Sunday, May 22, 2016

Half Empty or Half Full?

“Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” -Col. 3:2 The other day, someone accused me of being an optimist. Actually, they were just agitated with me for not jumping on their bandwagon of frustration and anger towards the “state of America,” as they put it. I prefer the wagon called hope and truth. It’s a better ride and breeds healing and peace. It’s risky and unpredictable but lends itself to true, healthy heart change. It’s always been a popular Christian theme to preach: “America is falling apart and deteriorating like never before. We need to go back to where we once were.” Really? Back to what? To a Civil War? To blatant segregation? To state-sanctioned slavery? To World Wars? To Organized Crime ruling the streets? To gun fights in the streets? As Pastor John Pavolovitz says, “People have always been bigoted, petty, and ignorant, they just all didn’t have free, 24-hour self-promotion machines where they could advertise as much on a regular basis.
 There have always been corrupt governments, contemptible politicians, and hypocritical religious leaders, only now we have more people armed with the resources to unearth and expose them.
Gross injustices against the poor, the LGBTQ community, women, immigrants, and people of color have existed since America was a newborn. We just didn’t have phone cameras to broadcast it to the world and to make it commonplace. Teenagers have always followed the rush of their raging hormones into all sorts of regrettable messes, they just didn’t have Snapchat to preserve it for posterity.” My dad used to say, “Don’t believe what they say about the good ‘ole days. They were ‘hard ole days.’” Disease and war and poverty ruled and rule the day. But God was just as present then as He is now. So was a struggling society. The “world is worse now” theory would imply that the world must have been better a few thousand years ago. We just finished an exhaustive (and yes, I’m tired) full-length study of the book of Genesis. It was wonderful. We discovered again that the early world was a mess! Every sin that is rampant now was equally as destructive then. But God countered every wrong move with His own move of grace. The world, apart from God, was and is a mess. But hope is still alive and well. The truth is, every older generation views the younger generations in worse shape than their own. Simply think back 5o years to the late 60’s and early 70’s in America. Rampant drug problems, the height of the Vietnam War, shooting of students at Kent State by the National Guard, forced segregation and rioting across the nation, Watergate scandal at the White house, Madalyn Murray O'Hair leading the atheist movement across America. Crazy times! They were crazy then. They are crazy now. Yes, we live in challenging times. But times have always been challenging. God is still in control and there is reason for hope. To be fatalistic and negative doesn’t help. It only sends us into a judgmental faultfinding mode. It only promotes bigotry and callousness. True, as God’s people, we don’t need to stick our heads in the sand. But we don’t need to cut off heads either. We need to teach our kids about the love of Christ. We need to train them on what it means to walk with Jesus. We need to address and mingle with a lost world. It’s the only way to spread the hope. We do need to go back to where we once were- back to the Garden where complete dependence was on God and His provision. But the Bible tells us that’s not going to happen. This world is not going to be fixed. But the people in it can be- one person at a time. And, in the big picture of things, Jesus is coming back soon anyway. All of the catastrophic events of the world are just signs of His eminent return. Paul tells us to be encouraged by that truth (1 Thess. 4:18). He tells us to place our hope on the truth that we’ll be forever with Jesus. There is still hope in this world because there is still God in this world. And true hope is only found through compassionate, loving Christians leaning on the awesome God of the Universe. We need to be prayerful on how we’re be used to promote God’s love. Sometimes our message is tough. Sometimes it’s corrective. But if it’s not bathed in love, it’s worthless. Paul likens it to a “noisy gong” (1 Cor. 13). It makes us feel better, but it’s of no value. So, consider taking the “half full” challenge. Cut out “the things that are on earth” and focus on setting your mind on “the things above.” Don’t dwell on the 5:30 national news (it’s all negative). Choose to see the positive. Spend time in God’s Word. Spend time in prayer for our lost world. Share a message of Hope with your neighbor but be a person of Hope as well. Take a drink out of that half-empty cup. It’s not empty. People apart from God are still built in the image of God. They need Him badly. They’re just lost. Embrace them. Love them. Help them. Touch them and let them touch you. You’ll experience God’s peace… …and you’ll discover that the cup is half-full. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Course Corrections

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” -Heb. 12:1 Courses come in all shapes and sizes. Most of the time, they aren’t laid out as we’d prefer them to be. But rest assured, those courses designed by God are absolutely perfect. Our responsibility is to RUN. And run hard. When our son Eric began running this strange sport called “Cross Country,” Jeanie and I were clueless. Neither one of us had ever been involved with the sport. We showed up at Eric’s first race and stood at what we thought was the finish line, waiting for him to finish the race. Soon we noticed that the crowd wasn’t gathering where we were standing. And as the race began, we realized we were standing in the wrong place. We eventually learned that a good “course parent” follows their kids as they run the race. Then they lead you to the finish line. We soon learned why. Cross-country courses are CRAZY! No two courses are the same. They are all designed differently. Like golf courses, every cross-country course has it’s own design. Most are laid out to maximize the athlete. Paul challenges us to run our course well. And all of our “courses” look and feel different. But He has laid out our courses exactly as He wishes. Some courses may seem easier than others, but rest assured, our courses are specifically designed for us alone- not for anyone else. We get in trouble when we compare courses. I have nothing to do with your course. I’m to focus on my course and run it with endurance. “But Lord, his course is better and easier than my course! It’s not fair.” But course designs are not meant to be fair- they are meant to be freeing. When we run our course with endurance, God is glorified and I am blessed. Not blessed with easiness, but blessed with deep down peace. And yes, God is waiting for us at the finish line, but He’s also with us as we run every inch of the race. So run hard. Test your motives. C.S. Lewis said, in his famous book “Mere Christianity,” that at the root of pride is a competitive spirit. We think that, “It’s not enough to be blessed, I have to be more blessed than others.” A life well lived is a life of running our courses well. May we all run our individual courses to the max. No comparing, no competition, no envy- simply using all of the gifts and talents God has given us to run without wavering. Manage your course with endurance… and enjoy the run! By Eric Joseph Staples ©