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Grace, Mercy, Love and Ray Rice

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As an avid sports fan, I’ve watched the Ray Rice saga play out since it was first brought to light in February. Jason Whitlock of ESPN spells out exactly how I felt up until yesterday. In his commentary posted on ESPN.com, he writes “I wrongly and naively thought that she was the aggressor in the attack, that Rice reflexively shoved her to fend her off and she slipped, fell and hit her head.” Why did I think that as well? Because in May, the Baltimore Ravens trotted Ray and Janay Rice out in front of the microphones and cameras for an ill-advised, ill-planned press conference. In this press conference, Janay Rice said “I do deeply regret the role that I played in the incident that night…” In my mind, because she admitted some amount of culpability, and because the police charged both of them with simple assault, that both sides were at fault for what happened.

The video I saw yesterday changed how I felt. I saw a man brutally assault his wife, not a man fending off his wife. I saw a couple in a verbal argument, that was escalated to a violent level by the man. Like many, I was horrified to see Ray Rice’s reaction to his unconscious then-fiancee lying in the floor of an elevator. It was cold, and to me, it also appeared unemotional. There are so many things wrong with how this situation was handled by Ray Rice, Janay (Palmer) Rice, the prosecutor, the judge, the Baltimore Ravens, and the leadership of the NFL. You can read Jason Whitlock’s aforementioned article to see how I feel about this situation, because this blog post is not about the second-guessing of what didn’t happen or what should’ve happened. This post is about Ray Rice the person, and whether or not someone so hated and vilified today should be shown grace, mercy and love on the part of everyone who has been so quick to judge him for his wrong.

I’ve been told I have a tendency to always see the best in people. Sometimes that is a good thing, and sometimes it isn’t. Some people reading this may view my thoughts as being insensitive to the issue of domestic violence, or may view them as giving Ray Rice the benefit of the doubt. Let me say that I am in no way defending what I saw in that video yesterday. What Ray Rice did was brutal. What has transpired is all the consequences of his inability to control his anger, and the consequences of the complete lack of honesty on his part as to what happened in that elevator. The point I want to make is that in my experience as a counselor, and simply has a human being, is that no one gets to the point that Ray Rice did in a split second. It may look that way on a grainy surveillance video, but the assault that took place in that elevator was a lifetime in the making. A man that does something like this has suffered a loss in some way that he has never truly dealt with. He is struggling with anger, bitterness, or unforgiveness toward someone. Or he has been abused himself. Or he was raised in a culture that made this acceptable. In Ray Rice’s case, I believe that I’m right when it comes to the amount of loss he has experienced in his life. I believe the anger we saw in that video is because of a void that he has been trying to come to terms with for his entire life.

As all of this played out yesterday, I remembered reading a profile piece on Ray Rice several years ago. I found that piece online today, thankfully it was still in the archives of the SB Nation Baltimore Ravens blog. You can read it here. Here are some of the main points of his story:

  1. His father was killed in a drive-by shooting when he was one year old. 3 years later at the trial, it is learned that he wasn’t even the target. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  2. His aunt, who lived in the same apartment complex as Ray and his mom, died of cancer at age 37. Her son, Ray’s cousin, moved upstairs to live with Ray and his mom.
  3. This cousin, Shaun, was 10 years older than Ray and became a type of father figure to him. When Ray was 11, Shaun was killed in a car crash.

To recap, between the ages of 1 and 11, Ray Rice lost three people to death way before it was time. Between the ages of 1 and 11, Ray Rice suffered enough loss to last a lifetime. He became the man of his household at a very young age, shouldering great responsibility. You can tell from this quote that the loss of his father, whom he never knew, is still a big part of his life: “Sometimes you wonder what it would be like to have your real dad. Just for a walk in the park or just recapping our lives. That’s the part that makes me think.”

