Archives For Grace

Brennan Manning’s passing prompted this tribute-contemplation. I invite you to sit, and wonder with me, at the significance of what happens when, despite human opinion, the Glory that God deserves is given back to Him.

 ‘The ragamuffin Gospel’ is an impassioned critique of churches that worship doctrine, conceal God and betray grace. He states that ‘Jesus invites sinners and not the self-righteous to his table’[1]. This re-enforces his concern that the church can at times project a ‘watered down Grace’[2]. Consequently, what is demanded is an allegiance to doctrine rather than an alignment to Christ. This makes for a ‘twisted gospel of grace, and results in a religious bondage which distorts the image of God’[3]. For instance, ‘any Church that will not accept that it consists of sinful men and women, and exists for them, implicitly rejects the gospel of Grace’[4].

Reputation is not character. Some of the current expressions of church value appearances over against substance. They are communities defined by ‘fatal narcissism of spiritual perfectionism’[5]. This is form of sophistry that begins with the individual Christian. Brennan Manning argues that anybody who focuses on a pious reputation over against character is wrong. This exists where ’fellowships permit no one to be a sinner. So everyone must conceal their sin from themselves and from their fellowship’[6]. It’s easy to see the pragmatic and contextual out working of Manning’s paradox, ‘our doing becomes the very undoing of the gospel’[7].

Consequently some churches become consumed with public appearance[8]. Putting on a show becomes God. This idol turns our conformity into a way to earn salvation, rather than a doorway for discovering salvation. For example: the impossible ideal of a perfect Pastor. Someone who looks great in a suit, has the newest model car, the castle sized mortgage, the beautiful smiling wife, the 2.5 well behaved scripture quoting children and an unblemished Church attendance record. Such standards are closer to the ‘strange paradoxes of the American Dream’ (King), which is only really mounted on the metaphor that, ‘castles made of sand fall…melt…and slip into the sea eventually’ (Hendrix, 1967). While modesty and self presentation is beneficial for every Christian, it does not make you a Christian nor does it necessarily reflect your salvation[9].

A dichotomy exists between being righteous and appearing righteous. Evidence of this is found in the ‘seeming good is better than doing good age’ (Bolt), which feeds self-righteous and Lordless ‘isms’ (Wright) . Those who propagate such ideology, reject the theological Trinitarian reality which acknowledges that grace is a gift  from the Father, transferred to us through Son and worked out in our lives by the Spirit. God’s ‘furious love’[10] for humanity funds dignity, grace and mercy.

This begins with the acceptance of grace, ‘for acceptance means simply to turn to God’[11]. This is an encounter where I am no longer removed from my problems, my sin and my inability to repent because I ‘accept the reality of my human limitations’[12]. In other words, Manning does not endorse a ‘fast-food-cheap grace’ Churchianity.

The Ragamuffin Gospel presents a relational God who reaches into the ragamuffin’s brokenness and provides rescue, ‘inviting us to be faithful to the present moment, neither retreating to the past, nor anticipating the future’[13].

I come to accept that through grace I am dignified and worthwhile. Deemed to be so by the actions, words and approach, of a loving Father towards His children. God isn’t obsessed with, or anxious about our ‘’epic fails’’. God desires the correction of the sinner, not the death of the sinner (Luke 5:32; Ambrose of Milan, ‘On Repentance’). God is not a manipulative father, nor is He like the pagan gods, who demand sacrifice to appease their anger. We do not serve an angry, distant un-relational God who is unconcerned with who we are, or what we do. 

Manning illustrates for us that God seeks out the ragamuffin. Manning’s own ministry and his journey through alcoholism exemplify the message which ‘The Ragamuffin Gospel’ communicates.  The message of the Ragamuffin Gospel is about a freedom that is completely reliant on a view grace which does not abandon human culpability, in the name of ‘tolerance instead of love’ (Bill ‘birdsong’ Miller).

