Posts in category Leaving a legacy

Eric Liddell: More than a runner



Eric LiddellI’ve been researching some of Eric Liddell’s life for a new product at FamilyLife (more about that at the end of the post). One of the things that struck me about his life was the surprising number of parallels with Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

  • Both wrote a book about discipleship.
  • Both focused on the needs of others while in a prison camp.
  • Both were in prison camps because of circumstances surrounding World War II.
  • Both died in prison just a few months apart.
  • Both gave up opportunities to save themselves for the sake of others.
  • Both cared more about obedience to Christ than wealth or fame.

Most who have heard the name Eric Liddell only know of his “Chariots of Fire” fame, which highlights his Olympic success, and very public stance not to run on Sunday. But many are less familiar with the fascinating second half of his life. After his Olympic success he went on to serve as a missionary in China, eventually dying in a prison camp. And like Bonhoeffer, he lived an incredibly selfless life, and four stories in particular highlight this reality.

Story #1: The Spirit, not the Letter

Liddell was famous for his stance on keeping the Sabbath holy. He would not run races that were held on Sunday, which was a significant part of the plot of Chariots of Fire, and most probably the reason why his story became so well known. (Can you name any other Olympians from the 1924 games?) But the following story speaks to Liddell’s spiritual maturity and shows how he knew when to hold to the letter of this conviction, and when to hold to the spirit of it.

Throughout these difficult years, Liddell maintained his belief that Sundays should be reserved for God. But when teenagers got into a fight during a hockey match, Eric – to the astonishment of those who knew of his famous stand at the 1924 Olympics – agreed to referee the game on the following Sabbath. Joyce Stranks, who was a seventeen-year-old fellow internee, said that Eric,

“…came to the feeling that a need existed, [and] it was the Christlike thing to do to let them play with the equipment and to be with them … because it was more Christlike to do it than to [follow] the letter of the law and let them run amok by themselves. And for me that was very interesting because it was the one thing, of course, everyone remembers about Eric [that he would not run on Sunday because the Sabbath was the Lord’s Day].” (P82)

Every man, and every young man has to strive to know when to hold to the letter and when to hold to the Spirit of the law. It’s a difficult balance, but one that a mature man strives for through the empowering of the Holy Spirit.

Story #2: Hold on Loosely

Eric’s sincere Christian faith was everywhere on display. Stephen Metcalf, who was seventeen in 1944, remembered one remarkable incident. Metcalf’s shoes had completely worn out. One day Eric came to him with something wrapped up in cloth.

“Steve,” he said, “I see that you have no shoes, and it’s winter. Perhaps you can use these.” Eric pushed the bundle into Steve’s hands. “They were his running shoes,” Metcalf says. We can only imagine that Eric had been saving the historic shoes as a memento of his past triumphs, but in the difficult conditions of the internment camp, their practical value to this young man far outweighed their sentimental value to Eric. (P83)

Possessions are fleeting. We need to hold loosely to things, even the sentimental items to which the world ascribes great wealth. What do you have that others need that you can let go of? Try to identify one thing today you can give away and encourage your kids to do so as well. Bonus points if it’s an old pair of your running shoes from the Olympics.

Story #3: Women and Children First

I mentioned above, that one of the parallels between Liddell’s life and Bonhoeffer’s was that they both turned down opportunities to leave prison in order to protect others. Bonhoeffer stayed in prison, even though he could have escaped, because he knew his family would have suffered if he had escaped. Liddell’s situation was a little different, but he still was thinking of others first:

…63 years after Eric’s death, just before the Beijing Olympic Games, the Chinese government revealed something that even Eric’s family didn’t know: Eric had been included in a prisoner exchange deal between Japan and Britain but had given up his place to a pregnant woman. (P86)

Part of me isn’t sure how to feel about this, knowing he had a wife and children to care for. But of course, the other side of me is inspired and moved to live sacrificially as a result of his example. Either way, there’s no doubt Liddell was an amazing man, firmly committed to Christ, and active in his love of others. How can you put the women and children in your life first?

Story #4: A Life Honoring to God

I love it when there’s so much more to a story than what the popular versions reveal. The things that occurred in Liddell’s life after the Olympics are really some of the most fascinating parts. And the general testimony of his life is a great encouragement. Especially his commitment to the daily discipline of spending time with God. Even while in the prison camp. One of his fellow prisoners observed the following (All quotes come from chapter three of Eric Metaxas’ book 7 Men and the Secret of their Greatness):

“No matter how busy he was, Eric never neglected his daily time with God. Each morning, Eric and his friend Joe Cotterill woke early and quietly pursued their devotions together by the light of a peanut-oil lamp for beginning a long day of work.” (P82)

There are many days I find myself tired, frustrated, and scatterbrained. And I often lament having not spent personal time in Bible study and prayer. Sometimes I even blame it on busyness. But it’s a great encouragement to know that even a man in a prison camp kept this a priority. If he can, so can I.

