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.

compass

 

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

New Insight In A New Season

I decided recently – again – that I spend far too much time online. By far one of my favorite coping mechanisms is reaching for the smartphone and surfing Facebook to see what others are up to. It helps me feel connected without risking being vulnerable in real-life. Requesting prayer from an online platform is a lot different than speaking face-to-face or over the telephone line about your life’s hardships and opening yourself up to someone else’s feedback and perspective.

It’s easier to crop an image and choose a filter than to deal with people seeing the real, angsty, almost always sweaty this time of year, Justin. One of the guys that I’ve grown up with invited me over to his house for a Guy’s Night this weekend – the fire pit was ablaze, cigars were lit, beer cracked open (or sparkling water in my case that night), and a huge, life-sized Jenga set was played.

Jenga Set

All that fun happening and I found myself wanting to reach for my phone to take a picture so that others would know I’d had a good time that night. (Also, because the Jenga set was awesome and I wanted to remember it.) The point remains, it’s so much easier to be able to document life online than it is to actually live it.

I’ve been encountering a lot of weird, heavy, dark, tough emotions lately and my first reaction is to find some form of coping mechanism (social media apps on the phone, booze, entertainment, etc.). Due to this and some other life-experiences, I’ve placed myself on bit of a fast from social media being so easily accessible on my phone and from alcohol for the next few weeks at least.

Technology is a useful resource but one of the things I despise about Sales is being married to my cell-phone, and reducing the amount of time I spend on it and coping with my stress and emotions in other unhealthy ways at home, is something I’ve chosen to work on.

After all, it was interesting what happened when I resisted the urge and left my phone in my pocket the last few evenings. I connected with total strangers and got to know about their lives, what they do, and the varying ways I can be actively praying for them. And I returned home to my wife, refreshed and ready to re-engage her with a fresh set of relational batteries because I’d taken the time to pour out God’s love on others and receive it from them as well. And last night – sitting across from Allie at Red Lobster enjoying the ultimate trio of salmon, lobster, and shrimp (mmm, seafood!) – we found ourselves connecting on a conversational level like we did when we were first starting to date each other a few years ago.

I think it’s time that we, as a society, begin taking larger steps toward becoming less dependent on hiding behind text-messages and social-media and instead invested the time in face-to-face interactions with those we love, and perhaps, those we don’t currently, but could lead our hearts to love over time.

An interesting tidbit from Tim Keller’s “The Meaning Of Marriage” is that as he pastored a church in Virginia, he took on ministering to a rather difficult couple with lots of problems and no one really seemed to like them. Over the course of a few months, he spent some of his ministry time in their house, inviting them into his office for counseling, and so on. Well – one rare mid-week day off, his wife was asking what he’d like to do that day and he said, “I think I’d like to hang out with the couple we’ve been working with.” His wife was surprised until he realized what had happened. As he’d been faithful in loving them, even though they weren’t all that likeable, he’d actually come to enjoy spending time with them – to love them, as he loved himself. He now genuinely loved his neighbor because he had led his heart in the direction of God’s will.

I found that convicting as I considered the people in my life that I don’t really like all that much or the coworkers that I tend to…avoid. I may make a greater impact for the Kingdom if I were to focus less on who I love and don’t love, and simply chose to love others as myself, as the Lord has directed.

Oh, and another thing – the world seems to spin a little smoother the more we align ourselves with what God has in store for us. Like many of you, I’ve spent plenty of time trying to direct my own footsteps and find my own, individualistic, “unique” way in life. It takes a lot of energy attempting to control all of the people and circumstances in your life. It’s just kind of ironic, humorous, and perplexing to consider that the “freedom” we’ve all been searching for in our youth is actually found in surrendering ourselves to the will of the God of Jacob – the same God that’s been keeping the world spinning on its axis just fine, since long before you and I came into existence.

