Wanted: Black Sheep

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By: Jana Greene

Part 6 of The Seismic Seven Series

“When somebody’s religious identity is being challenged, things are bound to turn nasty quickly.” —  Steve McVey (Beyond an Angry God)

Good readers,

Today Abba has downloaded a blog post into my heart that makes many Christians squirmy and causes a lot of division. I know because it made me super squirmy. It’s the gospel of inclusion, and it’s pretty radical stuff.

Jesus came so that we could all be included in the love of God, not so that we could take His Gospel and divvy it up by law and procedure and methods and doctrinal argument, until it is splintered and divided. He didn’t come to provide religious identity.

At the Open Table Conference, this message was more or less hammered into us – and I couldn’t be more grateful. I could go on for days about this (and I may….) because it resonates on a base-level. It speaks to a contingent who may not even possess faith yet, and we sure do love to preach to the already-faithed.

Once upon a time, there was a Pure and Spotless White Lamb who came to a new pasture –  one much sparser and less lush than the one he called ‘home.’ He came so that he could  show all of the scattered and flaw-full black sheep the way to greener pastures and lead them to the care of a loving Shepherd.

While he was among the black sheep, he did not cloister himself up on the highest hill and look down upon them grazing on the crappy, cut-rate grasses they had chosen.

He didn’t call attention to himself and brag about his spotlessness.

He didn’t shame the less-than-perfect sheep for being spotty and lame.

He didn’t cavort around with the black sheep so that he could do the naughty things that they were doing.

He was goodness and light and mercy, something the flock had never experienced before, and they drew close to him because of those attributes – not necessarily because he appeared without blemish. Blemishes can hide far under the wool.

He included ALL of the fold, selecting NONE of them for banishment. Division was not this Sheep’s end-game. Inclusion was.

He supped with The Blackest Sheep in the Family, and hung out among the fallen, and challenged them to believe that there was a Shepherd of Love who could make them perfect. He’d left a perfect pasture to bring more sheep to the shepherd. Through this loving and acceptance of the Pure White Lamb, the wool of the others became spotless, too.

So that when the Shepherd called his flock home, he couldn’t tell one from another. All were pure and spotless in his sight.

Let me say that again: So that when the Shepherd called his flock home, he couldn’t tell one from another. All were pure and spotless in his sight.

Graze on that for a minute. When you follow the Lamb of God, you are spotless too.

I’m not saying that accepting Christ as Savior isn’t key. It’s everything. But God loved you long before you ever made that choice. His love for you is not even contingent on that choice. If it were, it would be YOU responsible for the love.

I’m not saying repentance isn’t necessary. I’m just saying God’s love for you isn’t contingent upon it. Some chose not to follow the Spotless One, but it did not diminish the Shepherd’s love for them OR his deep longing for them to experience His presence. Not one whit.

If you had to turn from all sin in order for God to love you, it would be all about you and your piousness, and I think we can all agree piousness is a bunch of crap. Otherwise the Pure and Spotless White Lamb would have hung around black sheep in white sheep’s clothing (a.k.a Pharisees / Sadducees) to save face, which is not at ALL what he did.

You cannot be responsible for the Grace God showed you before the hour you first believed. He has already included you in the love.

If the sheep don’t know there is One who will care for them right where they are, they will have no desire to leave the cut-rate pasture.

And if you are The Black Sheep of your family, take heart! The God of the cosmos loves you and longs for you to experience His presence. He has goodness, light and mercy abundant for you, right where you are.

You are included.

Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him” – Romans 5:8

 

 

 

Back to Nurture

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Stone Mountain Falls

By: Jana Greene

Hello, dear readers. I will soon resume completion of The Seismic Seven Series, but an unforeseen distraction took place over the past few days, and I’m sharing it with you so that you also might be encouraged. I had an opportunity to run away with My Beloved to a little cabin in the woods, and here is what my spirit pondered there:

During the days of my steeped-in-nature trip, my spirit experienced such peace that my busy mind became willingly submissive to it.