Share With Your Children!

Men need encouragement, and children need examples. The life of the man featured in this post provides both. Read his story, and then take time to read portions to your family. There’re some powerful lessons in here about what it means to be a mature Christ follower, things I hope my kids and I learn. Try answering some of the questions above and see if you can’t apply his life to yours this week.

Final Note: Passport2Identity

As mentioned at the onset, FamilyLife has a new product forthcoming called Passport2Identity™ (due out March of 2016). Designed as a follow up to Passport2Purity®, it equips parents to help their 14-16 year old children navigate the teen years. I mention it here because we have a feature in session two of the version for young men (there’s a separate version for young women) on the life of Eric Liddell.

© 2015 by John Majors. Used with permission.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading “Eric Liddell: More than a runner,” by guest writer John Majors on the Stepping Up blog.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistTo get more details, listen to an extended podcast version of Liddell’s life story on SoundCloud.

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistKeep your eyes open for the March 2016 release of Passport2Identity. It will be announced on FamilyLife.com.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistIn the meantime, if you have a pre-teen son, why not plan a Passport2Purity getaway together.

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.

Dads, speak words of life into your children



MatterhornI’ve always been a little jealous of King Solomon. When he took over as King of Israel from his father David, God appeared to him in a dream and invited Solomon to “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” Hoping one day this happens to me, I’ve begun compiling a list of things I’d like and am currently ranking them in order of what I want most. Because of my love of the outdoors, right now owning the country of Switzerland is at the top.

Back to the story – you probably know how Solomon answers. He asks God for wisdom to lead the nation. God was pleased with this response and gave Solomon the understanding and discretion he asked for. Plus the answer was so good he also got everything else he didn’t ask for: wealth, long life, the death of his enemies, etc.

There is no exact age given for when Solomon took over for his dad, but most scholars agree he was in his middle to late teens. How many teenagers do you know are given a blank check for anything they want and they cash it in for wisdom? But that’s exactly what he did.

I’ve often wondered how Solomon knew to ask for wisdom and recently I found my answer! In 1 Chronicles 22:12, David is close to death and calls his son Solomon to his bedside and speaks this over him, “May the Lord give you discretion and understanding [a.k.a. wisdom] when he puts you in command over Israel, so that you may keep the law of the Lord your God.” David did not pray for his son to have wealth, long life or reprieve from his enemies. He prayed that he would have wisdom. And when Solomon was given a chance to ask for whatever he wanted, he knew what what was most important because of the words his dad had spoken over him and so he asked for wisdom. I wonder what Solomon would have asked for had David not put this in his heart by praying it over him?

This does serve as a great reminder to us dads to speak words of life and meaning into each of our kids. Solomon even said so himself when he wrote Proverbs 18:21, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” And then again in Proverbs 25:11, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.”

Speak words of life you want to see in your children

I don’t believe we as fathers fully grasp the amount of life-changing power – for either good or devastation – that we possess when it comes to speaking into the lives of our kids. But we are the most powerful force and with that comes great responsibility and accountability. We must be intentional to speak words of encouragement and empowerment into our kids and we have to be intentional in controlling our tongues so we do not speak destructive words of death that haunt them for their entire life.

One thing I’m in the process of doing, and would encourage you to do as well, is to come up with five to seven words that are character traits you see in your child or are trusting God to give your child. For example, with one of my sons, the words I’ve come up with so far are: Strong, Courageous, Industrious and Loyal. I’m letting these words simmer for a few weeks as I pray over each of my four kids, asking God to give me the right words for each one. I’ll then take those words and create some type of poster and hang the words in their bedrooms. By doing this, every day they will be reminded of what I see in them and who God created them to be.

I may never own Switzerland, but if my kids grow up with their identity in Christ set and secure, I’ll take that over the Swiss Alps any day!

Can you be proud of a prodigal?



One of the hardest things a father can face is when his child walks away from the family or the faith. But in the midst of helplessness, there is hope. This post is from the Help for Hurting Parents email list, and originally appeared on Proud of a Prodigal? – James Banks.com. Encouraging Prayer site. 

ProdigalCan you be proud of a prodigal?

That depends, doesn’t it? Your son or daughter has made some choices you know you’re not proud of. But what about when they make the right ones?

When you’re the parent of a prodigal you learn to look at life a little differently. Cari and I have a phrase we use frequently. When we’ve made it through 24 hours without a “prodigal incident” and our children have made good choices, one of us inevitably says, “Today was a good day.” Parenting a prodigal makes you grateful for small victories. And sometimes victories that may not seem like much can be large indeed.

