Posts in category Life lessons

My worst fan letter ever



Each week, Jeff Kemp releases a new video featuring a thought from his new book, Facing The Blitz. You can sign up to receive the weekly video, which also includes self-reflection questions and action points on how to apply the principles to your life. Here’s this week’s offering, “Worst Fan Letter,” just to whet your appetite.

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In 1986 I had been quarterbacking the San Francisco 49ers for the couple months that Joe Montana had been injured.  I then injured my hip and Joe made a miraculous mid-season recovery from back surgery.  When he was about to return to the line-up, I received this “fan letter.”  Or so I thought.

“Dear Jeff,

I know that when Joe Montana comes back, you will probably feel like you were shoveled off to the side.  Don’t worry.  You should feel lucky that you even got to play on Joe’s team.  He’s the greatest quarterback to ever play the game …”

The letter went on and on about how great Joe was. As I read along, I was surprised that the guy asked me for my autograph. It would have been more appropriate to the letter, had he asked me to get Joe’s autograph and send it to him.

After asking me a few more questions about how amazing Joe is, the end of his letter cracked me up.

“P.S. You’re not as bad as some people might say.”

My lessons from this letter:

  1. Laugh at yourself.  If you can’t, you’re taking yourself way too seriously.  That won’t be good for you or those who live with you!
  2. Don’t compare yourself to others.  Don’t try to imitate them.  Be yourself.  Be the best self you can be, but be you.
  3. Don’t play for the applause or the fans.  Play for the ultimate audience.  Live for the audience of ONE  Jesus.  God is the one audience we should aim to always please.  His perfection calls for the highest standards.  His love accepts us even when we fall miserably short.  His glory is deserved and appropriate.  Ours is short-lived and foolish.

“Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us” (Romans 12:3b NLT).

The reality is that most of us aren’t first string or hall of fame; we feel like backups a lot of the time. But your value is determined by your character and your relationships, not your fame or your status.

Don’t let the blitz of comparison beat you down. Look around and make it your goal to make others feel like first string. Lifting others up will help you feel like more than just a back-up player. Be the best you can be. And remember, you’re the only dad or husband that somebody will ever know.

Quote:

“Reality must be faced. We are not what we do, whom we work for, or who the public sees us to be. We’re persons with spirits, souls, personalities, emotions, stories, wounds, fears, virtues, strengths, and weaknesses. To understand these things about ourselves is to know ourselves. We become free to live at peace with others, to live with contentment, not dependent upon circumstances, and to handle the losses in life — including the loss of certain dreams.”

Facing the Blitz, Strategy #1: Take a Long-Term View

The Playbook:

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10 NLT).

 Time-Out:

  • Do you measure yourself by what you accomplish and how people view you?
  • What’s one way you would live differently if you didn’t worry so much about what people thought of you?

Go Deep:

You can discover more on how to create a big vision out of broken dreams in chapter 3 of Facing the Blitz.

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.

Deflating your ego



FootballsDeflatedJeffKemp
Few quarterbacks have dominated the NFL like Tom Brady. In his 13 full seasons, he has led the New England Patriots to four Super Bowl titles.  What he may lack in raw talent, he makes up for in hard work. He watches lots of game film and pays attention to detail on and off the field, which is a common character quality of someone who performs at the highest level like he does.

But now the reputation of the reigning Super Bowl MVP is tarnished, with the league recently announcing that he will be suspended for the first four games of the upcoming season for participating in the deflating of footballs in the first half of the AFC championship game.

Breaking the rules, as the NFL has claimed, may not have been the most damaging thing Tom Brady did. He may not have even been suspended if he had admitted early on to his involvement (whatever that was) and apologized to the league for his indiscretion.  Instead he allowed his agent to speak for him and deny even knowing of a scandal.

But after spending months reviewing the evidence surrounding the “DeflateGate” scandal, the NFL found enough in text messages to confidently say that Brady was involved in some way. And now public opinion has turned against him, with about 70 percent of avid football fans believing Brady cheated.

