Calling All Men To Call One Another

Heart-to-hearts among guys are not something that happen by accident very often. To get guys to bare their souls to one another is like trying to pull teeth sometimes – bloody, painful, and there’s rarely a “justified” reason for it. I’m forever grateful for the men in my life that have made it their mission to find and connect with my heart. To the few brave souls that have dug in deep, formed ties, and will always care about the man I am – you guys are the reason I’m still here standing, fighting to love and know Jesus more. It’s because of you and our mutual faith that depression has never truly threatened to smother the Flame within my soul.

The problem is that guys just don’t really, actually talk to one another. Not usually, anyways. Think of your coworkers. You see each other every day. You all mutually are tired and frustrated with the day, the weather, your favorite sports teams – maybe you even take a moment to vent about something relationally trivial. But do you really know your coworkers? The people you spend the majority of your week with. When was the last time you had a legitimate conversation with them and found out what troubled their heart and soul? Do you know what their thoughts on eternity are?

I think one of the chief desires within a man’s heart is to connect. Thankfully, the Lord has found it best for us to not be alone – and so we pair off with beautiful, strong, Christ-like women and they love and cherish and encourage and pray and fight for us. But at the end of the day, it’s not enough. It’s an exhausting battle. They couldn’t possibly be the only source of strength. Our only resting place. Our only source of wisdom. Putting a woman (0r a man, for you women) in the place of God is idolatry (a fancy word for regarding something else as higher than God). It’s as if despite the Cross, despite the Gospel, and despite the fact that Holy Spirit is still forcing your heart to wrestle day and night between Light and Darkness, we don’t believe God truly desires good for us, so we run to another outlet.

A side effect of growing up and these pairing offs is that for whatever reason we stop investing our time and resources in our guy friends. It’s too tiresome to schedule anything – everyone is always busy. We decide it’s not worth the fight, or the energy. And yet deep down, one of the deeper desires we have is to really connect with a brother. Someone that has been there or is there – someone that can simply share in the hardships of life. Even someone that we can call with the good news that something went right!

I simply refuse to let my friends slide off the face of the earth. They may hate me for it somedays. But once it reaches the point of a month or two of not seeing them, I’m to the point of threatening to knock on their door (and they know I will). But we have to see each other. We have to invest in one another’s lives. Aside from your significant other, the men you surround yourself with will make or break the man you are. Their apathy will lead to your apathy if you choose the wrong ones. And their passion for Scripture will lead to your piqued interest and renewed commitment to understanding the God you’ve “worshiped” since 1st Grade.You can glean wisdom from their mistakes and they can glean wisdom from yours. Growing together is a beautiful, hard, far too undervalued thing in life.

So this week, I’m calling all men to call one another. Pick up the phone and call one of the guys you grew up with, or someone you’ve always respected. Call “just because” – ask how they’re doing, if you can pray for them and see when the next time is you’re going to hit the gym or coffee-shop, or see the latest comedian/band with them.

Men, we can’t be so afraid to share our hearts. If your friends are anything like me, they can see right through that thin layer of crap you put up as your front anyways. They know when you’re lying, when you’re in sin and stiff-arming community to let evil stay a night or two longer. They can see when joy’s returned and when life’s been too hard. More often than not, they want to be there for you as much as you want to be there for them. We’re just bad at vocalizing it.

So, I dare you. Share your heart and see what happens. Ask for help. Ask for prayer. Invite them over to process the things you’d like to improve on and ask them to share their stories of how they overcome their own obstacles. We’re much better off together. A kingdom won’t stand long if it’s army is a bunch of lone-rangers. We need to be increasingly united, more prone to forgiveness than bitterness, and more ready to listen than to shove our own opinion down someone else’s throat (more often than not, uninvited).

Call your friend. Call your brother. Call your Dad. And call on the men that used to raise you up in the Spirit as a young rascal on the Little League baseball team. Love them because you know that God loves you. Love them not for what they can do for you, but simply for who they are. Believe in Christ’s ability to redeem even the darkest hearts. It’s going to cost you your time and sometimes your patience. But it’s worth the cost. A man rich in relationships is never truly poor – his heart is overflowing with life, hope, and faith that redemption can come for any man – because other men believe it can come for him.

the bros

Fair Warning

Fair Warning – I’m trying to write this while sitting in Thou Mayest which is across from Grinders in the Crossroads District of Kansas City. Why is that important? Because the band that’s performing tonight is warming up and it’s loud. Therefore, I might seem a little foggy. That would be why. But we’re writing weekly! It’s exciting! I’ve enjoyed this new discipline in my life and the outlet it’s provided for my thought-processes and I hope that you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have. Thanks for following along. Let’s get to it.

