Monday, January 13, 2020

The New Year

“Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead…” -Phil. 3:13 Welcome to the New Year! It has come again. Regardless of how 2019 went down, 2020 has arrived. Every new year God is faithful and determined to impart Himself to us. We can run, but we cannot hide. As was true for 2019, 2020 is also a year of immense potential, if we choose to tap into it. Our home sits on two and a half acres of beautiful wooded land across the lake from Branson, Missouri. Our five-year-old Lab, Sammy, owns the backyard and has a dog door into our garage. She loves to explore. When we return home and the garage door rises, it opens up the potential of a wonderful adventure for her: either hang tight in the garage and receive a delicious dog biscuit for staying put or take off for the woods to its smells and varmints and fun. The truth is, it’s much easier to just stay put. The “garage option” is simple and consistent. It’s familiar and predictable and safe. Heading to the woods is risky. It’s unknown and new and unpredictable. But it’s also an adventure that has potential. In his classic book, Wild Goose Chase, Mark Batterson writes that “Chasing the Wild Goose is dangerous but is also a beautiful adventure.” Sammy headed to the woods is an adventure with so much potential for her. A few weeks ago, Sammy chose to go on that adventure into the woods. She returned home with the skeletal backbone and skull of a small deer, all in one piece. As she deposited her prize in the backyard, she was SO proud! She had mastered the woods! She had seized and conquered. The alterative was to play it safe, hang in the garage and snarf down the dog biscuit. But she went for the prize in the woods! So, guess what? The garage door is up for each one of us! It’s 2020 and a blank slate lies ahead. Staying put in the garage is the safe and easy choice, but exploring the woods is the true adventure. All true adventures begin with going to God. He is the ultimate adventure guide and will lead us to amazing places. Opportunity awaits all of us, but only if we’re willing to risk and explore. Sure, some won’t like us leaving. But we can’t be found until we are a bit lost. Others will just have to adjust. Risk looks different for us all. It might mean we pursue a friendship with someone (risky); It might mean we change our major (risky); It might mean volunteering for a new organization this year (risky); It might mean we go on that mission trip at church (risky); It might mean we walk over to the neighbor’s yard and say hello (risky). The list is endless, and the opportunities only wait for the Lord’s leading. Let 2020 be a year of trust and prayer and risk. Let it be a year of failure and freedom, of dependence and success. Every truly successful person experiences a lot of failures. And it’s okay. They are not failures if God led the way. The score doesn’t determine the winner. The prize goes to the ones who give it all. Thank you, Wes Neal, for your words of wisdom years ago: “If, in the name of Jesus, we totally release our gifts and talents in what we do, we are winners every time, no matter the results.” My late boss, friend and mentor was a wonderful man named Richard Beach. He believed in me and coached me in ministry for nearly twenty-five years. I sure miss him. We were different in that he loved to take the risk. I loved to play it safe. He knew that true discipleship always includes risk taking- not on projects but on people. Actually, it involves both. People are a mess with no guarantees. Sometimes we’ll pour our lives into a Judas and he’ll sell us out. But we pour anyway. Why? Because love believes all things. Yes, it gets burned sometimes, but our Lord will accept the blow for us. May our loving God be our guide in 2020. May He will lead us to “places we never could have imagined going by ways we never knew existed,” IF (and a big “if”) we’re willing to go. People and projects really are an adventure. In this year, 2020, let’s be willing to risk… …and in the hands of God, we will always be a success. Eric Joseph Staples ©

