From Theory to Action, Part 2

July 28, 2011

(See Part 1: )

By:  Staci Stallings

In the first part of this series, I told you about this basketball team who only came and listened about to how to play the game once a week.  They never set foot on the court to practice, never held the ball, never practiced shooting or defending.  And we decided that a team doing it this way is going to lose and lose BADLY.

As I thought about the “in theory” part, I had to remember the scene in “Miracle” (the movie about the 1980 U.S. Hockey Team who eventually won the gold medal).  The scene is one in which their coach is trying to show them a new way to play hockey.  Prior to this each player had a box they stayed in, and they were getting killed playing that way.  So his idea was to make the whole game more fluid, where each player had a zone (if you know about hockey, don’t kill me if I have this wrong–that’s what I got out of it).

But in the scene, the coach is explaining this new way to play, and he’s all animated drawing with lines and arches and squiggly lines as the players look on baffled.  Suddenly, he says (paraphrase), “And that’s how we’re going to do it.  Let’s go.”  He skates away, leaving the team all standing there, staring at this “diagram” in complete incomprehension!  It was hilarious.

You see, there comes a time that just listening to God’s Plan for an hour in church just doesn’t cut it anymore.  While it’s important to understand the philosophy and the game plan, knowing only that will not get you very far. You can’t just listen and think you have it anymore than a basketball team can listen to a coach diagram plays and think they can do it.

There comes a time when you have to PRACTICE what you’ve heard.

You take the theory, and you practice it.  You get the ball in your hands, and you shoot–a lot–if you want to get good at it.  You face off with someone else who has the ball, and you defend.  You do drills and run plays.  You memorize plays.  You play together.  You pass.  You catch. Other people play against you so you can sharpen your skills.

This is not for fun.  It is so you can get good enough to play a real game!

The problem that Casting Crowns highlights in “The Altar and the Door,” is that far too many of us, hear the theory and never bother to practice anything we’ve heard!  We hear about forgiveness but never practice it.  We hear about trusting God, but we don’t practice it.

And when we don’t practice it on the little things, we’re no better off that than team who steps onto the court to face an opponent without ever having touched a basketball!

Just how effective do we think we can be at working God’s Plan if we never practice?

Come on!

Are we really that naive?

Because let me tell you, Satan is a serious opponent on the court of life.  He plays for keeps.  And if you’re not in practice, you will be destroyed.

God is giving you the Game Plan.  And then He graciously gives you opportunities to practice the Game Plan.

Practice happens in those little moments–when someone cuts you off on the highway.  Ding.  An opportunity to practice patience and forgiveness.  When the waiter takes a little longer than usual to bring out your drinks.  When the person who promised to be there at a certain time is late.  When you want to lie “just this one time” because it sounds easier…

Understand, these are not tests.  They are practice.

What are you doing with these little practice opportunities?

Do you practice what you’ve heard?  If not, you’re missing the point altogether.

God’s Plan is about LIVING it, not just hearing it.

My daughter has a saying, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.”

What makes you a Christian is PRACTICING what you’ve heard in church!

(Watch for Part 3 of this series coming next week!)


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From Theory to Action, Part 1

July 25, 2011

By:  Staci Stallings

The other night I was listening to the Casting Crowns song “The Altar and the Door.”  In the song, the person talks about how they go to church, hear the sermon, sing the songs, etc., but the message doesn’t last in their heart when they leave the church.

Although there are many issues in the church, I think this is the biggest.  If we could handle this one issue, most if not all of the others would be alleviated.

So, what’s the issue?

It’s that far too many of us go to church, sit in the pew for an hour, listen to the readings and the sermon, and then get up and walk out having not been changed one iota by any of it.  Oh, it all sounds good in theory.  That whole “love your neighbor” stuff?  Yeah.  Okay.  But then we go home and yell at our kids, nit-pick our spouse, run our co-workers into the ground, gossip about the boss, criticize our company management, snip at the store clerk, gossip about our friends, run down other Christians…

What’s going on here?  Why do we listen but not hear?

Well, as I was driving and listening to this song, a clear picture of a basketball court came into my mind.  I have learned that most if not all spiritual lessons have some physical representation in our world.  So although basketball doesn’t seem to have any direct correlation with spirituality, there was something there to look at.

As I considered the question further, I realized that much like a basketball team, practice is important.  You cannot become a good shooter by shooting once in a pressure-packed game.  Sure, you might get lucky, but you are far more likely to miss by a mile.

The same is true with practicing your faith.

But then I realized that there is at least one step BEFORE you ever even get into practicing for a basketball team.  That step involves coaching and learning the plays.

Before kids ever step onto a court to play as a team in a school setting, the coach has to have already planned out the TEAM strategy.

