Friday, February 8, 2019

Solo

“Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up” -Eccl. 4:9-10 God’s Word is crystal clear, but sometimes our logic is muddied. One central theme of the Bible is mankind’s need for true community. Simply put, we need each other. As the great theologian, Barbara Streisand said (chuckle), “people who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” The need is real but we tend to glaze it over with our own independence and pride. We need each other. Not in a co-dependent “I am nothing without someone” way. But in a healthy, “I’m responsible for me” way. I focus on my own health but I walk the journey in community. Striking the right balance is the key to living life well. A solid relationship with God plus a solid relationship with myself plus a solid relationship with brothers and sisters equals a healthy place. This lack of balance shows up in so many ways. Buckle your seat belt for two sports analogies. If you don’t like sports, I apologize (sort of): The Alabama Crimson Tide and the LSU Tigers squared off one Saturday in the fall. Some said it would be the biggest football game of the year. With Bama ranked number one in the polls and LSU fourth, it was set up to be a huge battle. Networks like to do that. But perhaps the biggest story was about LSU’s star linebacker that would have to sit out the entire first half, since he was ejected out of the previous game for targeting. But was it really a story at all? Announcers and newspapers focused on the needed efforts of the LSU defense to hold Alabama down as best they could until the second half. One announcer said, “If they can just make it through the first half, they’ll have their star back in the third quarter and be in control.” LSU’s defense made it to halftime fairly well. But that defensive player mattered little in the second half. LSU got hammered. The issue wasn’t brought up again. Football is a team sport. One player doesn’t make all the difference. The Dallas Cowboys played the Tennessee Titans one Sunday last month. Much of the focus was on the recent trade of an excellent receiver from the Raiders to the Cowboys. “He will make all the difference,” the announcer said. The Cowboys got beat handily. That traded receiver played a good game, but did not make all the difference for Dallas. He’s just one player. Football is a team sport. One player doesn’t make all the difference. The problem and its origin are described in Genesis chapter three. Adam and Eve were in perfect fellowship with God and in perfect fellowship with each other. (By the way, for those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ, we’ll get to experience that perfect fellowship again one day, on the other side of Heaven.) Then, sin entered the picture. Adam and Eve yielded to their own selfish desires, and went to hide. Mankind has been hiding ever since. We hide in our jobs, our work, our hobbies, even in our churches. Since the garden, we tend to insulate ourselves from God and the people around us. We feel a counterfeit form of safety and security in our loneliness. And we run dry without the beautiful gift that God gave us, called intimacy- the connection of hearts to God and to the people around us. But there is good news! The problem has a solution on this side of Heaven for sure. It requires us to yield our hearts to a loving God who desires to supply us with adequate amounts of intimacy and contact. As we surrender our souls to the Lord, He meets the need through His Spirit and through the people around us. Our spouses and kids and family are all tools the Lord desires to use to keep our intimacy cup full. After all, God commented to Adam, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). We weren’t built to solo through this life. As we head into a new year, let 2019 be a year of leaning into relationships. Live a life of community, inviting friends in. Live a life of family, inviting your spouse and kids in. Live a life of prayer, inviting the Lord into every area of your life. Embrace community… …and don’t solo through this life. Life is a team sport… and our teammates do make a difference. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Monday, December 31, 2018

