I heard this morning about the passing yesterday of Brennan Manning, the author, former priest, speaker, theologian, and outspoken advocate of God’s unconditional love and grace. His book, “The Ragamuffin Gospel” has had as much influence on me – and shaped my ministry – as much as anything I have ever read besides the Bible. I remember reading the Introduction to “Ragamuffin,” hot tears filling my eyes and spilling onto the page as I prayed that God would let my ministry become one that could be described by the words written there…
“The Ragamuffin Gospel was written with a specific reading audience in mind: This book is not for the super-spiritual. It is not for muscular Christians who have made John Wayne and not Jesus their hero. It is not for academicians who would imprison Jesus in the ivory tower of exegesis. It is not for noisy, feel-good folks who manipulate Christianity into a naked appeal to emotion. It is not for hooded mystics who want magic in their religion. It is not for Alleluia Christians who live only on the mountaintop and have never visited the valley of desolation. It is not for the fearless and the tearless. It is not for red-hot zealots who boast with the rich young ruler of the gospels: ‘All these commandments I have kept from my youth.’ It is not for the complacent, hoisting over their shoulder a tote-bag of honors, diplomas, and good works actually believing they have it made. It is not for legalists who would rather surrender control of their souls to rules than run the risk of living in union with Jesus.
“If anyone is still reading along, The Ragamuffin Gospel was written for the bedraggled, beat-up, and burnt-out. It is for the sorely burdened who are still shifting the heavy suitcase from one hand to the other. It is for the wobbly and weak-kneed who know they don’t have it altogether and who are not too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace. It is for inconsistent, unsteady disciples whose cheese is falling off their cracker. It is for poor, weak, sinful men and women with hereditary faults and limited talents. It is for earthen vessels who shuffle along on feet of clay. It is for the bent and the bruised who feel that their lives are a grave disappointment to God. It is for smart people who know they are stupid and honest disciples who admit they are scalawags. The Ragamuffin Gospel is a book I wrote for myself and anyone who has grown weary along the Way.”
Rest in peace, good brother, and enjoy forever The One whose Love you so eloquently, passionately described to those of us you leave behind.
Because I thought he got away with murder.
If you’re not familiar with the story – after leaving a Super Bowl party in January of 2000, Lewis’ entourage got in a fight with another group of people as both groups were leaving an Atlanta nightclub. Two men were stabbed to death in the fight. Lewis and two of his companions were indicted for murder – but Lewis cut a deal: in exchange for his testimony against his companions, he was allowed to plead guilty to “obstructing justice,” a misdemeanor. Lewis received 12 months probation and was fined by the NFL. Like I said, he got away with murder – or at least being an accessory to murder.
I was outraged – and isn’t it funny (or perhaps, pathetic) how we will get so emotionally involved in events that don’t really have anything to do with us or anyone we know and love? As the years passed, my anger cooled, but not completely. Whenever I heard or read anything about Lewis, whenever I watched the Ravens play, I was filled with contempt and disgust. And when I read a few years back about Lewis becoming a Christian, I scoffed, ridiculing and rejecting his conversion as “a public relations move…”
As recently as two weeks ago, after the Ravens beat the Colts in the first round of the AFC playoffs, I stated publicly and repeatedly that I would not be pulling for the Ravens because of one Ray Lewis and the events of 12 years ago.
And then God tapped me on the shoulder…
He reminded me that I too had been guilty of murder – or at least I had hated others, and Jesus said that was the same thing… Honestly, according to Jesus, I was an adulterer, a thief, and a liar. In short I was a sinner.
Just like you. Just like Ray Lewis.
I stand in front of people and preach the Good News – that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us… That none of us had really gotten away with anything – Jesus paid for every sin with his precious blood… Because of his sacrifice, we who have placed our faith in Christ and called on the name of the Lord do not have to pay the penalty for our sins – Jesus paid it for us and in doing so made it possible for God to give us the gift of eternal life.