So – the lesson I’m presently learning in life is quite simple: Love God. Love Others. Less of me, more of Him, so that His Kingdom can come, right here, right now, and we don’t have to wait any longer for His peace to fill our homes and flood our hearts.

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.

tunnel

Start Loving Others

The most common thread in the advice I’ve received on writing is to start. Don’t get so caught up in mapping out your thought-process and attempting to steer things the direction you want to go. Just do it.

I think there’s a lot of truth there and I’ve seen it play out in many areas of my life. Love someone? Just tell them and then prove it by showing them they’re the most important person in your world. Ready to lose weight? Then put down the bread and get out of bed, sleepyhead (had to throw a cheesy rhyme in there somewhere).

Meeting with a childhood friend of mine was encouraging this morning. There are some friendships that you have in life that just never die. Perhaps they fall asleep for a long hibernation but once back together your hearts can pick up right where you left off and this guy is that kind of friend. Some people have the gift of making whoever they’re with in the moment feel like the most important person in the world; I think it’s because he’s allowed his heart to become like Christ and he genuinely loves everyone.

That’s something to aspire to – isn’t it? Loving everyone. That’s so, so hard. Think of the difficult coworker that just rubs you the wrong way – you really do not even want to try to establish a relationship with this individual but perhaps that’s sheer laziness on your part. After all, everyone’s deepest desire to be known – to be connected. All their pushing and shoving and stiff-arming is likely fueled by a distrust of others because of others that have hurt them. What difference a little genuine love could make in their life.

I think of the times I was hurting inside the most. In these life-chapters I had frequently bullied friends and family into a corner and told (not asked) them to stay out of my life. Isolation is the companion of the fool that goes his own way, because community requires accountability. It was in these isolated, depressed, anger filled moments that some of my best friends in life took the time to draw me out – to get me to share my feelings and make myself vulnerable again. Only then, in the light, could I be healed.

So today, I challenge you and I challenge me, to start loving others. It’ll likely be one of the more emotionally taxing things you do today but it will also probably be the most rewarding. And who knows – it could build a relationship between you and the other that could pay off dividends in the future. Because chances are, you aren’t the easiest person to love either.

start loving others

Good Mornings

Today is a Good Morning. It started with waking up at 5:00AM to make sure I could meet with a friend of mine at 6:30AM for breakfast and coffee – two of my favorite things – one on one time with a bro and delicious, bottomless mugs of Ethiopian blend coffee.

I don’t know why I don’t do this more often – wake up and get after it. Force myself out of bed for the benefit of the rest of the world, as well as myself. By waking up I took the time to invest on an emotional, mental, and spiritual level with another person and I’ve jump-started the rest of my day. I’m awake, alert, and ready to go long before I have to be clocked in at work and ready to go.

There’s a reason why you feel better on the mornings that you just get out of bed versus the days you snooze the alarm over and over again.

Today is also a Good Morning because it’s Good Friday. Today, we remember the day that Jesus sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane in the early hours of morning due to the anxiety of knowing what was to come that evening. Betrayal. Pain. Death.

And yet, we have the luxury of knowing that Sunday brings freedom from death because Christ escaped the grave and overcame death so that we don’t have to. By His blood, our sins are paid for, our righteousness has been bought at a price and all who have faith and repent can be saved. Incredible.

It’s interesting to think about the fact that our Savior, Himself, had to experience betrayal of a friend. The betrayal of a loved one or friends can sting and cut you down, the pain seeming to linger for a heart’s eternity. But there is hope – there is a Sunday for that. By experiencing the true love of Christ and His forgiveness over our own sin and darkness, we can be granted the strength and opportunity to forgive and release others of their transgressions to us.

I think the greatest example I’ve witnessed of this is my beautiful wife and the times I’ve hurt her with the words I’ve said or the actions I’ve taken. But something has always set her apart from anyone else I’ve given my heart in the past, she has always been capable of forgiveness. She’s always been filled with the Spirit, capable of a love deeper, more passionate, and more loyal than any I’d experienced before. It was because of this that my heart was drawn back to Jesus back in 2015 and because of this that I made her my bride in 2017. And it’s because of God’s redeeming work in my heart and in my life that I’m capable of loving her with that same kind of love in 2018 and beyond.

