I Want To Do It On My Own

February 25, 2010

By:  Staci Stallings

For those who don’t know, I teach Sunday school to fourth graders.  We have a very eclectic system at our church though it’s probably not designed to be that way.  Because of transient kids (with mom one week, with dad the next) and overall apathy (have kids that just don’t want to come and parents that don’t make them), we end up with classes that are hit-or-miss at best.  In any given week I have about 1/3 of the class that’s been there nearly every week, 1/3 that comes every other week, and 1/3 that just switch out depending on how they feel that morning; and about five that never show up.  This year I have done better.  In fact, we’ve gained several students over the year as new people moved in.

Because of this crazy patchwork of attendance, I feel an even greater responsibility to make class fun and interesting so the kids will want to come.  Yes, I still teach… A LOT.  But we don’t just read out of the book or do questions.  You lose them incredibly fast like that.  So that you start with 30 kids and end up with 5 by May.  This year, I still have about 20-24 in class every week, so I must be doing something right.

One of the things I do “right” is something I learned from a good friend of mine who teaches this age group in school.  When she taught Sunday school, she made it a point to have some activity every week.  I adopted this strategy, and it seems to have worked very well.

We do puzzles to explain how the Holy Spirit helps each person put their life together and then fits them all together into a bigger puzzle.  We do drinking glasses of water filled with dirt to understand sin.  We do a lot of plays and making decisions, mazes and even faith football.

A couple weeks ago, we did one of my daughter (my assistant)’s favorite lessons.  It’s the Jesus lesson.  My daughter gets to be Jesus.  She puts out three colors of cards in a row and then another row and then another row, all the way around the room.  Then we have a child come up.

They are told that they have to make the right “choice” of color on each row all the way around the room to get a prize.  “Ready.  Go.”

“Jesus” stands in the corner and “judges” them after 10 steps.  If they didn’t get all 10 right, they have to sit down.

This year all the students wanted a chance at going around, so we let them.  One by one they were told by Jesus that they didn’t do it right, they missed the prize.  We’d gotten all the way down to two students left when I decided to give them a hint. A little girl came up.  Now this little girl was new by two weeks to the class.  She is very quiet, so I thought she would be a really good one to “help.”

I said to her, “Now there is someone here who knows the pattern and can get you all the way around to your prize.  Who is that?”

She thought for a minute and then said, “Jesus.”

I nodded, happy she understood the point of the lesson.  “See, all you have to do is ask Jesus for help.”

Then she did something truly remarkable, something I never in a million years expected.  She looked right at me and said, “But I want to do it on my own.”

Some Holy Spirit lessons hit you right between the eyes. That one sure did.

I said, “But Jesus will help you.  All you have to do is ask.”

But she shook her head, “But I want to do it on my own.”

Well… what do you say to that?  What does God say to us when we say that?

So I let her.  The Holy Spirit had this one planned out because other than Him, I still don’t know why I left that last little boy until the very last.  Common sense said to call everyone except the very last person.  Knowing I still had one person left, I said, “Okay, try it on your own.”

She got three steps before she messed up and had to go sit down.  (How far have you gotten?)

The little boy was about to jump out of his skin.  “I’ll ask Jesus!  I’ll ask Jesus!”

So I told him to come up, which he did, running and nearly knocking things down.  And he asked Jesus.  “Jesus, will you help me?”  Of course, Jesus smiled and said, “Of course.”

The little boy even understood not to tell Jesus to walk with him, but to LEAD him around the room to each correct choice.  Then all he had to do was watch where Jesus stepped and step there.  Of course he was the only one who got the prize.

However, I still get hung up on that little girl.  She knew the answer.  All she had to do was ask.  Yet she chose to try to do it herself knowing she wouldn’t make it.  Why?

And my other question:  How many of us do exactly the same thing in life?  We know the right answer is to ask God for help, but we’re too stubborn, too blind, or too prideful to ask Him.  I want to do it on my own. How many times have I said that?  How many times have you?



Taking Over/Theirs is the Kingdom

February 24, 2010

By:  Staci Stallings

Per Dennis’s last post…

I completely understand.  If you’ve noticed, I kind of took an unscheduled, unannounced vacation these last couple of weeks as well.  It wasn’t that I didn’t have something to write.  I had lots.  But time kept getting away from me.

Maybe the reason was so I could recharge and take over for awhile while Dennis takes a well-deserved break.

You may not believe this, but this writing thing is rough.  Sometimes you don’t know what to write about.  Sometimes you do, but you just don’t have the time.  I’m not whining, complaining, or wimping out.  Just saying, it always sounds easier than it sometimes gets to be.

