Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Session devotions: Struggling - Romans 3:20

Romans 3:20  Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.

We all struggle with sin. There is not one of us who lives life perfectly, so in God’s eyes, we are unholy, imperfect, and just not good. We can justify our sins and make excuses for our mistakes, but that just compounds the difficulties in our lives and our relationship with God.

Most of us just want to be happy and hope that God understands when we fail Him. We want to be loved and tolerated, accepted and embraced by God, without being challenged or changed. We want our choices to be approved and our lives to be given an A+, but that’s a sinful delusion and selfish way of dealing with life. We are not at the center of God’s great universe; we are not God’s sole focus in the world. We are sinners who do unholy, unworthy, and ungodly things. We are careless creatures who cast God aside when He gets in the way of getting what we desire, and living the way that we want.

Thankfully, God knows us better than we actually understand ourselves, which is why He sent us His Son to die for our sins, in order that all things could be redeemed, reconciled, and restored perfectly to Him. Great sinners like ourselves need a Great Savior. Who else but the Holy Son of God can forgive our sins and bring us back to God? In all of the universe, there is Only One; in All of Creation, there is just One Savior: Jesus Christ.

Questions for personal reflection

What is my most repeated sin? How can Jesus forgive me, and empower me to overcome that persistent sin?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, forgive our foolish and imperfect ways. Pardon our sinful and unholy words. Challenge our lives and change us for the better. 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 questions about today’s message, please send him an email to

Today’s image is one of John’s latest Nativity drawings called “Royal Baby.” If you would like to view a larger version of the image, please click on the following link:

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Presbyterian devotions: 84 Million - Exodus 1:12-13

Exodus 1:12-13          But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites and worked them ruthlessly. 

Sometimes when people are oppressed because of their faith, they grow in numbers. Christianity in China is a good example of this. In 1949 when the Communists took control of China, there were only about 500,000 Christians in the nation. After persecuting the church for more than sixty years, how many Christians are there in China? 84 million.

It appears that when Christianity is backed into a corner and almost annihilated, it finds a new way out and grows. Perhaps at some future point in our decadent and deviant Western society, we will see a real re-emergence of the church because Christians will once again stand up for their beliefs, instead of embracing the culture which is causing a passive church to wither and decay.

Long ago, the Egyptians used a form of genocide in an attempt to wipe out the Jewish community in their midst. It didn’t work because God’s will could not be thwarted by mere politics, no matter how powerful the leader of the Egyptians appeared to be. Moses was predestined to be born and become a great leader of his people. God desired this, so human wickedness would not prevail.

In years to come, missionaries will be sent from Africa and Asia, India and China to Europe and the Americas in order to reclaim churches and Christians for Christ. God’s work will not be undone and Christ’s words will always endure. Our role in our churches today is to be faithful to God’s Word and serve Christ truly, even when it is unpopular. If we do that then a people yet unborn may be reclaimed for Christ and His Kingdom.

Questions for personal reflection

Has my faith grown in times of adversity? Have I personally shared my Christian beliefs with the upcoming generation?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, all over the world people are praising Your Name and believing in Your Words. New churches are springing up in hostile areas and Your mission is being accomplished across this planet. Help us to strengthen our faith, in the good times as well as the bad. 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 of today’s message, please send him an email to

Today’s image is another of John’s 2012 Advent drawings simply called “Advent.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link:

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thanksgiving Devotion: A Tale of Two Gifts

Zechariah 12:10         “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.”

John 1:14       The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. 

The older I get, the more I need God’s grace in my life. Decades ago, I thought it would be the reverse. I believed then that I would by now have worked out all of my flaws, failings, and mistakes because I would be older, wiser, and more mature. The reality is a whole lot different: I get set in my ways, whine for the good old days, and feel out of place. Ecclesiastical curmudgeonary and dinosaurial drudgery can best describe me at times. I was born in the 1950’s, raised in the sixties, and formed in the seventies. I’m a 20th century man living in a 21st century world. I know how I would like things to be but there’s no going back; in order to accommodate a new bold world, I constantly need an old beautiful gift: grace.

The two Bible verses for today were written hundreds of years apart, but they express God’s remedy for a broken world in almost the same terms: ‘grace and supplication’ and ‘grace and truth.’ In the Old Testament, God’s patience and mercy were appealed to through the means of sacrifice and supplication. In the New Testament, the Supreme Sacrifice had already been made, so the opportunity of God’s patience and mercy were given through this truth: Jesus is the Savior of our sins. In the past, grace was a means of being granted the permission to approach God; now grace through Christ means that we can not only approach God, but we may also abide with Him forever.

