Want to Get Away?

August 27, 2008

By: Dennis Bates

Have you ever felt like one of those television airline commercials that asks “Do you want to get away for a while?” I feel that way often. My wife and I used to say it’s time to move to the north woods and hide. As I get older we have changed that slightly to make it the south woods. I hate the cold and ice even though I have grown up with it. But the thought is the same: couldn’t life be simpler than we make it?


The question isn’t so much whether giving everything up and living like a Monk is nobler. The question is whether keeping what you have and not giving things up makes you any happier.


When Jesus sad it is easier for a rich man to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for him to obtain the kingdom of heaven, he was really saying that the worldly rich man has his priorities all wrong. Jesus is saying it is hard to know what is important when your life is cluttered with things, but he is also asking a fundamental question: why did you ever think you needed all those things in the first place. That’s why every now and then I feel the urge to just leave everything behind and get away. I realize I don’t need most of the things that clutter my life.


All the things that the media and society say we have to have are called progress by some people. How did we communicate without cell phones; how did we bank without debit cards and ATM’s; how did we do anything without the Internet? Maybe all those things are progress if we can keep them in perspective, but do any of them really get us ahead if they just separate us farther from the truth?


Is it better to go faster to get nowhere quicker? A motivational speaker I heard once put it this way: a thing not worth doing is not worth doing well. Yet we spend so much time every day concentrating on the minutia that isn’t important and trying to get better at doing it.


That’s what Jesus is talking about when it comes right down to it. He isn’t saying that being rich is evil, and he doesn’t say it is impossible for a rich man to get into heaven. He is saying that it’s hard and the more we have the harder it gets because our focus gets diverted to those things away from the simplicity of God’s love. That’s why we are commanded to think about the Kingdom of God first, and then all the other things we need will be added.


No matter how old we are, tomorrow we will be a day older. All the face lifts, magic drugs, exercise and fancy gadgets won’t change that. For that matter, neither will running off to the north or south woods. If all the things we seek are empty, why seek more of them. Why keep confusing our priorities when the answer always has been and always will be the simplicity of a God that loves us more than any thing we could ever obtain.






Sunrise, Sunset

August 26, 2008

By: Dennis Bates

The way my house sits I can watch the sun rise from the deck off the family room in back, and I can watch it set from the porch in front of the house. Now that my wife and are both semi retired, there are days when we do both. We know now, of course, that the sun neither rises nor sets, but the illusion of these events is caused by the earth’s rotation on its mythical axis.


While that is scientifically true, poetically it isn’t nearly as satisfying When I have freshly brewed cup of coffee in my hand and am are still trying to focus first thing in the morning, it just seems right to think of the sun rising. The same goes for the evening. As a day’s worth of activities winds down, it just seems more relaxing to me to think that the son is setting, as tired as I am. There’s a soothing feeling about that somehow.


In the musical “Fiddler on the Roof” one of more memorable songs has the line, “Sunrise, Sunset, quickly flow the years.” It’s a melancholy song about the passage of time and how fast our lives go by. Who hasn’t said or thought at one time or another, “Where did all the time go?”


And yet, there is a beauty in the process. The first rays of sunlight in the morning often come in pinks and yellows that are duplicated by the last rays in the day that almost turn orange and seem to linger, especially in the fall. I’m sure there are scientific explanations for the colors, but I prefer to think of them as God’s brush strokes in the sky. No matter how hard we might try, we catch match them.


God’s sunlight causes the colors that begin and end each day, just as His Son light causes the colors of our lives. The Bible tells us that God is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, just like His light is the beginning and the end of each day, For a Christian, God’s Son Jesus is the beginning and the end of our day. We can wake up to Him, be warmed by him and be soothed by Him in the evening when the day slows down so we can rest. He makes all things visible so we can see them.


So, in a very real sense, Jesus is the sunrise and the sunset of our lives, and we should remember that from now on when we see the first and the last rays of the day. In a very real sense they remind us of the source of all light and the reason for it. It wakes us up, sustains us and puts us to bed. I can see the beginning and the end of that light from both the back and the front of my house, almost as if somebody knew what they were doing when the built it.