A Season of Ceasing

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” -Matt. 11:28 This Christmas season has been wonderful for a lot of reasons: time with family, time with Jeanie, time with the Lord. Mostly, it’s been a wonderful break. It’s been a continuation of a theme of rest- a season of ceasing for me. I am still learning so much about my struggle to pause. Most of us have a tough time slowing down. The truth is, most of us don’t like what catches up with us when we put on the brakes. Most of us aren’t too good at “forgetting what lies behind” (Phil. 3:13). And most of us do take into account wrongs suffered” (1 Cor. 13). Though suppressed, our “accounts” stay pretty full. Our antidote is to go fast, so fast that we can outrun our “stuff.” The problem is, when life slows us down, our “piles” catch up with us, but that can be a good thing. The word “sabbatical” comes from the Hebrew word “shabbat” which means “to cease.” FBC Branson is a tremendous church that, every seven years, allows it’s ordained Staff to take a month or so to “cease” and rest and refill. This fall I was granted some time to rest, which was encouraging yet challenging. I was challenged to let go and let God. I’d been anticipating the break for months. The pre-game preparation was kind of crazy. I thought the preparation was complicated and thought it might be easier to just call it off. Letting go is hard for me. I discovered again that a lot of my self-worth is tied up in what I do. God was reminding me (again) that I am His child that He loves completely, period. I don’t have to do anything to earn His love. “Work” comes after His grace. The month was without work but loaded with rest. No doubt, God sets up times of rest. Not necessary huge months off, but simple times in the morning or on a weekend. They are there for the taking, if we recognize His provision in the time. I was challenged to spend quality time with the Lord. Times of rest aren't necessarily times for us to memorize the entire New Testament or to fly to Africa for a Mission trip. Those things are great, but sometimes what we need is just to “chill.” When I’m provided with a block of time to rest, I tend to fill it up with stuff. I want to fill in the time with pseudo-work: cleaning and fixing and maintaining the house, the cars, the yard. All those things can steal me away from God time. I am so easily distracted. But true rest plus Jesus brings peace and rest and security in the Lord. A hike or a run is the most beautiful time of fellowship with God I could imagine. It allows me to prayerfully give my struggles over to Him. It allows me to examine my soul and lay my load on His shoulders. I was challenged to narrow the gap between work and rest. I’m reading an excellent book on work by Timothy Keller titled, “Every Good Endeavor.” He is making the point that our efforts as Christians should be our calling, not just work. The Greek word “voca” means “calling”. It’s where we get our word “vocation.” If we define what we do as a calling versus a job, we bring meaning to our work. Whether we work at Walmart, or a church, we do what we do to serve God. We’re all called into full time ministry, wherever the Lord calls us. Yes, we work wherever and we rest wherever, but we do it all to the glory of God. He is our purpose and He is our reason. May we all recognize our seasons of rest. When the Lord provides a holiday or a sabbatical or even a break in our work week, embrace the time and lean in to the Lord and His rest. Sure, God blesses work but God endorses rest as well. Be fully invested either way… …in a season of ceasing. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Blind Spots

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” Eph. 4:31-32 Sometimes sins can be like blind spots. Once a man told me that he didn’t have any blind spots. I responded, “So how would you know, if you’re blind to them?” He had no response. We both laughed. Sin can be that way. It can be so disguised and camouflaged and covert that we don’t notice it’s there. Perhaps the most covert and hidden sin is envy. Paul challenges us at the end of Ephesians Chapter 4 to “Put all the bad stuff away.” Of course, we can’t clean up a room we think is spotless. We first have to recognize the mess. Then we can give it over to the great Cleaner Upper, Jesus Christ. A competitive, challenging spirit always produces a mess wherever it lives. It compares and judges and never rests. We’re either better or worse than every one around us. And, worst of all, it robs us of that powerful attribute of the free in Christ- JOY. The line is so thin and tight. It’s okay to compete. Sports are a blast, but like the Christian competition pioneer, Wes Neal, taught us, we compete to be our best for Christ, not to beat our opponent. Wes taught us to “totally release” all we have to the glory of Christ. The “score” of the game isn’t measured by the points on the scoreboard but by the degree to which we use our talent to His glory. Many times, I’ve lost on the scoreboard but won in my heart. I was a little sad but knew God was pleased. Of course, I’ve also won on the scoreboard, but lost in my heart. It’s an empty victory. We tend to compare, fall behind, and become jealous and envious. Paul tells us to get rid of a thing called malice. Malice means “To wish ill on someone else.” Yuck! It means we’re actually happy when someone else messes up. It makes us look better (we think)! And the worst form of malice is that we can even contribute to them messing up! At the least, we can’t cheer for them because they are ahead. At the most, we help them fail. Double yuck. What we forget is that God equally divides His grace to us all. More or less is a worldly perspective. In God’s grace world, He provides for us all. He distributes exactly as He desires. It’s about Him, not us. It’s about us trusting Him as our life distributor. He knows what we need and what we don’t need. It’s about us trusting Him as He opens doors and closes doors. Our prayer is for the Holy Spirit to expose our blind spots, for our brothers and sisters around us to lovingly call us out and for our spirits to yield to truth in our lives. May we all trust Him completely and live in the joy that trust produces. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Whitewashed

