April 30, 2008

By: Dennis Bates


Sometimes the moments of deepest personal inspiration come from meditating on the spirit filled breaths of others and letting them blow across your soul. That inspiration can come from words, music or deeds that massage your heart and connect you and those that join in prayerful awareness. You willingly surrender self and individual understandings to a greater understand and higher power.


Those are the moments to cherish; those are the wisps of wonder to live for. If you experience even one of those moments you are fortunate; if you have more, you are truly blessed.


It’s been 44 years since our high school choir performed the St Olaf Choir signature piece “Beautiful Savior.” A very soft, hummed section in the middle is carried by the baritones while a single soprano voice sings the haunting melody over top. The baritone section is high, technically difficult and made even more challenging because everyone but the soprano sings their part using only an ooh.


During rehearsals we never could get it right. The night of the performance three of us, two of us letter winning athletes, decided we would join hands when we came to that part and concentrate on making our voices one as we let the soprano’s solo voice float over us. We agreed we would forget about our single voices and focus on the pressure of our joined hands.


When we got to the soprano solo and the teenage woman in front of us sang “Fair are the meadows, fairer still the woodlands,” we pressed each others’ hands and listened for the soloist, focusing our eyes on the conductor. When the diminutive soprano powered into the final two lines “Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer, He makes our sorrowing spirit sing,” all I saw was a tunnel between the three of us and the conductor, and all I heard was the most incredible solo I have ever heard to this day, Metropolitan Opera included. Nothing else existed but the music.


When we finished, the conductor nodded to the soloist, who was brilliant, and then he looked at the three of us in the baritone section and wiped an honest tear from his eye as he mouthed the single word, “Bravo” to us. We squeezed our hands together one last time knowing that the three of us had just been part of something truly special. It was one of those moments that becomes part of you forever.


I have no idea where either of those two fellow baritones are today, and without looking them up in an old high school yearbook, I couldn’t even tell you their names. But I can remember the feeling we had, the soprano’s solo and the conductor’s face as he said “Bravo,” and I look forward to the day that the three of us can join hands together again and sing that song to the Inspiration that blew His spirit across our collective soul that night so we could feel Him. And I wait eagerly to look up at the end of the song to see His Father, My Father…Our Father say “Bravo” out loud.


That’s what forever is.



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I Always Liked Whales

April 29, 2008

By: Dennis Bates


When I was a kid, one of my favorite Bible stories was Jonah. It was something about the whale, especially after I saw Disney’s “Pinocchio.” I could see Jonah sitting in the belly of that fish. Of course, I missed the deeper meanings, but I remembered the story, and sometimes that’s enough of a reason to keep telling those stories to children. They remember the story itself and come back for the deeper meanings when they get older.


Today, I am more interested in Jonah himself although I still kind of like the whale. As you recall, the back story is that God wanted Jonah to go to Nineveh, a corrupt and wicked city, and warn them that they had to change or God would destroy them. Jonah didn’t care much for that idea, so he went the opposite direction, and a big fish swallowed him when the boat he was in hit a storm and the crew threw Jonah overboard to lighten the load.


Jonah spent three days in the belly of that fish until he finally pled with God to get him out of there. In fact, his exact words were “What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the Lord.” As soon as he prayed that, God had the fish deposit him on a beach in a very unceremonious way, and a messenger appeared to remind him where Nineveh was.


Reluctantly, Jonah went to Nineveh and gave them only the first line of God’s message. Guess what? They listened and they asked God to forgive them, which is more than you can say for Jonah. He was livid. He wanted to see the city of Nineveh destroyed along with everything in it, but God wouldn’t do it. He forgave the people of Nineveh.


Jonah sat down on the hillside and pouted, even when God raised a big plant to give him shade. When God finally had heard enough, He reminded Jonah that Nineveh had more than 120,000 people who needed His help, so He gave it. And that’s where the story ends. We don’t know what, if anything, Jonah did after that. Maybe he did nothing.


Personally, I hope Jonah learned from his experiences. He ran from God, but God found him. He asked God to save him from the belly of the fish and God did. He warned the people in Nineveh that God wanted them to repent and they did. Through his begrudging obedience 120,000 people “and many cattle as well” were saved. (I love the part about the cattle.) Why would anyone be upset about that?


Hopefully, after Jonah thought about what God told him for a while, he realized he had done a good thing by taking God’s word to the city. If he didn’t rejoice in what he had done; if he just sat up on the hillside until he died, who should we pity more: the wicked people of Nineveh who heard God’s voice and repented, or Jonah, who was basically a good man, who heard God’s voice but took no delight in doing the good God asked him to do?


