How Christmas Influences My Perspective Today

You know that feeling where you simply cannot shake the conviction of the Holy Spirit? I’m convinced of my salvation in Christ Jesus because the Holy Spirit dwells within and draws me toward repentance. I may be stubborn and not repent right away but that often leads to literal, physical sickness for me. Christ within me cannot stand sin, but my flesh loves it. I know what Paul means when he wrote “I know the good I ought to do and yet don’t do it” – something along those lines.

I’ve been thinking about some life situations recently, along with my own sin faults over the last few years of my adult life, and one passage in particular keeps coming to mind.

Romans 3:23 – “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” It’s a humbling reality to realize that even as a “good Christian” and someone who has been in good standing most of my life, even I have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. I think this is why it can be so dangerous to allow ourselves to develop a moral superiority complex toward others. “Well at least I’m not an alcoholic…” or “at least I’m not as gluttonous and obese as they are,” or “at least I haven’t killed anyone.” I’m not an alcoholic, but I have certainly been drunk and that is sin. I am not morbidly obese but I am overweight and have an impulse control problem. And I haven’t killed anyone but I have had hatred and bitterness in my heart toward others, and Jesus says that hatred in our hearts towards a brother is the same as murder.

That’s some rather heavy stuff. I found myself sulking in that reality, that heaviness and dread of my own folly and lack of righteousness. I found myself humbled and wishing that it were not so.

The good news is that verse 23 of Romans 3 is followed by a comma, actually, not a period as portrayed above. Here is what follows in verse 24 – “And all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

I was thinking about things like depression and addiction and these pitfalls that even the best of people fall into sometimes, and it made me think of a world without hope. I saw a post on Facebook the other day about depression and how inescapable it can be “I know I will be fine but I don’t feel fine.” We should not willingly allow ourselves to be led to the slaughter to sin, but if you find yourself there this morning and realize your own capacity to mess up, then that is the first step toward freedom. The next is realizing that no matter how f’d up you may think you are, ALL are justified FREELY by HIS GRACE through the redemption that came by Christ JESUS! (Read that again.)

If that isn’t a reason to celebrate Christmas, then I don’t know what it is!

This morning, I’d like to remind all of us that conviction does not have to lead to shame and guilt. In fact, if our brains are trained to go that way, it’s because we’re listening to the whispers of the devil rather than the still, small voice of Almighty God.

The Father’s voice sounds a lot different. Conviction can lead to repentance, which can immediately lead to full restoration. Think Prodigal Son. Wasted His entire inheritance and the Father still celebrates his return home, throwing a party which requires even further financial sacrifice on his part. We simply cannot outrun or out-sin the love of God. We can always come Home. “Let the children come to me.”

I think about my love for my wife. I do not love her because she loves me. I love her because I choose to and because I’ve made a covenant to do so every day for the rest of my life. But I am also motivated and encouraged to new levels of love as I witness her beauty, spiritual growth, and acts of service and kindness toward me – they are a sort of motivating force behind my love toward her and becoming increasingly less selfish so that we may both benefit.

My prayer for us all would be that conviction would lead to repentance which would lead to full restoration, and that we would be quicker to live a righteous life out of a deep love for God. A love that we have learned from Him, that is encouraged and strengthened by His love for us. And that we would choose Him daily.

If you’re having a hard time doing that, maybe you’re simply not looking for Him in your life anymore. When I find myself having a hard time loving Allie, it’s because I’ve gotten lazy in noticing all she is and all she does and the way she loves. We have to be intentional with what we fix our eyes on. If I fix my eyes on a woman, then I am bound to lust after her and be led away to sin. But if I fix my eyes on Christ, then I am bound to be led toward holiness, a cleansing of my sins and a deeper understanding of who He is and why I’m loved.

From that discovery and outpouring and life with eyes fixed on Christ, I can love others because I’ve learned what Love is from the Creator Himself.

You get the point.

Stop thinking you’re better than…Be quicker to admit your faults…Admit your failures don’t claim them as your identity. Fix your eyes back on Jesus and let Him remind you who you really are. Then live and love out of that reality.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…

BUT…

Christmas happened.