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” -Matt. 23:27 Grace. Legalism. Freedom. Obedience. Peace. Law. These are all words that stir us up and touch our souls. We’re always trying to strike the balance between rules and grace. We love the freedom of grace but lean on the structure of rules. Finding the balance isn’t easy. And if we’re not careful, we grow more concerned about our outside than our inside. Jesus taught that our “outside needs to match our inside.” The problem rears it’s ugly head when we hold to a conviction on the one hand but act contrary to the conviction on the other. We do it all the time. Example: driving. “Yes,” we might say, “Everyone should obey traffic rules and drive safely.” Yet, most people have the “drive five miles over the speed limit” philosophy, and law enforcement seems to honor that rule. But, legally speaking, it’s breaking the law. It’s an action inconsistent with our conviction. That was the meaning of Jesus’ illustration of the whitewashed tomb. There was nothing wrong with people washing the tombs. Perhaps it was a way for relatives to honor family who had passed away. What it wasn’t was a way for the person buried there to honor themselves. They were dead. If they were alive, they would be far away from the cemetery doing what alive people do: living life. That was the point of Jesus: keep your outside clean but keep your heart clean as well. That was (and still is) the problem with any one holding a conviction, namely professing to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Does my life match my heart? Does the way I act match what I believe? Not all Pharisees were “whitewashed tombs.” Some had it right and they lived out what they professed. I don’t have to wear a ring to be Jeanie’s husband. But I want to wear it to show my commitment to her. I’m so honored to be her husband. Some women have huge rings but despise their husbands. So don’t wear the ring? No. Love your husband. Validate the ring. Do we have to go to church to be a Christian? No. But, of course, we want to go to church because we’re Christian. We need what church provides. And we contribute to that provision. Too often we view church as a place for us to be entertained. We place undue focus on Sunday morning and the sermon. “I sort of liked the church, but the sermon was long,” I heard someone say. It’s not about whether we like church, it’s about what we’re contributing to it. It’s about our inside matching our outside. It’s about maintaining the integrity of my heart by keeping my inside and my outside clean. And that is hard work! It requires maintenance. It means we have to be self-aware enough to address our problems. Example: I am inclined to act snooty toward a particular person at work. Step #1: recognize that I’m snooty. And not being nice is not an option because we’re to love as Christ loves. Step #2: I explore the “why.” I am simply jealous. The Lord reveals that truth. But He provides enough for us all. Step #3: I take my “snootiness” to the Lord. I confess my problem to Him (1 John 1:9) and He cleanses my heart. Now my heart matches my head. Step #4: I’m nice to him at work. But recognize that he hasn’t changed at all. I humble myself and love him. White-washed outside matches white-washed inside. Of course, this side of heaven, I’ll never be completely white. That maintenance process will be constant. And that’s okay. So, walk in His grace this week. Walk in the freedom of Christ. But walk in the "freedom of obedience" as well. Remain prayerful and aware. Keep your heart and life matching. Let the Lord have His way. May our inside… …match our outside. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

God's Delays

“Yet those who wait for the LORD, will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary” -Isaiah 40:31 Waiting has always been a challenge for youngest child, spoiled Joey Staples. The pace of society today hasn’t helped me at all. I expect instant answers and instant solutions. I text someone and expect an answer within 5 minutes. A century ago, if someone missed the stagecoach, they had to wait a month till it came through again. Today, if the plane is five minutes late, most people go berserk. But the truth is, God is in control. His timing is paramount to our well being, IF we choose to trust Him. The attached poem by Robert Schuller has always proven true to me: God’s Delay is Not God’s Denial 
God always hears and answers prayer,
 Though long may be the trial.
 Let patience bloom while God prepares;
 Delay is not denial.

