God of My 20’s: My “Pharis-ectomy”

(Post #7 in a collaborative series)

Guest Blogger Mark Stanifer

It is July 2005. I’m 32 years old. On this hot summer day I’m disoriented, sitting in an unfamiliar church auditorium, listening to an unfamiliar dude. He’s got long hair, tattoos, a Canadian accent, and is wearing shorts and sandals. He seemed innocuous enough, but he’s just rocked my world and I didn’t see it coming. That’s when my spiritual surgery began, and it would take years to fully recover.

To understand why this is so significant, roll the clock back 20 years to 1985. I’m 12 years old, mid-way through the usual summer church camp and God grabbed hold of my heart. Growing up a church rat—you know, the kid who is always there because his parents were always there—I knew the language and the routine. This summer I began a deeper understanding of why. I remember tears, talking with one of the camp counselors, and an intense resolve to pursue God from that point forward.

My life has always be defined by coloring inside the lines. I like to know the rules and the right way to do things. For some, that is suffocating. For me, it is comforting. This is how I am wired. It has advantages in the right context. It can also create problems. One of those problems is a too-familiar relationship with fear. Another is an inclination toward stasis unless the way forward is clear. These two are related, for sure. They both have dogged me.

In 1995, I graduated from college, married my high school sweetheart and began life out in the “real world.” It felt like I had waited a long time for these things to happen, so the excitement was real. As we built our life together, we invested heavily into our local church. It was part of the real world requirement for a God-follower. Nursery duty, teaching younglings, helping the teens, leading small groups, starting whole programs, serving as an elected leader. Name the church thing and I had done it. My church resume was impressive. So much so that “churchianity” had started to replace Christianity for me.

In reality, I was becoming more like a chief priest or ruler of the law. I see that now, although at the time I didn’t. My spiritual swagger from right believing and right living was becoming arrogance. Non Christians were more like projects. Christians who weren’t in my tribe were marginalized. All the while, I lived with a strong fear, just below the surface, that unless my beliefs and actions were right God would be disappointed in me. As Wayne Jacobsen says, I was trapped in the “obligation of religious performance.”

By the time my 20’s came to a close, I was on my way to becoming a righteous Pharisee. This wasn’t the path I intended. My desire was to follow God, to know Jesus. However, in my attempt to find that path I drifted toward religiosity. It was seductive—measurable activity, documented beliefs, outward proof of my allegiance to God. There was also my “good life”—good job, good wife, good kids, good health, good [fill-in-the-blank]. I equated good life with God’s love. The problem was, it was never about religious performance. God’s love isn’t evidenced by good circumstances. I was missing the whole point. It has always been about an intimate relationship with Jesus.

Which brings us full circle back to 2005 and the Canadian. I had no idea that this was the first incision of the surgery. A surgery that I would eventually refer to affectionately as my “Pharis-ectomy.” It took years of incisions, healing, and recovery to get to where I am. Yet I am grateful for it all. Why? Because I have today what I didn’t have before:

  1. A deep, abiding confidence that I am loved by Father, regardless of what I do on His behalf
  2. An intimate and growing relationship with Jesus
  3. A immense freedom that I didn’t realize was possible; a freedom to live for Jesus way beyond rules; a freedom to engage others from a place of love rather than fear and judgement

Who was God in my 20’s? The same God I know and follow today. I just better understand who He is. And I better understand who I am in Him. This is what He’s wanted for me from the beginning. It took a journey through my 20’s to be ready to embrace it. One that I will always value. One that I’m happy to have behind me.

God of My 20’s: Mourning Replaced with Savoring

(Post #6 in a collaborative series)

Guest Blogger: Dawn Stark

Throughout my 20’s I worked for an international airline and traveled the world for almost nothing. But all I really wanted was a baby.  I mourned continually over my empty arms.  Nothing else would appease me: Hawaii, the Greek Islands, Europe, sailing down the Nile – a decade of beautiful places and experiences that I mainly viewed through the lens of pain. I didn’t understand God’s love language to me in the waiting season.  I missed so many amazing places of worship on the way to my arms being filled to overflowing.

The way I spent my 20’s shrouded in mourning is a life regret.

Today I am traveling again, for different reasons, but still very similar to the way I did so many years ago. I know without a doubt God has once again given me this season as a gift in a beautiful way of merging mission and passion. It’s a do-over of sorts. Life is full of long, complicated, and painful journeys; infertility was only one of many that I’ve endured. In my early 50’s now, with 5 miracle children in my life, there is sufficient evidence that I cannot fret or worry or mourn my way through this life.

Recently, work led me to Puerto Rico. A traveler to my core, I was so excited about this new adventure I couldn’t fall asleep the night before my flight.  I’ve been to the island years ago on two other occasions, but only in the San Juan area.  This trip required me to rent a car and travel to Mayaguez, on the western side of PR.  I padded my travel time on each side of work events to allow for moments of spontaneity: pulling over to enjoy look-out points, taking the temperature of the Caribbean water with a quick dip, snapping photos of interesting sites, and choosing local eats over convenient chain options.

