To Lay Down Our Lives

Dawson TrotmanWe know love by this, that he laid down his life for us — and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. (1 John 3:16)

In thinking about this verse recently, I was reminded of Dawson Trotman. Tomorrow (June 18, 2024) is the 68th anniversary of his death.

Dawson served as a Christian leader during the 1930s, 40s and 50s. His ministry was focused primarily on reaching young people — high school students and college students, as well as those serving in the military, specifically the Navy. His ministry was called the Navigators.

In the summer of 1956 Dawson was speaking at a Bible camp in upstate New York when he and a few students went for a boat ride around the lake. Dawson asked one of the students, Allene Beck, if she could swim. She said she couldn’t. He suggested they trade places, since his seat would be more secure in the event of an accident.

A short time later, the boat made a turn into some choppy waves, almost capsizing. Dawson and Allene were both thrown into the water. Dawson, remembering she couldn’t swim, helped keep her head above water while the boat turned around and circled back.

Those on deck were able to lift Allene to safety, but as they reached for Dawson, he was pulled away by the current. He slipped beneath the surface and drowned.

In his death, we see how Dawson Trotman put the Apostle John’s words into action. In the most literal sense, he laid died his life for a fellow believer. It was both a heart-breaking tragedy and a Christ-honoring sacrifice.

A few days later, when Billy Graham preached Dawson’s funeral, he said, “Daws died the same way he lived: holding others up.”

That’s certainly true.

I would also contend that Dawson’s entire ministry was spent fulfilling this Biblical exhortation to lay down one’s life for our brothers and sisters. In the years and decades before that fateful afternoon in 1956, every day of Dawson Trotman’s life was spent in the service of others.

I don’t know if any of us will ever be in a position in which we’re faced with the possibility of literally laying down our lives for another. For the vast majority, it never happens.

But I’ll tell you what will happen, and it will happen to all of us, and no doubt it will happen sometime this week. You’ll be called upon — not to lay down your life — but to lay down some of your time for the sake of another.

Or to let go of a few dollars for the sake of another. Or to give a ride. Or make a call. Or prepare a meal. Or clean up someone’s mess. Or any number of things.

It comes to us just about every day: we each have the opportunity to lay down our lives in a spiritual sense.

There’s an old hymn that goes:

Lord, help me live from day to day
In such a self-forgetful way
That even when I kneel to pray
My prayer shall be for others.

We’re called to a life of service and sacrifice for the sake of others. It’s the life that Dawson Trotman led. May we follow his example.

Today’s memo was adapted from Steve’s message OTHERS, originally published at



Taking Care of the Big Stuff

Stephen Covey tells a great story that demonstrates the importance of keeping priorities straight. He saw it at a seminar:

The leader showed the audience an empty wide-mouthed gallon jar, then put as many rocks in the jar as would fit.

He asked the crowd, “Is this container full?”

Of course, everyone said, “Yes.”

The leader smiled, then poured some gravel into the jar, filling the crevices between the rocks. He asked again, “Is it full?”

The crowd was beginning to catch on; most of them said, “Probably not.”

Next he poured some sand it into the jar. “Now is it full?” he asked.

They had learned the lesson. In unison they shouted, “No!” And they were right; he then filled the jar with water.

Afterwards the seminar leader asked, “What’s the point here?”

Someone said, “Well, there are gaps, and if you really work at it, you can always fit more in your life.”

The seminar leader said, “That’s not the point! The point is this: If you hadn’t put these big rocks in first, you never would have gotten them in!”

He’s saying: Make sure you do the big stuff first.

It’s a habit we all need to develop. We’re tempted to tend to the nagging little details first, hoping to get them out of the way so we can focus on job one. The problem, however, is that the nagging little details never completely go away. They keep coming back, and there’s always a couple more on the way.

It’s best to learn to ignore them (for now) and direct your attention to that which really matters.

So, what really matters? This is something we each must define individually. But here’s a clue. Jesus said that the list begins with your relationship to God and his purpose for your life.

“Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33)

We often spend our days seeking sand and gravel and water, but they’re just filler. The big stuff needs to be done first.

Think about it. What’s your top priority? How will you tend to it today?

Today’s memo first published at Preaching Library.

living with focus

One Fully Focused Day

George Orwell said this about living with focus: “To see what is front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”

It’s so easy — much too easy — to find ourselves perpetually distracted, constantly diverting our gaze from what is necessary now, staring instead at that which barely matters at all.

By nature, we all have a short attention span, and our peripheral vision often works more like a telescope. Maintaining eyes-in-front is a never-ending battle.

King Solomon gave us this guideline to follow:

Let your eyes look straight ahead, and fix your gaze directly before you. (Proverbs 4:25)

How might we put this into practice?

Make this day about one thing, and one thing alone.

That goes for this day, and each new day to come.

Every morning, bright and early, we can declare out loud: “If nothing else gets done today, this one thing gets done. And if this one thing gets done, today counts as a win.”

This “one thing” could be almost anything:

– A conversation to make.
– A task to complete.
– It could be the first step of a project you’ve been putting off.
– Or the final step of a project that’s been dragging on.
– It could be to avoid a very old bad habit.
– Or to pursue a brand new good habit.
– It could be to put in a full day’s work.
– It could be to get a good night’s sleep.
– This “one thing” could even be to cross off all the items on a list.

