What’s in a name?

July 30, 2008

By: Dennis Bates

One of my favorite Gaither songs begins “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, there’s just something about that name.” That’s so true. Names are important.


Think about your own name for a minute. It almost defines you. If you ask somebody who they are, more times than not they will respond by telling you their name. I used to work with a woman who answered the phone by giving her name and adding Attorney at Law so quickly that for months most people thought that was her last name. She might have been just a little insecure, but that’s another story.


Jesus is a derivative of Joshua, who saved the nation of Israel by leading it across the Jordon River and becoming a fierce warrior to fight its battles. Matthew 1:21 tells us that the baby in Bethlehem was named Jesus because he was the New Testament Joshua who would save all people from their sins.


The Old Testament uses lots of different names for the Messiah. Genesis talks about the Angel of Jehovah, angel meaning messenger here. It talks about the coming of Shiloh, which means peacemaker, and about the stone of Israel, which gets turned into cornerstone in Matthew. Samuel refers to Jesus as the Rock of My Salvation, the Light of the Morning, and the tender Grass that springs out of the ground after a rain.


Job calls Jesus the Daysman, which means mediator or arbitrar, and the Psalms have so many names for Him I couldn’t list them all here. A few include: Glory, The Rock and Fortress, The Restorer, The Shepherd, The Lord Jehovah who is might in battle and the First Born. Isaiah calls Jesus the Wonderful, Counselor, the Might god, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.


The New Testament has even more names for Jesus. Nearly every book refers to Jesus as Lord. Someone who is called Lord is a person to be looked up to, worshipped and followed. Therefore, if Jesus is our Lord, we are secondary, subservient and unimportant when compared to Him. He gets credit for everything.


Matthew refers to Jesus as the Son of God and the Son of Man, which establishes his dual nature as both fully God and fully Man, a difficult but important concept. Matthew also calls Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and the last book of the Bible, Revelation, calls Jesus The root of Jesse, the Offspring of David, The Bright Morning Star and the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last.


All of these names tell us some little piece of who Jesus really was and is, but maybe the most important passage comes in Matthew 16: 13-17, when Jesus asks the disciples, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” Of course, Peter responded “You are he Christ the Son of the living God.” And Peter was commended for his answer and told the church would be built upon him.


The different names are all interesting and helpful, but the question remains for all of us: Who do YOU say He is? Unless your answer is the same one Peter gave, you have missed the point. Don’t miss it.

Roadside Fruit Stands

July 29, 2008

By: Dennis Bates

Do you remember the days when you could buy local produce along the side of the road? Maybe in your part of the country you still can, but in Iowa, where I live, you see roadside stands less and less. You can still find pictures of Elvis on black velvet on one or two designated corners, but how many of those does a person really need? You can also find local produce in farmer’s markets which seem to be popping up more and more these days, but that’s not really the same as stopping along the road and buying something out of the open end of some stranger’s pickup truck, just because the guy had a friendly smile.


I can still see my dad thumping melons at a stand along the highway in Muscatine, Iowa, where the cantaloupe and watermelon were the sweetest of any I have ever tasted. Of course, my mother used to sit in the car giving directions. “Get a ripe one, make sure it sounds hollow, don’t take that one,” and so forth and so on. I often wondered why it was dad out there thumping the things if my mother was the expert on picking them out. I guess that’s just the way it was back then.


Still, I think my dad knew his place and actually kind of enjoyed the ritual because it was one of the times when we got into the car and went somewhere as a family. And it was fun. All the way home my brother and I would watch the melon roll around on the floor of the car beneath our feet, wondering if this one would be as juicy as the last one. Talk about anticipation! But watching it roll around was half the fun at least and somehow you could do that kind of thing when I was a kid without an iPod in each ear and a personal cell phone to send text messages to your friends telling them how bored you were.


The truth is we weren’t bored. We thought doing things like that with the family was how it was supposed to be, and the repetitive small tasks were not really small things at all. They were the big things, the things that were important, and the things we built the rest of our lives on. We even ate most of our meals together, as a family. And we didn’t have to go through the fast food drive in window to pick them up. We made them ourselves – at home.