Puerto Rico did not disappoint!  I so enjoyed spending time with ministry partners, learning about the heart-breaking impact of Hurricane Maria, and discovering the resilience of the people. I intently practiced present-moment mindfulness by not letting my thoughts creep back to other weighty matters and instead choosing to focus on the “great and small” of life happening right in front of me:

  • the vibrant colors saturating the Puerto Rican culture through nature and art.
  • the proud rooster walking down the sidewalk, crowing like he totally belonged in that human space.
  • the irony of eating St. Louis (my hometown) style rib from the BBQ joint I just happened to stop at for dinner.
  • the newlywed who coaxed me to jump into the rough shore break and enjoy the sunset with her family.
  • the experience of driving in San Juan’s rush hour traffic when 12 lanes of inbound cars merged into 4 without traffic lines or signals of any sort.

While travel is all a little harder on my body these days, I am intent on not missing the moments made for worshipping along the way this time.  I cannot reverse the way I lived my 20’s, doubting the goodness of God, but I can learn from that experience.  My trip to Puerto Rico reminded me – again – to savor the gifts I’ve been given. The song, Peace, written by Michael McDonald and recorded by Russ Taff, perfectly captures my thoughts:

I have come from so far away

Down the road of my own mistakes

In the hope you could hear me pray

Oh Lord, keep me in your reach.

 

How I’ve longed through these wasted years

To outrun all my pain and fears

Turn to stone from own cried tears

And now its your grace I see

 

Love won’t compromise

It’s a gift, it’s a sacrifice

My soul renewed, and my heart released

In you I find my peace.

 

Wonderous child of whom the angels sing

Know my joy, feel my suffering

Shining star make this love you bring

So bring that I may believe

 

That my way will not be lost

From now on, ‘till that river’s crossed

My soul renewed, and my spirit free

In you I’ll find my peace

Book Suggestion

I’m really enjoying my current read, Spirituality of Listening by Keith Anderson. If you’re attending First Baptist Bradenton tomorrow, you’ll hear some references.


I just finished chapter five, Story: Shaped by Biblical Narrative. Here are some examples of why you might enjoy this book:

God doesn’t ask that we rise above all of life’s pain; rather, he asks that we bring all of our story to God. God doesn’t ask that we walk around in disguise pretending there are no holes in our hearts; God asks that we bring those painful hearts to the throne of grace.

When someone says thank you for something you have done, it is a gift of gratitude from God. When someone shows you love, that love is a gift of grace from God. When someone tells you the truth, it is a gift of love because God cares to move you from your defenses, hiding, and resistance. Telling our story to one another is perhaps the most sacred thing we do because God shows up in the words, emotions, and crafting of our words.

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.

Break a Cup

Here’s one other memorable story from David Platt’s book Something Needs To Change. While visiting a home housing girls who had been rescued from trafficking, he learned one example of how they were led to see themselves.

On a table in the room, I see cracked glass tea cups. The woman who leads the home, Liv, tells us how these cups were an art project. In a recent class, the group talked about seeing beauty in the middle of brokenness. Each girl was given a glass tea cup and asked to break it by throwing it on the floor. The girls were hesitant at first, but one by one they threw their cups and watched them shatter into pieces. Then each girl was asked to glue her cup back together, piece by piece.

Next they placed a small candle inside each cup and lit it. The cracks in those broken cups actually allowed the light of the candles to shine brighter. That led to a discussion of how in our lives we might feel broken because of what we’ve done or what’s been done to us. But if we let him, God puts us back together and the light of his love shines brightly for others to see, even through our hurts.

There are many “ifs” in this scene.

  • If they talked
  • If they threw them down
  • If they put them back together
  • If they lit the candle
  • If they let God

Beauty is hidden when we stay stuck in the ifs. The enemy loves our being stuck; our Redeemer longs to fully free us in order to shine through us. Are you stuck? Maybe it’s time to break a cup.

Be Bold

(Day 23 in a 28-day series from First Bradenton)

I once heard a story about a man who, when he was a teenager, wanted to ask out a pretty girl he liked. However, he chickened out and did not ever ask her. Years later he found out that the girl’s mother had told her it takes a lot of courage for a young man to ask a girl out and that she should date anyone brave enough to ask at least once (within reason). So if this man had been bold enough to ask this girl on a date she would have said yes, but it was too late by the time he learned that.

Sometimes the idea of being bold scares us to the point of never trying something. And I think that can happen when we pray to God, too. Plus we are always told to “fear” God, to have a deep sense of awe and respect for God above anything else. That can make it easy to think that the God we fear should not be bothered with our little issues, and we should pray for only big things or things we feel safe praying.

The good news is God loves us! He showed His unending love for us when He sent Jesus to save us. When God became a man it also showed us that God is not bothered or inconvenienced by our small issues. He cares about every part of our lives, big and small.

To take it another step further Jesus was very bold, even in death. And we are to be like Jesus. When He died, the curtain to the temple was torn in two, symbolizing that we can come to God at anytime from anywhere. We do not need a priest or pastor to help us, and we do not have to pray only in a temple or a church building. Those things are great but not necessary in order for God to hear you.

