4/4/2020 – Coronavirus Thoughts & Blue Moon

I don’t know if you can relate to this or not, but I have a very hard time being myself. I’m always worried about what other people are thinking about me, whether or not I’m a “disappointment” to them. Dave Hollis set me straight today in The Power of Positive Summit when he said that he hates to burst our bubble but people aren’t thinking about you, they’re thinking about themselves.

I wonder if anyone else needs to come to this realization to bet set free from the expectations of others. I just cracked open a Blue Moon because it sounded good. Sure, it’s 3:42 PM on a Saturday afternoon and sure, I’d typically be at work right now. But there’s a pandemic and everyone’s coping in their own way, trying their best to survive and to find their mental-health “zen” so to speak. A new normal in an age that will most definitely not be normal. The truth is the last couple weeks I’ve barely found the strength to get out of bed, let alone write a blog post or apply for temporary work or summon up the courage to return to my sales job. But I woke up this morning, ate a healthy breakfast, read a few chapters of the Bible, spent quality time with my wife, and walked the dog briefly – and that’s enough. I don’t have to be any idealized version of myself because that’s all crap anyways. “I can be any me that I want to be today,” a friend of mine told me this week.

The truth is, I’m not perfect. Like you, I’ve eaten my fair share of quarantine snacks and became enthralled with the viral Facebook Group “Quarantine Beer Chugs” (while I’ve recently left the group to fill my mind with more life-giving content…it did provide a slice of escapism and entertainment for a few days in the midst of inner chaos…perhaps the appeal was the chaos; that people were just giving in to it). My wife and I have become obsessed with some whole-wheat banana muffins with pecans in them and we’ve eaten one probably every day to the point that I’m sure my swimsuit selfie in a few months will bring a whole new definition to muffin-top. But you know what? I don’t care.

I stepped on the scale earlier this week and with the realization that I could die at any given day (this has always been true, but all the more real in a season of panic and chaos surrounding the coronavirus) and suddenly the numbers glaring back at me didn’t seem to matter all that much. “Here lies Justin, 6’3”, 260 lbs.” Because in the end, that’s what matters….not! What will matter is the many laughs, intentional Bible Studies, and thought-provoking, heart-changing conversations that have occurred with friends and family as we have wrestled through this chapter in our lives, together.

I’ve even caught myself questioning my own salvation. Would a man that believes in the power of Jesus Christ to rise from the grave and overcome sin be so terrified of a virus that can suck the life out of a person in a matter of weeks, if not days? While at this point in time, I won’t provide some long-winded, well-thought-out version of the answer, I think I came to the conclusion that yes, it was okay. Jesus sweated blood when he knew his time was imminent. And even he asked the Lord to take this cup from Him.

I believe Jesus was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died a sinner’s death, and rose again to pay the ultimate price for our sins so that I could have eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. O death, where is your sting? (In this season, that almost seems like a dare to type those words…but really, where is death’s sting if Jesus paid the price and rescued us?)

I don’t know about you, but I’m in debt. Lots of it. And to think that Jesus has paid off all my sin’s debt just baffles my mind. I’m still waiting for Navient to just pay off all my student-loan debt. For now, I’ll take President Trump’s coronavirus relief package of forbearance to defer those payments for later, when I’m making money again.

I am so thankful for my friends, family, and my faith in this season. If it weren’t for Jesus and my truly becoming “a new creation” I would have bounded right back into addiction. I wouldn’t have wrestled and fought and cried and struggled. I would have given in to the darkness and given up. But I haven’t done any of those things, and that is enough. Because God is enough, and every day I get to make the decision of whether or not I will trust in Him.

You can make that same decision too – will you trust him or not? I’ll tell you what – the days that I choose the former go much smoother than the days I choose the latter.

My heart breaks for those that are going through all of this without a Savior they can turn to and to the ones that only choose to surrender their life to Him once in a Blue Moon. Like a good father, he waits on us to call for him while walking towards the door to our hearts and never away from it.

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A Moment Of Inspiration

“I’m going to write a book,” one of my friends said. “Oh yeah – why?” I asked. “Writing is one of my biggest opportunities, so I figured, why not write a book?” The individual I speak of is someone who puts his mind to something and goes after it without over-analyzing everything. Sure – it can have its setbacks and disadvantages but I admire the tenacity and the faith in oneself to get the job done, learn well from mistakes, and develop into a more holistic individual over time.

I found myself inspired by the courage and thought that it was worth sharing with the world. Because my initial impulse was, “Well then, I guess I could too!”

I struggle with sharing moments of inspiration or declaring that I will do something because then I know there is a chance that I may not. I may not make it to the gym; I may not write the book; I may not read the twenty books I’d like to read in 2020. It’s true, I may not. But then…I also might.

