Posts in category Resisting sin

Man up to Christian Grey, Fifty Shades



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

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

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

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

That should concern any self-respecting man.

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

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

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

1. Be a man of integrity.

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

Pastor and author Robert Lewis defines an authentic man:

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

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

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

3. Show your daughters their strength.

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

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

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

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

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

© 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

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

 

What’s a real man do with Fifty Shades?



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what can we do to make that happen?

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

© 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

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

Five God-given roles as men



“It’s your turn to take out the trash this week.”

“I washed the dishes yesterday, remember?”

“You should pay the bills. I have too much on my plate.”

Household arguments like these are common to marriage. They might seem like no big deal, but they are rooted in something profound: a man’s role in the home, the church, and society.

When a man lives up to his role, life-giving things start to happen. Children are not abused, and they grow up feeling secure and safe. Teen pregnancy rates go down. Drug sales and drug use plummet. Young people avoid jail. Divorces are avoided, and the tragedy of teen suicide loosens its grip on our young people. I firmly believe that every family and societal problem can get better when a man knows how to fulfill his role and takes action.

During the NFL season, teams spend Fridays completing their on-field preparation. They know that the adrenaline-filled, high­ stakes physical battle is just two days away. That’s why a good Friday practice is vital. However, for NFL players, the most important preparation comes on Saturday morning and evening. And this preparation is more mental than physical. Players and their position coaches gather to review video footage of their opponents and hold the last practice, known as a “walk-thru.”

The walk-thru and video reviews have a sole purpose: to ensure players are absolutely clear about their game-day roles on offense, defense, and special teams. A player who doesn’t understand his role is a liability to his teammates. He might even cost his team the game and lose his job on the roster.

In the NFL, a mistake is sometimes called “a blown assignment.”  A running back fails to block a blitzing linebacker. A safety lets a receiver get behind him.

In life, we men cannot afford to blow our assignments. It’s not merely a team that is counting on us; it’s all of society.

What are our assignments, our roles as men? I can sum them up in five words:  praise, protection, provision, proclamation, and presentation.

Let’s look at each one in detail.

Praise

Praise is more than words. Praise is a man’s heartfelt response to the God who created him. It’s his first and most fundamental role in life—to offer God unabashed applause for who He is and what He’s done.

Even long-time Christians underestimate the importance of praise. But the man who strives to let praise flow from his life to God’s throne is poised to fulfill God’s destiny for his life. He will achieve this destiny because his life is based on an authentic relationship with his Boss and King.

I understand that vocal and visible expressions of praise are tough for men. Why? Maybe it’s a male-pride issue. Or a fear of truly releasing our emotions.

On the other hand, have you ever seen a bunch of guys cheering for their favorite sports team? We jump to our feet. We lift our hands. We shout until we’re hoarse—all for mortal men who have done nothing substantial for us. They did not get us our jobs. They didn’t heal our sick or injured bodies. And, most likely, they haven’t given us wisdom to live by. The truth is, men do understand praise, but our praise is often misdirected.

Our homes and our churches need men who will lead the way when it comes to cheering the mighty works of God.

In too many churches now, the women praise ecstatically, while the men sit uncomfortably, waiting for the worship service to end. And the children take note: “Daddy doesn’t like church.”

What has happened? In short, the devil has deceived men and convinced us to shut down emotionally in God’s presence. But David, a great king and a man’s man, danced before the Lord and committed to proclaim His goodness among the people.

Men, if David can do it, we can too. The world is waiting for us to applaud God in the public square, in our homes, and in the house of God. When men offer praise to God, everyone takes note. We are the tone setters in our culture. Like it or not, what we do, everybody does. So, “Let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name” (Hebrews 13:15 NKJV).

Protection

When God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden, his job was to keep watch and to protect everything entrusted to him from the devil’s deception. Adam’s role back then is a man’s role now. We need to protect our “garden” from the deceptions, dark acts, and destructive works of the devil. Your personal garden is wherever God has assigned you to live, work, and play. The people who inhabit your garden, especially the women and children entrusted to your leadership, are your responsibility to protect.

Don’t be like many men in our culture who, like Adam, have shunned the call to protect. Instead, they have become vultures, preying on those who need their strength. Some men have even demanded that the women and children protect them! Something is desperately wrong with this picture.

