Saturday, October 29, 2011
"…do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering…” -1 Peter 4:12
Sometimes life can be… a pain. But dealing with pain is just a reality of life. We all go through physical and emotional difficulties at multiple points on multiple days. But we do everything possible to reduce pain in our lives. We’re led to believe that if our retirement plan has enough money in it or if we take the right medications or if we have the right credit cards, we’ll be pain free. But God has designed us to deal with pain in a way that escorts us to His grace. Training our kids in pain management will help equip them to handle trials the rest of their lives.
A few years ago, I began to have some pain underneath a tooth in the back of my mouth. I went to the dentist (a friend of mine) and had the dreaded root canal. I’d had an infection under one of my molars and he had to clean out the infection and put a crown on top of it all. The pain was huge but it went away soon after the surgery. I remember being so relieved after the procedure.
We will have difficulty in life. We need to remember to teach our kids and grandkids that life is awesome but sometimes a check up will reveal some cavities. As much as we brush our teeth, sometimes our checkups won't be fun. Scripture tells us, in the book of James, “to consider it all joy when we have cavities” [encounter various trials]. Not “if,” but “when.” We are going to have toothaches. How we respond to the pain is what matters.
Three weeks ago, I had pain under the crown where I’d had that root canal years ago. I took a few ibuprofen, but the pain grew worse and worse. I finally went to the dentist and he prescribed an antibiotic. But the pain didn't go away. Again, I went to the dentist and he prescribed a different antibiotic. It did the trick….for a while.
The point is, I went to the dentist. I had a problem with my tooth and I went to the expert to fix it. I was prepared to camp out at the dentist’s office until they could squeeze me in. Why? Because it hurt and I knew I needed what only he could provide. Remind those you love that when the pain hits, run to the one who can help. Our loving God understands the pain. He doesn't promise to take the pain away, but He does promise to be with us through it all. An easy life minus God is much less than difficulty plus God. Why? Because when we’re hanging out with God, we have true peace in our lives.
Eventually the antibiotic wore off and the infection returned. As the dentist had explained, “we will have to get to the root of the problem.” So, I went back in, he removed the crown, and re-did the root canal. Yuck. Though the original root canal worked, bacteria had crept back in. So the dentist (still my friend) went back in and cleaned it all out again. The tooth is fine now. I asked him, “how could this happen again?” He answered,” Sometimes it just happens. We’re not sure exactly why.”
For all the control freaks out there (which is most of us), I have a major announcement: “Most of the time, we won't know why trials happen.” We need to remember and teach that it’s not about figuring out “why” but about remembering where to go. When difficulties come (and they will), run (don't walk) to Jesus Christ. “Pray without ceasing” and give it over.
Keep brushing your teeth, but run to the dentist when your teeth need help!
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Friday, October 21, 2011
“…for I’ve learned how to be content in whatever circumstances I am in…” –Phil. 4:13
Sometimes the ride of life can seem less like a gentle carriage ride and more like a roller coaster. Up one minute and down the next, the roller coaster flies through the air. People scream as the coaster zooms down the track, out of control. Or is it out of control? Hum. It feels out of control, but it’s attached to a track and has an elaborate braking system. Our lives are out of control when we’re doing the driving, but when we’re submitting our ride to the Lord, we can trust that God is in control. Though the ride may seem crazy, twisting and reckless, we have faith that God has a bigger plan. It’s why we can encourage our kids to trust in the Lord.
I had a pretty crazy roller coaster ride this past week. I spent a good part of the week with my mom in Fort Worth doing projects around the house. Some of the projects were big ones and the travel was crazy. I returned home Friday in time to change clothes and attend visitation for my good friend Vince. He had passed away earlier in the week from a brain tumor. He was such a great dad, husband and friend. I was up early Saturday morning for an event at the church then hurried home to put on a tie for Vince’s memorial service. It was awesome. Then, that night, we went to a wedding of a long time friend from Branson. Crazy.
From my mom, to visitation, to church, to a memorial, to a wedding. The roller coaster goes up and down and up and down. We experience the ups and we experience the downs. Most of us are great during the up times and stressed during the downs.
In the early first century, a man named Paul rode a roller coaster too. In his second letter to the church in Corinth, in chapter 11, he described his roller coaster ride: “Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.”
