Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Laughing at myself

“There is a time to weep and a time to laugh…” –Eccl. 3:4

Right off the bat, let me say that my expertise on this subject is a little shaky. I am not a person that easily laughs at himself. As the youngest of four boys, I grew up pretty insecure and self-conscience. I’m still that way in many ways. So when I’m less than perfect, which is most of the time, it bothers me.

Of course, we’re all insecure in some area of our lives. This side of heaven, by ourselves, we’re all incomplete. And our kids are too. And as they grow, their inquisitive eyes watch us to see how we deal with the void. It’s important that they see us yield to something bigger than ourselves. When we can laugh at ourselves, it means our security is valid enough to handle the mistake or trial.

Now, the Lord has been chipping away at me on this issue for 52 years. He’s been teaching me over and over that it’s not what I do, but who I am in Him that really matters. That hit home especially hard a month ago when, after 30 years, the Doulos Ministries Board made the decision to shut the doors of the Doulos campus in Branson. Financial difficulties necessitated that Doulos consolidate everything to the KC campus. I had the option to make the move, but the Lord said stay and opened an amazing door for me to be the associate pastor at FBC Branson. He closed a door so that he could open a door. It all makes sense now, but four weeks ago, I was struggling and life was difficult.

I guess that’s the point. What usually makes sense to us later makes sense to our wonderful God right away. Of course, some things may never make sense to us. But they do make sense to our awesome God.

So, when we make the mistake or life deals us a blow, it’s OK. He is absolutely secure when I’m insecure. So why not laugh? Abraham, 100 years old, and Sarah, 90 years old, were very retired, using AARP and a million miles away from thinking about babies. Then Sarah got pregnant. God had even told them a year earlier about the plan. But when the trial came and they had a son, they named him Isaac, which means laughter. Of course, it was hilarious and funny. They weren’t angry or confused. So they laughed.

There is a laughter that is sarcastic. And there is a laughter that’s rude. I’m not describing that kind of laughter. I’m describing the laughter that a pitcher has when Albert Pujols hits that 3-0 pitch over center field. The laugh says, “the guy is just good.” It’s a laughter that shows respect. It’s a laughter that’s saying, “this is out of my control and I yield to something bigger and better than myself.”

And it’s a laughter that is freeing. Because, though I made the mistake or am dealing with the trial, it’s OK. Something bigger overrules and I’ll be all right. Next time you lock the keys in your car, take a deep breath, let the smile come to your face and laugh. Sure, it’s an interruption, but if “God causes all things to work together for good…” then the delay has a reason.

Be sure and model that laughter for your teen. Let them see you go through the difficulty and pray for the joy that doesn't take life too seriously.

Then, when, not if, the hard times come, you can point to our loving God, and smile as the baseball sails over the fence.

By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Swearing and cursing

“…for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart” -Luke 6:45

Occasionally your child may utter a word that leaves you in shock. Kids say funny things at times, but the use of profanity from that sweet little mouth is a shocker.

It is absolutely appropriate that we teach our kids and teens that using profanity is not tolerated within the family. But it is also important to teach our children that it's the heart that matters more than the words.

When young kids use profanity, they are usually just repeating a word they heard on TV or in public (or from you). When older kids swear, they are usually trying to get attention. They notice that when adults use profanity, they do it with emotion, so it must be important. But the teaching parent is careful to use the opportunity, not just to wash out a mouth, but also to wash out a heart.

Think about the “acceptable” swear words- words that are used to mimic unacceptable curse words. “Shoot, dang it, crap” etc. are all just substitute words that are acceptable in society, but may reveal the same heart issue that fuels the original cursing.

Growing up in the Staples household, language was always very important. One of the main items in our den was a huge dictionary. When the definition of a word was asked, Dad would always point to the dictionary and say, “I’m not going to tell you- look it up.” I always wondered if he just didn't know the definition. He required good grammar too and both my parents were quick to correct.

They also didn't tolerate profanity, at least not in front of the four boys. Occasionally he’d let a “crap” slip out, but no real profanity. But I knew he got mad and I knew he got angry. He would usually turn red and go in another room.

Most cursing is the result of anger and most anger can be destructive. Controlled, valid, loving anger can actually be a good thing, but 90% of anger is fueled by jealousy, vengeance and ill will. Yuck. Just telling our kids to be quiet doesn't help them learn how to sort through these emotions.

