FamilyLife Today®

What Makes a Man? Jeff Kemp

with Jeff Kemp | November 6, 2023
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From six-pack abs to sexual conquest to a big bank account or even spiritual performance, you might get the idea real manhood is earned. But former NFL Seahawks quarterback NFL Jeff Kemp knows that can leave a guy burned out, isolated, and confused. He tells his own story of moving out of insecurity and into confidence in what really makes a man—without competing or pretending.

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  • About the Guest

  • From six-pack abs to sexual conquest to a big bank account or even spiritual performance, you might get the idea real manhood is earned. But former NFL Seahawks quarterback NFL Jeff Kemp knows that can leave a guy burned out, isolated, and confused. He tells his own story of moving out of insecurity and into confidence in what really makes a man—without competing or pretending.

Former NFL Seahawks quarterback Jeff Kemp tells his story of moving out of earning manhood and into confidence in what really makes a man.

What Makes a Man? Jeff Kemp

With Jeff Kemp
|
November 06, 2023
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Dave: Okay, so, it's not every day we have a quarterback in the studio.

Ann: I don't even know what to think. Are we going to be talking football the whole day?

Dave: There's literally a football on our table. [Laughter]

Ann: What is this?

Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com.

Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.

Dave: Jeff Kemp is sitting across [from us] in Orlando, FL on FamilyLife Today. Jeff, welcome to FamilyLife®.

Jeff: Who is Jeff Kemp? [Laughter] I thought Dave Wilson was the quarterback that was in this studio every single day.

Dave: Ah, that's what my wife thinks, because I might talk about football a little bit. I don't know.

Jeff: You're so funny, because you know what we're going to talk about is identity and who we really are, [Laughter] and this quarterback stuff and NFL, and you're the big hot shot talk, you know, host of this podcast—

Ann: [Laughter] That's not us.

Jeff: —but at the end of the day, yes, I'm Jack and Joanne’s son, and Stacy's husband, the father of four married sons, grandpa to nine.

Dave: Wow.

Jeff: And I'll net it out this simple way: I'm the beloved son adopted by a perfect Dad, and that is my anchor, that is my identity; that's what I got to live out of, and that fixes a lot of junk.

Dave: Football was a big part of who you thought you were as a young man, right?

Jeff: Yes; quick background: my dad was an NFL quarterback. He played for the Buffalo Bills, was in the AFL for years, won two championships, was the Most Valuable Player of the league; so, I grew up with a dad that was an NFL quarterback. And people would say, “Hey, what are you going to do when you grow up?” I said, “Play quarterback.” I didn't know it was a tough job to get. [Laughter] He was really, really good and he was also super encouraging. My dad was so cool—unconditional love, kisses and hugs after every game.

One time I was on the bench not being the guy that was on the field playing, and he said, “I saw you today. You looked great.” I said, “Dad, I didn't get in the game,” and I'm all mad. He said, “Oh, I know, but I saw you warming up. You're throwing great.”

Ann: Wow!

Jeff: So, he was that kind of optimistic, encouraging, visionary dad. “Your day's going to come.” He was like the voice of the angel to Gideon, always telling me about my future. The challenge was, the way I interpreted that was, “I'm going to be really good someday, but I'm not right now.” I'm eighth grade, and I quit football because I couldn't be the quarterback. I'm 10th grade and I'm third string. I'm 11th grade, and I'm third string. I'm freshman and sophomore in college; I'm third string.

I'm a free agent in the NFL: “Oh, I made the team, but I'm third string.” Some people say, “That's pretty cool! Making the NFL is nice, being a quarterback.” For me, it wasn't enough, because my dad had lived at a higher level. Plus, at 34 years old, he ran for Congress and won. At 50, he ran for President. So, my vision of being a significant success and leader was way too high.

Ann: Wow.

Jeff: Even though he was unconditional, affirming, and loving to my sisters and my brother and me, and I had a faith in Jesus—this, “Go to heaven. Let my sins be forgiven. He's a great help in my life.” But my identity was: “I’ve got to be a success.”

Ann: Did you feel like a failure?

Jeff: I didn't feel like a failure. I felt like I hadn’t arrived yet.

Ann: Yes.

Jeff: So, I wasn't confident, Ann. I remember trying to please everyone in the audiences in high school and especially in college. I was a chameleon depending on who I was with. I'd have to get drunk to go to a party if we lost the game, because I was insecure that I didn't play well so people wouldn’t look at me in a positive way. I'd go to Bible study during football season to get maybe God's benefit, but I'd hide my Bible under my parka walking out of my fraternity, because I didn't want to be seen as, you know, “Mr. Holy Christian,” partly because of the hypocrisy and partly I just didn't think they'd think that was cool.