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Boring Yourself

April 28, 2008

By: Staci Stallings


There are certain things in life that I really wanted to get right—especially those things I knew I would only have one shot at.  I don’t know why exactly, but I’ve always lived my life thinking about what I want to be proud of years from now when my grandchildren ask about my life.  That may be why I was so unhappy when our senior high school class chose our motto.


To me, our motto was supposed to say something about who we were, about who we wanted to be, about where we were going.  It had to be inspirational, up-lifting, and encouraging. In short, it was important to me to get it right.  My own motto was the ultra-up-lifting quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared with what lies inside us.”  See?  Exceptionally inspirational.


So I was mortified when the motto I had nominated (no, almost 15 years later I don’t remember what that was) went down in flaming defeat to the motto the rest of the class wanted.  The eye-raisingly dubious motto:  “Is life not a thousand times too short for us to bore ourselves?”


Now I knew why the partiers in our class chose this saying.  I knew what it meant to them, and I was horrified that for the next million years or so, my photo would hang just over this audacious maxim in the high school halls. 


However, life has a way of pulling you up short just when you think you’ve got it all figured out.  Nineteen months after our graduation, one of the kids who had fought the hardest for this very motto was killed in a car accident.  By all accounts he was by then an upstanding member of our military—busy pursuing a life he had partied too hardy to see in high school.


When I heard the news, I had to think that yes, life was far too short for that young man to have bored himself.  Far too short indeed. 


Turns out, though, as hard as I fought against having this saying hang under my photo, it is the perfect saying for the way my life has gone as well.  There have been very few boring moments since the 23 of us hung that plaque on that wall.  Many, many of those moments I’ve spent frantically trying to keep up, catch up, or get ahead.  Very few have been spent sitting around wondering why someone doesn’t come do something for me.


Yes, I’m living, and I’m proud I am.  I don’t have time to be bored.  Life’s too short.  If I forget that, all I have to do is think of my high school class who forced me to understand something about myself that I hadn’t even realized was there. I also think about the young man who fought so hard to give me that gift. I will be forever grateful.


I know I will remember that lesson—even when my grandkids ask.  So, I guess that’s one thing I got right.

Just Hanging Out

April 24, 2008

By:  Staci Stallings


Have you ever tried to be a Christian so hard it hurts? Have you ever done all the right things and still felt like you were completely missing something?  I think at some point or another we’ve all been there—reading the Bible, going to church, serving, doing, doing, doing all the right things, but it’s so hard.  It’s hard to get motivated to read the Bible.  It’s hard to get motivated to teach that Sunday school class or even go to church.


Would it surprise you to find out you’re not alone in having felt that?  I’m guessing it would surprise you.  I know it would’ve surprised me a few years ago to find I wasn’t the only one “dutying myself” to a spiritual death.  But, boy, did I look good doing it!


I knew all the prayers, could recite them at blazing speed, which I did to get through them.  I went to church, volunteered, served, joined, read, but to be honest, there were at best flashes of joy.  Every so often I would get a glimpse of how cool it is to be with God, but mostly it was just work.


This morning a friend emailed.  She related a story that made me laugh out loud because it encapsulates the shift that my life and my relationship with God has gone through in the past three years. 


Here it is in her words:  “Adoration was awesome today. The guy that snores was there so it was hard to concentrate. But God really spoke to me, I was reading my Bible but not absorbing what I was reading, I heard God say, ‘Hey, put it down, and just hang out with me’. So I was still and the snoring stopped. It was then I heard how much I am loved!!!! AIN’T GOD GREAT?!”


Doesn’t that make your spirit smile?  It sure did mine.


I have come to the conclusion that we spend so much time trying to do all the right things that we miss the point of doing them in the first place.  The point of reading the Bible and going to church is simply to have some time to hang out with God.  Once you get that, you will see that’s all He really wants to do anyway.


He’s not interested in heartless obedience.  He made you for a reason, and the reason is so that He would have someone to love.  Think of it this way, God is standing right next to you as you sit to read the Bible.  You have a goal to read one chapter because that will prove how much you love Him, plus it will meet some requirement you’re sure is written on some requirement book in Heaven.


So you sit down to read.  As you start, God says, “Hi, I’m so glad you came.”  Immediately, you get annoyed and anchor your attention more forcefully to the page.  After a moment God tries again, “Did you notice that sunset out there? It is a real work of art.”  Of course, you don’t hear the whole thing, you just looked up and noticed the sunset.  “UGH!  This reading the Bible is so difficult. I can’t keep my mind on what it’s saying.”  In fact, that must be why He requires it, to test just how serious we are in our commitment.


