Monday, September 1, 2014

Growing Old

“Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life” -Prov. 16:31 Someone said to me the other day, “I’m not sure how I’ll handle it if I ever get old.” Surely he meant WHEN he get’s old. One thing is for sure- if we’re fortunate enough to wake to another day, we just got older. We are ALL growing older every day. It’s important that we teach our kids and grandkids how to age with dignity and respect. We teach the best (or worst) by being who we are, not by what we say. How we live out our days with grace and treat our elders makes all the difference. I read some amazing news about Daniel the other day. Perhaps when you think of Daniel, you think of a young man. But the Book of Daniel covers at least seventy years in the life of this amazing prophet. According to the best estimates, Daniel was 76 years old in chapter 4; 86 years old in chapter 5; and an energetic 93 years old in chapter 6! No matter his age, Daniel’s faith shines brightly, whether interpreting a king’s dream, reading the “handwriting on the wall,” or taking a stand for his God. Did you know at 90 years old, Chagall became the first living artist to be exhibited at the Louvre museum; Pablo Picasso was still producing drawings and engravings; Chemist Paul Walden was still giving chemistry lectures; and American composer Elliot Carter wrote his first opera (at 90) and he published more than 40 works between ages 90 and 100. Perhaps you have heard it calculated that John Wesley preached over 40,000 sermons and traveled 225,000 miles (his horse had never heard of kilometers). Did you realize these figures belong only to the latter part of his life, from age 36 to 88? I was impressed; until reading George Muller’s figures. He is said to have traveled 200,000 miles, using his linguistic ability to preach in several languages to an estimated three million people. Now admittedly, Muller traveled extensively overseas. But here’s the best part: Muller’s statistics only began after his seventieth birthday and continued for the next 17 years. Yes, age is all relative. Eighteen is old to a ten year old; when we turn 21, 30 seems ancient; when we turn 30…and so on. We need to embrace our age. Around 400 B.C., Plato wrote, "He who is of a calm and happy nature will hardly feel the pressure of age, but to him who is of an opposite disposition, youth and age are equally a burden." I think what he meant was there isn’t a temperament that awaits us in old age. We are simply who we are today. And the way we are today is mostly the way we’ll be tomorrow. A Godly life resting in the hands of Jesus isn’t an easy life, but a secure life. And it’s that very security that leads to the peace we all desire. No health insurance coverage, 401 K plan or retirement village can provide that security. Don’t let the commercials convince you otherwise. What was true when we were ten is still true when we’re 100- a life hidden with Christ brings peace. God is not finished with us yet. Let Him have his way. Corrie Ten Boom said, "The measure of a life, after all, is not its duration but its donation." What donation will we make today? Perhaps it’s a call of encouragement to a family member, maybe it’s a heartfelt prayer for a missionary overseas, or it’s a visit to an ailing friend. No matter your age, make this day count. Let this “growing old” day be a day that matters. Let us be respectful to our elders, embrace life today… ...and maybe write a few operas. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Help for the Hurting

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter” -Matt. 7:21 As you have no doubt heard, Robin Williams died yesterday. I know a lot of people die everyday, but we wake up and notice when a famous person or someone close to us passes away. We all struggle to make sense of the fact that he died by killing himself. Unfortunately, thousands of people are dying in Africa as well, but that doesn’t hit us quite so hard. It seems when it’s close to home, we wake up to the reality of death. People comment about “raising the awareness of mental illness.” Apparently, Williams’ struggled with Bi-polar disorder. There is always an outcry when the illness affects us. But it’s not about being aware. Most people are clearly aware that people have mental struggles. This side of heaven, we all are “damaged goods.” The real question is what are we doing to help those with debilitating mental illness? Being aware of a problem is worthless- helping someone with their problem is priceless. People comment about Williams going to hell. I firmly believe that there is a heaven and hell. We will all live for eternity either in the presence of God or separate from God. We are brought into the presence of God through a relationship with Jesus Christ. This is available only because of His death on the cross as a bridge between sinful