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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focus
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.

 

 


 

Splintered – a Chip of the Old Family Stone

Only love to lose

By: Jana Greene

Remember the old Sly and the Family Stone song “Everyday People?” (In case you don’t, here is a link to listen: Everyday People )

I think the modern Christian Church needs to heed the message. We’ve become so splintered by theologies, ideologies, and ego-ologies. My heart is heavy for the division, and frankly, all it manages to do is prop up the devil, who – in case you haven’t noticed – is having his heydey on this planet already.

Sometimes I’m right and I can be wrong
My own beliefs are in my song
The butcher, the banker, the drummer and then
Makes no difference what group I’m in
I am everyday people.
There is a blue one
Who can’t accept the green one
For living with a fat one
Trying to be a skinny one
Different strokes
For different folks.

For the longest time, I operated from a place of loving God out of fear, terrified of displeasing him. And that meant shunning you if you participated in certain behaviors, so that I could not be accused of “condoning” it.

We don’t have the time to bicker among ourselves, because Rome is burning right now.

Billy Graham put it succinctly:

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

(And yes, I am throwing in a little Billy Graham into a piece about Sly and the Family Stone. God digs it when his kids mix it up.)

Sometimes I’m right, but I can be wrong. That STINGS, doesn’t it?

Peter is my favorite disciple, but he was far from the most perfect. His propensity for flubbing things is what endears him to my heart, he was ‘wrong’ a lot.  (Google ‘Peter’s sins’ if you are interested)  Yet Jesus told him –

“…And now I’m going to tell you who you are, really are. You are Peter, a rock. This is the rock on which I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out.” – Matthew 16:18

Peter was Everyday People. Just like me and you.

I am no better and neither are you
We are the same, whatever we do
You love me, you hate me, you know me and then
You can’t figure out the bag I’m in
I am everyday people.

There is a gay one, who won’t accept the straight one, that won’t accept the trans one for living with the  (fill-in-the-blank with your favorite deadly sin of choice.) one.  And that’s WITHIN the Church. We are sending the world the message that we love everybody all the same but stay over there so you don’t rub off on me.

Jesus wants us to go to the world and rub off on it like crazy. That was his whole modus operandi.He came to welcome everyone into the family of God. We don’t get to exclude certain groups of people because we find their choices distasteful, or even because the Bible says its wrong.

Are we to pretend then that all behaviors are acceptable to God and just ‘get over’ ourselves? The world is well aware that they are considered sinners by the Church.

What they maybe haven’t heard is the message of LOVE that is supposed to be our cornerstone.

When I’m perfect, I will pick up rocks and throw them at you. But honestly, I’m pretty sure that’s not happening.

It’s not that sin is unimportant to God.

It’s that sin became dwarfed and overcome by the power of the Cross, and LOVE is a bigger deal.

Our message of Love rests on the Cornerstone that cannot be moved by cultural trends. It’s so much bigger than that. What would the world look like if we didn’t make sin the biggest consideration in loving? We like to label the stones we throw at other people, don’t we? We feel so JUSTIFIED, righteously angered.

In essence, I guess I am saying yes – let’s get over ourselves.

Let’s loose those stones around our necks that we carry to make ourselves feel morally superior to “those” people Playing Superior is exhausting, believe me, I know. Jesus said this, and the weary world needs to hear it:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” – Matthew 11:30 (MSG)

And so on and so on
And scooby dooby dooby
Oh sha sha.

We got to live together.
I am everyday people.

Please Church, can we just get on with the business of loving one another? I believe if we do, the gates of hell itself will not prevail against us.

God bless us, every one.

 

“With that, Peter, full of the Holy Spirit, let loose: “Rulers and leaders of the people, if we have been brought to trial today for helping a sick man, put under investigation regarding this healing, I’ll be completely frank with you—we have nothing to hide. By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the One you killed on a cross, the One God raised from the dead, by means of his name this man stands before you healthy and whole. Jesus is ‘the stone you masons threw out, which is now the cornerstone.’ Salvation comes no other way; no other name has been or will be given to us by which we can be saved, only this one.” – Acts 4:8-12.

Once Upon a Gospel – An Invitation to Love

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By: Jana Greene

Once upon a time, there was a good and perfect King whose agenda for the whole land was Love.

He provided everything his subjects needed – in this realm and The Eternal one – but one subject became jealous of the King and wanted to rule in his stead. Being the good and perfect King that He was, Love banished the hateful subject -who was one of the beings considered a friend of The King Himself  – from the Kingdom. He became a defector with his greedy endeavor to be equal with his Creator.

