It was in the Fall of 1981. Rice Stadium in Houston was packed to the gills. I’d been invited by a dear friend (who is still a good friend) to attend a Billy Graham. crusade. The whole youth group piled onto an activity bus for the shuttle ride.
The cool kids congregated in the back of the bus. I sat right behind the bus driver.
Two months shy of my 13th birthday, I was just old enough to join youth group. I remember so many little details about that evening, which is odd because a lot of my childhood I’d just as soon as forget.
I honestly cannot tell you what I had lunch yesterday, but I can recall every nuance of that evening in 1981. It is as though all of my senses were tingling – there was charge in the air.
I remember the loud grumble of the bus, and the smell of diesel fuel (mingled with Love’s Baby Soft perfume, which we girls regularly doused ourselves with.)
The brightness of the stadium lights.
The cold hardness of the bleachers.
The scent of buttery popcorn from the concession stand.
The itchiness of the sweater I’d worn, because it because the weather in Houston was actually cool for a change.
At the stadium, I remember that there was an electric buzz in the atmosphere – a kind of spirit-hum that kind of vibrated in all of us. It seemed to resonate in the whole stadium, in every soul. I’d never felt anything like it, and rarely have I ever experienced again. We took our seats and settled in, most of us just as interested in the cutest boys in youth than on Rev. Graham’s message. The stadium lights were nearly blinding, but as he spoke, I forgot about the cute boy in youth (his name was Rick, and he only listened to the band “Rush,” alas, a story for another time.)
In his booming yet gentle voice and North Carolina lilting accent that I would so come to love as a North Carolinian myself later in life, Billy Graham distracted us all from or wriggling, twittering, self-absorbed teenage selves by introducing us to this revolutionary concept of absolute GRACE.
Many of us had never heard about true grace, even in the Southern Baptist churches we’d been reared in. Hellfire and brimstone – that we knew.
I listened and was overcome with a peace that passed all of my young understanding. I was a broken kid, from a broken home.
So confident was Rev. Graham in his message, that I became confident in God, too. Not the god I’d prayed to for years, but the real and tangible God.
The Alpha and Omega. The beginning and the end.
After the service that evening, the Reverend invited all those who wanted partake in the grace of God to come down the bleachers and pray with members of his prayer team. It was like an altar call on steroids – more of the people in attendance made their way down to accept this crazy anointing as did not.
Grace – ours for the taking, all we had to do was accept it, to take what seemed to me an impossible risk: Believing on the basis of the stirrings of my spirit, and nothing else. Risky. Scandalously risky. But I made my way down in a sort of floating transport. I don’t remember navigating the steep stadium steps; only that I positively knew Jesus Himself was fidgeting with anticipation to love on me through the prayers of strangers.
There was a song playing in a continuous loop as I approached a prayer volunteer. I didn’t mind hearing the refrain a hundred times. As thousands of voices joined in from all around, I wished it would never end.
“Just as I am – and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
-O Lamb of God, I come!
Just as I am – though toss’d about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
-O Lamb of God, I come!”
I was never the same after that experience. I knew that I knew that I knew it was Truth.
I was never the same, but unfortunately, still completely human.
I still kissed boys on church mission trips.
I still grew up to be an alcoholic. In my drinking years I did some awful things.
Life happened, and parenthood happened, and marriage happened. Chronic illness, battles with anxiety and depression. And now I’m nearly 50, and still don’t have my sh*t together.
But had I not accepted Christ at a Billy Graham crusade in 1981, I might never know that even for prodigal daughters, the arms of Jesus are always and ever open to embrace this broken girl. I might never have known He would make me whole a million times and with a smile on his radiant face.
A couple of years ago, I was fortunate to attend a Christian blogger conference in Asheville, North Carolina – not far from Reverend Graham’s birthplace. The facility – run by Billy Graham Ministries – that hosted the event is called “The Cove.” In the multi-building complex, there are mementos of the Reverend where everywhere.
In one of the buildings, there was a museum of sorts. Included in the displays were personal artifacts of the Graham family – a family that I (and so many others) felt a part of. There was an odd but wonderful ambiance of peace. It kind of made me feel like I’d come home.
