A Glimpse Into the Gospel of Grace

“The question the gospel of grace puts to us is simply this: Who shall separate you from the love of Christ? What are you afraid of?

Are you afraid that your weakness could separate you from the love of Christ? It can’t.

Are you afraid that your inadequacies could separate you from the love of Christ? They can’t.

Are you afraid that your inner poverty could separate you from the love of Christ? It can’t.

Difficult marriage, loneliness, anxiety over the children’s future? They can’t.

Negative self-image? It can’t.

Economic hardship, racial hatred, street crime? They can’t.

Rejection by loved ones or the suffering of loved ones? They can’t.

Persecution by authorities, going to jail? They can’t.

Nuclear war? It can’t.

Mistakes, fears, uncertainties? They can’t.

The gospel of grace calls out, ‘Nothing can ever separate you from the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord!’

You must be convinced of this, trust it, and never forget to remember. Everything else will pass away, but the love of Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Faith will become vision, hope will become possession, but the love of Jesus Christ that is stronger than death endures forever.

In the end, it is the one thing you can hang onto.”

(Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel; pp.87-88)

The Beauty of an Open Mind

There is a wondrous open-mindedness about children and an insatiable desire to learn from life. An open attitude is like an open door–a welcoming disposition toward the fellow travelers who knock on our door during the middle of the day, the middle of the week, or the middle of a lifetime. Some are dirtballs, grungy, disheveled, and bedraggled. The sophisticated adult within me shudders and is reluctant to offer them hospitality. They may be carrying precious gifts under their shabby rags, but I still prefer clean shaven Christians who are neatly attired, properly pedigreed, and who affirm my vision, echo my thoughts, stroke me, and make me feel good. Yet my inner child protests, “I want new friends, not old mirrors.”

When our inner child is not nurtured and nourished, our minds gradually close to new ideas, unprofitable commitments, and the surprises of the Spirit. Evangelical faith is bartered for cozy, comfortable piety. A failure of nerve and an unwillingness to risk distorts God into a Bookkeeper, and the gospel of grace is swapped for the security of religious bondage.

“Unless you become as little children…” [Matthew 18:3]

I fear for the lawyer whose only life is corporate tax, the doctor whose whole existence is someone else’s prostate, the business executive whose single responsibility is to his stockholders, the athlete who puts all his eggs in an 18-inch basket, the theologian who thinks the world can be saved by theology… A closed mind kills marriages and human relations; it deadens feelings and sensitivities; it makes for a church that lives in a thousand and one tunnels, with no communication and no exit.

(Walter Burghardt, Grace on Crutches: Homilies for Fellow Travelers; p. 144)

If we maintain the open-mindedness of children, we challenge fixed ideas and established structures, including our own. We listen to people in other denominations and religions. We don’t find demons in those with whom we disagree. We don’t cozy up to people who mouth our jargon. If we are open, we rarely resort to either/or–either creation or evolution, liberty or law, sacred or secular, Beethoven or Madonna. We focus on both/and, fully aware that God’s truth cannot be imprisoned in a small definition. Of course, the open mind does not accept everything indiscriminately–Marxism and capitalism, Christianity and atheism, love and lust, Moët Chandon and vinegar. It does not absorb all propositions equally like a sponge, nor is it as soft. But the open mind realizes that reality, truth, and Jesus Christ are incredibly open-ended.

~ Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel (pp.65-66)

God is bigger and more inclusive than you imagine

The following excerpt has really been challenging my paradigm of God. In times of suffering, difficulty, and trial it is so easy for me to get focused inward–on myself or my own circumstances–and lose track of looking outward–particularly to the Gospel truths and who God is amidst it. In a world where there is so much turmoil, inconsistency, and pain God promises to be a steadfast, firm foundation whose promises are always true and who is eternally unchanging (see Psalm 118, Hebrews 12:26-28, 2 Timothy 2:19, and Hebrews 13:8).

“Over the years I’ve seen Christians shaping God in their own image–in each case a dreadfully small God. Some Roman Catholics still believe only they will grace heaven’s green pastures.. There is the God who has a special affection for capitalist America, regards the workaholic, and the God who loves only the poor and the underprivileged. There is a God who marches with victorious armies, and the God who loves only the meek who turns the other cheek. Some, like the elder brother in Luke, sulk and pout when the father rocks and rolls, (and) serves surf-and-turf for a prodigal son who has spent his last cent on whores. Some, tragically, refuse to believe that God can or will forgive them, for: my sin is too great.

This is not the God of grace who “wants everyone to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4). This is not the God embodied in Jesus that Matthew came to know. This is not the God who calls sinners–which, as you and I know, means everybody.”

From The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning (p.42).

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I could dissect this quote for hours, but for the purpose of this particular posting I will draw out only one thing that comes to mind: God is so much bigger and so much more inclusive than I give Him credit for or imagine; and when I reflect on this truth it is so remarkably calming–freeing, even. This massive God is powerful, not particular. Sovereign, not slave-driving. Victorious, not defeated (or defeatable!).

This is the God who sees me at my lowest and has the power and compassion to lift me up. This is the God that, as the book of Hebrews says, aligns with me in my weakness and is “mindful of me” (Psalm 8:4). This is the God I sing about, pray to, look towards, and live to proclaim. This is not some manmade idea to help make sense of a complex world. This is a God both higher than our intellect while also closer than our most intimate emotions.

Quite simply: This is a God worthy of our worship.

Three Astounding Truths

I wanted to provide three bulk quotes from Brennan Manning’s The Ragamuffin Gospel. These quotes have challenged me and intrigue me in more ways than I can put on paper. My recommendation: read them and then reread them. Apply these to yourself. Challenge yourself to see how this relates to you personally and what we ought to do in response. For many of us, we need to just absorb the amazing truths presented herein.

Page 23 –

The Good News means we can stop lying to ourselves. The sweet sound of amazing grace saves us from the necessity of self-deception. It keeps us from denying that though Christ was victorious, the battle with lust, greed, and pride still rages within us. As a sinner who has been redeemed, I can acknowledge that I am often unloving, irritable, angry, and resentful with those closest to me. When I go to church I can leave my white hat at home and admit I have failed. God not only loves me as I am, but also knows me as I am. Because of this I don’t need to apply spiritual cosmetics to make myself presentable to Him. I can accept ownership of my poverty and powerlessness and neediness.

Page 25 (1) –

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.

Page 25 (2) –

The gospel of grace nullifies our adulation of televangelists, charismatic superstars, and local church heroes. It obliterates the two-class citizenship theory operative in many American churches. For grace proclaims the awesome truth that all is gift. All that is good is ours, not by right, but by the sheer bounty of a gracious God. While there is much we may have earned–our degree, our salary, our home and garden, a Miller Lite, and a good night’s sleep–all this is possible only because we have been given so much: life itself, eyes to see and hands to touch, a mind to shape ideas, and a heart to beat with love. We have been given God in our souls and Christ in our flesh. We have the power to believe where others deny, to hope where others despair, to love where others hurt. This and so much more is sheer gift; it is not reward for our faithfulness, our generous disposition, or our heroic life of prayer. Even our fidelity is a gift. “If we but turn to God,” said St. Augustine, “that itself is a gift of God.” My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.