Sunday, December 31, 2006

Fairy Stones

(I wrote this for the Presbyterian Church of Canada. It's published on their devotional website today).

Proverbs 22:28 - Do not move an ancient boundary stone set up by your forefathers. (NIV)

They call them "fairy stones" in Scotland. One sees them in the middle of fields. The owner of the field works around them and tries not to disturb these very large boulders, for fear of bringing a curse upon his farm and family. The farmers believe that the faeries who circle the stone on moonlit nights would be angry if the rock were moved. Most of the farmers know it's only a superstition, but because they depend upon the fortunes of the weather and the intricate cooperation of nature to grow large crops, they won't test their luck by removing the boulders.

They are ancient stones, which were probably left by a receding glacier, but somehow the local Scottish people attached to them superstitions and folklore that have survived many generations. The stone does nothing for the farm and only causes bother when working around it, but it takes a brave and reckless farmer to remove one. And, if he does, then every piece of bad luck, blighted crops, or personal tragedies are blamed on the removal of the stone.

The ancient Hebrews were warned against removing stones from their land, but not for superstitious reasons. The stones that they set up were used for land measurements, separating allotments, and for marking historical or religious events. A stone was an enduring witness to the claims of local landowners. They also marked the times of deliverance that the people experienced from God. Removing these ancient stones was prohibited because such would lead to property disputes and make the people forget God's great deeds of the past.

Christians talk more about rocks than they do of stones. We call Christ our Rock and our Redeemer, implying that His work of salvation endures generation after generation. He doesn't get in the way, for He is our way. He isn't an obstacle to work around; He is the centre of our lives. And because He is our Rock, we can rely upon Him for strength and support, stability and assurance. We don't need to lead our lives fearfully and be subjected to ancient superstitions. We can walk in faith and be fortified by His power.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are the Rock of Ages and the Living Stone of faith. We depend upon You for every blessing under the sun and every moment of our days. We praise You for being our solid Saviour and resourceful Redeemer. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

Stushie is the writer of the Heaven's Highway and Stushie's Stuff blogs that are linked to this page.

Friday, December 29, 2006

What would Jesus do?

What has been gained by the death of Saddam Hussein? Is life so easily taken…it bothers me that we call for the blood of another of God’s creation. Does this bring back those killed? I would have believed firmly in retribution in year’s gone bye. Today I mourn the loss and grow weary in concern for what we are becoming.

We report that he had fear in his face. Does hos death free Iraq? Does it rid the world of terror? I think it will only bring forth more terror and fear. Where is Hesus in this action? Was Jesus with Saddam in his fear? Was Jesus with the hangman? Was Jesus with the fair trial? I am not sure Jesus would call for death. Where is the doctrine of salvation in the demand for blood?

We kill hundreds of people here in the U.S. We have the largest prison population in the world. We criminalize childhood. We do not rehabilitate anyone. We shame, harass, torture, and exile anyone that breaks our rules. I am not asking for a world without rules. I am wondering where Jesus is and the command of loving our neighbor in any of this. Why can we not love in the midst of our hate? I do not see Jesus is this killing.

This is my prayer… Baba...Forgive our thirst for blood. Comfort the call for revenge and justice. Bring peace to our hearts. Bring wisdom to our minds. Bring your grace to our actions. Forgive us for using your name to enact pain, suffering, and bring hell to many. Have mercy on us. Thank you for loving us regardless of our love for you. Have mercy on your son Saddam. Bring peace to his country and comfort to his family. In the mighty, loving, Holy, and transforming name of Jesus Christ. Amen

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Blue Christmas Prayer

Blue Christmas Prayer

There’s no room at Christmas for sadness,
There’s no place for hearts that are blue.
All the world wants to hear
Is a word full of cheer,
Not a sigh, not a tear, not from you.

There’s no room at Christmas for loneliness,
There’s no place for your emptiness and grief.
All the world wants is peace,
Mistletoe and Christmas trees,
Not a heartache that mars its beliefs.