Life is loud, isn’t it? Lots of noise and a whole lot of confusion. Lots of pretty girls and handsome guys, plenty of music to choose from, and a Grand Canyon of confusion when it comes to life purpose. Where is it all heading? Where are we going? What’s the point?

If you’re anything like me, these questions have a sort of rapid-fire effect. You lay there in bed at night and start to ask yourself basic questions…”I wonder where this job is taking me,” or “where is this relationship headed?” or “Have I actually made any progress toward my goals for this year yet?”

The primary problem is that I like to control things. I want to have a plan and to be in control of life – not necessarily a bad plan – but when you spiral into crippling anxiety and worry every time something doesn’t go your way or you hit a bump in the road, something’s wrong with your outlook on life.

You see – I think I can save myself one day, and the next day I’m ready to wave the white-flag and say that overcoming obstacles isn’t even worth the energy, because I can’t do it on my own anyways. Surrendering to life isn’t the objective and it’s the wrong idea, but surrendering to prayer may not be such a bad plan.

For a while now, I’ve held God at arms-length. It’s easier to pull a Heisman and keep him out of certain aspects of my life. And if I don’t read my Bible or pray, then I don’t have to be confronted as often by the Holy Spirit. It serves the purpose of allowing my pride to swell and grow unfettered. But pride comes before the fall. And I’m being pruned. He won’t allow the branches that lack fruit to remain intact.

Paul E. Miller is a humble and brilliant man. I’ve never met him. But my friend Jake suggested that I read the book that last time I saw him, so I am. Jake’s the kind of guy you trust, even if you don’t see him much. He’s just got this wisdom and charisma and he’s going places. And Paul seems like the kind of trustworthy uncle or grandfather that you could take any of life’s problems to and he’d want to sit down and pray with you. He wrote a book called “A Praying Life” and I’ve been reading it.

I’d say the main theme of the book is to pray. Obviously. But really – it’s quite simple – just pray. I think we all have a little ADD when it comes to prayer…”Hey God, it’s me again…I did something else stupid…by the way, what’s the deal with so-and-so lately?…Why haven’t you given me that extra income yet?…Squirrel!…Oh…Uhmmm…amen.” But it’ll amaze you. Once you start, you don’t want to go back. Soon, the times when you’d be cussing under your breath in a frustrating situation, you’ll find yourself saying, “Lord, help me.” I miss that sort of natural prayer-life.

When I was younger I left a voice-mail on my friend Joey’s phone. It was probably something nominal, like letting him know I could spend the night after I finished my spelling words or something. (His parents were like assistant-coaches in my life. As often as I went over there on the weekends, I think of them as a 2nd set of parents. So grateful for that family.) Anyways, back to the voicemail. I leave the message and at the end I find myself saying, “In Jesus name I pray, Amen.” Click. I hang-up. Mortified, I realize I just ended a voice-mail like it was a prayer. I’m sure Joseph saved that message for a couple months after for his own amusement, but it was proof that prayer came natural in my teenage days. And I’m ready to go back.

I tweeted earlier this week that I thought life should come with a warning-label. “WARNING: This is gonna be freaking hard.” If you take the easy way out, you’ll have to do it again anyways. A house built on sand doesn’t stand. You’ve got to put the work into a solid foundation.

So for me prayer is saying, “Hey Jesus, this whole life thing is pretty tough. Want to walk through it with me?” His answer is always, “Yes.”

So stop worrying and get those things off your chest. Let Him take care of the rest.

hard work ahead yellow warning road sign, tough job be ambitious
hard work ahead yellow warning road sign, tough job be ambitious even if you have a difficult challenging task with impact to finish. ambition to meet the challenge icon.

Rhythm

I love to dance. Absolutely love it. I’m a rather self-conscious guy that absolutely hates sweating, yet there’s nothing quite as freeing as throwing caution to the wind and breaking it down on the dance-floor at a friend’s wedding, or at Kanza Hall with Allie. In fact, I remember closing the door to my college dorm-room, cranking up some jams and dance-partying by myself a time or two. We were created to move, to celebrate, to enjoy.

Now, I’m not saying I’m a good dancer. I’m white. Very white. And as a general stereotype/rule-of-thumb, white guys that grew up in Johnson County, KS aren’t exactly the type of people you expect to dance-battle with someone at Shark Bar in the Power & Light District. But this white guy has done it. Because, why not? I may or may not have won. I’ll leave that up to your imagination.

Something about dancing – you have to have rhythm. You’ve got to follow the song and lead and/or react to your partner’s movements.

Rhythm has been a common theme in my conversations this week. I’m making some lifestyle changes – setting new limits for myself, building new habits, attempting to deconstruct some old ones. Let’s just say – thank God for grace and for His mercies being new each day. But I’m discovering that life, itself, is a form of dance, a sort of finding your rhythm – and if you don’t like the way you’re dancing, maybe it’s time to change the song (if that makes sense) and to vary your default steps.