Let’s face it: if you don’t take the blame for your own mistakes (as small or as big as they may be) other people will spend their time, effort, and energy putting the blame on you. I learned that lesson in my last year with the Seattle Seahawks and gained a great appreciation for the importance of accepting responsibility. Even though I wasn’t involved in a cheating scandal or at the center of some controversy, the incident did involve my integrity.

I was the starting quarterback with the Seattle Seahawks and we had just suffered a 20-13 loss in an important game with Kansas City. In press interviews after the game, rather than own up to my shortcomings, I chose to play the optimist. “We’re going to do better next week; we’re going to turn the corner and go forward.”

It wasn’t until later in the week that I realized the damage that I had done. Eugene Robinson, a great friend and teammate, came up to me and told me privately, “Dude, a bunch of the coaches and defensive guys are questioning whether you’re a stand-up guy or an excuse maker. They don’t think you’re owning up to your responsibility for that loss.”

Their criticism wasn’t aimed at my skills or performance, but at who I am—my character. As I wrote in my book, Facing the Blitz:

They thought that, in my optimism, I’d left the blame with the team instead of taking my part in it. Not only had I contributed to the loss, it seemed I wasn’t being an accountable and trustworthy leader.

I felt misread and misjudged. I decided to talk privately to a couple of the defensive coaches who reportedly held these concerns. I told them I was my own worst critic and knew I’d fallen way short of what we needed to win. I knew I’d played a major role in our loss. … My team wanted to hear that I understood my role in our loss. My play wasn’t the only reason we lost, but they needed to see that, first, I got it, and second, I was willing to take the heat, not simply leave it with my teammates and coaches.

The bottom-line issue isn’t the results of your actions as much as what it says about your character. Whether it’s me playing down my part in a loss or Tom Brady refusing to admit even an awareness of the team fudging on league rules, the ends still don’t justify the means.

Another NFL great quarterback recently weighed in on the “DeflateGate” controversy. Brett Favre believes that even if Tom Brady broke the rules it wasn’t really cheating because it didn’t affect the outcome of the game. He was just doing what everyone else does—trying to get a competitive edge.

A common philosophy in the world, and in the world of professional sports is, “If you’re not getting caught every once in a while, you’re not working hard enough.” It’s ironic that someone as good as Brady would feel a need to do something that has so little impact on the outcome of the game to gain a competitive advantage.

Deflating your ego

Maybe an even bigger issue is what happens when you make it to the top of the heap, or the top of the league. You begin to believe the hype that everything depends on you. You may even begin to see yourself as a special case. You then justify actions that for most everyday people would be indefensible.

American society invites a pride and hubris in its successful people, and that is reflected in how Tom Brady and his agent have continued to oppose the NFL investigation. Pride and hubris aren’t attractive to the public. Pride lets you think you can do things differently because you think you are special. It’s easy to get sidetracked when you’re in the spotlight and when you’re trying to keep up expectations as the being the best. But Scripture brings us back to reality:

“Pride comes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before the fall.”—Proverbs 16:18

“Also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules.”—2 Timothy 2:5

But then there’s another scriptural reminder than keeps us from pointing the finger too much at others.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”—Galatians 6:1

My teammate Eugene Robinson helped me to open my eyes and see the impact of my actions. Issues like “DeflateGate” help us check our own character to see if we are cutting corners, cheating, or taking ethical shortcuts. And it’s a great opportunity to teach our kids valuable lessons about integrity and humility.

Man up to Christian Grey, Fifty Shades



This is the second of three posts on what a real man should do with Fifty Shades of Grey.