Worries fell off before they had a chance to stick, like Teflon coated the surface of my soul. Anxiety tried to get in, of course. It’s ruthless that way. But my spirit would not allow it. “Sorry'” I felt it say. “There is no room for you thieves of joy.”

The cacophony of rushing waters, birdsong, and buzzing bees drowned out all else. I felt Holy Ghost in every breeze and rustle, and in me – manifested as Peace.

It occurred to me that this is the way God intended us to feel back in the garden. We’ve lost it through the falling, and through trying to convince The Father that we know a better way.

If only I can find a way to replicate this Great Shalom, back in the ‘real’ world where the cacophony seems only to be struggles and bills and drama.

Lord Jesus, please keep my spirit coated with the Teflon coating of trusting you. Help me reign in the ruthless anxiety. Holy Spirit, manifest in and around me even in the Land of the Lost. And hey, thank you for this glorious respite of rushing water, birdsong, and buzzing bees. Block the thieves of joy so that I might find this shalom even in the mundane.
Amen and amen.

and God bless us every one.

The Beggar’s Bakery Turns 4!

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I interrupt The Seismic Seven blog series to post a ginormous THANK YOU to each of you readers!

Four years ago today, I had an impulsive idea (are there any other KIND?) to start a blog. I wrested with the concept and the name, but in the end decided on The Beggar’s Bakery – a nod to the quote by D.L. Niles that “Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.”

That’s the whole goal of this blog – to tell you where I found it. I’ve no idea how to tell you to butter it, or if it’s ‘gluten free.’ No pretenses – I just tell you where I partook and how it saved my life.

Many posts are recovery-oriented because you should write what you know. I’m still not sure I know how to do recovery “right,” but I’m happy to share my sincerest and often jacked-up musings on the subject.

From substance abuse recovery – which colors at least a little of everything in my life – to parenting young adults (those musings are especially jacked-up) and true cat appreciation….from marriage to my affinity for all-things-FOOD, this is the venue in which my life is an Open Book.

That anyone would take the time to read it still amazes me. I am extraordinarily ordinary. And HONORED beyond words that you would take the time to read this blog. So thank you for doing that. Keep coming back to the bakery ❤

Thank you, thank you, thank you – from the bottom of my heart.

Here’s to many more years of blogosphere craziness!

In His Love,

Jana

 

 

A God Most Intimate

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Part 5 of The Seismic Seven Series

By: Jana Greene

“I don’t believe in God. I know God! Once you know someone, believing is no longer a concern.” — Wm. Paul Young (Eve: A Novel)

I once wrote a blog post about the disservice atheists do to children in persuading them that there is no God. Sure enough, I received a comment from a fellow blogger and devout atheist (if you can be such a thing) chastising me for perpetuating a myth.

To read the article, click here:   Little Humans, Big Faith

“I’ve lost nothing if I’ve base my life on love. Not a single thing,” I asserted in the piece. To which he countered: “So you would consider basing your life around a lie a good use of your time?”

“Kids are the most questioning people on the planet and God wants us to come to him as little children. I think He definitely gets it. I think He knows that we are curious and that’s okay,” I wrote.

“Sounds extremely spooky but not a very reliable method of forming beliefs,” said he.

Oh, dude. You have no idea how supernatural it really is. My faith is the most reliable thing in my life, far more so than my emotions or book-sense.

Believing in God is risky business. But even that is not enough for me. I crave the intimacy of KNOWING God.

One of the most powerful talking points at The Open Table Conference was about intimacy with the Father. I just eat that up. I’m not content to walk beside Jesus anymore – I want the union whereby He is in my spirit and I am in His. The kind of relationship you simply cannot figure out with the brain, and really don’t need to.

“Some things in life you just aren’t going to be able to think your way through—so you might as well save yourself the stress by simply trusting your way through them.” – Steve McVey (The Grace Walk Devotional)

There’s that “trusting” thing again. Pesky trusting, there is no shortcut to it.

