Monday, October 28, 2019

Yad Vashem

“Watch yourself, that you do not forget the LORD who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” -Deut. 6:12 “Yad Vashem” is a Hebrew phrase literally meaning “a monument and a name” (my Hebrew professor at Baylor is smiling right now). It is used in the context of the Holocaust of the 1930’s by the Nazi regime against European Jews, and it carries the motto to “never forget.” What we remember and what we forget makes all the difference in the quality of our lives. One of the most famous monuments in the world is called the Yad Vashem, Israel's official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. It is dedicated to preserving the memory of the dead; honoring Jews who fought against their Nazi oppressors and Gentiles who selflessly aided Jews in need; and researching the phenomenon of the Holocaust in particular and genocide in general, with the aim of avoiding such events in the future. God, in His creative design, built man with a phenomenal computer called a brain. Even the most powerful computers of today don't come close to equaling the brain’s power. Perhaps the most amazing part of the brain is the cortex, the seat of the brain that involves short and long term memory. We are designed to be able to forget some things and remember others. There are people today who claim that the Holocaust never took place. They do concede that the Jews were mistreated, but they claim there were no gas chambers or persecutions or murders. Yet, as the aged survivors testify, these events did happen. By remembering, we recognize that we all have the capacity to do it again. That evil lurks in all of our hearts. We like to think of the Nazi regime as being a mentally ill, incapacitated people. Truth is, they were people like us. Yet they justified and reasoned away their actions. They had forgotten the atrocities of people before them. Civil War monuments and confederate flags are being taken down across the country like never before. They are seen as offensive by many people as supporting racial inequality. But the Civil War actually took place. Removing the monuments will only numb us to the reality of the price we paid, as a country, for being divisive. Edmund Burke, the famous British statesman in the 1700’s, said "Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it." A classic example is Hitler's invasion of Russia. Napoleon had tried that, and Hitler made the same mistake, and suffered the same fate. On both occasions, the Russians simply retreated, drawing the enemy further and further into Russia in their advance, and then, when they Russian winter struck, and the invaders were unprepared and ill-equipped to deal with it, they were slaughtered by the thousands during their retreat. We do the same thing and we are not aware. We tend to forget what we need to remember and remember what we need to forget. Most of us remember our failures. Sometimes the “memory tapes” and memories of difficult times haunt us, even though they are in the past. Paul, who did some pretty terrible things before he came to know Christ (Acts 8:3) was not afraid to share that part of his past, even though those things did not define him. He wrote, “…one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”- Phil. 3:13-14. He let go of the past, not literally forgetting (which would require a frontal lobotomy- not a good thing), but by letting those things go and moving on. Paul was able to spread the good news of Jesus and not forget His faithfulness. Jesus had just fed the five thousand. Then He fed the four thousand. They were both miraculous and the disciples were there. They saw and experienced both events. Then, the disciples became hungry and realized they had no food. “Where will we get food” they wondered? “Jesus, aware of this, said, “You men of little faith, why do you discuss among yourselves that you have no bread? Do you not yet understand or remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets full you picked up? Or the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many large baskets full you picked up? How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread?” -Matt. 16:10-11. As my brother-in-law Brian would say, “They were as sharp as a marble.” Their hearts and spirits were dull. But they were learning as we are. Our challenge is to keep our spirits and souls sharp. We do that by remembering what God has done for us. He has always been faithful. He has always provided. His will is perfect and true. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to us and His timing is not ours, but it’s always best. May we remember the things that matter. May we always remember the faithfulness of our wonderful God and Yad Vashem, “never forget”… …even when we’re hungry. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

A Box of Chocolates?