Recently our son celebrated his 21st birthday substance-free. That’s an accomplishment for anyone in a culture that practically programs kids to abuse the moment their odometer clicks. But for someone who’s struggled with substance abuse, it’s huge.

We were out to dinner when the waitress discovered it was “his day.”

“You should drink!” she urged through a thick Ukrainian accent. Our son just smiled.

“I’ve done enough of that in my life already,” he responded.  “Besides, I get too crazy when I drink.”

As his Dad, I can’t tell you how much those words meant to me. If you had been living in our home over the years you’d understand. Think of it like this. Imagine watching your son run a big race. You see him stumble and fall out of the blocks while other runners leave him behind. Then somehow (by some kind of miracle), he rises to his feet, shakes off the fall, hits his stride, and breaks the tape.

You’d cherish that moment, wouldn’t you? You’d replay it in your mind again and again.  It’s more than just a “that’s my boy!” moment. It’s a fall-to-your-knees-and-thank-God moment you’ll remember as long as you live.

Some months before his birthday I told my son, “When you turn 21, why be like everyone else? Why don’t you do something different, and go without substances?” And he did. He made it a milestone, and I couldn’t be prouder of him for it. Not with the stuffed-shirt, pat-yourself-on-the-back-because-your-kid-made-you-look-good kind of pride, but with the healthy God-given satisfaction that looks on an achievement and lovingly sees that it is “very good” (Genesis 1:31).

Lorraine Hansberry’s play “A Raisin in the Sun” has a moment where a mother defends her love for her prodigal son to his sister who hates him for his mistakes:

“Child, when do you think is the time to love somebody the most; when they done good and made things easy for everybody? Well then, you ain’t through learning—because that ain’t the time at all. It’s when he’s at his lowest and can’t believe in hisself ’cause the world done whipped him so. When you starts measuring somebody, measure him right child, measure him right. Make sure you done take into account what hills and valleys he come through before he got to wherever he is.”

Your prodigal child may have chosen “hills and valleys” of his own free will. He may still be in a “far country” (Luke 15:13) and have a long way to go. But when he starts to come “to his senses” (Luke 15:17) and turn toward the Father’s house, it is a “very good” day indeed. Every step in the right direction is cause to praise “the tender mercy of our God,” who daily guides “our feet into the path of peace” (Luke 1:78-79).

© James Banks. Used with permission.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading “Can you be proud of a prodigal?” by guest blogger James Banks on the Stepping Up blog.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistRead Dennis Rainey’s article, “Loving the Prodigal Child.”

 

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistRead Leslie Barner’s personal article.
“When Things Fall Apart: Seven Promises for Brokenhearted Parents.”

STEPPass - 10-point checklistSubscribe to the Help for Hurting Parents blog feed. Talk together and pray together as a couple through the issues.

Second chance manhood



When we launched the Stepping Up video series a few years ago, we had no idea what a huge impact it would make on men in homeless shelters and in prisons. Many of these men grew up not knowing what it meant to be a man, and they found themselves in hard places as adults.

BarbedWireCloudsThat’s the reason Stepping Up is making such an impact on these guys. For the first time in their lives, they’re getting a road map to manhood, and the results will make a difference for the generation coming after them.

We recently received a letter from Lynden, who’s serving time at a federal low security facility in the Northeast. Lynden gets it. Not only are the Stepping Up principles changing his life, they’re getting him excited about helping other men change their legacies. This is something to get excited about. Please pray for Lynden and men like him who are Stepping Up!

Dear Mr. Rainey, 

I’ve just completed the Stepping Up course here at [the correctional facility]. I found the course to be very helpful in showing me the extreme importance of having men in our lives to provide us with real-life examples of how life should be done. It also caused me to “look back” on my own life at how I was failed by the men in my life and, in turn, how I failed to provide the real-life example for my step-son.

I have great remorse about my actions as a father and step-father and now I am seeing the fruits of my own failures. My step-son, now 19, dropped out of high school and now has a pregnant girlfriend. They are having the baby and will be getting married, but I can see that my lack of leadership is a direct contribution to his situation. I sure would like to have that opportunity back, but we get one shot to get it right. I’m not saying that I would have to be perfect, just a good father that makes mostly good decisions.

I made many more poor decisions than good ones. I turned my back on God and embraced atheism for four years. My step-son wants no contact with me and he has no older males in his life. I fear for him. He is not saved and was raised in a semi-active LDS home.

While I know there are no “do-overs” in life, I look ahead to what the Lord has in store for me. I’m blooming where I’m planted through demonstration and proclamation of Jesus Christ. While I find it somewhat difficult to apply the principles of mentorship here in prison, I take the content of the Stepping Up course and try to apply it to my life.