I wonder if the emotionless man standing over the woman he had just beaten was still the little boy who never knew his dad and lost the only other father-figure he never knew. I wonder if years of anger that he had been able to release on the football field came washing over him at a moment he couldn’t take back. You see, beyond all of the criticism and self righteousness, beyond all of the people who are making sick jokes, is a man and his wife who will have to relive the most horrific moment of their relationship over and over again. Their children will have to live with this their entire lives. Such are the consequences of mistakes like this.

I hope that soon, Ray and Janay Rice will begin to heal from this, and will begin to experience the grace, mercy, and love from the one and only true source. I pray that Ray Rice can replace the void of losing his two earthly father-figures with the love of his heavenly Father. I pray that in 5 or 10 years, we are able to hear a great story of healing and redemption from two people who have put the past behind them.

Ray Rice is no more or no less of a sinner than I am. We are equals. The difference exists in the eyes of man. Grace, mercy and love are the answers for anyone who falls short, even Ray Rice.

When To Keep Your Mouth (or Smartphone/Tablet/Computer) Shut

“A truly wise person uses few words;” Proverbs 17:27

On Friday, I took a break from what I was working on, and picked up my phone to look through my Twitter feed. I don’t spend much time on Twitter, I may look through my feed once every day or two. In this instance, I came across a retweet that led me to an exchange that reminded me that silence can truly be golden.

Allow me to explain. The retweet came from a pastor that I follow. He retweeted a tweet about from, let’s say his name is Pastor Jim, about another pastor, and we’ll call him Pastor Ed. From what I could deduce from what I saw in the Twitterverse, Pastor Jim and Pastor Ed are on opposite ends of the church spectrum. Pastor Jim has made it his job to call out Pastor Ed, and others who are colleagues of Pastor Ed, on Twitter. In the 10 minutes I “trolled” his Twitter feed, I discovered Pastor Jim has tweeted, blogged and podcasted about how he is right and they (Pastor Ed and his colleagues) are wrong. This is bad enough, but it gets worse.

To make his point about how disqualified Pastor Ed is for the ministry, Pastor Jim trolled the Twitter account of Pastor Ed’s teenage son, and took it upon himself to publicize things that he considered immoral in the young man’s Twitter feed, including the people the young man followed on Twitter and some of his pictures. Not only did he call him out, he placed himself as the moral authority over the young man and his father. Then, he turned it into another podcast on the website sermonaudio.com, calling the whole thing a “controversy”. (Incidentally, Pastor Jim’s Twitter profile picture is him standing behind a pulpit pointing his finger.)

Apart from an immediate response from Pastor Ed’s son about how weird it was that Pastor Jim was trolling his account, there has been no other response from Pastor Ed or his son. In this interaction, who is the one that seems wise and who is the one that seems like the fool? Pastor Ed could be completely wrong in his theology and his son could be completely immoral, but they both look wise compared to Pastor Jim.

Laurel and Hardy

We see interactions like this on social media, and in the old-school media, on a constant basis. We see it in a steady stream of feeds, scrolls, and retweets. Everyone, (including me) has a blog that they use to share their thoughts. As you can see from my post calendar, I don’t spend much time blogging. That being said, in our culture, it is evident that many people are like Pastor Jim and use their platform to make a point. They like to show everyone else how right they are, and how wrong everyone else is. They’ll also spend endless amounts of time at this task.

As of yesterday, it looks like Pastor Jim has received a taste of his own medicine. Someone evidently trolled the entire list of accounts that he follows on Twitter. They pointed out all of the “immoral” accounts that he followed, including several Justin Bieber fan pages. In response, Pastor Jim posted a 1,000 word tweet using Twitlonger. He offered some explanations about why he was following these accounts, but he didn’t realize how futile that was. He had already placed himself in a position of moral authority, so nothing he said was going to have any affect.

Sometimes it is better to just not say anything at all. Most Christians know that Matthew 18 lays out some pretty clear steps that should be taken should something arise that needs to be confronted. Apart from that, the best thing to do sometimes is just back away from the keyboard and choose to understand that making a point isn’t worth it. It isn’t worth losing a friend, ruining a relationship, or making yourself look like a fool. Taking a moment to remind yourself of this could be that moment that you remember that sometimes, silence is golden.