August 21, 2008

By:  Staci Stallings


My best friend had ovarian cancer in high school.  She battled for two years from the time she was 16 to the time she was 18 before finally being declared cancer free.  Recently, we were watching TV together, and someone mentioned the word cancer.  Since she was heavily into planning for the Relay for Life, a cancer fundraiser, that word stuck in my head.


Several nights later, I was at church, and the pastor made an off-handed comment about suicide.  It wasn’t a direct thing, just something about how bleak our life would be without God.  At that moment a new understanding dawned on me about the power of words, and in particular, our words.


You see, my older brother died last year at the age of 42.  It wasn’t a car accident or cancer.  He died by his own hand.  Suicide. Ever since then, I’ve heard the word “suicide” very differently than I ever had before. 


Not that it was not a scary word to me before.  I’ve had several close friends go through times that brought them to the brink.  So suicide has in my life vocabulary for a long time but not the way it is now.


Now, when I hear that word or references to it, it jars me like no other word out there.  In one second I can have a flood of memories and feelings come back to me—that morning when I got the call, the house when I got there, the family, him lying in the coffin (that one I still have immense difficulty processing), and on and on.  All of these are accompanied by the what now’s?  With three children, what will he miss?  How are they doing?  How can I help in a situation that’s not fixable?


All of these and more in one heartbeat.


The trouble is, I never know when this word is going to pop up with all the stuff it brings with it.


Thinking about this later, that’s when I remembered my friend, and I started wondering if the word “cancer” does to her what the word “suicide” does to me.  When she hears it, do all those memories come flooding back?  Does she question why it was her and why then?  Does she wonder why she made it back into the land of the living and others have not?


 I suspect she does though I haven’t gotten the courage up to ask her yet.


Then I began thinking about other words and what they do to people.  Words like:  divorce and depression and overdose and alcohol or drugs.  Maybe you know what I’m talking about.  Maybe you know words that aren’t even on this list.  Words like:  miscarriage or unemployment.  Words like:  bankruptcy or accident.


What I want to say to all of those silently grieving or hurting over these words is, please know that you are not alone.  Don’t think that you are the only one who processes these words so very differently than everyone else.  You’re not.


But also please remember that there are others among you, others you might not even realize who are doing the same thing with the words you speak. It is impossible to know all the details or even the situations involved, but please be aware that your words have power.  And being sensitive to them is a step in the right direction for us all.


If you feel so led, I would like you to consider sharing your words with us.  What words stop you in your tracks with memories you thought were gone or healed?  Maybe if we talk about those words, we can all become more conscious of them and other words like healing and help and love can begin to take over.  The conversation has to start somewhere.


Need words of healing, comfort, and encouragement, feel free to visit Staci Stallings, the author of “Words” at her publisher’s site http://www.spiritlightbooks.com or her personal site:  http://www.stacistallings.com  You’ll feel better for the experience!

An Olympic Sidenote

August 20, 2008

By: Dennis Bates

The Olympics: two weeks of sleep deprivation that comes once every four years. In some ways we can be happy it doesn’t come more often for just that reason. In spite of my personal pledge to ignore the spectacle this time, I find myself glued to the coverage every night like so many others around the world. It’s as addictive as hot buttered popcorn.


This time, however, I’m trying desperately to take something more than medal counts away from the nightly wrap ups. And something happened Monday night that I think is worth noting. It reminded me of something that happened to my own daughter years ago when she used to swim competitively in high school. Granted, the incident involving my own daughter was on a much lesser scale, but the lesson is no less important.


My daughter’s high school swim team battled its arch rival back and forth all night. The meet came down to the last two events: the 100 meter breast stroke and the 4×100 meter freestyle. My daughter swam in both events. She was an adequate free style swimmer, but the breast stroke was her specialty. If my daughter’s team was going to win, she had to take first place in the breast stroke, and then with little recovery time swim the last leg of her team’s B relay team and take no worse than third place.