Friday, November 22, 2019

Lessons Learned from the Pheasant Hunt

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity” -Psa. 133:1 This past weekend, seven men (linked by family) and I went pheasant hunting in South Dakota. The weather was beautiful, which is kind of risky this time of year, and the birds were flying. We “harvested” a bounty of pheasants and the fellowship and accommodations were tremendous. The Janke family made it all possible, especially Dave Janke, our host, guide and friend. We had a blast (no pun intended) and learned a lot. Lesson #1: “People Are Better Than Projects” The hunting was absolutely tremendous, but the time with brothers and friends was the best part. We were all family, literally, on the trip. The time we spent eating together was great (and I mean we ate well! Thank you, Mrs. Janke!) We spent a lot of time just talking and laughing and watching football. We travelled to some of the local eating establishments for some great burgers and food. And we spent time in the “hunters’ garage” (as I call it) just talking about life. The best part of any project is the people in the project. As my wise mentor, Richard Beach, used to say, “It’s about getting people done through projects, not projects done with people.” Rich lived out the creed of focusing on people. We did and it was a treasure. Lesson #2: “Pheasants Are A Lot Like Us” (Thank you Dave for this insight) Like any type of hunting, pheasant hunting is unique. The birds, both roosters and hens, aren’t predators, so they have learned how to survive by using cover as their safety shield. Pheasants don’t live in the wide-open spaces, instead they use foliage as their cover. So, flushing them out of that cover is paramount. Walking through the fields and having dogs to find and point them is necessary. But even then, these birds have learned how to survive. They have learned that if they remain slow and silent as they venture away from the coming danger, they will avoid detection. Hunters have adapted as well. They have learned to set up hunters on the other side of the fields to await the pheasants as they scurry away from the walking hunters. The pheasants crouch and walk away from the hunters and think they’re getting away. Truth is they’re running straight into the “blockers.” This is much like our own sin. We think we’re getting away with something, but our sins always find us out. We don’t get away from anything. We’re only truly free when we confess our sin to a loving Savior and experience His forgiveness. Lesson #3: “Hunting is a Fun Adventure, but the Real Adventure is at Home” We had such a great time in South Dakota. The Janke family were amazing hosts for us. And the bird hunting was so successful. I will always treasure the memories of our time together. It was true adventure and we plan to go again next year. But the TRUE adventure awaited us all when we returned home. Like a lot of things, hunting can become an addiction. Some men hunt every weekend, neglecting their family and hunting every kind of animal possible. That’s because hunting can be an escape from the realities and stressors of home. Sure, we all need a break from time to time and that’s OK, but our true worth comes with us leaning in and being the best husbands, dads, co-workers and friends we can be. The adrenaline rush that comes with knocking down a bird is dwarfed in comparison to the rush produced by playing with kids or cherishing our wives or using our gifts at work. Lesson #4: “Focus on Success Not Failure” or, “A Little Humility is Always a Good Thing” Did you know that the famous MLB Mickey Mantle leads all kinds of home run stats, but he also struck out an average of 115 times a year? That stat leads most of all famous players. The point is he failed a lot, but he succeeded a lot too. That’s how it seems to work. Those who risk failure typically achieve success, because they are secure enough to take the risk and handle the potential failure. Someone said, “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” Insecurity is enough to keep people from taking any shots. I took a shot on the first day of the hunt and made a mistake. For breeding purposes, hens (females) are not to be shot, only roosters. With my earplugs in, I didn’t hear the other hunters yelling “hen” (in other words, “don’t shoot”). So, not noticing its distinctive features, I shot a hen. I felt terrible. Of course, later that day and the next day, I shot 4-5 beautiful roosters, but shooting that hen bothered me. I felt shame, I prayed it through and released my mistake. Sometimes it’s hard to let mistakes go, but I am still learning that I am not what I do. I am a redeemed child of God, period. As the Dixie Chicks remind us, we need “wide open spaces, room to make big mistakes.” I think I’ll focus on the roosters and not the mistake. We did have an amazing time in South Dakota. Hunting the beautiful pheasants was so much fun. Thank you Dave, Bo, Trent, Eric, Brian, Mark and Joel for a wonderful time. I look forward to our next hunt together… …and the other adventures ahead. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Monday, October 28, 2019

