Thursday, April 2, 2020

How Great is Our God?

Isaiah 40 In trying times, like we're in today (of course, when are there not trying times!)it’s important to remember that our God is mighty! He has proven Himself over and over! His wonderful creation is our best reminder… •Drop an anchor in the pacific Marianna trench and an hour later it will hit the bottom- 7 miles down. The oceans of the world contain more than 340 quintillion gallons of water, yet God holds them in the hollow of His hand Is. 40:12, "Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, and marked off the heavens by the span, and calculated the dust of the earth by the measure, and weighed the mountains in a balance and the hills in a pair of scales?" •The earth weighs six sextillion metric tons, yet to God it represents but dust on the scale Is. 40:15, "Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales; Behold, He lifts up the islands like fine dust" •The known universe stretches more than 30 billion light years (200 sextillion miles), yet to God that great expanse represents but a “breadth of his hand” A hand’s width, 40:12 •It takes 80K years to get from one end of the Universe to another… 10 million years to get to the farthest we can see… That same Universe contains at least 100 billion galaxies, each made up of approximately 100 billion stars- yet God knows them by name Is. 40:26 "Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these stars, The One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name;Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, not one of them is missing" HOW GREAT IS GOD TO YOU? One of these lines might look shorter than the other. But they are both the same, regardless of how we see it. God is mighty and huge, regardless of how we see it! Ask yourself these questions: 1. How do I limit the strength of God? 2. Could He really be larger than I can imagine? 3. Why do I limit His might? 4. Would it be like for me to trust in His strength today? 5. What would it be like for me to replace the fear with faith in Him? Spend some time in prayer, thanking our mighty God for His grace and love and might… “But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel,“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!” -Isaiah 43:1

Monday, March 23, 2020

Surviving, Part Two

“I press on…” -Phil. 3:14 Surviving is way underrated. There’s a lot to be said for just “hanging in there” in the midst of difficult situations. It depends on what we choose to lean on. As I’ve counseled hundreds of families over the years, I’ve spent countless hours with people grieving over losses: loving moms and dads going through heavy trials with their teenage sons and daughters (and vice versa!); heart-broken families dealing with the loss of loved ones; countless other scenarios of people experiencing grief over something they were losing or had lost. But they are true survivors who refused to give into the difficulty. They believed and trusted and loved, even when no one else would. They took their grief to God and found His peace. A few years ago, Jeanie and I were traveling through Oklahoma City on our way to Amarillo. We decided to stop and visit the Oklahoma City Memorial that honors all those involved in the April 19, 1995 bombing. We walked and toured the Memorial and we were touched by the tragedy. An American elm on the north side of the Memorial was the only shade tree in the parking lot across the street from the Murrah Building, and commuters would come into work early to get one of the shady parking spots provided by its branches. Photos of Oklahoma City taken around the time of statehood (1907) show this tree, meaning it is currently at least 113 years old. Despite its age, the tree was neglected and taken for granted prior to the blast. Heavily damaged by the bomb, the tree ultimately survived after nearly being chopped down during the initial investigation, in order to recover evidence hanging in its branches and embedded in its bark. The force of the blast ripped most of the branches from the Survivor Tree, glass and debris were embedded in its trunk and fire from the cars parked beneath it blackened what was left of the tree. Most thought the tree could not survive. However, almost a year after the bombing, family members, survivors and rescue workers gathered for a memorial ceremony under the tree, noticed it was beginning to bloom again. The Survivor Tree now thrives, and an intricate irrigation system keeps the tree healthy. Hundreds of seeds from the Survivor Tree are planted annually and the resulting saplings are distributed each year on the anniversary of the bombing. Thousands of Survivor Trees are growing today in public and private places all over the United States; saplings were sent to Columbine High School after the massacre there, to New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani after the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, and various other times. As difficulty and trial come our way, may we never let go of the hand of God and “hang in there” as the battle rages. I had a dad say to me once, “Joey, no matter what it takes, I’m going to hang in there with my boy. When I look back on this life, I want to look back with no regrets. I may be broke, but I’ll know I gave everything I had to love and save my son.” All we can do is love the best we know how and survive under God’s grace. Like the Survivor Tree in Oklahoma City, you might be battered and scarred, but you can stand tall as an example of God’s strength to a struggling world. You, too, are spreading seeds of hope and love to those around you as you hang on. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Freedom or Fear?

