If You’re Spiritually Cold…

April 30, 2009

By:  Staci Stallings

I’ve said before that God is inundating me with His love and wisdom these days.  Well, let me tell you, this last week I’ve been awash in WOW!

The particular one I want to touch on today has to do with a CD series I got called “My Best Friend the Holy Spirit.”  Let me tell you, it is awesome!  It’s from Gateway Church–no clue where that is, but I have thoroughly enjoyed the series.  In the first CD, the speaker is talking about how his wife bought a new comforter.  He was all excited because their old comforter had been worn to a thread-bare rag.  It had holes in it.  It was old.  And if it ever got very cold outside, it just didn’t keep him warm any longer.

So his wife goes out and buys this new comforter, and he was all excited about how warm it was going to be.  However, when he got ready for bed, the new comforter was GONE!  He didn’t understand that until his wife came in and explained that she had put the old comforter back on the bed because the new comforter was “only for looks, not for use.”

Of course, I immediately saw where he was going with THIS one.

Our Comforter is the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is many things.  He’s passion.  He’s inspiration.  He’s help.  He’s also supposed to be your (and my) Comforter.

Now two things on this point.  First, it’s important to know what “comforter” means.  It means “one who gives comfort.”  That’s easy enough.  But what is “comfort.”  It may surprise you to learn that comfort is made of two Latin root words:  com, which means “with” and fort which means “strength”  (like a fort or fortress or fortitude).  I had always thought it meant like “Aww, I’m so sorry that happened to you.  Here, let’s cry together.”  Which it does, except too many people get stuck there and never move to what real comfort means.  They don’t move from “Aw, that’s too bad” to helping the person find a position of strength.

The Holy Spirit DOES help us find a position of strength, but here’s where we have to be cautious because the Holy Spirit does not give us strength of ourselves.  In other words, He doesn’t comfort us until we can stand on our own again.  To do so would be to pile the new comforter in the corner and put the old comforter back on the bed!

The old comforter is our own effort, our own knowledge, our own strength, our own ability.  It is worn.  It has holes (that we try desperately to patch or cover up!).  It is old and does very little against the cold.  In fact, that old comforter of our own ability gets mighty cold any time the wind blows even a tiny bit.  We feel every hole.  We feel every thread-bare part of our own effort.

But here’s the GREAT news.  We don’t have to settle for that old, threadbare, our-own-ability comforter that is pathetic and pointless.  We have a NEW Comforter just waiting for us to use Him.  He wants to keep us warm.  He wants to bring us strength and peace and hope–not ours but HIS!

So if you’re spiritually cold, may I gently suggest that you may be bundled up in the old comforter, wondering why that’s not keeping you warm.  It might be time to stop using the real Comforter for looks and start really using Him by breathing and releasing our lives into His care.

Just a thought.


Are We There Yet?

April 29, 2009

By: Dennis Bates

Any father who has taken a family vacation with his children has heard the following question: “Are we there yet, Daddy?” Any child who has asked that question knows the answer: “Not yet, but soon, very soon.”


I think there may be a requirement that a child ask that question and get that answer a minimum of 100 times before they can be considered an adult. It’s just one of those rules that isn’t written down anywhere, but we all know it’s there somewhere.


The earliest followers of Jesus asked the same basic question. They had been told that Jesus would come back and many of them kept asking, “Is He here yet, Daddy?” Many still ask that; elaborate systems and entire theologies have been built around the answers to that question. Many build their systems based on the Great Tribulation described in the book of Revelation. The essence of the tribulation itself is fraught with controversy, and yet there are the pre, the mid and the post tribulation advocates who claim to have irrefutable proof they have the correct interpretation.


I heard one person say with some degree of seriousness that he was, in fact, a pan tribulation believer because whatever panned out was fine with him. Tongue in cheek as that comment is, it is probably the most accurate of any. The New Testament tells us repeatedly that no one knows the time or place of the second coming. (See Matthew 24:42 for just one example.)


So why do we keep asking? What makes us need to try to figure out something we are told we can never figure out?

I think it may be a basic misunderstanding of what the journey is all about.