When you take a step back and examine the reasoning behind the things you do, you recognize that you have certain triggers, or reasons for your default habits – good or bad.

So I’ve begun to dissect my thought and behavior processes. Examining my triggers and behaviors associated with those triggers. Most of them were bad. So I’ve implemented some good. Stressed and anxious? Go running. Fearful? Pray. Angry? Time for some push-ups and squats to work out the aggression. Feeling creative? Write a new poem.

We have other rhythms as well. Certain beliefs about ourselves and where we’re going in life. And if we’re not careful, we’ll let these core “truths” about ourselves become reality. It’s important to find the actual truth and to wrestle against the tide of negativity.

So I’m changing my rhythms and learning new dance-steps. I’m shaking things up and not accepting norms for normal anymore. It’s time to do something new and creative. It’s time to press into all that God has for me. It’s time to find my rhythm. It’s time to go dancing.

sketch-guy-singing-dancing-twist-21787484

Permission To Be

Permission is a weird word. Anyone else remember having to get those permission-slips from school to go on the field trip at school? “Is it gonna cost me anything?” was usually the fair response of the parent as they signed it and sent you off with $30 to do x, y, z – because that’s the way the world works.

When we’re younger, we have to ask permission to go over to a friend’s house – or to watch certain movies. While we’re dating, we may ask permission for the first kiss. And so on.

However, it seems that as we get older, we become more and more scared to ask permission. It’s harder now.

I’m not sure why.

But what would happen if we gave each other permission?

Not the kind of aforementioned permission for anything in particular, but how about the simple permission to be ourselves? How about the permission to simply be?

There comes a moment in a deep friendship of any kind, where you’re finally able to just be with that person. And those are the best kinds of relationships. When you can sit in the silence, doing nothing, with no stress over entertaining the other.

Joseph and myself have been friends for a lifetime. It’s been close to 20 years of friendship. Today after grabbing coffee with him, he said “I love how ‘oursevles’ we can be with each other.” And it’s true. That’s the best aspect of our friendship.

But what if we gave everyone in our lives the permission to BE?

What would the world look like? What would our day-to-day relationships look like? What if we stopped trying to be the Funny Guy, or the Organized Lady, or the Righteous Randy – and we were just simply honest, real, tangible human-beings with one another?

What if we loved? What if we danced? What if we were simply there?

You have my permission – to be.

Forever and Always,

Flame.

permission slip

Taking Steps Toward A Renewed Life

Mindsets are difficult to change. That’s nothing new – we all know that old habits die hard. So how does one change their frame of mind?

Winter brings about colder days and longer nights, and for some of us that spend the majority of our days in cubicles – that means we only see the sun on the weekend – which can lead to depression.

But how did we get there? Your body isn’t getting enough Vitamin D, chemical imbalances in the brain due to diet, genetics, and internal/external sources of stress are all considered potential causes.

Stress and anxiety are what I’d like to focus on for a moment.

I’d argue that the leading causes of anxiety are relational conflicts, money troubles, and feeling as if you’ve lost your grip/control on life. In other words, everyone has been anxious at one point or another in their life.

If you consider the aforementioned causes, then you’ll realize that lack of control plays a role in every source mentioned. So how do we regain control of the steering wheel?

We have to change our mindset. First and foremost, you have to be willing to extend yourself grace for the past. Second, you have to gradually rebuild your faith in yourself and your ability to attain your goals. And third, implement new lines of thinking and measurable methods of improvement.

Gradually, we can shift our minds from recognizing obstacles as inescapable problems to seeing them as opportunities to develop a new skill-set. “I’ve never been good with money” is no longer a viable excuse, because I can recognize that there is no time like the present to learn how to effectively budget my resources.

A friend of mine has been helping me set attainable goals for a healthier me. I was previously drinking sugary lattes AND soda, daily. We have taken steps to gradually decrease my sugar intake and I’m SLOWLY, but SURELY seeing the results. Instead of 3 Diet Cokes, I’m drinking one. And instead of a caramel-macchiato, I’m drinking iced or regular coffee. It’s interesting – now when I “cheat” and go for the sugary latte instead, I can feel the sugar on my teeth and find that even minimal amounts of added flavor make it too sweet for my liking. In other words, I’m making progress! (Measurable by caloric intake, weight on the scale, and also just feeling better mentally AND physically on the days I stick with it.)

