Posts in category Character

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.

Do something great



Do something greatTwo weeks ago I joined “Tarzan” for a bike ride. His real name is Kurt Searvogel, and he is attempting to set a new world record for the most miles ridden on a bike in a year. The current record extends back to 1939, when Tommy Goodwin rode 75,065 to beat the previous record by almost 10,000 miles. In order to beat Tommy’s record, Kurt has to average 206 miles a day, every day, for an entire year. That’s riding a bike for 12-13 hours a day, every day. Ouch. So far he’s on track to beat the record, with just a couple of months to go. You can track his daily updates on his Facebook page.

So I joined him for 20 miles of the 205 miles he did that day. He lives just down the street from me, and I wanted to join him because of what an inspiration he’s been to me lately.

A couple of weeks ago, I awoke one morning feeling particularly slugish, apathetic, pathetic, pitiful, lazy, and uninterested in even lifting my head from the pillow. It was the first chilly day of the year and I just wanted to stay in bed all day.

Then it hit me.

Tarzan got out of bed that morning and he got on his bike. It didn’t matter if he wanted to or not. It didn’t matter that it was cold. It didn’t matter that it was a seemingly impossible task. He did it. He got on the bike and he started peddling. Because he wants to do something great – to set a world record.

Now, you may think he’s crazy – that it’s a silly thing or meaningless thing to pursue. And maybe you’re right. Maybe there are better ways he could spend his time. At this point, he might even agree with you. But here’s the phrase that kept coming to my mind that day:

“DO SOMETHING GREAT.”

Do something great. Get on that bike – metaphoricaly – and do something. Knock something of importance out of the park. And that was a huge encouragement to get the day going and do something of significance. It’s easy to get overwhlemed by the big questions of life – am I significant – does my life count – does it matter. But the only way that question gets answered is by getting on the bike and pedaling. It’s the accumulation of each pedal stroke that answers the question.

As men, you have an awesome opportunity to do something great. What will it be?

This post originally appeared in the Noah Gets a Nail Gun blog. © 2015. All rights reserved.

What makes a hero?



VillageHutsWhat makes a hero? What makes one man stand out above another?

Let me tell you a story of two brothers, Herbert and James. Raised in a godly home with two other siblings, they came to Christ at a young age. In their 20s, each young man committed himself to a life of Christian service. In fact both of them ended up following a call to the South American mission field — Bert to the central part of the continent, followed a few years later by Jim to the north.

That’s where their paths diverged, not just geographically, but in just about every way imaginable.

You see, missionary work is hard. It’s not for the faint of heart. Living among people of a different language and culture, with different customs and values, requires a lot. Add to that the hardships, long stretches away from family and friends, and the threat of illness and danger, and it’s a wonder that anyone lasts for long. The best Bible and missions training — which each man had — is often not enough to prepare you for what you will face on the field.

Despite the best of intentions and the best of preparation, Jim lasted less than a week at the place where he felt God called him to serve. Not even close to enough time to learn the language and culture, much less share the gospel and raise up a local gathering of believers.

Bert, on the other hand, went on to serve 62 years on the same foreign mission field. With his wife Colleen, they planted more than 170 churches in Peru before he passed away on that very mission field at age 87.

So which one is the hero, James or Bert? It depends on how you define hero?

Do a Google search for Herbert Elliot; you won’t find a Wikipedia page. The results you do find are generally from obscure or low-traffic websites or blogs.

Nothing like the media attention Bert’s younger brother Jim Elliot and his four co-laborers received when they were martyred by the very Auca tribesmen they came to reach for Christ. The five men were only five days on the ground near the tribal village in early January, 1956 before being killed. Before the month was out, Life magazine’s 10-page spread let the world know about the men and their sacrifice, and the wives and children left behind.

