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?

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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

365 pages – Faith

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“Faith is believing in something that isn’t yet so, as if it is so, so that it becomes so.”

This is a paraphrase of Hebrews 11:1 that I learned to embrace during my college years.  That verse actually reads: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

When we talk about our 365 pages, we must not only consider the fact that we have to begin by overcoming the intimidation of the blank page but we also have to contend with “how” we approach our story. 

Activity does not equal productivity.  Movement isn’t always progress.  “Any” story isn’t guaranteed to be a God-story.  A God-story has a special type of ink.  Faith.  

There are plenty of church people who display all the activity of a flounder pulled onto a boat but they never seem to be moving forward in their faith-life.  For professional Christians, activity never seems to lead to becoming more confident or more dependent on Jesus as their only source of hope and strength.

There is a HUGE difference between a man or woman of God with faith and a man or woman of the world who attend church services. 

As you write your 365 pages this year I want to encourage you to do so in faith.

Each day write your pages as though you were living out a vision that has already been written on eternal scrolls.  God Himself has penned your days so live them out as though the ink is fresh before your footsteps.

Every encounter, every disappointment, every success has crossed the sovereign desk of God.  There is no panic button in Heaven and our Heavenly Father doesn’t ever have to apologize for forgetting your plight.  He knows.  In fact, he knew what you’d face before you faced it.  Talk about quantum-mechanic other-dimension stuff!

So what does this mean for your year ahead?   God has a vision for your life.

Faith sees God’s purpose as past tense.

If you grab ahold of God’s vision for your life.  Not a delusional ‘vision’ of hitting the lottery and escaping the confines of reality; I’m talking about God’s vision.  You will soon see that the only thing standing between the vision God has for your life and you participating in seeing it come to pass is…FAITH.  Believing in a yet to come as if it has already come.

Faith sees God’s purpose as past tense.  It’s already done.  If you have that kind of faith, you walk forward in an unexplainable confidence.  Frankly speaking, faith makes a person look nuts.  It’s insane.  And that’s okay.

Faith doesn’t run on the adage that “Past performance is the best predictor of future behavior.”  

Faith says “What God has called me to, He will bring me through.”

Why?

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?Numbers 23:19

God doesn’t lie.  If you’ve heard from God you can take it to the bank.

God has never bounced a check of promise.  

So as you approach your 365 pages… approach with a full confidence in Jesus.  He is the Author and perfecter of your faith!  It is by faith you know Him.  It is by faith you please Him.  It is by faith you can and will honor him by setting out to accomplish what He has birthed in your heart.

Let me press pause and give you this bit of caution:

As you put your pen to paper on your 365 pages… keep something in mind.

Faith is a gift.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. -Ephesians 2:8-9 

You can’t manufacture faith.  You can’t force it.  You can’t generate faith.  You can’t work your way into faith.

Faith not a commodity to be created or traded.  It’s a gift of God to be received.   

You can’t demand faith.  You can’t create it yourself because if you could, it would no longer be a ‘gift’.

So as you look forward to your 365 pages and you WANT to see God move on your behalf… what CAN you do?

Beg.  

If you want to build up a great faith.  Get on your face before God.  Learn the smell of your carpet.  Beg him to give you faith.  It’s His gift to give.   

Ask God for greater faith.  Ask again.  Ask again. 

-       Do you want to believe that God can move mountains with your life?

-       Do you want to believe that when God tells you to do a hard thing, you will do it out of faith?

-       Do you want to believe that when you go through a hard time, God is on the other side and that all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purposes?

As you start into this new year I must ask you…

Are you asking God for faith to fill the blank pages? 

Give God your blank pages.  Then give him a request.

“God, I need faith to trust you and believe.  I long for you to give me so much faith that when you speak I listen and I listen with full assurance that you will indeed do whatever you promise.  God you are faithful, help me to have faith.”

Get with God.  Seek Him as your source of faith.  Believe that He will do it.  

#365pages

365 Pages – Blank Page

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A blank page.

For most people, the blank page is the most intimidating aspect in the act of starting… anything.  A book, a work of art, a letter or even a holiday card all begin with a void waiting to be filled.  A blank page can feel intimidating.

For most people, the beginning of a new year can feel this way as well.  It’s rather daunting.  It seems as though the entire world is expecting to see you fail. It has become a running joke to talk about making the same resolutions year after year only to see them all fall short.  People who hold gym memberships deal with the annoying January rush of new members because they know that within weeks the gym will thin out again.  It’s almost tragic how many people make great resolutions only to watch them fade with time, difficulty and doubt.

Often times the doubt that plagues us comes from within.  We all have our own history that seemingly shouts out over our present moment saying:

“You will fail.  You’re not going to accomplish anything.  You will fail just like you did last year!” 

Here is what you must keep in mind:

A resolution becomes a revolution not by a change of your calendar but by the change of your heart.

Christians should be among the world’s foremost experts in the concept of “renewal”.  Because of Christ, we are to be in a perpetual state of renewal and evaluation.  Unfortunately, we seldom take advantage of the opportunity to ‘start again’.  One reason we fail to act is due to the fear of the all-too-intimidating blank page.

But it doesn’t have to be that way:

A blank page is an opportunity not an obligation. 

Your God is a God of renewal.  Redemption.  U-turns.  Starting over.  Again and again.  The bible declares that His mercies are new everyday! (Lamentations 3:22-23)

This year can be different.  It doesn’t have to be hype to say: “This year WILL be better for you.”

You can change the world with your life… and it starts by changing your view of the blank page!

Here’s the deal.  A book will be written in 2014.  It’s the book of your life. Whether you want to do so or not, you will have written 365 pages when it’s all said and done.  I want to encourage you to make this the best volume yet.

Forget asking “What will people say if I fail?”  Start asking “What will God say if I refuse to start?”

Over the next few posts I want to give you some encouragement from scripture about how you can look at the 365 pages in front of you called your 2014.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:19-22

Your greatest battle has already been won.

Listen to those words.  Confidence.  Assurance.  Washed.  

This is how the people of God should embark on their new year.  Our greatest battle has been won thanks to Christ on the cross.  Therefore we must walk forward knowing that while we have challenges to come, the greatest battle has been won. If God has already defeated sin and the grave, nothing I will face in the year ahead can tear me down.  I may suffer, I may experience loss.  Yes, there is likely tragedy ahead but you know what?  My God goes before me.  My God saw that the greatest battle I had was my own sin and the resulting death.  He conquered both at the cross.

This is how God works.  There is no battle as important as the battle he has already won on your behalf. 

As you approach your 2014 and as you stare at that blank page, keep in mind… “My greatest battle has already been won.”  You can have confidence because the One who conquered sin, death and the grave has power over this world.  He can and will guide you. Resist the temptation to quit.  Resist the temptation to walk away and curl up in a ball.  So what if you miss your workout? Get back at it!  So what if you fall off the bike?  Get back up!  God has gone before you in your greatest battle, surely He will be with you as you aim to honor him by making changes with your mind, body or soul.

None of your present challenges are as great of an obstacle as your sin condition. Thanks be to God, Jesus conquered that.  Rise up this year.  Have faith.  March forward.  Christ has defeated your greatest problem.  Put something to that blank page and do it with confidence! This can be your year of faith.

#365pages