God of My 20’s: The Father’s Love

(Post #3 in a collaborative series)

Guest Blogger Linda Nelson

I would love to say that I have been a passionate follower of Jesus all my life. However…..

I grew up on a farm in Minnesota. We learned to work hard, and did so to please and earn favor from my hardworking dad. Mom was a hard working, loving woman who loved to bake, cared for our home, and had a great since of humor. Both parents were very outgoing and enjoyed getting together with friends. We went to church and Sunday school from the time I was born. While growing up I was involved with our youth group and always loved hearing the Bible stories and prayed at meals. It was just something we DID. I attended the Lutheran church and was baptized as a baby and confirmed at 13.  I loved going to Sunday School and enjoyed all of the Bible stories. My Sunday School teacher game me a plaque that hangs on my wall to this day which says, “LOVE NEVER FAILS…For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting  life. John 3:16.”  I did not understand what that really meant, but I cherished it none the less.  I liked to study the catechism and learned much ABOUT God and Jesus but never had a Bible until age 13, until AFTER confirmation. It lay in a drawer and was never opened.

My parents were married at a very early age, and it was expected that we kids would also. I met the love of my life when I was 15. We dated through high school and married at age 17; Gaylord, my husband, was 20. We farmed with his parents, and by the time I was 23 we had 3 wonderful children.

Throughout my 20’s we continued to attend church weekly; and, of course, our kids were all baptized as infants. God was someone you read about, and I never doubted who He was.  I loved to hear about Jesus and all of the Bible stories.  I tried like crazy to obey the 10 commandments and ALWAYS felt I fell short.  We always prayed before meals, the “Come Lord Jesus, be our guest” prayer; but every prayer I ever prayed was written in a book or taught to me.  All throughout my 20’s God was just a far away God. I truly never doubted that Jesus was my Savior, BUT I knew I had to be GOOD or I would miss the mark. I came to realize that my view of God was shaped by my earthly father, that if I was good and worked hard I would win God’s love and favor.

It was not until I was 37 that I ever heard about a personal relationship with God.  I had never heard of God’s unconditional love for me. And when I did, it radically changed my life.

It was at that time we moved from Iowa to Chicago. We visited a church where the pastor and people were talking and singing songs TO God NOT just about Him.  The pastor told us that God longed to have a personal relationship with me not because I worked hard and was “good” but that He loved me unconditionally. I had never heard that before.  See what love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called the children of God. And that is what we are.” 1 John 3: 1.  (Tears fill my eyes even to this day when I hear this Good News!!!!!) I came to realize I had transferred that thought and feeling from my relationship with my dad to my Heavenly Father.  We were invited to a small group where we received such love, friendship, and best of all a new Bible. Small groups have been at the heartbeat of my walk with Jesus ever since. I was discipled to love God with my whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to spend time with God in His word daily.  As I spent endless hours each day devouring God’s Word, I became acquainted with my precious Lord Jesus. I also grew to understand that “we are saved by grace through faith, not by works.” Ephesians 2:8. You would have thought I was given a pot of gold. And indeed, as God opened my heart to the truth of His word, I received a Treasure more precious than gold and silver. I, at last, met my Savior, Redeemer, best Friend, and Lord.

Maybe I Should Be More Prodigal

Our life group started a study of Tim Keller’s book The Prodigal God tonight. We highly recommend the book.


Here’s a great example why. 

The word “prodigal” does not mean “wayward” but, according to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, “recklessly spendthrift.” It means to spend until you have nothing left. This term is therefore as appropriate for describing the father in the story as his younger son. The father’s welcome to the repentant son was literally reckless, because he refused to “reckon” or count his sin against him or demand repayment.

Makes you think, right? Under this definition, the story in Luke 15 has much more meaning and application.

As we discussed this tonight, a question came to me: How could we be more prodigal? 

  • Toward neighbors
  • Toward siblings
  • Toward friends
  • Toward coworkers
  • Toward anyone that is physically, spiritually, or emotionally disconnected 

If God, my Heavenly Father, recklessly forgives, loves, endures, welcomes, provides, embraces, longsuffers, probably means I should also. Maybe I should be more prodigal.

