Thursday, April 30, 2015

Letting Go, Part Zillion

…it has not yet been revealed what we shall be… —1 John 3:2 People ask me sometimes, “Where do you come up with the topics for these blogs?” I wonder, “Where do I come up with them?” The truth is, they come up with me. Sometimes life comes at me like a game of Galaga turned to warp speed. I am shooting at the targets but they are coming toward me faster than I can reload. It’s all a part of God’s unending agenda regarding control. He knows I’m at my best when I’m on my knees, out of control, depending on Him. Lately, life has been a whirlwind. I’ve been unsettled. People I love dearly have been suffering. My precious mother dealing with severe back pain, my best friend recovering from a heart attack, my dear brother dealing with muscle issues. My load is heavy because their loads are heavy. I don’t like people I love hurting. I scramble for control. Then I re-read Oswald Chambers this morning, April 29th, in the devotional book, “My Utmost for His Highest” about “Gracious Uncertainty”: “Our natural inclination is to be so precise– trying always to forecast accurately what will happen next– that we look upon uncertainty as a bad thing. We think that we must reach some predetermined goal, but that is not the nature of the spiritual life. The nature of the spiritual life is that we are certain in our uncertainty. Consequently, we do not put down roots. Our common sense says, “Well, what if I were in that circumstance?” We cannot presume to see ourselves in any circumstance in which we have never been. Certainty is the mark of the commonsense life– gracious uncertainty is the mark of the spiritual life. To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, not knowing what tomorrow may bring. This is generally expressed with a sigh of sadness, but it should be an expression of breathless expectation. We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God. As soon as we abandon ourselves to God and do the task He has placed closest to us, He begins to fill our lives with surprises. When we become simply a promoter or a defender of a particular belief, something within us dies. That is not believing God– it is only believing our belief about Him. Jesus said, “…unless you…become as little children…” (Matthew 18:3). The spiritual life is the life of a child. We are not uncertain of God, just uncertain of what He is going to do next. If our certainty is only in our beliefs, we develop a sense of self-righteousness, become overly critical, and are limited by the view that our beliefs are complete and settled. But when we have the right relationship with God, life is full of spontaneous, joyful uncertainty and expectancy. Jesus said, “…believe also in Me” (John 14:1), not, “Believe certain things about Me.” Leave everything to Him and it will be gloriously and graciously uncertain how He will come in– but you can be certain that He will come. Remain faithful to Him.” So, I learn again to leave it all to Him. He knows. He grows. He builds. He has it all in His hands, literally. Are you holding on to anything too tightly today? Perhaps God is asking you, once again, to let go and give it to Him. He’s got it under control. May we yield our loads to the God of the Universe and experience His rest. He can handle any load… …whether it’s in warp speed or not. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Restacking the Firewood