Teach your kids how to process through disappointment and anger. Teach and re-teach how to forgive and move on. Be a good example before your kids in modeling the healthy ways to process through disappointment. Then, as the heart is cleaned, the mouth follows.

I remember when our kids were little and Elizabeth had a portable tape recorder. One of Eric’s little friends took the recorder into the bathroom and spoke into the microphone. We laughed as we listened to it later and heard what the little boy recorded. He simply spoke the worst words he could think of “poopie, diaper, bottom…” To him, they were “adult” words. His little heart felt the urge to “let it all out.”

Jesus stressed that it’s the heart not the mouth that truly does the damage. As Barney would say, “Nip it in the bud.” And the bud begins in the heart.

Stress heart surgery with your kids and help them practice forgiveness and love.
Yank that bar of soap out of his mouth and focus on his heart instead.

By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Being friendly

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it” -Heb. 13:2

Teaching kids to be friendly neighbors is another “better caught than taught” lesson. Kids aren’t necessarily born friendly. In case you’re wondering, go spend some time in the church nursery this Sunday morning. Observe the babies. They are precious but observe their little natures. They mostly focus 100% on themselves and when their needs are not met, they don’t mind letting the whole world know about it!

Then shift over to the children’s department and do a psychological study on “innate friendliness in the sharing of toys.” It can get pretty brutal when it comes to sharing Legos.

Again, that’s okay, but as those beautiful babies and kids grow up, their innate selfish nature remains and needs to be retrained. Kids can be taught and, by far, their best teachers aren't at school but at home. As they observe mom and dad being neighborly, sharing and putting others first, then they learn to be friendly themselves. Only Jesus can heal sin nature, but it is the parents’ job to help develop a child’s healthy behavior.

No one was friendlier than Mr. Rogers. And my two kids watched him any time he was on TV. They loved watching King Friday and X the Owl, but most of all it was the smile and demeanor of Fred Rogers that caught their attention. He taught them that they were special and wonderful. Truth is, he taught me that too! I loved watching the show.

What was the key ingredient to the success of the Mr. Rogers show? He was friendly. He asked us at the beginning of every show if “we’d be his neighbor” and of course, we secretly answered “yes.” That’s how friendliness works. When someone is friendly to us, we tend to be friendly back.

So, audit time. How are you doing in teaching your kids how to be friendly? They are soaking up every encounter they see you handle throughout the day, good and bad. When you gripe about the waitress at dinner, they file that away. When you tailgate the car in front of you for going too slow, they file that away. (By the way, they might be driving slow because they’re on vacation and trying to relax. Let them). When you slander someone in a conversation with your wife, they file that away.

So be sure those files don't exist. Rather, give your kids good examples to follow. When you stop to help a stranded motorist, make an encouraging phone call to a widower or speak highly of a neighbor to your wife, that is all filed away by your kids too.

Jesus set the best example for us all when he lived out his challenge to “love your neighbor as yourself.” He loved the unlovely and set the bar for us to love unconditionally.

Be intentional with your teen to teach him to be friendly, neighborly and kind. If you’re that friendly, who knows? When you visit that nursery, you might feel like going the extra mile and changing a diaper!

By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


“…there’s a friend that sticks closer than a brother” –Proverbs 18:24

There aren't many things more valuable than good close friends. Friends come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. There are best friends, fair weather friends, friends of a feather, and Facebook friends.

When he was a little guy, I remember my son, Eric, describing two of his best friends. He said that one of his friends was his best friend, but the other friend was his “silly friend.” I’m still not sure what he meant.

Friends are such a huge motivator for teenagers. The desire to belong and be included begins early in a child’s life and becomes a top priority by adolescents. It’s important that we teach our children about healthy friendships and what a difference being a true loving friend can make in our lives

My definition of “friend” has changed so many times in my life. When I was in grade school, my best bud was named Eric (I too was Eric, but everyone called me Joey). Our main activity was playing in the woods behind my house. Joe and Ricky were two of my best friends in junior high school. We had many a slumber party at each other’s houses. In high school, I hung out with Russell and Bill all the time and we played sports together.

Then I went off to college all the way to Baylor. Okay, it was only 2 hours away from home, but a long way from the familiar. It was there I met two of my best friends to this day, John and Donny.