Both Jim and Bert followed God’s call to give their lives on their respective mission fields. God used them both, but in very different ways. Because of their heroism, countless people came to know the life-changing power of Jesus Christ. Jim never planted a church as he had hoped to do, but his wife Elisabeth and Rachel Saint (sister of another of the men killed) continued the work by returning to the Auca tribe to tell the people there about the grace and mercy of God, and about how Jesus laid down his life so that others might live.

When his brother died, Bert was on furlough. During that time, he did some soul searching, trying to understand why God doesn’t protect all those who commit their lives to his service. It was during that time that God gave Bert the spiritual insight that became the motivation for his remaining years of service in Peru. “It’s in dying that we’re born to eternal life. It’s not maintaining our lives, but giving our lives,” that is God’s purpose in our serving.

Bert wasn’t the only person inspired to heroism by Jim Elliot. In the years following Jim’s death, countless men and women gave their lives to Christ and committed their lives to foreign mission service because of the conviction of Bert’s younger brother. Through Jim Elliot’s sacrifice and immortal words they recognized the eternal significance of a life lived for God.

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” – Jim Elliot

God doesn’t call all of us to be heroes, only to be faithful. But a life fully given to Him is always a heroic thing. How He chooses to use us will vary as greatly as it did for Jim and Bert, but in the end, He will be glorified, others will be impacted, and we will be changed.

Bert had many decades to reflect on why God chose to use him the way he did, and Jim in a totally different way.

“While my brother Jim was like a comet streaking across the sky which caught the attention of those on earth, God chose [me] to serve in a different capacity as one of the many dim stars from earth’s viewpoint — stars which are countless in the vast universe.  There are many who consistently shine as lights where God has put them but never achieve the recognition that has come to Jim Elliot and the other four Christian martyrs at that time.  But God chooses to use both a few streaking comets and the many stars!”

Whether you shine brightly like a comet before the world like Jim did that one day in Ecuador 1956, or rise and fall like a dim star, night after night for 22,000 nights in Peru like Bert, remember that heroism isn’t just for our brief days in this life, but for life eternal.

“And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” – Daniel 12:3

(HT: Randy Alcorn and Trevin Wax for sharing the story of Bert Elliot with the world)

© 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading the post about Jim and Bert Elliot,“What makes a hero?”  on the Stepping Up men’s blog.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistListen to Jim Elliot’s widow, Elisabeth, retell the events of January 1956 when the five men became national heroes.

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistHow can unspeakable tragedy lead to a life of courage? Elisabeth Elliot shares her story on FamilyLife Today.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistJim Ryun and his sons talk about Heroes Among Us, people who lived by principles and changed history.

“Shut up legs!”



JensVoigtAs a young boy in Germany, Jens Voight was a math prodigy who once put “Attack!” in every blank space on one of his math tests. It would be the wrong answer for everyone else but Jens got away with it. Hmmm. Perhaps he’s actually the World’s Most Interesting Man? This is how Jens has faced any situation he has had to fight through … Attack. This served him well as a professional bicycle racer. Although he never stood atop the podium in Champ-Elysees at the end of the Tour de France, he did wear the yellow jersey on two occasions. What he is probably most famous for is the phrase, “ Shut up legs!”

It was during an interview with a Danish TV station during the Tour de France when they asked him how he keeps going when his legs are burning and he’s worn out. He said, “I simply tell my legs to shut up and do what I’m telling you to do.”

There’s a spiritual parallel we can pull from that statement. There are times in our lives where we simply need to say “shut up” to whatever is distracting us and continue on with what we need to be doing. It’s especially a good phrase to use with our enemy, Satan. As blogger, Morgan Synder says, “I am staggered by the level of naïveté that most people live with regarding evil. They don’t take it seriously. They don’t live as though the Story has a Villain. Not the devil prancing about in red tights, carrying a pitchfork, but the incarnation of the very worst of every enemy you’ve met in every other story. Life is very confusing if you do not take into account that there is a Villain. You, my friend, have an Enemy.”