As kids, we always vacationed by car. We never flew, never took the train and never rode a bus. Part of that was because of economics. Simply stated, it was cheaper for a family of five to travel in one vehicle, stay in one motel room and pass up all the good places to eat that my father seemed to pass. He never missed a Dairy Queen, however, or a chance to have a chocolate malt.


Another reason we traveled by car was to see the places this country has to offer. We saw both the usual and the unusual. We drove through almost every state and by most of the state capitol buildings. We also drove by all the Major League baseball stadiums that were even close to our itinerary. Many aren’t there anymore, but back in the day we saw them all from Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis to the House that Ruth built in the Bronx.


For my parents, the journey itself was part of the final destination. We didn’t go to New York City just to see New York City; we went to new York City as an excuse to see everything between Iowa and New York City, including the City itself.


For me, that’s the real message of eternal life. Eternal life isn’t the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow or the City where Yankee Stadium is; it’s everything from the time we are born through and including our final destination…Heaven. If we look at eternal life as only that point in time somewhere in the future when we finally get to Heaven, we miss this part of eternity, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to miss a second of it.


So don’t keep asking are we there yet; ask instead what part of there are we living in right now.

Our Purpose

April 28, 2009

By: Dennis Bates

Every now and then in my brief writing career, life breaks out. I almost hate it when that happens. There is something about stroking my little laptop fondly first thing in the morning that is almost sensual, in a good way, of course. I can get lost one on one with my little friend for hours…days even, and frequently I have. I look forward to days when I have nothing else planned because that means nothing comes between us.


Then there are the other days…lately far too many of them…where I have to pretend to be a normal human being as much as possible, whatever that really means. You know, the days when you have to get your oil changed, your hair cut, your grass mowed. I’ve grown less and less fond of those days; they just get in the way.  Then there are the days when your spouse waives her hand in front of your computer screen and says sweetly, “Hey remember me?”


But I’ve talked about that before and it never ceases to get me into trouble, which just takes more time. All those apologies, all that groveling. It’s better not to go there to begin with.


I worked the first part of my life in a job that had minimal intrinsic value, if any.  I decided that in retirement, I would do what I felt called to do and only those things I really wanted to do. The Holy Spirit has been understanding and loving enough to me to make those things come together. Still, periodically, I have to remind myself that there is more to life than a 160 GB hard drive and wireless internet access.


Nothing speaks better to that point than Ecclesiastes. Chapter 3 tells us that there is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the sun. At first blush it seems to be a call to arms, an invitation for a person to work hard and enjoy their work. But a closer reading of that book shows us clearly that even that is meaningless, especially if done for the wrong reasons.


The last part of chapter 12 says “Vanity, vanity; all is vanity.” Some translations interpret that to say, “Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” The point is the same. Everything in this world is vanity, meaningless and pointless. Even all our efforts for good ultimately mean very little. That would include our deepest passions, and my writing, among other things.


If we stop reading there, Ecclesiastes is a depressing, negative book that substantiates its own premise by itself being meaningless. But it doesn’t stop there; it offers us hope even when we think we already have what we need. The last two verses do that:


           “Now all has been heard;

                        here is the conclusion of the matter:

            Fear God and keep his commandments,

                        for this is the whole duty of man.


            For God will bring every deed into judgment,

                        including every hidden thing,

                        whether it is good or evil.


No matter what we do or how much we love doing it, our real purpose, our chief end, is to fear God and keep his commandments. Everything that ignores that or forgets it is meaningless.


April 23, 2009

By:  Staci Stallings

Every year during the Tridium, we read in Mass the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ as the Gospel.  When I was back home, we all had little books that we would read it from.  The church where I am now doesn’t have those.  I miss them.  One of the most difficult passages of that reading when everyone had the little books was the part when Pontius Pilate thinks he’s found a way to get Jesus off the hook without declaring Him innocent himself.  Pilate remembers, “This is the time of the year that I release one prisoner to you.  So which will it be?”