I was insecure. I was worried what people thought. I'd act cocky and confident. I bet a lot of guys know exactly what I'm talking about.

Dave: You are describing my college life.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: I didn't know it then; you probably didn't know it then. We both know it now. It was all identity. I didn't know who I was, so I projected an image to pretend I knew who I was, and it was all just a facade. I think a lot of men do that, right?

Jeff: They do, and between you and me, we cover the gamut. I had the incredible, present, encouraging, complimentary, “I love you. You're going to be great,” kiss you, hug you, support you, dad; and I still had a vacuum, because it hadn't been filled by the perfect Father. You had a dad leave and set a bad example and introduce you to negative things, and so you didn't know who you were, and you needed—actually, you did have—a perfect Father, but it just took you a while to discover Him.

Dave: Yes, yes.

Jeff: Same here. It took me a while to discover him. And the last three years, even though I've been walking with Jesus since my football career started way back in ‘81, I've been letting God father me in a new way that has really made a difference and set me free from wanting to be more significant, wanting to be better at speaking, wanting to be more popular in ministry, wanting to succeed, not anymore in the NFL standpoint or the business standpoint, but “Oh, yes, I do some ministry, and I do some speaking. I'd like to have 2,000 people at my speech, not 200.”

Dave: Yes.

Jeff: That stuff has gone through my head and heart all through my life—

Ann: —all until three years ago—

Jeff: —but God is setting me free from that.

Ann: What happened?

Jeff: I'll give credit to God, but when COVID happened, it was a blitz, because every speech I had got cancelled within two days. I had like three months of travel and speaking to men's conferences and men's retreats and other events cancel. So, there can be no travel, no speaking, no doing what I love to do—connecting with men—and no income. I said, “Stacy, this isn't looking too good.” She said, “You know what, this is fine. God is in charge. You've been speaking way too much. You've been on the road way too much. I'm lonely. You need to come home. We need to connect. Let's play tennis again.” I said, “That's cool.”

I realize I now have time to really connect with God more so than I had been, instead of a quick, ten-minute quiet time and then rushing off somewhere, I said “Okay, God. I have time with you.”

A friend of mine, “Big Ed” McGlasson, former NFL player and then a pastor and evangelist—I was jealous of him, because he was such a great evangelist and speaker back in my compare days; he told me that with a Navy dad that drove him to succeed, he made it in the NFL. But then when he blew his knee out, he said “Okay, God, I'll be in ministry,” and he drove and succeeded with doing the Bible, but he was losing the heart of his wife and his daughter, because Christianity isn't a performance thing. Manhood isn't a performance thing. You don't earn your identity; you receive it.

Well, Ed at 40 years old was wise enough to say, “Abba Father, I need to be re-fathered.” And he stopped reading the Bible as a Christian and started reading it as a son, listening to his heavenly Father to see what he's going to say to him. It told him who he was identity-wise, and it set him free from having to perform, perform, perform. He actually developed empathy. It blossomed in his marriage and with his fathering to daughters and such.

I said, “God, re-Father me, I'm going to follow Big Ed's example.” Let me just say, Ann, I can't go into it all now, but I felt so much closer and secure and intimate in my relationship with God as I started thinking of Him as my Father, and I'm His son. The Bible is His message to me, and I'm excited to open it up and see what He's going to say today. And it's not like I’ve got to check the box or I feel guilty.

Dave: Yes, you’ve got to walk us through that, because as athletes we know this, but any man—and I'm guessing women, the same thing—the way to live as a follower of Christ, man or woman, especially I can talk as a man, is achieve, not receive. Receive sounds passive.

Jeff: Yes.

Dave: It sounds like, “I don't do anything. I just—somebody else does it.” A man makes things happen; a man achieves. You've already described we both live that way. This is how we function as men, and the better we achieve, the better man we are, and the more respected we are. Help us understand: receive does not sound like the way to go, but if that's the way of Jesus, then what's that look like?

Jeff: This is ironic for two quarterbacks to be telling men to be receivers. [Laughter]

Ann: Yes!

Jeff: You know, quarterback: lead, initiate, take charge, perform, achieve.

Dave: Right.

Jeff: The way Jesus did it was to, even though He was perfect and all powerful, He humbled himself, and He stayed totally connected to His Father. And He said, “The Father's always at work, and I'm always at work. I only do what the Father tells me. I only say what the Father tells me to say. The Son can do nothing apart from the Father.” So Jesus humbled himself, connected to the Father, depended on the Father, listened to the Father, and waited until the Father gave Him the game plan as well as the power.