“Now therefore amend your ways and your deeds and obey the voice of the Lord your God…”Jer. 26:13 Yep, the change needed to happen. But I told myself a thousand times to let it go. I tried to convince myself I was too concerned. Maybe it was just my OCD kicking in. But if I was honest, truly honest, the change needed to happen. And I knew it. Change is like that. It’s tough because there is always a price to pay for correcting any mistake. But the cost of the change is always less than the price of neglect. A few months ago, when I had stacked firewood in my backyard, I was in a rush. I knew I was stacking it on the side of a hill, but it seemed OK. My friend and brother-in-law, Brian, was helping me. As the stack got higher, the lean became more obvious. Brian even commented, “that wood is kinda leaning.” “Oh, it’ll be fine”, I said and we finished the chore, marveled at our handy work, and feeling very manly, returned to the Saturday afternoon basketball game on ESPN. As I retrieved firewood this winter for the fireplace, I noticed the lean, but I wasn’t overly concerned. “It will straighten up as the pile decreases,” I rationalized. Instead, the lean got worse. And then came the puppy. Our precious lab, Maisy, had died four months earlier. And the time finally came for us to add another dog to our legacy of labs. Sammy would be number five. As we played in the backyard one afternoon, I threw her ball up by the woodpile. She ran to retrieve it and I looked up and noticed the leaning woodpile. Her playing by the pile could cause it to fall and easily kill a small puppy. That was enough. I hurried in, put on my “play clothes” (as Jeanie calls them), grabbed gloves and got to work. I restacked the whole cord of wood with wooden slats on the downhill side of the bottom logs. The new stack was level and Sammy was safe. As I finished the job, I petted Sammy and reflected on what I had just done. I made a change. My back was sore, my hands a bit scratched and my foot hurt (I had dropped a log on my left foot- ouch), but the job was complete. The chore I had so vehemently resisted was done. I reflected on why most of us resist making changes. We tend to be lazy. Yep, I was looking to do the best job in the easiest way, never a good combination. When it came to stacking the wood that day, I wasn’t as concerned about doing it right as I was about doing it quickly. Most mistakes happen when time becomes THE factor. Slowing down and “being present” equals a job well done. We don’t listen very well. Wise counsel makes all the difference, but we only listen if we want to. Brian gave some good perspective, but I was so focused on finishing, that I didn’t truly entertain his thought. Remember, when we’re “entertaining” someone, they are getting all of our attention and focus. We’re willing to live with mediocrity. Of course, I’m a paradox. I can be extremely picking about things that concern me directly, but very passive if they don’t. But the truth is, any time I take a short cut, it affects those around me. It was only when Sammy entered the scene that I saw the potential consequence for my mediocrity. But the pile could have fallen on lots of people. We don’t like being humbled. Pride “rules the roost” for most of us. To admit to making a mistake is difficult. It means we “messed up.” But a humble heart is willing to admit to the mistake and make the change. Mistakes pave the way for progress, if positive change occurs. May we all be willing to admit our mistakes and be willing to make changes. Heed the advice of Godly, wise counsel of true friends. Have a humble heart. Keep an eye out for things that are “leaning” in your life. Make the adjustments to straighten them out… …and avoid the fall out. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Applying the Seasoning

“He will be like a tree…which yields its fruit in its season…” –Psalm 1:3 We’re enjoying a beautiful warm spring day here in the Ozarks. We’re in the middle of season transition- cold one day and warm the next. The seasons are so pronounced and unique and beautiful- each one worth embracing, none worth skipping. I’ve had so many seasons in my own life: coming to know Christ, the Baylor years, marrying my best friend Jeanie, moving to Branson, the birth of our beautiful children, my dad passing away, our kids leaving for college, our kids marrying wonderful people, our two grandkids being born, being trained and discipled by Richard Beach, Richard passing away, my oldest brother dying of cancer, the list goes on and on- the seasons go on and on. Take a moment to reflect on the seasons of your life. Like me, I bet you’ve been through the crisp days of spring and the cold days of winter. No mater the seasons, we have been blessed throughout. Every year, fall comes after summer and spring comes after winter. Every single year! The pattern never changes. No disrespect to Al Gore, but the globe has always warmed and cooled. God created the cycle of seasons for a reason. I wonder sometimes: why can’t we have spring all the time? Why can’t we always have warmth and sunshine and prosperity? The truth is, God knows what He’s doing. We need the seasons because, in the end, seasons produce growth. Winter is a dormant time of rest and stillness. We’re reminded that on the seventh day, God rested from all his work (Genesis 2:1-3). He created nothing. He simply enjoyed His creation and saw that it was good. It was enough. We miss God’s goodness when we’re moving all the time. Spring is a new, fresh time of growth. We’re reminded that when a man comes to know Christ, old things pass away and new things come (2 Cor. 5:17). All is changed. Newness prevails. It is a time of change, from what was to what will be. It’s a time of fear of unknown being replaced by enthusiasm for the new. Summer is a turbulent time of heat and storms. We’re reminded that Shaddrak and his buddies were tied up and cast into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire (Daniel 3:29). Though the fire was hot, they were not. They were resting in God. They chose not to live under the circumstances but above them, in God’s peace. Fall is a time of loss and despair. We’re reminded that Elijah went a day’s journey, hid under a Juniper tree and requested of God that he might die (1 Kings 19). Jesus struggled in Gethsemane as well, but never lost His trust in the Father. We don’t have to deny difficult times but rejoice when we take refuge in Christ, even when nothing makes sense. Seasons are sometimes fertile, sometimes still, but are always God’s seasons with a purpose, whether fruit is being produced or not. Maybe that’s the problem. We want fruit all the time. We are gluttons. We want more and God says, “You have enough.” He provides and then we compare. “They have more,” we say and God replies again, “but I’ve given you enough.” Someone said, “The secret to contentment is wanting what we have.” Some seasons produce fruit and some do not. But there is growth in every season. Our challenge is to be present in every season- not wish it away for the next one, but embrace it. Pull out the sled in the wintertime, enjoy the beach in the summer, plant like crazy in the spring and jump in a pile of leaves in the fall. May we embrace every single season God brings our way. May we let the seasons produce their growth. May we “apply the seasoning” and let it improve our lives. May we trust God in every circumstance… …no matter the season. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Call