Billy Graham passed away today. Alas, he really is home. I’ve no doubt Jesus is hugging him tight, but the rest of us left here have suffered a loss.
He was one man, on one mission. Humble and empowered by the Holy Spirit. But what a difference he made in this world!
If I could tell him one thing, it would be this: Thank you.
Thank you, Reverend Graham… for making it okay for me to come to the throne of God just exactly as I am.
Even with many a conflict and many a doubt.
Thanks for being the messenger that delivered the concept of boundless grace to my young heart. Fighting and fears within, without – because that’s how God rolls, infinite in his mercy.
And tell Jesus ‘thank you’ as well, for lending you to us.
Rest in well-deserved peace.
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.
By: Jana Greene
It’s been a long night.
I fell asleep easy enough, but a few hours later I woke up to pee (we keep it real here, right?) like I do every other night at least three times, and was assaulted by hip pain when I stood up. Soon after, when I crawled back into bed, I felt the familiar dull headache begin stirring behind my eyes.
I tried to go back to sleep. I really did. But although I was desperately tired, I hurt. Hurting in the middle of the night is a lonely endeavor. Whereas I normally might complain to my long-suffering but incredibly supportive husband, he was fast asleep.
Soon, my mind got in on the action.
Suddenly – at 4 a.m. – I had this primal wave of worry wash over me. As if pain was tag-teaming anxiety. I tossed and turned, and asked God for a little help here, please. We are going through such a weird and wild season right now.
At 4 a.m., I wanted assurances.
I wanted to call my adult child and make sure she was okay. And then I wanted her to make promises to do what I cannot even manage myself – to get my sh*t together. I wanted God to guarantee her safety. To guarantee all of us safety.
Then, the spiraled from there….
I wanted to log into my email and find five job offers in my in-box. Even though I’m really not healthy enough to work right now.
I wanted to will myself well and get on with life already.
I wanted to lift all of my husband’s worries off of his sleeping chest, so that when he wakes in the morning, his burdens are lifted.
I wanted to know that the world is not imploding, contrary to the evidence all around us.
I wanted to fast-track my therapy to purge my closet of skeletons in one fail swoop.
I wanted to stop feeling so crappy about myself.
I wanted a magic pill to calm my nerves so I could sleep.
I wanted – no, I NEEDED to tangibly feel God’s presence RIGHT NOW. Isn’t that the real craving? Without it, no amount of ‘fixed’ satisfies.
Instead, the more I panicked, the more it felt as though my prayers were bouncing off the ceiling.
A little voice in my spirit tapped me gently on the shoulder as if to say, “Excuse me….I hate to interrupt your anxiety attack and throbbing headache, but – um…..Pslams.”
I took a deep breath.
In another lifetime (fifteen years to be exact) I was a single mother of two pre-teen daughters. I was juggling four jobs after having been a stay at home mom all their lives. I became estranged from unhealthy relationships to safeguard my recovery. My health problems kicked in, aided by the stress. My car window didn’t roll up – a hefty bag and duct tape was all that kept me dry. We lived in a bad neighborhood. It felt like loss, loss, loss.
Since the separation from my girls’ father, it had just been one thing after another after another – big life issues – the kind of things that threatened by then-newish (four years) sobriety. That I survived that season in life sober is a walking-on-water caliber miracle.
All on my own and responsible for the lives of two beautiful girls, I’d never felt so alone. I lived on coffee, Diet Coke and cigarettes, and the only other reliable staple I had was my Bible and prayer life.
I made it a habit each morning to rise before my children, grab my Virginia Slim menthols and a cup of coffee, and sit outside on my porch with my Bible, looking for answers. Looking for assurances between drags on cigarettes.
Psalms are assurances. If you read them aloud, they are even promises.
There is no magic pill for me. I’m an alcoholic. I am wise enough to not trust myself to substances.
But there are Psalms.
So this morning, I’m sharing this little love letter that God led me to just now. The words were written by a man who just couldn’t get his sh*t together either – the biblical David. I love David because he is desperate and wildly in love with God, all at once.
I hope these verses speak to you, too. God pretty much drug me out of bed to come write this post. Maybe somebody out there somewhere can feel a little less alone.
