Monday, March 23, 2020

Surviving, Part Two

“I press on…” -Phil. 3:14 Surviving is way underrated. There’s a lot to be said for just “hanging in there” in the midst of difficult situations. It depends on what we choose to lean on. As I’ve counseled hundreds of families over the years, I’ve spent countless hours with people grieving over losses: loving moms and dads going through heavy trials with their teenage sons and daughters (and vice versa!); heart-broken families dealing with the loss of loved ones; countless other scenarios of people experiencing grief over something they were losing or had lost. But they are true survivors who refused to give into the difficulty. They believed and trusted and loved, even when no one else would. They took their grief to God and found His peace. A few years ago, Jeanie and I were traveling through Oklahoma City on our way to Amarillo. We decided to stop and visit the Oklahoma City Memorial that honors all those involved in the April 19, 1995 bombing. We walked and toured the Memorial and we were touched by the tragedy. An American elm on the north side of the Memorial was the only shade tree in the parking lot across the street from the Murrah Building, and commuters would come into work early to get one of the shady parking spots provided by its branches. Photos of Oklahoma City taken around the time of statehood (1907) show this tree, meaning it is currently at least 113 years old. Despite its age, the tree was neglected and taken for granted prior to the blast. Heavily damaged by the bomb, the tree ultimately survived after nearly being chopped down during the initial investigation, in order to recover evidence hanging in its branches and embedded in its bark. The force of the blast ripped most of the branches from the Survivor Tree, glass and debris were embedded in its trunk and fire from the cars parked beneath it blackened what was left of the tree. Most thought the tree could not survive. However, almost a year after the bombing, family members, survivors and rescue workers gathered for a memorial ceremony under the tree, noticed it was beginning to bloom again. The Survivor Tree now thrives, and an intricate irrigation system keeps the tree healthy. Hundreds of seeds from the Survivor Tree are planted annually and the resulting saplings are distributed each year on the anniversary of the bombing. Thousands of Survivor Trees are growing today in public and private places all over the United States; saplings were sent to Columbine High School after the massacre there, to New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani after the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, and various other times. As difficulty and trial come our way, may we never let go of the hand of God and “hang in there” as the battle rages. I had a dad say to me once, “Joey, no matter what it takes, I’m going to hang in there with my boy. When I look back on this life, I want to look back with no regrets. I may be broke, but I’ll know I gave everything I had to love and save my son.” All we can do is love the best we know how and survive under God’s grace. Like the Survivor Tree in Oklahoma City, you might be battered and scarred, but you can stand tall as an example of God’s strength to a struggling world. You, too, are spreading seeds of hope and love to those around you as you hang on. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Freedom or Fear?

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” -John 14:27 Fear is indeed a strange thing. When we have it all under control (or at least we think we do), life could not be better: I predicted which team would win (and they did), I got the raise at work (and I deserved it), I fixed the car (I am amazing), my health is excellent (I could run forever)…the list goes on and on. But when we lose control (or at least we think we do), all is ruined: my favorite team loses, the car breaks down and a virus hits the shores of the United States. Someone said the opposite of control is fear. Hope is handing control over to a Sovereign God. The Bible is an awesome collection of God-ordained writings and episodes about life. It’s God speaking to us about all we’ll encounter this side of heaven. It’s there for our teaching and training. Read God’s response to these amazing men of faith as they struggled with fear: Jeremiah “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you,” declares the Lord" -Jer. 1:8 Abraham "After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great.” Gen. 15:1 Moses "But the Lord said to Moses, “Do not fear him, for I have given him into your hand, and all his people and his land; and you shall do to him as you did to Sihon, king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon.” -Num. 21:34 “But the LORD said to me, ‘Do not fear him, for I have delivered him and all his people and his land into your hand; and you shall do to him just as you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon." -Deut. 3:2 Daniel "Then he said to me, “Do not be afraid, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart on understanding this and on humbling yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words." -Dan. 10:12 "He said, “O man of high esteem, do not be afraid. Peace be with you; take courage and be courageous!” Now as soon as he spoke to me, I received strength and said, “May my lord speak, for you have strengthened me.” -Dan. 10:19 Mary "The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God." -Luke 1:30 Peter "…and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.” -Luke 5:10 Paul ",,,saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.’" -Acts 27:24 The Gospel writers tell us that even Jesus was “distressed to the point of death” (Matt. 26:38; Mark 14:34) but He never lost connection with God. He always gave control to His loving Father. It’s important for us to understand that it’s not “either-or.” Trusting God and giving control to Jesus does not mean we don’t experience fear. It does mean that when the fear button is pressed, I go to my garden and give it to my Lord. I give it over. And over. And, if necessary, over again. I pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17). I release it to my loving God. Kobe Bryant and his daughter’s tragic death six weeks ago shocked the world. After all, people like Kobe Bryant aren’t supposed to die in helicopter crashes. And now we’re dealing with society’s managing of the Corona Virus. After all, people like us aren’t supposed to be quarantined. March Madness is supposed to be played! The Master’s has to happen?!? Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt. A loss of control. Fear. But trust, assurance, and faith are our promise in Christ. There once was this criminal who had committed a crime. He was sent to the king for his punishment. The king told him he had a choice of two punishments: he could be hung by a rope. Or, take what’s behind the big, dark, scary, mysterious door. The criminal quickly decided on the rope. As the noose was being slipped on him, he turned to the king and asked: “By the way, out of curiosity, what’s behind the door?” The king laughed and said: “You know, it’s funny, I offer everyone the same choice, and nearly everyone picks the rope,” “So”, said the criminal, “Tell me. What’s behind the door? I mean, obviously, I won’t tell anyone,” he said, pointing to the nose around his neck. The king paused then answered: “Freedom, but it seems most people are so afraid of the unknown that they immediately take the rope” May we all choose freedom. And that freedom is a prayer away, as we give our fear and anxiety over to a lovingly controlling God. Yep, America doesn’t have its favorite analgesic and numbing device available today: sports! But God promises to be a true deliverer. He doesn’t promise He’ll deliver us out of the difficulty, but He does promise He’ll deliver us as we’re in it. That’s true freedom… …and a freedom that lasts forever. By Eric Joseph Staples ©