The courage not to cut the line



The following post first appeared on the Matthew 419 blog Fishers of Men: Catch the Life You’re Called to Live.

Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan Harris could have done what so many others would’ve.

At the bottom of a murky pond in Maryland last year, Harris was struggling for air and losing strength as his scuba diving partner, Petty Officer 1st Class James Reyher, became trapped in 150 feet of water under debris. Almost everything went wrong on the dive, reported the Virginian-Pilot newspaper. Equipment malfunctioned. Communications with sailors on the surface became garbled. According to the official report, Harris could’ve cut his line connected to Reyher and save himself.

Cut the Line

But he refused.

“Harris exhausted himself in an attempt to save Reyher,” said a military investigator in documents obtained by the Virginian-Pilot. “Both divers resisted the natural instincts of self-preservation, in order to expel his last breaths in an effort to save each other.”

The most powerful human instinct to overcome is self-preservation. It drives men and women – good ones – to do things they regret the rest of their lives when someone else had to pay a price. They may run or back away when someone needs help. They may ignore an obvious need. They may convince themselves someone else can step up and do it.

Or, they go against those instincts and become the hero even at a personal cost. In the case of Harris, a married father of two young daughters, it was the ultimate earthly price.

The cost of brotherhood

Men use the term “brother” to describe others they have no biological relation to. It comes at varying levels of sincerity. We’d like to think we’re the type of guy like Harris, choosing to stay with someone he surely considered a brother rather than leave. It’s an impossible call to make, though, unless you’ve actually been in a similar situation.

Do a search for “brotherhood” in the Bible and you’ll get a lot of responses, including:

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
    but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. ~Pro. 18:24

and …

Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. ~1 Pt. 2:17

There’s a crisis among men today having a lack of brotherhood. It happens easily. We get busy with home and work and before you know it you’ve lived in the same town for years and realize you still don’t really know many guys that well.

It’s all the more reason for re-establishing the importance of brotherhood among men, especially among Christian men. With each day the importance of guys who think in a Christlike mindset becomes more crystalized. We see the alternative in the major headlines around the world.

Being a brother requires some sacrifices in time and commitment. It requires risking friendships when someone has taken a step in the wrong direction. It requires us to not cut the line in those times it would be the easiest thing to do. From the Virginia-Pilot story (italics added):

“As he watched his air supply disappear, Harris could have cut the line connecting him to Reyher. That would have freed him. But neither man ever pulled out their knives, the investigator concluded.”

One more thing about Ryan Harris: his heroics weren’t discovered until the completion of the investigation 16 months after he died. For all that time it was an extremely tragic event that claimed the lives of two military servicemen with no one knowing the real story.

That’s something else about brotherhood – it’s done in anonymity. It doesn’t grow through expected pats on the back, but simply because. It grows by doing the things others wouldn’t.

ScottBarkleyScott Barkley is a deacon at First Baptist Church in Cartersville, Ga., where he maintains and writes for the men’s ministry website at Matthew419.net. He and his wife, Amy, have four children. 

 

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just read the post The courage not to cut the line by guest poster Scott Barkley on the Stepping Up men’s blog

STEPThink - 10-point checklistAre there men who you would sacrifice your life for? Do you have men in your life who would do the same for you?

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God gives again



In the previous post, Taken, Ron Deal shared honestly about his struggles after losing his 12-year-old son, Connor, and how he measures his life by “before” and “after”. But he admitted that he and Nan weren’t hearing from God about the future, until Nan received a phone call that showed them how Connor would live on in the lives of others.

A mutual friend had connected Randy and Pam Cope to us about one year ago. They, too, had experienced the unspeakable loss of a child when their son Jantsen, age 15, died in 1999 of an undetected heart defect.

To survive their tragedy, the Cope’s started the Touch A Life Foundation with the goal of caring for and rehabilitating exploited children. Their work began first in Vietnam, then Cambodia, and finally in Ghana, West Africa. In 2006, Oprah sent journalist Lisa Ling to Ghana, West Africa, to rescue a boy named Mark who had been featured in a New York Times article on child slavery. What Lisa discovered just a few months after the article was published was that the Cope’s had already partnered with Ghanaian volunteers to find and rescue Mark. Additionally, they were able to rescue six other children (including Mark’s brother and sister) and begin providing for all of their needs. Pam was later featured in an Oprah program on the plight of trafficked children in Ghana.

One hidden blessing in the Cope’s efforts to rescue children was discovering that what ministered to them in their grief would also minister to other grieving parents. So, through the years, they have actively sought out those who have lost children (or loved ones) to be volunteers for their ministry. This is what led them to befriend us, and, as God would arrange it, for Pam to call Nan at a time of great despair. In the course of their conversation, she invited Nan to go to Ghana and minister to the children. Helping children in honor of Connor seemed a worthy effort and something he would have loved to do so Nan agreed.

In November of 2010, she, my sister, and a small team of women went with Pam Cope to Ghana for two weeks. But the trip turned out to be so much more than taking gifts to kids.

GodsWayGideon

God’s Way and Gideon immediately after their rescue from child slavery

Day after day I received texts and pictures from Nan reporting on their mission. But one morning I received a text with a picture of two small boys. I didn’t know who they were or why Nan had sent the picture. Suddenly the phone rang and Nan was crying on the phone. “Did you get the picture? They’re sitting right in front of me,” she kept repeating. “They’re sitting right in front of me.”

Who? Who is sitting in front of you?

