The Commandments of the Lord

April 29, 2010

By:  Staci Stallings

Okay.  This one is really cool!

It’s funny to me how God ordered this lesson because it actually started about 16 years ago.  Remember, God always thinks LONG RANGE.  It’s lessons like this that prove that to me.

This lesson started when I was teaching English to high schoolers.  At the school I taught, they required 4 years of Latin roots to be taught as spelling.  So each week we would have a list of root words and their meanings and then a list of words that were derived from those root words.  Teaching three different levels of high school, I got really good at Latin and Greek root words.

Still, most of the time I don’t really think about them.  I blithely read, understanding what words generally mean, never taking into consideration their deeper meanings and how different they make everything look.

Take this very basic “God” word:  commandment.

I’m sure you know several ways this word is used in relation to God.  God’s commandments, the commandments of the Lord, the Ten Commandments.  You’ve probably seen it a few hundred times or more.  But do you know what it means?  What it really means?

The other day in my study of understanding where I got off-track with the whole God thing, I stumbled upon the word commandments, and instead of assuming that I knew what it meant, I heard a whisper from the Holy Spirit to take the word apart and get the deeper meaning.

So I did.

“Co” or “Com.”  Well, that was easy.  That means “together.”  Like cooperate, compassionate, concentric.

But wait.  What?

Co or Com means “together”?  Together with what or whom?  What do we have to be together about in the commandments.

Then another root word dropped into my mind:  de.

Well, that one was easy too.  “De” –cut off from, separate from, given from a station above.

That’s when I got a glimpse that there was much more to this story than I had ever seen.

“Demand” is very different than “command.”  In fact, I’ve said this to people in the past that being a demanding teacher is way different than being a commanding teacher.  I’ve said that demanding respect is way different than commanding respect.   I knew they were different but how, and why, and what significance did that make in looking at the Commandments?

The snatch of insight turned quickly to full blown light when I looked up the root word “mand.”  “Mand” means an order.  You can have a mandate (an order to do something).  You can remand someone, or order them back.  You can also command or demand.

Light flooded everything then!

God did not give us a list of “Demandments.”  However, that’s how I thought of them for most of my life.  I thought they were handed down as orders from Someone higher than me and I’d better find a way to live up to them… or else.  That’s the way a “de” mand works.  It “degrades” you.  It makes you necessarily feel less than and burdened because it puts you in a category LOWER than the person giving it.

But that’s not what God gave us.

Instead, He gave us a list of “Commandments.”

Now, let’s, for a moment, change tracks to more fully grasp this.  Let’s say you are on the battlefield, and your “Commander” gives you a demand that you go fight.  Will you?  Yes, probably because you have no choice, the order was given to you from someone higher in rank than you.  But let’s say that your commander gives you a command to go and fight.  That FEELS different.  Doesn’t it?  Even if you are still afraid, you know this is different than a “demand.”  Why?

Because a COMmand necessarily means that the commander is coming with you! You aren’t sent out on your own into battle.  The fact that he gave you a command and not a demand means you are not alone in the battle!

Man!  I don’t know about you, but to me, that is Good News!


The Right to Privacy–Part 2

April 28, 2010

By: Dennis Bates

To recap briefly. Yesterday I wrote about the right to privacy. The right has developed from interpretations of cases before the United States Supreme Court. There are some state laws as well. There are no express words in the Constitution that provide a right to privacy like there are for many other rights. The right to be secure from unreasonable searches and seizures guaranteed in the Fourth Amendment is an example of express words that are found in the Constitution.

I won’t try to examine the different aspects of the right to privacy here. I have a simpler point to make. To some degree we as individuals determine any right to privacy we may or may not have. Whether something about us is private or public depends largely on how we  view it and whether that personal perspective is reasonable or not.

Let me give you an example. If we tell our best friend or our spouse some intimate secret in the privacy of our own home we share something private. We probably have a clear expectation in that case that our secret is safe and will remain just between the two of us. If we tell three, four or a dozen people that same information, the reasonableness of our expectation becomes less clear. After all, it is questionable that we intend to keep the information private if we are willing to share it with large numbers of people.

