Posts in category Raising sons

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.

Tell your kids about sex God’s way



Editor’s Note: This post first appeared on the official blog of pureHOPE, a ministry that seeks to share Christian solutions to a world characterized by sexual exploitation and brokenness. This post is specifically for dads and how to tell your kids about sex God’s way.

As I write this post, the cold and blustery conditions outside remind me of one of the most memorable and precious times I’ve had as a father. It was 15 years ago when my now 22-year-old son was 7. We were living in Springfield, Missouri in a house that sat perched on a hill with a long driveway leading up to it. Twelve inches of snow had fallen the night before preceded by rain, leaving a thick layer of ice underneath the snow.

Our job that day, and for the two days after that, was to clear our driveway. Schools and businesses were closed so we had a rare and unique opportunity to hang out together for hours. I felt this was the perfect time to introduce my son to the wonderful and mysterious subject of sex. My own father had neglected to have these types of conversations with me and I was determined to take this initiative with my kids; not a one-time talk, but rather, an on-going dialogue for the rest of their lives. So, as we embarked on the long and tiring task of clearing that driveway, I began to unfold the story, the wonder, and the biology of sex to my son.

I explained to Him that God speaks about sex positively and frequently from Genesis to Revelation beginning with our creation as sexual beings (Gen. 1:27), and that God blessed the sexual union between a husband and wife from the outset (Gen. 1:28; 2:24). At pureHOPE, we sum up the meaning of sex as “The Four Ps” which may help guide your conversations. I would also encourage you to study these and other verses related to sexuality.

  • SongSol7Pleasure – Yes, we need to inform our kids that God intended sex to be pleasurable (Song of Sol. 7:6-10).
  • Procreation – God blessed the sexual union of a husband and wife and instructed them to be fruitful and increase in number (Gen. 1:28).
  • Protection – Ongoing sexual intimacy between a husband and wife strengthens their relationship and guards against temptations outside of the marriage (1 Cor. 7:3-5).
  • Proclamation – Fidelity in marriage proclaims the faithfulness and steadfast love of Jesus for His Church (Eph. 5:25-32). The story of sex is ultimately the story of God’s love for His people.

It is always fascinating to me as I tell that story of my conversation with my 7-year-old the reactions that I get. Some are appalled that I would start so young. Others, as if to acknowledge their identification with my story of not having had these conversations with their dads, affirm that they wish someone had talked to them that early.

I do not claim to know the best age for you to begin having these conversations with your kids, I just know that too many of us either wait too long to start or never start at all. So, I would like to suggest some helpful tips to inspire you to jump into this topic:

  1. Be Proactive. Ask yourself this question: “When does our culture begin talking to our kids about sex?” Sex education is happening today with my kids and with your kids. We can either make the choice to join in on the conversation or let the culture do all the talking.
  2. Be Intentional. These conversations rarely just happen. These conversations are rarely comfortable. We must make a plan and be willing to engage with our kids purposefully when it comes to their sexuality and God’s “better story” of sex.
  3. Be Available. We need to become our kids’ go-to person when it comes to questions about sex. Kids are curious and they will get the answers they are looking for – would you rather be that person or leave it to their friends, the media, or Hollywood? Let your kids know that they can always ask you any question, that they will never be in trouble for asking you questions, and that you will always be honest with them.
  4. Be Vulnerable. So many dads hesitate to talk with their kids about this issue because of shame or guilt over their own past sexual mistakes. Many dads fear this question from their kids: “How did you do, Dad?” It has been helpful to share with my kids that I made some mistakes. There are some things that I did that were wrong and led to consequences and pain in my life that I want to help them avoid. I also serve a Redeemer, who forgives me and restores me. Our love for our kids motivates us to guide them to learn from our mistakes and to let them know that if and when they make mistakes that God is a God of forgiveness and grace and that he redeems and restores! 1 John 3:3 tells us that He (Jesus) is the one who is purifying us. If we have a relationship with Him then it is He who will make us pure.
  5. Be Persuasive. Our culture tells a story of sex to our kids. It is estimated that our kids are subjected to 14,000 sexualized messages every year from various media sources. Our culture is loud and persuasive when it comes to telling it’s story. We must counter that story with God’s better story: His story of sex.