man and perfect God. But we are never instructed to judge anyone. That is God’s business. We simply do not know. Salvation is a decision of the heart that no one sees. We use the “I don’t see any fruit” device, but again, we don’t know. When I was a teenager at a youth summer camp, we received word that a classmate of ours had died back in Fort Worth in a motorcycle accident. We all grieved his loss because he was a “partier who probably didn’t go to heaven.” Our leader rebuked us. “We have no right to judge,” he said. “Respect his loss,” he instructed us. I’m convinced we’ll all be surprised at the finish line of life. People we thought were “lost” will be winners and people we thought were “spiritual” will be left behind. The point is, we should focus on ourselves, our obedience to share our faith, and our responsibility to love those around us. Jesus said as much in Matthew. Check out the verse at the top. The judging is up to God- not us. Our call is to care, bear and share the truth of God’s love. People comment about how someone so funny could kill himself. People commit suicide more often than we would like to admit. Thousands die everyday. It’s the second leading cause of death for teenagers. Most have been severely depressed. Most are stuffers. Why? Because we like to hide our struggles. We cover up any deficiencies and flaws because pride wants to rule our hearts. Behind too many shaky smiles is a hurting heart. And hurting hearts can only be helped by being open, vulnerable and trusting. Hurting hearts are only truly healed by the touch of a loving God though loving friends. Robin Williams died, never to return. But many are still alive. Let them be our focus. We are all aware of mental illness- now let’s step out of our comfort zone and help someone through his or her struggle. Give them a ride, take them to lunch, be there to listen. Reach out in love. Let’s not be shy about sharing our faith. A relationship with Jesus Christ is the only path to salvation. Exclusive, yes, but wide open to everyone. May we all be willing to be used. May we all be open to loving the hurting in this world. And may we all be open to being loved by others. Robin Williams played the therapist Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting. He commented to his client, Will, one day, “You don’t know about real loss because it only occurs when you’ve loved someone more than you love yourself. I doubt you’ve ever dared to love anybody that much.” Robin Williams is gone. But if you’re reading this, you’re still here, for now anyway. As Jesus did, dare to love others more than yourself… …and then you’ll truly live. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Trip, part 5: the End

“This is the day which the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it- Psa. 118:24 After our wonderful trip to Washington D.C., we turned north to Pennsylvania to our last major stop, Gettysburg. It was amazing. As we drove north, we realized that our trip was coming to an end. After weeks and months of planning and expectations, only a few days remained. But that’s the story of trips and life. If we’re not careful, we spend all our time planning for tomorrow and little time focused on today. Yet today is all that matters- tomorrow may never come. I’m reminded of an outstanding article by Oswald Chambers: “We are apt to imagine that if Jesus Christ constrains us, and we obey Him, He will lead us to great success. We must never put our dreams of success as God’s purpose for us; His purpose may be exactly the opposite. We have an idea that God is leading us to a particular end, a desired goal; He is not. The question of getting to a particular end is a mere incident. What we call the process, God calls the end. What is my dream of God’s purpose? His purpose is that I depend on Him and on His power now. If I can stay in the middle of the turmoil calm and unperplexed, that is the end of the purpose of God. God is not working towards a particular finish; His end is the process – that I see Him walking on the waves, no shore in sight, no success, no goal, just the absolute certainty that it is all right because I see Him walking on the sea. It is the process, not the end, which is glorifying to God. God’s training is for now, not presently. His purpose is for this minute, not for something in the future. We have nothing to do with the afterwards of obedience; we get wrong when we think of the afterwards. What men call training and preparation, God calls the end. God’s end is to enable me to see that He can walk on the chaos of my life just now. If we have a further end in view, we do not pay sufficient attention to the immediate present: if we realize that obedience is the end, then each moment as it comes is precious.” Wow! Oswald always seems to get it so right. What a wonderful week of travel and as we focused on each stop along