She then proceeded to tell me about the rescue of these two boys. Sold into slavery by their parents, these two brothers, ages 6 and 8, had been forced to work as fishermen for their master on the waters of Lake Volta. A typical day included fishing for 10-14 hours per day, diving into the dark water to untie nets (many boys drown unless they are excellent swimmers), and living on one meal per day. Nan and the team had just visited the village where these boys lived and had rescued them from their master. They were still in the boat making their get-away as she recounted the rescue.

I fell to my knees.

“You’ve got to be kidding me? You just rescued two kids!” (I knew she would be ministering to rescued children, but no one anticipated that they would be part of a new rescue.)

“What are their names?” I asked.

Her answer made complete sense because I knew two things:

  1. that these boys had actually been rescued before and resold into slavery; and
  2. that rescued children often rename themselves with terms that reflect their new future.

“Gideon and God’s Way,” she said. “Their names are Gideon and God’s Way.”

In awe and wonder, I replied the only thing I knew to say, “You found God’s Way?” On more than one level, she did. She did indeed.

And that’s when I heard God’s booming voice: “I am with you; I am taking care of your wife; this is Connor’s voice.” And that’s also when I heard Connor applauding.

As my wife sat in a boat with two rescued children and I sat on the floor of my house crying, trying to process what was happening. “Now let me see if I have this straight,” I thought to myself. Twenty-one months ago, my son Connor was being taken even as Nan and I saw a movie about a child taken for child trafficking. And now, my wife is half-way around the planet taking back two children who were taken into child trafficking. Is this real? Who is this God that I serve? How great is His power to redeem, to bring beauty from ashes! And that’s when I echoed back to God the words of Job.

“God, for a year and a half now I have been calling into question things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. I have now seen who you are and what you are capable of; my ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (see Job 42:1-6)

As a result of this trip, we have begun an effort to support the work of the Touch A Life Foundation (based in Dallas, Texas). Connor’s Song, as we have entitled it, seeks to rescue children from child trafficking in Ghana and contribute to their care and rehabilitation. We are raising money to rescue more children and build/manage Connor’s Creative Art Center, a facility that will offer education and art therapy to the children. In addition, we support underprivileged children wherever there is a need and inspire them toward creativity—all things Connor loved. Connor is still singing, and now you can sing with us by making a donation.

Someone asked me recently if all the good that is being done in Ghana changes how I view Connor’s death. No way. I know beauty is coming from our ashes, but the ashes haven’t gone away. We’re still on the unstoppable train riding on two rails: anguish and hope. Year five is just halfway through. If I could, I’d take Con back in a heartbeat. The price of his life is too much—even with all the good that is happening now. I hate to say it, I told that person, but selfishly I’d take Connor back even if it meant those two boys couldn’t be rescued.

Sort of gives you reason to pause, doesn’t it. The Heavenly Father chose to let his Son die in our place—and He didn’t have to. He could have taken Jesus back, but he let him go so we could be rescued from the slavery of sin.

GodsWayTShirt

God’s Way bearing Connor’s image

One day after rescuing Gideon and God’s Way, Nan sent me another picture. It was of God’s Way wearing his first new shirt—a Connor’s Song shirt. As I reflected on this newly saved child bearing the name of my son, I couldn’t help but think how precious it must be to the Father when we bear the name of his Son. We are, after all, “Christ-ians”. I love it when someone brings glory to God in memory of my son; it fills my heart with joy like you can’t imagine. What joy it must bring to the Father when we offer a cup of cold water to someone in need and give Christ the glory, or end our prayers “in Jesus’ name,” or publicly declare Jesus Lord over our life, or boast not in ourselves, but in His grace! I know I never tire of the good being done in my son’s name. I’m sure the Heavenly Father never does either.

Without question, much was taken 5 1/2 years ago and much will be missed every day thereafter. And yet, my Con-man still sings.

He gives and takes away…and then He gives again. Since my heart aches and my earthly understanding limited, I will choose to say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Dad (Ron Deal)

Copyright © 2014 by Ron L. Deal.  All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just read a post by Ron Deal, “God gives again” on the Stepping Up blog for men by FamilyLife

STEPThink - 10-point checklistGod comforts us in our pain so we can better minister to those in difficulty. Read 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistGet involved with Connor’s Song to help children who have been taken. Like their Facebook page.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistHow can you help couples who have lost a child? Read 10 Ways to Help Parents with Grieving Hearts.

Taken



takenYesterday was exactly 5 1/2 years since Connor was taken from this earth. It’s still hard to believe. Some days I wake up thinking it was just a nightmare. Words cannot express how much we miss him and only faith in the Ruler over death gives us hope that we will see him again

I must confess that for the first year and a half after Con’s death, I did not hear from the Lord in a mighty way. Yes, He provided through friends and loved ones that poured themselves out for us and sustained us in a million little ways, a wise counselor who has guided our grief journey,—and yes, we felt confident that the Heavenly Father had taken over the care of Connor in ways that this father only dreamed of. But we didn’t hear God’s booming voice, until…

Taken

On February 10 that year, Nan and I went to see a movie. It was a Saturday night and we just needed to get out for a while. Taken is about a father whose daughter is abducted—that is, taken—for the purpose of child trafficking, sex slavery to be specific. As any good father would do, Liam Neeson hunts down the men responsible and saves the day. We returned home that night to find Connor complaining of a headache. Little did we know that at that very hour Connor was being taken. We gave him an Ibuprofen and sent him to bed confident he would feel better in the morning.