Dads, be encouraged! You have what it takes because God has given us His Holy Spirit who will help us have these conversations. You have the better story to tell. Tell it loudly, tell it often and tell it with confidence. We need this generation to embrace God’s story of sex and it will only happen if we step up and engage our kids in these conversations.

MartinDanMugDan Martin serves as Parenting Associate at pureHOPE,  developing ministry activities and resources to equip parents to raise kids in the sexualized culture around us. He is also the Adult Ministry Pastor at the Chase Oaks Church Fairview Campus. Dan and Kathie have been married for 24 years an live in Lucas, TX; they are recent empty-nesters with three college-aged children. 

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading “Tell your kids about sex God’s way,” by guest blogger Dan Martin of pureHOPE ministry.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistWould you say that your influence in your child’s life in this area has been sufficient to counter the world’s message?

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistRead how one parent decided to handle this delicate topic on FamilyLife.com: “It Was Time for ‘The Talk.'”

STEPPass - 10-point checklistLay a good groundwork for your pre-teen or adolescent child by getting away for a Passport2Purity getaway weekend.

Passing along the faith



NavyChaplainCorpsPlaqueAs dads, we have a spiritual and moral responsibility to teach our children right from wrong. We look for opportunities to turn life events into teaching moments. Sometimes that might require a lecture or strong admonition when they get off course.  But what our daughters and sons get from years of preaching isn’t as rich as what they learn when they see how we respond in the midst of a crisis of conviction. It’s in those times that theoretical truths become living realities.

Last week, 14-year-old James Modder was a frontline witness to one of those times where life and truth collide on the battlefield of conviction. It was the day his father, Chaplain Wes Modder was relieved of his duties. James went with his dad to help him remove his personal effects from his chaplain’s office. That day and the preceding months must have been a hard time for father, son, and the whole family.

Back in December, Chaplain Modder was hit with a number of grievances related to his private counseling sessions with sailors. The essence of the complaints centered on Modder’s biblical conviction on matters related to sexuality, marriage, and gender roles. The Assemblies of God chaplain counsels based on standards from the Word of God, which has been increasingly running afoul of military policies on gender and sexual inclusion.

Chaplain Modder admits that in one-on-one counseling and pastoral care sessions that he expressed his beliefs that “sexual acts outside of marriage are contrary to biblical teaching; and homosexual behavior is contrary to biblical teaching; and homosexual orientation or temptation, as distinct from conduct, is not sin.”

And now, he has been temporarily relieved of his duties, and the Navy has asked that he be barred from promotion, fired as chaplain, and brought before a board of inquiry, where he could face expulsion from the Navy.

Chaplain Modder’s ministry is not just something that he came by on his own. He is the recipient of a rich legacy of Christian service that included his grandparents and his great grandfather, all missionaries to India. And given what his family is seeing now, that legacy is poised to pass on to the five Modder children, including James, the only son. Wes Modder is passing along the faith.

As Wes Modder was driving away from cleaning out his office, his son told him about numerous officers who had privately spoken to the son that afternoon.  “They told my son that ‘you can be proud of your father because he’s keeping the faith,'” Modder said. “The whole command knows that Chaplain Modder is keeping the faith.”

Chaplain Modder will teach his son many things over the years.  But showing that nothing—even your job—is more important than your faith?  That’s a lesson that will last a lifetime.

© 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading Scott Williams’ post “Passing along the faith” on the Stepping Up blog for men.

STEPThink - 10-point checklist“Values Are Your Most Important Parenting Tool.” They come through in your actions. Read the article.

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistDennis Rainey’s worksheet helps you in “Determining Your Core Values.” Start a family legacy today.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistTim Kimmel talks about “Raising Kids for True Greatness” on the FamilyLife Today radio broadcast

Real manhood: Black & white, not Fifty Shades of Grey



This is the final post in a three-part series about “What’s a real man do with Fifty Shades?” The second post, “Man up to Christian Grey and Fifty Shades,” offered ideas about what you can do to reflect real manhood: Be a man of integrity, love your wife unconditionally, and show your daughters their strength. This post picks up that list with four more suggestions.

4. Raise men of honor.

The way a young man treats a young woman tells her what he thinks of her, and even feeds into how she thinks of herself. We need to remind our sons to value young ladies like we value their mom and treat them with the same honor and deference. The same axiom I mentioned earlier works in reverse: “Be a gentleman; get a lady.”