So.  You’re stuck with me for awhile.  Sorry.  🙂  Just kidding.  We’re going to have some fun.  On Tuesdays and Wednesdays while Dennis is recharging, I’m going to share some things with you that I’ve already written but are just sitting on my computer because I don’t know how or where to put them out.  The first thing is a short “Bible Study” book.  I really wanted to do a whole series of these, but I don’t know where or how to put them out.  So, I guess for now, they are yours to enjoy… (Please let me know what you think so I know if it’s worth pursuing publishing them.  Thanks!)

From “Theirs is the Kingdom, Chapter 1”

The Kingdom of God

While there many aspects of being a Christian, to find a starting place with God, the logical place to start is where God starts.  In the Commandments, God speaks of many things:  our relationships with others and our relationship with possessions, but those are not where He starts.  No, God starts with our relationship with Him (“I am the Lord your God, you shall have no false gods before me”) and for good reason.

It is in our relationship with God that we establish either a firm foundation or a foundation built on shifting sand that will ultimately dump us into a sea of confusion and darkness.  If we get this one area right, everything else comes into a sense of right.  If we get this one area wrong, nothing else that is right will ever feel quite right, and we may not even know why.

Many well-meaning Christians think they understand this principle.  They do things “for” God, thinking they are putting Him “first.”  They work very hard to serve God on their own strength and by their own effort.  They join committees and choirs.  They volunteer and work, work, work for God.  Many times these are the people who would do the most for God if they understood this principle. However, very often, what happens to these well-meaning people is that they fall into the trap of doing everything on their own strength, with their own knowledge, in their own perspective with their own time.

When their efforts appear to produce no fruit or fruit of an inferior quality, they become angry and resentful of God.  “God, I’m doing all of this for You, why can’t You just let things work out once in awhile?”  They ask God to bless what they are doing and don’t understand when it doesn’t turn out to be a smashing success.

For some, their answer to inferior fruit is to work harder.  For others, the answer is to give up.

For God, the answer is neither.

God’s greatest desire is for each one of us to find His Kingdom—the Kingdom of God.  But this is not a place we can earn.  It is not a place we can work our way into.  It is not a place of someday or when x happens.  It is truly, when we understand it correctly, a place of here and now, and understanding why and how that is makes all the difference.

The Kingdom of God is a gift, from a loving Father to a child. That child can be you if you choose to accept what your Father wants to give you—or you can keep trying to do it on your own.  It is literally a choice only you can make.

Coming on Tuesday… What does “the Kingdom of God” really mean?

Taking a Break

February 23, 2010

By: Dennis Bates

Sometimes a person just has to drop back and recharge his or her batteries. I’m at the point right now, so I intend to take a two week hiatus from the blog. See you again in March. Blame it on winter, I guess.


February 17, 2010

By: Dennis Bates

Okay, so my renewed and healthy life style aka/ diet took a direct hit yesterday. A big one. After all, it was Fausnaught Tuesday, and if you don’t know what a Fausnaught is, you have my deepest and most heartfelt condolences.

A fausnaught is a heavy, crispy, cakey, deep fried donut that can be drizzled with chocolate, covered with candy sprinkles, rolled in table sugar, or, my personal favorite, liberally clouded in powdered sugar as soon as it is taken out of the hot oil.  Emeril would say that’s when they are the most vulnerable. And when I say liberally clouded, I mean covered, smothered and totally obliterated in white powder so that the fiercest blizzard you have ever seen looks like light snow flurries by comparison. Believe me, fausnaughts are not the time to be conservative. Save that for politics or something that doesn’t matter as much.

Fausnaught is actually a German word for donut, and the tradition was that all the old batter and dough would be used up the day before Lent began, sort of like a Mardi Gras for donut lovers, I guess. But like so many words, there is no adequate translation in any language.

You just have to taste them. Notice, I said them. No way will you be able to stop with just one. Or two, for that matter. Most people buy them by the dozen and that’s per person. Of course, you feel like you’re carrying a bowling ball around in your stomach for most of the day Tuesday after you eat them. But that makes it easier to get into the more austere mood for Ash Wednesday, which is today.

I have to admit, my wife and I discovered fausnaughts when we lived in Pennsylvania. The local Catholic Church parishioners made  them as fast as they could and sold them in front of the local church and the YMCA. People lined up well before dawn to make certain they got some. Yes, they are that good. Maybe better.

Let’s put it this way, for that one day  at least, the entire town was Catholic. I often thought there might be a real ecumenical ministry there if only somebody would stop eating long enough to pursue it. Talk about the Pied Piper. All the local Priest would have had to do is walk down any street in town waving an intoxicating bag or two of fresh fausnaughts in the air and people would have followed him anywhere. Even Presbyterians like myself would have gone to Mass.

It’s a thought.

