Posts by Scott Williams

Thomas Davis: All-around champion



Thomas Davis daughterSuper Bowl week has to be an especially meaningful one for Carolina Panthers’ linebacker Thomas Davis. In every way the week’s events give reflection of the kind of man he is, on and off the field. Today — Super Bowl Sunday — he will start at outside linebacker in this year’s championship game, which is almost a miracle in itself. More on that later.

But Davis was also the guest of honor at another of the week’s most-celebrated events: the Super Bowl Breakfast, hosted by Athletes in Action, the sister ministry of FamilyLife. It’s not just a religious event, but is the occasion for the NFL to honor the one player who best exemplifies outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field, and in the community.

Last year the recipient was Peyton Manning, who will quarterback the opposing Denver Broncos in this year’s Super Bowl. This year it is Thomas Davis. And the award this year has even greater significance.  It is the 50th anniversary since the trophy’s namesake led his team to victory in the first-ever Super Bowl in 1967.

The Bart Starr award has been given annually since 1989, and has included such outstanding athletes and men as Steve Largent, Reggie White, Mike Singletary, Jackie Slater, Bruce Matthews, Darrell Green, Curt Warner, Aeneas Williams, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Peyton Manning.

It’s not a one-time honor for Davis, who also received the prestigious Walter Payton Man of the Year Award last season. In his acceptance speech, he challenged his fellow NFL players to use their fame and fortune to give to others.

“Let’s take charge … Let’s step up and be a village of guys that make a difference to change this world. We’re well-compensated for what we do. Let’s show these kids how much we care about them. Let’s give the media something positive to talk about instead of always bashing our league.”

Coming up from humble beginnings

Thomas Davis grew up in the humblest of beginnings in the Wiregrass region of southwest Georgia, just a couple of hours from where Bart Starr was raised. Unlike Starr, poverty was a way of life for Davis, his sister, and their single mom. There were times, he recalled, they didn’t even have running water or electricity. His mom did her best to meet their needs, but it was barely enough to cover the essentials and no more.

Davis remembers a couple Christmases waking up with anticipation, only to find no present. In his young mind, he reasoned that maybe it was because he was bad and that the reason she was having such a hard time making ends meet was because he and his sister were too difficult. As he was able, he would pick pecans and peas, bale hay, anything to earn money to help the family stay afloat. That memory of struggling for survival and significance would be the impetus for what he would do for others if he ever had the means.

Sports was his chance. He lettered in baseball and track, but he was a standout in football. Because his high school was so small, he got little notice from college football programs and received only one scholarship offer. But at the University of Georgia under coach Mark Richt he proved to be one of the best players to ever come out of the state, earning All-American honors at linebacker and a number 14 overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft.

From the top to the bottom and back

Thomas Davis PanthersGoing from poverty to riches went to Thomas’ head for the first three years of his career, as he revealed in an excellent interview with Sports Spectrum magazine. He could have and do almost anything he wanted, and he did. And, like Solomon, he found it to be meaningless.

It was during this time that the spiritual seeds sown by Coach Richt at Georgia, an outspoken Christian, began to take root in Thomas, and he became more aware of the grace of God in his life. It was also at that same time that he met his wife Kelly and he began to look outward to meet her needs and the needs of others. He got involved as a volunteer in a program that offered free heart screenings to underprivileged children and through that, Thomas discovered that he had a rare heart condition that could end his NFL career. Although it ended up not being as serious as first thought, the process of facing his immortality and the imminent loss of his career created in him a greater reliance on God and caused him to further take inventory of his life.

Thomas recognizes now that God was preparing him for what was to come. Until the heart scare, he had never had an injury or a threat to missing a game.

Then eight weeks into the 2009 season, playing on the Superdome turf against the Saints, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee. He had surgery to repair the knee and missed the rest of the season.

Early in summer training camp the next year, in 2010, just after successfully rehabbing his injury he tore the same ACL in the same knee in a fluke, non-contact accident. This time he would miss the entire 2010 season, but he would have plenty of time to properly rehab the knee this time.

Finally, in 2011 he was back to full function for the season opener — his first regular season game in 22 months. But the very next week at Green Bay a teammate’s leg slammed against his knee — the same knee — and tore the same ACL for a third time in less than two years.

In the doctor’s office the next morning, the team trainer remembers that Thomas was crying and shaking his head, saying, “I can’t do this anymore. It’s too hard.”

Thomas recalls the soul-searching few days that followed.

“My wife and I talked about it, and the team chaplain … and they just asked me, ‘Do you really feel like you’re done with the game of football? Are you, in your heart, totally 100 percent sure that you don’t want to play again?’ And the answer to that question was ‘No.’”

The following Monday, according to the trainer, Thomas came into his office and said “We’re breaking history. We’re going for records. We’re doing it again.”

