The Good Natured Father (Part II)

A seat for everyone

 

Today, we pick back up where we left off yesterday (June 24th, Part I posting) with a further exploration of the Nature of God.

Can we ever really know this Almighty Being we call “God”?

We look to Jesus to see His heart. It’s so simple, yet so profound. He looks like Jesus.

God bless us, Every One, and Happy Sunday.

By: Jana Greene

What if God’s nature is really only good?

A few weeks ago, I camped out in the lesson presented by Francois Du Toit, “Celebrating His Initiative.” Webster’s Dictionary defines “initiate” as ‘to begin, set going, or originate: to introduce into the knowledge of some art or subject. And to propose (a measure) by initiative procedure.

Initiate is a verb! It is an action. There is nothing passive about it. Jesus has issued a proposal on bended knee and bloodied cross. This voluntary decision by God of God is a thing to be celebrated!

I don’t think I’ve ever grasped the finality of what happened at the crucifixion and resurrection of God. If it is finished, the residual guilt and shame I keep picking up and hauling around is not my cross to bear– as I’ve always believed.  The grace I ask for and receive is not meant to counterbalance the heft of my shame. I do not receive grace by the bucket-full to douse the fire of each indiscretion – I am already drowning in it. So are you. The work of the cross was the catalyst for God to flood the world with grace.

Religion taught me that God swoops down and saves me from myself a thousand times a day, and that’s what grace looks like. But I’m learning that Abba is pulling me away from the idol of religion and into Himself. My weaponry of thin, papery religiousness is powerless against His embrace of Truth.

Bradley Jersak’s book on the subject sharpened my focus on divine grace vs. rhetoric.

“Setting Jesus as the standard for perfect theology, many of our current Christian beliefs and practices would obviously face indictment. Even significant swaths of biblical literature don’t line up well with the Christ of the Gospels. Claiming that God is revealed perfectly in Jesus triggers tough questions about the God I once conceived and preached. Jesus’ life and character challenges my religious clichés and standby slogans—especially the rhetoric of supreme power and irresistible force.”

― Bradley Jersak, A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel

In the segment “Who is the Father,” presented by Mike Zenker, the truth of Abba’s consistency is highlighted in Matthew 11:27, which says “All things have been handed over to Me by the Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”

Or, as The Message translation reads: “Jesus resumed talking to the people, but now tenderly. “The Father has given me all these things to do and say. This is a unique Father-Son operation, coming out of Father and Son intimacies and knowledge. No one knows the Son the way the Father does, nor does the Father the way the Son. But I’m not keeping it to myself; I’m ready to go over it line by line with anyone willing to listen.”

Religion says we are responsible for aspects of our salvation – ergo, we can turn the volume up or down on our spiritual speaker, tweak the boom of the bass, turn down the treble, change the center with the fader of our deeds and actions.

But God cannot be moved from Center. He is the Center. He is undeterred by the noise we create.

Fundamental to this spiritual epiphany is the idea that we are not “sinners saved by grace,” which I have – over the years – convinced myself was my identity. After many years of sobriety and much prayer, that had been the only conclusion.

But what if the work of the cross – that event in which Creator God heaved toward humankind with such love and power that it knocked the evil in us to the ground and buried it with Christ – was powerful enough to resurrect us in glory with Christ, while leaving evil in the grave?

What if God only sees us through the lens of his living, life-giving Son, and not as sinners wearing toe-tags that say “Admit One – Heaven.” I am going to have eternal life, yes. But I don’t want to slog out my existence here during my mission on Earth, not understanding and appreciating what my birthright truly  is. I want joy now too, please.

Jesus is joyful! He is not somber.

“A Papa with a sense of humor: “Christ’s humor is always redemptive, never mocking the individual. But He is sharp and sarcastic in His derision of those institutions such as Pharisaism, which posture in their self-made self-importance. Wisdom”

― John Crowder, Seven Spirits Burning

Another epiphany? God has a sense of humor! What a blessing for us all.

Of all the lectures in Course II, “The Dynamic, Artistic, Creative Being of God” by Andre Rabe struck a chord in my soul.  As a messy, creative person, it’s lovely to know that I inherited one of my attributes – writing – from my Papa.

The arts are a pulpit for the Muse, divinely given. The amazing thing is that as the Triune God is our Muse, we are His as well.

In nature, we see His artistry all around us. I’ve often lifted a sea shell from the beach and marveled at the fine details adorning it. I’ve wondered at the Blue Ridge mountain range in their ancient perfection. Animal, mineral, vegetable – everything in creation attests to the existence of our creative God. His nature is in nature.

One of the ways I like to celebrate God’s initiative and parlay his creativity is through writing poetry. In concluding this essay, I would like to leave you with a work that God ‘downloaded’ (for lack of a better term) in my spirit a while ago. I believe He gave the words to me as I wrote, as it came to me impromptu and with fierce passion. I believe He was sharing His very nature with me.

Everything I’m learning at Global Grace Seminary lends credence to what I wrote that day.

God bless us, every one.

