Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter: More Than a Holiday

“…and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf” -2Cor. 5:15 Easter. This season stirs up so many emotions. Or, it doesn’t stir up much at all. Our society is so desensitized to holidays that they come and go without much fanfare. But Easter is different. It’s more than a Holiday- it’s the absolute, once-and-for-all proof that Jesus lives. It seems that every day is a holiday to somebody. Every greeting card marketing firm has made it their goal to produce more and more holidays thus increasing the need for their product. Let’s take this next week, for instance. You may not have known that April 18th is “High Five” day, April 19th is “Garlic” day, April 21st is “Bulldogs are beautiful” day, April 22nd is “Jelly Bean” Day, April 23rd is “Talk like Shakespeare” day, April 24th is “Pigs in a Blanket” day, and to finish off the week, April 25th is (my favorite) “Hairball Awareness” day. It seems that anyone that has enough money and influence can create a holiday. So, how did Easter become a holiday? Certainly, as the liturgical early church grew in power, tradition set the stage for Easter. Even the alternating timing of Easter each year reflects its importance. "Easter is always celebrated on the Sunday immediately following the first full moon after the vernal (spring) equinox.” Hum. I don’t know about you, but I have no idea what that means. But apparently the early church fathers wished to keep the observance of Easter in correlation to the Jewish Passover. Because the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ happened after the Passover, they wanted Easter to always be celebrated subsequent to the Passover. And, since the Jewish holiday calendar is based on solar and lunar cycles, each feast day is movable, with dates shifting from year to year. But much like Christmas itself, the actual date is really not that important. What’s important is that it happened. Easter itself was designed by none other than God Himself. By grace, God the Father sent His Son to be born. By grace He sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross as a substitute for our sin. And then, by grace, He allowed Jesus to rise and live again to prove that he had defeated death. Easter isn’t just a holiday. It is a statement shouted out from God Himself that He is alive and well and still rules all creation. And it’s a reminder that in all His majesty, He desires a personal relationship with His most precious creation, you and me. So have a wonderful Easter celebration. Enjoy the Easter egg hunts and the chocolate bunnies, but don’t forget the real meaning of Easter. As you gather with your family and celebrate the holiday, be reminded of the meaning of “holiday” itself. It means “holy day” or “days set aside to be holy.” May we let this Easter be “set aside” as a time to thank God for His greatest gift of all…a risen Savior who is alive and well and desiring a relationship with us all today. What a beautiful and special day for us all to be more aware of His presence… …and less aware of hairballs. by Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Masks

“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 The word “hypocrite” comes from the Greek word hypokritḗs. It literally means “a judging under,” like a performer acting under a mask (i.e. a theater-actor). It figuratively means a two-faced person; a "hypocrite," whose profession does not match their practice – i.e. someone who "says one thing but does another." It works well on the stage, but not so good in real life. Jesus condemned the hypocrites and today, we don’t like anyone who is “two-faced” either. We prefer someone who is genuine. The recipe for being genuine hasn’t changed much over the years. It calls for a willingness to be real and honest. It requires us to reveal ourselves with all our strengths, weaknesses and faults. Most people aren’t secure enough to display who they really are. But when who we are matches what we are, life is lived in true freedom. Otherwise, we have to wear masks. The masks cover up that part of us that we don’t want others to see. Someone told me the other day that, as a salesman, “It’s absolutely a necessity that I always be at the top of my game when I’m with clients. I can’t be having a tough day. I have to be positive and perfect to make the sale.” Most of us begin our days with that dilemma. We wake sometimes with hearts clogged with issues- unresolved relationship issues, past hurts and misgivings, or fear of the future. The day begins and our personality splits between who we want to be and who we are. Thankfully, God has provided an integrity plan. 1 John 1:9 outlines the phenomenal system designed by God to keep our hearts clean and who we are matching what we are. It’s called forgiveness. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Our awesome God forgives us and our hearts are cleansed. If we accept Jesus as our Savior, no masks are required. We are children of God, broken and humble and able to live lives of integrity. In Christ, we obtain the security to live honest lives, where our inside and outsides match. We don’t have to be hypocrites. We don’t have to wear the masks. We can be genuine. What we say can match what we do. But sometimes Christians practice mask-wearing more than non-Christians. Kenneth Wuest said, "Christianity requires that believers should be open and above-board. They should be themselves. Their lives should be like an open book, easily read." That’s the catch with being a Christian. We have admitted and confessed our need for a loving God. Through brokenness and humility, we have seen the need for Jesus to mend our broken hearts, but we have to live in the reality of the control of the Lord in our lives. Otherwise, the drama begins. The curtain rises on our day, we put on our mask, and the disparity begins. Who we are doesn’t match what we believe. We don’t have to “fake it till we make it” because we’ve already made it. We don’t have to be someone we are not- wealthier, prettier, or stronger- we are simply children of God. And that is enough. What you see is what you get. In his classic The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote, “No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.” No mask is necessary when we are children of the living God. May our security be found only in Jesus and His power and might. May we shed the masks and reveal only one true face… …conforming to the image of Christ. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Growing Goldfish

“So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth” -1Cor. 3:7 Did you know that goldfish can grow up to fifteen inches when they’re released into the wild? Fifteen inches! That’s huge. Did you also know that kids, when they’re properly released, can grow as well? Those cute little goldfish bought at Wal Mart seemingly morph into monsters when released. And this is presenting a problem in lakeside communities where the little darlings are disposed of in the public water system. Officials at Lake Tahoe say the giant goldfish are increasing at an alarming rate. The lakes are filling up with these oversized beauties. Give them warm water and a limitless food supply and they just keep growing and growing. Kids grow when they’re released as well. Of course, it’s how they’re released that matters. When raised with the ability to grow and search out the right environment, most kids absolutely thrive. But they have to be given the chance to leave. Most people love little goldfish. They’re pretty and simple. Sprinkle a few specks of food on the top every day and clean out the tank occasionally and the maintenance is low. Have you ever tried to maintain a lake of fish? It’s a whole other matter. I spent a few summers at my Uncle Donald’s home in rural Georgia. He had a lake stocked with fish. I loved to go with him to feed the fish. As we’d deposit the bucket loads of food into the lake, the fish would crowd around the boat trying to get a bite. It took a lot of food and a lot of algae maintenance to keep the lake livable for the fish. Let’s face it- it’s easier to take care of a fish bowl than a lake. Little fish are easier to care for than big fish. But fish like to grow. Fish need to grow. There is a fish hatchery near Table Rock dam, not too far from our home. Fish are raised in controlled tanks, up to a certain size, then they’re released into Table Rock and Taneycomo lakes to grow and thrive. As parents we’re not called to cultivate a healthy fishbowl. We’re called to teach our kids how to live in the lake. Parents are called to operate a healthy “catch and release” program- to let their kids go. While we’re raising our little fishes, we need to teach them to lean on the loving God who wants to care for them, how to avoid the lures that seek to entrap them, and where to find the food that sustains them. Then, we release them. It’s scary. Lakes are big and dark and risky. But it’s the place where they can grow and thrive. Let them go. Let them grow. Let them know that they can lean on a loving God. He’s much more secure than any parent can ever be… …and more secure than a fishbowl. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Monday, March 31, 2014

Dog Days of Winter

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” -Matt. 11:28 I know, I know…the phrase “dog days” refers to the sultry days of summer, not the cold days of winter. In the Northern Hemisphere, the dog days of summer are most commonly experienced in the months of July and August. In the Southern Hemisphere, in January and February. They are hot and humid and sticky. The Romans referred to the dog days as diēs caniculārēs and associated the hot weather with the star Sirius, the “Dog Star". It is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (Large Dog). The Romans also sacrificed a red dog in April to appease the rage of Sirius, believing that the star was the cause of the hot, sultry weather. Poor dogs. Dog Days of summer were popularly believed to be an evil time "the Sea boiled, the Wine turned sour, Dogs grew mad, and all other creatures became languid; causing to man, among other diseases, burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies." according to Brady’s Clavis Calendaria, 1813. Most of us in the United States have been experiencing the bitter cold called winter. I consider myself a positive, half-full person, but my cup has been empty this winter. Cold after cold and snow after snow has worn out the most ardent of winterized Americans. As we endured yet another cold front coming through the Ozarks, I glanced out in the front yard and, to my surprise, our young lab, Maisy, was sound asleep in the front yard. The weather was freezing and the light snow fresh, but our Maisy was totally out- snoozing in the winter air. She was content. She