Grace, Spiritual

Splintered – a Chip of the Old Family Stone

Only love to lose

By: Jana Greene

Remember the old Sly and the Family Stone song “Everyday People?” (In case you don’t, here is a link to listen: Everyday People )

I think the modern Christian Church needs to heed the message. We’ve become so splintered by theologies, ideologies, and ego-ologies. My heart is heavy for the division, and frankly, all it manages to do is prop up the devil, who – in case you haven’t noticed – is having his heydey on this planet already.

Sometimes I’m right and I can be wrong
My own beliefs are in my song
The butcher, the banker, the drummer and then
Makes no difference what group I’m in
I am everyday people.
There is a blue one
Who can’t accept the green one
For living with a fat one
Trying to be a skinny one
Different strokes
For different folks.

For the longest time, I operated from a place of loving God out of fear, terrified of displeasing him. And that meant shunning you if you participated in certain behaviors, so that I could not be accused of “condoning” it.

We don’t have the time to bicker among ourselves, because Rome is burning right now.

Billy Graham put it succinctly:

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

(And yes, I am throwing in a little Billy Graham into a piece about Sly and the Family Stone. God digs it when his kids mix it up.)

Sometimes I’m right, but I can be wrong. That STINGS, doesn’t it?

Peter is my favorite disciple, but he was far from the most perfect. His propensity for flubbing things is what endears him to my heart, he was ‘wrong’ a lot.  (Google ‘Peter’s sins’ if you are interested)  Yet Jesus told him –

“…And now I’m going to tell you who you are, really are. You are Peter, a rock. This is the rock on which I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out.” – Matthew 16:18

Peter was Everyday People. Just like me and you.

I am no better and neither are you
We are the same, whatever we do
You love me, you hate me, you know me and then
You can’t figure out the bag I’m in
I am everyday people.

There is a gay one, who won’t accept the straight one, that won’t accept the trans one for living with the  (fill-in-the-blank with your favorite deadly sin of choice.) one.  And that’s WITHIN the Church. We are sending the world the message that we love everybody all the same but stay over there so you don’t rub off on me.

Jesus wants us to go to the world and rub off on it like crazy. That was his whole modus operandi.He came to welcome everyone into the family of God. We don’t get to exclude certain groups of people because we find their choices distasteful, or even because the Bible says its wrong.

Are we to pretend then that all behaviors are acceptable to God and just ‘get over’ ourselves? The world is well aware that they are considered sinners by the Church.

What they maybe haven’t heard is the message of LOVE that is supposed to be our cornerstone.

When I’m perfect, I will pick up rocks and throw them at you. But honestly, I’m pretty sure that’s not happening.

It’s not that sin is unimportant to God.

It’s that sin became dwarfed and overcome by the power of the Cross, and LOVE is a bigger deal.

Our message of Love rests on the Cornerstone that cannot be moved by cultural trends. It’s so much bigger than that. What would the world look like if we didn’t make sin the biggest consideration in loving? We like to label the stones we throw at other people, don’t we? We feel so JUSTIFIED, righteously angered.

In essence, I guess I am saying yes – let’s get over ourselves.

Let’s loose those stones around our necks that we carry to make ourselves feel morally superior to “those” people Playing Superior is exhausting, believe me, I know. Jesus said this, and the weary world needs to hear it:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” – Matthew 11:30 (MSG)

And so on and so on
And scooby dooby dooby
Oh sha sha.

We got to live together.
I am everyday people.

Please Church, can we just get on with the business of loving one another? I believe if we do, the gates of hell itself will not prevail against us.

God bless us, every one.

