The Heights & Depths

I’ve fallen in love with raw humanity. The heights and the depths – I want it all. It’s not all about the mountain-tops, but sometimes about “the walking in between” as Ben Rector sings about in his recent album. I think that, in order to know and to love someone, you must understand that you will have to know them at their very worst, just as you may see a glimpse into their very best – their pain will be yours, just as much as their joy. And I think there is beauty to that.

Let’s think about it for a moment. No one is always happy, polished, and attractive. Yet, we nearly obsessively (or perhaps I’m speaking for myself, but hear me out) ensure that we remain polished around others. “How are you doing?” is followed by “Great! How are you?” even on a day when you may truly be breaking inside. So instead of facing the scars, we apply another coat of makeup. Sarcasm and supposed witty humor become our defense-mechanisms – we don’t want people to see what’s really inside, so we’re funny, not real.

I think it’s time to face the pain (yours and my own, together).

Every writer has his own beliefs and views, but as I’ve read memoirs (particularly Sheldon Vanauken’s “A Severe Mercy” and Brennan Manning’s “All Is Grace”) I’ve discovered one common theme among some of the greats – they are unashamedly transparent, raw, and honest about their brokenness. They believe what Paul said when preaching that they must become lesser, so that Christ can be made greater within them. Therefore, they lay pride aside, and lay bare their vices and broken relationships – that their readers may see that DESPITE their inability to be perfect, God still made them new, again and again, and used them for His glory.

During an episode of Scandal, one of the characters is facing a scandal (shocker) of their own. In the end, they become relieved that their “dirt” has surfaced. Once it has been brought into the light, it can be dealt with and “handled”. Despite the show’s occasionally risque nature, this is a potently biblical concept. Darkness loses its’ power when brought into the Light. When you flip the light-switch on in a dark-closet, the unknown becomes known, and our true colors show forth. Even more shockingly, with our polished facade now tarnished, we become more easy to relate to, less prideful/arrogant, and more likely to recognize humanity’s collective need for the gospel of grace.

A need within the church is the real life-on-life, connectivity, that goes much deeper than the surface. I can dress well and talk church-talk with the best of them. However, some days, underneath the sharp mind and quick witted extroversion, lies a boyish nature, wild imagination, and glaring insecurities that can drive me into isolation. There are days when I cannot stand to look in the mirror, so my head hangs low, ashamed of what it sees. Certain days, I attempt to convince myself that big-picture dreams are out-of-reach, because I do not measure up. Other days, I avoid social gatherings, simply because of my weight, or the fact that I sweat easily compared to others. One could easily chalk this up to spiritual-warfare and suggest that I pray and focus on God more. While those are all good things, I do not think it is always a matter of doing more. I think it may simply be a matter of bringing to light areas of struggle and allowing those “scandals” (areas lacking Christ-like nature and belief in God’s grace/power to overcome) to be “handled” (wrestled through) with the Church and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

It is difficult to shift one’s mindset from maintaining a polished appearance to being transparent and vulnerable with those around them. For me to admit that I am weak some days (or most days – depends on the season) and need others to lift me up, means that I am admitting to my inability to be self-sufficient, a great American travesty. But the ideology of pulling oneself up by their bootstraps is slowly dying, as more and more so, we realize our distinct need for community – brothers and sisters in arms, to make war against that which attempts to steal, kill, and destroy any element of what is good within us.

Reading Sheldon Vanauken’s memoir, “A Severe Mercy”, I’ve discovered that he had a deep friendship with CS Lewis. As he writes of their conversations and meetings and shares some of the letters and other correspondence, you begin to see the Christ-like character that both of these men possess. Sheldon describes CS Lewis as a man that would get right to the point, always leading Sheldon to the real issues at hand – the heart. 

Our weaknesses and insecurities may present themselves in physical embodiment through aesthetic flaws, substance-abuse, indulgent vices, and repressive thinking, but they all lead to the same thing – the brokenness of our hearts – the need for something bigger, greater, and more powerful than ourselves to overcome sin and to call out the righteousness that can be planted within us by the Spirit. (Paul would be proud. That’s a New Testament-like run-on sentence if I’ve ever written one. But read it again – I believe there’s truth within.)

