Are Christians already being persecuted?

I don’t often link The Beggar’s Bakery to the blog I write for at WilmingtonFAVS.com, but today I wanted to share the post with my readers here. The WilmingtonFAVS blog is called “Redemption Feast”.  God bless you and yours, and please share the link with others who might be interested in the sacrifice of a person’s right to hold and practice Christian views in the name of “tolerance”.  (Oh, and GOD BLESS AMERICA!)

http://wilmingtonfavs.com/blogs/jana-greene/christians-and-the-tolerance-tide

Wobbly, but Standing Firm

By: Jana Greene

“Peter said, ‘I don’t have a nickel to my name, but what I do have, I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!” He grabbed (the crippled man) by the right hand and pulled him up. In an instant his feet and ankles became firm. He jumped to his feet and walked.” – Acts 3:6-8 (The Message)

I have been bummed out lately about something that happened five months ago, in March. It is a long story about having broken my leg by engaging in a daring feat (getting up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night and turning my ankle) and the surgery that resulted (a stainless steel plate, six screws and a pin) and the recovery time.  I am still in that recovery time and I don’t like being slowed down.

My family and I lovingly refer to my new, repaired appendage as “Frankenkle”, the healing has gone very well, although not as quick as I’d hoped. Most of the time I don’t even limp, and count myself as a grateful recipient of a divine act.  In the grand scope of things, it’s not a big deal…I’m just a little wobbly.

Until it hurts– usually after a long day of over-doing it.  It swells and aches and makes it difficult to walk. I get frustrated and grumpy.  And then I have to be pulled up.

I forget that it isn’t a big deal, then when it’s like that. In the momentary pain, I picked opened my bible one day to look for guidance. It opened to  the verse in Acts about the man and his instantaneous firm ankle.

Funny how God answers our frustrations.

Perhaps the idea is that we count ourselves as grateful recipients of the divine even while we are hurting. The most devastatingly crucial act having been Jesus’ undeserved (and very, very painful) death on the cross for my salvation. Sometimes, when I’m in pain because of an injury or a circumstance in my life, I limp around as if I’ve forgotten all of the divineness God pours out on me.  Circumstances can be more painful than any other kind of hurt – and just as debilitating!  Those are the wobbliest times….a time of trusting the Lord with your family,  a time of seemingly unanswered prayer, or not having many nickels to your name. But the promise is the same.

He’s got this.

My ankle will become firm in time, but my Father is healing more than just my body during this time of slowing-down. When I get bummed out, God reminds me that my faith in him has been made more firm in this slowing-down time, I just have to stand on it to see the millions of things to be grateful for.

The view is divine.

The Last First Day of School – a minor motherhood identity crisis

By: Jana Greene

Today is the last “first day of school” for my youngest child.  She is nearly seventeen now – a senior in high school.  Before I dropped her off, she and I said a quick prayer together – Dear Jesus, please give her a great first day and a great school year.  Now that she is in 12th grade, she has a lot to look forward to.

But as it is the last day I will ever drop a daughter off for her first day of the new school year, it’s a little bittersweet. As I watched her walk into the building, my eyes stung for a moment. Wasn’t she only a kindergartener clinging to my legs a couple of years ago? Now, she is a beautiful young lady carrying herself with confidence. I am so very proud of her.

Driving my kids to school in the morning is one ritual I’ve tried to keep constant through the years. They rode the bus home in the afternoons, but morning trips were mine. It usually felt like quality time (in 20 minutes or less), except for when they were thirteen and fourteen, and then it sometimes felt like a root canal (what with snarky attitudes and slammed car doors).  But mostly I remember a lot of laughter, and singing to the radio, and really good talks about the deep and the trivial.

A happy morning ride to school made me feel as though my kids would be okay. I would remind them to “make good choices” and get a feel for what was going on in their little worlds. On the mornings all went well, I felt born to be a mom. I didn’t know that they would grow up so fast.