Indeed it would be history. No NFL player had ever come back from three ACL tears, much less to perform at the level Thomas does. He has become the Panthers’ all-time leading tackler, and every year since his return from the knee injuries has recorded more than 100 tackles.

But then two weeks ago in the NFC championship game, Thomas was making his 105th tackle of the season when he suffered a serious break to the ulna bone in his forearm. Initially, his mind went back to the ACL injuries, resigning himself to the fact that he would have to sit out the dream game of his life in two weeks. Under the same circumstances, most athletes probably would have. But this was Thomas Davis, who is no stranger to rehabbing injuries.  The doctors were willing to take the chance and so was Thomas. The morning after the game, he was in surgery to repair it, and Sunday he’ll start with a metal plate and several screws,  protected by a specially designed cast on his arm.

After all, what’s the chance that a broken arm will stop you when you’ve come back from so many desperate situations before, and when you have a chance to help your team win a Super Bowl trophy for the first time?


Offering others a hand up

Thomas Davis playgroundSince their marriage in 2008, Thomas and Kelly created and have continued to expand their own charity. The mission of the Thomas Davis Defending Dreams Foundation  is built on the principles of educating, empowering, and defending students in developing essential life and social skills that will help them rise above circumstances to become leaders in the next generation.  Both Thomas and Kelly are intimately involved in every aspect of the organization’s work. The couple has personally invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to build a playground in his hometown of Shellman, Georgia, and to provide for the material needs of underprivileged children across the nation. And every Christmas, they provide presents to children to show them unconditional love.

 

Michael Oher: Something to prove in Super Bowl 50



Michael Oher: Something to prove

Michael Oher got to prove his worth this year against the team that traded him to the NFC Champion Carolina Panthers. (Getty Images)

One of the backstories of Super Bowl 50 is the ongoing rags-to-riches story of Michael Oher. The outstanding left tackle for the Carolina Panthers will be working for his second championship ring in seven years.

Michael Oher has something to prove.

He always has something to prove.

Many have seen the 2009 movie The Blind Side, about a destitute Memphis black kid who was all but living on the street until he was taken in by a wealthy white family from across town. That kid, Michael Oher, went on to become a highly-recruited high school lineman and an All-American at Ole Miss, and was selected in the first round of the NFL draft.

Most people love the movie, but Michael Oher is not one of them. Based on the Michael Lewis book, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, it focuses primarily on the Tuohy family, who adopted Michael and who continue to have a powerful presence in his life. In fact, they will be together in San Francisco for the Super Bowl.

But, as Michael puts it, the movie is what you’d expect from Hollywood, with a lot of overtly fictional elements. Then there is Michael’s book, I Beat the Odds: From Homelessness to The Blind Side and Beyond, which I just finished reading. While the movie characterized Michael as an unintelligent and unambitious young man who had to be taught the game of football, the truth is that he was already focused on sports and rising above his surroundings when he was walking the streets of Memphis. The Tuohy family just gave him opportunities he would have otherwise never had.

In his book, he gives a little perspective on the balance between opportunity and success.

Michael Oher has something to prove“When I was drafted in the first round by the Baltimore Ravens, I knew I had done the impossible. I hadn’t just beat the odds; I had blown them out of the water. But the story isn’t just about arriving at the pros. My goal had never been just to get the offer, or to sign the contract, or to get the paycheck. I wanted to do something, to know that I was working each day to do something with my potential, pushing myself to make sure that I was always giving my all. Making it to the pros wasn’t the finish line for me. The world is full of people who got their big shot and then never did anything with it. It had come too far to just let being drafted be the end of my story.”

From the start of his book, two things stand out that show that Michael was serious about his future: First, he was determined to rise above the options he was given as a child. Second, he knew the importance of surrounding yourself with people who watch out for you, and he realized the need to commit to them as well.

He knew that he could have become a bodyguard for one of the two local gangs and made a name and lots of money for himself.  But that wasn’t what he wanted. He wanted out, and at an early age he realized that sports would be his ticket. His big goal was to get a scholarship for a junior college and get an education so he could get a job that would take him out of the neighborhoods where everyone was stuck and life was just a matter of survival. READ MORE »

Carolina’s Greg Olsen: MVP of hurting hearts



Greg OlsenCarolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen arrived at the hotel in San Jose this past weekend, preparing for the game of his career.

He unpacks his bags, and there lies Touchdown Bear, his traveling companion for every game of the past two seasons (watch the video). It’s a stuffed animal, custom-designed by his three children, and a reminder to him that the Super Bowl is not the most important thing in his life. It’s also a constant reflection that this game is not the biggest challenge he’s faced. This is not the first time he’s had everything on the line, or teamed up with others to face a formidable foe.