He didn’t.

Over the next 10 days we journeyed up and down steep mountains of hope and fear and spiraled through narrow passages while he clung to life until finally descending into the valley of the shadow of death. Gone from this life. Taken.

My whole life now falls into the categories of before and after.

Before: I never once prayed for “daily bread”. I prayed for early retirement.
After: I’m learning what it is to pray for daily survival, to be still and know that He is God.

Before: I prayed “if the Lord wills…” just like the book of James says to do.
After: I realized that I didn’t mean it. I didn’t really think that my plans for life wouldn’t come about. I was smitten with the illusion of control. If I just worked hard enough, prayed hard enough, lived right enough, things would pretty much work out. Now when I say “tomorrow I will do this or that” I don’t have any illusion that it will really happen…unless the Lord wills.

Before: Nan and I thought we knew what it was to be and have friends.
After: We have discovered the faithfulness of a few amazing friends who are willing to walk through darkness, day after day, year after year, with us even when we can’t be for them who we were.

Before: I thought a bad day was the flu, a flat tire, or a flight delay.
After: My definition of a bad day has been redefined. Watching my wife dig her fingernails into our son’s grave while screaming “I want my son back” now qualifies.

Before: Sunday was a time of family connection, worship, and celebrating our Lord.
After: Sunday morning worship is the worst hour of the week. Songs without Connor’s voice, the memory of his casket at the front of the auditorium, etc., etc., etc. make it a time of confusion and agony.

Before: Stress in our marriage might have been brought on by simple differences in preference, for example, about the temperature of the car.
After: stress results from trying to overcome the vast chasm of sorrow, depression, anger toward a God that you think has abandoned you, and the challenge of connecting when your soul aches so much you don’t know how to speak about it.

Before: I recycled.
After: Life is too short to give a rip about paper or plastic!

Before: I thought trust and faith was the antidote to pain.
After: I’ve realized that the train I now travel on sits on two rails: the left is sadness (deep, deep sadness) and the right wonderful memories. The left is anguish, the right hope. The left anger, the right trust. The left sorrow, the right peace in the arms of Jesus. Neither rail invalidates the other. Neither excludes the other; faith doesn’t end grief, and faith does include asking “why?” (no matter what the preacher says). I travel them both, side by side, on an unstoppable train… till Jesus comes.

Before: I weighed 15 lbs heavier and didn’t have any gray hair.
After: Well, just look at me.

Before: I thought Job was patient and his wife was faithless.
After: I think, just like me, Job had an inadequate theology, he gripped a lot, and was anything but patient with God – and his wife got a bad rap.

Before: I had read Job’s reflections in Job 42:1-6 but I really didn’t understand them. If God’s plans can’t be thwarted, why let Satan wreak havoc on our lives? How is Job’s loss something “too wonderful” for him to know? Job had “heard of God” but after his loss he now “sees God”—what does that mean?
After: I have come to accept that God’s ways are far beyond my wisdom to know; further, it’s not for me to know this side of heaven. And as for what Job saw about God that he had never seen before, I’m still not sure I know exactly what it is, but I think it has something to do with trusting God to manage what in this life I will never have the privilege of understanding.

But despite all these spiritual insights—re-calibrations I have begun to call them—Nan and I still didn’t hear directly from God. And then, at Nan’s darkest hour, she got a phone call.

Read the rest of the story on the Stepping Up blog post, “God gives again.”

Copyright © 2014 by Ron L. Deal.  All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just read a post by Ron Deal, “Taken,” on the Stepping Up blog for men by FamilyLife. The second part will publish on Aug. 21.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistHow would a situation like what Ron and Nan went through change you? What would you do more of? Less of?

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistTraumatic events happen to everyone. Where can you turn for help? Read Anxiety: How Can I Cope?

STEPPass - 10-point checklistHow can you help couples who have lost a child? Read 10 Ways to Help Parents with Grieving Hearts.

 

 

Men are the first domino



MenDomino3

We need to have Jesus disciple us to be who He made us to be.

Then, we need to disciple men to know their identity and role as men.

Then, marriage will be men’s great interest.

Then, the family will bond, heal and thrive.

The church will be strong.

Its work and witness will be powerful.

The weak will be protected, not exploited.

Christ will be glorified.

Christ is the first man, the ultimate man, and He is everything.

The way Christ lived as a man is how we learn to be a positive influence on others, and a catalyst for positive change as a man.  Christ forgives, defines and empowers us.  He disciples us, so we can disciple others.

Within your marriage is where you have the greatest opportunity to emulate Christ. As you bond with and love your wife, you are modeling Him who received us as a groom does his bride, faithfully loving and bringing out the best in us.

That devotion in marriage is the foundation for a strong home, where children are bolstered in their faith. That faith follows these children out of the home and into life. That faith becomes the strength of the church. And a vibrant church reaches out and cares for the weak, the lonely, the lost. It reflects the love of Christ out in the world.

Men, our world needs us, but it starts with our need for Christ and how we live that out in the closest relationships – with those in our home.

Loving our kids starts with loving their mom. If you are married, put your wife first in a Christ-like love. If you’re a dad but aren’t married to the mother of your children, you still need to respect and honor the structure that provides stability for children by honoring their mom. And by honoring the cooperative bond of parenthood.