My vision for the future is to start a post-prison re-entry program. The name will be 491 More Second Chances. The ministry will help men through apprenticeship and journeyman programs in construction, plumbing, electrical, renewal energy, HVAC, food service, welding, machining, and carpentry.

My first wife and I plan to remarry and pursue this endeavor together with Christ at the focal point. We want to provide free counseling and support groups for the men and their families. We’re looking to reconnect these men to their families, themselves, and most importantly, to introduce them to the King of Kings.

We both know this will be a huge task, but with God all things are possible. We’ve got a plan and we’re excited to see how the Lord is going to lay out the path before us. I’ve done too much “self-service” and I’m now serving the Lord in my life. I wish I would have known how awesome it is to be an obedient, honest, and trustworthy man of God years ago … but I didn’t. I do now and I’m not looking back, now that my hands are firmly holding to the Gospel plow!

Thank you for Stepping Up and FamilyLife.

In His Love & Service,

Lynden

© 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved. Letter used with permission.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just read, “Second chance manhood” about how Stepping Up is changing lost lives and legacies.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistWatch how Stepping Up impacted men at another correctional facility in this  blog post, Stepping Up as a prison ministry.”  

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistMore kids and young men today are experiencing “Father Hunger.” How can you satisfy your kids’ need?

STEPPass - 10-point checklistYou can host Stepping Up in prison or homeless ministry in your area. Or you can help others get one started.

Giving your daughter away



I have three daughters.  This summer, I have the rare privilege of giving two of them away in marriage. But who am I giving them to?

BrideFatherAisleEver since my girls were little, I knew that there would probably come a time in the life of each daughter where I would walk her down the aisle during a wedding ceremony and give her away to another man—one to whom I would pass my mantle of authority and protection over my precious girl. I knew I would want to know whether I was entrusting her to good hands.

In the case of both my daughters getting married this year, the future husbands came to me to ask my permission and blessing on the union. The requests they made were heartfelt and honest, the assurances, genuine.

I gave my blessing to both young men on this major transition in my daughters’ lives, and mine. And I took the opportunity to give some godly advice and share my experience from 30 years with my wife Ellie that marriage is worth it, but that it’s not easy. But to be perfectly honest, for me, the transition of my daughters to a new home and new family won’t be all that earth shaking. I will still see them regularly. Their surroundings, their standard of living, their comforts will pretty well remain the same, and our relationship will continue.

As we dads raise our little girls through childhood to adulthood, we try to make sure that our daughters will be be safe and happy, and we do what we can to help them to experience their fullest potential that God designed for them. But what if I was in different shoes? What if the transition for me (or them) wouldn’t be easy? What if the request for my daughters’ hands was like the one John Hasseltine recieved?

Some 200 years earlier, Adoniram Judson was committing his life to bringing the gospel of Christ to the people of India, and wanted Hasseltine’s daughter Ann to become his wife, to accompany him in his endeavor. Here’s the letter this dad received:

“I have now to ask whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure for a heathen land, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death? Can you consent to all this for the sake of Him who left his heavenly home, and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing immortal souls; for the sake of Zion and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with a crown of righteousness brightened by the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Saviour from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?”

Now that is giving your daughter away. Knowing that walking her down the aisle might be the last time I ever saw her would give me pause. Is my daughter fully committed to this man and the life that he has to offer? Am I entrusting my little girl into trustworthy hands?

The truth is, your daughter is never yours in the first place. She belongs to God. He has entrusted her to you for a short time to nurture, to protect, to instruct, to prepare, to launch into the world. At some point in her life, He brings you to a point of giving your daughter away to some other man to offer her love, protection, and a common mission.

Hopefully, we as earthly fathers have taught our daughters through word and example about the Heavenly Father who loves them far more than we ever could, protects them far better than we ever could, and has life plans far more exciting and fulfilling than any we could create for our daughters. Hopefully she will choose a husband who knows the same Heavenly Father and wants to embark on a life of adventure with him to know all that God wants to do for them and through them.

For John Hasseltine, he only saw his daughter Ann two weeks after the wedding. She and Adoniram left for India, but God had different plans. They ended up serving in Burma, where Ann lived only 15 difficult years before dying of smallpox. But her legacy remains. She and her husband translated the Bible into Burmese (Ann translated Jonah and Daniel into Burmese, as well as the gospel of Matthew into Thai). Ann’s letters back to America encouraged many stateside Christians to invest their lives and money into overseas missions.

I don’t know how John Hasseltine felt, but I would have been so pleased to have given my daughter away to Adoniram, and given her back to God.