Three years ago, Greg and his wife Kara watched as an ultrasound revealed that they were pregnant with two children, one normal, and one with a medical condition known as Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS). Simply put, TJ would be born with half a heart. Fortunately for them, Greg’s generous NFL salary allowed them to seek out and receive the best care for their son, who would have died without aggressive medical intervention.

TJ would go through three successive surgeries to rebuild his heart, and his parents would provide very specialized and intense care for their son. For Greg, the pressure to perform was almost more than he could bear when they brought TJ home from the hospital after his first surgery.  “His care was going to be so specific and so important that if I did not give him the exact calorie per ounce, he was going to die. In my mind, that’s what I thought. If I couldn’t even make his formula right, how was I going to do wound care on his scar, how were we going to do his medicine?”

That’s sure a lot more pressure than he’s going to face on the field Sunday.

Since that time, TJ has had his two other operations and is doing well for a child with HLHS. The Olsens are thankful for each day they have with TJ and their other two children, because most kids with HLHS don’t make it to age five, even with the surgeries. And as they experienced the heartache as parents of HLHS babies, they’ve developed a passion for helping other moms and dads who have fewer resources than Greg and Kara. They sought out a way to level the playing field a bit for families.

Through The HEARTest Yard initiative, they help provide medical care, counseling, and encouragement for parents of HLHS babies through Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Greg’s and Kara’s compassion earned him a nomination by the Panther’s organization for the 2015 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. Efforts to help others have earned him recognition off the field as well as on.

Annie Lane picture AHA submissionMy co-worker Tracy admits that she doesn’t follow football much, but she knows about Greg Olsen. That’s because she and husband Matt are going through their own anguishing struggle with their daughter Annie, whose heart is failing after her second HLHS surgery. Tracy remembers what it’s like to get the diagnosis.

“One day, you’re a regular family who’s never heard of a baby having half of a heart. The next day, you’re the family whose baby is being diagnosed with a rare and life-threatening heart defect,” she says.

And Matt relates to Greg’s frustration about how alone and helpless it can make you feel. “It’s not like you can just call up your buddy and he can relate. Or talk to your brother who went through that last week. Or even turn to your pastor, because, well, no one else has heard of Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome either.”

At this moment, Matt and Tracy are waiting to hear from Philadelphia Children’s Hospital, which did Annie’s first two surgeries. They’re hoping the facility can come up with a course of action to care for Annie as she waits for her third operation. In the meantime, all they can do is wait and pray. But they’re thankful that others are raising awareness of families like theirs. Tracy, a fellow writer, forwarded her thoughts to me the other day.

“Having someone like Olsen to look to is encouraging. He’s a regular guy who is loving his family well. A regular guy who had the courage to choose life in the face of a life-threatening diagnosis. A regular guy who is giving hope to other families who face this same terrifying condition.

“Heart families around the world are grateful for the awareness he’s providing because the more we know, the less afraid we have to be. The more we see that a scary diagnosis can still lead to a healthy, vibrant childhood, the more courage we have to advocate for the life of any and every baby. Olsen shares the reality that the grief is real, the challenges are real, but the value of his child’s life is real too. Those hospital-bound days fighting for TJ’s life were worth it. Whatever fight you’re in is worth it, too.”

Greg Olsen has fought to be, arguably, the best tight end in the NFL. But he admitted in an interview last year that he’s not the toughest person in his home.

“I wish I was as tough as TJ. If I was as tough as him, I’d be in good shape. What he’s gone through in his first eight months of life is more than any of us has gone through in a lifetime. Two open heart surgeries, the countless medications, the exams. He’s been through it all, and he just bounces back.”

TJ’s suffering has made Olsen tougher and more sensitive. It’s given him not just resolve, but also perspective. In the grand scheme of things, Sunday’s Super Bowl is not a life-or-death thing for Greg Olsen. In fact, I’m sure that if he has an outstanding performance, wins the big game and gets a huge bonus on top of his $22.5 million dollar contract, he wouldn’t think twice about trading it all away for TJ.

Learn the latest on Annie’s current situation, and follow the heart of HLHS parents through Tracy’s blog, Heart for Annie.

 

Carson Palmer’s highlight reel



This weekend, Carson Palmer will lead his Arizona Cardinals against the Carolina Panthers for the right to represent the NFC in the 50th Super Bowl. It’s an unfulfilled dream of his 12-year NFL career.

“I don’t want to be done, watching football on Sundays, and saying I never got a chance to play in the Super Bowl,” Palmer said in a 2014 interview with USA Today. “That lingers, heavily. Not that that’s going to make me the man that I am or the father or the husband. That’s not going to define me. But I want to experience that. I want to experience a run — a chance where you just get hot and you hit the playoffs and you make one of those runs, those magical (runs). However long it lasts, I want to be able to experience that.”

