Gospel of Grace

               Last night I finally finished reading The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. There are so many things I want to say and write and remember about this book. One thing I will always remember is that I actually received this book from a good friend, 4 years ago. It has since been sitting on my bookshelf along with the pile of 'still need to read' books. It is only God's perfect timing and overwhelming grace that I picked up this book this spring and chose to read it over the summer. God knew and knows exactly what I am going through and how badly I needed these reminders and truths. He also knew that 4 years ago I would have rushed through the book and said, wow, that was great, so much truth! But none of it would have made it to my heart...

These moments are only grace...

              But instead of ranting on about all the thoughts, feelings, and prayers that have arisen out of this book, I leave you with just the words themselves. I challenge you to read each of these quotes, maybe one a day, one a week. I promise they will deepen your faith and open your heart.

"Sooner or later we are confronted with the painful truth of our inadequacy and insufficiency. Our security is shattered and our bootstraps are cut . We discover our inability to add even a single inch to our spiritual stature . We secretly admit that the call of Jesus is too demanding, that surrender to the Spirit is beyond our reach. We start acting like everyone else. Life takes on a joyless, empty quality .

Something is radically wrong.

Our huffing and puffing to impress God, our scrambling for brownie points, our thrashing about trying to fix ourselves while hiding our pettiness and wallowing in guilt are nauseating to God and are a flat denial of the gospel of grace.  Our approach to the Christian life is as absurd as the enthusiastic young man who had just received his plumber’s license and was taken to see Niagara Falls.  He studied it for a minute and then said, “I think I can fix this.

        "Matthew 9:9-13 People who are in good health do not need a doctor; sick people do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, "It is mercy I desire and not sacrifice." I have come not to call the self-righteous but sinners.'

The church is not a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners.

To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side, I learn who I am and what God's grace means.

Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual, because we have violated another life, a life which we loved, or from which we were estranged. It strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, and our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us. It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage.
Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: “You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!” If that happens to us, we experience grace.
The acceptance of self does not mean to be resigned to the status quo. On the contrary, the more fully we accept ourselves, the more successfully we begin to grow. Love is a far better stimulus than threat or pressure.
One of the mysteries of the gospel tradition is this strange attraction of Jesus for the unattractive, the strange desire for the undesirable, this strange love for the unlovely. 
Whatever we have done in the past, be it good or bad, great or small, is irrelevant to our stance before God today. It is only NOW that we are in the presence of God.
Our doing becomes the undoing of the ragamuffin gospel
Just as a smart man knows he is stupid, so the awake Christian knows he is a ragamuffin.
If you really want to understand a man don't just listen to what he says, watch what he does.

The saved sinner is prostrate in adoration, lost in wonder and praise. He knows repentance is not what we do in order to earn forgiveness; it is what we do because we have been forgiven. It serves as an expression of gratitude rather than an effort to earn forgiveness. Thus the sequence of forgiveness and then repentance, rather than repentance and then forgiveness, is crucial for understanding the gospel of grace.

The foremost characteristic of living by grace is trust in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ.

Do you really believe that God is love?

We need a new kind of relationship with the Father that drives out fear and mistrust and anxiety and guilt, that permits us to be hopeful and joyous, trusting and compassionate. We have to be converted from the bad news to the good news, from expecting nothing to expecting something.

Maybe this is the heart of our hang-up, the root of our dilemma.  We fluctuate between castigating ourselves and congratulating ourselves because we are deluded into thinking we save ourselves.  We develop a false sense of security from our good works and scrupulous observance of the law.  Our halo gets too tight and a carefully-disguised attitude of moral superiority results.  Or, we are appalled by our inconsistency, devastated that we haven’t lived up to our lofty expectations of ourselves.  The roller coaster ride of elation and depression continues.
      Because we never lay hold of our nothingness before God, and consequently, we never enter into the deepest reality of our relationship with Him.  But when we accept ownership of our powerlessness and helplessness, when we acknowledge that we are paupers at the door of God’s mercy, then God can make something beautiful out of us.

“Getting honest with ourselves does not make us unacceptable to God. It does not distance us from God, but draws us to Him–as nothing else can–and opens us anew to the flow of grace. While Jesus calls each of us to a more perfect life, we cannot achieve it on our own. To be alive is to be broken; to be broken is to stand in need of grace. It is only through grace that any of us could dare to hope that we could become more like Christ.”

"Israel, don't ever be so foolish as to measure my love for you in terms of your love for me! Don't ever compare your thin, pallid, wavering, and moody love with my love, for I am God and not man."

