Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Northwest Passage, Part Two: Old Faithful

“Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” -Matt. 25:21 After a good night’s sleep in our cozy cabin, we headed into Yellowstone. As we drove through the Northeast gate of the famous Park, we knew we were headed somewhere special. As we meandered through the first couple of miles we were already seeing bison (buffalo) and prong horn deer. The park exploded into beautiful mountains, streams, wildlife and all kinds of vegetation. We were enjoying the journey, but our sites were set on the southern part of the Park and perhaps the most famous landmark of all: Old Faithful. There we would hear the best quote of our whole trip. Old Faithful is a cone geyser located in the south central part of the park. Old Faithful was named in 1870 during the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition and was the first geyser in the park to receive a name. It is one of the most predictable geographical features on Earth, erupting almost every 100 minutes. More than 137,000 eruptions of Old faithful have been recorded. Harry Woodward first described a mathematical relationship between the duration and intervals of the eruptions in 1938. Old Faithful is not the tallest or largest geyser in the park; those titles belong to the less predictable Steamboat Geyser. Prior to 1904, Waimangu Geyser, in New Zealand, had some taller eruptions capable of reaching 1,600 feet but in 1904 a landslide changed the local water table and since then Waimangu has not erupted. Excelsior Geyser in Yellowstone's Midway Geyser Basin likewise was taller, with eruptions reaching 300 feet. However, Excelsior has not erupted since 1985, and is now classified as a hot spring. As we waited near the base of Old Faithful, the crowd began to gather as the time for the eruption neared. As we were prepared our IPhones to take pictures and videos, a park ranger came and stood with us. He explained how the mechanisms of the geyser work and then casually commented, “Old Faithful may not be the largest or the highest, but it’s famous because it’s…well…faithful.” A few seconds later, the eruption began and it was beautiful. Later, I thought about his comment. Old Faithful isn’t really that remarkable at first sight. Yet hundreds of people gather every hour and surround the geyser. We come because it’s something we can count on. That’s why faithfulness is so attractive and magnetic. Of course, that’s true in people as well as geysers. I suspect that’s why there aren’t large crowds gathered at those geysers that go higher and larger. They’re too unpredictable. Somebody could stand for days and weeks waiting for those geysers to do their thing. They’re inconsistent. They’re unpredictable. Like the geysers, faithful people are preferred because you can count on them and journey through this life together. The Park Ranger explained why Old Faithful is so predictable. He said that the geyser has a unique constant flow of water below. He explained that most of the world’s geysers have irregular and shallow water sources, but not Old Faithful. It’s water source, down very deep, provides it with all the water it needs. The water pools in the cavern below, is heated by the magma, and eventually…BOOM…it rises to the surface, explodes and begins the process over again. Faithful people have a consistent source as well. It’s not fame or money or health. It’s the substance of a loving God that provides security and contentment and peace. When the God of the Universe fills a believer via love and salvation, a new source of water replaces the brokenness. When that water is heated and stirred, it produces a faithfulness that is attractive to people. Why? Not because of the cone itself but because of the faithfulness of the Source. Old Faithful doesn’t worry about whether it’s erupting correctly and it doesn’t compare itself to the higher and larger geysers. Old Faithful simply waits and trusts and yields. And every hour, its beauty is displayed for all to see. May our lives be a geyser that exists wherever God builds the cone and waits for His inward churning to produce its results. May we all be patient with His will and ways. Some days may seem like a fizzle while others may feel like a massive explosion. But the key is contentment in whatever results. Faithfulness isn’t about forcing the eruption- it is about resting on the source. May we all rest and grow old and faithful… …as we’re relying on our most faithful God. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Northwest Passage, Part One: The Surprise