God of My 20’s: Going All In

(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…

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?

Heard

(Introduction to a 5-part series collaboration)

Recently I had a brief conversation based on this statement: “I don’t know how to hear from God. People around me say they hear from God, but I don’t. I pray, and nothing. I feel like I’m doing something wrong.”

Due to the social context, that conversation was one-sided. That person’s tone and spirit has stuck with me. So much so that I’ve recruited some friends/thinkers to add many sides to the conversation. A team of five is writing blogs answering this question: How Do I Hear From God? You can read each post as they upload each Friday in November.

Besides me, here is a little bio introduction to the other four bloggers:

Dawn Stark: Mother of 5, Beach Lover, Manager of Philanthropy for Operation Blessing

Aaron Pilant: Father of 2, Lover of K.C. sports, Bradenton Police Officer

aaron

Erin Pilant: Mother of 2, Lover of Disney, Marketing Director for Chick-Fil-A

erin

Bob Morrissey: Father of 3, Lover of Detroit sports, Pastor of The Church at Clawson

bob

We don’t have to wait until November. Want to answer the question and start the conversation? Go ahead and leave a comment. Be Heard!

Look at Me

“You, O Lord, are the lifter of my head.”‭‭ Psalms‬ ‭3:3‬ ‭ESV‬‬

I witnessed this the other day. Actually, we all do every day. People walking around literally and figuratively needing a head lift. Sometimes it’s the person in the mirror.

When I read this verse recently, a familiar image came to mind. Picture a discouraged child, head down, not wanting anyone to see their eyes, possibly hiding their tears. They’ve been asked several times, “Look at me!” After several refusals, the inquirer gently puts their first few fingers under the child’s chin lifting their head in order to force eye contact. With that gesture, change becomes possible. The child looks into another pair of eyes offering forgiveness, understanding, empathy, strength, hope, protection, peace, or love.

In my relationship with God, I can often forget to allow him to lift my head. I’m satisfied to look down. To see what I want to see. To accept less. To tolerate guilt. To self-protect. To wallow. To be a stubborn child.

This Psalm was written by David in an extremely sad time. His own son was after him. Can you imagine how downcast David was? David helps us see how important it is to allow God to lift our heads. To be Fathered. To see what we need to see. To receive more. To embrace mercy. To drop our guard. To stand tall. To be a changed child. To obey the first time God whispers, “Look at me.”

Loss & Pain & Redemption

About a month ago, I walked through a situation that I could only explain with one word: sad. So when I came to chapter 11 entitled “Boundaries with Sadness” in the book I’m reading (Boundaries For Your Soul), I was ready. 


Of my many highlighted quotes in the chapter, this was the most helpful:

It’s helpful to think of the causes of sadness in three categories: sadness as a response to the loss of something good, the loss of something bad, and the loss of what might have been.

Categories one and three I get and I’ve used to befriend my personal sadnesses recently. But category two tilted my head…until I read Maria’s story. 

Maria, a bright woman, dated an abusive, addicted man for four years. When asked, “What keeps you from leaving?” she answered honestly, “I don’t want to face the pain.” She had given four years of her life to loving someone who had hurt her repeatedly. A part of her didn’t want to accept the reality that she had wasted so much time on a destructive, dead-end relationship. So she was choosing the pain she knew over the pain she didn’t know – and was missing an opportunity to move forward with her life.

I instantly understood category two. Choosing the pain we know can be crippling. Most likely we don’t know this is what we are doing until someone or some happening makes it clear to us. The strength and comfort when we allow the Spirit of God to assist us in facing that unknown pain is worth embracing to free us to move forward and start over. 

However long it takes, the freed life-found by trusting God to help us face the unknown pain-awaits us. Rather than run from the sadness, we should turn into it. Why? Here’s a final quote from the chapter:

Pain becomes redemptive when it causes you to draw near to God and experience his power.

3 Values for Your Calling

In some circles, the term calling can make for quite a discussion. People get all wrapped up in what it means and implies or how they feel when asked any questions that include it. You could say it is a trigger word for many people for many reasons.

