Do I have to forgive Michael Vick?

You may not know what it was like. Football was a huge part of my adolescent and teen years and when I was at my peak in the sport, my junior and senior year in high school, the player that everyone was talking about was Michael Vick. Watching Vick play football in the early 2000’s was like taking in the brooding shadows of a Caravaggio or popping and locking to the sweet beats of MJ.

Caravaggio "The Calling of St. Matthew"

Caravaggio’s “The Calling of St. Matthew”

Here in Pittsburgh we had our Slash, but Vick was changing everything. He changed the definition of the quarterback position, he broke records. Witnessing him weave in and out of defenders and launch the ball down the field made it seem like this was how football was meant to be played or at least this is exactly what God made Michael Vick to do. A football in his hands was like a pen in the hand of Emily Dickinson. My peers bought his jersey and voted him into Pro Bowls. For my generation of young athletes, Vick was a hero.

Vick's Madden Cover

Was. It hurt when Vick was convicted of dog fighting in 2007. All of a sudden his 1,039 rushing yards that season didn’t matter. His three Pro Bowl selections didn’t matter. He was a bad guy, a criminal, a violent abuser. We would have been fine if Vick just dropped off the face of planet and we didn’t have to deal with him ever again.

Vick headed to trial

But then, in 2009, he came back. He was now an advocate for the Humane Society. He was influential in creating more strict animal cruelty laws and sentences. His new team, the Philadelphia Eagles, chose the Humane Society to be recipients of $50,000 in grant money. And this created a problem.

I wanted Vick to be gone forever. I was fine placing him into the category of fallen hero and never thinking about him again. But he was breaking out of that category. In the words of the Humane Society, “Given the penalties available at the time he was sentenced, U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson meted out a strong penalty to Vick. He paid a steep price for his crimes, in addition to serving his prison sentence.” They go on to say, “Michael Vick was a role model for many young people, and he lost everything because of what he did to dogs. His story is the strongest possible example of why dog fighting is a dead end…We realized the potential that Vick has to reach at-risk youth and pull them out of the quicksand of animal fighting.” (Read more about Vick and The Humane Society)

Vick didn’t wiggle out of the crime he committed. He didn’t avoid apologizing. He actively did everything he possibly could on the hard, bloody road to forgiveness. And not just that, he’s trying to dissuade other young people to choose a different path. The truth is that out of this crime, because of his worst moments, Vick has now done more for preventing dog fighting than almost anyone. But do I have to forgive him?

Michael Vick

This is a complicated question. I have done a lot of terrible, hurtful things in my life, but it is incredibly possible, terrifyingly so, that I have yet to reach my worst moment. A moment when the deepest, darkest part of my heart that I don’t like to think about or see in the mirror surfaces. So the first part of the answer to that question is, “Am I forgiven?” See the problem with Vick not going away is that now I have to come face to face with what I have been forgiven of.

In the eyes of some, Vick has done something that all of PSA’s and grant money in the world couldn’t atone for, but that is exactly what Jesus’ death on the cross was for. If I can’t give grace to Michael Vick then it is entirely possible that I have failed to recognize my own need for forgiveness. I think about the woman in Luke 7. Jesus says, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” My sins, which are many, have been forgiven, and because of that I can’t withhold my forgiveness for Vick. I have to recognize that the grace Jesus has given me extends to him.

Vick is now #2 for the Pittsburgh Steelers

Don’t think for one second Vick doesn’t realize how blessed he is to be able to play this sport again, and now with the greatest team in the history of NFL no less. Seeing that ball back in this sinner’s hand gives me hope. A hope that passes all understanding. A hope that one day, despite my worst moments, I’ll hold the instrument of my God-given gifts in my hands and create a masterpiece.

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Is everyone thinking I’m weird?

