Thursday, July 24, 2014

Gracefully Speeding

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” -Eph. 2:8 First Baptist Church in Branson, the wonderful church where I serve, is in the same neighborhood as the Catholic Church. I love the church next door for one reason: it’s bells. The have an amazing tower where the bells chime hymns throughout the day. My favorite is “Amazing Grace.” As a matter of fact, as I’m writing this, Amazing Grace is playing across the parking lot. It always moves me. Every time I hear it, it stirs my soul. Grace is like that. Any time we’re given something we don’t deserve, it settles our soul. Twenty years ago, we were driving to Fort Worth to visit my mom and were making our way through Ft. Smith Arkansas on Interstate 40. The kids were young and playing in the back of our mini-van and I was cruising along at the posted speed limit, 70 miles an hour. As we neared the Arkansas-Oklahoma state line, a highway patrolman pulled me over. “I need to see your license please sir,” the patrolman said. As I handed it to him, I commented, “I really think I was going the posted speed limit sir.” “No sir, I clocked you at 72 miles an hour”, he responded. I had just noticed the “speed limit 70 miles an hour” sign and at the bottom of the sign it read, “strictly enforced.” Wow. I had no “come back” for the officer. He was 100% correct. I wasn’t speeding by much, but I was speeding. He walked back from his patrol car and said, “I’m giving you a warning today, but slow it down and have a great day.” “Yes sir”, I responded and drove away. I was relieved and frustrated at the same time, but he was right. I was speeding. A few weeks ago, we were in Fort Worth headed to our favorite Mexican food restaurant, Joe T. Garcia’s. I was talking with my brother in the front seat and the ladies were in the back of the car. I glanced in the rear-view mirror to see a patrol car behind me. “He’ll probably pass,” I thought. But he turned on his lights and I pulled over. “You were going 48 in a 35” he said. I couldn’t believe it, but radars don’t lie. “I had no idea,” I said. He ask for my driver’s license and went back to his car. I was hoping for a warning, but he was in the patrol car for over 5 minutes before he returned. I knew I would be paying a huge fine. “Today is your lucky day,” he said. “My ticket writer isn’t working, so I’m giving you a warning.” He drove away and I sat there in shock. Twenty-five years ago, we received a letter in the mail from our bank here in Branson. As we read it tears came to our eyes. Our car note had been paid in full and they thanked us for doing business with them. We thought one of our parents or a friend had paid it for us. We were overwhelmed with gratitude until the call came from the bank the next day. “We made a mistake,” the vice president explained.” “That letter went to the wrong person and we apologize.” We were stunned and disappointed but understood. The common theme in all three stories? Grace. I got what I didn’t deserve. In both speeding stories, I deserved to pay a big fat fine. Sure, I was barely speeding in the first story and really speeding in the second story, but in both situations I was guilty. In story three, I received a gift, but only for a day. Then I was brought back to the reality of my debt. God’s gift of grace trumps any speeding ticket or paid off loan. God offers us His love, period. It’s a free gift. Grace is super complicated in it’s origin but is meant to be super simple in it’s application. We simply accept it. We simply walk in His love. God, through Jesus, tells us we are free. Jesus says to put our faith in Him, accept his free gift of grace, let him love us, then drive away in peace. We should try not to speed because living without boundaries is dangerous, but we need to enjoy the ride as well. Is grace a bit enabling? Yes. Is grace a bit naive? Yes. Is grace real? Yes. Try it on this week. Wear it around for a while. Let it fit who you are. And enjoy the ride… …as it settles your soul. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Trip, part 4: Washington D.C.

"Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord…"-Psalm 33:12 As we neared Washington D.C. we all felt the adrenaline rush. We had been visiting Virginia battlefields and landmarks for several days where the Confederates had won most of the battles. At our last stop, Manassas, Lee troop’s won the field and seemed poised to march on Washington, but of course, that all changed. Thankfully, in God’s providence, the United States prevailed. But we tend to take the liberty for granted. We need to remind ourselves and our children that freedom isn’t free- it came and comes with a price. And Washington D.C. is a memorial to that cost. As we crossed the Potomac River, we looked up to see the D.C. skyline and eventually the silhouette of the Capital building. We made our way to the Residence Inn across from the Pentagon, where we would spend the next two days. We paused in front of the hotel and stared at the Pentagon. We tried to imagine the scene, thirteen years ago, when the terrorists flew an airplane straight into the Pentagon. The country persevered the 9-11 attacks and the nation moved on. We are a country that seems to thrive on adversity. We are at our best when we are dealt the worst. The next morning, we boarded the “Metro” (subway) and made our way to Arlington National Cemetery. We had been to the huge Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, but as we walked through Arlington, we realized the size and enormity of it all. We were truly on hallowed ground and we were in awe as we toured the vast rolling hills. Kennedy’s gravesite was particularly moving. We travelled on to the Capital area where we took a guided tour of the Capital building. The power in the air was as thick as the marble staircases and decorated ceilings. We were reminded that the White House and Capitol are ours, the property of the people. We are the government. As much as we feel separate from it all, we are a government of the people and by the people. We walked to the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the MLK Memorial, the World War Two Memorial and the Holocaust Memorial. They were all reminders that so many have given so much so that we might be able to walk in freedom. Nearly every carved inscription on every monument mentioned our everlasting and eternal God. Before we left, we went back to Arlington to watch the changing of the guard to honor the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We crowded around the site and stood silent as the soldiers went through their solemn routine. It was another reminder of those who have anonymously given the ultimate price for our freedom. As we waited to board the bus, a funeral motorcade passed us. We all stood at attention with our hands on our hearts in honor of the grieving family. The widow mouthed “thank you” as the limo passed by. It was a sacred moment. The next morning, as we left Washington, we departed appreciating the privilege of being citizens of the United States. We have our problems for sure. But the scope and message of Washington reminds us that liberty is not easily broken. As a country, we might bend and sway, but our foundation of freedom is sure. As Lincoln said, “This nation, under God, will experience a new birth of freedom.” Our prayer is that even with all our diversity, we would remain under God. Thousands of years of world history reminds us that the health of any nation is contingent upon allegiance to its Creator. We are truly at our best when we’re dealt the worst. We’re at our best because a loving God watches over us… …and may He shed His grace on us forever. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The World Cup

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it” -1 Cor. 9:24 For most Americans, the World Cup ended last week. After all, we lost. But it’s not really over. The field has narrowed down to four teams all vying for the title as the best team in the world. But for most of us living in the U.S., when our National team loses, we move on. We simply will not tolerate a “loser.” And it’s that definition of loser that could use an overhaul. When the World Cup takes place, it exposes us Americans and our interesting perspective on competing. Our diligence keeps the country strong but can keep the people discontent. Let’s teach our families to enjoy the journey as well as the final score. It takes four years for more than 250 national teams to narrow down to 64 teams that qualify for the “finals” of the World Cup tournament. Four years!!! What we call the Super Bowl and the World Series are small when compared to the entire world involved in the World Cup. For most of the world, soccer is the most popular if not the only significant sport available to their people. It is easily the most popular game in the world, but not in the United States. There are several reasons why. We like action. Americans like lots of points. We prefer a high scoring NBA game where each team nets 100 plus points. Soccer is referred to as “the beautiful game” because of the art displayed in ball control. For most soccer “purists,” the score is secondary to the strategy. Good soccer requires patience. The build up to a strong offense is similar to a game of chess. Early moves lead to counter moves and finally an attempt at scoring. Of course, the irony is that the average NFL game has a total of 11 minutes actual action; a baseball game an average of 14 minutes but soccer games have 90 plus minutes of action with no timeouts. Soccer teaches us that good decisions take time. Soccer teaches us to slow down and enjoy the journey. We like to keep score. A friend of mine from Africa was a professor at the local college. When he came to the States, he organized a soccer club for the students. He told me he was surprised to hear the students’ preoccupation with the score of the game. “Let’s just play,” he would tell them. We are obsessed with comparison. Attend any T-ball game for little kids and you’ll see what I mean. There is no scoring in T-ball. The kids hit off a “tee” and it’s simply a game of fun. But invariably there is a helicopter parent in the stands marking down the score of the game. We keep score because we judge how we’re doing by how well the person next to us is doing. Soccer teaches us to measure the quality of the game by how it’s played, not by the score. We like to win. Soccer games end in ties. If it’s a championship, there is extra time or penalty kicks to determine which team advances. But for most soccer matches, the game is recorded as a tie if the two teams play to a draw. Americans want a winner. Some games are truly a draw. Both teams play a level game. But we simply have to have a winner. Someone said that a tie is like “kissing your sister.” I’m not really sure what that means, but sometimes a tie is warranted. Soccer teaches us to redefine winning. It is more than the score on a scoreboard. Winning is doing the best that we can while using our talent to the max. We are obsessed with all sports. In America, we have so many major leagues. Between the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, and NASCAR, there is hardly room for soccer. The best athletes in the United States are spread out into many sports while in most countries the best athletes only play soccer. It amazing that we field teams that compete at such a high level. So, in a week the World Cup will be truly be over. I’m still predicting that the host country, Brazil, will win it all. I do hope you watch the final game in a few days. Sit back, relax, and appreciate the game itself, not the score. Teach your kids and grandkids to embrace the journey as well as the final destination. Don’t miss the “beautiful game” as you’re waiting on the final score. God has numbered all of our days. Each day is a wonderful gift to enjoy. Please don’t miss this beautiful life… …as time winds down for us all. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Trip, part 3: the War