“The Christian God is interested in relationship with us, and not just relationship, but union, and not just union, but such a union that everything He is and has—all glory and fullness, all joy and beauty and unbridled life—is to be shared with us and to become as much ours as it is His. The plan from the beginning, in the Christian vision, is that God would give Himself to us, and nothing less, so that we could be filled to overflowing with the divine life.” — C. Baxter Kruger (Jesus and the Undoing of Adam)

The conversation between my atheist friend and I continued in a few more comment exchanges. He asked me if I thought we had disembodied minds, and I prayed a bit before I answered:

Can I prove that to you? No, I know it in my heart of hearts. Do I need to prove it to you? No. Because you cannot prove something that is true in the Spirit to a mind that is closed off to the possibility of there even BEING a spirit. It’s like proving to you that I am having thoughts about chocolate by showing you my big toe. Yes, my mind and body are related and intertwined, but not exactly the same thing. Different parts of me.

I’ve seen supernatural things, and have not found them lacking in evidence or reality at all! Spooky? Sometimes. Glorious and ethereal? Oh, yes. (I’m a natural-born skeptic, too, believe it or not.)

Can you prove that love exists? Can you bottle it, break down its chemical make-up (yes, I know you can manufacture serotonin, etc. That’s not what I’m talking about.) No. But you can see the manifestations of it all over the place. Ditto evil. Manifested everywhere.
It’s enough to make your brain hurt. If you try to process it only with your brain.  The spirit of a person is not their disembodied mind at all.

“Atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning.” – C.S. Lewis.

The crazy thing about faith is that it will respect your wishes. If you wish to hold God at bay by choosing not to take the risk of knowing, you will never know. If you wish to know the Father in the most intimate parts of your spirit, He will meet you there.

Don’t take my word for it that God wants the closest relationship with you possible. Don’t even take these learned Theologians’ words for it. During the entire workshop, we participants were encouraged not only to think for ourselves, but “Ask Jesus if it’s true.”

Ask Him yourself. Approach the throne – He welcomes your curiosity. He honors your seeking of the truth. If you don’t seek, you will not find out it’s true.

“The challenge to have more faith about a specific outcome is often nothing more than a religious promotion for positive thinking.” — Steve McVey (Beyond an Angry God)

It’s easy to call it a myth or a fairy tale, or an exercise in positive thinking. Its easy if you’ve never tasted the truth. But OH! When you know the glory and fullness, all joy and beauty and unbridled life – there’s no going back.

And yes, I consider basing my life around The Truth a very good use of my time.

Sweeping up Eggshells – Life in the New Covenant

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By: Jana Greene

“When people form their opinion about God from what they hear from contemporary legalistic religion, it’s no wonder they conclude that God is a cranky, old, bookkeeping, judgmental, demanding deity who is more interested in people’s behavior than anything else. It would be easy to see how a god like that would be angry much of the time. Sadly, people who hold that view of God impose it on the Bible and interpret the Bible to present a God like that. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’m not saying that our God is a milquetoast, a mild-mannered god who can be managed. He’s no kitten, that for sure.”  —  Steve McVey (Beyond an Angry God)

Part 4 of The Seismic Seven Series

When I was a little girl, my father would often go into rages. I learned early how to walk on eggshells, as you never knew what mood he would be in when he walked through the door. We all braced for the worst, but sometimes he would arrive with gifts or candy. Just when you came to expect gifts and candy, the raging and violent alter-ego would walk through the door. When that happened, I learned to flee. But when I didn’t have time to flee, I’d hide behind my mom’s legs as my parents fought. Ugly, hostile, screaming fights were the norm when I was growing up.

I hid behind my mom’s legs because if she were the barrier, perhaps he would not ‘see’ me and I could avoid getting the brunt of his fury. Sometimes this worked, other times, my mother and I both got the wrath.

