Archives For Spiritual Growth

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

 

Jaded.

Silence and emergency,

In bludgeoning contrast, clang in discordant unity.

The murderous, winsome sin of vain words

Like a hammer into a child’s birthday cake,

Crushes the crisp dew.

Fresh condensation from heaven

Poluted by shattering humiliation,

Breathes hopelessness.

The abyss yawns;

And with the crushing of this child,

its monstrous smile,

Gets ready to feed off of this child’s broken heart.

Silenced, yet emerging,

God responds,

Hope breathes, and pain retreats,

At light breaking through broken glass.

Inner screams, through sigh and powerless frustration,

Answered by prayer and Spirit-filled consolation.

Though there,

I was unaware,

That the shadows of angels were always obscured by the dark.


©RL2018

johnabigailPart of the beauty of the ‘Letters of John and Abigail Adams’ is that every sentence suggests careful consideration.

There are sentences for example, where John cautions Abigail against openly sharing his letters for fear of sensitive information falling into the wrong hands. They reveal a husband and wife, both loving parents who are also very much the exemplary, one for the other, each for God.

‘Their mutual respect and adoration served as evidence that even in an age when women were unable to vote, there were nonetheless marriages in which wives and husbands were true intellectual and emotional equals.’ (History.com)

I picked this book up out of curiosity about its historical and theological significance. As I continue to casually read through them, I am more and more convinced about the gravity of their contents, context and the important message they carry to the world, not just Americans.

Part of a letter written to John in May, 1775, from Abigail, further clarifies my point :

‘The Lord will not cast off his people; neither will He forsake his inheritance. Great events are most certainly in the womb of futurity; and, if the present chastisements which we experience have a proper influence upon our conduct, the event will certainly be in our favour’[i].

The Adams family epistles have contemporary relevance. The most pertinent of which is that they challenge Christians to steer clear of anti-intellectualism. They encourage Christians to engage; to understand current events in light of the biblical texts, and move away from disengaging in informed debate, dismissing it as uninteresting, convoluted and/or unnecessary.

Here are a people on the cusp of necessary conflict; a people not yet prepared for what they hope to avoid; a people who understand the danger of the mob; a people who acknowledge that they bear the burden of responsibilityand are God’s participants in necessary decisions that will require courage, faith, hope, prudence, calm justice and fierce mercy.

The same people who, under God, will stare down the supposed divine right of a king, and challenge his exercise of freedom without restraint.

The same people who will instead assert that under God all are created equal, and that authentic freedom can only come with the caveat of authentic responsibility.

One example is that both John and Abigail looked unfavourably on slavery, made clear by Abigail’s rebuke: ‘I wish most sincerely there was not a slave in the province. It always appeared a most iniquitous scheme to me— to fight ourselves for what we are daily robbing and plundering from those who have as good a right to freedom as we have. You know my mind upon this subject.[ii]

Both husband and wife lived out their faith – not in a cloister, reserved pew or in pious appearances.

A constant in the letters are references to biblical texts. Used comfortably, they form an important part of the extraordinary exchange. It might not be so wrong to suggest that these letters read like small sermons, shared between a loving, overburdened husband, and his equally loving and overburdened bride.

Unfortunately, the letters are not without theological issues.

Gaps exist. Such as Abigail’s allusion to a form, of what Shirley Guthrie called, the ‘common heresy’ of Pelagianism (Christian Doctrine, 1994:127) – an ancient misinterpretation of God’s salvation, grace and the role of the responsive sinner.

‘God helps them that help themselves, as King Richard says; and if we can obtain the Divine aid by our own virtue, fortitude, and perseverance, we may be sure of relief.[iii]

In addition, I’m uncertain as to whether or not the countless references to ‘Providence’ are in fact veiled 18th Century Congregationalist references to the Holy Spirit. The context implies they are.

‘I pray for you all, and hope to be prayed for. Certainly there is a Providence; certainly we must depend upon Providence, or we fail; certainly the sincere prayers of good men avail much. But resignation is our duty in all events.[iv]

Nevertheless, reformed theology appears to dominate the politics, parenting philosophy, orthodoxy and sociology. Prayer and references to God’s care, wisdom, provision and guidance are ever-present.

This is not something that is the result of a cultural Christian appendage. To begin with Abigail Adams is openly critical of appearance only faith.

‘General John Burgoyne practices deceit on God himself, by assuming the appearance of great attention to religious worship, when every action of his life is totally abhorrent to all ideas of true religion, virtue, or common honesty.[v]

John affirms this in a similar way stating that:

 ‘The man who violates [destroys] private faith, cancels solemn obligations, whom neither honor nor conscience holds, shall never be knowingly trusted by me. Had I known, when I first voted for a Director of a Hospital, what I heard afterwards, when I was down, I would not have voted as I did. Open, barefaced immorality ought not to be so countenanced.[vi]

The Adams family epistles are unique in that they present an organic living relationship between husband and wife, grounded in God’s freedom. What has caught me by surprise is that God is not reduced to second place. Alongside great concerns, God is still in the forefront of their thoughts, and as a result a good deal of theology permeates the wisdom that informs their actions, wit and dialogue .