Our expectation of privacy would be equally questionable if we shared our secret with one or more people in a public place, such as a restaurant, where there is a good chance that people serving us or sitting around us will be able to hear what we are talking about. The expectation becomes even less reasonable if we pass the information along in what my mother used to call my outdoor voice so that people around me can’t help hearing what I am saying.

All of these factors are exacerbated by technology. Let’s just limit this discussion to technology that we have control over, like text messages and social networking on the Internet. For now we won’t discuss the eavesdropping devices depicted in so many movies and television shows.

If a person is going to put intimate details about themselves on social networking pages, or, worse , if a person is going to send risqué pictures of themselves via those networks or cell phones, it seems to me that any expectation of privacy is illusory at best. I am not a technically savvy person, but even I could retransmit emails or pictures to a large number of people in less than five minutes. People that know what they are doing can have a video complete with background music transmitted worldwide within that time.

Yet, every day we read stories about the most intimate details of people that have been posted  on the Internet. Frequently some of the subjects of those stories and videos complain that they never meant for those videos to be used for anything but private consumption by the person to whom they were sent. Forget for a minute about why that matters and why anyone, let alone a teenager, would make and transmit that kind of story and/or video. Let’s assume there is nothing wrong with that, even though it stretches even my sense of propriety.

Would you give that story or those embarrassing pictures of yourself to someone who could post them on the Internet in seconds for easy access by a few million of your newest admirers? That’s the risk you take, and in my opinion, there is no reasonable expectation of any right to privacy in situations like that.

Two rules: Don’t do it to begin with, but if you do, don’t validate it by sharing it. It isn’t private.

The Right to Privacy–Part 1

April 27, 2010

By: Dennis Bates

This may come as a shock to some of you, but there is no Constitutional Right to Privacy. Those words do not appear anywhere in the Constitution, and yet that phrase is given more reverence and awe than many rights there are actually part of our Constitutional guarantees. Ironic, to say the least.

Some studies have shown that the Bill of Rights would never survive a popular vote if it were not identified, and even then, it might have difficulty. Yet it is safe bet that the so-called right to privacy would have far less difficulty even though there would be heated discussions about what it means.

The right to privacy is  a product of the legally controversial penumbra doctrine that dates back to 1871. That doctrine basis it’s authority on powers and principles which are implied by the Constitution and statutory law. In other words, the authority is not specifically delineated in law or the Constitution, so the court created  what it wanted by analogy.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who is one of the few Justices to cite the doctrine, called it that “gray area where logic and principle falter.” For some reason he felt that gave him creative license to develop ubiquitous, illogical doctrines based upon faltering principles.

I’m being sarcastic.

Enter the right to privacy. It is a relatively recent creation, coming from a 1965 Supreme Court case. (Griswold v. Connecticut)  Whether you are a conservative or a liberal, it is no surprise that the majority decision was rendered by Justice William O. Douglas, one of the more controversial Justices in modern times.

Since 1965 several cases have refined and interpreted the privacy concept. One of the refinements has more and more application in today’s world of text messaging, Facebook, Twitter, and who knows what else? Briefly stated the court has ruled that this no right to privacy in situations where there is no right to expect privacy.

As if that isn’t enough, there are two different tests to determine whether that expectation exists. One is subjective and the other is objective. The same exact conduct may carry a reasonable expectation of privacy in some situations but not in others. In other words, it depends.

Tomorrow, I will elaborate slightly so that you can at least have some idea what you are subjecting yourself to when you have discussions on Facebook or other similar social networking Internet sites. It surprises me how little some people really know about what they are doing in some of those situations. You may be surprised too.

Dangerous “Faith”

April 26, 2010

By:  Staci Stallings

Every so often I go through a period of INTENSE learning.  It’s like God sets up these graduate courses in His Ways, and I don’t see them coming until I’m in the middle of them.  This one started with the “guilt” book that I’ve been talking about.  Then God followed it up with one coming at the issue of WHY it seems God’s Ways don’t work sometimes, why Christianity sometimes leaves us feeling helpless and hopeless and disasterized.