Now maybe you don’t know a lot about basketball.  I never played, but I grew up in a town that “going to State” became our Spring Break because either the boys’ team or the girls’ team, and in quite a few years BOTH teams, made it to the State Championship.  In fact, when we built a new gym, they only brought the State trophies over because the others would never have fit in the copious trophy cases.

Suffice it to say, I know basketball.

I know that every coach has a different philosophy.  I’ve seen “run and gun” where the guys just run up and down the court, firing the ball from one end to the other trying to score and exhaust the other team.  I’ve seen stall if you have the lead.  So if you are leading, you take the ball down and hold it (very boring!).  I’ve seen zone defense, man defense, and press defense.  And although I couldn’t tell you exact names for plays, I recognize that there’s nothing haphazard to the way a team plays.  It has all been thought out and planned by the coach far in advance of the team ever stepping onto the court to face an actual opponent.

Great, but what does this have to do with religion and spirituality?

Well, pretty much everything.

Let’s say that we have a team, and their coach’s game philosophy is a combination of run-and-gun on offense and man defense.  Let’s further say that the coach spends the entire practice time, going over plays on the board.  That means the team never actually put sneakers to the hardwoods.  They never step onto the actual court. They never pick up an actual ball.  Oh, they hear a lot about basketball, but it’s all in theory.

Instead of practicing, the coach stands at the front of the room going, “Now, when they press, I want Greg to take it down low into the corner, then bounce pass it to Jake underneath….”  All with very interesting little squiggly lines and O’s and even X’s!  And that’s what the team does, once a week for an hour.

How good is that team going to be against their first opponent?

No.  Really.  I want an out loud answer to that.  How good are they going to be?  How well will the coach’s theory work?  Will the team members know where to go?  Will they know how to shoot or how to play defense?  Remember, all they’ve done is heard and seen the game plan.

Yeah.  I’m with you.  They are going to totally get slaughtered in that first game!

So, why do we play the “game” of life and expect any different?




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The Gifts They Have…

July 21, 2011

By:  Staci Stallings

My children have taught me so much.  One of the things they continue to teach me is the brilliance of the Master’s Plan.  I know it’s His Plan because this looks nothing like mine.

You see, my children came pre-set with personalities and gifts that I did not put there.  Yes, I see flashes of things my husband and I liked, but overall, these kids are put together differently than either of us.

First of all, there’s my oldest who has a strong organizational streak.  She love photography and graphic design.  Putting slide shows together is like drinking water to her.  In fact, she has now been commissioned to put one together for her school after she did such an excellent job on the one for her class last year.  On the chores front, she likes to unload the dishwasher but not to load it.  Don’t know why.  It’s a God-thing, I guess.  She seems like a timid little vulnerable flower, but she’s got a will of iron.  However, she will be a good sport about just about anything–so long as no one was harmed in the event.

My second daughter takes music to a whole new level.  I had assumed (because both my husband and I were musical) that oldest daughter would follow in that path.  I was wrong!  She took piano one year and suffered through it.  Second daughter, however, was born with rhythm in her veins.  She now plays drums very loudly but also quite well in our basement.  She is teaching herself piano, and will take pieces she’s learned there and transfer it by memory to the bells and the marimba.  It amazing to watch how quickly she picks up an instrument.  Violin, guitar, piano, drums, bells, mirimba…  It must be fun!

My son loves electricity.  He loves to wire stuff up, change out light bulbs, and make things work.  Snap Circuits are the best toy ever invented for this one.  He can play with them for hours.  His other love is stuff animals and making plays.  So who knows, maybe his destiny lies in the theater or in lighting the theater… or maybe in drawing and creating children’s books as he is remarkably good at that as well.

I guess what I’m saying is that if you’re a parent or a teacher, help your child find THEIR calling.  Don’t superimpose what you want them to do over them.  Beyond the basics of math, writing, and reading, let God’s plan for them take over and guide them.  You will be amazed at the gusto with which they pursue their passions–even at very young ages.


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July 18, 2011

By:  Staci Stallings

Have you ever seen a kid super-excited?   I mean the kind of super excited that makes them throw all caution to the wind, take their life in their hands with other siblings and even parents?  Have you ever seen a kid so excited they can’t even talk?

Well, I witnessed just such excitement the other day.

It was a quiet Sunday afternoon.  My daughters were watching television.  My son was out with his dad doing guy things.  I was working on the computer when suddenly, my son showed up.  “Mom!  Mom!  You’ve got to come here!   NOW!!!!”  He grabbed my arm and started pulling me out of the chair!  I said, “Just a second.  Let me get this…”  But that wasn’t happening. If I didn’t go NOW, I was going to end up on the floor.