One thing grasps me as I read through these letters. That is the relevance they hand out to a contemporary audience still concerned with the matters of God, love, liberty and the caveat of responsibility.

Braintree, 19 August, 1774:

Did ever any kingdom or state regain its liberty, when once it was invaded, without bloodshed? I cannot think of it without horror.
Yet we are told that all the misfortunes of Sparta were occasioned by their too great solicitude for present tranquillity, and, from an excessive love of peace, they neglected the means of making it sure and lasting.[vii]
– Abigail Adams.

History forgotten is history repeated.


References: (Not otherwise linked)

[i] Adams, J & Adams, A. 2012. The Letters of John and Abigail Adams (Kindle Ed). Start Publishing LLC, 7th May , 1775

[ii] Ibid, 24th September , 1774

[iii] Ibid, 16th September , 1775 & John Adam’s agrees with this. See letter 62. 1st October, 1775

[iv] Ibid, John Adams, 8th May , 1775

[v] Ibid, Letter 55. 25th July, 1775

[vi] Ibid, Letter 72. 23rd October, 1775

[vii] Ibid, Letter 13. 19th August, 1774

Image: Abigail and John Adams (Source)

μαρτύριον

July 10, 2017 — Leave a comment

Tell your story and shout from the rooftops, “…look at what the Lord has done” (Psalm 118:17).

‘Perhaps the figure of ‘the martyr’ [μαρτύριον – marturion] that we need to mobilize [recover] is not the one who sacrifices him-or herself but the one whose compulsion is to witness and to provide testimony.’
  (Shelly Rambo, 2010. Spirit & Trauma: A Theology of Remaining)

Part of my story:

The Light In My Darkness

Christian “selfies” reflect Christ.

‘Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.’

(Matthew 5:13-16, ESV)

A_Camus 2 generosityAlbert Camus asserted any action which acts decisively against injustice and oppression, is to be considered as being part of what he called the ‘generosity of rebellion.’[i]

This concept is largely summarised as being any action,

‘which unhesitatingly gives the strength of its love and refuses injustice without a moment’s delay. Its merit lies in making no calculations, distributing everything that it possesses to life and to living men and women. It is thus prodigal in its gift to the men and women to come.[ii]

While it is an overstatement, if used solely as a definition for home schooling, I don’t think its essence is entirely redundant.

To educate, is to act in such a way as to give an inheritance beyond financial gain. It is to pass on knowledge, faith and character. Reaching beyond the shrine of self and the shelf life of what money can buy in our commerce cathedrals – albeit day-care, shopping malls or senior high school.

Consider the Widow’s offering.

‘Jesus sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, truly I say to you, this poor widow has put more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’ (Mark 12:41-44/Luke 21:1-4)

For me, this and Camus’ concept of generosity affirms a hard won understanding acquired in eleven years of retail management:

’it’s not what you’ve got, it’s what you do with what you’ve got that counts.’’

It’s not an absolute rule for all occasions, but it finds serious traction in the home school arena.

Stepping up as the primary educator this year has shown me that one of the chief purposes of home schooling is generosity.

This generosity begins with God. Where in Jesus Christ we find ourselves being educated inside our educating[iii]. We then discover that we ourselves are being reached for, even as we stumble to reach beyond ourselves.

‘For His Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs.’ (Romans 8:17, NLT)

Our old friend, Karl Barth reminds us that ‘in Christ, the humiliation God exists as the exaltation of humanityGod does not will to be God without us.’ (C.D IV/2:31 & C.D IV:1:7)

As heirs with Christ we are grounded with inheritance. We, therefore, find ourselves in a state of adoption[iv].

Here I see three certainties:

Provision

Position

Participation

All issued forth from promise. All related to the generosity of ‘God’s sovereign choice’[v] and compassion. All depending not on human will or effort, but on mercy.

God not only wills relationship with us, He painstakingly made that relationship possible[vi].

Camus is right:

‘Real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to the present.’ (The Rebel, 1951)

Sources:

[i] Camus, A. 1951 the Rebel Penguin Modern Classics Kindle Ed.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Kierkegaard’s – ‘to teach is to learn’

[iv] Romans 8:15

[v] Romans 9:1

[vi] Romans 9:15-16

Image is mine. It is a picture of a recent sunset.

@Luke 16:10

September 28, 2014 — Leave a comment

Reputation is not always a mirror of a persons character

 

Present Hearts Bow

September 12, 2014 — Leave a comment

Fallout_1_

 

Selective outrage.
Careful words exhausted by decades of toxic hearing.
Father. Sister. Wounds.

 

Noiseless presence.
Breathtaking magnificence.
Present hearts bow.

 

Recollect light.
The Divine “Yes” kindled by Divine “No.”
Promise fulfilled, anticipates fulfilment.