Read the Psalms aloud – they are meant for those whose worlds are imploding. Savor every word.
At 4 a.m., I wanted assurances. Thanks Papa God for showing up. You always do.
(I would also love to know what your favorite Psalms are, too.)
Need a Psalm? Take a Psalm.
Have a Psalm? Leave a Psalm.
And God bless us, every one.
“I run to you, God; I run for dear life.
Don’t let me down!
Take me seriously this time!
Get down on my level and listen,
and please—no procrastination!
Your granite cave a hiding place,
your high cliff aerie a place of safety.
You’re my cave to hide in,
my cliff to climb.
Be my safe leader,
be my true mountain guide.
Free me from hidden traps;
I want to hide in you.
I’ve put my life in your hands.
You won’t drop me,
you’ll never let me down.
I hate all this silly religion,
but you, God, I trust.
I’m leaping and singing in the circle of your love;
you saw my pain,
you disarmed my tormentors,
You didn’t leave me in their clutches
but gave me room to breathe.
Be kind to me, God—
I’m in deep, deep trouble again.
I’ve cried my eyes out;
I feel hollow inside.
My life leaks away, groan by groan;
my years fade out in sighs.
My troubles have worn me out,
turned my bones to powder.
To my enemies I’m a monster;
I’m ridiculed by the neighbors….
Desperate, I throw myself on you:
you are my God!
Hour by hour I place my days in your hand,
safe from the hands out to get me.
Warm me, your servant, with a smile;
save me because you love me.
Don’t embarrass me by not showing up;
I’ve given you plenty of notice…..
What a stack of blessing you have piled up
for those who worship you,
Ready and waiting for all who run to you
to escape an unkind world.
You hide them safely away
from the opposition.
As you slam the door on those oily, mocking faces,
you silence the poisonous gossip.
His love is the wonder of the world.
Trapped by a siege, I panicked.
“Out of sight, out of mind,” I said.
But you heard me say it,
you heard and listened.
Love God, all you saints;
God takes care of all who stay close to him,
But he pays back in full
those arrogant enough to go it alone.
Be brave. Be strong. Don’t give up.
Expect God to get here soon.” – Psalms 31 (MSG)
By: Jana Greene
Big, fat changes are on the horizon. I can just feel it. Do you ever sense that change is afoot, yet have no earthly or Heavenly idea what that change may be? It’s 20% exciting and 80% frightening.
When I really trust God, those stats blessedly flip.
Hey, Papa? Help me to trust you ever more.
One of those things is this: I think it may be time to change the name of this blog / ministry from “The Beggar’s Bakery” to something else….I’m not sure what just yet.
The blog has been my ‘home’ for five years now; it’s my ‘baby.’ But it may be time to change the baby’s name.
The Grace Gospel has got me thinking (and un-thinking about religiosity both.) It’s ruined me, really. In the best possible way.
I no longer relate to the beggar I was the hour I first I believed. I don’t have to beg for God to love me – Jesus sealed the deal and it is finished.
I’m learning to operate in the finished work of the cross. It’s a journey, admittedly. It just seems too good to be true!
But it IS good.
It IS true.
As I prayerfully consider what to re-name it (the content will stay the same, unless / until God tells me different) I welcome suggestions and ideas from you Readers. Even keywords might prove helpful.
Big, fat changes can be scary, but they can also be the catalyst for some really awesome things. I just have to trust.
Today, we pick back up where we left off yesterday (June 24th, Part I posting) with a further exploration of the Nature of God.
Can we ever really know this Almighty Being we call “God”?
We look to Jesus to see His heart. It’s so simple, yet so profound. He looks like Jesus.
God bless us, Every One, and Happy Sunday.
By: Jana Greene
What if God’s nature is really only good?
A few weeks ago, I camped out in the lesson presented by Francois Du Toit, “Celebrating His Initiative.” Webster’s Dictionary defines “initiate” as ‘to begin, set going, or originate: to introduce into the knowledge of some art or subject. And to propose (a measure) by initiative procedure.