© 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading “Giving your daughter away” by Scott Williams on the Stepping Up blog for men. 

STEPThink - 10-point checklistListen to Ariel Allison talk about “The Influence of a Father” in a daughter’s life on the FamilyLife Today broadcast.

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistIt’s never too early (or late) to pray for the man your daughter will marry, or the woman your son will marry.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistPreparing for Marriage will help your engaged children build on a firm foundation with their future spouse.

More than a national championship coach



EDITOR’S NOTE: Well, another college basketball season is in the books. With Duke celebrating the national championship with their win over Wisconsin, it seems like an appropriate time to remember back to a man who was synonymous with national championships. 

Long-time UCLA coach John Wooden was interviewed on the FamilyLife Today® radio broadcast more than a decade ago. For Dennis Rainey, it was more than just an opportunity to interview a basketball legend and a childhood idol. It was also an opportunity to talk to a man with a championship legacy in his personal life.

WoodenNetOne of my heroes growing up was John Wooden, the “Wizard of Westwood.” He won 10 national championships at UCLA and is considered the greatest basketball coach of all time.

I was delighted to have the opportunity to interview Coach Wooden a few years ago for a series of broadcasts on FamilyLife Today.   The only thing that betrayed his age was a cane that he used to balance himself. Everything else about Coach was sharp and steady. His daughter sat in on the taping of those broadcasts and said later it was one of her favorite interviews because my co-host and I didn’t just “talk to Daddy about basketball.”

Before I get to the essence of that interview, I have to share with you what happened at the end of our time together. Coach Wooden had a way of making you feel like he really liked you … at least that’s how I felt as we wrapped things up. He signed his book and handed it to me. Being a basketball player who played on scholarship at a small junior college team during the “Wooden Era,” I smiled and handed it back to him and said to him, “Coach, you don’t know this about me but I still have the school record in high school when I scored 44 points. Why don’t you just write in the front of the book, ‘Dennis, you could’ve played for me at UCLA!’” He got a sly grin on his face and took the book back.

I watched as he smiled and scratched out a few words and closed the cover. He looked up and handed me the book and said with an even bigger grin, “Dennis, I’m a man of integrity.” After I thanked him and said goodbye I sneaked a peak at what Coach had written to me. 

Thank you Dennis,
Since I never initiated contact for an out-of-state player, why didn’t you contact me?
John Wooden
8/12/2002

After more than 3,000 interviews, my time with Coach remains one of my great favorites.

The story of Joshua Wooden

After John Wooden died earlier this month at the age of 99, a chorus of tributes arose from former players and writers. It’s hard to think of a sports figure more admired.

Few of the tributes mentioned Wooden’s father, Joshua Wooden, and that’s the story I’d like to tell. When you read about Joshua Wooden, you realize that lessons taught during childhood can reverberate far into the future.

Joshua raised four sons on a small Indiana farm in the early part of the twentieth century. Life on a farm was not easy in those days—there was no electricity or running water, and the family had to grow most of what they ate. To keep his boys warm on cold winter nights, Joshua would heat bricks on the family’s potbelly stove, wrap them in blankets, and place them at the foot of their beds.

From the beginning, Joshua knew he was not just raising boys but also building men. The boys could play, but only after they had done their chores for the day. You can imagine that on a farm with no electricity or running water, where the family grew most of what they ate, there was plenty of work for four growing boys to do!

Joshua was a strong man—“strong enough to bend a thick iron bar with his bare hands,” one of his sons wrote—but also gentle. Each night, by the light of a coal-oil lamp, he would read to his family from the Scriptures, and he also read classic books and poetry.

He believed in building character, and continually emphasized the importance of making right choices. Two of his favorite phrases that he taught his sons were:

  • “Never lie, never cheat, and never steal.”
  • “Don’t whine, don’t complain, and don’t alibi.”

When his third son, John, graduated from eighth grade in his small country school, Joshua gave him a card and said, “Son, try to live up to this.” On one side was a verse that read:

Four things a man must learn to do
If he would make his life more true:
To think without confusion clearly,
To love his fellow man sincerely,
To act from honest motives purely,
To trust in God and heaven securely.

On the other side was a seven-point creed that read:

Be true to yourself
Help others
Make friendship a fine art
Drink deeply from good books
Make each day your masterpiece
Build a shelter against a rainy day
Give thanks for your blessings and pray for guidance every day.

John kept that card in his wallet for decades until it fell apart. Eighty years after receiving it, he still knew the words by heart.

Joshua lost his farm during the Depression and wasn’t able to pay for his sons’ college education. But all four of them graduated from college with English degrees. Every son but John became a school administrator. John became a teacher of another sort: a basketball coach.

