Loser’s Guide to God’s Grace 07: Finding Jesus

Still with me? I trust if you went and got Waking the Dead that you are reading it and following the program. I did, and I want to tell you, it propelled me to a crazy place of joy, joy. Joy, joy! Now: it doesn’t have to be that book; I think God used that book for me because He knew I would relate to all the epic sci-fi/fantasy stuff, and I did. Maybe He will even use this book to speak to you because you relate to all the LOSER stuff in me! Wouldn’t that be great? I doubt it though, because I’m such a loser, who would listen to me? Wait! That is the point of this book!

“God expects more failure from me than I expect from myself,” Brennan Manning used to say. And he should know! He was an alcoholic, even after he got “saved,” and continued to binge even as he was ministering to multitudes through his speaking and writing. The world would have called him a worthless drunk! But his books have brought hope to so many people! (Including me.) Just so you’re with me: I’m a big old loser like Brennan Manning and you, so you can trust me.

And yet here is what I found when I went chasing after Jesus demanding His healing touch: He healed my broken heart and life. Not instantly, and certainly not “painlessly.” But … he surrounded me with such love, even the “painful” parts of His healing touch were good. (Like, I don’t know, I remember being in hospital once with a really painful gnawing in my stomach, and after all the tests and things, someone finally gave me painkillers. The nurse told me I would actually feel the painkiller working up from the IV in my arm to my shoulder and down my throat to the pain — and it was true, it made me cough when it worked its way to the back of my throat! — and then, it hit the pain, and the pain stopped! That moment of pain stopped was so good, it overwhelmed the experience of the pain itself. Weird, right? But I still remember that moment of pain stopped as one of the best moments in life.)

This is sort of how Jesus helped me approach painful stuff in my past and live through it, because when we did, then the pain stopped.

Now all this interaction with Jesus which I am describing to you here, it happened over many days and weeks, and months, moments at a time, as I reached out and invited Him to meet with me and heal me. And it was all spiritual. Or, you might say, all in my head, in my mind. In a way I would relive the pivotal events in my life that had sent me down a destructive path, only I did so with Jesus there beside me, showing me what should have happened, how things could have been. And somehow, this allowed the events themselves to remain in my memory, but leeched of all the pain and bitterness. Much of the horror of them washed away … somehow being anchored in Jesus, who is all for me, helped me accept the past, embrace the lessons of it, and move on.

 Image

I know. It sounds crazy. Or like therapy. Is that how therapy works?

Well, what if your therapist was Jesus, and He could totally hone in on the key events that shaped your whole loser life, and make it all better? That’s what He did!

Because He loves me.

And He loves you, too!

Loser’s Guide to God’s Grace ebook now available at Amazon!

If you don’t want to wait for the entire story to unfold here, please get the ebook from Amazon today! It will be available from ibooks and others soon.

It is only 99¢ — I wanted to make it free, but some ebook vendors won’t offer it unless you charge at least 99¢. If that is a problem, let me know, and I can send you a PDF.

For now, search Amazon for Loser’s Guide to God’s Grace by Jane W, and you will find it! Thank you! Please spread the word. And enjoy the book! God loves you!

Get it from Amazon now!

Image

Loser’s Guide to God’s Grace 06: The Stupidity of My Story

You remember my stupid story. I was middle-aged, overweight, childless and in career tailspin..

Meanwhile, my husband was battling depression. I was too self-involved to notice how he was suffering, but thank God his P.A. did and prescribed anti-depressants which made him feel better (and probably saved his life!), but also made his sex drive dry up. I’m such a loser, all I understood about his problem was he didn’t want to have sex with me.

Basically my whole world told me: you are a loser. The end.

If anyone asked me how I was doing, I had to say, “Oh, just great, thanks!” Because I couldn’t say, “Well, my husband thinks I’m fat and doesn’t want to have sex anymore, let alone have a child with me — although he did have two with his previous wife with whom he had irreconcilable differences. Now I have to have my womb removed because giant tumors are growing there. So after that and eight weeks of painful recovery, I’ll be facing 30-45 pointless more years before I die.” I mean, this is crap you don’t say to people. This is LOSER crap.

At least if I’d had some tragic story of loss, it would have been sort of heroic and heart-breaking. Instead my story was banal and stupid. If I had something like a miscarriage or death of a loved one to tell people, nobody would have expected me to be happy or OK. I would have been a loser, sure; I would have lost something dear to me, yes. But it would have given some cachet, wouldn’t it?

Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 5.55.43 PM

But no. I was a huge loser, and I couldn’t even tell anyone about it because it was such a stupid story. It’s so stupid, why I think you want to know about it is beyond me. You have to hear it, though, so maybe you will understand where I was that horrible night I got drunk and gorged myself on sugar cookies because I was all alone with my childlessness and worthlessness. I didn’t turn to God that night. I turned to wine. But wine was a short-term solution. (I get too sick from it.)

The next day, I had a headache and a choice to make. Spiral into darkness and hopelessness for the rest of my worthless life, or find Jesus and make Him fix me.

Thank God, there came into my hands a terrific book by John Eldredge called Waking the Dead. Eldredge spoke to me where I live because he talked about heroic stories and how our spiritual walk is like that: God has a role for us to play in His epic battle of good vs. evil. Eldredge used great tales and movies like Lord of the Rings, Narnia, The Matrix, Gladiator, etc. to make this point. Nerd alert: Eldredge was speaking my language.

He showed that we cannot play our role in our epic unless we are heart-whole. Before God can use you, He wants to heal your heart. The book then outlined four “healing streams” God uses to fix your broken heart.

Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 5.56.29 PMSo I’ll take up my story again after you have a chance to check that out …

Loser’s Guide to God’s Grace 05: If It’s Free, What’s It Worth?

If you’re a grubbing, selfish loser like me (and I am not saying you are), about now, you’re thinking: if this gift of grace is free, how worthwhile can it be? After all, you get what you pay for!

Thankfully grace reverses that whole scenario, and we losers get stuff wildly unaffordable to us! We get what we can’t and never will be able to pay for. We get the best, the most wonderful, the beyond-imagining … well, let me not get ahead of myself. Yes, the gift of grace is free, and yet, it is invaluable. Trust me on this. It’s even better than what Joel Osteen promises you!

When Joel tells you to stay in faith through your problem because God is going to use it for your promotion, for instance, we think what he is saying seems true to him because he hasn’t suffered as we have suffered. But now, I want to tell you some good news, and some bad news.

  • First, the good news: the Gospel is the Gospel, and it is true for winners and losers alike! So when Joel says to stay in faith because God is going to use that problem to promote you, he is exactly right! Yay.
  • The bad news: the “promotion” part doesn’t literally mean you are going to get a job promotion. Nor does it mean you are going to experience a financial breakthrough, a divine healing, a miraculous restoration of a relationship, a fulfilling marriage, healthy family or any other material “blessing” you can imagine.

These things are great. God is able to give them to you, and I hope He does. But in comparison with the “promotion” you’re entitled to because of your position as God’s beloved child, these things are small potatoes. Yes! The gift of grace, though free to us, is worth far, far more than any of that little list of rewards that we hanker for.

I know this, because I’ve received it, and I’m a loser, same as you!

When you step into your identity as God’s beloved, you step into your identity as God’s beloved. Nothing can be better than that! I don’t even know how to tell you how amazing it is. And I know that you won’t even understand what I am saying about it until it actually begins happening to you, but let me try. It will take a return to my stupid story. Next time.

Loser’s Guide to God’s Grace 04: What about “cheap grace”?

OK, if you were raised in church and grew up hearing about the heroes of the faith, then you have heard about Dietrich Bonheoffer who gave us the idea that we ought to be ashamed of ourselves if we don’t shape up after receiving God’s grace because then we’re making it into “cheap grace.”

First off, Dietrich Bonheoffer was a very heroic guy, and I admire the hell out of all he did to try to save people from Nazi death camps prior to and during World War II. And even to bring down Hitler’s government. His heart was obviously in the right place, and his legacy is undisputed.

The fact remains, though, there’s just no such thing as “cheap grace.”

I will let our spiritual father Brennan Manning answer this, with words from his autobiography, All Is Grace.

My life is a witness to vulgar grace–a grace that amazes as it offends. A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wages as the grinning drunk who shows up a ten till five. A grace that hikes up the robe and runs breakneck toward the prodigal reeking of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party no ifs, ands or buts. A grace that raises bloodshot eyes to a dying thief’s request–”Please, remember me” — and assures him, “You bet!” A grace that is the pleasure of the Father, fleshed out in the carpenter Messiah, Jesus the Christ, who left His Father’s side not for heaven’s sake but for our sakes, yours and mind.

This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us. It’s not cheap. It’s free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown-up sensibility. Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try to find something or someone it cannot cover. Grace is enough. He is enough. Jesus is enough.”

And I think maybe the incomparable Robert Farrar Capon wouldn’t be out of place here, either, from his The Mystery of Christ — and Why We Don’t Get It.

