You can Run on for a Long Time, but Sooner or Later God will Tackle You with Relentless Mercy (The Beatitudes Series V)

cash

By: Jana Greene

I absolutely love Johnny Cash. It is rumored that he always only wore black because he forever identified with the poor and the downtrodden. I like to include those who are spiritually poor in this consideration.

One of his very best songs, in my humble opinion is “God will Cut you Down.” It’s so gritty, so confident in the justice in its lyrics. Do You know the song (CLICK HERE TO HEAR ” SOONER OR LATER GOD’LL CUT YOU DOWN”

 

If you haven’t heard the song I’m referring to, here is the main refrain:

“You can run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down”

On this blog, all I can do is share my personal experience, opinion, and hope with you. I like to do so honestly, and I know there are many who disagree with me on key subjects. That’s okay.

But my own personal story’s refrain goes something like this:

“I ran on for a long time.

I ran on for a long time.

I ran on for a long time,

But sooner or later Jesus found me and heaped so much copious grace on me that I had to start a blog to tell the rambler, the gambler, the back-biter that God himself is love and mercy.”

Not as catchy, I admit. But it’s the truth as my heart receives it.

Jesus isn’t running after you to cut you down, but to tackle you and tell you that he loves you. Right where you are. That’s the Good News.

He isn’t a god of cutting down, but a God of Great Mercy.

Don’t take my word for it. Matthew 5 1:7:

“God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (NIV)

or, more plainly,

 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.” (Message Translation)

We are blessed when we are merciful toward the riff-raff,  because God was and is merciful with us. The act of showing mercy brings about a state of revolutionary and scandalous blessedness, and people don’t always know what to do with it.

At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for. Hmmmm.

Mr. Cash himself struggled as a rambler most of his life. Whether we like to admit it or not, so do we. We may not all dress in black to identify with the poor and downtrodden, but our white-washed, white-collar rambling is rambling, just the same.

You know the classic question, “If you could sit down with a person living or dead and have coffee with them, who would you choose?” I must admit Johnny Cash isn’t my first choice.

But if I were having coffee with him right now, I’d ask “What did Jesus come for, if not to be merciful and graceful? Of what value would the blood of Christ have if it only washed away the surface-level stains?”

Yes, we must repent. We must repent to gain the full benefit of relationship with Christ. That job position is already filled by Holy Spirit.

If I remember correctly, God doesn’t wait for us to get our sh*t together before loving us, making Grace available to us, and showing us mercy.

“Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.” – Romans 5:8 (MSG)

There are other lyrics in “Run On” that almost contradicts other parts of the same song:

“Well my goodness gracious let me tell you the news
My head’s been wet with the midnight dew
I’ve been down on bended knee talkin’ to the man from Galilee
He spoke to me in the
voice so sweet
I thought I heard the shuffle of the angel’s feet
He called my name and my heart stood still
When he said, “John go do my will.”

I like that part. I like that part a lot.

Let’s do God’s will.

Let’s be merciful.

Let’s be blessed.

Wanted: Black Sheep

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By: Jana Greene

Part 6 of The Seismic Seven Series

“When somebody’s religious identity is being challenged, things are bound to turn nasty quickly.” —  Steve McVey (Beyond an Angry God)

Good readers,

Today Abba has downloaded a blog post into my heart that makes many Christians squirmy and causes a lot of division. I know because it made me super squirmy. It’s the gospel of inclusion, and it’s pretty radical stuff.

Jesus came so that we could all be included in the love of God, not so that we could take His Gospel and divvy it up by law and procedure and methods and doctrinal argument, until it is splintered and divided. He didn’t come to provide religious identity.

At the Open Table Conference, this message was more or less hammered into us – and I couldn’t be more grateful. I could go on for days about this (and I may….) because it resonates on a base-level. It speaks to a contingent who may not even possess faith yet, and we sure do love to preach to the already-faithed.

Once upon a time, there was a Pure and Spotless White Lamb who came to a new pasture –  one much sparser and less lush than the one he called ‘home.’ He came so that he could  show all of the scattered and flaw-full black sheep the way to greener pastures and lead them to the care of a loving Shepherd.

While he was among the black sheep, he did not cloister himself up on the highest hill and look down upon them grazing on the crappy, cut-rate grasses they had chosen.

He didn’t call attention to himself and brag about his spotlessness.

He didn’t shame the less-than-perfect sheep for being spotty and lame.

He didn’t cavort around with the black sheep so that he could do the naughty things that they were doing.

He was goodness and light and mercy, something the flock had never experienced before, and they drew close to him because of those attributes – not necessarily because he appeared without blemish. Blemishes can hide far under the wool.

He included ALL of the fold, selecting NONE of them for banishment. Division was not this Sheep’s end-game. Inclusion was.