This Enemy of ours is out to destroy us. And destroy us by any means. He does not play fair or follow any rules other than doing anything to bring you – and your wife and kids – down. He’ll plant thoughts in your mind that are evil, lustful, and vengeful. He’ll tell you things that are untrue like, “You’re no good.” “You deserve to be punished for the sins you’ve done.” “You’re stupid and that’s why you never get promoted.” “You will never measure up.” This is just a very short list of things he’ll whisper in our ears. This is where we need to simply tell him to “Shut up!” These kinds of thoughts are against God’s plan for your life. Capture these thoughts when they come into your head, tell the Enemy he can shove it and then replace the lies with the Truth from God’s Word.

We also need to be on alert for our wife and kids. The Enemy will use the same tactics of using lies to destroy them as he does to us. The messages he sends will be different for each person but the plan of attack will be the same. He’ll tell your wife she isn’t pretty, she’s not doing a good job with the kids, or she isn’t as successful as other women. He’ll tell your kids they’re stupid because someone got a better grade or can read better than they can, that they aren’t talented because they were picked last for playground kickball or didn’t make the team, or he could go the other direction and fill them with pride, whispering how great they are, which also leads down an unhealthy path. We need to train our children to understand and be aware of the tactics of Satan, identify when he’s coming after them, and learn to fight off the attacks as they come into their minds.

As with a lot of things, if you want to win, you need a good offense in addition to a good defense. One of the best ways to be defensive against the Enemy is to be on the offensive. Stay in the Word, be connected with other believers, form a group of allies to battle with, and don’t entertain the thoughts Satan whispers in your ear. Know the truth about who you are, know what God desires of you and when your mind starts to play tricks on you with lies and temptations, be ready with a “Shut up, Satan!”

As a side note, when we are attacked and continue to give in to the temptation — whether it’s lust, alcohol, drugs, whatever — when we keep listening to and acting on the lies, it becomes a stronghold. With a stronghold, it will take more than just a simple “Shut Up” to gain victory. This is where it’s important to have allies in battle with you to fight with and for you.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading Todd Nagel’s post, “Shut up legs!”  on the Stepping Up blog for men.

STEPThink - 10-point checklist“Is Prayer Your First Response” when facing trials and temptations. Learn how to make it a regular discipline.

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistHelp your children develop spiritual discipline by teaching them with “A List of Scriptures from the Proverbs.” 

STEPPass - 10-point checklistA band of brothers can help you succeed in the day-to-day. Consider leading a group of men through Stepping Up.

Face blitzes with confidence



KempRamsSackRedskinsHaving played quarterback in college and 11 years in the NFL, I’ve been blindsided a few times. And I’ve definitely been hit by some blitzes that I wasn’t ready for — on the playing field, and in life. I know you have, too. That’s the way life is. Stuff happens that you just couldn’t have expected and it kind of came out of the blue.

Not too long ago, my wife and I came back from an appointment where we heard the doctor say, “We found a mass in your wife’s intestines, and we need to deal with it. We’re not sure, but it looks like it’s cancerous.”

That was a blitz.

But you know what was fascinating? One of the things about Stacy is that she knows the truth that Jesus tells us — that we’re going to get blitzed in this world. Scripture says:

“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace. In the world you have tribulation and distress and suffering, but be courageous [be confident, be undaunted, be filled with joy]; I have overcome the world.”[My conquest is accomplished, My victory abiding.] (John 16:33 Amplified Bible)

I kind of view that as him saying “Hey, in this world, you’re going to get blitzed; you’re going to get shocked; there’s going to be tough stuff. But don’t panic — I’m there. I’ve gone through it. I’ve conquered it.

JeffStacyKempYou know what I saw in Stacy? The faith, and the connection to God that says, “He’s in control. I can handle this.” And she handled it fabulously. We had tears. We had fear. Maybe it would be cancer. Maybe she would pass away early. But at the same time, we knew that God had a purpose in it. And so, she was an encouragement to other people and encouraged their faith during that time.