Palmer has had one of those runs, one of those hot streaks during the 2015 season, despite ending the previous year rehabbing a re-torn ACL. So in a way, this season is already reaching a goal. But it’s not the ultimate goal.

In the middle of that quote from the 2014 USA Today interview, you can see that football is not at the center of who Carson Palmer is as a man. That is made even more clear in a current Dove Men+Care commercial making the rounds on TV and the Internet. Consider it Carson Palmer’s real highlight reel.

YouTube Preview Image

“As a professional quarterback, there’s so much pressure and so much on your shoulders. When you come home, you just get to be dad and shut it off. I go to work as a football player, but I was put on this earth to be a father.

highlight reelThat final quote from the commercial makes it pretty clear that football is not at the center of his life. Actually, though, neither is his family. In an 2011 interview with Sports Spectrum, he revealed that his faith in Christ is at the core of his identity as a good man, husband, and father. He also talked about the influence of strong Christian mentors, like former longtime QB Jon Kitna.

Truth is, Palmer is not the only quarterback who claims Christ to lead his team to the NFL playoff’s this year. In fact, of the 12 teams that made it, at least half were led to the playoffs by those who profess Christ. Some may have a stronger testimony than others, but here are some of the notable ones:

And it’s not just the quarterbacks who are emerging as believers and good men. Many high-profile players are speaking out about their faith and their families. It’s great to see Dove and other companies holding these men up as examples through a highlight reel of what really matters in their lives. Hopefully during the playoffs and Super Bowl, we’ll see more great commercials like the one featuring Carson Palmer.

Watch your words around your kids



ChildwParentsArguingBackgroundThe nation’s longest-running study on child mental health offers a nugget of wisdom for parents: watch your words because your arguments will affect your children well into their adult years.

The Simmons Longitudinal Study has followed 300 one-time kindergartners from Quincy, Massachusetts, well into their adult years. The study, detailed in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry found, among other things, that:

15-year-olds exposed to their parents’ verbal battles, or involved in family arguments, were more likely to be functioning poorly at age 30 than other people in the study who did not live in increasingly fight-filled homes.

The children exposed to family fighting were two to three times more likely to be unemployed, suffer from major depression, or abuse alcohol or other drugs by age 30. They also were more likely to struggle in personal relationships, but that was evident to a somewhat lesser degree.

Many child advocates may see this as a reason to champion immediate divorce rather than face a bad home environment. But a Boston Globe article that detailed the study, highlighted something entirely different: redirecting communication in a positive way.

“You almost have to give a prescription to parents who are fighting not to fight in front of their kids,” said Joseph Powers, a family therapist at McLean Hospital.

Arguments don’t have to descend into verbal abuse, experts say. The solution is to make the arguments constructive, or, failing that, to swiftly repair the damage of heated words. When ruptures do occur, saying sorry right away can heal the harm.

“There are stresses in the life of a family,” Powers said. “But families also have the capacity to repair that, to come to the person and say, ‘I just blew it, I’m very sorry, and can we do this another way?'”

When people share so much life and space with each other as couples and families do, there will be opportunities to grow through disagreements. Children and teens are often “caught in the crossfire” as the article suggests. Depending on the child, they may withdraw or go on the offensive, or side with one parent or the other. Those arguments may grow into resentment and bitterness, which lead to isolation and deep wounds. This is a prime time for parents to model godly behavior in the way they deal with conflict.

For some ideas on how to deal with disagreements in your marriage and to give your children a healthy model for resolving conflict, check out these articles from FamilyLife.com:

© FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading Scott Williams’ post, “Watch your words around the kids,” on the Stepping Up blog.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistShould Children See Parents Argue? Dennis and Barbara Rainey provide guidance in a Q&A on this touchy issue.

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistLearn “6 Steps for Resolving Conflict in Marriage” in this practical article by Dennis Rainey.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistTeaching Children How to Resolve Conflict prepares them for marriage. Read Dennis and Barbara’s Q&A.

 

Happy 394th Thanksgiving



How’s your Thanksgiving history? Here’s a refresher on the important dates in the history of our country.

As some accounts go, one day in the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims were preparing for a feast to celebrate the harvest. The men went out to shoot game for the meal, but when Wampanoag scouts heard the sound of gunfire, they were concerned that their new immigrant neighbors might be planning an attack.

Chief Massasoit and 90 of his men visited the Pilgrim encampment, and found out that they were simply hunting in preparation for the feast. The chief ordered his men to pitch in with some of their own game, and for three days, the Pilgrims and Wampanog feasted on deer, shellfish, corn, and other roasted meat. What? No turkey, stuffing, or cranberries?

Of course, the Pilgrims being the Pilgrims certainly must have given thanks to God for the provision, but the first recorded instance of a “Thanksgiving” meal was two years later, when the Pilgrims thanked Him for ending a two-month-long drought.