This freedom is found acquired through a response to grace that empowers a living relationship with the gift of Jesus Christ. This freedom stands as a warning to those who ‘accept grace in theory but deny it in practice’ [14].Manning writes that the ‘deadening spirit of hypocrisy lives on in people who prefer to surrender control of their souls to rules than run the risk of living in union with Jesus’[15]. Being honest and expressing the need for grace and not works begins with us, the Church.

Writing about Paul’s letter to the Galatians, Manning states:

‘written in the heat of the moment, the letter is a manifesto of Christian freedom. Christ’s call on your lives is a call to liberty. Freedom is the cornerstone of Christianity (see 2 Cor.3:17[16])…Freedom in Christ produces a healthy independence from peer pressure, people-pleasing, and the bondage of human respect. The tyranny of public opinion can manipulate our lives. What will the neighbours think? What will my friends think? What will people think? The expectations of others can exert a subtle but controlling pressure on our behaviour’[17].

Brennan Manning encourages Christians to let go of  demands which control us, by entering into step with the Spirit, and consequently stepping into a life of freedom that is accountable to God. This freedom ‘lies not in ourselves, who are by nature slaves to sin, but in the freedom of his grace setting us free in Christ by the Holy Spirit’[18]. Christians are living in ‘the presence of God in wonder, amazed by the traces of God all around us’[19], not just in a building or a doctrine.

In concluding, the merit of this book is that Brennan Manning provides a reflection of the human struggle with addiction and idolatry. At times, Manning may seem a little unforgiving in his harsh critique of the institutional Church. Nevertheless, it’s clear that Manning seeks to address practical atheism, by reassessing doctrines and expressions of church, that have by default, replaced God. 

In order to achieve this Manning asserts that the Christian walk is one of risk, founded on a dignity which is grounded solely in God’s intervention on our behalf. The Ragamuffin Gospel addresses the failure to live out independently the character of Christ without Christ. As a result Manning successfully reminds us that God is in fact consistent, fierce, loving and interested in redeeming us, even in the midst of the messiness of our lives.


References:

Manning, B. 1990 The Ragamuffin Gospel, Multnomah Books, Sister, Oregon 97599, USA

Casting Crowns, 2003 American Dream: from the album Casting Crowns
[1] Manning, B. 1990, The Ragamuffin Gospel p.7, Authentic Classics, Multnomah books, Sis. OR.

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[2] Ibid, p.6
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[3] Ibid, p.1
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[4] Ibid, p.13
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[5] Ibid, p.34
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[6] Ibid, p.107 & p.115
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[7] Ibid, p.39
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[8] Ibid, ‘publicity’ p.1
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[9] For example: Facebook memes that encourage us to ‘share if you’re saved’ or like ‘ if you want to be’. As if our spiritual status is determined by how many times we shared or liked such drivel.
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[10] Ibid, p.19
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[11] Ibid, p.24
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[12] Ibid, p.31
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[13] Ibid, p.35
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[14] Ibid, p.117
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[15] Ibid, p.110
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[16] 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (ESV)
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[17] ibid, pp.120-121
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[18] ibid, p.129
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[19] Ibid, p.72

Fankl_KindleEd_MeaningThere is a statement made by Augustine in Confessions that reads: ‘what I mean when I say I love my God, is that I am clinging to an embrace which is not severed by the fulfilment of desire’[i]

Centuries later, Leo Tolstoy made a similar statement, writing that ‘grace supported him over the abyss.’[ii]

This may seem an odd correlation, but Viktor Frankl’s book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ embodies the essential characteristics of these theological positions.

Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist and holocaust survivor, presents a perspective born from extreme adversity.

The connection of his thought and experience with that of Tolstoy’s and Augustine’s, is at first an ‘existential struggle for meaning”[iii]. What follows is a break with existentialism, with an acknowledgement that meaning and purpose are found outside ourselves.

For example, Frankl ambiguously states that ‘being human always points, and is directed, to something, or someone, other than oneself’[iv]. Augustine and Tolstoy would agree, but go further, by more directly stating that we are not just pointed, but are being pointed towards the God who encounters us in Jesus Christ.

Where Augustine states that clinging to grace is first brought about by God’s embrace, Tolstoy reminds us that ‘faith is the strength of life’. Frankl adds, so is hope.