He supped with The Blackest Sheep in the Family, and hung out among the fallen, and challenged them to believe that there was a Shepherd of Love who could make them perfect. He’d left a perfect pasture to bring more sheep to the shepherd. Through this loving and acceptance of the Pure White Lamb, the wool of the others became spotless, too.

So that when the Shepherd called his flock home, he couldn’t tell one from another. All were pure and spotless in his sight.

Let me say that again: So that when the Shepherd called his flock home, he couldn’t tell one from another. All were pure and spotless in his sight.

Graze on that for a minute. When you follow the Lamb of God, you are spotless too.

I’m not saying that accepting Christ as Savior isn’t key. It’s everything. But God loved you long before you ever made that choice. His love for you is not even contingent on that choice. If it were, it would be YOU responsible for the love.

I’m not saying repentance isn’t necessary. I’m just saying God’s love for you isn’t contingent upon it. Some chose not to follow the Spotless One, but it did not diminish the Shepherd’s love for them OR his deep longing for them to experience His presence. Not one whit.

If you had to turn from all sin in order for God to love you, it would be all about you and your piousness, and I think we can all agree piousness is a bunch of crap. Otherwise the Pure and Spotless White Lamb would have hung around black sheep in white sheep’s clothing (a.k.a Pharisees / Sadducees) to save face, which is not at ALL what he did.

You cannot be responsible for the Grace God showed you before the hour you first believed. He has already included you in the love.

If the sheep don’t know there is One who will care for them right where they are, they will have no desire to leave the cut-rate pasture.

And if you are The Black Sheep of your family, take heart! The God of the cosmos loves you and longs for you to experience His presence. He has goodness, light and mercy abundant for you, right where you are.

You are included.

Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him” – Romans 5:8

 

 

 

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.

Save

The Saint-Sinner Paradox: Come as you ARE

saint-sinner ambigram tattoo – inkarttattoos.com

By:  Jana Greene

“When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.”

 –Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

I don’t know if you are familiar with Brennan Manning’s books, but if not…I recommend them highly.  Although Ragamuffin Gospel is a classic, “Abba’s Child” spoke to me the plainest. 

I like plain talk, I like honesty. 

Brennan Manning is just plain honest.  A quick Google search of his name will alert you of the controversy among Christians about his life.  It seems that Brennan Manning is an alcoholic whose theological views go against the grain of some denominational teaching.  He is a sinner, whose view is that life is messy, and relationship with God is all about grace. 

Are you a bundle of paradoxes? 

Some of my favorite people are, including my other two favorite authors – Donald Miller, who wrote “Blue Like Jazz”, and Anne Lamott, whose “Traveling Mercies” literally changed me forever.  I love everything these two write.  But they are not what you might expect, if you were to expect traditional Christian literature.  They are honest in a literary way like Bob Dylan (or perhaps Adele, for the younger generation) is honest in a musical way….raw and real.  And I love that.

I once attended a live simulcast by a very famous Christian author and speaker.  There was a sense of excitement leading up to the event that I can only liken to the Super bowl, if the Super bowl was geared toward middle-aged females of the Caucasian persuasion.  The speaker, I must tell you, is very charismatic and popular.  She is “The Face of the Christian Bookstore”, I suppose you could say.  The simulcast was very nice.  It was two hours well spent, but not two hours that changed my life.  I’m glad that there are people whose lives are touched by this speaker.  There is nothing wrong with her message, she seems to have gotten past some truly difficult times in her life and she gives God all of the glory, as she should.

But “very nice” doesn’t hook me anymore. 

Donald Miller’s bestselling “Blue like Jazz” is a semi-autobiographical account of Mr. Miller’s departure from his Christian upbringing by attending university at “the most godless campus in America”.  Some Christians are shocked that the book (and recent film depiction) contain references to both sex and drugs, and believe those things should be omitted.  Had they been, the story would never have been told.  Because sex and drug issues are a part of life, and a very real part of what many people struggle with….even many Christians.

And Anne Lamott?  Although I personally disagree with her political views, I adore her honesty.  She writes like a sinner; like a sinner who is crazy in love with Jesus.   A 2003 Christianity Today article b Agnieszka Tennant describes her this way:  “She came to Jesus just as she was—a foul-mouthed, bulimic, alcoholic drug addict. One week after having an abortion, she surrendered to him in her very own version of the sinner’s prayer, punctuated with the f-word. The author calls Ms. Lamott “a Born-Again Paradox.”

Indeed. 

Please don’t think I am condoning any of the behavior mentioned.  Being a follower of Christ means that you try to walk in His footsteps because He was perfection incarnate.  But being human means that you will misstep sometimes because you are not.  That’s my theology.

Are you a paradox?

I am a bundle of them, when I get honest.

I admit that I forgive and struggle with grudges.  I am sober but crave oblivion.  I run to the downtrodden but turn away from what I see.  I am real but I still sometimes wear a mask.  I am no rational animal; my emotions run the show far too often.

A Born-Again Paradox, crazy in love with Jesus.