Learning To Be Loved

nyc-1623542_1920It’s been said, “painful emotions buried alive, never die”. But God can rebuild any soul on His love.

A few months into my marriage, my new bride asked me,

“Why do you tense up whenever I touch you?”

I was floored by this realization! She was right. Anytime she touched me, I would recoil. In fact, any expression of intimacy in marriage seemed to elicit some knee-jerk reaction in me—I’d start clenching up and become overwhelmed by anxiety.

The truth is I had an inability to receive love— and it worked itself out in a thousand little weird ways in my relationships, including my relationship with God.

I tried to comb over the issue. Just ignore it, and hope it went away. Because you know, I had things to do! I was on a mission for God. He had interrupted my life in the bar scene of Gainesville, Florida and had spoken to me about my great calling to preach His Gospel. I had a mission to accomplish. And I thought I could just go out and make it happen— I’ll never forget telling the cocktail waitresses of Jewels Bar that I couldn’t DJ anymore because I was supposed to be a pastor. You should of seen the look on the girls’ faces. “WHAT?? You want to be a priest?!”.

I was zealous for God, but the problem was: painful emotions buried alive, never die.

After pushing on past the pain for years, God—and my wife, who I call “Holy Spirit Jr”— finally got me to see I needed to deal with my junk. I started to really seek God about it. Also, I took advantage of some free therapy sessions offered through my wife’s work. I prayed to the Great Counselor to send me to the right person in hopes of gaining wisdom for the health of my soul.

I thank God He answered my prayer and used a clinical Psychologist to give me insight into my brokenness. She diagnosed me with severe Attachment Trauma, also known as “insecure attachment”. Many mental health professionals consider it a form of PTSD that occurs when developing infants suffer extreme abuse and/or neglect from their primary caregiver. At a foundational level, the child does not learn to trust others, that their needs will be met, they feel as if in constant danger, and fail to form attachments with any future caregivers. This deeply-embedded fear creates all type of problems for the child’s development.

The late Christian Psychologist Dr. Karyn Purvis did great work in the study of Attachment Trauma in efforts to help adoptive parents understand how to care for their children—many adopted children, whom Dr. Purvis called “children from hard places”,  exhibit the same tendencies.

So what did God show me? I had a wound at the deepest level of my soul.

But God has also shown me that His love can rebuild any soul. No matter how deep a wound. No matter how painful the past. Whatever you’ve lost, whatever you’ve suffered, you can become “deeply rooted and grounded in love” from Him.

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” – Isaiah 49:15 (NIV)

Here’s three practical things I’ve learned to personally receive love from God. I’ve been sharing these at our Sub30 class on Wednesday nights.

  1. Realize Everybody is Messed Up. (You’re not beyond God’s love)
  2. Remove the Mask. (Stop pretending)
  3. Receive Revelation from God. (The Word must go from information to revelation in you)

We’ll take a look at these three in more detail for Part 2.

How I Lost 80 Pounds and Kept It Off

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4 practical tips we gleaned from God’s Word to keep off the weight.

It’s been a little over two years since I lost 80 pounds. (My wife was able to lose over 50!) Though I fluctuate a bit, I thank God I’ve been able to keep the weight off.  (My wife, too!)

Today, I want to share with you 4 practical tips from God’s Word that have helped us to lose the weight and keep it off.

  1. You can’t live off sugar: Many Americans today literally live off sugary drinks and processed carbs (which is basically sugar). This is not good. Try building your weekly diet on more wholesome carbs, like Ezekiel bread and sweet potatoes. Pick a strategy to cut your dependance and your “taste” for refined sugar. My wife and I found the first “phase” of the south beach diet was effective to get us off the white stuff. Grit your teeth. Train your tastebuds. And pay attention to how much better you feel not living on junk food.

Scripture: “It’s not good to eat too much honey, and it’s not good to seek honors for yourself.” Proverbs 25:17

  1. Find a way to exercise: Not everybody has to weight train six days a week. Find what works for you. My wife and I have gone through several different exercise routines since we first sought to lose the weight in January of 2015. At the present, I am focusing on stretching and core strength. My wife is full-body light weight training. As my friend, Jared Graybeal, of E3 fitness coaching says, “If it comes down to diet or exercise, choose diet”. But exercise is great, and has tons of benefits to help us live more productive lives. That’s why the Bible labels it as a good thing.