We also need to remind sons that they need to take responsibility for the self-discipline of the relationship. Just because of how we’re designed, we men are more likely to be the pursuers in a relationship. We will advance as far as we are allowed, and even push the boundaries to find out how solid they are.

As dads, we endeavor to raise our sons to be men of honor and integrity. And our desire is that they date young women with high moral standards as well. But we know that, as romance and hormones blossom, the tendency is for those physical boundaries to get mushy. In generations past, a young woman might put on the brakes if the passion got too high. Today, though, young women are just as likely as young men to be the aggressors.

We need to remind our sons (and the guys who date our daughters) to not let the passion rise to those hard-to-stop points, even if their dates seem to be giving the go-ahead. When things have settled down, she’s likely to appreciate him taking the leadership, and more trusting that he’s watching out for her.

5. Warn the women in your life about pornography.

At one time, porn use among married men wasn’t something “polite” women brought up. In recent years, women have bravely begun to speak up about how it hurts them and makes them feel inferior to the sex objects on the pages of magazines and computers. But at the same time, strangely, pornography has become more accepted among women.

Men who have battled porn addiction should be the first to speak up to warn and protect women.  We know firsthand how pornography lures us with the promise of sexual fulfillment and release, but it eventually dominates our thinking. Advances in neuroscience have confirmed what we already knew from experience: the more we give ourselves to porn, the more our brains are trained to want more of it, more often, and more graphic. Eventually, we’re more drawn to the instant fulfillment of a sexual fantasy than to work through a real relationship with a real woman.

The same thing is beginning to happen to women. Many are becoming obsessed with pornography and erotica and the fulfillment it offers. They become trapped in a world of fantasy where they attempt to meet emotional and sexual needs with a fantasy man. They may not be as attracted as much to the visual stimulation as men are, but they do notice the beautiful, sexy women in porn and imagine those women as themselves, the objects of desire.

With the power of the smartphone, young women have discovered they have the ability to create their own porn in the form of nude selfies and videos. They do it to connect to a love interest or to get noticed. With all the increase in women’s use of porn, the bottom line is that they seem to be willing to put up with objectification and debasement in order to find a way to be desired and fulfilled.

6. Be open with your wife about romance and intimacy.

Many married women defending the book often say it has improved their sex life. Certainly a film like Fifty Shades that blends heavy doses of romance and flesh can’t help but awaken many women’s sexual desires. It’s the same reasoning a man might give for watching pornography with his wife—to jump-start their sex life. But that’s trying to create a reality based on fantasy.

There is a much healthier way to jump-start romance and intimacy in your marriage. It’s called communication. Open, honest conversations about intimacy and sexual fulfillment keep romance and passion alive through years of marriage.

Talk honestly about how each of you assess your love life, frequency, likes, dislikes and wishes. Maybe you can start with some simple questions that you answer together.

  • On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate our intimacy?
  • What things that I do make you feel most wanted and fulfilled?
  • What would you change about our love life?

God has designed marriage as the place to enjoy a lifetime of intimacy between “the wife of your youth” and her “beloved” (Proverbs 5:18-19; Ecclesiastes 9:9; Song of Solomon 7:6-10). Talk and explore together how to get out of the intimacy rut and together create a more fulfilling sex life. Not sure what’s okay and what’s not (especially in light of all the junk passed off in Fifty Shades of Grey)? Here are some helpful guidelines borrowed from Marriage Today:

  • Is it forbidden in Scripture?
  • Does it violate your conscience?
  • Does it violate your wife, or is it against her conscience or will?
  • Is it physically safe or might it cause health risks?
  • Does it treat your wife in a disrespectful way or damage your relationship?
7. Understand submission God’s way.

What is presented in Fifty Shades of Grey is being called submission, but it’s actually subjugation. Subjugation is defined as “defeating or gaining control of a person for their obedience.” Submission is when a person voluntarily places themselves under the authority and guidance of another.

The Bible teaches women to submit to the God-given leadership of their husbands in the same way that Christ submitted to the will of God the Father. But here’s a reminder, guys: God doesn’t command a husband to remind his wife to submit. Instead He calls the husband to unconditionally love his wife as Christ loved the church and gave his entire life for her. Subjugation is the furthest thing from God’s design in the marriage relationship. Our wives are His gift to us as our completers, and we are God’s gift to them as shields of protection.

