Friday, September 28, 2012

Taking Steps

"Where there is no vision, the people perish…" -Prov. 29:18 It's the end of September, and time to dust off those New Years' resolutions. With three months left in the year 2012, those goals we set back in January are probably in a drawer somewhere or in the county land fill. But the good news is, it's not too late! It all begins with becoming reacquainted with the goals and taking steps. That's the hard part. Remember, kids imitate what they see much more than what they hear. Let them observe you pursuing goals. Laotzu, a Chinese philosopher who lived around 500 B.C., said, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Taking that first step requires initiative and action. We hesitate because I think we intuitively know that if we begin the process, then we're responsible. Even if we are the last person to take the first step, we can still finish the race. We were in Des Moines a few months ago, helping our daughter, Elizabeth and family move in. I went running one morning and passed an old house (picture attached). It looked vacant, but I didn't peek inside to make sure. I couldn't help but notice the front steps. Obviously, they were once sharp and sturdy, but now, they were frail and crumbled. Houses, steps and goals do that when they're not used for a while. That's because when things are left stagnant, they rot. Wine get's better with age, but unmet goals get worse. Jeanie and I are "empty nesters" these days and you can tell it from our pantry and refrigerator. We once had a parade of people marching through our kitchen eating anything edible, but now the traffic has dwindled. So, we encounter moldy grapes in the bottom drawer of the fridge and the occasional stale bread in the drawer. Like that soured carton of milk in the back of the fridge, we throw out our neglected things when they're rotten. They don't smell very good. We prefer fresh and new. The same is true with goals. That's why there are so many diet plans advertised on TV. They all look new and inviting. Sure, they're just like the one we purchased last year, but maybe this one will be different. Like my late boss, Richard Beach, used to say, "All the diet plans are the same- eat less and exercise more. I'm not paying someone to tell me that." In the end, most of us have goals related to our families, our health, our God and our money. Nothing new. But the steps to getting there are what matter. Without the steps, we won't get from point A to point B. When you're setting goals, be sure your sequential steps to reaching the goal follow two guidelines: Steps need to be reachable. When building steps for a building, there are OSHA guidelines that have to be followed to assure that the steps are accessible. Be sure your steps are challenging but realistic. Robert Browning said, "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?" We should try for the best that we can achieve, not what we can easily have. Steps need be purely motivated. Hitler had huge goals, but his ugly motives led to his downfall. Goals with a pure motive aren’t always reached, but they spread grace along the way. The process is just as important as the end result. Steps genuinely motivated by God are pure. So, take those steps and move forward. You'll feel better about yourself. Don't be intimidated by the steps lying before you. If the steps need some updating, make the repairs. And then you'll accomplish those New Years' resolutions. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Friday, September 21, 2012

Bobbie and Blankie

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who comforts us in all our affliction" -2Cor. 1:3-4 From the day a baby is born, a parent's number one goal is to protect and provide. Our baby's number one goal is to be protected and provided for. What a great combination! As moms know better than us dads, babies "long for the pure milk…." Most babies don't have to be coerced into loving their security blankets, eating or being cared for by mom and dad. But the "care for" concept gets a bit complicated later on. It is commonly believed, the term security blanket was popularized in the Peanuts comic strip created by Charles M. Schulz, who gave such a blanket to his character Linus van Pelt. Linus called it his "security and happiness blanket," in Good Grief, More Peanuts printed in 1956. If a child has not acquired the ability to pronounce complex onsets, it may be a "Banky", a "Woopie" or a "Wink." Our kids called them their "Bobbie" and their "Blankie." In human childhood development, the term transitional object is normally used. It is something, usually a physical object, which takes the place of the mother-child bond. Common examples include dolls, teddy bears or blankets. Donald Woods Winnicott introduced the concepts of transitional objects and transitional experience in reference to a particular developmental sequence. His research showed that most children need a physical object to replace mom and dad. The blanket comes to represent the love and nurturing of mom when she leaves (naptime and bedtime). Research with children on this subject was performed at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee by Richard H. Passman and his associates. Among other findings, they showed that security blankets are appropriately named — they actually do give security to those children attached to them (what a surprise)! Along with other positive benefits, having a security blanket available can help children adapt to new situations, aid in their learning, and adjust to physicians' and clinical psychologists' evaluations. Passman's research also points out that there is nothing abnormal about being attached to them. In the United States, about 60% of children have at least some attachment to a security object. Our goal as parents is to do the best job we can transitioning our kids from dependence on us to independence. But that independence is actually trading dependence on us to a healthy dependence on other things, namely God. God is the ultimate security blanket. I've heard some people say "God is just a crutch- a security blanket. People just depend on him cause they're weak." You know what? Those people are right. But someone who isn't depending on God is depending on something else. Exercise, money, and fame are all "security blankets." As humans we were invented to depend. And our Creator is the only one who can effectively fill the void. But we don't give up easily. According to a 2011 survey by Travelodge, many adults take comfort objects away on business trips to remind them of home. About 35 percent of British adults still sleep with a teddy bear. Blankets are OK, but we need to teach our kids and teenagers that the only thing that brings true security is Jesus Christ. He is the only "Bobbie" that never wears out. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Saturday, September 15, 2012


