Charleston, South Carolina, is impossible to understand. Many of the victim’s families and friends, as well as the church members and community will be currently voicing a heartbreaking question of “Why? Why, God? Why?” It’s something that will never be satisfactorily answered. Man’s inhumanity to man is a blasphemous evil which contaminates the whole universe. Eons ago, when God created us and pronounced humanity ‘good,’ it didn’t take us very long to spoil His Creation. In our present age of polemic polarization, we are sadly seeing more of these wicked, horrendous, and barbarous events.

            At Erin Church, in Knoxville, Tennessee, our marketing team has just recently redefined our vision statement. It reads as follows:
“Unified in Christ, we actively seek to create harmony in a diverse community through compassion, mutual respect, and love.”

            It’s not a passive statement; it requires our church to get actively engaged in our city. In communities where fear and distrust, as well as violence and brutality are increasing, our church feels called to get involved in breaking down the barriers that we all have built around race, class, religion, and personal choice. It’s a communal calling which will challenge and change us especially, with the hope that we can bring about effective, positive, and compassionate changes locally, nationally, and even internationally.

            We may not understand why terrible, wicked, and painful events occur in the world, but we can face the challenges that such occurrences engender, by joining with others who truly seek harmony in our diverse community, through the active sharing of compassion, mutual respect, and love.

Questions for personal reflection

Where is my community broken, fearful, and divisive? What can my church do to heal the wounds and bridge the gaps?

Prayer:           Lord Jesus, we pray for the families and church members of Emanuel AME church in Charleston, SC. We know that their hearts will be painfully broken and their minds will be terribly confused. Surround them with Your Holy Spirit, as well as good people and compassionate churches who will care, embrace, and support them. Help us also to do all that we can to minister to our own community with Your compassion, respect, and love. In Your Holy Name, we lamentably pray. Amen.

John Stuart is currently 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 stained glass type drawing of Jesus and His disciples on the boat during the storm. It’s called “Storm Stiller.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click on this link: Storm Stiller.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Short devotion: Winemaker - John 2:11

John 2:11      What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which He revealed His glory; and His disciples believed in Him. (NIV)

            Even these days, a person who could turn water into wine, would be very popular and handy to invite at any wedding. Despite this, Christ’s first miracle seemed to be unknown to most of the wedding party, in the midst of all the celebrating and carousing at Cana. Only Mary, the mother of Jesus, Christ’s disciples, and a few house servants knew that a miracle had taken place. Everyone else was oblivious to what had occurred; all the other guests had no earthly idea about the heavenly event that had just taken place.

            In church, we sometimes experience something similar. Miracles of healing, God-answered prayers, gifts of beautiful blessing frequently occur in our congregations, no matter how big or small. People of Christian faith, from many different backgrounds, have actually known of individual miraculous moments in their lives. Sadly, the rest of the world appears to miss out on these special events because folks are too busy, too distracted, too distant, or too unconnected to God to be able to realize, or even recognize, that miracles are taking place in churches all around the globe.

            Each time I come across and re-read the story of the wedding in Cana, Jesus continues to make me smile because I know that He is still in the miracle business, taking empty lives and filling them with His beautiful Spirit. He makes the best out of the worst. He turns critical moments into miraculous events. He changes sinners into servants, as well as making dedicated disciples out of the most desperate and disastrous of people. In other words, He still turns ordinary water into the choicest wine.

Personal questions:             How has Christ wrought changes in me? Where have I seen His miraculous works in my church and community?

Prayer:          Lord Jesus, thank You for the miraculous changes that You constantly make throughout the world. Thank You for turning our lives around by allowing us the opportunity of becoming Your servants. Be with us and help us to carry on Your great work of changing the world. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

John Stuart is currently 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. If you should ever find yourself in Knoxville on a Sunday morning, Erin Church people would be delighted to welcome you to their 11:00AM worship service.


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

Monday, June 01, 2015

Gospel Devotion: Wrestling with Reality - Luke 23:18

Luke 23:18    But the whole crowd shouted, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!”

“Popularity should be no scale for the election of politicians. If it would depend on popularity, Donald Duck and The Muppets would take seats in Senate.”
– Orson Welles

            I have often thought that what is popular, fashionable, or currently cool is not necessarily right, moral, or even Christian. I struggle with this constantly, because I am bombarded with societal standards and cultural expectations from my family, friends, peers, and even church members. I’m probably considered to be old-fashioned, anachronistic, and archaic (even using those words defines how outdated I am). Because I wrestle with this, the message that I write or proclaim is tarnished with the same misperception of being antiquated.

            However, I would rather embrace an old-fashioned religion than be besieged by a culture enraptured with the shallowness of celebrity. I would rather hold on to an archaic Gospel than succumb to a diluted message that has no depth. I would rather hold out for a Bible worth reading, studying, and applying, more than a thousand best-sellers that add little quality to my life. Like everyone else, I only have a short time on Earth compared to the eons of eternity. Like some, I would rather seek peace with God and be embraced by Christ, rather than waste my life on spiritual superficiality.

            When the mob in Jerusalem had the opportunity to choose Jesus, who was standing in front of them, they rejected Him and chose Barabbas. They just did what the world has always done: they made a secular, popular choice, and ended up with the wrong person. They could have chosen Christ and have been blessed by His continued teaching; instead they shouted for a killer, becoming killers themselves by abandoning Jesus.

