Posts by Scott Williams

Woodlawn: The power of reconciliation



Like many dads, Hank Erwin used to tell his sons Andy and Jon bedtime stories. True stories. One in particular that they loved was about a high school football team in the midst of crisis, until a supernatural event transformed the team, the community, the state. Now, that very bedtime story their dad told them the Erwin brothers will retell to everyone on the big screen as the major motion picture Woodlawn debuts in theaters on Friday, October 16.

WoodlawnWoodlawn recaptures the events from 40 years ago, as a high school football team at a school in danger of being closed comes to grips with their personal problems and resolves to come together for each other and for a greater vision. In many ways, the film is a historical mirror whose reflection looks very much like today.

People are becoming weary and are losing heart. The country is divided on racial, religious, and political lines. The younger generation is rebelling against the cultural emptiness of their parents, yet they don’t know what to believe themselves. The times have created a vacuum that can only be filled with supernatural hope. If there was ever a need for personal and national revival, it would be now.

In 1970, racial rioting, jaded views of politics, and disrespect for traditional authority were often in the headlines. Hope of change seemed more bleak by the day. But a revival was coming, and it showed up prominently in the most unexpected place.

A high school football field in Birmingham, Alabama.

Part of the cultural revolution that occurred in the late 1960s and early 1970s was a dramatic growth in Christianity. The same Time magazine that ran a 1966 cover asking “Is God Dead?” ran another cover story in 1971 on “The Jesus Revolution.” And just one year later, more than 80,000 high school and college students gathered in the Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas for Explo ’72, organized by Campus Crusade for Christ (now known as Cru) to celebrate the person of Christ and mobilize youth to take the Good News to friends and family when they returned to their hometowns.

One of those hometowns was Birmingham, Alabama, one of the most segregated cities in America, and the scene of bloody racial attacks in the early 1960s. Ten years later, racial tension was still high as the last of the city’s high schools were integrated. And that’s where the movie Woodlawn starts.

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Life-changing power

As the film begins, the Woodlawn football team is in turmoil. Because of racial tensions and other interpersonal strife, they can’t get along, much less function on the field. A local homebuilder comes to the coach, telling him he knows what’s missing — something he had found at Explo 72. He asks for just five minutes to speak to the team. He ends up speaking for an hour about the life-changing power of Christ. He asks the players if they’re tired of the bitterness and animosity and want to make a change, then invites any player to come down off the bleachers and give his life to Christ. One by one they come, until the whole team is standing together. It is a turning point for the team, the school, and the city that’s only 10 years removed from the tragic bombing of the black church that claimed the lives of four little girls.

WoodlawnTonyThe central focus of the movie is Tony Nathan, a gifted but untested black player who is not even sure his teammates want him there. Even though the coaches know that giving their black athletes playing time will stir tension among the predominately white student body, they do it anyway. Tony is such a standout player that, in no time, he unifies the students and community around Woodlawn football. At the same time, the spiritual revival that had begun with the team begins to spread through the school.

As the team gels, their performance on the field gets noticed. They’re not just good because they have a top-tier player in Tony. They’re good because they’re playing for each other, and for the glory of God. Woodlawn football is not just about winning, but about winning hearts and souls.

Over the course of the film, we see this spiritual and community revival spread to other teams in the city, including archrival Banks High School, who Woodlawn eventually plays for the championship. Without giving too much of the story away, community revival and great football put the 1974 Woodlawn-Banks game, played at Legion field before 42,000, in the Alabama high school football record books to this day. And each team furnished a key player — one black, one white — to the University of Alabama football team which would go on to win the 1979 NCAA championship.

Yearning for hope

Woodlawn is a very personal project for the Erwin brothers (October Baby, Mom’s Night Out). They recognize that our current culture is yearning for the hope that emanates from Woodlawn’s story of redemption and reconciliation.

The film was already in production in 2014 when racial unrest broke out in Ferguson, Missouri in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting. The Erwins were editing the film when Baltimore was thrust into chaos from racial tension. And they were in post-production when Charleston, South Carolina experienced the worst church violence since the 1963 bombing of 16th Street Baptist in Birmingham. As they spoke with producer Michael Catt (who was also behind Courageous and Fireproof) all agreed that God must have prompted the making of Woodlawn for such a time as this.

It’s also probably no coincidence that Woodlawn’s October 16 release is just two months after War Room, a movie calling Christians back to prayer. Jon Erwin points out that each of the three great revivals in our nation—the last one being the Jesus Movement of the 1960s and 1970s—were preceded by prayer. War Room was one of the top three most popular films in the nation over its first three weeks, and countless people who have seen the film have committed to be more intentional about prayer.

Aside from their desire to foster racial reconciliation, the Erwins are trying to recapture the youth generation, 70 percent leaves church after high school. These are the same young adults who buy more than two-thirds of the movie tickets sold in the U.S. each year. “It almost makes me angry that I haven’t experienced something like that in my time and my generation. That’s the reason we’re doing Woodlawn,” said John Erwin. “Film is an emotional experience. It’s a way you can taste something that you’ve never experienced before in your life. And it’s a way for a generation to taste just a little bit of what revival, spiritual awakening, whatever you want to call it, is like. And my prayer is that by going to a football movie they get a taste of revival and awakening and they begin to crave it for themselves. I feel like it’s coming.”At $22 million, Woodlawn is the highest budgeted independent Christian film in a decade.  Much of that is being sunk into publicity and getting the film in as many theaters as possible. It will debut on almost twice as many screens as War Room.