There’s no room at Christmas for sickness,
There’s no place or time to be ill.
All the world wants is health,
Prosperity and wealth,
Not a pain that can spoil its goodwill.

There’s no room at Christmas for Jesus,
There’s no place for His family, too,
All the world would not share,
No one seems to really care,
A stable will just have to do.


Yes, there’s room at Christmas for sadness,
There’s a place in God’s heart for you.
For He knows pain and loss,
Which He felt on the Cross,
So this candle is lighted for you…*

For Christ knows what it’s like to be blue.

• light a blue candle

© 2006 John Stuart, writer of Heaven’s Highway

and Stushie’s Stuff

Pubs & Bars in a Season of Immanuel

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh (slapping my hands to my face as Macaulay Culkin did in Home Alone)!!!

I am here all by myself in the dorms. There is no one left here. I have not spoken to a single person face to face today. I have enjoyed me time alone. I have watched Superman Returns and am set to watch A Scanner Darkly or the New Orleans Bowl. Currently I am listening to the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty with a Double Gulp of Crush and 7up. I am content. I am calm. I am rested.

I got to thinking about the holiday season and how I have spent it over the last few years. There was last year here in the dorms alone and hanging out at the local pub for 8 consecutive days. There was the time I spent in Mombasa. Where I got sick and had to stay in bed back in Nairobi dreaming of home for the holidays. There were the years spent motoring back and forth between my mom and dad and those long days on the highways of Southern California. I did have a tradition of going to the Frolic Room for Christmas Eve for some time.

It was this tradition that provided the images of guys with clipper ship tattoos on their forehead, women dressed like flappers, a drunken large man crowned with a Santa hat, and the other lonely drones crowded into that small dank space on Hollywood Boulevard. I loved going there. I loved going there on Christmas Eve even more. There was a strong sense of shame and desperation present on this night. The over all feel was one of escape.

I have always been draw to pubs and bars. Is it the raw emotion that clings to the walls? Is it the normality given to the filth we all have staining our emperors cloak? I love the anonymity that is offered there if needed or wanted. I love the shared enjoyment and embrace of ones finitude. It is in these moments I feel close to creation and close to its creator. The pub and bars of this world have become my worship space. It is in these dens of double bock debauchery that I witness Immanuel.

I see Jesus in the face of the drunken returned Marine seeking forgiveness for the people he has shoot at and killed. I see Jesus in the eyes of that disheveled old man not wanting to be alone sitting at the end of the bar with the only “family” he has. I see Jesus in the woe of the young men and women that fear the worst and drown their fear absent of hope. I see Jesus in the mods and hippies that invite the smelly homeless man to their table to share a beer. I witness Jesus in the conversations I have had over the last few years. The men and women that seek understanding of salvation. The desire for hope and a peaceful world. The mistrust in a religious machine that has left them in the cold.

I love being a part of the margin. I trust in God and have faith that Jesus Christ is all the sacrifice I will ever need. I love that I have been blessed to be sent to this mission field. I see that it takes all kinds to serve in ministry. The prevailing culture has written off most of these folks. If not they have written themselves off. Jesus never gives up. Jesus loves them, every single one.

It is this Spirit of compassion, hope, and love that is important to me during this season. The Christmas season does not consist of a single glorious moment of arrival and gift giving. Nor is it subjugated to a consumer free for all. In Jesus’ birth we are presented with a hope and reconciled to God in the flesh of Christ. His birth is our birth. There is no checklist to plug in to it. The only requisite is that you be yourself as made. God will do the rest. Return to the dark recesses of your heart and embrace the pain, hurt, isolation, and loneliness there. Have courage this season to be you, to love you, to love others. It is here you will encounter Jesus.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Friday Review . . . Read the Bible in a Year Plans

This blog entry done by the ESV people came across my Bloglines account this week.