And now I live with my best friend, Jeanie. She truly is a friend that sticks closer than a brother and she been so loyal and believing in me for 30 years. I am so thankful for the special friends the Lord has brought my way.

Remind your kids that best friends are usually for a season. “Best” friends sometimes change through life, all examples of how God provides just what we need at the right time.

In my experience with teens, they usually hang out with the kind of friends they feel like they deserve. When self-image and confidence are in doubt, there is a tendency for teens (and adults) to desire fellowship and friendship with people that are not a perceived threat to that fragile self-image. Simply put, unhealthy people are attracted to unhealthy friends and healthy people are attracted to healthy friends.

Help your child walk through the friend journey carefully. Be sure there is an open dialogue about their friendships. Don't be judgmental or over controlling. Avoid the “west side story” syndrome: telling your kids whom they can and can't befriend. They’ll tend to hang with the one’s you like the least.

Teach your kids the most important lesson about friendship: how to be a true friend. The saying, “to make a friend, be a friend” is true. Teach them to respect and honor their friendships.

And be sure they hear about the most important friendship there is: a relationship with Jesus Christ, who calls us friend. It’s the only friendship that is solid as a rock and never changing.

We certainly don't deserve that friendship with Jesus, but by His grace, we can have a 24-hour slumber party with Him everyday!

By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Friday, September 10, 2010


“Do not let your adorning be external- the clothing that you wear…” -1 Peter 3:3

The multi-gillion dollar apparel industry knows well who their top audience is- the teenager. Just look at most of the magazines, commercials and mall stores and you’ll notice that the goal of apparel marketing is convincing teenagers that they can't be at their best or look their prettiest without particular clothing.

Browse through some of the teenage clothing websites, and you’ll find a definite provocative slant in nearly every one. The advertisers are consistent in their preoccupation with the sexual content of clothing. What is easiest to forget in this world of teenage fashion is we’re talking about clothes. Just clothes. Pieces of cotton sewn together to cover these bodies we possess for 7o years or so.

Life is all about having and maintaining the right perspectives on God and ourselves. When we lose that mature perspective, we buy into the marketing world’s “sell” to make a buck and we convince ourselves that what we wear determines who we are.

So, our role as parents becomes huge! What our kids view as the “norm” has to be countered with an alternative to the norm. It’s imperative that we teach our teens that who they are has nothing to do with what they wear. It’s important that we teach them to focus on their hearts and not their cosmetics.

Many years ago, we loaded up the kids and drove to Seymour, Missouri east of Springfield. I was doing a project for a cross-cultural doctoral class I was taking at the time. I needed to spend a day interviewing an Amish family. It was a fun day for the family and the people were very nice. I remember one of my observations was that “dress is relative.” I observed that the Amish struggle as much as any with comparison and peer pressure. Yes, they dress “plain,” but there are different definitions of plain.

Compare teen dress in the 50’s with teen dress now and it’s certainly more provocative now. But the heart struggles existed then too. In other words, it’s not the clothes worn but the heart corrupted. The answer isn't to lay out overalls for our kids each day or to force them to wear uniforms. The answer is to be about heart surgery as we raise our kids.

Yes, don't allow inappropriate clothing, but go deeper with your teen. Discuss the “whys” behind what they wear. Don't buy the “I have no idea- it’s just an outfit” explanation. Teach them how to value their hearts more than how they look.

And of course, for some teens, it’s not about over dressing it’s about under dressing. That was more my problem. I didn't care enough about what I wore. The key is balance.

So, when the clothing concerns you, take the time to discuss it with your teen. Don't just lecture them but talk with them. Give them an objective perspective on what really matters and help them be more concerned with purity of heart instead of the latest fad.

Teach your kids that purity and respect is possible without having to live with the Amish.

By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Monday, September 6, 2010


“It is more blessed to give than to receive” –Acts 20:35

Teaching our kids to be givers, not takers, starts early, very early. While it may not be “natural” for a child to share his Legos, kids do model the giving they observe in their parents.

I remember when I was a little boy at Arlington Heights United Methodist church in Fort Worth, every year my parents would always give me the little box with envelopes in it. They explained that I was to put a quarter in the envelope and put it in the offering plate when it came by on Sunday morning. I would take the envelope and write “Joey” on it and put my quarter (that my mom gave me) in it. I remember putting it in the plate and wondering how that quarter ever got all the way to God. They were teaching me to “give away.”