There were no soccer moms back then, there were just moms, and we didn’t have to learn how to bond with our dads, we just did stuff with them all the time. Every Saturday morning my father and I went to a local bakery and picked out several dozen sweet rolls for the family breakfast. For the most part, we always picked out the same kinds every week, but it didn’t matter. The rolls were fresh and so was the experience week after week because I got to do it with my dad. I can still see him grin on the way home from the bakery as he said, “They must have just baked these. Man, they smell good.”


They sure did!


Maybe the biggest thing we could do today to rebuild our families is to concentrate more on the little things, like buying sweet rolls, making meals together and finding a roadside stand somewhere where we could pick out a fresh watermelon together. Just make sure you get a ripe one. You can tell if they’re ripe; they sound hollow when you thump them. My mom said so.

Where Were the Angels?

July 28, 2008

By Staci Stallings

“This light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly . . .” so said the priest the day he handed the baptismal candle to the parents.


These particular parents were the kind who took that admonition to heart. They were there for that child. It was evident in his demeanor and his caring about others. His friends would say not that he was given a light, but that he was that light.


Then one Saturday night, the unthinkable. Five days shy of his sixteenth birthday, on a lonely stretch of country road, he and three friends drove headlong into the place where the margin of error is zero.


The pickup flipped once, then twice, and when it finally came to rest, his flame had left this world. In overflowing tears a community grieved, for this child was a likeable child, this child was one of those “low maintenance” ones—the kind that are just fun to be around, this child was truly a light to his family and to his peers. And now his light had been extinguished.


Like most kids his age, this young man’s life had held so much promise. He was going to play second base next year for the baseball team. He was going to get a car for his birthday. He was going to go back to a wedding dance that night and party with his myriad of friends. But in one heart-wrenching instant the flame of his life, of his potential, was snuffed out leaving in its absence only grief, pain, and emptiness.


On the way to the wake service my dad heard the “inspirational story” of a family of five who had all survived a harrowing van rollover with nary a scratch. The radio announcer said, “They were lucky to have their guardian angels in that van that day.” Now most of the time, he would have said, “Yeah, they were.” Instead my dad, the baseball coach, who had just watched his future second baseman lift up from second base in a Lifestar helicopter only to return in a coffin, said, “I just kept thinking where were the angels that night? Where were this child’s angels?”


That question stuck in my mind. As that pickup flipped once, bounced into the air, and dislodged him from his seat—where were the angels at that moment? When the pickup again sailed through the air on its second pass over—why did the angels hang back? Why didn’t they rush in to hold this boy, this light, inside the cab? Why did they allow him to be thrown so that his bright, shining flame would burn no more? Why?


At the funeral the same priest who had first presented that light to the parents those few short years before stood before us again with this explanation. “God allowed his own Son to be tried, wrongly convicted, sentenced to death, hung on a cross, and crucified. He could’ve saved Him, but if He had, the suffering of this world would still extend to the next. At times like this we don’t understand why, but we have to understand that ‘why’ backward means ‘Your Holy Will.’”


I had never had cause to think about this scene before—the one with Christ hanging from the cross while the angels hung by and watched. However, later putting the two pieces together, I realized where the angels were. It wasn’t that they weren’t there. They were simply on the other side of that temple curtain—the one that split down the middle at the moment of Christ’s death.


And from that side, they were waiting with open arms to receive and comfort the light that had been sent to this earth for a short time, now destined to return to God’s loving embrace.


Where were the angels that evening as the pickup flipped in the air? They weren’t far—they just didn’t have the mission we would’ve liked for them to have that day. Yes, bad things happen, and we don’t always understand. However, our mission is not to understand—our mission is to believe that in God’s plan, not in ours, the angels are always exactly where they are supposed to be.

I’ll Win It For You

July 24, 2008

By:  Staci Stallings

The game was tight.  Archrivals had faced off for three and a half periods in a seesaw battle that was going down to the wire.  As the clock ticked down, the two sides traded the lead back and forth. Neither could be assured of victory because with the game so close, anything could happen. 


From the sideline, the coach watched his team getting more and more apprehensive as the seconds ticked away. They were missing shots they never missed.  They were missing opportunities they didn’t miss.  Even their body language said, “This is bad. We might lose this one.”


