How ’bout that OFFRED?

Offred1
By: Jana Greene
Okay. I’m about to pull a Jesus juke The Handmaid’s Tale.
If you’re not familiar with the show, that’s too bad. Remedy that please.
The protagonist – played by Elisabeth Moss – is everything a heroine should be, including relatable and flawed.
In addition to giving me the compulsion to approach strangers in the produce section of the grocery store and whisper, “Blessed be the fruit” for my own entertainment, The Handmaid’s Tale is also an incredible series laced with danger, truth, and foreboding.
SO much terrifying allegory for a world that I could not have imagined in my younger days, but is now reality. It is about having human rights stripped away – even one’s very identity.
No spoiler alerts here, just little old me spreading thoughts for your perusal.
This show illustrates religion vs. grace in an embarrassingly bright light.
It’s about what happens when an ‘elite’ few in are allowed to run amok over its own citizenry, in the name of the “common good.”
Or worse, in the name of God.
And I guess that’s what especially pisses me off about the world we live in. We use His name to damn and to bless, as if we had that kind of power. Look at what a mess we’ve made! The evidence perpetuates itself –  God is rules. God is anger. God is the Nanny State.
Except that He is not. He is courage. He is compassion. He is freedom. The Word is a person, not a book.
Without going into spoiler-heavy detail, let’s just say in this cliché: the season two finale had many twists and turns. But all the while maintains it’s message:  You can try to twist ideologies to glorify your own, or embrace the truth about who you are. We cannot be boxed; Commanders, Guardians, Marthas, nor Handmaids.We were created for the wild liberation of individuality.
The fact that love conquers insurmountable odds is the godliest tale.
We simply cannot worship political parties.  Both have to potential to land us in a Orwellian spot like Gilead, one just as easily as the other. God has no political agenda. Only God can show us how to fight for justice while keeping our love front and center.
Like Jesus. Or like Offred….
I mean, JUNE.
May the Lord open.

You can Run on for a Long Time, but Sooner or Later God will Tackle You with Relentless Mercy (The Beatitudes Series V)

cash

By: Jana Greene

I absolutely love Johnny Cash. It is rumored that he always only wore black because he forever identified with the poor and the downtrodden. I like to include those who are spiritually poor in this consideration.

One of his very best songs, in my humble opinion is “God will Cut you Down.” It’s so gritty, so confident in the justice in its lyrics. Do You know the song (CLICK HERE TO HEAR ” SOONER OR LATER GOD’LL CUT YOU DOWN”

 

If you haven’t heard the song I’m referring to, here is the main refrain:

“You can run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down”

On this blog, all I can do is share my personal experience, opinion, and hope with you. I like to do so honestly, and I know there are many who disagree with me on key subjects. That’s okay.

But my own personal story’s refrain goes something like this:

“I ran on for a long time.

I ran on for a long time.

I ran on for a long time,

But sooner or later Jesus found me and heaped so much copious grace on me that I had to start a blog to tell the rambler, the gambler, the back-biter that God himself is love and mercy.”

Not as catchy, I admit. But it’s the truth as my heart receives it.

Jesus isn’t running after you to cut you down, but to tackle you and tell you that he loves you. Right where you are. That’s the Good News.

He isn’t a god of cutting down, but a God of Great Mercy.

Don’t take my word for it. Matthew 5 1:7:

“God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (NIV)

or, more plainly,

 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.” (Message Translation)

We are blessed when we are merciful toward the riff-raff,  because God was and is merciful with us. The act of showing mercy brings about a state of revolutionary and scandalous blessedness, and people don’t always know what to do with it.

At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for. Hmmmm.

Mr. Cash himself struggled as a rambler most of his life. Whether we like to admit it or not, so do we. We may not all dress in black to identify with the poor and downtrodden, but our white-washed, white-collar rambling is rambling, just the same.

You know the classic question, “If you could sit down with a person living or dead and have coffee with them, who would you choose?” I must admit Johnny Cash isn’t my first choice.

But if I were having coffee with him right now, I’d ask “What did Jesus come for, if not to be merciful and graceful? Of what value would the blood of Christ have if it only washed away the surface-level stains?”

Yes, we must repent. We must repent to gain the full benefit of relationship with Christ. That job position is already filled by Holy Spirit.

If I remember correctly, God doesn’t wait for us to get our sh*t together before loving us, making Grace available to us, and showing us mercy.