So when they come to you, face blitzes with confidence. There’s a designer God who has seen it all before, and He loves you and has gone through a bigger blitz than you ever will. For your sake.

Gameplan:

Jesus said, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33 (New Living Translation)

Time Out:

Is God’s peace based on circumstances or His presence? Think about this — if we placed 95% of our gratitude and hope in the perfect eternal life God has planned for those who accept Him, we’d be less panicked about stuff. If we read Scripture, we see how God has always been faithful and is sovereign over all of history, and that includes our exact situations.

Go Deep:

Read the story of Joseph and pay attention to the life and sayings of Saul who became the Apostle Paul. Are you willing to make the Bible your mental and emotional software for how to handle life?

Next time you’re in a car accident, or the market crashes, or a diagnosis like cancer hits, tell yourself the truth that God is good, in control, and cares for you, no matter the outcome.

Don’t panic. Pray for Jesus’ peace. Ask God to teach you about His sovereignty.

So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the LORD your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you (Deuteronomy 31:6 (New Living Translation).

This post originally appeared on Jeff Kemp’s Facing the Blitz blog © 2015.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading “Face Blitzes with Confidence” by Jeff Kemp on the Stepping Up blog for men.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistJeff  shares personal wisdom and advice about succeeding through life’s blitzes in his book, Facing the Blitz

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistGet Jeff Kemp’s Facing the Blitz video devotional blog posts delivered to your inbox each Monday.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistBlitzes are opportunities in disguise. Hear Jeff on FamilyLife Today, then tell a friend who’s facing a blitz of his own.

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.

You’re a tool



I was visiting a friend’s church recently. A short way into the sermon, the pastor stepped from behind his lectern, leaned toward the congregation and said to the individual members, “You’re a tool.”

He meant it as a compliment.

Typically today, if someone says that to you, you wouldn’t take it positively. They might even be fighting words. It implies that you’re a pawn; a stooge. It’s meant to say that you’re being used by someone for their own particular purposes.

But is that necessarily negative?

Tools are actually pretty handy whenever we have to build stuff or fix things. And specific tools are important. Ever tried doing a repair project without the right set of tools? If you’re anything like me, you ended up busting your knuckles, losing your temper, and wasting your time.

No, tools are actually good things. Let’s look at three things about tools and why you need to be one.

PegboardTools1. Tools are designed to be used. The pegboards in my garage are hung with lots of different tools: a couple of rakes, multiple kinds of screwdrivers, a plumber’s snake, a tape measure, a torque wrench, a leaf blower, and electrician’s pliers. Probably 99 percent of the time each tool just hangs there, serving no purpose at all. It’s only when I pick it up for a task that it takes on value.

Your life is the same way. You could just lay around, taking up oxygen, taking in food and drink, and taking up space. It’s not that you don’t have value. But it’s not until you are giving yourself toward a specific purpose that you prove what your value really is. God has created each of us men, not just to exist, but to be useful.

2. Tools are designed for a specific purpose. No two kinds of tools are the same, even when they’re simple tools. Ever look at the different kinds of hammers that exist? When all we need is a quick repair, the kind of hammer is not that important, but for special projects it makes all the difference. And that’s how the hammer’s differing features developed. You wouldn’t pick up a tack hammer to put on a new roof, or use a sledge hammer to reupholster a chair.

Some tools are cool, some are pretty bland. A high-powered, variable-speed cordless drill is cool. A drywall screw, not so much. But each has its value in the same job. When an ice storm took out our backyard privacy fence several years ago, I was so grateful to have the drill to make the big project go faster. Now, years later, my cordless drill is beat up and falling apart and the batteries are losing their usefulness. But the screws are right where I put them, perfectly holding up a very strong fence. Which one is the more useful now?