With less than a minute left, the coach called a time out.  Now he knew that every girl on that court had been over the plays a million times. They didn’t need elaborate help to set up a play for a last second win. They needed to calm down and play the way they knew how to play. So when they bent into that huddle, the coach told them something more than a little unconventional. “Go out there. Play the game. Have fun.  Do your best, and I’ll win it for you.”


No pressure instructions.  No you have to win this or we lose to our rivals.  No anxiety-inducing strategy.  Simply, “Go play, and I’ll win it for you.”


To my way of thinking, that was an audacious statement because in reality, it wouldn’t be the coach taking the shot that would win or lose the game. He would be standing on the sideline with no direct control whatsoever.  However, this coach knew something about the training these girls had been through, and he knew without a doubt they could do it.  The problem was they didn’t know they could do it, and so, he let them rely not on themselves for the win but on him. 


The amazing thing to me when I really started thinking about this statement is that what that coach told his team is exactly what Jesus tells each one of us: “Go out there. Play the game. Have fun. Do your best, and I’ll win it for you.”


We think it’s all on us—that we have to get everything right, do everything perfectly, or our “win” will never materialize.  In fact, we get sucked into this mentality that Heaven may be just out of our reach no matter what we do.  However, I think the reality is that Jesus is the coach standing on the sideline having full faith that we can do everything He’s trained us to do.  We can love just like He’s shown us.  We can give; we can live—not because we can do it on our own but because He’s right there, and He has faith that we have been given everything we need to win through Him.


I’m sure you know the end of the story.  When the buzzer sounded, the team who had just gone out, had fun, and done their best was victorious. 


One day the final buzzer of your life will sound, and the question at that moment will be this:  Did you allow Jesus to be your coach?  Did have faith that He would win the game for you—or are you still trying to win it yourself?  It’s a question worth contemplating.

A grammar lesson, or is it usage?

July 23, 2008

By: Dennis Bates

I am one of those people who studied English grammar, diagrammed sentences, memorized the definitions of the parts of speech and actually liked it. Hey, some people like being a dentist too, so don’t run away.


I have to admit that I have forgotten a lot over the years, and some things have changed slightly. For one thing, I can’t remember if these are rules of grammar or if they are just usage issues. I don’t really care, just so you know. I know that there are modifiers that dangle and often get misplaced. In the latter case, I say just go find them and quit the whining. I also know that there are antecedents that get confused (who doesn’t these days), and phrases that participle, although I’m not certain they can do that in Christian writing circles until the very last page of the book, and then only if they are married.


One of my favorite phrases is past pluperfect participle just because I like the way it sounds when you say it. I know it has something to do with being past perfect, but other than that, I couldn’t tell you what it really means with any degree of accuracy.


That doesn’t make me a bad person; it just makes me someone who frequently says things without knowing what they really mean just because I like saying them. Maybe that’s why I was a lawyer in a past life. In that profession it doesn’t matter what you say all that much as long as you sound convincing and make what you’re saying sound good. Or was that well? It’s a fragment; yes, I know that.


The most interesting thing about writing these days is that many of the rules have been relaxed significantly in most circles. I don’t know if that’s because people don’t know them anymore or just plain don’t care. It doesn’t really matter. The rules are only used these days to point out that I know something you don’t know, and, therefore, you must be inferior.


How sad. I loved those parts of speech and looked forward to diagramming sentences. How else can you tell a predicate nominative from a predicate adjective and a direct object from one that isn’t so direct? Did you know that prepositions have objects and you can tell easily what they are by diagramming the sentence in which they appear?


Sentences have subjects and predicates; sometimes the subject can be a phrase but only if the phrase comes from the right family and promises to behave, and sentences can be compound, complex, or just plain simple. I find that fascinating, but then, I’m a little old school in a lot of ways. Maybe a lot of ways. (Another fragment. I use them a lot, now that it’s okay.)


Here’s my point: the rules of grammar are there for a reason. They can instruct, they can help clear up confusion, they maintain order, and they help us communicate what we really want to say in an easily understandable and generally accepted manner. They can also be just plain interesting and lots of fun.


Sure we can bend them every now and then, even break them, but we need to know what they are first. After all, what fun is it to do something wrong, if you don’t even know it’s wrong. I mean, who wants to do the right thing for the wrong reason or, for that matter, the right thing for the wrong reason? (Commas always confused me, so my rule is when in doubt leave it out.)