One of the reasons I would have liked playing for Coach Wooden was that he was more than a national championship coach. He was a teacher of character. He built men, not just players. He was a friend and mentor to his players. He called them to step up.

He developed what he called the “Pyramid of Success,” which he taught his players every year. Looking at this pyramid today, with its building blocks of industriousness, enthusiasm, friendship, cooperation, loyalty, etc., you can’t help but realize that this is a man whose entire outlook on life came from the influence of his father.

Lifelong lessons

John Wooden’s desire to influence others remained strong for another 35 years after he retired in 1975. Many of his former players called him regularly to seek his advice on everything from raising children to coaching to battling cancer.

One of those players, John Vallely, recently said, “The interesting thing about playing for Coach was not necessarily the championships, but what he taught us about living life was far more important. I just recall the importance of the Pyramid of Success and the characteristics. What he taught us were lifelong lessons. So much of what he was teaching really had a parable of how you live your life.”

Let me close with one more choice verse Joshua gave to John, this time when the Coach’s son was born in 1936:

A careful man I must be;
A little fellow follows me.
I know I dare not go astray;
For fear he’ll go the self-same way.
He thinks that I am good and fine;
Believes in every word of mine.
The base in me he must not see;
This little chap who follows me.
I must be careful as I go;
Through summer sun and winter snow.
Because I am building, for the years to be;
This little chap who follows me.

I can picture the Wooden household on those cold Indiana nights, when Joshua would read from the Bible to his family. He had no idea what influence he would have far beyond his death—all he knew was that he was raising sons to become men.

What a father.  What a son.  What a legacy.

Copyright © 2010 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading Dennis Rainey’s post “More than a national championship coach” on the Stepping Up blog for men.

STEPThink - 10-point checklist“True Success: A Personal Visit with John Wooden” is a FamilyLife Today interview with the Wizard of Westwood.

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistStepping Up’s John Majors is “Leaving a Legacy to Pass On to His Children.” If you don’t have a legacy to pass on, start one.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistPass along character to your sons. Listen to Bill Bennett talk about “The Book of Man” on FamilyLife Today.

Super Bowl MVP: Dad



Just about everyone gets a little excited about the Super Bowl. Even the people who aren’t football fans probably look forward to the halftime show or the creative and entertaining commercials. They’re more interested in the side show than the final score or the MVP.

If this year’s commercials are any indication, there’s already a winner for this year’s Super Bowl MVP: Dad.

This year there are three commercials that will probably touch everybody, man, woman, or child. That’s because they’re about dads, and the fact is that either you are a dad, have a dad, or have a dad-hole you’re looking to fill. The commercials for Toyota, Nissan and Dove pluck all those heart strings.

Dove Men + Care: “Real Strength

This commercial’s been out on the web for a while (it went viral last Father’s Day with 12 million views), but the exposure it will get during the Super Bowl will likely make it a commercial that everybody remembers.

It’s simply a succession of two dozen clips of kids and young adults in everyday life. A swimming pool, a high chair, a wedding. No one says more than one word, but that one word is powerful. Dada. Daddy. Dad.

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The commercial’s text asks a simple question and offers a simple but profound answer:

What makes a man stronger?

Showing that he cares.

Dove’s reminder is that a dad’s strength is his involvement in the lives of his children, from their earliest years to the time they start their own families.

The commercial concludes by inviting dads to share how caring makes them stronger at #RealStrength

Nissan: “With Dad”

Like Dove, Nissan has already been around the internet with its “With Dad” campaign, but they’re keeping their Super Bowl commercial under wraps until the big game. Over the past several months, Nissan has repeated the mantra, “Everything’s better with dad.” It’s a campaign by Nissan’s chief marketing officer Fred Diaz, acknowledging something that every parent in America knows: it’s hard to strike a good balance between work and family, but it’s important to do it.

You probably remember Diaz’s contribution to the 2013 Super Bowl, with his tribute to farmers, with audio narration from Paul Harvey. If that’s any indication of the quality and impact we can expect, the commercial’s sure to be one of the viewer favorites this year. Until then, all we have to go on is this 10-second teaser.

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As for the football connection, you can check out a series of features Nissan did on the NFL Matthews family by searching #withdad on YouTube.

Toyota Camry: “To Be a Dad”

This commercial focuses on the reality of fatherhood, featuring real life stories from dads and their kids. Some are NFL players. Others are just regular Joes. The commercial begins with a simple question:

Is being a good dad something you learn, or a choice you make?

More than a feel-good piece about, say, ginormous horses and fluffy puppies, “To Be a Dad” focuses on how “one bold choice leads to another.” Whether they had a good father or not, these men share about how they are trying to be that good dad, and you can see how they are passing that legacy down to their own children.