I’ve always had a problem with the phrase “cheap grace.” As far as I’m concerned, nobody can make God’s grace in Jesus any cheaper than it already is: It’s free ….

I guess what I really don’t like is the way people start out by defining sin as “moral failure,” and then go on to think that if they commit “sins” they’ll cut themselves off from grace. That’s all nonsense, of course: “sinners” are the very thing God gives His grace to — lost sheep, lost coins, lost sons. As a matter of fact, the true New Testament opposite of sin isn’t virtue, or moral success, or getting your act together: it’s faith in the grace that takes away all the sins of the world. Paul says, “All that is not of faith is sin.” And Jesus says, “The one who believes is not judged.” We’re not on trial: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” And we shouldn’t weaken that by giving a narrow interpretation to “those who are in Christ Jesus”: the whole world is in Him, reconciled and made into a New Creation by the Mystery of Christ.

OK … one more quote, in case you were raised in a fundamentalist church, and you think that my telling people not to worry about “cheap grace” may cause people to abuse grace and end up in hell! From Paul Ellis, in The Gospel in Ten Words:

If I am wrong about grace then one day I will have to apologize to God for telling everyone he is better and more gracious than he really is. But if the grace killers are wrong, then eternity for them is going to begin with a truly awkward moment. “Er, sorry Lord. Sorry for prostituting your love and making people pay for the free gift of grace.”

Thank you Paul Ellis, Robert Farrar Capon and Brennan Manning. You have forever obliterated the idea of “cheap grace” and taken the pressure off us losers who knew we could never live up to Dietrich Bonheoffer’s standards.

Loser’s Guide to God’s Grace 03: How to Get Grace

If you’re a loser who was raised in the evangelical church, particularly in a fundamentalist culture, but really any standard Baptist/Assembly of God/Holiness/etc. denomination (and there are a lot of us!), maybe you are wondering:

“Don’t I have to do something to get this grace? Don’t I have to accept it? And then, don’t I have to start living right to keep it?”

I am happy to tell you: no and no. The grace is there, for you, for me, for everyone, whether we accept it or not. If you don’t accept it, you will be missing out on … everything worthwhile in this world! But it’s a done deal. Christ’s death on the cross was the sacrament of His saving grace over you, whether you want it or not. He said, “I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” (John 12:32). All peoples — that includes you, like it or not. So grace is there, it is happening, and you’d be crazy not to accept it.

But then you had another question. “Don’t I have to start living right to keep it?” No, and for the same reasons: the grace of God is a fact that we can’t negate, no matter what we do. In fact, a lot of the parables Jesus told seem to indicate that the only people who might, in fact, miss out on a joyful eternity with Him are the ones who insist that they can get there on their own good works without His freely given grace. So this would be the people who do start living right in order to “keep” His gift of grace!

And who are the people who might do that?

Not us losers! We know we are screw-ups! We know we can’t behave our way onto God’s good side. We know if we’re going to get there at all it’s going to be because of His total unmerited favor.

BUT the people who are used to winning — used to getting the prize they deserve because of their own hard work and native strength and goodness — they’re the ones who might be tempted to put their faith in their own ability to live right rather than in God’s grace!

Once again: we losers are out ahead of the game in this arena. It seems the most fatal thing you can do, once you have received God’s grace, is to assume that you have a part in keeping this grace working for you, and that your part is based on your good actions. You don’t, and it’s not.

The Apostle Paul makes that clear in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” It’s a gift, and a gift means: no strings attached. God’s love for you is unconditional, and His grace for you springs from that love.

Still and all, wouldn’t it be nice if everyone who had received God’s grace started behaving right? Well, yes, of course, it would be great. It would be great if everyone — period — started behaving right. It would be lovely. We should all behave just the best that we can. But what we don’t want to do is start telling ourselves (or anyone else) that our behavior is what makes us God’s beloved. Or worse, that our behavior can place us outside of God’s love. That is a very vicious thing to tell someone!

My poor old grand-dad was told by his Pentecostal Holiness church back in the day that smoking cigarettes was a sin, and sinners didn’t go to heaven, so despite his loving Jesus (and Jesus’ loving him!) he was going to hell unless he quit, which he couldn’t. My grandpa thought, to his dying day, that he was going to hell because he smoked. This is the pernicious end of the idea that our good behavior makes us more acceptable to God — or that our bad behavior makes us unacceptable to Him.

So don’t believe, and don’t tell other people, that behavior has the power to get God’s grace or lose it. God’s grace is a free gift to you, no matter what you do or don’t do before you receive it or in response to it. God just loves you, no matter what.