Social Media Disconnect

Social Media

As part of our small group study at church, we are focusing on the voices that we hear in our lives, and how our view of ourselves can be affected by our interactions on social media. We were challenged to take a 3 day fast from social media sometime during the week. I decided to take part in this fast, because it had been a long time since I had disconnected myself from social media. I wanted to see how it would affect my life. I’ll break down my experience into two parts: first the specifics, then the overall affect on my quality of life.

LIKE

 

Specifics

I am active on three social media platforms. I use Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. During my fast from social media this week, I realized how much I didn’t miss Facebook. Facebook has changed way too much for it to keep my attention. They have taken away the organic interaction that was attractive to me in the first place, and they’ve replaced it with marketing, promotion and “Likes”. I will keep my account active because I have it linked to my Spotify account, but other than that I see my Facebook activity decreasing drastically in the coming months. My Facebook activity used to outnumber my Twitter and Instagram activity combined by probably 4 to 1. My main use for Facebook is staying in touch with friends and family that live far away. We don’t have any family that lives close to us, so that is my main intention is to view and share photos with those people, or to interact with them since we may not get to see each other often. Other than that, I don’t play games on Facebook, and I block people who send endless invitations. At times, I see people sharing things about their life that would be better kept to themselves. To be fair, I’ve shared that kind of info too often in the past. While it sometimes it feels good to vent, or to get someone to encourage you in a comment, I’ve learned that the negative aspect of doing this definitely outweighs the positive. It’s best not to do it altogether, or to be very careful what you post.

During this short social media fast, I did miss the activity on Twitter and Instagram. I use lists on Twitter, so depending on what types of tweets I want to view, I will look at that list. For example, I have a list of pastors and Christian leaders, so if I’m looking for their 140-character nuggets of wisdom, that is the list I’ll browse. I have lists of sports personalities, personal contacts, news, musicians, and several others. The people I follow on Instagram are the same mix of people, the only thing about Instagram is that you don’t have the capability to organize the people you follow into lists. If they ever add that, I’ll be browsing Instragram more often, but for now I’ll use it to post photos and push them to Twitter or Facebook using the app. One reason I missed Twitter and Instagram is that our church uses both of those platforms in various ways. We go to a large church, so they use social media (mostly Twitter and Instagram) in many different and effective ways to encourage, minister, and spread information. That is probably the main thing that I missed during this fast, so I will have to consider that in the future when making the decision to disconnect.

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Quality Of Life

I’ll have to admit that I spent a lot less time this week looking at my iPhone. I rarely interact on social media from a computer, so doing most of that on a phone causes you to spend a lot of time looking at that little machine. That was one of the first things I noticed. From a much bigger perspective, I realized that I was less focused on whether or not anyone retweeted what I tweeted, liked what I posted, or commented on my status or photo. It’s fun to go and look to see who has done those things, because in some small way it’s like an affirmation of what you posted. However, there are quite a few people in our society who are so wrapped up in the number of “likes” they get in their life that this becomes the driving force in what they post on social media.

I’ve heard the stories of teenage girls who will post selfies of their outfit on Instagram, and if they don’t get enough likes they will change their clothes and post again. We are raising a generation of children who have been led to believe that their value in life is directly tied to what happens with their posts, tweets, and pictures on social media. The main thing I want to remember is that my own children (who are now ages 11, 8, and 6) will soon become users on social media. I want my social media use to be an example for them, so my motivation for using it has to be one that is detached from my self esteem. I want them to recognize their value apart from those cyber-interactions. I also want to remember that they will be watching my activity on social media, so my desire is to be a positive example for them. I haven’t always used social media wisely, so I want to learn from those mistakes and try to be wiser about what I post. My rule of thumb is that the same boundaries I want to keep in my personal interactions with other people also apply on social media, otherwise I could be inviting something unhealthy into my life.