The curtain tearing was like God telling us, “Come to me, I am ready to hear it all! So don’t hold back.” God is a big boy, and He can handle anything we can come up with. And all of this together should bring us hope and encourage us to be bold.

God is all-powerful, He loves us each more that we can imagine, and He invites us to talk to Him about anything because He cares about us so much. Whatever you want to pray about, you can pray about. Any struggle, or joy, or confusion, or anything else you want. You can even pray to God when you are mad, even if you are mad at Him for a while. The important thing is that you believe in Him, you are talking to Him, and being honest with Him. When you interact with God that way, great things happen. So go to God with anything you want or need. Be bold!

This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord. Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. Ephesians 3:11-12

So if the old way, which has been replaced, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new, which remains forever! Since this new way gives us such confidence,we can be very bold. 2 Corinthians 3:11-12

By Frank Welch

God Knows Better

(Day 20 in a 28-day series from First Bradenton)

Therefore I tell you: Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? Consider the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they? Can any of you add one moment to his life span by worrying? And why do you worry about clothes? Observe how the wildflowers of the field grow: They don’t labor or spin thread. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was adorned like one of these. If that’s how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, won’t he do much more for you—you of little faith? So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. Matthew 6:25-33 

The key to submissive prayer is an understanding that God knows what we need better than we do. We are His children, and He is a good father who is pleased to provide for our needs. Therefore, Jesus instructs us to seek God’s kingdom and righteousness foremost, because those are what we need the most. As we eagerly seek to know Him more, He will provide for our needs. As he promises in the passage above, He will provide for our physical needs, making sure we are fed and clothed; but more importantly, he will provide for our spiritual needs, giving us more of Himself.

Psalm 37:4 tells us to “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires.” It is not wrong to have desires, and we know that God loves to give good gifts to His children; but we must first delight in Him. As we seek Him more, He will become our heart’s greatest desire; and He will never fail to give us more of Himself, allowing us to know Him and love Him more.

By Kyle Reilly

3 Self-Talking Points to Temper IOS

What is IOS? No, it doesn’t have anything to do with Apple. However, you can see people battling it as often as you see Apple products. IOS is a syndrome you have dealt with sometime in your life. People suffer with it on social media, tv shows, in the board room, and at the family reunion. It would be nice if there were a pill or shot for it, but so far, no.

We’ve all dealt with it, particularly in our formative years. When you gave that first book report in 3rd grade, when you got your first job, when you picked your date up for prom-it was heavy. Some people overcome it quickly; others struggle with it all their lives. Overcoming IOS may be a process or could be a defining moment. I had a defining moment my junior year in college and another a few years later that seemed to loosen the grip of IOS. Regardless of its hold on someone, the reality of it being loosened is real and is possible. 

This syndrome is Impressing Others Syndrome. Recognize it? Have you overcome it? If not, your self talk could be a solution. Most likely, your self talk is fear-based, maybe even lies you’ve been deceived to believe. 

So how do we counter those lies, that fear? Overcoming IOS will take addressing it at its roots. Those roots of lies and fears should be countered by our identity and truth as God sees us. The challenge is very personal, testing what we believe and just how true our convictions are. Our self talk should be based on truths that strengthen us to defeat IOS. These three are a great start.

  1. “God loves Me.” He created me and made me who I am. Who I am includes my looks, my abilities, my personality. He knows my history. No one else knows me like he does. His love is unconditional, and my performance and choices do not change it.
  2. “The best motives are eternity-focused.” Checking our motives should be a constant priority. Satan loves to tempt us to be temporally motivated and thereby tell ourselves to focus on things that have little or no eternal worth. When you check this root of IOS, you may discover the main self talk to change.
  3. “I’m a work in progress.” This reality can be personally humbling and also critically diffusing. This also creates in us a teachable spirit which allows us to not live for approval as much as growth. That’s a big difference.

What are you telling yourself? Lies or truths? Fears or convictions? IOS’s grip can be loosened. Ask God for your best self-talking points and be free.

Miracle in the Andes (book review)

I’ve been obsessed with this book while listening to it. So much so that when disc 7 wasn’t listenable because of scratches, I checked out the book today in order to read what I missed. (NOTE: Manatee County Library rocks! Not only did they bring the book from another branch to the branch closer to me to pick up, but they also called to let me know it was ready. BOOM!)

Nando Parrado is one of sixteen survivors of a 1972 plane crash in the Argentine Andes Mountains. Another book, Alive, was written and made into a movie in the 90s. I’ve never heard of this story, so I was riveted by it. My riveting is a credit to Parrado’s storytelling and personal account of the survivor’s ordeal.

If you enjoy true stories that make you think and marvel, you should read Parrado’s book. You’ll be satisfied. But what you’ll hopefully also receive are some life lessons to model. He gives you plenty. These 72 days gave more than 72 lessons. The survivors continue to live them out. Read it and see what you could live out.