Bullying in our culture and around the globe is a problem growing with exponential fervor. Typically, kids who bully were unprotected by their own fathers. They act out with resentment toward their peers or toward those who appear weak to them. A society in which men drop the ball of protection is a society of aggression, crime, and hate. But when we men use our God-given power to protect, we can turn the tide and bring the sense of safety everybody needs—the bullies and the bullied.

Provision

I’ve seen too many men in our culture, especially during the recent economic downturn, curl up in the fetal position and suck on their vocational thumbs. I’m tired of hearing men from church complain, “There aren’t any good jobs out there. No one’s hiring.”

If no one’s hiring, create your own job! READ MORE »

The NFL and safer, stronger homes



KempScottKATV

Second-generation NFL players Freddie Scott II and Jeff Kemp get to the heart of domestic violence issues.

Recently, a couple of Stepping Up blog contributors (who happen to both be second-generation NFL players) were together at FamilyLife for a TV interview to give their perspectives on the NFL and its recent domestic violence issues.

While most every other voice you’re hearing blasts the league for the rampant problems among players and how poorly it’s handling the issue, these two former NFL players have a different take. A much more positive one.

Freddie Scott is actually working with NFL teams, players, and the players union to address issues like these, how to avoid them, and how to create a new paradigm for players who grew up in unstable homes. Jeff Kemp contends that the disciplines that the NFL teaches to its players to make them great performers and teammates are the very disciplines that make for strong fathers, husbands and men, creating safer, stronger homes.

Check out some additional footage from the interview that wasn’t part of the final broadcast:

By the way, just after Jeff and Freddie did this interview, they were in FamilyLife’s video studio to talk extensively about the subject. Our video team is working on editing those clips and we’ll pass them along to you as they become available.

Ferguson: Feeling. Thinking. Hoping.



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

PHOTO COURTESTY OF Ben Liebenberg/NFL

PHOTO COURTESTY OF Ben Liebenberg/NFL

~Written by Benjamin Watson:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 keys to stop domestic violence



stop domestic violenceOn the heels of yet another arrest of an NFL player for domestic violence, the time is now for men and women to understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships. The lack of awareness of the healthy building blocks for strong marriages and relationships is destroying the lives of too many. Scripture clearly states, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” What you don’t know about healthy relationships could be the very thing that is causing harm to you and those you love.

In working with both current and former NFL players, there are some common themes that are occurring in these cases of abuse. Prior to these events, some of these individuals were known to be great people and leaders in the locker room and community. How could men that seem to be such good people, commit acts of harm or endangerment to those that they claim to love? It’s the same reason we are shocked when we find out about any other case of domestic violence. From the outside looking in, it is impossible to see the years of spiritual or emotional wounds that exist within a person, or the value and respect for women that were instilled into that man when he was a child. We also don’t know the emotional triggers of individuals and how they cope and deal with stress and anger.

For the record, let me make sure I am clear. Domestic violence is wrong. It doesn’t matter if the man is the aggressor or if the woman is the aggressor. Physical and emotional abuse is wrong, and there is no justified excuse for domestic violence.

Here are three things that can help to stop domestic violence.

Know Your Hurt

In all sports, the medical report is a part of the overall assessment of the player. The scouts and team executives will take into account what the doctors say about previous injuries, and the implications of whether they could shorten the players’ career, or potentially become recurring due to how the previous injury healed. The trainers also look to see if the player develops habits to compensate for the injury. For example, if a player has a right knee injury, they may put more pressure on the left knee to compensate, which can result in both knees being injured over time.

As men, we must lead the charge to assess our previous emotional injuries. It is our responsibility to reflect the character of God in our homes at all times. But this is difficult to do if you have past wounds that aren’t healed. This begins with an honest assessment of the way you value women, and understanding your triggers from emotional wounds from the past. Some of these triggers could be the habits that you developed to compensate for what happened in the past. Understanding your triggers will allow you to maintain self-control, and help you to manage your emotions and actions under pressure. If you have untreated emotional scars from the past, or a distorted view of the role of women, you could be the next case of domestic violence waiting to happen. Your relationship will only be as healthy as you are.

Know Her Hurt

I am humbled by the opportunity to help current and former NFL players, and equally excited about the new initiatives that we are launching nationally. We have a responsibility to help all men to truly understand what it means to “love your wife as Christ loved the church.” Just because being a servant leader in the home isn’t easy, doesn’t give us an excuse to not be one. Just like you have past wounds in need of healing, so does she. And just like you may have developed habits to compensate for your previous injuries, so has she. It is your role to live with your wife “in an understanding way” and help the healing process in her by avoiding her triggers and emotional scars from her past. This requires a person to walk in unconditional love, and focus on what you can give your spouse, rather than what you are getting from your spouse.