When it comes to thriving at home, none of us are self-sufficient. We all need Christ.  I know that I drift, falter and fail unless I commit to walk with Him. To be effective as a man, each of us needs to grow in the knowledge of Christ through His word, through prayer, through obedience, and through fellowship with mentors and other men.

Copyright © 2014 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just read a post by Jeff Kemp , “Men are the first domino,” on the Stepping Up blog for men.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistMake a list of the people in your life who you need you. In what ways can you be a better influencer?

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistWatch Jeff Kemp and Brian Doyle talk about the theology behind men ministering to other men.

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Be part of the Stepping Up 10-week series study with other men, to help improve your influence.

 

 

In death as in life



This post was originally published in my personal blog eight years ago. I’m posting it again in honor of a truly good man, husband, father, and friend who lived out his heart of ministry and service in death as in life.

in death as in lifeFifteen years ago this week, my brother was killed.

A drunken driver cut short his life as he pulled a late-night shift for a fellow police officer in Hawaii. Jay took every opportunity he could to earn enough money to move his wife and two young children from their apartment into a real home. He died as he lived, serving and sacrificing for others.

God had prepared Jay and his family for his departure in a way that, to this day, defies explanation. Months before his death, Jay met with a life insurance agent and with his pastor (who was also the department chaplain) to plan for his funeral. There was no reason for him to suspect that his life might be in danger. In fact, he and I used to joke on the phone about some of the “hazardous” assignments he had as a policeman on Maui, like when he answered the call about a bowl of soup that was allegedly stolen off a kitchen table.

For whatever reason, Jay felt impressed to increase his insurance to an amount probably several times higher than any honest insurance agent would recommend. And the solidly evangelistic funeral service that he planned would end up ministering powerfully to his fellow officers, who knew him to be a man of integrity who lived out his faith and loved his family more than anything else.

The card

But probably the most enigmatic act my brother would make in preparation for his death was a sympathy card he had penned years earlier. Jay shared a birthday with our aunt Harriet, who had lost her own beloved husband, Phil, years earlier to a massive heart attack.

Jay wasn’t able to attend Phil’s funeral like I was, and had to settle for sending a card. But his sensitive thoughts and words of hope ministered to Harriet in a way far deeper than my own presence at Phil’s funeral ever could. Jay spoke into the heart of this grieving wife about how her husband lived his life in the grace and love of Christ and how he reflected that godly care to everyone he came in contact with. His words reminded her that her husband was spending eternity with the Savior, free of the pain that is so much a part of this world we know, and that one day, they would be reunited in heaven.

Now, years later, Jay’s own wife, Dee, was experiencing the same inexpressible grief. It was weeks after the funeral. All the family was gone, and she was left to take care of their two young children – who reminded her so much of him – and left to grieve on her own.

Until the card came.

As Harriet heard of Jay’s death, she was reminiscing about the nephew who had comforted her years earlier. After some effort, she managed to locate the sympathy card, which was tucked away in a book. She read his words again, this time thinking about Dee’s grief at losing her husband.

Harriet wasn’t able to attend his funeral, but she sent Dee a card to minister to her in her grief.

The same card

As Dee opened that card, she could hardly believe what she was seeing. The handwriting she knew like she knew her own heart. The tender words of consolation wrapped themselves around her soul as they had in the days when she and Jay were dating. But now, instead of words of his undying devotion, Dee was reading his words of deepest consolation in his own death. And the wife who didn’t get to tell her husband goodbye would end up reading his own words of comfort to her in her time greatest grief. It was his final gift to her, words of promise and hope that they would be reunited forever in God’s timing.

Jay was inexplicable in life, and inexplicable in death. But his heart lives on, because the One who held his heart lives eternally. And the love of Christ that ruled Jay’s life is the same Life that has conquered death for all.

So on the anniversary of Jay’s death, I wanted to remember one man who, like me, experienced the second birth. One who shared that hope, in word and deed, with those around him.

Copyright © 2014 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just read a post by Scott Williams, “In death as in life,” on the Stepping Up blog for men by FamilyLife.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistJay Williams was prepared for his death.  If you were to die suddenly, where you would spend eternity? 

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistHave you spent time considering “If Something Happens to Me, would we be prepared financially?”

STEPPass - 10-point checklistShare Jay’s story of hope and the other links here with your friends via Facebook,  Twitter or email.

How to dad



The dud dad is dead.

The superhero of a new Cheerios commercial campaign delivers a mortal wound to feckless fatherhood. The clueless father image propped up by the media for so many years has been stuffed in a closet somewhere and replaced by his superhero nemesis.

“Let me introduce myself. My name is…”

“Dad!” (calls out a child from another room)

“and proud of it. And all dads should be.”

YouTube Preview Image

Being a dad is being a superhero amid real family life: kids rudely waking you up in the morning, being annoying, being rude to each other, being childish. But these are the same kids who need engagement, encouragement, instruction, and reminders to step up that can only come from a dad.

In the commercial, Cheerios lightheartedly shows “how to dad,” highlighting the things that make dads different from moms, and so endearing to kids. Things like telling hilarious jokes and building the best forts. Like not being afraid of getting messy and like seeing “boo-boos” as badges of bravery. And about cereal being for breakfast … and lunch, and dinner, and late-night snacks.

The campaign doesn’t pass up the chance to take some great pot shots at today’s perpetual male adolescence. It casually points out that true “awesome” is not about breaking rules but making them, and about wearing your clothes like a man.

But the true focus of the commercial is pointing out (in a fun way) how important dads are to their children.