At The Open Table Conference, Steve McVey likened this very thing to how we perceive God. We want to go to Heaven, but we imagine meeting God and hiding behind the legs of Jesus, so maybe God won’t ‘see’ us and smite us on the spot. Because – judging by many Old Testament Bible stories – God might send a plague upon me.

The God of the Old Testament would surely smite me! I’d better stand over here behind Jesus just to be safe.

One theological thorn I’ve learned to work around is this: If God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow….how do I justify that seemingly angry God with the God of love I know and adore? Until a few weeks ago, I didn’t know that I don’t have to ‘work around’ my questions. It’s okay to ask them.

“It’s important to remember that the verses in the Old Testament were addressed to the people of that covenant, and not to you.” — Steve McVey (UNLOCK YOUR BIBLE: The Key to Understanding and Applying the Scriptures in Your Life)

It’s all about New Covenant – the solution of new promise through the Messiah that the New Testament details. It’s all about Jesus. It’s the difference between legalism and relationship; between stone tablets of commandments and a flesh-and-blood living God.

“God’s covenant with Israel, known as ‘the Old Testament’ or ‘Old Covenant,’ called upon the people to do their part. God repeatedly told them that if they would fulfill their end of the covenant, they would be blessed, and if they didn’t, they would experience all kind of curses.”—  Steve McVey  (UNLOCK YOUR BIBLE: The Key to Understanding and Applying the Scriptures in Your Life)

I won’t have to hide behind Jesus’s legs when I get to the Kingdom, because God – quite literally – sees me through Christ. Through his redemption of me. No need to walk on eggshells. No need to flee. Everything God ever did – Old Testament or New – was a gesture to invite people to Him. Even the things we percieve as horrible because we don’t see the big picture. We are reconciled to God through Christ, who made sure of it.

But although God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, the New Covenant with His people was a game-changer.

“The heart of our Creator is to bless you. Dead religion presents a freakish caricature, a pseudo-god who is reluctant to bless his creatures unless they toe the line of impeccable moral behavior and tireless service to him. But the authentic God of the Bible blessed Adam and Eve immediately [Genesis 1:27-28] – before they worshipped, before they served, before they prayed, before they displayed any kind of action at all. The first divine act toward humanity tells us so very much about Him.” —  Steve McVey (Beyond an Angry God)

I don’t need that old work-around any more.

God is not a cranky, old, bookkeeping, judgmental, demanding deity who is more interested in people’s behavior than anything else.

His love is too passionate for you to be mild-mannered. He cannot be managed, no kitten, to be sure. But you are His favorite interest. Jesus wants to make sure you know that.

I’ll close with this musing by Paul Young (author of The Shack):

“Religion is about having the right answers, and some of their answers are right… but i am about the process that takes you to the living answer… it will change you from the inside. there are a lot of smart people who are able to say a lot of right things from their brain because they have been told what the right answers are, but they don’t know me at all. “

It’s God’s desire that we know Him. Not because we tow the line, but because His love for  us is so great.

He does love you so.

 

 

 

 

Stone Throwing for Sinners

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Part 3 of The Seismic Seven Series

It (trying to keep the law) grants you the power to judge others and feel superior to them. You believe you are living to a higher standard than those you judge. Enforcing rules, especially in its more subtle expressions like responsibility and expectation, is a vain attempt to create certainly out of uncertainty. And contrary to what you might think, I have a great fondness for uncertainty. Rules cannot bring freedom; they only have the power to accuse. ” – Wm. Paul Young (The Shack)

By: Jana Greene

Oy vey, this world is a mess. Right thinking has become wrong thinking, and vice versa. The climate of this country is chaos, and I could go on and on about all the ways society is courting the title of Most Sinful this side of Sodom and Gomorrah.

I could, but I won’t. Because even as the world’s brand is chaos, God is changing my brand to love. I asked him to do a work of compassion in my heart, and boy howdy is he ever.