Anyway, my wife found her old recipe from a tried and true German cookbook yesterday, and, well, all you weak willed brothers and sisters can imagine what happened next. She couldn’t make them fast enough and we had to finally quit eating them because we promised my daughter we’d take her a dozen. Honestly, the things we parents give up for our children.

So, the long and short of it is I’ll try again next week. I’m not going near a scale today. I’m too busy sipping Alka Seltzer.

But it was so worth it!

What is Inevitable?

February 16, 2010

By: Dennis Bates

I like to think of myself as a free spirit, and in some ways, I guess I am. My nephews and nieces call me their crazy uncle and probably a lot of other things when I’m not around. I don’t mind the title; in fact, I kind of like it, if the truth be known.

I’ve never wanted to be boring or do things the way other people do them. In some cases that produces interesting results. In other cases it leads to complete disaster, and I’ve learned to accept that. Maybe one piece of fatherly advice I gave both my daughters sums it up best.

I told them, “Don’t make the same mistakes I did. Invent your own; it’s more fun that way.”

Unfortunately, they remind me of that piece of advice constantly and assure me they are both doing their best to comply with it.

But I have to be honest. In a lot of cases, I’m a complete and total fraud. My spirit just isn’t as free as I’d like people to believe it is. In fact, I am often a very predictable creature of habit. I eat the same thing for breakfast almost every morning; I like the furniture where it has always been and I will never understand people who are constantly tinkering with something to make it better when it isn’t broken in the first place.

Are you listening Microsoft? Windows XP worked fine. You should have left it alone.

Some people tell me that resistance to change is a function of age. Maybe it is to some degree, but if it is, then I’ve been old for a long, long time. It isn’t that I don’t like change, really, it’s more like I don’t see the need for it in far too many cases.

I could write a book about the internal and logical inconsistencies of change for change’s sake, and some day I might, if in fact, there still are books in the future. Even the publishing industry is morphing into something new and different. But ask yourself this: Is education in this country really better today with all the technological and pedagogical advancements in how to teach? Hand a youngster a piece a paper and ask him or her to name and define the parts of speech, or give them one minute to do their multiplication tables and see what they produce. Forget long division. You’d have to define it first.

On the other side of the coin, why is it that we now run ads on television suggesting that young people “play” or exercise for an hour each day? What happened to pick up baseball games, the real ones you actually participate in, not the fantasy ones controlled by a computer program. For that matter, what happened to physical education classes. Back in the day we had them, and we had to pass them to graduate, just like we had to pass English.

I know, I’m old.

Before I retired both business and governmental employers adopted the mantra: The only thing that wont’ change is that there will always be change. Change is inevitable.

While I understand that to a certain degree, the philosophy that underlies it at its deepest levels should be a call to arms for all of us who claim to be Christians. The proposition that everything changes takes our eyes off the prize and attempts to refocus them on doing things that are faster, more self indulgent and in the end full of illusion and empty promises.

Am I better off now than I was 40 years ago? I guess that depends on what is important to us. Is my spirit freer now that I can rearrange the technological furniture in my life every time a new phone or computer comes out? Only if those kinds of things really matter. I submit that in the last analysis they don’t.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. That’s what matters. God sent Him into the world so that if we believe in Him we will have a full, abundant and eternal life. That NEVER changes, but it is inevitable. Much more inevitable than change.

My New Doctors

February 11, 2010

By:  Staci Stallings

Some of you may have been following the saga of my 7-year-old son.  Back in December we were having major issues with his little brain not working quite right.  Then we got directed to a chiropractic neurologist who has turned night into day in my son’s mind.  (We’re looking at a 95 average in spelling this six weeks, up from a 79 in spelling last six weeks.)

It should come as no surprise then that my son thinks said doctor hung the moon.  Those two hit it off from the very first meeting.  I can’t explain it except to say I believe this connection was arranged by Someone with a much bigger plan in mind.

Now it may well be many, many years before I can tell you definitively what this connection means for the world, but I can tell you what it means to mine already.

On Saturday I had a HORRIBLE headache.  I get those every so often.  This one had me in bed for three hours.  We were supposed to go to a fundraiser that evening.  I did not feel like moving from my chair when I got up.  I was trying to either talk mysel into toughing it out or figuring out a way to weasel out of it when my son and middle daughter bounced (that’s the correct word too) into the room.

“Mom!  You want to make an appointment?  We’ll be the doctor.”

To be honest, I wasn’t really in the mood for playing.

“No, it’ll be good.  You’ll see.  We promise.”

They were dressed up so cute in their little doctor attire, how could I say no?

So I went to their office.  Daughter checked me in, asking what my symptoms were.  As soon as that was over, she said, “Come on back.”  Well, “back” was more “over” into the corner where they had laid out two couch cushions and a large pillow on the floor.  My knee was one of the things that needed “fixed,” so getting onto the floor was a challenge.

