June 26, 2008

By:  Staci Stallings


Blessings.  We talk about them, pray about them, give thanks for them, and sometimes we even feel very guilty about getting them.  Although the Bible says God is “able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us,” we worry and doubt about how serious He really was when He made that promise.


The cycle goes something like this.  We hit rock bottom and remember God might be able to help, so we start praying.  We ask, and as He promised, things start looking up.  We keep praying because by now it has become a habit. Slowly then more quickly more blessings show up—some that we prayed for, some we never saw coming.  Then the guilt slides through us. “Look at all He’s given me. How could I even think of asking for more?  I mean, isn’t that greedy?”  So we quit asking until we’re in trouble again.


In truth, the paradox is we can never ask God for too much.  Why?  Because God is limitless, boundless, infinite.  There is literally no limit to God’s love or to His desire to pour that love into and through our lives onto others.  Satan knows this, so he uses our best instincts against us. “Don’t be greedy. You have enough. Don’t ask for more.”  “Think about those who don’t have as much as you have. Take your fair share, and be satisfied with that.”  “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for even asking God about something like that? He doesn’t have time to listen to such petty concerns.” And on and on.


Unfortunately, he’s good at it.  He has us convinced that there are things too small for God to worry about in our lives.  He has us convinced that if things are good, asking for more is asking too much of God.  Worst of all, he has us convinced that God has set some sort of invisible limit on what He will give us, and if we cross that line, God will be so angry He will take all the blessings we now have away.


Lies.  It’s all lies, and yet we buy into it, and we live our lives afraid to ask for the blessings God wants to give us.


Take my friend for example.  She was recently lamenting because God in His goodness had provided the perfect apartment for her (after she specifically asked for it). Then He provided the perfect car for her (after she asked for it).  Then she stumbled into asking for the thing she most wants—a God-centered man who would come into her life and love her the way she is now loving everyone else.  That seemed just too much to ask for, especially after she’d already gotten the other blessings.


She said, “I just feel so greedy wanting it all.”  As if the Holy Spirit opened a lesson book, she went on, “It’s like the other day. I was at the store, and there was this little girl in front of me in line.  She walked up with two pieces of candy. The cashier rang it up and said, ‘That’ll be $1.93.’  Unfortunately all this little girl had was $1.


“The cashier said, ‘Look. You’ve got two pieces of candy, but you don’t have enough money to buy both, so you’re going to have to put one of them back. Which one do you want, and which one will you put back?’”


My friend said, “She was a little girl, and it was candy. Of course she wanted both of them!”  The situation became more tense as the cashier began demanding that the little girl make a choice.  Then my friend reached into her own purse, pulled out a dollar, slid it to the cashier, and said, “Let her have both of them.” She said, “I was just so grateful for all the blessings He’s given me, I wanted to share those blessings with someone else.”


At the end of her story, I said, “You know what He’s trying to tell you through that, right?”  She just looked at me as if she hadn’t realized there was a message. So, I continued.


Look at it this way:  You were the little girl. You wanted both things. Satan was the cashier, looking at you with a sneer saying, “No. You don’t have enough to pay for both. You can only have one, so which one will it be? Make a choice already. I’ve got other people waiting.”


And then God who was standing at your side the whole time, without being asked, slipped the full payment to Satan and said, “Let her have both of them. It’s on Me.”


The truth is, He wants to do that for you. The only stipulation is you must be open to receiving His blessings in your life. By now, He and I have a standing agreement. I’m open. Whatever He wants to send my way is fine by me. In fact, I often simply pray, “All Your best in my life today, God.”


Over and over, He has sent blessings I never even saw coming. Friends to support me in times of need, others who He could love through me, moments of such awe-inspiring closeness with Him I have either laughed out loud or cried. I call that exceedingly abundant beyond all that we could ask or think. Wouldn’t you?


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Something Different

June 25, 2008

By: Dennis Bates

We say we’ll pray,

But there’s no follow up.

We assume we’re done,

Before we’ve begun;

We fail

To see if those we prayed for

Still need us.

Were their needs met?

Or is God asking us

Why we’re looking at Him

When the reason we’re here

Is to meet their needs for Him?