 

“With that, Peter, full of the Holy Spirit, let loose: “Rulers and leaders of the people, if we have been brought to trial today for helping a sick man, put under investigation regarding this healing, I’ll be completely frank with you—we have nothing to hide. By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the One you killed on a cross, the One God raised from the dead, by means of his name this man stands before you healthy and whole. Jesus is ‘the stone you masons threw out, which is now the cornerstone.’ Salvation comes no other way; no other name has been or will be given to us by which we can be saved, only this one.” – Acts 4:8-12.
Addiction, church, Friendship, Jesus, Love, Mental Illness, Recovery, Spiritual

Weary and Burdened: Mental Illness and the Church

Stained glass in St. Patrick's Cathedral, NYC Jesus as depicted in stained glass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, NYC. My Jesus loves everyone. Everyone is precious in his sight.

Meet Joe.

Joe is a Christian who struggles to keep his blood pressure under control. Following his doctor’s advice and having the support of his family, he manages to healthy. He keeps encouraged by those who love him, and that makes all the difference.

Meet Sarah.

Also a Christian, she is a survivor of breast cancer. She has suffered through a double mastectomy and many chemo treatments, and is currently in remission. She surrounds herself with people who love her to stay in a positive mindset, and has the admiration of the community for the brave fight she has waged.

And Sam.

Sam’s  diabetes demands constant care. The dietary and medical choices he makes impact his life every day. Sam is very open with others about his condition, as he depends on their support and his own healthy choices to keep him going.

Joe, and Sarah, and Sam. They each battle a disease. Each need a place to rest, as rest is essential to wellness.

In this life, we will have trouble. If God’s own son was not spared suffering, we will surely not be either. Health challenges are simply a part of life.

Now meet Amy.

Amy is a follower of Jesus Christ who suffers from mental illness. Perhaps you know Amy – or someone like her. We all do.

Maybe she cuts herself. She might even have visual and auditory hallucinations.

Perhaps depression weighs her down, making even the most mundane survival tasks difficult.

She could have anxiety, the dreaded foot race between her worrisome thoughts and the beats of her heart.

She may have crippling compulsive behaviors, making her a social outcast.

Her moods may soar to the top of the stratosphere – beyond logical control – and then crash and splinter in too many pieces for her to put back together.

Her emotions may be too wild for her will to handle.

She might rage or isolate, with the same outcome: shame.

Amy is just as sick – but no sicker – than others with chronic diseases to be managed, but that makes some people feel uncomfortable. So she hides, even from her own church. She knows there are others who struggle with issues like hers, but she is wary to share her story with them.

She depends on Christ to help her through each day, but desperately needs other Christ followers to walk with her.

Christians struggle with mental illness, too.

A brain that does not regulate serotonin levels is – spiritually speaking – no different from a pancreas that does not regulate insulin. The biological propensity toward addiction and alcoholism should carry no more stigma than having genes that could carry cancer.

High blood pressure can be managed and so can mental health. And having a mental illness has nothing to do with having a relationship with Christ because that relationship is simply, not “all in one’s head.”  It is all in one’s heart.

The church is the first place that the mentally ill should seek to stay encouraged, become surrounded with love, and depend on the support of one another.

To bear our own crosses while we help others keep from collapsing under the weight of their own.

To manage the pain of life and all the challenges it doles out.

To combat the stigma of mental illness, and nurture the brave ones coping with it every day.

To stay encouraged by those who love us, which makes all the difference. To have a safe place to find rest.

Joe, and Sarah, and Sam. They each battle a disease. And so does Amy.

It takes a village to build one another up, yes – but it also takes a church.

 

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” – Jesus. (Matthew 11:28, NIV)

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – Jesus. (John 16:33, NIV)

 

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Addiction, Inspirational, Jesus, Prayer, Recovery, Spiritual

Praying Through the Desert – Jana Greene

Could be titled “Prayer in the desert” … Could be titled “VEGAS, BABY!”
A friend of mine, who happens to be a writer I admire very much,
asked me to guest blog. When I was trying to figure out what to write, I struggled a bit. He suggested that ‘prayer’ might be a good subject. I told him that I’m having a bit of a (as Christians are disposed to saying) Walking in the Desert prayer spell right now. Then I prayed about it a bit. Then I remembered a trip to Vegas. And then I wrote. The result is attached below.