On Valentine’s weekend, Fifty Shades of Grey dominated the box offices with $85 million in ticket sales, even though the movie was almost universally panned. In my first post, “What’s a real man do with Fifty Shades?,” I expressed concern that the main character, Christian Grey, is a pathetic role model for true manhood. Rather than respect and care for an innocent and vulnerable Anastasia Steele, he subjects her to sexual abuse and degradation to fulfill the warped desires left from his own childhood sexual abuse.

Sure, Christian Grey is a fictional character, but his influence on the culture (through Fifty Shades of Grey) is troubling. Have women lowered their standards for men so far that Christian Grey is the object of desire? Reportedly, the books and movie have a heavy following among 25-55 year old women.  But it’s also reaching our young daughters. According to IMDB (Internet Movie Database), the movie drew the highest reviews by far from girls under 18.

And just in case you’re wondering, a Barna survey found that women who identify themselves as Christians are reading the books at the same rate as the general public. It’s captivating women everywhere.

That should concern any self-respecting man.

For decades, the objectification and hyper-sexualization of women in the media has been a problem. A majority of all young women today have been exposed to pornography before age 14. As they are encountering sexual material at younger and younger ages, we appear to be reaching critical mass.

In years past, that exposure would be met with disgust. But now it’s being embraced in our culture. About half of young adult women now consider viewing pornography as an acceptable way of expressing their sexuality. One in three visitors to online porn sites are now women, and one in five women use the Internet weekly for sexual purposes.

These are our wives and our daughters who are being affected. So, as a godly man, what do you do?

1. Be a man of integrity.

Women are looking for a man to admire, not just someone to buy them off and beat any sense of high standards out of them. As a husband, you need to make it your goal to treat your wife as your greatest earthly priority. As a father, you model for both your sons and your daughters not just what real manhood is all about, but the value of women.

Pastor and author Robert Lewis defines an authentic man:

  • He rejects passivity. He doesn’t allow the enemy to distract him from reflecting the image of his Creator God, and caring for the woman and the world that have been entrusted to him.
  • He accepts responsibility. He recognizes that his wife and children are dependent on him, and he seeks to correct his mistakes rather than make others continue to suffer in the wake of his bad choices.
  • He leads courageously. He doesn’t force women to step in to fill the vacuum of leadership left by passive men. But he also recognizes that his leadership is a position of voluntary submission to Christ, who voluntarily submits Himself to the Father.
  • He expects God’s greater reward. He recognizes that Christ didn’t give in to the temptations of Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11), but submitted his own desires to those of the Father so that he could redeem His bride, the church (Philippians 2:5-11).
2. Love the one you’re with.

Your wife should be the object of your desire. She longs to see in your words and actions that you are always seeking the best for her. Rather than expecting her to sign a contract listing your demands, remind her that you have made a covenant to cherish and care for her, and to love her as much as you love your own body (Ephesians 5:29).

weaker vesselScripture tells us (1 Peter 3:7) to live with our wives in an understanding way (be considerate), as a weaker vessel. That’s not a cut-down but a comparison; a compliment. I think of it as delicate vs. durable; Ellie’s demitasse china cup and saucer vs. my gunmetal grey travel mug. My wife is strong and capable (she would have made a great pioneer woman). Yet I know Ellie is created to be a responder, nurturer and empathizer. She flourishes when I treat her with honor and respect. And God reminds me that His receptivity to me is tied to how receptive I am to my wife. Strength and submission aside, we husbands need to remember that we are equal to our wives before God, as joint heirs of His grace. We need to become lifelong students of extending that grace to each other.

3. Show your daughters their strength.

Too many girls and young women today don’t realize the power they have to set the expectations in a relationship. In our sexualized culture, they are led to believe that their only real worth is as sensual creatures. They expect that by gratifying the natural desires of a man, he will come to desire her. The truth is that a woman who holds high standards for herself and the man she cares about will call him up from his basic instincts to his true calling as leader, protector, lover.

A young girl needs to know that she’s loved—by her Heavenly father and her earthly father. We daddies need to remind our daughters of their intrinsic worth to us, and especially their value to the God who created them, who knows them intimately, and who loves them unconditionally. The more they accept this, the more likely they will be to look for a man who recognizes and respects their value.