“By faith Abraham…went out, not knowing where he was going” -Heb. 11:8 Some of us like surprises and some of us hate them! For those who despise surprises, I don’t think the word “hate” is strong enough! It’s a good thing to research before you organize a surprise party for a friend. Throw a party for an “un-surpriser” and it can be a disaster. But God is a God of surprises and He’s not waiting for our permission. Jeanie and I encountered a surprise this week and it was awesome. We discovered again that God’s surprises might…uh…surprise us, but they are always wonderful. We were asked to be a part of a conference for Pastors in Billings, Montana. It provided much needed rest and retreat for Pastors and their families from all over Montana. What a wonderful group of people. Neither one of us had ever been to Montana. The Northwest is a bit of a mystery to us both. But we were so excited to get to go on an adventure. We decided to come a few days early, before the conference, and see some of the beauty of Montana and Wyoming via Yellowstone Park. After the conference, we’d be continuing the trek to Portland, Oregon to visit Jeanie’s brother, Bill, and to see the sites in Oregon and Washington. But first, we landed in Billings, rented a car and headed to the Northeast gate of the massive Yellowstone National Park. We knew it would take a few hours to get there and that the road would be a bit curvy, but no big deal…so we thought. Bear Tooth Highway would be throwing us a surprise party of it’s own. The Bear Tooth Highway is an All-American Road that has been called "the most beautiful drive in America," by late CBS correspondent Charles Kuralt. Because of heavy snowfall at the top, the pass is usually open each year only from mid May through mid October, weather conditions permitting. It is the section of U.S. Route 212 between Red Lodge, Montana and Cooke City, Montana. It traces a series of steep zigzags and switchbacks, along the Montana-Wyoming border to the 10,947 foot high Bear Tooth Pass. The approximate elevation rise is from 5,200 ft to 8,000 ft in 12 miles and has the most daring landscapes. LESSON #1: Focus on the journey, not the destination. Bear Tooth Highway is the route from Billings to the Northeast gate of Yellowstone. For us, the prize would be to get to Yellowstone Park- the destination. But the surprise was the journey TO the park. I catch myself (and sometimes don’t) focused on the end and not the journey to the end. It’s called “being in the moment.” It doesn’t mean we don’t set goals, but it does mean we’re giving “due diligence” to the present. Of course, this awesome, gorgeous (literally) highway demanded our attention, but the lesser routes deserve no less. The route and the people all have something to offer us along the way. But we have to be careful not to miss it. LESSON #2: Embrace the fear in the fog. We expected a simple route but we encountered a complex system of switchbacks and curves in the foggy mountains. Initially, we were checking the Garmin for alternate routes but soon we were marveling at the scenery. Sure, it was scary and risky but we settled down and appreciated the rush in the rough. We were not in control and that was okay. We were safe and it was beautiful. LESSON #3: Blow out the candles. Surprise parties are great, but it’s easy to get so into the party that we forget what the party is all about. The cake and gifts are awesome, but the party exists to celebrate another year of life. As Jeanie and I pulled into our destination outside the NE gate of Yellowstone, we paused to say thanks to the Creator of it all. Yes, the creation was awesome, but was a piece of dust compared to the awesome God who created it all. He is worthy of our awe and wonder much more than what He designed and built. It’s easy to focus too much on the miracle and neglect the Miracle Worker. The Bear Tooth Highway was wonderful and we were excited to make the journey back down in a few days. But after good nights sleep, we were off to explore the famous Yellowstone Park, perhaps the most famous park in the world. We wondered what other surprises awaited us in the coming days. But this time we weren’t afraid… …we were ready to party! By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Friday, August 7, 2015

My Big Brother Marcus

"Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being" - Gen. 2:7 As you know, I have three wonderful big brothers, Pelham, Marcus and Bob. They have truly been a blessing in my life. I have always looked to them for example, direction and support. Two years ago, I was forced to say bye to my big brother Pelham. He succumbed to cancer. He left behind great kids who are raising their own families now. He was a great man and genuinely watched over me as the youngest Staples boy. I’ve missed him a lot. Last week, after a difficult and too brief battle with ALS, I said goodbye to Marc. He contracted ALS a few years ago and, as is typical for that disease, it damaged Marc’s muscular system eventually taking his life. I’m still a bit numb as we didn’t expect the disease