Initiate is a verb! It is an action. There is nothing passive about it. Jesus has issued a proposal on bended knee and bloodied cross. This voluntary decision by God of God is a thing to be celebrated!
I don’t think I’ve ever grasped the finality of what happened at the crucifixion and resurrection of God. If it is finished, the residual guilt and shame I keep picking up and hauling around is not my cross to bear– as I’ve always believed. The grace I ask for and receive is not meant to counterbalance the heft of my shame. I do not receive grace by the bucket-full to douse the fire of each indiscretion – I am already drowning in it. So are you. The work of the cross was the catalyst for God to flood the world with grace.
Religion taught me that God swoops down and saves me from myself a thousand times a day, and that’s what grace looks like. But I’m learning that Abba is pulling me away from the idol of religion and into Himself. My weaponry of thin, papery religiousness is powerless against His embrace of Truth.
Bradley Jersak’s book on the subject sharpened my focus on divine grace vs. rhetoric.
“Setting Jesus as the standard for perfect theology, many of our current Christian beliefs and practices would obviously face indictment. Even significant swaths of biblical literature don’t line up well with the Christ of the Gospels. Claiming that God is revealed perfectly in Jesus triggers tough questions about the God I once conceived and preached. Jesus’ life and character challenges my religious clichés and standby slogans—especially the rhetoric of supreme power and irresistible force.”
― Bradley Jersak, A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel
In the segment “Who is the Father,” presented by Mike Zenker, the truth of Abba’s consistency is highlighted in Matthew 11:27, which says “All things have been handed over to Me by the Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”
Or, as The Message translation reads: “Jesus resumed talking to the people, but now tenderly. “The Father has given me all these things to do and say. This is a unique Father-Son operation, coming out of Father and Son intimacies and knowledge. No one knows the Son the way the Father does, nor does the Father the way the Son. But I’m not keeping it to myself; I’m ready to go over it line by line with anyone willing to listen.”
Religion says we are responsible for aspects of our salvation – ergo, we can turn the volume up or down on our spiritual speaker, tweak the boom of the bass, turn down the treble, change the center with the fader of our deeds and actions.
But God cannot be moved from Center. He is the Center. He is undeterred by the noise we create.
Fundamental to this spiritual epiphany is the idea that we are not “sinners saved by grace,” which I have – over the years – convinced myself was my identity. After many years of sobriety and much prayer, that had been the only conclusion.
But what if the work of the cross – that event in which Creator God heaved toward humankind with such love and power that it knocked the evil in us to the ground and buried it with Christ – was powerful enough to resurrect us in glory with Christ, while leaving evil in the grave?
What if God only sees us through the lens of his living, life-giving Son, and not as sinners wearing toe-tags that say “Admit One – Heaven.” I am going to have eternal life, yes. But I don’t want to slog out my existence here during my mission on Earth, not understanding and appreciating what my birthright truly is. I want joy now too, please.
Jesus is joyful! He is not somber.
“A Papa with a sense of humor: “Christ’s humor is always redemptive, never mocking the individual. But He is sharp and sarcastic in His derision of those institutions such as Pharisaism, which posture in their self-made self-importance. Wisdom”
― John Crowder, Seven Spirits Burning
Another epiphany? God has a sense of humor! What a blessing for us all.
Of all the lectures in Course II, “The Dynamic, Artistic, Creative Being of God” by Andre Rabe struck a chord in my soul. As a messy, creative person, it’s lovely to know that I inherited one of my attributes – writing – from my Papa.
The arts are a pulpit for the Muse, divinely given. The amazing thing is that as the Triune God is our Muse, we are His as well.
In nature, we see His artistry all around us. I’ve often lifted a sea shell from the beach and marveled at the fine details adorning it. I’ve wondered at the Blue Ridge mountain range in their ancient perfection. Animal, mineral, vegetable – everything in creation attests to the existence of our creative God. His nature is in nature.
One of the ways I like to celebrate God’s initiative and parlay his creativity is through writing poetry. In concluding this essay, I would like to leave you with a work that God ‘downloaded’ (for lack of a better term) in my spirit a while ago. I believe He gave the words to me as I wrote, as it came to me impromptu and with fierce passion. I believe He was sharing His very nature with me.