Somehow she did both, beating the other team’s B team anchor swimmer by coming from behind and winning by a finger tip at the end. For those few moments she was the most celebrated swimmer in the pool and her teammates mobbed her. She received so much attention for her heroic swims that she told me she was actually embarrassed by it.


I remember telling her to enjoy every second of the attention and remember it because there may be a meet where she failed and came up short by the same margin, and she needed to remember how she won, so she could cope with the time she lost. Almost prophetically, that very thing happened in the next meet. My daughter told me on the way home that she remembered what I had told her just the week before and it really helped, even though she was unhappy she let her teammates down this time.


Last night in the women’s 110 meter hurdles, the favorite, an engaging young woman from Des Moines, Iowa, hit the second to last hurdle just as it appeared she would run away from the field for the gold medal. She stumbled and didn’t medal at all, let alone take home the gold as she had expected. She had cleared thousands of hurdles in practice after practice, but in the biggest track meet of her life, she stumbled. And just like that her dreams were shattered.


At the very moment she should have been running around draped in the American flag, the camera showed her leaning teary eyed in a hallway under the stands. She stood alone, trying to make sense of what had just happened, and more importantly why. It broke my heart. I wondered if anyone had ever told her to store up all the good things so she could cope with the devastating things like the one she had just gone through.


In the larger scheme of things, there are undoubtedly more devastating things that have happened to other people, but to this young woman who came from a troubled past, this was just another in a long line of things that didn’t seem to be fair. Hopefully, she knows that her Heavenly Father can help ease her pain. If she doesn’t, then I hope she becomes acquainted with Him, because He can and He will.


Under the Burr Oak Tree

August 19, 2008

By: Dennis Bates

One of the most rewarding aspects of doing what I’m doing is the wonderful people you meet along the way. There are so many people out there who are willing to support you and cheer you on. There are days when what they do makes all the difference. Without them, it would be very easy to quit and find something else to do. These people are truly part of God’s plan and often underappreciated.

I invite you to read what one of these people has written about my first book and also read the interview she did with me at her own blog. The hotlink is below. If I were you, I would make her blog page a favorite and go there every day. Besides being supportive and generous with her time, she is a very gifted woman.



Of Love and Backpacks

August 14, 2008

By:  Staci Stallings


The sermon was simple—at least it seemed to be.  The Gospel was the one about “Come to Me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”  The priest began with a discourse on the word “yoke”—as in take My yoke for My burden is easy…  He said many don’t know what a yoke is anymore (it’s not what comes out of an egg).  No, he said, “It is like those backpacks you see the kids carrying around.”


In fact, the books the kids carry now are so heavy they are often bowed over with the weight of their backpacks.  This is very similar to what Jesus was talking about with the yoke.  It is a burden we are carrying, and it is heavy.


We each have backpacks like this.  Some are filled with worry, some with tragedy.  Some hold old hopes and dreams dashed, some are stuffed with anger and hatred.  And boy, are they heavy.  They weigh us down.  They hold us back from living today.  We drag them with us everywhere.  After all, they are our backpack.  No one else is going to carry them for us.


The priest then said that what Jesus is saying is, “Bring your backpack with whatever is in it.  Bring it to the cross, bring it to Me.  Bring it here.  Give it to Me, and I will exchange your backpack for Mine.”


Now for one moment, I want you to think about your backpack (or backpacks—because the truth is, we often have more than one).  What’s in your backpack?  Is there sorrow?  Is there guilt?  Is there anger or pain?  Is there frustration or overwhelm?  Worry or doubt? What’s making your backpack heavy, and do you think it’s time to give that backpack to God?


One of my best friends signed up to give a personal talk at a retreat.  The talk would reveal some very painful moments in her life that no one knew about.  She was understandably nervous.  I told her that as someone who had given such a talk previously the experience was much like dragging a couple of heavy suitcases in, setting them down, and then walking out without them.  It was truly amazing how freeing it was to just be honest about how heavy things in my life had become.


So, I would suggest that you find a way to lay your burdens at the cross—whether that’s writing them down, or saying them out loud, or just sitting and visualizing yourself at the cross giving Jesus your backpack.