Agape for Amateurs: a love letter from God

Oh Dear Created One,

Do you know who you are to me?

Who am I, you ask?

I am Love….only ever good.

And you are my handiwork.

I am not angry with you.

In Jesus, I gave myself to you, for you – redemption in one fail swoop.

When you have a misstep, I am saddened because you are hurting. But I will never leave you.

I am with you to the ends of the earth and in the deepest crevices of your spirit.

Your hurting places don’t scare me away.

When you deny me, curse me, hide from me – I do not shy away, nor do I condemn you.

The finished work of my Son ensures you that I keep no records of your wrongs,

But have been courting you all along.

Where there is love, I am.

This fallen world – where hope seems in deficit – does not merit your trust. But I do.

I am trustworthy.

All the things you’ve been foolish for have torn you down, yet you are so afraid to be a “fool” for me?

Enough of the fallen.

Enough of the foolish self-dependency.

Walk with me – I long to raise you up!

That small, still voice?

It’s me nudging you.

Can you feel it?

Let yourself consider that I am never more than a nudge away.

That roaring storm of emotion that pulls at you? Called by 1,000 different names?

The emotion is my urging, too.

You were created to feel.

Your quirks and your passions make you one of a kind, in a world of billions.

I see you.

I see you!

And you matter to me.

 

“This life is hard,” you say – and I know that it’s true.

You see, I am human, too.

The friend I left to you – the Holy Spirit – is available to you, in you.

The Spirit rejoices with you in times of celebration,

And in times of sorrow, she brings great and all-encompassing comfort.

Cut through what others have told you about me.

Throw away the ritualistic, legalistic, egotistic religion.

Cut through the culture of shame.

Have your own relationship with me.

Not a figment of imagination in stories from dusty texts,

But a force of creation, life, and love to be reckoned with.

Nothing is happenstance.

Believe in me, and you have all the love to gain!

In your hurting places.

In your hiding places.

There is no deficit of hope, Dear One.

Only the great gulf between us that you’ve erected in the name of self-preservation.

I would love to close that gap and draw you so near that you feel my breath in your ear as we embrace.

I am embracing you now.

I delight in you.

Seek my face.

I shall never hide from you.

There is no other like you.

You are my BELOVED!

With boundless grace and endless love,

  • Papa

The Good Natured Father (Part I)

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Good day, Dear Readers.

Today I would like to share Part I of an article I recently wrote for seminary class. 

I will post Part II – the second half – tomorrow.

As always, I welcome comments and conversations, and shares if you so choose 🙂

God bless us, every one!

 

By: Jana Greene

“What is your most dominant image of God? What does that say about your own belief system? Your own temperament? Your own faith community?” ― Bradley Jersak, A More Christ like God: a  More Beautiful Gospel

I’ve been having a wee bit of an identity crisis over the past several years. Nothing too wild and reckless, but a low-grade churning in my spirit. This identity crisis burbled up from the primordial ooze I’d always been so careful not to fall into. Step on the stones, only on the stones. Jesus is your rock, etc. and so on, more stone / rock / foundation analogies; anything to keep from falling into the ooze, because if I fall off a rock and into the ooze, God is really going to be angry with me for taking my eyes off of the Prize – Him.

But what about Him?

Never before had I been compelled to systematically dismantle (oh how Religion loves things done systematically) all I had learned from birth, but now? Now I am forming a brand new construct out of what crumbled down in the destruct, and it changes everything.

This nature of God.

When considering the nature of the Almighty, I have the tendency to cling to one of two hard-line descriptions:

God is Love incarnate. He is full of mercy, overflowing with grace. There is only GOOD in His being, and wants to captivate us with his adoration.

Or….

God often has to punish and crush, as a means to the end of making man righteous. He smiles on us when we remind him of Jesus (maybe once or twice a day) but is filled with grief and fury when we remind him of the very humans he created. He gives us a whoopin’ because He loves us, and it really does hurt Him more than it does us, as parents are apt to say.  He gets tired, you know, with so many naughty children to keep in line. This would explain why natural phenomenon can be so destructive. This would explain the grumpiness of the Old Testament Lord. We like to think it explains a bible-ed up version of Karma. You’ve got whatever’s coming your way, buddy. Too bad you didn’t tow the line.

Except here’s the rub: God’s nature is scandalously lousy with Grace. And I so enjoyed learning about His true nature in my education at Global Grace Seminary.

Of all the excellent materials, Steve McVey’s way with words pierced me. I would read his work and stop to ponder it, and read it again. There was so many practical presentations of grace, I found myself re-reading each line in order to soak in the truth.

“You have been set in the place of a child who is loved and accepted by the Father just as surely as Jesus Himself knows that love and acceptance. Your place is in the triune circle dance is as safe and secure as the place of Jesus for the staggering reason that you are in Him.”

― Steve McVey, Beyond an Angry God: You Can’t Imagine How Much He Loves You

As Kay Fairchild explored in the module “Our God is One,” not only is there One True God, but He is three-fold – each facet of his Being sentient and in perfect, permanent synchronization. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Three distinct individual entities, each one supreme and whole, and wholly loving.

