God of My 20’s

(Post #1 in a collaborative series)

Guest Blogger Vilma Cooper

To tell you who God was in my 20’s is to share with you a little about my upbringing. I was raised Catholic, and the entire family-dad, mom, my sister and brother-went to church every Sunday. I prayed every night and on Sundays went to the confessional booth to tell a Priest all that I had done wrong. I then stepped out, kneeled and prayed to God exactly what the Priest told me to say. I knew of God but did not desire to have a relationship with Him. I was taught to fear God because He would be angry with me because of my sins. Why would I even want to get to know this angry God?

In my early 20’s I was living in the Bible Belt, the Peach State of Georgia. I don’t know if living in the Bible Belt and surrounded by people that knew God differently than I had influenced me, but I knew there had to be more. I started questioning why I could not go directly to God to “talk” with him and started hearing about a loving God. That was something different that I had to know more about. With my parent’s approval, I started attending Baptist churches and heard of this God that loved me so much, that gave His son to die for me. That is when I desired to get to know the loving God. It wasn’t smooth sailing. In my mid 20’s, I got married and after two years, divorced. That is when things got a little crazy. I wasn’t going to church; I was hanging out with people and doing things that certainly were not pleasing to God. I still knew God as a loving Father and, through my “wildness,” often went to Him for forgiveness. I believed I was loved, and I believed I was forgiven, but there was still that tug of war between the World and Him. I thought if I went “all in,” I would miss out on something. I would miss out on fun.

30+ years later, I am married with adult children and grandchildren. My adult children are now in their 20’s, and I see their “tug of war.” The difference is that they have heard of this loving God. They have experienced His presence and love. I trust God and know that He loves them in their 20’s just as much as He loved me in my 20’s. My relationship with God has been a journey; it still is a journey. I believe that we need to always be growing in Him. I believe that we always learn from Him. To my friends in your 20’s, if you are not “all in,” know that there is nothing you can do that will separate you from God. He will forgive you. He will love you. This is your journey, and it will be worth it.

Before I close, I must share the lyrics of this song I heard today. I’m sure I’ve heard it before, but today God brought it to me to share with you.

The God Who Stays, by Matthew West

If I were You I would’ve given up on me by now

I would’ve labeled me a lost cause

Cause I feel just like a lost cause

If I were You I would’ve turned around and walked away

I would’ve labeled me beyond repair

Cause I feel like I’m beyond repair

But somehow You don’t see me like I do

Somehow, You’re still here

You’re the God who stays

You’re the God who stays

You’re the one who runs in my direction

When the whole world walks away

You’re the God who stands

With wide open arms

And You tell me nothing I have ever done can separate my heart

From the God who stays

I used to hide

Every time I thought I let You down

I always thought I had to earn my way

But I’m learning You don’t work that way

Somehow You don’t see me like I do

Somehow, You’re still here

You’re the God…

Known: By Conviction

(Final post in a series collaboration)

This series has been fun to read. I want to thank my four guest bloggers-Rick Howell, Frank Welch, Shelby Welch, and David Goodman.

Now it’s my turn to share how God made himself known to me in 2019. And my answer is quite different from theirs, but it is the core of mine and God’s 2019 connection. And it’s one word: Conviction.

Conviction is one of those lovely English words that has multiple meanings:

  1. Convicting
  2. Being convicted
  3. A firm opinion or belief

Conviction convicts. Shows me I have more room to grow.

Conviction convinces. Assures me I’m not alone.

Godly conviction is much like when a parent disciplines a child. If done right, the child knows they messed up, knows what is expected, and knows they are still in the family regardless.

2019 had plenty conviction for me. Most notably on a February day, but many times throughout the year. For me to say that is how God made himself known to me is actually quite comforting.

Why? Because of the manner and the result.

It was not, “Hey Boy! Don’t you hear me? Don’t make me come down there!”

It was more like, “Son, no matter what you do, you are mine. You are in the family. I believe you desire better. You agree? Let’s fix what when wrong and then figure out how to move forward better.”

Discipline done right includes a balance of grace and truth, love and correction.

I am known because of conviction. I am known by establishing conviction. I welcome being known even more in 2020.

