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.

Lost Along The Way

It’s so easy to get lost along the way. I bet that’s why God places so many reminders in Scripture that he has our best plans in mind, that he is watching out for our hearts and lives with all of these “rules and regulations.”

It’s so easy to get discouraged and to give up, to let pain have the final say.

It’s so easy to decide that since you’ve failed a few times that means you are now a failure and will never measure up to anything.

I saw a quote recently that went something like, “The Enemy cannot take your oil (anointing) but if he can convince you it’s not worth anything, then he ends up stealing it’s power.” How many times have you and I been convinced that our gifts are meaningless?

How many times have I had words on my lips or ready for the keyboard and left them unsaid or avoided typing them, fearing they lacked significance?

A world filled with pain…and there is hope – yet, I am afraid to admit that I have it.

Someone asked me this week – “Justin, why are you always so positive?” I was honestly kind of shocked by the question. I thought I’d been kind of a bummer the last few weeks wrestling through the murky, suffocating waters of depression. I thought a moment about my answer and then I said, “I guess, despite all of my shortcomings, I know Jesus and he’s my hope.” The gentlemen said, “I figured that’d be your answer – me too – well, I just want to let you know it makes a huge difference and that your impact is felt here…” and then he walked away.

What a wonder…making an influence even at my weakest. Brings new meaning to the biblical idea that he can make me strong in my weakest areas. He lifts up the humble and humbles the proud. If only we grasped that concept.

You, my friend, are not a failure if you are not on a high in life right now. If you’re not where you want to be, you don’t have to stay there. And admitting that you’re struggling is the first step to recovery in any situation. Simply accepting the status-quo will get you the status-quo. If you want change, you need to be the change – and you need to surround yourself with people that are going that direction and are going to take you there with them.

“Who are your change-agents?” Dr. Henry Cloud asks in “Necessary Endings” (what a great book, by the way). We all have those 2 or 3 people in our lives that challenge us and push us to the next level. Chances are if you’re in a season of stagnancy, you’ve been avoiding the coffee-dates and gym-sessions with them for a little while now. You know they’ll call you to something greater and that means you’ll have to give up the old “comfortable” situation that you don’t want to admit you love.

When someone is in sin and they “can’t seem to get out of it” – it’s really not THAT complicated. They have fallen in love with the sin – the lust, the greed, the anger – it has become their comfort zone – that is where they would prefer to live.

If that’s you, I pray that you’d find those 2-3 people to pull you out of the backwards slide and into the light. There is hope in the daylight. Hunkered down in your own loneliness, isolation, and the darkness of night with your bottle of tequila, browser filled with porn, contact-list full of affairs, pantry filled with Oreo’s, books filled with delusion, and mind addicted to sadness…there is no hope. What a terrible, sad, horrendous place to be.

You will be amazed what that one phone-call has the power to do. You will be amazed what cracking open the dusty Bible on your book-shelf can do for your heart. You will be awestruck and shocked at how integrity and honesty, while it may hurt a little at first, will become your building blocks for success and that even little white lies will start to make you sick to your stomach, because they just aren’t worth it anymore.

Friends, you may have gotten lost along the way, but you do not have to stay there. Where you are today does not determine where you will be tomorrow.

Call the “change-agent” in your life and admit where you are weak, they will make you strong.

Say the prayer that you are afraid to pray and He will answer.

Share your fears and struggles with your wife and she will love you.

Set goals for yourself and celebrate your success, even if you only hit the 50% mark the first time. At least you started growing again.

Jesus told the parable of the shepherd that would leave the 99 sheep to save the 1 that got lost. The prodigal son squandered all of his father’s wealth and was still welcomed with open arms and celebrated for his return to the Kingdom.

How much more will he pursue your heart? How much larger a feast for the lost, hurting heart that discontinues their pity-fest and pursues freedom in Christ’s name?

He’s left the 99 to come find me…I’m confident He will rescue you, too.

Call, and he will answer. Knock, and the door will be opened.

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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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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

Fisher Of Men

I’m not sure what it will take,

To pay for that mistake.

The one I made decades ago,

That swung my heart to and fro.

Merry-go-round of emotions since,

The kind of pain that makes you wince.

It promised much and provided little,

Satan asked if he should play his fiddle.

Mocking the death of my feelings,

Taunting me with memories when,

I made active choices to sin.

“But do you remember when…”

“If your wife knew that, then…”

“Your love is fake, your story is a lie.”

Round and round, despair takes my breath.

This must be what it feels like – death.

All of this because I wanted to see,

That which wasn’t meant for me.

Images on a screen, women that weren’t mine.

Innocence taken before its time.

Side effects that can still be felt,

Worse than a bruise, worse than a welt.

Scar tissue that runs so deep,

It’ll hit me like a train and cause me to weep.