But the money also went to securing talented, big-name actors that give the film credibility among a non-Christian audience. Sean Astin (Lord of the Rings, Rudy) plays the role of Hank, the team chaplain. Bear Bryant is masterfully portrayed by Academy Award winner Jon Voight (Coming Home, Deliverance). The actor who portrays main character Tony Nathan is a newcomer to film, but his name is probably familiar to football fans. Caleb Castille won two national championship rings with the University of Alabama before he sensed God was calling him out of football to pursue acting. His father, Jeremiah Castille, played with Nathan and Banks quarterback Jeff Rutledge on the 1979 Crimson Tide national championship team.

Caleb was originally hired as a stunt double for the British actor who was picked to play Tony, but visa complications left the Erwins in a lurch. Only then did they discover Caleb’s audition tape and realize that their “Tony Nathan” was right there in Alabama, and as much a product of the Woodlawn story as they were.

Woodlawn’s great acting, outstanding production quality and poignant story line together make it a movie well worth seeing and encouraging friends to see. It’s a great film about football and the power of reconciliation, but it also is a vehicle for presenting the gospel naturally to those who mistakenly believe it has no relevance in their lives.

This post was adapted from the original article which appeared in The Family Room, the bi-monthly e-magazine from FamilyLife.

© 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading “Woodlawn: The power of reconciliation” on the Stepping Up blog for men.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistJon Erwin and Andy Erwin discuss the mission of previous movies October Baby, Mom’s Night on FamilyLife Today.

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistLet Jon Erwin tell you their dream about reaching the world for Christ through the medium of film.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistGo to the official Woodlawn movie website for more video features, theater locations and to buy tickets.

 

Finding Noah



Holt Condren was 37 years old when he felt God calling him to a unique quest. It wasn’t just a quest that was different than anything he’d ever done. It was a quest that has captivated men for millenia.

He wanted to join in the expedition to find the remains of Noah’s Ark.

Holt had never climbed a large mountain, much less one like 17,000-foot Mount Ararat. He knew almost nothing about previous expeditions. He just knew that God was calling him. In fact, he didn’t even know that a group of guys had been actively searching for the Ark every year since the 1980s.

FindingNoahTeamMen like Dr. Randall Price, senior archaeologist and Director of the Center for Judaic Studies at Liberty University. He’s been on these expeditions since 2009.  Men like Bill and Will Hughes, a father-son team who take care of the mechanical needs. Men like John Bryant, an expert in geophysical modeling, brought in to operate and interpret data from ground-penetrating radar (GPR) equipment being hauled up the mountain. Men like lead mountaineer Kevin DeVries, who has already conquered the highest peaks on five continents. There are also men like expedition planner Steve Rudd, geologist Don Patton, architect Bruce Hall, and one of the founders of the modern Noah’s Ark search, Dick Bright, who has personally made over 30 expeditions.

The documentary, Finding Noah, follows the 2013 quest of Holt and his fellow Ark hunters as they use state-of-the-art methods and technology and old-fashioned perseverance to finally lay hold of physical evidence from a story not just in the Bible, but part of almost every culture across the world. With each successive exploration, information has led them nearer and nearer to what they believe to be the exact resting place of Noah’s Ark (or at least some of it). This time, they are operating with hopefulness like never before, and the documentary reveals to the public the results of their search and the sacrifices they made in the process—life-threatening weather, politically-unstable surroundings, treacherous landscapes and oxygen-starved altitudes.

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Finding Noah is a one-day event in hundreds of theaters in virtually every state on Friday, October 8. The film website directs you on how to find a showing near you or to buy tickets.

A quest for adventure isn’t the only thing these men have in common. Each has been driven individually by his faith in the veracity of God’s word that the Ark isn’t just a fable. They believe that finding the remains will be perhaps the greatest historical find in the history of the world, and will have huge ramifications in the realms of science, faith and elsewhere.

“I think there’s so much evidence that it’s irresponsible not to look,” says Patton.

“The past five years has really been a mirror into my soul. Why am I doing this year after year? Why am I risking life and limb to look for something that we have no conclusive evidence actually exists?,” asks DeVries.

These men are also driven by a mission bigger than themselves, and the fellowship of other men drawn to that same goal. In the process, they are learning the limits of themselves and the need to rely on other men to keep them going when the last bit of their own strength and resolve is virtually gone. It requires faith in your co-laborers, as well as faith in your calling in the midst of fear, Condren says.

“Without faith, it’s impossible to please God. It takes courage to exercise faith. In my own life, I almost see fear is a trail marker for life direction. What am I scared to do here in this moment? Faith is moving toward it. Sometimes it’s a small thing. But those are also courageous things.

“If you want to walk this ambitious life that God created you for, what does it look [like] to move, [to] take a step toward your fear — being courageous one step at a time — then watch God knock down the walls and give you opportunities like He’s given me to go and search for Noah’s Ark.  There’s no telling what God will do in your life if you’ll be courageous in the little things.”

© 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

Interviewing Mister Maybe



This summer, I gave my two oldest daughters away in marriage to men who last year had asked for my blessing.

Today, I’m getting together with another young man, who has asked to date my youngest daughter. He’s the first one.

DaddyDaughterHandYou would think this would be old hat for me by now, but I’m still nervous and a bit unsure. I mean, talking about purity and honor is not the typical conversation you’d strike up with a relative stranger who’s 40 years your junior. But I’m also convinced that this is one of the best things I can do for any young man who has an interest in my daughter.

