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Thomas Davis: All-around champion



Thomas Davis daughterSuper Bowl week has to be an especially meaningful one for Carolina Panthers’ linebacker Thomas Davis. In every way the week’s events give reflection of the kind of man he is, on and off the field. Today — Super Bowl Sunday — he will start at outside linebacker in this year’s championship game, which is almost a miracle in itself. More on that later.

But Davis was also the guest of honor at another of the week’s most-celebrated events: the Super Bowl Breakfast, hosted by Athletes in Action, the sister ministry of FamilyLife. It’s not just a religious event, but is the occasion for the NFL to honor the one player who best exemplifies outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field, and in the community.

Last year the recipient was Peyton Manning, who will quarterback the opposing Denver Broncos in this year’s Super Bowl. This year it is Thomas Davis. And the award this year has even greater significance.  It is the 50th anniversary since the trophy’s namesake led his team to victory in the first-ever Super Bowl in 1967.

The Bart Starr award has been given annually since 1989, and has included such outstanding athletes and men as Steve Largent, Reggie White, Mike Singletary, Jackie Slater, Bruce Matthews, Darrell Green, Curt Warner, Aeneas Williams, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Peyton Manning.

It’s not a one-time honor for Davis, who also received the prestigious Walter Payton Man of the Year Award last season. In his acceptance speech, he challenged his fellow NFL players to use their fame and fortune to give to others.

“Let’s take charge … Let’s step up and be a village of guys that make a difference to change this world. We’re well-compensated for what we do. Let’s show these kids how much we care about them. Let’s give the media something positive to talk about instead of always bashing our league.”

Coming up from humble beginnings

Thomas Davis grew up in the humblest of beginnings in the Wiregrass region of southwest Georgia, just a couple of hours from where Bart Starr was raised. Unlike Starr, poverty was a way of life for Davis, his sister, and their single mom. There were times, he recalled, they didn’t even have running water or electricity. His mom did her best to meet their needs, but it was barely enough to cover the essentials and no more.

Davis remembers a couple Christmases waking up with anticipation, only to find no present. In his young mind, he reasoned that maybe it was because he was bad and that the reason she was having such a hard time making ends meet was because he and his sister were too difficult. As he was able, he would pick pecans and peas, bale hay, anything to earn money to help the family stay afloat. That memory of struggling for survival and significance would be the impetus for what he would do for others if he ever had the means.

Sports was his chance. He lettered in baseball and track, but he was a standout in football. Because his high school was so small, he got little notice from college football programs and received only one scholarship offer. But at the University of Georgia under coach Mark Richt he proved to be one of the best players to ever come out of the state, earning All-American honors at linebacker and a number 14 overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft.

From the top to the bottom and back

Thomas Davis PanthersGoing from poverty to riches went to Thomas’ head for the first three years of his career, as he revealed in an excellent interview with Sports Spectrum magazine. He could have and do almost anything he wanted, and he did. And, like Solomon, he found it to be meaningless.

It was during this time that the spiritual seeds sown by Coach Richt at Georgia, an outspoken Christian, began to take root in Thomas, and he became more aware of the grace of God in his life. It was also at that same time that he met his wife Kelly and he began to look outward to meet her needs and the needs of others. He got involved as a volunteer in a program that offered free heart screenings to underprivileged children and through that, Thomas discovered that he had a rare heart condition that could end his NFL career. Although it ended up not being as serious as first thought, the process of facing his immortality and the imminent loss of his career created in him a greater reliance on God and caused him to further take inventory of his life.

Thomas recognizes now that God was preparing him for what was to come. Until the heart scare, he had never had an injury or a threat to missing a game.

Then eight weeks into the 2009 season, playing on the Superdome turf against the Saints, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee. He had surgery to repair the knee and missed the rest of the season.

Early in summer training camp the next year, in 2010, just after successfully rehabbing his injury he tore the same ACL in the same knee in a fluke, non-contact accident. This time he would miss the entire 2010 season, but he would have plenty of time to properly rehab the knee this time.

Finally, in 2011 he was back to full function for the season opener — his first regular season game in 22 months. But the very next week at Green Bay a teammate’s leg slammed against his knee — the same knee — and tore the same ACL for a third time in less than two years.

