Potential and a Preach Off – Join us 10/26

1stSermon

Everyone has potential because everyone is made in the image of God.

Most of my life, I have been blessed to have people call out my God-given potential.

Just old enough to drive, I stood in front of our small inner-city congregation one evening and preached a sermon about Peter’s redemption. I was preaching a message of redemption, but in reality it was my message that needed saving. I wasn’t very good, but our church was very gracious.

My pastor blessed me that evening by giving me an opportunity to see for myself what others had already noticed: I had potential.

In a day when church websites look like advertisements for LED lighting, we often do not provide opportunity for the development of young people. The art of calling out potential is being lost to the mantra of “excellence or bust.” Even among the more traditional and established churches there can be a sense that order and discipline do not allow for young leaders to express and develop their gifts. For the sake of gospel advancement, we must adjust our thinking.

On that night many years ago, a poorly scripted sermon became a God-sclupted cornerstone. Brick by brick and sermon by sermon, God has since allowed me to grow into an effective communicator of the gospel. Long before I could see hundreds come to Christ, I had to see that someone believed in me. Potential is one of the most powerful and potent gifts you can give.

Because there is so much power in potential, I am ecstatic that on October 26, 2014, Captivate Church will host “The Preach Off” at our East Baltimore Church location!

This event gives our church the opportunity to pass along that blessing afforded me by the former congregation of Second & Fourth Baptist Church. We will affirm God’s work in the lives of three young men from Luzerne Avenue.

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The Origin of The Preach Off:

This summer I stepped out of the pulpit for several weeks, and our elders each took a week preaching at Captivate Church. This rotation of speakers gave some of the young men from East Baltimore the idea that they too could preach a sermon. As with most teenage boys, the observation turned into a competition. Two of our GEM Program teens began joking with one another about how great they would be as a preacher. They began giving each other a hard time until I finally intervened and asked, “Do you want to settle this for real?” Intrigued, they leaned in and we discussed the idea of a preaching competition. Soon, a third young man jumped in and our duo became a trio.  Stuff was getting real!

Within a few days we decided that we would host a preach off at Captivate Church in East Baltimore!

The Format:

Each teenager selected a mentor. Noodles selected me. Antuane selected Pastor Rob, Pastor of Captivate Church: East Baltimore. Rashard selected Mr. Mo, an Elder at Captivate.

They played Rock Paper Scissors for their preaching order.

Each of the three young men will have 15 minutes.

The students have studied the scriptures, outlined the passages, outlined their messages, considered how to connect with the audience and rehearsed their presentations.

The Scoring:  

Everyone in attendance will receive a scoring guide for each presentation, which will list a 1-10 scale for areas such as appearance, delivery, clarity, exegesis and application among others.

The Prizes:

For simply participating, each student is going to have a day of riding dirt bikes out in the country. In addition, we are developing a prize pack for the winner. Finally, the winner will have his picture hung on the wall of our newly renovated church fellowship hall. This is in a prominent place where all of our GEM program students will see it as they come each week for GEM.

The Why:

Our passion is to build a church culture where it is natural to call out the potential we see in each other. In the concrete jungle of the city it is considered normal to be told what you cannot accomplish. We want to provide a venue where people can come and find that, through Christ, they are not limited by their circumstance. Our GEM Program is already producing some great kids. None of our kids are perfect. Their pastor is not perfect. What we all have, however, is potential.

I can’t wait to see how God works through these kids on October 26th. We would LOVE for you to join us!

“The Preach Off”  |  October 26, 2014  |  6:00 p.m.  |  400 N. Luzerne Avenue  |  Baltimore  |  21224

Learn more about our GEM Program by visiting the blog of our missionary, Ms. Colleen Smith. 

Domestic Violence: My Story

“Stories need to be told.” –Mom

I was 17 years old. My mom needed to get a hold of my father for some reason, so we drove to his side of town and searched for him. To the surprise of no one, we found him in a bar.

Biological

Coming outside half drunk, he tried to treat me like I was seven.

He stood on the sidewalk and leaned into the car as he spoke across to my mom.  The passenger door was wide open.  He thought everything was cool. He tried to push his way into the vehicle and sit on my lap. I nudged him a few times and told him to get off of my leg. He refused. I snapped. I pushed him out of the car and grabbed him by his collar as I pushed him onto the trunk of the car. I clinched my fist and raised my hand when he said, “Do it. I deserve it. I wasn’t there for you. Go ahead, hit me.” I dropped my fist and pushed him away from the car. I returned to the passenger seat full of rage and brokenness. Holding back both anger and tears, I told my mom, “Let’s go. I want to get out of here.”

We pulled away and I didn’t see him again until I preached my grandmother’s funeral 13 years later.