Evangelism can be scary for a lot of us. We’re often afraid of offending or alienating people. We worry what they will think of us, will they think we’re weird or pushy or one of “those” Christians. (I’m not certain we even know what “those Christians” are anymore, we just know we’re not supposed to be in that category.) It’s also easy to put a lot of pressure on ourselves to say just the right thing, in the right casual tone of voice, that will appeal to the other person in just the right way.

ive-got-a-message

 First of all, let’s get over ourselves and remember that we’re not actually that important. People don’t think about us as much as we fear that they do. Whatever fears of judgment and rejection that keep us from asking questions and talking about our faith are more often than not wildly unfounded. Also the work of the Holy Spirit is far more powerful than any of us broken vessels. A friend of mine in ministry once observed, “It amazes me how much the Word stumbles forth.” God can and will use all kinds of people to expand the Kingdom. Brothers and sisters have come to Christ through way cooler and way weirder people than you, and all Jesus needs is your obedience.

Secondly, I think we can find a model for our Christian witness through the way God worked through the community of faith in the Old Testament. A lot has been written by far more learned people than me about the various “archetypes of Christ” throughout the OT. I’ll let their work stand, and I’ll add an observation. All of the faithful expressed Messianic traits, a way in which they lived that foreshadowed what the coming Christ would be like.

Moses acts as a continual intercessor throughout his ministry, coming between the people and God’s judgment (Ex. 33, Num 11, Num 14, just to name a few). He demonstrates our need for a mediator, someone who can bring us near to God’s presence (Ex. 33:7-11).

David is Israel’s best king, popular and successful and blessed by God (2 Sam. 7). He epitomizes a ruler who is submitted to the Father (1 Sam. 23, 2 Sam. 11), a shepherd who seeks the best interests of the flock, a man who (usually) wields his power with justice and mercy (1 Sam. 24). He also was in communion with the Holy Spirit (1 Sam. 16) and wrote scripture that was both present and prophetic.

king-david-rae-chichilnitsky

Elisha is a prophet who boldly requests a double portion of the Holy Spirit (2 Kings 2). His ministry presents striking parallels with the ministry of Christ. For more on this, see the Bible studies page for a 6 part study comparing Elisha and Jesus. His miracles paved the way for the people to get a glimpse of the power of God and to see God’s intent for wholeness in the lives of His people.

I named only three of countless other people you can find in the OT. Hebrews 11 will give you a good place to start for further reading. The Israelite people knew their history and the stories of their heroes. All of these people created familiarity with the heart of God so that when Jesus began his ministry, they could all recognize His work as something they had seen before and yet never to this degree.

God’s servants had made God’s hand memorable so the community could identify when ministry was coming from Him. The Israelites could look at Jesus’ work and think, “You look familiar, haven’t we seen something like this before?” They could read the familiar words of Ps 23, “The Lord is my shepherd”, and have that in mind when Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd” (John 10). Jesus proclaimed that every good and powerful thing they had witnessed in the past was from and about Him. He was the completion and perfection of everything they had been longing for.

I think the process of evangelism is something like that. We treat others and behave in ways that make Jesus familiar to them. We demonstrate Christ’s love through compassion, ethical practices that care for the well-being of all, taking time to let others know they are valued and loved, and by talking about the Word of God. We mimic Christ to the people around us so that when they do meet Jesus, they’ll say, “You look familiar…have we met before?”

old women feet on porch

Just like the heroes that came before us, we are not Jesus. We are limited and flawed and fail to show God’s heart in perfect ways. And yet the Word stumbles forward, and we have the same calling to make Christ recognizable to His people. This is what propels us in evangelism and outreach.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 1 John 4:7-12

We can’t see God’s form on this side of the resurrection, but we see His love through each other. We are the image-bearers through which God has chosen to show Himself. When we love others with the love that we have received, we show our family resemblance. We are the ones who love and serve so that when someone we love meets Jesus for the first time, they’ll say, “Have we met before?”

Strong Moore: What’s in a name?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Romeo and Juliet

Flipping through my grade school notebooks you will come to understand a couple truths about who I was in my youth. One, I was definitely a wildly nonsensical doodler. Two, these doodles often starred the jacked, tights-and-cape alter ego of all of my wildest dreams…Codeman. Codeman was a hero fashioned from Superman but with a ‘C’ gracing the diamond on his chest. He was bold, he was strong, he was everything a man would want to be. He was me.