I’m a doer and fixer. After all, I am a guy. We’re problem-solvers. We see problems, diagnose the situation, and attempt to implement a plan to fix that problem. So often, it’s easy to go the route of behavior modification, as opposed to wrestling through what the real underlying issues may be. Here’s an example. I want to lose weight, right? Who doesn’t? So I eat less (most days), exercise more, and alter my diet. That should fix the problem, right? Not really. The underlying issue still exists. Underneath a stronger, more endurance-trained (unfortunately not slimmer) me, there is still the mindset that I am not desirable. That’s the root issue. I want to be desirable. Then the question becomes, is God big enough for that? Is His Love enough for me? Will it satisfy?

So that is where we’re heading, friends. Deeper. The heights and the depths. There’s no turning back now. It’s high time the church were challenged to dig deep and pray hard. A life that lacks passion isn’t a life worth living. A passionate man/woman knows pain, as much as they do joy. But their joy is greater, because they’ve wrestled through the depths of darkness, and found their reasons to hope in the Light.

As we go deeper, we will be lifted higher. The humble man is lifted up by the LORD. One who prays has his prayers heard by the Son, who takes those requests and petitions them before the Father. As we face the deepest of depths, the Spirit will lift us up to the highest of heights. Let’s summit this mountainous life, together.

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Wishlist

Here’s my wishlist,
I wish to enlist us.

World outside is vicious,
Turmoil – my heart wrenches.
Your hearts are in the trenches,
And ya band-aid it up on Pinterest,
God’s lost your interest,
You’re wishin’ for adventures,
Like a dentist – cleaning dentures.

Whew – new rhyme scheme.
The mundane makes ya scream.

Will-power is bursting at the seams,
Tears flow down like streams,
Once good, but now it seems,
Your worse off than your dreams.

Hope whispers, then it leaves
Your heart poised in dry-heaves.

Ghastly complexion,
Life’s misdirection,
You’ve reached an intersection,
U-Turn or Hell’s direction?

So here’s my wishlist,
I wish to enlist us.

Go on – clean up your dishes,
Wake up – put on some breeches.
Heaven’s calling, will it reach us?
Join the fight, with Jesus.

Real lives at stake,
For real salvation’s sake.
So come on now, will ya wake?

So here’s my wishlist,
I wish to enlist us.
A kingdom full of wishes.

Can you hear victories chorus?
Do you see Christ on the white horse?

Wipe away the tears,
Spirit’s been alive for years,
Strength now – warrior’s cheer.
Opened eyes – Heaven’s here!

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Heart-To-Heart

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

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

Do you know just how loved you are?

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

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

You are loved. Really – you are so loved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EndIt

 

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

In The Fight With You,

Justin

Parable of the Prisoner

The Parablethe prisoner

Etched into the barren, stone walls are the words, “I am…”. Two simple words – two words that were once spoken by an Almighty God to describe Himself, as He said, “I am, I am.” But as you sit in the cell, contemplating the words on the wall, you can’t help but assess yourself. “What am I?” – your mind wanders, like one lost in the desert, attempting to make meaning out of the “nothingness” of your existence.

Sitting becomes difficult, as your mind races in a million varying directions, so you begin to pace the small cell – back and forth – until your feet hurt. All the while asking yourself, “What am I?”

Whispers come…

“You are lost…”

“You are worthless…”

The dust beneath your feet becomes wet, and as you look to see if the old pipes in the cell have begun to leak, you realize the wetness is your tears. You believe those whispers.

“You are insignificant…”

“You cannot…”

“No one hears you…”

The dust has become mud now, as your tears cannot stop – they will not stop. You realize that you’re on your knees now, wondering if this is all that you really are. Are those words true? Has it really come to this? Are you truly lost, worthless, insignificant, incapable, and mute? The walls of the cell seem to be closing in on you now, as one final accusation is whispered…

“YOU. ARE. ALONE.”

Although a whisper, the words seem to have a cutting force this time – much deeper and more powerful than the previous blows to your heart. Your vision clouds, and your body seizes, as you collapse – paralyzed by fear. Because you very well believe all that was said – and you are, indeed, alone.

Hours pass, and you attempt to fall asleep. It’s useless, as your mind is taunted by all that was whispered and by the words on the wall that simply say, “I am…”, and find in yourself the desire to answer that question.

Who am I?

What am I?

Who have I become?

Soon, it’s morning, and sunlight shines through the dank cell-window – the light blinding your tired eyes. Footsteps can be heard in the distance. You can finally ask to be released from this torture-chamber. Standing up and brushing yourself off, you prepare to meet your jail-keeper, the one that holds the keys to the prison that you’re in.