Thinking this was probably about seeing his newest shop creation, I followed him out to the living room where the girls were.  He ran up to the television and turned the thing off!  (Which around my house never happens when someone is so obviously watching the thing.)  Of course, this launched both girls from their nests.  “HEY!  What’d you do that for?!”  “We were watching that!”

But my son was not to be deterred.  “No!  Guys!  Listen!  This is really exciting.”

Okay.  So we’d already established that.

“This is REALLY exciting!  I mean REALLY EXCITING!!!!!”

By now we were all somewhere between annoyed and angry.

“Just tell us what it is already!”

To which he nearly bounces off the floor.  “Guess what?!  Guess what?!!!  This is REALLY EXCITING!!!!!!!!!”

“WHAT?!!!” we all practically yelled as I took a step forward in case one of the girls decided to physically remove him from the premises.

“Mary Beth is going to be a grandma!!!!!”

Instantly, there was no anger.



“Oh, wow!”


Both girls jumped up and raced for the phone cataloging every person they were going to call to share the great news!

Now, Mary Beth is my sister-in-law, so this means that this child will be a cousin to my son.  It’s the first close cousin he’s ever been around when they were announced and then born.  And let me tell you, if the reaction of my kids is any indication, this kid is going to be loved beyond measure by a whole gaggle  of cousins.  I hope he or she likes being the center of attention because it’s coming… Oh, yes… it’s coming!

Put Out Into the Deep Water

July 14, 2011

By:  Staci Stallings

I love VBS Week.  It always teaches me about God in ways I take for granted.  I get to do the plays with the teens.  I write the plays and then direct them.  Every year, the questions of the teens bring what I’ve learned and how far I’ve come into stark focus.  This year was no different.

On one of the days, we did Jesus ascending into Heaven (yeah, all those Bible stories sound SOOOOO easy… until you have to figure out how to stage them!).  Because the story is relatively short, and we have to fill about 20 minutes, I started the play with the Apostles who had gathered on the mountaintop having a conversation about Jesus and the things He had taught them before and after His death and resurrection.

One of the things they talked about was Jesus appearing to them after they had been out fishing all night.  The line in question was “I should have known it was Him.  Who other than Jesus would tell us to put out to the deep water in the middle of the night?  I mean, I don’t mind danger, but that’s crazy!”

The first girl who was reading this line (because our Peter hadn’t yet shown up) kept stumbling on it.  That “to put out into the deep water” part was like a tongue-twister to her.  Finally, in frustration, she said, “What does that even mean?!  To put out into deep water?  That doesn’t even make sense!”

Oh, but it does.

You see, Peter was a fisherman.  Fishermen were some of the most danger-seeking people on the planet.  When you got into one of those boats, you didn’t have an engine.  You were at the mercy of the wind and the waves.  So the fishermen learned how far out from shore they could go.  They knew the stories of others who had pushed the boundaries of smart and floated away to their doom.  To put out into the deep water meant not only rowing to a dangerous spot, it also meant the possibility that you would never come back!

Not only that, but when Jesus showed up, it was the darkest part of the night.  To put out into the deep water during the day was crazy.  To do it at night was nearly sealing your fate forever.

So why did they do it?  And why did Jesus ask them to do it?

Because Jesus knew what they couldn’t.  He knew that the most fish were out in the deep.  Think about it.  All the shallow, close to the shore fish were already caught.  The bigger catch was out in the deep.

But the metaphor for what Jesus asks us to do is intrinsically woven into this story.  As Christians, we are called into the deep water–into places where souls need His message.  We are called out of the comfort of our safety zones.  We are asked to trust Him even when that seems crazy.

In fact, in the play when Jesus shows up, He tells the Disciples that He is going away but that He is making Peter a fisher of men.  Peter says, “Ah, putting us out into the deep water again, eh, Jesus.”

If you are a Christian (and not just in name only), get ready to be put out into the deep.  Sooner or later, He will call you there as well.  Trust me on that one!


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Who You Will Be

July 11, 2011

By:  Staci Stallings

I’m reading a book.  I know.  That may surprise some of you. 😉  But this book is a bit different.

You see, I don’t normally read fiction.  I find, for me, I get taken off track too much by, “That’s not how I would write it,” or “they should have done it this way,” or “It would have worked better this way.”

It’s one of the downsides to being an editor.  That editor thing is just hard to turn off when I read fiction.

But this book is different.  First, it’s by a new friend of mine, so I thought I’d check it out.

Overall, it’s a good story.  It keeps me reading though I can’t say just why.  I just keep thinking about the characters and where it’s going and how it might get there.

Well, today, I read a part that really knocked me between the eyes.  It first talks about the pit you are in, saying that it really doesn’t matter how deep that pit is because God can reach you wherever you are.  (That in and of itself is good news!)

