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Happy 394th Thanksgiving



How’s your Thanksgiving history? Here’s a refresher on the important dates in the history of our country.

As some accounts go, one day in the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims were preparing for a feast to celebrate the harvest. The men went out to shoot game for the meal, but when Wampanoag scouts heard the sound of gunfire, they were concerned that their new immigrant neighbors might be planning an attack.

Chief Massasoit and 90 of his men visited the Pilgrim encampment, and found out that they were simply hunting in preparation for the feast. The chief ordered his men to pitch in with some of their own game, and for three days, the Pilgrims and Wampanog feasted on deer, shellfish, corn, and other roasted meat. What? No turkey, stuffing, or cranberries?

Of course, the Pilgrims being the Pilgrims certainly must have given thanks to God for the provision, but the first recorded instance of a “Thanksgiving” meal was two years later, when the Pilgrims thanked Him for ending a two-month-long drought.

Fast forward 166 years and the land is officially the United States of America. On October 3, 1789, newly-appointed President George Washington signed a resolution of Congress recognizing Thursday, November 26 to be a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer” to the Almighty, not just for food, but for the blessings of a government that respects the individual and his freedoms as being from God. Here is the text of the proclamation.

ThanksgivingBy the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor — and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be — That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks —for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation — for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war — for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed — for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted — for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions — to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually — to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed — to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord — To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us — and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go: Washington

The next few presidents issued similar proclamations until 1815, then silence. And then, 75 years to the day after Washington’s initial document, President Abraham Lincoln reinstituted the day in 1863 after two years of Civil War. With that proclamation, people were not just encouraged to spend a day of Thanksgiving, but it became an official national holiday. Here’s the text.

Thanksgiving 2By the President of the United States of America. 

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

And so, from that day until now, Thanksgiving has been celebrated as an official holiday on the last Thursday of November. Well, that is, except for the years of “Franksgiving,” from 1939-1941. On the tail end of the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt felt that moving Thanksgiving back to the third week of November would spur Christmas shopping and, thus, the economy. (And you thought Black Friday was a recent invention.)

After years of pressure from Congress, Roosevelt made Thanksgiving officially the fourth week of November in 1942.

So there you have it. The history of Thanksgiving.

But there are some older proclamations you might want to use yourself this Thanksgiving day. Below are some Scripture verses of thanksgiving to God. Consider dividing these verses among the people at your dinner table, having each person read one, then closing with your own prayer of thanksgiving.

1 Chronicles 16:8 – Oh give thanks to the LORD, call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples.

1 Chronicles 16:34 – O give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.

Psalm 28:7 – The LORD is my strength and my shield; My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped; Therefore my heart exults, And with my song I shall thank Him.

Psalm 34:1 – I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.

Psalm 69:30 – I will praise the name of God with song, And shall magnify Him with thanksgiving.

Psalm 95:1-6 – O Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. For the LORD is a great God, And a great King above all gods, In whose hand are the depths of the earth; The peaks of the mountains are His also. The sea is His, for it was He who made it; And His hands formed the dry land. Come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.

Psalm 100:4 – Enter His gates with thanksgiving, And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him; bless His name.

Psalm 107:29-32 – He caused the storm to be still, So that the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad because they were quiet; So He guided them to their desired haven. Let them give thanks to the LORD for His lovingkindness, And for His wonders to the sons of men! Let them extol Him also in the congregation of the people, And praise Him at the seat of the elders.

Jonah 2:9 – But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving.  That which I have vowed I will pay Salvation is from the LORD.”

Colossians 2:6-7 – Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.

Colossians 3:15 – And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.

1 Timothy 4:4-5 – For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 – In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

An All-American hero



SteinmarkBenchIt was called “The Game of the Century” back in 1969. #1 Texas visiting #2 Arkansas in a contest that wouldn’t just determine the winner of the old Southwest Conference, but the National Champion. It was such a big game that the President of the United States was in attendance.