“Not that I speak from want, for I’ve learned to be content in whatever circumstances I’m in” -Phil. 4:11 Forrest Gump’s mom said, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.” It does seem that when everything is settled and under control, things change. One thing is for sure, if we place our security in insecure things, we’re not very secure. I don’t think God is necessarily into change, but He is totally into growth. What we run to when things are changing makes all the difference! Like an episode from the Andy Griffith Show, I had an unexpected adventure this past Sunday. I was dressed and prepped to leave for church when, from the kitchen, Jeanie ask an unusual question, “What kind of animal is that in the backyard?” Like a scene from a movie, everything began to move in slow motion. I looked out the window and a sickly thin possum was staggering across our back yard. Immediately, my brain kicked into gear. Possums are night creatures and only hang out in the daytime if they’re sick, rabid or really hungry. As I darted into the backyard, I had one thing in mind, our yellow lab Sammy. I knew she would instinctively attack the possum and that a sick possum could do harm to her. As I ran out the back door toward the possum, here came Sammy from the garage, flying across the backyard. I tried to tackle her, but, being 90 lbs, she knocked me over, into the grass and the dirt of our yard. She ran near the possum to sniff, but then backed away. I shooed her away and with a rake pushed the possum onto the other side of our fence. It scurried away. The slow motion ended and I began to breathe again. My hands were cut from the fall. My clothes were ruined and I had to be at church in 15 minutes to help lead the first service! “Iron my other pants!” I yelled to Jeanie. She told me later she was laughing at me from the window. It really must have looked funny! I scurried into the house, changed clothes and made the first service. I’m sure I had a stutter in my voice as I prayed and read scripture. The morning was nothing I expected. Life rarely follows our schedule. That’s how it is with chocolates. Some boxes tell you what kind of chocolate there is and where it’s located in the box. But most don’t. Why? Beause to the manufactures it all tastes great! “To a hammer everything looks like a nail.” To our loving God, every situation is an opportunity for us to learn dependence on Him. That’s the spin our loving God puts on our life experiences. Hebrews 5:8 reminds us that “Jesus learned obedience from the things He suffered.” He was willing to be submissive to his Father’s will, even to death on a cross. We too have the opportunity and choice to learn, or not to learn. May we run to our loving God when the crisis hits. May we surrender to our loving Savior when the change is great. May we go to Him when our security is compromised. Whatever the flavor of the chocolate, may we indulge in every bite. And let God be our strength. The possum’s are coming…. …ready or not. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Friday, August 2, 2019

The Staples Family Reunion- 2019

“Grandchildren are the crown of old men, and the glory of sons is their fathers” -Prov. 17:6 The concept of Family (with a capital “F”) is awesome. This past weekend, we had the Staples Reunion for the branch of one of Pelham Staples Sr.’s sons, Pelham Staples Jr., my dad. Thirty (give or take a few) of his son’s, grandkids and great grandkids gathered in San Antonio, Texas for a great time together. We had a lot of fun as we celebrated the legacy and heritage of the Staples family and the roots that continue to grow. We do this every other summer. Yep, it’s crazy and wild, but is so much fun. For many years, the Pelham Porter Staples Sr. family tree gathered in Roopville, Georgia, at the “old home place,” to share stories and just be together. I remember attending those reunions as a kid and then as a young adult. For a kid, it was a little boring but I loved meeting and seeing the “legends” of the Staples family. All the “old” people told stories and I listened and took mental notes. I sensed that those times were special. I could feel the roots going back for generations. But soon the aunts and uncles began to pass away, the old Roopville house was sold and the reunions ceased. But the seeds remained. And we’re doing our best to continue the legacy. It was so fun to watch all the great-grandkids being themselves. So many different temperaments linked by a similar family. They were happy and secure and free. And while the Staples family is far, far from perfect, it is mostly healthy. (“I’m a little mean, but I make up for it by being really healthy” –Earnest T. Bass. That’s for you Bob) It was a special time for lots of reasons: We saw loved ones in the great-grandkids. The Staples’ have a Scotch-Irish heritage. The tendency toward blond hair, blue eyes, high cheekbones and fair skin has left sunburns on the Staples family for generations! Watching the family interact was amazing as so many of the clan looked like each other. It was beautiful. We saw it in the temperaments and personalities too. Us Staples’ can be a little… hard-headed or, better said, confident. But the love of family prevails. We needed to visit about what we were missing. As we shared the weekend together, we reflected on the family members that have passed on. Dad passed away in 1988, Pel in 2013, Marc in 2015 and Mom in 2017. We have been through a lot of loss as a family. Being together and telling stories helped us all. We mourned the losses but embraced the gains, especially in the faces of the twelve great-grandchildren. We had fun. We spent a lot of time swimming, diving, riding roller coasters and just being together. We went to Sea World, the Alamo, the Riverwalk and all around San Antonio. Mostly, we just hung out together. Though we all came from different parts of the country, there was ease in being family. It was just good to chill out together. And to eat and eat and eat some more! The Mexican dinner at Pell and Heidi’s home was especially good! God was present. The Staples’ certainly have varying views on God and denominations. The early Staples clan had deep roots in the Methodist church. The old Methodist church in Roopville has the Staples name written all over it. But the Staples worship the God of all the churches, Jesus Christ. My dad, Pelham Jr., passed away in 1988. He has two symbols on his tombstone, the caduceus, representing his medical career and a cross, representing his faith in Jesus Christ. Definitely not in that order, because God was important to my father and is to the family as a whole. It was certainly a great time to be together. We all are so busy moving forward that sometimes we forget to look back. It’s easy to focus away from extended family. So often there are stones left unturned that make family gatherings uncomfortable. But making the choice to walk over the stones and embrace family is a beautiful decision. Yep, it's a long haul to South Texas, But I think everyone was glad they made the long trek to San Antonio. May we all make the decision to lean in to family: to call that long lost cousin or to visit that Aunt we haven’t seen in years. Root maintenance is always a good thing. It’s good for us all. It’s helps us understand ourselves a little better... …and gives our love to family. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Higher Than the Moon

