Ragamuffins Reaching Ragamuffins: The Ragamuffin Gospel
The Ragamuffin Gospel, by Brennan Manning, is by far one of the best Christian books I have read in about a decade, or since I have been a Jesus follower. I do not say that lightly either. The book is up there with The Sacred Romance, and Waking the Dead, both John Eldridge books I have also really enjoyed. The Ragamuffin Gospel challenges Christians to understand grace from God’s perspective rather than ours. It is brutally honest about the nature of our humanity, even as Jesus followers! The truth is we are sinners condemned to hell, and undeserving of eternal salvation. Yet, it is God’s unchanging love that inspired his plan of salvation and redemption. Manning provides us with a new motivation for reaching out to those around us and challenges our daily habits. Ragamuffins reaching out to ragamuffins can really only happen under the umbrella of God’s great love.
Please stay tuned as I will be starting a new series of blogs in which I will share some of my own personal ragamuffin stories. Also, please leave your comments as I share my own experiences, up close and personal.
Do it Yourself Christianity
I am constantly reminded that life in Christ is NOT at all what I have done or can and will end up doing for better or for worse. It is rather what Jesus has already DONE for me. It is a difficult thing to wrap our minds around, and much more difficult to wrap our hearts around. His love, His love, His love, His love! Never would he say to us, “I can’t be friends with someone so dishonest as you!” “you are selfish and you are conceited!” Rather, He would rightfully say, “I am the perfect one. Receive me, learn from me, come to me, friend.” The irony is that we guilt-ridden beings think we can ultimately save ourselves in two ways: keeping ourselves clean and pure of what is biblically defined as sin, and by doing good works and writing them into our eternal resume’s so as to promote ourselves to God. We think that somehow we can elevate our status by our deeds and in doing so, we judge ourselves. We continue to spend our efforts on self help strategies, when the answer is already written for us in Christ’s blood, and in his resurrection.
Manning shares a story about Max, an alcoholic who denies drinking as much as he normally does in a day. He believed his alcoholism was irrelevant and even justified by his enormous success in his corporate dealings. Finally in the hot seat, he was asked to stop downplaying his problem and confront the reality of his alcoholism when his wife shared the story of how his daughter came to a deaf amputee as the result of his own neglect one frost-biting December night. Max downplayed his wrongdoings while elevating the wrongdoings of others around him. Sound familiar?
I recently had a conversation with another friend of mine who made a strong effort to convince me that if a Christian couple falls into sexual sin, the reason must be that they just don’t know God, or love Him. NO! I refuse to agree because I am very aware of our humanity! Or, if that is the case and she is right, than even what might be a slight sin in our mind such as taking God’s name in vain would apply as well. This is because there is no sin that is elevated above another in God’s mind. Therefore, if one sin means that we don’t know God or love Him, than every other sin must mean the same. What my girlfriend neglects to understand is that God is so merciful and gracious, that even what she believes is the worst sin (sexual sin) is still covered through Jesus’ salvation. Aside from that, we MUST understand that it is not that we know and love God so much as He knows and loves us! That is why the Ragamuffin Gospel is so hard to grasp.
We need a personal encounter with the relentless love of God! We need to understand in our hearts that God’s love is unchanging and relentless! Further, once we truly grasp hold of that love, it will ineviteably translate to a genuine, not-for-show, non-flashy, non resume-building and promoting self to God, but nameless, faceless love for others.
In my first three years in the Lord, I attended a wonderful church with a wonderful group of people whom I learned to love and trust. During that time, I joined an internship at the church. In the internship, I was able to devote a year to God, to discipleship, to leadership, and to relationship/character development. I loved every minute of that year so much so, I decided to do a second year, which included a more intense level of leadership and relationship/character development. After two years of my life as an intern ended, I was expected to successfully go back out into the real world and be around real people that don’t know God, and somehow survive. I had a plan, but was scared to death. I felt alone, abandoned, and was in fact, alone, abandoned. The leaders rarely reached out to me. I had no platform to ministry in the church any longer. This was the most difficult season in my Christian life, even more so then the death of my best friend 2.5 years earlier. At one point I wanted to start a prayer group for young adults, and was told that I need leadership training to do so, even though I just had spent two years and $12K in an internship that taught me just that. The directors of the intern program spoke into my life as if fathers to me, but when I see them in passing today, years later, they hardly recognize me. This is not a story about me, but about what motivates our daily doings! I sometimes wonder why we oftend determine to spend so much time making the investment into people’s lives. It is as if it has become just a job, and one is expected to simply say the right things to encourage, but it has become generic and insincere. We are called to love, not out of duty or charity, but out of sincerity. To do so, we have to have a personal encounter with the relentless love of God!
I was sitting in a church service once when the pastor called out the name of a young man in the service who had been spending his days fasting and praying over the city of Sacramento. This young man would go down to the capital building and pray on the street corners, probably under his breath or to himself. This was not ever intended to be flashy or used for show and tell. However, his name was called out and I am sure he had to keep himself in check so as not to become boastful or prideful about it. We are called to do the truth quietly, without display. To do so, we must have a personal encounter with the relentless love of God! What does that look like anyhow? Manning suggests that it means we display the same brokenness for the lives of those being euthanized, for those being killed via shootings or stabbings, for those dying a slow death by addiction and withdrawals, for those survivors of the holocaust and other genocides, and even for those we pass by on the street everyday, in the coffee houses we frequent, on the subway, or at work, as we do for the life of the unborn child. If we make such a fuss about the rights of the unborn child and yet, we neglect to reach out to our neighbor, even worse, we don’t even know our neighbor, we are hypocrites. Or, we are simply ragamuffins trying to save ourselves when all we really need is the grace God has stored up for us.