Thursday, December 13, 2018

Hard Times - Mark 9:24

Mark 9:24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (NIV)

            I call it ‘spiritual paralysis,’ and it usually occurs when people are overwhelmed with unrelenting worries or deep concerns about their family and loved ones. Sometimes it happens because of a serious illness or a long-term addiction; at other times it’s caused through career failures, broken relationships, or financial stress. Whatever the circumstances, the issue or crisis is so devastating that prayers are hard to say, faith is difficult to maintain, and belief in God is almost unsustainable.  People feel forsaken by the Lord and drained of their hope. Their spirits become depressed and the ability to voice their concerns to God is badly damaged. During those moments, the prayers, support, and love of the faith community are crucial.

            When Jesus dealt with the man whose son was gravely ill, He encountered this spiritual paralysis (Mark 9:14-29). The father was so overwhelmed with the boy’s illness that he doubted Christ’s ability to cure his beloved child. It was a painful moment for the man because he wanted so much to believe that his son could be healed, but his fears diminished his faith and crushed his confidence in God. His anxiety overwhelmed him and he agonized over his unbelief.

            Jesus could have walked away and left the boy unhealed. He could have blamed it all on the father and abandoned him at the time of his greatest need. Instead, Christ compassionately confronted the spiritual paralysis, the debilitating illness, and the overwhelming circumstances. Jesus restored the boy to his father, as well as his faith in God.

            Perhaps you are going through a time of spiritual paralysis or unrelenting worry. Maybe your reliance on God is wavering and your faith is weak. Whatever is at the heart of your turmoil, please know this: God still loves you and with Christ’s help, you can be repaired and restored through grace and love. You are not alone nor abandoned; you are totally loved and embraced by Jesus.

Point to ponder

What are my main worries and deepest concerns? Am I able to voice them to God? Am I willing to hand them over to Christ?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we believe; help us overcome our unbelief. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. Come along and join us for worship on Sundays at 11:00 AM. You will be made very welcome 😊

Today’s image is of a Blue Christmas candle which is traditionally lit for folks who find this time of year difficult. If you would like to view a larger version, please click this link: Candle.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Just Yeast - Mark 8:15

Mark 8:15 “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.” (NIV)

            For most people who bake bread, yeast is absolutely essential. Yeast enables the dough to be more flexible for shaping, to help the bread rise in the oven, and to add some texture and flavor to the whole loaf. Without the yeast, most loaves would be flat and a bit bland. With the yeast, however, thousands of different breads can be baked to make them look attractive in the shops, stores, and bakeries where we buy them.

            Yeast breaks down the sugars in the other mixed ingredients and releases carbon dioxide which allows the bread to rise. Most of the flavor in bread is determined by the crust that the yeast helps to create. As it permeates throughout the combined ingredients, every part of the bread is affected by the yeast. In fact, the quality of the bread is mainly developed by the yeast’s pervasive presence.

            When Christ’s warned His disciples about the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod, He was cautioning them about the false words and ways His opponents would use to influence and corrupt their spirits. His closest followers were not immune from the wiles and ways of deceitful people; in fact, because His disciples were deeply religious, they were more susceptible to being manipulated by those who were deemed to be powerful, authoritative, and in control. Jesus gave His disciples this grave warning because He was concerned that His own people would be led astray. This is why He also referred to the Pharisees as vipers and called Herod a fox. Their message could poison the hearts and minds of the people and their cunning charms could even contaminate the most faithful of servants.

            The importance of this lesson still remains with us today. Faithful people are not flawless, nor are they protected from the lies of leaders and the deliberate deception of despicable demagogues. We only have to look back to the 1940s to see how outrage and nationalism corrupted the hearts and minds of millions of people, most of whom were good church-going Christians. They yielded to the yeast of jingoism, allowing it to destroy decency, causing them to descend into depravity, furthering disunity, and promoting idolatry. With this in mind, Christ’s teaching about the yeast is very clear: if we embrace liars, we become the lie; if we excuse falsehood, we become just as false.

Point to ponder

Who or what currently influences me most? What would Jesus honestly say about this influence?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You gladly call us to be Your servants but You also ask us to be aware of other things that can distract us from You and divert us from the truth. Keep us mindful of our weaknesses and protect us from those who would brazenly corrupt us with lies, deceptions, and devious ways. In Your Holy Name, we fervently pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. If you have some questions about today’s message, please send him an email to

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

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Christmas Songs - Psalm 101:1

Psalm 101:1 I will sing of your love and justice; to you, Lord, I will sing praise. (NIV)

            It’s that special time of year when we hear a lot of wonderful songs that we have learned and loved each Christmas. Whether we’re in church or at a mall, working at home or driving our car, we’re probably listening to carols and popular songs which stir our feelings and cause us to sing along with our favorite singers. As I write this, I’m listening to crooners like Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Bing Crosby sing some golden oldies, as well as enjoying country singers like Reba, Shania Twain, and Dolly Parton perform some well-loved hymns and new songs for Christmas. It’s a pleasant experience and makes me thankful to God for the gifts and talents of both singers and songwriters who keep alive the Spirit of Christmas.

            Today’s highlighted Bible verse reminds us that our traditional Christmas hymns celebrate God’s love and justice. As scripture elsewhere proclaims, God loves humanity so much that He sent Jesus into the world to save us from our sins and stop us being eternally separated from God. His justice is also shown through the unmerited gifts of mercy and grace – God gives us more than we deserve and accepts us more than we can ever achieve. So, when we hear or sing the songs of Christmas, we can actually feel God’s delight in healing humanity of unholiness and lovingly restoring us to His Kingdom.

Point to ponder
What is my favorite Christmas hymn? How does it express to me God’s love and justice?

Prayer: Lord God, thank You for this wonderful time of year when we celebrate the birth of Your Son and look forward to the moment when He will return among us. Fill our hearts with Your favor and love to enable us to share those gifts with everyone we encounter during this beautiful season of joy and goodwill. In Christ’s Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. Come and join us for worship on Sundays at 11:00 AM – you’ll be made very welcome. If you’ve felt blessed by this devotional, you can make an online donation to the church at this link: Erin Gifts.

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