We send money to mission fields,

The farther away, the better,

As if there’s some nobility

In helping them

Because they’re poor,

Speak different languages,

Wear different colored sins

Or strange clothes.

But the people

In our own neighborhoods

Shouldn’t take welfare,

Shouldn’t expect us to help

Need to get a job

And take care of themselves.

Empty stomachs still rumble

And little babies cry

Wherever there is hunger,

Even if it’s next door.

We are not righteous,

And can never be just,

When we have so much

While they have so little,

And we look the other way.

We must not say, but do,

Not be false, but true

To the others

We were sent to help.

It is not me, but he;

It isn’t we, but they,

When we do it for them,

We do it for Him.


Where Did They Go?

June 24, 2008

By: Dennis Bates

I’ve been sitting here staring at a blank page for more than an hour now and somehow I knew this would happen.  How can a mind that was so full of great ideas, keen insights and thoughts that were sure to make people go ooh and aah about three a.m., when the rest of me wanted to sleep be so empty right now? It is truly one of those mysteries of life for people who write, and I will never understand it.


At two o’clock this morning I couldn’t slow down the little creative gremlins running through my head. At three, I thought my head would explode. One idea after another paraded itself across my brain like a marching band playing 76 trombones. Now granted, the trip across my brain doesn’t take all that long, but the noise was still deafening. At four, I had almost convinced myself that I might as well get up and write down some of the things my mind kept conjuring up so I didn’t forget them. But I was so sure I would never forget all those nuggets of wisdom and duffle bags full of deep thoughts, that I convinced myself not to do that.


At about four thirty I finally fell asleep, and shortly after six I woke up again. It’s a bad habit I have. I got up early to go to work for so long that I still wake up early even though I’m sort of retired.  


“Great,” I thought, “I’ll have all that much longer to write and get things done today. I made breakfast, had my mug and a half of coffee and then turned on my computer. My fingers were twitching, poised for greatness, yearning to impart wisdom.


Nothing. Nada. Zilch. A big fat zero. My fingers just sat on the keys in front of me and gave me the raspberry. I don’t know how they do that exactly, but sometimes they do.


How can that be? Where are all those pesky little critters that tormented me when I wanted to sleep? They were so full of mischief just a few hours ago.  Did they sneak away to get some sleep themselves because they stayed up all night? All I know is if I find any of them, you ‘d better believe I’m going to wake them up and keep them that way.


Ideas are like new born babies. If you let them get away with staying up all night, they will sleep during the day and everybody will think they’re adorable, but mom and dad are the ones who have to stay up all night listening to them, not getting any sleep in the process. You just can’t let them get into that routine because you don’t have the luxury of sleeping anytime you want; only they do. You, on the other hand, have places to go and people to see and you can only see most of them during the day.


You have promises to keep…and miles to go before you sleep.


I had to bring that up, didn’t I? Yawn.




What is Success?

June 23, 2008

By:  Staci Stallings

Everyone wants success. People talk about setting goals and positive thinking and getting to the top. However, most of these same people never really define what success means to them. 

Instead they think only in terms of the next big promotion or the next raise or climbing the corporate ladder, but few ever stop to really look at where these goals are taking them.

World-renown motivational speaker Zig Ziglar says that to define success, you should stand on the goal line of life and look into the end zone. What you want to see there sets the parameters for your definition of success.

In other words, ask most people what they want from life, and they will say, “I want to be happy.” That’s great, except for two things: they seldom know with any certainty what happiness actually means to them, and secondly, they never actually plan to be—nor take the time to be—happy.

Instead of taking the time to be happy now, most people fall into the when-I-get-over-there-then-I’ll-be-happy syndrome. If you look, you see these kinds of people every day—maybe even when you look in the mirror. “When I get that promotion, then I’ll be happy.” “When the kids are back in school and I can do this, then I’ll be happy.” “When we get out of debt, then I’ll be happy.”

Problem is, it doesn’t work that way. If happiness is your goal; if having been happy is something you really want to see in the end zone of your life, then you have to start being happy today. Not tomorrow, not in a week, not when “X” happens—TODAY.

So, how do you do this?

First, you must seriously ask yourself, what makes you happy? What makes you feel alive and completely in touch with the essence of yourself?