Now, we're not naturally humble but if we receive our identity, and we receive our mission, and we receive our manhood and the ability to love our wife well or fix this thing that we messed up with our daughter or son, or maybe to be a very good servant leader at work; we receive it, and we can sense, “Well, God gave that to me. I didn't invent that.” guess who gets the credit? Him. And that protects us from what I call the kryptonite of American Christianity for leaders: pride; glory! Glory is only for God.

Ann: When you say “receive,” that's like an ethereal—I'm thinking of guys and sons that are listening to that: “I want that. I want to receive.” But how does that happen? How do you do it?

Jeff: Maybe a good answer will come to me after I tell a little bit about how I try to do it. We can synthesize it into a couple of phrases, but I've started waking up in the morning, and the very first thing I do is I don't look at my phone or other stuff. I just kind of stop for a minute or two or three, either in my chair in the family room or out on the back deck. Sometimes I just fall to my knees on the side of the bed, and I say, “God, thank you that I get to be your son. Help me just sit with You as my Father and remember that You're a perfect Father. You’ve got me, and I'm your son. If You're in charge of me and You're better at it than me, how do you want this day to go?”

So basically, I'm starting with gratitude and presence with Abba Father. And from there, there are some other things. I use my journal, and in my journal—it's actually over in my little book—I wrote my own little Shema, the Jewish Shema: “The Lord our God is one. You shall love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind.” I wrote something that says, “Father God, Lord Jesus, Holy Spirit, Father me, lead me, fill me. You're my Father. I belong to You. I want You to run my life.”

And then, “Hey, what do you want me to read today?” It might be a devotion on my phone. I get one from Big Ed McGlasson. I get one from Kenny Luck. It may just be to open up the Psalms or Proverbs, or the sermon was great at church, and I'm going to jump into it again. Now, I do not do this 100 percent, 90 percent, 80 percent. I'm probably like 35 percent doing this. But when I don't, I didn't start off today as a son.

I’ve got a funny story about that one. Stacy and I date by playing tennis. I get up at the last second, and so I didn't have my sit down in the chair with Abba Father and just showed up, wiping the sleep out of my eyes. I started warming up, and I wasn't hitting the tennis ball well. And what's a competitive guy do when he's having that happen? He starts hitting it harder. Well, it's no fun for Stacy, [Laughter] because the ball’s going in the net and past her. I stopped, and I said, “What is wrong with me? I'm not playing tennis as a son.” And I said, “Lord, help me. I want to play tennis as a son.”

And as soon as I said that, I kind of relaxed; my muscles kind of relaxed. I started stroking the tennis ball much better, which, you know, relaxing in sports is better than tension. I realized, “Well, this is supposed to be fun for her, too, not just me.” And we had a great time. We had conversation. I played well; she played well. We were smiling, and it was all because I made the shift from being Jeff to being a son. That is receive; that is not achieve. I didn't figure this out and accomplish that. I didn't achieve it, Dave; and I did not achieve my identity.

I received it because Jesus died on the cross. It says in 2nd Corinthians 5, verse 21, that “God made him who never, ever sinned to be sin’s punishment for us who do sin, so that we could be made right with God and made into the righteousness of God.” [Paraphrase] Which is a wild concept that you could explain as a pastor and Bible student better than I, but I see it this way: if He's making us into the righteousness of Christ, and I'm not behaving perfectly like that today, it must be outside of time and space. God sees me that way because Jesus accomplished it for me. And I'll be that in the future, so God's giving me credit for it right now.

So why don't I live from that identity and truth instead of trying to earn it? He achieved it. We receive it.

Ann: And that's true not only for men, but for women.

Jeff: Of course, you’re a daughter.

Ann: Just that, just to receive—it's like, every day, it's being reminded of who we are in Him. Man, that's a great place to start.

Dave: And there's a part of me, Jeff, that when I think of you doing that, here's what I envision, right or wrong: you have a vision of a loving father so when you say receive from your father being a son, I'm like, “Well, that's an easy concept for you.”

It took me years to understand [that] the Word of God revealed a loving Father. It was a new vision for me. I had never seen that, so it took a while.

Jeff: Yes.

Dave: You could say, “Hey, live as a son.”

Jeff: It doesn’t work for you.

