Posts in category Cultural issues

Being an extraordinary man



JeffBeExtraordinaryInterviewJeff Kemp was recently interviewed by Crystal Berger of Fox News Radio for her segment of  Extraordinary.”

Jeff offers some words of encouragement about the future of the country, and the identity that is at the core of that transformation. What is in the making of an extraordinary man?

CRYSTAL: [Jeff Kemp] says the way to fixing America’s problems is by fixing families. Jeff’s community-based non-profit, FamilyLife, focuses on developing strong men.

JEFF: The root of problems with kids is parents, and the root of parents’ problems is that they didn’t get raised well themselves and that they don’t know how to make a marriage work. I don’t think we can fix the problems in America if we don’t fix manhood. In doing that, we can define “manhood” as a partnership with women to raise the next generation.

CRYSTAL:  Jeff’s father, former NFL quarterback and congressman Jack Kemp, helped him identify his purpose. His dad’s message of making your life count stuck with him.

JEFF: My dad mentored me in the sense that he gave me a lot of encouragement to be a leader and to make your life count for others.  During the off-season of the NFL as a backup quarterback, I realized, gosh, “I may never get to be the starter I wanted to be and win a Super Bowl, I’ve got to use these off-seasons for good.”

CRYSTAL: While playing professional football, Jeff realized that not everyone had a strong male role model. He now spearheads Men Stepping Up, an Internet movement that prompts courageous men to serve families when fathers are absent.

JEFF: In most cases, manhood is actually bestowed in the company of other men. A single mom needs to put her son in the company of uncles and grandpas, a pastor, a priest, a rabbi, a football coach — a mentor.

CRYSTAL: Jeff says the key to stepping up is first finding yourself.

JEFF: I remember being benched one time and going from first string to third string in one half of a game. I did an interview with someone afterwards and she asked about how you survive something like that.  I said, “It’s hard, but I remember that my identity is that I’m God’s son, and it doesn’t matter whether I’m first string or third string. My identity isn’t as a quarterback who knows God and follows him, but as a man who knows God and follows him, who happens to play quarterback.

CRYSTAL: He hopes that once a man knows who he is, then he can lead by example.

JEFF: We men need to look around to see what kid on our team doesn’t have a dad, and bring him to our house for dinner. We need to look to see who is it that hasn’t been shown what it is to be a man. Let me hang out with him — invite him to coffee, invite him to lunch. Churches need to go out of their way to make the ministry to men their primary thing. You can’t fix marriages and families if you don’t help men understand their identity.

CRYSTAL: Jeff’s message for men who don’t use their role for good?

JEFF: You can be a little boy and go consume from lots of girls. You can have a baby by someone and leave them. Or you can say “I’m going to save my best for one woman.”

CRYSTAL: Jeff gives hope to men who have lost their way.

JEFF: Our strength was made to be used to protect and bless others. We aren’t meant to be consumers; men are meant to be investors. So I urge men to ask God to help you to start reading the Bible to learn what He says, to get your identity, and to pray with your wife, if you’re married.

CRYSTAL: Jeff acknowledges that prioritizing what matters is often times hard. He says that there’s only one thing that matters when it comes to being a man.

JEFF: What’s more important is “Who are you?” Who you are is different than the stuff you accomplished and the trophies you’ve gotten. It’s more than the money you have or the car you drive. Who you are is who God says you are.

© 2015 Fox News Radio.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading “Being an extraordingary man” on the Stepping Up blog for men. 

STEPThink - 10-point checklistJeff Kemp discusses “Life Lessons From the Football Field” on the FamilyLife Today radio broadcast. 

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistRead more about how to triumph in the face of adversity by reading Jeff Kemp’s Book, Facing the Blitz.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistHelp other men become extraordinary by leading a group through the Stepping Up 10-week study.

The courage of convictions



courage of convictions

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

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

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

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

Or so he thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Priorities and consequences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

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

Woodlawn: The power of reconciliation



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

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

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

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

A high school football field in Birmingham, Alabama.

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

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

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Life-changing power

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

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

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

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

Yearning for hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

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

 

Interviewing Mister Maybe



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

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

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

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

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

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

Interviewing Mister Maybe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

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

Men are back, at least for today



Men are back in vogue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

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

The Good News Bears



Good News Bears

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

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

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

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

That’s where the story starts with my dad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

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

How to make the family meal the norm



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

Mind your manners

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

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

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

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

Recent family fun at our dinner table.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

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Capturing the elusive family meal



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

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

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

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

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

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

Living in the real world

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

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

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

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

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

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

© FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

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

How to avoid moral failure



EDITOR’S NOTE: This post appeared in the blog feed for The Gospel Coalition addressed to those in ministry, but the lesson from these failed pastors is instructive to every man. How does a man protect himself from moral failure?

During my time in seminary I took a leadership course taught by the late, great Howard Hendricks. As we studied the life of David, Hendricks shared a study he conducted with a group of men in full-time ministry who had fallen into a morally disqualifying sin.