The new book is aptly called, “Spiritual Burnout.”  It is by Malcolm Smith, and I highly, HIGHLY recommend it for anyone who suffers from guilt that springs not from “what I’ve done” so much as from “who I am.”  “What I’ve done” guilt makes sense to most people.  It is eating off the evil part of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  We recognize these kinds of sin–drunkenness, drug use, sexual promiscuity, lying, cheating, stealing.  We look at those, and we know those are sins.  We understand the guilt from those sins because they are clearly wrong.

However, what we don’t understand is when we feel guilty not so much because of what we’ve done but because of who we are.  For example, let’s say that there is a young girl.  We’ll call her Staci for simplicity’s sake.  Now, Staci looks very good in her behavior.  She is a straight-A student.  She is very respectful.  She is very responsible.  You give her a big project to do, she will have it done before schedule and if you expected a 10, it will be at least a 12.  Anything she puts her mind to, she excels at.  She has a long list of accomplishments.  She is to the outside world a success.

Now, explain why Staci feels so guilty.  She’s doing everything right (or as close as possible).  She doesn’t drink.  She doesn’t do drugs.  She doesn’t even smoke… ever.  She doesn’t cheat nor lie.  When she gives her word, she comes through no matter what.  Her outward behavior is impeccable.  And yet, she is consumed by guilt that doesn’t go away no matter how many times she goes to confession, no matter how many good things she does.  Staci still feels worthless and afraid and weak, and she feels very, VERY guilty for not being strong and solid on the inside.  When and if she tries to tell someone this, they do not understand.  How can they?  She looks like she has it altogether.  In fact, many are jealous of her and can’t seem to fathom that she is in fact dying inside, shredding her own spirit over every little perceived failure–real or imagined.

Until I read the guilt book and really thought about it, I didn’t understand this either.  In fact, I went a lot of years in a state of confusion because I knew I should feel okay about myself and yet I didn’t.  Everyone else thought I was the embodiment of success, so why did I feel like such a total and utter failure?

The understanding of guilt was my latest turning point in understanding why my outside reality didn’t match my inside reality.  I felt guilty not so much for what I did, but for who I was.

And let me tell you, that’s a hard one to deal with.  Because how do you go about changing who you ARE?  How do you explain to someone that you feel like such a failure and explain the guilt that springs from that?  How do you explain that you feel like you’re living in hell when to everyone else your life looks like heaven?

I’ve looked for a lot of years to find an answer, and now I think I have found it.  The truth is, I found it a few years back, but I didn’t understand what I had found, nor could I put it into words for others to be able to understand.

Now, I have.

The answer is that we ARE weak.  We ARE afraid.  We do not have all of the answers.  Our wisdom and understanding is pitifully lacking and insignificant in relation to the problems that we face.  WE are pitiful and insignificant in the face of the problems that come our way.

This is not a problem.  It’s reality.

It is not something to fight against, something to overcome, or something to justify.  It is the truth.

It was in accepting that as truth that I finally was able to relax and be me.  I no longer had to run around trying to impress everyone.  I no longer had to race to keep up and be the best and put on a show so that no one found out the truth.  I was finally, FINALLY able to be honest about how I was feeling.  What a relief (though it was not easy to do at first).

But now, with the coming of this second book, “Spiritual Burnout,” I have found another piece of this maddening puzzle–the WHY I felt that way and the point at which I got it so wrong.  You see, I was baptized at 10 days old.  There was never a time in my growing up that I was without God.  I went to church, sang in three choirs, was in the youth group, served, ushered… I mean, I did it ALL.

And yet, there was something missing, something that made everything I was doing feel like a burden that was sooner or later going to get too heavy to carry.  I knew that. I could feel that, but I didn’t know where to go with that.  How do you tell others that you’re just tired of trying to do it all when you know they are counting on you?  How do you be honest when you already suspect other people aren’t thrilled with you when you’re doing everything… what are they going to think of you when you stop doing everything?

Today I found the words to explain what was missing.  In “Spiritual Burnout,” Mr. Smith talks about how we make a pivot on the word “faith.”  We are taught or we come to believe in a perversion of the word “faith,” and it throws us totally off-track.  (AMEN! from the Staci corner!)

The pivot is found most clearly in this phrase, “You need to believe in HIM.”