Jesus came. Freedom is ours for the taking.

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Justin’s Psalm

Some call me David, some call me Justin.

It seems as if my heart is constantly adjusting

To the pain and darkness within the world,

And other’s sins that are current and mine of old.

I was made by the King of Kings,

To be a king within the Kingdom.

But never seem to find my heart’s freedom.

Shackled to the past but forgiven,

Holding the keys but not living.

Twenty eight but trembling like I’m eight,

Crying on the floor, laying prostrate.

Reading the book of Psalms as a child,

I wondered how God could use a heart so wild.

Up, down, left, right.

Fallen, broken, warrior but living upright.

Can’t take my fight,

I won’t give up my birthright.

The firstborn of five and called to be the leader of many,

Overwhelmed by my inadequacy but others still follow me.

How long can one run from the call on their life?

How long can one silence a pen meant to write?

How long will I wait?

Where is God in the midst of all of this?

Where is my faith in the abyss?

Where is my hope?

Where is my King?

Where is the heart that chose to wear this ring?

Where is the man that rose from the grave?

Where is the boldness of the man that’s been saved?

Wake up, O Sleeper.

Come alive, O Dreamer.

Some call me David, some call me Justin.

A righteous one that’s constantly adjusting.

And here I am, learning to be unapologetic,

Steadying a heart that’s turbulently prophetic.

Ready your sails for the Word is coming,

Breath breathed from Heaven,

Spoken word from the lips of man done running,

Uncapped the pen, unleashed the heart.

The Spirit is here and He won’t depart.

5 Minute Friday – Seasons

There’s a writing exercise that I used to participate in on Fridays. It was called 5 Minute Fridays – you take 5 minutes out of your Friday to write on a certain topic and don’t waste too much time worrying about editing or how you sound. I feel led to share some brief thoughts on seasons…so here goes nothing.

My favorite time of the year is Fall. The passing of old things brings color into our world for a season and then the earth groans its way through Winter until Spring comes, making all things new again. Interestingly enough, that’s the spiritual cycle of personal growth as well. The Lord seems to prune off the old branches and old leaves and as we watch them die their beautiful deaths, there is a glimpse of color and a new lens through which to see life through. And then the growing pains come…

The Winter is always hard. Seasonal depression hits, the air is cold and brisk, and there isn’t much time to be outside. Suddenly, we are sort of forced into a closer relationship with God and with each other, relying on Him and others for strength and encouragement through a season that just isn’t all that fun.

All the while we get to live with the hope that Spring is coming! The colors will be back, growth is of the essence, death will not be our story any longer. Lean in, hope, trust, do not give up or fall asleep on life – advancement is yours for the taking – there will be a Spring in your hearts!

There is definitely a contemplative spirit arising within my heart. A thinking, wandering, curiosity about what God desires for me to do next to shine a bright light into a dark world. A pondering of what personal growth steps I will need to take into the third year of marriage to Allie, quickly approaching in February. WILD.

I’m running out of time so let’s not forget about Summer! Summer is sort of the culmination of all the hard work. A time of celebration, a decent excuse for a cold beer every now and then, iced-coffee on the patio in the mornings, and a time of lake gatherings, retreats, vacations, and the like. A time to celebrate the success that has come from the hard work of trudging through the Winter.

So no matter what season you’re in right now, I encourage you to remember that you won’t be here forever. There’s another season approaching. God is always right there. Your friends and family are near. You don’t have to go it alone. Growth hurts sometimes and life can be scary, complicated, difficult, and a mess of emotions. But there will be more celebrations. There will be more wrestlings with the Lord. There will be more strengthening of your faith conversations with brothers and sisters in the faith. Do not grow weary in it all. It’s all part of God’s grand design – the seasons of life will continue and we will once again never outrun the laws of God’s Great Economy.

Time’s up. Enjoy today’s season. A reminder to myself to stop wishing for tomorrow’s. It will come, just as surely as the Fall has.

Thoughts On The Greatness Within

A friend of mine turned me on to Kris Vallotton’s Podcast and I listened to the recent episode of “The Greatness Within” and it was mind-blowing. I highly recommend it as a great listen on this Friday morning.