It’s not a “patriarchal” thing or a control thing. It’s really more about love and stewardship; about giving guidance and bestowing value.

Based on my experience, this guy probably won’t be the one who marries my daughter one day—the first one usually isn’t. But he might be. I want him to know that he needs to treat my daughter with the same honor that I treat her, and that I treat my wife. If he’s not the one who will marry my daughter, I still know that my daughter will likely marry some day, and the young man I’m meeting with today is likely to marry another young lady. So as early as this weekend, this boy and my daughter will each be on a date with somebody’s future spouse.

If marriage is years off for the two of them, why focus on that right now? Because in a woman’s search for Mr. Right, there are a lot of Mr. Wrongs who are more than willing to burden her with their baggage—some of which she’ll carry with her into marriage. But, mostly, it’s a focus because marriage is a good standard by which to teach relationship integrity.

Interviewing Mister Maybe

Before you get the idea that I’m going to screen this boy as a possible life-suitor or that I’m going to torture him with the third degree, it’s nothing like that. It will just be a friendly conversation over ice cream or a shake where we get to know each other and freely talk about our intentions and expectations. I’ll let him know that I’m not just interested in my daughter’s welfare, but his as well. He’ll know that my intentions are completely honorable. If I find that his aren’t, it will be a short meeting. If his are honorable, it should be a good time.

I’ll ask him about his family, about himself, and about his interests, including my daughter. I’ll compliment him on his taste in young ladies, and I’ll tell how much I think of her as well. I’ll let him know that I’ve given my life to protecting her and helping her become the young woman God created her to be. I’ll let him know that in giving him permission to date her, I’m also entrusting to him the responsibility of respecting her moral purity and putting her before himself.

I want him to respect her. I want him to respect me. But I also want him to respect himself. As a man-in-training, he needs to strive toward nobler standards of selflessness, protection and thoughtfulness. I want him to know that I’m calling him up, maybe even to be better than he thinks he can be. I want to call him up to be his best, just as his own dad would.

I actually did this with the youngest of my four sons when he first started dating. I met with the father of the girl he was dating and told him what standards I expected of my son in how he treated his daughter. I even gave him a copy of the book that inspired me to meet with any boy who was interested in any of my daughters.

Interviewing Your Daughter’s Date is a really quick read that’s encouraging and practical. Dennis Rainey gives dads eight points to cover in the interview that turn what otherwise would be an uncomfortable chat into a vision-building call to manhood.

  1. A woman is God’s creation, a beautiful creation, a fine creation.
  2. The attraction of a young man to a young woman is both normal and good,
  3. I understand and remember what the sex drive of a young man is like.
  4. I am going to hold you accountable for your relationship with my daughter.
  5. I’m going to challenge you to purity.
  6. I want you to respect and uphold the dignity of my daughter by keeping your hands off her.
  7. Do you understand all of what I’ve just said to you?
  8. When you’re a dad someday, I hope you will challenge your own children to abide by these standards and that you will interview your daughter’s dates. Can I count on you?

The book has more detail, including a sample conversation. It also includes personal reflections from Dennis based on the dozens of interviews he’s done, and thanks from his daughters who have avoided carrying baggage into their marriages.

I want my daughters to know that I value them and am willing to fight for them, and I want them each to find a lifelong spouse who will do the same. But above that, I want them to know that they’re valued infinitely more by their Heavenly Father who sees them for all their beauty and design and doesn’t want them to settle for anything less.

© 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading Scott Williams’ post, “Interviewing Mister Maybe” on the Stepping Up blog for men.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistA girl really desires a real relationship with her dad. Read “How to Really Know Your Daughter.”

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistDennis Rainey talks to dads of daughters on the FamilyLife Today broadcast about navigating the dating years 

STEPPass - 10-point checklistGet the book Interviewing Your Daughter’s Date to have on hand for your daughter. Share this post with other dads.

You’re a tool



I was visiting a friend’s church recently. A short way into the sermon, the pastor stepped from behind his lectern, leaned toward the congregation and said to the individual members, “You’re a tool.”

He meant it as a compliment.

Typically today, if someone says that to you, you wouldn’t take it positively. They might even be fighting words. It implies that you’re a pawn; a stooge. It’s meant to say that you’re being used by someone for their own particular purposes.

But is that necessarily negative?

Tools are actually pretty handy whenever we have to build stuff or fix things. And specific tools are important. Ever tried doing a repair project without the right set of tools? If you’re anything like me, you ended up busting your knuckles, losing your temper, and wasting your time.

No, tools are actually good things. Let’s look at three things about tools and why you need to be one.

PegboardTools1. Tools are designed to be used. The pegboards in my garage are hung with lots of different tools: a couple of rakes, multiple kinds of screwdrivers, a plumber’s snake, a tape measure, a torque wrench, a leaf blower, and electrician’s pliers. Probably 99 percent of the time each tool just hangs there, serving no purpose at all. It’s only when I pick it up for a task that it takes on value.

Your life is the same way. You could just lay around, taking up oxygen, taking in food and drink, and taking up space. It’s not that you don’t have value. But it’s not until you are giving yourself toward a specific purpose that you prove what your value really is. God has created each of us men, not just to exist, but to be useful.

2. Tools are designed for a specific purpose. No two kinds of tools are the same, even when they’re simple tools. Ever look at the different kinds of hammers that exist? When all we need is a quick repair, the kind of hammer is not that important, but for special projects it makes all the difference. And that’s how the hammer’s differing features developed. You wouldn’t pick up a tack hammer to put on a new roof, or use a sledge hammer to reupholster a chair.