I am capable of becoming interested in the strangest things -- like read the Bible in a Year plans. I had always assumed that if you wanted to read the entire Bible that you would start with Genesis and read straight through to Revelation. To finish in a certain amount of time you would take the number of chapters in the Bible (1189) and divide that by the number of days you wanted to read. Read that number of chapters each day, and your done. Easy.

Silly me. Some read the Bible in a Year plans take you through the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice in a year. Some have you read straight through Psalms and Proverbs, and some divide them up. Almost all seem to think you need a little Old Testament and a little New Testament each day. Then, there are the Chronological plans which have the advantage of matching the Prophets up with their histories; but reading Job before Abraham just seems wrong. Then, if you want to follow such a plan, you get to try to find one that arranges things to your liking.

That leads me back to the Somebody with way too much time on his hands has graphed several of the web available reading plans. You can tell at a glance how the reading is arranged. Like I said, I can get interested in the strangest things. (You really should see the Book of Common Prayer's splatter pattern.)

Then, the next day the ESV blog added two more plans to the mix. They are both available for sale in book form from Crossway, the publisher of the ESV; but they each also have an RSS feed button. I haven't actually signed up and tested it, but it appears to be a free RSS feed.

Personally, if I want to read the Bible straight through to get the whole story at once, I prefer the read 20 chapters a day until I'm done method; but I still found this interesting.


Monday, December 18, 2006

Monday Question of the Week . . . Traditions

Today, in the United States the Christmas season has come to represent much more than the birth of Jesus Christ. Beyond the commercial trappings of Santa Clause and gift giving, the Christmas season is about spending time with our families and the traditions, old and new, that have come to represent what Christmas is really all about to us. With Christmas only a few days away what are the Christmas and Christmas Eve traditions, both religious and not, that you look forward to the most?

Friday, December 15, 2006

Friday Review. . . Sacred Space

Too often for me Advent is crazy busy instead of a time for peaceful reflection and preparation.

Can you find a day for Advent?
Probably not.

Can you find 10 minutes?

Log on to It will walk you through ten minutes of peaceful prayer.

Have more time? For Advent and again for Lent, the Irish Jesuits who run Sacred Space post a one-day, self-directed retreat for each season. I have used the retreat materials and found them valuable.

More than that, though, I try to remember Sacred Space each day. It isn't just for Advent and Lent. The pretty picture on the front page, the calmness of the web page, the thoughtfulness of the devotional writing, the Prayer Guide available on each page have made a space in my day throughout the year.

So far this web page has had more than 21.8 million visits, and it is available in more than 20 languages.

Anyone else visit Sacred Space?


Sunday, December 10, 2006

Sunday Devotion:

Malachi 3:2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap. NIV

With seven in our family, Saturday was a big washing day for my mother There were a couple of things that I liked to do to help her. She washed all of the clothes in the big kitchen sink and it was my responsibility to lift the wet clothes and put them through the cast iron wringer. It always fascinated me to watch shirts and pants, jerseys and socks come out pressed flat and almost dry on the other side. It took a great deal of strength to turn the wringer and at the end of the washing, I was completely worn out.

But the other thing that needed to be done was to wash the collars on my Dad's working shirts. They had to be scrubbed clean and so we used launderer's soap to get rid of the oil stains and sweat marks that accumulated as he worked as an engineer. This also took a great deal of effort, but when all of his shirts were scrubbed, washed and hung out to dry, we all felt good.

These days, most of us just shove our clothes in the washing machine and forget about them until it's time to transfer them to the dryer. This made me wonder about the relevance of Malachi's prophecy, for who knows these days what launderer's soap looks like?

What Malachi is saying is that when the Lord returns, He will come to purify the earth and its entire people. We live in a world where the environment is contaminated, wars are scarring the earth, and greed is wasting this planet. Left to ourselves, we're making a mess of the one part of Creation that God gave us to look after. One day, before we ruin everything, He will return and Paradise will be restored, for a new earth will be recreated, a new Eden will be replanted.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, come and walk amongst us once again. Heal the earth of all its unholiness and restore this world to Your way. Purify all that is imperfect; make sacred all that is wasted; reclaim all that has been recklessly abandoned or wretchedly destroyed. Come with a refiner's fire and a launderer's soap to make all things holy once more and eternally. In Your Almighty Name, we pray. Amen.