Grace: an ancient, blessed, and beautiful gift from God granted to us today (and for all time) through Jesus Christ our Lord and King.

Question for personal reflection
How many times have I needed God’s grace this week?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, You were given to us to become the ultimate sacrifice and universal Savior of the world. By Your obedience and death, we have been given God’s grace and life. We will always be truly thankful for Your wonderful gift. In Your Holy Name, we humbly and gratefully pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. If you would like to comment on today’s message or ask a question of him, please send an email to John is always delighted to read your comments and answer your questions.

Today’s image is one of John’s latest Nativity drawing for 2012. It’s called “First Family” and is currently being used by churches in the United States, Switzerland, and England for their Christmas advertizing campaigns. If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link:

John has signed 8x11 prints available. Contact him by email for details.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Session devotions: Heavenly Rejoicing - Luke 15:10

Luke 15:10 Jesus concluded: “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Every day, I do something wrong. I say the wrong thing or forget to do the right thing. I break a promise that I made or neglect an obligation I meant to fulfill. I break one of God’s commandments or I deliberately go against Christ’s Word. In short, I am a habitual sinner who needs to repent every single day.

When I’m made aware of my mistakes, I get defensive at first. I don’t want to claim the sin as my own or take the blame for what is wrong. I’m just like a quarterback that I watched recently on television who threw a terrible ball which his receiver could not catch. As he ran off the field, he looked to his coach and I lip-read his words: “It wasn’t me,” he said. He didn’t want to take ownership of his mistake and, unfortunately, his attitude permeated across the entire team. Needless to say, they lost the game.

After initially being defensive, I later realize that I’ve made a mistake and seek forgiveness for what I’ve done wrong. This process is called repentance in the Bible and it involves letting go of my pride by humbly asking for God’s pardon. So long as I recognize that my sinful behavior, misdeed, or mistake is wrong, I can repent. If ever I believe that my sinful behavior is acceptable, then even God cannot help me and His grace can never be applied to my life.

That’s why there is a lot of rejoicing in Heaven when a sinner truly repents and returns to God. The free will choice to do as we please can either be a blessing or a curse. When we choose to repent, we are restored to God and Heaven rejoices; that’s also when the beauty of God’s grace can positively change our lives forever.

Questions for personal reflection

When have I ever truly repented before God? Is there something that I am still reluctant to confess to Him?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, we were created to worship God and enjoy Him forever. Sometimes we worship our lifestyles and idolize our choices. Keep us from harming our souls and prevent us from following spiritual paths that lead to dead ends. Help us to see the need to repent and release us from our unconfessed sins. 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 on today’s message, please send him an email to

Today’s image is John’s latest Fall drawing called “Autumn Delight” and features the Glade Creek Mill in the Babcock National Park of West Virginia. If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link:

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Elders devotions: Sticks and stones - Luke 7:32

Luke 7:32       Jesus said: “They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.'”

The street I lived on as a child was the greatest playground I have ever known. My brothers and I played with the other kids at football, hide and seek, rounders, dodgie ball, best man fall, kick the can, red rover, hopscotch (known as ‘peever’ in Glasgow) and were even known to play skipping ropes with the girls or challenge them to a hula hoop contest (which the girls always won). The street was always full of excitement and laughter, cheers and songs.

Sometimes we all fell out with each other and formed cliques. We would then yell at each other across the street and call one another names. At some point, both groups would end up singing “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” We would sing it as loudly as we could until one of the homeowners on the street would come outside to tell us kids that we were making too much noise. This was immediately met with peals of laughter, at which point, we forgot our dispute and gathered together again to play a new game.

In Christ’s time, the children also played on the street and sang derisive songs to one another. Today’s verse includes one of them which must have been well known to Jesus, as well as His listeners. He used the song as an example of people always finding fault with others, whose narrow-minded ways or bitterness precluded them from enjoying the wonders of God’s Kingdom and Christ’s ministry. Usually, His veiled comments were meant for the religious authorities who were displeased with, and displaced by, His ministry. Their callous hearts could not comprehend the compassion of His work. Their self-righteousness severed them from God’s love.

As Christians, we can be smug at times and spiritually aloof. Our pride can damage our effective witness and our religious arrogance can undermine Christ’s great work. It’s never easy to be a Christian, but sometimes we are our own worst enemies. Perhaps, instead of scornfully singing dirges of derision at the world, we should cheerfully give voice to the songs of salvation for the healing of God’s Creation.

Question for personal reflection

What kind of song of faith do I sing to the world with my life and Christian beliefs?