Everything I’m learning at Global Grace Seminary lends credence to what I wrote that day.
God bless us, every one.
Agape for Amateurs: a love letter from God
Oh Dear Created One,
Do you know who you are to me?
Who am I, you ask?
I am Love….only ever good.
And you are my handiwork.
I am not angry with you.
In Jesus, I gave myself to you, for you – redemption in one fail swoop.
When you have a misstep, I am saddened because you are hurting. But I will never leave you.
I am with you to the ends of the earth and in the deepest crevices of your spirit.
Your hurting places don’t scare me away.
When you deny me, curse me, hide from me – I do not shy away, nor do I condemn you.
The finished work of my Son ensures you that I keep no records of your wrongs,
But have been courting you all along.
Where there is love, I am.
This fallen world – where hope seems in deficit – does not merit your trust. But I do.
I am trustworthy.
All the things you’ve been foolish for have torn you down, yet you are so afraid to be a “fool” for me?
Enough of the fallen.
Enough of the foolish self-dependency.
Walk with me – I long to raise you up!
That small, still voice?
It’s me nudging you.
Can you feel it?
Let yourself consider that I am never more than a nudge away.
That roaring storm of emotion that pulls at you? Called by 1,000 different names?
The emotion is my urging, too.
You were created to feel.
Your quirks and your passions make you one of a kind, in a world of billions.
I see you.
I see you!
And you matter to me.
“This life is hard,” you say – and I know that it’s true.
You see, I am human, too.
The friend I left to you – the Holy Spirit – is available to you, in you.
The Spirit rejoices with you in times of celebration,
And in times of sorrow, she brings great and all-encompassing comfort.
Cut through what others have told you about me.
Throw away the ritualistic, legalistic, egotistic religion.
Cut through the culture of shame.
Have your own relationship with me.
Not a figment of imagination in stories from dusty texts,
But a force of creation, life, and love to be reckoned with.
Nothing is happenstance.
Believe in me, and you have all the love to gain!
In your hurting places.
In your hiding places.
There is no deficit of hope, Dear One.
Only the great gulf between us that you’ve erected in the name of self-preservation.
I would love to close that gap and draw you so near that you feel my breath in your ear as we embrace.
I am embracing you now.
I delight in you.
Seek my face.
I shall never hide from you.
There is no other like you.
You are my BELOVED!
With boundless grace and endless love,
Good day, Dear Readers.
Today I would like to share Part I of an article I recently wrote for seminary class.
I will post Part II – the second half – tomorrow.
As always, I welcome comments and conversations, and shares if you so choose 🙂
God bless us, every one!
By: Jana Greene
“What is your most dominant image of God? What does that say about your own belief system? Your own temperament? Your own faith community?” ― Bradley Jersak, A More Christ like God: a More Beautiful Gospel
I’ve been having a wee bit of an identity crisis over the past several years. Nothing too wild and reckless, but a low-grade churning in my spirit. This identity crisis burbled up from the primordial ooze I’d always been so careful not to fall into. Step on the stones, only on the stones. Jesus is your rock, etc. and so on, more stone / rock / foundation analogies; anything to keep from falling into the ooze, because if I fall off a rock and into the ooze, God is really going to be angry with me for taking my eyes off of the Prize – Him.
But what about Him?
Never before had I been compelled to systematically dismantle (oh how Religion loves things done systematically) all I had learned from birth, but now? Now I am forming a brand new construct out of what crumbled down in the destruct, and it changes everything.
This nature of God.
When considering the nature of the Almighty, I have the tendency to cling to one of two hard-line descriptions:
God is Love incarnate. He is full of mercy, overflowing with grace. There is only GOOD in His being, and wants to captivate us with his adoration.
God often has to punish and crush, as a means to the end of making man righteous. He smiles on us when we remind him of Jesus (maybe once or twice a day) but is filled with grief and fury when we remind him of the very humans he created. He gives us a whoopin’ because He loves us, and it really does hurt Him more than it does us, as parents are apt to say. He gets tired, you know, with so many naughty children to keep in line. This would explain why natural phenomenon can be so destructive. This would explain the grumpiness of the Old Testament Lord. We like to think it explains a bible-ed up version of Karma. You’ve got whatever’s coming your way, buddy. Too bad you didn’t tow the line.
