Thursday, October 23, 2014

Preaching Devotion: Street Corners - Matthew 22:9

Matthew 22:9 Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.' 

            When I first became a Christian, I wanted to tell everybody about Jesus. He filled my heart and my life with an amazing and wonderful joy. It was a liberating experience for me because from the moment that I gave my heart to Jesus, my life changed.

            On some Saturday nights, instead of going to the city pubs, I joined a group of young folks who stood on street corners in the city center, preaching the Gospel to any passers-by. Sometimes we were jeered and mocked; on other occasions, people stopped to listen, although most of them were drunk. I don’t know if we changed any lives, but it did change us. It made us more connected to Christ and more willing to serve Him wherever He sent us.

            When I look back on those times I often envy those young free-spirited Christians. These days, I preach from the safety of behind a pulpit or a laptop. The message is still the same, but it doesn’t have that raw and wild component to it. There’s a lack of spontaneity, and sometimes a lack of spirit.

            I think this is why Presbyterians are losing ground across the world. We don’t like chaos or improvisation; we feel compelled to present the message decently and with order. We want to lecture people about the faith instead of living it. We want to safely control the Spirit and keep things cozily contained, instead of being moved by the Spirit and sent out into the shopping malls and city streets.

            Perhaps the real point of today’s parable (Matthew 22:1-14) is that Christians are meant to invite people to participate in God’s Kingdom. We get too focused on church attendance and denominational concerns that we forget that Christ’s real work is out there on the city streets and in the busy malls.

Questions for personal reflection

Have I shared my faith with someone else recently? Have I displayed the reality of God’s Kingdom where I live, where I work, and where I shop?

Prayer:           Lord Jesus, You want to invite everyone to come to Your Kingdom and celebrate with God. Forgive us for being focused on too many other things, as well as for forgetting that Your ministry takes place mainly in the world, outside of the church. Grant us the courage and wisdom to share our Christian beliefs humbly and joyfully. 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 a question about today’s message, please send him an email to

Today’s image is one of John’s popular Fall drawings. It features a wee chipmunk eating an acorn and is called “Fall Break.” If you would like to view a larger version of the drawing, click on the following link: Chipmunk.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Bible devotion: A Good King - 2 Kings 15:6

2 Kings 15:6    As for the other events of Azariah's reign, and all he did, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Judah?

            Azariah began to reign over Judah when he was sixteen years old. According to the Bible, he was king for fifty two years. He was a good king, but we really don’t know anything about his reign. Today’s Bible verse hints at a book that has never been rediscovered – The Annals of the Kings of Judah. We don’t know what it contains because it was lost thousands of years ago, probably during the time of exile. There may have been many events, circumstances, and miracles during Azariah’s reign that would interest us, but we will never know of them unless archaeologists actually find those lost scrolls.

            The fact that he reigned over the nation for fifty two years must have meant that the land and his people had continuity, peace, and prosperity. Most of the countries around Judah were in turmoil at this time, so he must have been a strong leader, astute diplomat, as well as a wise king. Perhaps, one day in glory, we’ll get to hear about Azariah’s reign from his own lips because he appears to have been a very faithful king, too.

            In Shakespeare’s play ‘Julius Caesar’, Mark Anthony says this about the lives of leaders:
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;’

This, sadly, may be the case concerning Azariah’s life. Evil kings around him had their deeds recorded in the scriptures, but the life, work, and faithful ways of good King Azariah are unknown. Whatever he accomplished has been forgotten; how he faithfully served God is not remembered. However, this may be the case on Earth, but I don’t think that his goodness has gone unnoticed in the Heavenly realms.

            Sometimes faithful people despair at trying to be good. Taking and keeping the high road in personal circumstances, as well as against the tide of public opinion, can be grueling, exhausting, and often unrewarding. However, for those who endure despite the opposition, as well as the injustices smeared against them, the eternal reward is far greater than anything we can ever know, experience, or receive on Earth. As St. Paul wrote: “Blessings beyond our seeing, hearing, and knowing are prepared by God for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Questions for personal reflection

Where and when do I display the goodness of God in my life? What will other people remember about me?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, we try to be good people and faithful servants. We know that we don’t always succeed, but we pray that You will continue to grant us opportunities and circumstances that will allow us to positively witness to Your love, compassion, and kingdom. 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 write a comment about today’s message, please send John an email to He enjoys reading and receiving your feedback.

Today’s image is one of John’s fun drawings for Halloween called “Text Hex.” If you would like to see a larger version of it, please click on the following link: Text Hex.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Devotion on Grace: The Gift of Grace - Matthew 20:15

Matthew 20:15        Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?

