Saturday, November 26, 2011


“…give thanks…” –Psalm 75:1

We need to remember to count our blessings this Thanksgiving season. Even science proves it’s good for us. Even though Christmas lights and black Friday are the focus, we need to remember to slow down and acknowledge all the ways we are blessed. And it's contagious. As Thanksgiving fades away and Christmas approaches, stay thankful. Don't give into the tendency to start focusing on what I "need" for Christmas. Thankful parents tend to produce thankful kids and thankful bosses tend to produce thankful employees. Be a thankful person.

It's kind of funny, but scientist are finding that being thankful makes us happier and can change our attitude about life, "like an emotional reset button"' said an article I read today. Is that really new news? "Oprah was right," said University of Miami psychology professor Michael McCullough, who has studied people who are asked to be regularly thankful. "When you are stopping and counting your blessings, you are sort of hijacking your emotional system."

And he means hijacking it from out of a funk into a good place -a very good place. Research by McCullough and others finds that giving thanks is a potent emotion that feeds on itself, almost the equivalent of being victorious. It could be called a vicious circle, but it's anything but vicious.

McCullough said psychologists used to underestimate the strength of simple gratitude: "It does make people happier ... it's that incredible feeling."

One of the reasons why gratitude works so well is that it connects us with others, McCullough said. That's why when you give thanks it should be more heartfelt and personal instead of a terse thank you note for a gift or a hastily run-through grace before dinner.

Of course, the gratitude is empty if it's not directed to the Giver of givers, the loving God of the Universe. True thanks acknowledges that any blessing comes from the Giver of all good gifts.

"Gratitude also serves as a stress buffer," Emmons said. "Grateful people are less likely to experience envy, anger, resentment, regret and other unpleasant states that produce stress."

Scientists are not just looking at the emotions behind gratitude but the nuts-and-bolts physiology as well. Preliminary theories look at the brain chemistry and hormones in the blood and neurotransmitters in the brain that are connected to feelings of gratitude, Emmons said. And the left prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is also associated with positive emotions like love and compassion, seems to be a key spot, Emmons said.

Of course, our Designer knows we need it too. When we praise God and thank Him for all His blessings, the difficulties we encounter don't rule our lives. When we focus on the big picture, the other pictures grow smaller. And it all pales in contrast to God choosing to send His Son to die so that we might have eternal life.

It’s better than any gift we’ll get for Christmas.

By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Sunday, November 20, 2011


“In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for You alone, O LORD, make me to dwell in safety” -Psa. 4:8

Sleep is mysterious. Since man was created, sleep has been an often neglected but essential element in human growth. All living creatures need to rest. The fact is, as important as our time is to us, we'll spend a third of our lives sleeping. And after all the research, we don't really know why.

But we do know God had a grand design for us. Do you ever wonder why he created us like He did? Why didn't he give us 3 ears or give us an eye on the back of our head? Why did he create us with a dependency on sleep? Perhaps He knew we needed to be forced to rest. Maybe He anticipated our "works curse" and it's hindrance to our lives.

Because the typical American family today is busy, busy, and BUSY! In most homes the stopwatch starts at 6:00am and ends late. In-between are meals, work, school, homework, practices, games, more meals, meetings, appointments, even more meals, church and even more meetings. The pace is crazy. But not all the activities are bad. It's great for families to be active and involved, but it's great for families to rest as well. No matter how crazy and busy the day, every family will eventually succumb to the need for rest and sleep. It's simply a part of our DNA.

By definition, sleep is a naturally recurring state characterized by reduced or absent consciousness, relatively suspended sensory activity, and inactivity of nearly all voluntary muscles. It is distinguished from quiet wakefulness by a decreased ability to react to stimuli, and is more easily reversible than being in hibernation or a coma. Sleep is also a heightened anabolic state, accentuating the growth and rejuvenation of the nervous, skeletal and muscular systems. It is observed in all mammals, all birds, and in many reptiles, amphibians, and fish.

And if we "listen" to our bodies, they will tell us when to slow down, close our eyes, and chill out. It's important that we teach out kids when to "go" and when to "stop.” It begins early with the "red light-green light game." Kids learn to move forward or stay put, depending on how the leader directs. Somehow, as we get older, we forget how to play the game. We forget to listen to the leaders God has placed in our lives. When we finally are forced to rest by exhaustion or sickness, we can usually recall other’s previous warnings.