Know Your Role, Know Her Role

It’s been said, “Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.” In sports, there are many times you disagree with your coach. You may not like a play call, how hard practice is, or your playing time. Regardless of how you feel about your coach, you learn to control yourself and to never allow your feelings to cross a line of disrespect. As a player, you understand that crossing that line will result in consequences that you don’t want. Loss of playing time, extra conditioning, or even being dismissed from the team can be the consequence of disrespecting the person and the role they play in your life.

Most smart men will agree that the role of a wife and family is more important than a coach. Yet, too many men forget to apply the same rules of respect that they know from sports or work and apply them at home to their wives. We must always remember the value of the role they play in our lives. Though you may disagree from time to time, always remember who you are talking to and be mindful of the consequences of not honoring the role that they play in your life.

Your hands are created to heal, not to hurt. Be the source of understanding, safety and security that you are intended to be as a man.

©2014 Unlock the Champion. Used with permission.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading the blog post “3 keys to stop domestic violence” by guest contributor Freddie Scott II.

STEPthink - keep your cool

Listen to Freddie talk about his childhood as the son of an NFL player on FamilyLife Today: “Making a Mark or Leaving a Scar.” 

STEPembrace - keep your coolMeditate on the Scripture passages linked in this article. What will you do to make your relationships more Christlike?

STEPpass - keep your cool

Are you “Living with an Angry, Abusive, or Violent Spouse” or do you know someone who is? Ed Welch offers help.

FreddieScott

Freddie Scott is a former NFL player, pastor, author, and founder and president of Unlock The Champion. He is a Transition Coach for the NFL Player Engagement Program, and serves as a family expert for the NFL Players Association conducting workshops across the country helping men to be better husbands and fathers.

The Song: A film for the restless man



“There is nothing new under the sun.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s a message everyone needs to hear.

© 2014 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

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

STEPThink - 10-point checklist

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

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

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

How should a single man prepare himself for marriage? (part 2)



EDITOR’S NOTE: In the previous post, we looked at how a man should take the initiative in developing a relationship with a potential future mate, and how he should be preparing himself morally and financially for that relationship. This post looks at the spiritual and relational preparations for marriage and family life.

A man should prepare himself spiritually.

Finding myself single again after being married for over eighteen years, I confronted a question that we must all wrestle with in the face of any loss: Is God enough for me? Until we can answer in the affirmative, we would be wise to suspend seeking another relationship.

Loneliness is difficult, but it is not a sufficient reason to pursue a partner. Loneliness in its rawest form can make us very self-centered. Therefore any relationship we enter into out of sheer loneliness holds only ourselves, or mostly ourselves, at the center. Whether consciously or subconsciously, we seek to medicate our wound through the presence of another person. This is neither fair to them nor healthy for us.

Remember men, we are to be Christ-like. That means we are not seeking to be loved but to love. Love that is self-centered is really not love at all. Better to come to grips with this now and have God form genuine love in our hearts than to enter into a relationship that hurts both individuals and misrepresents Christ.

So how does a man prepare himself spiritually? By seeking God with all his heart. To do this, he must embrace his loneliness, grief, disappointment, hurt—any and all circumstances that have brought him to this place of aloneness. Embracing the hurt ushers in the comfort, and comfort is delivered by God Himself.

Spend more time in prayer. Spend more time studying the Bible. Read Christian literature that instructs and edifies. Attend Bible study or discussion groups. Involve yourself in service. Step out of the world of self-pity and into a life that is marked by Kingdom purposes and activities. Give more than you take. Understand that real men are leaders and real leaders are servants.

Spiritual development also involves the building of a prayer life. Speaking of which, it is surprising how few men actually ask God for a wife. Of all things, why would we leave this matter off our prayer list? Perhaps some would argue that it is unspiritual to pray about such a thing, that if God intends us to be married we should disengage from the process and allow Him to override our neutrality. Being neutral is fine if it means surrender and waiting by faith on God’s answer (which, by the way, first demands that a request be made), but it is not fine if it implies apathy or cowardice.

A man should prepare himself relationally.