He speaks of an exercise that he did with his youth-group at a retreat. Having the students take ten minutes to write down what they would do if they were ten times bolder. At the end of the ten minutes, he said “If you’ve written anything down at all, then you’ve allowed fear to shrink you.”

I nearly fell out of my chair, thinking about the things that I would potentially write about or speak on if I were just ten times bolder in my faith and in my walk with Christ during my daily life at work, at home, with friends in coffee-shops and bars. He’s right, if I’m limiting myself due to “norms” then I’ve allowed fear to shrink me and I don’t really think of God as all that big and capable.

Another great point that Kris makes is the sort of “false humility” that can be found within the church. We all act as if we are prideful we will steal the glory from God. Are you really that big? Can you really steal the glory from God – the one who created you? If your son were to score the winning touchdown for the Kansas City Chiefs, would you be saddened? Would your glory be stolen? More than likely, you’d be beaming with pride – his success is your success! Just like the downfalls of children can cause the mourning of parents. He takes on both the glory and the pain of His children, just as my parents do. If I get a promotion at work, they’re thrilled! If I make a poor life decision and am suffering the consequences, their hearts and prayers are with me.

All of this got me to thinking…how are we limiting ourselves?

This was literally the first podcast I’ve ever listened to by Kris Vallotton but I’m sure that I will be back for more. He went on to share stories of how the anointing of Christ can come on us when he gives us a new name.

No longer fearful and timid, but strong and courageous.

But like Saul in the Bible when he was hiding from his anointing as King, there can be a trial – a turbulent like moment where your kingdom is threatened and suddenly the Spirit of the Lord comes upon you – it’s time to live up to your name. “Where there is the Lamb, the Lion lives also.” He then unites his people to defend their countryside and lives up to his new name as King.

How powerful is that? Sure, Jesus was the Lamb led to slaughter, to die for the sins of His People, but three days later He was The Lion, overcoming death with ferocious power.

How about when He protected His Father’s house (the temple) and overthrew tables? There was a righteous anger that sought justice for His Children. I think of the feeling I get when I hear a story of how someone has hurt the feelings of my wife or sister. Rarely an individual that resorts to violence, there is an immediate balling of fists and raise in blood-pressure as I prepare to go to battle for her. Being the eldest of five, I took on the role of a third-parent whether the family liked it or not – it’s hard to raise a bunch of capable kids and babies at the same time, as my Mom was in the spot of doing. So I’d do a lot of “babysitting” and keeping the flock safe, hence the “affectionate” nickname of “Father Meyer” from friends who didn’t understand my cautious mentality.

If we are heirs to the throne and royalty is our brother that went to Calvary on our behalf, then are we not kings and queens in waiting as well? Are we not called to something greater than ourselves?

There once was a time for childish games, but that season has passed away and He is making all things new. “So while you may be standing in the midst of a difficult life-struggle and you believe you are in the valley of the shadow of death, perhaps you are just in the belly of the whale as Jonah was”, Kris says. He’s called you to Nineveh but you don’t want to go. Well, guess what, if God calls you somewhere…you’re either going now, or you’re going after a crazy storm throws you overboard and the whale of life swallows you up and spits you back out, humbly where you were called to go in the first place. 

Unfortunately, I think most of us are like Jonah. We don’t want to listen the first time. We’re too busy looking at our phones, balking at spiritual authority, and having a good time. We forget to listen for and cherish the Lord’s voice and calling. Our ears are filled with earphones so that we cannot hear His still, small whisper. And then we find ourselves surprised that suddenly our sin’s consequences have given birth to trial.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…we will never outrun the laws of God’s Great Economy. We will always reap what we sow. Sure you can be lazy and let the fields go for a little while and the crops may still thrive. But stay lazy long enough and the weeds will strangle the crops and you’ll be forced to plow the fields all over again.