But even bigger than that, it was the last game for Longhorn safety Freddie Steinmark. The undersized player with a never-quit attitude toughed it through the final game of the season, but finally admitted that the knee pain he’d been dealing with all season wasn’t getting any better. In fact, it was getting a lot worse.

When he finally went to see the university’s bone and joint specialist, the doctor was surprised Freddie was even able to walk, much less play football. But that was the indomitable spirit of Freddie Steinmark.

Very few football fans even recognize the name Freddie Steinmark. He never played in the NFL. He’s not in the College Football Hall of Fame. He was never even an All-American. In fact, the 5-9, 155-pound Colorado prep product only received one college offer. Every other school passed him by as too small. But Texas head coach Darrell Royal couldn’t ignore what he saw on Freddie’s high school game film—heart, determination, and a team spirit.

He sounds a lot like the main character from the movie, Rudy,  doesn’t he? He did to Angelo Pizzo, who wrote the script for that movie as well as another inspiring sports classic, Hoosiers. And now, Pizzo is making his directorial debut with his new movie and script, My All-American, the Freddie Steinmark story.

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Whatever Freddie Steinmark did, he did it with a good attitude, with all his effort. As a student, he kept a 4.0 average. As a player, he was the first sophomore to start at safety for Texas. He not only won the position, but inspired those around him to work harder, not for personal gain, but for the good of the team. Freddie Steinmark was a big-picture, big-future kind of guy.

Unfortunately, his future was cut short in his prime. He had always dreamed of playing for the University of Notre Dame. And the final game of his junior year could finally be his opportunity to show Notre Dame what they passed. The Longhorns were preparing to play the Fighting Irish on New Year’s Day in the Cotton Bowl. But because of aggressive cancer, Freddie was only allowed to be a spectator.

But he was still the game’s hero. Texas rallied after halftime to defeat Notre Dame 21-17, and in the locker room after the game, Coach Royal and the team presented Steinmark the game ball. The Fighting Irish may have had “The Gipper,” but Texas won this one for Freddie.

Much of Freddie Steinmark’s life had been football, but the revelation now that he would never play the game again didn’t mean that Freddie was ready to give up. The off-the-field story was that he became an aggressive crusader for cancer research, even gaining the ear of President Nixon, who eventually signed a bill that declared national war on the disease. It became law just a few months after Freddie lost his battle with the disease.

Days after the Game of the Century, Freddie had been given just a few months to live. Maybe it was by his determination, but he managed to push it back another 17 months. He died in June of 1971, almost exactly a year after Chicago Bears running back Brian Piccolo also succumbed to cancer.

My All-American has some of the same elements as Brian’s Song, the movie based on Piccolo’s story, which grabbed the heart of the country when it was released as a made-for-TV movie in late 1971. It extols the virtues of being a team player, maintaining a can-do spirit, and of the importance of playing for a greater cause. Plus, the end of the movie is a real tear-jerker.

The Freddie Steinmark story lacks the high-profile actors, outstanding musical score, and the depth of Brian’s Song, but it has a good heart. And the film’s financial backers insisted that it be true to life, so the viewer really gets to relive football history, and is treated to some great game action sequences as well.

One of the factually-accurate aspects of the film is the language. Despite it’s PG rating, a fair peppering of salty words probably make it inappropriate for younger audiences. For families of teens, it’s a better bet. In fact, the bond between Freddie and his parents, and the wholesome portrayal of the relationship with his girlfriend, Linda, lend to the overall positive message of the film.

The film may not become one of your favorites, but learning the story of Freddie Steinmark should leave you with a lesson in character. Hard work, good attitude, big dreams, and selflessness can make you big enough for any task.

When does a boy become a man?



As part of the Stepping Up video series, we asked people passing by on the street different questions around the topic of manhood.  In this clip, we asked them, “When do you think a boy becomes a man?” There were some interesting responses; many had difficulty answering the question.

