Friday, October 19, 2012

It's All Relative

"With the kind, You show Yourself kind; with the blameless, You show Yourself blameless…" -Psalm 18:25 Character determines how a person interprets God's will. It's all a matter of perspective. It's all relative to the condition of our hearts. When difficult trials hit, we either approach them with faith, trusting that God has a plan or we approach them with a fist, angry that yet another difficulty has gotten in our way. No doubt, our kids model the way we handle difficulty. Someone said that life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to what happens to us. It's all a matter of perspective. It's all relative to the condition of our hearts. Like most emergencies, once the crisis hits, it's too late to begin preparation. When the trials come, a quick quiet time won't usually settle the issue. It's the investment we've made in Jesus (or the investment He's made in us) that makes all the difference. Mark and Elizabeth live in Des Moines, Iowa. It's a beautiful city and they are still getting to know their way around town. When they first moved there, Elizabeth was trying out a neighborhood Hy Vee grocery store expecting to buy all the groceries on her list. She searched the store only to find mostly pharmacy items. Unknowingly, Mark went to that same store a few hours later expecting to buy pharmacy items. He noticed what Elizabeth did not- that it was a Hy Vee Pharmacy store. He was excited to find some groceries there too. The difference? Expectation. Elizabeth had expected to buy all her groceries and was disappointed. Mark just expected to buy shaving cream but was excited to find milk and bananas too. In First Peter 4:12-13, Peter said, "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation." Are we supposed to get excited when bad things happen? No. But we're to expect trials and challenges to come our way. They are God's way of breaking, molding, building and using us. God calls us to trust Him. While we were in Des Moines a few weeks ago, we visited the capital building and I, being a history nut, was inspecting the monuments around the capital yard. The inscription on the civil war monument read, "To the brave men of Iowa who gave their lives in the War of the Rebellion." The Civil War monument in Vicksburg, Mississippi reads, "To the brave men of Mississippi who gave their lives in the War of Northern Aggression." Which one is correct? It's all a matter of perspective. It's all relative to the heart of the person. The teenager cries out, "My parents are too aggressive!" The parents cry out, "My teenager is too rebellious!" It's all a matter of perspective. It's all relative to the condition of our heart. Our perspective needs to be from the viewpoint of our loving God. David asked God to "create in me a clean heart" (Psalm 51:10). A clean heart allows us to view trials from the right perspective. If the difficulties and trials we encounter occur in the relative context of a clean and pure heart, then we can trust that "all things do work together for the good" because we "love Jesus and are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28). Approach trials with faith and not with a fist. Let God have His way. It's all a matter of perspective. It's all relative to the condition of our heart. Whether you pick up groceries at Hy Vee or not. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Saying Goodbye

"Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope" -I Thess. 4:13 Goodbyes aren't much fun. There are some exceptions I guess. Saying goodbye to the dentist, a bad cold or a bad relationship can be satisfying. But for the most part, goodbyes are difficult because they are usually to things and people we care about. This month, we said goodbye to three outstanding men of God that have been rocks for the Branson community and for the faith. Though we all know they're in a better place, so well deserved, we still miss them terribly. Their deaths leave a huge void in all our hearts. In the Academy Award winning movie, Out of Africa, there is a scene between the Baron and Karen that describes how most of us feel about saying goodbye. He is leaving to go hunting and she gives her husband a halfhearted kiss. Baron Bror Blixen comments, "That's a fine kiss goodbye.” Karen Blixen responds, "I'm better at hello.” Most of us prefer hello. I remember my dad, an obstetrician, saying, "One of the things I like most about my job is getting to bring babies into the world instead of being a doctor that works to keep people from leaving this world.” We certainly need all kinds of doctors, but welcoming life is more joyful than saying goodbye to it. But of course, that depends on how you define "life and death." Another thing my dad used to say was "there are a lot of things worse than dying.” Growing up, I was never quite sure what he meant by that, but the older I get, the more I understand. Dying, as a Christ-follower, is really living. And living, without hope, is dead. Jack Purvis, Jerry Lilley and Ed Williams were all outstanding men of God who loved their families and their Lord. Yes, they were successful in the world's eyes, but mostly, they were successful in the eyes of the Lord. They were selfless, giving and friendly. They loved and served their Savior, Jesus Christ. He was their source of strength. And the three of them are having a total blast in the presence of God. Second Corinthians 5:8 says "to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord." I'm not exactly sure how heaven works, but it's real and it's there and it's wonderful. So we say goodbye. James 4:13-14 reminds us that life is short, very short. "Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit. Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away". We need to remember that it's okay to plan, but not too far. Plan for today not tomorrow, because tomorrow may not ever come. Life is so, so short. We need to focus on the things that matter. We need to focus on family. We need to focus on people. We need to focus on God. That's what Jack, Jerry and Ed did and so many lives were changed because they made that choice. They lived like there wasn't a tomorrow and it made their today an awesome privilege. Goodbye my three brothers and thank you for the example you leave us. May you enjoy what you deserve… To be in the very presence of God. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Friday, October 5, 2012

Judge Not Lest...

“For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you" -Matt. 7:2
I was humbled again the other day. As a matter of fact, I was humbled twice in a big way. And for someone like me that has always battled pride, humility is a very good thing. One of the worst manifestations of pride is a judgmental heart. It's usually hidden away, so no one directly sees it, but the judgment is there, and God knows it. We can talk compassion and forgiveness all day long, but unless our kids see it lived out in our lives, they'll grab the baton of judgment from us and continue the curse. People that text and drive make me angry. The idea of someone being selfish enough to risk my life for a text is beyond me. What message could be important enough to justify distracted driving? Mature people put the phone away and drive responsibly. A few weeks ago, I was driving through my neighborhood and heard the buzz on my phone signaling an incoming text. I glanced down and read it. When I looked up, I was veering into the other lane with a car coming straight towards me. I swerved back into my lane and stopped while the other car drove by. My heart sank as I realized what I had done. The very act I despised in others I did myself. Like that guy on TV that caused the horrible wreck by texting and was sent to prison, I too had acted irresponsibly. I won't be going to prison, but I'm no better than that gentleman paying his "debt to society." Truth is, I'm no better than any man in society. I'm only OK because of God's willingness to make things right with me by sending His son Jesus to the Cross to die for my sin. That's the problem with judging. It always claims to make us better than others but Romans 3:23 reminds us "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." Today, I was driving down highway 76, through the middle of Branson, when I came upon a red light. I approached an old pickup truck in the left lane. Both men were a bit "unkept" and the driver was smoking. My first thought was to roll my window up because I didn't want smoke in my car. Then, as I pulled up next to the truck, I was stunned. The passenger in the truck was taking time to read his Bible while they waited at the red light. He even looked like he was reading to the driver (see picture). I'd done it again. I drew an instant conclusion about two people, which was less than loving. Of course, I don't know these men, so I can't give testimony to their lives. But that's not the point. The point is that I'm not to judge. When I saw this man reading his Bible, my heart sunk. I was embarrassed and ashamed. But I prayed for forgiveness and again, confessed my need for God's mercy. Thankfully, "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sin" (1 John 1:9). So I move on and I learn. It's so easy for us to be judgmental. It's easy for us to critique a person's looks or their background and draw conclusions that are less than loving and always inaccurate. I think it's true that the faults we see in others are the faults we see in ourselves. We're quick to dismiss our own shortcomings while pouncing on those same faults in others. Better to see our brothers and sisters and draw conclusions that are loving and graceful. That's the example that Jesus left for us. None of us need to throw stones. Instead, we need to look for the best in people. Whether they're reading their Bibles or not. By Eric Joseph Staples ©