Life is full of patterns and rules, and we are free to challenge, bend and even break some of them, but there are always consequences when we do. That’s why we need to know the rules before we decide whether or not we chose to follow them, and we need to know what the consequences are if we choose to ignore them.


Take God, for instance…yes, I know it’s another fragment.

Computer Upgrades

July 22, 2008

By: Dennis Bates


Have you ever wondered what computer nerds and techno geeks did before they had computers to mess up? Really! What did they do? I run two computers on a network for various reasons, mostly because I can and it comes in handy sometimes.


Both computers run from Windows, but one uses XP and the other the dreaded Vista, which is the industry’s full employment act for computer technicians. In my opinion they’re never going to get that one right, or even close, for that matter. There is something to be updated or fixed several times a week.


Even the now reliable XP needs to be upgraded constantly and frequently throws things entirely out of whack just for good measure. For example, I have been watching XP try to install the latest upgrades for 15 minutes now and it appears it has a long way to go yet. You can’t just upgrade the software, you know. You have to upgrade the installation package, sometimes appropriately called the Installation Wizard, the maybe three other types of supporting software so that the one thing you really intended to install can finally take 30 seconds to apply itself.


I would fall back on the maxim “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” if I could, but when you try to do that, you get these annoying pop up reminders no matter how many times you try to delete and ignore them. Sooner or later they accomplish their intended purpose. They wear you down and you hit the “OK” button and begin the installation, holding your breath.


My windows upgrade is still installing itself, by the way, for those of you who are following that exciting saga. From the looks of things, it’s now almost half done.

The last time something took this long to install itself, when I was done, all my passwords needed to be reset, the defaults needed to be reset and even the fonts needed to be reset. Then, after all of that, I had to reinstall my printer. It seems the new, improved version of the operating system had something against the printer (even though the same company made both), and it refused to recognize or talk to Mr. Printer.


I have yet to see the benefits of the upgraded system, by the way, but then, who am I but one of the millions of users (sometimes called customers) who were perfectly fine with the old system, and actually had finally gotten used to it. It did everything I needed it to, and once all the bugs were eradicated, it worked, so obviously it was time to change it. After all we can’t afford to have the users of these products understand them.


I think it’s just this simple: computer types get bored easily and just have far too much time on their hands, so they sit around day and night trying to figure out how to mess with us by changing something that works just fine. And don’t get me started on why there needs to be seven different ways to do each task. One that works is all I need. I am here to use the computer, not become best friends with it.


In a way, isn’t this the same thing we do in our churches when it comes to God?  We go along fine with our services, our liturgies or our basic concept of who He is and how He relates to me in my life. He’s not broke (we may be but He isn’t) and yet we always tinker with Him, only in this case, we’re not equipped to do that.


Our God doesn’t need updates, new installation software, or seven different ways to get to Him. He just needs one: Jesus Christ, his only Son. If we believe in Him, we will have eternal life. So, if someone comes along and offers you an upgrade for a new and improved God, pass. You don’t need one, and it will only confuse things.


July 21, 2008

By:  Staci Stallings


The genesis for my understanding of this word goes back to when I was teaching high school English.  The school where I taught had a unique way to teach vocabulary.  It was based entirely on learning the meanings of Greek and Latin root words.  Now I have no idea how much that helped the kids, but it sure helped me.


When you deconstruct the word “Decide”, you come up with two parts:  de- and –cide.  De means “away from” in Latin – as in destroy, devalue, detour, or diverge.  Cid or cis means “to cut”, as in incision.


Putting the two together, you get “to cut away from”.


Now I had known this for a long time and always thought it fascinating.  But it wasn’t until I was talking with a friend of mine about a friend of hers that I realized how much understanding this could help others.


My friend was telling me how her friend just didn’t get it.  He refused to put things in God’s Hands because he “didn’t know how.”  I told her that what he (or anyone) has to do is to decide to do it – to put life in God’s Hands.  Then I said, “You know what decide means, right?’


That stopped her.  No she didn’t.


