Friday, August 31, 2012

Running on Empty

"But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers” He lay down and slept under a juniper tree..." -1 Kings 19:4-5
The older I get, the more I realize how fragile and vulnerable I am. I'm not as strong as I used to be and my memory is, well, fading. It's humbling to admit that I just can't do as much as I used to do. I'm not whining or anything, just being honest. I just get tired quicker. But exhaustion is God's reminder to us that we're limited creatures. Whatever our age, we simply cannot run at breakneck speed and not bear the consequence of the craziness. God intended for us to depend on Him and have pace to our lives. If we choose not to (and most of us do), then our lives bear the consequence of the choice. My Trailblazer SUV has a 21-gallon tank and gets terrible gas mileage (sorry Chevrolet). But it does have 4-wheel drive and will carry a pretty good load. We always take Jeanie's Honda on trips because it gets great gas mileage. But when we helped move Elizabeth and family to Des Moines, we needed the SUV to pull a trailer. It was on the way back from Des Moines to Branson that we ran into a problem. We were driving south on I-35 south of Des Moines and we had about half a tank of gas. But there are a million exits between Des Moines and Kansas City, so we thought "no big deal." The longer we drove and the emptier the tank, the more uptight we became. Then, we finally saw a gas station sign and pulled off to fill our empty tank. As we pulled into the station, we discovered that it was closed! We pulled back on the Interstate and the dreaded red light came on the dash- "low fuel." There were no exits in sight! We prayed, held our breath, turned off the AC and radio (not really) and we hoped we'd see a sign or exit. Minutes seemed like hours and then, as we crested a hill, we saw it- A GAS STATION! We hurried to the station and pulled up next to the pump. Jeanie and I looked at each other and sighed. We'd made it. We'd survived! As you can tell from the attached picture, we made it by the "skin of our teeth" (I've never really understood that word picture). But it didn't have to be that way. We found ourselves in a predicament, but we were running on empty because of two choices we'd made before the journey. We didn't fill up when we had the chance. There was the option, before the journey, to fill up the tank and be ready for the trip. But we didn't exercise the option. Why? We were too busy or we figured we'd be able to make up for it later. But the best way to avoid being empty is to stay filled up when the "fuel" is available. We all need to take breaks as a maintenance tool, not as a survival tool. Take the vacation before the exhaustion sets in. Heed the advice of those around you (especially your spouse). Wipe the sweat off your brow and rest. We'd forgotten the load we were bearing. The Honda would have easily made it to one of the many stations in Kansas City. But we weren't in the Honda. We were bearing a heavier load. Apparently, Elijah forgot that too. He'd just defeated all those prophets of Baal and he was exhausted. He lost his focus and ran for relief away from God. The amount of "gap" should be proportional to the amount of "load." Yes, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" but Christ understands our limitation as humans on this side of heaven. We need to model pace and balance in our lives. And let God initiate when we're to "go" and when we're to "stay" and rest. He is not glorified by our exhaustion. Yes, we're limited creatures, whether we get good mileage or not. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Africa: Mornings

"The Lord's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness" -Lam. 3:23 One of the most beautiful times in Africa is the morning. For that matter, it's one of the most beautiful times anywhere. Most of us aren’t really into early mornings. I am convinced that my "biorhythm cycle" doesn't operate well as the sun is coming up. I'm not really sure what that means, but I've never been at my best before seven o'clock. But Africa never looks better than when the sun is rising above the horizon of the savanna. What is it about the morning time? What makes the daybreak such an appealing time for enjoying the day? It's new. We all long for the opportunity to start over. In any board game, there is a feeling of relief when it's time to reshuffle the cards and start the game over again. It's a chance to right what we've wronged. It's chance to learn from our mistakes and make the next day better. It's fresh and clean and unchartered. It's God's design to reset his creation and let it all begin anew. It's just another example of God's grace in action. It's quiet. The night before we feel asleep in Brian's house in Botswana, there was music coming from the local hangout spot on the main street. Apparently people all over the world like to dance and "carry on" (as Brian would say). But when we awoke in the morning, we only heard the sound of African bird's chirping and the sounds of the river flowing behind Brian's house. The sound of nothing was beautiful. Quiet and stillness are always powerful. Our lives are so noisy. We need the morning to quiet our souls. It's peaceful. The crazy pace of the day cranks up later, but daybreak is tranquil. Peace is different from quiet. Quiet is on the outside. Peace is on the inside. We're peaceful as we wake from tranquil sleep and start afresh. Our thoughts are fresh and new. The world's noises of the day haven't cranked up yet, so there are few interruptions to the quiet inside. It's inviting. Not being a "morning person," I rationalized that I could communicate better with God later in the day. But too often I'd let the day's pace overrule my quiet time with God. Several years ago, I was challenged by a mentor to get up early and accept God's invitation to be together. In Psalms 5:3, the Psalmist declares, " In the morning, O Lord, You will hear my voice; In the morning I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch." There's nothing legalistic about having to spend time with God in the morning, but it has changed the quality of my time with Jesus. Including God in the beginning of my day makes a huge difference in how I approach the schedule ahead of me. I'll never forget the sights and sounds of the African mornings. But mornings are truly beautiful worldwide. They really are a gift from God. Audit your morning time. Is it a frantic mesh of alarms, breakfast, showers and rushing to work or school? Perhaps you could allow 45 more minutes to relax, soak up the quiet and spend time with God. Teach your kids to create gaps in their schedules to rest in the mornings. May we all let the sunrise be a God-given time of rest and peace. Whether it suits our biorhythms or not. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Friday, August 17, 2012