At the end of the piece, viewers are invited to become participants by tweeting about their own father. The piece ends with this message:

Honor your dad.
Tweet us photos of him using #OneBoldChoice
to join our big game celebration.

Check out the extended length commercial here.

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As you can see, the commercial is inspiring in many ways.

  • We see men we respect on the field being men we can respect in real life.
  • We see men who started life with a void who are now determined not to let their children know that feeling.
  • We see children talk about how their dads inspire them.
  • We see dads who are humbled and gratified at the impact they’re having on their kids.

We also see some of the damage that’s in the process of being healed. Damage caused to grown men when they were little boys by fathers who weren’t present or who were emotionally detached. These men feel like they don’t have a template to follow and are left to make it up as they go, essentially trying to become everything they didn’t have as they were growing up.

Thankfully, we all have a Heavenly Father whose deep desire is to know us and have us experience all His best for our lives. And thankfully, He’s given us an instruction book that teaches us how to father, not out of our woundedness, but out of His wisdom and love.

My hope is that these commercials will raise the conversation around fatherhood. Hopefully it will spark stronger connection between dads and their kids, and will bring together those men who grew up without dads and those who were far more blessed, all around the conversation about what it means To Be a Dad.

Five God-given roles as men



“It’s your turn to take out the trash this week.”

“I washed the dishes yesterday, remember?”

“You should pay the bills. I have too much on my plate.”

Household arguments like these are common to marriage. They might seem like no big deal, but they are rooted in something profound: a man’s role in the home, the church, and society.

When a man lives up to his role, life-giving things start to happen. Children are not abused, and they grow up feeling secure and safe. Teen pregnancy rates go down. Drug sales and drug use plummet. Young people avoid jail. Divorces are avoided, and the tragedy of teen suicide loosens its grip on our young people. I firmly believe that every family and societal problem can get better when a man knows how to fulfill his role and takes action.

During the NFL season, teams spend Fridays completing their on-field preparation. They know that the adrenaline-filled, high­ stakes physical battle is just two days away. That’s why a good Friday practice is vital. However, for NFL players, the most important preparation comes on Saturday morning and evening. And this preparation is more mental than physical. Players and their position coaches gather to review video footage of their opponents and hold the last practice, known as a “walk-thru.”

The walk-thru and video reviews have a sole purpose: to ensure players are absolutely clear about their game-day roles on offense, defense, and special teams. A player who doesn’t understand his role is a liability to his teammates. He might even cost his team the game and lose his job on the roster.

In the NFL, a mistake is sometimes called “a blown assignment.”  A running back fails to block a blitzing linebacker. A safety lets a receiver get behind him.

In life, we men cannot afford to blow our assignments. It’s not merely a team that is counting on us; it’s all of society.

What are our assignments, our roles as men? I can sum them up in five words:  praise, protection, provision, proclamation, and presentation.

Let’s look at each one in detail.

Praise

Praise is more than words. Praise is a man’s heartfelt response to the God who created him. It’s his first and most fundamental role in life—to offer God unabashed applause for who He is and what He’s done.

Even long-time Christians underestimate the importance of praise. But the man who strives to let praise flow from his life to God’s throne is poised to fulfill God’s destiny for his life. He will achieve this destiny because his life is based on an authentic relationship with his Boss and King.

I understand that vocal and visible expressions of praise are tough for men. Why? Maybe it’s a male-pride issue. Or a fear of truly releasing our emotions.

On the other hand, have you ever seen a bunch of guys cheering for their favorite sports team? We jump to our feet. We lift our hands. We shout until we’re hoarse—all for mortal men who have done nothing substantial for us. They did not get us our jobs. They didn’t heal our sick or injured bodies. And, most likely, they haven’t given us wisdom to live by. The truth is, men do understand praise, but our praise is often misdirected.

Our homes and our churches need men who will lead the way when it comes to cheering the mighty works of God.

In too many churches now, the women praise ecstatically, while the men sit uncomfortably, waiting for the worship service to end. And the children take note: “Daddy doesn’t like church.”

What has happened? In short, the devil has deceived men and convinced us to shut down emotionally in God’s presence. But David, a great king and a man’s man, danced before the Lord and committed to proclaim His goodness among the people.

Men, if David can do it, we can too. The world is waiting for us to applaud God in the public square, in our homes, and in the house of God. When men offer praise to God, everyone takes note. We are the tone setters in our culture. Like it or not, what we do, everybody does. So, “Let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name” (Hebrews 13:15 NKJV).

Protection

When God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden, his job was to keep watch and to protect everything entrusted to him from the devil’s deception. Adam’s role back then is a man’s role now. We need to protect our “garden” from the deceptions, dark acts, and destructive works of the devil. Your personal garden is wherever God has assigned you to live, work, and play. The people who inhabit your garden, especially the women and children entrusted to your leadership, are your responsibility to protect.