Except here’s the rub: God’s nature is scandalously lousy with Grace. And I so enjoyed learning about His true nature in my education at Global Grace Seminary.
Of all the excellent materials, Steve McVey’s way with words pierced me. I would read his work and stop to ponder it, and read it again. There was so many practical presentations of grace, I found myself re-reading each line in order to soak in the truth.
“You have been set in the place of a child who is loved and accepted by the Father just as surely as Jesus Himself knows that love and acceptance. Your place is in the triune circle dance is as safe and secure as the place of Jesus for the staggering reason that you are in Him.”
― Steve McVey, Beyond an Angry God: You Can’t Imagine How Much He Loves You
As Kay Fairchild explored in the module “Our God is One,” not only is there One True God, but He is three-fold – each facet of his Being sentient and in perfect, permanent synchronization. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Three distinct individual entities, each one supreme and whole, and wholly loving.
I am learning truths that explore scripture in context. In all honesty, one of my biggest challenges is that small, still voice saying, “Yes, but why then is there still so much evil in the world?” I wish I had a better understanding of that fundamental question. I am trusting that God will reveal truths ever more as I chug along. If we ask Him for bread, He will not give us a stone; that much I know.
For thousands of years, humankind has tried to explain God. We’ve placed Him in boxes to keep Him out of (or in) trouble. We’ve elaborated on his life story and we’ve left the context of his Word out far too often. The Word is a person, and that person is Jesus.
When considering this, I’m reminded of the fun house mirrors that appear to be endless images – mirror inside another mirror, inside another – an endless tunnel of reflection. There is so much more depth in the Trinity than I’d ever considered. The Triune God layer upon layer of Love, grace, and inclusion. And we are the very mirror image of those three beings of love! We sell ourselves so short.
Will the real Nature of God Please Stand Up?
With nearly 17 years of recovery time from alcoholism, I’ve come to love the legendary 12 Steps. Before I happened across the Christ-based recovery step meetings I attend now, AA was the initial safe zone to explore the nature of God as His grace pertains to sobriety. The program’s third step proclaims that “we made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.” In this model, you hire and employ your own Higher Power. It could be a floor lamp. Or a door knob. Anything, really. And that deeply offended me! You cannot just go making up gods as your puny mind perceives them, all willy-nilly.
Now I so clearly see that I was so grace-less. So self-righteous. Anything less than recognizing the One True God – my Jesus – was blasphemy. What I didn’t understand was that these folks didn’t want to hear that they were going to hell, because they’d already been. And the “God of our understanding” is a great place to begin the Seeker journey. I sat in the meetings with angry arms folded, shut down and petulant. What a way to represent Christ!
“If you have seen your God through the lens of legalistic religion, you most likely have believed that God was warning them [Adam and Eve] that He would punish them if they ate from the tree. Nothing could be further from the heart or intent of God. He wouldn’t kill them – sin would kill them. God wasn’t warning them about what He would do but about what sin would do to them.”
― Steve McVey, Beyond an Angry God: You Can’t Imagine How Much He Loves You
What if God’s nature is really only good?
Part II to be published Sunday, June 25th
By: Jana Greene
I’ve always had a love / hate relationship with the saying “There but for the grace of God go I.” I love it because it’s a handy-dandy way to explain how some of my alcoholic friends might have died of their disease but I’m still sober. I hate it because it makes blessings and cursings result from a God who plays “Heads Up 7-UP” while we all have our heads down not paying attention and goes around choosing who’ll be graced by random thumb-touch (if aren’t familiar with Heads-up 7-UP, I’m not sure I can explain it. Google might be able to help.)
At any rate, the implication is that God somehow graced me with a circumstance that he has flatly refused to grace another human being with. Which seems cruel and rings of “favorite-ness,” as if he loves me better than you because I have a home but he loves you better than me because you can enjoy a nice bottle of red wine without drinking the whole bottle (or box) of wine without killing myself. That just really doesn’t seem fair to me at all. Guess what’s MORE unfair? Some people have no homes or food or family. Or one of a million other variables that would indicate God is in fact NOT gracing them at all. In fact, he is withholding his grace. And that’s something I do NOT believe in the least.