It’s a tall order. I have my perceptions and holy prejudices in place and there are certain behaviors or lifestyles that really upset my self-righteous apple cart.

But there is this radical thing called Grace that I just cannot shut up about.

As one of the speakers at last week’s conference said: “Sanctification is not a sin-management program.”

Some of my friends are having a hard time figuring this out. They think I am placating the sinful, losing my convictions. Sin is a very big deal; I get that. It’s just not the biggest deal.

We humans love to relegate the sins of ‘those people.’ We take great pride in choosing the stones to throw, as if the perfection of the stone gives us superiority. The weight of the stone in our hand feels good, doesn’t it? Go ahead and throw it, as soon as you are sin-free.

I joke that my heart breaks for the people society casts off – the heroin addicts and the drunks (having struggled with alcoholism myself)  etc. – but if you don’t use proper grammar, I just judge the crap out of you. And using improper grammar isn’t a sin at all, but for some reason it offends me. What’s up with that?

I suspect it’s because grammar comes easy to me. The predisposition NOT to sin in a particular fashion makes it easier to judge the ones to sin in just that manner.

If you do not struggle with homosexuality, heterosexuality comes easy to you – making the lifestyle of a gay person super offensive –  even though every sin is equal to every other. If you are a teetotaler, drunkenness may rate higher on the Sin Scale to you. If you don’t gamble, the pitiful sight of a man dropping token after token in a slot machine for hours on end may not illicit compassion.

There is black and white, right and wrong, by damn! Yet  none of us – lo not even ONE – is going to get it all right in this life.

So much of the Christian faith has become about pointing out the wrongdoings of others,  and driving home the message of how wrongdoing separates one from God.

“It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge and my job to love.” – Billy Graham

Nothing can separate you from the love of God. If you are the wickedest person alive, God loves you beyond your capacity to understand.

This is a revelation to me. I didn’t like entertaining the thought because IT’S NOT FAIR. We like things to be fair, right? Our human nature says we must withhold the expression of love when someone displeases us. But God is not bound by our behavior to love us.

Here’s a newsflash: The world already knows what Christ-followers know as ‘sin.’ What they maybe don’t know is the crazy, radical love of Jesus. I don’t need to be Holy Spirit Junior, and that’s incredibly liberating.

I love the way The Mirror Bible translation delves into the subject with commentary…(Romans 7:18-25)

“The total extent and ugliness of sin that inhabits me, reduced my life to good intentions that cannot be followed through. Willpower has failed me; this is how embarrassing it is, the most diligent decision that I make to do good, disappoints; the very evil I try to avoid, is what I do.” Commentary: If mere quality decisions could rescue man, the law would have been enough. Good intentions cannot save man. The revelation of what happened to us in Christ’s death is what brings faith into motion to liberate from within. Faith is not a decision we make to give God a chance, faith is realizing our inclusion in what happened on the Cross and in the resurrection of Christ!

 “If I do the things I do not want to do, then it is clear that I am not evil, but that I host sin in my body against my will….

The situation is absolutely desperate for humankind; is there anyone who can deliver me from this death trap?

… Thank God, this is exactly what he has done through Jesus Christ our Leader; he has come to our rescue! I am finally freed from this conflict between the law of my mind and the law of sin in my body.” Commentary:  If I was left to myself, the best I could do was to try and serve the law of God with my mind, but at the same time continue to be enslaved to the law of sin in my body. Compromise could never suffice.

I can strive and strive and strive, and, like the Apostle Paul, still miss the mark. My striving to live a sinless life does not impress God into loving me harder.

Because His love is already perfect.

If Jesus took care of it to draw us near, why are we still making sin The Biggest Deal? Love people and Holy Spirit will convict them, just as he convicts us holy rollers.

There is this radical thing called Grace that I just cannot shut up about. It is unabashedly, gloriously NOT FAIR, thanks be to God.

May he bless us, every one.