I am learning truths that explore scripture in context. In all honesty, one of my biggest challenges is that small, still voice saying, “Yes, but why then is there still so much evil in the world?” I wish I had a better understanding of that fundamental question. I am trusting that God will reveal truths ever more as I chug along. If we ask Him for bread, He will not give us a stone; that much I know.

For thousands of years, humankind has tried to explain God. We’ve placed Him in boxes to keep Him out of (or in) trouble. We’ve elaborated on his life story and we’ve left the context of his Word out far too often. The Word is a person, and that person is Jesus.

When considering this, I’m reminded of the fun house mirrors that appear to be endless images – mirror inside another mirror, inside another – an endless tunnel of reflection. There is so much more depth in the Trinity than I’d ever considered. The Triune God layer upon layer of Love, grace, and inclusion. And we are the very mirror image of those three beings of love! We sell ourselves so short.

Will the real Nature of God Please Stand Up?

With nearly 17 years of recovery time from alcoholism, I’ve come to love the legendary 12 Steps.  Before I happened across the Christ-based recovery step meetings I attend now, AA was the initial safe zone to explore the nature of God as His grace pertains to sobriety.  The program’s third step proclaims that “we made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.” In this model, you hire and employ your own Higher Power. It could be a floor lamp. Or a door knob. Anything, really. And that deeply offended me! You cannot just go making up gods as your puny mind perceives them, all willy-nilly.

Now I so clearly see that I was so grace-less. So self-righteous. Anything less than recognizing the One True God – my Jesus – was blasphemy. What I didn’t understand was that these folks didn’t want to hear that they were going to hell, because they’d already been. And the “God of our understanding” is a great place to begin the Seeker journey. I sat in the meetings with angry arms folded, shut down and petulant. What a way to represent Christ!

“If you have seen your God through the lens of legalistic religion, you most likely have believed that God was warning them [Adam and Eve] that He would punish them if they ate from the tree. Nothing could be further from the heart or intent of God. He wouldn’t kill them – sin would kill them. God wasn’t warning them about what He would do but about what sin would do to them.”

― Steve McVey, Beyond an Angry God: You Can’t Imagine How Much He Loves You

What if God’s nature is really only good?

Part II to be published Sunday, June 25th

A Rose, a Homeless Man, and 10 Measly Dollars

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homeless man
St John’s
Photo by swissrolli on Flickr

By: Jana Greene

I’ve always had a love / hate relationship with the saying “There but for the grace of God go I.” I love it because it’s a handy-dandy way to explain how some of my alcoholic friends might have died of their disease but I’m still sober. I hate it because it makes blessings and cursings result from a God who plays “Heads Up 7-UP” while we all have our heads down not paying attention and goes around choosing who’ll be graced by random thumb-touch (if aren’t familiar with Heads-up 7-UP, I’m not sure I can explain it. Google might be able to help.)

At any rate, the implication is that God somehow graced me with a circumstance that he has flatly refused to grace another human being with. Which seems cruel and rings of “favorite-ness,” as if he loves me better than you because I have a home but he loves you better than me because you can enjoy a nice bottle of red wine without drinking the whole bottle (or box) of wine without killing myself. That just really doesn’t seem fair to me at all. Guess what’s MORE unfair? Some people have no homes or food or family. Or one of a million other variables that would indicate God is in fact NOT gracing them at all. In fact, he is withholding his grace. And that’s something I do NOT believe in the least.

We see through a glass so darkly. What looks graceful here in the moment or disgraceful in the next are not manifestations of what we ‘deserve’ or ‘earn.’ I believe that God is ALWAYS full of grace. I don’t believe he is a sadist. There was a time I believed his modus operandi was punishing, scolding, and good old fashioned smiting. I DO NOT BELIEVE THAT ANY MORE. I believe that we live in a fallen world and that we don’t understand God’s ways, but I know his ways are GOOD.

So here’s a poem about a gentleman I met. I will not say ‘there but for the grace of God go I” and not because I could EASILY have become this man (which is true,)  but because I’m fairly certain life has been extremely difficult for him – such difficulty I cannot even IMAGINE – but because he MATTERS to God more than I can even fathom.

The whole experience left me feeling terribly inadequate. This man’s need is so great.

Maybe he isn’t a ‘bum’ on the street. Maybe he is an incredible survivor who has overcome incredible odds to be alive today. Maybe he himself is an angel. They don’t have wings, you know. Or maybe he just absolutely SLAYS survival like a freaking world champion. I have a feeling he does.

A Rose, A Homeless Man, and 10 Measly Dollars

On this past Mother’s Day

The pastor gave me a rose.

“Red or white?” He’d offered me

From the box, a white one I chose.

All the moms in attendance

Received a rose that day

As a token of appreciation

And the honor it conveyed.

After church, I went to leave

As soon as service was done,

And saw a homeless gentleman

On the sidewalk in the sun.