His prevailing conclusion is that in the midst of difficult circumstances, we are never without the ‘free decision[v]’ to say yes to life.

“…the last of the human freedoms is found in the ability to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.[vi]
The pessimist resembles a man who observes with fear and sadness that his wall calendar, from which he daily tears a sheet, grows thinner with each passing day.
On the other hand, the person who attacks the problems of life actively is like a man who removes each successive leaf from his calendar and files it neatly and carefully away with its predecessors, after first having jotted down a few diary notes on the back.
He can reflect with pride and joy on all the richness set down in these notes, on all the life he has already lived to the fullest. What will it matter to him if he notices that he is growing old? Has he any reason to envy the young people whom he sees, or wax nostalgic over his own lost youth? What reasons has he to envy a young person?
For the possibilities that a young person has, the future which is in store for him? “No, thank you,” he will think. “Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered.’[vii]

God gives us permission to act.

In free decision we are encouraged to let God transform our hearts. (Romans 12:1-21)

We are not bound to the definitions of others, our culture/sub-culture or the opinions of our neighbour.

Identity rests in the one who, while we were yet sinners, died for us (Romans 5:8). For God, in Jesus Christ chose to free us, so that we can be truly free to say “yes” to Him, and “yes” to life.


References:

[i] St. Augustine, Confessions Penguin Classics p.212

[ii] ‘I am supported above the abyss’ Tolstoy, L. 1869, A Confession

[iii] Frankl, V.E. 2006 Man’s Search for Meaning Beacon Press. Kindle Ed. Loc. 27-29 & 1268-1270

[iv]Ibid Loc.1387-1388

[v] Ibid, Loc. 922-924

[vi] Ibid, Loc. 877-878

[vii] Ibid, Loc. 1514-18-1521

Originally published 14th September 2014

In his discussion on ‘The Freedom of Man for God’, Karl Barth distinguishes between human triumphalism and ‘God’s triumph’[i]. Barth’s exposition asserts that human triumphalism stands against the God who triumphs.

Human triumphalism is both an active and passive denial of God.

Linked to works righteousness, it is a fanatical rejection of the Creators rights to His creation.

His Lordship is undermined, ignored and forgotten in order for humanity to assert their own. This act exemplifies itself in the form of ‘primal atheism’[ii]; humans reaching for God’s power whilst at the same time proclaiming that such a power only exists in a special few (mysticism) or does not exist at all (atheism).

In short, men and women seek to become lordless powers.

Examples of this can be seen in how some modern proponents utilise Religion or ideology to justify their rejection of God’s Lordship in Jesus Christ.

Via claims to superior, “inside” knowledge or the Darwinian excuse that the strong determine the treatment or mistreatment of the weak.

In the progressive quest to work for God, or alternatively ignore God, we find elements which seek emancipation from God.

Consequently, the biblical promise of a ‘newness of life’ (Romans 6:4) is replaced with a mystical fog or a reason induced cold pragmatism. Most often affirmed by an esoteric elitism who, hiding behind entitlement, choice, nature and good intentions, hypocritically end up forcing a tyrannical ‘denial of life’ upon humanity.

Ultimately, the charade is found wanting and sinful humanity is once again reminded of its tendency to parade darkness as light.

No matter how hard we try, we cannot apprehend that which can only be given to us.

Humanity remains unfree in the ignorance and futility of its quest to be free from the Creator, who has and still does, have a right to His creation. By enforcing His right the Creator appears as powerless. In mercy, He lowers Himself in order to raise us up.

‘Freedom to be for God is not a freedom which we have taken, but a freedom which God has given to us in His mercy’ [iii]

Our lack of  sensitivity and response to God’s approach i.e.: our lack of ‘receptivity to revelation through gratitude and humble recognition’[iv], leads to a rejection of God and His freedom.

Paul writes:

‘We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death He died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 6:10)

This in consequence means that ‘to be with God is to be in Christ’[v].