Wow! My coaster ride looks like the little kiddie roller coaster at Silver Dollar City compared to Paul’s journey. “Beaten, stoned and shipwrecked.” Yep, I’m not quite in Paul’s league. But I am in the league God has designed for me at this juncture of my life. It does no good for us to compare our coaster tracks- mine is specific to me and yours is specific to you. God knows our course but we determine whether we’re going to enjoy the ride or freak out.
We make the decision whether to lean on the Lord or try to take our own control. My own will responds with an anxious spirit that tries to maintain control. Faith responds with a trusting spirit and yields to a loving God.
When we give it over, we can be content, like Paul, in whatever the circumstance. Not happy. But content knowing God is in control. It calms our spirit and our family’s spirit too.
Enjoy that coaster ride and hold on tight. It’s an awesome ride!
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Thursday, October 13, 2011
“…but your grief will be turned into joy” –John 16:20
Our good friend Vince Elfrink was healed last night. His loving wife and family and many more have been praying since he was diagnosed with a brain tumor a year ago that he would be healed. I’m glad to report that he is 100% healed and in the arms of our loving God. This life is very short, but the next life is very long. Though we will miss Vince greatly, I am so glad he’s at peace. Vince was and is very special for many reasons.
Vince was a servant. His eyes were off of himself and on to others. He was quick to anticipate what someone else needed at the expense of himself. Getting the credit was not important to Vince but he did care whether the other person got their due. He was a giver and because of his character, he received everyone’s respect.
Vince was a competitor. My greatest joys with Vince were playing racquetball or softball or anything competitive. He was an excellent athlete and never gave up. Sometimes, when he was down by a bunch of points in a racquetball match, he would pause before he served. He would turn around with that Vince smile and say. “are you worried yet?” Then he would turn around and serve his great serve. He taught me how to win and lose with class.
Vince loved his family. His wife Jo Beth and his kids were his true banner. His office at CofO was filled with pictures of all the kids at all ages. He was so proud of them, not just for their awards but mostly for who they are. He loved to tell stories about them and build them up. His wife Jo Beth was his true life mate and he lit up when she was by his side.
Vince loved God’s creation. He was an avid hunter and fisherman and loved being in God’s creation as much as sporting in that creation. Many people were guided by Vince and loved the time with him. My best memory was lying face down in the middle of a wet field waiting for a fierce thunderstorm to pass over us. Lighting was striking all around and it was scary. But when the storm passed by, Vince jumped up and said,”this is going to be a great hunt”. I don't think we fired our shotguns that day, but the time with Vince was great.
Vince was humble. He honestly cared more about the other person getting the credit than himself. He loved being in the background making the event happen. He never needed the accolades to know that he was serving his purpose. He humbled himself and in that was highly exalted.
Vince loved the Lord. He had (and has) a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, His Savior. He was not shy about His faith and through the trial of this tumor, Vince never shyed away from God’s plan through it all. As I was driving him up to one of his chemo treatments, he commented, “I’d sure like to get better, but I know God is in control.” He lived his life by that creed and he went to heaven with that creed.
Many of you reading this didn't know Vince, but please tell his story to your families and kids. Men of faith, like Vince, leave an eternal mark on every life they touch. They even leave a mark on those they’ve never met. His life was touched by God and his character ripples on.
We all will miss Vince greatly, but look forward to a grand reunion again one day.
No more worries, my friend.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Saturday, October 8, 2011
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”-Matt. 5:4
Wow! The other day, I was reflecting back on where I was a year ago and so much has changed. What a year! Life is like that for me (and for all of us). Life brings many surprises our way and our best-laid plans are usually interrupted by God’s better plans. Sometimes the interruptions are wonderful additions to life: spouses, kids, jobs, grandkids, or victories. But sometimes those changes are loss: the death of a loved one, the closing of a business, or difficulty in a relationship. We need to teach our kids how to walk through all the seasons of life. We need to teach those we love how to grieve and deal with loss.
I’ve had two very difficult periods in my life. One was in 1988 when I got a call from my brother that our father had “expired.” I’ll never forget that call. I think he used that cold, confusing word because it just seemed too real to say my dad had died. We thought he’d live forever, I guess. He had a sudden massive heart attack and just like that, he was dead. I was devastated. Someone I had leaned on all my life was gone. He was my mentor, advisor and hero. I didn't know how I’d make it. But during that time of loss, my heavenly Father became more my father than ever before. He was there for me.
