Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A Powerful Presence - 1 Corinthians 4:20

1 Corinthians 4:20 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. (NIV)

            I spent six years at the University of Glasgow in the Divinity Faculty. The first four years were used to attain a Bachelor’s degree; the last two were post-grad studies in Practical Theology. The Bachelor’s degree prepared me for teaching the Bible and preaching the Word of God. The post-grad studies helped me to see how those words could be applied as ministry in the world.

            One of my post-grad assignments involved spending two days per week in a respite center for folks who were suffering from dementia. This was a new field at the time and the medical team of doctors and nurses who worked at the center were pioneering new methods and processes of caring for patients who were gradually losing their connections with the world. I was in my twenties and felt as though I was participating in an episode of the Twilight Zone. I found it difficult to relate to the patients and struggled to hold meaningful, theological conversations with them. I felt completely out of my depth and after a couple of weeks, I wanted to be reassigned.

            When I discussed this with my Practical Theology professor, he listened to my concerns sympathetically. I thought that I had convinced him to send me somewhere else, but he reminded me that I wasn’t there to fix the patients, convert them to Christ, or care for their souls. My role was to present God’s Word as ‘presence’. Being there was not just important for the patients, but also for the nurses who cared greatly about the people. The theology I was practicing had a name attached to it: Incarnation. In other words, the power of God was present in and with the people of God. I was just merely a channel of God’s peace and an instrument of His love. I realized there and then that the most powerful way of expressing God’s Word to the world was not through preaching or teaching; it was powerful through just being present.

            Since then, in all of the churches that I have served, I have seen this at work through the heartfelt and pastoral presence of the people. It is still a very humbling and beautiful way to practice ministry and I am thankful to be part of a tradition where the priesthood of all believers – the ministry of the people for each other – continues to be the most effective way to practice, extend, and advance the Christian faith. Perhaps, with this in mind, the apostle Paul could also have written today’s verse this way: ‘For the kingdom of God is not a matter of preaching but of presence.’

Point to ponder

How can I share God’s presence with others today?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, Your presence in our world changed us forever. You left Heaven to be with us on Earth. You reached down to us, so we could be lifted up to God by Your presence. Thank You for being there when we needed You, and thank You for being with us still. In Your Holy Name, we gratefully pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian in Knoxville, Tennessee. If you would like to give feedback on today’s message, please send him an email to

Today’s image is one of John’s Communion drawings called ‘Epiklesis.’ If you would like to view a larger version, please click this link: Epiklesis.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Worthiness - 1 Corinthians 3:16

1 Corinthians 3:16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? (NIV)

            There are days when all of us go through some sort of depression or low self-esteem. It may come after a family argument, or when a project fails, or as a result of being unjustly accused. We may feel worthless and empty, of no value to anyone or totally insignificant. We may think less of our gifts and strength and more about weaknesses and faults, especially when we see others around us accomplish much with their lives and be successful. It happens to all of us and if you remember Christ’s struggles throughout His life, you also know He hit rock bottom, too. (John 6:60-66)

            Today’s highlighted verse is a great comfort to me when I’m feeling down. It reminds me that God’s Spirit dwells within me, sinner though I am and so unworthy of such a presence. This tells me that God thinks more about me than I do of myself. Because God loves me, I understand that I am a child of His grace and still a servant of His Son.

            No matter what you’re going through and no matter what you’ve done; no matter how bad you feel about yourself or your present circumstances, please know this: God’s Spirit abides within you and in His eyes, you are precious, accepted, and loved, not just at this time, but forever.

Point to ponder

Am I feeling down about myself? Do I know that God loves me truly?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for loving us so completely that You sacrificed Yourself so that we may be restored to God’s favor and love. In those dark moments when we are down and depressed, let Your Spirit embrace and sustain us from within. 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 send feedback about today’s message, send him an email to

Today’s image is one of John’s recent lectionary drawings based on a verse from Isaiah called “Diadem.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click this link: Diadem.

Friday, January 12, 2018

A Worldly Psalm - Psalm 24:1

Psalm 24:1      The Earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it (NIV)

            Psalm 24 has always been one of my favorite passages of the Bible, ever since I first read today’s highlighted verse. To me, this line epitomizes how God sees the world and all of the people on Earth. He doesn’t see boundaries or nations. He doesn’t look at economic classes or intellectual elites. He sees a beautiful blue planet with billions of people. He sees everyone as a special creature and a child of His grace.

            Sadly, human history is littered with events which depart from this divine outlook. Human beings have treated each other with disdain, disrespect, and disinterest, forcing the poor and powerless to become helpless and hopeless. Tyrants have often dismissed and inhumanely treated other people just for being weak and wallowing in their misery. Wars and famines continually break out in areas where people are downtrodden and life is worth nothing. To escape these tragic hardships and cruel conditions, people sell their children into slavery or abandon their communities completely to the aggressors. How God can look down and see what we’re doing to ourselves is incomprehensible to people of faith. We believe we are better than this, and that the world is truly worth saving, no matter where people come from, no matter who they are.

            As Christians, we are held to a higher standard by God than those of other religions. Why? Because we call ourselves the followers of Christ, the Son of God, who gave His life for everyone. He didn’t cast people off because they were poor. He didn’t castigate folks for where they came from – remember, Christ was born in a dirty stable because His parents were forced to leave their home by a greedy and oppressive Emperor. Jesus, the center of our faith and the King of our lives did not disparage people whose lives were wrecked because His family experienced this, too; instead, He told marginalized people everywhere, ‘Come to me all you who are weary and I will give you rest.’

So, if we still dare to continue to call ourselves Christians, are we not obligated by Christ to do and show the same?

Point to ponder

Who did Jesus die for? Why? Are we as Christians willing to love other people in the same ways as Christ? Are we willing to welcome those who are so much different from ourselves?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we call You the Lord of our hearts, so we seek to serve You with our lives. There is not one person on this Earth that You do not love, for we are all equal in Your eyes. Keep us from the sins of self-piety or of justifying unbridled prejudice. Enable us to see all others as children of Your grace, just as we hope that we are in Your eyes. In Your Holy Name, we pray.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. If you would like to send feedback on today’s devotional, John would be delighted to receive your email at

Today’s image is one of John’s early drawing called ‘Face to Face.’ If you would like to view a larger version, please click this link: Face.