“Kids: they’re our best friends; they’re our biggest fans. And they look to us the same way we look at superheroes …”

“Up … because we’re taller.”

Throughout the commercial the dad encourages and engages with his children and holds up a high standard by word and example. And from the comments I’ve seen on YouTube, the commercial is doing the same thing for menlaying out for us a standard of fatherhood and encouragement on how to dad.

So, if your wife catches you having that late night cereal snack, tell her you’re just manning up.

Copyright © 2014 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just read a post by Scott Williams, How to dad, on the Stepping Up blog for men by FamilyLife.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistWhat in the video encouraged you in your job as a dad? What area(s) did it make you want to work on?

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistRead “3 Gifts Every Dad Should Give His Kids.” Pick one gift each week and work on that as your “how to dad” assignment.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistShare this blog post and the “How to Dad” video with other dads via Facebook,  Twitter or email.

 

 

What breed of man are you?



A motto I once heard goes like this: Winners concentrate on winning, while losers concentrate on just getting by.

If that statement were carved into the granite at the front of a Fortune 500 company, you would nod your head in agreement. Inwardly you might say, Now that’s the way to run a business. I would imagine that company is really a company of excellence. They know how to do things right!

Yet when it comes to the family, it’s interesting that most homes today would have to be characterized as losers. Too many marriages have become marred by mediocrity. Children are seen, at best, as a status symbol—a way to achieve something through them that we, ourselves, weren’t able to achieve when we were their age.

Too many marriages today are concentrating on “just getting by.” With “squeaking by” as the goal, it is no wonder so many marriages don’t amount to much.

In his best-seller, The Seeds of Greatness, Denis Waitley tells the story of his grandmother whom he idolized. She crossed an apricot and a plum tree. Grandmother Waitley called it a plumcot. This delicious fruit was perfected by the gentle, wise old lady after careful and tedious pruning and grafting of the two fruit-bearing trees.

As a boy, Denis learned a valuable lesson from his grandmother. She harvested a plumcot because that was what she planted.

What you plant is what you get

Marriage is a lot like that—we never get out of a marriage what we do not put into it.

One man confessed, “At work I concentrate on winning, and as a result, I am a winner. At home, however, I concentrate on just getting by.”

It’s no wonder he is losing.

As Americans, we think of ourselves as winners … we are used to winning, but too many times in the wrong places. As a result, we end up losing in the important places … at home.

Vance Havner has said, “Americans know the price of everything, but the value of nothing.”

If a business goes bankrupt, it is the president or the chairman of the board who is to blame. Similarly, if the home fails, the man is to blame. You and I, as husbands and fathers of our family, must master the ageless art of leadership and apply it to our families. If we ever hope to win at home, then we must focus on winning.

Spinning plates

Too many of us, as the leaders of our families, are like the man who used to come on the Ed Sullivan Show years ago and spin the plates. This man would start at one end of a long table by placing a stick perpendicular to the table and spinning a plate on the stick. In consecutive order the plates would be placed … two, three, four, five, six plates. As the first plate slowed down, it would begin to wobble. I can remember denying the urge to want to jump through the TV and run to help the man by grabbing the plate before it fell off the stick and shattered into tiny slivers of porcelain pieces.

Now with the first plate wobbling in a near-fatal orbit, the man would rush back and expertly spin that plate again as the audience breathed a sigh of relief. On he would go … seven, eight, nine. By that time, plates two, three, and four were now beginning to wobble. And just before you knew the man could not keep a dozen or so plates spinning, he would quickly scoop them up in his professional hands like he was carrying them to the cupboard and bow to the smiling applause of the audience.

Similarly, the roles we assume in life—husband, a father, a businessman, a civic leader, a church leader, a golfer, a fisherman—all represent different plates in our lives. We begin spinning them early in our married life with plate number one being our marriage. Giving focused attention to that one place, the plate spins along merrily and does well. With the addition of plates number two (business) and three (children), efforts to focus become more difficult. Carefully we keep adding our plates until we finally step back from the table to see two or three of the first plates beginning to wobble badly. We have to make choices. Decisions. Decisions based upon priorities. Our family has needs, but we mistakenly choose to meet those “material” needs by applying our efforts primarily to our business. The result: Focus is lost.

However, most businessmen are not worried about starving. Most of us are concerned about status, significance, accumulation of more, and how we can feed the materialistic monster that lives within us. A good friend recently said, “Materialism is not what you have, it is what has you.”

Too many husbands and fathers have become dizzy by the many spinning plates we have set up. We give our family an occasional spin just to keep things at status quo. We focus on just getting by. The results? More plates begin to fall off the table. Children become strangers—children who are crying out for attention. Mothers plead for help. Meanwhile, being the visionary leaders that we are, we ignore fallen plates and add additional plates. Yet the Psalmist warns, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.”

There is no question why so many marriages and families are functioning poorly. Nothing—a business, a school, a basketball team, or a family—can function without leadership, energy, time, and most importantly, focused attention. Without these, the plates will begin to fall.

Being somewhat of a selfish man myself, I struggled to keep my family plates spinning over the dozen ego-stroking plates I could have focused my attention and energy to keep spinning when our kids were growing up. However, I was constantly forced by the person of Jesus Christ to come to grips with my limits. I have been wrestled to the ground by Him on more than one occasion to be forced to answer the question, “How many plates can you keep spinning and still win?”

