Monthly Archives: June 2010

The Ragamuffin Journal- Part 1

Following up on my last post which lays out what this Ragamuffin Journal is all about, I’ll be pulling some ideas from Chapter 1 of Brennan Manning’s The Ragamuffin Gospel. Chapter 1, serving as an introduction, is appropriately titled “Something Is Radically Wrong.” It instantly grabbed my attention of by addressing the need I had to pick up a book like this.

Something really is radically wrong. Many times, the ways we have gone about seeking a life with God and our basic understandings of God are simply not adequate. Somehow I know that the grace and the love of God through Jesus Christ runs deeper, wider, and more powerfully than I’ve allowed myself to experience. The Church (and I as a pastor in it) haven’t done a very good job communicating and demonstrating what this love and grace of God looks like.¬† Nor have we fully appreciated how very substance of the gospel is not intended for super-religious know-it-all’s but rather for the down-and-out, broken, doubting ragamuffins whom good religious people tend to impetuously overlook.

In short, we’ve got it all wrong on grace.

I wish I could share the entire opening chapter with you, but here is my favorite part from pg. 32-3 of The Ragamuffin Gospel:

Because salvation is by grace through faith, I believe that among the countless number of people standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands (Revelation 7:9), I shall see the prostitute from the Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City, Nevada, who tearfully told me she could find no other employment to support her two-year-old son. I shall see the woman who had an abortion and is haunted by the guilt and remorse but did the best she could faced with the grueling alternatives; the business-man besieged by debt who sold his integrity in a series of desperate transactions; the insecure clergyman addicted to being liked, who never challenged his people from the pulpit and longed for unconditional love; the sexually-abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last ‘trick,’ whispers the name of the unknown God he learned about in Sunday school; the deathbed convert who for decades had his cake and ate it, broke every law of God and man, wallowed in lust and raped the earth.

“But how?” we ask. Then the voice says, “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

There they are. There we are– the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life’s tribulations, but through it all clung to faith.

My friends, if this is not good news to you, you have never understood the gospel of grace.

Does that sound scandalous to you? If so, then good! By worldly standards, which good religious people tend to idolatrously co-opt , grace is scandalous because of God’s radical acceptance– unmerited, unearned, and not at all tainted by the most grievous of our sins. When we open ourselves to the forgiveness of God through Jesus Christ for all us ragamuffins, nothing can stand in the way of his love that saves us.

So what about holiness and righteousness? As we’ll discover in later chapters, holiness grows out of the fierce acceptance of God’s grace, and not the other way around! That is an enormous distinction Christians miss time and time again, as evidenced in our behavior and attitudes which suggest that God loves the good and that church is for good people. If that’s ever the case, then this¬† “false church” would have one less pastor!

The real Church is for those who fail, the rejected, for those who doubt and question, who make the same destructive mistakes time and time again, for those who wouldn’t otherwise make it in a graceless, success-driven world, as well as those lifelong saints saved by grace– ragamuffins all. Now that’s the Church I’ll always be proud to pastor…

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The Ragamuffin Gospel– An Online Journaling Project

Well friends, it’s been far too long since I’ve posted on my blog, but part of that could be explained by the contents of this post. Basically, I’ve allowed layer upon layer of stress, obligation, and conflict to shroud my soul. Of course, that leads to a withered self-esteem and the frightening realization that I find myself distant from God, even though nothing about God’s proximity to me or his love has changed one bit. Keep in mind, I’m not crumbling apart or in the funk of depression; thank God for that, at least. Much of what I’ve been enduring lately is seasonal in nature, and like all things, it will pass. But, the difference is that I want to come out stronger on the other side of this nasty season. In other words, I don’t want to simply survive this season. I desperately desire to thrive because of it. There’s a world of difference between the two– the numb complacency of mere survival or the joyful triumph of thriving in abundant life. You take your pick!

In times like these, I find myself coming back to the words of a man who has been my soul’s companion during times of darkness. The writings of Brennan Manning have been a blessing to me in every sense of the word. His writing is far more than just comfort or encouragement. (One can always turn to Hallmark or the latest 2-dollar “Words of Daily Encouragement” book for that.) Brennan’s writing launches a radical readjustment of my life back to the unconditional love and grace of God.

