A Ragamuffin Post

Return of the Prodigal Son 1667-1670 Murillo

My life is a witness to vulgar grace- a grace that amazes as it offends. A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wages as the grinning drunk who shows up at ten till five. A grace that hikes up the robe and runs breakneck toward the prodigal reeking of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party no ifs, ands, or buts. A grace that raises bloodshot eyes to a dying thief’s request- “Please, remember me”- and assures him, “You bet!” A grace that is the pleasure of the Father, fleshed out in the carpenter Messiah, Jesus the Christ…It’s not cheap. It’s free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown up sensibility. Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try and find something or someone it cannot cover. Grace is enough. He is enough. Jesus is enough.”- Brennen Manning, All is Grace, 193-194.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”- 1 John 1:9.

I do not agree with a lot of Manning’s theology. I think he ignores, or simply leaves out, a lot of Gospel demands Jesus makes on His disciples. I even left out a portion of the quote above that is only partially true. Even so, Brennan speaks a measure of truth and understands something that simply terrifies many of us. God gives grace. Not only does He withhold from us what we deserve, He gives us what we don’t. Brennan Manning died last Friday, and the quote above is from his recently published memoir. The memoir is brutally honest and at times uncomfortable. But then again, God’s grace is uncomfortable. Brennen has, for years, been honest about his struggle with alcohol addiction, lying, and pride, and this shines through in his writing. I say “shines”, because it is refreshing to read believers who are honest about their sin. In his book, Manning quotes Fil Anderson’s book, Breaking the Rules, and again, though i may not agree with everything, this quote is simply stunning. Anderson says, “‘Let’s get real. For every mean-spirited, judgmental thing some preacher has said, I’ve thought something nastier, more hateful and more cutting about one of my neighbors. For every alleged act of homophobia by my fellow Christians, I’ve done something stupid to demonstrate my manliness. For every brother or sister whose moral failure has been exposed, I’ve failed privately. No matter how boring followers of Jesus may appear to be to the outsiders, they don’t know the half of it; trust me…If we really believe the gospel we proclaim, we’ll be honest about our own beauty and brokenness, and the beautiful broken One will make himself known to our neighbors through the chinks in our armor-and in theirs,'” (Quoted in All is Grace, 179). Even Manning’s opening lines, “This book is by the one who thought he’d be farther along by now, but he’s not,” (26) give us a real picture of the struggling man behind the pen.

I need to remember daily that there is abundant grace in Jesus. His blood covers everything, making me totally acceptable to God, even in my filth, though maybe i should say, especially in my filth. It is a beautiful thing to glimpse and experience for a moment the joy that comes from knowing that even in the very act of rebellion against Almighty God, Christians are loved, accepted, and counted as having perfectly obeyed the Law because of the Wonder of Jesus. God loves us and accepts His people as sons and daughters, period. Does this grace make demands on the way we live? Absolutely. Does Jesus command us to obey and respond to His grace with a life lived for His glory? Most definitely. But let us remember, Christians struggle. We are struggling. We can never boast in anything but Him, for He is our only hope, our only righteousness, and our only Salvation. “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord,'” (1 Corinthians 1:30-31). As Brennan recounts the last couple of years in his life, he writes, “I have said countless times that losing our illusions is difficult because illusions are the stuff we live by. We believe we’re invincible until cancer comes knocking, or we believe we’re making a comeback until we tumble down the stairs. God strips away those falsehoods because it is better to live naked in truth than clothed in fantasy. The last few years have been a ‘stripping away’ like I’ve never experienced. About all I’m left with now is rags, somewhat fitting I guess for a man who has preached such a gospel. If I ever was a ragamuffin, I am now. For ragamuffins, God’s name is mercy; or in the present vernacular of my life-Help,” (188). I hope i remember that cry every day. I need His help. I need Him to move. I need Him to work. I need Him to make a difference through me. I need Him to help me believe. I need Him to help me finish well and bring me home.

Now I take my meds and hear the game,

still all is grace.

Now old friends drop in and bless my name,

still all is grace.

Now a prodigal I’ll always be

yet still my Father runs to me.

All is grace.

– Brennan Manning, All is Grace, 205.

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