My biological father's side of town.  I used to swing on a swing set that was in front of this mural.  credit: http://rachelrabinowitz.com/post/3364862/invest-in-baltimore-s-remington-neighborhood

My biological father’s side of town. I used to swing on a swing set that was in front of this mural.  Photo credit: http://rachelrabinowitz.com

Stepfather

Let’s rewind a bit. At nine years old I saw my mom get married to a man she met at work. He was an inmate who worked there as part of the pre-release unit out of a local prison. Hey, give her a break, there was no Match.com back then.

Our relationship was turbulent. On one hand I respected that he married my mom even though she had three children at the time but on the other hand I came to hate his alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and subsequent verbal and mental abuse. Our relationship kicked off with a bang. Not long after he moved in he tried to discipline me by tossing me into my bed and threatening me not to get up. I reached over to my dresser where there was a D-sized battery. As he closed the door behind him, I threw that battery with every intention of putting a hole in his head. Instead it put a hole through the door. He came in angry and confused when I screamed at him:

“You are not my father. I don’t have a father.

He walked out on me. I don’t want a replacement.”

I was angry. I was hurting. I was nine.

Manageable

During my teenage years, life was what we would call manageable. After all, that’s what you do with a rocky home life. You “manage” it, right?

Domestic violence leads far too many families to believe that this behavior is something to be managed.

Violence

On one particular afternoon when I was 16, my stepfather started screaming at me to take out the trash. I remember thinking that I should just keep my cool and do what he’s saying, because he was in another one of his moods. My obedience wasn’t enough; I guess he had some stress he wanted to work out. I packed up the trash and headed for the back door. He started yelling at me, “Pick up your pants! You’re walking around here looking like a N****R.”

Without turning around I told him in no uncertain terms what I thought of his use of that word. The next thing I know, he tackles me from behind and we start rolling around. A few punches were thrown. I ended up in a dominant position and I said, “I am only getting bigger and you are only getting older. Don’t you ever put your hands on me again.” I still get worked up just thinking about it.

That was the last time I recall him ever trying to touch me.

Paralyzed

When I went off to college four hours away from home, life became very complicated. The calls from my mom or sisters would often come with tears. Apparently with me out of the house, my stepfather became even more verbally, mentally and physically abusive. The police were called several times for incidents of violence, but each time nothing changed. He would convince the cops that everything was just fine. My reluctant and fearful family would back up his side of things and it would get “managed.” There’s that word again.

I can’t count how many times I wanted to come home from college to hurt this man and ensure he would never be able to cause harm to my mother or my sisters again.  But I felt paralyzed. Nearly every time a domestic violence incident occurred, my sisters or my mom would beg me not to come home. They knew me. They knew the rage that was bottled up. They knew I would take care of the problem, but they were worried that they would have a larger problem to clean up after I left. Their main fear was that he would escalate things again when there was no one around to protect them.

Out of respect for them, I stayed away. I was paralyzed.

Excuses

Each time I came home for special occasions, life appeared normal. I didn’t sense any immediate fear in the eyes of my sisters or mom and everyone was thankful to have the relative calm. I would be the one stirring up problems if I were to address the issue then. After all, “It only happens when he is drinking.”

Excuses. Victims of abuse often make excuses for the aggressor.

Rape

Today my (now former) stepfather is serving out a 30-year prison sentence for his second attempted rape conviction. I do not know the second victim, but I absolutely love the first–she’s my mom. My mom tried to separate from my stepfather. There was even a court order. He stalked my mother for months. During this time, I was married and living in Texas.

It was horrible to hear about him sitting in his car at exits to the highway where my mom had to travel.  Other times he would call my mom to tell her what she was wearing. Insane stuff. Ultimately, one day he broke into the house and attempted to rape my mother.

Mental

Many people get angry and assume that the women in these situations are “stupid” or “weak” or “complicit.”  The truth stands opposed to that ignorance.  The reality is that women who are victims of abuse are hurting, ashamed and afraid. It is very rare that a woman in an abusive relationship will actually come out and define the relationship as abuse. Remember: manage, paralyze & excuse.

Abuse is mental before it’s physical.

A woman trapped in domestic abuse has been conditioned to hold out hope that one day he will change and all the love she pours out will be reciprocated. In many ways she believes if she can somehow take responsibility for his problems, life will be better. It nearly never happens. A domestic abuser takes no personal responsibility but instead creates an irrational world where the victim is responsible.

Mental abuse is the worst form of abuse, because it leaves no bruises on the outside. The bruises are found on a woman’s self-esteem, on her broken heart, and in the fading of her once vibrant dreams.

Domestic abuse kills off the spirit if not the body.

Help

How can you help a woman or children caught in domestic violence?