“By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” –Heb. 11:3 This week marks fifty years since Apollo 11 took American astronauts to the moon, the first humans to set foot on it’s surface. I do remember it. I was 12 years old in 1969 and having grown up on Air Force bases, aeronautics and spacecraft were a part of our culture. The tension of the space race with the Soviet Union, our own need for a national distraction and the challenge “to go to the moon” by President Kennedy created a national preoccupation with the lunar surface. Without the brilliance of a man named Verner Von Braun, the mission would have never taken place. But his biggest feat would take him much farther than the moon. It’s said that Von Braun grew up with a focus and brilliance about space. He was fully focused on science and, as he grew into a man, his focus would be on military aeronautics. His position in Hitler’s Germany would focus his brilliance on ways to stop the Allied advance. As a passive member of the Nazi party, he developed Germany’s rocket program, which was said to be years ahead of Allied development. In the first half of his life, von Braun was a “nonpracticing” Lutheran, whose affiliation was nominal and not taken seriously. He was fully focused on science and as his career developed, his focus would be on German military superiority in the skies. It’s said that if the Allies hadn’t won the war in 1945, some of the brilliant German rocketry might have changed the course of the war. Von Braun married, had kids and devoted himself to the service of his country. Some said he was arrogant and focused only on his success in developing rockets and weapons. As described by Ernst Stuhlinger and Frederick I. Ordway III: "Throughout his younger years, von Braun did not show signs of any religious devotion, or even an interest in things related to the church or to biblical teachings. In fact, he was known to his friends as a 'merry heathen' (fröhlicher Heide)." Nevertheless, in 1945 he explained his decision to surrender to the Western Allies, rather than Russians, as being influenced by a desire to share rocket technology with “people who followed the Bible.” In 1946, he attended church in El Paso, Texas, and underwent a religious conversion to evangelical Christianity. In an unnamed religious magazine he stated: “One day in Fort Bliss, a neighbor called and asked if I would like to go to church with him. I accepted, because I wanted to see if the American church was just a country club as I'd been led to expect. Instead, I found a small, white frame building ... in the hot Texas sun on a browned-grass lot ... together, these people make a live, vibrant community. This was the first time I really understood that religion was not a cathedral inherited from the past, or a quick prayer at the last minute. To be effective, a religion has to be backed up by discipline and effort.” On the motives behind this conversion, Michael J. Neufeld is of the opinion that he turned to religion "to pacify his own conscience,” whereas University of Southampton scholar Kendrick Oliver said that von Braun was presumably moved "by a desire to find a new direction for his life after the moral chaos of his service for the Third Reich". Having "concluded one bad bargain with the Devil, perhaps now he felt a need to have God securely at his side." Regardless of the inner workings, Von Braun came to know Jesus as His personal Savior. One who had been focused on creation came to know the Creator. Later in life, he joined an Episcopal congregation, and became increasingly devoted to God. He publicly spoke and wrote about the complementarity of science and religion, the afterlife of the soul, and his belief in God. He stated, "Through science man strives to learn more of the mysteries of creation. Through religion he seeks to know the Creator." He was interviewed by the Assemblies of God pastor C. M. Ward, as stating, "The farther we probe into space, the greater my faith." In addition, he met privately with evangelist Billy Graham and with the pacifist leader Martin Luther King Jr.. Von Braun died of cancer in 1977. His gravestone in Alexandria Virginia quotes Psalm 19:1: "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.". So, this week we celebrate the amazing accomplishments of the U.S. Space program. But, if Verner Von Braun could speak to us today, he’d tell us to celebrate the amazing heavens that God created, but realize God’s most amazing creation is His Son Jesus and a personal relationship with Christ. Von Braun is living in that beautiful expanse called heaven today, in all of its glory. May we all live in the freedom of Christ here on planet earth… …and in the heavens above. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Sacrifice