to pick up pace like it did these last few months. Marc leaves behind a wonderful wife, companion and friend, Brenda and two great adult kids, Collin and Rachel. Our mother is still doing well in Fort Worth and will miss him dearly. And of course, Bob and I are left to carry on the Staples legacy. Marc represented that heritage well. Integrity, hard work and a genuine concern for others are traits our dad taught us and lived out before us. All the Staples boys have different strengths. Marc’s gift was in his hands. As a kid, I would watch him work on family cars and fix anything and everything. He taught me how to repair fuel pumps and carburetors. He loved mechanics and he loved creativity. But eventually he turned his creative hands from cars to God’s creation, planet earth. That’s what led him to be a geologist. He was actually my professor for a geology lab course when I was a freshman at Baylor. Even then, I could see his passion for geology. But ultimately, cars and rocks weren’t going to be enough for his artistry. After all, automobiles and geology have limited creative potential- but not God’s ultimate creation. Marc knew his hands could change oil filters and find fossils, but the ultimate test would be in helping heal God’s most precious creation: his children. So Marc went to medical school and learned how to use his hands to provide healing and comfort in life. Marc’s hands delivered thousands of babies in his career- a much bigger deal than cars and rocks. I’ve often thought that God could have just spoken and created man and woman, like he did the rest of creation. But instead He used his hands to form man. God knows too well the gift of the hands. Marc knew that gift as well. That’s what was so hard about his illness. His loss of touch was difficult. But he never lost the touch of his love for those he loved, Brenda, Rachel and Collin. He loved them so much. Marc was an artist and engineer and sometimes his intellectual mind struggled as he tried to figure out life and God. But he understood who God and Jesus are. As he wrote me, “I do believe in God and intend to live each day to it’s fullest and find joy and purpose in the days I have left.” I’m so glad I had Marc for my brother. If he tried something, that was reason enough for me to try it as well. He went to Baylor Graduate school, so when I graduated from high school, I went to Baylor. Marc has moved on to Heaven and I will follow him there one day as well. I am so thankful for Marc’s gift of his hands and touch. Rest well Marc. Keep using your hands as you embrace a loving God. Dr. Seuss said, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” I say bye to Marc with a smile on my face, and I look forward to seeing him again someday… …and experiencing his touch as well. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Taking Down the Flags

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor”- Romans 12:10 Over the years, I’ve worked with a lot of survivors of horrific tragedies. When something terrible happens, we try to make sense of it all. When a particular event is beyond explanation, we look to anything to bring relief. After the Joplin tornado, the Weather service was rebuked for not having warned the people in plenty of time (they actually did a great job). And when a young man killed nine people in a church in South Carolina, people blamed the Confederate flag. But removing the flags won’t change anything. Those that fly the flag as a symbol of racist hate will continue to fly their flags anyway. The only flags that will come down will be those that correctly honor fathers, husbands and sons that died defending their homeland. We need to focus less on flags and more on the major reasons why people are so angry. Let me be clear on my perspective: since the Confederate flag is offensive, the battle flag should be removed from public places and the true Confederate States flag be hung only in memorials to the Civil War. After all, the Confederacy lost the war. These days, the battle flag is associated with slavery, which was a terrible thing and should not be condoned or celebrated. Those of you who know me, know I love history. My dad passed on a southern heritage to all of the Staples boys. His Georgia roots ran deep and he wanted us to share in the legacy. We, as a country, need to embrace our heritage while honoring those affected by a difficult past. That includes Black Americans, Native Americans, Japanese Americans and more. And as we strive to make sense of the mass shooting last week, we need to run to the right source. There is so much anger in this country (and all around the world). Last year, there were 100-150 people killed in 20 mass shooting in the U.S. but there were 15,000 individuals killed in single-victim homicides. People are angry. People are depressed. People are