Fast forward 166 years and the land is officially the United States of America. On October 3, 1789, newly-appointed President George Washington signed a resolution of Congress recognizing Thursday, November 26 to be a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer” to the Almighty, not just for food, but for the blessings of a government that respects the individual and his freedoms as being from God. Here is the text of the proclamation.

ThanksgivingBy the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor — and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be — That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks —for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation — for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war — for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed — for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted — for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions — to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually — to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed — to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord — To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us — and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go: Washington

The next few presidents issued similar proclamations until 1815, then silence. And then, 75 years to the day after Washington’s initial document, President Abraham Lincoln reinstituted the day in 1863 after two years of Civil War. With that proclamation, people were not just encouraged to spend a day of Thanksgiving, but it became an official national holiday. Here’s the text.

Thanksgiving 2By the President of the United States of America. 

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

And so, from that day until now, Thanksgiving has been celebrated as an official holiday on the last Thursday of November. Well, that is, except for the years of “Franksgiving,” from 1939-1941. On the tail end of the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt felt that moving Thanksgiving back to the third week of November would spur Christmas shopping and, thus, the economy. (And you thought Black Friday was a recent invention.)

After years of pressure from Congress, Roosevelt made Thanksgiving officially the fourth week of November in 1942.

So there you have it. The history of Thanksgiving.

But there are some older proclamations you might want to use yourself this Thanksgiving day. Below are some Scripture verses of thanksgiving to God. Consider dividing these verses among the people at your dinner table, having each person read one, then closing with your own prayer of thanksgiving.

1 Chronicles 16:8 – Oh give thanks to the LORD, call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples.

1 Chronicles 16:34 – O give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.

Psalm 28:7 – The LORD is my strength and my shield; My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped; Therefore my heart exults, And with my song I shall thank Him.

Psalm 34:1 – I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.

Psalm 69:30 – I will praise the name of God with song, And shall magnify Him with thanksgiving.

Psalm 95:1-6 – O Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. For the LORD is a great God, And a great King above all gods, In whose hand are the depths of the earth; The peaks of the mountains are His also. The sea is His, for it was He who made it; And His hands formed the dry land. Come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.

Psalm 100:4 – Enter His gates with thanksgiving, And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him; bless His name.

Psalm 107:29-32 – He caused the storm to be still, So that the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad because they were quiet; So He guided them to their desired haven. Let them give thanks to the LORD for His lovingkindness, And for His wonders to the sons of men! Let them extol Him also in the congregation of the people, And praise Him at the seat of the elders.

Jonah 2:9 – But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving.  That which I have vowed I will pay Salvation is from the LORD.”

Colossians 2:6-7 – Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.

Colossians 3:15 – And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.

1 Timothy 4:4-5 – For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 – In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

An All-American hero



SteinmarkBenchIt was called “The Game of the Century” back in 1969. #1 Texas visiting #2 Arkansas in a contest that wouldn’t just determine the winner of the old Southwest Conference, but the National Champion. It was such a big game that the President of the United States was in attendance.

But even bigger than that, it was the last game for Longhorn safety Freddie Steinmark. The undersized player with a never-quit attitude toughed it through the final game of the season, but finally admitted that the knee pain he’d been dealing with all season wasn’t getting any better. In fact, it was getting a lot worse.

When he finally went to see the university’s bone and joint specialist, the doctor was surprised Freddie was even able to walk, much less play football. But that was the indomitable spirit of Freddie Steinmark.

Very few football fans even recognize the name Freddie Steinmark. He never played in the NFL. He’s not in the College Football Hall of Fame. He was never even an All-American. In fact, the 5-9, 155-pound Colorado prep product only received one college offer. Every other school passed him by as too small. But Texas head coach Darrell Royal couldn’t ignore what he saw on Freddie’s high school game film—heart, determination, and a team spirit.

He sounds a lot like the main character from the movie, Rudy,  doesn’t he? He did to Angelo Pizzo, who wrote the script for that movie as well as another inspiring sports classic, Hoosiers. And now, Pizzo is making his directorial debut with his new movie and script, My All-American, the Freddie Steinmark story.

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Whatever Freddie Steinmark did, he did it with a good attitude, with all his effort. As a student, he kept a 4.0 average. As a player, he was the first sophomore to start at safety for Texas. He not only won the position, but inspired those around him to work harder, not for personal gain, but for the good of the team. Freddie Steinmark was a big-picture, big-future kind of guy.

Unfortunately, his future was cut short in his prime. He had always dreamed of playing for the University of Notre Dame. And the final game of his junior year could finally be his opportunity to show Notre Dame what they passed. The Longhorns were preparing to play the Fighting Irish on New Year’s Day in the Cotton Bowl. But because of aggressive cancer, Freddie was only allowed to be a spectator.