God’s triumph is God’s revelation which has been given in Jesus the Christ and is asserted in this time of grace by the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit. In Christ, and only in Christ, is God’s triumph reconciled to human triumphalism.

From this point we stand and say “Jesus is the Victor”. From this point we abandon all questions that concern ourselves with what we have to do to be in God’s will, or win his approval. From this point we take up our true concern: the invitation into participation with what God has already done and is doing right now on our behalf.

As Barth noted:

God’s continued  presence in us and for us means a ‘state or position in which humans may find themselves, but only with amazement, only with gratitude, only in humble recognition of an accomplished fact…an earlier state is one of self-glorification and self-will. Apart from the triumph of God it would still be the state of humanity today. Marked again by forgetting or denying the triumph of God by seeing (and calling) the power of God on us and in us as anything other than the Holy Spirit’[vi]

References:

[i] Barth, K. 1938 Church Dogmatics I.II Hendrickson Publishers p.260

[ii] Ibid, p.321

[iii] Ibid, p.258

[iv] Ibid, p.260

[v] Ibid, p.258

[vi] Ibid, p.260

Image credit: Tim Marshall, Unsplash.com

Inhaling Grace

July 1, 2016 — 7 Comments

dysfunctional family surivivorNo matter how much forgiveness helps us to resolve conflict, if people thrive on the conflict, then conflict will inevitably remain. Sometimes you’ll find yourself stuck between a rock and hard place. Where no matter what approach you embark on, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Learning to move on from this graciously, responsibly and wisely, will require us to make an effort. In the New Testament Jesus tells us to breathe in grace and exhale dust.

To do so seeks to reshape our circumstances, redefine relationships, and in revolt against the chaos, breathe in the hope of rescue and restoration.

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

Our “hell” is countered by the God who rolls stones and raises the dead (John 11/2 Cor.1:9).

This intercession is the reality of the cross where our brokenness is consumed and replaced by a resurrected life.

Although scars remain, restoration is a real possibility.

This is because the stone has been rolled away by choice. We can then breathe, receive and put on, a new nature (Colossians), through a newness of life (Ephesians) because Jesus Christ stepped into the darkness and pierced it with light.

This is what the new instrumental below expresses. As for the creative process. I just prayed, sat down and in six hours had this gem pulled together. If I had the time to improve on it, I’d seek to make the song more tighter. Especially with the lead in to the first chorus and work a roll through the tom-toms into it. (For the best quality, good speakers or headphones are recommended).

‘Dust is an emblem of a state of condemnation’ [Genesis 3: 14; Micah 7: 17.]
(Albert Barnes, Commentary on Numbers)

Happy Friday, folks. 🙂

 

 


Image: Pinterest

Video and image featured is my own.

Related post:Exhaling Dust, Inhaling Grace

GnadeBarth’s main starting point in his discussion on the Holiness of Grace, is that the freedom of God is framed by Jesus Christ. [i]

The freedom of God is His love actualised for us in covenant and Christ. E.g.: promise, fulfilment, and promise of future fulfilment.

God’s love and holiness are inseparable characteristics of grace.

On one, rests, ‘love: grace, mercy and patience. On the other, freedom: holiness, righteousness and wisdom.’ (p.352); ‘To say grace is to say the forgiveness of sins; to say holiness, judgement upon sins’ (p.360).

According to Barth, ‘grace shows its power over and against sin. It reckons with it, but does not fear it. It is not limited by it. It overcomes it, triumphing in this opposition and the overcoming of it’ (p.355)

More significantly:

‘Where God is revealed and objective, He is always the gracious God’ (p.356) […] ‘He is so even when He is the God who is denied and hated by us, and therefore provoked against us. He is so even as the God against whom we sin and who therefore judges and punishes us. We know and rightly understand our sin only when we have realised it to be enmity against the grace of God. And we turn from our sin only when we return to the grace of God’ (p.367).

God, in covenant and Christ, reveals himself as both firm and approachable.