Don’t be like many men in our culture who, like Adam, have shunned the call to protect. Instead, they have become vultures, preying on those who need their strength. Some men have even demanded that the women and children protect them! Something is desperately wrong with this picture.

Bullying in our culture and around the globe is a problem growing with exponential fervor. Typically, kids who bully were unprotected by their own fathers. They act out with resentment toward their peers or toward those who appear weak to them. A society in which men drop the ball of protection is a society of aggression, crime, and hate. But when we men use our God-given power to protect, we can turn the tide and bring the sense of safety everybody needs—the bullies and the bullied.

Provision

I’ve seen too many men in our culture, especially during the recent economic downturn, curl up in the fetal position and suck on their vocational thumbs. I’m tired of hearing men from church complain, “There aren’t any good jobs out there. No one’s hiring.”

If no one’s hiring, create your own job! READ MORE »

Unbroken, plus 10 other real-man movies



The movie Unbroken, which opened on Christmas Day 2014, tells the story of a real-life World War II hero. In this post, we share a bit of his story and point to 10 other major motion pictures about real-life men who stepped up in the face of overwhelming pressure.

This may sound strange coming from a professional writer, but I’m not a big reader. My schedule’s usually so busy and fragmented that it takes me forever to finish a book. That is, if I ever start one. A good year is when I actually finish five books.

Needless to say, I wasn’t overly excited or hopeful when my manager here at FamilyLife recommended a book for me to read. But he hit me at a good time, when distractions were at a minimum. I was hoping he was right about it being a gripping story, because if it didn’t grab me quickly, my schedule would.

He was right about Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand. And so are the millions of readers who have kept it on the New York Times bestseller list for four years. And I’m pretty sure that millions more will be picking up a copy after seeing the film adaptation of Unbroken when it premiers in theaters on Christmas Day.

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Unbroken is the true story of Louis Zamperini, who may be the most incredible man you’ve never really heard of. The story follows his life, starting as a problem child running from the police, eventually channeling his talent for running into a positive direction and making the 1936 Olympics. When the nation was plunged into World War II, he put his Olympic career aside to become a highly-regarded bombardier in the Army Air Corps, only to become a crash survivor, floating at sea for a record 47 days before being picked up by the Japanese. He spent the better part of the next three years in brutal prisoner-of-war camps, written off as dead by the nation that revered him as an athlete.

After his rescue at the end of the war, he re-entered civilian life as a bitter and psychologically tortured man bent on revenge, which nearly destroyed his family. That all changed in 1949 when he heard Billy Graham at a Los Angeles evangelistic crusade speak of forgiveness and redemption through Christ. For the next 65 years until his death this summer at age 97, his personal life of forgiveness inspired and challenged others.

Two people in particular were impressed by his story. One was Laura Hillebrand, who wrote Unbroken. The other was Angelina Jolie, who directed the motion picture — one that directors toyed with for 50 years but none had the courage to tackle the complicated story line.

We haven’t had a chance to see the movie yet, but have paid close attention to the trailers, interviews, and news of the film — enough to be confident that it’s a movie well worth watching (and a book well worth reading). We have heard that the faith elements aren’t as strong as Christians would like, but thankfully the Billy Graham Association interviewed Louis before his death and had him tell the rest of the story … of how a bitter, broken man became unbroken through the life-changing power of Christ. The 30-minute video, Louis Zamperini: Captured by Grace, is available on DVD for a gift of any amount, and will be available to watch for free online beginning Christmas Day.

The film Unbroken is rated PG-13 for violence and some language, just to be forewarned. This may be a great outing for a father and older sons. Zamperini shows how talent combined with discipline and focus can defeat some of the most formidable foes, whether external or internal. Seeing other real-life men stepping up to face struggles in their lives, encourages boys and men both, and opens up opportunities for conversations about what it means to be a man.

To go along with the movie Unbroken, we came up with a list of 10 other movies for men. Over the past few months, we asked a number of people to recommend movies where men stepped up in the midst of difficulties and, in doing so, inspired others. Here are some of the films that consistently showed up on these men’s lists. This is not an exhaustive list by any means. We don’t even claim them to be the best biographical movies for men.  And some of them have objectionable elements that may make them inappropriate for your sons, or even for you. So we’ve included their MPAA ratings. For more information on the content in these films, follow the links to Pluggedin.com, Focus on the Family’s film review site, which we find to be dependably thorough and balanced.

So here’s our list of 10 real-man movies — films about real-life men who stepped up in adversity, and the films (in alphabetical order) that tell their stories.

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