Apr 27, 2008


I have had several friends over the years named Jessica. This post revolves around three of them. I have never had anything like this happen before. Over the course of one month, all three of them lost a family member. On March 23, Jessica C lost her father after a long battle with cancer. On April 14, Jessica S lost her mother after a long battle with cancer. And on April 25, Jessica H lost her baby through a miscarriage. Each one of those stories have their own circumstances to make it extra painful. Jessica C's dad died on Easter, which is also her oldest son's birthday. Jessica S is only 21 years old. And I did the pre-marital counseling for Jessica H - her first anniversary is in June.

I have lost all four of my grandparents - at 11, 13, 16, and 28. My father passed away when I was 24. We lost a baby in between Josiah and Natalie. So I have felt both of those pains - which only makes me more aware of the pain these sweet women are feeling. In each case, I felt like I was punched with grief for them. When you see your friend crumble to the ground when they get the phone call, or when you read their pained expressions of grief online and you know that they are desperately trying to cling to hope --- those situations make you wish you could take the pain on yourself. You want to hug them and pull that hurt out of them. And as you watch them moving forward, knowing their lives are forever changed, you can't help but ache.

All three of these women are incredibly sweet, generous, and wonderful people - people I treasure and am glad to have had in my life. They bless people all around them and radiate the love of God. Not that we would ever wish pain on anyone, but people like these sweet women - those are the people we never want to see get hurt. I was thinking about how weird it was that all three of them shared a name. Curious for a moment, I looked up what Jessica meant. It is a Hebrew name that means "God Sees." What an incredible thought that is.

God sees. He sees the pain. He sees the loss and confusion and hurt. He sees it all. He is not blind or asleep. It doesn't say "God Saw" or "God Will See." It is God Sees. He always sees. He sees everything. In the darkest night or brightest day, in the coldest season or sunny vacation. God always sees. And He sees in a way so unlike we see. He sees our hearts and sees our pain. I know the temptation is to ask Him why He didn't stop it. I have asked that before. It reminds me of the song "Hard to Get" by Rich Mullins. The whole song is basically asking Jesus why he lets the pain go on, since He was human and knows what it feels like. At one point he sings, "I know it would not have hurt any less, even if it could be explained." Even if we understand the whys and hows, the pain is still real.

I take comfort in the fact that God sees. That means that this did not go unnoticed. He was aware, and that means He can come to our comfort. He can heal those wounds, and draw the hurting ones close to Himself. He can provide strength and peace. He can show that we are not alone, that there are friends who will help us through. And He is always there. Always seeing. And He saw our loved ones, and saw them enter into His rest - free from pain and complete. That is the essence of the hope of the Gospel. No matter what, God sees and is an ever-present help in times of trouble and sorrow. It seems like such a small thing to offer someone when they are hurting - but it is all we can do. We can hold them, pray for them, and remind them that God sees.

Apr 15, 2008


While Heather was studying for the MCAT, she came across a really interesting tidbit in the Physics section.  For those of you who are drawn to those Dark Arts of science and physics, you can go to this link and read a more official description of what I'm talking about -- and then explain it to me.

Anyway, she mentioned that an object in orbit is technically in a perpetual state of falling.  It would hit the surface of the item it is orbiting around, but that item is also moving.  So it keeps falling and falling.  I had heard this before, but I had filed under the category of "Unimportant Mind Clutter" - you know, like old locker combinations, old phone numbers, and the location of my Social Security card.  And where I was going with this.  Oh yeah...

So an object in orbit is continually falling.  For it to stop this process, it has to speed up and escape the pull to move away or slow down and crash into the surface.  Pretty interesting, for a science concept.  But, of course, my mind starting running and I thought that this actually is a great picture of a very biblical teaching.  In Luke 9:23, we are told to daily pick up our cross and follow Christ.  It is like we have to die every day to sin, to the world, to the pull of other things.  We must be willing to crucify ourselves, give up control of our own lives, and put our faith and trust in God.