In the doctor’s office the next morning, the team trainer remembers that Thomas was crying and shaking his head, saying, “I can’t do this anymore. It’s too hard.”

Thomas recalls the soul-searching few days that followed.

“My wife and I talked about it, and the team chaplain … and they just asked me, ‘Do you really feel like you’re done with the game of football? Are you, in your heart, totally 100 percent sure that you don’t want to play again?’ And the answer to that question was ‘No.’”

The following Monday, according to the trainer, Thomas came into his office and said “We’re breaking history. We’re going for records. We’re doing it again.”

Indeed it would be history. No NFL player had ever come back from three ACL tears, much less to perform at the level Thomas does. He has become the Panthers’ all-time leading tackler, and every year since his return from the knee injuries has recorded more than 100 tackles.

But then two weeks ago in the NFC championship game, Thomas was making his 105th tackle of the season when he suffered a serious break to the ulna bone in his forearm. Initially, his mind went back to the ACL injuries, resigning himself to the fact that he would have to sit out the dream game of his life in two weeks. Under the same circumstances, most athletes probably would have. But this was Thomas Davis, who is no stranger to rehabbing injuries.  The doctors were willing to take the chance and so was Thomas. The morning after the game, he was in surgery to repair it, and Sunday he’ll start with a metal plate and several screws,  protected by a specially designed cast on his arm.

After all, what’s the chance that a broken arm will stop you when you’ve come back from so many desperate situations before, and when you have a chance to help your team win a Super Bowl trophy for the first time?


Offering others a hand up

Thomas Davis playgroundSince their marriage in 2008, Thomas and Kelly created and have continued to expand their own charity. The mission of the Thomas Davis Defending Dreams Foundation  is built on the principles of educating, empowering, and defending students in developing essential life and social skills that will help them rise above circumstances to become leaders in the next generation.  Both Thomas and Kelly are intimately involved in every aspect of the organization’s work. The couple has personally invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to build a playground in his hometown of Shellman, Georgia, and to provide for the material needs of underprivileged children across the nation. And every Christmas, they provide presents to children to show them unconditional love.

 

Michael Oher: Something to prove in Super Bowl 50



Michael Oher: Something to prove

Michael Oher got to prove his worth this year against the team that traded him to the NFC Champion Carolina Panthers. (Getty Images)

One of the backstories of Super Bowl 50 is the ongoing rags-to-riches story of Michael Oher. The outstanding left tackle for the Carolina Panthers will be working for his second championship ring in seven years.

Michael Oher has something to prove.

He always has something to prove.

Many have seen the 2009 movie The Blind Side, about a destitute Memphis black kid who was all but living on the street until he was taken in by a wealthy white family from across town. That kid, Michael Oher, went on to become a highly-recruited high school lineman and an All-American at Ole Miss, and was selected in the first round of the NFL draft.

Most people love the movie, but Michael Oher is not one of them. Based on the Michael Lewis book, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, it focuses primarily on the Tuohy family, who adopted Michael and who continue to have a powerful presence in his life. In fact, they will be together in San Francisco for the Super Bowl.

But, as Michael puts it, the movie is what you’d expect from Hollywood, with a lot of overtly fictional elements. Then there is Michael’s book, I Beat the Odds: From Homelessness to The Blind Side and Beyond, which I just finished reading. While the movie characterized Michael as an unintelligent and unambitious young man who had to be taught the game of football, the truth is that he was already focused on sports and rising above his surroundings when he was walking the streets of Memphis. The Tuohy family just gave him opportunities he would have otherwise never had.

In his book, he gives a little perspective on the balance between opportunity and success.

Michael Oher has something to prove“When I was drafted in the first round by the Baltimore Ravens, I knew I had done the impossible. I hadn’t just beat the odds; I had blown them out of the water. But the story isn’t just about arriving at the pros. My goal had never been just to get the offer, or to sign the contract, or to get the paycheck. I wanted to do something, to know that I was working each day to do something with my potential, pushing myself to make sure that I was always giving my all. Making it to the pros wasn’t the finish line for me. The world is full of people who got their big shot and then never did anything with it. It had come too far to just let being drafted be the end of my story.”