 When God would glorify His Name,
 And make His blessing great;
 The one whose heart God's will doth frame
 Must sometimes pray and wait.

 But come, the answer surely must,
 For God has never lied.
 And faith, which looks at God in trust,
 God never has denied.

 So when the weeks turn months, then years,
 And doubt feign would defile,
 Beseech the more and that with tears;
 Delay is not denial.

 God always hears our prayers, 
 But He does not always say, "Yes!" 
 Sometimes He says, "Wait" 
 Sometimes He says, "No" 
 For He has something better for us. 

 God's delays are not denials, 
 He has heard your prayer; 
 He knows all about your trials, 
 Knows your every care.
 God's delays are not denials, 
 Help is on the way, 
 He is watching o'er life's dials, 
 Bringing forth that day. 

 God's delays are not denials, 
 You will find Him true, 
 Working through the darkest trials, 
 What is best for you. God has a good plan for our lives also. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11) May we welcome God’s change of plans as good. Look back on the times when God blocked a plan and “caused all things to work together for good.” I’m so glad that Paula and I broke up (by note) in 6th grade! I’m glad, because God had another person waiting, Jeanie, as a part of His plan. And we’ve been married 37 years! May we all rest and be secure in HIS plan. May we all wait well. Resting in His care and walking at HIS pace makes all the difference. Even when none of it makes sense, we trust in His plan. Whether it’s a “yes,” “wait,” or “no,” He is in control. His ways are always higher… …so, may we rest in the lower. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Home Free

“Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home” -Luke 10:38 There is a scene in the movie “Forrest Gump” when Forrest’s childhood sweetheart, Jennie, is throwing rocks at her childhood home. She is angry with the house where her father abused her. As Jennie falls to her knees, Forrest responds, “Sometimes there just aren’t enough rocks.” Last year, we sold our “home place” on Firth Road in Fort Worth and handed the keys to another young family. I’m not throwing rocks at that beautiful home. Instead, I’m struggling with the loss of the “memorial” to the Staples family. Every few months I would travel to Fort Worth to check on Mom and do “projects” around the house. Today, I was longing to go back and take care of that house. I miss the projects…and I miss my mom. The week after we sold the house, with every call to turn off utilities, I felt like I was disconnecting life support from the house. At the end of the last call to the gas company, the operator responded, “We’ll have that last utility shut off tomorrow,” and I felt like someone had died. A few months later my sweet mom passed away. We’d lost mom and the home so close together. I grieved. I cried. I was sad. I’m still sad sometimes. I spoke to my big brother, Bob who said, “Hey, it’s just a change. Now another young family will raise their kids in that house.” Those are words that I knew, but needed to hear. Research on grieving shows that it can take years for the cycles of loss to lose their punch. So, once again, it’s time to move on. The cycle of life happens. God is a God of change. We can jump on board or resist His plans. There were beautiful days in that home. It seems like just yesterday that I was chasing our dog, Rusty, in the backyard; listening to my brothers play their eight-tracks; watching my dad cooking on the grill; seeing mom cooking the kitchen. Great memories. Great roots of security planted on those beautiful days. But, I know there were tough days as well. There were squabbles between the four boys (and I was usually at the bottom of the pecking order); mom and dad frustrated with each other (but that was behind closed doors in their bedroom); the four boy’s angry or mad (usually related to losing at sports). That house was a pressure cooker of growth, with the ups and the downs. Simply put, it was family. And families are a beautiful mess, for sure. They are a mess because all the pieces of the family puzzle, (people), are a mess as well. The beauty is beheld when love is mixed into the mess and intimacy and compassion result. Houses come and go. Green grass eventually withers. Trees lose their lives. But the love of family lives on through the generations. The love of family isn’t limited to the walls of a house. So, once again, I say goodbye to Firth Road. After turning the page, I say hello to our address on Cougar Trails, and to Blackman Road and Troon Circle, the addresses of our kids and their families. There are new families forming and growing and needing grandparents. I’m in for the new adventure… …but I’ll never forget the old home. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Plan A or Plan B