We see through a glass so darkly. What looks graceful here in the moment or disgraceful in the next are not manifestations of what we ‘deserve’ or ‘earn.’ I believe that God is ALWAYS full of grace. I don’t believe he is a sadist. There was a time I believed his modus operandi was punishing, scolding, and good old fashioned smiting. I DO NOT BELIEVE THAT ANY MORE. I believe that we live in a fallen world and that we don’t understand God’s ways, but I know his ways are GOOD.
So here’s a poem about a gentleman I met. I will not say ‘there but for the grace of God go I” and not because I could EASILY have become this man (which is true,) but because I’m fairly certain life has been extremely difficult for him – such difficulty I cannot even IMAGINE – but because he MATTERS to God more than I can even fathom.
The whole experience left me feeling terribly inadequate. This man’s need is so great.
Maybe he isn’t a ‘bum’ on the street. Maybe he is an incredible survivor who has overcome incredible odds to be alive today. Maybe he himself is an angel. They don’t have wings, you know. Or maybe he just absolutely SLAYS survival like a freaking world champion. I have a feeling he does.
A Rose, A Homeless Man, and 10 Measly Dollars
On this past Mother’s Day
The pastor gave me a rose.
“Red or white?” He’d offered me
From the box, a white one I chose.
All the moms in attendance
Received a rose that day
As a token of appreciation
And the honor it conveyed.
After church, I went to leave
As soon as service was done,
And saw a homeless gentleman
On the sidewalk in the sun.
Dreadlocks fell to his shoulders,
But several spots were bare
Where mange had stolen unkempt tufts,
I tried hard not to stare.
His eyes were a milky shade of white
In contrast to dark skin,
He carried all that he possessed,
A streetwise Bedouin.
I thought of walking past him,
I am ashamed to say.
Not because I didn’t care
But didn’t know what to say.
So I dug around in my purse
And finding a ten dollar bill,
Decided to give the man money
So that he could buy a meal.
I approached him gently
So that he could easily see
I didn’t come to harm him
But in solidarity.
I saw the depth of suffering
When finally his eyes met mine.
I saw not sadness but indifference,
Empty and benign.
“HI,” I said in greeting
But he did not say a word.
His glance was only fleeting
As if he hadn’t heard.
I held out the ten dollar bill
But he shied away.
I smiled at him and whispered
“I promise. It’s okay.”
His eyes met mine and in that moment
Their whitish tint compelled
My heart to think of the milky petals
Of the very rose I held.
So with the one hand I offered him money
And with the other I offered the rose.
“I want to honor you,” I explained.
And for a while we froze.
He stared a hole right through my face
And for the longest time.
I thought time somehow had stopped,
Scanning for patronizing glare.
He looked right through my privileged soul
And laid all of my intentions bare,
Not in part but on the whole.
In that raw second I realized
How worthy this man is.
Jesus himself resides in him,
A rose is the least that I can give!
“Okay then,” the man finally replied,
Taking the $10 bill.
It took him longer to accept the flower
But when he did, it gave me a chill.
He brought the white rose to his face
And let it touch his cheek,
Then brought it to his nose
And inhaled the fragrance sweet.
I almost saw him smile then
A fleeting, warm, and wary grin.
I hugged him before I left his side,
Would I ever see his face again?
My drive home from church was quiet
Fraught with tears and silent pleas,
And musings of honoring those who have nothing;
Thoughts of loving “the least of these.”
My homeless friend didn’t smell nice,
What clothes he had were all threadbare,
But oh how often do we entertain
Those angels unaware?
God bless this homeless gentleman,
I wish I’d asked his name.
I wish I’d invited him back to church
Because inside we are all the same.
If I see him again someday,
I’ll ask him to come worship inside.
I’ll tell him “I promise, it’s okay!”
I hope “Okay, then” will be his reply.
Until then, I pray he will know his worth
That’s he’s precious to God above.
And that he will finally understand
He is worthy of honor and love.