Some tools are cool, some are pretty bland. A high-powered, variable-speed cordless drill is cool. A drywall screw, not so much. But each has its value in the same job. When an ice storm took out our backyard privacy fence several years ago, I was so grateful to have the drill to make the big project go faster. Now, years later, my cordless drill is beat up and falling apart and the batteries are losing their usefulness. But the screws are right where I put them, perfectly holding up a very strong fence. Which one is the more useful now?

Knowing what kind of tool you are is important, and so is accepting what kind of tool you’re not. As a father, I’ve seen seven little babies grow and develop, watching in awe as their unique skills, talents, and attributes reveal themselves. Would I hold one child less valuable than another because of their design? What good father would?

One of the most difficult things I’ve faced as a father is seeing my children diminish their design. Maybe my daughter feels she’s not as pretty as the cool girl, or my son realizes he’s not as athletic as the popular guy. It’s been my job to remind my son that he has artistic talent that most could only dream about, or my daughter that she has the ability to light up any room with her personality.

Our children often feel that because someone else’s gift is more valued in their peer group, they need to change their design in an attempt to be valuable. Predictably when they’ve done this, they wither because they can’t compete on that level, and because they’re not developing the talent God gave them. Eventually, as they accept the way they’re made, they find satisfaction and fulfillment in becoming who they were meant to be. That’s the same with all of us.

My friend John started his career as a mechanical engineer. Sitting behind a desk all day started to wear away at him, though, and he looked for a way to get exercise. He decided to take up dance in his spare time. Not only did he enjoy it, but he became quite good, and eventually left his engineering job to join the Spokane Ballet. In discovering his design, he was also acknowledging his designer, and soon wanted to find a way to give his talent back to God. He later became one of the founding members of Ballet Magnificat!, which dances as a means of telling Christ’s redemption story to those who would otherwise not give any attention to spiritual things. Oh, and on the side, he’s also the tour bus mechanic.

3. Tools point to a designer. As we saw before, a hammer is not just a hammer by chance. Its design is intentional, each feature with a view toward a specific intention and purpose. You are chosen by God and are a powerful tool in his hands.

The Apostle Paul was a tool. Early on, when he was going throughout Israel persecuting Christians, he was a tool of the Pharisees. He thought he was serving God, when in fact he was opposing Him. But after God got Paul’s attention by striking him blind on the road to Damascus, he became a tool in the hands of the Master Designer. In fact, when God spoke in a vision to Christian leader Ananias (who Paul was probably intending to persecute), He said of Paul, “he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.” (Acts 9:15 ESV)

That New Testament Greek word for instrument can also be translated vessel, implement, utensil, gear, tackle … or tool. When speaking metaphorically of a person, it can mean a chosen man of quality, or it can be something like an evil minion. Paul traded one life for the other.

In writing to the Ephesian Christians, Paul uses a different word to convey the same meaning.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10 ESV)

The word literally means poem, masterpiece, or craftsmanship. Except, in this case, the emphasis is not on the tool, but on its designer. That word is only used one other time in the Bible, by Paul. He chose it to make the point that the heathens see the workmanship of God throughout creation, yet choose to worship the created thing rather than the craftsman.

As God’s tools, we tend to focus on what we are rather than Who created us and for what purpose. We may think that if we don’t take control of our life and do things our own way we will never amount to much as men, never realize our full potential. After all, why would we want to spend an entire life being someone else’s tool?

But what if the person who wants to utilize you is completely honorable? What if He is righteous, all-knowing, all-powerful? And what if He knew your design and purpose better than you do yourself? Would you, as His creation, be satisfied with his good design? Would He, as your creator, be worth offering yourself to use in every good thing as His tool? His instrument? His craftsmanship?

As Christian men, we need to remember that our lives are not our own. We may try to reimagine our design for another purpose, but the One who thought it up and created it always knows better. When we are tools in His hands, not only will He get the glory, but we will realize the satisfaction of finally achieving the very thing that we were created to do.

Remember, you’re a tool. Put yourself in the hands of the Master Designer and Craftsman, and be what you were meant to be.

© 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading the post by Scott Williams, “You’re a tool” on the Stepping Up blog for men.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistHave you thought of yourself as a tool in the hands of a master craftsman? What might God want to do through you?

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistDetroit Lions chaplain Dave Wilson discusses authentic manhood in the hands of the Master Craftsman.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistBill Bennett, author of The Book of Man, tells how guide your children in today’s world to be their best.

Men are back, at least for today



Men are back in vogue.

At least they are today on the 11th anniversary of the September 11 attack.

Fourteen years ago, a lot of everyday guys became instant heroes. They didn’t set off that day to be heroes, they just responded with courage in the flash of a moment on a day that was anything but everyday.

Some of those guys, like the first responders in New York City, were trained to do heroic things. They thought of their actions that day as nothing more than just doing their jobs. Other men were military personnel, but not the heroic kind on the front lines of battle. These were guys who had desk jobs, whose heroism was thrust on them when the Pentagon came under siege. Other guys were just businessmen who were flying as part of their job, until their job became confronting the face of evil in the skies over Pennsylvania.

In every instance, each man stepped up by putting aside his fear and personal safety for the well-being of those around him.

Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan wrote about these men in a column a few days after the 9/11 attacks. It wasn’t specific men she was writing about, but the innate character of men that may hide itself in times of safety, but shows itself the most heroic in the face of catastrophe.

You didn’t have to be a fireman to be one of the manly men of Sept. 11. Those businessmen on flight 93, which was supposed to hit Washington, the businessmen who didn’t live by their hands or their backs but who found out what was happening to their country, said goodbye to the people they loved, snapped the cell phone shut and said, “Let’s roll.” Those were tough men, the ones who forced that plane down in Pennsylvania. They were tough, brave guys.

It’s easy to venerate these guys when you see what they did on September 11, 2001. But would we have felt the same way about them on September 10? No, we probably wouldn’t have even noticed them. Even the firefighters.

One segment of the Stepping Up video series features these members of the New York Fire Department. Just looking at these guys on the video and hearing them talk, there doesn’t seem to be anything special about them.

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“When we talk about heroes—and that’s typically always discussed—I don’t think that anyone who is currently working that was down at 9/11 in any capacity views themselves in that light.  The heroes are the ones that didn’t actually come home; we were just doing our job.”

Truth is, though, there was no difference between the ones who came home and the ones who didn’t. Both groups showed courage. Both stepped up. Both were heroes, it’s just easier to recognize it in the ones whose heroism took the form of the ultimate sacrifice.

It doesn’t take a 9/11 to be a hero or even to do courageous things. It’s only the circumstances that bring it out. These firefighters probably showed the same courage on the 10th and 12th as they did on 9/11. And there are other men around the country that we will never know about who showed just as much courage on those days. “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important,” said Ambrose Redmoon.

So whether your actions earn you the title of hero or whether they’re never even noticed at all, do the things that a man does: stand for righteousness, live for others, and keep the big picture in focus. Remember that today’s everyday man is often tomorrow’s hero.

© 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading the post “Men are back, at least for today” on the Stepping Up blog for men.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistFor Brian and Mel Birdwell, the heroics began after the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon. Listen to the broadcasts.

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistOne of Dennis Rainey’s favorite things to ask men is “What is the most courageous thing you’ve ever done?”

STEPPass - 10-point checklistGrab a group of guys to explore together the Stepping Up video series and what makes up courageous manhood.

One action that touches a wife’s core needs



CouplePrayingThroughout our 30 years of marriage, I haven’t prayed regularly or consistently with my wife Ellie. But some recent difficult situations have caused us to diligently seek God together through prayer.

I believe in the power of prayer, but I’ve never really been passionate about it.  Of course I know that God invites us to come to Him with our burdens, and to ask Him to supply our needs and even to fulfill our deep desires.

But the way Ellie looks at prayer — especially praying together as a couple — has always seemed different. It’s more urgent. More important. More deep-seated. It had never really clicked why praying with me was so important to her until I came across an article recently about four things a woman needs from her husband. Essentially it’s:

  • Having ongoing, meaningful engagement
  • Experiencing physical, emotional, and spiritual protection
  • Enjoying quality and quantity time together, and
  • Knowing he values her for who she is and can be

As I read through the list, it struck me that all four of my wife’s core needs are met when I pray with her.

When you pray together, you’re meaningfully engaged in conversation with God. You are submitting to God’s authority, trusting him for mutual protection. Together, you’re engaging at a deeper level than just everyday conversation, sharing the personal and deep things in your lives. And as you pray to God for your wife, you show her that you value who she is and that you believe God has even better things in store for her life.

There’s a whole lot more I could say about what prayer can do for a marriage relationship. But I think the hard sell for most men is just getting started. While we husbands may find it natural to take the lead with our wives in many areas, prayer is not likely one of them. There are reasons for this. First, we know that we are less comfortable than our wives when it comes to vocalizing things that are more personal in nature. Second, most men are often less spiritually minded than their wives. Third, prayer is an act of submission, and that’s often foreign ground for a man, who knows he’s being depended on to lead, provide, and protect.

If you don’t pray regularly as a couple, you’re not alone. In fact, when we surveyed couples at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway, only eight percent prayed together regularly. And these are people who are at the conference because they’re serious about their marriage.

FamilyLife wants to help you take your marriage to the next level by helping you make prayer a natural part of your relationship. That’s why we created the 30-Day Oneness Prayer Challenge. It’s a simple tool to help you start a habit of taking five minutes a day joining hands, bowing heads, and praying together as husband and wife. Watch the video to learn more.

Each day, we’ll send you by email or text message some guidance on how to pray for a specific area of your marriage and life, including suggested prompts for husband and wife.

Daily topics will include setting priorities, overcoming obstacles, building greater trust and teamwork, growing in thankfulness, increasing your intimacy, and many more. We’ll also include suggested articles, broadcasts and resources to help you grow in many of these areas.

All you have to do is sign up. Then each day throughout the month of September, you’ll receive a daily prayer prompt from FamilyLife. By the time October rolls around, if you’ve been faithful, we’re betting that you see how natural it’s become to pray together, and how much closer you’ve become as a couple.

© 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading “One action that touches a wife’s core needs” by Scott Williams on the Stepping Up blog.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistDennis Rainey calls prayer “One Simple Habit That Will Transform Your Marriage.” Read his and Barbara’s story.

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistSign up today for the Oneness Prayer Challenge that starts in September, and ask your wife to sign up too.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistShare this blog post or link to the Oneness Prayer Challenge with at least one other husband you know

The Good News Bears



Good News Bears

Unlikely successes – The 1970 Branding Chute team with my manager dad (top left), my pitcher brother (bottom right), me in the catcher’s gear, and the rest of us below average champions.