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” -John 14:27 Fear is indeed a strange thing. When we have it all under control (or at least we think we do), life could not be better: I predicted which team would win (and they did), I got the raise at work (and I deserved it), I fixed the car (I am amazing), my health is excellent (I could run forever)…the list goes on and on. But when we lose control (or at least we think we do), all is ruined: my favorite team loses, the car breaks down and a virus hits the shores of the United States. Someone said the opposite of control is fear. Hope is handing control over to a Sovereign God. The Bible is an awesome collection of God-ordained writings and episodes about life. It’s God speaking to us about all we’ll encounter this side of heaven. It’s there for our teaching and training. Read God’s response to these amazing men of faith as they struggled with fear: Jeremiah “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you,” declares the Lord" -Jer. 1:8 Abraham "After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great.” Gen. 15:1 Moses "But the Lord said to Moses, “Do not fear him, for I have given him into your hand, and all his people and his land; and you shall do to him as you did to Sihon, king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon.” -Num. 21:34 “But the LORD said to me, ‘Do not fear him, for I have delivered him and all his people and his land into your hand; and you shall do to him just as you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon." -Deut. 3:2 Daniel "Then he said to me, “Do not be afraid, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart on understanding this and on humbling yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words." -Dan. 10:12 "He said, “O man of high esteem, do not be afraid. Peace be with you; take courage and be courageous!” Now as soon as he spoke to me, I received strength and said, “May my lord speak, for you have strengthened me.” -Dan. 10:19 Mary "The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God." -Luke 1:30 Peter "…and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.” -Luke 5:10 Paul ",,,saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.’" -Acts 27:24 The Gospel writers tell us that even Jesus was “distressed to the point of death” (Matt. 26:38; Mark 14:34) but He never lost connection with God. He always gave control to His loving Father. It’s important for us to understand that it’s not “either-or.” Trusting God and giving control to Jesus does not mean we don’t experience fear. It does mean that when the fear button is pressed, I go to my garden and give it to my Lord. I give it over. And over. And, if necessary, over again. I pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17). I release it to my loving God. Kobe Bryant and his daughter’s tragic death six weeks ago shocked the world. After all, people like Kobe Bryant aren’t supposed to die in helicopter crashes. And now we’re dealing with society’s managing of the Corona Virus. After all, people like us aren’t supposed to be quarantined. March Madness is supposed to be played! The Master’s has to happen?!? Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt. A loss of control. Fear. But trust, assurance, and faith are our promise in Christ. There once was this criminal who had committed a crime. He was sent to the king for his punishment. The king told him he had a choice of two punishments: he could be hung by a rope. Or, take what’s behind the big, dark, scary, mysterious door. The criminal quickly decided on the rope. As the noose was being slipped on him, he turned to the king and asked: “By the way, out of curiosity, what’s behind the door?” The king laughed and said: “You know, it’s funny, I offer everyone the same choice, and nearly everyone picks the rope,” “So”, said the criminal, “Tell me. What’s behind the door? I mean, obviously, I won’t tell anyone,” he said, pointing to the nose around his neck. The king paused then answered: “Freedom, but it seems most people are so afraid of the unknown that they immediately take the rope” May we all choose freedom. And that freedom is a prayer away, as we give our fear and anxiety over to a lovingly controlling God. Yep, America doesn’t have its favorite analgesic and numbing device available today: sports! But God promises to be a true deliverer. He doesn’t promise He’ll deliver us out of the difficulty, but He does promise He’ll deliver us as we’re in it. That’s true freedom… …and a freedom that lasts forever. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Monday, January 13, 2020

