Filling in the Cracks with Trust

anne lamott

As I wrestle with many changes in this time, I’ve been posting pieces to invite you along the journey. The good, the bad, the ugly. All of it.  I believe the late, great George Carlin refereed to such drivel as ‘brain droppings,’ and as crude as it sounds, that is a pretty accurate assessment of the life and work of a blogger in cyberspace. So follow the trail, and maybe we will learn from each other along the way. I strongly invite you to leave comments and / or share your personal experiences, as you feel comfortable. And as always, thank you for your readership. ❤

By: Jana Greene

“How do you love an invisible God?”

The question hung in the air at the Celebrate Recovery meeting I was leading in 2012. A woman who was struggling to stay clean from the soul-sucking heroin asked me after the meeting (or, as we say in the Rooms, ‘the meeting after the meeting.’)

It was a very good question; and one so primal, it threw me. God was an old friend of mine. I thought I had spiritually evolved past that question. But in times of deep duress, I’ve found it to be a legitimate inquisition.

The answer I’ve found? You love each other. Any place there is love, be it by squeaky-clean Christian or ‘heathen’ who has never uttered the name of the Lord, there is God.

There you go. That’s how you get to know and love the ‘invisible’ God. TA DA!

It’s just that easy! Except for sometimes, it isn’t. Shifting all of our focus onto worry, can make him seem less visible; less tangible.

And like any relationship, the more time you spend seeking the face of God, the more intimate the relationship becomes – and the more full his reality reveals itself.

I used to think that the only love that counted for Team God was that fostered under the umbrella of a corporate, official, Jesus-brand ministry with a Bible to beat people up with (or worse, cause call to shun them) and a Federal tax ID number.

But that simply isn’t so.

It’s hard to dis-believe in someone you know personally, so that is not my struggle so much these days.

But I do have other struggles, and maybe you do too. Maybe you are worried about your future as well. Maybe every decision you make feels like filling out a voting card that is missing several candidate choices.

So today’s post is about TRUST.

Is God in charge of the future, or are we just scraping by like the children in Lord of the Flies, trying to carve out survival while our God watches the wretched, gladiator-style event?

Because I cannot believe he is love, and believe he created us to watch us implode.

It’s easier to love an invisible God, whose love physically manifests in nature and through his people, than it is to make peace with the unknown. And right now – above all else – my struggle is with having no idea what is coming next. Which, of course, is a struggle with TRUSTING God.

So, I’ve been a Christian most of my life, yet still – in times like these – wrangle with trusting him when every shred of physical evidence points to certain doom.

He is not the god of Certain Doom. He is the God of orchestration, working behind the scenes to arrange things for our own good. I’ve seen it play out 1,000 times. Why do I still struggle with trusting completely in uncertain seasons of life?

There is grace for the blessed seasons – written clearly to us and in bold font, and in Sharpie. We see it. It spills off the page and stains our fingers so that we can rub it off on an unbelieving world.

But there is also grace for seasons of struggle – in seemingly invisible ink. Even when we hold it up to the light, we cannot see it written. We cannot decipher it even when we do get a glimpse. It reveals itself in due time, but while we wait, we are flummoxed.

As the Apostle Paul wrote, “I believe. Help me in my unbelief,” I implore: “I trust you, God. Help me in my distrust.

And God bless us, every single one.

God, help me to keep seeking your face. Thank you for your endless mercy, spilled off the page and into my heart. Thank you for making your love so easy to find. Lord, my fears are primal, and I cannot face them without trusting you. Hook a sister up with an extra measure of faith. And God? Thanks in advance.

Love Takes Home the Prize (a little poetry slam attempt)

jacob's well
Jacob’s Well in Texas

Hello, dear readers. I pray everyone is safe in the aftermath of the recent hurricanes, earthquakes, and fires.

Oy vey, this world.  What is the DEAL with it?

As I fight my own battle with depression, I’m learning that fighting it is exhausting, like trying to climb out of a deep well where the walls are slick and there are no footholds. I’m learning to be still, let Jesus shimmy down the well to where I am, hold and comfort me, and then lift me to safety. I know He will because He always does. As surely as death or taxes.