I deconstructed decide for her and then said, “To decide means to cut off all other possibilities.”  For example, let’s say you decide to have hamburgers for supper.  As soon as you decide, you literally cut yourself away from all other possibilities – brisket, sandwiches, steak, seafood.  The others are now no longer options because you have decided to have hamburgers.


It works the same way in the spiritual realm although it’s much less easy to see and therefore easier to let the important decisions slide.


Going to church, for instance.  Have you ever really decided that church is beneficial for you – or do you just go because you’re supposed to?  How about having faith that the best outcome in God’s eyes will happen?  That’s not an accident.  It’s a decision – where you literally cut yourself off from all other possibilities.


Deciding can be one of the most life-changing things you ever consciously do.  It is like pruning a grapevine.  If you let the vine go, it will be one big jumbled mess and produce very little fruit.  But if you prune it, cutting away that which is simply in the way rather than productive, the good branches will have the chance to produce richly.


So today when you make a decision about what to wear or how to spend you time, do it wisely and do it well for all the possibilities are available to you until the moment you decide.  And once you decide, all the non-productive branches fall away – if you have decided wisely!

Of Car Washes & New Binders

July 17, 2008

By:  Staci Stallings


A friend and I were talking.  She was telling me how annoyed she got one day last week.  The story went like this.  Monday was a beautiful day, so she decided to get a car wash.  Her white car shone in the bright summer sun—clean down to the white wall tires.  She was so proud of it.  Then came Tuesday.


Tuesday was a strange day.  It started off sunny, but as the day went on, clouds started popping up as only clouds in West Texas can do.  There was a light, 30-second shower about noon.  An hour later the light shower was not a shower but a raging thunderstorm—the kind that very closely resembles a Florida hurricane complete with sideways trees and that awful green-gray sky color.


By the time she left work, there were puddles filled with mud everywhere.  So much for her nice white car.


She told me, “I was so annoyed.  I was like, ‘Ugh. I just washed the thing. Why did this have to happen so soon?’”


I told her that reminded me of a story I’d read in Beth Moore’s Feathers in my Nest.  Ms. Moore tells the story of her daughter who was a cycle-student.  You know, the kind of student who wants to do well but is easily distracted by the various inherent distractions woven into today’s high school world.  She would get more and more distracted until the day she got a really bad grade.  Then, resolving to do better, she would go to the store, get a new binder and new notebook paper. 


The binder was a symbol that it didn’t matter what had gone before, today was a new day.


I said, “That sounds like your car wash.”


In the Catholic faith we have something called Confession.  You go to the priest and confess your sins, those times you have not been as loving as you could’ve been, those times that for whatever reason you made a mistake for which you are truly sorry.  Ideally, you confess each and every sin you’ve made since your last confession. 


I told my friend that her car wash is like Confession.  We don’t go to Confession with some fairy tale belief that now we are clean and we will be forever.  No, we’re pretty sure even when we walk out that there will be a mud puddle waiting for us in the near future, and if one doesn’t get us, we surely will make one ourselves.


The good news is, God knows all about the mud puddles and the dropping grades.  He knows we are not perfect, and that’s okay.  What we have to remember is that when our “car” gets dirty and when our “grades” start slipping, we can go for a car wash, we can get a new binder.


Bet you didn’t know God was in the car wash and new binder sales business.


Come on over to http://www.spiritlightbooks.com  It’s a great place to find awesome books!

Every Day Art

July 16, 2008

By: Dennis Bates

No matter where we live there are things around us that inspire us and make us who we are if we only take time to notice. Frances Mayes calls these things “every day art” in her book “Bella Tuscany.” It is truly a wonderful concept when you stop to think about it.


I live in Iowa, and it is very tempting to think that there is nothing exciting to write about here. It’s farm land, with a few smaller cities and lots of tiny towns sprinkled everywhere. How inspiring can that be? More inspiring than you think, if you take the time to stop and notice.


Antonin Dvorak perfected and finalized “The New World Symphony” in Spillville, Iowa, a town so remote and tiny that most Iowans couldn’t tell you where it is. The Czech genius took his inspiration from the simple sounds of Iowa song birds and surrounding farm animals to finish his masterpiece.


