Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Taking Down the Flags

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor”- Romans 12:10 Over the years, I’ve worked with a lot of survivors of horrific tragedies. When something terrible happens, we try to make sense of it all. When a particular event is beyond explanation, we look to anything to bring relief. After the Joplin tornado, the Weather service was rebuked for not having warned the people in plenty of time (they actually did a great job). And when a young man killed nine people in a church in South Carolina, people blamed the Confederate flag. But removing the flags won’t change anything. Those that fly the flag as a symbol of racist hate will continue to fly their flags anyway. The only flags that will come down will be those that correctly honor fathers, husbands and sons that died defending their homeland. We need to focus less on flags and more on the major reasons why people are so angry. Let me be clear on my perspective: since the Confederate flag is offensive, the battle flag should be removed from public places and the true Confederate States flag be hung only in memorials to the Civil War. After all, the Confederacy lost the war. These days, the battle flag is associated with slavery, which was a terrible thing and should not be condoned or celebrated. Those of you who know me, know I love history. My dad passed on a southern heritage to all of the Staples boys. His Georgia roots ran deep and he wanted us to share in the legacy. We, as a country, need to embrace our heritage while honoring those affected by a difficult past. That includes Black Americans, Native Americans, Japanese Americans and more. And as we strive to make sense of the mass shooting last week, we need to run to the right source. There is so much anger in this country (and all around the world). Last year, there were 100-150 people killed in 20 mass shooting in the U.S. but there were 15,000 individuals killed in single-victim homicides. People are angry. People are depressed. People are frustrated. Removing guns and flags won’t change people’s hearts. That’s where our focus needs to be. Hearts. And heart surgery is expensive. Denial is cheap. Cosmetic surgery is easier. The roots of racism and hate are difficult to tackle. Only a loving and gracious God can supply such love. If only all Americans would understand and live in that love. Why won’t taking down the flags change anything? Because those who fly it as a symbol of slavery and apartheid will continue to fly it anyway. That’s their legal right. But the memorials that are a tribute to the American’s who died in the war will come down. That will have no affect on those who choose racism. After all, not everyone fighting in that war condoned slavery. When the slave trade was abolished in 1808, the southern agrarian economy was doomed. And by the 1860’s, slavery was simply not affordable for the average American. Of the six million white men in the southern states in 1860, only 347,000 owned slaves and of that, 37,000 owned 20 or more. By the start of the civil war, there were 2,500,000 black slaves in the southern states, 40% of the population. 75% of them were focused on the cotton trade. The political cause of the south was lost from the beginning. But that’s not why most southerners were fighting. One captured Georgian was ask why he was fighting and he responded “I am fighting for my rats (rights).” Oh, that we might correctly salute those Americans who died for their beliefs but at the same time, honor those who walk in freedom today. We need to embrace the differences in the country. This crazy experiment called America is doomed to failure unless we choose to dialogue about what makes this country healthy and what can lead to it’s demise. Even 150 years ago, Lincoln understood that America was defensible against the other countries of earth, but not against itself. He understood that this grand experiment called America was vulnerable. He understood the vastness of our diversity could lead to ruin. And even though Lincoln discriminated as much as anyone (he was not an abolitionsit against slavery and allowed it in states not rebelling against the Union- Maryland, to name one) he understood the need to keep the Union politically together. “At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it will ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.” At the war’s end, he sought to honor those who had fought for the Confederacy. “With malice toward none and charity towards all…” he said. He got that these rebellious Americans needed to be respected and honored. So, take down the flag America, if it makes you feel better. That’s fine. The Confederacy lost the war anyway. But it won’t change the anger and hate that fills many hearts in America. As that beautiful church in Charleston understands, only love will make the difference. America needs to embrace faith in the loving God who is the author of true love. He sent His Son Jesus to die as an example of that kind of love. And He sent the Holy Spirit to supply that kind of love. Teach that to your kids and grandchildren. Be that kind of example to those that follow. We need to remember that slavery was legal under the United States flag from 1776 till 1865. We need to remember that 13 of the 50 stars on the United States flag represent the 13 states that made up the Confederacy. But that’s all in the past. May whatever flag you happen to fly on your flagpole be a symbol of love… …and respect for all Americans. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Buffalo Canoe Trip

