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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It is Finished, Trusting in the Easter Truth

 

By: Jana Greene

Hello, dear Readers,

I’m hoping to write more regularly here at The Beggar’s Bakery. I hope, because there are about a baker’s dozen of life issues that keep ‘getting in the way’ of my creativity. Too much brain-space being rented out to things that are out of my control anyway. Know what I mean?

Yesterday was a super sick day for me. Caught something sometime in the previous week, and it camped out in my system until I became a blathering lump of self-pity who couldn’t get out of bed, even though I really tried. Mind / Body / Spirit = all connected.

There was also family drama. (Spoiler alert: You never stop worrying about your kids, no matter how old they get.) And job (or lack thereof) drama.

So I was under approximately 8 blankets and still cold when I brought this revered prayer to the Creator of the Universe:

“You never give me anything good to write about anymore.” It actually came all the way out of my parched mouth. What a whiner! (It’s okay,though.  He’s my Daddy and knows I get a little sassy when sick.)

What’s the rule about fighting fair? “Never say never, or always?”

Abba brought to mind the movie, The Shack (which I highly recommend seeing at least once) the scene where the God character reminds the protagonist that “When you focus on the pain, you lose sight of Me.”

Oh yes, that.

That pain thing is a real time and energy suck. But if adversity is good for nothing else, it makes for interesting written fodder on the other side of this.

On the other side. What ‘other side’ is there? We, who see through a glass so darkly, cannot differentiate one ‘side’ from another.

That’s where this very Eastery thought came into play. It’s really the Eastery-est thought I think I’ve ever had, and I want to share it with you.

Christ, by virtue of the Resurrection, is everything. Or he is nothing. We have heard that before, but let it rest on your brainspace for a bit and settle in your Spirit: ONE God. ONE Man. ONE Day.

Either the Resurrection changed everything, or it changed nothing.

Either everything matters or nothing does.

Either He died for all, or died for none.

Either It is Finished, or It is Incomplete.

(If its incomplete, holy cow – FINISH it already – this planet is a MESS!)

In class, I’ve been exploring the Incarnation as a voluntary deed on the part of Jesus. 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. Kicking and screaming. How tragic that I’d understood it like that all my 48 years!

The lavish and abundant Truth is not a concept, but a person.

And what if that Person loved you more than anything in all the universe He created?

What if He isn’t an Aztec-style god, demanding the ongoing sacrifice – or heads will roll? What if He is a God who cradles your head in His lap when you’re broken?

This grace doctrine…it is scandalous in its oozing of mercy, positively radical in its inclusion. I’m not suggesting that The Passion of the Christ be sanitized to appease the masses, but to embrace the loving God whose Passion is US. His blood was not a country club membership, carte blanche for those who tow the line. If the Creator fashioned this elaborate universe for only a select few to partake in, does that cheapen the lavishness of His love for all?

What if He rolled away the stone over 2,000 years ago so that He can meet you right now, exactly where you are, exactly who you are?

I believe in a God that allows – for whatever good purpose – his kids to experience consequences. I’m a parent. I’m on board with that. The god who withholds his love while they suffer? No thanks. My God is no sadist, enjoying pummeling His son with a cat of 9 tails so that we can enter the country club.

Easter is the most make-it or break-it occasion in the Christian faith. And according to Jesus, “It is finished.”

The hard part is learning to rest in that – no head-rolling necessary.

You are included in His finished work. Trust in that.

He is never mad at you.

He always loves you, even on this side – where you cannot see what’s around the corner.

Happy Easter, my friends.

 

 

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Triage for the Spirit – Loving a hurting world

 

triage.jpg

By: Jana Greene

Jesus, overhearing, shot back, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? I’m here inviting the sin-sick, not the spiritually-fit.”– Mark 2:17 (MSG)

Last night I had a curious thought. I was considering our roles as Christ followers and the very varied and controversial methods of spreading the gospel we employ.

How important is it chastise others who are not towing the proverbial line according to biblical standards, vs. how important it is to leave the confrontation of one’s behavior to God, if and when he so chooses, and just love the bejeebers out of people who don’t look / act / believe like us.

Pick your righteous anger pet peeve purveyor:

Drunks.

Presidents (incoming and outgoing).

Adulterers.