You are God’s Favorite

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By: Jana Greene

Hi Readers,

In Part 2 of The Seismic Seven Series, I want to talk about how much you matter – how important and integral you are to the entire Cosmos.

We are all born with a primal need to MATTER. We have a longing to be a Really Big Deal to someone else, set apart and appreciated for who we are in our deepest hiding places.

I’ve always kind of hated the platitudes like “If God has a refrigerator, your picture is on it.” Or, “God carries your picture in his wallet.”

To my mind, that only means He has a enormous Frigidaire to keep Kingdom feasts fresh, and a billion pictures plastered with holy magnets on it, with no one face standing out more than another. Or carrying around a fat, honking wallet full of Benjamins and  millions of plastic photo sleeves to whip out and show the saints when He brags about his kids.

But five little words spoken to me by a pastor I respect very much changed my whole perception:

You are God’s very favorite.

What!? Um, no, I’m pretty sure I’m not.

God loves the saintly, the selfless. The cool. Mother Teresa may be His favorite. Or maybe even Lenny Kravitz. He is super cool. Oh, and people who win the lottery. Not me. That was my understanding in my deepest hiding places where fear-based unworthiness tried to get the last word.

“Do you know how janky my life is?”  I asked him. “I’m selfish and have a salty tongue. I lose my patience with people who cut me off in traffic, and soothe my feelings with food binges, and I just cannot seem to GET IT TOGETHER.”

“Yes, and you are His favorite,” he insisted.

But I could not forget that sentiment. In the following weeks and months, I let it rattle around in my mind until it found refuge in my spirit. And I found out that it’s true.

I know what you’re thinking: How arrogant to assume I’m His favorite! But here’s the rub:

YOU are his favorite too. In our puny, fallen capacity to understand love, there can only be one “favorite.” One chosen over all the others. We want so badly to be someone’s favorite, to be a Really Big Deal to someone. Each one of us being Abba’s favorite isn’t possible in our human understanding, but it’s 100% true.

We are dealing with two dimensions here – the one coming from above presides over all – while the reasoning from a mere earthly perspective is confined to communicate from an earthly point of view. The conversation realized as originating in Heaven has the final say.” – John 3:31 (Mirror Bible)

He is pursuing you…can you feel it? If you’re reading this, I know you feel the pursuit. He brings us to people and places that speak life over us. He is whispering to you, “It’s TRUE! No one else will do for the relationship I want to have with you!”

Not restrained by time or space or a limited capacity to love, God favors YOU. Like a favorite son or daughter, He adores you and longs for relationship with you, no matter how janky your life may be.

Don’t take my word for it. Ask Jesus if it’s true. He wants you to ask. Never hesitate to bring honest dialogue to the Father.

Your life and your words and deeds carry enough weight to affect the very Cosmos, and I’m not even exaggerating.

If anything matters then everything matters. Because you are important, everything you do is important. Every time you forgive, the universe changes; every time you reach out and touch a heart or a life, the world changes; with every kindness and service, seen or unseen, my purposes are accomplished and nothing will be the same again.” — Wm. Paul Young (The Shack)

YOU MATTER.

C. Baxter Kruger puts it like this: “What does the understanding that we are accepted into the mutual indwelling and communion with God remove from our hearts? Fear and hiding. So because of Jesus’ knowledge of the Father’s acceptance, which he shares with us, we now are free to let go of our racial and personal prejudices, and to love and accept one another, which leads to the freedom to know and be known, which leads to fellowship and mutual indwelling.”

The freedom to know and be known, and mutual indwelling with the Creator of the Universe, who poured just as much love and favor into you as He poured stars into the sky, galaxies into the vast universe. You are set apart and appreciated for who you are in your deepest hiding places.

Abba doesn’t carry your picture in His wallet or keep it on His refrigerator.

He carries YOU in His heart of hearts.

You are a REALLY BIG DEAL to Abba.

His very favorite.