NormandyLandingAt the time, I had only been a Christian for a few years, but unfortunately the subject was all too relevant. During my early days I had witnessed several men whom I loved and respected fall into serious sinful compromise. At one point in those days, the falls came so frequently I felt as if I was on the spiritual beach of Normandy watching buddies’ lives get blown apart all around me.

Fallen Soldiers of Christ

The study examined 246 men in full-time ministry who experienced moral failure within a two-year period. As far as Hendricks could discern, these full-time clergy were born-again followers of Jesus. Though they shared a common salvation, these men also shared a common feat of devastation; they had all, within 24 months of each other, been involved in an adulterous relationship.

After interviewing each man, Hendricks compiled four common characteristics of their lives:

  • None of the men was involved in any kind of real personal accountability.
  • Each of the men had all but ceased having a daily time of personal prayer, Bible reading, and worship.
  • More than 80 percent of the men became sexually involved with the other woman after spending significant time with her, often in counseling situations.
  • Without exception, each of the 246 had been convinced that sort of fall “would never happen to me.”

As I reflect on this study, four lessons come to mind. These are applicable for pastors, plumbers, stay-at-home moms, and anyone else who seeks to follow Christ.

1. Sin thrives in isolation.

Satan lives in the darkness and longs to keep us there. Lies live best in the darkness. That’s why when God calls us to himself, he calls us into the church.

God has created the church to be many things, including a community of people who help each other fight sin and love him. He calls us into relationships where we speak truth to one another (Eph. 4:1525), confess sins to one another (James 5:16), and love each other enough to chase after each other if we stray (Matt. 18:10-20Gal. 6:1-2James 5:19-20).

Who knows you? I mean, who really knows you? Who not only has permission, but is currently acting upon that permission to ask you penetrating questions? Are you answering those questions honestly, or are you hiding details and painting over your sin to guard your image? Do not hide from God’s gracious aid of loving relationships.

2. If you flirt with sin, you will fall into sin.

Sin’s slope is slippery. The longer you walk along the edge of the abyss, the more likely that your foot will slip. The men in the study put themselves in dangerous situations again and again. They ignored the words of Solomon, who warned his sons to “keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house” (Prov. 5:8).

These men did not guard their hearts, or the hearts of the people they were supposed to be protecting. Instead, they became blinded by the deceitfulness of sin (Eph. 4:22Heb. 3:13) and were led into the ditch of destruction (Matt. 15:14).

What ways are you flirting with sin? What provisions are you making for the flesh with regard to lust (Rom. 13:14)? What guards have you stepped over? What details are you hiding? What e-mails are you deleting? What search histories are you erasing?

Sin is crouching at your door (Gen. 4:7), and the tempter is looking for an opportunity to pounce (1 Pet. 5:8). How are you making his aim easier?

Flee from sin, don’t flirt with it (Gen. 39:6-12; Prov. 5-7, Rom. 6:12-132 Tim. 2:221 Pet. 2:11).

3. Pride blinds us to our weakness.

Many of us think this sort of serious sin would not happen to us, just as those fallen pastors thought. But 1 Corinthians 10:12 warns, “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” Let us not forget that Samson, the strongest man in the Bible; Solomon, the wisest man in the Bible; and David, the man after God’s own heart, were all overcome by the temptations of sexual sin (Judg. 14-16; 1 Kings 11:1-8; 2 Sam. 11-12; Ps. 51). No one is above the temptation to sin in grievous ways. If you doubt, you are on your way to a great fall.

Beware! Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”

4. Purity is cultivated by loving Jesus.

Somewhere along the line, each of the men in the study began to drift. Prayers became less passionate. The promises of God in his Word grew dusty. Love for Jesus became something spoken of in the past tense. The seduction of sin and enticement to sacrifice all to satisfy inner longings became too strong to resist.

But Christ is stronger. Hear these words of promise afresh:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:14–16)

There is no sweeter assurance of help than Christ Jesus the Lord. He stands ready at God’s right hand to supply the grace and mercy we need.

Do not allow your hearts to grow cold toward the Lord who loves you so. Draw near to him daily, moment by moment, in hopeful expectation that he is better than any fleeting pleasure that might entice your heart. Do not seek him only in days of desperation, but seek him daily. Walk with him. Rekindle passion. Plead with him to help you. He is able to do it, and he delights to do it:

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen (Jude 24-25).

Come Lord Jesus, come.

© 2015 by Garrett Kell. All rights reserved.

KellGarrettGarrett Kell came to know the Lord through the witness of a friend and the ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ while a student at Virginia Tech, and later received his ThM from Dallas Theological Seminary. He currently serves as Lead Pastor of Del Ray Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia. Garrett and Carrie have four children, Eden, Haddon, Phoebe, and Graham. Follow him on Twitter.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading “How to avoid moral failure” by guest blogger Garrett Kell on the Stepping Up blog for men.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistWhich one idea can you implement TODAY to keep you from wandering down the road toward moral failure?

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistHave you suffered a moral failure. Sam and Toni Gallucci tell about their road to redemption on FamilyLife Today.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistJoin with other men to keep each other strong by going though the Stepping Up Small Group Video Series together.

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?

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