The sound of footsteps is much closer now, and anticipation grips your heart, as it beats wildly, ready to plead your case for freedom. At the cell-door now, stands a figure staring back at you. Your heart has stopped, and your feet pace no more.

The individual staring back – the jail-keeper – is you.

The Explanation

If there had been a sign at the entrance of the prison described in the story/parable above, it would have read, “Prison of the Mind”. Unfortunately, many of us are inmates within this prison on a daily-basis. Many of you reading this right now are sitting in that prison, believing yourself to have no power – no freedom to walk out of the cell.

The whisperer – the accuser – was satan. Lurking in the corners of our mind if we allow him to, or simply drifting ideas through the wind of the changing seasons of life, he likes to silently destroy us. If he can keep us silent, then he wins. And if we believe ourselves to be worthless and mute, then we remain silent.

Do not remain silent.

Do not sit imprisoned, listening to lies.

When Jesus conquered death, He conquered sin. The accuser has no power other than that which you give him. When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost and bestowed upon the believers there the gifts of the spirit, He gave you and I the power to overcome the evil one – not just power to be defensive, but to go on the offensive as well.

You are NOT powerless. You are NOT alone.

You ARE heirs. You ARE filled with the Spirit (His power to overcome). Most importantly, YOU ARE NEVER ALONE. You are, however, constantly pursued, looked after, loved, cherished, and lead toward redemption.

What are you waiting for? Take the keys. Open the door. Walk out of prison. Walk into the light. Strike your heel upon the serpent – the accuser – the evil one. Fight. Live. Breathe. Love.

YOU. ARE. FREE.

Numbness

What is this numbness that pummels us?
The darkness so voluptuous, it’s crumpled us.
We’ve pressed it into the closet,
But know it’s there, if we’re honest.

All covered-up like them Covergirls,
Blemishes hidden with some other pearls.
Glossy and bright, but still rocks.
It’ll return to dust, check your clocks.

Do you see the foolery?
Sin has made a tool of me.

So now I need more,
Then I want less.
What a chore,
I’m restless.
Heart torn,
What a mess.

Life or death, death of life?
Strife or breath, how to decide?

We can play dress-up,
Make-believe and pretend,
Or admit we’re messed-up,
Find relief and mend.

Christ, come quick,
We’re sick.
Praying for recovery,
Praise His grace, it covers thee.

Tears

Pin-pricked heart,
Sin-slicked dart,
Ripped apart,
Sweet, yet tart.

Salty tears,
Fears for years,
Humility,
The end of me.

Pride is stripped,
Manhood snipped.
“Men don’t cry”?
What a lie!

An ugly crier,
Uglier liar,
Harp and lyre,
Why so dire?

Tears are spent,
Never wasted.

Repentance,
My pennant.

With me undone,
I see The Son…

Clearer now,
Awe and wow.

Pride erased,
Seek His face.
Joy will haste,
Embrace His Grace.

Declaration

I’ve been going through some interesting times spiritually. Knowing what sins you need to overcome and then refusing to deal with them has got to be one of the definitions of Christian insanity. How many of us go through such a phase? The Holy Spirit reveals within us things which are not honorable to God and then we seemingly say, “Thank you Holy Spirit, I’ll change that whenever I get the chance, or when it becomes convenient for me.” Then, quicker than the realization that what we have been doing is wrong, the thought leaves us. We walk right back through the seductive, seemingly attractive doors to sin. Once through that door, we’ve suddenly forgot our roots which are deeply found in Christ as our brother and God as our Father. Suddenly, God no longer matters and meeting our next sinful desire consumes us. Sweet for a second, then bitter, turning into a potent poison which corrupts the entire body; that is what sin is. So, we chase after it, giving everything to obtain it…but sin can’t love us, sin cannot fill one up with joy, love, compassion, grace, mercy, and strength. It is capable of no such thing. We become enslaved to sin. It imprisons us in our own chamber of depression, loneliness, and discontentment. Shackled by the bonds of our addiction to that which allured us through darkness’ door, we lose hope.