Looking back on the brief time away from social media, there is no doubt that it resulted in more quality time in my life. I had more time to read the book I started several weeks ago, and I spent less time glued to my phone. Because of the positive results, I am planning to do a fast from social media once a month. I see the value in “unplugging” for a period of time, and it did help me to refocus. Feel free to comment below if you have any feedback on social media use, I’d love to hear what you have to say.

When You’re Betrayed

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I heard this earlier today, and it stopped me instantly.

“God can even use the thing that someone did against you to get you to the place He wants you to go. So maybe if they left your life, there is a reason. Maybe that reason is woven into the purpose of God, which is bigger than what any human being can do to you. The greatest act of betrayal, the death of Jesus, led to the greatest accomplishment in human history, the salvation of our souls. When you embrace God’s purpose, the thing that happened to you, the thing that they did to you and hurt you the most, can be the single greatest thing that God uses to get you where He ultimately wants you.” ~ Steven Furtick

At some point in our lives, we have all felt betrayed. A friend turned their back on you. Someone you loved wasn’t loyal. There is a reason we call it being “stabbed in the back”. You typically don’t see it coming. In the struggle to understand why it has happened, we often lose sight of the simple fact that God can and WILL work in the midst of that situation if we embrace what He is trying to do. So often, we focus on the one who hurt us and the pain that was caused. The important thing to remember is that God’s greatest work in our lives is the result of pain, betrayal, and suffering.

If you’ve experienced that kind of betrayal, remember that it “can be the single greatest thing that God uses to get you where He ultimately wants you.” It can change the course of your life, send you down a completely different, and more fruitful path. Its tough to understand why it has to happen that way, but understand that sometimes it just does. The key to being on that fruitful path is letting go of the pain, anger, and bitterness. It is a choice to move forward and let go of those burdens. That kind of pain is felt intimately. The baggage that comes with the pain can be heavy. The only way to embrace the work that can be done through it is to set it down, be resolved to leave it there, and travel light.

The Broken Road Leads to Here

Hope and Dave

Well, here I sit on a day I never thought would get here so soon. You see, I’m getting married today. Again. Not too long ago, I swore I was never going to do this again because of the pain the first one resulted in. I experienced the deepest pain of my life to date because of what surrounded the end of my first marriage. When you get burned, you’re not sure that you want to get too close to the fire again. That has all changed for me.

When you have a failed marriage, and you’re getting ready to do this the second time, your perspective is different. It better be different, because if it isn’t, you’re going to make the same mistake that you did with your first marriage and the result will be the same. When you have a failed marriage, your perspective on relationships better have a complete overhaul before you end up putting your happiness in the hands of another human being. What I found through my divorce is that until you truly learn to worship God (which only comes through trials), and fall completely in love with Jesus Christ, any relationship you have will be dysfunctional. I learned that if anyone begins to take the place of Christ in the love order of your life, or if anyone thinks they can take place of Christ in that love order, it is time to re-evaluate that relationship.

Which brings me to today. I’m not going to get into the full extent of our story on here today, because this post would be a novel. I can truly look back 15 years and trace God’s hand in the circumstances that brought us together at just the right time. Today I’m going to be marrying my best friend. We became friends at first because our jobs required us to work together. Through that, we found out that we were walking very similar paths. But we were co-workers. Not only that, we were divorced co-workers. In other words, off limits. Last summer, I took a big chance. I felt like a riverboat gambler, knowing that I was either going to win the biggest jackpot of my life and this would spark something big, or I was going to walk away empty handed and possibly ruin a really great friendship. I decided to go all in, and I asked out Hope Lyons on a date. We spent our first date convincing each other that we weren’t each other’s type (which is completely true), and that we didn’t want a relationship. She didn’t have any children, and I had three sons. We were both divorced. We worked together. Nothing about us said “chemistry” or “relationship”, much less “marriage”. The only problem was that we couldn’t deny that something was there.

