Monday, June 27, 2011

Diving to first base

“Cease striving and know that I am God” –Psalm 46:10

Summer is officially underway and here in the Ozarks, we have the hot and humid weather to prove it. Sometimes it’s hard to believe we ever needed jackets and snow shovels, but that’s what I love about the weather here. It’s always changing!

Another trademark of summer is America’s favorite pastime: baseball. We are in the middle of the season now and my 2 favorite teams, the Rangers and the Cardinals, are in first place but struggling. It seems people either love baseball or hate it. “It’s so slow and boring,” many say, but like most sports, it’s all relative. Golf is boring as we watch a little ball roll down the hill and car racing is even worse, watching cars go around in a circle a zillion times. But in spite of all the ridicule, baseball continues to be an American icon and is watched by millions.

Terence Mann’s description of baseball in “Field of Dreams” is worth remembering, “Ray, people will come Ray. They'll come to Iowa [to watch baseball] for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won't mind if you look around, you'll say. It's only $20 per person. They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they'll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh... people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”

I loved that movie and I enjoy baseball. But there are some oddities in the game, as there are in most sports. Examples: the coaches wear the uniform of the team they coach (weird- imagine football coaches doing that!), it’s possible to strike out 4 batters in one three-out inning (the catcher drops the 3rd strike), a team can win without getting any hits (all errors), and players choose to dive for first base even though study after study shows that it makes no difference. Running through first base gets the player there just as fast, but runners choose to dive.

And many times players are injured diving to first base. Hands and limbs are left vulnerable to the spikes of the first baseman as well as the ball. But the urge to jump is just too great. The option to keep running is too simple and the need to jump is great, so off they go, knowing perfectly well that keeping their stride works out as well if not better than jumping. Sure, the batter created the problem by not hitting the ball safely to the outfield, but why compound it all by diving?

Wow! Don’t we repeat the same mistakes in our walk with God and in parenting? A problem arises (which we usually created) and instead of calling on our awesome God to lead us and guide us, we abandon our walk with Him, and we jump! We come off dirty and bruised, but at least we feel like we tried harder! A better move would be for us to take a deep breath, pray about the situation and patiently watch God work.

Baseball might be boring, but watching God work is sure exciting!

By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


“…for you were called for this very purpose…” - 1 Peter 3:9

One of our greatest challenges in parenting is helping our kids with direction and purpose. Just like us, our kids want to be significant and they want to make a difference. That’s why when our son doesn’t make the 8th grade basketball team, he’s upset- making that team was going to give him purpose. For our freshman, being a cheerleader was going to give her identity- now she’s lost. But what a great opportunity for us to teach them that purpose doesn't come from what they do or what they accomplish. Purpose comes from them doing the best they can with what God has given them.

The clatter has finally died down in the Ozarks. A few weeks ago, the noise from the trees was almost deafening and it seemed every few feet, there were strange looking bugs lying everywhere. As it turns out, an odd insect called a Cicada was leaving its mark on the Ozarks. A little background on these creatures is important.

After mating, the female Cicada cuts slits into the bark of a twig, and into these she deposits her eggs. She may do so repeatedly, until she has laid several hundred eggs. When the eggs hatch, the newly hatched nymphs drop to the ground, where they burrow. Some Cicadas go through a life cycle that lasts from two to five years. But some species have much longer life cycles, such as the North American genus, Magicicada, which has a number of distinct "broods" that go through either a 17-year or, in some parts of the world, a 13-year life cycle. These long life cycles perhaps developed as a response to predators, such as the cicada killer wasp and praying mantis. A predator with a shorter life cycle of at least two years could not reliably prey upon the cicadas. The Ozarks version is in the ground for 13 years. 13 years! That’s long time to be stuck in a hole!
Cicadas live underground as nymphs for most of their lives, at depths ranging from about 1 ft down to 8.5 ft. The nymphs feed on root juice and have strong front legs for digging.

In the final nymphal stage, they construct an exit tunnel to the surface and emerge. They then molt (shed their skins) on a nearby plant for the last time and emerge as adults. The abandoned skins remain, still clinging to the bark of trees.