Stushie is the writer of the current relgious news blog "Stushie's Stuff; the daily devotional site "Heaven's Highway" and host of the weekly relgious news program "Seven Days."

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Friday Review . . . End of Year Best of Lists

I love the kind of end-of-year best of lists that every periodical and reviewer seems to feel the need to produce. It isn't that I am generally all that interested in what made first place on So and So's list, as it is that I am fascinated by the things that make the same list.

Today, on Christianity Today's web page John Wilson posted his top ten list and named his Book of the Year. Any list that includes a novel by Richard Powers (The Echo Maker), a collection of poetry in translation (Tomas Transtromer, translated by Robin Fulton) and The Solzhenitsyn Reader: New and Essential Writings, 1947 - 2005, ed. by Edward E. Ericson Jr. and Daniel Mahoney you know is going to include unusual books heavy with detail.

Some of the books on Mr. Wilson's list seem to me to be a little too heavy with detail. Mapping Paradise: A History of heaven on Earth, by Alessandro Scafi is described as tracing the efforts of various people throughout history who tried to locate the Garden of Eden. That strikes me a a subject I would prefer as a densely written magazine article.

Of course, the nice thing about no longer being in graduate school in English Literature is that I can skip the Solzhenitsyn.

On the other hand, Atchafayala Houseboat: My Years in the Louisiana Swamp, by Gwen Roland may have to make it onto my reading list for 2007. Generally, books with titles I can't pronounce written by authors I have never heard of don't grab me. This book is described as catching, "the spirit of a certain time and place" -- life on a houseboat in a Louisiana swamp. Even in the South we are losing the quirky, individualized cultures that once added so much of the "local" to the concept of "local culture". I'm afraid the last few years' hurricanes have hastened the homogenization of rural life in the South. If this is as rich with detail as the contents of Mr. Wilson's list suggest, this book could provide a last look at a passing world.

Then, there is Wilson's book of the year, Crisis of Doubt: Honest Faith in Nineteenth-Century England, by Timothy Larsen. This is a book that follows the experiences of people in 19th Century England who moved from doubt or skepticism to genuine Christian faith. This one, also, might make it onto my list for next year.

Mr. Wilson's list is varied and interesting including both a book on 9/11 and a biography of a 19th Century spiritualist. What will make your reading list for 2007?


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Hump Day Prayer . . . First Week of Advent

Lord of all,
you seek me out and ask me to go with you.
As I begin these early days of Advent
help me to listen for your call in my life.
Give me the courage to listen to your voice
and the freedom
to leave my fishing boats and my nets
and follow you.

I want to draw strength from your friend, Andrew,
and from your presence in my life,
always befriending me and offering me your love.

May the Lord bless us,
protect us from all evil
and bring us to everlasting life.

Taken from Praying Advent

Another Online Advent Calender

Fiath Streams

Monday, December 04, 2006

Monday Question of the Week . . . Happy ???

Happy Holidays vs. Merry Christmas. Discuss

Friday, December 01, 2006

Friday Review . . . Favorite Advent Passage

Since Miranda has suggested that we celebrate Advent, I am going to blog about my favorite Advent passage. It is Chapter 12 in Max Lucado's Next Door Savior.

I am just going to quote a few excerpts:

To bear a baby is one thing, but to carry God? What is that like?

He issues a Mary-level invitation to all his children. "If you'll let me, I'll move in!"

Christ grew in Mary until he had to come out. Christ will grow in you until the same occurs. He will come out in your speech, in your actions, in your decisions.

But he is in you. You are a modern-day Mary. Even more so. He was a fetus in her, but he is a force in you. He will do what you cannot.

Find that hard to believe? How much more did Mary? The line beneath her picture in the high-school annual did not read, "Aspires to be the mother of God."
What is your favorite Advent reading?