To paraphrase one of my favorite authors Bob Goff, “Quit waiting around for a plan (vision, purpose, details sent down from a stork from the Lord as to how to do the very best thing with your life) and start loving everybody, always.” (Everybody, Always is a ridiculously well-written, thoughtful and thought-provoking book by the way, and I strongly recommend adding it to this year’s reading list.) What is it about us that deems we must have everything mapped out by the time we are 25? Enough money in the bank to retire by 35? And what makes us believe we can do all of these things without a big, powerful, incredible God?

We refuse to rest, sleep, and eat healthy, balanced meals with our families for the sake of hustling hard to earn a good living to not really live at all. As Jefferson Bethke writes in “To Hell With The Hustle” – #TeamNoSleep is not for me. Cultivating a life that has a steady, purposeful rhythm that dances to the beat of rest and sabbath is not something easily acquired. And yet it’s from that spirit of steady, slow, patient, relationship that Jesus walks. I’m betting it’s at that pace that we will hear his voice as well.

And if Jesus always walks, then what makes us think that we have to run everywhere and do everything and accomplish it all before we go to bed tonight? “If I leave that one thing unfinished today, then that’s the end of my success. I didn’t follow-through with my goals today, so I guess I will never accomplish them.” What a twisted sort of thing to prophecy over oneself. Yet our words do truly display our hearts, don’t they? O the doubt, the cynicism, skepticism, and inner battling that must occur in the heart to make progress.

How can God accomplish His great resurrecting work within our hearts if we cannot sit still long enough for him to operate? Just as quickly as we’ve been “put under” (think anesthesiologist) by the spirit of worship in Church, we return to the cauldron of entertainment in the living-room or the many tasks to be accomplished at home. Rarely allowing the time necessary for the truth to sink deep; for the silence to shake us up a bit. To hear the voice of God again.

Hiding behind the curtain of evening’s out, movies, video-games, workaholic natures, and perfectionism, we evade the Lord’s call. To go out and love everybody, always. Everybody…including ourselves. Whom we could love all the more if we believed in the power of Christ long enough to admit that we have dreams, goals, aspirations, and inspirations.

Today, I’m inspired. Tomorrow, I may not be. And that doesn’t make me any less human. In fact, I’ll be stronger, better, faster for wrestling and resting with those moments of inspiration than if I had just let them pass by in a wave of apathy and I guess I’ll catch-on to that lesson next time.

So if you’re taking the time to read this today, you have time to love someone. That’s the plan. Go and do it. Be encouraging. Shine a light. Give them a hug. And be inspired.

And then chase after your dreams, goals, and aspirations. Don’t be afraid of them. God placed the fire in your heart for a reason. The world needs the light and warmth within.

Treasure

When will my head stop ringing,

The whispers stop stinging?

Painful onslaught of self-doubt;

Is my net-worth in my network?

Is my value in my values?

Chase the dollars, make the money;

You’ll find happiness again when it’s sunny.

Winters cold breath extinguished the fire;

Maybe it was Satan again being a liar?

Either way – I’m dormant;

What’s my purpose and my mission?

Somewhere in the chaos I lost my vision.

This heart is still itching;

Pen ready, heart heavy.

I’ve gotta run from it or through it,

More effort or I’m gonna lose it.

And yet that doesn’t seem like the answer,

Isn’t “trying to be better” how we got here?

Never satisfied with being, always becoming.

Yet Jesus always walked, and my minds always running.

Lord, meet me in this quiet place.

Still the waters, show your face.

I find comfort in Psalms;

In David’s up-down rhythm.

I’m not alone and you’re still on the throne.

Hear my cries and heal my mind,

Open my eyes where I’m blind.

This day I give to you, my King.

I may not feel like it, but I’ll still sing.

Great is your faithfulness,

Your love endures forever!

I’ll hold onto you, my anchor, my treasure.

Grace Over Grave

The world will crush your bones,

Dry up your spirit.

It will promise pleasure, but you’re still thirsty.

I’ve got the truth – but you won’t hear it.

Too busy getting stuff done,

That you forgot about the Son.

But hey, me too, so I guess it’s fine.

We can just say “hey, your sin is more than mine.”

Compare our righteousness to others,

“Ha! If you only knew my brothers…” we say.

Brush the judgment day off our shoulders,

Feel abandoned this side of heaven,

Go out looking for attention, getting “bolder.”

Only to learn that this world’s colder.

So we numb the pain with something fake,

If it feels like love, then it must be it,

Besides, the loneliness of this world is too much to take,

So even if I settle, so be it.

And that’s the lie that you believe,

A lie so well-spoken by deception,

That it seems to bring about relief,

But don’t be surprised, then, at pain’s reception.

Because it will arrive.

And choke what you thought was thriving,

Then you’ll look back for hope,

And realizing it’s not there, as your relationship with it is what you were depriving.

Living in “liberty” but a captive,

Free from “the law” but shackled to regrets.

Hope came to set you free.

Hope has a name.

Hope hasn’t given up on you or me.

Hope has no desire to leave you in shame.

So the next fool’s gold that catches your heart’s attention,

Do as my wife (the teacher) would and send it to detention.

And work on your retention of love over hate,

Grace over Grave.

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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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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