Yad Vashem

“Watch yourself, that you do not forget the LORD who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” -Deut. 6:12 “Yad Vashem” is a Hebrew phrase literally meaning “a monument and a name” (my Hebrew professor at Baylor is smiling right now). It is used in the context of the Holocaust of the 1930’s by the Nazi regime against European Jews, and it carries the motto to “never forget.” What we remember and what we forget makes all the difference in the quality of our lives. One of the most famous monuments in the world is called the Yad Vashem, Israel's official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. It is dedicated to preserving the memory of the dead; honoring Jews who fought against their Nazi oppressors and Gentiles who selflessly aided Jews in need; and researching the phenomenon of the Holocaust in particular and genocide in general, with the aim of avoiding such events in the future. God, in His creative design, built man with a phenomenal computer called a brain. Even the most powerful computers of today don't come close to equaling the brain’s power. Perhaps the most amazing part of the brain is the cortex, the seat of the brain that involves short and long term memory. We are designed to be able to forget some things and remember others. There are people today who claim that the Holocaust never took place. They do concede that the Jews were mistreated, but they claim there were no gas chambers or persecutions or murders. Yet, as the aged survivors testify, these events did happen. By remembering, we recognize that we all have the capacity to do it again. That evil lurks in all of our hearts. We like to think of the Nazi regime as being a mentally ill, incapacitated people. Truth is, they were people like us. Yet they justified and reasoned away their actions. They had forgotten the atrocities of people before them. Civil War monuments and confederate flags are being taken down across the country like never before. They are seen as offensive by many people as supporting racial inequality. But the Civil War actually took place. Removing the monuments will only numb us to the reality of the price we paid, as a country, for being divisive. Edmund Burke, the famous British statesman in the 1700’s, said "Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it." A classic example is Hitler's invasion of Russia. Napoleon had tried that, and Hitler made the same mistake, and suffered the same fate. On both occasions, the Russians simply retreated, drawing the enemy further and further into Russia in their advance, and then, when they Russian winter struck, and the invaders were unprepared and ill-equipped to deal with it, they were slaughtered by the thousands during their retreat. We do the same thing and we are not aware. We tend to forget what we need to remember and remember what we need to forget. Most of us remember our failures. Sometimes the “memory tapes” and memories of difficult times haunt us, even though they are in the past. Paul, who did some pretty terrible things before he came to know Christ (Acts 8:3) was not afraid to share that part of his past, even though those things did not define him. He wrote, “…one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”- Phil. 3:13-14. He let go of the past, not literally forgetting (which would require a frontal lobotomy- not a good thing), but by letting those things go and moving on. Paul was able to spread the good news of Jesus and not forget His faithfulness. Jesus had just fed the five thousand. Then He fed the four thousand. They were both miraculous and the disciples were there. They saw and experienced both events. Then, the disciples became hungry and realized they had no food. “Where will we get food” they wondered? “Jesus, aware of this, said, “You men of little faith, why do you discuss among yourselves that you have no bread? Do you not yet understand or remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets full you picked up? Or the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many large baskets full you picked up? How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread?” -Matt. 16:10-11. As my brother-in-law Brian would say, “They were as sharp as a marble.” Their hearts and spirits were dull. But they were learning as we are. Our challenge is to keep our spirits and souls sharp. We do that by remembering what God has done for us. He has always been faithful. He has always provided. His will is perfect and true. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to us and His timing is not ours, but it’s always best. May we remember the things that matter. May we always remember the faithfulness of our wonderful God and Yad Vashem, “never forget”… …even when we’re hungry. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

A Box of Chocolates?