Out of reverence to Christ, both husband and wife are to put their personal desires aside to serve each other (Ephesians 5:21). That brings out the best in a man and a woman. It brings us together in mutual trust and fulfills the deepest longings of our souls.

When you rely on God’s word to guide you on how a man should treat a woman, it’s easier to see black and white. Thankfully, a real Christian doesn’t have to muddle through fifty shades of grey.

© 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading “Real manhood: Black & white, not Fifty Shades of Grey” in the Stepping Up blog for men.

STEPThink - 10-point checklist“7 Things to Remember About Sex” is one great way you and your wife can start a discussion about your sexual desires.

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistTwo broadcasts, “Fifty Shades of Deception” and “Longings of a Woman’s Heart” point women to what’s really at stake.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistLet women see a better example of manhood by passing “What’s a real man do with Fifty Shades?” along to your male friends.

What’s a real man do with Fifty Shades?



During the Christmas holidays, my 17-year-old son and I were settling into our theater seats to enjoy a movie we’d been looking forward to for some time–Unbroken.  That’s when we were assaulted by the preview for Fifty Shades of Grey.

50ShadesBoth of us found it disturbing. In fact, even after I’d finished watching Unbroken, the scenes that stayed in my mind weren’t of Louis Zamperini’s cruel treatment at the hands of “The Bird” in the Japanese prisoner of war camp, but the preview images from the “Red Room of Pain.”

In case you’re not familiar, Fifty Shades of Grey is based on one of the best selling books of all time. The movie bills itself as a romance between powerfully-attractive young billionaire Christian Grey and a naïve, not-so-self-assured college senior, Anastasia Steele. Without meaning to, she catches his attention when she’s interviewing him for the school newspaper, and he begins to do everything in his power (and he has a lot of it) to make her the object of his desires … desires which have been grotesquely mangled by being sexually abused at a young age.

Fifty Shades of Grey is pornography. No one denies it. But relatively few are opposing it. The Motion Picture Association of America developed its current rating system to help parents make decisions about which movies their children should see. Yet they gave Fifty Shades of Grey an R rating (“Contains some adult material. Parents are urged to learn more about the film before taking young children with them.”) rather than NC-17 (“Clearly adult. Children not permitted.”). Considering  the popularity of the books, and how the movie got the same R rating as one-third  of the other films released, it’s no surprise that advance ticket sales have set all-time records on Fandango.

What is surprising is who is viewing the film and reading the book—and why in the world they even would. Many refer to the book as “mommy porn” because of its wild popularity among adult women. And ticket sales are briskest in the typically-conservative deep south.

Romance novels have always been a staple of women’s reading. But Fifty Shades of Grey goes beyond romance to erotica, which is essentially porn for women. As much as 20 percent of the two-hour film is sex scenes—as much screen time as all Hollywood films from 2014 … combined.

And the film isn’t just sex. It’s abuse. Proponents of the film try to argue that BDSM (bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism) is fine if it’s between consenting adults. But Ana repeatedly tells Mr. Grey (after each time he does his thing with her) that she doesn’t appreciate it. She’s constantly in tears about it. She tries to leave him, only to have him stalk her and emotionally manipulate her into staying. He demands control of her life to the point of prescribing her exercise and diet, choosing her wardrobe, and having a doctor examine her and put her on the pill.

Christian Grey is no real man in any sense of the word.  A real man respects and honors a woman’s body and emotions; he doesn’t abuse and manipulate her. But author E.L. James has somehow made Grey the desire of 100 million women. She cleverly plays to women’s innate longings to be sought after, to live a more fulfilling existence and to rescue a broken man. In doing so, she gets women to excuse abusive behavior and to ignore countless warning signs on a fool’s road to romance.

Reading through two very lengthy, very detailed synopses of the first book (I refuse to read the book itself), I was continually struck by how much Mr. Grey’s behavior was the very picture of everything we tell women to run away from to avoid abuse. How many times have we listened incredulously to real-world horror stories of women who endure years of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse from boyfriends and husbands, yet can’t bring themselves to leave. Yet here we are with a book series and movie that draws women into that same warped, powerless thinking—“I’m not worth it. He can’t help it. What will happen to him if I leave?”

It’s not just naive adult women who are getting drawn in by Fifty Shades of Grey. The book has found itself in the hands of myriads of teen girls who are quite impressionable and undiscerning as they embark on their quest for love and passion. And with the release of the movie (and subsequent DVD and home-streaming option) a lot of girls and guys will be sneaking their ideas of love and intimacy from this movie.