Dreadlocks fell to his shoulders,

But several spots were bare

Where mange had stolen unkempt tufts,

I tried hard not to stare.

His eyes were a milky shade of white

In contrast to dark skin,

He carried all that he possessed,

A streetwise Bedouin.

I thought of walking past him,

I am ashamed to say.

Not because I didn’t care

But didn’t know what to say.

So I dug around in my purse

And finding a ten dollar bill,

Decided to give the man money

So that he could buy a meal.

I approached him gently

So that he could easily see

I didn’t come to harm him

But in solidarity.

I saw the depth of suffering

When finally his eyes met mine.

I saw not sadness but indifference,

Empty and benign.

“HI,” I said in greeting

But he did not say a word.

His glance was only fleeting

As if he hadn’t heard.

I held out the ten dollar bill

But he shied away.

I smiled at him and whispered

“I promise. It’s okay.”

His eyes met mine and in that moment

Their whitish tint compelled

My heart to think of the milky petals

Of the very rose I held.

So with the one hand I offered him money

And with the other I offered the rose.

“I want to honor you,” I explained.

And for a while we froze.

He stared a hole right through my face

And for the longest time.

I thought time somehow had stopped,

Transcendentally sublime.

Scanning for patronizing glare.

He looked right through my privileged soul

And laid all of my intentions bare,

Not in part but on the whole.

In that raw second I realized

How worthy this man is.

Jesus himself resides in him,

A rose is the least that I can give!

“Okay then,” the man finally replied,

Taking the $10 bill.

It took him longer to accept the flower

But when he did, it gave me a chill.

He brought the white rose to his face

And let it touch his cheek,

Then brought it to his nose

And inhaled the fragrance sweet.

I almost saw him smile then

A fleeting, warm, and wary grin.

I hugged him before I left his side,

Would I ever see his face again?

My drive home from church was quiet

Fraught with tears and silent pleas,

And musings of honoring those who have nothing;

Thoughts of loving “the least of these.”

My homeless friend didn’t smell nice,

What clothes he had were all threadbare,

But oh how often do we entertain

Those angels unaware?

God bless this homeless gentleman,

I wish I’d asked his name.

I wish I’d invited him back to church

Because inside we are all the same.

If I see him again someday,

I’ll ask him to come worship inside.

I’ll tell him “I promise, it’s okay!”

I hope “Okay, then” will be his reply.

Until then, I pray he will know his worth

That’s he’s precious to God above.

And that he will finally understand

He is worthy of honor and love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prayers for the Snake Guy

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By: Jana Greene

Four months into seminary (or, as I like to call it snarkily ‘Holy Roller School,’ after an acquaintance referred to it as such) and I am starting to see things in a whole new light. I hope more and more light seeps in and around me, as I continue on this trepidation journey to fire my old god and fully embrace the God of Love. Accepting pure love is harder than you’d think.

Today our community lost a local celebrity – and venomous snake aficionado – to a domestic violence incident. The man was missing fingers from messing with the most dangerous snakes in the world, and yet he died from a gunshot, presumably fired by his wife.

If you met him, you’d never forget him. He was so un-vanilla; a very colorful character.

As these things go, my little web of Facebook friends started posting the in-credulousness of his death,  and before you know it, information is spreading like wildfire.

The murder happened in a little apartment over the Cape Fear Serpentarium – owned and operated by the victim. So the first hints of what had happened were…

I wonder if it was the snake guy?

The serpent dude is dead!

Half of the street has blocked off around the serpentarium!

Speculation runs amok. Did his wife shoot him in self defense? Where was his toddler at the time of the shooting? All kinds of scenarios play out in an epic display of what the great George Carlin often referred to as ‘brain droppings” – thoughts that used to clang around in our skulls and peter out are now open fodder for theorists – conspiracy or otherwise. Butcher, baker, candlestick maker…everyone has a platform in the interwebs, myself included. Within a page of feed, he was either a wife-beating monster or a national treasure, victimized by his spouse. In reality, nobody knows exactly what happened at this juncture.

I have felt convicted of the ‘Proper Prayer Reproach” lately. It goes something like this:

I need the facts to pray. What if he was a vile monster who provoked his wife to violence? As a Christian, I should hope he is in ‘hell’ facing eternity skinny dipping in a lake of fire! Right?

But what if he was just a little quirky – a genius with serpents but not so much marriages? Then we should pray that he is standing at the Pearly Gates.

Who gets top billing in this prayer thing?

When did Christians – of ALL people – earn the right to cherry pick who is deserving of what fate? What if we ‘accidentally’ pray a blessing on someone who is guilty? God forbid.

Sometimes, we use Proper Prayer Reproach as a way to gossip, as in “I need more information on Suzie Q. so that I can pray for her better….”

Other times, it’s even a little malevolent – manipulation sandwiched between two slices of self-righteousness. “Lord,  do your Karma thing because so-and-so really deserves it.”

I can assure you as a Holy Roller student, God is the only judge of who deserves what. And that no matter who/what/when/where there is a need for prayer, Jesus gets top billing. When we think we have to know who the Bad Guy is in order to pray, we are making the praying all about ourselves, our power.