Another question which redirects me is, “Where do I want to win so badly that I am unequivocally unwilling to lose?”

“Which of those plates would I be willing to lose for the sake of my family, if need be?”

A new breed of man

Today some tough questions face Christian businessmen and leaders. We have become a cult of Christian celebrities. We worship successful businessmen and pro athletes who can perform in the office or on the field. We pay little regard for whether they are a success in their personal and private lives. The time has come for a new breed of Christian husbands and fathers.

We need a new breed of man who will say “no” to more bucks when it means sacrificing our families. A new breed of man who will place family between us and every decision we make. A new breed of man who will ask the question, “How will this affect my family?” A new breed of man who will determine how much is enough. We need a breed of men who will seek to establish relationships with our families before seeking fame in our culture. A new breed of men who will recognize that we need to leave something to posterity that will outlive us: proven character in our children. A new breed of leaders who realize that to succeed in the eyes of men, but fail in the eyes of God, is the ultimate waste.

Renowned Senate chaplain Peter Marshall once said, “It is better to fail in a cause that will ultimately succeed than to succeed in a cause that will ultimately fail.”

One last question—will you take upon yourself the challenge that Albert Einstein gave a group of young scientists? While addressing this highly motivated group of young men, he pointed to them and said, “Gentlemen, try not to become men of success. But rather, try to become men of value.”

Copyright © 2014 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklist

You just read a post by Dennis Rainey, What breed of man are you? on the Stepping Up blog for men.

STEPThink - 10-point checklist
So, what breed of man are you? Could you do a better job of defining success at home? Write a definition to guide you.

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistListen to the FamilyLife Today broadcast series on how to implement strategic planning in your home life.

STEPPass - 10-point checklist

Think of one thing that you can do this week to lead your wife and children. Make that your measure for success.

10-point checklist for spiritual health



It seems to happen every year. A seasoned marathoner puts in a pretty impressive time, only to suffer a heart attack and die. From the outside, the runners look to be the picture of health, but often after an autopsy, it’s revealed that they have a fatal condition that’s been hiding on the inside.

Every one of us needs an occasional visit to the doctor for a checkup to make sure everything is working alright and that we don’t have an unknown serious internal condition.

The same is true with our spiritual lives. As creatures of habit, we tend to go through life on autopilot. We often miss clues that indicate that our spirit is not enjoying the good health that God created it for.

10-point checklist

Photo by Tina Vanderlaan

In the same way that the doctor puts us through a battery of tests to diagnose potential physical problems, God has given us a process of evaluating spiritual problems in our lives:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

Each of these is a characteristic of the Holy Spirit’s active presence in our daily activities. Let’s look at a 10-point checklist and ask some diagnostic questions to make sure we’re healthy.

1. Love

This word for love doesn’t refer to warm feelings but to a deliberate attitude of good will and devotion to others. Love gives freely without looking at whether the other person deserves it, and it gives without expecting anything back.

Question: Am I motivated to do for others as Christ has done for me, or am I giving in order to receive something in return?

2. Joy

Unlike happiness, joy is gladness that is completely independent of the good or bad things that happen in the course of the day. In fact, joy denotes a supernatural gladness given by God’s Spirit that actually seems to show up best during hard times. This is a product of fixing your focus on God’s purposes for the events in your life rather than on the circumstances.

Question: Am I experiencing a joy of life on a regular basis, or is my happiness dependent on things going smoothly in my day?

3. Peace

It’s not the absence of turmoil, but the presence of tranquility even while in a place of chaos. It is a sense of wholeness and completeness that is content knowing that God controls the events of the day.

Question: Do I find myself frazzled by the crashing waves of turmoil in my life, or am I experiencing “the peace that passes all comprehension” (Philippians 4:6-7)?

4. Patience

Other words that describe this fruit are lenience, long-suffering, forbearance, perseverance, and steadfastness. It is the ability to endure ill treatment from life or at the hands of others without lashing out or paying back.

Question: Am I easily set off when things go wrong or people irritate me, or am I able to keep a godly perspective in the face of life’s irritations? 

5. Kindness

When kindness is at work in a man’s life, he looks for ways to adapt to meet the needs of others. It is moral goodness that overflows. It’s also the absence of malice.

Question: Is it my goal to serve others with kindness, or am I too focused on my own needs, desires or problems to let the goodness of God overflow to others?

6. Goodness

While kindness is the soft side of good, goodness reflects the character of God. Goodness in you desires to see goodness in others and is not beyond confronting or even rebuking (as Jesus did with the money changers in the temple) for that to happen.

Question: Does my life reflect the holiness of God, and do I desire to see others experience God at a deep level in their own lives?

7. Faithfulness

A faithful man is one with real integrity. He’s someone others can look to as an example, and someone who is truly devoted to others and to Christ. Our natural self always wants to be in charge, but Spirit-controlled faithfulness is evident in the life of a man who seeks good for others and glory for God.

Question: Are there areas of hypocrisy and indifference toward others in my life, or is my life characterized by faith in Christ and faithfulness to those around me? 

8. Gentleness

Meekness is not weakness. Gentleness is not without power, it just chooses to defer to others. It forgives others, corrects with kindness, and lives in tranquility.

Question: Do I come across to others as brash and headstrong, or am I allowing the grace of God to flow through me to others?

9. Self-control

Our fleshly desires, Scripture tells us, are continually at odds with God’s Spirit and always want to be in charge. Self-control is literally releasing our grip on the fleshly desires, choosing instead to be controlled by the Holy Spirit. It is power focused in the right place.

