Again Moments

October 30, 2008

By:  Staci Stallings

Yep, we’ve all been there.  No matter how deep our faith, no matter how solid our belief in God, no matter how pious our hearts, we’ve messed up… again.

 Maybe we yelled at our child because we’d had a rough day and couldn’t take life one more second.  Maybe we repeated that thing we heard about that girl in accounting—you know that little rumor that’s been going around.  Maybe we went to the Bible study and railed about someone down the street, knowing the whole time that we are as guilty of that sin as anyone.

The truth is that messing up can come in many forms, and most of the time we are far more adept at pointing it out in others than in seeing it in ourselves.  The deeper truth is that we see it very clearly in ourselves, but we simply can’t face that we could be such an awful person. 

Wouldn’t someone walking with Christ, someone who says they trust Him, NOT do these things?  Wouldn’t they know to walk on the other side of the street when they see trouble coming at them?  Wouldn’t they know that the sin they commit will always be hung around their necks eventually?

Of course we know that, but instead of facing up to those things we’ve done, those times we have fallen short, we try to bury them.  If no one knows, maybe it will go away.  We can’t face that we’ve done this thing… again.

I understand.  Been there, done that, have the T-shirt crumpled in the bottom of my closet hoping no one will ever dig deep enough to find it.

The other day I was talking to a friend who was dealing with her own issues of “again.”  “I don’t know why I keep doing this.  I’m thinking God is tired of hearing about this one from me.”  Believe me, I understand!  I think we all feel like that about something.

Then I said something profound (which generally means it wasn’t me talking at all).

“You know, I think too often we believe more in God’s judgment than in His mercy.”

Which do you believe in more?  It makes a huge difference when you come to one more of those “Again Moments.”


The Rules

October 29, 2008

By: Dennis Bates

As early as I can remember, I never liked rules. To some of you that comes as no shock. I went to school when rules were the norm. No talking during the lunch hour, no blue jeans, all boys wore a belt, hair had to be above the ears. You get the picture. I hated all of them, and challenged just about everyone.

 

But for my academic record, my participation in sports, band, the school newspaper and almost every other extracurricular activity, I would have been in trouble constantly. As it was, it was just most of the time. Harmless stuff for the most part, but still not the stuff model citizens are usually made from. The majority of the time my discomfort was caused by my own actions and as a result of challenging authority just because it was in charge.

 

To make matters worse I am a Boomer who went to college during the 60’s, so you might say I was in the wrong place at the wrong time for someone with a contentious attitude who was looking for every opportunity to hone his already well sharpened skills. I’m just sayin’. You are who you are and I knew what I was like.

 

Religion was no different. I was raised in the Presbyterian church and we went every Sunday morning and evening. Evening was youth group for me. Since then I’ve gone to just about every kind of church including a few Masses mainly because of my interest in the young lady who drug me along. Just so you know, I liked going to Mass a lot more than some of the Protestant churches I have attended since then, but that’s another topic.

 

I have at one time or another been a member of a Presbyterian church, a Baptist church, a Methodist church and a United Church of Christ. I’ve attended just about every other denomination out there and some that are really out there, if you know what I mean. They all have their good points, and those that aren’t so good, even though there are devout members in just about all of them.

 

But here’s the thing. Almost every one of those churches puts a premium on calling themselves by their denominational name and following the rules they have adopted as some sort of litmus test for “real” Christianity. Even the so-called non denominational churches have a denominational bias even if they try to hide it. Look at their rules and you will know what it is.

 

And that’s why I hate rules. In my opinion there’s only one rule that matters. Do you or do you not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God? John 3:16 says that whoever believes in Him shall have eternal life. Period, end of story, turn out the lights, the party is over. All the other stuff is not necessary to call yourself a Christian.

 

Maybe you have to accept certain beliefs to be a Catholic or a Methodist, or a Presbyterian, but those beliefs don’t make you a Christian or keep you from being one. Only Jesus Christ matters, and in my opinion the rules only do one thing in the last result. They keep us from being effective in a world that needs us to speak with one voice now more than ever before.

 

So, I don’t need them, don’t want them, and I’m not going to put up with them anymore…but then again, I never really did. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus…there’s just something about that name.

 

Just so you know, some of the opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of the management. You would expect something different?

 

 

 

 


Rosebud

October 28, 2008

By: Dennis Bates

As I get older, more and more of my thoughts turn to my past. I wonder what I could have done differently, what I could have better, and how I could have avoided some of the stupid things I did. It’s rather pointless, really, to worry about these things. They’re gone. But I suppose to some degree worrying about what I could have and should have done is inevitable, or at least it seems to be.  