frustrated. Removing guns and flags won’t change people’s hearts. That’s where our focus needs to be. Hearts. And heart surgery is expensive. Denial is cheap. Cosmetic surgery is easier. The roots of racism and hate are difficult to tackle. Only a loving and gracious God can supply such love. If only all Americans would understand and live in that love. Why won’t taking down the flags change anything? Because those who fly it as a symbol of slavery and apartheid will continue to fly it anyway. That’s their legal right. But the memorials that are a tribute to the American’s who died in the war will come down. That will have no affect on those who choose racism. After all, not everyone fighting in that war condoned slavery. When the slave trade was abolished in 1808, the southern agrarian economy was doomed. And by the 1860’s, slavery was simply not affordable for the average American. Of the six million white men in the southern states in 1860, only 347,000 owned slaves and of that, 37,000 owned 20 or more. By the start of the civil war, there were 2,500,000 black slaves in the southern states, 40% of the population. 75% of them were focused on the cotton trade. The political cause of the south was lost from the beginning. But that’s not why most southerners were fighting. One captured Georgian was ask why he was fighting and he responded “I am fighting for my rats (rights).” Oh, that we might correctly salute those Americans who died for their beliefs but at the same time, honor those who walk in freedom today. We need to embrace the differences in the country. This crazy experiment called America is doomed to failure unless we choose to dialogue about what makes this country healthy and what can lead to it’s demise. Even 150 years ago, Lincoln understood that America was defensible against the other countries of earth, but not against itself. He understood that this grand experiment called America was vulnerable. He understood the vastness of our diversity could lead to ruin. And even though Lincoln discriminated as much as anyone (he was not an abolitionsit against slavery and allowed it in states not rebelling against the Union- Maryland, to name one) he understood the need to keep the Union politically together. “At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it will ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.” At the war’s end, he sought to honor those who had fought for the Confederacy. “With malice toward none and charity towards all…” he said. He got that these rebellious Americans needed to be respected and honored. So, take down the flag America, if it makes you feel better. That’s fine. The Confederacy lost the war anyway. But it won’t change the anger and hate that fills many hearts in America. As that beautiful church in Charleston understands, only love will make the difference. America needs to embrace faith in the loving God who is the author of true love. He sent His Son Jesus to die as an example of that kind of love. And He sent the Holy Spirit to supply that kind of love. Teach that to your kids and grandchildren. Be that kind of example to those that follow. We need to remember that slavery was legal under the United States flag from 1776 till 1865. We need to remember that 13 of the 50 stars on the United States flag represent the 13 states that made up the Confederacy. But that’s all in the past. May whatever flag you happen to fly on your flagpole be a symbol of love… …and respect for all Americans. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Buffalo Canoe Trip

“…the testing of your faith produces…” –James 1:2 When we face difficulty, we’re presented with two options: go around it or learn through it. Years ago, I faced adversity with a group of high school kids. As glad as we were to be finished with the trip and the trial, all these years later, the memory is still sweet. The Ozarks are absolutely beautiful this time of year. The red buds and dogwood have bloomed and all the vegetation is at its peak. It’s awesome! Years ago, when I was working with the wonderful ministry called Doulos-Shelterwood, we often took our teenagers on canoe trips on the beautiful Buffalo River, just a few hours south of Branson, in Arkansas. The Buffalo River has the rare distinction of being classified as a National River. It is an amazing experience to spend time there. This particular summer, another youth group coming to town needed our facility in Branson. My boss asked nicely if I would take the group of boy’s (12 boys and 8 Staff) on a river trip. He knew I taken several groups on the Buffalo over the years. Excited for the opportunity to go canoeing for a couple of days, I said, “Sure.” Then he informed me, “Joey, not for a day, but for five days." “Five days on the Buffalo,” I thought? But I was up for the challenge. Lesson #1: High risk brings high reward. When