The Darkness Took Over (And Something About Gold)

At some point, the darkness took over. It convinced me I was worthless, incapable, and not strong enough to go on. Satan’s whispers that my past wrongdoings were in fact my true identity and that the righteous man I’d masqueraded to be was simply a false identity. I’d been found wanted and I’d never amount to anything ever again.

I wish I could say that I told the devil that he was wrong and quickly reclaimed my true identity in Christ, trusting and leaning into the light. But I didn’t. I stayed there in that dark place, allowing myself to remain imprisoned by the past. The darkness took over.

The Bible talks about how if we give in to sin long enough, God will hand us over to it and I believe the last decade of my life was a sort of testament to that. I tried to outrun and out-think the Lord, as if that were possible. I convinced myself that lies were the truth and that the truth was a lie and I believed whatever tickled my ears and my ego.

Something interesting happens when you get married. You may have been able to lie to yourself all those years, but now you’ve got the accountability of another that is relying on you as much as you’re relying on them, and eventually they end up knowing you better than you know yourself. With Allie’s loving, loyal, strong, constant companionship by my side, I began to have to face my emotional weaknesses and my past.

I discovered that I couldn’t keep secrets from her and I couldn’t pretend I only spent $30 that week if I truly spent $50 and went over the spending budget. I learned that a half-truth isn’t the truth and it’s always best to be open, honest, and sincere regarding everything, even if it’s “not a big deal.” With our lives intertwined and every decision we both individually make affecting both of us, there’s a lot more at stake and our individual “liberties” cannot be taken lightly. Self-discipline becomes all the more important when your lack of self-control in any area of life no longer affects just you, it begins to affect another person as well.

In roughly 5 weeks, Allie and I will have been married for a year. We will get to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. February 4th will be an amazing day to look back and remember all of the growth that we’ve experienced together. I am so proud of the woman she is today compared to the woman she was when I married her – not that she wasn’t already impressive then, just that I’ve seen her endure and remain steadfast through a whole year of highs and lows.

One of our favorite artists has a line that goes something like this, “It’s not about the mountain-tops, it’s about the walking in-between.” Ben Rector is right, it’s about walking through the valleys of life, together, that matters the most.

So yes, I let the darkness take over. And yes, I’ve been in a sad, depressed season – but in the grand scheme of things, it’s just a valley. The sun will shine again. Spring will come. We will experience new highs and new lows in 2018. But most important of all, we will always be together. And the past for either of us, the darkness from our sin past and present and future, does not define us. It’s simply a part of the growing process.

In “Love Lives Here” written by Maria Goff, she talks about life being similar to a gold mine. We often hope to find gold laying around on the surface, easy to pick up and cash in on. But often, it’s found deeper in the mine, under lots of ugly rocks and dirt. It takes a lot of heavy lifting and a lot of time, but eventually we can all find the right within our hearts. And we’re wasting our time if we’re trying to dig up someone else’s gold because that’s not ours to have (gossip/envy). It’s when we’ve put in the hard work to discover the gifts within the cave of our hearts that we may come across treasures that could be passed on for generations. No longer do we have to be cursed by generational sins and struggles, but we can pass on the gifts of freedom, unconditional love, and refreshing joy.

So as we enter 2018 with our figurative and literal picks and shovels, may the Lord bless our digging, and may we all find some gold in the darkness.

gold

Dare to Dream

Jesus always concerned himself with the heart and the depths of a man’s soul, yet rather than follow suit, we tend to focus on tweaking behaviors. Under the guise of a “fixed” exterior, the interior (heart/soul) may lay in ruins, and perhaps no one would ever know.

Because, at our current social state, it would be “better” for his esteemed social “resume” to appear “good”, rather than real. And heaven forbid, his real, just might be broken. Perhaps, for a season, even bad.

It would be interesting to dream of a church and its’ esteemed individuals fueled by a deep love, rather than a rattling fear of not measuring up to the esteemed expectations of family/friends/pastors – to be driven by a real relationship with the Cross.