But then it goes further.  The line I love says, “God doesn’t look at you for who you are now, but He sees what you will be when He completes your life.”

I so see this in my life and with my characters.  Yes, they are messed up.  They live messy lives that aren’t perfect.  Many of them go flying off the track.  Most of them are lost, hurt, and searching–even if they don’t know it.  They are looking for something, and many if not most can’t even name what that something is.

However, in every, single case, God is searching for them.  When they find Him and He finds them, they often recoil at what they know He sees.  They think that God sees us the way the world sees us.  They think that there is no possible way God can love them the way they are.  How could He?  Their lives are a mess.

This, I think, is where Love steps in and changes everything.  Love doesn’t demand that we change.  It shows us how much better it is to live in the change.  It invites us, takes our hand, guides us, and yes, if necessary, picks us back up again.  Love is patient with us.  It doesn’t put us down or point out our imperfections.  Instead, Love always calls us to our better self, the self God knows we can be if we can learn to trust in Him, follow Him, and let Him love us.

The book “I Called Him Dancer” by Eddie Snipes says that God loves you right now because He sees who you will be when He is finished loving you into that reality.  It’s a great way to think about God’s love because it is a hand held out, a hand up, encouragement from the One Who knew you before you were born.  How cool is that!

Sent on a Special Assignment

July 7, 2011

By:  Staci Stallings

I love reading The Message Bible.  I don’t know if that means my brain doesn’t wrap around the words in “regular” Bibles or what, but I can read The Message and come away in two minutes with more inspiration and uplift than two hours with a normal Bible.

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  I love certain translations of certain verses, and some I even have memorized that way.  But the Message puts it in terms I just “get” without any mental gymnastics as to what it’s saying.

For example, the Apostle Paul begins many of his letters with a variation on this phrase, “I, Paul, sent on a special assignment to give the Message of Jesus to the world…”

I love that!  Don’t you?

“Sent on special assignment.”

What would it be like to truly believe that you were in that place of feeling like God had sent YOU on a special assignment?  How would your life be different?  Would you treat it with more diligence, more vigilance?  What if you proclaimed to someone that you had been sent to them on special assignment from God?

How would your spouse (for example) react to that proclamation?  Your kids?  Your co-workers?  Your friends?  Would you have the guts to tell them that?  Or do you even believe it?

I believe every Christian is exactly like Paul.  We are all sent here on special assignments from God to bring Christ into our world.  Through His Holy Spirit, God empowered each of us to use our gifts and talents to further the Kingdom.

But too many of us shun our gifts, hide our talents, and drown ourselves in busyness–believing there is no way that we’re special like Paul.  What do we have to say?  What do we have to give?  Nothing, we believe, and so we follow that up by giving and doing nothing.  We hear another in spiritual struggle and quietly step away because we don’t know what to do, we don’t know what to say.  And in that moment, God, Who could have spoken through you, loses a channel of His love, a means of speaking His Love and Mercy and Grace into this hurting person’s life.

So why do we run?  Why don’t we step into the special assignments Jesus sends us on?

1) Disbelief and fear.  Topping the list have to be these two.  We are afraid what others might think of us.  We are afraid we will say the wrong thing and make things worse.  We are afraid we will say something, and it won’t turn out well.  So we say and do nothing at all.

2)  No time.  We have all fallen hard into the trap of busyness.  We are so busy, we can’t take the phone call from someone who needs to talk something through.  We can’t sit with our kids and listen to their struggles.  We have no time for friends or family.

3)  No resources.  I think some of us fall into the trap of thinking that money or things will solve the problems of the heart, and since we don’t have the resources to help, we choose not to help at all.  But one of the things I have learned from one of my writing groups on line is how very important and sacred just listening and praying for someone are.  Countless times members have come on asking for prayers for everything from a spouse being unemployed to some simple something that’s been lost.  No prayer request is too big.  None is too small.  If it’s important to you, it’s important to the group.  No physical resources trade hands, but spiritually we are there for one another.

4)  What will they think?  Oh, how many times did this one stop me from following through on a special assignment.  I was in the moment.  I knew what God was telling me to say, but my courage left when the thought came, “I can’t say that!  What will they think of me?”  Satan loves to use that one because it tears both people down simultaneously.  I finally found a way over that hurdle.  I would simply say, “Okay, I’m weird, but…”  That way I got my fear that they would think I was nuts on the table.  I was honest about it, and that put Satan in his place real quick.

So what special assignment from God have you been sent on?  Believe me, it’s not random.  It is one of the assignments you were sent here for.  If you think you can’t, have the faith of a mustard seed and ask God to help you.  He will.  After all, He’s the One Who knew enough to send you!


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