When we had books, the whole congregation, with the print in big, bold letters would say together so it sounded like a roar, “Barrabas! We want Barrabas! Release Barrabas!”  To which our Pilate would reply, “What shall I do with Jesus?”  And we would all say together, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”

That was never an easy passage to get through because it puts the words they screamed into your mouth.  My mouth.  I have to say, “Crucify Him!” as I do so often when I make horrible choices that do not honor my God.  When I sin, I willingly say, “Crucify Him!”  Oh, that’s tough!  It’s hard to think about saying that, making that choice.  It’s easier when you aren’t thinking about Jesus standing there, beaten and helpless.  But saying that reminds you, that that’s what you do in fact do when you choose “not God” in your life.

Now, there are times in my walk with God that He shows me things, and I go, “Wow, God.  That’s cool.”  And then there are times when He hits me between the eyes with a 2 x4.

This morning my husband went to the adult Sunday School class, and afterward, we were talking about the lesson they had.  He said, “Do you know what Barabbas means?”

“Uh, no.  Never really thought about it.  I just know he was a really bad guy.”

“Barabbas means… son of God.”

SAY WHAT?  Really?  My mind started that spinning little whirly-gig thing it does when it learns something new… searching, seeking, putting pieces together as new understanding dawns.  Son of God?  Why would his name mean THAT?  He was a murderer!  He was an insurrectionist!  His name had been on the Most Wanted for lo so many years!  Son of God?  He was hardly a son of God…

And then slowly the light begins to shine in my darkness.  I begin to understand.

“Jesus took his place,” my husband said.

Then I could see it.  Barrabas, a murderer, an insurrectionist, the worst of the worst, an enemy of the people was set free, and Jesus took his place… willingly.

As I absorbed that, more understanding dawned.  “Barrabas isn’t Barrabas.  Barrabas is ME!”  The worst of my worst.  Those places and things I hope no one ever finds out about, those places that I have hurt others and led them astray, those places I’ve willfully chosen insurrection to God’s will so I could do my own will.  And Jesus looks at me as He stands there beaten and bloody, not in judgment, but knowing He is to take my place.

Oh, boy, did that get my attention!

Think of it this way, you have been extracted from your deep, dark, dank cell.  Today you are to be crucified for all the things you have done, but wait… first, you are taken up to the balconey where Pilate, your judge, is seated.  Below you is a crowd, hungry for someone’s blood, and you’re pretty sure it’s yours.  But anger and hatred have already turned your heart to stone.  Fine.  They can send you to death.  You hate them all anyway.  Then for a moment, your gaze traces over across the way to the man standing on the other side of Pilate, if He is indeed a man.  It’s hard to tell.  His face is covered with blood and dirt.  On His head is a mesh of thorns that some cruel someone put on His head.  On His back is a cloak of purple, but through the purple you can see the red of His blood seeping through.

He looks almost dead.

Carefully, you look back to your guard and whisper, “Who is that?”

The guard doesn’t look happy, but he whispers back, “Jesus of Nazareth.”

Understanding sinks in.  You had thought by how He looked, maybe His crimes were in fact worse than yours.  But now you know.  This guy is a hero to the whole countryside.  In fact, it wasn’t even last week that you could hear the crowds from your cell block cheering for Him.

The knowledge sinks deep into your gut as Pilate says, “Whom shall I release to you?”

This is a no-brainer for the people.  Their hero.  Or you–a guy who’s been on the Most Wanted list for a decade.  They hate you.  They love Him. Like this is even a choice.

Yep, you’re already planning what to tell the guards to make for your last meal.

But then, something strange happens.  The crowd?  What are they yelling?  “Barrabas.  We want Barrabas!”

Imagine your surprise.  Barrabas? This can’t be happening.  You must be hallucinating. Why would they want you?  Why would they call your name?  Don’t they know what you have done?

As you look over, He catches your eye, this Jesus person, and for one split second, in all the world there is only you and Him.  You expect to see hate and anger in His eyes, but there is nothing like that.  Only love and acceptance… for you.

The guards take off your chains even as Pilate says to the crowd, “What do you want me to do with Jesus?”

The crowd yells back, “Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!”  The anger and hatred from them is so great, you can feel it like great waves coming at you.  Their cries are blood-thirsty and raw.  You know that because you have felt those in your own gut.  But you do not feel them now.  As the guards lead you from the balcony, away to freedom, you look back one more time.  There He is.  Jesus. Bloody, beaten, breathing, trying not to cry as He absorbs the hatred flung at Him from the world.  He has taken your place.  You are free.