“…a time for war, and a time for peace” –Eccl. 3:8 As we left Mayberry whistling the “Fishing Hole” song, our tune changed to “Dixie” as we ventured into Virginia. The second phase of the trip would be a focus on the amazing struggle that took place in our country over 150 years ago, the American Civil War. No state suffered more than Virginia. There were more crucial battles fought there than any other state in the Union. Winston Churchill commented in his famous book about the history of mankind, “Thus ended the great American Civil War, which must upon the whole be considered the noblest and least avoidable of all the great mass conflicts of which till then there was record.” Maybe it wasn’t avoidable and maybe it was noble, but I think one word describes the war best: terrible. Those of you who know me know I’m a history fanatic. History was ingrained in the four Staples boys at an early age. On the many trips we took from Texas to Georgia, where my parents were born, we stopped at a lot of battle sites. Most significant was the Battle in Vicksburg, Mississippi. It was the half way point on our trip and we always spent the night at the Holiday Inn in town. We visited the Vicksburg Military Park, the memorial to the twenty thousand Americans, north and south, who gave their lives for our country. It seemed new every time we visited. I would have studied toward a history degree at Baylor, if the Lord had so led. Instead, I took as many elective hours in history as I could. I loved it, especially a course on the civil war. For my freshman English course, I wrote my huge compositional paper about “Texas in the Confederacy.” I made a good grade and loved the research, but my professor commented, “You might have written about a famous English author, like everyone else.” Baylor just happens to have the largest collection of Texas history documents in the world. I wasn’t about to pass that up and this paper was a good excuse to delve into the research! So, we set off to conquer Virginia. We visited Appomattox, the court house where Lee surrendered the largest army in the Confederacy to U.S. Grant; we spent time in Richmond, the Confederate Capital, touring the White House of the Confederacy and the Museum of the Confederacy; we toured the battlefield at Fredericksburg and stood on the famous “sunken road,” and we walked the battlefield of Manassas, the first major battle of the war. We saw sites and places I had only seen in pictures. We stood where soldiers had died: fathers, husbands, sons that had given their lives for our country. But, the experience that touched us the most was the most unlikely. We were on our way north to Manassas when we came upon a simple sign that read “Stonewall Jackson’s Shrine.” We’d been passing a lot of historical signs, but this one tugged us to pull off and explore. We made the short drive to the site where Stonewall Jackson had died from the wounds he received at the battle of Chancellorsville. The site wasn’t anything special but the tour guide who explained the story brought it to life. Jackson died as his wife and newborn son lay at his side. Right before he died he said, "It is the Lord's Day; my wish is fulfilled. I have always desired to die on Sunday." He was a Christian and rejoiced in life with Christ. As we heard the park ranger tell the story, it all became real. All the statistics and battle plans we had seen boiled down to a family suffering through death. We were touched. And we were disgusted with war. Perhaps the war was chivalrous and noble and gallant. But the war was horrible, and sad and terrible as well. People died. People were maimed and scarred physically and emotionally. Our nation survived and we are now truly united. The late historian Shelby Foote noted that before the Civil War, Americans used to say, "The United States are...," and after the War, the phrase transmogrified to "The United States is...". A terrible price was paid but here we are, walking in freedom. We turned north again to Washington D.C. where we would spend the next three days. There we would visit most of the landmarks of our “nation’s cap-i-tall” (as Forrest Gump would say). We quit whistling Dixie… …and started whistling Yankee Doodle. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Sunday, June 15, 2014