            Today’s Gospel passage (Matthew 20:1-16) has nothing to do with workers’ rights, shrewd employers, or salary compensation; it’s all about the grace of God and how He freely and independently chooses to bestow it upon anyone that He selects. Grace belongs to God, so when He blesses someone that we think doesn't deserve it, then we need to ask ourselves this question: who does deserve God’s grace?

            Of course, the honest answer to that question is no one deserves God’s grace, otherwise it would simply be a meritorious award or an honorary gift. We all for short of the standards that God expects of us; we all sin on a daily basis, so if God simply gave His grace to those who deserved it, no one would experience or know of God’s grace ever again.

            It’s because God is gracious that we can begin again each day with a clean slate. It’s because of God’s grace that we can turn away from our sin and turn toward His love. It’s because of God’s grace that we can live our lives not under the fear of judgment and wrath, but with the joy and gladness that only grace can bring. As the old hymn emphatically states, grace is absolutely amazing!

            Perhaps you still feel guilty about something you did in the past, or some wrong that you committed which hurt someone else. Maybe you regret something that you said or did which disappointed God and still makes you feel ashamed. Perhaps you believe that you cannot be forgiven, so all you deserve is God’s wrath and eternal punishment for a horrible sin in your life. To tell you the truth, every Christian feels that way; every church person knows that reality; every follower of Jesus has experienced those kind of faults and failures.

            However, because God is gracious and because He wants to give grace, we can all be forgiven and restored, pardoned and accepted of anything and everything that we have ever said or done. There are no limits to God’s grace when we come to Him humbly and sincerely seeking His pardon. When we acknowledge our sinfulness before Him in prayer, He gives to us His grace through Jesus Christ, His Son and our Savior.

Questions for personal reflection

What is the biggest regret in my life? Am I willing to confess it to God, in order to receive His grace?

Prayer:           Lord Jesus, You are the instrument of God’s grace and the channel of His mercy. We know that we do not deserve such a wonderful and amazing gift. We thank You for sacrificing Yourself so that we may be given God’s amazing and absolute grace in our sinful lives. In Your Holy Name, we thankfully 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

Today’s image is one of John’s latest Nativity drawing for kids. It’s called “Babushka Nativity.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click on this link: Nativity.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Advent Devotions for Churches

As many of you know, I write a lot of devotionals throughout the year. This year, I have written a full set of devotions for Advent for the congregation that I serve. For each day of Advent, beginning on Sunday 30th November, I have written a short devotion to correspond to the daily lectionary reading from the prophets. A Bible verse is highlighted, a question for reflection is posed, and a prayer is written at the end of the devotional.

If any churches would like Word file copies of the templates, then I would be willing to send them by email. The price is only $10 for the full set of four. Payment can be made via Paypal or check. An invoice for church records will also be sent via email.

Anyone who is interested may contact me by email at

Monday, October 06, 2014

Christian devotions: Some Serious Doubts - 2 Kings 10:7

2 Kings 10:7             When the letter arrived, these men took the princes and slaughtered all seventy of them. They put their heads in baskets and sent them to Jehu in Jezreel.

            It’s one of the bloodiest moments in the Bible and it’s done in the name of God. Seventy young princes are beheaded by their guardians simply because their father’s enemy Jehu believes that he is fulfilling God’s prophetic word of condemnation upon Ahab and his descendants. It seems that men way back then, just like now in the Middle East, justified their most gruesome and inhumane acts through the trappings and convenience of religion.

            When I read of those macabre events, as well as the cruel beheadings of innocents that are taking place today, it causes me to both despair of religious humanity, as well as to ask serious questions about God. If the slaughtering of people is the means by which God’s promises are fulfilled, does that mean that we are following a capricious deity who could wipe out the entire planet on a whim? I feel uneasy about asking that question because it may appear to others that I am casting doubt in the true existence of God. Be assured that I am not - what I’m really exploring is the sinful human ability to use God as the means of justifying wicked acts.

            This reminds me of what happened to Jesus. Religious people conspired against Him and used their scriptures to justify the decision to destroy Him. Jesus was conveniently killed by a political capital punishment process, but make no mistake about this, it was God-fearing servants and clergy who put Him on the Cross. The irony of it all was this: the people who believed that they were following and fulfilling God’s will were actually killing His Son. The wickedness and defiance of religious people against embracing God’s Son revealed the absolute depths of brutality, vehemence, and sin that people of faith will often justify, even today.

            So what’s the lesson in all of this? What can we glean and apply in our own lives? I think that the answer is one of self-awareness. Our zeal for God can destroy our love for one another. Our religious stances can obliterate our Gospel witness. Our strong faith can overpower and oppress those who are weak, vulnerable, and alienated – the very people that Jesus meant for us to tolerate, support, and love.

Questions for personal reflection

Have I ever used my faith to put down or humiliate someone else? If so, have I sought Christ’s forgiveness, or do I still justify my sinful action?