You are free.

Bunny Slippers and Other Silliness

April 22, 2009

By: Dennis Bates

This particular blog is intended primarily for entertainment purposes. It deals with several mature topics, but that doesn’t mean the comments reflect that maturity. I am not trying to offend anyone, so if this blog or its subject matter offend you, feel free not to read it, and please accept my apology. I just think sometimes we are far too serious about a lot of things. Fair warning.


There’s a familiar saying that I heard a lot in my younger days before marriage: “They all get prettier at closing time.” It’s pretty much self explanatory, and any guy can tell you what it means if you really don’t know.


As men get older, like I have, we realize there is a different version of that saying for the Golden Years. It’s simply this: “They all get prettier.”


The trouble is, we don’t. We just get older. This phenomenon effects men and women differently from what I can tell.


For a lot of women, as they get older, they lose interest in certain facets of marriage, especially those women who have been married for a long time and watched Prince Charming lose his Charm little by little. Men don’t get that. They never lose interest…ever, but then, they haven’t seen what their wives have.


The v-shaped upper body the sweet young wife married, now looks more like the capital letter O, and it snores when it’s not getting up to go to the bathroom two or three times a night. It also makes other disgusting snorts and noises that keep her awake.


In addition, that hunk of burning love that used to snuggle, can’t lay still anymore: it flops around all night long like a seal looking for a fish. Sounds sort of like one on occasion too, even though it can’t toot a line of horns and probably can’t clap his flippers together without warming up completely first and taking an ibuprofen or two.


On the other hand, as men get older, if anything, a lot of them get more romantic, and after years and years of being too tired, they suddenly rediscover their ids and set out to find the libido in their wives needed to do something with it. Unfortunately, while the id may be willing, the flesh is weak and it ends up being a frustrated prisoner in a dungeon that doesn’t even have exercise privileges.


The phrase “It’s all in your mind,” takes on new meaning, and unless pharmaceutical help is available and prescribed, everything pretty much stays there in your mind where it doesn’t do anybody much good.  But even chemical assistance has its problems. Sometimes your spouse just wants to spend a quiet evening in her bunny slippers and baggy terrycloth bathrobe watching the Home Improvement channel.


 Even for those men who are interested in extracurricular activities and ready to prove it , there’s something about the Home Improvement channel that is a real turn off. Come to think of it, that may be one of the reasons so many women watch the endless hours of turning perfectly good real wood into faux chic, earth toned, gender neutral nothingness. It’s easier than getting out the fire hose, and it has a similar effect without all the messy mopping up afterward.          


I want to make one thing totally clear before I end this silly little diatribe, just in case anyone gets the wrong idea. I’m speaking hypothetically here. None of these comments applies to me or my lovely wife. I’ve just heard things; that’s all. So honey, please don’t take any of this personally. You’ve always been perfect and always will be. Now, would you mind putting the fire hose down?  Thanks.


It’s Hot and You’re Fat

April 21, 2009

By: Dennis Bates

A doctor once told me that the reason I didn’t feel good was because it was hot outside and I was fat. Okay, so it was in the low 90’s and I was several pounds heavier than I should have been given my height, age, and…uhm weight. It didn’t take a medical school education to come up with that diagnosis, and I told the doctor that.


I also told him he was going  to have to come up with something better than that if he ever hoped to see his fee for the office visit. He then told me he could prescribe some pills to help curb my appetite in the short run, and that I should exercise more and eat less. Again, I was less than impressed with his advice.


I don’t take any more drugs than I absolutely have to take unless caffeine counts in the morning and an occasional glass of some adult grape juice counts in the evening. That ruled out the diet pills, although Dr. Feel Good never really called them that. And people wonder why I hate going to the doctor.


The only thing useful that I learned from that visit was that my health insurance had a $15 co pay now instead of the $10 ante it used to have. On a related note, I also learned that maybe I should look for a different doctor. If I wanted a weather report I could watch television or just stick my head out the door. As far as the pills went, I thought the pharmaceutical companies had enough money; I didn’t need to give them more.