But he was still the game’s hero. Texas rallied after halftime to defeat Notre Dame 21-17, and in the locker room after the game, Coach Royal and the team presented Steinmark the game ball. The Fighting Irish may have had “The Gipper,” but Texas won this one for Freddie.

Much of Freddie Steinmark’s life had been football, but the revelation now that he would never play the game again didn’t mean that Freddie was ready to give up. The off-the-field story was that he became an aggressive crusader for cancer research, even gaining the ear of President Nixon, who eventually signed a bill that declared national war on the disease. It became law just a few months after Freddie lost his battle with the disease.

Days after the Game of the Century, Freddie had been given just a few months to live. Maybe it was by his determination, but he managed to push it back another 17 months. He died in June of 1971, almost exactly a year after Chicago Bears running back Brian Piccolo also succumbed to cancer.

My All-American has some of the same elements as Brian’s Song, the movie based on Piccolo’s story, which grabbed the heart of the country when it was released as a made-for-TV movie in late 1971. It extols the virtues of being a team player, maintaining a can-do spirit, and of the importance of playing for a greater cause. Plus, the end of the movie is a real tear-jerker.

The Freddie Steinmark story lacks the high-profile actors, outstanding musical score, and the depth of Brian’s Song, but it has a good heart. And the film’s financial backers insisted that it be true to life, so the viewer really gets to relive football history, and is treated to some great game action sequences as well.

One of the factually-accurate aspects of the film is the language. Despite it’s PG rating, a fair peppering of salty words probably make it inappropriate for younger audiences. For families of teens, it’s a better bet. In fact, the bond between Freddie and his parents, and the wholesome portrayal of the relationship with his girlfriend, Linda, lend to the overall positive message of the film.

The film may not become one of your favorites, but learning the story of Freddie Steinmark should leave you with a lesson in character. Hard work, good attitude, big dreams, and selflessness can make you big enough for any task.

What it means to ‘act like men’



1 Corinthians 16:13-14 is a passage that’s always intrigued me. If ever there was a passage designed specifically for guys, this would have to be it.

“Be watchful. Stand firm in the faith. Act like men. Be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.”

 What more could a guy ask for? Two verses. Straight to the point. Five very short, direct commands.

Recently, I had been digging into the passage, trying to plumb the depth of truth in those two verses in the original language. I thought it would be quick, but there’s so much there, I ended up having to put it aside for when I had more uninterrupted study time.

Before I could get back to it, wouldn’t you know it, FamilyLife Today had a radio broadcast on that very passage. If you’ve ever seen the Stepping Up video series, you may remember James MacDonald giving a quick, to-the-point, teaching session on this passage. If you haven’t seen it, here it is.

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On the FamilyLife Today broadcast, however, he dives deeper as he talks to a group of men at his home church in Chicago, Harvest Bible Chapel. I’ve excerpted a few pieces here to whet your appetite so you’ll listen to both days of the broadcast.

We have to act like men, and the first part of that is to “be watchful.” It’s the idea of—in old times, there were these ancient cities that were surrounded by walls. The men had the responsibility to keep the barbarians out. In the fortified city, the people (in this instance: your wife, your children, your family) could only rest because they knew that the watchman was awake and was on the wall.

It’s time for us to quit being so passive, and step up—as we’re being challenged today—and do something! God help us to be watchful over our homes! 

Act like a man! Hang up the phone, get off the couch, shut off your computers, stop tinkering in the garage; and act like a man! Your son needs you / your daughter needs you. So be watchful.

Then, this—it means: “Be strong.” Actually, the Greek here is a passive voice, which means, actually—this is very instructive—it means: “Be strengthened.” This is not an exhortation to be the world’s strongest man: “How much can you bench press? How big are your biceps and your shoulders?” This is not an exhortation to be macho; alright? This means: “Be strengthened in your inner man/ in your soul,”—listen—“in your character, in your integrity, in your fidelity to the truth.”

Of course, in Scripture, Christ is our strength. This isn’t an exhortation to try harder. Do you hear me? This is not an exhortation to try harder! “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. [Philippians 4:13]” Jesus Christ is the strength to live the Christian life! It’s not like He stands over there—“Thank You for saving me. Now watch me go live an awesome life for You,”—alright? “As you received the Lord, so walk in Him…[Colossians 2:6]” Christ is the way to salvation / Christ is the strength to live the Christian life.

So “Act like men,” means be strengthened. Keep that relationship strong. The best way I know to be strong is to admit your weakness. Admit your weakness. Paul said, “When I am weak, then I am strong.”  [2 Corinthians 12:10]

Check out the rest of the two-day broadcast on this passage. Then go out and 

Act like men.