But not enough for us to avoid using it. For much of this year, again for various reasons by various people, the idea of our lives having a calling has sprinkled conversations in my circles. Regardless of whether it’s used to describe one’s purpose or to indicate how others view God’s unique design for someone else’s vocation, calling is considered by most to be something to be taken seriously.

So, much like choosing to marry or to procreate, how one views one’s calling determines its fulfillment. As a Christian, my values about my calling derive from my belief in the sovereignty of God. He’s in charge of all things. When that belief goes offline, life gets wacky. To keep it in check, here are three values that cannot be dismissed.

True callings are God-given.

Everything I have comes from him-that includes their purposes. My job, my friends, my talents, my time, my possessions, my money-all of it. When I allow him to reign over all areas of my life, I’m living from the value of his calling for me through them.

True callings are God-ended.

Since they come from him, then it only seems to reason that he determines when they are completed. I leave a job when he says. A friendship ends or doesn’t end when he says. My talents are to be used until he says stop. My money goes where he directs until he says, “That’s finished. Now send it here.” All my callings start and end by God. All other’s thoughts, including the enemy’s, take a backseat to his.

True callings are God-empowered.

Any calling from God in any area of life comes with the capacity to do it. When the first two values are in place, I resist the temptation to fulfill my calling in my own power. Without his empowerment, the calling has no chance of fulfilling all he intended. When tempted to doubt their calling can be accomplished, believers must yield to his power.

No matter where you are in your calling-just starting, sailing along, or wishing to be done-hear the words of Joshua:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. -Joshua 1:9

Dude, You’re Being Soft

(An “Own It” Series for Dudes…series resurrected. Four previous posts were August-October 2017)

Based on current reads and also interactions with dudes, it’s time to address a thing-the glaring decline in strong dudes. It’s a thing.

I’m not talking about physical strength. There’s probably an increase there thanks to gyms and fitness addicts. I’m talking about the rest of a dude’s strength-emotional, mental, spiritual-which are more important to build and maintain. So it makes sense that if they are more important, then they require more attention and intention. That’s work. Hard work. And it appears it’s not happening for many dudes.

Why is that? Let’s be honest. Working on strengthening your emotional, mental, and spiritual muscles has the stigma of being soft. Guess what…that’s shame messaging coming from the grunt section. How can something that requires hard work be soft, particularly if it brings you more holistic strength? I counter that not working on these areas is the real characterization of being soft.

If you’re up for it-the hard work of strengthening all of you-here are ten questions to get you started:

  1. What was the last yes you gave God?
  2. When did you last purposefully do something emotionally or spiritually uncomfortable?
  3. How do you manage your fight or flight tendencies?
  4. How are you addressing your present doubts and fears?
  5. How much say does God have in your decisions?
  6. What have you learned about yourself in the last three months?
  7. How are you engaging what you don’t understand about culture, relationships, or God?
  8. What was the last intentional change you made?
  9. What other dudes know you don’t want to be soft?
  10. What’s your level of being all in?

What other questions could you ask yourself to bolster your emotional, mental, and spiritual strength? Who can help you engage these questions? What will your fitness plan be to stop being soft?

When God Asks You a Question

When’s the last time you recall a conversation where a question was asked and the person replied, “Wow! That’s a good question”?  I’ve been on both sides of that, and mostly likely you have also.  Those are life-giving conversations.

Elijah had one of those conversations with God in 1 Kings 19.  In this case, Elijah got asked this question, not once but twice: “What are you doing here?”  Similar to God questioning Adam and Eve in the Garden and to Jesus asking Peter the same question three times, this conversation was a learning moment, one that gave direction to a wandering child of God.

Is there shame in wandering?  I’m guessing if there were God wouldn’t bother showing up to ask us a question.  He doesn’t show up because he’s lost or doesn’t know the answer.  He’s showing up for our benefit.  The answer to his question is for our learning, our misdirection, and our relationship with him.

Are you wandering?  Are you lacking direction?  Elijah had walked 40 days and nights and entered a cave where this conversation happened.  What if you gave God that much attention or space so that you could have a life-giving conversation?  What would it take to put yourself in position to hear when God asks you a question?