Friday, February 12, 2016

Commoners

“The Lord said, ‘Whom shall I send?’ I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’” -Is. 6:8 Webster defines a “commoner” as “a person who does not have nobility.” In a class society, commoners are not entitled to the same privileges as those of highest status. But in God’s society, He loves to use the broken and weak. God delights in the humble and dependent spirit who leans on His power. What are the requirements for being used by God? What talents do we need to have? What gifting is necessary to be chosen instruments of Christ? Here is a composite list of significant people used by God in the Bible: Paul Paul was a tent-maker and once held an important position in Judaism. He tried to destroy the church and persecute Christians. He had been jailed but was eventually used in great ways to spread the Good News of Jesus across the ancient world. Joseph In the Bible Joseph becomes the Pharaoh's right hand man. Joseph can interpret dreams and he saves Egypt from a famine. Before Joseph was used by God in Egypt, he spent time as a slave and also spent time in prison. Moses Moses was a shepherd and his daily work consisted of herding sheep. He was undoubtedly shocked that God talked directly to him and revealed himself to him. God told him that he was going to lead his people to the Promised Land. Gideon God used Gideon to deliver Israel from Midian but before that Gideon was nothing more than a farmer. Jephthah Jephthah is used by God to deliver Israel from the Ammonites. Before that Jephthah was only known as being the son of a prostitute. David Like Moses, David was also a shepherd but David was just a boy when he defeated Goliath and he would eventually become king of Israel. Esther Like Joseph, Esther was a slave before God used her to save her people from being massacred. Mary Who did God choose to be the mother of Jesus? A famous actress? A celebrity? A great athlete? A famous politician? No, the mother of Jesus was a peasant girl. Matthew Matthew was one of the 12 disciples and wrote one of the Gospels that told about the life of Jesus. But before Jesus asked Matthew to join him he was just a tax collector. Luke Luke traveled with Paul giving him a companion to journey with and Luke would also write one of the four Gospels, but Luke was nothing more than a physician. Peter Many of the disciples were just common fisherman and would go on to do God's work. Peter is the best example as he would be an apostle, a leader of the early church and he would write two letters in the New Testament. I’m not sure how long your resume is these days. But all God requires of us is to be willing and available. As Leroy Eims used to say, “Don't pray ‘God use me,’ pray instead, ‘God make me useable.’” The common link of humility in the above list reflects His desire to use those with contrite hearts. Through prayer, simply ask God to use you, and He will. You may not be able to see the results, but the fruits of surrender to a loving God are always there. Yield to His will for your life and delight in being His instrument. What an honor to be a commoner… …being used by the Lord. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Friday, January 8, 2016

Finishing the Course

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” - 2 Tim. 4:7 It’s 2016 and we’ve all set our usual New Years goals and objectives. Someone defined a “resolution” as “the goals we try to reach during the first two weeks of January.” Funny, but true. But we need goals. We need to set goals to stretch ourselves and reach as far as the Lord allows. But sometimes we don’t reach our objectives. And that’s okay, if we view the journey as the prize. Back in August, three of my favorite football teams set goals as well. All three teams, LSU, Baylor and the Dallas Cowboys, had legitimate, lofty plans to be champions. All three teams were picked to win it all by many. One team even had the potential Heisman trophy winner as their running back. All three teams charged out of the gate and, four games into the season, were on top in the standings! Then, everything changed. Injuries, tougher schedules and fate affected them all. Factors that weren’t predicted back in August, halted the lofty plans. By November, all three teams were out of contention and the Heisman Trophy candidate wasn’t even invited to the Heisman ceremony. Sometimes we set the bar so low that we’re guaranteed not to fail. Sometimes we set the bar so high that we’re guaranteed to fail. But any goal worth setting is a goal with the potential to not be reached. And I know that’s unsettling to us achievers. But success isn’t measured by wins and loses. Success is measured by how well we run the race. We all can be successful runners. But we can’t all finish first. Set goals this year that focus on the race, not the finish line. Set goals that focus on running the course, not winning the medal. Think about your marriage and your family and your career and your friends. Focus on ways you can be used to create quality journeys. True, LSU, Baylor, and the Cowboys won’t be wearing Championship rings this year. But if these teams did their best with what they had, they were winners. The truth is, if I am doing my best with the strength that God has given me, I’m a success. As my friend Wes Neal teaches, “We’re a winner if we “total release” our skills to the best of our God-given ability.” We can all do that one! Paul reminded Timothy to “finish the course” well. He wanted Timothy to understand that a crown waits at the end of the race for all those who love Jesus. Second Timothy 4:8 reads, “In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” May 2016 be a complete success for you… …whether you win all your games or not. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Friday, December 11, 2015