Knowing what kind of tool you are is important, and so is accepting what kind of tool you’re not. As a father, I’ve seen seven little babies grow and develop, watching in awe as their unique skills, talents, and attributes reveal themselves. Would I hold one child less valuable than another because of their design? What good father would?

One of the most difficult things I’ve faced as a father is seeing my children diminish their design. Maybe my daughter feels she’s not as pretty as the cool girl, or my son realizes he’s not as athletic as the popular guy. It’s been my job to remind my son that he has artistic talent that most could only dream about, or my daughter that she has the ability to light up any room with her personality.

Our children often feel that because someone else’s gift is more valued in their peer group, they need to change their design in an attempt to be valuable. Predictably when they’ve done this, they wither because they can’t compete on that level, and because they’re not developing the talent God gave them. Eventually, as they accept the way they’re made, they find satisfaction and fulfillment in becoming who they were meant to be. That’s the same with all of us.

My friend John started his career as a mechanical engineer. Sitting behind a desk all day started to wear away at him, though, and he looked for a way to get exercise. He decided to take up dance in his spare time. Not only did he enjoy it, but he became quite good, and eventually left his engineering job to join the Spokane Ballet. In discovering his design, he was also acknowledging his designer, and soon wanted to find a way to give his talent back to God. He later became one of the founding members of Ballet Magnificat!, which dances as a means of telling Christ’s redemption story to those who would otherwise not give any attention to spiritual things. Oh, and on the side, he’s also the tour bus mechanic.

3. Tools point to a designer. As we saw before, a hammer is not just a hammer by chance. Its design is intentional, each feature with a view toward a specific intention and purpose. You are chosen by God and are a powerful tool in his hands.

The Apostle Paul was a tool. Early on, when he was going throughout Israel persecuting Christians, he was a tool of the Pharisees. He thought he was serving God, when in fact he was opposing Him. But after God got Paul’s attention by striking him blind on the road to Damascus, he became a tool in the hands of the Master Designer. In fact, when God spoke in a vision to Christian leader Ananias (who Paul was probably intending to persecute), He said of Paul, “he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.” (Acts 9:15 ESV)

That New Testament Greek word for instrument can also be translated vessel, implement, utensil, gear, tackle … or tool. When speaking metaphorically of a person, it can mean a chosen man of quality, or it can be something like an evil minion. Paul traded one life for the other.

In writing to the Ephesian Christians, Paul uses a different word to convey the same meaning.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10 ESV)

The word literally means poem, masterpiece, or craftsmanship. Except, in this case, the emphasis is not on the tool, but on its designer. That word is only used one other time in the Bible, by Paul. He chose it to make the point that the heathens see the workmanship of God throughout creation, yet choose to worship the created thing rather than the craftsman.

As God’s tools, we tend to focus on what we are rather than Who created us and for what purpose. We may think that if we don’t take control of our life and do things our own way we will never amount to much as men, never realize our full potential. After all, why would we want to spend an entire life being someone else’s tool?

But what if the person who wants to utilize you is completely honorable? What if He is righteous, all-knowing, all-powerful? And what if He knew your design and purpose better than you do yourself? Would you, as His creation, be satisfied with his good design? Would He, as your creator, be worth offering yourself to use in every good thing as His tool? His instrument? His craftsmanship?

As Christian men, we need to remember that our lives are not our own. We may try to reimagine our design for another purpose, but the One who thought it up and created it always knows better. When we are tools in His hands, not only will He get the glory, but we will realize the satisfaction of finally achieving the very thing that we were created to do.

Remember, you’re a tool. Put yourself in the hands of the Master Designer and Craftsman, and be what you were meant to be.

© 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading the post by Scott Williams, “You’re a tool” on the Stepping Up blog for men.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistHave you thought of yourself as a tool in the hands of a master craftsman? What might God want to do through you?

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistDetroit Lions chaplain Dave Wilson discusses authentic manhood in the hands of the Master Craftsman.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistBill Bennett, author of The Book of Man, tells how guide your children in today’s world to be their best.

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