I simply dare to dream that perhaps our attitudes toward church – perhaps our uptight nature toward dealing with one another’s quirks, faults, and brokenness just might be faulty. I cannot see how keeping people’s questions at bay is of help, or how keeping “the worldly” out of our lives could be of any value. Did not Jesus, Himself, hang out, almost exclusively (aside from his disciples) with the downtrodden and uncertain – the unabashedly sinful? Even more so, he almost taunted the Pharisees for their esteemed “perfection” – they had an attitude that if everything on the outside was clean and in good condition, then they were good. Yet, Jesus still points to their hearts…

Let’s say, for example, that one is struggling with doubts about the Sovereignty of God. Presently, due to the social pressures and expectations of others, it would be much easier for him to remain quiet and to pretend that he was not struggling. But wouldn’t it be healthier not only for that individual, but also for the body (Church) as a whole, to work through those questions, together?

But then the Attitude of Answers come into play. You, yourself, have never struggled with “doubts about Sovereignty”, so you have all of the illustrations, references, and words to assist this “lost” man. At the heart of you desire to help, is it that you really esteem the best-interests of the confused man, or is it that you’ve longed for a position of authority over another? I can honestly answer that I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum – the latter obviously being unhealthy and often hurtful for both parties involved.

It would simply be interesting to go into a deep conversation with another without the attitude of “who will win?” Perhaps it would be better for us to admit that we do not always have the answers. Or that, even if/when we do, might it just be better to walk alongside another as they wrestle – rather than pressing, pulling, and torquing their heart to match out predispositions?

What a joyous and connecting conversation it might be if we allowed ourselves a level playing-field, without the ideal that someone is an outsider (i.e. I visit with a prostitute and strike up a conversation – why can I not converse as their equal as opposed to their superior?). Imagine the dramatically different friendships we might have.

“Flame” (my previous post/poem) was my heart’s cry for this attitude of transparency and realness among the Church, and even across the (“worldly”) community as a whole.

“I’ve hungered for this honesty,
The honest me.
Better to admit your doubt,
Than to fake it out.
Better to share your hurt and uncertainty,
Than to feign joy and assurance – see?”

So, I dare to dream of a body of believers that wrestle together – that dare to share their faults without shaking in fear of the condemnation that may come their way. I dare to wonder what it might be like if I’d come to the Word out of a desire for hope and love, rather than in submission due to fear/anxiety.

What if someone said, “Hey guys, I haven’t really been able to see the Lord working in my life lately. It feels like my prayers aren’t being heard.” – and the Church’s response was, “Tell us more – I think I’ve been through that before as well.” It would seem to me, to be a much more welcoming, even helpful, approach than to simply dig deep into the purse of verse-memorization and hyper-spiritual sentiments.

This is what I’m wrestling through – thanks for learning with me. Will you also dare to dream?

dream

Love Freely

I used to have this tendency – you see.
Write about joy to a degree,
Never mention darkness inside of me.
Image management – reputation over honesty, because honestly,
I cared a lot more about that than the honest me.
Careful now – you might not like what you see;
Hypocrite or broken? Which should I plea?
Doesn’t matter – I can’t always please.
How many times can you do-over – one, two, or three?
And you know, somewhere she’s waiting graciously,
While I’m looking in wishing-wells – ‘patiently’.
I’d like to pursue her – I’m sure she’s lovely,
But, unfortunately for her, my greatest obstacle is me.
So here’s to wishing-wells and all that be,
Prayers for restored hope in Thee,
And dreams that someday, we could love freely.

rain

 

Heart-To-Heart

If your reputation is more important to you than integrity and personal-growth, then Jesus is not truly LORD of your life – that’s idolatry. Your rough-edges do not make you less of a saint, but simply mean you’ve been at war – once darkness is brought into light, it vanquishes, losing its power. It’s when we surrender to Jesus in the trenches that the tides turn in the war. He sends in airstrikes – legions of angels to protect you, and Jesus, Himself, petitions for your well-being. That’s incredible!

Have you ever read John 17? Right before Jesus is to be crucified He spends a large portion of His time praying for you and me! Seriously, go read it right now.