My Dad's Legacy

"Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation” –Joel 1:3 I sure do miss my Dad today. He would have been ninety-five years old on this Father’s day. He died in 1988 but he never passed away. He will never pass away. He will always live in my heart, the hearts of my brothers, in the hearts of my kids and in the hearts of their kids. He legacy will go on and on. A legacy of faith. As was true of most of the early Staples’ family, he loved God and was dedicated to the Methodist church. The Methodist church in Roopville, Georgia still stands today. I have copies of his Sunday school notes that he used as he taught class for many, many years. He was far from perfect, but his faith grew more and more as he grew older. His faith mattered and he passed it on. A legacy of integrity. Honesty mattered to my dad. He put coins in the parking meters and he paid all of his taxes. “I have no problem paying taxes,” he would say, “It’s just what every man should do.” Having a good name made a difference to him and he elevated honesty and truth as he dealt with people. He was the same man in private as he was in public. As his son, I saw him lose patience and get angry frequently, but he knew how to say “I’m sorry” and I watched him settle differences quite often. A legacy of simplicity. My dad was absolutely at his best with those who had the least. He could mingle with the “high-falutin” physicians, but enjoyed the blue-collared folks the most. My dad kept things uncomplicated. His favorite ice cream was Blue Bell Vanilla. Boring maybe, but it was all he needed. He never forgot his simple Georgia roots. Though, as a physician, he had the choice to be proud, he preferred not to elevate himself above others. He was humble. As a goofy teenager, I was often embarrassed by his faded jeans and suspenders. I sometimes wanted a “cool” dad. But I came to realize that my dad was more than cool: he was awesome. A legacy of hard work. My dad didn’t mind breaking a sweat while doing a long project. After he retired, I remember trying to keep up with him as he tended to his garden in the back yard. He could work me into the ground. I remember appealing to my dad one Sunday afternoon. I was a freshman in high school and after watching football on TV, I had run out of time to mow the yard. It was 5:00pm and I needed to be at a Young Life event at 5:30. “Dad, I won’t have time to cut the grass. I’ll do it later in the week,” I said. “Well, you should have done it earlier today. I guess you’ll have to miss youth group,” he said. “I can mow it later this week,” I appealed. “Nope, it needs to be today,” he replied. I wasn’t happy about it. After all, I was going to youth group- the Christian thing to do. But he wouldn’t budge. I mowed the yard and learned that keeping a promise trumped any Bible study. My dad was an awesome man. I only hope to imitate a little of his character and life. He loved my mother, Mildred, so, so much. And he loved and nurtured his four sons with everything he possessed. I am honored to have had Pelham Porter Staples Jr. as my father and I will always be thankful that I had thirty-one years with him. I too am thankful for his legacy branded into the Staples family. Thank you Lord for a my dad and for his powerful, simple life… …and for his beautiful faded jeans and suspenders. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Trip, part 2: Mayberry

