Oozing Grace and other Heretical Hazards

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BY: Jana Greene
Jesus sitting on a rock, looking wistfully into the atmosphere. Sandal-ed feet and in robe and sash. You remember him, right?
His portraits hung in your Sunday School and Vacation Bible School rooms. Dirty blonde hair, blue eyes. Perfectly serene expression.
I remember him, too. He is lovely and pure and holy, but He doesn’t appear to be radical, and I’m pretty sure Jesus was a radical guy.

Two weeks immersed in classes, and am experiencing all of those terms that I make fun of hipsters for using:

Wrecked.
De-fragmented
Disenfranchised from church as we largely know it.
This message of a grace-based gospel is ANYTHING but boring or staid.
What if the Love of God was bigger than the sins of the world?
It is scandalous in its oozing of mercy, positively radical in it’s 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.

I find myself undone.

Because if what I’m learning is true, it turns everything upside down.

Sin gets so much airtime. But here’s the rub: Sin is not the MAIN THING.It shouldn’t take center stage?

What if Love took center stage, as Jesus intended?

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.

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. Gospel = GOOD NEWS.

I’ve been a Christian most of my life, and have never appreciated true Grace and the love of our Triune God.

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….hmmmm.)

Not the news that Jesus loves you but you’d better get your act together before you try to follow him, or you’ll make us all look bad.

No.

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 you adoringly.

It is finished.

He is here. He is here in this messy, screwed-up, fallen, trainwreck of a planet  because he just cannot get close enough to YOU.

He walks among us, inhabits us, throws mercy on us, guides us, cradles us. LOVES US. People really need to hear this, ya’ll.

Yeah, I’m thinking Seminary is really going to mess with my head.

And I simply cannot wait to get to know my Papa better. I hope you don’t mind too terribly much if I blog about the experience here?

God bless us, every one.

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Losing my Religion

The truth will set you free. But first it's going to be pretty uncomfortable.
The truth will set you free. But first it’s going to be pretty uncomfortable.

By: Jana Greene

I have been reading “Mystical Union” by John Crowder. And it is wrecking me, absolutely wrecking me. If you are a Seeker, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Getting wrecked can be a good thing.

“It will turn everything you believe on its ear,” I was told by the person who suggested I read it. “In the best possible way.”

Oh, goody. Because everything I believe is all that I know. And I know so little, really.

The word “mystical” can be off-putting for Christians, although it shouldn’t be – you don’t get much more mystical that the Creator of the Universe becoming human to reconcile himself to his creation – Christianity 101. The whole thing is mystic to the core.  Still, I am rattled by what I am reading.

Among the  dozen or so ideas that have taken me aback – in the book I’m only half-way through with –  is Crowder’s assertion that  “God is never looking at your performance as the indicator of His pleasure toward you. So many people live on an emotional roller-coaster ride … ”

Raising hand, and wearing the promotional roller coaster T-shirt, nauseated from the marathon ride…

I am on a quest to lose my religion – religion being all  the spin that man has put on relationship with God through the ages – and turn down the noise of it, so that I can hear what God is really saying.

That we cannot fathom how much he adores us, every one of us.

That He is always in a good mood, not temperamentally mood-shifting, like we are.

That He is only always good.

That He is less the stern-but-loving Father-figure that churches have historically made him out to be….assessing our accomplishments and shortcomings – and more of a laid-back,  hippie-dippy, all-you-need-is-love (Christ), welcoming, tolerant Father – in a way that transcends all time, space, and reason.

(What if He isn’t even disappointed in me for comparing him to a hippie-dippy, all-you-need-is-love, welcoming, tolerant, Father and Creator  who transcends all time, space, reason with pure, unrelenting love?)

I usually invite a challenge, especially the kind in which I can easily prove the challenger wrong. But this time, I know the Challenger Himself is Almighty God, and He is  pulling me away from the idol of religion, and into Him. My weaponry of thin, papery religiousness powerless against His embrace of Truth.

He transcends all with pure, unrelenting love. He transcends the regulations, pontifications, rules – all the things we’ve made it about for more than 2,000 years. Surely he can transcend my own dirty deeds; my wonky quirks.

Maybe that’s what Jesus meant, when He uttered his last words, ” IT. IS. FINISHED.”

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 says that God swoops down and saves me from myself a thousand times a day, and that is what grace looks like. But the theology of Mystical Union says (and with scripture, I might add)  that we believers were co-crucified with Christ and in one swoop. God reconciled us to Him….

We can stop trying to make perfection happen. Perfection is not going to happen.

It is finished, period. Mind blowing.

Sometimes being a Seeker gives me a headache.

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.

Hey, has  anyone seen my “everything I thought I believed?”

Oh, there it is – on the ground. On it’s ‘ear’

Wreck me, God. Wreck me.

I’m after Truth. Help me to accept it, and to share it with others as I walk the journey. I’m ready to be fully, 100% set free.

Amen.

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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.

Sweeping off the Crumbs (or: It’s a NEW day!)

sun

By: Jana Greene

The house is dark and quiet. It is five o’clock in the morning and I’ve been up for hours now, with a belly unable to digest the cookies I ate during a late-night bender and a mind unwilling to forgive myself  for going on the binge at all. As a matter of fact, I’d like to use a picture of the cookies for this blog post, but they are all gone – nothing but a sad, empty package and a chocolate fallout of crumbs on the carpet.
They were generic Oreos, a very poor substitute for the real thing. I remember thinking it would be easy to only eat a few, because they were an inferior product, but no. I just kept consuming because the consuming itself was a comfort, and it had been a hard day. I would promise myself just one more, and then promise myself just ONE more after that. After a while, I didn’t even taste the cookies – that’s the crazy part. Just hand to mouth, mindless motion and quasi-momentary satisfaction. As if faux-Oreo cream could smudge out all the challenges of the day. After a while, I stopped believing my own promises.
No harm done, short of raising triglycerides and adding more fluff to my frame.
And a helping of very non-generic grade regret this very early morning.