© 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading the post, “What it means to ‘act like men'” on the Stepping Up blog for guys. 

STEPThink - 10-point checklistWrite the passage down and put it in a prominent place at home or work, then commit it to memory.

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistTo go even deeper, read James MacDonald’s book, Act Like Men: 40 Days to Biblical Manhood.    

STEPPass - 10-point checklistGet with a group of other men to go through the 10-week video study, Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood. 

The courage of convictions



courage of convictions

You can tell the courage of a person by what he is willing to give up in order to stand by what he believes.

Last week in the news, two men had that very opportunity.

Zach Hougland is a high school senior and an outstanding athlete. He had trained all summer with the goal of becoming Davis County (Iowa) Mustangs’ first-ever cross-country district champion. His perseverance and hard work paid off as he was the first to cross the finish line. The tears of personal accomplishment, the congratulations from teammates and friends lasted for about five minutes when something caught Zach’s eye.

Another runner had collapsed about 20 yards before the finish line. Garrett Hinson of Mediapolis High wasn’t responding and wasn’t receiving medical attention, so Zach went back onto the course to check on Garrett. Zach helped him up and walked with him halfway to the finish line, allowing Garrett to cross by himself so that he (Zach) would avoid being disqualified.

Or so he thought.

Helping a runner is against state and national cross country rules, and Zach was notified that he and Garrett were disqualified.  A statement from the Iowa High School Athletic Association read,

“An athlete who receives or gives assistance to another runner in the same race is disqualified.   While it was a sportsmanlike act to help someone in distress it remained a violation and the official had no choice but to enforce the rule.”

Knowing what he does now, would Zach handle things differently?  “If I could do it all again,” he said, “I wouldn’t change a thing because I did what I thought was right.”

Halfway across the country last week, emergency medical technician Qwasi Reid and a co-worker were transporting an elderly patient in a non-emergency situation when the ambulance was flagged down by a frantic man. A seven-year-old Brooklyn elementary student, Noelia Echavarria, had choked on her lunch and no one was able to help her. She was not breathing.

The other EMT told the man that they were already transporting a person and couldn’t help. But Reed jumped out of the ambulance to go to the child’s aid, leaving the elderly patient with his colleague.

When he got to the girl, she was blue, not breathing, and unresponsive. And no one was attending to her. He immediately slipped an oxygen mask on her, started CPR, and called 911. Noelia was transported to NYU hospital and remained for three days without brain activity before the family decided to remove her from life support.

Adding insult to injury, the ambulance company suspended Qwasi without pay. Company policy prohibits leaving a transported patient or performing other functions without a call-in and permission. Given that, would he have made the same decision?  “I don’t regret it.  I’d do it again.  If I know there’s a child choking, I’m going to do all my best to help her.”

Priorities and consequences

Both Zach and Qwasi could have called on someone else to lend aid … someone who didn’t have as much at stake. Instead, each had the same attitude. Someone is in trouble, and I can help, so I will be the one to help.

Rather than talk about the unfairness and inflexibility of the rules, it’s more important to look at the bigger picture — one of priorities. And values. Was it unthinkable for each guy to suffer consequences as a result of his courageous act? Not really. In both cases the guidelines exist for a reason, and both guys violated the guidelines. So, there are consequences. What’s important is whether the goal behind the action is important enough to violate the policy.

My guess is that if they could have found a way to abide by the guidelines and help the person in need, both Zach and Qwasi would have chosen that course. But if there had been no other way to help without violating policy, both made it clear that they would do it all over again … because it was the right thing to do.

I often imagine how I would respond in situations like these. In my imagination, my noble-minded self always does the right thing, but how does reality hold up? How many stranded motorists have I passed in the past month? If an armed gunman came to my work and was shooting everyone he could spot, would I hide to save my life, or would I risk charging the attacker to save the lives of my co-workers?

I guess this is a good time to bring up one more guy from the news last week: La’Darious Wylie. Big brother always watched out for his little sister, Sha’Vonta. Last week, she was standing at a school bus stop when a car came hurtling toward her. La’Darious had just enough time to push his seven-year-old sister out of the way to save her life … at the cost of his own. La’Darious was only 11.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4 (ESV)

That admonition was made by the Apostle Paul to the Christians at Philippi. He went on to remind them that Jesus laid aside his interests and desires — and more importantly, his life — for us. Jesus was convinced that we are worth it, that even if no one else recognizes the value of His sacrifice, God does, and that His rewards are great.

The three guys I’ve mentioned from last week paid a price for their good deeds, but they also received recognition from news coverage. But the right motivation doesn’t even seek recognition. The only satisfaction we should seek is letting someone else know that their life is valuable, and that God knows our acts and our motives. The rewards He has in store for us are much greater even than a district championship, a good job, or even life itself.