For fifteen, twenty, thirty minutes we diligently push all other thoughts out of our head.  Then we read that magic last word.  Like a prisoner released, we spring from the chair.  Free to go on about our life—duty finished.  Of course we feel no more filled with God’s love than we did when we sat down. Why?  Because God’s still standing there, wishing we would stop trying to impress Him and learn to just hang out with Him.


Since I’ve gotten off the performance treadmill and started just hanging out with Him, life has gotten so cool!  Let me tell you, He’s an awesome friend.  We laugh together, cry together, plan together, play together, work together, live together.


Do I read the Bible?  You bet I do!  Who wouldn’t want to hang out with their best friend?  But when I do, I also tune in to what He is telling me.  And sometimes all He wants me to do is what Mary did—just sit at His feet, gaze to Him, and listen.  Just be with Him.  Just hang out.


Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about many things; but only a few things are necessary, really only one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken from her. –Luke 10:41-42


The time you spend just hanging out with Christ will never be taken from you because it is the only thing necessary. Try it sometime.  I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised how full of His love you are when you get up. 


Just hanging out with God is cool.


Come hang out at Spirit Light  You’ll find God’s stories full of His love and hope… Signifying everything!

New Poll

April 23, 2008

By: Dennis Bates

We have all seen the daily polls asking who we would vote for if the Presidential elections were held today. Similar polls for just about everything appear on the Internet every day. One of the things that computers do best is process massive amounts of data quickly. What computers don’t do well at all is analyze what value those polls have.


Some time ago I came across a poll that had two buttons. One button said “Yes” and the other said “No.” There was also a space to add comments, and there were two of those also. The first comment said, “I voted yes; how could anyone vote no.” The second comment countered. “You idiot; everyone with any sense knows the answer is no.”


At the end of the day when I checked back on the results of the poll, more than 500 votes had been registered, and 49.7 per cent voted yes, while 50.3 per cent voted no. There was an asterisk that indicated that Florida voters were confused by the choices, so Florida votes were not counted. Further break downs indicated that the coastal areas recorded a higher percentage of no votes, while the middle 99 percent of the country had a higher percentage of yes votes.


The pollster then “interpreted” the data with the following comment. “Thank you all very much for participating in this poll. I was feeling kind of silly today and there was no question.”


As harmless and humorous as this prank was, I think it said a lot about the world we live in. The Bible tells us that Christians have one body, one spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God. At least that’s what there is supposed to be.  With all the disputes between denominations, it is questionable whether we are anywhere near that goal.


Charles Colson says in his book “The Body” that Christians even have trouble defining what body means, arguing about whether it’s a local congregation, a particular denomination, all Christians worldwide, just the ones that are baptized, and so on. He says we have similar problems trying to agree on what that body is supposed to do. Is it supposed to worship, evangelize, grow, and feed the hungry or elect politicians?


If Christians themselves are confused by whom they are and what they are supposed to be doing, how do we expect non Christians to react? More importantly, why would they want to listen to us, let alone become one of us? It’s almost like asking people to take the poll and vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when there is no question. What are they voting for or against?


Perhaps we need to start over and go back to basics. The rules for a Godly life were synopsized into Ten Commandments. However, over the years interpretations and misinterpretations made those ten relatively simple rules too hard to understand. In addition, they were impossible to comply with. So Jesus took those ten rules and synopsized them again making one rule, which he called a new command. “Love one another,” as He loved us He told his followers, and He promised that if we did that everyone would know we were His disciples.


Paul called love the greatest of all things and said no matter what else we had, if we didn’t have love, we had nothing.


So if denominations continue to argue about doctrine and can’t get together, let alone agree on who belongs in the Body of Christ or what that Body is supposed to do, I have a question. Do they love one another? And if they don’t, what do they have left? Is that a clanging gong or noisy cymbal I hear?


Yes or no?



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I Feel Sorry for Rich People

April 22, 2008

By: Dennis Bates


My grandparents on my father’s side didn’t have a seventh grade education between the two of them. They grew up on different continents, my grandfather in Midland England and my grandmother in the Midwestern United States. Both their families were poor, but neither of them seemed to be bothered by it. I’m not sure my grandmother’s family even realized it.


And yet, every time I read Philippians 4:12 when Paul says, “I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances,” I think of them. My grandfather worked as a laborer for the Rock Island railroad and took the shop train to work every morning and home at night. My grandmother walked several blocks so she could catch a bus down town to the dime store, where she did most of her shopping, but only if something was on sale. I often think how crazy she would have been to hang around K-Mart for the blue light specials, but she died before they we had one.