Question: Are my fleshly desires controlling my life, or am I allowing the Spirit to direct me to the things that please God and serve others?

10. Walk by the Spirit

While not a fruit of the Spirit, the final item on the checkup produces all nine qualities listed above. When we follow the Spirit’s lead instead of being led by our self-focused desires, He produces the fruit.

But even when we don’t walk by the Spirit, He is the very one who convicts us that things are not in proper order in our lives.

God promises that if we are willing to admit that we have been walking our own way and ask for His forgiveness and cleansing, He will empower us through His Spirit to live above ourselves and live the abundant life for which He has created us. (I John 1:5-10)

Question: Am I actively depending on the Holy Spirit to guide me in God’s ways so I don’t get wrapped up in myself? If not, am I willing to confess to God that His ways are better than mine, and that I need the Spirit’s guidance to live above the fray?

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou’ve just finished reading the post 10-point checklist for spiritual health on the Stepping Up men’s blog

STEPThink - 10-point checklistWhich of the nine evidences of the Spirit most reflect you? Which one(s) need to be more present in your life?

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistAre you experiencing the life-changing power of Christ? Read Two Ways to Live to see where you stand.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistReflect the nature of God and his love to others. Read The Greatest Power Ever Known to get started.

Patience Thin? 5 Keys to Keep Your Cool



This blog post first appeared on Freddie Scott’s Legacy Builder blog.

Let’s be honest. Some days are just harder than others. There are days where our patience with those we love and people we work with is just paper thin. Jean-Jacques Rousseau is quoted saying, “A man who is a master of patience, is a master of everything else.” A man who is able to control himself when his patience is running thin, is a man that can govern his thoughts, words and actions.

Another great principle actually comes straight from Scripture:

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:19)

With those principles in mind, here are 5 tips to keep your cool.

1. Give yourself a timeout

Sometimes it’s okay to give yourself a timeout in the middle of a stressful situation. Think about it: when a basketball coach calls a timeout when the other team is on a run, or has made a great play, we think of it as a great strategy to break the momentum of the other team and quiet the crowd. This allows his team to settle down, not make any further mistakes, and most importantly to be reminded of their purpose and of the game plan after the timeout.

You can do the same thing! In the middle of a stressful moment, give yourself a timeout to reset and refresh so you don’t make a mistake of saying something in the moment that you may regret later.

2. Beware of the earthquake effect

I have to be honest here. There have been times when I lashed out my frustrations on my wife and kids. Not because they did anything wrong, but because I was low on patience, and they happened to be the closest people around me. Remember, those closest to you will feel the effects of when something is wrong with you. Very much like there is much more damage to buildings closest to the epicenter of an earthquake than those that are further away from it.

When you feel yourself erupting, remember the possible damage that you could cause to those closest to you, and put their needs ahead of your own.

3. Don’t raise your voice

Have you ever noticed that when you raise your voice, everyone else in the conversation also raises their voice? Not raising your voice not only allows you to control your emotions during a stressful situation, it also allows you to control the intensity of the entire conversation.

Proverbs 15:1 states, “A soft answer turns away wrath.” This is not saying that you are soft, or the reply is not firm. Rather, your tone is soft and controlled. Almost Presidential in character. When you control the tone of your voice, you are communicating that you are not rattled and are in total control in the situation. This attribute will make it easier for those around you to see and respect you for the leader that you are.

4. Avoid using escalator words

We’ve all done it. When our emotions are high, and in the middle of a heated argument decided to throw an insult or bring up an issue from the past that we are still hurt about. We may be talking about who should’ve washed the dishes, but now we are bringing up something that happened years ago! Every conversation has opportunity to escalate in intensity, or not. We choose which way they go based on what we say at the time. Just because you can say something, doesn’t mean you should say something.

Remember the wise words from Kenny Rogers, “know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.” Remember, that it is okay to punt. You don’t have to be right every time! Just punt. Let the other person think they won the point. The real winner is you for demonstrating your leadership by not allowing a situation turn into an unnecessary argument.

5. Just listen

Don’t respond at that moment–especially if you sense that you are at a place emotionally where you feel like you are about to erupt and you can’t separate yourself from the situation to give you some space to calm down. This is when you should not focus on your frustrations and feelings at the time. Rather, try to focus your energy and attention on simply listening to the person with the purpose of trying to understand where they are coming from.

This is not the time to give your side of the story, or offer your input, because you still need to get your emotions under control. This is the time where you simply lean in intently and listen for the key feelings that the other person is expressing. Sometimes it’s effective to simply repeat what you hear the other person saying in an effort to make sure you understand them. This gives the person the opportunity to share whats on their heart, and feel understood. This also gives you time to gather your thoughts and emotions, and have a greater understanding of the feelings of the other person.

 

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading the blog post Patience Thin? 5 Keys to Keep Your Cool by guest contributor Freddie Scott II

STEPthink - keep your cool

Listen to Chip Ingram on the FamilyLife Today radio broadcast discussing The Heart of Anger

STEPembrace - keep your cool

What triggers your anger? Plan ways to react differently. Ask your wife or a trusted guy to help you change the pattern.

STEPpass - keep your cool

Who do you know who struggles with anger? Pass these resources along to them, and offer your support.