Maybe it’s hiking or skateboarding or baseball or running. Maybe it’s painting or music or writing or dance. Maybe it’s something as simple as taking a cup of tea out to the porch to watch a sunset.

Immediately you say, “I don’t have time to do that stuff. I’m busy making a living. I don’t have enough time as it is.” And then you wonder why you aren’t happy.

If happiness is a goal you have, then you must schedule time every day to do something that makes you happy. As Annie Dillard, the author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

The question to you then, is how are you spending your days? The reality is that what you have right now is exactly what will be in that end zone on your last day here. Is this what you want?

If so, congratulations! If not, you can start right here, right now to make a new ending. Decide today what will be in your end zone, and then make the changes to get that in your life today. You deserve it, but don’t put it off. You don’t have a second to waste.

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You Already Have

June 19, 2008

By:  Staci Stallings


About a year ago my goals changed radically. The first goal that changed was the one that said my ultimate goal was to get to Heaven and have God say, “Well done good and faithful servant.” What I realized was, that goal was about me—what I would get, about what I thought I had earned, and about having Him be proud of me.  When the understanding that it wasn’t about me but about Him came through my life, I altered that goal to be this:  What I want when I get to Heaven is for God to put His arms around me and say, “I love you.” That’s it. That’s all I want. And you know what? He says that every day, so I know that goal is already met.


The second goal I had was about reaching people for God. I wanted to touch as many people as I could for Him. It sounded good, but again, that was about me—not about Him. It was about what I could do for Him. What a joke. The God who put the stars in the sky, formed everything from nothing, and designed it all to perfection, and I was going to do something for Him. Right. What I now understand is that He doesn’t need me to do anything for Him, what He wants most is to live through me—just as He lived through Jesus.


Based on that understanding, in the last month or so I have altered that goal as well. My “while I’m here” goal is now:  I want anyone who looks at me to see Him—in my writing, in person, on the phone, however we happen to meet.  The credit for everything that my life produces is His, not mine.  For if He is living through me, it is Him that is doing whatever efforts happen to come through me, so He deserves the credit.


The cool thing about this is that this morning I was listening to a song I’d heard many times and really liked.  The song is by Keith Urban. It is one he never released. It’s on his “Golden Road” album. It’s about his dad and how as he gets older, he sees more things in his life he realizes are things his dad did.  Then toward the end of the song, there was a part that just blew me away. It says:


“Everything he ever did, he did with love,

And I’m proud today to say I’m his son.

When somebody says, ‘I hope I get to meet your dad,’

I just smile and say, ‘You already have.’”


That’s my goal to be able to say that by meeting me they’ve already met my Father for He is living through me. That goal feels like a perfect fit in the way the others never did. The others put me in chains about what I had to do. These goals free me to simply live and watch what He does through me.  It’s an awesome way to live!



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Do Something!

June 18, 2008

By: Dennis Bates

I never realized until I retired more than two years ago that the book of Jonah is a metaphor about much more than running away from a job you didn’t want to do. It is not just a story about bad choices or denial. In fact, it is even more than a story about running away from God’s calling or God Himself.


To me, Jonah is a universal story that deals with a man who tries to run away from life itself. He really wants to avoid living altogether.


As a piece of literature, Jonah barely qualifies as a short story. It’s fairly involved plot and obvious moral lesson is told in a mere three pages, consisting of four short chapters. In those three pages, we learn that “The Word of the Lord” went to Jonah and told him that he needed to go Nineveh to preach because God had been confronted with the city’s wickedness and He was giving them one last chance to repent.


We don’t know if it was an angel that brought the word or someone else. We also don’t know whether it was something specific that Nineveh did to make God angry or if it was a general course of conduct. The specifics really don’t matter, so they were left out.


What we know is that Jonah wasted no time at all after he got the message. He immediately went the opposite direction and tried to run away from Nineveh, which had a reputation for being a nasty place. He took a ship, ran into a storm, was thrown overboard, and swallowed by a large fish. The fish held him in its belly for three days and three nights, coughing him up and Jonah was again told to go to Nineveh to preach.  All of that happens in a few hundred words.