Junkies.

Atheists.

People who don’t use turn signals.

Flag burners.

The LGBT community.

Democrats. Or Republicans.

Sex addicts.

The maddeningly militant youths of today.

Twerkers  (sorry, couldn’t resist…)

A virtual smorgasbord of naughty and / or reprehensible to your delicate sensibilities. My delicate sensibilities. Here’s the rub: The hurting world already knows what Christians think of their behaviors and choices. They’ve already heard it, and built fortresses around themselves to keep Jesus out because his followers are too often full of hate and judgement.

Maybe what they DON’T know is the message of his passionate and unrelenting LOVE for them, right exactly where they are. Maybe they can’t hear it over the din of our disdain.

There is a large percentage of church-goers who will call you a heretic, if you don’t call unbelievers on their crap. I know because I used to be one.

But not anymore. Because God didn’t build a fortress to keep me out when I was abusing alcohol and dying inside. He invited me in to his kingdom as is. As. Is.

So, picking back up on the story of last night’s considerations, God gave me the image of a paramedic.

When an EMT is called to the scene of an accident or incident, it is because a horrible emergency has arisen. They are FIRST on the scene because they must act fast to keep people from dying. If they are responding to a car accident, for example, they are not tasked with figuring out which driver was at fault, who ran through the red light. They are not determining who was at fault and why. They are just bringing life-giving service in the heat of carnage and panic. Law enforcement will arrive shortly after an incident to hash out the details and disperse judgement via tickets or citations.

We believers are called to be triage. We are asked to be first responders in the call to tell people (even the ones that rile us up). God will do his thing – his Holy thing – smack-dab in the middle of carnage and panic. On his time. He metes out conviction, and does so lovingly, like the gentle Father he is. He hashes out the details. It’s simply not our job.

You are triage.

You might be the first point of contact for someone whose whole life is caving in.

Open the fortress gate like Jesus did for you. Fling those gates WIDE open. Tell people about the wild, fierce, passionate love that God wants to manifest in their lives. There is nothing tidy about his love, it spills over and out to all sinners and saints, and this hurting world needs desperately to know that.

Billy Graham is quoted as saying:

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

I like that. I like it a lot.

God bless us, every one.

Hurts, Psalms, and Healing Balms

japanese

By: Jana Greene

A long time ago, when I had retrospectively minimalist problems, I used to read the Psalms out loud in my morning devotion time. Until recently, I’d forgotten how much power is invoked in reading them aloud.

It’s 4 a.m. right now. And it’s me, it’s me, it’s me, Oh Lord…..standing in the need of prayer. I’ve been up all night with gargantuan aches, pains, and the like –  that seem hellbent of keeping me awake.

The Bible says that biblical David was a man after God’s own heart, but if you read the scripture, it seems that David was a bit of a whiner at best, and a real drama queen at worst. I mucked up a lot, made a lot of mistakes, and STILL God knew his deep and abiding love for him. I absolutely love Kind David. He GETS me.

Yesterday, I got some medical news that I suspected was coming. I’d warned my mind and body about it (as the symptoms had already revealed themselves to said mind and body), but my Spirit put up quite a fit upon learning what’s going on. Renal issues. Enlarged Liver issues. Chronic pain and more migraines to expect. Fatigue as the order of the day forthcoming. And leg and foot cramps that make you want to cry uncle at the top of your lungs at 2 a.m. (My poor, poor husband, I KNOW he is losing sleep…..)

Oh, and did I mention mental health issues arising from dealing with the stress of all of the above PLUS childhood trauma that has never been dealt with, and a whole lifetime of untreated depression? As I lurch forward in treatment for mental health issues, I’m feeling black-and-blue, my heart beat up badly, and bones and soul, too.

Which brings me back to the biblical David, bitcher of circumstance, beloved man after God’s own heart (is it possible to be both? I’m kind of counting on it….) Like David, I am on the cusp of digging deeper in my faith. Like David, I’m getting ready to clean out my closet and make room for fresh hope.

The Psalms are best read aloud because you can better capture biblical David’s desperation aloud. He is one of my favorite biblical characters because he can slay giants, become a mighty king, loves God with all of his heart, and seemingly and impulsively throw it away for a hot chick in a bathtub. Hey, who am I to judge?