Scripture: “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.” 1 Timothy 4:8

  1. Plan “free” meals: The Bible says honey is good, it’s too much honey that’s not good (Proverbs 25:17). It also says God has “given us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17). So there’s balance, and a time to enjoy the food we love. Depending how much weight you have to lose, you may not be able to do many “free meals” when you first start. But in “maintenance mode”, my wife and I are able to pretty much eat what we want on weekends. During the week, we don’t keep junk food at the house and do our best to eat clean, but we still love going out to eat. To me, free meals are just as important as clean meals. Just like there is “binge eating”, I think there’s “binge dieting”. Both are compulsive and often short-lived.

Scripture: “My child, eat honey, for it is good, and the honeycomb is sweet to the taste.” Proverbs 24:13

  1. Find what works for you: Seek wisdom. Remember, there’s a weight range you should stay within. Don’t obsess over a number, because you fluctuate based on water weight and other things. Use a BMI calculator online to check your ideal weight to give you an idea of where you should be. There’s tons of great programs to lose weight. Also, maintaining your ideal weight looks different for everybody. My wife and I have found we both require slightly different plans. So pray over it. In this way, your weight loss endeavors will be about more than the outside man; they’ll be spiritual—developing self-control and disciple within you.

Scripture: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” James 1:5

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Me and Christina in 2014. Our weight had reached it max during the tough years of church planting.

 

God Our Trainer

Screen Shot 2017-09-13 at 3.43.40 PMMany of us fear correction from God because we lack understanding of His ways. 

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the training and instruction that comes from the Lord.” Ephesians 4:18

Notice above, God’s appeal to parents. When it comes to adjusting a child’s bad behavior, the Father says to “bring them up with training”. Not beating, shaming, or threatening. But training. This is God’s way. He is a Trainer at heart. And He wants you to be a trainer as well—especially to those entrusted to your care.

Many of us fear correction from God—we see it as a scary or negative thing.

I believe this fear comes from a faulty view of God. We envision God as an angry, all-powerful being up there, with smoke blowing out of his ears. We screw-up and do something wrong, He’s like some massive spirit-being awoken from his slumber— straight-up Temple of Doom style—there to lay the smack down. 

Even Christians who know better can still struggle to shake this feeling that God is angry, and always mad at them. It’s one thing to know in your head that Jesus has forgiven you. It’s a whole other thing to have this revelation sink down into your heart.

In fact, that’s why the Apostle Paul was always praying for his churches to “really come to know” and “experience for themselves” the love of God in Christ. (Ephesians 3) And that all believers would know what they have in Jesus. (Ephesians 1)

Training: God’s Style of Correction

Let me ask you something: is it shocking for a fitness trainer to show their clients what they’re doing wrong?

Of course not! When we hire a trainer of any kind— whether fitness, business, or life coach— we expect them to reveal our shortcomings. We obviously sought someone out because we know we have some things to change. So all training involves correction, right?

But here’s the thing: a good trainer has a way of helping us change—redirecting and reshaping our behavior— without losing their connection with us. They can offer criticism without breaking trust and discipline without causing us to lose heart.

Think about a great football coach. He builds a bond with his players. Can you imagine a head coach who doesn’t train his players— he just sits passively on the sidelines, rolling his eyes at them, taking potshots at the running-back, pestering the quarterback to throw better, then walks off the field shaking his head when they screw up.

No! A good coach creates an environment for growth. He doesn’t walk away the first time the players make a mistake. If all the players had it all figured out, they wouldn’t need a coach! That’s the whole point of hiring a coach.

A coach is there to help them get it right, not to prove to them how bad they are.

This is God’s heart towards his spiritual children: He wants us to get it right. He’s not there to prove to us we’re terrible. I mean, if He wanted to prove that, He could of just left us to our own devices. He wouldn’t have to mess with us at all.

But God is for us! And He wants to shape us and mold us into His image. Is there correction? Of course, there is. We show up to the field with an attitude, then God is gonna deal with it. We make a mistake, He will guide us to the right path. But when we mess up— even when we mess up big— He never breaks connection with us. He never withdraws His love. In fact,  when we make a mistake, He draws us even closer, like a loving and gentle father, and He says:

“Ok, my man. That’s not how it’s done. We’re going to do it again, okay?”

And God won’t give up on us until we get it right. That’s what training is all about. That’s what a trainer is for. He’s there to help us succeed.

 

Say these five confessions out loud:

1. God is my Trainer.

2. Because of Jesus, God is not mad at me.

3. God is not ashamed of me. He is not fed up with me.

4. God is patient. He is a loving Father to me.

5. God is training me. He is helping me to grow daily!

What is love?!