I tell those who listen that our sins are gone, obliterated, drowned in the Sea of God’s Forgetfulness, as far from us as the east is from the west… With great joy I share with others that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. I preach grace and freedom from condemnation to some pretty messed up people – myself included.
But to my shame, I have failed to take off my judge’s robe and my executioner’s hood when it came to Ray Lewis. In practical terms, I have applied the blessings and benefits of following Jesus to every other believer I knew, myself included – but I have denied them to Ray Lewis.
I was so inconsistent, and so wrong. And realizing that makes me sorrowful and repentant – and makes me thank God again for the forgiveness I do not – cannot – ever deserve. Obviously, I am still way too capable of having a “grace for me, none for thee” attitude. Obviously, I have much more to learn, much more road to travel in my understanding and living out of God’s outrageous, incredible, life-saving grace.
Thank God for his love, his mercy, his grace, love, acceptance, and forgiveness – freely given to a stumbling screw-up like me. And thank God for Ray Lewis, a fellow sinner, saved by the grace of God and my brother in Christ.
It’s one of the most common New Year’s resolutions among followers of Jesus: “This year I will read the entire Bible!” And we start out all gung-ho and read every day for 3 or 4 days, maybe a week… Then we miss a day or two – we plan to catch up “soon,” and we make a couple of stabs at it, but eventually, we just forget about the whole thing…
We know reading the Bible is important. We know it feeds us and teaches us and shapes our lives, our decision-making, the very quality of our lives on earth… But many of us feel defeated when we try to keep up with a Bible reading plan.
So here are some tips and a link to a plan that just might make 2013 the year we actually read the entire Bible:
- Get a version of the Bible you can read and understand. This cannot be stressed enough – (and I’ve got zero interest in debating with anybody who thinks there’s only one “authorized version.”) For most of us, the King James or the New American Standard versions are not very readable. I recommend the New Living Translation – I’ve used it since 2008 (here’s a blog post about why I changed versions: The NLT and Me).
- Do not, I repeat, DO NOT open your Bible up at Genesis and start reading with a plan to go straight through to Revelation! You will get bogged down pretty quickly in some boring stuff – legal codes, census counts, obscure history – and your eyes will glaze over and you’ll give up. There are better ways to do it – more on that in a minute…
- Read earlier in the day rather than later. I used to try to read at bedtime – I lost count of how many times I fell asleep on God’s Holy Word. Make it a practice to read early in the day, maybe at breakfast or on a coffee break.
- Relax – don’t get stressed if you miss a day. There’s no law, or Bible verse, or church requirement that says you can’t miss. So if you get behind a day or three or 30 – just pick up reading on the next day. The object is to read the entire Bible – if it takes you 18 months to do, no big deal.
Here’s a plan that might work well for a lot of people. Advantages include:
- Providing variety throughout the week by alternating different types of scripture. The benefit is you don’t get bogged down for days in the less than stimulating portions of the Bible.
- Providing continuity by reading the same scripture type each day of the week.
- Providing an opportunity to see the many interconnections between sections of Scripture. One day you may be reading Paul’s teaching about God’s covenant with Abraham in Romans, and in the next day or two you’ll be reading about the actual establishment of the covenant in Genesis.
In a nutshell, here’s how it works:
- Sundays: New Testament Epistles
- Mondays: Penteteuch/The Law (Genesis through Deuteronomy)
- Tuesdays: Old Testament history
- Wednesdays: Psalms
- Thursdays: Old Testament poetry
- Fridays: Prophecy
- Saturdays: Gospels
We have hard copies of this plan, and several others, including the Daily Walk magazine available in the foyer at New Hope – or here’s a link to a printable copy in PDF.
If I can help you with finding a Bible or a plan to help you read it – please drop me a note!
“My Dad lives in Eugene Oregon. A couple nights ago, around 9:30pm, he got an unexpected knock at the door. It turns out that it was Tony Dungy’s sister – Coach Dungy and his wife were actually sitting in a car in Dad’s driveway with an elderly gentleman.