            This week, we will all be given opportunities to do what is right, as opposed to what is convenient or popular. We’ll be challenged by the Spirit of Christ to follow His ways, or to wander down the path of apparent popularity. We’ll either end up marching to the banal tune of a cultural pied piper, or we’ll be singing songs of salvation about our Savior. As always, the choice is ours. It may not be popular, agreeable, or acceptable to even write this, but to paraphrase Orson Welles, if our faith depended upon popularity, then we would worship Donald Duck or the Muppets, instead of a Crucified King and rejected Lord.

Question to ponder

How much culture influences my Christianity?

Prayer:          Lord Jesus, we try to follow You but often end up getting distracted by our own preferences and choices. Help us to find the path that You want us to travel on. Give us the courage to make better choices, so that we may serve and worship You. 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 or ask questions about today’s message, please send him an email to Traqair@aol.com. John is always interested in your thoughts. And, if you ever find yourself in Knoxville on a Sunday morning, the people at Erin will make you feel welcome and will be delighted to worship with you.


Today’s image is John’s latest Celtic Cross drawing called “Son Light.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click on this link: Cross.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Peacemaking devotion: His Last Miracle - Luke 22:51

Luke 22:51    But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him. (NIV)

            It was His last miracle. When Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, one of His disciples tried to defend Christ with a sword and ended up cutting off the ear of one of the High Priest’s guards. It was a valiant effort, but a wasteful one. It was also something that Jesus did not condone.

            Instead of calling upon His disciples to attack the mob, Jesus sternly called for an end to the violence. He was not going to be party to any defense of His person; He was not going to start a protest, a rout, or a rebellion. In order to show how committed He was to being a peacemaker, Jesus healed the guard immediately. He didn’t want anyone else to suffer, not even His enemies.

            As Christians, we are called to be peacemakers in our communities, as well as across the world. This is very difficult to do because, like most human beings, we get angry and feel justified about diminishing our opponents or destroying our enemies. It’s very easy for us, and even for me as a pastor, to get caught up in foolish quarrels and trivial arguments which do nothing to promote Christ’s teaching, God’s love, or the Spirit’s way. We want to feel strong by humiliating our foes; we want to be crusaders for religious causes, both of which, Jesus would not condone.

            Christ’s last healing miracle was how He personally practiced His radical teaching of loving our enemies and forgiving those who hurt us. He not only showed His disciples how to practice their faith, but He also beautifully exemplified His teaching to His foes, especially the guard who was the injured victim of the disciples’ religious zeal. This is an important lesson about peacemaking for all of us who call ourselves ‘Christian’.

Questions for personal reflection

How has the practicing of my faith hurt other people? What would Christ have me do to remedy this?

Prayer:          Lord Jesus, Your Life constantly challenges us. Every moment and every incident in the Gospels has been recorded to teach us about how our Christian faith should be lived. Forgive us, Lord, when we neglect Your lessons; help us to become better witnesses of Your peace and love. 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 or ask questions about today’s message, please send him an email to Traqair@aol.com. John is always interested in your thoughts. And, if you ever find yourself in Knoxville on a Sunday morning, the people at Erin will make you feel welcome and will be delighted to worship with you.

Today’s image is John’s latest stained glass drawings. If you would like to view a larger version, please click on this link: Glass.


Friday, May 22, 2015

Church Growth devotion: Rebuilding the Church - Psalm 102:16

Psalm 102:16           For the Lord will rebuild Zion and appear in His glory. (NIV)

            There’s a lot of rebuilding that needs to be done in many churches, including our own. The conflicts that we've all been involved in over the last three decades have taken their toll. Worship wars, culture wars, marriage wars, and atonement wars have diminished the life, work, and mission of the Church as Christ’s Bride on Earth. We are meant to be healers in a broken world; sadly, we have become so disjointed, disfigured, and disunited that we are broken, too.

            We need to ask God to rebuild us, one day at a time, and one person at a time. It will not be an easy process because it will require focus, energy, discipline, and commitment. There’s no other way to rebuild congregations or churches. There’s no magic wand, instant success, or easy button to do it. However, it is not insurmountable or unachievable. It can be done and it will be done among those churches who humbly yield to God and sincerely say, “Thy Will be done.”

            Five hundred years ago, the Christian Church faced a similar challenge. The early Reformers like Jan Hus, Martin Luther, and John Calvin knew that the people and priests had to get back to a form of basic New Testament Christianity. It was an uphill struggle – Jan Hus was burned at the stake; Martin Luther was declared an outlaw and hunted down; John Calvin faced death threats on a regular basis. They were successful in growing a new movement and a new church because their message was true to the Gospel. They accomplished much because they remained true to Christ.

            Today, let’s seriously think about reforming our ways and rebuilding the church. Instead of throwing stones at one another, let’s pick up those stones and rebuild our sacred places. Let’s call upon God to give us the grit and determination, as well as the resolve and focus to grow in His goodness, to advance Christ’s Kingdom, and to walk with the Spirit. We can do this. We can embrace this. We can rebuild.

Questions for personal reflection

What must I do to rebuild my commitment to Christ? How can I help others to do the same?

Prayers:         Lord Jesus, we are all a part of Your Church, Your Work, and Your Mission. In recent times, we have wandered away from Your Truth, forgotten Your Way, and have set aside Your Life. Forgive us for tearing down what You have built. Enable us to reform and allow us to rebuild. 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 or ask questions about today’s message, please send him an email to Traqair@aol.com. John is always interested in your thoughts. And, if you ever find yourself in Knoxville on a Sunday morning, the people at Erin will make you feel welcome and will be delighted to worship with you.


Today’s image is John’s latest Pentecost drawing. If you would like to view a larger version, please click on this link: Pentecost.