Silhouette Man Laser Show Light Jump Movement

The great 90’s poet, Haddaway, once cried out,

“What is love?!

Baby, don’t hurt me.

Don’t hurt me. No more.

What is love?!”

This poor man, hurting and distraught, was looking for answers. In his agony, he penned his lamentations to the melody of synthesizers and the thumping of a techno beat… Okay, I’m being funny. I don’t know if Haddaway would be considered a poet, but the dude asks a pretty profound question: what is love?

We hear the word tossed around all the time. From songs to movies to slogans to memes. We’re told we should love each other. We’re told to “live, laugh, love”. Others say to “eat, pray, love”. The Beatles told us that love is all we need. Well, we all know it’s important, but what is it exactly? What does it mean to love someone? Is it a certain feeling we should have? Is it some ethereal force that comes over us?

Through both study of the Bible and personal experience, my wife and I have tried to come up with a working definition:

Love is

selflessness,

guided by wisdom,

fueled by faith.

Love is a selflessness, guided by wisdom, fueled by faith.

Let’s break that down…

1. Selflessness: Ultimately, love is selflessness. Love thinks of others. Love is concerned about other people’s interests, not just it’s own. Go read the love passage in 1 Corinthians 13. “Love is patient, love is kind…” and so on. What’s the common theme to all these virtues listed? Selflessness. Love lets go of self. Love gives up its rights. Love forgives, while selfishness screams they hurt ME, and seeks to get even.

2. Guided by wisdom: Love is selflessness guided by wisdom. This is important! Because there’s a selflessness NOT guided by wisdom—it’s a people-pleasing kind of “love”; it’s a passive, pushover kind of “love”. This kind of love will eventually turn to resentment. Biblical love is grounded in wisdom. It is not out of balance. It gives what is right to give; not to the point of burn-out. Love understands boundaries and self-respect. Love doesn’t allow itself to be taken advantage of, but yet never grows resentful and is patient to all.

3. Fueled by faith: Love is fueled by faith. Or you could say, faith is the “how” behind love. How can I be truly selfless? If I am selfless, then what about me?! What about my needs?!

The truth is, we all have needs. We all have a “self” to worry about. This is not wrong. We should not be ashamed of ourselves, or our needs. But here’s the key: We give our “self” over to God. We entrust our “what about me?” to Him. By faith, we can be selfless, because we’re trusting God to take care of us. In this way, our love can be real, and not some martyrs complex. God knows we have needs. God knows we have wants. We can entrust our needs over to God.

When someone wrongs us, and our flesh screams “What about me?!”, how can we not be resentful? We allow God to be our defender, and trust him with handling our justice.

Love is selflessness, guided by wisdom, fueled by faith.

How God Loved A Cranky Club DJ

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“But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles…”  – Galatians 1:15-16 

When Jesus saved me, I was a club DJ, and fully engaged in the lifestyle one might expect from a club DJ—late nights, drugs, and partying. I had a foul mouth, a sharp tongue, and a girlfriend who worked at a Hooters restaurant.

In comparison to some of the characters in the Gainesville bar scene, I was a pretty decent guy. But I was also extremely moody and emotionally unstable. I carried deep pain on the inside that made me touchy and explosive. I didn’t realize any of this, of course, but anyone close to me could tell you, I was a very cranky and irritable person.

I wasn’t a Christian-kind-of-guy, in any way. I had never owned a Bible. I hadn’t grown up in a Christian home. I can’t even remember knowing any Christian people. Actually, the thought of a “hardcore Christian” gave me the creeps.

But like Paul said about his own experience, “when it pleased GodHe revealed his Son in me that I would proclaim Him.”

In many ways, I feel like I accidentally became a Christian. At my father’s deathbed, I had this revelation of Jesus that I just couldn’t shake. Even when I wanted to go back to my old life, I had this knowledge—this inner knowing—of His goodness and His reality and His power that I couldn’t get rid of.

In the midst of all the darkness and wild living, Jesus opened my heart to Him. “He called me by His mercy and grace” alone. Thank God too, because I don’t think I would of ever visited a church. Even if a sincere friend would have invited me, I don’t think I would have gone. I was just too afraid—I was a night creature, who had not grown up with much family. So the thought of walking into a bright room, full of old people looking at me, made me nauseous.

So how did I become a Christian?

Again much like Paul, “when it pleased God , He revealed his Son in me so I could proclaim Him”.

The Events Leading Up to My Dad’s Passing

During my first semester at the University of Florida, I started to hear about “God stuff” happening to my dad, who had been diagnosed with cancer a year before. I heard about signs from God and genuine Christian people coming around him and praying for his healing. I was blown away that my dad was open to something like that.