Thanks, Chris Canuel, for the opportunity to guest write for your awesome blog.

And thanks, God, for reminding me of Vegas.

Striving With God

I’m so excited to have one of my favorite writers guest blogging for me today. Her name is Jana Greene and she blogs over at The Beggars Bakery. Jana is also the author of Edgewise: plunging off of the brink of drink and into the love of God. Be sure to check out both her blog and book. You won’t be sorry!

vegas prayer

How do you get out of the spiritual desert? You build a huge, blinking distraction to it.

Or, you can just walk through it, and fully expect God to bring you to the other side.

About eight years ago, I went to Las Vegas on a business trip. The long and short of it was that I had a mini-nervous breakdown.

My colleagues and I stayed in the Luxor – a magnificent pyramid structure on the Vegas strip, smack dab (as we say in the South)…

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Christmas, Friendship, Holiday, Inspirational, Middle Age, Motherhood, Prayer, Recovery, Spiritual

Friendship – Sisters by Design

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” – C. S. Lewis

By: Jana Greene

This letter is a gift to someone who is a gift to my life.  I asked her permission to publish it, to which she responded:

“You have full permission to publish it if you want—I hope it inspires others to have real friendships like ours!”

Amen, Sister-Girlfriend. The world would be a much better place.

My sweet Melissa,

Do you remember the first Christmas that we became friends? Our daughters – now freshmen in college – were fourth-graders who had just declared themselves Best Friends Forever. I was a struggling, single mom, just having divorced my children’s father after fourteen years of marriage. My little girl was having a terrible time.  I got her a good therapist, and tried to calm her fears of loss, which were pretty well-founded.

What she really needed was a very good friend. Your daughter was that very good friend to her.

It was a horrible, awful  time in my life. I was working four jobs to feed my girls after being a stay-at-home mom all of their lives. They became latch-key kids. I became a hot mess from the guilt.

When we first met, I was holding on to my four-year-old sobriety by a single thread, it seemed, and living on high anxiety. You invited me over anyway when the girls were having a play-date, serving coffee (and, I’m certain)  sweets.  You asked questions that nobody else had bothered to ask, and didn’t judge me when I answered honestly.

Sometimes when you stop trying so hard, God makes mystical things happen. Like our friendship.

At the time, you were wary of organized religion, and I was wary of everything. But in your guest bathroom, you had a display of decorative crosses. Every time I went to the loo at your house, I thanked God for you and your kindness. I prayed that you would trust Him again, even as I struggled to trust Him myself. Yes, on the loo!  I can tell you that now, all these years later.

That Christmas, I sat with all of our girls while you went on a date with your hubby. Before you departed for the evening, you gave me a pretty little wrapped gift box, and instructed me to open it when you left.  I did, and it was a lovely new wallet.

When you came back home, I thanked you, and you said that I should make sure to look inside of it. Folded in the zipped compartment was a hundred-dollar bill.

“Get your girls a little something for Christmas,” you said, like it was not a big deal.

It was SUCH a big deal, Melissa, to fill the girls’ stockings that year. Such a big deal.

Little did I know that praying for you on the loo would be the least of what we would come to discuss as our friendship deepened!  No subject was off-limits, no pretending to be who we were not. No pretense, all acceptance – what a wonderful foundation for a friendship.

I have to tell you, my friend, throughout the storms, you were my safe place. And always – even if there were tears –  laughter was ultimately the order of the day.

We are pretty cool that way.

Over the years, we have really been through it together, have we not?  With six daughters between us, holy cow – have we ever!

Teenagers and all the stupid stuff they do. Teenagers and all the awesome stuff they do.

Through a divorce and a new marriage (both mine) you were such a support. Through your steady marriage, you taught me so much.

When our husbands drive us bonkers, we have a kvetch session, and are a-okay again.

When our kids drive us bonkers, well … together, we find the strength to soldier on.

We’ve done the Mom Circuit, and weathered the “Mom, leave me alone!” syndrome.

Between us, we’ve done new careers, and unemployment.