From the start of his book, two things stand out that show that Michael was serious about his future: First, he was determined to rise above the options he was given as a child. Second, he knew the importance of surrounding yourself with people who watch out for you, and he realized the need to commit to them as well.

He knew that he could have become a bodyguard for one of the two local gangs and made a name and lots of money for himself.  But that wasn’t what he wanted. He wanted out, and at an early age he realized that sports would be his ticket. His big goal was to get a scholarship for a junior college and get an education so he could get a job that would take him out of the neighborhoods where everyone was stuck and life was just a matter of survival. READ MORE »

Carolina’s Greg Olsen: MVP of hurting hearts



Greg OlsenCarolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen arrived at the hotel in San Jose this past weekend, preparing for the game of his career.

He unpacks his bags, and there lies Touchdown Bear, his traveling companion for every game of the past two seasons (watch the video). It’s a stuffed animal, custom-designed by his three children, and a reminder to him that the Super Bowl is not the most important thing in his life. It’s also a constant reflection that this game is not the biggest challenge he’s faced. This is not the first time he’s had everything on the line, or teamed up with others to face a formidable foe.

Three years ago, Greg and his wife Kara watched as an ultrasound revealed that they were pregnant with two children, one normal, and one with a medical condition known as Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS). Simply put, TJ would be born with half a heart. Fortunately for them, Greg’s generous NFL salary allowed them to seek out and receive the best care for their son, who would have died without aggressive medical intervention.

TJ would go through three successive surgeries to rebuild his heart, and his parents would provide very specialized and intense care for their son. For Greg, the pressure to perform was almost more than he could bear when they brought TJ home from the hospital after his first surgery.  “His care was going to be so specific and so important that if I did not give him the exact calorie per ounce, he was going to die. In my mind, that’s what I thought. If I couldn’t even make his formula right, how was I going to do wound care on his scar, how were we going to do his medicine?”

That’s sure a lot more pressure than he’s going to face on the field Sunday.

Since that time, TJ has had his two other operations and is doing well for a child with HLHS. The Olsens are thankful for each day they have with TJ and their other two children, because most kids with HLHS don’t make it to age five, even with the surgeries. And as they experienced the heartache as parents of HLHS babies, they’ve developed a passion for helping other moms and dads who have fewer resources than Greg and Kara. They sought out a way to level the playing field a bit for families.

Through The HEARTest Yard initiative, they help provide medical care, counseling, and encouragement for parents of HLHS babies through Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Greg’s and Kara’s compassion earned him a nomination by the Panther’s organization for the 2015 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. Efforts to help others have earned him recognition off the field as well as on.

Annie Lane picture AHA submissionMy co-worker Tracy admits that she doesn’t follow football much, but she knows about Greg Olsen. That’s because she and husband Matt are going through their own anguishing struggle with their daughter Annie, whose heart is failing after her second HLHS surgery. Tracy remembers what it’s like to get the diagnosis.

“One day, you’re a regular family who’s never heard of a baby having half of a heart. The next day, you’re the family whose baby is being diagnosed with a rare and life-threatening heart defect,” she says.

And Matt relates to Greg’s frustration about how alone and helpless it can make you feel. “It’s not like you can just call up your buddy and he can relate. Or talk to your brother who went through that last week. Or even turn to your pastor, because, well, no one else has heard of Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome either.”

At this moment, Matt and Tracy are waiting to hear from Philadelphia Children’s Hospital, which did Annie’s first two surgeries. They’re hoping the facility can come up with a course of action to care for Annie as she waits for her third operation. In the meantime, all they can do is wait and pray. But they’re thankful that others are raising awareness of families like theirs. Tracy, a fellow writer, forwarded her thoughts to me the other day.

“Having someone like Olsen to look to is encouraging. He’s a regular guy who is loving his family well. A regular guy who had the courage to choose life in the face of a life-threatening diagnosis. A regular guy who is giving hope to other families who face this same terrifying condition.