“The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” -Prov. 16:9 Being present means I’m aware of what is going on in my soul. It means I don’t have covert, secret buttons that get pressed that cause reactions. It means I’m in touch with my “innards”- I still have triggers that get activated, but when those alarms go off, I don’t push the snooze button- I heed them. It doesn’t mean I don’t have buttons that get pushed, it just means I’m not a slave to them unconsciously. It simply means I’m aware and able to make healthy and mature decisions on how I’ll react. It means when the “Plan A’s” don’t work out, I’m okay switching to Plan B. It means I seek the Lord’s will and His desire for my life. I teach these concepts quite often. But this past weekend, I didn’t exactly follow my own advice! Saturday finally arrived after a super busy week. It was a great week working with people, but in the people business, I don’t often see concrete, objective results. Jeanie has observed that when I come home, I like doing projects. I like replacing the broken light switch and watching it work. After all, it’s actually fixed! I love that. So, I was looking forward to working in the yard and giving our lawn it’s first cut of the year. After all, our yard looks beautiful when all the weeds are the same height! So, I filled the mower with fresh gas, pulled the cord, and the mower started, but sounded terrible! I played with the throttle, but it ran roughly. I restarted the mower but it still ran poorly. With each restart, I got more and more frustrated. And that’s when it happened- my finger got too close to the blade. Rewind almost 25 years. My mower had bogged down, in this same yard, in heavy grass. As I was clearing a small twig out of the shoot, the blade hit my middle finger and cut it about half an inch. We wrapped a bandage around it to stop the bleeding and Jeanie drove me to the ER. They stitched my finger and it took months to heal. Back to the present: I slowly pulled back my hand and nervously looked at my fingers. Did I do it again? No blood. No cut. The blade had barely glanced my hand. The Lord was saying, “I am in control. Go ahead and make all the plans you want, but I want you to realize that I hold the trump card. I could have cut your hand off, but I didn’t. Trust me. Relax.” I was so humbled. I asked the Lord for forgiveness and my spirit was changed. I slowed down, took a deep breath, and surrendered my spirit (for the zillionth time) to the Lord. I took the mower to the local mower shop. A kind workman helped me and in five minutes fixed the problem. It ran great. A small choke part was stuck from sitting all winter. He and I had a great visit. Somehow, it was in the Lord’s plan that I should have to have my mower repaired and I was simply to follow His plan. I asked, “But why that plan?” I have no idea. But I don’t need to know why. Buttons will always get pressed. But what we do after the button is pressed is up to us. It’s our choice. No broken mower can make me angry. I have to choose to let it make me angry. Or I can choose to trust in the Lord and be okay with the circumstances. May the Lord have His way in us and in our plans. May we let the Lord truly direct our steps with a teachable and flexible spirit. If my finger had been cut off, would I have trusted His wisdom? If the mower had been ruined, would I have trusted His plan? Have I “learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am in?” (Phil. 4:11-12) To continue Paul’s words, do I “Know how to get along with humble means, and also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance have I learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need?” Of course, the end of that passage Paul says it all, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Phil. 4:13 The “secret”, as Paul called it, is to depend on Him and His divine plan. May we rest in that today. May we rest in His providence… …whether the grass gets mowed or not. By Eric Joseph Staples © www.lifeaid101.com