We’ve drowned our sorrows in Queso dip at every Mexican food restaurant in town. (Cheese plays a major role in our relationship, as well it should!)

We’ve had pajama parties, and felt the betrayal of gravity (especially me….you look MAHVELOUS!) and – as we schlepped into our forties – the reward of chasing dreams and catching them, on occasion. (Or should I say, we sashay gracefully into our forties – and beyond.)

We’ve struggled with the discovery of what is out of our control (everything, essentially) and celebrated what we which we can control (keeping the faith.)

We’ve threatened to write a book togetherwhich, incidentally is still TOTALLY happening!

Most meaningfully, when my own family members high-tailed it out of my life, you ran towards me.

You and I …. we’ve  had spiritual crisises and awakenings, stumblings and triumphs. And shared with honesty every experience.

We discovered together that we are NOT orphans after all, but beloved daughters of the Most High King….princesses, really!

And that makes us sisters. Family.

Even our husbands became MFFs (Man Friends Forever…please don’t tell them I said that,) and our daughters as close as any siblings.

Family, like I said.

Your love, prayers and steadfastness have helped keep me sober. Honestly, I doubt I would have maintained it without your support.

That love….those prayers and acceptance – they have kept me from running away from home on numerous occasions (“This parenting teens thing? I QUIT!”)

In the midst of building this friendship, you had a revolution in your spirit.  When God lit a fire under you, he used spiritual kerosene!

Girl, you were on FIRE, and you are still on fire!  It is one of the most beautiful things I have ever been witness to.

A spark from the heart of Jesus himself caught the hem of your garment, and you just had to serve Him. You served Him by helping other women, like you helped me. By genuinely loving them – fiercely. From it came additions to the sisterhood – the WAYwards – and lots of tears and laughter.

And laughter came in handy during the difficult times.

Several years ago, when I got sick, I stayed sick for nearly three years. It was another awful, dark time in my life.  Chronically fatigued. Endlessly in pain. And with no answers in sight, living on high anxiety once again.

For three solid years, I fought numbness, pain, fatigue….every single day, and bitched about it plenty. My complaining and frustration had to have tested your dedication! But you listened every time, and never gave up.

You prayed for my health fervently. Sometimes, when I was in the middle of exhaustion and complaint, you would just extend your right hand toward me and pray so hard that we would both cry – even when I was right in the middle of a bitching session!

It’s hard to be hopeless when someone is that dedicated to asking God to help you.

But sometimes – when you stop trying so hard – God makes mystical things happen.

“I can’t do this anymore,” I remember telling you. And I meant it. “I can’t!”

“God can,” you said, with no judgement. More listening, more praying, more encouraging. You listened. Like a true friend, you loved fiercely, calming my fears of loss, which were pretty well-founded. “Father,” you prayed. “Please heal my friend. But even if she doesn’t get better, we praise you. We LOVE you!”

Because you see, what I really needed was a very good friend. You were – and are – that very good friend to me.

All these many years later, how many cycles have we gone through !– Distrusting organized religion, and calling on God. Trusting God, and being there for each other.

I’m so grateful for you.

Thank you for being so steady a prayer-warrior. Thank you for never, ever saying, “This friendship thing? I QUIT!”

Thank you for all the times you still give me encouragement (and chocolate) and for being my “nothing is off limits” sister.

When I think about who you are and who you’ve become, and all God has in store for you, it brings me to my knees.

When I pray for you, I ask God to take that beautiful, bright, effervescent and glorious spirit of yours and just unleash it on the world in a way that brings him glory. I pray that the same joy your spirit brings me gets unfurled on the world, and comes back on you like a tidal wave.

I never forgot the Christmas that you folded a Benjamin in the gift of a new wallet  … so that I could give my daughters a Christmas. But more importantly, I never forgot that you reached out to this hot mess girl, that you went out of your way to be kind.

I never forgot that you treated my frightened, maddeningly insecure and hurting fourth-grade daughter like your own. Now a confident – gregarious, even!- young woman, she never forgot your love, either.