The objective is that we live this day — and every day — with intention. With a sense of direction. With a steadfast focus on what matters most.

Not tending to everything all at once may seem, at first, almost lazy. There’s something about feeling frazzled that lets us think we’re at least moving in the right direction.

But frazzled rarely gets the job done.

No doubt, for all of us, we have much to keep us busy, and there’s still so much do.

Surely we’ll get there … one fully focused day at a time.

Ecclesiastes 11:4

Waiting for Perfect Conditions

Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap. (Ecclesiastes 11:4)

When a farmer anticipates a windy day, he may need to put off planting seeds; otherwise the gusts could scatter them away before they work their way into the earth.

And when a farmer anticipates rain during the harvest, he puts off cutting wheat or oats; if the grain gets wet it could be ruined.

In everything, farmers need to exercise a little caution.

Exercise too much caution, however, and your seeds will never get planted and your harvest will never come in.

The Living Bible says it this way: “If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done.” (Ecclesiastes 11:4 TLB)

If you need to begin a new project or start a new diet or launch a new ministry or make some big change in your life, don’t wait for the perfect conditions to come along. You’ll end up waiting forever.

Instead, seize the perfect moment — this moment — and take the first step in moving forward.

Bright Monday

This Changes Everything Monday

Another Easter is in the books.

Many of us observed the specially named days last week, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. And no doubt we all celebrated Easter yesterday, which is now often called Resurrection Sunday.

But what about today? The Monday after Easter? What do we call it?

Back-to-Business-as-Usual Monday?

I don’t think so. Not if we believe the message we heard yesterday.

Jesus’ closest followers spent Resurrection Sunday trying to fully absorb what they had just seen and heard. As in: Could it really be true? And if it is, what then?

By Monday, they were making plans and moving forward. Cautiously, perhaps, because some uncertainties had yet to be resolved. But they were moving forward nonetheless, making decisions based on the breaking news: Jesus is alive, and this changes everything.

Maybe that’s what we could call today: This Changes Everything Monday. The truth of the resurrection means that we factor the reality of the Risen Christ into every plan, every detail, every activity.

The Eastern tradition, by the way, calls this day Bright Monday. The entire week is called Bright Week, or Renewal Week. It’s a seven day celebration of the Resurrection of Christ.

What a great idea.

Instead of putting Easter behind us and turning our attention to the next activity, maybe we could spend these days focused on making each and every decision based on this powerful truth:

Jesus is alive… and the same Spirit that raised him from the dead is now living in us… and through his power we are made to be more than conquerors. (Romans 8)

How does this reality affect our plans?

It changes everything.

Easter 2023 may be in the books, but it’s not behind us, and it never will be. The impact of this powerful day has just begun.

Change Your Course

This story, which has certainly made the rounds, reminds of a truth taught in Deuteronomy 30.

As a ship approached the coast of New England, a heavy fog set in. The ship’s radar detected what appeared to be another vessel in its path, so the captain sent the following message: “Change your course 10 degrees port.” (Landlubbers, that’s to the left.)

Shortly they received a reply: “Change your course 10 degree starboard.” (To the right.)

The captain became annoyed and said: “I am a Lt. Commander of the U.S. Navy. Change your course.”

This was the response: “I am a seaman 3rd class. Change your course.”

By now the captain was furious. His next message read: “This is a battleship! Change your course.”

Moments later a message came across the wire that said: “This is a Lighthouse! Change Your Course!”

There are certain laws at work in the universe, and no amount of power, or money, or influence can change them. These laws are God’s laws. He designed them to work for us, not against us.

In order for this to happen, we sometimes have to change our course. His laws don’t change; we must change.

When we try to find happiness, fulfillment, and meaning in life through any method other than a personal relationship with God, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

We can change our course at anytime. We can choose life over death; we can choose spiritual blessings over self-destruction.

God doesn’t change his course to accommodate us, but if we are willing to change our course, to chart the path of our lives in his direction, he will to open his arms wide to receive us, and will shower us with blessings from heaven.

These are his words…

“I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live, and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life…” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)

First Things First

Taking Care of Business

The principle of first things first. The best leaders live by it.

Thomas Carlyle said, “Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.”

Vision is essential to leadership, as is seeing the big picture—no doubt about it. But great leaders also have the ability to see and do what is necessary today.

Solomon said it as simply as it can be said: Develop your business first before building your house. (Proverbs 24:27)

This is what great leaders do. Where many flounder week to week, effective leaders make sure that, before anything else, top business gets done each day.

And they do this every day.

What’s your business? I mean your real business? What matters most to you? Is there anything on your agenda today that reflects this priority?

Long term vision is great, but we also need to make a habit of taking care of today’s business today.

How would you complete these two sentences?

1. My real business is __________.

2. I will develop it today by doing this: _______________.

If your real business is following Jesus, then do something today that makes you more like him. Give. Love. Serve. Forgive. Show mercy.

This is where the first things first way of life begins. Develop your business (your real business) first, before doing anything else.

This memo is taken from Steve’s book, It’s All in the Dailies.