Friday, February 22, 2019

Village People

"For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” -Matthew 18:20 “It takes a village to raise a child” is a concept recognized world wide. But it’s just not valid for parenting- it’s valid for everything! Villages help raise families, marriages, friendships…life! For over 35 years, Jeanie and I have been a part of a “village” called a “small group” and it has made all the difference in our lives. Years ago, Hillary Clinton shared the quote about “villages” and she also wrote a book with that title. It is an Igbo and Yorbu proverb that exists in many different African languages. It reflects the emphasis African cultures place on family and community. This proverb is so widely used in Africa that there are equivalent statements in most African languages including, “One knee does not bring up a child” in Sukuma, and “One hand does not nurse a child” in Swahili. It’s used all over the world. Everyone agrees with the concept, but few truly live in community. A few nights ago, on Valentines day, our “village” went to dinner and dancing at The Keeter Center at College of the Ozarks. We had such a wonderful time. This group has been meeting and fellowshipping together for over thirty years. Though our group has changed and evolved over the years, our common denominator-Jesus- has never changed. Currently, the Staples’, Sankey’s, Morgan’s, Peterson’s, Chancey’s, Wiebe’s, Ford’s and Brian Beadle gather every other week for fellowship, food, Bible study and prayer. Over the years, our group has included the Cooper’s, Dodd’s, Freeman’s, Nuenke’s, Haddad’s, and Cunningham’s. I’ve probably forgotten a couple or two. Life has moved us all over the globe, but the friendships remain. We are a group that has weathered many seasons. We have cried together over disappointments; we have laughed together over silly jokes, we have grieved together over loses, and we have prayed together for our precious families. In short, we have walked through many seasons of life together. Could we have walked it on our own? Sure. Truthfully, staying in “villages” can be challenging. Expectations, comparison, pride, scheduling- all can be hindrances to village life. It’s just easier to handle it all under our own roof. But we have found that the pay off in sharing our load far exceeds the cost of keeping it to ourselves. Perhaps 2019 is meant to be a year of connection for your family. There are all kinds of advantages that come from living in a village. Sure, we need to shield our young kids from bad influences, but we need to steer them towards good influences. A fellow villager just might instruct your child in a way more effective than you. Back in the season when our kids were in the home (nearly all of our kids are adults now), we all helped raise each other’s kids. We had the freedom to correct them and to encourage them. Become a village person by leaning into the families with whom you already fellowship. Turn up the volume a bit-set up intentional times to hang together, share your prayer requests with each other, ask for help, be safe but be vulnerable with each other. Bear each other’s loads… …and let the community flourish! By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Friday, February 8, 2019


“Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up” -Eccl. 4:9-10 God’s Word is crystal clear, but sometimes our logic is muddied. One central theme of the Bible is mankind’s need for true community. Simply put, we need each other. As the great theologian, Barbara Streisand said (chuckle), “people who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” The need is real but we tend to glaze it over with our own independence and pride. We need each other. Not in a co-dependent “I am nothing without someone” way. But in a healthy, “I’m responsible for me” way. I focus on my own health but I walk the journey in community. Striking the right balance is the key to living life well. A solid relationship with God plus a solid relationship with myself plus a solid relationship with brothers and sisters equals a healthy place. This lack of balance shows up in so many ways. Buckle your seat belt for two sports analogies. If you don’t like sports, I apologize (sort of): The Alabama Crimson Tide and the LSU Tigers squared off one Saturday in the fall. Some said it would be the biggest football game of the year. With Bama ranked number one in the polls and LSU fourth, it was set up to be a huge battle. Networks like to do that. But perhaps the biggest story was about LSU’s star linebacker that would have to sit out the entire first half, since he was ejected out of the previous game for targeting. But was it really a story at all? Announcers and newspapers focused on the needed efforts of the LSU defense to hold Alabama down as best they could until the second half. One announcer said, “If they can just make it through the first half, they’ll have their star back in the third quarter and be in control.” LSU’s defense made it to halftime fairly well. But that defensive player mattered little in the second half. LSU got hammered. The issue wasn’t brought up again. Football is a team sport. One player doesn’t make all the difference. The Dallas Cowboys played the Tennessee Titans one Sunday last month. Much of the focus was on the recent trade of an excellent receiver from the Raiders to the Cowboys. “He will make all the difference,” the announcer said. The Cowboys got beat handily. That traded receiver played a good game, but did not make all the difference for Dallas. He’s just one player. Football is a team sport. One player doesn’t make all the difference. The problem and its origin are described in Genesis chapter three. Adam and Eve were in perfect fellowship with God and in perfect fellowship with each other. (By the way, for those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ, we’ll get to experience that perfect fellowship again one day, on the other side of Heaven.) Then, sin entered the picture. Adam and Eve yielded to their own selfish desires, and went to hide. Mankind has been hiding ever since. We hide in our jobs, our work, our hobbies, even in our churches. Since the garden, we tend to insulate ourselves from God and the people around us. We feel a counterfeit form of safety and security in our loneliness. And we run dry without the beautiful gift that God gave us, called intimacy- the connection of hearts to God and to the people around us. But there is good news! The problem has a solution on this side of Heaven for sure. It requires us to yield our hearts to a loving God who desires to supply us with adequate amounts of intimacy and contact. As we surrender our souls to the Lord, He meets the need through His Spirit and through the people around us. Our spouses and kids and family are all tools the Lord desires to use to keep our intimacy cup full. After all, God commented to Adam, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). We weren’t built to solo through this life. As we head into a new year, let 2019 be a year of leaning into relationships. Live a life of community, inviting friends in. Live a life of family, inviting your spouse and kids in. Live a life of prayer, inviting the Lord into every area of your life. Embrace community… …and don’t solo through this life. Life is a team sport… and our teammates do make a difference. By Eric Joseph Staples ©