Stand your ground. Clean out your ears. Realize that you’re not that big, but you’re not that small either. It’s time to make something out of yourself, because God doesn’t make useless things. He hasn’t called you to live in addiction, depression, isolation, and sadness. He’s called you to live in the land of milk and honey, to take part in the His Kingdom’s riches and to live with joy, thankfulness, gratitude, and peace on your hearts.

It’s time for you and I to unlock these powerful truths and to unleash the greatness within.

Here is a link to the podcast referenced for your listening ears: Bethel Podcast – Kris Vallotton

the greatness within

4PM – Wrestling Through My Authentic Self

It’s almost 4PM and I’ve gotta be honest, despite an incredible week of discipline and life-changing decisions, I haven’t accomplished much today. Some days you wake up and the crippling expectations of perfection you’ve placed on yourself cripple your movements. You don’t want to get up and work toward your goals because, what if you fail? You share the incredible progress you’ve made in your weight-loss journey and set a reachable, but difficult goal and share it with your Facebook friends and then you shrink into bed for an afternoon nap because how you’re afraid you won’t achieve it.

You remember the meeting that you set up with the lead pastor of your megachurch, who kindly took an hour out of his day to set up a meeting with you to share tips on how to become a better writer, shared his own story on how he came to be one, and then you find yourself paralyzed by the fear of not being enough and you barely have the inner strength to get yourself back behind the keyboard again – even though you know it’s exactly where you belong.

You’re the kind of person that walks into a room and the temperature changes. You go into a meeting at work and if you’re on, it’s noticeable – and if you’re down, it’s going to bring the room down. You don’t even have to be assigned the role of leadership, you just naturally are the leader – your words have power, your actions bring results, and your passion – present or not – makes itself felt.

And you set this unrealistic expectation on yourself that you always have to be on, all of the time. If you’re at the family-dinner and you’re feeling a little sullen and not being the life-of-the-party, peace-keeper that everyone knows you’re capable of being then you’ve somehow failed them.

But have you? Is it really your job to be everyone’s Jesus? And do you have to be at 100% every day to compete?

There are Major League Baseball pitchers who’s job is to be ON, bringing the heat, throwing the strikes game-after-game-after-game, and even they are going to have an off day. I think of the late Royals Pitcher Yordano Ventura – throwing gas most of the time and sometimes he was just plain awful, but he was still the young-star and his energy was felt. His presence was made known, at every single game – on the sidelines or in the action, on the mound at Kauffman Stadium.

But what makes guys like Salvador Perez so valuable to the Royals? It’s his authenticity – he is always himself, all of the time. He’s leading the emotional, physical, and mental charge, all of the time – on and off the field. And he’s having fun while he’s doing it!

Brene Brown writes, “Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.”

That got me thinking…

If my blog is about Embracing God’s Grace and believing in His redemptive power to overcome my weaknesses – if His love can cover over a multitude of my sins, and if I think Jesus took my place on the cross…

Then why am I still hiding in bed?

And so I got up, put my clothes back on (as the world outside cheered and thanked me for doing so), and came downstairs to the computer to pound out my choppy thoughts on the day. Chopping writing is better than no writing.

“Practice your craft,” my pastor said.

So it may be just a quarter after 4PM as I’m briefly editing this, but the day isn’t over yet and I didn’t surrender fully to the Enemy. God’s not finished with me yet. And he’s not finished writing your story either. So if you’re having one of those days where you’re stuck hiding in bed, or slinking behind your coworkers and avoiding being seen and known, I’d encourage you to be brave today and trust that His grace is enough.

I encourage you join in the “daily practice of letting go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embracing who you are.”

You can see the first week of our progress in how attractive my beautiful wife and I are in this photo of us at my buddy Matt’s wedding this Saturday! I’m one heck of a lucky man!

justin and allie

A Look Inside (My) Depression

“When was the last time you thought to yourself, you know what – I’m actually pretty good. I kinda like who I am,” asked my well-meaning counselor.

“What would it take for you to love yourself?”

“I don’t know – if I could lose weight, write a book, actively accomplish something that I’ve set out to do, like if I want to wake up early in the morning then to actually get out of bed at 5:30 AM when I’ve set my first alarm. To have finally completed the 12 Steps of my addiction recovery program.”