“Heart families around the world are grateful for the awareness he’s providing because the more we know, the less afraid we have to be. The more we see that a scary diagnosis can still lead to a healthy, vibrant childhood, the more courage we have to advocate for the life of any and every baby. Olsen shares the reality that the grief is real, the challenges are real, but the value of his child’s life is real too. Those hospital-bound days fighting for TJ’s life were worth it. Whatever fight you’re in is worth it, too.”

Greg Olsen has fought to be, arguably, the best tight end in the NFL. But he admitted in an interview last year that he’s not the toughest person in his home.

“I wish I was as tough as TJ. If I was as tough as him, I’d be in good shape. What he’s gone through in his first eight months of life is more than any of us has gone through in a lifetime. Two open heart surgeries, the countless medications, the exams. He’s been through it all, and he just bounces back.”

TJ’s suffering has made Olsen tougher and more sensitive. It’s given him not just resolve, but also perspective. In the grand scheme of things, Sunday’s Super Bowl is not a life-or-death thing for Greg Olsen. In fact, I’m sure that if he has an outstanding performance, wins the big game and gets a huge bonus on top of his $22.5 million dollar contract, he wouldn’t think twice about trading it all away for TJ.

Learn the latest on Annie’s current situation, and follow the heart of HLHS parents through Tracy’s blog, Heart for Annie.

 

And after that?



BoatParadise

This blog post by Todd Nagel recently appeared in the Noah Gets A Nail Gun blog. 
As the story goes, a boat was docked in a tiny Mexican village. An American tourist complimented the local fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them. “Not very long” answered the fisherman.

But then why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?” asked the American. The local villager explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.

The American asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?

I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings I go into the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar and sing a few songs. I have a full life.

The American interrupted, “I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the revenue you can buy a bigger boat. With the extra money the larger boat will bring you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middleman, you can negotiate directly with the processing plant and maybe even open your own plant.

You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles or even New York City! From there you can direct your huge enterprise.

How long would that take?” asked the Mexican.

Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years,” replied the American.

And after that?” replied the fisherman.

Afterwards? That’s when it gets really interesting,” answered the American, laughing. “When your business gets really big you can go public, start selling stocks and make millions!

Millions? Really? And after that?” asked the fisherman.

After that you’ll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your grandkids, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife, and spend your evenings drinking and playing the guitar with your friends!

I’m liking the question, “And after that?”

Our lives have gotten out of balance. At the dawn of the introduction of technology there were dreams of a 30 hour work week, or even 20 hour work week, with more time at home with our spouse and kids, more time to relax and enjoy life. But just the opposite has happened. There is no more 9-5 work day. When are you not “at work” when you are tethered to your smartphone? Even on vacation you’ve probably spent an hour or two (each day) answering email. The line between work-home has become blurred. And just so you know, like Paul told Timothy, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” If I’m throwing stones I’m throwing them in the air and letting them hit me in the head! I’m guilty of all the above.

The bottom line is it comes down to having balance. Run everything through the “And after that” grid. Sure, you could work an additional 10 hours a week and make more money, “And after that”?

Somewhere along the line we believed the lie that we needed bigger, newer, nicer, more. In our attempt to achieve those things we have lost what’s vastly more important than material things…relationships.

paintingI’m certainly not advocating a lazy work ethic. I’m currently in the process of painting my two-story house. Besides the roof and windows, everything else requires me to slap some paint on it. I love a good project but this one is pushing it a little. If you’ve never painted the exterior of a house, trust me, it’s not the easiest task to undertake. I’m a firm believer in if I have the physical ability and brain power to do something, I’m not going to pay someone to do it for me. But more on that another time.

All that to say, as Ecclesiastes 9:10 tells us, “Whatever your hands find you to do, do it with all your might.” Work hard but have balance. The relationship with your wife, kids, parents, friends, all those far outweigh making a little extra income. This may require you to make some tough financial decisions but nobody looks back at the end of their life and regrets not working more. It’s always “I wish I spent more time with my wife, kids, etc.” As you are faced with opportunities to make a little more money even though it will require longer work days, ask yourself, “And after that?”