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So, when does a boy become a man?  The Apostle Paul gives us a hint:

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. (1 Corinthians 13:11, English Standard Version)

It’s interesting that this verse follows a very famous passage of Scripture, oft-quoted at weddings … the “love chapter” of 1 Corinthians 13.  I have been at many marriage ceremonies where this passage was read but never one where they read this verse (which follows directly after the “love is” verses).  Maybe if more marriage ceremonies included this verse there might be more attention drawn to becoming a man and turning away from childish things.

We don’t do “rite of passage” ceremonies very well in our culture.  Typically it’s assumed that by passing certain age milestones, or some of the major events in our lives, we “automagically” move into manhood.  Yet, as one woman said on the video (and correctly so), “There are some who are men at 15 and others who are still children at 40.”

Helping your boy become a man

If you are wanting to know how to help your son become a man, there are some good resources available to help you. FamilyLife has the Passport2Purity resource that allows you to have a discussion with your son about significant issues he’ll face as an adolescent that will move him to manhood.  Here are some other resources for you to check out:

If you are aware of any others that are biblically based and have made an impact on you or someone you know, share them here.

© 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

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You just read the post “When does a boy become a man?” on the Stepping Up men’s blog by FamilyLife

STEPThink - 10-point checklistSo when does a boy become a man? Is there a specific time when YOU consciously put away childish things?

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistMen help men grow up. Read Dave Boehi’s article, “Men Who Won’t Grow Up,” on FamilyLife.com. 

STEPPass - 10-point checklistSeriously consider organizing a Stepping Up 10-week study so together you can grow as men in godliness.

Awful advice from Mister Wonderful



MrWonderfulSharkTankIf you’ve ever watched the show Shark Tank then you’re familiar with Kevin O’Leary, or as he calls himself, “Mister Wonderful.” Even though he plays it up a bit for the cameras, he’s still pretty much a cold-blooded, shrewd and self-absorbed person who loves money more than anything else in this world. If that last sentence was your first introduction to Mr. Wonderful then I’m sure I sound a bit harsh. In a recent article he was asked what it takes for him to pick an entrepreneur to work with and his answer will shed additional light on his worldview:

“Any entrepreneur on my team needs to understand that the goal is always cash flow, and they must be willing to do anything to keep the money rolling in. I don’t care if that means missing your kid’s birthday party or your 25th anniversary for an important business meeting.”

He explains further the philosophy for this attitude: “The reason you pursue an entrepreneurial career is to one day provide financial freedom for yourself and your family. The only way to achieve freedom in your career is by amassing wealth and the only way for entrepreneurs to reach this point is by giving their full devotion to growing their business, accepting all of the sacrifices that come with the approach.”

At the present moment the guy’s worth $300 million. I’m not sure how much you need in the bank to reach his definition of “financial freedom for yourself and your family” but I would probably say $300 million would suffice. I’d even be content with $299 million, personally. Yet he keeps missing birthdays and anniversaries for this so called freedom.

In a way I feel sorry for him. At some point he’ll look back on his life and wonder what the purpose of it was. He gave his life for amassing cash but in the end there’s no way to spend it all, and having destroyed his relationships with his kids, wife, and perhaps a friend or two, there’s nobody to enjoy it with. On the outside he looks like he’s living the dream with fancy cars, big houses, private jets, but on the inside it has to be so empty. God did not create us to be fulfilled by these things.

Solomon, in addition to being the wisest man ever, was also one of the wealthiest men to ever live. He says in Ecclesiastes 2:10-11,

“I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”

Note to self: When we run after things that are not part of God’s plan for our lives we will find ourselves empty and grasping after air.

After reading the article, it made me take a quick inventory of my life. Kevin’s trying to accumulate money, what am I running after? He’s willing to miss birthdays and anniversaries, and he certainly wouldn’t blink an eye at missing his kid’s sporting events or recitals. Are there things in my life – job, hobby, “needed downtime” – that are causing me to miss out on the same things he is? Even though I’m not pursing money like he is, are there other things in my life that I’m going after that need some re-calibration?