Dave: I'm like, “I don't even know what that means.” I sort of ran away to find my life, because it wasn't in a connection with my earthly father. But man, when you start digging in, like you said, to Scripture—and I don't know if I've ever read it like you just said. I'm inspired right now. I'm going to start reading the word as a son. I do know a Heavenly Father now; that whole vision has been resurrected—it's a better word for me—years ago, and I understand that now, and I wanted to be that to my own sons. But that's inspiring to think, “Okay, what would that look like?” So that's my first thought.

Jeff: My dad wasn't perfect. His flaws were really, really big, but his heart and love for his family was real, real big.

Dave: Yes.

Jeff: And he didn't carry it out perfectly, alright? And I'm trying to be as honorable and appropriate as I can be, but we're all fallible. We all have feet of clay.

Dave: Right.

Jeff: Talk about glory. You know, my dad got a lot of glory, which wasn't good for him. Late in life, he had a challenge with an addiction that he faced the music when the family asked him to get healing on it, and he did. That was a blessing. It humbled him. He had a challenge with cancer, which he fought for 4 1/2 months, and it took his life. That humbled him. He ended his life very close, intimate, and free with God.

It wasn't—he said, “When I die, don't make it about football, don't make it about politics, don't make it about business. I just want it to be about the Lord and His blessing and our family.” So, he ended there.

Dave: Yes.

Jeff: But I empathize right now with every guy out there, because the majority of guys didn't have a dad that was connected, present, encouraging, honorable, integrous, positive, affectionate. But 100 percent of us did not have a perfect dad to begin with.

Dave: Right.

Jeff: All of us.

Dave and Ann: Right.

Jeff: There's a truth I've heard that the two most important things that shape your life and the person you're going to be are your view of God and your view of yourself. And then start asking God to show you who He really is versus what American Christianity has said He is, what the church that hurt you says He is. Go to the Scriptures; ask God to show you who He is.

Maybe you go to Luke 15, where Jesus tells the story of what a really cool dad is like. A dad that had a wild, partying, “Give me the money and I'm going to run”—a prodigal son. And then he had an, “I'm going to stay at home, follow all the rules, but I'm prideful, arrogant. I deserve—and I'm really mad at the little brother who you just were nice to, Dad.”

Dave: Yes.

Jeff: That dad jumped off the porch, ran to his son. He didn't say one word about his couple years of wasting his life with prostitutes and partying; new sandals, ring, a robe, a party, a barbecue. And then, the older brother complains, and he says, “Son, everything I've always had has been yours. Please, come in and celebrate. Your brother was lost. He was dead, but now he's alive. He's found.” That's what Father God, Abba Father (Jesus called him Abba, “Daddy”); that's really what he's like.

Satan is the enemy of God, and he wants to make everything good seem bad, everything bad seem good. He's messed up our view of God as Father. And, secondly, he wants to fix your view of yourself.

Ann: Guys, I'm listening, and I'm thinking of women that are thinking, “I long for this for my husband.” How would you encourage wives to help their husbands? Is there anything we can do besides pray?

Jeff: Well, you can try what Stacy did early on when I didn't have much of a clue, as a selfish, me-centered husband who thought he was a great guy who married a beautiful girl and bought Gary Smalley books and would earmark them and put yellow tags in and put them on my nightstand. [Laughter] That didn't work.

I heard him speak at a conference one time. He's funny. He had this self-deprecating, but fun and kind of off the cuff humor approach. I said, “This guy is awesome. I love what he's saying. I want to get his book.” She goes, “Those are the ones I've been giving you.” [Laughter] “I thought he was a wimp and got pushed around.” We're all going to learn different ways. But as far as your answer, you said, “Pray.” Everything is “pray.” That's what receiving is.

Ann: Yes.

Jeff: But you can't pray, “God, I'm going to script the timeline and the manner in which You do these things.”

Ann: Yes.

Jeff: You’ve basically have to say, “You know what, God? You're smarter than me. God, you’re more loving than me, and you'd like better things in my life than I know for myself, so I'm going to trust You. Whatever You think is best, whatever brings You joy and pleasure, God, I want that for my husband. Give him the best of You. I think it might have to do with his identity getting healed. Would you please help him know what a beloved son he is and heal him from that dad junk or that image problem he's got?”

Ann: And I would add, too, to pray as you're praying that: “Lord, help me to say the things that you've been trying to say to him. So, let me say the things that you're already saying.”

Jeff: The Gideon story in Judges, Chapter 6 has a guy who's 19 years old.

Ann: Yes!

Jeff: He's not a general or a leader or a stud yet. He's afraid. All of Israel's afraid of the Midianites. He's hiding in a wine press, beating out some wheat. Good job. He says, “I'm the least in my family, and my family is the least in Israel,” so Gideon is stuck.

