How God Deals With Us To Bless Us In The End

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Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.

Philippians 2:3

I’ve found people get real quiet when you start to talk about motives. In my years of preaching, I’ve noticed this time and time again—the hooting and hollering starts to recede, and the atmosphere gets a little more somber. In fact, some people even start to make this face; it’s like this “semi-naseous-cause-I-know-God’s-dealing-with-me” look.

I can make the same face, too, when God starts to dig around in my heart. I’ll never forget when the verse above, Philippians 2:3, came alive to me in a fresh way: “let nothing be done for selfish ambition or vainglory” (King James Version)… man, my heart sank down to my stomach as a thought flashed across my mind: “I think everything I do is out of selfish ambition and vainglory!”. It was a pretty sobering moment.

Why is it so uncomfortable for God to deal with our motives?  I mean, even for us who love God and want to give Him our best, it’s something we can run away from. I think the answer is found in Proverbs 16:2, which says, “the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes”. In other words, we humans have this tendency to assume the very best about our motivations for things. So when God exposes something in our hearts, it can feel like we’re having the rug pulled out from under us, so to speak.

The verse goes on to say, “but the Lord weighs the heart”. I believe this means if you follow God, He’s gonna lead you in ways that will expose and test what’s in your heart—that’s just what He does. Not for His sake (He already knows), but for yours. Through His Word or trials (or both), He will bring junk to the surface, so you can deal with it. Not to shame you, but because He loves you and wants you to grow.

The truth is, God wants to bless you, and to entrust you with the precious things of His Kingdom. He has good things planned for your future—next levels of influence, wisdom, promotion, more resources, more favor, more open doors—but He knows you need the right heart to handle such blessings. Deuteronomy 8:16 reveals to us that He purifies our hearts, bringing us through the wilderness, so that He “may do us good in the end”. (emphasis mine) You need to know God has a “good end” in mind for you. This is the way of God Most High—-He gives beauty for ashes, joy for mourning, and double for our former shame.

Is God dealing with you about something in your life? Has He led you into a time of testing? Don’t be discouraged. Take heart. God is treating you like His very own son or daughter. (Hebrews 12:5-11) Jesus Himself said to one of the churches in Revelation, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline”. (Revelations 3:19) He is not doing this to destroy you, but to do you good in the end. God has good things already lined up in your future; all your days have been written in His book. What He promised you will come to pass. But remember, it takes a steady hand to hold a full cup. He’s getting you ready. Trust Him.

 

 

Why The Wait?

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“I waited patiently for the Lord…
He also brought me up out of a horrible pit,
Out of the miry clay,
And set my feet upon a rock,
And established my steps.”

 

I certainly do not like waiting. In fact, I have this strange tendency to assume when God promises me something that it’s going to happen in a timetable that seems reasonable to me. But God’s timetable is not my timetable. Oftentimes, God doesn’t tell me how long something is going to take. He rarely gives me the details. I think He does this because He knows if I knew how long something would take I’d never sign up for it in the first place. For example, when God spoke to me in 2005, I certainly didn’t know I’d have 13 (and counting) years of waiting, delays, and testing.

I’m not alone. None of us like to wait. But as Christians, we better get used to it because (are you ready for this?)…

Waiting will always be part of the Christian experience.

That’s right. Waiting is an essential ingredient in following Jesus. How can I say this? Because I know that hope is a big deal to God, and hope always involves waiting. Without waiting, how can there be hope? Think about it. Hope involves waiting, every time. Without first a season of waiting, how could you and I develop our “hope muscle”? The Apostle Paul says it like this, “hope that is already seen is no longer hope” (see Romans 8:24-25).

So again, waiting is a central part of our spirituality. In fact, the Christian life can be boiled down to one long “wait”. You’re born to wait. 1 Peter 1:3 says we were “born again into a living hope”. Just like when we’re physically born we’re born into a body, when we’re spiritually born we’re born into hope.

Believers in Jesus are born to wait, so we’d better develop some patience! By God’s grace, both Jew and Gentile receive a faith that says,

Messiah has died.

Messiah is risen.

Messiah will come again.

Christians look back and believe God has forgiven our sins, but we also look forward to the future. We look… we wait… for the One who is coming. We wait for the return of Messiah, the One who came first as Suffering Servant, but is coming again as Conquering King. This “blessed Hope” bleeds into every area of our faith.

Any expression of our faith is founded on the Ultimate Hope. We believe God is going to turn a situation around, come through with a promotion, restore our health, or bring back a wayward child—all of these things are built on the ultimate hope that Jesus is coming back. Think about it. What good is a temporal blessing if He’s not coming back in the end to restore all things? God is honored as we exercise our faith in smaller matters. But any hope, dream, or promise God speaks to us personally finds it’s worth in this overarching Hope: God is good, and His Son is coming back to turn this bad world good.