was happy. She was ASLEEP. But how? I don’t doubt that Seasonal Affective Disorder is legit. When less endorphins are secreted and the level of sunshine is decreased, our mood can become melancholy. It’s difficult to be positive and optimistic when the weather is cold and snowy. But I wonder if it’s mostly a matter of chemical levels or making the choice to be happy? Abraham Lincoln once said, “Most people are about as happy as they choose to be.” In their great book “Happiness is a Choice,” Minirth and Meier addressed this supposition. “We couldn’t agree with them more. Lincoln should know. He went through much anguish in his life- the death of his fiancée, lost elections, the Civil War, and other major disappointments. At one point in his life he was so depressed he considered suicide. But Lincoln chose to overcome his depression. He chose to be happy and obtained inner joy and peace in those last years before he fell victim to the bullet of a hostile fellow man.” So, how do we make the choice to be content? How can a lab be perfectly fine sleeping in freezing weather? It’s tough being OK when the circumstances are less than desirable. But I think Maisy knew something most of us struggle to grasp. “Leaving well enough alone” means we play with the “cards dealt to us.”Maisy’s logic: “I can’t change the weather, I’ve got food in my bowl, the sun is out, and I’m tired, so it’s nap time! I choose to chill.” Making the choice doesn’t mean we deny the difficulty in our lives, but it does mean we choose to work past the issues that keep us down. It means we go to Jesus and choose to live in the rest He provides. May we all choose peace in the midst of the pandemonium. May we all choose rest in the midst of the restlessness… …and may we all choose to snooze in the snow. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Blessing of Pain

We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope - Romans 5:3-4 Rarely do I post someone else’s words, but a friend gave me this article by Priscilla Shirer and it hit the nail on the head. So I yield to the Lord’s words through her and present it to you to read. Enjoy. A jovial rosy-cheeked young girl bounded across the set of a widely popular television talk show. Her proud mother and father made room for her on the sofa next to the show’s host. They’d already been on for quite a while talking about their precocious youngster. Their description of her sounded much the same as any adoring parents yet their stories of normalcy were peppered with eerie tales of an uncommon disorder. It’s a rare disease, one most of the viewing audience might never have heard of until this moment – I certainly hadn’t. But its effects couldn’t be missed as the girl stepped from behind the curtain and into public view. Her chubby smiling face seemed a bit weathered. There were some bruises and scars, patches and bandaging. Her right eye was covered and several gashes on her arms were dressed. Then, she smiled and her infectious grin revealed an endearing yet toothless grin. I felt my blood pressure rise as she walked across the stage. How could this much damage be done to a child? My heart ached and pulse raced as I folded a pile full of clean laundry during the commercial break. My body was busy but my mind had slowed. I was consumed with thoughts and questions, eager to have each one of them answered. My internal conversation was interrupted when the commercial telling me I’d used the wrong detergent ended and the talk show host welcomed me back to the program. I sat down on the edge of my bed, my husband’s crumpled t-shirt in hand, and listened. The parents explained. Their daughter couldn’t feel pain. They’d noticed it soon after her birth. A scraped knee on the playground or burnt tongue on a cup of hot soup would go unnoticed by her nerves - deadened and unresponsive. The news stunned her parents at first but gave them a sense of unexpected elation. Their daughter could never be hurt. She’d never feel pain. Seemed like a dream come true for a protective parent. This father and mother admitted to feeling blessed. Yet, their enthusiasm soon cascaded into a pool of despair. First, some hot coffee spilled, burning their 3-month-old’s baby soft skin. The overturned carafe leaked steadily from a coffee table but she didn’t feel anything as her flesh scalded. Later, when she discovered the fun of using her hands, she began to pry at her eyes, freeing the one on the right from its socket. When her teeth came in she began to unknowingly bite through her own lips and tongue, leaving her parents no other option than to have all of her teeth removed. Without the built in boundary that pain provides, there was no threshold that couldn’t be crossed, no boundary that couldn’t be broken and no need to request help instead of risking injury. Tears streamed down this loving mother’s face as she stroked her daughter’s blond hair. Above all else, she wished for her daughter the blessing of pain. Job hated it and David despised it. Abraham hesitantly forged through it while Habakkuk tried to escape it. And you and I – we do the same. We don’t like pain. Who does? From the beginning of time humanity has gone to great measures to avoid the discomfort that accompanies the meeting of our bodies or souls with anything that causes hurt. Except for the occasional exercise poster exclaiming “No Pain, No Gain” the vast majority of our thinking is trained to steer clear of anything that will cause us discomfort. Pain is the arch-enemy of happiness, right? So, why – why – would any parent want it for their child? Wouldn’t life be better without it? Maybe Hannah has the answer; her soul ripped and torn under the weight of a barren womb and the constant taunting of her rival. . . . . she was greatly distressed and prayed to the Lord . . .