Kids are more inclined to give away, but by the time those kids become teenagers, their money is spent on itunes, iphones and other electronics. But deep inside, given the right prompting, even teenagers can be givers.

The last five years, I’ve been a part of a mission trip to the Gulf Coast to help with Katrina relief. We were involved in general clean up, helping rebuild homes and bringing encouragement to the people of New Orleans and surrounding areas. We took Staff from Doulos and a group of teenagers from the Shelterwood program.
My favorite part of the trip was watching these otherwise difficult teenagers serve the people. Given the opportunity to be “others-centered,” these remarkable teens worked hard and engaged with the hurting people of New Orleans.

One of my best memories of those mission trips was working on the home of an elderly gentleman named Harry. He lived in New Orleans and has since passed away. But the few days we painted his house, he was so appreciative of our efforts. He especially engaged with the teenagers working on his home and they engaged with him.

Many times I think we’re hesitant to “nudge” our teens towards giving away their “valuables”: time, possessions, money and themselves.

As I’ve mentioned before, my dad especially was a giver. I remember numerous times him giving away valuables to people in need and on many occasions him giving to worthy causes. I’m not sure he knew how much I was watching him, but with eyes like a hawk, I soaked in every encounter and conversation.

Kids are like that. They may not appear to be engaged, but they are watching every move we make (or don't make) and are filing it away for later justification to give or to hoard. Right or wrong, the actions of parents are readily used to justify actions of kids. That’s why stats show that children of parents that use drugs are more likely to, you guessed it, use drugs.

So, be intentional with your kids and teens. Look for opportunities to give. I read in the paper once that a trailer park outside of Branson flooded. I loaded up the family one Saturday morning and we went and helped clean up the mess. That was my dad whispering in my ear to “go.” Don't think about going but GO!

Be a giving parent and you’ll raise kids that are givers, whether you give them the quarter or not.

By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Peer pressure

“For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.” -Gal. 1:10

Peer is defined as “people who are equal in such respects as age, education or social class.”

Pressure (the symbol: P) is defined as “the force per unit area applied in a direction perpendicular to the surface of an object.”

So, peer pressure is simply defined as “force applied by equal people.” And it’s the word “force” that can cause problems.

As a new school year begins, kids and teens all deal with the issue of “fitting in” to the world of their peers. As self-image and self-confidence are developing, it’s easy for comparison to become the norm for teenagers to gauge their self-worth. Therein lies the problem. In the teenage years there is no solid, applicable norm. Certainly in the teenage world, the standards are all over the place.

Of course, in the ultra-tolerant world we live in today, having absolutes or standards isn't “politically correct.” That creates dilemma, not just for teens, but for parents as well. That’s where the Bible and family standards need to enter the scene. Contrary to popular belief, the Bible is not a set of “do’s and don’ts.” The Bible is a set of instructions that has stood the test of time, ready to be the stable guide for mankind. For teens and parents alike, it’s a gold mine of instructions and precepts to guide us through life.

With the Bible as a standard, it’s important that parents lay a foundation in the home as a norm for teens to take out into their worlds of school, sports and friendships. These spiritual and family foundations counter the pressure created by the media and peers. On any given evening of watching TV, one would think that having casual sex with an acquaintance is normal or that manipulation of an individual in a reality show is the way to succeed in life.

The truth is that integrity, honesty and faith are still the attributes that produce a peaceful, solid foundation for life. As kids encounter the pressures at school to deviate away from wholesome, healthy living, they need an alternative to counter the peer pressure. It’s not enough just to tell them to say “no.” Today’s teens need to know why. “Just say no” doesn't work today.

As parents, take the time to explain why sex outside of marriage is a counterfeit to the true purpose of the sexual experience within marriage. Explain to them why provocative dressing conveys a negative message. Engage and talk with your teen. You can't start these conversations too early, but you can also wait too late.

As negative peer pressure threatens to tilt teens towards unhealthy living, tip the scale the other direction by teaching your teen. Don't start a lecture series every evening, but take the time to discuss the issues with your teen and take the time to listen, listen, and listen again. Most teens know the right answers but need to process through them with someone they trust.

Peer pressure can be negative, but don’t lock your teen in a closet. They need to be “in the world but not of the world.”

Whether that’s politically correct or not.

By Eric Joseph Staples ©