The emerged Cicada lives for about a month, unless it gets eaten, and the cycle begins all over again. 13 years in the ground. Useless. Dark. Immobile. Then, some hidden alarm goes off and they move above ground. Finally. For 28 days. If I calculated right, a Cicada spends 99.5% of its life buried. In the end, it’s purpose is to lay low under ground until the coast is clear, emerge, lay the eggs then pass on after a life (though short) well lived.

It’s all about living out our purpose for life. And everyone has a different lesson plan, given by God. Melvin Fleener (name made up- thanks Bri) lives just east of Protem, Missouri. He never finished high school, teaches Sunday school at a small Baptist church and has worked cattle for a living on a small farm all his life. He has a wife and 3 kids. Devlin Stephens has 4 PhD’s and lives in LA. He owns 4 homes, is married and has 3 kids. Both men are successful if they’ve lived out their lives under the direction of their loving God.

Like our Pastor used to say, ”I’ve never seen a hearse pulling a U-haul.” That’s what we need to teach our kids. It’s not how much or how little we have but whether we’re using what we have with a purpose. Whether we’re a Galapogos Tortoise (170 year life span) or a Cicada (30 days above ground), our life has purpose if, with God’s help, we’re squeezing every day for all it can give.

Whether we’re in a hole or not.

By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Checking the codes

“So give Your servant an understanding heart… to discern…” -1 Kings 3:9

Something unexpected happened to me this week. When I started my Trailblazer SUV, a message stayed lit up on my instrument panel, “service engine soon.” At first I thought, “Oh great, the engine is going to blow up.” Then I looked it up on the Internet and discovered that I might have over 100 possible problems with my vehicle, from a loose gas cap to a worn spark plug. I also discovered that I needed to “read the code” left by my car’s computer to diagnose the problem. This made me think about how teenagers also release a “code” when they encounter problems. The ability for parents to “read the code” has everything to do with the knowing the cause of the “malfunction.”

There are several different ways to read codes. You can take your vehicle to a dealer and they will gladly diagnose the problem (for a fee). Another option is to purchase the code reader on line or at an auto parts store (for a bigger fee). But the best option is to take it to an auto parts store and have them read the code for free (no fee). That was my frugal choice. It reminded me that when those we love are struggling, it’s important to correctly “diagnose” the problem. It’s easy to jump to subjective, emotional conclusions when we neglect to seek out help in “reading” our teenager. Consulting with youth workers, coaches, teachers or professional Counselors can help parents be sure they’re correctly diagnosing their struggling teen.

As we read my vehicle code at the auto parts store, the parts specialist taught me an important lesson. He read the code (it was a coolant issue) and he commented, “The light will go off now. If it comes back on, go to the dealer. If it stays off, it was probably just a one time deal.” A one time deal. Yes, I had a problem with my car and the light came on, but that didn't mean I needed to have my engine overhauled. Parents don't need to minimize issues with their kids, but they don't need to overreact either. The proper reaction to kid issues requires prayer, self-control, a level head and a mature perspective on the situation. Sometimes our kids light up but it’s not necessarily an indication of deep issues. Being a kid can be tough sometimes and if we’re just there to support our kids, they often can work through the issue on their own.

But other times the lights continue to come on. One humorous person on the internet offered his “fix” to any light coming on in the instrument panel: simply place duct tape over the light. Of course, hiding the light doesn’t fix the reason the light came on. But covering the light removes the annoying message being conveyed. Denial of problems is as old as mankind and though a good temporary solution, it doesn't fix anything. When our kids’ lights continue to come on, address the issues, as painful as they may be at the time. Treating the initial wound will avoid the bigger infection later on. The same is true emotionally. Take the time to listen to your teen and let them tell you about their “engine.” Many times, the dialogue with mom and dad is a huge part of the solution.

Even the most reliable car will have problems at times. When that light stays on, don't run out to sell the car. Read the code and appreciate that you’re able to address the issue before it damages your vehicle. Normal teens have problems too. How you deal with your kids will determine how well they are able to deal with life later on. Listen to them. Be there for them. Offer sound advice. Pray for them.

And don't use duct tape.

By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Joplin rebuilding

“Behold, I will bring to it health and healing, and I will heal them; and I will reveal to them an abundance of peace and truth” - Jer. 33:6

I was back in Joplin this week and was encouraged to see the rebuilding beginning. Many are still absorbing the destruction and are grieving through the pain. But make no mistake, the rebuilding and the healing are underway. President Obama referred to the “Spirit of Joplin” and that spirit of healing is what’s making all the difference.