I define biblical hope as “the ability to rest on the inside, while we wait on the outside for God’s promise (big or small)”.

So let me encourage you… hope in God! Wait on God! Learn to rest in the Lord, and watch Him bring it to pass. Let go of your timetable, and delight yourself in God. He’ll give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4) You won’t have to fight for them. You want have to strive for them. You won’t have to impress or manipulate people to get them. God will give them to you.

 

 

Has God Ever Messed Up Your Plans? (Ecclesiastes 7:13 Devo)

Accept the way God does things,

for who can straighten what He has made crooked?

Ecclesiastes 7:13 NLT

 

The Scripture above is very interesting and reminds me of what God said to Isaiah, “my ways are not your ways”. The Hebrew word here for “crooked” is AVATH and it means “to bend, to make curved, not straight or linear”.

Have you ever felt like God was messing up your perfectly good plan?

In 2005, God spoke to me about my call to preach. Full of youthful zeal, I left my job as club DJ and started serving a local church. For over a decade, my journey was “linear” and seemed logical—I was asked to come on church staff, eventually being ordained as Associate Pastor, and then in 2013, I figured my next move, according to the things God had spoken, was to start a church; so my wife and I did that for two years.

Then… in 2015 things got AVATH.

I felt like God told me to shut down the church, work in business for a season, and trust Him to work it all out… I’ve been on this divine detour ever since—continually trying to explain to God that this way is “crooked” and I seem to be headed in the totally wrong direction.

But as I’ve learned to accept this season, I’ve seen God bless me and my wife immensely: I lost 80 pounds (my wife over 50!), 10K in debt paid off, marriage better than ever, and best of all, incredible amounts of revelation from God’s Word.

Maybe you’ve suffered a disappointment, or feel like God is leading you in the wrong direction, remember this: THE LONG WAY IS BETTER THAN THE WRONG WAY. And Almighty God is able to cause even the most jacked-up path to usher you right into your destiny! God’s “bent, curvy” path is better that your “straight” one any day. God is fighting your battles, and He knows exactly what you need. Your set-backs are simply a divine set-up for Him to showoff. Trust Him!

 

Thanksgiving: Our Weapon Against Worry

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Anxiety has become an epidemic. But through thanksgiving we can turn our worry into worship.

 

Have you ever been worried?

As a new believer, a better question for me would have been, “Have you ever NOT been worried?”.

Since a small child, I had lived in a state of anxiety. Fear was my constant companion, imbedded into every fiber of my soul. I worried about everything. My entire life seemed to revolve around an attempt to calm my nerves. Looking back, I should of probably been on medication. But instead, I medicated myself with sugary drinks, food, cigarettes, and alcohol.

Even good things became a way to cope with my crippling anxiety: work, budgeting, exercise, eating better, and cleaning the house. Everything seemed to be fueled by fear!

So when I became a Christian, my spiritual activity was also tainted by worry. And here’s the thing: God has mercy on a young Christian. When we are first saved, our prayer is basically, HELP! And our heavenly Father is quick to respond. But eventually God wants us to grow up.

I want to share with you something the Lord has showed me about overcoming worry in my life. Philippians 4:6 says,

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your request be made known to God.”

Notice, the first thing Paul says we have to deal with is worry. We need to learn to rest. Because…

  • Praying is good, but praying anxiously is not good.
  • Planning is good, but planning anxiously is not good.
  • Pursuing our calling is good, but anxiously striving to accomplish it is not good.

But how can we not worry? The Lord has shown me that the key to keeping our peace is found in these two words: “with thanksgiving”. Thanksgiving is our weapon against worry and creates a buffer for our prayers—guarding our souls from fear, as we make requests to God.

Think about it: when we pray, we are bringing our problems and concerns to God. So it’s easy to get anxious as you recount and review all the problems you are facing. Before we know it,  we are praying out of a troubled, doubting and fearful spirit. If we let this continue, our prayers even become accusatory towards God. “Aren’t You gonna help me, God?!”

But thank God! Thanksgiving clears our mind and drives anxiety from our hearts; because as we thank God, our attention is lifted off of our problem and onto the One who solves our problems. We’re reminded of all He has done, all He is doing, and all He will do.

To stir your faith even more, learn to posture all your supplication (your “asking for stuff”) in a spirit of thanksgiving. Let me give you an example. Instead of praying:

“Father, I ask You to take care of this” 

say,

“Father, I thank You that You are taking care of this.” 

Do you see the difference? Thanking Him vocalizes certainty and fights against worry. We are still bringing our problem to God, but in a way that magnifies Him and not the problem. We’re thanking Him for the answer. Thanking Him according to His Word. Thanking Him in faith.