When it comes right down to it, this life is about relationships. Having a healthy and growing marriage, having a deep relationship with my kids, living life with other people, that’s way more valuable than anything else out there.

This post originally appeared in the Noah Gets a Nailgun blog© 2015. Used with permission.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished Todd Nagel’s post, “Awful advice from Mister Wonderful,” on the Stepping Up blog for men.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistWhat are you running after? Adding to the bank account? A bigger retirement? Or enjoying your family?

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistSometimes it’s not having more money but “Managing the Family Finances better.” Hear the broadcast.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistShare this post with another father and husband, and challenge each other to review your priorities.

What it means to ‘act like men’



1 Corinthians 16:13-14 is a passage that’s always intrigued me. If ever there was a passage designed specifically for guys, this would have to be it.

“Be watchful. Stand firm in the faith. Act like men. Be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.”

 What more could a guy ask for? Two verses. Straight to the point. Five very short, direct commands.

Recently, I had been digging into the passage, trying to plumb the depth of truth in those two verses in the original language. I thought it would be quick, but there’s so much there, I ended up having to put it aside for when I had more uninterrupted study time.

Before I could get back to it, wouldn’t you know it, FamilyLife Today had a radio broadcast on that very passage. If you’ve ever seen the Stepping Up video series, you may remember James MacDonald giving a quick, to-the-point, teaching session on this passage. If you haven’t seen it, here it is.

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On the FamilyLife Today broadcast, however, he dives deeper as he talks to a group of men at his home church in Chicago, Harvest Bible Chapel. I’ve excerpted a few pieces here to whet your appetite so you’ll listen to both days of the broadcast.

We have to act like men, and the first part of that is to “be watchful.” It’s the idea of—in old times, there were these ancient cities that were surrounded by walls. The men had the responsibility to keep the barbarians out. In the fortified city, the people (in this instance: your wife, your children, your family) could only rest because they knew that the watchman was awake and was on the wall.

It’s time for us to quit being so passive, and step up—as we’re being challenged today—and do something! God help us to be watchful over our homes! 

Act like a man! Hang up the phone, get off the couch, shut off your computers, stop tinkering in the garage; and act like a man! Your son needs you / your daughter needs you. So be watchful.

Then, this—it means: “Be strong.” Actually, the Greek here is a passive voice, which means, actually—this is very instructive—it means: “Be strengthened.” This is not an exhortation to be the world’s strongest man: “How much can you bench press? How big are your biceps and your shoulders?” This is not an exhortation to be macho; alright? This means: “Be strengthened in your inner man/ in your soul,”—listen—“in your character, in your integrity, in your fidelity to the truth.”

Of course, in Scripture, Christ is our strength. This isn’t an exhortation to try harder. Do you hear me? This is not an exhortation to try harder! “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. [Philippians 4:13]” Jesus Christ is the strength to live the Christian life! It’s not like He stands over there—“Thank You for saving me. Now watch me go live an awesome life for You,”—alright? “As you received the Lord, so walk in Him…[Colossians 2:6]” Christ is the way to salvation / Christ is the strength to live the Christian life.

So “Act like men,” means be strengthened. Keep that relationship strong. The best way I know to be strong is to admit your weakness. Admit your weakness. Paul said, “When I am weak, then I am strong.”  [2 Corinthians 12:10]

Check out the rest of the two-day broadcast on this passage. Then go out and 

Act like men.

© 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading the post, “What it means to ‘act like men'” on the Stepping Up blog for guys. 

STEPThink - 10-point checklistWrite the passage down and put it in a prominent place at home or work, then commit it to memory.

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistTo go even deeper, read James MacDonald’s book, Act Like Men: 40 Days to Biblical Manhood.    

STEPPass - 10-point checklistGet with a group of other men to go through the 10-week video study, Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood. 

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.

 

Finding Noah



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

Interviewing Mister Maybe



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

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

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

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

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

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

Interviewing Mister Maybe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

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

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