Codeman

The hero of heroes, Codeman!

This moniker, of course, did not originate from an unreasonable affection for Cody Lambert, Kickboxer 2 star Sasha Mitchell’s character from the TGIF family sitcom Step by Step. Rather, it originated from my middle name, Cody. The name my mother gave me. To my family and oldest friends, I am Cody. But where is Codeman now? Why does my Facebook now read Ivan Strong Moore? Obviously, this action was a feminist uppercut to societal norms around the barbaric tradition of women changing their names when they marry! It’s not, not that, but it’s more than that. And it all started with our pre-marriage counseling.

Cody Step by Step

The most famous Cody of my childhood. Sasha Mitchell on Step by Step.

For those of you who are thinking of getting married, there are few practices that I can recommend more fervently than seeking out pre-marriage counseling. It is not a waste of time during the busy season of wedding planning. I am so thankful for my pastors and mentors that have led me through this process and began pouring wisdom into our marriage way before we said “I do.” One of the first exercises you may do in pre-marriage counseling is something called a family map. This is a storytelling process where you create a family history for your counselor citing family and relationship dynamics that you’ve observed throughout your lives. For me, this was a Picasso of wonderful, beautiful people who have done everything they possibly could to allow love to survive amidst a collection of abuses and tragedies.

Romeo and Juliet

Sometimes this exercise is hard. When recounting all of the relationships in your life, the good and the really, really bad, it can make you wonder if you’ll ever be ready for marriage. But then, our pastor let us in on one of the beauties of marriage. After illustrating all of the relational patterns that have existed in our families, he said that this is when we can take all of the things we think are helpful and important that we’ve witnessed in our family, scrap the things we thought were unhelpful or needing a change, and create something new.

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. – Genesis 2:24

I think this is why Genesis 2 talks so explicitly about leaving our father and mother. We leave one family to create a new one. Now would be a great time to tell you that I love my wife, and I honestly believe, from an unbiased-objective platform, she is the greatest wife in the history of wives. When we were getting to know each other I was blown away, absolutely floored by how brave and independent she is. The identity of Heather Strong was one that I admire. She is brilliant and compassionate in ways I haven’t yet discovered. This is an identity I never wanted to limit but to help flourish and I knew that would never happen if Heather completely lost her identity to mine. Nor did I want my identity to stay stagnant. God created us to be together and there are parts of who Heather is that I need to adopt in this marriage process. So, if I had anything to do with it, neither of us would completely loose ourselves. Rather, as we created this “something new,” we would be forming a new identity together.

Heather Strong

I fell in love so fast with Heather Strong.

To do this I couldn’t let Heather be the only one sacrificing a part of who she is. To do this we both had to create space in our lives, our families, our names for one another to come and adapt into something new. Hence the Strong Moore brand was born. To many Cody is still who I am. In many ways, to myself, Cody is still who I am. But Strong is who we are together.

Wedding Day Family

The Strongs and Moores together!

My desire is for people to hear Strong Moore and know that we are in this adventure together. I want people to hear our name and think about Heather’s late brother who was lost instilling even more honor and valor into the Strong name. I want people to hear our name and think about my mom and dad and the man they raised me to be. I want people to hear those two names together and think generosity, compassion, creativity, tenacity, grace, and love. After all, these were the words that came to mind for Heather when she created her Strong family map and what came to mind for me when I narrated the Moore family history. We want our marriage to be a blessing to everyone around us in the ways our families are. What’s in a name? For me, I hope it’s a picture of what our marriage will be.

“Married people, it’s up to you. It’s entirely on your shoulders to keep this sinking institution a float. It’s a stately old ship, and a lot of people, like me, want to get on board. Please be psyched, and convey that psychedness to us. And always remember: so many, many people are envious of what you have. You’re the star at the end of the Shakespearean play, wearing the wreath of flowers in your hair.” – Mindy Kaling, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?