Turn your worries into worship by letting these two powerful words—“thank You”—fill your prayers:

“Father, thank You that You have taken care of this. Thank You that Your Word says You’re sovereign and over all things. Thank You “that You work all things together for my good”. Thank You that I can rest while You work. Thank You that “the battle is the Lord’s”. Thank You that I can be still, and watch You do it. Thank You that not too long from now I’ll be looking back at this situation and marveling at how You worked it out for me!”

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Update & “Letting God Love You” [Video]

WHAT IS LOVE- GROUP LOGO

(New logo for our Fall group for Celebration Church in Jacksonville, Florida)

I’m excited because starting on Wednesday, September 13th, 2017, Christina and I will be starting a group for my church in Jacksonville, Florida. The group is called “What Is Love?! Baby, Don’t Hurt Me”. It will be one of the break-out sessions at Sub30, our midweek Young Adults service here in Jacksonville. I’ll be reworking some of the content found in my message, “Letting God Love You”, into a group teaching/discussion format for eight sessions over the Fall semester in the life of our church.

The group is about learning to receive love from God, so that we can love others by faith. 

Here’s the skinny: we must learn to receive love from God. The more we can rely on God for our affimation and support, and not people, the more grace will come upon us. 1 John says it like this, “We love, because He first loved us”. In other words, the more we’re able to receive directly from our Heavenly Father, the more we can be selfless to others. Also, I have found that when God teaches us to receive love from Him, it makes it easier for us to receive love from others.

But how can we be truly selfless towards others? How can we display a love that is not tied back into how people make us feel, or what we can get?

Here’s the key: We entrust our “me” over to God. We can be selfless, when we are looking to God to meet our needs, trusting that He loves us. 

Below is the message “Letting God Love You” from my time at Victory Church of Gainesville a few weeks ago.

 

 

“Letting God Love You” – Highlights and Sermon Notes From Gainesville

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(Facebook Graphic shared by Victory Church of Gainesville)

This past weekend my wife and I had the opportunity to minster at the church I was “raised” in. God did great things! I spoke at the morning service, then we helped with the evening Deeper Service, Christina hoping on the keys and me praying for people. We saw God move in powerful ways.

We also got to enjoy some time with my wonderful in-laws, Bill and Rebekah, who pastor the church.

For this week’s post, I thought I’d share my message notes with you, including my honoring remarks about my faithful in-laws. God bless!

Honor Pastor Bill and Rebekah:

Bill DeConna has been a mentor to me, not just in preaching, but in modeling STABILITY. I did not grow up around a lot of stability and didn’t know you could choose to be stable instead of freaking out. I always assumed if things go bad, you just flip out. Watching Bill was incredible, and set a pattern of stability for me. To me, Bill is the definition of STEADFAST FAITH. He embodies the faith and steadfastness of Abraham.

Rebekah is awesome and kind. Her devotion to God is fierce, yet there is a child-likeness and wonder about her. Rebekah is the absolute opposite of the whole “terrible mother-in-law” thing. If anything, I’ve been the one with issues in the past! LOL!

Prayer

Thank you, Lord, that you have given us an overcoming faith. We are not victims with you, we are Victors. No matter where you find us. No matter how broken and cowardly our upbringing. You can turn us into victors. You can teach us how to have COURAGE. You can teach us to be overcomers. All because you love us! We are conquerors through Him who loved us!

“Letting God Love You” 

The truth is, you are loved.

And I believe,  down on the inside of everyone of us is this need to be loved. I believe it’s a basic, human need. The need to be accepted. The need to be seen as valuable. And what I’ve found is that it’s a lot like the old country song says, “We’re looking for love in all the wrong places.”

We can run to money, success, food, drugs, alcohol, or social media. We can also run to religion, which is really sad because religion is where we are striving for something that God has already given us.

Romans 5:8 AMPLIFIED

We must have a personal revelation of His love for ourselves

Receive.

John 1:12

We must receive Him. We must receive His love.

Keep receiving.

As Christians, we must continually have an ever-increasing revelation of the love of God. And we need to learn to let God love us.

John 13:5-8

Peter is a believer. He has “received” Jesus and has boldly declared Him as Messiah. But yet he still has an attitude that says, “I am gonna do it. I am gonna strive for it. You won’t wash my feet. I won’t let you wash the parts of me that I think are too dirty.”

We give Him every part of us. We give Him the parts we think are good. We give Him the parts we don’t like.

We accept His acceptance of us.

Take off the mask.

God can only have a relationship with the real us.

We have to be real with God.

God cannot bless an ideal version of us.

God cannot pour his love into a fabricated, perfect version of us.

We gotta take off the mask with God.

Why do we wear masks?

I think we wear them to SURVIVE. The world is hard. There is so much pain. We get hurt. We smile. We suck it up. We push on. We just try to keep going.

We survive. This is an orphan’s mentality.

But God says, I don’t want you to SURVIVE, I want you to THRIVE.

How do we thrive?

By allowing Him to love us.

We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.