Healing is naturally in the DNA of every human on earth. Even the grouchiest person will lend a hand in the midst of a crisis. The most self-centered person will drop their own desires and give, at least for a while. God is a God of reconciliation, healing and new beginnings. If we yield to God’s will through us, we become rebuilders too.

Rebuilding the real estate: homes, businesses, schools….backyards, tree houses, …forts, toys and play grounds are being built. It’s more than just structures being rebuilt in Joplin. Somewhere in those dump trucks are bits and pieces of people’s lives. There are baseballs, pictures, and other items that seemed so trivial before the destruction but now are priceless. Wood is being cut, nails nailed and toys purchased.

Rebuilding a livelihood: when so many businesses were destroyed, people not only lost income but they lost purpose. We forget sometimes that jobs aren't just about making money, but they are about bringing meaning to our lives. Most businesses have gone to great lengths to pay their employees and rebuild their structures. Purpose is returning.

Rebuilding family: of course, so many have lost family members forever and the grief is seemingly insurmountable. But most are moving through the pain. Everyone has experienced change to their neighborhood and communities. Through a cloud of loneliness and separation, people are embracing families and friends like never before. Family is strong and people are embracing those they love.

Rebuilding faith: many questioned God after the tornado. Why would God allow such a horrific thing to happen to Joplin? But what most have discovered is that it’s not about “why” but about “who.” In this natural world, weather happens but the God of the Universe happens more. God promises to be there and everywhere. God doesn't always explain “why” but He does promise to always be with us. Most are embracing God like never before and are discovering that life really is fragile and precious.

Let’s keep praying for Joplin and let us be inspired by the spirit of healing and rebuilding that is taking place in that community. May every community learn that it’s when we embrace God’s grace and love that we’re truly free.

That peace is available anytime God is acknowledged anywhere.

By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Joplin and the Cameras

“But the greatest among you shall be your servant” -Matt. 23:11

The relief efforts continue in Joplin. The rebuilding will last months, if not years. We like solutions that work quickly, but this solution will take time. I passed this sign in Joplin and just had to take a picture (irony). Volunteers have shown up from all over the country for all kinds of reasons, 95% of them good ones. A few come just out of curiosity, but most are there to get dirty and help with clean up. I’ve been super impressed with the spirit and attitude of those who are selflessly serving. Most come to truly “lend a hand.”

People “lend a hand” because they are humbled. They understand that so many people have been left homeless and stripped of so much they hold dear. They are shaken from the fragile foundation of houses, yards, and livelihood. They recognize that 20 seconds changed so many families forever. And they understand that it could have easily been themselves and their families.

People “lend a hand” because they know it’s right. Yep, we all have a selfish “me focused” part of us that wants to win at any cost. But when crisis hits, even the most competitive person knows it’s best to help out a brother in need. There is a guilt that is totally bad. But there is a good guilt also. It’s a guilt that shakes us and motivates us to do something. It nudges us toward the right thing to do.

People “lend a hand” because they know they are blessed. Intuitively, we know that we are the ones most served when we reach out and help others. We all tell stories of self-sacrifice and giving when we helped with a service project or gave to a special need. It’s too easy to forget. Without exception, we experienced blessing. So we do it again.

People “lend a hand” because they recognize that being a servant is the greatest honor of all. The awesome God of the universe, needing no confirmation of His majesty and power, chose willingly to send His beautiful son Jesus to become a servant to man and to die on the Cross so that He might have relationship, a friendship, with the created man. God simply chose to serve and to provide a way of rescue that man might enjoy an eternal relationship with God.

Jesus leant both His hands that day as He laid them on the cross and allowed the soldiers to nail those hands to the wooden beams. He declared that as He gave of His life, mankind would have a way back to the loving God of Eternity.

So, keep on serving and giving and helping. Remember, serving doesn’t mean you have to go. It might mean that you give financially and pray. Let the Lord lead you. But be reminded of why you’re giving and serving. Check your motive occasionally. Sure, feel free to take a picture or two, but remember to give your all as you get dirty.

And thank the Lord for the privilege to serve.

By Eric Joseph Staples ©