Jesus has journeyed to the far reaches of loneliness.

In his broken body he has carried your sins and mine, every separation and loss, every heart broken, every wound of the spirit that refuses to close, all the riven experiences of men, women, and children across the bands of time.

We cannot will ourselves to accept grace.

“A poet has written ‘The desire to feel loved is the last illusion: let it go and you will be free.’ Just as the sunrise of faith requires the sunset of our former unbelief, so the dawn of trust requires letting go of our craving spiritual consolations and tangible reassurances. Trust at the mercy of the response it receives is a bogus trust. All is uncertainty and anxiety. In trembling insecurity the disciple pleads for proofs from the Lord that her affection is returned. If she does not receive them, she is frustrated and starts to suspect that her relationship with Jesus is all over or that it never existed. 
If she does receive consolation, she is reassured but only for a time. She presses for further proofs – each one less convincing than the one that went before. In the end the need to trust dies of pure frustration. What the disciple has not learned is that tangible reassurances, however valuable they may be, cannot create trust, sustain it, or guarantee any certainty of its presence. Jesus calls us to hand over our autonomous self in unshaken confidence. When the craving for reassurances is stifled, trust happens.” 

“We all have shadows and skeletons in our backgrounds.  But listen, there is Something bigger in this world than we are and that Something bigger is full of grace and mercy, patience and ingenuity.  The moment the focus of your life shifts from your badness to His goodness and the questions becomes not, ‘What have I done?’ but ‘What can He do?’, release from remorse can happen; miracle of miracles, you can forgive yourself because you are forgiven, accept yourself because you are accepted, and begin to start building up the very places you once tore down.  There is grace to help in every time of trouble.  That grace is the secret to being able to forgive ourselves.  Trust it.’”­

Christianity happens when men and women accept with unwavering trust that their sins have not only been forgiven, but FORGOTTEN.

You will trust God only as much as you love him. And you will love him only to the extent you have touched him, rather that he has touched you.

Honesty... it is always unpleasant, and usually painful, and that is why I am not very good at it. But to stand in the truth before God and one another has a unique reward. It is the reward which a sense of reality always brings. I know something extremely precious. I am in touch with myself as I am. My tendency to play the pseudo-messiah is torpedoed. To the extent that I reject my ragamuffin identity, I turn away from God, the community, and myself. I become a man obsessed by illusion, a man of false power and fearful weakness, unable to think, act, or love.

Jesus calls us to accept compassion in our own lives, to be come gentle, caring, compassionate, and forgiving towards ourselves in our failure and need.

Jesus’ gentleness with sinners flowed from his ability to read their hearts and to detect the sincerity and essential goodness there.  Behind people’s grumpiest poses or most puzzling defense mechanisms, behind their dignified airs, coarseness, or sneers, behind their silence or their curses, Jesus saw a little child who hadn’t been loved enough and who had ceased growing because those around him had ceased believing in him.

For me, the most touching verse in the entire Bible is the father’s response: ‘While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him’ (Luke 15:20).
I am moved that the father didn’t cross-examine the boy, bully him, lecture him on ingratitude, or insist on any high motivation. He was so overjoyed at the sight of his son that he ignored all the canons of prudence and parental discretion and simply welcomed him home. The father took him back just as he was.
What a word of encouragement, consolation, and comfort! We don’t have to sift our hearts and analyze our intentions before returning home. Abba just wants us to show up.

Mary Magdalene stands as a witness par excellence to the ragamuffin gospel. On Good Friday she watched as the man she loved got blown away in the most brutal and dehumanizing fashion. The focus of her attention however was not on suffering but the suffering Christ “who loved me and delivered himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20). Never allow these words to be interpreted as allegory in the life of Magdalene. The love of Jesus was a burning and divine reality to her. She would have been buried in history as some unknown hooker save for the Christ encounter.
She has no understanding of God, church, religion, prayer or ministry except in terms of the Sacred Man who loved her and delivered himself up for her. The unique place that Magdalene occupies in the history of discipleship owes not to her mysterious love for Jesus but to the miraculous transformation that his love wrought in her life. She simply let herself be loved. 
Immersed in the sinful human condition, the ragamuffin struggles to be faithful to Jesus. Taking up the cross of his wounded self each day, he battles with fatigue, loneliness, failure, depression, rejection, and the sting of discovering untrustworthiness in the person he thought most trustworthy. The ragamuffin road always leads to Calvary.”

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