My counselor then proceeded to show me the places in which I’ve grown over the last year. “Justin, you’ve gone almost a full year without a relapse into your former pornography addiction. You’ve successfully had financial discussions with Allie without getting defensive and allowing it to turn into a fight. From what I can tell – you’re becoming rather successful at work, you’ve built healthier friendships and your relationship with Allie gets sweeter and sweeter.”

“So what is it going to take for you to love yourself?”

“Where would you say you are on your fantasy scale of who you want to be – on a scale of 1-10?”

“I don’t know – a 5, maybe.”

“And what’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with being a 5 and telling yourself, “you know what if I improve to a 6 or 7 over the next few years, then I’m a champion. I’m overcoming my sinful nature and becoming a stronger man of God,” and maybe by the time you’re 40 you’re an 8, and so on and so forth.

I found myself far more engaged this session than previous ones. Often distracted by wondering if someone from work has texted me or if my wife is doing okay, or whatever other anxiety-ridden thing I might be missing out on – FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), I found myself listening, emotionally there, and nearing tears of gratitude.

“Justin, I think you’re okay. You’re doing a great job. You’re doing some really hard stuff. You can’t take on the whole world all at once. What if you took your goals – let’s say you want to drop 40 lbs and we cut that way down and we say you want to lose 10 lbs in the next 6 months. That’s doable, right? And what if instead of beating yourself up every morning when the scale still reads 2** – you decide to celebrate the victory of going on a walk a couple times a week. Because that’s better than what you’re doing right now, right?”

You get the idea.

You’d think I was in 1st grade. The concepts were so basic, so simple, so “easy.” And yet for the last few months I’ve barely been able to get myself out of bed, get dressed, and accomplish anything. I’m convinced I’ll fail – I won’t reach the fantasy self (230 lbs, New York Times Bestselling Author, freed from shame and living in joy), so why try? I’m gonna snack, so why not have three snacks? I’m gonna get distracted, so why even take the laptop and the book to the coffee-shop with me?

Round and round goes the cyclical cycle of shame. Satan’s henchman whispering in my ear at night all the reasons I’m useless for God’s Kingdom. My neural pathways strangely trained to think the worst possible outcomes will occur in my life.

I could blame it on being introduced to pornography in my young teens. I could blame it on the way that’s affected my relationships and the shame and pain of doing things I regret because of that former addiction. I could blame it on the way loved ones reacted to my being found out – seen for what I was. I could continue to lay in bed and wait for the day of the dead to come knocking at my door, to take me home from the suffering.

Or.

I can wake up with a purpose – the purpose of loving being a 5 and becoming excited about the journey to becoming a 6. I can honestly share my story and my heart with others, knowing that there’s nothing to hide anymore – and as high and mighty as some may pretend to be, they have plenty of their own skeletons. Having always admired the authentic, why try so hard to be the polished?

So that’s why I’m writing today. I’m not so sure this blog even has all that much cohesion and I’m certain it’s not my best work; confident there’s much to be improved. But for someone that’s been sinking in depression for the last several months, simply externally processing and sharing my feelings and heart with my community is a win. Hitting “Publish” is a victory. It’s one small step toward becoming a 6. One step closer to becoming more like Christ, regretful to radiant, sorrowful to serendipitous, grave to grateful.

Let’s dust off the keyboard and see if I’ve still got it.

Until Next Time,

Justin

depression

No Pain, No Gain (Like You Haven’t Heard That Before)

I’m becoming increasingly convinced that one of the connecting points for many lasting friendships in the world is the endurance of pain, together. There I was sharing a margarita with a friend I hadn’t seen in several months and the conversation drifted to the tougher moments in life and how he could relate to x-y-z and I could relate to a-b-c. Perhaps that’s too simplistic a view, but being the sinful humans we are, we’ve all been hurt and we all have hurt, others. It’s our nature to be selfish, inflict pain, and to find ourselves in the crucible of sanctification, given the choice of asking for forgiveness and saying “F*** them, they’re not worth it.” We’ve all been guilty of choosing the latter at some point in life, but it’s never led anywhere fruitful. Bitterness and hatred is only serving yourself the poisoned wine, rather than giving it to your enemy. You’d be better off attempting to kill them with kindness, wouldn’t you?

