Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Lifestyle devotion: High Anxiety - Psalm 139:23

Psalm 139:23  Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.

            Anxiety is part of being human. We all experience anxious moments in our lives; we all go through times of intense worry and deep concern. Our anxiety may be about our health, our family, our work, or our resources. We may constantly worry about what people think or how we appear, who we are or what we do. We may even perhaps be deeply concerned about our community, our nation, and even our world. No matter who we are, we will experience anxiety at some point; no matter what we accomplish, we will have worrying times.

            Psalm 139 is one of the most intimate psalms ever written. The author expresses his intense relationship with God, which he believes began even before he was born. The intimacy of God is almost claustrophobic; there is not one area of the psalmist’s life that God doesn’t fully know or completely understand. This comforts the writer because he deeply relies upon God to help him throughout his entire life. God has always been there for the psalmist; his belief in God is personally defined by the deep abiding presence of God all through his days.

            If, as I have stated before, anxiety is a part of being human, then so is our spiritual capacity to pray to God. Over 90% of the world’s population pray to a Higher Being, so in the midst of the world’s difficulties and crises, a lot of praying must continually be going on.

            As Christians, we focus our faith on Jesus Christ and look to His Holy Spirit to lead and guide us through our anxious times and troubled moments. We rely upon God in much the same way as the ancient psalmist, but we experience our deep intimacy with God through our Savior’s grace and love. We turn to Christ to seek His wisdom and guidance. If we worry too much, then we are praying too little. If we are anxious too long, then we are making Jesus too small. The solution has always been the same: to let Christ search our hearts and bring peace to our anxious thoughts.

Questions for personal reflection

Am I presently anxious about some issue or personal crisis? Am I willing to really pray to Jesus about it?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, You know us completely and understand our present circumstances. You see the critical times that we experience and offer us Your grace and guidance to persevere with our problems and overcome our issues. Help us to set aside some real prayer time to be intimate with You, to express our concerns, seek Your solutions, and follow Your ways. 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 bulletin cover drawings. If you would like to view a larger version, please click this link: Psalm.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Bible devotion: From Afar - Psalm 138:6

Psalm 138:6    Though the Lord is exalted, He looks kindly on the lowly; though lofty, He sees them from afar.

            Every day, I look at my Facebook page. Because most of my family live 3000 miles away in Scotland, it’s about the only regular contact I have with them. I like to read their comments and see what they are doing. I like to share a few jokes with them and look at their photos. I’ve not seen my family in person for over 11 years, so Facebook gives me the ideal opportunity to interact with them from afar.

            In today’s psalm reading, we are told that God kindly watches us from afar. He is really interested in who we are, what we do, and wherever we are situated. Even though God is in the highest halls of divine holiness, He is still focused on what is happening in the lowest levels of human lives. We are His created people; He is our wonderful God.

            So wherever we find ourselves today and whatever we set out to do, let’s be assured that God is always with us, and that the presence of Jesus Christ our Savior abides with us each day through the amazing gift of the Holy Spirit in our lowly lives.

Questions for discussion

What am I hoping to accomplish this day? How will I know that God is with me?

Prayer:            Ever present and Almighty God, thank You for being lovingly interested in our personal lives. Thank You for Your constant watching of what we do, where we go, and whatever we complete. Continue to be with us and bless us with the presence of Your Son Jesus throughout our lives. In His Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

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

Today’s image is one of John’s bulletin cover images for churches called ‘Bread of Life.’ If you would like to view a larger version, please click on this link: Life.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Celtic Prayers: Celtic Confession

Celtic Confession

O Loving Heart of Heaven,
To Whom all Nature sings,
Hear this heartfelt prayer
From a simple servant,
Who longs to please You
With devoted words,
And delight You
With dedicated deeds.

As the geese fly high
Above the grey clouds,
So may the prayers
Of this Celtic Child
Go beyond this earthly sphere,
Into the eternal realms
Of Your Glorious Kingdom.

May the Son of God,
Who is the Sovereign
Of my human heart,
And Sacred Savior
Of my wayward soul,
Intercede on my behalf.

May His gracious words
Speak of His ownership
Of me, a humble servant.
May His majestic mercy
Restore my spirit
To Your divine favor
And everlasting love.

In Christ’s Holy
And most Sacred Name,
I humbly pray.


peace devotion: Calming Troubled Hearts - John 14:1

John 14:1      “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.