I love athletics and I’m competitive by nature. From my early childhood to today, I have participated in sports, whether it’s been organized baseball as a boy or playing rugby in college, or just recreational activities like golf in my college years to Ultimate Frisbee and bowling today in my 50s. And when I haven’t played, I’ve watched or written about athletics as a sports writer and editor.

But truth be told, I’ve never been a good athlete. I play for the love of sports, and the enjoyment of the competition and camaraderie. So even when everyone around me is more skilled, or younger, or better, I still feel like I belong, in part, because of a lesson I learned from my dad at an early age, and from my Heavenly Father as an adult.

My first year in Little League in Jackson, Mississippi, was a disaster. I had a hardcore coach bent on leading his team to the league championship. He practiced us hard twice a week. I remember after one game when we kept getting thrown out at the bases, our coach scheduled a two-hour practice doing nothing but sliding. I came home with a huge strawberry from upper hip to mid-thigh.

That’s where the story starts with my dad.

Unlike me, my dad was a natural athlete. He was a starter on his high school football team until a shredded knee ended his career. Still, he fought through pain and continued to play league basketball and especially softball well into his 70s. But he always loved the game more than the competition.

After my two-hour sliding practice incident, I think my dad determined that his sons and all boys my age should learn to love the game rather than be miserable in winning. He also thought the Little League draft system (where coaches take turns picking the best players until they got down to the non-athletes like me) was overkill for 9- to 10-year-old boys.

So the next year he volunteered to coach. He told the league that they could give him whatever players the other coaches didn’t want, just as long as he could coach my brother and me. Until that year, I had been assigned the two typical positions for players of my ability: outfield and bench. But my brother was a pretty good (although sometimes wild) pitcher, so my dad decided to teach me how to play behind the plate. He was a catcher himself, and with his patient teaching, I picked up the position pretty well.

The other guys on our team were a mixture of skill levels, from not bad to awful, but everyone got equal playing time under my dad and the other coaches. Those three men decided that it was more important to instill in each boy a love of the game and a sense of belonging to the team than playing the game just to win.

I experienced the downside of that level playing field approach. I was developing into a pretty good catcher, and could even pick off a guy stealing second. But when an awful teammate was covering the bag, I found it hard to throw down.

I remember after one game, my dad praised my choice not to throw to second base, because the runner probably would have ended up at third or home after the inevitable error. But the next piece of advice he threw me was a curve ball I wasn’t expecting but needed to hear. He told me that it was important for me to trust my teammates and to let them have the opportunity to come through in the clutch. He reminded me that I was more confident behind the plate because I was getting the opportunity to prove myself to myself. I needed to give other players that chance as well.

That mentality of trust began to change the guys on our team. We worked with each other to improve. We had faith in each other. We celebrated each other’s great plays, and offered encouragement and coaching to the other guys when they blew it.

Individually, we were average at best. But as a team we became unstoppable and finished the season at the top of the league with a 10-1-1 record. Call us the Good News Bears, I guess.

A lot of the stars from the other teams went on to play high school ball, maybe even college. As for the guys on our team, I don’t know if any of us ended up playing more than one more season of baseball, but I’m sure the lessons we learned that year carried through life.

I see it played out in Scripture as well. There’s one particular passage that, whenever I read it, I think about our 1970 Little League team.

“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,  so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1: 26-31

When God wanted to humble the Philistine’s Goliath, he used the young shepherd boy, David. When he wanted to defeat the massive army of Midian, he chose a timid Gideon to lead a team of just 300 men. When he wanted to deliver the message to Egypt’s Pharoah to free His people from slavery, he used the stuttering, downcast fugitive Moses.

Nearly two decades after my Little League experience, I learned the same lesson from another perspective. My wife and I had felt a calling to take the gospel to remote, unreached people groups. As I went through Bible school training, I found that I was good at Bible study, teaching, and language learning. I saw a few other students like me, and I was confident we would be the ones who would end up on the mission field, translating the Word of God and helping establish a self-sustaining local church. Then there were the other students, who weren’t exceptionally gifted in any of those areas. I wasn’t even sure they’d be able to hold down a minimum wage job, much less get out of  Bible school and onto the mission field.

But it was their humility and lack of gifting that God was wanting to use.

“And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Now, more than 20 years after Bible school, only one of the talented students is still on the mission field. The ones who made it long-term were the “weak” ones, the “untalented” ones. They persevered, not in their strength, but in God’s. They surmounted overwhelming odds of living in tribal locations not by their own prowess, but in mutual dependence of other missionaries who also understood their weakness and God’s strength.

So to the strong, I challenge you to look to the One who’s stronger. You will eventually max out your potential, but His is limitless. To the weak, don’t underestimate your potential, or the potential of the other weaklings around you, especially when God is at work in you. Build each other up, challenge each other up, and see what God can do with a team of guys who range from awful to not so bad.

© 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading Scott Williams’ post, “The Good News Bears,” on the Stepping Up blog for men.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistAre there certain things you don’t try because you aren’t good at them? Remember to make His strength yours.

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistAll Pro Dad can help you teach your children valuable lifetime lessons as they participate in youth sports.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistRead Larry Fowler’s article, “Shaping Your Child’s Destiny,” and help YOUR kids see God’s plan for their lives.