If you would have asked me back then if I believed in Him (Jesus/God), the answer would have been a resounding, “YES!”  (Why do you think I was working so hard?!)

The problem is, God does not ask us only to believe in Him–as in believe He is real, believe Jesus lived and died and rose from the dead.  More than that, God is asking us to believe in His ability to handle the problems we are facing.  He’s asking us to believe in HIS ABILITY and LOVE FOR US.

See, I didn’t get that part.

I thought we were supposed to believe in HIM… i.e. believe in Him and then try to be “good enough” that He would accept us.  Don’t ask me how I got this SOOO wrong (although I suspect I’m not the only one).

It was only when I came to believe in HIS ABILITY to carry me through everything that I finally started FEELING what His promises had said I should be feeling… rest, trust, hope, joy, peace…

I now consider what I had before to be dangerous “faith.”  It is “faith” that says, “I believe in Him” so I need to work for Him. He is real, and He’s as likely to throw me into hell as to take me into Heaven–especially if I’m found to not be worthy.  (I wasn’t worthy!  HELLO!)

Are you or someone you know practicing dangerous “faith”?  Does your salvation and peace hinge on what you do for God–even if that includes things that look really good like reading the Bible and praying?  Has your relationship with God been taken over by rules, have-to’s and musts that are supposed to make you feel closer to Him but end up making you feel empty and hopeless and not good enough?  Does your work for the Kingdom feel tiresome and very heavy?  Do you get exhausted by the things He gives you to do?  Do you know that you’re about one more “good work” from completely cracking?

If so, please… PLEASE, spend a little time examining the way you see faith.

And then put just a mustard seed’s worth of real faith in what God can do if you give HIM your misperceptions on this point.  Doing so can change everything.  I know.  It did for me.

The Rhythm of God

April 22, 2010

By:  Staci Stallings

It’s funny to me how cool things just come to me when I’m talking about God and the effect His friendship with me has had on my life.  The other day I was talking with a friend of mine about putting life in God’s hands and how letting Him order my days has been so freeing for me.  I said, “I really like the Rhythm of God.”

The Rhythm of God.

I like the phrase and how it operates in my life.  It is nothing I can explain because most of the time it makes no sense to me.  It seems so “out of order,” as if life is just a random pattern of irregular starts and stops.  And yet… yet, when I look closely at how things get done and more to the point, how I feel as they are getting done, it’s like I see miracles.

Take this article for example.  I’ve had it on “my list” so I wouldn’t forget it for a week.  It was supposed to be Monday’s column, but God had a better idea.  I used to fight that and call myself a failure for not implementing MY plan.  Now I practice letting “me” go and letting Him come through.

I didn’t schedule time to write this article.  In fact, on my schedule I wouldn’t have even tried.  There wasn’t enough “time.”  And yet, here I am.

Why?  Because God said, “Let’s get that done now.”

To which I replied, “Now?!  But God I don’t have time now.”

“You’re right.  You don’t have time to argue.  This is the step.  Take it.”

So I am.

And that’s how much of my life runs now.  A kid is sick, “my” schedule is immediately rearranged.  I used to spend countless, untold amounts of energy being angry about my schedule continuously being disrupted.  Now I realize that’s how God works.  He disrupts MY schedule with His plans.

Of course I could be angry about that and bitter and rage against Him and try to do it my way.  But I’ve found that surrender works so much better.  Just surrender to HIS plan, to HIS schedule.  Do what He puts into your path at the moment He puts it there.  And if something occurs to you that you need to get done, write it down.  He might have a time slot all planned out for that, and He might not.  Either way, you won’t fret because you know He’s in charge.  He can even make time bend to His will if necessary.

Like right now.  I sat down 4 minutes ago to write this, thinking I didn’t have time.  It feels like I’ve been here for 15 though I was surprised when I looked at the clock that it wasn’t.

See, in my time, I didn’t have time to write this.

But in the Rhythm of God, He had it all planned out.

So cool!

Heaven is Now

April 21, 2010

By: Dennis Bates

If you died tonight are you sure you would go to heaven?