            We all suffer from troubled hearts and minds at times. We worry about our families and friends; we are sometimes anxious about our health or work; we are even concerned about our churches, communities, as well as the world that we live in. It just seems to be that we are all subject to trouble and suffer from worry, no matter who we are, what we’ve become, or whatever we’ve accomplished. As it once stated on an old t-shirt: ‘A person who has no worries, probably doesn’t understand the problem.’

            Looking back at the Gospels, you would think that the disciples who were with Jesus would have no problems; after all, if the Son of God is on your team, then you’re going to be successful and worry-free, right? Wrong! Jesus had to constantly tell His followers not to let their hearts be troubled. He knew that they were just human beings like us; He understood their fears and anxieties, their troubles and worries. They had given up everything to be with Him and yet, the closer that they approached Jerusalem, the more issues, troubles, and problems arose among them.

            This reminds me that faith communities, even with Jesus, are often subject to division and disunity, as well as fears and issues. There are no trouble-free guarantees concerning God’s work. The path will not always be smooth, nor will the skies always be blue. If anything, the whole of the New Testament expresses to us this commonality: our hearts will be troubled and our lives disrupted just because we do actually follow Jesus.

            Christ’s presence among His disciples, before and after His Resurrection, was meant to pacify their souls and calm their minds. He could do it for them, if they let Him. The same is true for us today. Praying to Christ is our antidote to worrying about life. The more we pray, the less we worry; however, the more we worry, the less we pray. Placing Jesus at the center of our concerns is the first practical step toward solving our problems and experiencing His peace.

Questions for further discussion

What problems are currently worrying me? Am I praying enough to put Christ at the center of them?

Prayer:          Lord Jesus, we like to be independent and strong, effective and free to make our own choices, live our own lives, and deal with our own problems. Sometimes, Lord, worry diminishes our self-confidence and fear drains our strength. We forget to pray because we are afraid; we let go of Your words because we languish in our problems. Turn us to Your teaching and calm us with Your love. Strengthen us with Your wisdom and pacify us with Your presence. In Your Holy Name, we earnestly pray. Amen.

John Stuart is currently the pastor of Erin Presbyterian 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 one of John’s Bible drawings with a verse from Psalm 62. If you would like to view a larger version, please click on this link: Psalm 62.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Short devotion: Real Acceptance - John 13:20

John 13:20    “Very truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts Me; and whoever accepts Me accepts the One who sent Me.”

            Acceptance plays a major part in who we are as 21st century people. We all want to be accepted on our own terms as individuals. We all need to feel part of a society that accepts us totally. We all want to belong to a world where every single person’s life matters and every single choice is respected. This is a very high ideal and one that is impossible to fulfill. People on this planet have different ideas, philosophies, and versions about life. We live in different places; we have different histories; we belong to different cultures; we eat different food, wear different clothing, and speak in different languages. The chances of us completely accepting one another are very remote and, sadly, highly unlikely. We therefore look to a Higher Power and Wiser Being to show us what is acceptable and what is not.

            Today’s verse from the Gospel of John belongs to a passage where Christ is actually commissioning His faithful disciples for the work that is yet to come. Unknown to them, they are about to experience and endure the three most intense and grueling days of Christ’s three year ministry. Their cozy world is about to be turned upside down and inside out. Their lives will never be the same, and their mission will be enormous: they will be charged with broadcasting to the entire world Christ’s message of resurrection and salvation.

In this instance from the Gospel, the acceptance that is crucially important to Christ is the acceptance of His messengers of the new Faith. To accept His apostles is to accept Him; to accept Him is to accept God. This is foundational for the life-changing work of preaching and teaching the Gospel, which will continue to the end of the world. Rather than us being accepted by Him, which is what most of us want Jesus to do, we must accept His terms, His conditions, and even His messengers.

In the end, the work of the Gospel, the spreading of faith, and the expansion of Christianity will be the most important mission undertaken in all of the history of humanity. We may reach dizzying heights of technological wonders; we may discover amazing new facts and sciences in the future; we may even travel to other planets and journey across the stars in centuries to come – these are all glorious and magnificent goals for humanity to reach – but in the end, God knows all of these things that we may discover, for His wisdom is infinite, so the most important thing to God is our individual discovery of accepting His Holy and Only Son as our Lord, Savior, and King. The importance of acceptance, then, is not the acceptance by God of who we are on our terms, but our personal acceptance of Christ on God’s terms.

Question for personal reflection
Have I accepted Christ as my Savior, Lord, and King?