Africa: The Standard

"…and He will lift up a standard for the nations…" -Isa. 11:12
I don't leave the country very often, but when I do, I am always amazed at the contrast of the cultures. Africa and the United States are so different. It's no wonder this crazy world has a hard time getting along. We all see the world so differently. Values seem to vary by location. But the Bible says that Jesus is the same, "yesterday, today and forever." (Hebrews 13:8). In a world that's constantly changing, that's a huge comfort. God is our "strong tower that we can run to and be safe" (Proverbs 14:10). He is the only true standard we can build our lives upon. But if we're not careful, we can be deceived. If we're not careful, we can be led away from the truth. At the beginning of our mission trip to Africa, we rented a small vehicle to run back and forth from the church plot where we were working to Brian's house. I went to the rental office over by the airport in Maun to sign the necessary paperwork. Toward the end of our trip, we exchanged the small vehicle for a larger pickup so we could travel into the bush. I went back to the rental office but it was locked. I waited and waited but the door remained locked. I sat on the stairs wondering why I couldn't get inside. Finally, I'd had enough and I began to wander around the area. That's when I discovered my mistake. The stairway to the rental office wasn't the only stairway in the complex. There was a duplicate stairway a few offices down and I was looking for the office at the wrong stairway. Embarrassed, I went back and got Jeanie and we went to the correct office. I apologized to the teller and I signed the papers. I was fooled. I thought I was pursuing the right location, but I was wrong. The right location looked a lot like the wrong one. I hadn't looked close enough. As you can see in the attached picture, we built a "pole barn" next to the church in Maun. The church needed a place to have Sunday school for the kids. We estimated that we nailed about 700 poles around that structure. We wanted to be sure that all the poles were the same height, so we designated a "standard" pole (held in the picture by Joey and Kefilwe, a Botswana student). Every time we cut or drilled holes in a pole, we laid the standard pole next to it. When we finished the project, the last pole we attached was that pole. We even put a star on it because the pole was valuable to us. After all, it assured us that the structure was accurate and even. The difference between the "pole barn" and the search for the rental car office was the standard. We never deviated from the pole and the shed stayed true to its design. I searched for the rental car office in the wrong location and remained lost (until I found the truth). Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” Most people are lost because they don't live their lives by a standard. The only true and solid standard is the Lord Jesus Christ. Like that "pole barn," Jesus sets a solid pattern for our lives. Whether we're a parent or teenager in America or Botswana, if Jesus is our standard, we'll be "accurate and even." Let those you love know your standard is Jesus Christ. By focusing on prayer, God's Word and fellowship with other Christians, your "poles" will stay straight and true. And you won't get lost in the wrong stairway. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Learning About His Ways

When Jesus finished commanding His twelve disciples . . . He departed from there to teach and to preach in their cities —Matthew 11:1 It's that time of year again, when moms and dads are saying "bye" to their kids. It's a very good thing to "release" those we love to "fly on their own." But it's so difficult. This time, I'm going to let one of my heroes, Oswald Chambers, say it much better than I ever could. May the Lord bless his words to you. From "My Utmost For His Highest," Aug 01 2012 He comes where He commands us to leave. If you stayed home when God told you to go because you were so concerned about your own people there, then you actually robbed them of the teaching of Jesus Christ Himself. When you obeyed and left all the consequences to God, the Lord went into your city to teach, but as long as you were disobedient, you blocked His way. Watch where you begin to debate with Him and put what you call your duty into competition with His commands. If you say, “I know that He told me to go, but my duty is here,” it simply means that you do not believe that Jesus means what He says. He teaches where He instructs us not to teach. “Master . . . let us make three tabernacles . . .” (Luke 9:33). Are we playing the part of an amateur providence, trying to play God’s role in the lives of others? Are we so noisy in our instruction of other people that God cannot get near them? We must learn to keep our mouths shut and our spirits alert. God wants to instruct us regarding His Son, and He wants to turn our times of prayer into mounts of transfiguration. When we become certain that God is going to work in a particular way, He will never work in that way again. He works where He sends us to wait. “. . . tarry . . . until . . .” (Luke 24:49). “Wait on the Lord” and He will work (Psalm 37:34). But don’t wait sulking spiritually and feeling sorry for yourself, just because you can’t see one inch in front of you! Are we detached enough from our own spiritual fits of emotion to “wait patiently for Him?” (Psalm 37:7). Waiting is not sitting with folded hands doing nothing, but it is learning to do what we are told. These are some of the facets of His ways that we rarely recognize. May we all be willing to "let go and let God" have those we love the most. When we do that, then they are truly safe and in His care. No matter the circumstances. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Friday, August 3, 2012

Africa: Brian

"How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation" -Isaiah 52:7
Lekgoa (White Man) The White Man came to heed his call, He followed God's command like Paul; God made the choice of where to go, A place to help the people grow. Botswana was the place He chose, If you're wondering where to go, He knows; The White Man went and staked his plot, To share the truths that Jesus taught; But times were hard when droughts would come, When hearts were dry and spirits numb; But the White Man stayed upon His course, Cause his strength came from a higher source; The White Man's strength came from the Lord, He loved the people as the Spirit poured Himself through the man to the lost and lame, As he served and loved and shared The Name; Then a funny thing happened in the midst of drought, When times were lonely and he'd sometimes doubt; Fruit began to grow in spite of the dry Cause Christ brought growth in spite of the sky; So press on Brian in His awesome plan, Keep sharing God's love in that beautiful land, Botswana's richer when the White Man's there, We love you Brian- stay in His care By Eric Joseph Staples ©