The New Year

“Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead…” -Phil. 3:13 Welcome to the New Year! It has come again. Regardless of how 2019 went down, 2020 has arrived. Every new year God is faithful and determined to impart Himself to us. We can run, but we cannot hide. As was true for 2019, 2020 is also a year of immense potential, if we choose to tap into it. Our home sits on two and a half acres of beautiful wooded land across the lake from Branson, Missouri. Our five-year-old Lab, Sammy, owns the backyard and has a dog door into our garage. She loves to explore. When we return home and the garage door rises, it opens up the potential of a wonderful adventure for her: either hang tight in the garage and receive a delicious dog biscuit for staying put or take off for the woods to its smells and varmints and fun. The truth is, it’s much easier to just stay put. The “garage option” is simple and consistent. It’s familiar and predictable and safe. Heading to the woods is risky. It’s unknown and new and unpredictable. But it’s also an adventure that has potential. In his classic book, Wild Goose Chase, Mark Batterson writes that “Chasing the Wild Goose is dangerous but is also a beautiful adventure.” Sammy headed to the woods is an adventure with so much potential for her. A few weeks ago, Sammy chose to go on that adventure into the woods. She returned home with the skeletal backbone and skull of a small deer, all in one piece. As she deposited her prize in the backyard, she was SO proud! She had mastered the woods! She had seized and conquered. The alterative was to play it safe, hang in the garage and snarf down the dog biscuit. But she went for the prize in the woods! So, guess what? The garage door is up for each one of us! It’s 2020 and a blank slate lies ahead. Staying put in the garage is the safe and easy choice, but exploring the woods is the true adventure. All true adventures begin with going to God. He is the ultimate adventure guide and will lead us to amazing places. Opportunity awaits all of us, but only if we’re willing to risk and explore. Sure, some won’t like us leaving. But we can’t be found until we are a bit lost. Others will just have to adjust. Risk looks different for us all. It might mean we pursue a friendship with someone (risky); It might mean we change our major (risky); It might mean volunteering for a new organization this year (risky); It might mean we go on that mission trip at church (risky); It might mean we walk over to the neighbor’s yard and say hello (risky). The list is endless, and the opportunities only wait for the Lord’s leading. Let 2020 be a year of trust and prayer and risk. Let it be a year of failure and freedom, of dependence and success. Every truly successful person experiences a lot of failures. And it’s okay. They are not failures if God led the way. The score doesn’t determine the winner. The prize goes to the ones who give it all. Thank you, Wes Neal, for your words of wisdom years ago: “If, in the name of Jesus, we totally release our gifts and talents in what we do, we are winners every time, no matter the results.” My late boss, friend and mentor was a wonderful man named Richard Beach. He believed in me and coached me in ministry for nearly twenty-five years. I sure miss him. We were different in that he loved to take the risk. I loved to play it safe. He knew that true discipleship always includes risk taking- not on projects but on people. Actually, it involves both. People are a mess with no guarantees. Sometimes we’ll pour our lives into a Judas and he’ll sell us out. But we pour anyway. Why? Because love believes all things. Yes, it gets burned sometimes, but our Lord will accept the blow for us. May our loving God be our guide in 2020. May He will lead us to “places we never could have imagined going by ways we never knew existed,” IF (and a big “if”) we’re willing to go. People and projects really are an adventure. In this year, 2020, let’s be willing to risk… …and in the hands of God, we will always be a success. Eric Joseph Staples ©