- 1 Samuel 1:10 Or possibly Job, his heart frayed at the loss of his family and livelihood, his body sore from top to bottom with oozing boils. . . . . .I had heard of Him but now my eyes have seen Him . . .- Job 42:5 Perhaps David’s poetic heart song can give us the hints we need . . . .. .I would have despaired unless I believed . . .- Psalm 27:13 Or maybe Jeremiah, weeping and wailing, his heart and soul in deep anguish at the thought of the destruction of his beloved people and nation . . . . . .there is a balm in Gilead . . .-Jeremiah 8:22 What about Stephen, his body snapping like a twig under the weight of the boulders being sent crashing down on his limbs . . . . . .I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing. . . – Acts 7:55 And of course there’s Paul and Silas; shackled to the walls of a rusty Roman jail, backs freshly bruised from the beating and skin on their ankles blackened from tightly strung chains . . . . . .about midnight [they] were praying and singing hymns of praise . . .Acts 16:25 Or maybe. . .just maybe. . . the message is just as clear; the mystery as easily unraveled when no words are spoken. She never spoke. The woman, painfully embarrassed and humiliated, having been caught by the Pharisees in the very act of adultery. She just looked into the soft, caring eyes of the One who didn’t throw a stone (but had every right to) and heard: . . .just go and sin no more . . . She said nothing; just sat in the fresh wound caused by humiliation of the worst kind and listened. . . . . .then left His presence brand new. Mysteriously there seems to be a blessing in pain. It causes us to check the barometer of our activities and clearly see the reality of our circumstances. It forces us to seek refuge and protection, safe harbor and retreat. Pain is. . .well. . . painful. But ironically it is the gift that keeps us from further discomfort. When we feel it, it becomes a teacher pointing us to the only correct answer there is. And so, our Father, like any loving parent, desires for us the blessing of pain because, mysteriously, it keeps us, comforts us, humbles us, teaches us and drives us back to safety. Hurting? In spite of it all, bolster up the courage to see beyond. Then whisper “thank you” to the One who loves you most.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Frozen, Part Three: The Thaw

“…let your heart take courage” -Proverbs 27:13 “Conceal, don’t feel.” Queen Elsa sang those words when she was closing herself into her ice castle. She hid after abandoning her kingdom when her magical ability to create and control ice was discovered by the public. Up in the mountains, away from confused and suspicious onlookers, she realized that she no longer needed to hide her abilities, and declared herself free from the restrictions she had to endure since childhood. She rejoiced in finally being able to use her powers without fear, manipulating snow and ice to generate a magnificent castle for herself. But one thing was missing: relationship. Being made in God’s image, everyone desires and needs relationships. No matter the size of the castle or the illusion of freedom, without people, we are all frozen. As a therapist, I have the wonderful privilege of helping people work through their issues everyday. It is amazing to watch people make the decision to feel and reveal their inner hurts and needs. It’s wonderful to see the load lifted as people open their hearts to healing and to a loving God who cares deeply. As Anna made the difficult quest to love and rescue her sister, Queen Elsa’s heart was changed. Peace was restored and the sisters bond was rekindled. Elsa responded to Anna, “We are never closing the gates again.” She was referring to the kingdom’s gates, but she was also referring to her heart. Along with Elsa's rebirth comes the entire kingdom's thawing as Elsa realizes that love is the key to controlling her powers. That’s how healing works- it effects not only the individual, but everyone in relationship with that person as well. Healing is contagious and lasting. Elsa even conjures up a snow cloud for Olaf to survive all year long, including summer. Once again, the ice is melted and Arendelle is restored to peace. Elsa is again accepted as queen, with everyone finally understanding that she's no monster, but a creator of beautiful magic relationships at last. It snowed over the weekend here in the Ozarks. But today, being close to Spring, the wind shifted out of the south and the temperature climbed well above freezing. In just 24 hours, most of that snow is gone. All because of one object: the sun. Sure, the temperature was above freezing, but the cloudless day allowed the sun to do its thing and the snow and ice vanished. Love, like the sun, in time, always melts the hardest of hearts. Later on, to celebrate the joyous day, Elsa turns the castle courtyard into an ice rink with the entire kingdom joining in on the festivities, as the queen vows never to close the gates again, much to Anna's joy. The two sisters then begin skating with all their friends, rekindling their bond. You might