I first encountered Brennan Manning’s Ragamuffin Gospel when a church member, a dear, dear lady who had an uncanny love for God, gave it to me. She said, “You will love this book. It changed my life.” Well, whenever someone hands me a book she claims changed her life, I’m hard pressed not to read it. From the first words of the book’s introduction to the final chapter, I could not put this book down. Never before had I read someone so passionately articulate the love and grace of God for me in such an honest, often gritty, earthy way. I mean, at times, Brennan Manning’s pronouncement of grace got close to scandalous, challenging me to ask, “Does God’s grace really go that far?” And just as I asked, he would provide a Scripture and a story to answer my question with a resounding YES.

Brennan Manning is an interesting guy. He’s a former Franciscan priest whose work took him all over the world, often to the poorest of places. In the 1970’s he left the priesthood to confront his raging alcoholism. That began a season of writing and teaching which lasts to this day, although he’s slowed down quite a bit in recent years. What most captivates me about Brennan is that he is the botched, highly flawed, at times unlovable ragamuffin he writes about. There’s an honesty and sincerity about his own brokenness that makes his description of God’s grace that much more compelling. In other words, he’s not sharing theory, but reality— both his reality and our reality, if we choose to trust the message of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

But my story with Brennan Manning didn’t stop there. Several months later in March of 2004 , I went with my church’s youth group to Ocean City, MD for a youth conference. This conference also provides a speaker for adults. It so happened that the adult speaker for that year was none other than Brennan Manning. Talk about perfect timing! His public teaching was just as mesmerizing as his writing. I clung to every word he spoke to us. Clutched in my arm was my copy of Ragamuffin Gospel, and I had hoped meet Brennan to share my appreciation and to have him sign my book.

Chris and Brennan- March 2004

Brennan is a very quiet, humble, non-assuming person when he’s not on stage. I approached him, spoke with him, and he graciously signed my book. He then told me that if I liked Ragamuffin Gospel I ought to also purchase his Abba’s Child, which I did. He signed both of these books to me, and posed with me for a picture.

The night I got home from that youth conference, the storm of my life began. My former wife informed me of her intent to separate. Three days later when I came home from the office for lunch, I discovered that she had left me, taking Grace with her, which began the long, excruciating season of separation and divorce. For anyone who’s ever been through this, you know that the first thing to get flushed down the toilet is your self-esteem. Depression, self-loathing, anger, sorrow, desperation, and fear come right along with it.

To this day, I thank my Lord for the safety net of family and friends he placed around me during those perilous years. And also, right there in those quiet, lonely times were the writings of Brennan Manning, particularly his Ragamuffin Gospel and Abba’s Child, both beautiful pieces of writing that poured grace and love into my emaciated soul. Today, I find myself coming back to Brennan when I need a lift. Recently, it began when Blairlee bought me a copy of Brennan’s latest book Patched Together: A Story of My Story.

If you’re looking for tightly constructed, even-keeled writing, you won’t find any of that in Brennan’s work. Reading Brennan Manning is like walking along a thick garden path that takes you into unexpected landscapes of wild colors and contours. You have no idea what to anticipate next, some of the sights more beautiful and desirable than others, but nonetheless a sincere work of art. Brennan weaves his own reflections, stories, and Scripture together to immerse the reader into a world of God’s grace. Sometimes he whispers followed by a shout. At times I find myself laughing, crying, cringing, and soothed. It’s funny… All this describes the nature of a life in Christ, doesn’t it?

So, every few days, I’ll journal on a portion of each chapter from Ragamuffin Gospel, finding something that speaks to me while briefly reflecting on it. I’m doing this for my own sake, but I also truly hope that it would be a blessing to you, too, especially since you’re kind enough to read these ramblings of mine! I look forward to some conversation together. These posts may not be as earth-shattering as others I’ve done, but I think they may prove to be some of the most important ones I write, at least for the time being. If for nothing else, we’ll learn more about each other and how we each experience the love and grace of God.

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