Here is a man who knows frustration. Here is a man who gave us authentic prayer of the highest order.

Pray it aloud when you are at the end of your proverbial rope:

1-2 Please, God, no more yelling,
    no more trips to the woodshed.
Treat me nice for a change;
    I’m so starved for affection.

2-3 Can’t you see I’m black-and-blue,
    beat up badly in bones and soul?
God, how long will it take
    for you to let up?

4-5 Break in, God, and break up this fight;
    if you love me at all, get me out of here.
I’m no good to you dead, am I?
    I can’t sing in your choir if I’m buried in some tomb!

6-7 I’m tired of all this—so tired. My bed
    has been floating forty days and nights
On the flood of my tears.
    My mattress is soaked, soggy with tears.
The sockets of my eyes are black holes;
    nearly blind, I squint and grope.

8-9 Get out of here, you Devil’s crew:
    at last God has heard my sobs.
My requests have all been granted,
    my prayers are answered.10 Cowards, my enemies disappear.
Disgraced, they turn tail and run.  Pslam 6:1-10 (MSG

Read this aloud when imploring the Lord, perhaps in times you feel forgotten:

 

13-14 Be kind to me, God;
    I’ve been kicked around long enough.
Once you’ve pulled me back
    from the gates of death,
I’ll write the book on Hallelujahs;
    on the corner of Main and First
    I’ll hold a street meeting;
I’ll be the song leader; we’ll fill the air
    with salvation songs.” Psalm 9:1-10 (MSG)

And then this. Pray it out loud. Pray it so that the devil can hear you. Pray it so that the cells wrapped in pain in your body can know it’s true. If we don’t get healing this side of the kingdom, we get it eventually and in full, and forever! In the meantime, pray it LOUD:

And this after-God’s-own-heart, keeping it 100, plea from an authentic David to God:

“Oh, God, my Lord, step in;
    work a miracle for me—you can do it!
Get me out of here—your love is so great!—
    I’m at the end of my rope, my life in ruins.
I’m fading away to nothing, passing away,
    my youth gone, old before my time.
I’m weak from hunger and can hardly stand up,
    my body a rack of skin and bones.
I’m a joke in poor taste to those who see me;
    they take one look and shake their heads.

26-29 Help me, oh help me, God, my God,
    save me through your wonderful love;
Then they’ll know that your hand is in this,
    that you, God, have been at work.
Let them curse all they want;
    you do the blessing.
Let them be jeered by the crowd when they stand up,
    followed by cheers for me, your servant.
Dress my accusers in clothes dirty with shame,
    discarded and humiliating old ragbag clothes.

30-31 My mouth’s full of great praise for God,
    I’m singing his hallelujahs surrounded by crowds,
For he’s always at hand to take the side of the needy,
    to rescue a life from the unjust judge.(Psalm 109:25-31)

And here, finally, we see the AHA moment in which David sees the light, so to speak. He is at that pivotal place we all need to find ourselves in, in order to keep running that most challenging race set before us:

“Don’t put your life in the hands of experts
    who know nothing of life, of salvation life.
Mere humans don’t have what it takes;
    when they die, their projects die with them.
Instead, get help from the God of Jacob,
    put your hope in God and know real blessing!
God made sky and soil,
    sea and all the fish in it.
He always does what he says—
    he defends the wronged,
    he feeds the hungry.
God frees prisoners—
    he gives sight to the blind,
    he lifts up the fallen.
God loves good people, protects strangers,
    takes the side of orphans and widows,
    but makes short work of the wicked.

10 God’s in charge—always.
    Zion’s God is God for good!
    Hallelujah!” Psalm 146:3-10

Lift up us fallen ones, Abba. We are so tired.

But even in our sickness and sadness and end-of-our-rope-ness, we are are a people after your own Heart!

God bless us, every one.

 

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Mountain Climbing with Jesus

Mountain

By: Jana Greene

Let me preface this piece by saying that I’m going through a bit of a depression. And yes, I know that depression is “not of God” and that if I had mustard seed-sized faith, I could declare to this mountain MOVE, and verily I say unto thee, it shall be done as it is written.

But I’m kind of a regular Joe, who navigates the terrain in fits and starts, wholeheartedly loving my Jesus, but not always making the grade.