FreddieScott

Freddie Scott is a former NFL player, pastor, author, and founder and president of Unlock The Champion. He is a Transition Coach for the NFL Player Engagement Program, and serves as a family expert for the NFL Players Association conducting workshops across the country helping men to be better husbands and fathers.

- See more at: http://unlockthechampion.com/wp_UTC/5-keys-to-control-your-temper/#sthash.eHE3ClIH.dpuf

Stepping Up as couples



I’ve led small groups in my home and in church for years, but the response from a group of ladies actually took me by surprise

The Stepping Up 10-week video series is geared toward men, challenging them to be all God desires them to be as husbands and fathers. I was a little more than halfway through leading my third group of men through the study when I heard the voice of a woman in one of the sessions.

stepping up as couples

Chuck and Melissa Douglas

“It must be hard to be a man today.”

That sentence validated what I suspect so many men feel in our culture, and I wanted my wife to hear it. Melissa is very supportive, but she was not involved with the details of my leading this study. After all, this was my thing with the guys, not something for the ladies.

That is until we talked that evening.

I told her that I really wanted her to understand not only how the series was challenging me as a husband and father, but how most of the struggles that we men face are really common to all of us. That is when she suggested that we go through the study together with other couples.

Navigating the masculine landscape from a woman’s perspective

Most of the more than 100,000 who have done Stepping Up, have been men participating in either a small group or at weekend event setting for men. Still, we took the study to our couples small group at church with a question: “Can a wife learn anything from attending a video-based Bible study geared toward her husband?” In other words, would it work to do a study where we were stepping up as couples? After just the first session we had our answer: a resounding “Yes!”

Rebecca Jarrard, one of those ladies, commented, “Women need to be clear on the pressures their husbands face daily so they can understand and encourage them in ways that most fulfill their biblical roles as wives.” For Rebecca, attending the Stepping Up small group was a “peek inside the male mind.” The study helped her understand God’s perspective on the subject of masculinity, not the kind the world offers, but the biblical kind of masculinity for which God designed men.

Another friend and classmate, Chrissy Batson, thought that attending the study as a couple was a great idea. She did not shy away when she heard the study was originally geared toward men and contains mostly male-oriented subject matter. “That doesn’t scare me,” she said. “I’m always interested in my husband’s perspective, even if it’s not easy to hear.”

Coming into the study, she felt she was doing a pretty good job of understanding her husband, but also recognized her failures. She wanted to be more proactive in setting her husband up to be the leader in their home that they both wanted him to be.

Counter-cultural – in a good way

A surprise in presenting the study for couples was how the material applied to our daughters. Each of the women commented on their eagerness to understand real biblical masculinity—not just as a way to make them better mothers to their sons, but also to be better equipped to talk to their daughters about what “Mr. Right” really looks like.

Each couple who participated in the study agreed that they don’t want to just talk about real biblical manhood in their homes—they want to model it. They acknowledged that little exists in the current culture which resembles manhood and family leadership the way God intended. In the course of the study, a few of the ladies commented on ways that society is working against them and their children in their quest for building a family based on God’s design. Stepping Up helped them understand how important it is for husbands and wives to be proactive in teaching their children time-tested biblical principles that apply to every member of the family. They also came to understand how important it is to work together as a team to fulfill God’s purposes for their families.

The benefit of a wife…stepping up

Of course, we husbands are reaping a benefit as well. Several of the men expressed genuine eagerness for their wives to hear the same things they would have heard in a Stepping Up series for just men. One of the husbands said having his wife on the same page as he works to achieve his goals for manhood is invaluable.

“Knowing that she understands and empathizes with my struggles is deeply comforting. I know I’m not alone, but I have my best cheerleader at my side. Each of our wives wants the best for us as men, and their investment in this study proves their sincerity.”

Rebecca’s husband, Ken, put it this way, “We’ve always been partners, but now she understands how she completes me like never before. After 22 years of marriage my wife is beginning to understand the male mind in new ways—our struggles and challenges. What a benefit to my sons!”

The perspective of a group facilitator

Experiencing Stepping Up as a couple has given my Melissa a deeper understanding of how to come alongside me as I seek to pass along a biblical legacy to my boys. She is regularly encouraging me to live out the commitments I’ve made to my family. Rebecca and Chrissy are doing the same thing for their husbands.

As a group facilitator, I had a sense that the Stepping Up material would be valuable to the couples. But I really wasn’t prepared for the overwhelming response of our wives and the insightful discussion they contributed to the study. What is even more important is the sense of unity all the couples have gained by attending the Stepping Up series together.

One wife expressed it best when she said that going through the workbook study with her husband made them feel like they are part of a team.

A winning team.

Stepping Up as couples  - STEPSeekTruthYou have just finished reading Stepping Up as couples post from the Stepping Up blog for men.

Stepping Up as couples  - STEPthinkHave you and your wife ever talked about what it means to be a man? What would that conversation look like?

Stepping Up as couples  - STEPembraceAsk your wife what she and your children need you to be as a man? Tell her what she does that empowers you.

Stepping Up as couples  - STEPPassItOnBe part of the Stepping Up 10-week series study with other men, or even with couples.

- – -

stepping up as couplesChuck Douglas earned a Master of Divinity degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. A former police officer, Chuck authored a study in the Homebuilder Couple Series, Protecting Your First Responder Marriage. Chuck enjoys spending time outdoors with his family hunting and fishing near their home in the North Georgia mountains. He and his wife Melissa have been married for 22 years and have been on staff with FamilyLife since 2001. They have four children.

 

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