Please visit http://www.thehotline.org/ and learn more about how you can help. If you are trapped in a domestic violence situation you can also call: 1.800.799.7233.

As a culture we have to engage ourselves in situations where we see domestic violence. We’ve become a nation of cowards who say, “That’s not my problem.” Wrong. It is our problem. Domestic violence is a cultural and societal problem. Any man who believes he can hit a woman without consequence will continue to do so. It eventually took two 20-year convictions to finally stop my stepfather from harming another woman.

National Domestic Violence Hotline  | 1.800.799.7233

National Domestic Violence Hotline | 1.800.799.7233

Mom

I sent my mother the above text and told her I was considering this post, but since it involved her, I would not share any of this publicly. I do not have a motive outside of helping others who may need to know that they are not alone. Below is her response:

Stories need to be told.  I don’t mind you telling it. I almost commented the other day on a post by (church member), but I didn’t out of respect for you. I sent it to myself instead.  

I stayed because I always thought it would get better, because I didn’t think I could handle it on my own financially, because we would separate and he would behave a couple of months and beg me to go back, and after 1996, because of the birth of our daughter. 

In 1993 he was charged with assaulting me, and I invoked marital privilege to keep him out of jail. When he attacked me in 2003, with a protective order already in place, he disconnected the house phone and took my cell phone. The only way I knew to get help was that you were on AOL IM every morning. I was able to reach you, and tell you what happened. I believe you called the police and I think a neighbor did too, hearing me scream. 

I’ve always hated that it must have hurt you being so far away, to get a cry for help from your mother. I felt it must be so conflicting for you to be a Pastor, and yet want to hurt him for what he did. I’m sorry I put you through that. 

After this attack, I had enough, and was determined to prosecute him. I couldn’t let my girls think this was ok, letting a man get away with doing this to you. He got 20 years for that attempted rape charge, with 10 suspended. He served 6 years, paroled in May 09, then was charged with rape in Dec 09, and got 20 more years for that, plus then 10 years back from my case. (That is how he’s doing 30 years now).

You did help me immensely though. Through the aftermath, you made me see that I needed to cut off all communication with him and stop accepting his phone calls. That cut off all of his control over me. Once I did that I was able to really begin to heal and grow stronger. I know I am strong now, because I will never, ever, allow anyone to treat me that way again.   

Thank you for consulting me, and considering my feelings. You can tell as much of the story as you want. As a family, it didn’t just happen to me, it happened to all of us.  

I love you.

I love you too, Mom. You are an amazingly strong woman.

Pastoral Advice For Ray Rice

Dear Ray Rice,

As I sit in my living room and cheer on the Ravens I am doing so with a somber heart.  As a pastor here in Baltimore, I have many mixed emotions but the greatest emotion I have is that of a shepherd to the broken. In all reality I’ll never have the opportunity to speak with you but if I did, I’d want you to know a few things.  I’d want you to know the same things I’ve had to remind myself in my darkest days and the same things I’ve had to share with others who have fallen horribly in their own lives.  Of all of the great men of God I know, they too have had to lean on these truths at one time or another.  No one is perfect.  That’s the core truth a man or woman must confess prior to receiving God’s grace and forgiveness.  Seeing as we’re not perfect, how does one respond to God in the aftermath of sin’s consequence?

rr

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold. – Proverbs 22:1

Understand that people saw more than just you in that video.

As I said, we are all sinners.  The country is angry but you need to know that what America sees is so much more than Ray Rice.  America sees an archetype.  America saw a man who reminds them of other abusers.  Unfortunately most of us now know someone who is a victim of domestic violence.  I am pastor to a congregation that has a strong ministry presence in East Baltimore.  This week when I asked my inner city teenagers if they know someone who has been involved in domestic abuse, every single hand was raised.  Ray, as you consider why the country is angry I want you to know that they saw the person who hit their mom, their sister, their friend.  Yes they are angry that you did what you did but their anger comes because they know someone who violated their trust and harmed someone they loved.

In light of that, you must know that you aren’t responsible to those emotions.  You are responsible to care for the emotions of those closest to you.  Respond to the emotions of your wife, your mom and those who most closely know the real you.  Make plans to respond to your daughter as she gets to an age where this conversation must take place. Please do not carry the burden for all of America.  That is not yours to carry.  You were a flashpoint for all of us, including myself.  You are not responsible for my emotions or any other person in America outside of your closest loved ones.  If you own the emotions of people who have nothing to do with your situation, you will find it impossible to move forward.  Own your actions, own your response, own your responsibility as a husband and father.  Don’t own the rest.  Pray for God to heal others just as you are praying for His healing on your family.

Recognize that this incident does not define you.