How to make the family meal the norm



This is the final post of two about how to combat electronic isolation and bring the family together by making the dinner table a priority. “Capturing the elusive family meal” made the case for how pivotal the meal can be in strengthening family relationships. This post gives you suggestions on how to ease into family meals without a lot of hassle.

Mind your manners

The social graces used to be a part of everyone’s education. Today many children have no clue about proper table etiquette or why it even matters. In our house the dinner table is Manners 101. Occasionally we get objections, especially from the older children, about how the rules are old fashioned or too restrictive. That’s often a great opportunity to remind them that manners are not so much about rules as they are about showing consideration for others.

From time to time, though, I’m the one who needs the reminder that manners aren’t just about rules. Sometimes in my desire to teach my children good behavior, I’ve found myself so overbearing in my correction that the atmosphere at the meal becomes unpleasant. What is supposed to be an enjoyable time can become anything but. These interactions at the dinner table give everyone, even us adults, a chance to grow and show grace.

The dinner table is an opportunity to remind each person that he or she is a valued member of the family, and that the actions of one person can affect everyone in the family. It assures children that they belong to a group of people who genuinely care for them.

Setting your family table
Recent family fun at our dinner table.

Recent family fun at our dinner table.

After nearly 30 years of gathering daily for meals, Ellie and I are convinced that we’ve truly benefited by making the family table a priority. Maybe you agree in principle, but you can’t see how you will ever get past all the obstacles to make the family meal a regular part of your schedule. Maybe you feel you don’t have time to do the cooking. Maybe dinner is the worst time of the day when it comes to family schedules. Maybe having meals together is such a foreign idea you don’t know where to start.

Here are a few tips that may set you on your way to making your dining room one of the most special rooms in the house.

Enlist the family’s help. Kids can help shop, prepare the food, set the table, serve the drinks and food, and clean up after the meal. In our home, we have assigned responsibilities that rotate every week. Dads, you need to make it a priority to come home from work on time.

Set reasonable goals. If you’re not eating together at all, start off with one or two simple meals, then gradually increase the number of meals and how elaborate they are. Set a goal for the number of meals you want to eat each week as a family and require everyone to be there. Children, especially the older ones, may resist at first. After a while, though, children actually become the greatest advocates for spending time around the dinner table.

Minimize your time in the kitchen. If you’re spending hours preparing and cleaning up for a 15-minute meal, chances are you’ll give up on family meals before very long. Enlist all your servants like the microwave, crock-pot, and pressure cooker. When you fix meals, prepare double or triple portions, then freeze or refrigerate for later meals.

To focus on each other, you need to ban the electronics. Turn off the television and computer, and don’t answer the phone.

Focus on being together rather than creating a full course meal. If you have to, serve heat-and-eat foods and just add a pre-mixed salad for health and to dress up the meal. You can bet that King Solomon saw his share of elaborate feasts, yet he declared, “Better a dish of vegetables where love is than a fattened ox served with hatred” (Proverbs 15:17).

Create some memorable meals. Every once in a while, you might want to make it really special. A fancy meal is a great way to focus on manners, and a special treat for the girls. It helps emphasize the holy nature of family gatherings. Candles, flowers, and the nice tableware add a special touch.

Make the family table an outreach for friends. If your children are of dating/courting age, it’s a good opportunity to get to know their special friends, a girlfriend or boyfriend. It also lets that person better understand your child within the context of his or her family, as they see the interaction with their siblings and parents.

Think of discussion topics ahead of time. A verse of Scripture, the latest news, a new joke. I recently got each family member to jot down their favorite color, flower, food, etc. on a piece of paper. I collected them and read them aloud while everyone tried to guess the family member.

Find ways to make it positive. Reward a child’s good behavior with an extra serving of dessert or the privilege of planning an upcoming menu.

However you choose to organize your family meals, make them a special part of who you are as a family. You can bet that in years to come, your children will look back at those daily times as some of the most influential moments in their lives. Who knows? In a generation, they may be sitting down with their children, creating special moments of their own.

© FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading “How to make the family meal the norm” on the Stepping Up men’s blog. Don’t forget part 1.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistAs leader of your home, what will you do to help your family connect in this digital and individualistic age? 

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistJust Add Family is a fun resource from FamilyLife designed to connect family members and build memories.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistShare these articles with a friend. If you have encouraging insights on family meals, share them with us.

Capturing the elusive family meal



Does it seem like meaningful daily interaction in your family is getting more and more rare? Busy schedules and personal electronics tend to do that.

The other day, I was lamenting how much scarcer our family time has gotten in recent years. Then I remembered an article I had written a decade earlier about the importance of family time, and especially the family dinner table. When I found it and re-read it, it seemed so timely and helpful, so I’ve decided to revive it here on Stepping Up in two posts. The first makes the case for making the effort. The second will give some tips for making family time at the dinner table the new norm around your house.

Recently, one of our teenage children invited a friend over for dinner. For us it was a typical meal around the dinner table. For him, it was a unique experience. He told us that both his parents work long hours, and his family of four only eats together for special occasions like Thanksgiving and Christmas. He didn’t seem to mind squeezing in to an already crowded table of eight. In fact, he remarked more than once how great it was.