“Not that I speak from want, for I’ve learned to be content in whatever circumstances I’m in” -Phil. 4:11 Forrest Gump’s mom said, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.” It does seem that when everything is settled and under control, things change. One thing is for sure, if we place our security in insecure things, we’re not very secure. I don’t think God is necessarily into change, but He is totally into growth. What we run to when things are changing makes all the difference! Like an episode from the Andy Griffith Show, I had an unexpected adventure this past Sunday. I was dressed and prepped to leave for church when, from the kitchen, Jeanie ask an unusual question, “What kind of animal is that in the backyard?” Like a scene from a movie, everything began to move in slow motion. I looked out the window and a sickly thin possum was staggering across our back yard. Immediately, my brain kicked into gear. Possums are night creatures and only hang out in the daytime if they’re sick, rabid or really hungry. As I darted into the backyard, I had one thing in mind, our yellow lab Sammy. I knew she would instinctively attack the possum and that a sick possum could do harm to her. As I ran out the back door toward the possum, here came Sammy from the garage, flying across the backyard. I tried to tackle her, but, being 90 lbs, she knocked me over, into the grass and the dirt of our yard. She ran near the possum to sniff, but then backed away. I shooed her away and with a rake pushed the possum onto the other side of our fence. It scurried away. The slow motion ended and I began to breathe again. My hands were cut from the fall. My clothes were ruined and I had to be at church in 15 minutes to help lead the first service! “Iron my other pants!” I yelled to Jeanie. She told me later she was laughing at me from the window. It really must have looked funny! I scurried into the house, changed clothes and made the first service. I’m sure I had a stutter in my voice as I prayed and read scripture. The morning was nothing I expected. Life rarely follows our schedule. That’s how it is with chocolates. Some boxes tell you what kind of chocolate there is and where it’s located in the box. But most don’t. Why? Beause to the manufactures it all tastes great! “To a hammer everything looks like a nail.” To our loving God, every situation is an opportunity for us to learn dependence on Him. That’s the spin our loving God puts on our life experiences. Hebrews 5:8 reminds us that “Jesus learned obedience from the things He suffered.” He was willing to be submissive to his Father’s will, even to death on a cross. We too have the opportunity and choice to learn, or not to learn. May we run to our loving God when the crisis hits. May we surrender to our loving Savior when the change is great. May we go to Him when our security is compromised. Whatever the flavor of the chocolate, may we indulge in every bite. And let God be our strength. The possum’s are coming…. …ready or not. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Friday, August 2, 2019

The Staples Family Reunion- 2019

“Grandchildren are the crown of old men, and the glory of sons is their fathers” -Prov. 17:6 The concept of Family (with a capital “F”) is awesome. This past weekend, we had the Staples Reunion for the branch of one of Pelham Staples Sr.’s sons, Pelham Staples Jr., my dad. Thirty (give or take a few) of his son’s, grandkids and great grandkids gathered in San Antonio, Texas for a great time together. We had a lot of fun as we celebrated the legacy and heritage of the Staples family and the roots that continue to grow. We do this every other summer. Yep, it’s crazy and wild, but is so much fun. For many years, the Pelham Porter Staples Sr. family tree gathered in Roopville, Georgia, at the “old home place,” to share stories and just be together. I remember attending those reunions as a kid and then as a young adult. For a kid, it was a little boring but I loved meeting and seeing the “legends” of the Staples family. All the “old” people told stories and I listened and took mental notes. I sensed that those times were special. I could feel the roots going back for generations. But soon the aunts and uncles began to pass away, the old Roopville house was sold and the reunions ceased. But the seeds remained. And we’re doing our best to continue the legacy. It was so fun to watch all the great-grandkids being themselves. So many different temperaments linked by a similar family. They were happy and secure and free. And while the Staples family is far, far from perfect, it is mostly healthy. (“I’m a little mean, but I make up for it by being really healthy” –Earnest T. Bass. That’s for you Bob) It was a special time for lots of reasons: We saw loved ones in the great-grandkids. The Staples’ have a Scotch-Irish heritage. The tendency toward blond hair, blue eyes, high cheekbones and fair skin has left sunburns on the Staples family for generations! Watching the family interact was amazing as so many of the clan looked like each other. It was beautiful. We saw it in the temperaments and personalities too. Us Staples’ can be a little… hard-headed or, better said, confident. But the love of family prevails. We needed to visit about what we were missing. As we shared the weekend together, we reflected on the family members that have passed on. Dad passed away in 1988, Pel in 2013, Marc in 2015 and Mom in 2017. We have been through a lot of loss as a family. Being together and telling stories helped us all. We mourned the losses but embraced the gains, especially in the faces of the twelve great-grandchildren. We had fun. We spent a lot of time swimming, diving, riding roller coasters and just being together. We went to Sea World, the Alamo, the Riverwalk and all around San Antonio. Mostly, we just hung out together. Though we all came from different parts of the country, there was ease in being family. It was just good to chill out together. And to eat and eat and eat some more! The Mexican dinner at Pell and Heidi’s home was especially good! God was present. The Staples’ certainly have varying views on God and denominations. The early Staples clan had deep roots in the Methodist church. The old Methodist church in Roopville has the Staples name written all over it. But the Staples worship the God of all the churches, Jesus Christ. My dad, Pelham Jr., passed away in 1988. He has two symbols on his tombstone, the caduceus, representing his medical career and a cross, representing his faith in Jesus Christ. Definitely not in that order, because God was important to my father and is to the family as a whole. It was certainly a great time to be together. We all are so busy moving forward that sometimes we forget to look back. It’s easy to focus away from extended family. So often there are stones left unturned that make family gatherings uncomfortable. But making the choice to walk over the stones and embrace family is a beautiful decision. Yep, it's a long haul to South Texas, But I think everyone was glad they made the long trek to San Antonio. May we all make the decision to lean in to family: to call that long lost cousin or to visit that Aunt we haven’t seen in years. Root maintenance is always a good thing. It’s good for us all. It’s helps us understand ourselves a little better... …and gives our love to family. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Higher Than the Moon