© 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading “The courage of convictions” by Scott Williams on the Stepping Up blog for men.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistJesus said the highest expression of love is to lay down your life for a friend. What or who would you give your life for?

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistRead how the signers of the Declaration of Independence suffered personal loss standing by their convictions.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistIf you’re a dad, teach your son the courage of conviction by listening to Bill Bennett on FamilyLife Today.

What makes a hero?



VillageHutsWhat makes a hero? What makes one man stand out above another?

Let me tell you a story of two brothers, Herbert and James. Raised in a godly home with two other siblings, they came to Christ at a young age. In their 20s, each young man committed himself to a life of Christian service. In fact both of them ended up following a call to the South American mission field — Bert to the central part of the continent, followed a few years later by Jim to the north.

That’s where their paths diverged, not just geographically, but in just about every way imaginable.

You see, missionary work is hard. It’s not for the faint of heart. Living among people of a different language and culture, with different customs and values, requires a lot. Add to that the hardships, long stretches away from family and friends, and the threat of illness and danger, and it’s a wonder that anyone lasts for long. The best Bible and missions training — which each man had — is often not enough to prepare you for what you will face on the field.

Despite the best of intentions and the best of preparation, Jim lasted less than a week at the place where he felt God called him to serve. Not even close to enough time to learn the language and culture, much less share the gospel and raise up a local gathering of believers.

Bert, on the other hand, went on to serve 62 years on the same foreign mission field. With his wife Colleen, they planted more than 170 churches in Peru before he passed away on that very mission field at age 87.

So which one is the hero, James or Bert? It depends on how you define hero?

Do a Google search for Herbert Elliot; you won’t find a Wikipedia page. The results you do find are generally from obscure or low-traffic websites or blogs.

Nothing like the media attention Bert’s younger brother Jim Elliot and his four co-laborers received when they were martyred by the very Auca tribesmen they came to reach for Christ. The five men were only five days on the ground near the tribal village in early January, 1956 before being killed. Before the month was out, Life magazine’s 10-page spread let the world know about the men and their sacrifice, and the wives and children left behind.

Both Jim and Bert followed God’s call to give their lives on their respective mission fields. God used them both, but in very different ways. Because of their heroism, countless people came to know the life-changing power of Jesus Christ. Jim never planted a church as he had hoped to do, but his wife Elisabeth and Rachel Saint (sister of another of the men killed) continued the work by returning to the Auca tribe to tell the people there about the grace and mercy of God, and about how Jesus laid down his life so that others might live.

When his brother died, Bert was on furlough. During that time, he did some soul searching, trying to understand why God doesn’t protect all those who commit their lives to his service. It was during that time that God gave Bert the spiritual insight that became the motivation for his remaining years of service in Peru. “It’s in dying that we’re born to eternal life. It’s not maintaining our lives, but giving our lives,” that is God’s purpose in our serving.

Bert wasn’t the only person inspired to heroism by Jim Elliot. In the years following Jim’s death, countless men and women gave their lives to Christ and committed their lives to foreign mission service because of the conviction of Bert’s younger brother. Through Jim Elliot’s sacrifice and immortal words they recognized the eternal significance of a life lived for God.

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” – Jim Elliot

God doesn’t call all of us to be heroes, only to be faithful. But a life fully given to Him is always a heroic thing. How He chooses to use us will vary as greatly as it did for Jim and Bert, but in the end, He will be glorified, others will be impacted, and we will be changed.

Bert had many decades to reflect on why God chose to use him the way he did, and Jim in a totally different way.

“While my brother Jim was like a comet streaking across the sky which caught the attention of those on earth, God chose [me] to serve in a different capacity as one of the many dim stars from earth’s viewpoint — stars which are countless in the vast universe.  There are many who consistently shine as lights where God has put them but never achieve the recognition that has come to Jim Elliot and the other four Christian martyrs at that time.  But God chooses to use both a few streaking comets and the many stars!”

Whether you shine brightly like a comet before the world like Jim did that one day in Ecuador 1956, or rise and fall like a dim star, night after night for 22,000 nights in Peru like Bert, remember that heroism isn’t just for our brief days in this life, but for life eternal.

“And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” – Daniel 12:3

(HT: Randy Alcorn and Trevin Wax for sharing the story of Bert Elliot with the world)

© 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading the post about Jim and Bert Elliot,“What makes a hero?”  on the Stepping Up men’s blog.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistListen to Jim Elliot’s widow, Elisabeth, retell the events of January 1956 when the five men became national heroes.

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistHow can unspeakable tragedy lead to a life of courage? Elisabeth Elliot shares her story on FamilyLife Today.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistJim Ryun and his sons talk about Heroes Among Us, people who lived by principles and changed history.

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