And often it’s the little things they do that begin to bring out the best in a guy. One of the things I’ve told my three girls through the years has been “Be a lady; expect a gentleman.”  Wait for him to open the door, to pull out her chair, to call for a date. Sure, she can do all those things, but in waiting, she’s offering him an opportunity to step up and to show her he values her.

If there’s a positive message in Fifty Shades of Grey it’s this: A man will give honor to a woman when she raises the bar and expects to be treated as a unique creation and not just an object of desire.

The final post in this three-part series will continue the suggestions about what you can do to challenge the image of Christian Grey  by being a real man. We’ll cover raising sons, warning women about the dangers of porn, developing intimacy with your wife, and understanding submission from God’s perspective.

© 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading “How to challenge Christian Grey and Fifty Shades” in the Stepping Up blog for men.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistRead the original post in this series, “What’s a real man do with Fifty Shades?” and come back next week for the conclusion. 

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistRobert Lewis and William Hendricks share “What Every Husband Needs to Know” about ministering to his wife.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistA daughter is stronger when she has a relationship with her dad. Read “How to Really Know Your Daughter.” 

 

Ferguson: Feeling. Thinking. Hoping.



Courage combines compassion with truth, self-examination with social justice, concern for others with a fearlessness to stand strong no matter what others may think. Benjamin Watson shows a desire to get to the root of what has been happening in Ferguson, Missouri. His heartfelt response shows his ability to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. The problems start with the sinful heart of us humans. The solution centers on the sacrificial death, forgiveness, and overcoming life of Jesus.

PHOTO COURTESTY OF Ben Liebenberg/NFL

PHOTO COURTESTY OF Ben Liebenberg/NFL

~Written by Benjamin Watson:

At some point while I was playing or preparing to play Monday Night Football, the news broke about the Ferguson decision. After trying to figure out how I felt, I decided to write it down. Here are my thoughts:

I’M ANGRY because the stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes.

I’M FRUSTRATED because pop culture, music, and movies glorify these types of police/citizen altercations and promote an invincible attitude that continues to get young men killed in real life, away from the safety of movie sets and music studios.

I’M FEARFUL because in the back of my mind I know that, although I’m a law abiding citizen, I could still be looked upon as a “threat” to those who don’t know me. So I will continue to have to go the extra mile to earn the benefit of the doubt.

I’M EMBARRASSED because the looting, violent protests, and law breaking only confirm, and in the minds of many, validate the stereotypes and thus the inferior treatment.

I’M SAD because another young life was lost from his family, the racial divide has widened, a community is in shambles, accusations, insensitivity hurt and hatred are boiling over, and we may never know the truth about what happened that day.

I’M SYMPATHETIC because I wasn’t there so I don’t know exactly what happened. Maybe Darren Wilson acted within his rights and duty as an officer of the law and killed Michael Brown in self defense like any of us would in the circumstance. Now he has to fear the backlash against himself and his loved ones when he was only doing his job. What a horrible thing to endure. OR maybe he provoked Michael and ignited the series of events that led to him eventually murdering the young man to prove a point.

I’M OFFENDED because of the insulting comments I’ve seen that are not only insensitive but dismissive to the painful experiences of others.

I’M CONFUSED because I don’t know why it’s so hard to obey a policeman. You will not win!!! And I don’t know why some policeman abuse their power. Power is a responsibility, not a weapon to brandish and lord over the populace.

I’M INTROSPECTIVE because sometimes I want to take “our” side without looking at the facts in situations like these. Sometimes I feel like it’s us against them. Sometimes I’m just as prejudiced as people I point fingers at. And that’s not right. How can I look at white skin and make assumptions but not want assumptions made about me? That’s not right.