Beware of two relationship-killers: over-aggression and passivity. In the past the former was the likelier culprit; these days however, the latter seems more common. When it comes to male-female friendships, which is where any meaningful relationship begins, men are increasingly stolid.

What is making men so passive?

Some of this is no doubt due to personal hang-ups or bad experiences. But much of it is, in my opinion, the result of two widespread phenomena. First, the past few generations have provided fewer and fewer positive examples of what a Christian marriage can be. Second, manhood has been under siege. Women have been encouraged to be stronger, to stand up for themselves and revolt against male domination. In some instances this may have been both appropriate and necessary. However, as a cultural wave, it has created a harmful undertow: the erosion of manhood.

Regardless the reasons, it is time for men to become manly again. It’s fine to be deliberate, but not passive. It’s good to be cautious, but not cowardly. Dating is risky business, and I’m not advocating a reckless abandonment to our feelings. I am saying, however, that Christian men need to be motivated toward building proper relationships with Christian women. This is the design and intent of God. Clearly marriage is part of His will for most men and women. Do not rush into it, but do not hide from it either.

There is a time to involve trusted members of the body of Christ in your personal business, and your dating life should be one of those occasions. Connect with some married couples whom you respect, and ask them to pray with you about this matter. If you are interested in a certain lady, ask them to pray about whether you should initiate contact with her. Get their counsel on how to proceed, and be open to their cautions.

Though I’ve listed only four, you may discover other areas of your life that need attention. Perhaps you need to work on your physical condition (for the sake of health, not vanity). Perhaps you’ve made ministry commitments that you’ve not kept (now would be the time to take that mission trip). Perhaps there are interpersonal rifts that you need to mend or personal disciplines you need to establish. Anything that stands in the way of your wholehearted devotion to Christ also obstructs your candidacy for relational intimacy. Wisdom says: Deal with these matters sooner rather than later.

The right man on the right journey.

In Proverbs 18:22 we’re told, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing.” The word “finds” can be translated “to come upon, meet.” The biblical language here describes a discovery made while on a journey. In other words, the man was not on a hunting expedition, intent on finding a wife, trapping her, and dragging her home. Rather, while on a purposeful journey he met her, recognized that she was a godsend, and won her heart.

As we men journey through life, seeking God and going about the tasks He has given us with diligence and faithfulness, it is within reason to believe that God will bring the right woman across our path. Let us make sure, then, that we are on the right journey. And let us not be afraid when we discover the “good thing” that God sends our way.

© 2014 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just read the second of a two-part post, “How should a single man prepare himself for marriage” by Tim Grissom.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistIs dating preparation for marriage or just meeting the needs of the moment? Listen to the broadcast “Dating Friendships.”

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistHow are your preparing spiritually for marriage? How about “Developing a spiritual workout plan”?

STEPPass - 10-point checklistWhether married or single, you could benefit from the Stepping Up video series. How about leading one?

How should a single man prepare himself for marriage?



Hang around Christian singles long enough and you’re sure to encounter a certain emotion. If you’re thinking loneliness, guess again. The prevailing emotion is frustration.

Men are frustrated because they don’t understand what women want from them. Or, if they do have a clue, men feel the expectations are too high. Women, on the other hand, are frustrated because they want men to take initiative, to lead.

That’s right, lead. Don’t believe everything you hear; Christ-centered women still believe that God assigned respective roles to the sexes. They want to be led by Christ-centered men.

So what’s to be done about the stalemate? How should Christian men and women move toward deeper friendships, possibly even engagement and marriage?

Initiating the relationship

It takes a man to be an initiator. Relationship building with the opposite sex is risky, but in God’s created order two become one (Ephesians 5:31). However, this will never happen until you, as a man, accept your God-given role—an acceptance that includes:

  • believing that men should initiate the relationship
  • understanding that preparing yourself for a relationship is part of becoming a man

This may sound old-fashioned, but I believe it, not for the sake of tradition, which of necessity comes and goes, but because it is biblical. Marriage is meant to be, among other things, an illustration of the relationship between Christ and the church (Ephesians 5); the husband typifies Christ and the wife typifies the church. Clearly, it is Christ who initiates the relationship; “We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

Furthermore, the Ephesians 5 passage describes the husband as “the head of the wife.” Men are called to be—created to be—leaders. This is not an empowerment that mystically comes over a man at his wedding, but part of his inherent nature. If a man shirks relational leadership prior to marriage, chances are slim that he will properly assume it after.

