Monday, May 27, 2013

Conquering Fear

"…keep up your courage…" -Acts 27:25 Today we celebrate Memorial Day to honor all those who gave their lives in service to our wonderful country. They served country over self and we are thankful. They looked danger in the face and said, "I refuse to give in to fear- I choose honor, even if I sacrifice myself to a larger cause." Thanks to all those who have passed and the legacy they have left for each one of us living today. Nelson Mandela said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” There is another kind of bravery and it's not limited to the battlefield. It's those who face seemingly insurmountable trials with faith and integrity. Lisa Mason is one of the most courageous people I have ever known. She was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis 25 years ago and has been dealing with the symptoms ever since. MS is a potentially debilitating disease in which your body's immune system eats away at the protective sheath (myelin) that covers your nerves. Damage to myelin causes interference in the communication between your brain, spinal cord and other areas of your body. This condition may result in deterioration of the nerves themselves, a process that's not reversible. But MS has never defeated Lisa. She has simply refused to let the MS define who she is. Her husband Donny, one of my best friends since high school, has been her faithful partner through all of this. Her oldest son, Mark, is married to my daughter Elizabeth, so I've been able to watch Lisa's example for years. I've learned (or, better said, I'm still learning) three lessons from her willingness to be courageous: 1) Reliance on the Lord. Lisa has never been bitter through this trial season. She recognizes that God is on control and like Job said, "He gives and takes away." Her faith is in Christ and faith is immune from any disease. 2) Contentment. In Paul's letter to the Philippians, he challenged them to "be content in whatever circumstances they were in" (4:11). Lisa does not bow to MS. It is simply an inconvenience that she works around every day. 3) An eye on the future. Lisa is in her greatest challenge as I write this blog. As the disease has continued to conflict her body, she was offered a chance to free her body of the MS through a new clinical trial. This trial is new to the US and there are only a few specialists utilizing the treatment, one of which is Lisa’s doctor in Amarillo, Texas, where she lives. Through this treatment they will remove her damaged stem cells and replace them with "clean" stem cells, thus ridding her body of the bad cells. The procedure is risky but the chance of a positive outcome will leave her well. So, she's in week three of the six-month process and people from all over the world are praying for a positive outcome. As usual, Lisa is not going through the procedure for herself, but desires to have greater mobility for those she loves. She is courageously facing the trial with faith and dignity. That's no surprise to any of us who know her. Her heart could make no other choice. Lisa, we pray for you to stay focused on the Lord and His blessings that follow. Thank you for your example…. As you conquer the fear. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Monday, May 20, 2013


"The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runs into it and is safe" -Prov. 18:10 Encouragement is a powerful tool. It literally means, "to do what is necessary to bring courage to another." If we encourage, we're building someone up and enabling them to face the difficulties of life. We are at our best when we're encouraging one another. God loves to encourage His people in a variety of ways. Having been out of town the week before, my counseling schedule for the week was packed. I was in the last session late Thursday and my brain was pretty fried. As always, I was finishing the week super impressed with everyone I had met with that week: honest, vulnerable and willing to work on their issues. As my last session was ending, I heard what I thought was music. Perhaps it was just music coming from a car in the parking lot. I prayed with the client, said goodbye and began to close down my office for the day when I heard the music again. As I opened the door to my office, the music grew louder. It was blue grass, which I love! The banjo, fiddle, bass and guitar blended into a beautiful melody of music. As I walked down the hallway, it became apparent to me that it was live. I walked downstairs to Fellowship Hall and as I turned the corner, I froze as the bluegrass band played their music. The Hall was packed with people as the band played. It was a group of musicians playing for a church function. They were so good and I thought I recognized the mandolin player on the left. As they began to discuss the Andy Griffith Show, I figured it out. It was Dean Webb, one of the original Darlings that appeared on the Show back in the 60's (far left in the photo). They began to discuss Dean's experience on the show and how much he enjoyed his time there. The Andy Griffith Show just happens to be my favorite and has to be the most popular show in the history of television. After all, fifty years later, episodes are still being shown on multiple channels. Then something magic happened. The band announced that they would play two songs that the Darlings played on the show: "Doug's tune" and "Dooley". I could not believe it! I smiled as I sang along with their music. It was exactly what I needed at the end of a difficult week. God always provides what we need. He is an encouragement machine. He always provides just what we need at just the time when we need it. In the life of the Apostle Paul, he provided Ananias after Paul was blinded in Acts 9 and, in Acts 27, an angel appeared to encourage him when his boat was sinking. Encouragement comes in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Certainly, God provides encouragement 24/7 via the Holy Spirit. God provides His Word, the Bible, to bring us encouragement. Prayer links us into God's Spirit. And brothers and sisters around us build us up during difficult times. God can use anything at anytime to build us up. He is not bound by any limitation. So, the next time you're feeling tired, down or defeated, be sure your eyes are open to God's method of encouragement. There is a condition: we have to be willing to let God crash our pity party and brighten our day. We have to be willing to step back out of ourselves and accept His tools to build us up. If we're willing to follow the sound of the music, it just might lead us to a place of encouragement. And back to Mayberry as well. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Friday, May 10, 2013