I’M HOPELESS because I’ve lived long enough to expect things like this to continue to happen. I’m not surprised and at some point my little children are going to inherit the weight of being a minority and all that it entails.

I’M HOPEFUL because I know that while we still have race issues in America, we enjoy a much different normal than that of our parents and grandparents. I see it in my personal relationships with teammates, friends, and mentors. And it’s a beautiful thing.

I’M ENCOURAGED because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced, and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot, and burn. BUT I’M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through the his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that’s capable of looking past the outward and seeing what’s truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It’s the Gospel. So, finally, I’M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope.

25 things dads should teach their sons



HikingDavisMenBefore the industrial revolution, it was common for men to spend much of their day in the company of their sons — either on the family farm or in the family business. In those settings, dads could teach their sons practical lessons as well as the lessons of leadership, protection, and provision expected of manhood.

Today, work, school, extracurricular activities and even church take fathers and sons in separate directions. Dads, therefore, have to be intentional about creating the opportunities to teach their sons — to model manhood, to teach industry and resourcefulness. One way to do that is to work through a list of things that fathers can teach sons. You can work through such a list in one of two ways: either

  • By setting aside a regular father/son time to take on one item at a time (one dad started this routine and calls it “Manhood Mondays”) or
  • By just taking the time to instruct your son anytime you’re about to do one of these tasks yourself. It’s not efficient, but the investment of your time can be priceless.

Whether you do it proactively, reactively or both, what matters most is taking the time to build a legacy with your son(s).

Don’t freak out by what is or isn’t on the list here. These are meant to be examples of what engagement looks like, but you can adapt this or just see it as a head-start for your own list. You’ll notice that many of the skills listed here can be bypassed by modern technology in most industrially advanced countries. Making the effort to teach these, however, will give you valuable time with your son(s) and will give you a practical opportunity to present the principles of leading, protecting and providing, all the while building confidence in their abilities as emerging men.

25 things dads should teach their sons
  1. Speak in public — there’s power in the spoken word.
  2. Read good books — leaders are readers.
  3. Play an instrument — especially because of the discipline required.
  4. Play individual, two-person, and team sports.
  5. Build a fire.
  6. Camp out — pitch the tent, cook stuff over the fire, the whole thing.
  7. Carve a turkey.
  8. Light a grill.
  9. Jump start a car.
  10. Tie a knot — such as a bowline, square knot, taut-line, and figure eight among others.
  11. Use basic tools — hammer, saw, wrench, screwdriver.
  12. Paint a room — trim and all.
  13. Handle a gun and a knife — for safety, protection, sport, and hunting.
  14. Skin an animal.
  15. Be a gentleman — open doors, stand when a woman approaches at dinner, etc.
  16. Grow stuff — and not just a Chia pet.
  17. Iron a shirt — and do laundry and other work around the house in a manly way.
  18. Manage money — keep a balanced checkbook, show generosity, and learn basic saving and investing.
  19. Shake a hand — strong shake (save the tuna for dinner) and look ’em in the eye.
  20. Give a man hug — skip the side hug, and go arms spread eagle with bold back slaps.
  21. Keep vows.
  22. Dress like a gentleman — coordinate pants, shirts, jackets, ties, belts, socks, etc. appropriately to the occasion.
  23. Tip — for example at least 15% for a waiter providing adequate service, $1 for a checked coat, $1 per bag for curbside check in at the airport, etc.
  24. Serve others — shovel walks, help with heavy loads, etc.
  25. Handle loss — sports and games in preparation for loss in work and relationships.

Taken from:  A Guide to Biblical Manhood, by Randy Stinson and Dan Dumas. Copyright © 2011 by SBTS Press, a division of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  All rights reserved. Used by permission.

RandyStinsonMugDr. Randy Stinson is Senior Fellow at The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and is Senior Vice President for Academic Administration & Provost at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He enjoys hunting, fishing, and encourages his eight children in their pursuits. He and Danna have been married for 22 years.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading “25 things dads should teach their sons,” by guest poster Dr. Randy Stinson. 