the way, we had a great time. Every stop was our first visit to that site. The excitement of each unique spot grabbed us for the day. Andy Griffith’s hometown, the places where the Civil war began and ended, the White House, and more consumed us. These were once-in-a-lifetime visits and we weren’t about to miss the moments. But what about places we’ve been before. What about our families, our hometowns, our workplace? When we’ve “been there and done that,” we can easily look too far down the road and lean on tomorrow. These crucial areas need all of us today. Yes, the trip was awesome. We’re back home now and we smile when we think back on the journey and our future trips together. But mostly we’re excited about today… …and all the God has in store. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Gracefully Speeding

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” -Eph. 2:8 First Baptist Church in Branson, the wonderful church where I serve, is in the same neighborhood as the Catholic Church. I love the church next door for one reason: it’s bells. The have an amazing tower where the bells chime hymns throughout the day. My favorite is “Amazing Grace.” As a matter of fact, as I’m writing this, Amazing Grace is playing across the parking lot. It always moves me. Every time I hear it, it stirs my soul. Grace is like that. Any time we’re given something we don’t deserve, it settles our soul. Twenty years ago, we were driving to Fort Worth to visit my mom and were making our way through Ft. Smith Arkansas on Interstate 40. The kids were young and playing in the back of our mini-van and I was cruising along at the posted speed limit, 70 miles an hour. As we neared the Arkansas-Oklahoma state line, a highway patrolman pulled me over. “I need to see your license please sir,” the patrolman said. As I handed it to him, I commented, “I really think I was going the posted speed limit sir.” “No sir, I clocked you at 72 miles an hour”, he responded. I had just noticed the “speed limit 70 miles an hour” sign and at the bottom of the sign it read, “strictly enforced.” Wow. I had no “come back” for the officer. He was 100% correct. I wasn’t speeding by much, but I was speeding. He walked back from his patrol car and said, “I’m giving you a warning today, but slow it down and have a great day.” “Yes sir”, I responded and drove away. I was relieved and frustrated at the same time, but he was right. I was speeding. A few weeks ago, we were in Fort Worth headed to our favorite Mexican food restaurant, Joe T. Garcia’s. I was talking with my brother in the front seat and the ladies were in the back of the car. I glanced in the rear-view mirror to see a patrol car behind me. “He’ll probably pass,” I thought. But he turned on his lights and I pulled over. “You were going 48 in a 35” he said. I couldn’t believe it, but radars don’t lie. “I had no idea,” I said. He ask for my driver’s license and went back to his car. I was hoping for a warning, but he was in the patrol car for over 5 minutes before he returned. I knew I would be paying a huge fine. “Today is your lucky day,” he said. “My ticket writer isn’t working, so I’m giving you a warning.” He drove away and I sat there in shock. Twenty-five years ago, we received a letter in the mail from our bank here in Branson. As we read it tears came to our eyes. Our car note had been paid in full and they thanked us for doing business with them. We thought one of our parents or a friend had paid it for us. We were overwhelmed with gratitude until the call came from the bank the next day. “We made a mistake,” the vice president explained.” “That letter went to the wrong person and we apologize.” We were stunned and disappointed but understood. The common theme in all three stories? Grace. I got what I didn’t deserve. In both speeding stories, I deserved to pay a big fat fine. Sure, I was barely speeding in the first story and really speeding in the second story, but in both situations I was guilty. In story three, I received a gift, but only for a day. Then I was brought back to the reality of my debt. God’s gift of grace trumps any speeding ticket or paid off loan. God offers us His love, period. It’s a free gift. Grace is super complicated in it’s origin but is meant to be super simple in it’s application. We simply accept it. We simply walk in His love. God, through Jesus, tells us we are free. Jesus says to put our faith in Him, accept his free gift of grace, let him love us, then drive away in peace. We should try not to speed because living without boundaries is dangerous, but we need to enjoy the ride as well. Is grace a bit enabling? Yes. Is grace a bit naive? Yes. Is grace real? Yes. Try it on this week. Wear it around for a while. Let it fit who you are. And enjoy the ride… …as it settles your soul. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Trip, part 4: Washington D.C.

"Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord…"-Psalm 33:12 As we neared Washington D.C. we all felt the adrenaline rush. We had been visiting Virginia battlefields and landmarks for several days where the Confederates had won most of the battles. At our last stop, Manassas, Lee troop’s won the field and seemed poised to march on Washington, but of course, that all changed. Thankfully, in God’s providence, the United States prevailed. But we tend to take the liberty for granted. We need to remind ourselves and our children that freedom isn’t free- it came and comes with a price. And Washington D.C. is a memorial to that cost. As we crossed the Potomac River, we looked up to see the D.C. skyline and eventually the silhouette of the Capital building. We made our way to the Residence Inn across from the Pentagon, where we would spend the next two days. We paused in front of the hotel and stared at the Pentagon. We tried to imagine the scene, thirteen years ago, when the terrorists flew an airplane straight into the Pentagon. The country persevered the 9-11 attacks and the nation moved on. We are a country that seems to thrive on adversity. We are at our best when we are dealt the worst. The next morning, we boarded the “Metro” (subway) and made our way to Arlington National Cemetery. We had been to the huge Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, but as we walked through Arlington, we realized the size and enormity of it all. We were truly on hallowed ground and we were in awe as we toured the vast rolling hills. Kennedy’s gravesite was particularly moving. We travelled on to the Capital area where we took a guided tour of the Capital building. The power in the air was as thick as the marble staircases and decorated ceilings. We were reminded that the White House and Capitol are ours, the property of the people. We are the government. As much as we feel separate from it all, we are a government of the people and by the people. We walked to the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the MLK Memorial, the World War Two Memorial and the Holocaust Memorial. They were all reminders that so many have given so much so that we might be able to walk in freedom. Nearly every carved inscription on every monument mentioned our everlasting and eternal God. Before we left, we went back to Arlington to watch the changing of the guard to honor the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We crowded around the site and stood silent as the soldiers went through their solemn routine. It was another reminder of those who have anonymously given the ultimate price for our freedom. As we waited to board the bus, a funeral motorcade passed us. We all stood at attention with our hands on our hearts in honor of the grieving family. The widow mouthed “thank you” as the limo passed by. It was a sacred moment. The next morning, as we left Washington, we departed appreciating the privilege of being citizens of the United States. We have our problems for sure. But the scope and message of Washington reminds us that liberty is not easily broken. As a country, we might bend and sway, but our foundation of freedom is sure. As Lincoln said, “This nation, under God, will experience a new birth of freedom.” Our prayer is that even with all our diversity, we would remain under God. Thousands of years of world history reminds us that the health of any nation is contingent upon allegiance to its Creator. We are truly at our best when we’re dealt the worst. We’re at our best because a loving God watches over us… …and may He shed His grace on us forever. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The World Cup

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it” -1 Cor. 9:24 For most Americans, the World Cup ended last week. After all, we lost. But it’s not really over. The field has narrowed down to four teams all vying for the title as the best team in the world. But for most of us living in the U.S., when our National team loses, we move on. We simply will not tolerate a “loser.” And it’s that definition of loser that could use an overhaul. When the World Cup takes place, it exposes us Americans and our interesting perspective on competing. Our diligence keeps the country strong but can keep the people discontent. Let’s teach our families to enjoy the journey as well as the final score. It takes four years for more than 250 national teams to narrow down to 64 teams that qualify for the “finals” of the World Cup tournament. Four years!!! What we call the Super Bowl and the World Series are small when compared to the entire world involved in the World Cup. For most of the world, soccer is the most popular if not the only significant sport available to their people. It is easily the most popular game in the world, but not in the United States. There are several reasons why. We like action. Americans like lots of points. We prefer a high scoring NBA game where each team nets 100 plus points. Soccer is referred to as “the beautiful game” because of the art displayed in ball control. For most soccer “purists,” the score is secondary to the strategy. Good soccer requires patience. The build up to a strong offense is similar to a game of chess. Early moves lead to counter moves and finally an attempt at scoring. Of course, the irony is that the average NFL game has a total of 11 minutes actual action; a baseball game an average of 14 minutes but soccer games have 90 plus minutes of action with no timeouts. Soccer teaches us that good decisions take time. Soccer teaches us to slow down and enjoy the journey. We like to keep score. A friend of mine from Africa was a professor at the local college. When he came to the States, he organized a soccer club for the students. He told me he was surprised to hear the students’ preoccupation with the score of the game. “Let’s just play,” he would tell them. We are obsessed with comparison. Attend any T-ball game for little kids and you’ll see what I mean. There is no scoring in T-ball. The kids hit off a “tee” and it’s simply a game of fun. But invariably there is a helicopter parent in