Coach, his wife, and his sister had flown in earlier that evening to the local airport. Around the same time, the older man – who was from the local area – had also flown in, but his family had neglected to pick him up. The man was a bit disoriented and scared and he wasn’t sure how to get home. The Dungy’s rented a car and took the guy out looking for his house. The man spotted my Dad’s house and said he thought that it was his house. Obviously it wasn’t, but Dad actually recognized the man and was able to give the Dungy’s directions to get him home.
As luck would have it, one of Dad’s grandsons was spending the night and he just happens to be reading one of Coach Dungy’s books. It was quite a thrill for him to meet the family and get to talk to Tony Dungy. Dad said they got to spend quite a bit of time talking with them and he was quite impressed with the way Tony Dungy treated this older man who was lost.
I find it encouraging that Coach Dungy appears to be the kind of man the media represents him to be. I wonder if I would have gone so far as to rent a car and try to help a lost old man find his way home? Would any of us?”
I’m a Tony Dungy fan – I grieved losing him as the coach of my beloved Colts much more than I did the loss of that one guy who was QB for awhile – What’s his name? – oh well, doesn’t matter… I have been led to understand that Coach Dungy is a kind, compassionate man of genuine integrity and great faith. How refreshing to be reminded of that – and how, in some strange way, proud it makes me feel.
In a world where celebrities, leaders, and famous people regularly “get caught” in moral shortcomings that reveal deep character flaws, it is gratifying to get some confirmation that a few of them are the real deal.
We miss you Coach!
We’ve been talking about The Grace Way and rejoicing in the amazing grace of God at work in our lives. One of the important things grace should do in our lives is make us grace givers as well as grace receivers… So, how do we make sure that we’re extending grace – and not judgement – to people around us?
Mike Lee is the pastor of Third Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Recently he preached a message from Matthew 7 on what it really means to judge others. In his message, Mike shared these 11 questions designed to help us discern a judgmental and critical spirit.
1. Am I more likely to see the sin in others than in myself?
2. When I pray, am I more likely to pray for God’s judgment on others rather than marvel at God’s amazing grace toward me?
3. Am I overly critical toward others while I give myself a pass or an excuse and justify my own sin?
4. Does my own sin ever lead me to deep regret and repentance?
5. Do I have people around me who have permission to hold me accountable for my sin and unforgiving heart?
6. Do I have a tendency to be unforgiving while expecting others to forgive me quickly?
7. Do I find joy in exposing sin in others?
8. Do I find more joy in the “gotcha” moments of exposing sin or in sharing the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ?
9. When others see how I deal with people, will they come away rejoicing that God is mighty to save or thinking that God would never forgive them and there is no hope for forgiveness?
10. Do I receive correction humbly?
11. Before I correct others, do I spend time in God’s Word and prayer asking the Holy Spirit to expose my sin so that I might repent?
When we deal with hurting, and messed up people, lets ask ourselves these questions and make sure we are giving them help and hope as they draw near to God.
Adapted from the “Kingdom People” blog by Trevin Wax on The Gospel Coalition.
We discover in Grace that the almost unthinkable has happened. God has shown all of his cards. He reveals a breathtaking protection that brings us out of hiding. In essence, God says…
“What if I tell them who they are? What if I take away any element of fear in condemnation, judgment, or rejection? What if I tell them I love them, will always love them? That I love them right now, no matter what they’ve done, as much as I love my only Son? That there’s nothing they can do to make my love go away?
“What if I tell them there are no lists? What if I tell them I don’t keep a log of past offenses, of how little they pray, how often they’ve let me down, made promises that they don’t keep? What if I tell them they are righteous, with my righteousness, right now? What if I tell them they can stop beating themselves up? That they can stop being so formal, stiff, and jumpy around me? What if I tell them I’m crazy about them? What if I tell them, even if they run to the ends of the earth and do the most horrible, unthinkable things, that when they come back, I’d receive them with tears and a party?