STEPThink - 10-point checklistWhich items might you want to learn so you can teach them? What would you add to the list? Share your ideas.

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistHear Randy Stinson on FamilyLife Today radio broadcast as he lays out “Casting a Vision for Your Family.”

STEPPass - 10-point checklistPick one thing from the list to do this week. If you don’t have sons, share this post with someone who does.

The Song: A film for the restless man



“There is nothing new under the sun.”

As we men strive to find meaning and purpose and to make meaningful connections in our fast-paced, consumer-driven, anything-goes culture, the words of Solomon ring truer now than ever.

“I have seen everything done under the sun. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after wind.”

Three years ago Richard Ramsey and City On a Hill Studio set out to make a film that would speak to modern-day audiences through Solomon’s lifelong quest for real love and true meaning. The writer and director wanted a theater-worthy film that believers and the unchurched alike would want to see and talk about.  As Ramsey says, it is a film for the restless man.

The script and directing are remarkably intentional, making use of biblical allusion, symbolism, parallels and imagery to bring the life and teachings of Solomon into today’s realities. The story line follows Solomon’s relentless search for meaning through wisdom, pleasure, and power, only to find that the elusive answers are not distant, but as close to home as the heart.

The Song, which debuts on September 26 in theaters across the country, uses narratives from the Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes and Proverbs, masterfully woven into the tapestry of a modern-day story of love, marriage, and meaning. The movie follows the career of Jed King (played by relative newcomer Alan Powell), a struggling musician who’s blessed and cursed to be the son of beloved country music star, David King (yes, the symbolism starts early in the film and poignantly shadows the plot throughout).

YouTube Preview Image

The first five minutes show the rise and fall, redemption and untimely death of his father in a gritty sequence that is foreign to many faith-based films.  While not graphic, the sequence (which parallels the failures of King David) lays the legacy for Jed King and offers a foreshadowing of difficulties to come as he follows in his father’s footsteps.

Jed believes he’s meant to be a singer, not just because of his father’s legacy but also because it’s a gift and mission given to him by God. Struggling to find a breakthrough after being cut from his record label, Jed takes a gig at a local hometown festival where he meets Rose (Ali Faulkner, another relative newcomer).

The two fall in love and marry (no, that’s not a spoiler, because you know the Song of Solomon) and begin their George-and-Mary-Bailey wonderful life. But as with all marriages, the infatuation gives way to distance as the two are pushed away by the busyness of parenthood, extended family, career, and the ever-present search for self-fulfillment. As their emotional and physical distance grows, Jed becomes frustrated and begins searching for fulfillment outside the home in the most obvious place—his music career.

Solomon’s woman of Proverbs 7-9 makes her appearance in the form of Jed’s opening act, fiddle player Shelby Bale (played by Caitlin Nichol-Thomas in her movie debut). Shelby is there when Rose is not, and his heart is further pulled away from home.

Throughout the movie, the dialogue is punctuated by Jed’s narration, directly from Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and Proverbs. We follow the story through the bliss of Solomon and his love, and through the search for meaning and pleasure. Each promise of fulfillment ends up empty and takes Jed on his journey further and further from home and his first love.

The Song contains the most extensive use of Scripture of any film I’ve seen except for Jesus, which uses only Scripture. Yet it is far from preachy because it’s Jed own words, narrating his own story of love, loss and futility, a story that ultimately finds redemption and purpose.

This movie will not be the “feel good” movie of the fall season. Ramsey, in his writing and directing, intentionally leads the viewer through the messiness of life and the soul-searching of Solomon. It is heavy and frequently dark, but it needs to be. The man watching this movie needs to feel the weight of foolish, short-sighted decisions.