In other words, the media’s influence has the potential for creating a lot more Christian Greys, and giving girls the idea that they should put up with them. But rather than allow the media culture to create a false impression of what it means to be a strong man, we should step up to be the true strong men who treat women with respect and teach our daughters and sons to expect the same standard.

So what can we do to make that happen?

We need to model and talk about the proper values of leading and submitting, and the proper view of romance and intimacy with our wives, our daughters, our sons. The next post, “Man up to Christian Grey, Fifty Shades,” will look at some thoughts on how that can happen.

© 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading “What’s a Real Man do with Fifty Shades?” in the Stepping Up blog for men.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistRead  more concerns about the book and movie in the article “Fifty Shades of Caution”  and the reader responses to it.

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistRead about another movie that opened Valentine’s weekend: “An ‘Old Fashioned’ Alternative to ‘Fifty Shades’.”

STEPPass - 10-point checklistTwo broadcasts, “Fifty Shades of Deception” and “Longings of a Woman’s Heart” point women to what’s really at stake.

Guiding kids to maturity



As I read through Scripture, there are some passages that just grab my attention and make me think. Often those passages involve lists. There are probably dozens of these in the New Testament alone, and I’m sure you’ll recognize a few, like

guiding kidsI guess it’s a guy thing. We like action, and there’s something about a list that encourages action, that breaks down a project into more manageable tasks. Some of those list passages offer a set of filters for working through a situation. Like in I Thessalonians 5:14 (NASB):

“And we urge you, brothers,
admonish the unruly,
encourage the fainthearted,
help the weak,
be patient with everyone.”

That list has always intrigued me. I had always assumed it gave instruction on dealing with difficult people, but until recently I never really dug into it. So I decided to devote several of my morning quiet times to the passage, delving into the meaning of the words, understanding the four challenges within the larger context of the passage and meditating on what the verse looks like applied in my own life.

The big picture

Right off, I saw that the four-item list was actually three specific challenges and one overarching one. The Apostle Paul points out that there are three different types of behaviors you can expect to encounter when you’re dealing with people, and how you can properly respond to them when they come up. As I studied, I was sure that understanding the passage would help me recognize situations where I could put the principles to use as I dealt with people throughout the day. But where would they show up, and how would I know it when they did?

Eventually it hit me square in the face. I’ve actually been encountering the situations and dealing with them almost every day for years … in my own home. The reason I’d missed the wisdom of this verse is because it’s listed in reverse order of how I had learned it as a dad.

My wife Ellie and I have raised seven children to adolescence and beyond.  When our first was born, I was struck by how helpless he was. He was dependent on us for everything. As he grew and acquired skills and experience, I had to encourage him that he was able to do more than he realized he could. He just needed to apply what he’d learned to the life situations he was encountering.

And as he reached the teen years and started choosing his own way in the world, I had to constantly convince him that there’s a big difference between learning and knowledge, between facts and experience. And I had to admonish him that life was not just about him, but just as much about using what he’s learned in order to relate to those around him.

As each of our seven children grew in wisdom and stature, their personalities may have been different, but the principles were always the same. They needed to learn the basics, apply them to their own lives, then learn to use them in their dealings with others. And they needed someone along the way to help them navigate that path to maturity.

Epiphany! I had been doing I Thessalonians 5:14 in the everyday process of being a father; I just didn’t realize it. That understanding and experience made the whole verse and passage come alive.

Help the weak

The Greek word for weak means lacking the strength due to immaturity or inability. Whether they’re newborn babies, brand new coworkers or new believers, people come into situations where they know absolutely nothing. They’ll be confused. They’ll make mistakes. You could chide them or tell them to keep trying, but their greatest need is for someone to teach them … patiently.

The Greek word for help doesn’t just refer to using your ability to meet someone’s weakness. It implies that you put aside your own interests for theirs. As I was holding my first granddaughter the other day, I reminded myself that she couldn’t do anything for herself, including communicate what she needed. When she wailed, I had to work extra hard to understand her need, then meet it the best I could. That meant putting up with the crying and fussiness, because it wasn’t about me, but about her.

It’s exactly what Jesus did for me. “For while we were still helpless (weak), at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5).  As He put aside His desires for a helpless sinner, I need to do the same for the weak in my life.