 

There is a modern day proverb that goes something like this: When you are about to die and you have only a few breaths left, if you were granted one last wish, your wish would not be, “I wish I had spent more time at the office.” In my case it might be just the opposite.

 

The opening scene from the movie “Citizen Kane” features the last word of a wealthy man as he lay dying. The word is “Rosebud.” The entire movie involves a news reporter’s search for the meaning of that word. We watch as the movie flashes back to the man’s childhood and chronicles his acquisition of incredible wealth and power. None of it makes him happy.”

 

In the movie the reporter never finds out what “Rosebud” was, but in the very last scene, we the viewers do. It turns out that Rosebud was the name of a sled he had as a child. We saw the joy he had riding it at the beginning of the movie, and it was the last and maybe only time he was happy in the entire film. He had everything, acquired a massive collection of riches from everywhere in the world, and built an empire, but after he died what couldn’t be sold was pitched into a massive furnace in the basement of his mansion, and the last item thrown into the fire was that sled named Rosebud.

 

It’s a haunting movie in a lot of ways because it shows us the time we waste on things that ultimately are unimportant.

 

One of my grandmothers died from breast cancer, the other from some sort of dementia. Both women were influential in my life and both had modest needs and desires. Neither of them cared a bit about having the latest gadget for their kitchen or driving a new car. Neither had closets full of fancy clothes and I doubt that either had detailed knowledge of their investment portfolios. In fact, I doubt that either had an investment portfolio; yet I doubt that there are few people who enjoyed life more than either of them.

 

If laughter makes you rich, one of my grandmother’s was a multimillionaire and the other one was very well off. In short, they both had their priorities in life straight. They knew what was important and they didn’t worry about other things. Whether they could quote it or not, both women knew implicitly what Jesus said in Matthew 6: 31-33:

 

Jesus said, “Do not worry, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For…your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

 

Neither of my grandmothers died with the regret of Rosebud on their lips or in their hearts because they knew what made life important and they sought that kingdom first and always. I would do well to remember that as I reflect, so that no matter what I did or did not do in my life, my last word can be “Jesus.” And I’ll be smiling.

 

 


Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah

October 27, 2008

By:  Staci Stallings

One of the really, totally cool things about hanging out with God is how often He brings multiple pieces from varying places together so that you KNOW He’s talking right to you.  That actually happens to me a lot.  I think many times people don’t “hear” God talking because they seem to think that He’s supposed to have a voice that speaks to you.  Yes, sometimes that happens too, but far more often (for me at least) it’s a series of pieces that fit too well together for it to be anything but God trying to tell me something.

That was the case this weekend.

The theme of the pieces could be summed up in three words:  faith and works.

Now we all know there is great discussion in the church about those two words—one without the other, the other without the one, in what order, how much, which is more important, which first and which second?  I’ve felt for a long time that I understood the proper relationship, but I could never put it into words that expressed it very well.  And then God started putting the pieces into place.

First came a short talk that I gave on Luke 8:48.   Then Jesus said, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”  I pointed out that in this verse, there are four words that crystallize the message.  Faith, more specifically YOUR faith.  To begin the process, God requires a very small amount of faith on your part.  That faith may only be the size of a mustard seed, but YOU have to act on it.  You have to take the first step to Him by applying that faith.

The next word is healed.  When we come to Jesus through our miniscule amount of faith, He will bring us healing—emotional, mental, spiritual, and sometimes physical healing.  When the healing has come, we are then at peace.  Peace and healing go together.  You do not have one without the other.  If you are still in pain, it is nearly impossible to be at total peace.  However, once you are completely healed, peace is the natural bi-product of that healing.

Finally, “Go.”  When we find God’s healing and peace, it is natural for us to want to go out to our world and tell everyone about this wonderful thing He has done for us.

So that was the first piece.

Then at Mass this morning, the sermon centered around “stewardship” or how are you giving back to your Church and your world?  The priest said this, “The loudest testimony we have is not spoken but LIVED!”

Too often we know the talk backward and forward, but our walk is stumbling and hesitant.  We proclaim one thing at the altar, but live something diametrically different when we walk out the door.  In short, we have the faith part down, but our actions don’t follow the faith we profess.

Add to these pieces Dr. Lee A. Simpson this morning. He said that our Christian works should never be defined by “and”; our works should be defined by “because.”