“What if I tell them that if I am their Savior, they’re going to heaven no matter what – it’s a done deal! What if I tell them they have a new nature-saints, not saved sinners who should now ‘buck-up and be better if they were any kind of Christians, after all he’s done for you!’ What if I tell them that I actually live in them now? That I’ve put my love, power, and nature inside of them, at their disposal! What if I tell them that they don’t have to put on a mask? That it is ok to be who they are at this moment, with all their junk. That they don’t need to pretend about how close we are, how much they pray or don’t, how much Bible they read or don’t. What if they knew they don’t have to look over their shoulder for fear if things get too good, the other shoe’s gonna drop?
“What if they knew I will never, ever use the word ‘punish’ in relation to them? What if they knew that when they mess up, I will never “get back at them?” What if they were convinced that bad circumstances aren’t my way of evening the score for taking advantage of me? What if they knew the basis of our friendship isn’t how little they sin, but how much they let me love them? What if I tell them they can hurt my heart, but that I never hurt theirs? What if I tell them I like Eric Clapton’s music too? What if I tell them I never really liked the Christmas handbell deal with the white gloves? What if I tell them they can open their eyes when they pray and still go to heaven? What if I tell them there is no secret agenda, no trapdoor? What if I tell them it isn’t about their self-effort, but about allowing me to live my life through them?”
When we stand at life’s crossroads, we decide which road to choose largely upon how we see God’s “gamble.” Do I really believe this stuff will hold up-for me? This is the way of life in Grace. It is the way home to healing, joy, peace, fulfillment, contentment, and release into God’s dreams for us. It almost feels like we’re stealing silverware from the king’s house, doesn’t it? Truth is, the king paid a lot so that we wouldn’t have to try to steal any silverware. He gets to give it to us; and other stuff so big and good and beautiful that we couldn’t even begin to stuff it into our bag of loot… It takes the eyes some adjustment to look into such light, huh?
Here’s a portion read by one of the authors:
I was asked a couple of months ago, “What are some books you think everybody should read?” The question really set me to thinking – and honestly answering it has been harder than I thought it would be. I read so much and so widely that whittling it all down to a list of just 10 has been quite a challenge.
For almost every one of these books I could have substituted 3 or 5 or 10 others on the same topic, but I tried to stick with books that can be found pretty easily and inexpensively. I feel confident than anyone can buy all these books and spend no more than $50 – $70, if they’re willing to buy used books.
By the way, the Bible is a given, so please – no comments about how I didn’t include it on the list.
Here they are in no particular order:
- The Purpose Driven Life – Rick Warren. The best selling hardback book in history for good reason.
- Mere Christianity – C. S. Lewis. The classic defense/explanation of true faith.
- The Grace Awakening – Charles Swindoll. Arguably one of the best preachers of the last 50 years, Swindoll makes a stirring case for the gospel of grace.
- My Utmost for His Highest – Oswald Chambers. This classic devotional work was compiled by Chamber’s wife after his death on the mission field at 43.
- Forgotten God – Francis Chan. A brief, basic theology of the Holy Spirit. Chan shows how the Spirit can and should operate in the life of the believer.
- Vintage Jesus – Mark Driscoll. In straightforward style, Driscoll examines the person and work of Jesus Christ.
- Experiencing God – Blackaby and King. Contemporary classic, dealing with how to deepen our relationship with our Creator.
- With Christ in the School of Prayer – Andrew Murray. This well known work teaches how to grow stronger in our communication with God.
- The Search for Significance – Robert S. McGee. Addresses the major ways we think incorrectly about ourselves, and reveals God and his grace as the way to health.
- Law and Grace – Alva McClain. The best book I have ever read on the place and purpose of the Law in the Christian life.
Each book is available through Amazon and ChristianBook.com. Most are available through retail stores – though they may have to special order. Four or five of the books can be found in almost any Goodwill or other thrift store. And, with the exception of “Law and Grace,” every book has an audio version available for folks who don’t like to read.
Just so you know, “Mere Christianity,” “With Christ in the School of Prayer,” and to a degree, “Law and Grace” are written in a less-than-contemporary style. Those books might be an uphill battle for the casual reader – but are well worth the effort.
Which of these have you read? What would you add or delete from the list?