“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)

There are other lyrics in “Run On” that almost contradicts other parts of the same song:

“Well my goodness gracious let me tell you the news
My head’s been wet with the midnight dew
I’ve been down on bended knee talkin’ to the man from Galilee
He spoke to me in the
voice so sweet
I thought I heard the shuffle of the angel’s feet
He called my name and my heart stood still
When he said, “John go do my will.”

I like that part. I like that part a lot.

Let’s do God’s will.

Let’s be merciful.

Let’s be blessed.

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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Oozing Grace and other Heretical Hazards

15years
BY: Jana Greene
Jesus sitting on a rock, looking wistfully into the atmosphere. Sandal-ed feet and in robe and sash. You remember him, right?
His portraits hung in your Sunday School and Vacation Bible School rooms. Dirty blonde hair, blue eyes. Perfectly serene expression.
I remember him, too. He is lovely and pure and holy, but He doesn’t appear to be radical, and I’m pretty sure Jesus was a radical guy.

Two weeks immersed in classes, and am experiencing all of those terms that I make fun of hipsters for using:

Wrecked.
De-fragmented
Disenfranchised from church as we largely know it.
This message of a grace-based gospel is ANYTHING but boring or staid.
What if the Love of God was bigger than the sins of the world?
It is scandalous in its oozing of mercy, positively radical in it’s 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.

I find myself undone.

Because if what I’m learning is true, it turns everything upside down.

Sin gets so much airtime. But here’s the rub: Sin is not the MAIN THING.It shouldn’t take center stage?

What if Love took center stage, as Jesus intended?

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.

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. Gospel = GOOD NEWS.

I’ve been a Christian most of my life, and have never appreciated true Grace and the love of our Triune God.

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….hmmmm.)

Not the news that Jesus loves you but you’d better get your act together before you try to follow him, or you’ll make us all look bad.

No.

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 you adoringly.

It is finished.

He is here. He is here in this messy, screwed-up, fallen, trainwreck of a planet  because he just cannot get close enough to YOU.

He walks among us, inhabits us, throws mercy on us, guides us, cradles us. LOVES US. People really need to hear this, ya’ll.

Yeah, I’m thinking Seminary is really going to mess with my head.

And I simply cannot wait to get to know my Papa better. I hope you don’t mind too terribly much if I blog about the experience here?

God bless us, every one.

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Love Swings Harder

distresstolerance

By:Jana Greene

“Persuasion confirms confident expectation and proves the unseen world to be more real than the seen. Faith celebrates as certain what hope visualizes as future.” – Hebrews 11:1 (The Mirror Bible translation)

Can I just take a minute to appreciate the beauty of that verse? Faith celebrates as certain what hope visualizes as future. MIND BLOWN.

There doesn’t seem to be a glut of things to celebrate right now.

I was turbo-thumb scrolling through Facebook chuckling at goofy cats wearing hats and babies teaching each other to walk, and then.. a trickle of posts from news agencies. Lives of yet more law enforcement officers were taken in Baton Rouge, and oh my dear Lord, what is happening to us?

Oh no. Please God, no.

I’m ashamed to say I haven’t even tuned in for live coverage yet. Much like the grounds of my beloved hometown of Houston, my ground is saturated. My spirit is just saturated. I can’t take one more sad thing. Storm after storm have filled the ground and there’s nowhere for the runoff to go. I know we are all hurting. We are all just trying to doggy paddle in the flood of awfulness right now.

The past few weeks have been an abysmally horrible example of what people of a godless world can inflict upon each other. Does blood mean NOTHING to us anymore?

In between tragedies and murders, there have been tides of goodwill and love between fellow men. Each tragedy followed by an outpouring of people helping one another, followed by another blow, followed by good people acting, followed by more blood in the street….Each time Grace gets on her feet, she is assaulted with another hard swing. But like a boxing match between Hatred and Grace, Grace is getting its ass kicked.

Or so it seems.

But still …

I keep thinking of the end of Jesus’s last day on earth, and how terrified the disciples must have been when the sky turned black and their One True Hope died just like a regular guy. Can you imagine?  Talk about feeling like God has left the building!  There was even an earthquake as His Spirit ascended, but from the human viewpoint, it just looked like the world was ending.

It just looked like doom.

That’s what it feels like to me now.

Blood means everything, and is the only way anything matters. The darkening sky had to happen; It had to happen for love to swing harder. Blood and disaster ushered in hope for the whole of mankind.