Shady planes and shipwrecks



MoldovianPropIn the spring of 2001 I was doing work on a Jesus Film blitz in Eastern Europe and traveled to four countries during a 12-day span. One of the places I found myself in was a small country called Moldova. After completing the assignment, my traveling companion and I boarded our plane to fly over to Ukraine. The airline of our choice was the country’s flagship carrier out of the capital city of Chisnau, (yeah, it sounds just like it’s spelled) called Moldovian Air. To give you an idea of the size of the country, airport, and national airline, today Moldovian Air boasts one plane in its fleet. But when I flew Moldovian 15 years ago they had three planes, so they were pretty big-time back in the day.

The little engine that couldn’t.

We took off around 7:30 in the morning and about 15 minutes into the 90-minute flight the one flight attendant began serving breakfast and everyone was settling in. Five minutes later it got really quiet. The kind of quiet you don’t want when flying 20,000 feet above the ground. Curious as to the lack of noise, I looked to my left and saw the propeller wasn’t moving. Quickly I looked over to my right and was thankful to see the propeller on that side of the aircraft was still actually moving.

MoldovianMealNoticing how the flight attendant didn’t miss a beat and continued to serve breakfast and pass out Moldovian Air chocolate bars, I thought maybe they save fuel by only running one engine once they got to cruising altitude so perhaps this is normal. Everything else I’d encountered in the former Soviet Union was backwards so why not fly with just one engine? The other thought I had was that she knew we were going to crash and that we might as well go out with a full stomach of airplane food and the taste of chocolate in our mouths.

Fast forward 30 minutes and a new pair of pants, we made it back to Chisnau where the runway was lined with all three of the city’s fire trucks and both ambulances. After using the entire runway to finally come to a stop we were safely back on solid ground. When we stepped off the plane I noticed the entire left side of the aircraft was covered in oil, which meant the aircraft had blown an engine.

The other plane I flew on that made it only because of my prayers.

After being placed in a temporary holding room they put us on board one of their other two remaining aircraft to get us to our destination. My seat was next to the exit door and when I sat down I noticed the door was half open and we were getting close to taking off. I thought surely someone will come check to make sure the door was closed but that never happened so I took matters into my own hands and sealed the door shut myself. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to “Pray without ceasing” and for the duration of the second flight while sitting next to what I figured was a faulty exit door that was going to blow open any minute and suck me out of my seat and into the great wide open, I was fully obedient to that biblical command.

After disembarking the first aircraft with the bum engine I found a corner in our holding room, put myself in a fetal position and sucked my thumb. The second to last thing I wanted to do was get on another airplane. The very last thing I wanted to do was stay in Moldova. Facing those two choices I opted for the plane ride. Then I had to close the emergency exit door and began to rethink if I had made the right choice. But here I am today so you can relax knowing how the story ended.

Recently I was reading in 2 Corinthians 11 where Paul talks about all the perils he faced. One of the threats he mentions is “dangers at sea.” The Greek word he uses is “kindunos,” which means extremely dangerous. Paul knew it was extremely dangerous to travel by sea and could write with a high level of authority on this topic seeing how he was shipwrecked three times. I had a hard enough time getting back on a plane and I wasn’t even in an actual crash. Plus my one ordeal was only 30 minutes of actual flying time without an engine. Luke’s account of one of the three shipwrecks that Paul was part of goes like this:

“The ship was caught by the storm … and we took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day [day two of being in the storm] they began to throw the cargo overboard. On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. When neither sun nor stars appeared for MANY days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.”

Not the actual boat Paul was on.

Last night I happened to catch the last 20 minutes of the movie, The Perfect Storm, a movie about the boat Andrea Gail being caught by two huge storms that converged together and then on top of them. The boat and all the crew were lost at sea but the movie depicts what it would have been like as the waves overtook the boat and ultimately took their lives. I couldn’t help but think this was what it would have been like for Paul, Luke, and the others that were traveling.