“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13 I love baseball. Some say it’s slow, but it’s so intriguing and fun. Like any sport, it has its “game within the game.” In these days of home runs and power pitching, the strategy of “small ball” isn’t practiced as much as in the “old days.” One such strategy is called “sacrificing.” As a batter, it means I give up my opportunity to get on base to move another player to second, third, or home plate. Via a bunt or fly ball, I create time for the base runner to advance, even though I give up my own chance to run the bases. Sure, a “sacrifice” in baseball keeps the batter off the bases, but is little like the sacrifices of real life. Last week, we celebrated Memorial Day. It’s a time to celebrate and honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice that our country might be free. Memorial Day is a federal holiday in the United States for remembering the people who died while serving in the country's armed forces. The holiday, which is currently observed every year on the last Monday of May, originated as Decoration Day after the American Civil War in 1868, when the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans founded in Decatur, Illinois, established it as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the Union war dead with flowers. By the 20th century, competing Union and Confederate holiday traditions that had been celebrated on different days, merged, and Memorial Day extended to honor all Americans who died while in the military service. We have so much to be thankful for- so much to celebrate for every man or woman who gave the ultimate sacrifice that our nation might be free. We also honor every family who has endured their loved one’s loss. One of my favorite movies with one of my favorite actors, is Clint Eastwood in “Outlaw Josie Wales.” It’s a movie about a man struggling to find peace in the Civil War ravaged Ozarks. Wales comments, in one scene, that “war and fighting are easy for men like us- it’s the peace that’s our biggest challenge.” Few of us will ever fight in a war. Truth is, that was the wish of our forefathers- that subsequent generations would live in freedom. So, the way we sacrifice may seem insignificant. But the way we validate and honor those who have died for our country is by making the peace well. I think ‘ole Clint was right- show us where we’re to fight and we’ll go punch it out with the best of ‘em. But show us where we’re to love and, well, we’re a little lost. The sacrifice of war is clear: we lay down our lives to vanquish the enemy. The sacrifice of peace is equally clear: we lay down our lives to lift up others. Either way, we choose to love and give and serve. We choose to die to ourselves and serve those around us. We choose to “regard others as more important than ourselves” (Phil. 2:3). In peacetime, that may not earn us a medal, but making the sacrifice means we’re willing to sacrifice ourselves. Why? Because that’s exactly what Jesus did for us. And, He promises to give us the strength we need to do the same. It is said that Cyrus, the founder of the Persian Empire, once had captured a prince and his family. When they came before him, the monarch asked the prisoner, "What will you give me if I release you?" "The half of my wealth," was his reply. "And if I release your children?" "Everything I possess." "And if I release your wife?" "Your Majesty, I will give myself." Cyrus was so moved by his devotion that he freed them all. As they returned home, the prince said to his wife, "Wasn't Cyrus a handsome man!" With a look of deep love for her husband, she said to him, "I didn't notice. I could only keep my eyes on you- -the one who was willing to give himself for me." Thank you God for all those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in dying for this country. May we all choose to “lay down the bunt” and sacrifice ourselves for the benefit of others. Whether in war or peace, may we choose to regard others as more important and selflessly serve our neighbors. Not only will God bless our neighbor… …but He will bless us in our sacrifice as well. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The Lord's Supper