Then about two weeks before my dad passed away, I had a brief, but powerful encounter with a Christian on a bus. He witnessed to me and offered to pray for my dad. I write about it here.

A few days later, I came home for Christmas break, and saw my dad’s genuine faith. Before I knew it, I was “proclaiming” God to my dad. I consider it my first sermon. I shared about the young man I had met on the bus, and encouraged my dad to see how this encounter confirmed everything my dad believed. I spoke to his faith— that God was real, and where he was going was real.

When my dad passed, I was in my bedroom. The hospice nurse came in to get me, and she had a testimony herself. She told me how a smile had stretched across my dad’s face, right as he slipped into eternity. I don’t know if this lady was a Christian, but she seemed to be deeply moved by what she had seen. When I walked into the room, I saw the smile for myself.

And then something happened in me.

The way I would describe it: it was like I could see the goodness of the Savior in my dad’s smile. Somehow, I knew Him. I knew this Savior who had saved my dad. And I loved Him.

In 2003, when it pleased God, I believe He granted me a measure of faith (Romans 12:3); it’s the same faith I have to this present hour. I’ve grown a lot since that day, but it’s the same grace in me. I believe there at my dad’s deathbed, God graciously revealed His Son in me.

So let me encourage you, God is no respecter of persons! What He has done in me, He’s able to do in you! “The arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear”. Jesus has died for all of us! God loved a cranky club DJ. And He loves YOU with the same everlasting love! I pray that you’d see Him for yourself, TODAY.

Guest Post: Hearing God’s Voice Is Not Complicated

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God wants to guide you. Here are four ways He wants to speak.

by: J. Lee Grady

When I was in my 20’s I was praying about whether I should enroll in graduate school. Then one morning in my devotional time I came to Psalm 32:8 and it seemed to be flashing like a neon sign. The verse said: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go.

The Holy Spirit was emphasizing to me that God would teach me and that I didn’t need additional schooling. That’s not to say graduate school is wrong for everyone else; it was just not God’s plan for me at that time. And God used a Scripture to clearly show me what path I should take.

The Bible promises that God will guide us. But many Christians find it difficult to hear God’s voice. And in some churches we complicate things when we try to make guidance mystical or weird—as if you have to hear an audible voice from heaven about what color shirt to wear.

Years ago, I learned from author Henry Blackaby that there are four distinct ways we receive divine guidance:

1. You can hear God’s voice by reading the Bible.

Friends have sometimes complained to me: "I just never hear God speaking." Yet when I ask if they read the Bible regularly, they say they’re too busy!

God supernaturally inspired 40 authors over a period of 1,600 years to compile His love letter to us. After the Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek, many people were martyred because they translated it in a modern language. God went to a lot of trouble to compile the Bible for us. Yet today Bibles are collecting dust in the homes of people who are too busy to read God’s most direct message to Planet Earth!

God went to a lot of trouble to compile the Bible for us. Yet today Bibles are collecting dust in the homes of people who are too busy to read God’s most direct message to Planet Earth!

When you read Scripture with a prayerful heart, God can cause a verse to jump off the page as a direct message to you. British preacher Charles Spurgeon recognized this years ago when he wrote: When I have been in trouble, I have read the Bible until a text has seemed to stand out of the Book, and salute me, saying, ‘I was written specially for you.'”

Expect God to speak directly to you from Scripture.

2. You can hear God’s voice through the supernatural inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is not an eerie presence that just hangs around. He lives in every born-again Christian, and He comforts us and actively speaks to us. He can do this in many ways: through dreams, visions, warnings, a sense of conviction, or—most often—through what we know as the "still, small voice (1 Kings 19:12) of the Spirit.

I have had prophetic dreams and visions over the years, but the most common way the Spirit speaks to me is through a deep sense of inward knowing. I will never forget a time in 1985 when God spoke to me while I was driving my car in Florida. A message came to me, not audibly but in my spirit: “You will move to Washington, D.C.“. It seemed to come out of the blue, and I knew it did not originate with me. Four years later I was offered a job in the Washington, D.C., area and I worked there for three years. My time there proved to be an important step in my spiritual growth and career development.

The ability to hear the Spirit’s voice is developed over years as we grow in Christ. If you really want to hear Him, you should ask God to fill you with His Holy Spirit. As you allow more of the Spirit’s presence and power in your life, you will set aside your selfish agendas and sinful habits so God can communicate without any hindrance.