Ann: Right.

Jeff: He's pretty normal. It's at that moment the angel of the Lord, which some say is Jesus pre-appearing, comes and says, “Gideon, oh, great and mighty man of valor—”

Ann: —and he’s standing there saying, “Who?”

Jeff: —"mighty warrior, the Lord is with you.” God sees you outside of time and space, and he defines who you will become when you receive Jesus Christ and your true identity. And who you'll be an eternity when all is perfect, is who you are now to God, so we are supposed to live from that.

Ann: Yes.

Jeff: My dad was a Gideon type dad. He spoke words into me, but they're a little bit more about leadership and performance than identity and relationship with God or even character, per se. But a wife, if she will tap into a man's deepest need for respect, and know that, “I love the desire you have to be a good man. I love your desire to work hard. I know you want to be so much better in so many areas. You don't have to be perfect. I'm proud of you. You're going to be there. I see you that way right now.” Whatever it is, in your style with him, to speak those Gideon, affirming type words into his heart.

Emerson Eggerichs says, “Speak as if you're giving him credit for the thing that he wants to be before he is that—”

Ann: —right—

Jeff: “—and he will be far more motivated than saying, ‘Hey, you didn't mow the lawn, you forgot to take out the trash, and our finances are rotten. Can you please get this stuff straightened out? I've asked you ten times’.”

Man, all of a sudden, if I hear those things, which I forget to do those things a lot. I'm ADD, and Stacy's a perfectionist. She's not saying, “You're a failure,” but I hear, “You're failing.” And men fear failure more than anything else.

Dave: Yes.

Jeff: And we fear it, in our marriage, from our wife more than with anyone else. You can “boo” me at a stadium; you can say rotten stuff about me in the media. I don't care. I'm going to come play next week and prove that you're wrong. That's a little bit of the old competitive Jeff, but if my wife lets me know that I've hurt her or I fell short, that feeling of failure will make me defensive real quick.

The antidote to that stuff is knowing what God really thinks about you, because then you don't have to panic and say, “I stink” or defend yourself and say, “No, I'm really good. I'm a better husband than 99 out of 100 guys. I'm better than my dad,” which is my old line: “I'm better than my dad.” [Laughter] She'd say, “You know, you’ve got to set the bar realistically. Jesus is the bar.” So, that's the answer, I think.

Ann: That’s good.

Jeff: Prayer and then affirming his true identity for who he wants to be and who God knows he is and is going to make him. And not just dwelling on, “Hey, you're not quite there.”

Dave: All I know is that's what you've done for me.

Ann: Ah, that's nice.

Dave: You have done that. And another big piece of it, and we'll talk about this tomorrow, is that man—and we are that man—needs men.

Shelby: Knowing our identity in Christ will shape everything we do; everything we think; everything we say, believe, and even have an attitude about. Who I am in Christ is something I have to remind myself of every stinking day, because when I wake up in the morning, I forget. I don't know about you, but I forget. So, remind yourself right now about who you are in Jesus and move out into your day secure in Him. I love this conversation.

I'm Shelby Abbott, and you've been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Jeff Kemp on FamilyLife Today. You know, Jeff has written a book called Receive: The Way of Jesus for Men. Now, if you want to grow and develop and reach your potential as a man, this is the perfect book to help you do that. And it's going to be our gift to you when you partner with us financially.

So, how do you do that? You can go online to FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329; again, that number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” And feel free to drop us something in the mail, too, if you like. Our address is FamilyLife, 100 Lake Hart Drive, Orlando, FL 32832.

And I wanted to make sure that you know about checking out Jeff's Level 5 Friendship Playbook. It's going to be in the show notes today. It's where Jeff will show you how to build a brotherhood, a small huddle of trusted friends, who you share your life with, confess your sin [to], and live in the freedom that comes with being in a community of men. Again, you could check that out in today's show notes.

Now, tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson are going to be joined again by Jeff Kemp as he explores the crisis of manhood and the way of Jesus for men. That's tomorrow. We hope you'll join us.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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Episodes in this Series

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4 Strategies for Authentic Manhood: Jeff Kemp
with Jeff Kemp November 8, 2023
Former NFL Seahawks quarterback Jeff Kemp offers four solid strategies toward a powerful, humble, and fearless biblical manhood that goes the distance.
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Receive: The Way of Jesus for Men: Jeff Kemp
with Jeff Kemp November 7, 2023
Former NFL Seahawks quarterback Jeff Kemp shows what it means to receive your identity as God's son and drink in Jesus' perfect example of being a man.
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