“For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving…”1 Timothy 4:4 With our plans all settled and our tank full of gas, we prepared to set off on our adventure. But first we enjoyed some excellent time with Eric and his wife Jennifer, in Nashville. They have been married seven months now and are a beautiful couple, inside and out. After that, we headed east. The first stop of the trip would be a walk back into the world of Andy Griffith. In between Nashville and Virginia, we drove a bit off the main highway to extreme northern North Carolina. We stopped in Mt. Airy, North Carolina to pay a visit to Andy Griffith’s hometown. It was the backdrop and storyline to Mayberry on the Andy Griffith show. The Andy Griffith show is simply a marvel of the entertainment world. It originally aired more than 50 years ago, but is still broadcast today on multiple television stations. Thousands and thousands of television shows have come and gone, but the Andy Griffith show continues to capture the hearts of America. Why? Like any “legend”, it had multiple ingredients that made it special: it was produced by then star Danny Thomas, its cast was an all-star team of experienced actors, it had a tremendous group of writers, and it appealed (and still does) to the best values of America. The show taught us that everyone is important, whether they’re the sheriff or the town drunk. The same is true of each of us. God does not create junk. Without exception, He creates people of worth and use. Each one of us do best when we’re true to who God created us to be. Like someone once said, “Don’t live out someone else’s dream for your life.” Be who you are and let God use you. Andy Griffith's hometown is truly a "Mayberry." Virtually the whole town has been transformed to look like Mayberry did in the TV show. Of course, some of the places were originals, like "The Snappy Lunch" known for it’s great pork chop sandwich. Andy based most people and places in the show on those from his hometown. I can picture Andy sitting in on the writing sessions, giving his suggestions on ways to make the show authentic. Apparently, they needed his southern “flare.” Of the producers for the show, Andy was the only one from the south. While Danny Thomas, the original producer, hailed from Toledo, Sheldon Leonard, who ran the show, was born in NYC. Another Griffith Show producer, veteran comedy writer-director Aaron Ruben, was a Chicago native. By the way, while working on the series, Ruben gave young Ron Howard an 8mm movie camera that piqued Howard's interest in cinematography, probably one of a number of things that fueled his move into directing. In Mt. Airy, there's a Bluebird Diner, Wally's Service Station, Floyd's Barber Shop, and a replica of the Mayberry courthouse that you can go inside. You can take a tour of the town in a sheriff's car just like the one from the show. If you're lucky, you'll get D.C. as your driver. He was a childhood friend of Andy's and adds a special touch to your tour. We didn’t take the tour, but we drove through most of the town. We did take the time to visit the Andy Griffith museum. There were so many memories from the show. You leave with a really good feeling, like you've gone back in time to the 'good ole days'. At the end of the day, we continued our drive to Virginia, but not until we soaked in Mayberry and the simplicity of a peaceful and gentle life. After all, that’s what God’s intends for us everyday. Life will always have its problems, but we can find comfort knowing that a loving God has it all covered. We left Mt. Airy smiling, relaxed… …and whistling the Mayberry “fishing hole” song. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Trip, part 1: the Beginning

“And He said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while…’” -Mark 6:31 We just returned from a marvelous ten-day, nearly three thousand mile trip through Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, Washington D.C., Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. It had been a trip in the making for a long time. Joining us were our favorite traveling buddies, Holly (Jeanie’s sister) and her husband Trent Hallum. But the trip never would have happened if I had not started. Hum. That may seem obvious, but many a trip never happens because it never begins. The beginning of any worthy journey in life- marriage, family, or whatever-needs a good beginning. The credit goes to my sweet Jeanie who dreamed up the idea years ago. “Instead of going to the beach with the family (which we love and will visit in August), we ought to take a trip to the battlefields and DC.” “Ought to’s” can pile up if we’re not careful. Like good intentions, “ought to’s” take us nowhere. John Dewey said, “One lives with so many bad deeds on one's conscience and so many good intentions in one's heart.” The more famous quote describes “the road to hell being paved with good intentions.” I’m not sure what that means exactly as the road to heaven and hell has nothing to do with intentions, but a choice to let Jesus rule or not rule. But one thing is for certain in life: if we never act on our convictions and intentions, we’ll stay stuck. If we act, then we move and then we go. This particular “ought to” developed into a “we’re going.” But not without initial reservations. There are always obstacles to maneuver in any journey. Concern #1: “What about the rest of the family? How will they get along without us?” Answer: “They’ll get along just fine- we’re not needed as much as we think we are –ha!” Concern #2: “What about our responsibilities at work?” Answer: “There are incredible teachers and mentors and employees that will step in to fill the gap (and they did- thank you!)” Concern #3: “What about all the unknowns?” Answer: “What about them? Let’s act on what we know and not react to fear. We all need a break and vacation. Let’s trust the Lord to cover the bases.” The obstacles were cleared (as far as we knew), we set a date and made all the necessary reservations. We quickly discovered that there would be a pretty significant price to pay for the trip. A lot of the historical sites we would visit were free, but lodging and food were not. We added up the projected mileage for the trip and considered flying. But we decided that, while flying would be expedient, we would miss all of the sites along the way. Our goal for the trip was to slow down and enjoy the journey. Every trip comes with a price. We would have to give up time and money to make it happen, but it would be worth every penny. So, with all the scheduling conformed, we began the trip. The four of us are very close and the time traveling in the car would be as valuable as the time seeing the sites. Someone defined true success as “the ability to enjoy the journey on the way to the destination.” We were determined to not be determined to just see the sites. I guess you could say we wanted to “chill.” And so the trip began, the good intention became reality and we hit the road. The journey began… …and the odometer would get a workout! By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com