“By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” –Heb. 11:3 This week marks fifty years since Apollo 11 took American astronauts to the moon, the first humans to set foot on it’s surface. I do remember it. I was 12 years old in 1969 and having grown up on Air Force bases, aeronautics and spacecraft were a part of our culture. The tension of the space race with the Soviet Union, our own need for a national distraction and the challenge “to go to the moon” by President Kennedy created a national preoccupation with the lunar surface. Without the brilliance of a man named Verner Von Braun, the mission would have never taken place. But his biggest feat would take him much farther than the moon. It’s said that Von Braun grew up with a focus and brilliance about space. He was fully focused on science and, as he grew into a man, his focus would be on military aeronautics. His position in Hitler’s Germany would focus his brilliance on ways to stop the Allied advance. As a passive member of the Nazi party, he developed Germany’s rocket program, which was said to be years ahead of Allied development. In the first half of his life, von Braun was a “nonpracticing” Lutheran, whose affiliation was nominal and not taken seriously. He was fully focused on science and as his career developed, his focus would be on German military superiority in the skies. It’s said that if the Allies hadn’t won the war in 1945, some of the brilliant German rocketry might have changed the course of the war. Von Braun married, had kids and devoted himself to the service of his country. Some said he was arrogant and focused only on his success in developing rockets and weapons. As described by Ernst Stuhlinger and Frederick I. Ordway III: "Throughout his younger years, von Braun did not show signs of any religious devotion, or even an interest in things related to the church or to biblical teachings. In fact, he was known to his friends as a 'merry heathen' (fröhlicher Heide)." Nevertheless, in 1945 he explained his decision to surrender to the Western Allies, rather than Russians, as being influenced by a desire to share rocket technology with “people who followed the Bible.” In 1946, he attended church in El Paso, Texas, and underwent a religious conversion to evangelical Christianity. In an unnamed religious magazine he stated: “One day in Fort Bliss, a neighbor called and asked if I would like to go to church with him. I accepted, because I wanted to see if the American church was just a country club as I'd been led to expect. Instead, I found a small, white frame building ... in the hot Texas sun on a browned-grass lot ... together, these people make a live, vibrant community. This was the first time I really understood that religion was not a cathedral inherited from the past, or a quick prayer at the last minute. To be effective, a religion has to be backed up by discipline and effort.” On the motives behind this conversion, Michael J. Neufeld is of the opinion that he turned to religion "to pacify his own conscience,” whereas University of Southampton scholar Kendrick Oliver said that von Braun was presumably moved "by a desire to find a new direction for his life after the moral chaos of his service for the Third Reich". Having "concluded one bad bargain with the Devil, perhaps now he felt a need to have God securely at his side." Regardless of the inner workings, Von Braun came to know Jesus as His personal Savior. One who had been focused on creation came to know the Creator. Later in life, he joined an Episcopal congregation, and became increasingly devoted to God. He publicly spoke and wrote about the complementarity of science and religion, the afterlife of the soul, and his belief in God. He stated, "Through science man strives to learn more of the mysteries of creation. Through religion he seeks to know the Creator." He was interviewed by the Assemblies of God pastor C. M. Ward, as stating, "The farther we probe into space, the greater my faith." In addition, he met privately with evangelist Billy Graham and with the pacifist leader Martin Luther King Jr.. Von Braun died of cancer in 1977. His gravestone in Alexandria Virginia quotes Psalm 19:1: "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.". So, this week we celebrate the amazing accomplishments of the U.S. Space program. But, if Verner Von Braun could speak to us today, he’d tell us to celebrate the amazing heavens that God created, but realize God’s most amazing creation is His Son Jesus and a personal relationship with Christ. Von Braun is living in that beautiful expanse called heaven today, in all of its glory. May we all live in the freedom of Christ here on planet earth… …and in the heavens above. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Wednesday, June 12, 2019