“The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps”- Prov. 16:9 The Super Bowl game. It’s been the focus the past several weeks on social media and the news. The Seahawks made a decision at the end of the game and lost. It seems everyone is questioning the call. Perhaps they would have won had another call been made? The choice didn’t work out. Sometimes our choices don’t “succeed.” But it depends on how we define success. We make choices where we work, in our families, in our lives. Sometimes our expectations are met and sometimes they fall short. But sometimes a blessing lies in the failure. As the Super Bowl game was winding down, Jermaine Kearse makes a great bobbling catch. This left the Seahawks with a first down on the Patriots five-yard line with 1:06 left in the game. On the next play, the Seahawks handed the ball to running back Marshawn Lynch who ran it four yards, almost scoring a touchdown before he was tackled on the one-yard line. And here’s where things went wrong for Seattle. On the next play, they decided to throw the ball. The play made sense. The route was open. The play had worked before. But the defense countered and the pass was intercepted. Game over. Quarterback Russell Wilson said later, “It’s one of those things, you trust what they called. I had no doubt. I had no doubt in the play call. I still don’t to this day. I just wish we had made the play. If we had made the touchdown, you guys would be sitting here asking me different questions, but we didn’t.’’ Wilson said he never contemplated tucking the ball and running. “Oh, no. It looked wide open,’’ he said, before slightly altering that assessment. “Open enough. I shouldn’t say wide open, but it looked open enough to get it in there and make the play. I thought we were going to. When I threw it, I was like, ‘touchdown, second Super Bowl ring, here we go.’ He (Butler) made a great play. Now Wilson has quite a tale of overcoming adversity to impart. His roommate, Robert Turbin, said he tried to soothe Wilson by telling him that this game, devastating as it was, would wind up as a positive because he would be able to use it to inspire kids. “One day, you’re going to be talking to some kid, or talking to some high-school quarterback who may be low on confidence or struggling with his game,’’ Turbin said he told Wilson on Monday. “You’re going to give him the example about how you threw a pick on the last play of the game in the Super Bowl. Somehow, some way, that story is going to help that person get better, the same way the game is going to help you get better as a quarterback.’’ Those were words that Wilson embraced, a sentiment he vowed to embody on a day he didn’t let the recent Super Bowl loss keep him from his customary Tuesday visit to Seattle Children’s Hospital. “You continue to grow, you continue to learn from the lessons,’’ he said. “You guys are probably going to be asking me questions for the next 15 years, hopefully. So when you guys ask me this 15 years from now, hopefully I’ll have several Super Bowl rings, and you guys will ask different questions.” Wilson reiterated that he couldn’t wait to get back on the field. One thing we’ve learned about Wilson by now is that he’ll be single-minded in his quest to ensure he’ll be ready in the next crucial moment in the next big game. If people thought this game was going to break Russell Wilson, they haven’t been paying attention. “Every time I’m in that situation again,’’ he said, “I believe I’m going to have success again.” He relies on God for his strength and success, to Russell Wilson, is doing the best he can and leaving the results up to the Lord. When I was in high school, I played football in the Fall and loved it. I played soccer in the Spring and loved it as well. In soccer I played “rover’ in the defensive end. My football conditioning prepped me pretty well to keep up with the forwards on the other soccer teams. Yes, I got a few yellow cards, but it was all part of the game. I also had the ability to kick the ball a long way. After encouragement from coaches and friends, I had considered placekicking in football but I loved playing linebacker and we already had a great All-State kicker (that went on to kick at A&M and for the Patriots in the pros). But he was going to graduate after my junior year. I prayed about it and decided to kick for the team. The day I was going to tell my buddies and coach about my decision, a good friend of mine made the announcement first. I will never forget the moment. “Hey guys, Tony Franklin is leaving so I’m going to go out for kicker senior year,” said my friend Bill Adams. My heart sank. I was not going to compete against my friend. I already started on defense and didn’t need to kick to make the team, but I had grown excited about the idea. But the dream died right there on the steps of Arlington Heights High School. Bill went on to kick very well that year and ended up kicking at Texas Tech. But I wonder sometimes what might have been? Would I have been a good kicker? Would I have broken records and won games and celebrated on the shoulders of my teammates? I will never know. We will never know. We don’t need to know. Because the Lord has our back every time. I was not supposed to be a kicker. God altered my course to lead me to His plan. And he’s right 100% of the time. May we all rest in His direction. Let’s not shy away from making the hard calls. We simply do our best and leave the results up to a loving God. We’re not “lucky” and our lives are not controlled by “fate.” We trust that God has a bigger plan. We can glory in defeat because He truly can “bring good from bad.” So, make the decision, throw the pass, trust… …and leave the results up to the Lord. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Monday, February 2, 2015