Furious at being banished, The Defector appealed to the less-than-royal castle walkers to leave the King’s dominion. He was very persuasive, and took a third of their masses with him. Because The King was Love Incarnate, The King mourned their loss. But his mourning was supplanted by a great concern for the subjects of his kingdom and their heirs. For the The Defector and his minions – subject to eternal separation from Love – vowed to use whatever evil means necessary to recruit members. Nothing was off limits.

Suffering and death. But also temptation and slick false-life advertising to sell it.

One of the biggest weapons used against the kingdom subjects was the very freedom The King had invoked a the First Testing. Essentially, it sounded something like this (and like exactly the same message he is spinning in this generation):

Don’t you think YOU should be King? Why does King Love get, well … all the love. You are ruler of your own life! You can have all the power. The King is out to ruin your fun and your lives. He sits up there on His throne, having no idea of your struggles. And that’s IF He exists…..Have you ever even SEEN Him in person? I didn’t think so. Maybe He doesn’t even exist. Maybe Love cannot save the world.

And the subjects were deceived, because a tiny seed in their hearts was watered by the slick words that appealed to Self over King. And confusion took root and has become a plague upon the earth ever since. Many subjects decided to follow the ruler of Self and, in turn, rejected The King’s perfect will.

Many declared they were subjects of no land at all, and by doing so, still made a choice to defect the Kingdom. There was no dual citizenship. Perfect Love casts out all fear, and fear was at the root of autonomy of the Subjects of No Land.”

There seemed no end to the weaponry that The Defector had at his disposal. Yes, good old sin bugaboos ran amok, But often times the destruction came in other slippery forms: Shame, Defeat, Distraction, Depression, Addiction, and a general elevation to Self while – at the same time – beating it down by diminishing it’s value.

It seemed like The Defector had the deck stacked in his favor, as all of the subjects had one thing in common, bestowed by the King – Choice. The Power to accept The King of Love, ruler of the Kingdom and keep the laws enacted by him in love for their own good, or to defect themselves to a more self-serving path.

Oh, the humanity – literally!

Could no one save The Kingdom from the author of confusion?

Will no one step in to save the subjects created to serve The King and those He loves?

And then The Magic happened. The King Himself would become a subject. He himself – through His divine heir – would become man and King, and show up in person. He would be Redeemer. He would know the anxiety and hardship of the masses, just like any other subject. But He would come to show them that The King is Love.

A nobler knight or king, the world had never known. Instead of cavorting with elite and rule-keeping, The Redeemer loved on the castoffs, touched the un-touchables. The peasants. He lived His life in a manner befitting The King in all ways. Whether teaching in the temples or on the street, all subjects were invited to become members of The King’s fold. And His love was the invitation to citizenship.

Healing. Unselfishness. Unconditional Love.

The Redeemer walked the realm for 33 years, a short span of time in history, but changed absolutely everything.

No longer could the subjects resent The King for not have walked among them as a common subject. The Redeemer showed the way that any subject could  become a bona-fide royal. He did so without serving Self or following any of the rules of the conniving Defector.

He would finally be crowned a King with a headpiece of thorns in a mockery of ascension to the Kingdom Throne. The Defector had a heyday. He considered a major win for his ruling. In truth, it was the beginning of His ultimate end.

Those who followed the defectors and beat him to a bloody death did not know they were in fact cementing the admission of Whomsoever into an Eternal Kingdom. The one who defected from The Eternal for seeking equality with The King made it possible for all of us to be equal heirs in all The King’s riches, in essence. Ironic, and beautiful paradox, that one.

The names of all the subjects – those who serve The King and those who serve The Defector – were on His lips, pleading with Love to administer grace and mercy. The subjects who accepted The Redeemer received permanent citizenship in the Eternal Kingdom.

The King ALWAYS uses what the enemy plans for evil to the GOOD of those who love Him.

The Magic – known as Holy Spirit – he left with the subjects, so that His power would be forever close at hand. That spirit of all that is lovely, The Magic lives on to this very generation.

The Defector knew the Day of the Redeemer had been coming, and he was prepared. Further making a mockery of Love, The Defector upped his war game, and with each new generation of subjects, became better and better at deceiving them.

Those satisfied to serve Self we easy to take down and make slaves to The Defector and his flunkies. With the ultimate knowledge that he is doomed to failure, he is quite literally hell-bent on taking as many subjects with him in eternal alienation from Love.

Even some of the Eternal Kingdom citizens sometimes forgot they are citizens of a Higher Order through the work of The Redeemer, the spoils of a war already won on the cross.  They struggled mightily, far more than people with an eternal birthright should. Tasked with spreading the message of unearned love to the whole world, they became weary.