As a film centered on music, the songs are significant elements in revealing the characters, their struggles, and values. Powell and Nichol-Thomas perform their own songs quite capably. In fact, Powell is a member of the Christian vocal group, Anthem Lights, and Nichol-Thomas is a professional fiddler. One song that won’t be new to moviegoers is The Byrds’ 1965 classic, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” This musical rendering of Ecclesiastes 3 is a favorite of Rose, and plays a prominent part later in the movie.

Although the film ends on a happier note, the heaviness remains with you through the final credits, which is appropriate. Choices have consequences, and foolish choices leave a heart-wrenching aftermath, particularly when it comes to the closest human relationship—marriage. The Song is a cautionary tale for couples. Between the pace of life, the lures of our culture, and the deceitfulness of the human heart, marriage relationships naturally grow apart unless you’re intentionally moving toward oneness.

A selfish act, an unkind word, a bitterness unresolved have caustic results. But authentic love also carries the power of forgiveness and redemption. It is the very thing that has the power to draw someone from the depths of despair to a life that’s truly meaningful.

In an unplanned, deeply personal message to a concert audience, Jed voices this realization:

“You know, when you’re always under bright lights, you can’t see the stars. You forget things. You forget that somebody put the stars there, and that they love you enough to die for you. And it’s that kind of love that makes songs worth singing and life worth living. I had that kind of love and I threw it away. Because I am a fool. I’m sorry.”

Jed was referring to Rose, but what he says applies equally to our relationship to a loving Father, who gave His Son on our behalf. The Apostle Paul (who may be Solomon’s wise New Testament counterpart) reminds us that in the midst of our rebellion, it’s God’s kindness and patience that bring us to repentance (Romans 2:4). He also reminds us that when we’re most unlovable, God’s love reaches out to us (Romans 5:8), whether it’s for salvation or forgiveness.

The marriage relationship is the optimal environment where we can show the undeserved, unconditional love of Christ. It’s probably the hardest place as well. Who knows us better than our spouses? Who can put together the longest laundry list of offenses? On the other hand, who have we let closer to our hearts to see the beautiful and honorable, the vulnerable and needy? Besides God, who better knows the depth of our need for grace and companionship?

And that is the dual message of The Song. As Solomon draws his conclusions in Ecclesiastes:

Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 9:9)

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

That’s a message everyone needs to hear.

© 2014 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading “The Song: A film for the restless man,” by Scott Williams in the Stepping Up men’s blog. 

STEPThink - 10-point checklist

Men are prone to sexual temptation when things aren’t great at home. Read “When men are tempted to cheat.”

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistLearn the “3 Weeds You Need to Pull from Your Marriage Garden” to keep your marriage from drifting toward isolation.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistFind a theater near you showing “The Song” and bring your wife, your friends, or the restless man.

God gives again



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

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

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

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

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

GodsWayGideon

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

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

Who? Who is sitting in front of you?

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

I fell to my knees.

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

“What are their names?” I asked.

Her answer made complete sense because I knew two things:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GodsWayTShirt

God’s Way bearing Connor’s image

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

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

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

Dad (Ron Deal)

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

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

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

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

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

Taken



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

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

Taken

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

He didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

I still do … every day



I still do ... every dayToday, I begin my 30th year of marriage to Ellie. Am I surprised we made it this far?

Not at all.

If I had it to do all over again, would I still say “I do?”

Without a doubt. I still do.

Did I comprehend all I was agreeing to when I said those words so many years ago?

Not even close.

After five years of dating, Ellie and I were still deeply in love on that perfect May morning when we made our vows before dozens of witnesses in a beautiful church overlooking the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  Even though we both meant what we said, neither of us really knew what we meant when we made those promises to love and stay committed to each other …

– through health and sickness,

– wealth and poverty,

– good and bad,

– until death separated us.

Little did we know that God would add to our family within the week. No, we had no plans for Ellie to get pregnant on our honeymoon, but nine months and five days after our wedding, our first son was born. And less than four months after his birth, Ellie was a nursing, stay-at-home mom with a suddenly unemployed husband. That wasn’t in our plans, but it was in our vows.

