Thursday, July 24, 2014

Gracefully Speeding

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” -Eph. 2:8 First Baptist Church in Branson, the wonderful church where I serve, is in the same neighborhood as the Catholic Church. I love the church next door for one reason: it’s bells. The have an amazing tower where the bells chime hymns throughout the day. My favorite is “Amazing Grace.” As a matter of fact, as I’m writing this, Amazing Grace is playing across the parking lot. It always moves me. Every time I hear it, it stirs my soul. Grace is like that. Any time we’re given something we don’t deserve, it settles our soul. Twenty years ago, we were driving to Fort Worth to visit my mom and were making our way through Ft. Smith Arkansas on Interstate 40. The kids were young and playing in the back of our mini-van and I was cruising along at the posted speed limit, 70 miles an hour. As we neared the Arkansas-Oklahoma state line, a highway patrolman pulled me over. “I need to see your license please sir,” the patrolman said. As I handed it to him, I commented, “I really think I was going the posted speed limit sir.” “No sir, I clocked you at 72 miles an hour”, he responded. I had just noticed the “speed limit 70 miles an hour” sign and at the bottom of the sign it read, “strictly enforced.” Wow. I had no “come back” for the officer. He was 100% correct. I wasn’t speeding by much, but I was speeding. He walked back from his patrol car and said, “I’m giving you a warning today, but slow it down and have a great day.” “Yes sir”, I responded and drove away. I was relieved and frustrated at the same time, but he was right. I was speeding. A few weeks ago, we were in Fort Worth headed to our favorite Mexican food restaurant, Joe T. Garcia’s. I was talking with my brother in the front seat and the ladies were in the back of the car. I glanced in the rear-view mirror to see a patrol car behind me. “He’ll probably pass,” I thought. But he turned on his lights and I pulled over. “You were going 48 in a 35” he said. I couldn’t believe it, but radars don’t lie. “I had no idea,” I said. He ask for my driver’s license and went back to his car. I was hoping for a warning, but he was in the patrol car for over 5 minutes before he returned. I knew I would be paying a huge fine. “Today is your lucky day,” he said. “My ticket writer isn’t working, so I’m giving you a warning.” He drove away and I sat there in shock. Twenty-five years ago, we received a letter in the mail from our bank here in Branson. As we read it tears came to our eyes. Our car note had been paid in full and they thanked us for doing business with them. We thought one of our parents or a friend had paid it for us. We were overwhelmed with gratitude until the call came from the bank the next day. “We made a mistake,” the vice president explained.” “That letter went to the wrong person and we apologize.” We were stunned and disappointed but understood. The common theme in all three stories? Grace. I got what I didn’t deserve. In both speeding stories, I deserved to pay a big fat fine. Sure, I was barely speeding in the first story and really speeding in the second story, but in both situations I was guilty. In story three, I received a gift, but only for a day. Then I was brought back to the reality of my debt. God’s gift of grace trumps any speeding ticket or paid off loan. God offers us His love, period. It’s a free gift. Grace is super complicated in it’s origin but is meant to be super simple in it’s application. We simply accept it. We simply walk in His love. God, through Jesus, tells us we are free. Jesus says to put our faith in Him, accept his free gift of grace, let him love us, then drive away in peace. We should try not to speed because living without boundaries is dangerous, but we need to enjoy the ride as well. Is grace a bit enabling? Yes. Is grace a bit naive? Yes. Is grace real? Yes. Try it on this week. Wear it around for a while. Let it fit who you are. And enjoy the ride… …as it settles your soul. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Trip, part 4: Washington D.C.

"Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord…"-Psalm 33:12 As we neared Washington D.C. we all felt the adrenaline rush. We had been visiting Virginia battlefields and landmarks for several days where the Confederates had won most of the battles. At our last stop, Manassas, Lee troop’s won the field and seemed poised to march on Washington, but of course, that all changed. Thankfully, in God’s providence, the United States prevailed. But we tend to take the liberty for granted. We need to remind ourselves and our children that freedom isn’t free- it came and comes with a price. And Washington D.C. is a memorial to that cost. As we crossed the Potomac River, we looked up to see the D.C. skyline and eventually the silhouette of the Capital building. We made our way to the Residence Inn across from the Pentagon, where we would spend the next two days. We paused in front of the hotel and stared at the Pentagon. We tried to imagine the scene, thirteen years ago, when the terrorists flew an airplane straight into the Pentagon. The country persevered the 9-11 attacks and the nation moved on. We are a country that seems to thrive on adversity. We are at our best when we are dealt the worst. The next morning, we boarded the “Metro” (subway) and made our way to Arlington National Cemetery. We had been to the huge Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, but as we walked through Arlington, we realized the size and enormity of it all. We were truly on hallowed ground and we were in awe as we toured the vast rolling hills. Kennedy’s gravesite was particularly moving. We travelled on to the Capital area where we took a guided tour of the Capital building. The power in the air was as thick as the marble staircases and decorated ceilings. We were reminded that the White House and Capitol are ours, the property of the people. We are the government. As much as we feel separate from it all, we are a government of the people and by the people. We walked to the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the MLK Memorial, the World War Two Memorial and the Holocaust Memorial. They were all reminders that so many have given so much so that we might be able to walk in freedom. Nearly every carved inscription on every monument mentioned our everlasting and eternal God. Before we left, we went back to Arlington to watch the changing of the guard to honor the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We crowded around the site and stood silent as the soldiers went through their solemn routine. It was another reminder of those who have anonymously given the ultimate price for our freedom. As we waited to board the bus, a funeral motorcade passed us. We all stood at attention with our hands on our hearts in honor of the grieving family. The widow mouthed “thank you” as the limo passed by. It was a sacred moment. The next morning, as we left Washington, we departed appreciating the privilege of being citizens of the United States. We have our problems for sure. But the scope and message of Washington reminds us that liberty is not easily broken. As a country, we might bend and sway, but our foundation of freedom is sure. As Lincoln said, “This nation, under God, will experience a new birth of freedom.” Our prayer is that even with all our diversity, we would remain under God. Thousands of years of world history reminds us that the health of any nation is contingent upon allegiance to its Creator. We are truly at our best when we’re dealt the worst. We’re at our best because a loving God watches over us… …and may He shed His grace on us forever. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The World Cup

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it” -1 Cor. 9:24 For most Americans, the World Cup ended last week. After all, we lost. But it’s not really over. The field has narrowed down to four teams all vying for the title as the best team in the world. But for most of us living in the U.S., when our National team loses, we move on. We simply will not tolerate a “loser.” And it’s that definition of loser that could use an overhaul. When the World Cup takes place, it exposes us Americans and our interesting perspective on competing. Our diligence keeps the country strong but can keep the people discontent. Let’s teach our families to enjoy the journey as well as the final score. It takes four years for more than 250 national teams to narrow down to 64 teams that qualify for the “finals” of the World Cup tournament. Four years!!! What we call the Super Bowl and the World Series are small when compared to the entire world involved in the World Cup. For most of the world, soccer is the most popular if not the only significant sport available to their people. It is easily the most popular game in the world, but not in the United States. There are several reasons why. We like action. Americans like lots of points. We prefer a high scoring NBA game where each team nets 100 plus points. Soccer is referred to as “the beautiful game” because of the art displayed in ball control. For most soccer “purists,” the score is secondary to the strategy. Good soccer requires patience. The build up to a strong offense is similar to a game of chess. Early moves lead to counter moves and finally an attempt at scoring. Of course, the irony is that the average NFL game has a total of 11 minutes actual action; a baseball game an average of 14 minutes but soccer games have 90 plus minutes of action with no timeouts. Soccer teaches us that good decisions take time. Soccer teaches us to slow down and enjoy the journey. We like to keep score. A friend of mine from Africa was a professor at the local college. When he came to the States, he organized a soccer club for the students. He told me he was surprised to hear the students’ preoccupation with the score of the game. “Let’s just play,” he would tell them. We are obsessed with comparison. Attend any T-ball game for little kids and you’ll see what I mean. There is no scoring in T-ball. The kids hit off a “tee” and it’s simply a game of fun. But invariably there is a helicopter parent in the stands marking down the score of the game. We keep score because we judge how we’re doing by how well the person next to us is doing. Soccer teaches us to measure the quality of the game by how it’s played, not by the score. We like to win. Soccer games end in ties. If it’s a championship, there is extra time or penalty kicks to determine which team advances. But for most soccer matches, the game is recorded as a tie if the two teams play to a draw. Americans want a winner. Some games are truly a draw. Both teams play a level game. But we simply have to have a winner. Someone said that a tie is like “kissing your sister.” I’m not really sure what that means, but sometimes a tie is warranted. Soccer teaches us to redefine winning. It is more than the score on a scoreboard. Winning is doing the best that we can while using our talent to the max. We are obsessed with all sports. In America, we have so many major leagues. Between the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, and NASCAR, there is hardly room for soccer. The best athletes in the United States are spread out into many sports while in most countries the best athletes only play soccer. It amazing that we field teams that compete at such a high level. So, in a week the World Cup will be truly be over. I’m still predicting that the host country, Brazil, will win it all. I do hope you watch the final game in a few days. Sit back, relax, and appreciate the game itself, not the score. Teach your kids and grandkids to embrace the journey as well as the final destination. Don’t miss the “beautiful game” as you’re waiting on the final score. God has numbered all of our days. Each day is a wonderful gift to enjoy. Please don’t miss this beautiful life… …as time winds down for us all. By Eric Joseph Staples ©