I love that you never stopped praying for my healing. I love your heart, that it breaks for hurting people.

I love that the most important prayer I ever learned to pray, I learned from you – “I trust you, God. I may not understand a single thing you are doing, but I trust you.”

It was a  beautiful thing to do for an old friend, to teach me that prayer.

I love you with all my heart. Thank you for being a friend. Thank you for being family.

And Merry Christmas, BFF.

Recovery, Spiritual

What We Cannot Do for Ourselves – recovery meetings and the bravery of surrender

 

LIFE

By: Jana Greene

A man walks into a bar.

No, wait. That’s the wrong story.

A man walks out of a bar. The establishment has been his “safe place” for years. He knows the owners and they keep a seat waiting for him on the end, where the bartender can lean in to listen when he talks without knocking over the high-ball glasses. They know his story and keep pouring, and those two things have always made him feel understood. Loved. He went to the bar every day because he wanted to be cared about and he wanted to just be left alone. Drinking is a funny thing – it makes both seem possible simultaneously.
He was incredibly brave, he thought, to work so hard and provide for his family, to deal with all the drama and dealings of life. Wasn’t he due this time? Didn’t he have it coming to him?

Until very recently, when it became obvious that his safe place was a dangerous place, he thought he would keep drinking. As his wife was leaving for the last time, and he had not been willing to follow her. He had not been willing to ask for help. The path to help was a rocky, treacherous road. The way to the bar was paved with familiarity.

As he slowly became more  lost, lost, lost, it became increasingly clear that pouring did not equal understanding; that having someone lean into you and listen did not always equal love. Over the years, he chose this seat over relationships, over passions. Everybody knew his name here, but not a single soul knew his heart.

He is sick, in mind, body and in spirit.
He doesn’t know how to stop. How do you stop? Someone somewhere has to know how.

There must be magic pill to stop the drinking, and there was. There were lots of pills, all supposed to make him better,  but they only made him worse in time. Perhaps he needed another diversion? A few days without drinking made possible by strange women and dirty, secret deeds. And then drinking again. What about sheer willpower? Alone, in his room, shaking and sorry, he had no one but himself for company. Nothing is working. He asks God for help, if God is real….if he exists at all.

 “Love me and leave me alone,” he wanted to tell God. But instead, he searched for a support meeting nearby. Because, at the end of himself, he had no other choice.

Before the first meeting, he sat in his car, debating with himself about going in at all. Because the rooms are full of “those people” and once you walk in, you are one of them…no turning back.  But he knew that he already was.

He thought of the bar, but he made another choice. And stepped into a new place.

Inside the building, worship music filled the space. He filed past others – men, women of all ages, all races. The stereotype represented was very specific: The Human Race. As he took his seat and the speaker began to share her experience with substance abuse and recovery, he leaned in.
I am lost, lost, lost, he said in his spirit.

In that most-alone place, God made his presence known.

There were relationships among hurting people in those rooms. There was a passion for living. He took small glances around the room as the meeting wrapped up. Over cups of coffee, there were tears, but laughter, too. There was palpable joy, something he’d forgotten existed.
And nobody knew his name. Nobody knew it until the men gathered alone for small group.. There, in a small circle, he shared his name.  He told a little of his story, when it was his turn.

At the end of the meeting, all of the others knew why he was there, and why he didn’t want to be there anymore. And no-one turned away from him. His eyes met with love.

 There was a pouring-out of himself and all of his drama and dealings, and he filled up that space with hope for a future, because here, “those people” have one – a future.

The God he had doubted helped him to stop drinking when he couldn’t do it himself, and gave him people who loved his heart when he was at the end of himself. He had been incredibly brave to walk through the door. He was due this time, he had it coming – this life raft. This safe place.

Keep coming back, they said. Your seat will be waiting for you.

A man walks out of a bar……and into a meeting. He keeps coming to meetings because he feels cared about there, and he knows he cannot be left alone to his own devices. The road he is on – to recovering his life – is well-worn by others.

