Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Whitewashed

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” -Matt. 23:27 Grace. Legalism. Freedom. Obedience. Peace. Law. These are all words that stir us up and touch our souls. We’re always trying to strike the balance between rules and grace. We love the freedom of grace but lean on the structure of rules. Finding the balance isn’t easy. And if we’re not careful, we grow more concerned about our outside than our inside. Jesus taught that our “outside needs to match our inside.” The problem rears it’s ugly head when we hold to a conviction on the one hand but act contrary to the conviction on the other. We do it all the time. Example: driving. “Yes,” we might say, “Everyone should obey traffic rules and drive safely.” Yet, most people have the “drive five miles over the speed limit” philosophy, and law enforcement seems to honor that rule. But, legally speaking, it’s breaking the law. It’s an action inconsistent with our conviction. That was the meaning of Jesus’ illustration of the whitewashed tomb. There was nothing wrong with people washing the tombs. Perhaps it was a way for relatives to honor family who had passed away. What it wasn’t was a way for the person buried there to honor themselves. They were dead. If they were alive, they would be far away from the cemetery doing what alive people do: living life. That was the point of Jesus: keep your outside clean but keep your heart clean as well. That was (and still is) the problem with any one holding a conviction, namely professing to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Does my life match my heart? Does the way I act match what I believe? Not all Pharisees were “whitewashed tombs.” Some had it right and they lived out what they professed. I don’t have to wear a ring to be Jeanie’s husband. But I want to wear it to show my commitment to her. I’m so honored to be her husband. Some women have huge rings but despise their husbands. So don’t wear the ring? No. Love your husband. Validate the ring. Do we have to go to church to be a Christian? No. But, of course, we want to go to church because we’re Christian. We need what church provides. And we contribute to that provision. Too often we view church as a place for us to be entertained. We place undue focus on Sunday morning and the sermon. “I sort of liked the church, but the sermon was long,” I heard someone say. It’s not about whether we like church, it’s about what we’re contributing to it. It’s about our inside matching our outside. It’s about maintaining the integrity of my heart by keeping my inside and my outside clean. And that is hard work! It requires maintenance. It means we have to be self-aware enough to address our problems. Example: I am inclined to act snooty toward a particular person at work. Step #1: recognize that I’m snooty. And not being nice is not an option because we’re to love as Christ loves. Step #2: I explore the “why.” I am simply jealous. The Lord reveals that truth. But He provides enough for us all. Step #3: I take my “snootiness” to the Lord. I confess my problem to Him (1 John 1:9) and He cleanses my heart. Now my heart matches my head. Step #4: I’m nice to him at work. But recognize that he hasn’t changed at all. I humble myself and love him. White-washed outside matches white-washed inside. Of course, this side of heaven, I’ll never be completely white. That maintenance process will be constant. And that’s okay. So, walk in His grace this week. Walk in the freedom of Christ. But walk in the "freedom of obedience" as well. Remain prayerful and aware. Keep your heart and life matching. Let the Lord have His way. May our inside… …match our outside. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

God's Delays

“Yet those who wait for the LORD, will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary” -Isaiah 40:31 Waiting has always been a challenge for youngest child, spoiled Joey Staples. The pace of society today hasn’t helped me at all. I expect instant answers and instant solutions. I text someone and expect an answer within 5 minutes. A century ago, if someone missed the stagecoach, they had to wait a month till it came through again. Today, if the plane is five minutes late, most people go berserk. But the truth is, God is in control. His timing is paramount to our well being, IF we choose to trust Him. The attached poem by Robert Schuller has always proven true to me: God’s Delay is Not God’s Denial 
God always hears and answers prayer,
 Though long may be the trial.
 Let patience bloom while God prepares;
 Delay is not denial.

 When God would glorify His Name,
 And make His blessing great;
 The one whose heart God's will doth frame
 Must sometimes pray and wait.

 But come, the answer surely must,
 For God has never lied.
 And faith, which looks at God in trust,
 God never has denied.

 So when the weeks turn months, then years,
 And doubt feign would defile,
 Beseech the more and that with tears;
 Delay is not denial.

 God always hears our prayers, 
 But He does not always say, "Yes!" 
 Sometimes He says, "Wait" 
 Sometimes He says, "No" 
 For He has something better for us. 

 God's delays are not denials, 
 He has heard your prayer; 
 He knows all about your trials, 
 Knows your every care.
 God's delays are not denials, 
 Help is on the way, 
 He is watching o'er life's dials, 
 Bringing forth that day. 