I have recently become addicted to watching poetry slams on YouTube. I love the wordcrafting and tempo, the emotion and power that go into the slamming. I would love to write poetry for a gathering of slam fans, but I don’t really have the guts to do it in front of actual people, so I’ll just do so from my little corner of the world here at The Beggar’s Bakery, where I don’t have to stutter or worry about what to do with my face or hands in front of people.

Here is my slam of the day.  It’s my first in this style of writing. Chalk it up to a mid-life crisis.  It almost has to be read aloud, and gives little credence to punctuation and grammar and all that jazz.

It may be pure awful. Something I look back on publishing and cringe.  Trying new things is hard. But hey – that’s always a risk when starting anything new. Right?

 

By: Jana Greene

There is no love apart from God

That being who embodies us

And shines like glass inside of us

Reflecting who He is.

Not given straight-up, tidy, neat

This thing we make about ourselves

This thing that wracks and wrecks ourselves

Spills over, out, and through.

We look at life through half-blind eyes

Despairing at the poverty

Body, mind soul  poverty

that chokes and breaks our hearts.

How can you say that God is Love?

I’ve heard asked in angry tones

Broken, acrid, angry tones

Where is He in the hurt?

Has Love gone void in this dark place

Where pain crushes the human race

This fickle, tender human race

And leaves it there to die?

But I say ‘no’; do not give in

To throwing in the towel, my friend,

The towel so soaked with blood and tears

Wring it and be free.

Chin up, all creation!

Rise up, all you nations!

And then crouch down with fellow men

And make yourselves Jesus to them,

For he is inhabiting you.

It’s not by spell of your own power

But by His Spirit enmeshed in you

The Friend he left to dwell in you

Manifesting Love for you.

Like liquid gold, let it flow

Out from the vessel and into the mold

The empty, barren, starving mold

In your brother’s heart.

We see here through half-blind eyes

Through the glass darkly in side of us

But even in spite of the dark in us,

Love takes home the prize.

 

 

Harvey, Irma, and the One True “Act of God”

HurricaneIsabel-660x383
Photo Credit: National Geographic

 

I wrote this and posted it a few days ago, but took it down. I had not really made the point that I had intended, so I’m doing a little clarification edit and sending it back out to you, dear readers.

Stay safe out there!

By: Jana Greene

Remember when insurance companies and other risk management professionals referred to natural disasters as “Acts of God?” I do. What a terrifying picture such terminology paints of our God! At best, He would have to be an uncaring and vindictive deity. At worst, a sadistic almighty force who delights in doling out punishment.

(“I told you not to eat that entire box of Oreos, you hedonistic glutton. Here…have a category 5 hurricane!)

Last week, a friend posted to Facebook, “I just pray it doesn’t hit here. As long as Irma doesn’t come here, I don’t care where it goes…..”

I struggle with saying prayers like “Jesus, please don’t let us have hurricane landfall here. Direct it away from us.” I care very much where it goes and wish all hurricanes back out to sea.

To me, praying it will hit somewhere else it’s a little like praying that your sports team will win. Guess what? The OTHER side is praying for a win, too.

And at this juncture, I am tired of reading Facebook posts that infer (or downright state) that these natural disasters are the result of one REALLY pissed off deity. It is the wrath of God, they say. We are getting what we all deserve as a fallen society. God is angry with us and punishing us, and causing us to suffer!

Um, not MY God. I feel really bad that yours is so hateful and vengeful, though.

For those of you who take every word of the Bible literally and out of context, it’s there in black and white for you, too.

Jesus answered them, “Do you finally believe? In fact, you’re about to make a run for it—saving your own skins and abandoning me. But I’m not abandoned. The Father is with me. I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” – John 16:33 (MSG)

 

The word that keeps coming to mind is “Emmanuel”.  It means ‘God with us.” And no matter where landfall hits or what/who is effected, God is with us. I cannot find Bible  verses that promise we get spared all the storms. But I do find scripture in numerous places that say ‘fear not,’ and “I will never leave or forsake you.