As we spent more time together, we were fighting against the tide. We were falling in love. I don’t think either one of us wanted to because of what we had experienced. It happened anyway. We discovered that aside from the chemistry that was there, we were with people who loved Jesus first and foremost. We learned that we didn’t need to put pressure on each other to provide the kind of love that only Jesus can provide. We spent months together before she met my sons. I watched for anything that would raise red flags about her ability to be a mother. As their dad, I’m accountable to whatever woman I choose to be in their lives. I didn’t want to make the mistake of choosing the wrong one, because I learned as a divorced dad that you can completely alter the course of your children’s lives by that one choice. At every turn, it was revealed to me that even though her body didn’t function properly to give her any children of her own, her heart was the heart of a MOM. Once she met my kids, and spent some time around them, I was done. I knew that she was the one for me. I knew that if I didn’t end up with her, I would spend the rest of my life trying to find what we had. I had finally found my soulmate. A woman who worshiped Jesus, a woman who prayed with me, a woman who loved me for who I am and didn’t try to change me, a woman who communicated with me, and a woman who loved my sons like they are her own.

The Five Of Us

I’ve heard the statistics. As a full-time Christian counselor, I referred to the statistics often when I counseled divorced people. It’s true, the statistics on second marriages don’t lie. Hope and I have talked openly about how to keep from becoming a statistic. We’ve been in counseling together for the last three months to try to dig up anything that might be hiding under the surface. We even asked the counselor to tell us if we needed to put this off. He looked at the results of our marriage enrichment survey, smiled, and said “no”. Funny thing about love is that the statistics go out the window when it’s real and when it’s right.

We’ve discovered that the only way to do this right is to lead our family to worship God first and foremost. We’ve discovered that to make this new family work, it has to be a “crock-pot” mentality, not a “pressure-cooker” mentality. This is big picture stuff we’re talking about, looking years and decades down the line to affect generations. We’ve been through a lot since we’ve been together, so we know that this is going to be hard. It’s going to be work. It isn’t always going to be wedding days, flowers, and love songs. Sometimes, life just stinks. Tough days will come, and we’re no strangers to pain. The great thing is that we learned one thing through the pain of our past.

We don’t have to do this alone.

Divorce and the Church

As I have transitioned through the last year as a divorced father, as an “ex” husband and “ex” pastor, I’ve gained a lot of perspective when it comes to how the church handles divorce. To understand this perspective, I believe it is necessary to understand where it is coming from. From February of 2009 through September of 2011 I was 2nd in command as Associate Pastor at a conservative Southern Baptist church. I was also the staff counselor, and I had the opportunity to counsel many folks through divorce as well as couples who had remarried. At the time, I never dreamed that I would then end up “one of them”. Becoming “one of them” began during February and March of 2011 when my wife left, continued through September of 2011 when the church I was employed by asked me to resign from my position, and ended in June of 2012 when my divorce became final. I do believe that divorce is devastating to a family, so before you read any further, please know that I believe that there is a very good reason that God hates divorce. Other than tragic death, it is the most painful thing that a family or individual can experience. If children are involved, it immediately, dramatically, and drastically alters their lives. My very own parents are divorced, so I’ve experienced it from that perspective as well. Divorce has life-long implications for children, and I’m already seeing that with my three sons. On the other side of my separation and divorce, however, I have now been blessed with some of the greatest experiences of my life. Life, both inside the church and out, doesn’t have to be over just because you’ve gone through the “Big D”.