My wife, Ellie, and I both grew up in families where mealtime was family time, so early in our marriage we decided to continue the tradition. With only two of our seven children still living at home, it has become more difficult than ever to keep family meals a priority. But we know it’s worth the effort, especially in this age of frenetic schedules. Esteemed universities and scholarly journals agree—study after study shows the nutritional, social, emotional, and spiritual benefits of the family dinner table. For example, children who eat regularly with their family:

  • have fewer behavior problems in school and are significantly less likely to get involved with drugs, alcohol, and early sexual behavior;
  • are significantly more likely to have a healthy balanced diet and less likely to be overweight;
  • are likely to have higher test scores relative to the amount of time spent with family;
  • have higher communication skills and greater vocabulary;
  • teenage girls are particularly less likely to suffer from depression or attempt suicide, and less prone to develop eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia.

Unfortunately, few families are enjoying this important part of life. Recent research suggests that between 10 and 40 percent of children never or seldom eat together with their family. On average a family shares only 3-5 meals together a week, and even that average drops considerably as children become teens.

Living in the real world

50s Dinner TableThe cohesive family unit of 50 years ago is fast becoming ancient history. Today, each family member is more individualistic and isolated from the others in the family. Dad (and often, Mom) goes off to work and spends at least eight hours with other adults. Children spend the large portion of the day in class and most of the interactions they do have are strictly with those their own age.

The dinner table offers the opportunity to bring adults, teens, and younger children together to share their individual experiences of the day. It becomes the place where life issues are raised, discussed, and resolved. Rather than each family member continuing to drift into his or her own individual world, the interaction during mealtime strengthens family bonds and enriches the daily experience of life.

Throughout Scripture, when the word table is used, it often connotes more than just the piece of furniture where the food is served. It is often a place of special honor, acceptance, care, and fellowship. The cup and bread that we share in remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice for us, we often refer to as the Lord’s Table. In Psalm 23:5, King David declares to God, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” We see numerous passages where close associates of a king are referred to as those who ate at his table (2 Samuel 9:11; 1 Kings 18:19; Luke 22:27-30).

In the book of Deuteronomy, God commands parents to teach their children throughout the routine activities of the day (6:4-7; 11:18-20). Children learn best not in the school classroom, but in the classroom of life. At the Williams dinner table, often someone will bring up a current event topic and others will chime in with their perspectives. While the conversation is usually between the teens and adults, our younger children take it all in and learn things that wouldn’t have otherwise entered their minds.

A wise parent not only monitors the conversation at the table but looks for ways to direct it. Often seeing how siblings act and react toward each other at the table can be a cue to parents to teach the importance of honor, acceptance, and graciousness. Sharing wisdom that comes from a verse of Scripture or from a life experience becomes a natural part of the conversation as we face new experiences or address issues that are hampering family unity. With all family members there at one time, we as parents have a captive audience for revealing that God is still guiding us in our own maturing process.

Read the second post, “How to make the family meal the norm,” which will give you some tips on how to ease into family meals without a lot of hassle.

© FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading “Capturing the elusive family meal” on the Stepping Up men’s blog. Don’t forget part 2.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistAs leader of your home, what will you do to help your family connect in this digital  and individualistic age? 

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistAlso consider connecting in the car with “10 Ideas for Non-Digital Family Fun on Road Trips.” 

STEPPass - 10-point checklistSit down with your wife to figure out how you can build a strong family table without putting extra pressure on her.

11 great Father’s Day commercials



It seems like with each passing year, holidays become more commercialized: Christmas, Valentines, even Mother’s Day. But not so much Father’s Day.

Until now.

This post is nothing but commercials about being a dad. The great thing is that they’re not overtly selling anything … except the value of fatherhood.

If you’re a dad, look them over and be reminded how important you’re role is. If you still have you’re dad around, let him know what he means to you while you still can (I wish I still could).

Our encouragement to you: Build up the dad in your life by sharing this post (or the individual videos) with him. And encourage other dads by sharing the post via social media.

But most of all, have a (not-so-commercialized) happy Father’s Day.

 

Father’s Day Re-Do – Toyota Camry (Father’s Day 2015)

Let’s make Father’s Day mean something. The best thing you do for your dad is to let him know that you notice and value all the things he’s done for you through the years.

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My Daddy, My Hero – Toyota Verso

Little kids might have a slightly inflated view of their dads, but the things you’re doing for them every day really are heroic.

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My Bold Dad – Toyota Camry

Fatherhood is about being there to protect, to teach, to love … and to let go.

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First fatherhood moments  – Dove Men+Care

Unscripted moments from home videos of real-life men finding out they’re going to be dads.

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With Dad – Nissan (Super Bowl 2015)

Even when you’re not physically able to be there, keep your heart connected to your children. Their hearts want to connect with you.

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Dad’s Sixth Sense – Hyundai Genesis

We fathers may not always be in tune with emotions, but we seem to have a sixth sense when it comes to protecting our children.

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Father-Daughter (driving) – Subaru

Making the transition from protecting to releasing your child in the adult world comes quickly. And sometimes the lines get blurred.

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“Gift” (old homemade dad’s coupons book) – Publix

It’s not just the thought that counts. I still have a few of these stashed away. You never know when they’ll come in handy.  🙂

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Origami Birds Father-Daughter – Wrigley’s Extra gum

Your day-to-day fathering may seem like meaningless scraps sometimes, but they’re collecting in the lives of your children.

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Caring Makes a Man Stronger – Dove Men+Care (Super Bowl 2015)

The name “Dad” says a lot of things, as you can hear in the expressions of these children. One word, so many meanings.

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How to Dad – Peanut Butter Cheerios

Being a dad is an awesome privilege and responsibility. And it’s fun. In case you’re new to the role, this commercial is a primer on “How to Dad”

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