Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Giving Thanks for the Thorns

“…there was given me a thorn in the flesh,… most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” -2Cor. 12:7-9 How awesome! Another Thanksgiving is upon us. Our lives are a little different every Thanksgiving with our unique family trials, but what a wonderful holiday. Again, we’re all left with a decision to make: Do I bow to the difficulties and struggles I carry this week or do I turn my attention to the ways I’ve been blessed? We will always have thorns in our flesh. We always have trials in our daily living. We always have challenges emotionally, physically, and spiritually. They are God’s constant reminder of where we need to focus: on His awesome power and strength. And that is not so those difficulties will go away, but so that we can be truly thankful in the midst of the thorns. In chapter twelve of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, Paul describes his thorn. He had just told the people about a magnificent journey he had taken to heaven and about how wonderful it was. He was probably referring to his stoning in Lystra in Acts 14. You might recall that stoning in the first century was capital punishment. The idea was death. In this miraculous story, Paul was stoned and then life returned to him by the providence of God. Paul describes his heaven experience in great detail. But then he lands back on earth to describe his thorn in the flesh. We don’t know what the thorn was exactly. Some have suggested it was his eyesight, since we know he was blind for a time after his conversion. Some have suggested malaria, as it was prevalent in those days. We simply don’t know. God, in His providence, leaves the identity unknown so that we might fill in the blank with our own particular handicap. Paul goes on to say he “entreated the Lord three times that it might be removed,” but God said “let it be- let my strength be shown in your weakness.” It seems we all have issues that we feel, if they weren’t present, would leave us in great shape. But there a problem with that philosophy- it leaves us in great shape without God. It’s like a baby saying, “If I just didn’t need to be fed, clothed, housed and protected, then all would be great.” That’s true- but what’s wrong with needing a mother? Because, past all of her provision, children need the deeper love of their momma. The same is true in our relationships with God. We don’t just need what God can give us, we need who He is. In that same letter, back in Chapter 9, Paul had thanked God for His “indescribable gift.” When we’re truly seeking God and not just what He can give us, we possess a thankful heart. It’s why we’re urged by Paul again in Philippians Chapter Four to be “anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God will guard your heart and minds.” When we “let God know,” He already knows, but prayer changes our perspective from a spirit of want to a spirit of thankfulness. The old Baptist hymn said to “Count your blessings, name them one by one.” When we do the counting and the naming of our blessings, everything changes. We recognize how good our God really is. Take the time this Thanksgiving season to say “thanks” to God, not just for all you have, but for who He is. It’s okay to pray for “thorn removal”- Paul certainly did- but if God says “leave it,” be thankful. Sara Young says in her famous devotional “God Calling”, “You give God thanks (regardless of your feelings), and He gives you joy (regardless of your circumstances).” Enjoy a “thankful” Thanksgiving this year. Enjoy the food, enjoy the football, enjoy the family, and enjoy God’s love. Be thankful… …for the thorns as well. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Friday, November 15, 2013