I guess faith isn’t about not questioning, because any sane person is doubting and questioning right now. I know I am – big time. Just being honest.

In spite of everything, I believe we are on this planet right now because God deemed us fit to thrive in it for His sake. Not just survive – but thrive.

Even when I just want to make a blanket fort and consume multiple cartons of Haagen Dazs and wash it down with boxed chardonnay while I snuggle with my cats and listen to sad Coldplay songs so I can properly grieve the state of the Union (and the state of the world.)

Again, just being honest.

I’ve been sober a long time, but I have to tell you, I am asking God for help every single day. I need him to help me stay sober and sane.

How can love swing harder if we all stay drunk in our blanket forts? Faith celebrates as certain what hope visualizes as future.

Here’s my strategy, and it’s kind of weird but wildly helpful to me:

Each time I become despondent and feel anxiety rising,  I try to visualize the expressions on the faces of the disciples when they laid their actual EYES on the resurrected Jesus. Awe, wonder, hope sprung eternal. Doom turned to dust, death made impotent for all eternity.

Jesus was all like “TA DAAA!”

And “What part of ‘I’m coming back’ don’t you understand?”

And “I love you! Go now and love on everybody else.”

That’s how I’m coping and staying sober – striving toward the day Hatred doesn’t get the last swing, the day evil gets its ass kicked forevermore. Leaning INTO a loving Father whose heart is breaking for the way His kids are treating one another.

And trying to honor the One True Hope – and be the best ambassador for Him that I can.

When it looks like doom, stand on this saturated ground with me, and keep proclaiming who we KNOW God to be. By grace, love wins. This broken world needs to know it.

God bless us EVERY one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Your Future-Tripping Sunday Self

jacob's well
Jacob’s Well in the Texas Hill Country. I was blessed to visit the locale last year. It is stunning!

By: Jana Greene

Hello, readers.

As some of you know, I was privileged to attend a forum called “The Open Table Conference” in Atlanta over the weekend. There were four speakers there – which is not unusual for a conference – but the unique thing about it as that the attendees were invited to approach the speakers open table-style. No subject too dangerous. No shame in asking what your heart is longing to know. And while I cannot say I ‘agree’ 100% with everything covered (As we say in AA, “Take what you need and leave the rest,) my spirit was incredibly blessed by these men of faith and their transparency, humor and faith. (See below for bios of each of the speakers I quote.)

For this series of seven posts (I’ll try to post one per day…emphasis on the TRY!) I will be weaving my personal experience from the event with what I learned and explored. That’s a pretty important distinction, as I am NO Theologian and can only present what I gleaned over the course of the conference as a messy, curious, and head-over-heels in-love-with-Jesus believer.

*Note that the scripture included in the series will be referenced from the “Mirror Bible,” which often breaks verses down to consider the original Greek or Aramaic meanings and nuances. They are the scriptures that corresponded with what I explored during the absolutely SEISMIC weekend, as they relate to my studying.

As Steve McVey said, “Revolutions are not started by mild-mannered people.

I just love that.

“This kind of hope does not disappoint; the gift of the Holy Spirit completes our every expectation and ignites the love of God within us like an artesian well.” – Romans 5:5

Paul Young (author of “The Shack”) was one of the presenters at the conference. I feel kind of terrible that I have not read the book yet, so lets start this off with a confession. I have not read The Shack. I may be the only person on the planet who has not. But I HAVE watched a ton of Wm. Paul Young’s videos on YouTube, and I AM currently reading The Shack right now. Young is the kind of Christian who reminds me of fellow-believers Anne Lamott and Brennan Manning, meaning – the kind of Christian who really used to piss me off earlier in my faith walk because they were so HONEST and sold out for Christ and that was threatening to me. Radicals! SHEESH.

It’s not threatening to me any more.

So, I haven’t read The Shack in its entirety yet, but I love the premise (which also would have pissed me off in my younger years….God as a middle-aged black woman!? Holy Spirit as an Asian woman!? HERETICAL! Jesus as an Israeli!? Well, okay, I guess that’s alright…) Thankfully a lifetime of grace has smoothed out my sharp edges, and I know God is SOOO much bigger than the box I liked to keep Him in (as if…)

Young’s narratives really did a number on my heart all weekend. They all did, but his especially.