Two Iowa farmers in that area built magnificent clocks with intricate movements using only the a converted sewing machine as a lathe and crude hand tools. They needed something to do in the winter time, and although they ordered parts from all over the world, neither of them every traveled more than 100 miles from home in the lifetimes. Yet the clocks that they created are still on display in the same building where Dvorak wrote the symphony, and the Bily clocks, as they are called, are considered to priceless masterpieces, that even Lloyds of London can’t put a price tag on.


Grant Wood painted in a small town in the Cedar Rapids area and created “American Gothic” the famous painting of the stoic farmer and his wife. “The Music Man” used an Iowa town for its inspiration and the musical “State Fair,” used the Iowa State Fair as its model.


But even those examples don’t go far enough to show every day art because they don’t capture the soul, the simplistic passion of the art that is created anew each day, every day from the every day. That is the art that I want to capture because it is the art that I know. I have lived all over the country, but even when I lived somewhere else, I was at heart a simple, every day Iowan. That is who I am; that is what I have to draw from, and when I let it speak to me, it is more than enough.


There is beauty here; there are miracles here, but we miss them because we don’t allow ourselves to see them. My grandfather used to breath deeper on hot July days when the unmistakable odors of the hog lots mated with the hot, humid air and he would tell us to take a deep breath. While we held our breath and squinted saying phew, he laughed and said that’s Iowa money we smelled. We used to think he was crazy, but now I think he may have just been an art lover.


A lot of people today have simply lost their sense of smell.


In the summer Iowa is a canvas covered with a background of pure black dirt, corn green stalks and golden yellow tops, contrasted against pure deep blue skies. Where else can you get color combinations like that? Yet even Iowans these days miss those colors, they miss the rich smells of the hog lots and the country roads that still kick up rooster tails of dust because they aren’t paved, but left with gravel tops.


Wherever you live there is something that you’re missing, something that could make you a local artist without having any ability to draw or paint. All you have to do is slow down, look, listen and realize how uniquely God has made the area where you live, and you will begin to appreciate the beauty and the accessibility of every day art.


Look around!




Shrimp Risotto

July 15, 2008

By: Dennis Bates

I taught my daughter how to make risotto last night. Some of you are probably saying, “What’s the big deal?” A few of you may be asking, “What’s risotto?” Shame on both of you.


Risotto is another of the delightful Italian dishes made from Arborio rice that can literally take on whatever form you want it to. It, like all Italian cooking strives for simplicity and quality by using the best possible ingredients you can find and letting the natural flavors of the ingredients shine through. My particular favorite involves shrimp, mushrooms and a handful of fresh peas at the very end, but you can use almost anything.


The key to making good risotto is getting the technique down. It’s not hard, but it is important that you follow it if you want creamy, delicious risotto at the end. And the technique can be taught, which is one reason you hear Italian cooks say, “this is a recipe my mother used, or my grandmother, or aunt.” Cooking for Italians is almost as much about family as it is about eating, and being English, I envy that. It is definitely something worth emulating. Of course, the English would do well to copy anyone when it comes to cooking. For all our strong points, cooking is not one of them. English food is to be tolerated, not enjoyed, for the most part.


But I digress. The really neat part about teaching my daughter to make risotto was that we got to work together. I can make the dish almost in my sleep because I’ve made it so many times, but last night I suggested that my daughter make it. She looked at me like I was crazy.


“I can’t make that,” she said.


“Sure you can,” I responded. “I’ll tell you what to do, and you just do it.”


I had all the ingredients chopped and ready to go in little dishes by the stove, so I pulled up a chair and told her what to do, step by step and, reluctantly, she did the cooking. When she put the bowl of risotto on the table she was pretty proud of herself; it showed in her eyes, as she took the first helping.


The risotto turned out wonderful, but the memories of the two of us having fun, communicating and working together were the best part. Risotto will never be the same to me again because I will always remember my 31-year-old daughter and I making it together. It was such a simple thing; just the two of us cooking together, but it made me think how much we miss in life because we try to complicate it and plan it to death. It really isn’t that hard.


Take advantage of the simple pleasures in life; use the best ingredients you can find, and share what you know with the ones you love. Pass on the techniques, the little secrets and the tricks that make things work. You’ll be surprised how much better life is that way.


I made risotto with my daughter last night, and I wouldn’t trade that time for anything. It was 60 of the most precious minutes of my life!




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