3. You can hear God’s voice through people.

God never intended for us to live in isolation. We are members of His body, the church, and you will hear God better when you are in fellowship with His people. God can speak to you through a pastor’s sermon, a friend’s wise counsel, a mother’s rebuke, a mentor’s phone call or a prophetic word given to you by one of God’s Spirit-filled servants.

God uses the gift of prophecy, but you should never chase after prophecies. I know Christians who will travel across the country to attend a prophetic conference to get a word from God, yet they have not read the Bible in months or sat still long enough to hear from God on their own. Never treat the holy gift of prophecy like fortune telling. When God needs to speak to you in an unusual way, He has faithful messengers who will deliver it to you at the exact time you need it.

4. You can hear God’s voice through circumstances.

Not everything that happens to you is God’s perfect will. But God is sovereign, and He has power over nature, over government leaders and over all the details of your life. He opens doors that no man can shut. If you have been praying about getting a job at one company, and suddenly you get an offer at a different company, this may be God’s sign that He has a better place for you to work.

My oldest daughter wanted to attend a college in Tennessee, and we were praying about her decision. Right after we prayed I got a call from the president of a college in Georgia. He was inviting me to speak at the school, but in our conversation, I learned that this school was willing to offer my daughter a scholarship.

She ended up enrolling in that school, meeting her future husband there and graduating four years later. She then got a job working for that school. God was totally involved in that phone call from Georgia!

As you seek to grow in your faith, ask God to tune your ears to His voice in a fresh way. Guidance is not complicated when you sincerely want to hear Him speak.

The Cure for Being Judgmental

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Have you ever just felt “judgy”?

I’ll never forget a young woman coming up to me after a message, her freckled face beaming from ear to ear. She said: “Pastor AJ, God has been convicting me and helping me with my attitude—I’ve been feeling so “judgy” lately!”

Her heart for God made me smile along with her. “Judgy”… I had never heard that expression before. But I could totally relate to what she was referring to. Many times, I’ve caught myself with the same attitude.

What about you? Have you ever gotten all “judgy”? You know, that funky mood where you’re critical of everything and everyone? I call it being a “Mr. Crabby-pants”. Or you’re looking down your nose at somebody. Or maybe it’s a just particular person that bugs you, and you don’t know why.

What I have found is that being critical has a lot more to do with me than it does with the person I am judging. A critical spirit tells me everyone else needs fixing, when really it’s my crummy attitude that needs the fixing.

Bottom line: to be consistently uncomfortable with people is often a sign that I am uncomfortable with myself. We treat others as we treat ourselves. The more insecure you are, the more uneasy you feel around others, and the more harsh and negative your judgment towards them. 

In other words, show me a critical person, and I’ll show you an insecure person.

So what’s the antidote for being judgmental? 

Receive the love of God for yourself.

Personal revelation of our love and acceptance in Christ will drive out that icky insecurity! When you start to know—to really know, to have a personal knowledge of— God’s love and acceptance for you, you will become a more secure person. That’s just how it works. Love brings security.

Meditating on His acceptance of you brings a sense of safety to your soul. God’s affirmation is a massive anchor for our self-esteem; it becomes the foundation of our identity in Christ. In this way, love always brings a healthy, balanced view of self.

How do we receive His love? The more we understand and confess what His Word says about us, the more we allow God’s love to seep down into your soul. And the less “judgy” we will be.

I am loved… I am a child of God.

To believe what He says about us makes us able to live in our own skin. To be ourselves. To be. And to let others be. You can be a little easier on others. You can treat them how your Heavenly Father has treated you.  If God is okay with you, then you can be okay with yourself.

You are accepted, beloved… What’s the use in pulling other people down?

You are affirmed… Why any need to prove you’re better than someone else?

Here’s the truth: Critical people carry inner turmoil, and it’s simply spilling onto others. That’s what criticism is: an overflow… an overflow of inner judgement. An overflow of inner shame. An overflow of self-hatred and negativity. An overflow of inner fear (or what we call insecurity).

But God’s love quiets the storm and allows mercy to be given and received. Through Christ’s indescribable gift, the Father welcomes and accepts you! Through his great love, He gives you freedom and the room to grow. He gives you a chance! So now, you can give others a chance.

Be humble, accept His acceptance of you, and let God stay the Judge. He’s better at it anyways. You’ll start to be more comfortable with yourself, and a lot more comfortable with others!

Try it now. Say this out loud:

I am loved.

I am accepted.

I am not perfect.

I am something better: I’m wanted by God.