It is paved by hope.

“If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us—sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.- Alcoholics Anonymous

Inspirational, Recovery, Spiritual

Who do you say Jesus is?

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By: Jana Greene

Who do you say that he is?

Jesus, I mean.

He asked me to ask you…..who do you say that He is? He is quite concerned about what you think of Him.

Do you say that He is Historical Figure, criminal, prophet or ordinary man? Would you say that  He is the Son of the living God?

Writer and scholar C.S. Lewis, who was an avowed (and very vocal) atheist for many years before accepting Christ described him this way: “Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.”

This Jesus, who so radically changed the world, was brought up on bogus criminal charges at the end of his earthly life.  He was the first and only completely perfect human being  to have walked the earth. His reward? Death by brutal crucifixion, burial in a tomb from which He would rise in splendor three days later.

But what does that have to do with you? Why would it matter what one man did over two-thousand years ago?

You and I can never live as perfect human beings. I’ve tried, and it was the hardest seven minutes of my life! We need God’s help to secure our place in eternity. Jesus was the sacrifice that makes this possible. But God is not only interested in the “forever”; He is sincerely invested in the ‘here and now’.

Who do I say that Jesus is? He is my

Debt Settler: Jesus is not a debt collection agency, reminding you of every mistake. He is not in the business of setting up payment plans for all of your sin, either.  He settles the debt of all you have accrued  in the past (and I mean ALL of it!) and cancels it entirely when you ask Him to be your savior.  When asking His forgiveness,  no sin debt is  too big or too small. He is waiting to set you free!

Game Changer: Your rules? The way you’ve always handled challenges on your own…He doesn’t even need to see the playbook. He wrote a better one! He changes the trajectory of your life in ways you cannot imagine….in ways you will be so humbled by.

Name Changer: When you accept Jesus, your name is written in permanence in God’s book of life. It isn’t penciled in, jotted down hurriedly. It is written in Spiritual Sharpie, bold and eternal. Your name, and your life, becomes His as you are adopted into His family. The name He remembers you by when He thinks of you? “Mine.”

Life-Giver: I want the kind of life that is eternal, but let’s be honest…I’d like it to be pretty awesome here, too. Jesus doesn’t want us trudging through each day with just enough energy to survive until we get to heaven.  Here’s what Life-Giver Jesus has to say about that in scripture: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10.

Friend: Why the Creator of the universe would want to hang out with me, I have no idea. But for some reason, He does. If he were a great human teacher, that would be humbling enough; but no. Jesus, in dying on the cross and raising to life, bridged the gap between the Holiest of Holy Ones and puny, neurotic, recovering alcoholic, generally-all-around misfit and master of mistakes – ME. His Holy Spirit never leaves my side and calls me “friend”.  And that’s a miracle.

Who do you say that He is? It matters very much.

My name is Jana Greene, and I say He is also the Savior of the world.

Inspirational, Spiritual

Graft-itude – Becoming Community through Gratefulness

 

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By: Jana Greene

Church is a community of believers in salvation through the one and only Son of God, Jesus Christ.  We humans make it about other things so often. Throughout history, we have tried a thousand ways to make it about ourselves.

But what if the tide turned and God’s people made gathering for worship about our thankfulness to God. What if we would seek purely to know Him, because He has been so generous in His love for us?

There is a horticulture technique called “grafting”. Tissues from one plant are delicately combined into those of a healthier one so that the two sets of vascular tissues may join together and thrive.

What if we could become related to the God of the universe via grafting? What if we could become brothers and sisters to one another by the same technique?

Many people who grew up in churches across the globe avoid joining a body of believers because they have been hurt by “church people” in the past or made to believe that church was about money, pretending to be perfect or pot-luck dinners. These things are not what Jesus Himself intended for His church. He sought out the ones who were broken and bent, cast out and hurting. The priests in their fine robes and the elite with their feasts did not impress Him much. These “church people” had no appreciation for God Himself in their very midst.