So teach rest. As parents, teach it by living it. Teach it at three levels: the time to go, the time to rest and the time to rest as you go. We need to teach the value of work- that when the task is waiting, work hard and finish it well. We need to teach the value of rest- that when it's "sabbath time,” we need to truly rest and sleep.

But most importantly, we need to teach the concept of resting as we go. It’s the idea that, on the one extreme, we don't stay in bed all day or at the other extreme, we don't fanatically work all day. It’s the pace and balance in the middle. We teach our kids to work hard and rest hard. We teach them to have peace and contentment as they work, not one extreme or the other.

So be a do-er, but also be a rest-er. As is repeated so often in the Bible, “be still and know that He is God.”

And sleep very well tonight.

By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Monday, November 14, 2011

Branson Doulos Revisited

"Jesus chose the twelve that He might be with them..." -Mark 3: 13-15

I spent most of the day Friday at the Branson Doulos campus cleaning, vacuuming and rearranging. The beautiful property is still for sale after shutting down at the end of the summer of 2010 (though Shelterwood continues in Kansas City). As I wandered through every building and room, so many memories came flooding back. So much healing and growth happened in that place. Branson Doulos was fueled by such a tremendous, godly staff and I am honored to have served with them. So many lives were changed one life at a time.

The Doulos-Shelterwood formula worked because there was a concerted effort to prayerfully focus on each teen as a person. By the way, that same formula works in parenting too. Taking the time to listen and respect our kids spells L-O-V-E every time.

While I was cleaning one of the classrooms, I came across the attached message written by one of the kids on a whiteboard. Yes, it was and is truly God's place. Lives were changed for 30 years on that Branson campus. Kids found hope, families were reunited and staff grew in leadership skills.

Hundreds and hundreds of teenagers reluctantly came through the Shelterwood gates because someone intervened and wanted them to find freedom from struggles in their lives. They typically stayed for about 12 months and in that time were challenged to face their issues, reconcile with their patents and engage with their heavenly Father.

Families that were shattered were brought back together. Not always, of course. Some kids’ stays we're cut short or unsuccessful. There are no guarantees. But most of the time, through countless hours of counseling, families were refocused and reunited. That was probably my greatest joy in working at Shelterwood. The healing that took place will have generational effects forever.

All the Staff who worked at Doulos were never the same at the end of their tenure on the leadership team. The intensity of the ministry had its effect on everyone involved. Living and working with the teenagers required more than most of us possessed. Someone said, "Attempt things so great that they're doomed to failure unless God be in it." We always “bit off more than we could chew” but God was faithful and lives (including ours) were changed.

I thought of Richard Beach the other day, too. He was the founder and leader of Doulos. He was my boss and mentor. He passed away from cancer a few months after Branson Doulos shut down. Doulos was just an extension of Richard’s vision and calling. He loved people and loved leading them to freedom in Christ. He simply liked being with people. That's what makes any people-work successful.

I've moved on now and love my work at First Baptist Branson, but my years at Doulos will never leave me. God engraved the mark of discipleship on my heart. Richard's voice will always be whispering in my ear, "Love others one person at a time." Of course, that's Jesus reminder to us all as we work, play and parent.

We’re called to love others as God loves us: personally and unconditionally.

Thanks for the reminder, Doulos.

By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Opie and Trey

“Let us behave properly…not in strife and jealousy” -Rom. 13:13

Perhaps you’ve read this simple poem, “Living with brothers and sisters in heaven one day, oh won’t that be glory, but living with them down here on earth, now that’s a different story.” It's simply hard for people to get along. Interpersonal harmony requires maintenance and that maintenance is fueled by love. Paul spoke to the harmony issue a lot in his letters. As parents and grandparents, we need to speak to the topic too. We need to challenge those we love to "put away" strife, jealousy, and envy and embrace the choice of love.

You’ve heard my opinion before, but the producers of The Andy Griffith Show were masters of combining well-written life lessons with tremendous acting. Many of the episodes deal well with real life, everyday lessons. Most TV shows today just show real life difficulties without any moral lessons or solutions. Sad.

In “Andy and Opie’s Pal,” Opie makes a new friend, Trey, a fatherless boy who is visiting Mayberry with his mother. Trey is a good boy and he and Opie get along fine. That is until Andy also takes an interest in the boy and asks him to join them fishing. A jealous Opie then shuns his new friend and Andy tries to teach him the cost of jealousy and just dropping friends. Barney becomes the object of the exercise.