Henry Cloud’s Integrity

In 2006, Dr. Henry Cloud published what I believe to be his best book entitled Integrity

His objective is to connect the dots for how integrity and character work day to day. To do that, he outlines six character traits that enable talents and abilities to get their desired results:

  1. Creating and maintaining trust
  2. Seeing and facing reality
  3. Working in a way that brings results
  4. Embracing negative realities and solving them
  5. Causing growth and increase
  6. Achieving transcendence and meaning in life

It’s rich. I finished re-reading it last night. Yes, it’s one of those books. Here’s proof:

  • Underdevelopment leaves a gap between where we are at any given moment and where we need to be. That gap is our need and opportunity for growth.
  • Dysfunction is when an effort toward making something better makes it worse. That is when we are in trouble. And both a lack of integration and a lack of development can do that.
  • We trust people who we think hear us, understand us, and are able to empathize with our realities as well as their own.
  • Research has for decades proven that you can help desperate people immensely by giving them no answers at all, and only giving them empathy.
  • If you want to leave the best wake possible, leave behind a trail of people who have experienced your being “for them.”
  • Wise people are “cautious in friendship,” as the proverb says. They seek to get to know a person clearly, as a person truly is, before they hire him, marry him, become partners with him, or divorce him, fire him, or not go forward with him.
  • It behooves all of us to be working on whatever unresolved pain we are walking around with, lest some issue in “reality” tap into it and overcome our ability to make good decisions.
  • Secure identity is about who a person is, not what he does or what his results are.
  • People oriented toward growth want others to grow as well as themselves.
  • The immature character asks life to meet his demands. But the mature character meets the demands of life.
  • The one question that hovers above all others in importance for a person’s functioning in life is “Are you God, or not?”

God of My 20’s

On my drive home from visiting family last month for Thanksgiving, I realized something. All my nine nieces and nephews are in their 20’s and 30’s. Had to shake my head at that a little. Four of them are married, and three have children. Double head shake.

Thinking about them and the difference in my world during my 20’s and their current world, a thought for a blog series came to mind. The series, entitled God of My 20’s that will post every Monday beginning next week, is a chance for friends of mine to share their story of who God was to them in their 20’s. I invited a slew of men and ladies. Twelve accepted. So this will be fun.

These writers represent every age groups from their 30’s to theirs 70’s. So that means from Millennials to Baby Boomers, born anywhere from the 40’s to the 80’s. That’s a lot of living through a world of change. So the question, and there could be many, that I’m curious about is how does God show up over the decades in people’s lives. On a side note, those living today in their 20’s could be classified as Millennial or Generation Z. If these generation labels are another language or like me you need a refresher, follow this link: Generation Z.

An interesting note from that link is that Generation Z is the largest generation in American history. The God question is therefore a good question to be asking. What if we helped them answer it by telling our own story? I hope you’ll follow along. And maybe even share your own story here or in person. Who was God in your 20’s?

Known: “Show Me You Exist”

(Post #4 in a 4-part series collaboration)

By David Goodman (bio below)

A few months ago, in remarkably certain terms, God showed me that I’m known to Him. Therefore, when Pastor Gregory invited me to write an article for a series he was calling Known, I was excited for the opportunity.

My story starts in early September. Something seemed wrong as I was getting ready for work. My necklace felt lighter. I hadn’t put my shirt on yet and when I looked down, I didn’t see the religious amulet my wife bought me sixteen years ago.  The clasp on my necklace was closed, and it functioned properly.

How then did I lose the amulet? 

I looked everywhere for the amulet. I guess I was hoping for a small miracle, so I checked the trunk of my car, inside the refrigerator, on bookshelves. Finally, I admitted to myself that I was not going to find the amulet.

Several weeks went by.  In early October, my daughter was in town. She goes to school in Tampa. We landed on the topic of God’s existence because lately her faith has been very shaky.  We recently moved to Sarasota from Milwaukee, and she was struggling with the transition. It hurt to see how sad she looked.

I don’t ask God for help too often. I have always assumed that He knows what I need. But when I worked out later that day, I asked God to show me He exists.

I’m a swimmer. I count each stroke because it helps me stay focused on my pace. On this day, I replaced counting with a prayer: “Please God, show me that you exist.” Each syllable for each stroke.

About 45 minutes later, after I had repeated my prayer more than 200 times, I was nearly done swimming when a shiny object caught my eye. Without thinking, I reached for my neck. Nothing there. Quickly I returned to the other side of the pool. I dove down and grabbed my necklace.