Bill Lamkin

“Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing”-1Thess. 5:11 I found out the other day that a dear professor of mine from back in Graduate School passed away. I had no idea. He lived down in south Texas, a long way from the Ozarks and he and I emailed back and forth for years. He would call occasionally and promise to come see me “all the way up there in the Missouri.” Bill Lamkin was such a blessing to my life. He was an encourager, a builder-upper, an urger, a prodder and a blessing. I would not be where I am today without his God-appointed influence on my life. As a senior, I was finishing my undergraduate degree in psychology at Baylor and was considering options. I was entertaining opportunities all over the place. I was looking at seminaries, working with Young Life, playing soccer with Athletes in Action ministry and some other ideas. One other option was to continue my studies in Graduate School. But that was a long shot. My GPA was only fair to average. So that spring, I went to meet with the Dean of the Baylor Graduate College, Bill Lamkin. I had never met him before. He asked about my dreams and took a genuine interest in me. I explained that my GPA was fair and that I had not taken the GRE entrance exam. He asked more questions about my future. I told him I would like to one day be a Professional Counselor and help people with their problems. He explained, “Joey, you’ll have to take the GRE and make a passing score to get into the Baylor Graduate School first. Then, you’ll have to be accepted into the Counseling Graduate program and make satisfactory grades your first semester. It all depends on whether you really want this. If you do, I’ll take care it.” I explained to him that I wasn’t sure of the Lord’s direction. We shook hands and I told him I’d be in touch, if it could all wait. He said, “Fine.” I left to work at Kanakuk, a Christian athletic camp, for the summer. While at camp, all the other doors shut for various reasons. It seemed the Lord was leading me to Graduate School. But there were a lot of hurdles to jump over first. In July of that summer, I quickly registered for the GRE, took the test in a town nearby camp, and made qualifying scores for the Baylor Graduate School and the counseling program. I phoned Bill Lamkin and he encouraged me to make plans to be in Waco in the fall. I felt so honored. I felt blessed. I had a long way to go, but I was confident that the Lord had sent this special man to help me through this season. I lived in Waco, worked at a restaurant, and began my studies. It was tough. Each student was assigned a Supervisor. Mine was Bill Lamkin. I’m sure, as the Dean, he didn’t have specific students, but he chose to help me. Our meetings and lunches were full of questions about me, my studies, my life and the girl I had met while working at camp. That girl, Jeanie, would become my wife in the spring and move to Waco with me. As I worked through the program, I cherished my times with Dr. Lamkin. Life was not easy as I was working a couple of jobs and keeping up with challenging studies. But Bill Lamkin had the right words and stories to tell me to keep me going. He was God’s messenger to me to persevere and finish the course. Though he is gone now, Dr. Lamkin left a great legacy. He allowed the Lord to use him in so many lives, mine included. I appreciate him so much and hope I’m as willing as he was to reach out. I know I was an “extra” in his life. He was a busy Dean, after all. But he valued me, honored me and represented the love of Jesus in my life. Rest in peace, Bill Lamkin. Of all people, you deserve the joy of heaven. Your selfless life has ushered you into beautiful paradise. May our lives follow your pattern of encouragement… … in helping others through life. By Eric Joseph Staples@ www.lifeaid101.com