When Opie is rejecting his friend, Andy tries to make a point by telling Barney that he doesn't want him to go fishing with them. It hurts Barney’s feelings, which Opie observes. Opie realizes that he’s hurt Trey’s feelings and mends their friendship. Afterwards, Andy reminds Barney repeatedly, “I was just using you as an example. It wasn’t real. I do want you to come fishing with us.” In classic Barney fashion, he acknowledges Andy but still hangs on to the rejection. Barney gets over it, but more importantly, Opie learns an important lesson about friendship.

Opie learns that his father’s love for Trey doesn't lessen his love for Opie. Too often, sibling rivalry creates competition and jealousy between family and friends. Too often, we feel that friendships can't be shared. We react out of our own insecurity and impose needless boundaries and limits to love. Opie realized the depth of his father’s love and reconnects with Trey. He even gives Trey his prized, genuine football. Andy comments, “Opie, you gave him something better than that. You gave him a prized, genuine friend.”

Our kids need to understand the depth of our love for them. Of course, we need to be careful within our families to not show favoritism but to love everyone equally. When our kids experience the unconditional love of grace, they are free to grow into the children God intends for them to be.

Because not only are we teaching them about our love, but we’re ushering them into the love of God. We want them to accept the unconditional, graceful love of Jesus. We’re presenting to them a love that disciplines when necessary and loves always.

When relationships are based on that kind of love, then forgiveness and acceptance rule the day.

And we can all go fishing together.

By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Friday, November 4, 2011

Puppy lessons, part 5: choke collar

“Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart” –Proverbs 29:17

Maisy, our 10 month old lab, is doing well. She continues to grow and mature. But the growing and maturing isn't happening by accident. As most dog owners can testify, it happens through blood, sweat and tears. Parenting can be tough too. Why? Because the master (parent) is attempting to impose his will on the puppy (child). That is usually a difficult and choppy process. But that process, if carried out by loving masters (parents) and if allowed to have its effect, usually produces stable and secure dogs (kids).

Months ago, we discovered what we already knew about Labrador Retrievers, Maisy's breed. We were reminded that Labs are strong. We took her on walks with her regular collar and leash and she would pull so quickly and aggressively that the walk became more like a run. As much as we tried to get her to slow down and heel, the puppy and breed in her stayed aggressive.

Kids are strong too. Even as babies, they are so cute and sweet but I am always amazed at the amount of emotional strength that even little kids possess. They have a will and it is strong. The child wants what he wants and is willing to kick and scream to get it!

So, we finally decided to switch collars on Maisy. We went from a regular loose collar to a [insert organ music] CHOKE COLLAR. A choke collar, also known as a slip collar, is so named because if the dog puts force on the leash, the collar around their neck chokes them. The idea is that the dog learns that yielding to the master holding the chain brings relief and a much more pleasant walk for the dog. It sounds horrible and cruel, but it actually produces a more settled and compliant dog. Labs are smart and Maisy quickly figured out that submission brought peace.

Our children usually figure that out too, if we keep the collar on them long enough. I say “usually” because there are no guarantees. Raising dogs and kids is a project of faith. Parents do the best they can and the results are up to the kid. Some dogs (and kids) are just more ornery than others, and all the psychological data can't explain exactly why. But applying the pressure and discipline needed to teach a child submission is the right thing to do. Kids and dogs need structure. And compassionate discipline equals love in the soul of a child.

The choke collar also reduces stress on the person walking the dog because the consequence of the misbehavior falls squarely on the dog, not the walker. If the dog resists, the dog chokes. If the dog submits, the dog has a relaxing walk. Training dogs and parenting are difficult work, but much more enjoyable when responsibility is correctly shared. The most frustrated parents are those that bear unnecessary responsibility for their kid’s resistance.

We need to let our kids choke! Not literally, but when children are pulling against the chain, let them suffer the consequences. As parents, don't own their problem. Yes, love them, but don't project too much of yourself into their struggle. Otherwise, you might remove the choking chain and with that, remove needed discipline in their lives.

We need to remember that as we’re teaching them the strength of submission to us, as parents, we’re more importantly teaching them of the freedom that comes with submission to a loving God.

So take a deep breath, let the collar do its work and enjoy the walk.

By Eric Joseph Staples ©