What God does comes from who God is[ii]: ‘God makes Himself the gift, offering fellowship to us’ (p.354); ‘Grace is how God loves. This is how He seeks and creates fellowship between Himself and us’ (p.357)

It’s important to Barth that we understand why ‘we may distinguish, but we shall certainly not separate between God’s grace and God’s holiness’ (p.360). Because the ‘holiness of God is not side by side with, but in His grace, and His wrath is not separate from but in His love (p.363). The law which slays and the Gospel which makes alive are interwoven in the most astonishing way: God is as gracious as He is holy and holy as He is gracious’ (p.365)

Through this we can come to understand that ‘only where God’s love is not yet revealed, not yet or no longer, can there be a separation instead of a distinction’ (ibid).

It’s this point that Barth wants to emphasise:

The ‘command then to be Holy as I am Holy[iii], is a not a command by which God urges sinful humanity to secure for themselves a status or merit in His presence. But as God’s command it is quite simply the command to cleave to His grace.’ (p.364)

However,

‘that God is gracious doesn’t mean that He surrenders Himself to the one to whom He is gracious… to accept God’s grace necessarily means, therefore to respect God’s holiness; [His gracious and loving “yes” and “no” – Proverbs 3:12]. It means accepting God’s grace in thankfulness, to be contentedly replenished by it.’ (pp. 361 & 367)

The holiness of God’s Grace is actualised in the act of correction. Any rejection of God’s grace is also a rejection of instruction.

Applied to today, it might serve us to seek out where there might be a separation of holiness from grace?

As Barth suggests, if there is, then, perhaps we’ve created an idol; something other than God.

Grace cut off from God’s holiness is a grace transformed into what we want grace to be. It is nothing other than cheap grace. It denies the reality of Jesus Christ.  Cheap grace is mistaken for being God’s actual grace. It’s transformed into a ‘positive optimism’, tethered together by an unteachable arrogance and blissful ignorance. It’s weak, but sells well. Its future is bleak, but cheap grace is easily reinvented. It’s easily manipulated.

Cheap grace is the master of all disguises. Made up primarily of inoffensive fragments picked out from an offensive grace. God’s Word is sanitised.  As a result, God’s true nature and being is compromised; obscured from us. Even though we are slowly and subtly dragged back into darkness by a Frankenstein of our own making.This new understanding is celebrated as a revolution.

Still, God is not numb to our reality. Barth interprets the mainstay of the Biblical text: Rescue and remedy. God does not and has not abandoned us.

He loves us despite the rejection and counterfeit grace that is confused with real grace.

Examples of this include the “progressive” salesperson, who, sells a new tolerance and yet demonises anyone who questions, challenges or outright opposes them. This is humanity supported by God’s achievement; held firmly by God’s grace, but it is humanity choosing to bathe in the presumed glory of its own independence and sovereignty. The part of modern humanity that is hell-bent on buying and selling others into destruction and despair, because the fear of seeming intolerant or offensive towards our neighbour has hindered us from actually being able to love our neighbour. Which requires both a responsible “yes” and a loving “no.”

Men and women following crowds that proudly claim God’s grace, yet quietly erase God’s holiness and by default His freedom, make it all the more important to hear Barth when he says:

‘The holiness of God’s grace is this: “For whom the Lord loves He corrects; as a Father to a child” (p.361)

Notes:

[i] Pages 351 to 368 of Karl Barth, 1940 Church Dogmatics II/1, Hendrickson Publishers

[ii] Ibid, p.334 ‘The Perfections of God’

[iii] 1 Peter 1:16/Leviticus 20:26

IMG_0942Disarm evil. Defuse conflict.

Create boundaries.

Redefine toxic relationships.

Pursue peace.

What was, no longer is.

What now exists – the good that stands,

stands because of who Jesus Christ is, was and will always be.

Grace. Today, yesterday and forever.

– RL2015

ReflectionsBeside still waters.

Along paths of righteousness.

In a dark valley, overflowing cups.

A soul restored for His name’s sake.

A table prepared in the presence of enemies.

Followed by justice and mercy.

The Lord Shepherds; makes; leads; comforts; blesses;

…allows and invites us to dwell. In. His. House. Forever.