Yes, we bring our petitions to God but he is sovereign and works all to the good. All things. Even the seemingly awful things. He doesn’t cause the storms, but He also doesn’t always stop them. Our puny human minds find that a tough pill to swallow.

My good friend Elaine Q. Potts said it much more eloquently than I:

“While Jesus spoke to one storm, He didn’t speak to every storm. Prayer is about His presence through all of life, about hearing His direction for a given situation. To think that God casts his love/mercy away because we choose the wrong wording or statement style is not true. At no are a point in the Christian walk is it about performance–our having control. Pray, prepare, and  learn to look for his presence that never forsakes.”

So make preparations, dear readers. With the hurricane models for Irma showing so many different possible tracks, this thing could go anywhere. One of the maps looks like someone plopped a giant cat hairball on a map of the United States. Another looks like my 2-year old granddaughter predicted its landfalls. With ALL of our vast knowledge and science and technology, nobody knows for certain.

But don’t for a minute, even as it is barreling down, entertain the thought that it is retribution from the Almighty.

He is Himself Love.

I do not have the credentials to explain what’s happening in super storm-dom. I do not have the answers why God does allows suffering to occur. Life ain’t fair; that’s for sure. And there is ample suffering for us all.

And, hey – a wise friend of mine posted about suffering:

We are always looking for a way to NOT have to suffer, when the Bible teaches the opposite…to rejoice,” noted my friend Alexandra. “Suffering is not a popular message…but it is truly where the rubber meets the road. There is just something so sacred about suffering. It’s where it’s at. I hate it, but it’s where it’s at. It’s really a gift. I for sure will try to outrun this hurricane, but if it hits us like it hit Texas, we will get the opportunity to suffer along with them. Pray it doesn’t, prepare like it will.”

I have the most insightful friends, I’m telling you.

But I do have the faith to lean into Him when chaos seems to reign supreme.

Remember, you are not abandoned. The Father is with you. I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.

Signed, Jesus.

His love has been made manifest this past couple of weeks in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. So many, many hurting and homeless; and so many people flooding the city with every kind of help imaginable…some putting their own lives at risk. Human helping human. Strangers helping strangers. People of all colors and creeds loving on one another.

God IS responsible for THAT.

Love is not destructive. Love isn’t trying to trip you up.

Love is an “Act of God.”

At no are a point in the Christian walk is it about performance–our having control. Pray, prepare, and learn to look for his presence that never forsakes.

Amen, my sister. Amen.

Praying each of you readers is kept safe in the storms, and that each of you suffering under the weight of Harvey are given an extra measure of comfort today. I, myself, am a little scared, to be honest. I live one mile from the Atlantic Ocean as the crow flies. My town sticks out like a big toe and has been a magnet for hurricanes – some of them severe.

But…..Emmanuel.

God bless us, every one.

Save

Save

Settling the Cosmos – Calling out Hopelessness

Hi, dear Readers.

The past few weeks has been WOW. And not “WOW! SO GREAT!” either.

Just wow.  It’s superfluously wacky, this life season.I wonder if Mars got out alignment with Venus, or Pluto is pouting  for being excommunicated, or the stars are staging a great rebellion.

I used to believe in astrology many, many years ago. I still get my direction from the Heavenlies – just not the heavenly bodies.

It’s tempting to seek out what God seems reticent to tell us in tangible, chart-able ways.

But it isn’t he fault in our stars or the heavy hand of Karma trying to set us straight. The less-glamorous truth is that a lot of crap happens, and keeps happening. It’s so largely out of control, it makes you wonder if anyone is supervising this planet, which seems to be spiraling into a Lord of then Flies level madness.

The truth is often, before our stars ‘align,’ we have to somehow make it through this experience, hurling through the chaotic cosmos sight-unseen (and violently so, on occasion.)

Several things have happened in my life lately – all of them emotionally loaded – in a short span of time, and an old, sickening vibe in my stomach resonates a foreboding  sense of doom.