And there’s the enemy, back with his fiddle,

Ready to challenge me with another riddle.

“If you loved Jesus, then how could you?…”

“If you were Christian, then wouldn’t you?…”

“How will you pay for all of this?”

It’s true – I’m indebted.

Credit-line with God maxed out to the brim,

And it’s not just my heart that carries the pain,

Marriage causes Beauty to carry my shame.

The burdens too heavy to carry on my own,

Pick up the phone and call one another,

Thank the Lord Jesus for my brothers.

And if I could give you one piece of advice,

It’d be that the forbidden-fruit isn’t worth it.

It’s amazing how crafty and contorted,

Our versions of “truth” can become.

“It’s not that bad to look,”

“I’m just reading a book.”

“But it’s a good movie,”

“And it’s a great show.”

“We’re just talking.”

“It’s not really stalking.”

Oh I fear for the day the Judge returns,

Takes out the gavel as his heart burns,

With just anger and proclaims,

“Away from me, for you never knew me.”

Don’t stay there, my friend.

Walk into the light, and own up to when,

You made some choices that aligned you with sin.

Talk to someone, talk to me,

Ask them how you, too, can be free.

It’s not a joke, it’s not a comedy.

Interfile men because they’re wasting their seed,

Women’s hearts crushed, pleading with God that their men would be freed.

Family’s ripped apart because of sleazy affairs,

Men so emasculated that they have the courage of a young boy,

Because shame has tied a noose around their neck and stolen their joy.

That doesn’t have to be your story – it’s not mine anymore.

Christ, let us out of our heart’s prison,

Pay for our debts, for you’ve already risen.

Raise us up and fill our cup,

Renew our joy and our gifts,

Speak into my heart and give me your voice,

The courage to tell men they have a choice.

The strength to stand when others won’t,

And I suppose I’ll end on this note…

I can’t wait to see,

That which he’s meant for me.

The dreams and visions and ministry,

A fisher of men in a raging sea.

fishers of men

Relying On Him

It was one of those weeks where you never really catch up on sleep – and just when you think the drama has come to an end, there’s a new twist and turn. From family drama to challenging professional interactions, arguments over nothing caused by irritability, and life-changing, deep conversations. From a margarita infused laugh fest to sober tears and lots of pain, there was all of it.

I’m not sure why but whenever life enters that spectrum where success suddenly doesn’t seem to matter all that much, interesting things happen. You’re at work – but you’re not really at work. You’re in the car driving, but your thoughts are taken back to your own memories of pain. You make it home safe, but you’re not sure how.

This week a family member made the strong, challenging decision to break off an emotionally abusive relationship and I couldn’t be more proud. But it’s hard to break away from something that we’ve become used to.

In a way, “love” can become as addictive as a drug, the dopamine that had been released during close times together creates a spiritual tie of sorts. It binds us closer, creates that need for closeness; and that’s one of the many reasons it hurts so much to break a relationship off.

The light that is at the other end of the tunnel is worth it though. I remember the time in my life where I was in a relationship where the other individual wasn’t all-in, but I was – it hurt a great deal to end the relationship one fateful May evening. But what I didn’t know is that just a little while later – on an October evening, I’d meet a woman that would love me wholeheartedly, forgive quickly, and encourage and champion growth together. It was no longer the endless, perpetual cycle of stagnancy; I made financial gains, spiritual gains, and relational gains. “He makes all things new.” Even you. And even me.

My heart has been overwhelmed with the pain of others recently. Thinking about all of the addictions that some wrestle with and that I’ve had to overcome personally. Allowing myself to feel the pain my family-member is going through. Spending valuable time on my phone outside talking brothers off the ledge.

It’s times like these that make me wonder – how does anybody do it that doesn’t know Jesus?

I mean, seriously. How?

Several times over the last week, when someone has overstepped their bounds and interfered with my life and I’ve wanted to lash out in anger, I had to rely on strength that was not my own – it was His.

Several times over the last week, when someone was feeling the same pain that I’ve experienced in the past, I had to rely on strength that was not my own – it was His.

Several times over the last year, as a brother in Christ confesses their battle with purity, and I’ve done the hard thing of giving them tough, Gospel inspired love, calling them to repent and then lovingly embracing them – I’ve had to rely on strength that was not my own – it was His.

So when you ask, how does the eldest of five, newly married, constantly busy, “rock-star-legend” (according to my wife) retail salesmen manage to keep it together (most of the time)? The answer is, I am His. My strength is His. I rely on Him.

I know Jesus, and I want you to know Him too. He saved my life, saved my marriage, gave me hope, and rose again – giving every sunrise new mercies.

There’s a new beginning each day. And we get to live with that hope, because of Him.

I’m praying for you, dear friend, as you’ve taken the time to read this – praying that you would know Him too.

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