Eric and Jennifer: Wedding Day

“…so they are no longer two, but one flesh” -Mark 10:8 After a wonderful rehearsal dinner on Friday in Dallas, Eric and Jen were officially married on Saturday night at Highland Park United Methodist church. They were and are a beautiful couple and such an excellent example of what God intended marriage to be. Their declaration of their union was powerful because they focused their marriage on a few key ingredients. Jesus Christ. From the beginning, Eric and Jen have expressed their devotion to God. They chose to invite the Lord to be the initiator and proclaimer of their love for one another. And having their wedding in a church just made sense. The word “church” invokes a lot of different reactions from people, but it’s simply a place for Christians to gather and commit themselves to thanking and praising God for all He has done and will do. The service and minister’s words all gave credit and glory to the Lord. He not only invented marriage but was responsible for bringing Eric and Jen together. Jesus is the very glue that holds any marriage together and especially with Eric and Jen, His countenance and glory are manifested through their love for on another. Family. Of course, eloping is always a less expensive option. But having a private ceremony robs the larger families from getting to be in on the celebration. Almost all of the families represented attended the weekend activities. The Staples, Condons, Masons, Beadles, Guerrieros, Hallums, and other families all journeyed to Dallas. There were almost one hundred people at the rehearsal dinner and several hundred people at the wedding. It was all a beautiful example of the family at work and the baton being passed on to another generation. In a day when more and more people are choosing to live together without being married, it not only avoids the highest level of commitment and love, but it leaves the family unit out of the equation. There is strength in family, both inside and outside of the marriage. Friends. Eric and Jen have such a solid group of friends from their days in Dallas, Austin, Fayetteville, Nashville and other places God has taken them. Their friends came from far and wide to endorse their friends’ union together. But the commitment of their friends goes deeper than the ceremony. They will be there with them through all the seasons of their lives. After all, that’s the purpose of friends. Ecclesiastics 4:10 reminds us of the worth of friends, “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.” Eric and Jen certainly have each other to bear the weight of life, but also solid friends to be with them. May Eric and Jen’s marriage be a light to all they encounter. With Jesus Christ as their source of love, may their agape love deepen between each other. May their devotion to family grow more and more as they begin their own. May their friendships be even more meaningful in their new relationship. May God continue to bless their marriage… …as they begin their union together. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Monday, November 11, 2013

Eric and Jennifer: Getting Ready

“This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” - Eph. 5:32 This past weekend, we were getting ready for our son, Eric’s, wedding. He was marrying Jennifer, a phenomenally beautiful girl, inside and out. Eric was so ready. Jen was too. It had been an exciting several months leading up to the event. All their lives, God had been preparing them to be ready for each other and now they were going to live their lives as one. The Bible refers to another bridegroom that is preparing to be married. In Ephesians Chapter Five, Paul focuses on Christ coming to be “married” to the church. Of course, believers are the church, not a building or a program or a denomination. And we are waiting, as Eric and Jen were waiting, to be joined together in the second coming of Jesus. We’re to be faithful to Him as we wait for His return. But, when it comes to our “faith” engagement time, most Christians handle it in less-than-faithful ways. “Since I don’t know the actual wedding day, I can’t really count on my bride.” The past few months, Eric and Jen have been focused entirely on each other and their union. Their anticipation has centered them more on each other, not less. A majority of Christians believe in the second coming of Jesus but few embrace the reality and let it affect their everyday lives. Paul writes repeatedly about Jesus’ return, that it might be an encouragement to believers to persevere through trial. “When I know the time of the wedding, I’ll focus more on my bride-to-be.” Eric and Jen’s actual wedding was a confirmation of their love for each other, not the beginning of their love for each other. Our love for Jesus isn’t determined by when He returns. We already have the capacity to love Him deeply and to let Him love us as well. He is with us now. “I’ve never been engaged.” Now that’s a huge issue. Eric and Jen had already expressed their deep devotion and love for one another. The wedding simply capped and confirmed their love. As Christ returns, He will gather those who have confessed their faith in Jesus. That relationship begins now, not when He returns. And I have to have a personal relationship with God through Jesus to be joined with Him upon His return. “It’s okay to have multiple wives- I’ll become monogamous when the wedding arrives.” Eric and Jen have focused their devotion and love to each other and no one else. Many a Christian focuses on multiple “wives” long before the wedding day. Money, health, career, self and others are not bad in themselves, but when they become substitutes for the love of Jesus, they are destructive. “I am head-over-heels excited to marry this woman and can’t wait to begin the journey of life together.” As Eric and Jen walked down the aisle of the church, you could see the deep love they had for one another shining in their faces. They are simply God’s match for one another and are meant to journey their course of life together. God has designed us the same way. We were meant to be His children and to spend all eternity together with Him. Yes, it is a mystery, but love is always mysterious and wonderful, all at the same time. May we enjoy our engagement time with God. We don’t need to hide in a cave and wait for His return, but its okay to be excited about the wedding day. May it be our very encouragement to finish the course He has planned for us all. May we have the same deep love and devotion for Christ that is evident in Eric and Jennifer… …before the wedding and beyond. By Eric Joseph Staples ©