Friday, November 22, 2019

Lessons Learned from the Pheasant Hunt

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity” -Psa. 133:1 This past weekend, seven men (linked by family) and I went pheasant hunting in South Dakota. The weather was beautiful, which is kind of risky this time of year, and the birds were flying. We “harvested” a bounty of pheasants and the fellowship and accommodations were tremendous. The Janke family made it all possible, especially Dave Janke, our host, guide and friend. We had a blast (no pun intended) and learned a lot. Lesson #1: “People Are Better Than Projects” The hunting was absolutely tremendous, but the time with brothers and friends was the best part. We were all family, literally, on the trip. The time we spent eating together was great (and I mean we ate well! Thank you, Mrs. Janke!) We spent a lot of time just talking and laughing and watching football. We travelled to some of the local eating establishments for some great burgers and food. And we spent time in the “hunters’ garage” (as I call it) just talking about life. The best part of any project is the people in the project. As my wise mentor, Richard Beach, used to say, “It’s about getting people done through projects, not projects done with people.” Rich lived out the creed of focusing on people. We did and it was a treasure. Lesson #2: “Pheasants Are A Lot Like Us” (Thank you Dave for this insight) Like any type of hunting, pheasant hunting is unique. The birds, both roosters and hens, aren’t predators, so they have learned how to survive by using cover as their safety shield. Pheasants don’t live in the wide-open spaces, instead they use foliage as their cover. So, flushing them out of that cover is paramount. Walking through the fields and having dogs to find and point them is necessary. But even then, these birds have learned how to survive. They have learned that if they remain slow and silent as they venture away from the coming danger, they will avoid detection. Hunters have adapted as well. They have learned to set up hunters on the other side of the fields to await the pheasants as they scurry away from the walking hunters. The pheasants crouch and walk away from the hunters and think they’re getting away. Truth is they’re running straight into the “blockers.” This is much like our own sin. We think we’re getting away with something, but our sins always find us out. We don’t get away from anything. We’re only truly free when we confess our sin to a loving Savior and experience His forgiveness. Lesson #3: “Hunting is a Fun Adventure, but the Real Adventure is at Home” We had such a great time in South Dakota. The Janke family were amazing hosts for us. And the bird hunting was so successful. I will always treasure the memories of our time together. It was true adventure and we plan to go again next year. But the TRUE adventure awaited us all when we returned home. Like a lot of things, hunting can become an addiction. Some men hunt every weekend, neglecting their family and hunting every kind of animal possible. That’s because hunting can be an escape from the realities and stressors of home. Sure, we all need a break from time to time and that’s OK, but our true worth comes with us leaning in and being the best husbands, dads, co-workers and friends we can be. The adrenaline rush that comes with knocking down a bird is dwarfed in comparison to the rush produced by playing with kids or cherishing our wives or using our gifts at work. Lesson #4: “Focus on Success Not Failure” or, “A Little Humility is Always a Good Thing” Did you know that the famous MLB Mickey Mantle leads all kinds of home run stats, but he also struck out an average of 115 times a year? That stat leads most of all famous players. The point is he failed a lot, but he succeeded a lot too. That’s how it seems to work. Those who risk failure typically achieve success, because they are secure enough to take the risk and handle the potential failure. Someone said, “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” Insecurity is enough to keep people from taking any shots. I took a shot on the first day of the hunt and made a mistake. For breeding purposes, hens (females) are not to be shot, only roosters. With my earplugs in, I didn’t hear the other hunters yelling “hen” (in other words, “don’t shoot”). So, not noticing its distinctive features, I shot a hen. I felt terrible. Of course, later that day and the next day, I shot 4-5 beautiful roosters, but shooting that hen bothered me. I felt shame, I prayed it through and released my mistake. Sometimes it’s hard to let mistakes go, but I am still learning that I am not what I do. I am a redeemed child of God, period. As the Dixie Chicks remind us, we need “wide open spaces, room to make big mistakes.” I think I’ll focus on the roosters and not the mistake. We did have an amazing time in South Dakota. Hunting the beautiful pheasants was so much fun. Thank you Dave, Bo, Trent, Eric, Brian, Mark and Joel for a wonderful time. I look forward to our next hunt together… …and the other adventures ahead. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Monday, October 28, 2019