Several months after my wife died, I was talking with a friend who is also a wise and loving pastor. He wanted to help protect me from too quickly getting involved in another relationship—a common problem for men who are divorced or widowed. (My advice: Lock them in a secure room for six months.) My friend’s counsel was simple, and should be heeded by all Christian single men regardless of age: Concentrate first on being the right person, then on finding the right person.

A man who wants to be godly and who means to prepare himself for a wholesome, meaningful relationship has his work cut out for him. And it doesn’t begin by random dating.

Be prepared

The Jewish young men of the Old Testament intentionally prepared themselves for marriage. In addition to becoming skilled in a trade that would support a family, these men saved their resources in order to pay a dowry to their future in-laws, and generally built their own dwellings. The latter was often done in the time between engagement and marriage. Taking a wife was a serious commitment, one that demanded earnest preparation.

I’m not suggesting a return to these practices, although we’d probably be wise to realign romance with realism. I merely wish to point out that healthy marriages are seasoned with preparation. If a man wants to find the right person, he needs to be the right person, and that takes concentrated effort that is best begun before there is a potential mate on the scene.

If a man is serious about walking with Christ, and serious about wanting to be the right kind of husband and father someday, how should he prepare himself?

A man should prepare himself morally.

Our culture, even our Christian subculture, has become enamored with sex. It’s everywhere in entertainment and conversation. One would think that sex is all there is to happiness and fulfillment. But this just isn’t real. The man who enters marriage thinking that his wife is cut out of the same fabric as are the seductresses, excuse me, actresses he’s seen on the television and movie screen—eager to jump into bed at any moment and ready to resolve every conflict with sex—is in for a terrible shock. A mutually pleasing sex life thrives on a good relationship, it doesn’t drive one.

Men who are unguarded in their intake of viewing and reading sexual material set themselves up to be disappointed and to be a disappointment. Moral behavior requires a moral mindset—the discipline to shut off the supply of impurity. Why not take a 40-day media fast? For the next 40 days, leave the television off, do not attend or rent movies, and use the internet only as your job may require. If a conversation begins moving toward immoral topics, excuse yourself. These 40 days may prove to be some of the best days of your spiritual development. And you’ll begin to view women with the wholesome respect God intends.

See immorality for what it is: a weapon of the enemy designed for your destruction. So choose your friends carefully; connect with men who care about your growth and standing as a follower of Christ. Be honest with them about your habits and struggles. Let them know what you are doing to try to grow spiritually so they can pray for you, hold you accountable, and get in your face when necessary. Forge friendships with your fellow warriors, and cover each other’s back.

A man should prepare himself financially.

We’re told that more marriages break up over finances than any other issue. This needn’t worry us, but it should motivate us. Men should aspire to financial stability. This doesn’t guarantee a surplus of money or safeguard us from occasional unemployment. I am suggesting, however, that a man who is disciplined in his work ethic and wise with his resources is better prepared for courtship and marriage than one who is impulsive and discontent.

The kind of lady you want will be drawn to your character, not the model year of your car or the square footage of your house. More importantly, God is honored by the wise use of every resource He lends you, whether dollars in your wallet or hours in your workday.

Some who read this may be in debt or out of work, and the current financial picture is bleak. Are you a hopeless cause? No. But you need to focus on what you can do to improve your situation. What steps can you take, under the leadership of the Lord, to move toward financial freedom and gainful employment? Get yourself situated and moving forward.

In the next Stepping Up men’s blog post, we’ll look at how a single man prepares himself spiritually and relationally for marriage. In the meantime, take the following steps:

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just read “How should a single man prepare himself for marriage?” by Tim Grissom on the Stepping Up blog.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistRead “Evaluating Your Spiritual Relationship Before Marriage” and ask yourself these two key questions.

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistGary Thomas’ book, The Sacred Search, offers great guidance in your search for meaning in relationships.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistTell single guys who you know that the Stepping Up blog for men is not just for dads and husbands.

© 2014 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

God gives again



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

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

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

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

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

GodsWayGideon

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

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

Who? Who is sitting in front of you?

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

I fell to my knees.

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

“What are their names?” I asked.

Her answer made complete sense because I knew two things:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GodsWayTShirt

God’s Way bearing Connor’s image

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

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

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

Dad (Ron Deal)

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

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

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

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

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

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