I stood in the pool untangling it. Suddenly, part of the clasp broke off. I cupped my hand to catch the tiny piece of metal as it sank in the water. I swear I had it; but when I opened my hand to place it on the side of the pool for a closer look, my hand was empty.

I stared at the side of the pool. It had to be there. Then another object caught my eye. I reached for it without thinking. It took a few seconds to grasp the inconceivable. That I was holding the amulet I had lost weeks ago.

I left the pool. I was walking to the locker room. “Thank you, God,” came to my lips.

About a month later, while driving my daughter and son to a movie, I told them about my experience. They were fascinated and heartened by my story.

I dropped them off and, as I drove away, I saw them in my rear-view mirror for a moment, both smiling before disappearing into a crowd.


Blogger Bio: David J. Goodman earned both a PhD and Master of Education in psychology from Loyola University of Chicago (1994) and Indiana University (1989), respectively.  He started his professional career in 1992 with the Chicago Public School System as a certified school psychologist. His clinical training continued in 1994, when he took a post-doctoral residency on a children’s inpatient floor at Saint Therese Medical Center in Waukegan, IL. During the next 25 years, half of which Dr. Goodman spent as a Wisconsin licensed psychologist, he served individuals and families in medical rehab, skilled nursing, community mental health, and private practice.
​Dr. Goodman recently moved from Milwaukee to Sarasota. As a staff psychologist with Samaritan Counseling Services of the Gulf Coast, among other duties and responsibilities, he will focus on helping at-risk children and teens by participating in SCSGC’s outreach efforts, and by providing psychological testing, behavioral counseling, and psychotherapy to those identified youth and their families. 

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry (book review)

Love, joy, and peace are at the heart of all Jesus is trying to grow in the soil of your life. And all three are incompatible with hurry.

If that statement intrigues you, welcome to Pastor John Mark Comer’s new book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry.img_1006-1

In a world of increasing speed, we all know it’s out of control. What we may not know is how to slow ourselves down in the midst of it. That is what Comer addresses convincingly, humorously, and practically.

Wisdom is born in the quiet, the slow. Wisdom has its own pace…When we uncritically hurry our way through the digital terrain, we make the devil’s job relatively easy.

After defining the problem and offering solutions in parts one and two, Comer offers four practices in part three that will eliminate hurry: silence&solitude, sabbath, simplicity, and slowing.

Mindfulness is simply silence and solitude for a secular society. It’s the same thing, just missing the best part-Jesus.

It is not as though we do not love God – we love God deeply. We just do not know how to sit with God anymore.

Contentment isn’t some Buddhist-like negation of all desire; it’s living in such a way that your unfulfilled desires no longer curb your happiness.

We achieve inner peace when our schedules are aligned with our values.

I’ve recommended several books with a similar theme as Comer’s (The Rest of God, Rhythms of Rest, Awe). Add this to the list. He offers a broader look at the theme with relatable application. I don’t think he’d mind if I suggested you hurry to get this book in your hands.

God’s 2019 Gifts

My Advent devotional this morning focused on this verse:
But Mary was treasuring up all these things in her heart and meditating on them. Luke 2:19 CSB
The devotion challenged that it is important to store up the mountaintop experiences in life in order to recall them for the tough experiences. Mary seemed to realize this at a young age.
In the hardest moments of our lives, we need to remember the victory of Jesus and recall all the ways we’ve seen His goodness. When you experience God’s faithfulness in your life, take a step back and store it up as treasure in your heart. Think of it often. When your toughest days come, like Mary, you will be able to endure. @youversion reading plan
I took this challenge and created an exercise. The exercise was to write down all the gifts God has given me this year. To help me remember, I looked back through my journal (an example of why journaling is a good thing). At completion, my list was twenty deep and filled up the page. That’s a lot of goodness. This exercise could be very encouraging and even worshipful. What gifts has God given you this year? How will you treasure them?

Mary’s Sanctification

The title of the day 11 Advent devotional I’m reading was “What’s On The Other Side of Your ‘Yes’?