I’m learning this as I go. Parts of me really want to get all the facts on a given situation so that I can ‘pray properly.’ But prayer can’t – and shouldn’t – wait. And we will never in a million years have an understanding of every nuance and action that all parties involved have experienced.

So here is my prayer for the gentleman and his family. I ask that you join me in prayer – whatever that looks like to you.

Jesus.

I pray for the deceased, that he is at your feet right now as we speak, and that his heart is whole and his spirit at peace. I don’t know if he knew you in life, but you’ve known him before he was in his mother’s womb. I pray he recognizes your face as the countenance of an old friend. I pray that you welcome him.

I also don’t know what his wife believed, and right now she needs you more than ever. She may not even believe in you, but you believed in her since before time. Tonight she is in a cell, likely terrified and shattered. Sit on the jailhouse bench with her, so close that she knows you are tangible. Pour your love out on her.

Jesus, there is a three year old child whose whole life as he knew it was changed forever today. He is an innocent victim, an instant orphan. He is perfectly adorable – when I saw this little boy’s picture, I immediately thought, ‘this must be how Papa sees his kids,’ mischievous twinkle in his eye and cherubic smile. Oh, sweet Jesus. Wrap your arms around that child and minister to his little spirit in a powerful way. I don’t know anything about him, but I know you desire him to grow up and walk alongside you. That’s what good Papas want for their little ones.

I don’t need the facts to ask God to intercede. Prayer is urgent! It brings God into the darkness, banishing it. Lord, help me to see more light.

That’s seminary progress, from a lifetime student of the Proper Prayer Reproach.

Jesus. Jesus. Jesus.

Comfort. Move. Surround. Inhabit. Assure. Draw near.

LOVE.

Save

A Penchant for Plus: Sizing up Acceptance

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By: Jana Greene

Can we just be real here for a minute? I need to tell somebody this secret I’ve been keeping, and I thought 1,800 of my closest friends would enable a soft place to fall.

It’s official. I’m plus sized now.

Whoop-de-doo, you might be saying. So is half the adult population in America! Although that is true, and I have friends of all shapes and sizes and find them all BEAUTIFUL and stunning creatures regardless of what a little tag inside their blue jeans says, I cannot seem for the life of me to afford myself the same kindness.

That little tag meant nothing to me when I was a kid.

I remember being so thin that my step-father would make fun at me at the dinner table by taking two toothpicks and making them ‘walk’ around the table. “Look! These are Jana’s legs!” He’d laugh.

So hilarious.

Even my beloved grandmother – who was a big lady – fed me lines about weight as far back as I can remember. “Don’t get fat,” she’d say, point blank. “Most men don’t like fat women.”

Here’s what I wanted to say: “Well, that’s okay since I’m SIX YEARS OLD right now.”

Here’s what I said, “I’m sorry.”

Because I am always, eternally SORRY for every and anything, including the food I ingest. I’m starting to think the guilt thing is far more pertinent to my weight issues than I’d previously thought.

I wanted to ask her why there was a clause for boys. One of them rode my bus in middle school. He often wore a T-shirt that said “NO FAT CHICKS” (hey, it was the early 80’s – that kind of crap was allowed.) I’m not sure if this kid ever got the memo that he HIMSELF was a VERY fat guy.  He was known for being a fat guy. And for wearing a shirt that looked like this:

fat

Well, alrighty then.

My mother was always thin. And always drop-dead gorgeous. She didn’t seem to struggle with weight at all.

As a teen, I grew gigantic boobs practically overnight. This blog may seem an inappropriate forum to share that, but stay with me here. They were not SEXY big, they were FREAKISHLY big. Everyone – even my family – made a huge deal over them, so I started to think maybe fat was OK, IF it was in the right place. It seemed like a cruel twist of fate, since I had zero input in deciding where my fat went.

Let me make sure I’ve got this straight -Toothpick legs are bad (or are they good?)

Boys won’t like me if I’m fat.

Unless it’s boob fat.

Got it.

I grew up with an abysmal self-image, and became a lady whose weight see-sawed like crazy.  In my 20’s and 30’s, I was plump, but paid it no mind since I was busy doing things like growing new human beings in my body and nourishing them with milk, compliments of those enormous boobs. I wore mom jeans and baggy shirts, and stayed busy.

And then came the divorce. It was a horrible divorce. I had no interest in food whatsoever and took twisted glee in watching myself whittle down to nothing. I smoked 2 packs of ciggs per day and got my nutrients from Diet Coke.

I would play mind-effery games with myself, like ‘how little food can I get away with eating and still be alive?’ I lost 80 pounds total, and people told me I was too skinny or asked if I was sick. In some way, it validated me. They think I’m sick? I must be SUPER skinny. GO ME!

When I met and married my second (and permanent) husband, I was JUST RIGHT. I’d quit smoking and started eating normally again. He caught me right at a 10-minute window where I was my personal best. Ok, I’m exaggerating. It may have been a 15-minute window.