Perhaps you’ve been following along in our Psalms Study and you’ve seen the weekly tidbits of wisdom gathered from the Scriptures and I’ll do what I can to continue that at my writing leisure. But I felt today was the perfect opportunity to remind everyone that they can have a Good Morning too. The love of Jesus is available to you – you just have to make yourself available to it. And that’s the hardest part, isn’t it? (Because what if…he doesn’t come through this time, he doesn’t answer your first prayer, he forgets what you’ve been through…)

It’s worth the unknown, because He’s never left me hanging. In my moments of need, I’ve allowed myself to become anxious and worried time and again and it’s never added a minute to my life just as promised in Scripture – but somehow, someway, He always comes through for me. Let Him do the same for you.

Let this morning be the first of many Good Mornings.

good morning coffee

I See Greatness In You

I asked God to speak to me today. In prayer, out loud – I said, “Lord, I want to hear your voice – to feel your presence and to know that you are for me.” And I waited on the Lord; I waited for Him to come. And He didn’t…Not right away, anyways.

But somehow, going through the motions of the day, Allie and I began to open up – sharing deeper and deeper longings and dreams in our hearts and taking the time to intentionally ask questions and seek out more intimate truths. Walking further into the caverns of each other and finding precious rubies in each others hearts.

Vulnerable moments. The kind that make you hesitate before you share. The impulse comes and you begin to speak but doubt clouds your judgment and stills your tongue – wait a couple moments longer and you’ll be silenced – and then again the words come to your lips, you take a leap of faith and let them escape, exposing yourself to the other’s impact.

In that moment, you’ve chosen to be known.

And insecure fear can race into your mind, forcing you to wonder whether or not you should have shared that intimate part of yourself.

And in those moments today, we both found Jesus looking back at us – the other listened, asked questions, and went to the King as their mediator, gently refusing to pass judgment or throw the first stone.

“I see greatness in you.”

“I see greatness in you,” my wife said as we paused and reflected on the wonderful day of sharing that we had experienced together. “It’s the moments you’ve taken in your life to be vulnerable with others and listened to their counsel that have led to your greatness today, and more greatness to come.” (Slightly paraphrasing. But the message was clear, straight from the Lord. Two separate messages. First – a playful, “I heard your prayer and answered it. Didn’t I?” Because He spoke to me, clearly, plainly, and beautifully – just in a different way than I had expected. The second message became clearer the more I meditated on the words my wife had spoken. “I’m proud of you, son.”)

“I’m proud of you, son.”

Unashamed. The Lord, my King and Father, is unashamed of me. He isn’t passing judgement on my weight or lack of income recently due to poor sales or my insecure worrying and constant pleas for others to pray for me, because of my disbelief in the effectiveness of my own prayers. He isn’t saying, “Go read one more chapter of the Bible and then I’ll pour out my love and affection upon you.”

The story of the prodigal son is true. It’s my story and it can be yours true. A ragamuffin, troubled by the thorn in Paul’s side, recovering from addiction to counterfeit affections by God’s grace. Every memory of hurt and torment, every word of abuse, every fragile friendship that experienced abandonment, Jesus has offered to take those from me and to replace them with His love. All I had to do was let Him in. Never once after letting Him in has He cursed me with residency in my past, dooming me to a life of shame. Rather, He’s freed me from my shackles and shown me His powerful mercy and grace. To the point that my beautiful, outstanding, strong, faithful, kind, merciful, Christ-like wife said, “I see greatness in you.”

Words that melted my heart, softened me to His Love. Tonight, I’m Embracing God’s Grace. I’m accepting myself because He accepts me – not as an acquaintance and not even as a distance friend, but as a son – a son that He is proud of.

vulnerability