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.

download

Man Crush Monday

There he was, the dream version of myself in human form sitting to my left. A middle-aged gentleman obviously in early retirement, wealthy to the point of millions most likely but my interest wasn’t necessarily in the money although you could tell he had some from the stories he told. After spending years in law enforcement, he had become a motivational speaker and through his speaking realized he needed to write a book and share his stories with the world. I thought about asking for his phone-number or his business card, or trying to give him the link to my blog but in the moment it felt like I’d be trying too hard so I just listened.

He talked about his favorite things to do in retirement were playing racquetball and joining a few gun clubs. I probably should have said, “I’ll try and keep up with you on the racquetball court,” but despite his age, he’d probably whoop me.

So what’s the point of me sharing this story? I feel I was just encouraged by meeting someone that had done it. It wasn’t as if the money appeared in his bank account overnight and it wasn’t as if he was an immediate success. From what it sounded like, he had made cold calls to various sources in order to self-promote and sell his own books and services. But he put in the work and received the pay off over time.

When asked what book I was wanting to write, I quickly quipped that it’d be awesome to compile a book of my previously written poetry and he suggested adding illustrations to them to make it more consumer friendly which I thought was an excellent idea. Unfortunately, I shied away from sharing that I was currently working on writing a book on addiction recovery and my own faith journey but that’s okay – I just felt revitalized to start writing again. Something he said was, “You just have to do it. Sit down and write and write and write – don’t worry about the editing until you’re nearly done and then go back and spend twice as much time editing it.” It’s always been the starting that is the hardest part. Like getting out of bed and making the bed in the morning. Like choosing to jog. The hardest part isn’t finishing a mile, it’s the first two blocks and trying to get some cold, tired legs to move again.

With writing, it’s eliminating the self doubt and the worrying what others will think, because who cares? They’re either going to read it or they’re not going to. Really, I’m doing it for myself anyways, as part of my own healing process and journey to freedom from addiction to counterfeit affections, freedom from the obsession with other’s opinions, freedom from bending to other’s expectations. It’s about letting others behind the veil, eliminating a second self cloaked in lies of omission to provide safe haven for the second self. Dying to the old and giving birth to the new.

In the end, that’s what life is all about. And it’s always the heart of the matter that matters the most.

So today as you read this, where is your heart? What dreams are you not pursuing and what excuses are keeping you from their pursuit? Gather up those excuses and take them out with the trash tomorrow morning. They don’t belong in your life anymore.

Idle Time And The Power Of Others

Idle time is a weakness of mine. Recognizing and taking responsibility for my weaknesses is something that I’ve been pushing to the forefront of my mind – because if I do nothing about them, then I am doing little to better myself. You can attempt to run away from your problems but they’re your problems and they’ll just follow you wherever you go.

As I contemplated going out and spending unnecessary money on breakfast this morning, I realized I really ought to take the extra time I had to make myself some breakfast and utilize the resources God and my wife have already blessed me with. So I chopped up some berries, sprinkled a little sugar on some Corn Flakes, and turned something boring into something delicious.

Recognizing that despite it being my day coveted day off (I hate going in when I’m not scheduled, because…rest), I realized that I’ve done poorly this week and it’d be silly to not go in for an hour or two to handle a customer that would like an appraisal and to shop for a potential replacement. And instead of laying in bed until the last possible minute, I’m a few cups of coffee deep, have taken Harvey (our new beagle puppy) on a walk, and am writing – even though I’m certain this is nowhere near my best work – before going in to take care of my customer.

The truth is that I’ve been scared away from writing for a season. Some aspects of my heart are unready to be seen and others are still not sure of themselves. The interesting thing about insecurity is that it permeates every aspect of everything. As a 27-year old I’m beginning to realize the tremendous importance of knowing who you are and learning to love that person (something I have a lot of difficulty with). If God can forgive me for where I’ve been and bless where I am going, then what gives me the right to think I cannot forgive myself, or that I should not work toward that blessing further down the road?

Insecurity has a way of sneaking its way into the marriage bed as well. I don’t mean this in a weird way, but if we let it, Allie and I can allow insecurity to create its own invisible wall of separation between us even as we lay snuggled up side-by-side.