“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13 I love baseball. Some say it’s slow, but it’s so intriguing and fun. Like any sport, it has its “game within the game.” In these days of home runs and power pitching, the strategy of “small ball” isn’t practiced as much as in the “old days.” One such strategy is called “sacrificing.” As a batter, it means I give up my opportunity to get on base to move another player to second, third, or home plate. Via a bunt or fly ball, I create time for the base runner to advance, even though I give up my own chance to run the bases. Sure, a “sacrifice” in baseball keeps the batter off the bases, but is little like the sacrifices of real life. Last week, we celebrated Memorial Day. It’s a time to celebrate and honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice that our country might be free. Memorial Day is a federal holiday in the United States for remembering the people who died while serving in the country's armed forces. The holiday, which is currently observed every year on the last Monday of May, originated as Decoration Day after the American Civil War in 1868, when the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans founded in Decatur, Illinois, established it as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the Union war dead with flowers. By the 20th century, competing Union and Confederate holiday traditions that had been celebrated on different days, merged, and Memorial Day extended to honor all Americans who died while in the military service. We have so much to be thankful for- so much to celebrate for every man or woman who gave the ultimate sacrifice that our nation might be free. We also honor every family who has endured their loved one’s loss. One of my favorite movies with one of my favorite actors, is Clint Eastwood in “Outlaw Josie Wales.” It’s a movie about a man struggling to find peace in the Civil War ravaged Ozarks. Wales comments, in one scene, that “war and fighting are easy for men like us- it’s the peace that’s our biggest challenge.” Few of us will ever fight in a war. Truth is, that was the wish of our forefathers- that subsequent generations would live in freedom. So, the way we sacrifice may seem insignificant. But the way we validate and honor those who have died for our country is by making the peace well. I think ‘ole Clint was right- show us where we’re to fight and we’ll go punch it out with the best of ‘em. But show us where we’re to love and, well, we’re a little lost. The sacrifice of war is clear: we lay down our lives to vanquish the enemy. The sacrifice of peace is equally clear: we lay down our lives to lift up others. Either way, we choose to love and give and serve. We choose to die to ourselves and serve those around us. We choose to “regard others as more important than ourselves” (Phil. 2:3). In peacetime, that may not earn us a medal, but making the sacrifice means we’re willing to sacrifice ourselves. Why? Because that’s exactly what Jesus did for us. And, He promises to give us the strength we need to do the same. It is said that Cyrus, the founder of the Persian Empire, once had captured a prince and his family. When they came before him, the monarch asked the prisoner, "What will you give me if I release you?" "The half of my wealth," was his reply. "And if I release your children?" "Everything I possess." "And if I release your wife?" "Your Majesty, I will give myself." Cyrus was so moved by his devotion that he freed them all. As they returned home, the prince said to his wife, "Wasn't Cyrus a handsome man!" With a look of deep love for her husband, she said to him, "I didn't notice. I could only keep my eyes on you- -the one who was willing to give himself for me." Thank you God for all those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in dying for this country. May we all choose to “lay down the bunt” and sacrifice ourselves for the benefit of others. Whether in war or peace, may we choose to regard others as more important and selflessly serve our neighbors. Not only will God bless our neighbor… …but He will bless us in our sacrifice as well. By Eric Joseph Staples ©