One of the simplest takeaways I soaked in was this: God is not just interested in our Sunday Selves. The Self that we plop in a pew on Sunday mornings and cast off by the time we hit the K & W Cafeteria after the service. He’s just not. He is interested in each one of us in an intimate way – knowing how pointy our sharp edges and embracing us anyway. He is invested in us in the most precious way imaginable.

God gave His Son for us, yes. But here’s what we forget –  Jesus volunteered for the job, so great was his longing to draw us close, pointy edges and all.

Another mind-blower was this: Future Tripping – a term Young uses for one of my more badass companions – Worry. Worry is like a bad boyfriend you just can’t seem to break up with, even though he is bad for you all the way around, and full of drama. He’s also a stalker, that one. Like any good father, God sits on the porch with an arsenal to blast his head off, but a really dysfunctional part of me is like, “No, Papa! I LOVE him!” Ugh.

My Sunday Self wouldn’t tell you that. She’s been around awhile and knows how to plaster the Sunday Face on, all nice and shiny. She can worry about a million things at once, even though only approximately 2-3% of her worries will ever even remotely come to pass. She has adapted because she is world-weary.

I think that’s one reason we are told to become like children. Children are not world-weary. They are authentic.

Or as Young says: “We need to learn to become children again – to let go of ‘future-tripping,’ where out of fear we imagine what’s going to happen and waste today’s grace on things that don’t exist.”

Wasting today’s grace. Yeah, I want no part in that. We can also waste grace by being do-driven. Anxiety is also an Unsavory Character. There is a place for good works, but it is not the foundation of our faith.

The venerable Steve McVey also spoke at the event, and he was also amazing:

“God wants to bring us to the understanding that we weren’t saved to do something for God. We were saved so that we might know Him in intimate daily fellowship.” –  Steve McVey  (“Grace Walk: What You’ve Always Wanted in the Christian Life”)

I hope this series will embrace you, sharp edges and all. And invite you to explore the radical love of a very real Father who doesn’t want just your Sunday Self, but your messy, future-tripping, sinful, hurting Selves.

Other pieces will incorporate subjects like You Matter; Sin – Nothing can Separate You;  Hiding Behind the Legs of Jesus; Know that You Know that you Know; Inclusion; and Perichoresis for Dummies – The Triune God.

May you share in the hope that does not disappoint; and revel in the Holy Spirit that completes our every expectation and ignites the love of God within us like an artesian well.

By the way, an artesian well is simply a well that doesn’t require a pump to bring water to the surface; this occurs when there is enough pressure in the aquifer. The pressure forces the water to the surface without any sort of assistance.

You cannot fall short because it isn’t your effort that brings Holy Spirit to the surface.

I’ll leave you with this gem, also by Steve McVey: “When we focus exclusively on the love of God, when we see love as the totality of His being, are we leaving out something? To say yes is to insult Divine Agape. Love is His fundamental makeup. Everything that can be known of Him must be seen through the lens of agape, or we end up presenting a god with multiple personality. Jesus proved that God is pure love by coming into the world.” – (“Beyond an Angry God”)

God bless us, EVERY one!

 

*Wm. Paul Young, author of The Shack, Eve, Cross Roads, and The Shack Reflections, was born a Canadian and raised among a stone-age tribe by his missionary parents in the highlands of what was Netherlands New Guinea (now West Papua). He suffered great loss as a child and young adult, and now enjoys the “wastefulness of grace” with his family in the Pacific Northwest.

*Dr. C. Baxter Kruger is the Director of Perichoresis, an international ministry sharing the truth of our adoption in Christ with the world. Baxter has a degree in Political Science from the University of Mississippi, and earned his Doctor of Philosophy degree under Professor James B. Torrance at Kings College in Aberdeen, Scotland. Dr. Kruger is the author of eight books including The Great Dance, Across All Worlds, and the international bestseller, The Shack Revisited.

*Dr. Steve McVey is the founder of Grace Walk Ministries, with offices in Atlanta, GA and six other countries. He is the author of 19 books that have been translated into over 15 languages. They include the best selling, Grace Walk and his most recent book, Beyond an Angry God.

 

 

How do you Pray when You Cannot Focus?

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The most important thing on my cork board. No matter how unfocused I am, this is my Jesus.

By: Jana Greene

Over the weekend, one of my very dear girlfriends contacted me. Our friendship is a God Thing to the inth degree. A years ago, we became Facebook friends somehow, and then NAMASTE! – my spirit recognized her spirit the instant we talked. We have much in common health-wise, many of the same struggles. It was as if Abba said, “Hmmm….these two could really bounce things off each other.” And he was right.