Friday, January 23, 2015

Deer Dependency

“Bear one another’s burdens…,for each one will bear his own load” -Gal. 6:2,5 It’s not easy for most of us to depend on people. Truth is, it’s not easy for most of us to depend on anything. We like our independence, our control and our consistency. We don’t mind others depending on us nearly as much. But in God’s plan here on planet earth, most of the time, he chooses to meet our needs through others. We’re called to “bear one another’s burdens.” But for us to be able to bear others’ burdens, we have to be given permission. We have to humble our pride and yield to another’s ability to love. Most of us would rather gargle tomato juice than depend on another brother or sister. But in doing so, we let others love us and they are blessed besides. Before Christmas, we were driving to Des Moines to spend a few days with Elizabeth, Mark and the grandkids. We were driving after dark in between Springfield and Kansas City when out of nowhere, a huge buck, crossing the median, slammed into the side of our SUV. The side airbags deployed and we pulled over in shock. We drove to the next exit and pulled over to survey the damage. The vehicle was badly broken. I have come so close to hitting deer in the past, but this was the first time I’d had an actual collision. As my bro-in-law Brian pointed out, the deer actually hit us. It’s amazing how much damage a big buck can do when he makes contact with a pile of metal going 70 mph. But the vehicle was drivable. We still made the three hour drive to Des Moines with no problems and drove the six hours back a few days later. On the way back home, we spotted the deer on the side of the road and stopped to survey the damage. It was indeed huge and it’s rack badly damaged from the collision. We dropped the car off at the body shop in Springfield and had someone pick us up to take us back to Branson. A few days later, I had a call from the body shop that they would do the repairs and, in a month or so, I’d have the vehicle back in my possession. A month! Having no choice, I responded “yes” and the dependency began. I became a man without wheels! It’s kind of funny because most of the men in this world do not own a car. They don’t need a car. Most cultures are much more dependent on mass transit and their feet to get them from here to there. But not in America. We take pride in our independence. And that’s the problem, one that the Lord is working on in me these days. With no car, I’ve been forced to depend on Jeanie and Brian. They both have Hondas and have been generous to let me use their vehicles when needed. And Terry, a co-worker from the church, has been so gracious to give me rides to work. They have all been more than gracious. But I had to let them help me. I had to be willing to let them serve me. As Chuck Swindoll said in his classic book Improving Your Serve, “We can not be true servants if we do not let others serve us as well.” Makes sense. It’s meant to be a continuous circle of giving and being served. When we’re hyper-independent, we rob others of their ability to provide blessing to us as well as the blessing they can receive. So, be someone who helps carry others’ loads. Give someone a ride. Take a senior citizen to the grocery store. Encourage a friend. But also be willing to be served. If you have a need, reach out to a brother or sister. Ask for help. Let God provide for you through others. Thanks to Brian, Jeanie, Terry and everyone else who have helped me during this season… …and thanks to that poor deer for making it necessary. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Monday, January 5, 2015