The second most difficult time in my life was a little more than a year ago. Due to financial struggles, the Board of the ministry I’d served with for 28 years, decided to close the doors of the Branson campus and consolidate to the Kansas City campus. I had the option to continue with the ministry in Kansas City, but Jeanie and I did not feel led to move up there. So we stayed in Branson. The Lord opened up an amazing door at First Baptist Church and I’ve been so blessed to serve there ever since, but the loss still hurt. To add to the grieving, my mentor and boss, Richard Beach, passed away of cancer a few weeks after the ministry shut down. I still miss him a lot.
Again, I was devastated. In the few weeks we had to shut down the campus, I was little help to the grieving staff around me. I recently discussed this with one of the staff members who was disappointed in me for not encouraging the staff more during that time. I apologized to him because a better leader would have been there to guide the team through the closer. He was right, but thinking back, I had little to give. I was just trying to cope myself. He accepted my apology and I reflected back on that time. It still hurts, but during that time of loss, the Lord taught me how to bear my burden with Him. He reminded me that He is my strong tower that I can run to and be safe.
I’ll admit, I prefer the seasons when I got married, finished graduate school, got a job, and had kids. But the seasons of winter have been more important in my life. They have taught me that God is a phenomenal Comforter and knows the plans He has for me and they are plans for good. Change is an absolute necessity for Him to make us more than we are.
It’s a lesson to teach to our kids early. When the slumber party is called off or our kids don't make the A team in basketball, the hurt is real, but we learn the basics of faith: someone bigger than ourselves is at the helm. So we cry and grieve and doubt. We struggle with God and ask “why?” Then, we trust and have faith. All those emotions are okay. Let your kids experience them all. God loves the dialogue and the genuineness.
And let yourself experience them too.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
“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
It’s so easy to get lost. In this age of the GPS, MapQuest and smart phone map app’s, it’s still possible to find ourselves wandering in the wrong directions. Even our Garmin gets confused sometimes. In the midst of the confusion, the best thing we can do is unplug the electronics and ask someone for directions. Sometimes the best thing we can teach our kids is to stop and ask for help when they get lost.
This past week, I attended an excellent conference in Nashville sponsored by the American Association of Christian Counselors. The conference was at the Gaylord Opryland Resort, a great place to stay. But it is HUGE! It’s probably my tenth time to stay there, but every time I go I get lost. Though I have maps and brochures with the floor plan, I find myself wandering in the wrong direction.
The Opryland is enormous! It’s 3,000 rooms, a huge convention center and four major covered wings to the hotel. In truth, it’s really four hotels joined together. Several times, with map in hand, I’ve taken off to explore parts of the hotel only to find myself at the wrong end.
By far, the best way to maneuver through the maze of buildings is by stopping and asking directions. The Gaylord Staff is more than capable and available to guide anyone asking to the appropriate part of the hotel. But I’m always hesitant to stop and ask directions. I’m certain that, though I got lost last time, I’ll master it this time.
Pride always views it the same way. I, yes, a capital I, usually think I can do most anything better on my own. Our sin nature always thinks it can do the best job on anything by itself. We love to fly solo. The problem is, the plane we’re all flying is a two-seater jet (cool). Yes, we’re in the front seat flying the plane, but guess who’s missing in the seat behind us? That seat is reserved for the navigator.
So, most of us are content to fly the plane by ourselves and leave that seat vacant. After all, it’s easier to do it all by ourselves. There are no problems with communication, I save weight and fuel by not having another person involved and I don't have to bother someone else with directions.
But without a navigator, we tend to get lost. We all need a navigator. We can't be both the pilot and the navigator and expect to find our way. The military figured that out a long time ago. Sure, people fly planes by themselves, but travel is easier when responsibilities are shared.
God gives us directions through prayer and the Bible, but usually He has appointed navigators to help us through the maze of our life. When we get lost, confused or overwhelmed, they are there to guide us, comfort us and lead us through difficulties. They provide objective encouragement for us and help show us the best routes to our goals.
We need to teach our kids that it’s okay to have navigators in our lives. We need to remind that those who journey best through this life are those who journey with others.
After all, people helping people is always better than a “recalculating” Garmin.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©