The ones who became Christ’s beloved family on earth all had one thing in common: an imperfect but genuine love for God, and a grateful heart. Because Jesus wanted so much to count us as branches on His family tree, he hung from a tree as sacrifice to make it possible.

He tells us to gather together still today and encourage one another, grieve with one another and praise Him.

God, I worship you because you never give up on me – not even once!

God, I thank you because you gave your life up for me so that I can be called “yours” forever.

God, I magnify you because you take time to nurture my spirit, loving me when I’m not too loveable.

We are the church. Cut off from one another, we run the risk of withering. Together the way our Brother Jesus intended, we thrive. All of us saints and sinners are drawn by God’s flourishing, vascular love for us. God’s people are us, you see. It is His will that not one of us be lost. We are black and white and every glorious shade in between. We are young and old, the clean-cut and tatted up. Haphazard branches going every which way, full foliage and a strong trunk, grafted and grateful.

God’s family tree.

Inspirational

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.

Inspirational

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.

Inspirational

Jesus in the Bathtub

By:  Jana Greene

 

Jesus is everywhere at one time.

My little niece (not by blood, but by blessing) Madelyn reminded me about Jesus, and his penchant for being everywhere one day after church.    I was making her a peanut butter sandwich for her lunch.  She was sitting at the kitchen table, swinging her feet high above the floor, and humming.

“What did you learn in Children’s church today?” I asked her .

She stopped kicking her legs and said, “That Jesus is everywhere.” Her arms made a broad, sweeping motion to illustrate the concept of omnipresence.  Then she put her elbows on the table then, and rested her face in her hands .  “But He lives in your bathtub.”

I laughed out loud.  At nearly three years old, Madelyn has a host of imaginary friends, so I was not surprised that she concocted a scenario in which Jesus lived in my bathtub.

It wasn’t until I took her to the potty in that same bathroom later that day that I saw Jesus in the bathtub, too.

“See, Aunt Jana?  Jesus.”  she says, pointing to the wall behind me in a tiny (but utterly confident)  voice.  “He’s right there.”

There, on a shelf behind the garden tub, is my favorite sculpture.  It is a bearded man carved from wood with long locks of intricately whittled  hair.   At about a foot tall, it is hard to miss.  I’m not sure of its origins but I suspect my husband acquired it on a trip to the Caribbean years ago.  The expression of the wooden man is peaced-out, contemplative and focused all at once.

I always kind of thought he was Bob Marley…..but okay.  Jesus works, too.

“It’s Jesus,” Madelyn repeated, as if reading my thoughts.

Later that day, this exceptional little girl informed me that Jesus also lives in her heart.

Kids are so literal, believing that when Jesus is “in your heart”; he is in your heart.  And they are so faithful to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that even though He lives in my bathtub, He is still everywhere all at once.

Not like an imaginary friend, who can only be in one place.

But everywhere, peaced-out, contemplative and focused on us.

 

Spiritual

HOLD ME UP!

By:  Jana Greene

When I was a young mother and my children very small, I carried them on my right hip.  This went on long after they were able to walk by themselves, and so often that now -all these many years later – that hip has a tendency to jut out a bit when I am standing still. The youngest child in particular, I carried for a long time.

“Hold me up?” she would say in a tiny rasp, her small arms stretched upward.  In times of particular urgency, she would stand tiptoe for extra height and open and close her tiny hands rapidly, like the motions to the nursery rhyme about all the little stars, twinkling.  Of course I would pick her up…what else is a mother to do?  Her gesture acknowledged that she was small…that she wanted a better view of her world.

Fast forward a dozen years or so.  This little girl is in her teens, nearly grown –and trying to figure out who she is meant to be.  And I, as her mother, am on a similar journey to find purpose, I suppose you could say.  Of particular fascination on this leg of the trip is the fairly recent tendency I’ve developed to be more open during worship at church.    Demonstrative, actually.  With the lights dimmed during service, praise music hammering with invitation to God to be present with us, in us…first come the tears. And then the hands.