 God's delays are not denials, 
 You will find Him true, 
 Working through the darkest trials, 
 What is best for you. God has a good plan for our lives also. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11) May we welcome God’s change of plans as good. Look back on the times when God blocked a plan and “caused all things to work together for good.” I’m so glad that Paula and I broke up (by note) in 6th grade! I’m glad, because God had another person waiting, Jeanie, as a part of His plan. And we’ve been married 37 years! May we all rest and be secure in HIS plan. May we all wait well. Resting in His care and walking at HIS pace makes all the difference. Even when none of it makes sense, we trust in His plan. Whether it’s a “yes,” “wait,” or “no,” He is in control. His ways are always higher… …so, may we rest in the lower. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Home Free

“Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home” -Luke 10:38 There is a scene in the movie “Forrest Gump” when Forrest’s childhood sweetheart, Jennie, is throwing rocks at her childhood home. She is angry with the house where her father abused her. As Jennie falls to her knees, Forrest responds, “Sometimes there just aren’t enough rocks.” Last year, we sold our “home place” on Firth Road in Fort Worth and handed the keys to another young family. I’m not throwing rocks at that beautiful home. Instead, I’m struggling with the loss of the “memorial” to the Staples family. Every few months I would travel to Fort Worth to check on Mom and do “projects” around the house. Today, I was longing to go back and take care of that house. I miss the projects…and I miss my mom. The week after we sold the house, with every call to turn off utilities, I felt like I was disconnecting life support from the house. At the end of the last call to the gas company, the operator responded, “We’ll have that last utility shut off tomorrow,” and I felt like someone had died. A few months later my sweet mom passed away. We’d lost mom and the home so close together. I grieved. I cried. I was sad. I’m still sad sometimes. I spoke to my big brother, Bob who said, “Hey, it’s just a change. Now another young family will raise their kids in that house.” Those are words that I knew, but needed to hear. Research on grieving shows that it can take years for the cycles of loss to lose their punch. So, once again, it’s time to move on. The cycle of life happens. God is a God of change. We can jump on board or resist His plans. There were beautiful days in that home. It seems like just yesterday that I was chasing our dog, Rusty, in the backyard; listening to my brothers play their eight-tracks; watching my dad cooking on the grill; seeing mom cooking the kitchen. Great memories. Great roots of security planted on those beautiful days. But, I know there were tough days as well. There were squabbles between the four boys (and I was usually at the bottom of the pecking order); mom and dad frustrated with each other (but that was behind closed doors in their bedroom); the four boy’s angry or mad (usually related to losing at sports). That house was a pressure cooker of growth, with the ups and the downs. Simply put, it was family. And families are a beautiful mess, for sure. They are a mess because all the pieces of the family puzzle, (people), are a mess as well. The beauty is beheld when love is mixed into the mess and intimacy and compassion result. Houses come and go. Green grass eventually withers. Trees lose their lives. But the love of family lives on through the generations. The love of family isn’t limited to the walls of a house. So, once again, I say goodbye to Firth Road. After turning the page, I say hello to our address on Cougar Trails, and to Blackman Road and Troon Circle, the addresses of our kids and their families. There are new families forming and growing and needing grandparents. I’m in for the new adventure… …but I’ll never forget the old home. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Plan A or Plan B