You hear a lot about empty nests but my husband and I can’t really relate to that concept yet.  In our blended family, the children are twenty, twenty and seventeen respectively and all three are still living at home. None of them seem in a particular hurry to fly into the world without us.  He and I often groan about not having FIVE MINUTES alone in the house; we joke that we will have to move to an island in the middle of the night and leave no forwarding address, just to get five minutes alone. We have a bit of empty-nest-envy sometimes, in truth, because I was also born to be his wife and now in our mid-lives, he deserves to be the center of my attention as well.

This morning, the milestone of my youngest daughter’s last first day of school generated a tiny little identity crisis panic attack in my heart. I think that’s normal, but then I remind myself that “normal” is just a setting on the washing machine.

The truth of the matter is that we Moms – having devoted ourselves to our kids – have to learn what makes us “tick” all over again when they grow up. There is so much purpose in motherhood that I forgot it might not be my sole purpose. I’m still figuring out where God’s plan places me in the scheme of my identity, but many times His plan places me nowhere near who I’ve understood myself to be. He knows I will always be “Mom” to my beloved daughters, but His plans for HIS children are grander still.

Enjoy the full nest! my empty-nester friends tell me. Enjoy your kids…they fly away soon enough!  And it’s true – mine is a SENIOR now! If I get teary now thinking about her being in 12th grade, how will I fare when the kids really DO move out?  If I worry about them so much now while they are still under our roof, how much more will I worry when they are out? What will I fill the space with – the space that is feathered now with clutter and noise and drama?

And the small, still voice that I recognize as family, too, says “Trust. Fill it with trust in me. I’ve got them now.” So I have to try, because my Father knows best.

For her last year in high school, I hope circumstances allow me to take my youngest to school each day.  We will laugh and sing to the radio and talk about subjects deep and trivial in twenty precious moments or less, and pray together quickly before she leaves for class. God has fresh ideas for her life, and she has the whole journey ahead of her.

Born to be God’s child, too….

Accidental Prayers

Yes, I did actually add God to the “contacts” on my phone in order to add this visual to the blog. (And yes, I know that isn’t His real phone number) He can be reached anytime you call His name, no cell contract required 😉

By: Jana Greene

Have you ever butt-dialed God?

I mean, accidentally called on him.  You aren’t trying to pray, but you suddenly feel like He can hear everything you do and say and you aren’t sure how long he has been listening. It’s a little disconcerting.

All of the sudden you are in His great presence. Maybe you thought about asking for His help in a certain area.  You need Him. You flip your heart open to place the call, and Whoa! He is already there.

How long has He been able to know what I’m thinking?

Or worrying about?

You feel a little silly; like maybe you should say, “Oh hi! I was just going to call you, really. But here you are, already listening!”

Or, “I meant to do that.” (He knows better).

Or embarrassed, rushing back to consider all of the things you were thinking about your neighbor before you reached out to the Almighty.  All the things you said when you didn’t think anyone could hear you.

He doesn’t want carefully choreographed pleasantries. He wants the real deal.

That’s the thing about God: He is always on the other side of the line, and still…I know He appreciates it when we call him deliberately. Accidental prayer – those groanings of the spirit that happen as a secondhand thought – are prayers all the same. But we all know that when someone means to connect with you, it’s always more heartfelt.

It is a learning curve, to keep in constant contact with God during the course of the day. I don’t mean to poke fun at prayer at all – prayer is my lifeline. I guess that’s kind of my point – the setting forth to communicate with God should become a constant conversation, not a dialing up.

Bringing him my thoughts and worries – in real time – as they unfold.

Keeping the heart flipped open in His presence, which is always near.

Can you hear Him now?

To Carry a Tune (or: There’s a hole in my bucket)

Beach Buckets (photo by Jana Greene)

By: Jana Greene

The speakers on stage – as big as house doors – pump the baseline so hard that I can feel my ribs vibrate with each beat.  Always a sucker for percussion, I am bouncing slightly with each perfect, deliberate fall of the sticks upon snare. Melodies, streaming from the lead guitar, make me move against my will in the way that only a middle-aged white woman can manage; with certain awkwardness, but I don’t care. Move anyway, my spirit tells me, and I obey because sometimes my spirit knows what to do.