I did not grow up a “hands-raiser”, or a “tongue-talker”.  I was raised swaddled in a quilt of various Bible-belt denominations, Baptist and Methodist chief amongst.  Shouting was for cheering at football games, “amen” was for saying grace at dinner, and hand-raising for students who had a question for the school teacher.  To shout in church was to call yourself out as a “Penty-costal”, to clap out of time was to call attention to yourself, and calling attention to yourself made you that thing which to was to be avoided in order to self-preserve: vulnerable.

But now, not caring who was witness to my worship, I wonder why? Why when falling to my emotional knees, did I try to stifle raising my arms?  Why did I question my own motives for worshiping in such a manner?

Choking with tears, I remembered my baby daughter’s pleas with outstretched arms.  And the urgency, in times she felt the most overwhelmed.  Or restless.  Or too weary to walk.  Was she raising her hands up to me in order to receive?  Surely, yes.  But also because I was so much taller than she, my vantage point offering an entirely different view.  The action of lifting her tiny arms to me made her vulnerable.

The first time I raised my hands to God, I was vulnerable, too.  But there is wild, unexpected abandon in vulnerability.

“Pick me up so I can see, Daddy!” is what my spirit says, in the most raw and relinquishing  of times – when I feel smallest with no need to self-preserve.  “Carry me”.  Certainly, a request made to receive his lifting-out, but also in the purest form of worship….the kind in which my spirit calls the shots, and my body must obey.

And He always, always picks me up.  What else is a Father to do?

Devotional

Telling the devil Where He Can Sit

 I originally wrote this piece for a collection of devotionals on the book of James that my church was compiling.  I hope it blesses you today 🙂

 

Jana Greene     

For the past several days of Vacation Bible School, the children were encouraged to bring their parents, grandparents and friends to this Sunday service.  Today, they would parade into the sanctuary, assemble in front of the altar and perform songs in culmination of all they had learned during the week.   To the delight of the congregation, they sing songs about God, of course, and about loving one another.   And just as many generations have sung before them, they often sing about the joy, joy, joy, joy down in their hearts and about being happy, so very happy.  The last verse of the song really gets them excited.

“And if the devil doesn’t like it, he can sit on a tack! OUCH!”

They are nearly screaming the “OUCH!” for dramatic effect, some of them jumping for more emphasis.  These kids, so much like the ones Jesus gathered around him.  The ones Jesus tells us to be like.

 Somewhere along the path to adulthood, most of us have lost this.  We have lost the joy, joy, joy, joy, but just as importantly, we’ve forgotten to tell the devil where to sit.  True, children are often fidgety, and messy – but they are serious about what they believe!  Time and experience in this world wring the purity out of our inner lives, and with it goes joy.  We come to understand how malevolent the powers of evil really are, but instead of invoking authority over them as Jesus commanded, we allow jadedness to crowd out Holiness.  Sometimes we even romance the sin, whatever that may be.  How can a people so broken become childlike in nature again?

Each one of us has the authority to rebuke the devil himself.  It isn’t that we lack authority to command evil from our lives in Jesus’ name, but that we lack faith that we are given such authority.  It is a supernatural proxy given us by Almighty God, not because we have the strength, but because His strength is manifest in our fidgety, messy weakness. Believe it, like a child; with passion and expectation.

So let God work His will in you. Yell a loud ‘no’ to the devil and watch him scamper. Say a quiet ‘yes’ to God and He will be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field. Hit bottom and cry your eyes out. The fun and games are over. Get serious, really serious. Get down on your knees before the Master; it’s the only way you’ll get on your feet.” – James 4:8-10 (Message)

  Father God, let us remember that we have the Authority through the Holy Spirit to tell the devil “NO” when we are tempted or tried.  Coming to you as little children, please restore our joy to overflowing, as we say “YES!” to You and Your good will for our lives.  In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit we pray.  Amen.

 

–          Jana Greene