“The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” -Prov. 16:9 Being present means I’m aware of what is going on in my soul. It means I don’t have covert, secret buttons that get pressed that cause reactions. It means I’m in touch with my “innards”- I still have triggers that get activated, but when those alarms go off, I don’t push the snooze button- I heed them. It doesn’t mean I don’t have buttons that get pushed, it just means I’m not a slave to them unconsciously. It simply means I’m aware and able to make healthy and mature decisions on how I’ll react. It means when the “Plan A’s” don’t work out, I’m okay switching to Plan B. It means I seek the Lord’s will and His desire for my life. I teach these concepts quite often. But this past weekend, I didn’t exactly follow my own advice! Saturday finally arrived after a super busy week. It was a great week working with people, but in the people business, I don’t often see concrete, objective results. Jeanie has observed that when I come home, I like doing projects. I like replacing the broken light switch and watching it work. After all, it’s actually fixed! I love that. So, I was looking forward to working in the yard and giving our lawn it’s first cut of the year. After all, our yard looks beautiful when all the weeds are the same height! So, I filled the mower with fresh gas, pulled the cord, and the mower started, but sounded terrible! I played with the throttle, but it ran roughly. I restarted the mower but it still ran poorly. With each restart, I got more and more frustrated. And that’s when it happened- my finger got too close to the blade. Rewind almost 25 years. My mower had bogged down, in this same yard, in heavy grass. As I was clearing a small twig out of the shoot, the blade hit my middle finger and cut it about half an inch. We wrapped a bandage around it to stop the bleeding and Jeanie drove me to the ER. They stitched my finger and it took months to heal. Back to the present: I slowly pulled back my hand and nervously looked at my fingers. Did I do it again? No blood. No cut. The blade had barely glanced my hand. The Lord was saying, “I am in control. Go ahead and make all the plans you want, but I want you to realize that I hold the trump card. I could have cut your hand off, but I didn’t. Trust me. Relax.” I was so humbled. I asked the Lord for forgiveness and my spirit was changed. I slowed down, took a deep breath, and surrendered my spirit (for the zillionth time) to the Lord. I took the mower to the local mower shop. A kind workman helped me and in five minutes fixed the problem. It ran great. A small choke part was stuck from sitting all winter. He and I had a great visit. Somehow, it was in the Lord’s plan that I should have to have my mower repaired and I was simply to follow His plan. I asked, “But why that plan?” I have no idea. But I don’t need to know why. Buttons will always get pressed. But what we do after the button is pressed is up to us. It’s our choice. No broken mower can make me angry. I have to choose to let it make me angry. Or I can choose to trust in the Lord and be okay with the circumstances. May the Lord have His way in us and in our plans. May we let the Lord truly direct our steps with a teachable and flexible spirit. If my finger had been cut off, would I have trusted His wisdom? If the mower had been ruined, would I have trusted His plan? Have I “learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am in?” (Phil. 4:11-12) To continue Paul’s words, do I “Know how to get along with humble means, and also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance have I learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need?” Of course, the end of that passage Paul says it all, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Phil. 4:13 The “secret”, as Paul called it, is to depend on Him and His divine plan. May we rest in that today. May we rest in His providence… …whether the grass gets mowed or not. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

What I Learned from Taco Bell

“A wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel”- Prov. 1:5 The summer after my freshman year in high school, I worked at the Taco Bell restaurant in south Fort Worth. I’m still not exactly sure why I got that job. My brothers were all working that summer and I copied everything they did. It was a tough experience for sure, but I learned valuable life lessons that only that time at Taco Bell could teach me. The Lord wants to use every experience to teach us. Every season has lessons to be learned, if we’re teachable. 1. It’s scary to step out- There weren’t a lot of places that were hiring that summer. As I called through the classified ads in the paper, I came upon Taco Bell. I called and interviewed and they hired me. Years later, my parents confessed that they were concerned about me working on the “south side” of Fort Worth. I was concerned as well. But they let me step out and risk. They let me go. They let me begin learning how to depend on the Lord. As the youngest child, I needed to learn to walk on my own two feet on my own path. It was a little risky for sure, but there is no progress without risk. 2. Road blocks are a part of the journey- Being new on the job, I got the worst hours. I worked weekends, 5:00pm until closing at 11:00pm. Those were crazy times to be selling Tacos on the south side of town. Naive Joey made some poor decisions for sure. An older teenage co-worker asked to borrow my ’69 Camero one night after his shift and I said “sure.” He took my car with friends and smoked pot in the car. It reeked when I took it home. My dad had a firm talk with me about boundaries. 3. You can’t judge a book by its cover- My fellow co-workers were a crazy mix of young and old, of men and women, of multiple races and a variety of perspectives on life. In the back of the store, I heard a lot of interesting perspectives and philosophies on life. Honestly, some of the most “downtrodden” looking people were the most sincere and honest. Sometimes it was the educated good-looking people who cheated on their time cards. 4. We pay a price for our adventures- I think I made a whopping $1.60 an hour working at Taco Bell in 1973. Yes, I made money and a dollar went a longer way back then. A stamp cost 8 cents, gas was 65 cents a gallon, and you could buy a nice car for $3000 and a nice house for 47K. I worked long hard hours late at night but made very little money. I gave up free time with my friends but the experience was life changing. It was my first experience actually working for someone. I felt a sense of pride when I drove home at night. 5. Don’t eat too many Taco’s- To this day, I don’t get real excited about eating at Taco Bell. We had access to all of the menu items during breaks (or at least we took free rein) and we ate and ate and ate some more. Chips and tacos and Enchiritos became my summertime staple diet. As they say, “too much of a good thing” can be a hindrance. I was definitely hindered that summer. Thank you Taco Bell for teaching me even more than I probably realize. Moms and dads, let your kids take risks. Don’t micro-manage their adventures. Let them stretch and try new things. Let them fail. Let them succeed. Let it be their doing. Let them reach out and try new jobs and sports and activities. Yes, be the parent and steer them away from damaging circumstances, but let them grow up. Let them experience independence as they “branch out” and continued dependence as they lean on the Lord. Let them venture into circumstances to learn life lessons. They will grow and be nourished… …even eating taco’s. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Shining in the Super Bowl