The Defector must never allow subjects of The King to rest. They are dangerous on the battlefield, a liability to the Evil One’s schemes to overthrow The King. He was always on the prowl, looking for chinks in the armor that The Magic covered them in. He perfected the tips of his arrows and narrowed his aim, upping the ante with each attack.

It is for this reason the Redeemed subjects are not spared hardship and even occasional agony.

It’s not the end of the story. The King gets the last word. Love always wins, you know.

Because the Bible isn’t a fairy tale at all.

The King of Love exists. We call him God, and He isn’t the stuff of fables. The Redeemer who is both God and Man? He is Jesus. And there is, in fact, a Defector called Satan, and his demonic hosts of demons who defected the angelic realms. I know it sounds mythical, until you consider the state of the war, pestilence, and destruction both large-scale and in our personal lives. Look around the world we inhabit, so infused with suffering and tribulation. There should be no doubt we have a living enemy. And – here’s the twist in the story – it’s not us.

Yes, evil seems to be running the trial of the world as it hurtles toward implosion, as The Defector makes his closing arguments against us. Darkness is his counsel.

But our Counsel is Truth.

Our Judge? Love.

Your enemy doesn’t get to make it to your sentencing at the end of your life without allowing you to testify on your own behalf. And that testimony is the one and true light that vanquishes even the blackest darkness.

Our testimony is simply JESUS.

If you know The Redeemer, this tale may seem a filtered-down, fable-esque take on the Gospel. But a lot of people haven’t heard it in a relate-able way, and I’m hoping this little blog post helps one person see hope with new eyes.

The story has a happy ending.

If you don’t know The Redeemer, know that there is a good and perfect King whose agenda for the whole life is Love. He came in human form to understand the  anxiety and hardship of the masses, and to offer reprieve and eternal life.

His Kingdom – His LOVE – is available to you. Not Once upon a time, but today.

God bless us subjects, every one.

 

SCRIPTURAL REFERENCES:

“And don’t tell me that I have no authority to write like this. I’m perfectly free to do this—isn’t that obvious? Haven’t I been given a job to do? Wasn’t I commissioned to this work in a face-to-face meeting with Jesus, our Master? Aren’t you yourselves proof of the good work that I’ve done for the Master? Even if no one else admits the authority of my commission, you can’t deny it. Why, my work with you is living proof of my authority!” – 1 Corinthians 9:1-2 (MSG)

It is written: “In the beginning God (prepared, formed, fashioned, and) created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and an empty waste, and darkness was upon the face of the very great deep. The Spirit of God was moving (hovering, brooding) over the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light; and there was light. …” – Genesis 1 (AMPC)

“When Lucifer was cast out of Heaven, one third of all the angels were cast out with him.” – Revelations 12:14-9

“Bilious and bloated, they gas,
    “God is gone.”
Their words are poison gas,
    fouling the air; they poison
Rivers and skies;
    thistles are their cash crop.

God sticks his head out of heaven.
    He looks around.
He’s looking for someone not stupid—
    one man, even, God-expectant,
    just one God-ready woman.

He comes up empty. A string
    of zeros. Useless, unshepherded
Sheep, taking turns pretending
    to be Shepherd.
The ninety and nine
    follow their fellow.” – Psalm 14:1-4

This history-changing gift changed the world forever. “This how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.– John 3:16-18 (MSG)

 

Choosing YOU: “How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.” – Ephesians 4:1 (MSG)

“How? you ask. In Christ. God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.” 1 Corinthians 5:21 (MSG)

As his killers laugh and mock him as He is dying, throwing dice to see who would keep His robes as a macabre souvenir, He pleaded with The King: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” – Luke 23:24 (ENT)

The Redeemer said it Himself: “I’m telling you these things while I’m still living with you. The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you. I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught.” – John 14:26-27 (MSG)

To which The King decreed  “You see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!” – Hebrew 12:1 (MSG)

For The King issued this proclamation: “Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does.” – 1 Peter 5:8

As fellow subject and apostle summed it up: “You yourselves are a case study of what he does. At one time you all had your backs turned to God, thinking rebellious thoughts of him, giving him trouble every chance you got. But now, by giving himself completely at the Cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence. You don’t walk away from a gift like that! You stay grounded and steady in that bond of trust, constantly tuned in to the Message, careful not to be distracted or diverted. There is no other Message—just this one. Every creature under heaven gets this same Message. I, Paul, am a messenger of this Message.  Colossiains 1:22 (MSG)

“Do everything readily and cheerfully—no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I’ll have good cause to be proud of you on the day that Christ returns. You’ll be living proof that I didn’t go to all this work for nothing.” – Philippians 2:15-16 (MSG)