Chances are you have been asked that question at some point in your life, or heard it asked by someone claiming to witness their faith. A woman told me after church Sunday that the pastor who married her and her husband asked that question shortly before their wedding ceremony.

Then, because he didn’t answer it correctly, according to him, he said he wasn’t sure whether he could marry them.

Tacky on his part, to say the least. It was supposed to be a happy day and the pastor increased the anxiety level about 300 percent. Even though he did finally agree to conduct the service, if he had intended to ask that question, he should have asked it long before then.

To me, no matter when that question is asked, it misses the point.

The question has at least two major problems, as far as I’m concerned. First, it comes from the negative point of view and is designed to scare a person into believing exactly the way the person asking the question believes. Anything short of that process leaves you out of heaven.

The woman who told me about her wedding said she answered clearly and unequivocally, yes, I am positive I would go to heaven. She was told she gave the wrong answer because she had never been born again using the pastor’s version of what that meant.

 In other words, she was damned unless she did it his way. Quite an uplifting thing to tell someone less than an hour before they are going to get married, and it is wrong.

Regardless of how she answered the pastor’s question, according to him, she needed to be led to her faith using the pathway he had laid out for her. Nothing else would do. Both the timing and the substance of the question sought to scare her into salvation at a very vulnerable time. Nobody wants to be damned, especially not on their wedding day.

I have to wonder if the pastor’s question came from a real love and concern for the bride or if it came from some sort of twisted desire to put another notch in his belt alongside all the other notches for the souls he had led to Jesus. Perhaps I’m too cynical.

It’s just that I’ve never liked the negative approach to anything. Jesus said people will know we are Christians by our love for one another, and he said the new commandment He had for us was to love. Where was the love in the pastor’s case?

His negative question focused on self, not surrender of self. “What do I need to do to make sure I go to heaven?” Christianity focuses on surrender of self. It doesn’t focus on what we can get out of a decision to accept Jesus. It isn’t measured by how many people we think we have led to the Lord. In truth, we don’t lead any. The Holy Spirit uses us to do what He wills for us.

Jesus didn’t base His ministry on some scare tactic to show us what we would lose if we didn’t accept him. On the contrary, He showed us what we had to gain if we surrendered to His infinite love. He did not come to scare us, but to woo us with his love. Heaven doesn’t begin the day after we die. It began the minute we accepted that love. Right here, right now.

I can approach Him now in joyous affirmation that He lives and I live with Him. Today is the piece of eternity that we know now. We don’t have to wait for it. The beauty of our God is that there are an infinite number of days ahead of us even when our earthly form changes to a celestial one.

Hallelujah for that!


April 20, 2010

By: Dennis Bates

Sometimes the most profound thing we can do is wait on the Lord. Ponder His Word. Listen to His voice in the silence. That’s where I am today. Words don’t work. All I can do is keep quiet and wait. I invite you to join me as we meditate on two of my favorite scriptures.

First from Isaiah 40, verse 31:           

            but those who hope in the Lord

                        will renew their strength.

            They will soar on wings like eagles;

                        they will run and not grow weary,

                        they will walk and not be faint. 

Find some place quiet and clear your mind. I like to close my eyes. Tell the Lord you will wait for Him to come to you to renew your strength, and then imagine that you are an eagle. Soar with it. Ride the air currents. Feel the freedom you have with all your earthly problems so far below and nothing but God’s beautiful blue sky all around you.

Feel the peace that is yours soaring and remember, eagles don’t just fly. They soar. Majestically in ever broadening circles wherever God’s breath takes them. If you have ever watched an eagle soar as I have, you know there is nothing more graceful, powerful and amazing than an eagle in full flight. You can be part of that and never tire from it.

It’s God’s plan for all of us. His gift. His promise. To soar like a mighty eagle in His sky.

Then, while you still feel full of energy from soaring with the eagles, turn that energy inward and take Philippians 4, verse 8 to heart.

            …whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is admirable…think about such things….And the God of peace will be with you.

 That will bring you back down to earth and focus you on what is important. You will have enough strength and energy to do what needs to be done in the peaceful spirit of God.

Soar, feel the flight. Meditate on the right things and wait for God to lead.

He will. He promised.