It similar to being in orbit.  It is like we must daily keep ourselves falling - trusting in God and His wisdom, love, and direction.  I am learning that the Christian walk is a balance.  You want to find the place where you are continually in this "orbit" around the "Son" - (yeah, I went there).  If we give ourselves too much power, we break orbit and go flying off on our own.  This usually gets us lost and into trouble.  If we lose focus, and stop applying ourselves, we crash due to depression or doubt or sin.

Pretty interesting?  I thought it was.  I can easily see this in myself - especially now.  As things are rough, it is easy to lose that orbit.  Over the past few months, I have found myself crashing in a wreck of self pity or anger more times that I want to admit.  I get so disillusioned by what is going on and just slam to the ground.  Or, I find myself saying, "FINE!  I'll do it myself then."  And I gun the engines and go shooting off into empty space.  I have no idea where I'm going or what I'm going to do when I get there.  

Fortunately, God is big enough to pull us back in and pick us up and help us get back on track.  And then we can get back into orbit.  Another neat tie in to this is how the moon is in orbit around earth (and therefore, also technically around the sun).  It has no light of its own, only what it reflects from the sun.  You could think about how we are supposed to be reflecting the light of the Son to the lost and dark world - like the moon.  But we can only do that when we are in the right place in orbit.  Best physics lesson I ever had.

Apr 10, 2008

Watch Out for Charlie Crist

At the risk of being too political, there is something that is really bugging me lately.

For those of you reading this that live in Florida, you'll figure this all out quickly.  For those in other states, you may not care.  But you should still read this because I guarantee that your state is going to make stupid choices like this soon.  As you probably know, a state takes in various taxes from its citizens.  This helps to fund the budget for the state.  Now, for larger states (like Florida), the budget is bigger than most countries.  That is what happens when so many people move to your state like flies on a fresh carcass.  

So, the state has various taxes - property, sales, vehicle.  Most states have a state income tax.  Florida does not, so that means that it has to rely even more on taxes to fill its coffers.  So, if you were to remove or cut a particular tax, that would cut a large amount of money out of the budget.  What is the next step?  Things that the budget funds get cut.  And I'm sure that there are tons of personal ego projects that the legislature and governor have crammed into the budget.  So what actually gets cut is important stuff.  This is how it happens in our personal budgets, right?  If you stop getting income, you have to cut expenses.

Well, at the primary election, we in Florida also had to vote on Amendment One.  It was personally proposed and shepherded by our Governor Charlie Crist.  Up until this point, property tax in Florida was handled thusly:
  • When you bought a house, your house was appraised and you were levied a tax depending on area of town, price of house, etc.  Let's just say this figure was $3600 a year - which is a common figure in the Orlando area.
  • Next year, your tax was only legally allowed to go up 3%.  That is the most if could ever go up.  So your tax would be $3708.  This happens each year.  $3819.  $3933.  And so on.
  • However, when you moved, your new home was subject to the current tax rates.  
  • This caused problems for especially the elderly, who would live in a home for 30 years and still be paying taxes based on when that law first was passed.  Then they would get a smaller place and pay twice in taxes.
Crist's proposal was that you would now be able to take your 3% with you.  So your new home would only be able to have your tax raise 3% - even if the house value was higher than what you were in.

Sounds great, right?  If you are a homeowner you would love this.  You would pretty much lock in your tax rates on the first home you bought.  (Of course, with property values nosediving, it doesn't sound so great now.)  However, as the vote neared, I began to notice something as I thought on this issue.  Just about every public service group (Police, firefighters, teachers) were fighting the issue.  Why?  Well, think about it.  When that Amendment passed, the legislature would find itself with a shortage.  And we all know the first thing they are going after.