Yad Vashem

“Watch yourself, that you do not forget the LORD who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” -Deut. 6:12 “Yad Vashem” is a Hebrew phrase literally meaning “a monument and a name” (my Hebrew professor at Baylor is smiling right now). It is used in the context of the Holocaust of the 1930’s by the Nazi regime against European Jews, and it carries the motto to “never forget.” What we remember and what we forget makes all the difference in the quality of our lives. One of the most famous monuments in the world is called the Yad Vashem, Israel's official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. It is dedicated to preserving the memory of the dead; honoring Jews who fought against their Nazi oppressors and Gentiles who selflessly aided Jews in need; and researching the phenomenon of the Holocaust in particular and genocide in general, with the aim of avoiding such events in the future. God, in His creative design, built man with a phenomenal computer called a brain. Even the most powerful computers of today don't come close to equaling the brain’s power. Perhaps the most amazing part of the brain is the cortex, the seat of the brain that involves short and long term memory. We are designed to be able to forget some things and remember others. There are people today who claim that the Holocaust never took place. They do concede that the Jews were mistreated, but they claim there were no gas chambers or persecutions or murders. Yet, as the aged survivors testify, these events did happen. By remembering, we recognize that we all have the capacity to do it again. That evil lurks in all of our hearts. We like to think of the Nazi regime as being a mentally ill, incapacitated people. Truth is, they were people like us. Yet they justified and reasoned away their actions. They had forgotten the atrocities of people before them. Civil War monuments and confederate flags are being taken down across the country like never before. They are seen as offensive by many people as supporting racial inequality. But the Civil War actually took place. Removing the monuments will only numb us to the reality of the price we paid, as a country, for being divisive. Edmund Burke, the famous British statesman in the 1700’s, said "Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it." A classic example is Hitler's invasion of Russia. Napoleon had tried that, and Hitler made the same mistake, and suffered the same fate. On both occasions, the Russians simply retreated, drawing the enemy further and further into Russia in their advance, and then, when they Russian winter struck, and the invaders were unprepared and ill-equipped to deal with it, they were slaughtered by the thousands during their retreat. We do the same thing and we are not aware. We tend to forget what we need to remember and remember what we need to forget. Most of us remember our failures. Sometimes the “memory tapes” and memories of difficult times haunt us, even though they are in the past. Paul, who did some pretty terrible things before he came to know Christ (Acts 8:3) was not afraid to share that part of his past, even though those things did not define him. He wrote, “…one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”- Phil. 3:13-14. He let go of the past, not literally forgetting (which would require a frontal lobotomy- not a good thing), but by letting those things go and moving on. Paul was able to spread the good news of Jesus and not forget His faithfulness. Jesus had just fed the five thousand. Then He fed the four thousand. They were both miraculous and the disciples were there. They saw and experienced both events. Then, the disciples became hungry and realized they had no food. “Where will we get food” they wondered? “Jesus, aware of this, said, “You men of little faith, why do you discuss among yourselves that you have no bread? Do you not yet understand or remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets full you picked up? Or the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many large baskets full you picked up? How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread?” -Matt. 16:10-11. As my brother-in-law Brian would say, “They were as sharp as a marble.” Their hearts and spirits were dull. But they were learning as we are. Our challenge is to keep our spirits and souls sharp. We do that by remembering what God has done for us. He has always been faithful. He has always provided. His will is perfect and true. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to us and His timing is not ours, but it’s always best. May we remember the things that matter. May we always remember the faithfulness of our wonderful God and Yad Vashem, “never forget”… …even when we’re hungry. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

A Box of Chocolates?

“Not that I speak from want, for I’ve learned to be content in whatever circumstances I’m in” -Phil. 4:11 Forrest Gump’s mom said, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.” It does seem that when everything is settled and under control, things change. One thing is for sure, if we place our security in insecure things, we’re not very secure. I don’t think God is necessarily into change, but He is totally into growth. What we run to when things are changing makes all the difference! Like an episode from the Andy Griffith Show, I had an unexpected adventure this past Sunday. I was dressed and prepped to leave for church when, from the kitchen, Jeanie ask an unusual question, “What kind of animal is that in the backyard?” Like a scene from a movie, everything began to move in slow motion. I looked out the window and a sickly thin possum was staggering across our back yard. Immediately, my brain kicked into gear. Possums are night creatures and only hang out in the daytime if they’re sick, rabid or really hungry. As I darted into the backyard, I had one thing in mind, our yellow lab Sammy. I knew she would instinctively attack the possum and that a sick possum could do harm to her. As I ran out the back door toward the possum, here came Sammy from the garage, flying across the backyard. I tried to tackle her, but, being 90 lbs, she knocked me over, into the grass and the dirt of our yard. She ran near the possum to sniff, but then backed away. I shooed her away and with a rake pushed the possum onto the other side of our fence. It scurried away. The slow motion ended and I began to breathe again. My hands were cut from the fall. My clothes were ruined and I had to be at church in 15 minutes to help lead the first service! “Iron my other pants!” I yelled to Jeanie. She told me later she was laughing at me from the window. It really must have looked funny! I scurried into the house, changed clothes and made the first service. I’m sure I had a stutter in my voice as I prayed and read scripture. The morning was nothing I expected. Life rarely follows our schedule. That’s how it is with chocolates. Some boxes tell you what kind of chocolate there is and where it’s located in the box. But most don’t. Why? Beause to the manufactures it all tastes great! “To a hammer everything looks like a nail.” To our loving God, every situation is an opportunity for us to learn dependence on Him. That’s the spin our loving God puts on our life experiences. Hebrews 5:8 reminds us that “Jesus learned obedience from the things He suffered.” He was willing to be submissive to his Father’s will, even to death on a cross. We too have the opportunity and choice to learn, or not to learn. May we run to our loving God when the crisis hits. May we surrender to our loving Savior when the change is great. May we go to Him when our security is compromised. Whatever the flavor of the chocolate, may we indulge in every bite. And let God be our strength. The possum’s are coming…. …ready or not. By Eric Joseph Staples ©