Holidays With Family: A Beautiful Mess

“Love…does not take into account a wrong suffered” -1 Cor. 13:5 What an odd time of year! Thanksgiving is awesome, Christmas is the “most wonderful time of the year” and it’s a “jolly” four weeks between the two holidays. Yet, stats expose this month as the most depressive and difficult time of time of the year for most people. But that is certainly not what God desires. His plan is toward peace, contentment and completeness. I think the problem lies in family. Yes, a myriad of ingredients produce this difficult season: the weather can be cold, the pressure to buy gifts is high, the stress of party after party can bog us down, and we’re reminded of the loved ones we miss. But Thanksgiving and Christmas are holidays for family. And most families, if not all families, have a grocery list of issues that have not been resolved. One important trend I have discovered in my years of working with families: most families have some form of dysfunction. They have always been like that. Why? Because families are made up of people and all people are wounded, to some degree. Wounds are medicated and healed when they are brought to the light. Family works when family members submit themselves to love one another. Family works when anger accounts are kept empty by reconciliation and forgiveness. But most family accounts are full. I love well-written stories about healing in families. “A River Runs Through It” by Norman Maclean is one of my favorites. This quote from the book describes this family dynamic: “Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don't know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them - we can love completely without complete understanding.” The key is “loving without understanding.” We can all do that one. During these holidays, as we’re around family, may we all reach out to love and give and bless. May we do the hard work of reconciliation and forgiveness to keep our accounts empty and our love flourishing. After all, the more our accounts are emptied, the more capacity we have to love. So, have a holly-jolly Christmas this year and enjoy your family. Love those who are unlovable. That’s what God did for us when He sent His Son to be born and die for our sin. If we have maintenance work of forgiveness to do, then clean the slates during the holidays. Family is difficult and messy. But it’s a beautiful mess. So this holiday season, dive in! Get wet! Love, forgive, touch, interact, and love again. Entertain your beautiful mess and enjoy the season. Realize we can love only because God loved us first… …as a beautiful mess. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thankful in Sorrow