The next thing the priest said was that in exchange for your backpack, Jesus will give you His backpack.  When you look into this backpack, there will be only one thing—love.  Love that you are then supposed to give to the world.


Now I heard this sermon about a year after my brother died.  During his life, my brother had tried so hard to love everyone by trying to make their lives perfect.  It didn’t work.  It took him down when he couldn’t make the world right for everyone.  So the idea that there is only love in the backpack, and it’s your job to give that love to everyone else, would’ve sounded like a great idea at one time—noble and all of that.  But through the filter my life has now, I could see how that love could become a huge burden.


Instead of being freeing.  It can become a millstone, dragging a person down—even if they have the best of intentions.


As I thought about it, I knew there had to be another answer.  There was something missing in the backpack story.  What was missing was what I had found, what God had given me.  Because the love I had found in the backpack didn’t feel like a burden.  It was the most freeing thing in the world, but why? What was the difference?  As I thought about it, I realized the answer.


You see, in the backpack Jesus gives me is not love for everyone else.  It is only God’s love for me.  And that love is very light.  It says, “I love you, My child, right now.  I love you just as you are.  Come let Me hold you. I love you, and you need do no more to earn anything.”


And He has the same backpack waiting for you!


When you understand it is that kind of love God gives you, you can relax and just do your best.  You’re not having to strive to earn anything because you already have everything that matters. You can then ask for His love to come through you into the world—instead of trying to manufacture that love for others in yourself.


As I thought about this and about others that God has brought into my life, I realized that I don’t try to love others as God loves them.  I let God love them through me. But more than that, I show them that they have a backpack too.  God loves them just like He loves me, and when they get that, everything else falls into place.


See, I’m not the only one with the backpack that says God loves me.  You have one too.  So do my kids in Sunday School, and my kids at home.  So do my readers and my writing friends.  So does each of my family members and my friends. 


It’s not my job to love them like God does.  It’s my job to point out that God loves them like God does.  It’s my job to point out that they have a backpack waiting at the cross, that all they have to do is exchange this heavy one they are dragging around for one that is light and easy.  When they open the new backpack up, they will find God’s incredible love for them, and when you find that… an amazing life truly begins.

Another Iowa Day

August 13, 2008

By: Dennis Bates

It’s another beautiful day in Iowa today, the kind of day you wish you could record and play back over and over again. For August it is cool and the humidity is low. We have been sleeping with the windows open and haven’t run the air conditioning for a week now.


For some reason days like this remind me how short our stay here is and how thankful we should be for all he blessings God has given us. It’s almost funny. When we were kids days like this would remind us that school is about to start, and we couldn’t wait to get back. We had football games to go to, school dances, and all the other things that made up our lives when we were young, and time couldn’t move fast enough.


When we got older we couldn’t get through the work week fast enough so that we could get to the weekend and have fun, whatever that was to us. If we had children, we looked forward to their birthday parties, their soccer games, and their graduations. Then we shared their careers or enjoyed the grandchildren, and looked forward to holidays with family.


Before we knew it, retirement loomed and we counted off the days until we could be free to do what we wanted to do, and that day came and past. Suddenly, one morning just like this one, we woke up and realized that life whizzed by, and much of it was behind us now. We wondered where it had gone. How had we missed it? How did it go by so fast?


Now instead of looking forward to what comes next, we look backward at things called memories and wonder why we didn’t take more notice of the things that created them when they happened. Instead of wanting things to speed up, we try everything we can think of to get them to slow down so we can enjoy them, and we do so with mixed success.


That’s one of the reasons mornings like this morning are so important, no matter where you live. Although similar days may come in the future, this one only comes today; it only comes once, and as soon as the sun sets, it’s gone forever, so we had better catch it while we can, enjoy it and makes the absolute most of it.


See, with God one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day. If  He is pleased with today, He can create another one just like it tomorrow, and the day after. We can’t do that. It’s the real difference between being the Creator and the created. We are not in control, God is, and we are at His mercy. But come to think about it, that’s not a bad place to be, no matter how fast time goes.


This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. I can’t seem to say that enough anymore.


It’s another beautiful day in Iowa today, even if it rains.