“Do this in remembrance of me.” –Luke 22:19 I can still remember, as a goofy elementary school kid in Fort Worth, being excited when communion Sunday rolled around. It meant free grape juice and crackers! Though I’m sure it had been explained to me, I didn’t understand the deeper meaning of the event. Ceremonies and traditions are great- if we embrace their meaning. Growing up at Arlington Heights United Methodist Church, I learned so much about who God was and how He desired to have a relationship with me. I am thankful for that church. I am thankful for my parents’ example in taking my brothers and me to church. We always hunted on Saturday so we wouldn’t miss church on Sunday. My dad taught Sunday school and my mom sang in the choir. Though my dad fell asleep sometimes in church (I love you dad), church was a value my parents wanted the boys to embrace. When I became a teenager, I got involved with a fantastic youth ministry called Young Life. All around the world, Young Life chapters are there to bring the good news of Jesus to teenagers. There, my relationship with Jesus deepened and I put my faith in Jesus. Leaders like Dale Volrath, Tom Wilson and John Trent poured their very lives into me. As they discipled me, I learned so much about God and so much about myself. The value of the church and its traditions became even more important to me. The Lord’s Supper, or communion, as some call it, is a beautiful ceremony practiced in most evangelical churches around the world. No church worship team came up with this idea- Jesus Himself not only invented and encouraged the ceremony, but became a real life illustration of it for us. But it means little unless we embrace the meaning. Jesus captured it in Luke 22: “And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” -Luke 22:17-20 I’m not sure the disciples understood what Jesus meant when He shared the last supper with them. They did their best but, like us, sometimes they just didn’t get it. He wanted them to have a real life ceremony or tradition that would remind them of His death and resurrection. He wanted them to have a visual picture of the new covenant. But they struggled to embrace the meaning. Paul captured it in First Corinthians 11: “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” .In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. -1Cor. 11:23-28 Paul was admonishing the young church in Corinth for treating the Lord’s Supper like a regular meal. The tradition was awesome as remembrance of Christ’s death and resurrection, but they forgot to embrace the meaning. Amos captured it in Amos 5: “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen” -Amos 5:21-23 The Northern Kingdom of Judah was at its zenith of power. Commerce and power thrived but morality and lifestyle had sunk to a low. Religion flourished but their relationship with God floundered. The practiced all the festivals, offerings, and feasts, but God despised the hypocrisy. They forgot to embrace the meaning. There ceremonies were awesome, but the people just wanted the “juice and crackers”. They had forgotten the “reason for the season,” which is our tendency as well. Our flesh “cozies up” to the ceremony and forgets the reason. Of course, it’s not about doing away with the traditions, but about us renewing our commitment to the Reason. May we all be careful not to “play church” but to embrace the ceremonies and traditions as vehicles to loving and trusting our Lord God even more. May we be “all in” as we celebrate Communion and Easter and Lent and Christmas and Thanksgiving and every other tradition. They exist to steer us back to a solid and genuine relationship with our Lord. As we dine on the juice and crackers…. …may we remember the sacrificial love of our Lord. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid01.com

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

My Dad...One Hundred Years Old

"Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation” –Joel 1:3 This is a bit of a re-write of an article I wrote about my dad years ago. I sure do miss my Dad today. He would have been One Hundred years old today. He died in 1988 but he never passed away. He will never pass away. He will always live in my heart, the hearts of my brothers, in the hearts of my kids and in the hearts of their kids. He legacy will go on and on. A legacy of faith. As was true of most of the early Staples’ family, he loved God and was dedicated to the Methodist church. The Methodist church in Roopville, Georgia still stands today. I have copies of his Sunday school notes that he used as he taught class for many, many years. He was far from perfect, but his faith grew more and more as he grew older. His faith mattered and he passed it on. A legacy of integrity. Honesty mattered to my dad. He put coins in the parking meters and he paid all of his taxes. “I have no problem paying taxes,” he would say, “It’s just what every man should do.” Having a good name made a difference to him and he elevated honesty and truth as he dealt with people. He was the same man in private as he was in public. As his son, I saw him lose patience and get angry frequently, but he knew how to say “I’m sorry” and I watched him settle differences quite often. A legacy of simplicity. My dad was absolutely at his best with those who had the least. He could mingle with the “high-falutin” physicians, but enjoyed the blue-collared folks the most. My dad kept things uncomplicated. His favorite ice cream was Blue Bell Vanilla. Boring maybe, but it was all he needed. He never forgot his simple Georgia roots. Though, as a physician, he had the choice to be proud, he preferred not to elevate himself above others. He was humble. As a goofy teenager, I was often embarrassed by his faded jeans and suspenders. I sometimes wanted a “cool” dad. But I came to realize that my dad was more than cool: he was awesome. A legacy of hard work. My dad didn’t mind breaking a sweat while doing a long project. After he retired, I remember trying to keep up with him as he tended to his garden in the back yard. He could work me into the ground. I remember appealing to my dad one Sunday afternoon. I was a freshman in high school and after watching football on TV, I had run out of time to mow the yard. It was 5:00pm and I needed to be at a Young Life event at 5:30. “Dad, I won’t have time to cut the grass. I’ll do it later in the week,” I said. “Well, you should have done it earlier today. I guess you’ll have to miss youth group,” he said. “I can mow it later this week,” I appealed. “Nope, it needs to be today,” he replied. I wasn’t happy about it. After all, I was going to youth group- the Christian thing to do. But he wouldn’t budge. I mowed the yard and learned that keeping a promise trumped any Bible study. My dad was an awesome man. I only hope to imitate a little of his character and life. He loved my mother, Mildred, so, so much. And he loved and nurtured his four sons with everything he possessed. I am honored to have had Pelham Porter Staples Jr. as my father and I will always be thankful that I had thirty-one years with him. I too am thankful for his legacy branded into the Staples family. Thank you Lord for a my dad and for his powerful, simple life… …and for his beautiful faded jeans and suspenders. Happy Birthday! By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com