Having had the above-mentioned airplane experience I can understand why someone who has been in an actual plane crash would be hesitant to get back on one. I could also understand if, after his first shipwreck, Paul never got on a boat again. Certainly after a second voyage that turned into a swim, one could undoubtedly sympathize with Paul if he never got back on a sea vessel. Then a third time?! I’d have to start thinking I was the problem if every time I got on a boat it went down. And if I were a friend of Paul’s I certainly wouldn’t get on a boat with the fella. “Sure I’ll travel with you Paul. You know what, why don’t you take the one that leaves tomorrow, I need to wash my sheep’s hair and I’ll catch one a little later.”

In a devotion written by Rick Renner he says,

“I’m sure these devilish attacks at sea were designed to put such a fear of sailing in Paul that he would never get back on another ship. But if Paul was going to get to the various places where God had called him to minster, he had no choice. Therefore, he didn’t allow these occurrences to determine whether or not he obeyed God. Even if it meant he had to get back on another ship and sail through dangerous waters again, he’d do it, if that was required of him, in order to successfully fulfill his God-given assignment in life.”

He goes on to say, “It takes guts to do the will of God. You have to be totally convinced of what God has told you, or the devil will throw enough blockades in your way to make you turn around and permanently go back home.”

Life is challenging. Job, marriage, parenting, it takes work to be determined to see it through to the end. I feel like I’ve been shipwrecked a few times in life and also recognize I need to do a better job of jumping back on board the ship after I get tossed. I want to demonstrate to my wife and kids that I’m committed to God’s call on my life, committed to my marriage and committed to raising my two daughters and two sons in a godly way.

There’s only one way to live and that’s to go all in. And the only way I know to do that is to have complete reliance on God. We’ll be hit by waves and want to give up at times, but if, like Paul, we stay true to the end, we’ll also be able to say like he did, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness.” (2 Timothy 4:6-8 ESV) I can hear Paul yelling encouragement to us, “Keeping battling. It’s worth it!”

This post first appeared in the Noah Gets A Nailgun blog, © 2015. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading Todd Nagel’s guest post, “Shady planes and shipwrecks,” on the Stepping Up blog.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistThe difficulties endured because of her husband’s martyrdom led Elizabeth Elliot to spiritual maturity.

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistGod Has Not Forgotten You is a 31-day devotional for handling the shady planes and shipwrecks of life.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistTell fellow men, dads, and husbands about the Noah Gets a Nailgun blog. John and Todd post excellent stuff.

Eric Liddell: More than a runner



Eric LiddellI’ve been researching some of Eric Liddell’s life for a new product at FamilyLife (more about that at the end of the post). One of the things that struck me about his life was the surprising number of parallels with Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

  • Both wrote a book about discipleship.
  • Both focused on the needs of others while in a prison camp.
  • Both were in prison camps because of circumstances surrounding World War II.
  • Both died in prison just a few months apart.
  • Both gave up opportunities to save themselves for the sake of others.
  • Both cared more about obedience to Christ than wealth or fame.

Most who have heard the name Eric Liddell only know of his “Chariots of Fire” fame, which highlights his Olympic success, and very public stance not to run on Sunday. But many are less familiar with the fascinating second half of his life. After his Olympic success he went on to serve as a missionary in China, eventually dying in a prison camp. And like Bonhoeffer, he lived an incredibly selfless life, and four stories in particular highlight this reality.

Story #1: The Spirit, not the Letter

Liddell was famous for his stance on keeping the Sabbath holy. He would not run races that were held on Sunday, which was a significant part of the plot of Chariots of Fire, and most probably the reason why his story became so well known. (Can you name any other Olympians from the 1924 games?) But the following story speaks to Liddell’s spiritual maturity and shows how he knew when to hold to the letter of this conviction, and when to hold to the spirit of it.

Throughout these difficult years, Liddell maintained his belief that Sundays should be reserved for God. But when teenagers got into a fight during a hockey match, Eric – to the astonishment of those who knew of his famous stand at the 1924 Olympics – agreed to referee the game on the following Sabbath. Joyce Stranks, who was a seventeen-year-old fellow internee, said that Eric,

“…came to the feeling that a need existed, [and] it was the Christlike thing to do to let them play with the equipment and to be with them … because it was more Christlike to do it than to [follow] the letter of the law and let them run amok by themselves. And for me that was very interesting because it was the one thing, of course, everyone remembers about Eric [that he would not run on Sunday because the Sabbath was the Lord’s Day].” (P82)

Every man, and every young man has to strive to know when to hold to the letter and when to hold to the Spirit of the law. It’s a difficult balance, but one that a mature man strives for through the empowering of the Holy Spirit.