think Elsa and Anna would turn the kingdom into a Caribbean resort, with no hint of winter. After all, it was the ice and snow that created the problem, right? Wrong. It’s wasn’t the presence of ice and snow that created the problem. It was Elsa’s misuse of her gift to create the ice and snow. As the snow thaw took place, Elsa’s heart thaw happened as well. Love was the catalyst and the kingdom was saved. When God’s love takes over a heart, the seasons change and life becomes abundant. Relationships are restored and life becomes meaningful. As Richard Beach used to say, “The sun shines on clay and hardens it but the sun shines on butter and melts it. The difference is the condition of the material.” May we all allow God’s love to melt any area of our heart that is hardened. May we live in the freedom God desires… …and dwell in His kingdom forever. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Frozen, Part Two: The Rescue

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” -Rom. 5:8 When someone we love is headed the wrong direction, we’re left with a choice: do we stand idly by or do we jump in to help? Idle is always easier. But true friends come to the rescue of true friends. We should all certainly be thankful that our loving God didn’t stand passively still while we wasted away. He lovingly provided a way of freedom for us. So, with Elsa locked in her own private ice castle, Anna, her sister, made an important decision to act. She wouldn’t leave her sister alone to live out her years secluded. She loved her sister and wanted to bring her out of the cold. Elsa later commented to Anna, “What power do you have to stop this winter…. to stop me?” Anna’s only power was to love and it made all the difference. Princess Anna of Arendelle was the fearless, spunky and innocently awkward younger sister of the powerful Snow Queen Elsa. Anna is loosely based on Gerda from "The Snow Queen,” a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. And she is also loosely based on anyone, propelled by love, who is willing to jump in for the good of someone. That’s exactly what our loving God did when He sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for our cursed sin. As Disney Wiki says, Anna is more daring than graceful and, at times, can act before she thinks. But she's also an optimistic and caring person. She longs to reconnect with her sister, Elsa, as they were close during their childhood. When Elsa accidentally unleashes a magical secret that locks the kingdom of Arendelle in an eternal winter, Anna embarks on a dangerous adventure to make things right. Armed with only her fearlessness, a never-give-up attitude and her faith in others, Anna is determined to save both her kingdom and her family. Paul Briggs, one of the writers of “Frozen”, said, “Anna is a character who is willing to stand beside you and stand up for what’s right. Her sister was born with a condition that’s shaped a world where Anna doesn’t belong.” And so Anna is determined to do something about it. She’s determined to help her sister be more than her sister thinks she can be. Though she values romance greatly, it's clear Anna's most valued treasure is her relationship with her sister. Since childhood, Anna's been attached to Elsa, and always leaped at the opportunity to spend time with her. As the years passed, and the sisters grew apart, the heartbroken Anna continued to try time and time again for some quality time with the one she loved most. Throughout most of the film, Anna was also the only character to have faith that Elsa was no monster. The Duke of Weselton was notably against her because of that very theory, Kristoff feared her, as did the other citizens for they were oblivious of who Elsa truly was. Even so, despite their separation, Anna knew her sister was far from vile, and put it in her hands to bring her home, not only for the sake of the kingdom, but in hopes of reattaching their formerly close bond. powerful sense of hope, as well as her love for her sister. That’s what true friends do. They see the best, not the worst, in those they love and they act on that love, even if no one else follows them. That’s what God did with us. He reached out to us when we were at our worst. And He’s still reaching out. In the end, despite her numerous flaws, Anna is an extremely sweet, selfless, and loving character. Throughout the film, numerous times, she puts the safety and well being of others before her own, showing great loyalty and admiration for her friends and family. This is most notably seen with Elsa. Some examples of this can be seen when she purchased the items and food Kristoff couldn't afford in Wandering Oaken's Trading Post and Sauna, prevented Kristoff from spoiling Olaf's dreams of living in summer, and most significantly and importantly during the climax where she saves Elsa from death at the hands of Hans, despite knowing she'd inevitably lose her life in the process. That’s always the ultimate test of love: a willingness to lose one’s life for someone else. Paul said repeatedly in his letters, “I die to myself for you.” Not literally, though he would have been willing, but more importantly to die in life. That’s called selflessness and always produces fruit in the rescuing. It was God’s plan through Jesus Christ, it was Anna’s plan with Elsa, and hopefully our plan with those we love… …and desire to see fully alive. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com