Crist was confronted with this and waved his arms and squawked, "No no no people.  I will not let a single public service get hurt by this."  The media helped Crist by trying to paint this as a home owner vs home renter issue - which never made any sense.  I voted No for several reasons.
  • I don't believe that legislative issues like this should be run through making Amedments.  It is a fact that in Florida it is easier to pass an Amendment than a bill.  So this was a way to circumvent the legislature - who already had shot this proposal down.
  • If this passed, the state would know that they would only have one shot to nail a homeowner with a high tax rate - on their first home.  How much you want to bet that tax rates are going to skyrocket on new homes?  That $3600 will be $6000 before you know it.  (Doesn't sound like much?  That adds $200 a month to your mortgage!)
  • I knew that the services would get whacked.  I've watched politics enough to know they are ALWAYS the first thing that gets hurt - regardless of Crist's thoughts.
Turns out I was part of the 29% minority as the Amendment sailed through.  So what happened?  The legislature is working on the budget right now.  And they immediately told every state-funded service to slash their budgets.  The biggest hit?  Schools.  Orange County Schools were told to cut $70 MILLION out of their budget!  (jaw drops)  So, the people of the state took this into their own hands and just shot their kids in the foot.  The new teacher hires in the state have been cut in half.  And road repair, emergency services, etc etc all took hits too.

Way to go Governor Crist!  Of course, people are starting to get angry.  Florida is the worst hit by the subprime fiasco, with Orlando in the top 10 cities in America for foreclosures.  (I heard it was #1 at one point.)  And now these people realize that schools just got decimated by the budget cuts.  Crist's popularity is the lowest since he took office.  And his solution to all of this?  You ready?  No seriously, this is how proposal.  He wants to legalize gambling.  Not just lottery, which we have had for 20 years.  He wants to legalize full-scale gambling.  Awesome.  Yes, my friends, this is the man who was personally hand-picked to replace Jeb Bush (who was a GREAT governor - I don't care what his last name was).  Charlie Crist, defender of the conservative moral right.  

Oh it gets better.  You want to know who is high up on the short list for Republican Vice President list?  That's right.  Charlie Crist.  So those of you out of state just went back and re-read this post?  Charlie Crist is being considered for the Vice Presidential nomination.  That kills me.  In 15 months he has lost 20 percentage points of favor in the third most populous state in the country.  He personally damaged the already struggling education system.  And he mortgages the state's future for the present (on second thought, he sounds like he is perfect for the national stage).  

I will say this right here.  If John McCain picks Charlie Crist, it will have made me 95% sure that I will NOT vote for the GOP ticket.  Unless the Democrats pick a convicted felon.  Actually, I would not at all be surprised that after the completely unexciting Republican offering, and the sure-to-be-contentious Democratic convention, there will be a third party candidate show up and really mess up the whole process.  Seriously.  You watch.  Once the conventions are over, someone will step up and really throw a monkey wrench into everything.  

***This post was not sponsored by the Republican Party, Democratic Party, Green Party, or Bachelor party.  I am David Staples, and I approved this message.

Apr 2, 2008

Stormy Weather

I keep wanting to write stuff on here, but things have been crazy. Heather is in the final stages of her MCAT preparation - the big test is Saturday. The kids are all growing up so fast and acting like insane maniacs. It seems like every time I sit down to write something, immediately something happens that requires me shut down the computer. Such is life. This week, though, is Spring Break. Josiah is with my mom. Natalie is with Heather's mom. We have Gabe, and Heather is doing her final studying push. But it actually has been easier than I expected so far. Which is how I have actually ended up being able to post.

Those of you who follow this blog regularly and know us kind of have an idea of what I do. You also probably have heard how things are going. But I want to share some things that God has been showing me this past week or so. My apologies if this is repetitive or boring to you. Just bear with me and I promise I'll get back to writing inane drivel soon.

Our pastor was preaching this past Sunday on Matthew 14. It made me think about some things - and I'll work my way around to those things. You see, I firmly believe in gathering stones along your way in life. The movie With Honors had Joe Pesci playing a homeless guy at Harvard. He would pick up rocks and stones at the various places he traveled. He kept them in a bag, and would look at them and remember his journey. This is biblical, too. God had the Israelites built altars at the sites of major victories. So, I have made it a habit of doing this. It helps because, when things get hard, you can look back at those rocks and know that you are doing the right thing.