Family Ties

“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" - John 15:13 We're just returning from trips to Des Moines, Baton Rouge and Fort Worth to spend time with family. Whew. We put in lots of miles, ate a lot of food and carried lots of suitcases, but it's always worth the hassle. In the end, it's all about family. Blood really is thicker than water and I'm more and more convinced that God created us humans to need each other. We can claim independence, but we're all needy, especially for those who share our gene pool. One of my favorite movies is "Legends of the Fall." I know, it's intense and not suited for kids but it's a beautiful movie about family. I've discovered in all my years of working with families that they are always in constant change. Families are just a microcosm of ourselves- always moving and searching for truth. In Legends of the Fall, the Ludlow family, who live in rustic Montana, find their niche. Through loss and tragedy, two of the brothers grow apart. In anger, Tristan and Alfred go their separate ways. And the dad sides with Tristan. Fast forward to a scene at the end of the movie, when Tristan is about to be shot by the corrupt police. A shot rings out from nowhere to save the trapped Tristan. He and his dad turn to see that Alfred has protected his brother. The father walks over to his estranged son, pauses, and gives him a huge hug, the first in many years. In the end, the brothers and the father reconcile. I cry every time I see that scene. I cry because I love reconciliation. It's what I try to help others discover. Is it because there is some deep need I have to connect with my own family? Maybe, but I don't think so. I'm close to all my family. I think it's a God-given desire we all possess. We all have a void left by the wound of Sin. We long for connection, ultimately with our Creator. Connection with family won't fix it, but when we've corrected the connection problem with God, we're okay. And, connection with family stirs love. My favorite movie number two is even more intense. "Man on Fire" is about Creasy, a burned-out CIA assassin who is lost, addicted and unconnected. He is working in the civilian world as a bodyguard for a prominent family in Mexico. As time passes, he bonds with Pita, the little girl of the family. All is peaceful, as he grows closer to her. Then the girl is kidnapped and Creasy wounded. In love, he finds the girl and saves her. He saves her by offering himself to the kidnappers in exchange for her freedom. They grant the request, she runs to her mother and Creasy dies in the hands of the captors. I cry every time I see that scene too (I know, I'm a cry baby). That's the true definition of family: sacrifice. It's about giving up something of ourselves for the benefit of those we love. And then we become the beneficiary. Jesus gave up Himself so that we might have a relationship with God. It was and will always be the ultimate example of selflessness. Reach out to your family today. Sure, they're weird, hard to understand and different, but so are you! Go see them, if you can. But it's not about geography. Connect from wherever you are. And let the blood grow thicker and thicker. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Hit List

“But I say to you, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you" -Luke 6:27 One of God's greatest tools for discipleship is friendship. Two brothers or sisters form an amazing bond when their hearts meld together. Just ask Jonathon and David. Their friendship is described beautifully in Scripture. Or, just ask yourself how much those few life-long friendships in your life make a difference. But as rich and fulfilling as friendships can be, when they are damaged, the hurt is deep and the consequences are difficult. I knew a friend had been struggling in a friendship and I ask him how things were going between them. "Oh, I've been put on his Hit List." I asked him to clarify. "Well, he won't return my calls or my emails. I've been checked off his list. We're done." I was pretty sure I knew who he was talking about and my heart grieved as I heard his anguish. Friendships falter all the time. But it seems there is never a legitimate reason to "pull the plug" on a friendship. Never. Are we supposed to be deep brothers and sisters with everyone? No. We're not to spend all our time trying to add to our friendship total (look out Facebook friends). But we are to be friends with all we meet. And, we're called to maintain those friendships. Scripture seems clear that if we encounter a problem with a friend, we're supposed to deal with it. If we don't, our very relationship with God is damaged until the mending takes place. Jesus said in Matthew 6:15, “If you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive you." What he means is as long as we harbor anger or resentment towards a friend, we cannot experience (though we're forgiven) God's forgiveness. Oscar Wilde said, "true friends stab you in the front." And I think that's the problem. A true friend "speaks truth in love" (Eph. 4:15), feelings get hurt and reconciliation never takes place. And Satan throws a party. Sad. Someone holds on to justified resentment (hmmm) and days turn in to weeks which turn in to years. Right after Jesus talked about being a true "light to the world" and right before he talked about divorce, he talked about friendships in Matthew 5:22-25, “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering." Later on in Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus also said, " If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you". “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector." (Both of which Jesus loved dearly, by the way). Friendships are all about love and maintenance. And they work both ways. If a brother hurts us, we need to go to him and right the wrong. We work it out. It's difficult, but necessary. And, if we sense a brother is angry with us, we go to him. Or, at least we try. We can't control whether they'll take our phone call or accept our invitation to lunch. But we do our best. Paul said in Romans, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men." We can only try. Aristotle said, "A friend to all is a friend to none." Count your true friends and treasure them. Do the maintenance work necessary to keep them current. Love them and if you harbor anger or resentment, go to them- even if it's been years. Share your heart and you will be the one set free. Paul said in Romans 12:17-18, "Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men." My translation: it's never okay to harbor anger towards someone. Period. I think Joseph understood as he forgave his brothers. Take the challenge. Clean the slate. Make the phone call. Deal with it. Accept Paul's call in Ephesians 4: "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." And throw the Hit List in the trashcan. By Eric Joseph Staples ©