Story #2: Hold on Loosely

Eric’s sincere Christian faith was everywhere on display. Stephen Metcalf, who was seventeen in 1944, remembered one remarkable incident. Metcalf’s shoes had completely worn out. One day Eric came to him with something wrapped up in cloth.

“Steve,” he said, “I see that you have no shoes, and it’s winter. Perhaps you can use these.” Eric pushed the bundle into Steve’s hands. “They were his running shoes,” Metcalf says. We can only imagine that Eric had been saving the historic shoes as a memento of his past triumphs, but in the difficult conditions of the internment camp, their practical value to this young man far outweighed their sentimental value to Eric. (P83)

Possessions are fleeting. We need to hold loosely to things, even the sentimental items to which the world ascribes great wealth. What do you have that others need that you can let go of? Try to identify one thing today you can give away and encourage your kids to do so as well. Bonus points if it’s an old pair of your running shoes from the Olympics.

Story #3: Women and Children First

I mentioned above, that one of the parallels between Liddell’s life and Bonhoeffer’s was that they both turned down opportunities to leave prison in order to protect others. Bonhoeffer stayed in prison, even though he could have escaped, because he knew his family would have suffered if he had escaped. Liddell’s situation was a little different, but he still was thinking of others first:

…63 years after Eric’s death, just before the Beijing Olympic Games, the Chinese government revealed something that even Eric’s family didn’t know: Eric had been included in a prisoner exchange deal between Japan and Britain but had given up his place to a pregnant woman. (P86)

Part of me isn’t sure how to feel about this, knowing he had a wife and children to care for. But of course, the other side of me is inspired and moved to live sacrificially as a result of his example. Either way, there’s no doubt Liddell was an amazing man, firmly committed to Christ, and active in his love of others. How can you put the women and children in your life first?

Story #4: A Life Honoring to God

I love it when there’s so much more to a story than what the popular versions reveal. The things that occurred in Liddell’s life after the Olympics are really some of the most fascinating parts. And the general testimony of his life is a great encouragement. Especially his commitment to the daily discipline of spending time with God. Even while in the prison camp. One of his fellow prisoners observed the following (All quotes come from chapter three of Eric Metaxas’ book 7 Men and the Secret of their Greatness):

“No matter how busy he was, Eric never neglected his daily time with God. Each morning, Eric and his friend Joe Cotterill woke early and quietly pursued their devotions together by the light of a peanut-oil lamp for beginning a long day of work.” (P82)

There are many days I find myself tired, frustrated, and scatterbrained. And I often lament having not spent personal time in Bible study and prayer. Sometimes I even blame it on busyness. But it’s a great encouragement to know that even a man in a prison camp kept this a priority. If he can, so can I.

Share With Your Children!

Men need encouragement, and children need examples. The life of the man featured in this post provides both. Read his story, and then take time to read portions to your family. There’re some powerful lessons in here about what it means to be a mature Christ follower, things I hope my kids and I learn. Try answering some of the questions above and see if you can’t apply his life to yours this week.

Final Note: Passport2Identity

As mentioned at the onset, FamilyLife has a new product forthcoming called Passport2Identity™ (due out March of 2016). Designed as a follow up to Passport2Purity®, it equips parents to help their 14-16 year old children navigate the teen years. I mention it here because we have a feature in session two of the version for young men (there’s a separate version for young women) on the life of Eric Liddell.

© 2015 by John Majors. Used with permission.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading “Eric Liddell: More than a runner,” by guest writer John Majors on the Stepping Up blog.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistTo get more details, listen to an extended podcast version of Liddell’s life story on SoundCloud.

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistKeep your eyes open for the March 2016 release of Passport2Identity. It will be announced on FamilyLife.com.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistIn the meantime, if you have a pre-teen son, why not plan a Passport2Purity getaway together.

Awful advice from Mister Wonderful



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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