Anyways – back to my point – in a world of filtered photos, edited texts, and Facebook posts that are a highlight reel of life…we need that one person to share that one painful story of rejection, anger, pain, hatred, betrayal, longing, addiction, abuse, etc. – and that’s all it takes – and then there’s an iconic moment in every redeeming friendship – a “me too – I’ve been there as well.”

I talked with a coworker about depression this week. Opening up about my need for counseling, I found myself given the opportunity to minister to his soul and providing him with helpful options that I’ve utilized for my own personal growth and journey towards freedom from the hatred and loathing of self.

All it took was an opening up, and a “hey, me too man.”

So I guess all of that is to say, you can filter your pictures and keep your Facebook as clean and crisp as you want, but my life is about to get as real as it gets.

I’ve spent enough of my time worrying about reputation, status, money, and what other people think about me, but as long as God says “well done, my good and faithful servant” and my wife is excited to see and kiss me when I get home, then I’ve lived life well. The rest doesn’t matter and it always works out in the end.

It’s amazing how much time we spend chasing peace and perfection, and some of the most peaceful, perfect, love-filled moments are those that are spent being honest and broken, and allowing love and grace to cover over them.

Tim Keller writes of a czar who adopted a son. The adopted son had squandered his wealth and was contemplating suicide due to his recklessness… (sounds like the Prodigal Son in a way)

“Because he couldn’t cover his gambling debts, he began to embezzle from his regiments funds. One night he was sitting in the tent looking at the books and he realized that his embezzlement was about to be discovered. He could hide it no longer from the accountants. He sat drinking heavily and prepared to kill himself. He had the revolver by his side and he took a few more drinks to strengthen his resolve for the suicide. But the drink was too potent and he passed out on the table.

That night the czar was doing what he often did. Disguised as a simple soldier, he was walking through the camp and the ranks, trying to assess the morale of his army, hearing what he could hear. He walked into his foster son’s tent and saw him slumped over the book. He read the book and realized what he had done and what he was about to do.

When the young man awoke hours later, to his surprise the revolver was gone. Then he saw a letter by his hand. To his shock, it was a promissory note, “I, the czar, will pay the full amount from my own personal funds to make up the difference found in this book.” And it was sealed with the czar’s personal seal. The czar had seen the young man’s sin clearly, the full dimensions of what he had done. But he had covered and paid for the sin personally.”

The crazy part is that Jesus does this for you and me, daily. We constantly squander the wealth and the gifts that He’s provided us with. We hurt our wonderful parents with our insensitivity to their wisdom, we hurt our spouse with our stubbornness to their pleas for wiser behavior and moral conduct, we disappoint our elders as they prod us toward holiness, and we discourage our brothers with our apathy – yet Jesus PAID our debt. He said, “I see what you’ve done and I know it fully. The price has been paid. Now come back home.”

I think my life’s calling is to call other’s home. I see what you’ve done – I’ve done some stupid shit too. Now let me pay the price for you, so that you can come back home. You don’t belong in the underworld anymore. Let me provide you with some clean linens and prepare a guest-room for you. You’re an esteemed guest, a high ranking official, and adopted heir to the King – grace and peace and love covers over you.

So friends, come home. Stop running. Stop hiding. Stop chasing success. Stop searching for happiness at the bottom of the bottle or at the sound of any empty pill bottle. Stop clicking through videos and images of women that don’t belong to you (I shouldn’t even look at my wife that way). Stop shopping until you drop. Stop buying friendships with your money. Stop connecting with others through your self-loathing.

Just stop.

You were worth it. You are worth it.

So worth it that he paid your debt in full and covered you in the finest clothes. “What we should say to each other on our wedding day is, ‘As great as you look today, someday you will stand with me before God in such beauty that it will make these clothes look like rags.” (Tim Keller, “The Meaning Of Marriage”)

Therefore we do not lose heart. Thought outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our slight momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

no pain no gain