The next “opportunity” (sounds cheesy and cliche, I’m well-aware, but I’m doing everything I can to mentally push myself in that direction) I have is the necessity of a new car. “Old Faithful”, my beloved pick-up truck has served me well for nearly a decade, but I believe her time has come to be laid to rest – for a variety of reasons. Due to my previous lack of healthy saving-habits, I made a budget this weekend so I can set aside $300/month to start saving for a down-payment, which will then roll over into a monthly car-payment. By doing so, I’m setting myself up for future success, rather than allowing that to become yet another source of anxiety due to a lack of control.

It’s interesting how biblical concepts like self-control and hard work have real-world value when you surrender and let them impact varying areas of your life. You don’t have to be a Christian to recognize their validity and unprecedented effective nature.

God isn’t limited by out past or present shortcomings if we are willing to humble ourselves and let ourselves be shaped/molded. He’s making all things new – so why not you? When wanting something to change you have to “Do Somethin’ Bout It”, as STL-based hip-hop artist Thi’sl would say in his album, “Fallen King”.

Success in reaching any goal – in the work-place, in fitness, in relationships, and so on – does not happen on accident. You have to work toward it. You have to take steps, no matter how small, toward attaining your goals. Need to bridge the gap in a relationship? Write a letter asking forgiveness and a new start. Want that new promotion? Be more than “just there” at work and find ways to make yourself indispensable.

The bottom line – you aren’t getting anywhere if you just stand there.

It’s time to start taking steps toward a renewed life.

Taking Steps

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

I’m A Man: Achievement Unlocked

Wednesdays are my favorite days because they’re my day off in the middle of the week. What does that mean? It means that I get to spend the day doing whatever the heck I want to do – which always involves coffee, reading, and (in today’s case) writing.

As I’ve read more and more books, I’ve discovered that there is a common theme among authors – a common theme. Wait – does that last sentence make sense? Yes, it does. The common theme among authors is that they often have a common theme in their writings. For me, as the blog’s title may suggest, that has often been grace. But more and more so, I believe my heart has been stirred in areas of the Holy Spirit and upon the topic of masculinity.

A few days ago, I came across a paper that I wrote in college, titled “Christian Culture and Masculinity”, in which I analyzed many cultural themes and researched how social-media defines the gender role of a man. The question always comes down to, “What makes me a man?” In other words, “At which point will I be ‘man’ enough?” Being wholly accepted, delighted in, and respected are desires that strike the depths of every man’s soul.

While I was waiting on my coffee this morning, I struck up a conversation with the barista. Somehow, she ended up asking me if I had any kids. “No kids here,” I assured her. But does her thinking I look old enough to be a father make me a man?

I’ve often wrestled with this question – when does a man feel as if he has “arrived”? I have a college-degree, work a full-time job, apparently look old enough to have kids, and have worked up to at least some muscle tone from the last year of working out at a gym. Does that make me a man? It doesn’t seem to make things all that much different to be honest. I still feel like me. Would I feel like more of a man if I could update my Facebook with “In A Relationship with…[Insert Pretty Girl’s Name Here]”? Maybe for a few days, but in the end, I’d still just be me.

Is just me enough? Are you enough?

The problem with the word “just” (and why it is in italics), is that it assumes the role of insignificance. It’s like when say something along the lines of, “Wish I could do more, but I’ll just pray for you.” Prayer is not insignificant though, and neither are you and I.

If you’re in the gaming world at all, then you know that many of the games now have “Achievements” – so when you get a “Double Kill” – then you get a message that says, “Achievement Unlocked” with whatever perk comes along with it. I think we often view life in this way. “If I could just accomplish/conquer this one thing on status-ladder, then I would be fulfilled…”

Aren’t you tired of climbing?

Aspiration is one thing, but obsession with whether or not you’ve “made it” in the world, or falling into agonizing depression because you believe yourself to be “lesser” are quite another. And it will never be enough. Trust me – accomplish one thing and you’re already hungry to accomplish the next thing – often not even taking the time to be grateful for the first ‘success’.

You’re the only you there is in the world. There is no other Justin Meyer, aka “Flame”, out there, and even if there is, God has created me for a purpose and blessed me with many gifts to reach others in a way that no one else can.

The same is true of you, brothers. You are, indeed, necessary. You can, if you choose to be, enlist yourselves in the band of brothers that can confidently rest in full assurance that they are MEN. And not only men, but MEN OF GOD, if they will only live for His Kingdom.

So I’ve made a personal promise to myself (that I would love for you to hold me to), that I will no longer waste my time worrying about whether or not I am a man. Because I am. Rather, I will simply be a man – I will diligently pursue and rest in all the LORD has to offer. “No reserves. No retreats. No regrets.” There’s no turning back now.

I’m a man.

Are you?

Man

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the issue of masculinity. What do you think MAKES someone a man? How does one become “man enough”? What are some roadblocks to you (or others) believing they are truly a man that has the ability to make an impact?