“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” -Matt. 5:16 Growing up in Fort Worth, as a life long Cowboy fan, I was brought up cheering against the Philadelphia Eagles. That wasn’t really hard to do since they usually weren’t very good. OK, they did win three NFL Championships, but never a Super Bowl. They were in the same division as the Cowboys and it helped us for them to lose. But in sports, it’s possible to like the players but not cheer for their team. After reading the article below, it’s easy for me to cheer for Philadelphia on Sunday in the Super Bowl. I’m still not crazy about the Eagles, but I’m excited for the players. I know there are Christians playing for the Patriots as well. I’m hoping their game goes well too, but much like the Cowboys in the 90’s, the Patriots have enough trophies. Maybe it’s time to pass on the torch. I know the players aren’t perfect and that the Eagles are not a “Christian team,” per se. They are a sports franchise that is in the business of winning games and making money. But I’m cheering for those who are standing for Jesus. It’s a choice we all make every day. Maybe we work at Wal-Mart and Wal-Mart is not a “Christian business.” But our goal in our work each day is to glorify Jesus and work with integrity. We need all the prayers and encouragement we can get. I pray we all play our game well every day. It may not be the Super Bowl, but it’s God’s will that we would carry out our jobs with integrity and honesty. I pray a lost world notices, sees something different and desires the source of our joy - Jesus. Enjoy the Super Bowl! By Eric Joseph Staples © www.parentingyourteen101.com “Strong Faith Binds the Eagles” PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Seventy-two-year-old Susan Collesidis was never a football fan until she heard Carson Wentz talk about his faith. Then she was hooked on the Philadelphia Eagles. When Wentz found out his newest fan was fighting an advanced stage of cancer, he sent her an encouraging message with inspirational Bible verses. "How much joy I get from watching him and his team play supernatural football every week," she said after reading it. Two weeks later, Collesidis lost her battle with cancer the night before Thanksgiving. "The message meant so much to Susan because she admired Carson as a person and believer more than a football player," son-in-law Doug Horton said. "He's the reason she started caring about sports and she couldn't wait to watch the Eagles every week." Wentz isn't playing in the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots because he tore his ACL in Week 14. But backup quarterback Nick Foles also is a "brother in Christ" and one of the leaders in a locker room filled with guys who have formed a strong bond because of their faith. "It truly is a brotherhood," Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz said. "Those guys are holding me accountable. Off the field, I'm holding them accountable. We truly care about each other, we truly care about the growth that each individual has in the word, as believers, as well as friends and family. There are a lot of guys who are truly trying to boost me up and keep me focused on the main thing, which is obviously the word. ..." Christian players openly expressing their faith is nothing new in the NFL: Reggie White, Kurt Warner, Tim Tebow, Ray Lewis and Russell Wilson among many others. But these Eagles are an unusually close-knit group. "There is a stronger connection here," said defensive end Steven Means, who played for three other teams. "It's another level because we push each other in certain areas that we are flawed at and open ourselves up to each other. We text each other throughout the day making sure that everybody is on the right path and doing the right thing." Torrey Smith played with Lewis on the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens in 2012. They had a solid core of Christian players who used their faith for inspiration during their journey. Smith also spent two years in San Francisco before the wide receiver came to Philadelphia this season. He said it's different here. "I've been lucky to be part of three organizations that do have a very strong Christian presence," Smith said. "The difference here is a lot of younger guys lead." It starts with Wentz, the face of the franchise. Wentz went on a mission trip to Haiti last May with former teammate Jordan Matthews and a group led by Kyle Horner, lead pastor of The Connect Church. He delivered a sermon a month later at a church back home in North Dakota and launched his Audience of One Foundation in July. Wentz and several teammates even created a devotional video series for the Bible app. Four days before the season opener, Wentz and teammates Trey Burton and Stefen Wisniewski spoke at a faith event in front of a crowd of 2,000 people who sat in the rain for a couple hours to hear their favorite players share their testimony. But before he had an MVP-caliber season and led the Eagles from worst to first, Wentz received plenty of criticism from some media and fans because he openly talked about his faith on social media . He wasn't deterred. "Jesus was persecuted everywhere he went," Wentz said. "So if Jesus, who is our ultimate example, endured that, then I can endure a couple tweets. I can endure a little riff-raff here and there." A large group of players meet for Bible study on Thursdays and hold a study for couples on Mondays. They get together for prayer and devotionals the night before games. They've even gathered for baptisms in some unusual places. In October 2016, Burton and pastor Ted Winsley baptized six players in a cold tub at the team's practice facility. "It was crazy," said Winsley, the team's longtime chaplain. "The guys were just hungry, wanting their lives changed." Before a Thursday night game at Carolina last October, second-year pro Marcus Johnson was baptized in a hotel pool. "Since I've come to Philly, I've grown in my faith so much," Johnson said. "As a rookie last year coming in, you always hear about the locker room and how dysfunctional it can be and people playing for money and this and that, but when I got here, everyone was so supportive and I knew it was something special." Having strong faith doesn't make players immune to adversity, but it helps them deal with it. The Eagles (15-3) have overcome numerous injuries to important players on their way to winning the NFC championship. Nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters, running back/return specialist Darren Sproles, special-teams captain Chris Maragos and kicker Caleb Sturgis suffered season-ending injuries along with Wentz and Jordan Hicks, the playmaking linebacker and quarterback on defense. Instead of anger and resentment, they've leaned on their faith to maintain a positive attitude. "Character is always revealed in times of testing," said Horner, who pastors several players. "For these men, Christ is not a crutch to lean upon, he is the foundation which their life is built upon. For them, faith is not an intellectual acknowledgement of truth, but a day-by-day expression of their love for God. This is where it all starts."