So, back in March/April of 2005, my friend Charles Wise asked me to go to lunch with him and another friend, Jonathan Pearson. Charles is a therapist, JP was a Middle School minister, and I was a designer/writer/college minister type person. Charles had just been through almost a year of vocal paralysis (kind of difficult for a therapist). And he wanted to share with us what God had been showing him. He said that he was realizing that the biggest problem in today's churches and families was a break in intimacy. Intimacy, at its simplest definition, means closeness. And this closeness was being broken between man and God, and between spouses. And the biggest wedge doing this was sexual sin and pornography. This came from session after session with families that were sharing this problem.

JP and I both knew he was right - since we had been hearing this same thing from our students. As we talked, we began to see a ministry opportunity form. We would talk on those topics - the ones that other people would not talk about. We would go to churches and families and try to help them fight that destruction. The ministry was named Defender Ministries in the car on the way back from lunch. And it all began. We worked on coming up with promotional material, logos, and a general idea of what we wanted to do. God confirmed this calling time and again in those early days - and gave us the message to speak based on verses like Isaiah 61:1 and Ephesians 5:3 and 1 Corinthians 7. We were honored to be a part and could not wait to see things get going.

God opened some amazing doors for us - places we did not have the experiences, clout, or connections to be a part of. We had dinner with several "big shots" to present our ministry. We got asked to run workshops at regional and national events. And we were ready for things to go. The problem was that we all had jobs. JP quit in August of that first year, but things did not pick up like we thought - so he ended up getting a different church job (that ended up being a wonderful experience for him). We had opportunities, but were having a severely hard time getting the time to develop what we needed. In June of 2006, we had a benefit dinner. We expected it to be a huge launching point for us. It helped a bit, but was far from what we really needed. We all decided the only way this could get going was for me to leave my church job and work full time.

In July of 2006, I resigned and started to work on getting things ready for our upcoming appearances. We had National College Week in August, and ten other bookings between August and February. There was a lot to do. Money was going to be tight, but we knew it was what we should do - something confirmed by our prayer partners and families. God again showed us Scripture - Matthew 14 in fact. The message to "get out of the boat" was heard again and again through books (Chip Ingrim, John Ortberg) and sermons. So we took the step.

That was when things went haywire. The August conferences were great. But in the next few weeks, we watched as eight of those ten events were canceled or re-scheduled. In addition, we began to realize that several of our board members were not on the same page as us. By the end of the year, we were pretty much broke, had maybe three board members left, and one booking left on the calendar. I was so confused. Thanksgiving of 2006 was one of the hardest times for me. I kept trying to figure out what had happened. What had we done wrong? How could things be so bad? Time and again we are taught in church that if you are following God right, He blesses you. And if you are doing things wrong, you get corrected. It is natural to take that and think that if things are rough, you are wrong. (I have since really come to be aware of just how flawed that entire line of teaching is.)

We started getting new Scripture pounded into our heads - the story of Gideon. This was where God delivered Israel from a far superior force - but with only 300 men, some pitchers, torches, and horns. I mean, we read books about this - sermons were constantly being spoken on this that we heard. When we started going to Waypoint in January of 2007, Byron preached on this. We got the point. God was going to do this in HIS manner - without the benefit of the people who would try to take credit for it. It was going to be with a small and faithful group.

Thanksgiving 2006 also gave me a chance to sit down with Heather's brother Andy. He was on staff of one of the churches that canceled an appearance. He explained that they needed more guidance from us. We were so desperate to have opportunities that we wanted to do whatever a church wanted. But these churches wanted us to TELL them what to do - because they didn't know and had never dealt with these issues before. That gave us a new direction - we needed to provide resources to churches and families. It was the same plan, but actually putting the message on paper. In December, I started writing lessons based on the topics we taught.

Over the next six months, I wrote thirteen lessons (it has since expanded to sixteen, one additional book, and a line of superhero based lessons for kids). These became Bible study series for churches - and then also were repurposed for a line of Disciple Now curriculum for youth pastors. So far, the Operation Isaiah D-Now materials have been used at nearly a dozen churches in its first year. The lessons themselves have been ordered and used all over the country - and we have taught them at numerous locations.