The remaining two chapters tell us that this time Jonah listened and he went to Nineveh and preached. To his absolute amazement they listened to him and repented. Jonah was furious. After all he had been through, the people of Nineveh repented and God forgave them.


That wasn’t what Jonah had expected. He was certain that the wicked people would be destroyed and he would have a front row seat to watch it all, but instead, they survived because they repented.


Jonah pouted. With a loud cry of “It just isn’t fair,” he went to a hillside just east of the city and just sat there even though God tried to explain why he had forgiven the people. Jonah didn’t care, and the story ends strangely in a way with Jonah sitting on the hillside pouting and God walking away.


It is fairly easy to understand why Jonah ran the opposite direction when God told him to go to Nineveh the first time. Going there frightened him, but at least he did something. He ran, and even though that was the wrong thing to do, God could deal with that. He sent the fish to get Jonah’s attention and Jonah learned from that.


However, the second time Jonah ran away, he ran to a hillside and did nothing but mope and complain. He did nothing, not even something wrong.


God tried to talk to Jonah, but Jonah wasn’t interested. Finally, God had no choice; He left Jonah sitting idly on the hillside and walked away because Jonah refused to live anymore. To me that is one of the saddest moments in the Old Testament. Jonah quit living and God couldn’t do anything with that.


If Jonah would have done something good, God could have blessed him; if Jonah would have done something bad, God could have corrected him. But when Jonah chose to do nothing at all God couldn’t help. As the book of Revelation points out, the lukewarm church was sit out because it was neither hot nor cold.


Inaction is the only thing God won’t react to. Don’t sit on the hillside and pout. As a friend of mine used to say, “Do something, even if it’s wrong.”




God Bless Mississippi

June 17, 2008

By:Dennis Bates

The rain has finally stopped here in Iowa, and I would ask you all to remember to pray for those who have been forced to evacuate from their homes because of the flooding. I have never experienced or read about anything like this here before, It has affected many different areas never touched by flooding before.

Some 90 blocks of Cedar Rapids are underwater, and I don’t ever remember a flood there at all, let alone one of this magnitude. People are homeless with no place to go, and that has never happened there before. Many other communities have been forced to evacuate as well, and water systems have been shut down in several small towns because their treatment plants have been contaminated.

Interstate 80, the main east-west road across the state has been closed in several places because it is underwater. To my knowledge, that has never happened either, except briefly and usually because of a heavy snow. When it has been closed in the past it has been for hours, not days like it has been now.

People who go to our church spent ten hours over the weekend trying to get the 48 miles from here to Iowa City where the University of Iowa is partially flooded and at least one dorm has been evacuated. They gave up. No back road or secondary road was passable.

Iowans are a resilient lot, and we will survive with vigor and come back stronger, but right now homeless is still homeless, and attempts are being made to help everyone that needs it. That’s where one of the truly wonderful bright spots has surfaced in this mess.

Ironically, when Hurricane Katrina hit, Iowans were some of the first people to offer help, especially in Mississippi, where cameras and widely publicized telethons lost interest quickly choosing to focus on New Orleans instead. I won’t be cynical about that, but it happened and that’s all there is to it. People from Cedar Rapids were some of the first to send aid to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Bands of volunteers followed to help the homeless there anyway they could. Groups from my area slightly east of Cedar Rapids followed the example and quietly and with little fanfare, Iowans helped people rebuild in Mississippi.

Most of the media forgot to notice this and few stories resulted, but the people from Mississippi didn’t forget. They responded in kind, again with little fanfare and even less publicity although one or two national news stories have now surfaced. Mississippi is returning the kindness of the strangers from Iowa, and several towns that are still recovering and still rebuilding themselves have sent water and other supplies to the ravaged areas here. It is hard for me not to get teary eyed about that.

That, my friends, is true brotherly love, true sacrifice and beautiful to behold. I will never again think of the noble state of Mississippi the same way, and I will never forget what people have done to help. I’m fine where I am, and I’m just a little ashamed that I haven’t offered more help from 50 miles away, even though I have no idea how I would get it there. But people from Mississippi should hold heir heads proudly. They made a difference, even if it was only to cheer people up. They remembered and they acted.

So God bless you, Mississippi, and thank you. You are beautiful people! I love you all!