"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
I'm watching Alabama play Arkansas this afternoon in football. Nick Saban is the coach for Alabama and is the epitome of intensity. A few weeks ago, Alabama was nearly 40 points ahead of their opponent with just seconds left in the game. An Alabama player jumped off sides and Coach Saban scolded him as though he'd lost the game. As someone said, "Coach Saban expects perfection always." That's why his teams do so well- perfection is the goal and mistakes aren't tolerated. A mistake is defined as "an error in action, calculation, opinion, or judgment caused by poor reasoning, carelessness, or insufficient knowledge." No one likes to make mistakes. We all like to get it right. But ask any politician or, for that matter, any person, and they can describe both minor and major mistakes they've made in life. The anatomy of a mistake: we make a plan, we have an expectation, we count on a particular outcome and something changes. We overlook a set of variables, we forget a step in the process and the mistake is made. It's done. And all the regret and apologies won't fix it. "But everybody makes mistakes." Every time I hear that, I cringe. I understand that that's the truth and I understand that you will occasionally make mistakes, but I tend to live in the fantasy world that I should never be less than perfect. Mistakes and the need for perfection tie into our own needs to be OK. Deep inside, we're all people-pleasers. But God holds the only report card that matters. Because of the cross, if we've accepted Jesus as our Lord, we can all pass with flying colors. Nothing we do increases our "grade" before God. Grace is free. I could fill pages with the reasons why mistakes bother me so much. I'm from a high achieving family, I'm the youngest of 3 very talented brothers, and I expect a lot out of myself. But mostly, I like to please people. Of course, there's nothing wrong with doing things correctly. We should all do our best. But motive is important. Why we do our best determines how we rebound when we make mistakes. God pleasers have a resiliency that people pleasers don't possess. People pleasers do their best to be noticed by men. If and when a people pleaser makes a mistake, they won't receive the fickle strokes that come from others. Why? The approval from others is conditional. God pleasers do their best as servants of Christ. They aren't working for the approval of men. If and when mistakes are made, they're okay because they realize that God covers mistakes with grace and forgiveness. Why? Because God's approval is unconditional. So, go ahead and do your best and try not to make mistakes, but realize that when it turns out differently than you expected, it's okay. Whether you jump offsides or not. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Umbilical Cord

"Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” -James 1:2-3
In life, it's so easy to misinterpret bad things for good things and good things for bad things. Paul challenges us to, "Consider it all joy when we encounter various trials." But when we're actually in the middle of tragedy or difficulty, it's hard to see the good in the trial. However, so often, difficulties are blessings in disguise. If we're not careful, we can wish for the removal of something only to find that it's something good. My precious daughter, Elizabeth, and her wonderful husband, Mark, are expecting their second daughter in January. Reese is our two-year old granddaughter and she'll be a great big sister. We've been so excited for baby number two. But we had some difficult news last week. Elizabeth went in for an ultrasound and they saw indicators that the baby might have a cleft pallet. Many have received more difficult news, but we were disappointed for the surgeries that would be required. The doctor told Elizabeth that they would do a more detailed ultrasound in a week and that there was a chance it could be negative. We all joined in prayer and resolved that if it was a cleft pallet, the trials of surgeries to come would be part of God's plan. We were reminded that every child is "fearfully and wonderfully made", defects and all. But at the same time, we prayed for a healthy baby. The week went by very slowly (as they always do in these situations), and Elizabeth called later that morning to give us the news. "The baby’s umbilical cord had been hanging in front of her face causing a shadow and that's what they thought was the cleft pallet. The baby is fine." We were all relieved. It's amazing that an umbilical cord, the very pathway used to nurture and provide life for a child in the womb, could be mistaken for a birth defect. God knows how to turn bad things into good things. Just ask Joseph. He was taken through deception and betrayal by his very flesh and blood. He was sold into slavery and thrown into prison. He had every right to be bitter and angry. But instead, he embraced forgiveness and did not "take into account a wrong suffered." He acknowledged that God could take a bad thing and use it for good. Jim Lovell, the Apollo 13 astronaut, described a time he saw bad used for good. "I remember this one time - I'm in a Banshee at night in combat conditions, so there's no running lights on the carrier. It was the Shrangri-La, and we were in the Sea of Japan and my radar had jammed, and my homing signal was gone... because somebody in Japan was actually using the same frequency. And so it was - it was leading me away from where I was supposed to be. And I'm lookin' down at a big, black ocean, so I flip on my map light, and then suddenly: zap. Everything shorts out right there in my cockpit. All my instruments are gone. My lights are gone. And I can't even tell now what my altitude is. I know I'm running out of fuel, so I'm thinking about ditching in the ocean. And I, I look down there, and then in the darkness there's this uh, there's this green trail. It's like a long carpet that's just laid out right beneath me. And it was the algae, right? It was that phosphorescent stuff that gets churned up in the wake of a big ship. And it was - it was - it was leading me home. You know? If my cockpit lights hadn't shorted out, there's no way I'd ever been able to see that. So uh, you, uh, never know... what... what events are to transpire to get you home." We need to be careful what we pray. The very thing we ask to be removed might be the very thing that takes us home. Umbilical cords need to stay put but cockpit lights need to go out. God's will is always best in the long run. It's so much better to rest in His will. By Eric Joseph Staples ©