She is going through a prolonged episode of ‘brain fog’ due to chronic health issues. If you are healthy (or your brain is young) the fog might be a foreign concept to you. It’s more than forgetting what you went in to the kitchen for. It’s like your thoughts are trying to gain footing on a very slippery rock.  It’s a dulling and jumbling of your mind, which can really do a number on your spirit.

“How does one keep a solid prayer/reading life with chronic illness?” She asked me.  “When you either oversleep (because you are sick and need the sleep, not because you’re lazy), or you truly can’t muster up a prayer, or read. Or your mind is all over the place, not stable like it used to be? Maybe a good blog topic?”

A very good blog topic.

I am worlds WORST with carving out quiet time/devotions. There, I said it. It’s OUT THERE now. And It isn’t because prayer isn’t important to me.

Between chronic pain, ADD (and OCD, which can be kind of severe at times)  and anxiety…there are times that the best thing I can offer is conversational prayer with God throughout the day. For a short while, I took medication for my ADD and the BIGGEST change I noticed was that I could pray like a regular Saint Augustine! HOURS. When I had to go off of it because it raised my blood pressure, I felt like somebody yanked the prayer rug from under me.

I still pray, of course. It’s a constant conversation, but often not terribly structured.

After I saw the movie “War Room,”  I was so stoked to make deliberate time in my bedroom closet. I covered one wall with cork-boards on which to pin my heartfelt prayers every day as soon as I woke up. FIRST THING. Maybe I’ll be so fervent I’ll go into the Prayer Closet several times in the middle of the night! Wow, I’ll bet I will REALLY hear from God then! My boards will resemble the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, it will be so jam-packed with my sacraments and epiphanies!

The next morning I did, in fact, enter it like the Holy of Holies. But the day after that I had a migraine and another day, my anxiety was too full-on to sit still, and other days I just forgot.

Mostly my self-crafted Prayer Closet just caused me to feel guilty EVERY single time I’d walk in to get a pair of shoes. Eventually it went like this: Enter closet for shirt, avoid eye contact with The Wall, feel massively guilty, avoid God because I can’t even hack this focus thing, emotionally self-flagellate. Vow to spend two hours solid in it the next day. Fail to do so and feel terrible. Lather, rinse, repeat.

But then I realized that I talk to God conversationally all day long. He knows my heart, he knows my pain, and my janky brain fog. In trying, trying, trying to be better, I set myself up for failure (it’s kind of a specialty of mine.)

But God, who created my brain and all the other miraculous workings of my body, is not going to withhold from me because of my limitations. That would be pretty freaking cruel. Instead, he caulks in the cracks and loves me like MAD.

My dear friend  is also frustrated with hearing from God the way she used to when she was brain fog-free. I get that, too. That’s the worst thing. But I think he – knowing our plight – compensates by speaking to us in our constant conversation with him. He is never more than a dozen thoughts from my heart, and he knows it.

When someone comes to mind, I pray for her. When I’m worried, I pray. When I see a pretty flower, praise the Creator and thank him for it. Thank him for my friends and blessings and hot coffee.

Especially, I tell him I trust that he is working on issues I don’t see evidence of yet, and ask him to help me trust when I don’t.

I ask for focus fifty times a day, at least.

But when I can’t get through the fog, here’s the cool thing: Grace!

GRACE is the caulk in the space between our best intentions and highest enlightenment. It fills in the cracks and expands in the crevices where I’m foggy or anxious, or even just lazy. We are not perfect but he holds us close to us still! No guilt required.

My sacraments and epiphanies don’t always come down from Heaven like a bolt of lightning when I’m having an Instagram-worthy moment of devotion with the perfect cup of coffee.

Sometimes they trickle in increments of A-Ha! moments that Holy Spirit doles out and pours into me. When I’m too pained or foggy to tune into his frequency, he reminds me that it’s okay.

I told my dear friend that perhaps we can meet this week and brain-dazed and janky together. Pray awkward, foggy prayers together, and trust grace to caulk in our rough spots. Listen for the bolt of lightning, but be okay with the A-Ha moments and roll with it as the Sisters in Christ that we are. Raise a War Room right where we are, where two or more are gathered.

God isn’t angry that we have unfocused seasons. He just desires that we keep the conversation going, and listen for his voice.

God bless us, every one.