As a bride-to-be, Ellie had wanted to have four children, but when we said our vows, we weren’t thinking that God would add that fourth child just one week after our sixth anniversary. By then, we realized that having children was not going to be a problem for us.

Or so we thought.

Three of Ellie’s next four pregnancies ended in miscarriage. The one that did go full term came with lots of complications, including Ellie permanently losing all hearing in her left ear. Those were heart-wrenching times. But as God promises, weeping lasts for a nighttime, but joy comes in the morning.

Four years later, Ellie was pregnant with our seventh and final child when our family was devastated by the line-of-duty death of my Maui Police Officer brother. She and I never dreamed we’d ever go to Hawaii, much less to bury my brother there.

Romantic vacations haven’t really been part of our marriage history. In fact, most of my paychecks have only been enough to cover the basic necessities of a large family. There have even been some times where the fridge and pantry were almost bare. But God has always provided. Even though there have only been a few weeks of the past 29 years where I haven’t been employed, most of those jobs have been in journalism or ministry, neither of which is known for high salaries. When it comes to “for richer or poorer,” we’ve seen a lot of one, but not much of the other.

It wasn’t in our plans, but it was in our vows.

When a couple stands at the altar before their closest friends and most committed family members, everything seems perfect; the lifetime covenant they’re making to each other seems like a blank check drawn on the bank of happiness. They don’t foresee a time when the account is in danger of overdraft. They can hardly imagine the day when all those friends and family standing with them in the beginning aren’t there to help them through those emotional zero-balance days.

But the God who created them as individuals and brought them together in the covenant of marriage is there every minute of every day of their married life.

Ellie and I weren’t practicing believers when we married back in 1985. But God in His grace drew us to Himself. Each of us – independent of the other – made a personal commitment to Christ within 15 months of our vows. In the early years of marriage and parenting, we were able to grow in oneness with each other and with God.

We learned the significance of our marriage covenant as we learned how God covenanted with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and most importantly, through the New Covenant in Christ. Because God would not break His covenants, Ellie and I determined never to entertain the notion of divorce.

When I think back to the day we proclaimed our vows, in many ways I feel like I’m so much less impressive of a man than the one who boldly promised to love and cherish Ellie every day of his life. I haven’t been the best provider. I’m not a strong leader. I’m moody and easily frustrated and way too self-absorbed. And I know Ellie has her own list of ways she falls short of the woman with all those lofty vows nearly three decades ago.

“I do” is not just something you say to your spouse on your wedding day. “I do” is every word you say and every deed you do for the rest of your marriage. That’s what “I do” really means.

Ellie and I have had 10,592 days worth of opportunities to experience how much harder it is to say your vows on any given marriage day than on your wedding day. No matter how much we love each other, we let our guards down; selfishness is always ready to make an exception to a vow.

It takes a supernatural empowering of God’s Spirit for me to realize that marriage is more about what I can do for Ellie, than what she should be doing do for me. God promises – when I ask Him – to empower me with His Spirit, freeing me from the slavery to myself in order to love my wife as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her. Only through the limitless grace and unconditional love of His Spirit working in me can I fulfill my vows to Ellie like I promised to do back on May 18, 1985.

And it’s only by His Spirit that I can continue to be true to my promise for the next 30 years, or however many the Lord sees fit to give us together.

Ellie, I still do.

NEXT STEPS

1. To learn more about the value of keeping your vows, read Dennis Rainey’s article, “Five Ways to Keep Your Marriage Covenant.”

2. Listen to Doug and Patty Dailey talk about the crisis in their marriage on FamilyLife Today®.

3. Plan a weekend getaway with your spouse to spend time together and build your marriage – attend a Weekend to Remember® or one of the upcoming I Still Do® events in Chicago, Portland, or Washington, D.C.

 

 

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