we’re up for the big challenge (for the right reason), it brings a big reward, whether it succeeds or not. So the outfitting began. We collected food, tents, fishing poles and flashlights and, a few weeks later, we loaded up the vans. I psyched up the group and challenged all of us to “embrace the adventure.” We headed to the Buffalo River and the trip began. We knew that 4 nights on the river would be a challenge because we would have to travel a minimal amount of mileage each day lest we finish the trip too soon and twiddle our thumbs at the end. But as it turned out, the forced slow pace made all the difference. We only canoed a few miles every day and spent the rest of the time hiking, swimming, exploring, telling stories and just being together. Yes, the time together produced some altercations and fights, but it was life on life. It was real. Lesson #2: when we slow down our lives, we speed up the process of relationship. It’s not always easy, but it’s always rich. From the beginning, food was a big issue. All of the canoes were loaded down with 5 five days of food supply. But it’s difficult to predict how much food a bunch of teenage guys will eat in a week. I thought we had more than enough food, but in the end, food was scarce. I remember we intentionally saved the Dinty Moore Stew for the last night on the river. Just writing about the stew makes my mouth water and my stomach growl. We wanted to eat it so badly during the week, but it was worth waiting for the feast on the last night. Lesson #3: we have to be nourished, not just physically, but emotionally as well. And it needs be enough and it needs to be healthy. We survived to the end. Most of us were sunburned, stinky and scratched, but as we headed back to Branson, we knew we’d accomplished something special. We felt like we had conquered a National Geographic obstacle and survived. Through the struggles and the hunger, relationships had grown and deepened and, in hindsight, we had a great time. The memory of that trip reminds me, “If nothing is ventured, then nothing is gained.” When was the last time you went on an adventure? Gary Smalley is always challenging families to “go camping." He was speaking of the adventure, of the common struggle that comes with bugs and snakes and firewood. And, most importantly, it’s awesome to be in the presence of God in the expanse of His creation. Be willing to “get out there.” Pull away from the TV, the job and the Wifi. You’ll deepen your relationships and you might just create sweet memories you will never forget… …along with a few bug bites. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Monday, May 25, 2015

Decoration Day

“The memory of the righteous will be a blessing…” –Proverbs 10:7 Memorial Day is a National holiday in the U.S. set aside to remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice. It is a day to reflect and be thankful for those, in the military, who gave their lives for our wonderful country. While so many men and women went off to foreign lands, never to return, many died right here in the country they loved. But they all paid the ultimate sacrifice so that we might enjoy freedom. The practice of decorating soldiers' graves with flowers is an ancient custom. Some call it Decoration Day and others Memorial Day. Soldiers' graves were decorated in the U.S. before and during the American Civil War. The losses were catastrophic and America, as a society, struggled to process through it all. The first Civil War soldier's grave ever decorated was in Warrenton, Virginia on June 3, 1861, implying the first Memorial Day occurred there. Though not for Union soldiers, there is authentic documentation that women in Savannah, Georgia decorated Confederate soldiers' graves in 1862. In 1863, the cemetery dedication at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was a ceremony of commemoration at the graves of dead soldiers. Jeanie and I were there almost exactly a year ago, and the cemetery was beautiful. Following President Abraham Lincoln's assassination in April 1865, there were a variety of events of commemoration. The sheer number of soldiers on both sides who died in the Civil War, more than 600,000, meant that burial and memorialization took on new cultural significance. Under the leadership of women during the war, an increasingly formal practice of decorating graves had taken shape. In 1865, the federal government began creating national military cemeteries for the Union war dead. On Memorial Day, the flag of the United States is raised briskly to the top of the staff and then solemnly lowered to the half-staff position, where it remains only until noon. It is then raised to full-staff for the remainder of the day. The half-staff position remembers the more than one million men and women who gave their lives in service of their country. At noon, their memory is raised by the living, who resolve not to let their sacrifice be in vain, but to rise up in their stead and continue the fight for liberty and justice for all. That’s really the point of it all. And it’s that message that we need to pass on to our children and grandchildren. Though, hopefully, they won’t have to fight in a war, they can still validate the memory of those who died by living freedom well. The Gettysburg Address was delivered by Lincoln during the American Civil War, on the afternoon of Thursday, November 19, 1863. It was given at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, four and a half months after the Union armies defeated those of the Confederacy at the Battle of Gettysburg. While Lincoln certainly honored the memory of those who died in the battle, he also had a message for us as well. “It is for us the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.” Our “great task” is to live freedom well. It’s to honor them for sure, but it’s also to honor all living Americans. It’s to show respect and devotion and love to all brothers and sisters. Like someone said, “It’s easy to love mankind, but much more difficult to love your neighbor.” So may God bless the memory of all those who sacrificed their lives so that America might be free. May God bless every family who misses their loved ones. And may God strengthen every American to practice freedom well. May we honor them… …by honoring each other. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Letting Go, Part Zillion

…it has not yet been revealed what we shall be… —1 John 3:2 People ask me sometimes, “Where do you come up with the topics for these blogs?” I wonder, “Where do I come up with them?” The truth is, they come up with me. Sometimes life comes at me like a game of Galaga turned to warp speed. I am shooting at the targets but they are coming toward me faster than I can reload. It’s all a part of God’s unending agenda regarding control. He knows I’m at my best when I’m on my knees, out of control, depending on Him. Lately, life has been a whirlwind. I’ve been unsettled. People I love dearly have been suffering. My precious mother dealing with severe back pain, my best friend recovering from a heart attack, my dear brother dealing with muscle issues. My load is heavy because their loads are heavy. I don’t like people I love hurting. I scramble for control. Then I re-read Oswald Chambers this morning, April 29th, in the devotional book, “My Utmost for His Highest” about “Gracious Uncertainty”: “Our natural inclination is to be so precise– trying always to forecast accurately what will happen next– that we look upon uncertainty as a bad thing. We think that we must reach some predetermined goal, but that is not the nature of the spiritual life. The nature of the spiritual life is that we are certain in our uncertainty. Consequently, we do not put down roots. Our common sense says, “Well, what if I were in that circumstance?” We cannot presume to see ourselves in any circumstance in which we have never been. Certainty is the mark of the commonsense life– gracious uncertainty is the mark of the spiritual life. To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, not knowing what tomorrow may bring. This is generally expressed with a sigh of sadness, but it should be an expression of breathless expectation. We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God. As soon as we abandon ourselves to God and do the task He has placed closest to us, He begins to fill our lives with surprises. When we become simply a promoter or a defender of a particular belief, something within us dies. That is not believing God– it is only believing our belief about Him. Jesus said, “…unless you…become as little children…” (Matthew 18:3). The spiritual life is the life of a child. We are not uncertain of God, just uncertain of what He is going to do next. If our certainty is only in our beliefs, we develop a sense of self-righteousness, become overly critical, and are limited by the view that our beliefs are complete and settled. But when we have the right relationship with God, life is full of spontaneous, joyful uncertainty and expectancy. Jesus said, “…believe also in Me” (John 14:1), not, “Believe certain things about Me.” Leave everything to Him and it will be gloriously and graciously uncertain how He will come in– but you can be certain that He will come. Remain faithful to Him.” So, I learn again to leave it all to Him. He knows. He grows. He builds. He has it all in His hands, literally. Are you holding on to anything too tightly today? Perhaps God is asking you, once again, to let go and give it to Him. He’s got it under control. May we yield our loads to the God of the Universe and experience His rest. He can handle any load… …whether it’s in warp speed or not. By Eric Joseph Staples ©