I took a solemn vow to never, ever, ever get fat again. Not to my husband, who has this quirk of finding me attractive no MATTER what age / weight I am at any given moment. I took the vow to myself never to get fat again.

Except that I did.

I started gaining when I quit smoking cold turkey in 2006 to impress my boyfriend (now husband.) That’s where the first 10 extra pounds piled on. I substituted Virginia Slims for Jolly Ranchers – preferably the sour variety. I constantly had a Jolly Rancher in my mouth, but rationalized that “at least I’m not smoking cigarettes.”

Maybe the catalyst was the hysterectomy I had in 2008 – I sure as sh*t haven’t gotten smaller since then.

Or the lack of exercise that followed major surgery to rebuild a broken ankle in 2012.

Or the way I use food to numb / enhance / punish / reward myself. (But that’s a blog post for another day.)

Perhaps I just freaking love to eat food.

I do, you know.

You would think seeing myself naked getting out of the shower would have tipped me off. It SHOULD have tipped me off.

You might think squeezing my muffin top into and under a pair of elastic-waisted pants  or squashing into shirts may have given me pause.

As long as it was size 14 or smaller, I could handle it.

I have a sick fixation with 14. It is the last stop in the ladies department

“Please squeeze into the 14. Please squeeze into the 14. Please squeeze into the 14,” I would plead with my fat.

To which it would reply: “Hey, look what I CAN DO!” before spilling copiously over the top of the waistband.

I am not in great health. Several of my medications carry the cruel side effect of weight gain. Migraines make it difficult to commit to a work out routine. Excuses? Probably. But also damn good reasons why I’m not the hottie my husband thought he’d married.

I’m not proud at all to share what I’m about to share, but in keeping it 100, I feel I must. There have been times in my 40’s that I have stooped to the “binge and purge” low. It’s gross, I know. It’s also more of a control thing than a food thing. It’s the ugly secret of having your cake and eating it too – just not keeping it down for very long. I haven’t purged in a long time – bingeing? Well, several weeks ago, there was that sale on Haagen Dazs and I needed to self-soothe an anxiety that I don’t even remember any more.

I have to employ the same 12-Step strategy that keeps me sober to help me deal  with my food issues. I’m so tired of food issues.

I’m tired of pleading with fat.

I’m tired of feeling guilty for every morsel I eat.

I’m tired of giving a little tag so much power.

I’m tired of assuring my own beautiful, smart, hilarious, strong daughters that they are PERFECT in the bodies they are in (because it’s TRUE!), all the while hating my very own body.

I will probably never have toothpick legs again.

I care less and less about whether or not ‘boys’ like me – I lassoed the only one I care about and he doesn’t seem to mind my extra fluff.

I will try to eat healthier, but put away the cat ‘o nine tails when I don’t.

So, hello, plus sizes.

I have one more regret. I’m sorry I villainized  you.

I think you’re the WWJD of clothing – soft and forgiving. I especially dig how forgiving you are. I figured since you’re probably going to stick around a while, we should make peace.

And suck it, little white tags. You’re not the boss of me.

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Your Destiny Awaits (In Recovery Magazine article)

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Greetings, all!

Occasionally, I submit a piece to In Recovery Magazine, and they have been generous with the opportunities to do so. The publication is awesome, and it’s always an honor to be a part of the work they do.

Do you know who else is awesome? Each and every one of YOU.  I hereby declare today Reader Appreciation Day, because I appreciate you and your readership, and I need an excuse to eat cake.

Just kidding about the cake. Not kidding at all about my readers!

Thank you.

Thank you for taking the time to read my wordy posts. Thank you for your sweet and wonderful comments. Just – thank you; a whole lot.

I’m posting today to share an article with ya’ll that ran in In Recovery Magazine in 2016. Feel free to share the link, and as always…

God bless us, every one.

CLICK HERE to read “Your Destiny Awaits” – In Recovery Magazine

What I Learned in Seminary (So Far) – The Simple Gospel: The Glorious Oil of Grace

part 1

(Painting by Yongsung Kim)

Hello, Readers.

Have I told you how much I appreciate your readership here at The Beggar’s Bakery? I do – so much.

Last month, I wrote my first ever college-level paper for seminary school. I had just completed Course I and was challenged to write about what I had gleaned from the program material so far. Early on, I mentioned that I might be sharing parts of my seminary journey here on this blog, so here is essay #1.

It’s a pretty wordy piece, but kind of sums up some of the ways that the Gospel of Grace and the Christocentric have impacted me. I hope it speaks to you in some way – that you will know how absolutely in LOVE with you Jesus is.

God bless us, every one.

The Simple Gospel –  Glorious, Oily Grace

By: Jana Greene

I knew I was signing on for an adventure when I enrolled in Global Grace Seminary.

I gratefully had no idea what the scope of that spiritual foray would entail. My inner dying fundamentalist would never have allowed me to go this deep.