Prayer:          Lord Jesus, You came down to Earth to offer us the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of accepting You as God’s Chosen One. Keep us from continually making excuses or avoiding this crucial choice. In Your Holy Name, we humbly 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

Monday, August 03, 2015

Devotional: Faith Lift - John 12:32-33

John12:32-33           Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

            From time to time, I read articles from other pastors who state that Christ’s death was actually accidental and not what He wanted or intended. Jesus was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. He got caught up in the middle of a nasty religious and political rivalry in which He became the unlucky scapegoat. Personally, I find that kind of interpretation to be false and very misleading, especially when I read passages from the Gospels.

            For instance, in today’s passage, Jesus communicates a prophecy about His death. When He states that people will be drawn to Him when He is lifted up, some of His listeners must have thought that this would happen if He was exalted to the Kingship of Judea. What Christ was really saying, however, was that when He was nailed to the Cross and hoisted up before His friends and enemies, all sorts of people would be drawn to Him.

            This prophecy has been fulfilled for almost two thousand years. Every day, thousands of people on this planet are drawn nearer to Christ through the power of His sacrificial Cross. His death enables them to be delivered from their sins. His sacrifice saves them from condemnation. His cross restores them to God’s forgiveness and love.

            Today, in our communities and across the world, people are going to be drawn to Jesus and their lives will be changed forever. This is the real mission of the Church on Earth. Its task is to help humanity turn from sin, cleave to Christ’s Cross, and be reconnected to God. We may have countless ministries and missions, projects and programs to undertake, accomplish, and complete, but the One, True, and Living Purpose of Christ’s Church is to encourage, augment, and support His work of saving souls in every generation, nation, and situation.

Question for personal reflection

What does Christ’s Cross mean to me? Has it become the channel of my soul’s salvation?

Prayer:          Lord Jesus, without You we would be separated from God forever. Without Your Cross, we would be cast away eternally. Without Your sacrifice, we would be set apart from God’s mercy, forgiveness, and love. Thank You for taking on the Cross so that our sins could be taken off us. We will always be indebted to You, our Lord, Savior, and King. In your Holy Name, we gratefully 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

Today’s image is John’s latest crayon drawing. It’s called “Once in a Blue Moon.” If you would like to see a larger version, please click on this link: Moon.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Devotion: Two Places at One Time - John 11:21 & 32

John 11:21    “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 

John 11:32    When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

            It seems that even Jesus could not be present in two places at the same time. His friend Lazarus died, and when Jesus finally arrived at his home, both the sisters, Martha and Mary, express their grief and disappointment. If Jesus had arrived sooner, they each told Him, their brother would still have been alive.

            Looking back over the whole story, we discover that Jesus deliberately delayed Himself and continued His teaching in Jerusalem when He first received the news that Lazarus was ill. We now know that He did this in order to perform an amazing miracle. However, the fact that He was only 2-3 miles away from where Lazarus was sick, must have confused, and possibly angered, the two concerned sisters. Jesus deliberately chose to stay away, despite their pain and their pleas.

            We all go through times like that. We can’t ever be in two places at the one time, so we make choices based upon our personal priorities. Sometimes we get it right; on other occasions we end up disappointing someone who could do with our help, encouragement, or even our prayers.

            At the end of the story, Jesus resurrected Lazarus and restored him to his sisters. There appeared to be a happy ending and the time of brief disappointment gave way to a wonderful celebration. However, this is more than just an amazing miracle; the whole incident is parable about how we deal with death and who has the power to resurrect our souls. We may encounter loss, grief, and disappointment on Earth, but through our faith in Christ, there is a special time ahead when He will wipe away all tears from our eyes and restore us to our faithful loved ones, who have undergone that mysterious journey before us, and have been welcomed into God’s everlasting Kingdom of peace, love, and life.

Questions for personal reflection

Have I ever disappointed someone by not being there for them when they needed me? Have I ever been disappointed by someone who did the same to me? Am I willing to seek or give forgiveness?

Prayer:          Lord Jesus, sometimes we get hurt by other people because we expect too much from them. At other times, we disappoint others by not living up to their expectations. Help us to be sensitive and supportive to those who need us; allow us to be gracious and forgiving of those who have failed us. In Your Holy Name, we humbly 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

Today’s image is one of John’s latest Celtic Cross drawings. It’s called Celtic Sunrise. If you would like to view a larger version, please click on this link: Sunrise.