Dad and the Baylor Grade

“…to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me…” -2 Cor. 12:7 My whole life, I’d been trying to keep up with my three awesome big brothers. Everything they accomplished created a bar for me to have to jump over as well. At least that’s what I thought! They were great big brothers and were smart and athletic. I kept the pace pretty well through high school but at the close of my first semester at Baylor, I was concerned I had fallen way behind. But a loving dad and graceful Heavenly Father would teach me a great lesson. My time in high school was full of athletics and pretty good grades. My best sport was soccer, but my brothers all played football, so I did too. We lived in Texas, after all. So life in the fall for the Staples family focused on football. I had pretty good speed but was much too small to play in college. So, keeping up with the brothers in college wouldn’t include football. Ironically, I did play soccer in college, but back then soccer was kind of like being on the bowling team- not a lot of exposure. My oldest brother went to SMU and my other two brothers to TCU. I thought I was ready to try my own wings so I chose to go to college far from home- actually only two hours from home! By the time I landed in Waco at Baylor, I was a confused freshman searching for my identity and purpose. I chose biology as my major and quickly discovered that I was way out of my league academically. Truth was, I had no idea what I “wanted to be” and competing with the best of Baylor wasn’t going to go too well. By the time I finished my first semester, I changed my major to “undeclared” and waited nervously for my final grades. My grades were decent, but I had made a D in one of my biology courses. I was devastated. I’d never made a grade below a B in high school. It was a crisis as I struggled with my identity. I didn’t know who Joey Staples was. I wasn’t Joey the football player. I wasn’t Joey the smart person. I wasn’t Joey the success. And alone in Waco, I wasn’t Joey the little brother of Pel, Marc, and Bob either. Funny that I always rolled my eyes when someone called me “little Staples” but with that gone, I missed the title and the security. But God had a plan and a purpose. He always does. He was chipping away at a huge reserve of pride built up over the years in my heart. It consisted of a competitive, envious, controlling, arrogance that lent itself well towards winning games and making good grades, but not toward living in freedom in God’s grace. So, after my first semester at Baylor, I arrived home in Fort Worth and waited anxiously for my report card to arrive. I checked the mailbox and it finally came in the mail (no email back then). I opened it and sure enough, I had made the D. That night I walked back to my parent’s bedroom with the report card in hand, prepared to be rebuked. I handed it to my dad and apologized for the poor grade. His response, “Oh well, try to do better next semester. The Cowboys play tomorrow. Let’s watch the game.” What? That was it? I replied “yes” to the doing better and the Cowboy game and left the room shocked. My dad (and my mom too I guess) had just given me a huge gift. It was called grace. Truth was, I didn’t need more pressure from them. I needed grace. I already had plenty of guilt. But remorse and guilt are fuel for success when the principle players apply grace. Do you think I left the bedroom feeling like I could be lazy and make all D’s? NO. I left determined to honor my dad’s grace. I returned to Baylor and focused on school. I didn’t make a 4.0, but I graduated four years later. I was free to fail. And therefore, I was free to succeed. My earthly dad had ushered me to the grace of my Heavenly Father. It was and is a tremendous gift. I still struggle with trying to perform, with trying to “keep up.” Then I remember my loving Father and His grace toward me. I’m okay. I have nothing to prove. God has already declared me officially loved and approved. I smile and I relax and I remember… …that the Cowboys play tomorrow. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com