Do you know just how loved you are?

That makes all of the difference, doesn’t it?

If we know that someone truly loves us, then we are that much more motivated to love them. In fact, in our human-nature, we like to keep-score and ensure that we are receiving equal-returns on our love-investments. If I pay for your dinner this time, then next time it is the societal expectation that you’d make the offer. However, that is not the message Jesus sends to us. God loved you and I before we were ever born – hard to repay love that you were not even cognitively aware of.

You are loved. Really – you are so loved.

Identity found in the LORD trumps all other identity sources. When you recognize your kinship within the Kingdom of God and invest yourself in a church-family, it changes everything.

Once secure in our identity with the LORD – knowing that He truly desires to work all things out for our GOOD, then and ONLY then, can we begin to take steps toward recovery. It doesn’t matter where you’re coming from – what relationship woes you’ve had, or what counterfeit affections you’ve clung to – there is healing that can be found. The first step is BELIEVING that Jesus TRULY LOVES YOU. If you can bring yourself to believe that, then the opinions of others matter much less, and it’s much easier to work through the crap. Because that is what sin is – crap – filthy muck that we’ve convinced ourselves is better than what God originally had in store for us. Now that we realize we were wrong, we can take the next step toward recovery.

The next step to recovery is honesty. “Honesty is the best policy” is a core-value that my parents raised me with. No matter the wrongdoing, I was ALWAYS in better-shape if I told the truth the first time around. The best counselors in the world are your friends and brothers and sisters in Christ that you can be genuinely honest with – the ones that you can go into vent-mode with – maybe even break out the “ugly cry” – you never let those friends go. However, there is a concept within the field of communication known as the Law of Reciprocation that has to do with self-disclosure. It’s a two-way-street basically – we need both sides to be open and vulnerable in this, or it is psychologically very difficult to go much deeper. It also takes time. On a relational level, we are like onions (Social Penetration Theory) – there are many layers to pull back and it takes patience to get to the core of who someone is. But it’s worth it. I’d much rather know the real you. The glossy outside-shell of an m&m is cool and all, but it’s all about the chocolate inside.

When was the last time you had a heart-to-heart with someone? You see – our society has become very much about resume-polishing. “If I appear okay and say I’m okay, then I must be okay, okay?” – is the vibe I receive from society and I am quite disgruntled with it. “Okay” is not an acceptable state and “I’m fine” is probably the most told lie in modern-day history. In other words, it is apparently far better to have polished photos of ourselves smiling on Instagram than to honestly deal with our identity issues with someone that will listen to us complain and then help us take it to the cross, where Jesus can remind us of our true value.

Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17) Being fake is not an option – a follower of Christ can no more be fake, as an NFL player cannot wear his jersey. If you’re on the team, then you must go through the hard work of dying to yourself and taking up the cross of Christ, first and foremost, over your own personal agenda of “looking good”. That being said, are not the very best counselors those that have previously worked through the same issues that we are presently struggling with? If I am an alcoholic, who is going to understand me the most? Someone that has previously been an alcoholic, right? If I am incarcerated, who will understand my predicament better than a fellow inmate? If I am broken, would not a previously broken person that has learned how the healing power of Jesus can glue the pieces together and make all things new be the very best person for me to speak with and learn from?

Your willingness to surrender to Jesus does not go unrewarded – it not only leads to restored wholeness in the LORD, but also makes you a much more effective ministry-partner.

Friends, “okay” is no longer okay, and we must love each other too much to simply step-aside and watch each other walk toward destruction. satan loves apathy. Due-diligence he disgusts, as it means he may actually have to throw some stumbling-blocks your way. But that’s where the church comes in! When we bring others around us – and we have those people praying diligently for our restored joy and healing – big things happen. The “impossible” becomes reality – addicts become counselors, prisoners become justice-seekers, and the lost find their way Home.

EndIt

 

Last but certainly not least, be praying with me for the 27 Million that remain in slavery worldwide. Shine a light on slavery. Are you in it to end it? #EndItMovement

In The Fight With You,

Justin