Ah, I remember you, you dirty rat. You’re Hopelessness. Don’t even THINK about getting settled in here. I’ve renovated the space you used to rent, I think you will find it most uncomfortable. I’ll chase you out a million times if need be, and bring  the Landlord with me. Go on, now, GIT!

Hopelessness is, excuse the expression, an attention monster.  It thrives where it is welcome. It grows where you allow it to feed.  I know all of its favorite foods! Self-pity, alienation, wallowing.  I am currently trying to starve my old nemesis, but like the monster in the movie” Alien” that also resided in the pit of a stomach,  it’s not leaving neatly and politely.

You have to knock Hopelessness on its keister; it won’t go willingly.

Don’t despair,  my friends, and I’ll try not to despair too. God is here for us.

Take despair breaks to practice self-care…the two cannot inhabit the same space for long.

What soothes your raw and ragged soul? Are you denying it’s cry for attention? Are you being 100 % real with God about how you are feeling? Tell Him. Yell it if you need to. It’s okay to do so.

Does nature soothe your soul? Or music?

Go for the car ride and blast your music with the windows down.

Eat the chocolate and/or cheese.

Call your friends, the ones who ‘get’ you.

Take the nap.

Go to the meeting.

Hug someone you love for five minutes solid.

Talk to the God.

You won’t get empty platitudes here at The Beggar’s Bakery about how when God closes a door, he opens a window. I always hated that saying. What does hat even mean? It’s Hell in the hallway!

But soon – and very soon – in God’s perfect timing, there comes a shift. There always is. Eventually, crappy things will un-happen, and some really good stuff will happen that will make you forget all about hurdling though the vortex.

Things like belly laughs, birthday cake, time with friends, sand between our toes, hugs, family, romance, raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens…

Those really good things include participating in life so that we can look forward to the future with hope.

If you are struggling today, I get it.

Remind yourself that its not an endless black hole;  just a black moment. I’ll remind myself, too.

We are not unsupervised, as it may feel,  but always carry the Navigator with us. This by no means minimizes the crap-storm of challenges you are experiencing right now. Sometimes things just suck.

But Heavenly Papa is with you. You’re not alone.

This too – whatever this is – shall pass to make room for the belly laughs and happy experiences yet to come.

I’m not preaching to you, but at myself! Hang on tight and so will I.

God bless us, every one.

 

The Good Natured Father (Part II)

A seat for everyone

 

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

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

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

God bless us, Every One, and Happy Sunday.

By: Jana Greene

What if God’s nature is really only good?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus is joyful! He is not somber.

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

― John Crowder, Seven Spirits Burning

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless us, every one.

Agape for Amateurs: a love letter from God

Oh Dear Created One,

Do you know who you are to me?

Who am I, you ask?

I am Love….only ever good.

And you are my handiwork.

I am not angry with you.

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

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

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

Your hurting places don’t scare me away.

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

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

But have been courting you all along.

Where there is love, I am.

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

I am trustworthy.

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

Enough of the fallen.

Enough of the foolish self-dependency.

Walk with me – I long to raise you up!

That small, still voice?

It’s me nudging you.

Can you feel it?

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

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

The emotion is my urging, too.

You were created to feel.

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

I see you.

I see you!

And you matter to me.

 

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

You see, I am human, too.

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

The Spirit rejoices with you in times of celebration,

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

Cut through what others have told you about me.

Throw away the ritualistic, legalistic, egotistic religion.

Cut through the culture of shame.

Have your own relationship with me.

Not a figment of imagination in stories from dusty texts,

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

Nothing is happenstance.

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

In your hurting places.

In your hiding places.

There is no deficit of hope, Dear One.

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

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

I am embracing you now.

I delight in you.

Seek my face.

I shall never hide from you.

There is no other like you.

You are my BELOVED!

With boundless grace and endless love,

  • Papa

The Good Natured Father (Part I)

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Good day, Dear Readers.

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

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

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

God bless us, every one!

 

By: Jana Greene

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

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

But what about Him?

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

This nature of God.

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

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

Or….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will the real Nature of God Please Stand Up?

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

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

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

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

What if God’s nature is really only good?

Part II to be published Sunday, June 25th

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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