Look man, I know that life is far more complicated than the old Western films where you have the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys’.  I’ve come to realize that all of the ‘good guys’ I know have stains on their proverbial white caps and many of the ‘bad guys’ have some very redeemable aspects to their lives.  Life isn’t a bumper sticker.  We are all more complex than we’d like to admit.

The truth is, you have done a lot of good for our community.  You have been a model citizen for the past six years in our city and with the Ravens organization.  For years you have hosted the largest free football camp in our area for underprivileged youth.  The students I work with want to defend you because they have seen the side that is not being played on loop: the side of you who loves this city and its kids.  Your work on anti-bullying campaigns is well known to the people of this city and you answered the call in response to several high-profile school violence cases in recent years.  Your charity work over the last six years ranks among the very finest in our city.  Thank you.

Many people will decide that this incident defines you.  It doesn’t.  Our identity comes from the Lord, not man.  I am so thankful that my sin does not define who I am. Ray, please know that God made you, equipped you and designed you to accomplish a great and wonderful work for His glory.  You were created with a purpose.  Simply put, playing football isn’t God’s main purpose for your life.  Only God can define you and if you let Him, He will.  He will define you as His child who, like the rest of us, has fallen from His standard of perfection.  With Jesus as your Savior, He will define you as redeemed, repaired and restored in Christ.  Allow that message to define you.  Do not allow yourself to be defined by TMZ or people who enjoy making themselves feel better by finding happiness in another man’s pain.

Know that you are in a perfect position for God to redeem.

I wish I could talk to you personally.  I’d speak words of redemption all over your life.  You are not evil incarnate. You are a man who made a horrible mistake.  You are a man living with a painful present but you do have a blessed future. You are going to have the opportunity to let God change you from the inside out.  I pray that you simply ask God to grow you as a child of His and let the rest of life simply catch up.  Without having to report for practice on the football field, you can now report to Jesus every morning and get your assignment.  Go into spiritual training like you never have before and I promise the Lord will use you in a mighty way.  God is not finished with you as a man, a husband, a father and possibly not even as an athlete.  God is pretty good at the whole resurrection thing.

Embrace the consequence as a payment for growth.

In my opinion the worst thing that happened here was that there was a delayed consequence.  I’m sure you knew that you deserved some type of consequence that fit the nature of your lapse in integrity.  The truth is that none of us actually want the full weight of our consequence.  The crux of the Christian message itself is that sin has a consequence called death; separation from God forever but Jesus redeems us by giving us his life and taking upon himself our death.  The concept of consequence is not new.  The concept of someone paying for their sin is not new. That is the essence of the Christian faith.

Over the last seven months, however, you have been told that you won’t have to face the worst possible punishment. Everyone around you worked to help you keep playing football and many wanted to help you quickly move on with life.  This was wrong of them and their actions have now backfired.

  • If the video immediately came out in February, this would be old news today.
  • If the judge would have required you to spend a few months in jail, this would have passed by now.
  • If the Ravens or the NFL would have given you a 3-month suspension, this would be finished.

Delayed justice is not denied justice.

What happened is that a lot of well-meaning people tried to shield you from the weight of the consequence of your actions.  What’s not fair is that other professional athletes have indeed gotten away with as much or worse. Regardless of others, my prayer is that you see this present consequence as a payment for your own growth as a man.

Unfortunately I have found that I grow the most after I’ve failed the worst.  My character can’t grow very well when my sin is not addressed.  In the past, everyone was trying to cover up your sin.  God has chosen to allow it to become public.  My advice is that you seek Him and say “Okay, God.  I’m all alone.  You have my attention.  You have my heart.  If this is the fee, let me get the most for my money.”  

If you give God the opportunity, you will be a far greater man after this all is in your rearview mirror.  No more hiding, no more covering, no more denying.  Lots of tears, lots of repentance, lots of growing.  God will be the defender of your reputation and He will allow people to see the man you become through this process.  Don’t give up. He’s right there.

Know that I’m still cheering for you.

Ray, I want you to know that although your actions in February disappoint me, I am still cheering for you.  I am cheering for you to rise up and speak out on behalf of the healing power of Jesus.  I pray you will humbly walk through the process of letting God have His way with your heart and then give your bride and your daughter 100% of yourself.  Without the distraction of football or fickle fans who want fantasy points, your focus can now simply be on asking God how to be the man you were designed to be.  You are not a football player.  First and foremost you are a child of the King who happens to be gifted to play the sport of football.  You are a husband.  You are a father.  You are many things that are so much greater than being an athlete.  Tonight you should know that I am cheering for you.   You may not be on the field at M&T but you are on the field of life and we all could use some encouraging voices on our sideline.

A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth. – Ecclesiastes 7:1