I’ve thought about the fact that Mary said yes. Rather quickly, by the way (see Luke 1). But this devotional made me think about how, like Mary, our current acceptance is limited to the present. We place our faith in surrendering to what’s in front of us. But we have no idea what’s coming down the road, what’s on the other side. Mary heard what the angel said about the son she would have, but I wonder how much she understood how many yeses were ahead.

  • Yes, I’ll marry a man who’s thought twice.
  • Yes, I’ll run for my son’s life to another country.
  • Yes, I’ll give grace to my son when I don’t understand him.
  • Yes, I’ll let The Father defend his son against the enemy’s lies.
  • Yes, I’ll watch him be crucified.

Each yes was a new challenge, a deeper victory, a fuller revelation.

The teenager who birthed Jesus wasn’t ready to watch him be tortured. She got there through the transformtion of her every yes. A theological word for that tansformation is sanctification. In his book Awe, Paul David Tripp defined sanctification as a process that works the radical transformation of hearts. Mary’s sanctification came through repeated yeses.

What yes is God asking from you right now? What if you said yes for no other reason but to take one more step in your sanctification? Why not see what’s on the other side of your yes?

Known: The Secret to Meaning

(Post #3 in a 4-part series collaboration)

By Shelby Welch (bio below)

Mark Twain is credited with saying, “The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you figure out why.”

When I typed in “Meaning of Life” into Google, it gave me 2,350,000,000 results. It gave me results about books, videos, lectures, and numbers-all these different ways that people have tried to find meaning in their lives. Wikipedia even attempted to give possible answers such as to realize one’s potential, to seek wisdom and knowledge, to do good, to love, to have power-even the ultimate nihilistic answer: life has no meaning.

We see it over and over in media. Children dreaming of what they will do one day. Young adults trying to find what they are supposed to do with their lives. Middle-aged people trying to find purpose after a large upset in their lives. And the elderly scrambling to find meaning before their time on this earth runs out.

I am not guiltless in this pursuit. I have sought meaning to my existence in love, in friendships, in academics, and in achievements. Spoiler alert: they all come up empty. Lovers leave you. Friends betray you. Someone will always outsmart you. Someone will always outscore you.

But this year in my reading I think I may have discovered the secret. In C.S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain, he points out the ultimate meaning behind Man’s existence. “If He who in Himself can lack nothing chooses to need us, it is because we need to be needed.” Our purpose in life is not that which we can give God but that we may be loved because we are His. Oh, how freeing it is to know that the merit of my life is not based on what I can achieve but on what my God has done for me.

Psalm 139:17 reads, “How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered!” Lewis calls it “the Intolerable Compliment.” That the God of all the Universe would choose to love Man, the one creature that is continually rejecting him; that he gives us the opportunity to love him back. That is the purpose of life. That we are known and loved by our Creator.

Thank you, Father God. Thank you for all that You have created and all that You do in our lives. Remind us of our purpose when we become anxious and weary, when we become tired and downtrodden, when we become weak and insecure. Remind us that our purpose is not in being the best parent in the world, not in being the highest-ranking employee, not in achieving all the accomplishments our peers have, and not in the relationships we choose to form. But that our purpose is to be known and loved by You. May we spend the rest of our lives learning to love You more.

Amen.


Blogger Bio: Shelby serves the animals and clients of Bishop Animal Shelter. She and her husband Frank met while studying at Florida Southern College and were married November 12, 2016. Shelby has swam with sharks.

Suffering: A Story To Share, Accept, and Embrace

Came across this tweet yesterday from a soon-to-be-released book by author K.J. Ramsey:

I wonder how much less anguish we would experience in suffering if the church treated suffering like a story to tell rather than a secret to keep until it passes.

Then this morning our pastor, while focusing on Jesus’ coming to experience human life, categorized suffering into three types:

  1. Suffering we can avoid
  2. Suffering we cannot avoid
  3. Suffering we must not avoid

Both of these thoughts need sharing and dialoguing.

There is power is sharing how our choices led us to suffering we could have avoided. Our focus can be directed to the truth of scripture and the forgiving, unconditional love Jesus came to bring.

There is healing in accepting how circumstances out of our control don’t go unnoticed by God. Our focus can be directed to his sovereignty and the relatability Jesus has to offer.

There is strength in embracing how running from something we don’t want may keep us from what we need. Our focus can be directed on God’s promises and the model of endurance and commitment Jesus completed through his resurrection.