We are not saved by Jesus dying on the cross AND our reading the Bible AND our good works AND our prayer life.  We are saved by Jesus dying on the cross, and BECAUSE of that, we read the Bible and do good works and have a strong prayer life.  Our works are a result of what Jesus did, not somehow a necessary addition to what He did.

This is a point I could really have used when I was younger.  Back then, I was firmly in the AND column. I was doing, doing, doing because I had heard, “A tree is known by the fruit it produces” and “if a vine does not produce, it shall be cut away and thrown into the fire.”  Man, I wanted to be known as a GOOD tree, and I did not want to be thrown into the fire.  So I put A LOT of effort into producing good fruit so that I could prove to God I was worthy of Heaven.

Oh, how wrong I was.  Wrong and EXHAUSTED. 

I worked, and I worked, and I worked, and mostly all I felt was frustrated and tired and overwhelmed.  I was trying to live the testimony of my Christian walk based on “and” not based on “because.”

I’m guessing by now, you’re starting to see the pieces fit together the way I did.  This is not some random thing.  No, God is showing me something truly incredible and meaningful, and He’s allowing me to pass what I’m learning on to you.  Through this process, God is speaking to directly to me from many different sources—all with a unique angle on the same topic and then producing that fruit in my life so it can be used in yours.

All of this was great. Then my sister called. (You’ve really got to love God!)  She was reading this book about leadership in the church, and one part she read to me said, “When our lives are all talk and no action, what our world hears from us is:  blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…”  (Maybe it’s me, but I think that’s another way to say:  “The loudest testimony we have is not spoken but LIVED!”)

And then she finished with this question:  “What would the world be like if we really lived the Gospel instead of just talking about it?”

Huh.  Good question.

Maybe if we did learn to orient our works around because rather than and, and start living the Gospel we say we believe in… Maybe, just maybe, our world would hear more than blah, blah, blah, blah.

 

Copyright Staci Stallings, 2008


Announcement

October 24, 2008

By:  Staci Stallings

It is my honor to announce the formal release of a new book by a new author with Spirit Light Books!

Deja Vu Bride, by Debra Ullrick.  Furious with God, Olivia Roseman vows to never trust Him again. Why should she? Once again her prayers have gone unanswered, and once again another loved one has been ripped from her. With no job and only a few dollars, Olivia makes a choice to start over again. Without God and without love. However, her handsome new boss isn’t going to make forgetting God or keeping her vow to never love again very easy. Erik Cole questions the sanity of his moving from Swamper City, Alabama to Charity, West Virginia. That is, until he hires airbrush designer Olivia Roseman to paint his monster truck. When he senses that she’s a gal who is down on her luck, he vows to do whatever he can to help her. Only problem is, the little beauty creates more challenges than one. As his feelings toward her deepen, all Erik can do is hope and pray that one day Olivia will open up her heart to Christ—and to him.

 

A personal note from Staci… This book helped me so much.  Anger at losing someone very special can wreak havoc on your faith and on your heart.  Deja Vu Bride was instrumental in healing many tender places in me after the death of my brother.  Yes, bad things happen in this life, but Deja Vu Bride reminds us all that even in the midst of awful, we have the choice to remember that what Satan meant to harm us, God can take and make something good.

Check out Deja Vu Bride at:  http://www.lulu.com/content/3970924


“Are you really?”

October 23, 2008

By:  Staci Stallings

Another dispatch from Dr. Lee A. Simpson.

In another one of those three-minutes-that-change-everything moments on Sunday, my new favorite preacher threw this little challenge at me:

“When you say you are over something or that you believe something… Satan will always come with the test that says, ‘Are you really?’”

I used to hear people say that God tested us as in, God wants to know if we are GOOD ENOUGH to gain Heaven, so He will test us to see.  There was a time I believed this.  Then I learned about God’s great and all-encompassing love for me, and that showed me that there is no test to see if I’m worthy of His love.

However, we do feel tested, so how to explain that?

I like this way to explain it.  You see, I don’t know about you, but I can say a lot of things.  I can say I believe a lot of things, but sometimes when push comes to shove, I don’t ACT on what I say or what I believe.  It sounds good in theory, but wow, is it hard in person!

Take forgiveness.  I can say, “I’ve forgiven this person,” and maybe I really believe I have.  But then that person’s name comes up in conversation, and this horrible feeling rises in me.  I realize maybe I haven’t really forgiven them, or I haven’t totally forgiven them.  Sometimes we can get down on ourselves at that point and think it’s impossible so what’s the point?  That’s what Satan would have us believe.  To him, that’s the point of him testing us–to get us to give up.