Friday, December 15, 2017

A Bitter Sweet Christmas

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” -Matt. 5:4 I absolutely love bittersweet chocolate. I am a recovering chocaholic for sure. Okay, to be honest, I’m not recovering very well! The two flavors mix well and taste SO good. But this Christmas season, I am struggling between the clash of bitter and sweet. Bitter, as I process through losing my mom and missing my dad and two brothers. And sweet, as I celebrate the birth of our wonderful Savior, Jesus. These two emotions just don’t fit very well. It’s oil and water for sure. Family seasons like Thanksgiving and Christmas, are all about stuffing. We stuff the turkey for sure, but we tend to become “unstuffed” ourselves. Emotions and feelings that were nicely tucked away during the year come flooding back to us. Though painful, it’s actually a good and healthy thing. It‘s good to be honest with ourselves about our feelings. Big boy’s DO cry and being honest about what we feel makes a huge difference. Why? Because being honest about what we feel allows us to be real with ourselves and with those we love. We don’t need to fear what we feel. Being real about loss allows us to grieve over what we miss. It allows us to heal and move on. It allows us to feel and struggle and step into pain. God wants to comfort those who grieve, but He can only comfort those who acknowledge that they have lost something. Grieving allows us to face the loss, process through it and move on. There’s no time frame in grieving. It takes as long as we need to say “good-bye.” I lost my dad 29 years ago. I’ve lost my two oldest brothers in the last ten years. And I lost my mom after Christmas last year. My brother Bob and I are the two remaining members of the family. I’d love to have our family picture complete again, but life moves on. And we move on as well. Death stinks. Losing a loved one is bitter for sure. As Christians, we do have life beyond the grave. That’s what Christmas is all about. But the losses still hurt. It was not a part of God’s original plan. Sin did and does its damage. I know every time someone grieves over the loss of someone they love, it grieves God’s heart as well. Of course it does. He Himself knows the pain. After all, He sent His only begotten Son to die for our sin so that we might have eternal life. As God watched His beautiful baby, Jesus, cuddle in the manager, He knew that death would be His lot. He knew that His precious Son would die a horrible death. It was bittersweet for Him as well. Sweet because He knew that Jesus’ death would bring us life. One of my favorite Christmas songs is “Where are you Christmas” sung by Faith Hill. The song begins with these words, “Where are you Christmas, why can't I find you, why have you gone away? Where is the laughter, you used to bring me, why can't I hear music play? My world is changing, I'm rearranging, does that mean Christmas changes too?” The song goes on to highlight the reality that Christmas never goes away, but perseveres as we make the move to come back to celebrate the coming of Jesus. The song addresses both the joy of Christmas and the pain of Christmas. It highlights the two realities: that Christmas is alive and well but that life’s losses require us to rearrange and change and adapt to life’s seasons. I pray this Christmas will be a wonderful one for all of us. May we be willing to “rearrange and change” to find a place for the truth of the birth of Christ to be made new to us all over again. May we be able to embrace the losses but embrace the gains as well. We all are missing loved one’s this Christmas. Let’s not miss the reality of Christ as well. May we all have a Merry Christmas as we celebrate the lives we are missing. May we embrace the bitter… …as we taste the sweet. By Eric Joseph Staples© www.lifeaid101.com