Prayer:          Lord Jesus, protect us from our self-righteousness and religious bigotry. Open our hearts and minds to Your loving teachings that continually challenge our passions and principles. Keep us on Your faithful path and protect us from our unjust ways. 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 passage, please send him an email to

Today’s image is one of my latest Halloween drawings, made with crayons and paper sculpting. It’s called “Halloween Hoot.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link: Owl.

Monday, September 29, 2014

World Communion Devotion: Feed the World - Matthew 15:36

Matthew 15:36         Then Jesus took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. (NIV)

            One of the first pictures that I ever saw of Jesus was contained in a children’s book. In my mind’s eye I can still see it. Jesus is standing at the top of a hill with his hands held up in prayer to God. Before Him, on a rock, loaves and fishes have been placed. His disciples are gathered beside Him and a great crowd of people are around them, all over the hillside. It was a beautiful picture of the miraculous feeding of thousands of people and it has stayed in my heart ever since.

            As an adult, the nearest that I ever get to experiencing this bounteous beauty happens each month during the Communion service at the church I serve. About a hundred and fifty people are offered a little square of bread and a small cup of wine; they are spiritually fed and soulfully satisfied. They are at peace with God and filled with Christ’s love. It’s a wonderful church moment of grace and hope. Needless to say, I look forward to this experience each month.

            This Sunday, the whole world will be celebrating Communion across the entire globe. People from other lands will share in this amazing and wonderful feast. To me, World Communion Sunday is almost as important as Christmas Day, Easter, and Pentecost. It’s the one day in the year when Christians everywhere share in the blessings of Christ’s sacrificial love. It’s about as close to ‘peace on Earth’ as we will ever experience on this side of glory.

            So wherever you are this Sunday, let me urge and encourage you to join in this celebratory feast of Christ. Isn't it amazing that little squares of bread and small cups of wine will unite millions of Christians across the world? Isn't it wonderful that Christ’s miraculous feeding of His people is still experienced today?

Questions for personal reflection

What does Communion mean to me? How will my spirit connect to other Christians across the globe on World Communion Sunday?

Prayer:          Lord Jesus, we thank You for the gift of Communion which has become a holy and precious experience in our lives. Thank You for the promises that are fulfilled through the giving of Your sacred body and blood on Calvary, as well as the receiving and partaking of the holy bread and wine that we are offered at Communion. Bless us and all Your people on Earth, especially during World Communion Sunday. In Your Holy 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 a comment about today’s message, please send him an email to

Today’s image is John’s latest drawing for World Communion Sunday. If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link: Communion.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Gospel Devotion: An Art Lesson - Matthew 14:11

Matthew 14:11         His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother.

            When I was growing up in Glasgow, Scotland, my Dad used to frequently take my siblings and I to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery in the heart of the city. It was always a fascinating place to visit and because my Dad was a great city historian, he used to tell us stories about the museum, as well as some interesting facts about that part of Glasgow.

            The museum is one of the most important art galleries in the world because it contains paintings by Rembrandt, Renoir, Picasso, Dali, Van Gogh, Monet, as well as many others by famous artists. When we visited the museum, it took a whole day to walk the hallways and corridors, sections and levels. If ever I get back to Scotland, it will be one of the first and foremost places that I’ll visit.

            One of the museum’s sections contained art by Italian painters from before, during, and after the Renaissance. One of paintings both startled and shocked me when I saw it for the first time. It was Dolci’s rendition of Salome carrying the bloodied head of John the Baptist on a silver platter. The woman in the painting is beautiful, but the macabre sight of John’s the Baptist’s decapitated head is horrendous. When I first saw it, I found myself both appalled and attracted to the painting at the same time. It was entirely a weird experience for such a young schoolboy.

            The Biblical account of this event (Matthew 14:1-12) reminds us of the evil that is in the world and which innocent people face in every generation. We only have to glance at the current news headlines to see this type of wicked inhumanity occurring in the Middle East and, unfortunately, across the globe. As Christians, we are meant to confront evil with God’s love, which is never easy to do, especially when people of our own faith are victims of oppression and persecution.

            So today’s message deals with the reality of evil on our planet, but also challenges us to use the divine vehicles of hope, faith, and love to change the world. It may not be easy, but it is Christ’s way.

Questions for personal reflection

How do I initially respond to reports of wickedness across the world? What am I doing with my faith to make my community a better place?

Prayer:          Lord Jesus, following Your ways is often difficult, especially in the face of wickedness and violence, conflict and evil. Help us to rely upon You to fortify our spirits, so that we may become channels of Your mercy and instruments of Your peace. 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 a question about today’s message, please send him an email to

Today’s image is Dolci’s painting of Salome. You can read more details of the painting at the following link: Salome.