I became fascinated with the Gospel of Grace exactly one year ago, although in hindsight, I can clearly see that Abba was preparing my heart in prior years to receive it. I attended the Open Table Conference in Atlanta in April, and was introduced to the teachings of doctors Steve McVey, C. Baxter Krueger, and Wm. Paul Young.  Having soaked up the experience of accepting radical grace for what it already is, I was gleefully done for. No turning back. I wanted to soak up more.

Soaking up means giving up on a lifetime of sticky theology.

I began Global Grace Seminary right around the start of the New Year.  Now, as I complete the first course, my spirit looks forward to sharing what I’m learning with the whole, hurting world.

I cannot adequately purvey the difference between my pre-seminary vs. current seminary understanding of the Gospel without going back many years. Indoctrination starts early, when the heart and mind are malleable – the gospel of an angry god, being one of the stickiest points.

In my childhood, I was exposed to Southern Baptist culture. I loved the rich and velvety red pew cushions and stained glass windows. It is where I learned that God was to be loved and feared, but not necessarily in that order.

As a child, the message was clear:

God creates. He destroys.

God is counting on you to make the mark. If you’re not striving hard enough, you aren’t upholding your end of the deal.

God giveith, and God taketh away, often with wrath and cruelty.

Oh how sweet the realization is that Papa God is a good Father.

Francois du Toit said it beautifully: “If one could only make a quality decision to change one’s life, then the law would be the savoir of man.” – Francois du Toit

Praise God that the law is dead!

By the time I began Course I, I started experiencing all of the terms that I sometimes made fun of the hipster culture for using:

Wrecked.

De-fragmented

Disenfranchised from church as we largely know it.

Throughout the modules of the program, I find myself undone – which is exactly where I need to be.

Andre Rabe presented the Mystery of union with God by suggesting that We the People were actually created to be loved by God. The mess of mankind has died, and infinitely greater than our sin is Papa’s love for us.

The mess of mankind still sees Jesus through the stained glass windows. The mess believes He sits on the blood-red pews with us on Sunday mornings, and then goes His own way by the time His congregants are lining up at the K & W Cafeteria on Sundays at noon.

When the world thinks about of the image of Christ, they might see Him in their mind’s eye sitting on a rock, looking wistfully into the atmosphere. His portraits hung in your Sunday school and vacation bible school rooms. Dirty blonde hair, blue eyes. Perfectly serene expression. Sandaled feet and in robe and sash. I remember him that way, too. He is lovely and pure and holy, but He doesn’t appear to be radical or particularly passionate. It is a portrait of a Christ made in our image.

By the time I was half-way through Course I, I fell in love with Jesus all over again, because Holy Spirit has revealed the mind-blowing, soul-edifying truth about Jesus, and in the process, turned everything upside down much like the money-changing tables in the Temple. This message of a grace-based gospel is Anything but boring or staid.

As I continued throughout the course, learning has been easier than un-learning. I have a lot to unlearn.

The Old Testament, coming from the perspective of the Jewish people bound by law, taught that laws were in place to get you a little bit holy, but never holy enough (much like the majority of current day Christians, truth be told.) The New Testament is a literal New Covenant, one in which all are welcome in the Kingdom regardless of un-attainable laws or heritage. All books of the Bible are inspired by God, but I am not certain all are literal. Scripture is taken out of context so often that people have no IDEA what the original Greek and Hebrew texts say. I have enjoyed studying the context of so many familiar scriptures.

The revelation that everything in the Bible is written for us, but not necessarily to us, was a completely new concept, and made understanding the practicality of scripture come alive for me. The Word is not a tome of pages, but a person. The Word is Jesus Himself.

I am learning to shush the voice in my head that fears I’ve abandoned my Old Time Religion in favor of this radical grace, and Jesus will say to me one day: “Sorry, Kiddo. I sure wish you’d have kept striving. If only you’d tried a little harder –you know, spent more time on your ‘devotions,’ memorized scriptures, and shunned those living in obvious rebellion. You were on a roll there for a while, but you really dropped the ball when you went around saying I love the morally bankrupt.”

Only all of that is inconsistent with what I’ve been absorbing in seminary. It’s also inconsistent with what Papa is doing to and through my heart. Because Jesus loves the morally bankrupt, and not one iota less than He loves Billy Graham or Mother Teresa, or any of the hundreds of people I’ve convinced myself are ‘better’ than me and deserve His love more.

The Creator isn’t even ruffled by our unbelief and sin. From the beginning, He had us in mind. To believe it, you have to receive it – experience it. Who wouldn’t want the spiritual wares we are hawking, if they knew the true bounty of unconditional love that the Father wants to lavish them with? If they knew that He puts His love on the line for us full and overflowing, and that His Spirit comes not to smite, but to rest upon us as passionately as a lover and as gentle as the flutter of a butterfly.

But most of the world doesn’t know this Jesus – so irrationally in love with His people. They see God through the lens of millennia of religiosity.