Encourage the fainthearted

The heart is the seat of the soul. The French word for heart is where we get our word “courage.”  Those who are fainthearted are dealing with a heart that’s too small for the task.

With seven kids, you can imagine that their personalities are quite different. For some of ours, faintheartedness looked like despondency. To others, it looked like impatience, or maybe even frustration. Whether it was because they were unsure of themselves or unsure of the situation facing them, they needed someone there to bolster their hearts—to en-courage them. They needed someone to believe in them, to say, “You can do it.” And they needed to know that I would be there with them on the other side to say “I knew you could!”

But encouraging is not just being a cheerleader. It’s coming alongside to give wisdom, to help the person understand the reason for the faintheartedness and to do the right things at the right time. Again, like with the weak, this requires you to put away self for the sake of others.

If there was any question that this passage directly applied to fatherhood, it was put to rest as I read what Paul had said to the Thessalonians just a few chapters before.

“Just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into his kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12). READ MORE »

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.

READ MORE »

Sowing seeds in the souls of men



As men, we can see how many seeds are in an apple, but only God knows the number of apples in an apple seed. And only God knows the full impact that Stepping Up has made through one solitary homeless shelter in the Southeast.

Last spring, Jim Reece, the CEO of The Atlanta Mission, became convicted that he was spiritually shepherding the lives of hundreds and thousands of homeless men and women, but was not doing a good job with two men who married his daughters. So he challenged them to go through the Stepping Up 10-week men’s study with him.

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The impact was so strong that he began talking to his staff about taking them and some of the men from The Atlanta Mission (one of the largest in the country) through the series. At least 125 men attended, and nearly all of them completed all 10 sessions. Jim indicated that for some of these men, this is the first thing they’ve ever finished in their entire lives. So they wanted to make a big deal of the graduation ceremony. They had a catered meal for 150 men before the ceremony. Then they heard in person from three of the men who had been speaking to them through the video series for the past 10 weeks—Paul Holderfield, Jr., Crawford Lorrits, and me.

I spoke for about 25 minutes about the first three steps of the manhood journey: boyhood, adolescence, and manhood. Then I asked Crawford to come up and speak to the men for 10 minutes about the mentoring step. Then I asked Brother Paul to come up and speak about how his dad was a patriarch and how these men should aspire to the patriarch step. What a great way to challenge men. Both Crawford and Brother Paul were in rare form and the men gave both of them standing ovations!

The Atlanta Mission created a Stepping Up Graduation Certificate, signed and displayed in a nice oak frame. We then had each man come up to receive his recognition. There were cheers, handshakes, high fives, hugs, and words from Crawford, Brother Paul, and me of how proud we were of each man.

We met men who shared incredible stories.

  • One man said his dad has been in jail his whole life and that he never met him until he was 25. His mom would go get high on drugs and leave him and his siblings for weeks. He was six at the time.
  • Another man could hardly wait to go home for Christmas.  It was the first time he had accomplished something that he had received a certificate for, and he was going to give it to his mom as a gift, because he knew she would be proud of it.
  • A father with four sons, whose wife died 12 years ago, said he’s trying to be the dad they never had.
  • Man after man told how he was separated from his wife and children by his poor choices and was determined to get his wife and family back. For each one, this was the step of responsibility he was determined to make after completing the series.
  • Some men had no wife, no children, no living relatives. No family. These men understood after going through the series that they had no person they were responsible for, and they wanted to change that.
  • A dad with four daughters felt he needed to interview his daughter’s date.

I could go on, but one last one.

If you’ve seen the tenth Stepping Up video session, you may recall how Brother Paul shared the story of his father, who as a young fireman was unwilling to shake a black man’s hand. He then talked about his father’s subsequent conversion, his life change, and then how God used him to touch thousands of African-American boys, young men, and men. It’s a great story of redemption.

Well, one of the staff members for The Mission watched that session and, pierced by the Holy Spirit, recognized that his family was just like that–filled with racism.  He repented and confessed his sin of bigotry.

Jim Reece tells me that the men haven’t stopped talking about how honored they felt that night. And I certainly felt honored to read the following in an email I received from him:

“As I look over my six years here, this night was one of the highlights of that time. To watch men who had captured a new vision of what God could do through them was so powerful.  Know how hard you fight for the family, know that Stepping Up is impacting families, not just well families but broken families, families with a chance for a new start with men who really want to be a different man.”