“…as sorrowful yet always rejoicing…” -2 Cor. 6:10 Thanksgiving 2015 has arrived! This season stirs emotions of joy and happiness and loss. It brings back memories of the whole family together under the same roof; succulent turkey and buttered rolls; great football games; playing basketball on the driveway; cleaning up after the huge meal (okay, not my favorite memory). It is certainly a time of excitement, but for some people, it can be a time of difficultly as well. Yes, by now we’ve read all of the devotionals about thankfulness and already heard the patented sermons on being thankful. Most of us get that we have so much more to be thankful for than we realize. We get that, when compared to the precious gift of Jesus, we have very little to whine about. We certainly have plenty to be thankful for and need to continually offer thanks to our loving God. But the holidays can stir up sadness as well. We’re reminded of those we love that have passed on. I miss my dad. He died around this time over twenty-five years ago. That was a long time ago, but feels like yesterday sometimes. His sudden heart attack took his life but it also took away the heart of our family. It has never been the same. And that’s okay. As Solomon reminds us, “everything has a season.” But the energy and brightness in the Staples home has never been quite as bright. His legacy lives on, however, through a bunch of bright and happy grandkids. He would be so proud. I miss my oldest brother Pelham. He died five years ago of cancer. He was healthy and energetic and determined, but the Ewing Sarcoma in his back did its damage. He was the rock of our family, especially with the passing of my dad. Suddenly he was gone. He was the true “big brother” to me. He called to check on me and made sure his little brother was doing okay. I miss those calls about life, football and family, but I’m glad he’s no longer suffering. I miss my second oldest brother Marc. He died earlier this year from the complication of ALS. He and his wife Brenda came up to the Ozarks to visit around this time last year. I took him up to the Wilson’s Creek Civil War battlefield and he loved it. Most would be bored, but, like all the Staples’ brothers, Marc loved history. Marc could appear tough on the outside, but he had such a soft heart. I miss our long talks about life and God. I miss Richard Beach. He died five years ago from cancer. He was my boss and mentor for twenty-eight years. I learned so much from him. He died shortly after the Doulos-Shelterwood program closed its doors in Branson. I loved Richard’s vision of discipleship and all of the relationships built in my tenure with Doulos. I miss many other dear family members and friends and co-workers. We all have suffered loss. But, though I miss them, I am so thankful for them as well. I am thankful that I had a season of life with them. Though I am sorrowful for their loss, I am thankful for so much I have gained. I am thankful for my beautiful wife, Jeanie, my best friend and love of my life for 34 years; I am thankful for my mother and the privilege to get to care for her many miles away; I am thankful for my in-laws; I am thankful for my wonderful children, Elizabeth and Eric, and their spouses, Mark and Jennifer; I am thankful for my beautiful granddaughters, Reese and Lucy; I am thankful for my remaining brother Bob; I am thankful for my many brothers and sisters in law; I am thankful for all of my nephews and nieces; I am thankful for countless friends (who stick closer than brothers); I am thankful for all of the people whom I have had the privilege to get to walk through life with in the counseling office. But mostly, I am thankful to my loving God and His Son Jesus Christ who, by His grace, allows me to live life redeemed and saved. Yes, I am sorrowful for the sunsets, but I am rejoicing in the sunrises as well. God is so, so good and this Thanksgiving there is truly reason for rejoicing in having abundance… …and in suffering need. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Doors

“Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at my doorposts” -Prov. 8:34 I just returned from a tremendous conference in Nashville. Nearly 8,000 therapists from all over the world gathered for the week, all organized by the American Association of Christian Counselors. I love going to the conference every year. But when I go, I’m always stirred to compare myself with all the other “professionals.” You’d never know on the outside. But inside I’m measuring and judging and determining how well I “fit in.” Then I realize again that God has opened up every door in my life. It has truly been an amazing ride. But no doubt, along the way, I have walked through doors He did not open. Those doors led to success but not fulfillment. True fulfillment is only found when we walk through the doors that God ordains. Yes, God used me in spite of my motive, but it’s not the best. I come to professional conferences and the doors are numerous. There are so many that I want to open. I want to open them because I think the more doors I open, the more important I become; the more I hustle, the more I succeed; the more I work, the more important I am. But my loving, dear God is the perfect door manager. He manages the doors to perfection. He opens doors, not so we can earn His favor at all. After all, He already loves us completely. But He opens the doors so that we can glorify Him in our work. I know in my spirit when I am correctly walking His way. For when I create a door to open, I compete with all the other door openers. Writing books, speaking engagements, degrees, licenses, credentials- the types and dimensions of the doors go on and on. And I realize again that I am only called to walk through the doors that He opens. I was brought up in a family of achievers. And I love that heritage. My three brothers and I were taught to work hard and make a difference. Our motto was “if your ship does not come in, then swim out to it.” So much to do, so much work, so much sweat, so much to earn. And though I’m proud of our heritage, I realize it comes with a price. If the ship has not come in, then perhaps it’s not my ship at all. Perhaps the purpose of my life is to remain on the shore and fulfill my purpose there. Many of us would rather drown swimming out to the ship than to rest on the shore. Why? Because work is our savior and our peace. We are afraid to rest, slow down and wait. But work is a poor god. Our cup of significance can only be filled by the loving God of the Universe. Work is a great thing, but only if it is what God initiates. If God leads to write a book or get a degree, then most certainly go for it! But don’t do it to earn anything. Do it because He has opened the door. At the conference, I learned again to rest. I’m reminded that every door I have walked through has not been by my own ingenuity or wisdom. They have all been His doors. May we all rest and wait and be willing to only walk through His doors. May we dedicate all we have to the Lord of the doors, small and large. May we rest… …whether the ship comes in or not. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid.com

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 © www.lifeaid101.com

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 © www.lifeaid101.com