Jeff Kemp knows about blitzes.* He’s a former NFL quarterback, as was his dad Jack Kemp before him. Jack Kemp was also Bob Dole’s running mate in the 1996 presidential election and served in George H. W. Bush’s Cabinet as Housing Secretary.
Jeff is an unusual man in other ways. Picture in your mind the image of a man who has been a top athlete (there is hardly anything higher in the American sports world than quarterbacking in the NFL). Add to that the picture of someone growing up in the home of a White House insider. Jeff Kemp probably doesn’t fit your stereotype. He has devoted the latter part of his career to non-profit ministry to families, having run such an organization in Washington State for several years before taking a position as a vice president for FamilyLife.
And he’s surprisingly uninterested in himself. Last month I spent the better part of an hour one-on-one with Jeff, driving him from the airport to a pastors’ meeting he was leading in Xenia, Ohio, to kick off a new cooperative family ministries initiative there. I had to laugh. I consider myself a good question-asker, but he beat me to it, asking so many questions about me that I hardly had the chance to inquire into how it was he had chosen to go into family ministries work.
I forget the details of his answer. I was driving, after all. The overall sense I got from him, though, was that he cares, and he loves helping people make their lives better. I think that’s probably also why he wrote Facing the Blitz.
I was never an athlete. Jocks intimidated me. I was successful as a musician and as a student, but not in gym class. I got a bad case of poison ivy once in eighth grade. It was worth it: it allowed me to sit out the part of the year when gym class was all about wrestling. Three weeks of intense skin rash was better than a few seconds of embarrassment on the mat. And believe me, the other guys in class made sure I felt the embarrassment for all it was worth
So it was refreshing to meet a star athlete who wasn’t impressed with himself. He’s impressed with Jesus Christ instead, and he attributes his character to Christ, not to anything in himself. (He speaks highly of his dad, too, which I think is only fitting.)
It’s also refreshing to see someone as successful as Jeff letting down his guard the way he does in Facing the Blitz. Some men think that being a man means toughing it out; that a real man doesn’t reveal his weaknesses. It’s pretty hard, though, to accuse a former pro football quarterback of being less than a real man.
I met someone on an airplane once who said he was fully in control of his life, and didn’t need any help, especially any help from God. He was trying to be a man’s man. I said, “Someday you’re going to run into something bigger than yourself. I hope you’ll remember Christ is there for you when you do.”
I look at the bullet-point list here, and I see a lot that speaks to my own life. I’ve been blitzed on the job, having been significantly misunderstood and disempowered more than once in my career. I’ve faced the blitz at church a few years ago when we suffered the crushing damage and pain of our youth pastor being arrested, tried, and convicted for what I usually call “misbehaving with minors,” since I don’t often want to speak what the actual charges were. I’ve faced the slow blitz of long-term disability due to a serious and persistent foot injury. Even as I write this I’m waiting for news: my dad is in potentially dangerous surgery this afternoon.
Jeff’s advice for those facing the blitz is in three parts:
Take a long-term view
Be willing to change
Reach out to others:
Under that last point, he reminds us that Life Is for Transformation (“LIFT”). It’s about teamwork, it’s about home and family, it’s about the legacy you leave.
It isn’t about yourself.
Jeff’s advice is good. The best thing about his book, though, is the vulnerability with which he expresses it. (His football stories aren’t bad, either!) Sure, he’s a great model of success. Unlike that man on the airplane, though, he knows his strength is in Jesus Christ and his purpose is for others.
I’m not sure how well his book will communicate to people who don’t follow American football. For those who do, though — and especially those who are trying to scramble out of the linebackers reach right now — I recommend this book highly.
*For those who don’t follow American football, a blitz is a (usually) surprise defensive maneuver that involves sending extra players across the line to try to bypass or overwhelm the quarterback’s blockers and bring him down for a loss.
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