“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 (MSG)

One of the first things I learned in seminary is that God is not intimidated by our sin. Dr. McVey helped me explore this idea of the Incarnation as a voluntary deed. I had always assumed that God and Jesus were just doing what they had to do, begrudgingly, and Holy Spirit was left behind to sweep up the mess. How tragic that I’d understood it like that all my 48 years!

What if the Love of God was bigger than the sins of the world? Sin gets so much airtime, and the Christians give it more than anyone else. It almost seems like sin is the main thing we focus on, and what does that prioritization tell the hurting world?

What if we gave Jesus center stage, and His offensive, scandalous, raw grace was truly poured out on His people?

Why are we so stingy with love? Why do we withhold the Gospel from the people who need its radical truth the most? The lavish and abundant Truth; the Truth that is not a concept, but a person.

This grace doctrine…it is scandalous in its oozing of mercy, positively radical in its inclusion. Where has this message of the Good News BEEN all my life!? Studying the Old and New Covenants, so much comes into focus. So many questions answered.

The more I study, the more I become convinced that this sentiment by Dr. Kruger is true:

“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)

We are so afraid that we will lose the moral superiority that took 2,000 + years to hone. Two-thousand years of making rules in this religion to keep out the riif-raff. I grew up so sure I had it all figured out, before I asked God to take me deeper. I was so sure I knew all of the main things. I knew where the right side to stand was on every issue. The “biblical” stand. The 10 Commandment Stand. I expected God to basically confirm that I was right, and conform to my preconceived notions.

Here’s how I previously and unwittingly ‘loved’ people – how I thought it all worked: Jesus wants to love you, but you have to get your act together. You are wrong about your lifestyle / choices / world view, and sorry, but there is not hope for you if you don’t tow the line, Buddy.

Just tow the line.

Much like a game of Red Rover, society requires you to pick a side or be picked by a side, link arms with similarly-minded brethren, and make sure that when the opposing side sends someone to run up against the chain, no one gets through.

Except that when we do that as believers, no one gets through. No one gets to change sides to the team that is destined to win.

Grace gets lost to the object of the game.

Jesus said “Red Rover, Red Rover, let whomsoever come over!” (I am paraphrasing, obviously.)

Throughout the lessons at Global Grace Seminary, Abba wrecked my heart with compassion for the people and groups I previously considered unreachable. I’ve had a ‘soul oil change’ – the material presented in class releasing Heavenly fragrance all day long, staining my Spirit for the One it longs for.

I had to make my own quality decision as I drew closer to the completion of Course I. Either God is a sadist that creates beautiful things so that He can torture them, or He is indeed Love, and there is no room for cruelty in 100-proof Love. To know His true nature is to look to His Son, Jesus – who is most certainly not sitting on a rock somewhere being pensive, but is loving His kids in a way many consider heretical and all consider radical. In Jesus is where I find what God looks like in ‘real time’ – His nature.

It’s really just so simple. It’s so simple, yet 2,000 years of man ‘helping’ theology along have diluted the whole point of the Gospel. Worse, it’s been used to divide us all.

But we are not dependent on the faith of Adam, as Rabe so succinctly said. We have the faith of Christ Himself at our disposal. Choose this day whom you will serve: Adam or Jesus? That’s the mystery of Union with God – he envelops us, fills us, lives in us, loves others through us. The majesty is that no matter which you choose, grace remains available to you all the same.

And, as Dr. Keathley points out, we don’t have to wait to receive our Benefits package. It was pulled out of layaway more than 2000 years ago, and is as available to us through Holy Spirit even today. The Gospel is good news.

Not the good news that comes with a disclaimer at the bottom for full legal disclosure. (Has anyone seen my can of “LAW BE GONE?”  I’m sure I left it right here next to my Self Condemnation Deflator.

Global Grace Seminary has challenged me in so many ways. I still struggle with the concept that God is always in a good mood, but I have embraced that He is only good.

If it’s true – this grace-based Gospel – then we can do nothing to mitigate the furious love of our father.

If it’s true that the Kingdom of God is within us, we need to stop looking for him elsewhere.

If it’s true, we need to stop trying to invoke the presence of Holy Spirit in our worship. He is already here.

The neat and tidy Jesus of Vacation Bible School is not gazing out into the atmosphere, but at you. Right now. He is looking upon us adoringly, as if in a mirror. He is here in this messy, screwed-up, fallen, train wreck of a planet because He just cannot get close enough to us!

If it’s true (and my Spirit tells me it IS, it’s gloriously, wonderfully, life-givingly true!) then perhaps we should start spreading this amazing news.

Oddly, if I could describe Course 1 at Global Grace Seminary in one word, I believe it would be “oily.”

I love the anointing with oil. Unlike water blessed by priests that evaporates quickly, oil blessed by Holy Spirit lingers and lingers.

It is messy and difficult to control.

It releases Heavenly fragrance all day long.

If it gets on your clothes, they are stained. It cannot easily be washed out.

If you touch another human being with the same hand that has been anointed, they too carry the softness and scent on their person.

That’s the Gospel proper, as I’ve come to accept it through the Global Grace Seminary.

That’s the Gospel the world needs to hear.

 

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