And then she sings.

Her voice, raised in worship, is flawless. It rises and falls in perfect synchronization with the music and it doesn’t struggle with highs or lows but surfs on the notes, catching the perfect wave every time.  She is worshiping God with all she has and I know that He is pleased.  He created her ability to sing with seeming ease and share it with the world, and she has mesmerized us all with her gifts.  With her obedience.

My voice has the potential to traumatize…not mesmerize.

When I get to heaven, I want to be able to sing like she does. Or like Queen Latifa.  Or maybe Joss Stone.  But who knows? Perhaps  by that time I’ll be at enough peace with my own gifts to keep from envying those of others. I’m not proud that I sometimes covet the talents of others, but hat covetness burrows into my mind  before I have the chance to rebuke it at times.

Music is one of my very favorite ways in which God spoils us all. It was created by Him to give us another tool of praise  (and sometimes just to get jiggy with it) and I wish I was as good at making it as I am to listening to it. I know God doesn’t mind that I sing off-key, but I do.

Sharing our talents can be a daunting task. We don’t get to choose the gifts we are given, but we do have the choice to use what we have – or to keep it to ourselves.  I know he truth: that the Singer at my church works on her music often, that her synchronization is perfected not only by gifting, but by practice. Effortlessness is not what she strives for; worship is.  Each of the musicians in our church’s worship band has mind-blowing talent, which they each use every week to bless others.  After Sunday services,  I have to fight the urge to corner each of them and say, “Do you have any IDEA how AMAZING you are?”  (I don’t want to be creepy about it.  Just appreciative.)

We all have different gifting, different processes. God is pleased when we use our talents to bring other hurting people to Him, no matter what that talent may be.  And those “what if’s”?

What if I use my talents and fail, and make a fool of myself?

What if it’s just too hard?

Move anyway, my spirit tells me.  You’ve been a fool for much lesser things. And I listen.

Because even though I cannot carry a tune in a bucket, sometimes my spirit really does know what to do.

The Church in Us

Wall painting at Lifepoint Church, Wilmington, NC

By: Jana Greene

“And though it is true that the church must always disassociate itself from sin, it can never have any excuse for keeping any sinners at a distance. If the church remains self-righteously aloof from failures, irreligious and immoral people, it cannot enter justified into God’s kingdom. But if it is constantly aware of its guilt and sin, it can live in joyous awareness of forgiveness. The promise has been given to it that anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.” – Brennan Manning

Church.

It is a place and a people, both.

My earliest exposure to church was as a small child in my grandparent’s Baptist congregation in Houston, Texas.  I remember my grandmother carrying me on her vast hip down the aisle, introducing me to other congregants as we passed.  When I sat down next to her for the service, I was surprised to see that everywhere was red.   Inside the proud brick building, pews were deep red velvet, as was the carpet.  Shiny Baptist hymnals were red as well, although many had faded to pink from the sun through stained glass.

“This is God’s house,” I remember her whispering to me.

I had heard about him before – God – in the stories that my grandparents read about all of the animals being crowded into a boat because water was filling up the world,  and about his talking to a man in the belly of a fish.   I told my grandmother that filling the world with water didn’t seem like a very nice thing to do, and she’d chuckled.  She explained that God sent a rainbow as a promise that he would never do it again, and that the flood seemed bad but was really good.  “Noah’s flood meant that God’s people could start all over again.”

She also told me about God’s Son, the Teacher. He lived a long time ago and loved all the people. She said that even though this Teacher was in Heaven with God, He would live in me, too, if I asked.

At thirteen years of age, I asked.

Since that time, I have experienced the Spirit of God many times in churches – and also the stinging judgment of my fellow humans there. So long as services are held on this planet, there will be issues in the churches.  As is true with most tangible things, the church itself is imperfect. It is a divinely touched organic thing, subject to troubles when people forget to offer up Self as a living sacrifice to him.  Sometimes even good people forget.  The church should disassociate itself with sin by virtue of it’s holiness….but there is always hope for sinners.  God’s son, the Teacher, said so.