Living a life of sin is not freedom. What once offered us a pleasurable outlet for our unmet wants and desires is now simply a way of life. Convincing others that we are alright, because of our acquired status, or supposedly “earned” righteousness, we cloak the ugly truth about our hearts with the honey-dipped lies of a smooth tongue…

What a dark way to view the world? Surely, no man can withstand such darkness and remain living joyfully. This is the reality of the world that we live in. I would go so far as to dare any man to prove otherwise…

What is the one thing you have chosen over God? An angry heart, filled with hatred? Lustful eyes which desires can never be met? Perhaps, for you, it is pride; you cannot stand the idea of humility or servitude, so you fight all you can for a high position. There are countless counterfeit affections that we can give our lives to. I know that many times I have chosen something over God. O how much I regret having allowed myself to be deceived by the Evil One. Truly, I say to you that I hate Satan! There is no one on the face of this universe that desires my destruction and the destruction of those I love more than he.

A quote that has constantly stuck with me comes from a John Piper sermon. Piper declares, “The only possible attitude toward out of control desire for sin is a declaration of all out war.” Powerful words for a meek pastor and author from a small church in Minnesota, but he’s totally right. Christians, your desires WILL get you into trouble. Deciding to foolishly chase after them rather than after God, Himself, could very likely lead to death. Not simply your physical life slowly being taken from you, but rather your spiritual relationship with Christ being snuffed out, because you cannot have two masters. God will not be mocked and you will reap what you sow. Galatians 4:24 states, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Paul is writing to the church, declaring that those who walk by the Spirit cannot gratify their evil desires anymore. Brothers and Sisters in Christ, we are walking a dangerous and deadly line whenever we choose to not heed such life-giving wisdom.

Remember Joseph from the Old Testament? He was tempted by the seductive house-wife of his master, Potiphar, and Joseph RAN. O Christians, run from sin! Do not dilly-dally any longer in the brook which will surely not give you life! Run! Run back to Father God’s arms…NOW. Not tomorrow, not an hour from now, not when you are ‘ready to settle down’, you must do this right now!!!

Christian, if you are truly a follower of Christ, then this decision will not be as difficult as you and I would like to make it out to be. You see, we gave up our life so that we may be granted fellowship with God and have the rights as sons and heirs of His Kingdom. You may one day graduate from being under the authority of your earthly parents, but you will never graduate from being under the authority of God. Does that statement make your blood boil? Do you believe that you are being wronged? It frustrated me. I have spent a great deal of thought, time, and energy contemplating the various ways to still be a child of God, without fully submitting to his authority, and it does NOT work. How can the Father give you good gifts and entrust you with the things that you want and need, if He is not fully certain that you are indeed His son. Let us assume for a moment that I am the adopted child of a very wealthy man. He has promised to give me my inheritance as He sees me grow and mature. Then, feeling entitled and frustrated with how I must submit to authority, I run away from home and squander everything. Do you think that a wise father in this situation should turn around and reward my foolishness by writing a check for the remainder of his estate? Absolutely not! However, in the story of the prodigal son, Jesus tells his disciples that we can indeed return back to the Father and He will graciously anoint us as His worthy children once again. It requires a great deal of humility and courage to return Home to what you ran away from though…We must also count the costs…Is following Jesus and walking back Home to the Father truly worth dying to ourselves?

I plead with you…surely Christ is worth absolutely everything. There is nothing in this world that can offer you more than He can. Truly, better is one day in His courts than thousands elsewhere. Better than thousands upon thousands…

Readers, I have counted the costs and have decided that He is certainly worth it all. I will live my life solely for Him and for those He entrusts me with, counting all I have as a loss if it were not for my King’s glory. I will become a slave to righteousness and will fight sin to the death. I won’t do it alone though…I will petition the LORD in prayer, need constant reminding and strengthening from brothers and sisters in Christ, and I will always need Jesus and the precious grace that He has offered.

Written in ink, I have stated my pledge to The Father. Will you choose to write yours? Few will inherit the Kingdom of God. According to a Gallup poll, 92% of Americans state that they “believe in God.” How deceived have we become?!?!? Will you and I be a part of the few men and women that decidedly endured the race and finished well? Will we give up the rest of our lives to hear our Father say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”? It is now in your hands. Take responsibility for your many sins and seek God’s help! He is not interested in changing your situation but wants to change (renew) your heart. Humble yourselves and allow Him to work! The strongest, bravest, most courageous, stance that we can take is one of desperation, on our faces, pleading with God for our redemption. If we do this, out of a pure heart, how could The Redeemer not bring redemption?

Praying for the awakening of your souls,

Justin Meyer