But what is the point of God LETTING Satan test us?  Wouldn’t it be better if when we say “we believe” that God then shielded us from all tests?  (I know for me, I’d sure prefer that!)

However, I think that God allows the tests to show us those points where we’re still weak, where we still need healing, where we need a little more understanding of how to bring and be His love in the situation.  God doesn’t allow the tests to give Himself cause for condemning us.  If He did, why would He have sent Jesus to take our place?  No.  God allows the tests to let us see for ourselves where we are–not in theory but in reality.

For example, let’s say that I have learned to put a situation in God’s hands.  So I’m going to a meeting, and I pray beforehand, “God, I put this meeting in Your hands.”  Great. 

Now let’s say that the meeting goes very well, but when it’s over, the company decides not to go with your plan.  That’s a test.  It’s Satan’s test, and what he wants you to do is go, “UGH! I put this in God’s hands, and it didn’t work out.  God hates me!  I do not trust God anymore…”

God, however, has allowed the test, and if you are willing to understand and learn that His Love is in everything, your disappointment may just be able to teach you something wonderful from this seeming “failure.” 

In the above example (drawn actually from my own life), I came away angry at first.  I had put the meeting into God’s hands, why did it not work out the way I wanted it to? 

Ah.  And then I stopped.  I suddenly saw something I hadn’t before.

Yes, I put the meeting in God’s hands, but I had failed to put the OUTCOME in God’s hands as well.  In other words, “God, take this meeting and make it turn out the way I want.”  Oops.  Yeah.  I had kind of missed that one.

And the further truth is that when I learned that lesson it freed me from placing my own expectations and judgments on the situations.  Now, I go, I let God do it through me, and whatever happens, I know it is HIS best plan.  (Talk about FREEDOM!)

The truth is that without Satan asking, “Are you really putting this in God’s hands?”  I would never have seen my error.

So those tests that Satan sends your way that seem so horrible at the time can be used by God–not so He can condemn you, but so that He can teach you to draw just a bit closer into His Love and trusting Him.

What test have you had that tested your belief or if you really would do what you said you would do? 

See that as a gift… for it truly is.


My Best Seller

October 22, 2008

By:Dennis Bates

 

I thought about responding to a comment I received on yesterday’s blog, but then decided I’d do it here. The comment said essentially that the writer didn’t worry about sales all that much because that wasn’t her goal when she wrote. The part I want to address is the following partial quote:  “…some of the very best moments and memories will be that one who said, “I really feel like God spoke to me through what you wrote.”

 

For sure that is a nobler calling and purpose than sales, and I want to give two examples to amplify what she is saying. The first is just cute and personal, but nonetheless valid. It involves my younger daughter. All parents want their children to be proud of them and to love them. I’m no exception; in fact, maybe I crave it more than I should. Still most of us are under few delusions that we will regularly hear that from our children. The words, “Gee, Dad, I’m proud of you,” are hard to say for some strange reason and I was no exception with my father. It’s not that we aren’t proud; it’s just that we don’t say it as often as we should.

 

So you have to take consolation in the indirect, unspoken ways your children tell you that they are proud of you. My daughter found out that the local libraries have copies of my first book, “Under the Burr Oak Tree.” It’s included in a section of books written by local authors. She couldn’t help herself. She had to go see it on the shelf there with her own eyes. When she couldn’t find it, she went straight to the check out desk and asked where it was. The woman told her that someone had checked it out. Imagine that in a library. My daughter couldn’t leave well enough alone, she asked if anyone else had checked it out, and was told yes, at least three other people had checked it out previously. She couldn’t wait to tell my wife that people were checking my book out. It’s a little thing, I know, but it sure did make me feel good.

 

The second incident came a few weeks ago after church when a woman came up to me at coffee hour. She told me she had purchased one of my books and given it to one of her daughters to read first because she was reading something else.

 

She told me, “I just had to tell you what an effect your book has had on my daughter. You know she doesn’t come to church much and I can’t tell you when she actually read a book last, but she said she couldn’t put yours down. She practically has it memorized. I don’t know how many times she said she read it, but she described it to me scene by scene like she was telling me about some friends of hers, and she particularly liked the fact that it showed that no matter what we’ve done, God still loves us.” The woman choked up a little and then said, “Thanks. I think she got the message.”

 

Give me one comment like that for every book I write and I’ll let Grisham have the NYT best seller list. I’d rather have that kind of best seller.

 

 


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