But.... Through it all the financial struggle continued. 2007 was a trying year because we alternated between having very generous donations from a few people and having nothing. My family felt that stress every month - wondering if we would have anything to pay rent. Most months we had to wait until the day rent was due before one of our strong supporters would AGAIN give to help us survive. Some months nothing came in. The messages we kept hearing were always, "Stay strong. Don't give up. Have faith." So we kept on meeting and booking and re-scheduling and promoting - believing God would provide. And He did, but never in the manner that would allow us or the ministry to relax. In the Fall, we all finally decided I needed to get another job to help bring in some steady money - while still doing Defender at night and on weekends.

Conveniently enough, that was when the economy started to suffer. I couldn't find a job. To date, I have sent out well over 100 resumes for graphic artist positions, communication directors, writers, teachers, and pastors. I'm lucky if I even hear anything. 2007 ended with the knowledge that there was nothing in the bank for 2008. And that has stayed true. Our amazing supporters still love us and support us, but cannot (and should not have to) carry us the way they were. So, I went unpaid for the first three months of 2008. Any money we made from our steady flow of appearances went to pay insurance premiums and to pay off the very late bills to our printer, copier lease, shirt company, etc. I still have not found a job - although I probably will have a teaching position come August. Uncle Sam was very generous with a tax return that covered two months for us. And one of our supporters paid for April to keep us going.

So why say all of that? One, it is to document the journey. Two, it is to lead up to that sermon from Sunday. I read through the Matthew 14:22-33 passage as Pastor Byron preached. Jesus had just finished with a large crowd and he sent the Disciples off ahead of Him. He stayed to pray. They ran into a monstrous, terrifying storm on the lake. At 3 am, Jesus walked on the water to them. They were skerred. He tried to calm them. Peter asks to walk on the water, which Jesus tells him to do (the 2006 message). Peter loses his faith, falls into the water, Jesus saves him. Viola. Except two things hit me this time. JESUS KNEW THE STORM WAS COMING WHEN HE SENT THE DISCIPLES and HE NEVER CALMED THE STORM DURING THAT WHOLE TIME.

He sent the guys INTO the storm. He knew it was coming and he told them to go. Why? Probably so they could see Him walk across the water and calm the waves. It was to build their faith and understanding of Who He was. In addition, when he showed up and the whole thing with Peter happened, the storm was still raging. Peter walked on the water during the storm. He was doing it, until he SAW THE WIND. The amazing thing is how bad this storm must have been to be able to see the wind. I'm thinking about the hurricanes that came through here a few years back. That kind of ugly. So Peter got distracted by the swirling circumstances and fell. And Jesus saved him. Then he calmed the storm.

For me, I began to understand that God knew what He was doing. He knew there was no money, that churches would have a hard time letting us talk about these topics, that the economy would go bad. He knew those things. He sent us out knowing all of that. And He has not calmed the storm yet, as far as we know. We still are wondering how to make it each month. We still have those constant concerns. But we are learning that this is not about us. Yes, Peter learned that his faith wasn't as strong as he thought. But he also learned a lot about Jesus that night. He learned that Jesus is unaffected by the swirling wind, that He can stop it at any time, that He will save us. That doesn't mean that we won't have to deal with getting beat up first. The Disciples got beat up for hours in the boat. Peter fell into the churning water. Jesus moved, but on His time. And it helped to show how mighty HE is.

So the rock I got to pick up the other day was that God knew exactly what we were getting into - even though we didn't. We aren't doing anything wrong to be punished with this storm. In fact, we are doing it right by still staying in the storm instead of running away. God is going to bring deliverance to us - as well as to others - when He sees fit and when He will be glorified. As I explained to Charles the other day, I am a lot more compassionate to the poor and homeless in our area now. I understand what would drive a person to stand on a street corner. I'm not so quick to judge. That helps me to understand the "good news to the poor" part of Isaiah 61:1. Also, Defender is not beholden to any person or group. God is the one who started it, maintained it, and grew it - in His way and His time. And that is pretty neat.

When God calls you, He will complete His work in you. That is what He does. It is not going to look how you expect, but at the end it will be beautiful. I'm sorry if this went long. I hope it didn't cause anyone to fall asleep. I just needed to be able to get this out of me and share it. I hope that it will help someone who is getting storm-battered.