the stands marking down the score of the game. We keep score because we judge how we’re doing by how well the person next to us is doing. Soccer teaches us to measure the quality of the game by how it’s played, not by the score. We like to win. Soccer games end in ties. If it’s a championship, there is extra time or penalty kicks to determine which team advances. But for most soccer matches, the game is recorded as a tie if the two teams play to a draw. Americans want a winner. Some games are truly a draw. Both teams play a level game. But we simply have to have a winner. Someone said that a tie is like “kissing your sister.” I’m not really sure what that means, but sometimes a tie is warranted. Soccer teaches us to redefine winning. It is more than the score on a scoreboard. Winning is doing the best that we can while using our talent to the max. We are obsessed with all sports. In America, we have so many major leagues. Between the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, and NASCAR, there is hardly room for soccer. The best athletes in the United States are spread out into many sports while in most countries the best athletes only play soccer. It amazing that we field teams that compete at such a high level. So, in a week the World Cup will be truly be over. I’m still predicting that the host country, Brazil, will win it all. I do hope you watch the final game in a few days. Sit back, relax, and appreciate the game itself, not the score. Teach your kids and grandkids to embrace the journey as well as the final destination. Don’t miss the “beautiful game” as you’re waiting on the final score. God has numbered all of our days. Each day is a wonderful gift to enjoy. Please don’t miss this beautiful life… …as time winds down for us all. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Trip, part 3: the War

“…a time for war, and a time for peace” –Eccl. 3:8 As we left Mayberry whistling the “Fishing Hole” song, our tune changed to “Dixie” as we ventured into Virginia. The second phase of the trip would be a focus on the amazing struggle that took place in our country over 150 years ago, the American Civil War. No state suffered more than Virginia. There were more crucial battles fought there than any other state in the Union. Winston Churchill commented in his famous book about the history of mankind, “Thus ended the great American Civil War, which must upon the whole be considered the noblest and least avoidable of all the great mass conflicts of which till then there was record.” Maybe it wasn’t avoidable and maybe it was noble, but I think one word describes the war best: terrible. Those of you who know me know I’m a history fanatic. History was ingrained in the four Staples boys at an early age. On the many trips we took from Texas to Georgia, where my parents were born, we stopped at a lot of battle sites. Most significant was the Battle in Vicksburg, Mississippi. It was the half way point on our trip and we always spent the night at the Holiday Inn in town. We visited the Vicksburg Military Park, the memorial to the twenty thousand Americans, north and south, who gave their lives for our country. It seemed new every time we visited. I would have studied toward a history degree at Baylor, if the Lord had so led. Instead, I took as many elective hours in history as I could. I loved it, especially a course on the civil war. For my freshman English course, I wrote my huge compositional paper about “Texas in the Confederacy.” I made a good grade and loved the research, but my professor commented, “You might have written about a famous English author, like everyone else.” Baylor just happens to have the largest collection of Texas history documents in the world. I wasn’t about to pass that up and this paper was a good excuse to delve into the research! So, we set off to conquer Virginia. We visited Appomattox, the court house where Lee surrendered the largest army in the Confederacy to U.S. Grant; we spent time in Richmond, the Confederate Capital, touring the White House of the Confederacy and the Museum of the Confederacy; we toured the battlefield at Fredericksburg and stood on the famous “sunken road,” and we walked the battlefield of Manassas, the first major battle of the war. We saw sites and places I had only seen in pictures. We stood where soldiers had died: fathers, husbands, sons that had given their lives for our country. But, the experience that touched us the most was the most unlikely. We were on our way north to Manassas when we came upon a simple sign that read “Stonewall Jackson’s Shrine.” We’d been passing a lot of historical signs, but this one tugged us to pull off and explore. We made the short drive to the site where Stonewall Jackson had died from the wounds he received at the battle of Chancellorsville. The site wasn’t anything special but the tour guide who explained the story brought it to life. Jackson died as his wife and newborn son lay at his side. Right before he died he said, "It is the Lord's Day; my wish is fulfilled. I have always desired to die on Sunday." He was a Christian and rejoiced in life with Christ. As we heard the park ranger tell the story, it all became real. All the statistics and battle plans we had seen boiled down to a family suffering through death. We were touched. And we were disgusted with war. Perhaps the war was chivalrous and noble and gallant. But the war was horrible, and sad and terrible as well. People died. People were maimed and scarred physically and emotionally. Our nation survived and we are now truly united. The late historian Shelby Foote noted that before the Civil War, Americans used to say, "The United States are...," and after the War, the phrase transmogrified to "The United States is...". A terrible price was paid but here we are, walking in freedom. We turned north again to Washington D.C. where we would spend the next three days. There we would visit most of the landmarks of our “nation’s cap-i-tall” (as Forrest Gump would say). We quit whistling Dixie… …and started whistling Yankee Doodle. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com