As I thought about the doctor’s advice sometime later, it dawned on me that we all give useless advice like that doctor did, and we give it on far too many occasions.


Many churches collectively beat their chests and wonder why they can’t get new members so they hire consultants to develop power point presentations, develop strategic plans, and put up web sites on the Internet. Some of those may actually be helpful, although I will need to be convinced about why we need a strategic plan, not to mention educated about what it really is. While we’re at it, you can pretty much skip the power point slide presentations too.


In short, we don’t need to reinvent the modern day church; we need to reinvent the old one…bring it back and learn why it worked.


Country doctors made house calls; they knew people’s names and they often became part of the family for their patients. They listened, held a patient’s hand when the patient needed it and knew everything they needed to know about the peculiar medical conditions each of their patients had.


Church pastors used to be the same way, and to some extent, so did church congregations. They didn’t say take two pills and call me in the morning, nor did they stand by and watch somebody ask for help. They simply provided it, and they did it with love, not by saying of course you feel bad you’re fat…of course you feel empty, you’re a sinner.


Who isn’t?


Show me how to eat so I don’t gain weight; hold my hand and encourage me as I struggle; show me your love. Don’t just tell me I need it. I know that. I went to the doctor so he could show me how to feel better and he told me the obvious. He gave me nothing of himself. I came to church for the same reason: so it could show me how to feel better…less empty, and it told me the obvious, giving me nothing of itself.


Maybe both the medical profession and the religious communities would be better off giving more of themselves and less judgmental, patently obvious advice wrapped in something we don’t really need.

Shelter in the Storm

April 20, 2009

By:  Staci Stallings

Sometimes we parents wonder if what we’re teaching our children is actually getting through.  Sometimes we’re given clear indication that it’s not.  But sometimes… sometimes…

Last week during school, my niece’s class had a fire drill during lunch.  Now I don’t know if you’ve ever taught school, but during lunch is just not a good time for a fire drill.  The kids thought what would really be funny is to out-scream each other, and it turned into pandemonium quite quickly.

Well, drills are one thing, but when it’s for real, you really don’t need 80 kids playing “who can be the most obnoxious.”  So three days later, the principal came over the loudspeaker with the following announcement:  “We have decided that it would be fun to have a tornado drill when it’s raining.  We want to see if everyone can line up and go where you are supposed to be even when it’s raining outside.  So teachers, please take your classes to their designated spots for a tornado drill.”  (This was one BRILLIANT principal.)

Kids stood and filed out into the hallways.  It really was raining… hard.  In the hallways, they got down in their tornado positions.  When everyone was where they were supposed to be, the principal again came on the loudspeaker.  “You need to know that this is not a drill.  There really has been a tornado warning issued for our area.  Please stay calm and in your positions.”

Across town at the other elementary, my sister along with her class and two younger children had been taken to the basement.  There she met another lady who was worried about her child at the other school.  My sister said that no one was supposed to leave and that they were not letting the kids out at the other school because it was too dangerous.  The other lady was in a panic, so my sister said some prayers for herself, for her children, and for the lady and her child.

Back at the first school, children were now scared and crying.  This is the story my sister got from her daughter after the storm had passed.

“I was right next to one of the girls from my religion classes (they are at a public school), so I asked her if she wanted to pray with me.  I didn’t know what else to do.  So we got together and we said the Our Father, then we said the Hail Mary, then we each said a prayer that God would protect us.” These girls are in the fourth grade and already they are learning where the shelter in the storm is–that you can go there any time and how to get there.

But here’s where it gets really interesting…

My sister asked about this friend, who it was, and my niece told her… it was the woman’s child that my sister was praying for!

So in the midst of a storm, my niece heeded God’s call and was there for someone her mother was praying for across town without her even knowing it.

Sometimes we desperately need God’s shelter in our storms, sometimes it it through His Grace, Peace, and Hope that we can bring Him into a situation to bring shelter to another frightened soul.

But one thing is for sure, God is not random.  If you’re in His Army, your call is not random either.  Never, ever think that it is.  Heeding that call is not always easy, but His call is always right on with what needs done and why.

Remember that in your storms.