“Okay.  Now just relax.”

Son got out our vibrator and started it on my back.  I’m not normally a big fan of that thing, but he did it really gentle, and… ugh… I started to relax.   Then daughter got started on my feet.   To be honest, I taught her to do this.  I have rubbed her feet with oils and lotions ever since she was little.  I had no idea she was paying so close of attention.  She started massaging my feet, and… ugh… I relaxed even more!

As she rubbed, Daughter found a spot on the side of my foot that was a big knot.  At first it hurt like crazy, but she kept rubbing it and my instep, and all of a sudden, it released.  Son was working by now on my low back.  It was like heaven!

Thirty minutes flew by, and when they finished, they asked if I would like to come back for another appointment.  My leg and knee and ankle felt so much better, I told them definitely.  They said they could see me in about thirty minutes.  (So cute!)  So when I went back, I told them about my shoulder.  In thirty minutes I felt better than I have in months!

I actually went to the fundraiser and danced a little.

I got two more treatments on Sunday and one each night this week.  They are going to pay for college and a car each just giving me treatments, but I’m not complaining!  And they really do an incredible job.  When they say thirty minutes, they don’t mean 25.  You get the whole time!

So, I don’t know what the doctor started, but for my part, it was something REALLY good!

Parties, Holidays and Other Excuses

February 10, 2010

By: Dennis Bates

One of the things you learn quickly about changing you eating pattern (sounds better than dieting) is that virtually everything we do socially is connected to eating and drinking. In fact getting together with friends centers on eating and drinking, and not just a little, but in large quantities. With lots of the wrong things.

Let’s look back at the Super Bowl, for example. Regardless of whether you watched for several hours for the ads or the game itself, I’ll take a wild guess that you watched with a bowl of chips within reach. If not chips, then nuts, or vegetable trays, cold cuts, those little cocktail wieners bathing shamelessly in the mixture of grape jelly and chili sauce. Maybe wings, cheese plates, and always cookies or some sort of gooey chocolate bar.

And at half time, you broke out the food. The other things I just mentioned were just the appetizers

Slightly more than a month ago we gathered with friends and family at Christmas to…ah…eat. What else? Cookies, homemade candy, fudge, not to mention ham, turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, dressing and three or four different types of pie. A month before that was Thanksgiving. My family thinks of Turkey Day as Christmas dinner without the worry of the presents. Presents just get in the way of the serious eating.

This weekend is Valentine’s Day. More food, more candy. It is also my wife’s birthday. (Mine was last month.) Should we go out for a nice dinner? Sure, why not? Next month has St. Patrick’s Day, April has Easter, May Mother’s Day, June Father’s Day, July the Fourth and my wedding anniversary….Do you get the picture?

And if there is not suitable formal holiday, we’ll invent one. The Feast of the Golden Retriever comes to mind for some reason.

In addition to the holidays, there are football tail gating weekends, or nights when friends call and say, “Hey, we haven’t talked to you guys in a long time. Why don’t you come over for dinner?” We do the same thing to our friends, never thinking about why we have to get together to eat if it’s talking we haven’t done in a long time. Is it really easier to “talk” with a bratwurst or hot dog stuffed in your mouth?

All my healthy eating articles say that it’s okay to socialize while you’re trying to establish new eating patterns. (A diet. Who are we kidding?) They offer tips like, drink water, diet soda, don’t eat anything white, count out six to eight almonds and “feast” on those instead of other things.

I mean, who does that? Six to eight almonds don’t even make a handful for me, and I have small hands. And how can you eat only six almonds when there is a full bowl of them staring at you from the buffet table…sitting right next to the four different kinds of cheeses…the crackers…the olives…and the mushrooms stuffed with crab dip, slathered with butter and baked in heavy cream? I’m not superman, you know. A guy’s got to eat something or he’ll insult his host.

It’s like a comedian said once, “I love Slim Fast shakes…they go great with nachos.”

Every body mass challenged person knows that there is one absolute at every dinner, every party, every open house, every place where food and drink are served. The hosts always bring the left overs to the fattest person in the room and says, “You look like you could use something else to eat. Here’s some more of everything.” I mean, do we look like we need more to eat? How fat do I have to get before I look like I’ve had enough? Does the chair I’m sitting in have to crumble before your very eyes? What will it take to get you to stop offering me food?

I have almost come to the conclusion that people like me need to throw away calendars so we don’t know when the holidays are and move to a cabin in the north woods where there are no friends to socialize with. Become a hermit. Live off the land. Eat tree bark. Anything.

How would tree bark taste slathered in butter and stuffed with Brie cheese?

I wonder. 

Oh yeah. Lost four pounds last week. It’s a start.