Interesting enough, while I’ve spent years obsessing over the exterior aspects of myself (while significantly heavier than I was as a teenager, age and a beard has done me some favors in that department – or so I’ve been told) – I never really invested in truly staring my heart down and figuring it out. Marriage sort of forces you to do that, because you’re confronted with the reality of your heart every single day. I can see the concern in my wife’s eyes when anxiety grips my hearts and turns my lively blue eyes to dead, grey ones. I can see the impact that simple words spoken in a harsh tone can have. I also witness the incredible power a little joy, joking, and yes – dancing, can have on her heart. Quickly lifting her out of the daily funk and transporting her back to the lively, real, incredible romance that we share. Our friendship is what makes the dream work. Allie is my very best friend.

“The Power Of The Other” by Dr. Henry Cloud is a book devoted to just that concept – the idea that others have an incredible impact on you whether you want to admit it or not. “The undeniable reality is that how well you do in life and in business depends not only on what you do and how you do it, your skills and competencies, but also on who is doing it with you or to you.” I’m just under 20 pages into the book and I’m already hooked and I can already think back to how true this is. To back in college when I’d stay up ungodly late to finish a project and the only reason I could keep going is because Jake was there with me, cheering me on and saying that we could do it. To the early morning prayer gatherings with friends in my church that I didn’t really want to get out of bed for, but when they came knocking on my door and I saw that they were up, then I would go (most of the time – sometimes I’d just pretend I wasn’t there…). The point being when you have others in your corner going after a common goal and pushing you past your standard limits and beliefs in yourself, then you’re far more likely to succeed and to surpass what you believe to be your ‘best’.

I look forward to reading the rest of the book and to finding ways to surround myself with people pursuing to be their best selves in life and to spending less time with toxic people that drain energy and tear down confidence by being consumed entirely in themselves.

Kadena supports the Okinawa Marathon

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.

“I’m Fine”

I was having a particularly bad Friday. Things weren’t going my way; I was tired and the world was at odds with me in every direction; I was suffering from deep, paralyzing anxiety, and yet I found myself answering a peer’s question – “How are you?” – with “I’m fine.” Why?

Why is it so socially acceptable to lie about our mental state? Why is it that we’ve been taught to repress feelings?

Why are we so afraid of real?

I’ve been a wrestler my whole life. Challenging the status-quo of belief and wondering – asking questions – digging deeper – seeking out and discovering things for myself, not always taking no for an answer. And the social landscape through which we view and filter our feelings has always baffled me. I’m always scratching my head, off in the corner by myself and thought that it’s simply wrong. There is no way in heaven or hell or earth, land, and sky that everyone is doing just “fine.”

And are we okay with fine?

Sitting in a coffee-shop the other day with a friend, we discussed some of our deeper fears in life. One of the fears that we both had was that we were alone. It was an interesting fear, as we both have large social-circles, girlfriends, and families that are beyond loving. Yet we believed we were alone sometimes.

First off – that’s obviously a “lie” from the enemy that we are “alone” and alienated. And that we can’t partake in community.

But secondly – I think we’re to blame, as we’ve accepted the culture that says hiding your feelings is acceptable, the norm, and what you should pursue. And so I’ve had rough days and wanted to reach out to a close friend like him and I didn’t let myself because I thought it would be frowned upon, or worse – an inconvenience – I thought I’d disrupt his day.

Well newsflash, world! People have feelings and those feelings are going to disrupt your day sometimes. And my friend would have taken my call. And he would have let me cry or shout or worry, and then everything would have been just fine.

So why are we so afraid to make a wave? To drop our rock of feeling into the standstill pool of the world, afraid that it might disrupt the crystal-clear water of numbness.

You can be fine. You can be happy. You can be sad. But if you’re not fine, you’re not fine – and that’s fine. No – I mean, that’s alright.

Are you messy? I’m messy. Do you love hard and get hurt? Hey, me too. Do you give all you can and wonder if you’ll ever get back? Surprise! Me, as well. Do you dream and wonder and get confused? Is the world a surge of joy one day and a dark storm the next? Do you wonder where God is sometimes? Guess what? Me too.

So, how are you?

Keep it real.

Justin