So this morning, I found myself in the ice cream aisle of our local grocery store, crying, and in doing so, made the stock boy feel kind of awkward. I’m sure I’m not the first menopausal lady to cry in the ice cream aisle but who knows. At least I’m not crying in the liquor store, which is – in all honesty – where I’d end up in days of yore. I’m 15 years into sobriety from alcohol, praise Jesus. I’ve cried in liquor stores many times.

I came home and put my ice cream(s) in the freezer, and sat down on the hardwood floor because my energy was gone right that very minute and I had no auxiliary source in which to plug. I’m kind of slow-burn crying, and my amazing and very codependent tuxedo cat, Catsby, threw all 20 pounds of himself against me in purry solidarity. Oh my God, I love that little guy.

“Ugh,” I told God. “I’m so tired of being SAD. Why won’t you just come pluck me out of this Sad?”

And then God – who was sitting on the floor with Catsby and I, his arms around me – gave me the craziest vision. I feel I should make the distinction right now that my depression is rather garden variety, and not psychotic, and my the vision was not an apparition. I don’t hear audible voices. It is more like a vivid and comforting thought visual. But whatever, I’ll take communication from God any way I can get it.

And it looked like this:

I’m sitting in the forest, wearing climbing gear. All around me are beautiful mountainous peaks and lush valleys, and I have NO IDEA where I am. None. I’ve gone missing in perilous terrain and I radio for help. A chopper appears from nowhere, lowers a rope, and whisks me away from all danger. I am plopped into familiar territory and the helicopter  leaves, having done it’s job. And I’m alone.

In an instant, I understood what Abba was trying to tell me.

Do I want a God who will be my Genie in a bottle and pluck me out of every precarious situation, and then be on His merry way? (Although that sounds good sometimes, it’s not the deity I crave.)

I felt Abba say, “How deep would our relationship be, if I were only ever your rescue party?” In my mind’s eye, I imagine Him sitting with me and my big fat cat, and in my imaginings, God is also wearing climbing gear.

That’s the thing. (Warning: Cornball mountain / valley analogy ahead:)

Our Father longs to hike the tough peaks and deep valleys alongside us. That’s where the relationship grows. When we don’t have the strength to command the mountains to move, Jesus treks with us. He knows the way out, He has all the right tools and equipment, and most of all, He has a passionate love for me that will not allow Him to leave me behind.

Valleys are depressions in rock formations. Depressions. He could easily pluck me from the midst of my circumstance, and sometimes He does. But other times, He is my mountain guide, walking with me every step, talking with me, laughing and joking, picking flowers, climbing seemingly insurmountable peaks. He is my Spotter, my Safety Net, the Director of my Steps. He holds on to me and refuses to let go. He CARES about the little stuff along the journey. We are BONDED, man. We have a bond. It’s deep and rich and personal.

A bond we would never have if I only depended on him to pluck me from danger and depression every time I asked.  It’s such a comfort to know that He will never leave me behind!

I kept sitting on the floor with my cat and my God. I sat til I stopped crying (for now.) Catsby got up and stretched, and so did I. And I thought I’d better write this down before I forget it. So here it is, I’m sharing it with you in the hopes that your Sad might be lessened if you’re reminded that Jesus treks with you, too. It’s not instant wisdom or bottled Genie wish-granting, but reassurance that you aren’t climbing alone and you were never meant to.

Today, I’m still sad, but that’s okay. Everything isn’t coming up sunshine and rainbows and unicorn farts because I have the best mountain guide ever. It just doesn’t work that way. And I’m pretty sure Jesus GETS that.

I’m still going to eat my ice cream to make myself feel better, and that’s okay too. I’ll share it with Jesus, if he wants. I don’t have any Mustard Seed flavored ice cream, but I do have Belgian chocolate, and that’s got to count for something.

He will be sitting right next to me just like always, in this perilous terrain. I’m never alone.

 

 

 

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Sweeping up Eggshells – Life in the New Covenant

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By: Jana Greene

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

Part 4 of The Seismic Seven Series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He does love you so.

 

 

 

 

Stone Throwing for Sinners

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Part 3 of The Seismic Seven Series

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

By: Jana Greene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because His love is already perfect.

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

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

May he bless us, every one.