“…the testing of your faith produces…” –James 1:2 When we face difficulty, we’re presented with two options: go around it or learn through it. Years ago, I faced adversity with a group of high school kids. As glad as we were to be finished with the trip and the trial, all these years later, the memory is still sweet. The Ozarks are absolutely beautiful this time of year. The red buds and dogwood have bloomed and all the vegetation is at its peak. It’s awesome! Years ago, when I was working with the wonderful ministry called Doulos-Shelterwood, we often took our teenagers on canoe trips on the beautiful Buffalo River, just a few hours south of Branson, in Arkansas. The Buffalo River has the rare distinction of being classified as a National River. It is an amazing experience to spend time there. This particular summer, another youth group coming to town needed our facility in Branson. My boss asked nicely if I would take the group of boy’s (12 boys and 8 Staff) on a river trip. He knew I taken several groups on the Buffalo over the years. Excited for the opportunity to go canoeing for a couple of days, I said, “Sure.” Then he informed me, “Joey, not for a day, but for five days." “Five days on the Buffalo,” I thought? But I was up for the challenge. Lesson #1: High risk brings high reward. When we’re up for the big challenge (for the right reason), it brings a big reward, whether it succeeds or not. So the outfitting began. We collected food, tents, fishing poles and flashlights and, a few weeks later, we loaded up the vans. I psyched up the group and challenged all of us to “embrace the adventure.” We headed to the Buffalo River and the trip began. We knew that 4 nights on the river would be a challenge because we would have to travel a minimal amount of mileage each day lest we finish the trip too soon and twiddle our thumbs at the end. But as it turned out, the forced slow pace made all the difference. We only canoed a few miles every day and spent the rest of the time hiking, swimming, exploring, telling stories and just being together. Yes, the time together produced some altercations and fights, but it was life on life. It was real. Lesson #2: when we slow down our lives, we speed up the process of relationship. It’s not always easy, but it’s always rich. From the beginning, food was a big issue. All of the canoes were loaded down with 5 five days of food supply. But it’s difficult to predict how much food a bunch of teenage guys will eat in a week. I thought we had more than enough food, but in the end, food was scarce. I remember we intentionally saved the Dinty Moore Stew for the last night on the river. Just writing about the stew makes my mouth water and my stomach growl. We wanted to eat it so badly during the week, but it was worth waiting for the feast on the last night. Lesson #3: we have to be nourished, not just physically, but emotionally as well. And it needs be enough and it needs to be healthy. We survived to the end. Most of us were sunburned, stinky and scratched, but as we headed back to Branson, we knew we’d accomplished something special. We felt like we had conquered a National Geographic obstacle and survived. Through the struggles and the hunger, relationships had grown and deepened and, in hindsight, we had a great time. The memory of that trip reminds me, “If nothing is ventured, then nothing is gained.” When was the last time you went on an adventure? Gary Smalley is always challenging families to “go camping." He was speaking of the adventure, of the common struggle that comes with bugs and snakes and firewood. And, most importantly, it’s awesome to be in the presence of God in the expanse of His creation. Be willing to “get out there.” Pull away from the TV, the job and the Wifi. You’ll deepen your relationships and you might just create sweet memories you will never forget… …along with a few bug bites. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Monday, May 25, 2015

Decoration Day

“The memory of the righteous will be a blessing…” –Proverbs 10:7 Memorial Day is a National holiday in the U.S. set aside to remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice. It is a day to reflect and be thankful for those, in the military, who gave their lives for our wonderful country. While so many men and women went off to foreign lands, never to return, many died right here in the country they loved. But they all paid the ultimate sacrifice so that we might enjoy freedom. The practice of decorating soldiers' graves with flowers is an ancient custom. Some call it Decoration Day and others Memorial Day. Soldiers' graves were decorated in the U.S. before and during the American Civil War. The losses were catastrophic and America, as a society, struggled to process through it all. The first Civil War soldier's grave ever decorated was in Warrenton, Virginia on June 3, 1861, implying the first Memorial Day occurred there. Though not for Union soldiers, there is authentic documentation that women in Savannah, Georgia decorated Confederate soldiers' graves in 1862. In 1863, the cemetery dedication at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was a ceremony of commemoration at the graves of dead soldiers. Jeanie and I were there almost exactly a year ago, and the cemetery was beautiful. Following President Abraham Lincoln's assassination in April 1865, there were a variety of events of commemoration. The sheer number of soldiers on both sides who died in the Civil War, more than 600,000, meant that burial and memorialization took on new cultural significance. Under the leadership of women during the war, an increasingly formal practice of decorating graves had taken shape. In 1865, the federal government began creating national military cemeteries for the Union war dead. On Memorial Day, the flag of the United States is raised briskly to the top of the staff and then solemnly lowered to the half-staff position, where it remains only until noon. It is then raised to full-staff for the remainder of the day. The half-staff position remembers the more than one million men and women who gave their lives in service of their country. At noon, their memory is raised by the living, who resolve not to let their sacrifice be in vain, but to rise up in their stead and continue the fight for liberty and justice for all. That’s really the point of it all. And it’s that message that we need to pass on to our children and grandchildren. Though, hopefully, they won’t have to fight in a war, they can still validate the memory of those who died by living freedom well. The Gettysburg Address was delivered by Lincoln during the American Civil War, on the afternoon of Thursday, November 19, 1863. It was given at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, four and a half months after the Union armies defeated those of the Confederacy at the Battle of Gettysburg. While Lincoln certainly honored the memory of those who died in the battle, he also had a message for us as well. “It is for us the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.” Our “great task” is to live freedom well. It’s to honor them for sure, but it’s also to honor all living Americans. It’s to show respect and devotion and love to all brothers and sisters. Like someone said, “It’s easy to love mankind, but much more difficult to love your neighbor.” So may God bless the memory of all those who sacrificed their lives so that America might be free. May God bless every family who misses their loved ones. And may God strengthen every American to practice freedom well. May we honor them… …by honoring each other. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

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