Prayer:                        Lord Jesus, there are times when we read the Gospels that
we find it easy to delude ourselves into thinking that we would never have complained against You or derided Your ministry. However, when we honestly reflect upon those divisive events in Your past, we know that we are guilty of the same excesses of religious self-righteousness and damaging witness of our faith. Forgive us and help us to change our lives according to Your 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 on today’s message, please send him an email to

Today’s image is the book cover of my latest e-book of devotions called “Challenges to Change Us.” You can view a larger version of the cover at the following link:

You can also view samples of the book online at the following Amazon link:

Monday, July 9, 2012

Presbyterian devotions: Read the Bible

Genesis 25:1   Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. 

Luke 4:29       They got up, drove Jesus out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. 

Okay, hands up all of you out there who knew that a) Abraham married again after Sarah died and b) that Jesus was almost thrown off a cliff to His death by his own neighbors?

I’m thinking that there may not be many hands up out there and that you are probably surprised by these events. Not many pastors preach on those topics and I can’t ever remember a Sunday school class ever tackling these passages. And yet, these events are written and described in the Bible, so why don’t we know about them?

We’ve stopped reading the Bible, plain and simple. We’ve all the time in the world for a best-selling novel, or checking our emails, or reading our tweets and texts, but when it comes to actually reading God’s best seller, God’s text message – the Bible, we’ve grown careless and inconsistent, making ourselves biblically weak and scripturally ignorant.

That’s why the church in Western society is encountering so much inner turmoil. Mainstream Christians believe that their own life experiences and personal feelings, their own ideas and individual opinions outweigh God’s Word. They want their faith to be relevant, but they don’t want to read the scriptures. They want their culture to be accepted, but they don’t want to accept Christ’s Gospel. In fact, when faced with the audacity of the New Testament message, they want to throw the uncompromising Christ and His First followers, like Peter and Paul, over a cultural cliff. In other words, they want the church to catch up with the world and alter its Christian ways, rather than face up to the world and challenge it to change.

I firmly believe that if people want their churches to grow, they have to re-invest their time in God’s Word. It’s no use hoping for the best and wishing things were different; if Christians really want to be effective and influential in the world, they honestly need to know God’s Book from beginning to end. Anything else will just be superficially experiential and grossly inauthentic.

Questions for personal reflection

How often do I read the scriptures? How can I make this a daily practice?

Prayer:                        Lord Jesus, our generation of church going people is guilty of setting aside scripture reading. We may pray to You several times a day especially in times of crisis and trouble, but we are forgetting or failing to read, meditate, and study Your Word.
Forgive our foolishness and keep us from becoming ignorant of Your Ways. Help us to make the time to read the Bible, as well as continually praying. In Your Holy Name, we humbly ask. Amen.

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

Today’s image is John’s latest “Bonnie Scotland” drawing. It’s a winter scene of the beautiful Eilean Donan castle which has been used in many movies. If you would like to view a larger version, then please click on the following link:

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Presbyterian devotionals: My Eyes Have Seen - Luke 2:30-32

Luke 2:30-32              “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

I have seen God’s salvation in the lives of other people, as well as my own. I have seen addicts turn their lives around and their families restored. I have seen people healed of various illnesses and injuries, and have watched them continue to enjoy life. I have seen the work of many churches across various cities, towns, and villages seeking to support the weak, love the lost, and embrace the hopeless. I have seen the work of missions and missionaries among the poorest of people and in the most deprived communities on Earth. In all of these places and among all of these people, I have seen the continuing ministry of Christ and God’s unending work of salvation.

The prayer of Simeon of old is still relevant in today’s world. All over globe, Christians are working for the Lord to bring salvation to anxious persons and healing to broken hearts. Life is a constant struggle for most people on this small planet, but Christ’s work, words, and ways still manage to bring light and love, as well as hope and healing to billions of human beings in hundreds of nations.

The prophecy that Simeon expressed in the Temple courts is still being experienced today. If we open our eyes to see, our ears to hear, and our hearts to receive, we will notice what God is truly doing among us. Christ’s light reveals to us the redemption, renovation, and restoration of lives throughout the Earth. We only have to be open to His Spirit; we only have to be willing to serve Christ in order to see.

Questions for personal reflection

Where is God at work in my life, community, and world today? How may I help Him?

Prayer:             Lord Jesus, You are the Light of the world and we look to You for everlasting hope and eternal life. You came into this planet to restore us to God through mercy and forgiveness, grace and love. Thank You for these priceless gifts and infinite blessings. In Your Holy Name, we gratefully pray. Amen.

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

Today’s drawing is John’s latest stained glass design. It’s based upon windows that he saw as a child when living in tenements in Glasgow, Scotland. The drawing is called both “Halfway Up the Stairs” and “Glasgow Rose.” If you would like to see a larger version, click on the following link: