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

Friday, February 22, 2019

Village People

"For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” -Matthew 18:20 “It takes a village to raise a child” is a concept recognized world wide. But it’s just not valid for parenting- it’s valid for everything! Villages help raise families, marriages, friendships…life! For over 35 years, Jeanie and I have been a part of a “village” called a “small group” and it has made all the difference in our lives. Years ago, Hillary Clinton shared the quote about “villages” and she also wrote a book with that title. It is an Igbo and Yorbu proverb that exists in many different African languages. It reflects the emphasis African cultures place on family and community. This proverb is so widely used in Africa that there are equivalent statements in most African languages including, “One knee does not bring up a child” in Sukuma, and “One hand does not nurse a child” in Swahili. It’s used all over the world. Everyone agrees with the concept, but few truly live in community. A few nights ago, on Valentines day, our “village” went to dinner and dancing at The Keeter Center at College of the Ozarks. We had such a wonderful time. This group has been meeting and fellowshipping together for over thirty years. Though our group has changed and evolved over the years, our common denominator-Jesus- has never changed. Currently, the Staples’, Sankey’s, Morgan’s, Peterson’s, Chancey’s, Wiebe’s, Ford’s and Brian Beadle gather every other week for fellowship, food, Bible study and prayer. Over the years, our group has included the Cooper’s, Dodd’s, Freeman’s, Nuenke’s, Haddad’s, and Cunningham’s. I’ve probably forgotten a couple or two. Life has moved us all over the globe, but the friendships remain. We are a group that has weathered many seasons. We have cried together over disappointments; we have laughed together over silly jokes, we have grieved together over loses, and we have prayed together for our precious families. In short, we have walked through many seasons of life together. Could we have walked it on our own? Sure. Truthfully, staying in “villages” can be challenging. Expectations, comparison, pride, scheduling- all can be hindrances to village life. It’s just easier to handle it all under our own roof. But we have found that the pay off in sharing our load far exceeds the cost of keeping it to ourselves. Perhaps 2019 is meant to be a year of connection for your family. There are all kinds of advantages that come from living in a village. Sure, we need to shield our young kids from bad influences, but we need to steer them towards good influences. A fellow villager just might instruct your child in a way more effective than you. Back in the season when our kids were in the home (nearly all of our kids are adults now), we all helped raise each other’s kids. We had the freedom to correct them and to encourage them. Become a village person by leaning into the families with whom you already fellowship. Turn up the volume a bit-set up intentional times to hang together, share your prayer requests with each other, ask for help, be safe but be vulnerable with each other. Bear each other’s loads… …and let the community flourish! By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Friday, February 8, 2019

Solo

“Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up” -Eccl. 4:9-10 God’s Word is crystal clear, but sometimes our logic is muddied. One central theme of the Bible is mankind’s need for true community. Simply put, we need each other. As the great theologian, Barbara Streisand said (chuckle), “people who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” The need is real but we tend to glaze it over with our own independence and pride. We need each other. Not in a co-dependent “I am nothing without someone” way. But in a healthy, “I’m responsible for me” way. I focus on my own health but I walk the journey in community. Striking the right balance is the key to living life well. A solid relationship with God plus a solid relationship with myself plus a solid relationship with brothers and sisters equals a healthy place. This lack of balance shows up in so many ways. Buckle your seat belt for two sports analogies. If you don’t like sports, I apologize (sort of): The Alabama Crimson Tide and the LSU Tigers squared off one Saturday in the fall. Some said it would be the biggest football game of the year. With Bama ranked number one in the polls and LSU fourth, it was set up to be a huge battle. Networks like to do that. But perhaps the biggest story was about LSU’s star linebacker that would have to sit out the entire first half, since he was ejected out of the previous game for targeting. But was it really a story at all? Announcers and newspapers focused on the needed efforts of the LSU defense to hold Alabama down as best they could until the second half. One announcer said, “If they can just make it through the first half, they’ll have their star back in the third quarter and be in control.” LSU’s defense made it to halftime fairly well. But that defensive player mattered little in the second half. LSU got hammered. The issue wasn’t brought up again. Football is a team sport. One player doesn’t make all the difference. The Dallas Cowboys played the Tennessee Titans one Sunday last month. Much of the focus was on the recent trade of an excellent receiver from the Raiders to the Cowboys. “He will make all the difference,” the announcer said. The Cowboys got beat handily. That traded receiver played a good game, but did not make all the difference for Dallas. He’s just one player. Football is a team sport. One player doesn’t make all the difference. The problem and its origin are described in Genesis chapter three. Adam and Eve were in perfect fellowship with God and in perfect fellowship with each other. (By the way, for those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ, we’ll get to experience that perfect fellowship again one day, on the other side of Heaven.) Then, sin entered the picture. Adam and Eve yielded to their own selfish desires, and went to hide. Mankind has been hiding ever since. We hide in our jobs, our work, our hobbies, even in our churches. Since the garden, we tend to insulate ourselves from God and the people around us. We feel a counterfeit form of safety and security in our loneliness. And we run dry without the beautiful gift that God gave us, called intimacy- the connection of hearts to God and to the people around us. But there is good news! The problem has a solution on this side of Heaven for sure. It requires us to yield our hearts to a loving God who desires to supply us with adequate amounts of intimacy and contact. As we surrender our souls to the Lord, He meets the need through His Spirit and through the people around us. Our spouses and kids and family are all tools the Lord desires to use to keep our intimacy cup full. After all, God commented to Adam, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). We weren’t built to solo through this life. As we head into a new year, let 2019 be a year of leaning into relationships. Live a life of community, inviting friends in. Live a life of family, inviting your spouse and kids in. Live a life of prayer, inviting the Lord into every area of your life. Embrace community… …and don’t solo through this life. Life is a team sport… and our teammates do make a difference. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Monday, December 31, 2018

A Season of Ceasing

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” -Matt. 11:28 This Christmas season has been wonderful for a lot of reasons: time with family, time with Jeanie, time with the Lord. Mostly, it’s been a wonderful break. It’s been a continuation of a theme of rest- a season of ceasing for me. I am still learning so much about my struggle to pause. Most of us have a tough time slowing down. The truth is, most of us don’t like what catches up with us when we put on the brakes. Most of us aren’t too good at “forgetting what lies behind” (Phil. 3:13). And most of us do take into account wrongs suffered” (1 Cor. 13). Though suppressed, our “accounts” stay pretty full. Our antidote is to go fast, so fast that we can outrun our “stuff.” The problem is, when life slows us down, our “piles” catch up with us, but that can be a good thing. The word “sabbatical” comes from the Hebrew word “shabbat” which means “to cease.” FBC Branson is a tremendous church that, every seven years, allows it’s ordained Staff to take a month or so to “cease” and rest and refill. This fall I was granted some time to rest, which was encouraging yet challenging. I was challenged to let go and let God. I’d been anticipating the break for months. The pre-game preparation was kind of crazy. I thought the preparation was complicated and thought it might be easier to just call it off. Letting go is hard for me. I discovered again that a lot of my self-worth is tied up in what I do. God was reminding me (again) that I am His child that He loves completely, period. I don’t have to do anything to earn His love. “Work” comes after His grace. The month was without work but loaded with rest. No doubt, God sets up times of rest. Not necessary huge months off, but simple times in the morning or on a weekend. They are there for the taking, if we recognize His provision in the time. I was challenged to spend quality time with the Lord. Times of rest aren't necessarily times for us to memorize the entire New Testament or to fly to Africa for a Mission trip. Those things are great, but sometimes what we need is just to “chill.” When I’m provided with a block of time to rest, I tend to fill it up with stuff. I want to fill in the time with pseudo-work: cleaning and fixing and maintaining the house, the cars, the yard. All those things can steal me away from God time. I am so easily distracted. But true rest plus Jesus brings peace and rest and security in the Lord. A hike or a run is the most beautiful time of fellowship with God I could imagine. It allows me to prayerfully give my struggles over to Him. It allows me to examine my soul and lay my load on His shoulders. I was challenged to narrow the gap between work and rest. I’m reading an excellent book on work by Timothy Keller titled, “Every Good Endeavor.” He is making the point that our efforts as Christians should be our calling, not just work. The Greek word “voca” means “calling”. It’s where we get our word “vocation.” If we define what we do as a calling versus a job, we bring meaning to our work. Whether we work at Walmart, or a church, we do what we do to serve God. We’re all called into full time ministry, wherever the Lord calls us. Yes, we work wherever and we rest wherever, but we do it all to the glory of God. He is our purpose and He is our reason. May we all recognize our seasons of rest. When the Lord provides a holiday or a sabbatical or even a break in our work week, embrace the time and lean in to the Lord and His rest. Sure, God blesses work but God endorses rest as well. Be fully invested either way… …in a season of ceasing. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Blind Spots

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” Eph. 4:31-32 Sometimes sins can be like blind spots. Once a man told me that he didn’t have any blind spots. I responded, “So how would you know, if you’re blind to them?” He had no response. We both laughed. Sin can be that way. It can be so disguised and camouflaged and covert that we don’t notice it’s there. Perhaps the most covert and hidden sin is envy. Paul challenges us at the end of Ephesians Chapter 4 to “Put all the bad stuff away.” Of course, we can’t clean up a room we think is spotless. We first have to recognize the mess. Then we can give it over to the great Cleaner Upper, Jesus Christ. A competitive, challenging spirit always produces a mess wherever it lives. It compares and judges and never rests. We’re either better or worse than every one around us. And, worst of all, it robs us of that powerful attribute of the free in Christ- JOY. The line is so thin and tight. It’s okay to compete. Sports are a blast, but like the Christian competition pioneer, Wes Neal, taught us, we compete to be our best for Christ, not to beat our opponent. Wes taught us to “totally release” all we have to the glory of Christ. The “score” of the game isn’t measured by the points on the scoreboard but by the degree to which we use our talent to His glory. Many times, I’ve lost on the scoreboard but won in my heart. I was a little sad but knew God was pleased. Of course, I’ve also won on the scoreboard, but lost in my heart. It’s an empty victory. We tend to compare, fall behind, and become jealous and envious. Paul tells us to get rid of a thing called malice. Malice means “To wish ill on someone else.” Yuck! It means we’re actually happy when someone else messes up. It makes us look better (we think)! And the worst form of malice is that we can even contribute to them messing up! At the least, we can’t cheer for them because they are ahead. At the most, we help them fail. Double yuck. What we forget is that God equally divides His grace to us all. More or less is a worldly perspective. In God’s grace world, He provides for us all. He distributes exactly as He desires. It’s about Him, not us. It’s about us trusting Him as our life distributor. He knows what we need and what we don’t need. It’s about us trusting Him as He opens doors and closes doors. Our prayer is for the Holy Spirit to expose our blind spots, for our brothers and sisters around us to lovingly call us out and for our spirits to yield to truth in our lives. May we all trust Him completely and live in the joy that trust produces. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com