Now that I am firmly positioned as “one of them”, I can say that the experience has greatly opened my eyes. My experience with the church and divorce, because I was on staff and in full time ministry, may be very different from what others have experienced. I have since chosen to leave that church family and join a new one, so to see how the two different environments compare has been eye opening as well. By and large, the conservative church in the United States has no idea how to minister to divorcees. Which is very surprising given that the divorce rate in the church is no different than outside the church. You would think that as the divorce rate rises, churches would capitalize on the opportunity to minister to those who have experienced it. But that isn’t necessarily the case. I’m currently reading the book “The Smart Step-Family” by Ron Deal. (I’ll reference this book in the future. It is a wonderful resource for divorced persons even considering remarrying or entering into a long-term relationship.) In this book, to lay the foundation for the step-family, he examines their relationship with the church. He writes the following:

“Second class citizens. That well sums up how many stepfamilies are made to feel in relation to the church. They don’t reflect God’s ideal family constellation, so they just aren’t quite good enough. One couple I have grown to love and appreciate very much was studying with a preacher who was trying to help them come back to the Lord after a number of prodigal years. When the preacher discovered they were divorced and remarried, he closed his Bible, looked at them, and said ‘I’m sorry, your background and past might infect everyone else, so we can’t have you in our church.’ He then turned and left their home. Can you imagine? A man claiming to proclaim the grace of God told them they were so sick they needed to be quarantined from the hospital! I thought the hospitals were for the sick, for those who needed healing. I guess I missed the part of the Bible that says only perfect people belong in the church.”

This is only one example of one pastor and one church. Understand that I’m not painting every church and every pastor with a broad brush and saying that this is how all divorcees are treated by the church, because I know that isn’t the truth. In my current church environment, know that I’ve never one time felt that I was looked at any differently because I’m divorced. There are churches who minister to divorced people and do it well. Lets look further into what should be the focus if the church is to do this the right way.

You can’t go wrong looking at the example of Jesus. Throughout His ministry, Jesus showed more interest in healing broken relationships than in exposing sin in people’s lives. The story of the woman taken in adultery (John 8:1-11) exemplifies Jesus’ attitude of acceptance and forgiveness. His words reveal no condescension or self-righteousness. He accepts and forgives the woman without condoning her sins. He was the only one righteous enough to cast the first stone, but He would not. Jesus’ attitude offers profound insights for the church’s ministry to divorced and remarried persons.

In following the example of Jesus, the church must demonstrate more affirmation of, than condemnation toward, those who are already feeling their guilt deeply . Divorced persons are often weighed down with a deep sense of guilt because one of the most important commitments of their lives has broken down. The responsibility of the church is not to add to the burden of guilt but to extend God’s forgiving grace to those in need. Pastors can play a vital role in showing God’s forgiving grace through their teachings and attitudes. Sometimes what is CAUGHT by the congregation of the pastor’s attitude toward divorced and remarried persons may be more influential than what is taught by the pastor in this area. A pastor can teach and preach grace toward divorcees in the classroom or pulpit, but if the church is not intentional about ministering to this growing group of the church population, then it is just empty words. Which is a great segue to the next topic.

Forgiveness and acceptance to the divorced can best be shown through concrete programs. Words help but often they are not enough. Divorced persons will test the credibility of the church’s concern for them by evaluating the programs the church offers them. Generally, divorced persons have practical, emotional, and spiritual needs. They experience a great sense of guilt, loneliness, and devastation of their self-image. The church can help by developing programs to meet such needs. There should be support groups for divorced persons. DivorceCare is offered at the church I’m currently attending, and it is accompanied by a support group for children of divorce.

Through support groups, divorcees can get together to discuss and share the problems divorce brings, such as loneliness, child discipline, finances, and church expectations. A professional counselor can be invited to talk on a subject and this can be followed by open discussion. Such group gatherings can provide fellowship, counseling, and practical help. This must be more than just a “singles” group. The church must translate its message of forgiveness and acceptance of divorced persons into concrete programs. Actions speak louder than words. These programs must be seen as part of the mission of the church to reach out to those who are hurting. The ultimate aim of the ministry of the church is to help divorced persons to experience repentance, forgiveness, cleansing, and reconciliation with God, the church, and themselves. When divorced persons experience this three-dimensional reconciliation, they will develop a new sense of self-esteem, so essential to their well-being and their future. Not only will they benefit, but the church will benefit from these healthier believers.

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