He has  called us to gather and fellowship anyway.  We need each other. He also said to welcome others into his church just as they are, and to do so with love, to point people to Jesus.

The “place” of church has changed through the years.  Today, services are just as likely to be held in a building that shares walls with a grocery store, or on the sea-side, or in the auditorium of a middle school. Some have sleek décor and play rock music, some deliver messages by simulcast, some are still in proud brick buildings with stained glass and hymnals faded pink by the sun.   There is a church for every taste nowadays, for every spiritual leaning.

But the God of the people in his church is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.  His church seems to be growing in passion for the lost ones, those Christ was so passionate about.  Many followers of Jesus  are constantly aware of their guilt and sin in order to spread the awareness of joyous forgiveness.

God’s house should be the perfect place people to start over again, not for keeping sinners at a distance. God’s people should be the loving extension of his grace, a people whose souls are stained a deep, crimson red with his blood.

A place and people full of grace.

Grace Train Sounding Louder – thoughts on writing the tough chapters

By: Jana Greene

“But how can people call for help if they don’t know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven’t heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them? And how is anyone going to tell them, unless someone is sent to do it? That’s why Scripture exclaims,  A sight to take your breath away!  Grand processions of people  telling all the good things of God!  But not everybody is ready for this, ready to see and hear and act. Isaiah asked what we all ask at one time or another: “Does anyone care, God? Is anyone listening and believing a word of it?” The point is: Before you trust, you have to listen. But unless Christ’s Word is preached, there’s nothing to listen to.” – Romans 10:14-17 (The Message)

When I first read this scripture,  I thought about a locomotive. The image came to my mind of a train making stops in all kinds of places and picking up wayward people of all walks of life before continuing down the track.  I don’t know why.  Writers are a peculiar bunch when it comes to thinking (and everything else).

Another  line of thought  kept me active in my alcoholism for many years:  Nobody knows how I feel.  As long as I fed that train on the black coals of Terminal Uniqueness, the faster it gained speed for the inevitable train wreck.  Since no one else has had the exact  same life experiences that I have, I felt justified in drinking – and so I drank more and felt sorrier for myself and entered a tunnel of dark denial, and well….enough of the locomotive metaphors.  The result was disaster that I might not have survived.

I might not have.  But I did, because God is real and because surrender is an option.

The book I’m working on writing is about the ways that I’m not unique, which is most ways.  It is about life happening to a person who lost control; about that loss of control being the best thing that ever happened to her because it set the trajectory for letting go and letting God do His work.  There are elements of comedy, because so much in life is absurd, and musings about getting older, raising kids, and the like. Also along the storyline, there are many dark tunnels,  experiences that may speak to others who have lost control, these are the the parts that are difficult to write. Painful to write.  I would rather not include some experiences in the book  because they are embarrassing and shameful.

But they are the very same things that made me feel as though nobody knew how I felt when I first tried to get sober. They are universal, really – just as much as getting older and raising kids. Everyone hurts.  I think it’s important that others know they are not alone, not “too bad” for God to love, not a train wreck waiting to happen. Unless there is a Grand Procession of Christ-followers willing to be honest, who will help? God has given me a beautiful, awful, honorable burden to write about my recovery so that maybe someone with similar uniqueness will know that God can be trusted.

Or as Isaiah said in scripture, “Does anyone care? Is anyone listening and believing a word of it?”

I care. I believe.

As I relinquish the engine to God and ride in the boxcar, barefoot and vulnerable with my legs dangling over the passing tracks – watching the world and enjoying the view, and grabbing ahold of other wayward sinners on the way, pulling them up to ride along side me. There are bumps in the track and the car rattles at times, and we are not certain where it is headed.  But it’s okay because we are confident that the Engineer knows what He’s doing.

It is a sight to take your breath away.  And breathe life into your soul.