My grandfather never owned a car that hadn’t been owned by at least three other people first, but he was always proud of it. My grandmother always bought irregular clothes because they were cheaper, meaning of course there was something wrong with them. One of my favorite Christmas presents ever was the white shirt she bought me. I was so impressed that she actually got the size right once. Usually she didn’t. However when I took the pins out of it to try it on, it had one long sleeve and one short sleeve. I kept it for a long time because it was so grandma.


Every Christmas Eve we had dinner at their house and the meal was always the same, scalloped potatoes, butter beans, a salty, stringy Virginia ham, and black cherry Jello with Bing cherries. When I was young, I didn’t like Jello with fruit in it so my grandmother made a separate small dish of plain Jello just for me. Even when I got older and did like fruit in Jello, my grandmother insisted on making a special bowl of plain Jello just for me.


My grandparents and my parents are all gone now, but we have that same meal every Christmas Eve. However, we just have one bowl of Jello, and it doesn’t have cherries in it because my wife hates cherries.


Their house was smaller than a lot of garages these days, and there wasn’t enough room for everyone to eat in the kitchen so the kids ate on TV trays in the living room, but we thought it was a big deal because we never got to eat in the living room at home. Christmas Eve was a very special night, and we were always supposed to take a nap so we could go to Midnight church services, but we rarely did. Grandma’s was way too much fun to waste on sleeping.


When I read the other day about several Hedge Fund managers each making literally Billions of dollars last year as salaries, and I see the salaries that professional athletes make, not to mention CEO’s of companies that actually lost money, I feel sorry for them. Sure they made more money in one year than a lot of countries make. I won’t even quarrel about their “right” to make more money than the President of the United States.


I just wonder one thing: Are they as content as Paul, my grandmother and my grandfather were? I think I know the answer, so I feel sorry for them




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Raising Ragpickers

April 21, 2008

By:  Staci Stallings


The savior in Og Mandino’s “The Greatest Miracle in the World” is a mysterious old man with an affinity for what he calls human rags.  In the story Og is the rag—an ambitious, successful magazine publisher who is burning out faster than a candle in water.  The irony is that his magazine is about Success, but he’s become increasingly dissatisfied with everything in his life.  And then his ragpicker shows up.


It’s not hard to see that our world does a good job of making millions upon millions feel like rags.  We are washed up, tired, empty, and worn out. It is as if the human rag pile is ten miles high and getting higher by the moment.  It would seem to be evident that the world needs more ragpickers—those people who are not only not on the rag heap, but who can help those who are on it to get off.


After reading “The Greatest Miracle in the World,” I determined for myself that I would be a ragpicker to the best of my ability.  What I soon learned is that as a role model for my three kids, I am daily showing them how to be ragpickers.  That was not my original intention, but it’s working.


My oldest daughter came home from school one day, and we were talking about recess.  She was telling me about the “groups” the kids had formed. One was the cheerleading group.  One was the acting group, and on and on.  She was telling me how she had been playing with one little girl who had gotten thrown out of her group for not following all the rules.


I asked her what they did, and she said, “Oh, we just sat under the tree and dug for worms.”  I, feeling my parental concern for her well-being, said, “Well, Stef, what group are you in?”  To which she replied, “Oh, I’m not in a group. I just play with whoever the others don’t want to play with.”


Of course, I want my child to feel a part of things, and so I said, “Don’t you want to be in a group?” She just shrugged and said, “Not really. There’s always someone to play with because the groups are always mad at somebody.”


It was then that I realized she was a ragpicker!  She wasn’t desperately trying to be a part of what the world said she had to be. No, she was content to be herself and to pick up the rags until they felt loved enough to go back to the group.


Since then, I have seen on more than one occasion the respect her peers have for her.  One little boy at a birthday party told my husband that “Stefani must have never been around any mean person because it doesn’t matter what happens, she has never been mean to me.” (This was a little boy with severe ADHD that the teachers were in complete exasperation how to handle.  One teacher told me she had put Stefani by him because Stef could deal with him when no one else could.)


Then there was another little boy in her class who was a bit slow with learning. That year the teacher told me that she had put Stefani by this little boy because Stef just naturally helped him when he got lost on the instructions. The teacher said, “She is just so patient with him. It amazes me.”


The other night we were at the school for an open house, and we were hanging out talking. One little boy said to Stefani, “You were saying the other day how much you were screaming about something. That’s weird. I just can’t picture you screaming about anything.  Stefani.  Screaming. They just don’t even go together.”


I can’t say that I did it, but I’d like to give some credit to Mr. Mandino for helping me to decide to be a ragpicker myself.  I think it was the key to teaching me to raise ragpickers, and I will forever be grateful for that lesson.

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