Possibly the only good thing about insomnia is that it gives me time to talk to God without so many distractions. In the frenetic pace of daily life, I get distracted easily. I pray for my family and friends, and that God will reveal His will for me for the upcoming day it to me in such a way that I won’t wonder if it is He who is sending it or just a figment of a belly full of late night cookies and some random clues. Because I can mix up the two, sometimes.

I feel my Heavenly Father nearby – the unmistakable primal presence of His – and He brings to mind one of my favorite Psalms as I pray.
“ For His anger lasts only a short time. But His favor is for life. Crying may last for a night, but joy comes with the new day.” – Psalms 30:5
A day’s trouble lasts a day, unless I invite it to stay longer. Sorrows may last through the night, but JOY comes in the morning. God says it right there: we are not designed to dread each new day, chasing after comfort in a mindless motion of quasi-momentarily satisfaction. We are made to anticipate joy in the morning, every new morning. Our mistakes from yesterday fading like yesterday’s bellyache. Forgiving benders and binges, even extending that forgiveness toward ourselves – sweeping up the crumbs and moving on.
Perhaps my anger at myself should only last a short time. Maybe there is no need for regret.
It’s now 5:30 a.m. in the Greene house and all is still dark and quiet. Even this early, God has made a thousand promises to me – offering grace, acceptance, forgiveness and love. Those are promises that all the cookies and clues in the world can’t make. His favor is for life!
This day looks pretty….promising.

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.

Parenting for the Potty-Mouthed but Well-Intentioned

Potty-Mouth Parenting

Or, When Your Adult Children Live at Home

By:  Jana Greene

Let me sing for you” the song of my people”.

It goes a little like this:  “ &@#*&!#@!!!!  

(Chorus: &*@!%!, #%*!@)**!!!))

A few days ago, I had a huge blow-up argument with my (nearly 20-year-old) daughter  about something that was not a big deal to her, but was a really big deal to me.  The thing that made me the angriest was that I felt it should be a big deal to her, too.

She and I are very close.  We “get” each other.  But nobody reaches The Point of no Return faster than she and I.  Like (and I really hate to make this analogy) two poodles yapping at one another through a glass door.  Not seriously out to do damage, but competing for the loudest yip, the most audacious showing of teeth.  We can take it from 0 to 60 in seconds, feeding off of one another’s tone of voice, pushing the buttons on the customized panel of emotions in record speed.

As Chef Emeril says – BAM!

Sometimes, I yell at my kids.

Sometimes, I say curse words.

Sometimes, I use curse words while yelling at my kids, but not often.

I’m a follower of Christ.  I am supposed to know better.  And I do.

I’m not proud of either the cursing or the yelling.  As a matter of fact, I’m ashamed.  I am asking God to help me in the times that my tongue is swifter (if not mightier) than the sword; the times when my words become the rudder for my ship of thoughts before I can tell which way the wind is blowing.

I have to give it to Christ constantly, my itchy trigger-tounge.

In days of yore, kids generally moved out at 18, at just about the time you reached the end of your proverbial “rope”.    I always kind of simultaneously  dreaded and looked forward to “18” for that reason.  I had preconceptions about that magical age.

Now, more adult children are living at home than ever.  You hear a lot about the effect on the kids – not so much on the hapless parents who dearly love them but are ready to enjoy the fruits of what they’d long ago decided was ‘successful parenting’.

In my particular parenting fantasy, the children would move away to college at 18 (on scholarship, of course) but come home frequently to visit.  While they are living apart from us in a learning environment, I imagine their activities being scholarly in nature… you know:

  • Studying so hard that they regularly shut down the library (I like to picture them using old Encyclopedia  Britannicas and a card catalogue.  Hey, it’s my fantasy!)
  • Leading  peaceful youth rallies for conservative reform (again…its my fantasy)
  • volunteering in soup kitchens in their free time (or some other completely unselfish pursuit)

But they didn’t move out.   These beloved girls of mine are now almost 17, 19 and 20.   And their undertakings are not all scholarly in nature.

I know I am the mother, and that my adult daughter is still the child, and that those parameters are a constant; they never change.  But they do morph as kids grow up.  And because I’m the mother, there is a pushing away on her part.

In a climate in which five adults live together, there is bound to be conflict.  I’m learning to accept that reality.  I’m learning that my fantasies of parenting college-aged children are not rooted in much reality at all.  I just want my kids to be happy and successful, whatever that might be to them.

The good news is that the “trigger tongue” gets a little less itchy each time I ask God to help me with it and that forgiveness reigns supreme, in relation to God’s grace and between my daughter and I.

Long after I am flogging myself with the torches still hot from the last argument, she has forgotten the whole poodle-esque drama.

The wonderful thing about our relationship is that she and I feel the same urgency with forgiving one another as we do in escalating the fight.  We want to make things right, because  LOVE  is the greatest of all four-letter-words.

So then comes the true “song of my people”.  It mostly goes  like this:

I’m sorry.

I didn’t mean what I said.

I love you. 

(Chorus:  you drive me CRAZY, but I love you still!)

BAM!  Right in the soul.