Whether it’s at Wrightsville Prison in Arkansas, or at The Atlanta Mission, men are men.  Broken.  Selfish.  Needing redemption that can only be found in our Savior. Regardless of their station in life, men want to discover and be the men, husbands, fathers, and grandfathers that God created them to be.

The Father has been sowing seeds lately in soil most people have passed off as barren. Only He knows the full extent of the apple harvest yet to come.

© 2014 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading “Sowing seeds in the souls of men” on FamilyLife’s Stepping Up blog for men.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistCan you think of any man who may not be stepping up because he needs someone to show him how?

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistIf you’re a dad, are you “Defining the Search for Manhood” for your son? Dennis Rainey talks about it on FamilyLife Today.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistFind a group of men you can walk with through the 10-week Stepping Up small group video series.

6 sentences your child needs to hear from you



Editor’s Note: Those of us who have parented at least one child from newborn to early adulthood recognize the power of the parent-child relationship in developing the confidence and character needed to make it in the world.

As he so often does, Mark Merrill boils down the process to a few easy-to-remember, easy-to-do phrases that can make all the difference in the life of a child, now and into their adult years.

6SentencesChildNeedsIn raising our five children, Susan and I have tried to consistently convey to each of them these 6 short sentences. We’ve done it with our words and our actions. And, as I write this post, I’m realizing I need to say these things even more because they can’t be said enough.

Saying these 6 short sentences will give your child a strong sense of security, identity, belonging, and value.

1. “I’m here for you.”

Being available for your children is incredibly important. They may not need you when you tell them this, but they’ll remember you promised to be available to them when they need you the most. This sentence is more than just giving them permission to find you when the going gets rough … it’s an invitation to them. It tells them, “I will do whatever I can to help you whenever you need me.”

2. “I’m proud of you.”

Some middle-aged men I’ve talked to have never heard, or have waited years to hear, their dads say “I’m proud of you.” And many of them thought if they just performed better, if they just made it big in sports, or if they just had a thriving money-making career, their dads just might notice. Ladies and gentlemen, please don’t make your kids wait. Tell them today.

3. “I believe in you.”

Remember back to your teen and early adult years? How confident were you in yourself? And how confident are you today in yourself? Self-doubt and second-guessing come with the territory of being human. And you can be a great source of support to your child through these struggles. Your children need to know that somebody somewhere in this world believes in them and their immeasurable value.

4. “I want the best for you.”

This sentence has a couple of benefits. First, it tells your children that you have a purpose behind your parenting. They may not understand how you see “what’s best” … and they may not even agree with you, but they will hopefully start to appreciate it over time as they see you working hard to do what’s in their best interests. I have often said to each of my kids, “I’m doing this or saying this because I always have your best interests at heart.” And they know they can always trust me. Second, it puts you in their corner. Again, they may not always see how your ideas, your standards, or your consequences are really for their benefit, but giving them this regular reminder at least assures them, in the depths of their hearts, that you are for them, not against them.

5. “I will stand with you.”

I saw a video recently of a dad dancing with his daughter at a talent show. The girl had a severe and rare disorder that keeps her from having almost any muscle tone, control, or physical abilities of her own. But as her dad picked her up out of her chair and danced around the stage, her nearly inexpressive face suddenly blossomed with a huge smile. This girl knows that her dad is willing to risk embarrassment, harassment, or scorn from any person in order to be counted with her. This sentence tells your children that you are willing to be identified with them even when they’ve made a mistake or have to do hard things.

6. “I love you.”

This is, quite simply, a sentence that cannot be said too many times. Big family moment? “I love you.” Quiet and quick goodnight? “I love you.” Dropping them off at school or a job? “I love you.” Just for no particular reason at all in the middle of the day? “I love you.”

© 2014, Mark Merrill. All rights reserved. Originally published at www.MarkMerrill.com.

 

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just read a guest post, “6 sentences your child needs to hear from you,” which first appeared on MarkMerrill.com.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistHas your child heard any of these sentences from you recently? How did they react? Tell us your story.

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistDetermine to say at least one of these sentences to each of your kids this week. Add more each week until it’s a habit.

STEPPass - 10-point checklist

Pass this article along to your wife or a fellow dad. Keep each other accountable to speak life into your kids.

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