First of all, watch this video because it is the reason I wanted to read this book...
I am one of those people who tends to put this list before God of all the reasons why He shouldn't really love me the way His word says He does. I have this running tally of reasons why I'm not good enough, why I'm unlovable. Just reading the back of Ragamuffin Gospel was like, "Oh wow! Someone else like me!" It talks about grace and love, even if we are ragamuffins - dirty, bedraggled and beat up. He still smiles at us, still sees us as the object of His "furious love." I need to read more about this.
Chapter 1: Something is Radically Wrong
(quotes from Ragamuffin are in italics)
The American Church today accepts grace in theory, but denies it in practice....The emphasis is on what I do rather than on what God is doing.
Right off the bat, he has struck a chord with me in terms of the issues I've always had with the American Church. Too many people being kept out, too many fingers being pointed because of sins that seem so offensive to certain people. We've all got that sin in our mind that seems to be so offensive: homosexuality, premarital sex, pornography, etc. I am always sitting there thinking, "Goodness I don't have enough time to sort through my own sins, let alone sit and point fingers at other people's sins. Shouldn't my focus be on me?" Brennan Manning goes on to say that our attempts to impress God, even me trying to "fix" all my sins, is a "flat denial of the gospel of grace." Well, that hits hard.
Where does this leave the church? Who should we be? What should our focus be? He talks about how the Bible talks about God inviting sinners and the self-righteous to His table and the Greek word they use is kalein, which is like inviting an honored guest to dinner. Honored guests? Me? All those other people who the "church" points fingers at? Interesting.
It remains a startling story to those who never understand that the men and women who are truly filled with light are those who have gazed deeply into the darkness of their imperfect existence.
When I go to church I can leave my white hat at home and admit I have failed. God not only loves me as I am, but also knows me as I am. Because of this I don't need to apply spiritual cosmetics to make myself presentable to Him.
Well that's refreshing. I can approach God - at church or wherever - exactly as I am. And you know what, all those people who are finger-pointing - and better yet, the people they are finger-pointing AT, they can all also approach God exactly as they are. Because He KNOWS them as they are. What a freedom in that.
One of my absolute favorite quotes he uses in the book is actually being quoted from The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis, "Grace substitutes a full, childlike and delighted acceptance of our need, a joy in total dependence. The good man is sorry for the sins which have increased his need. He is not entirely sorry for the fresh need they have produced."
Now this - I really need to just sit here for a minute. Because this is my life. This is me. Brennan says "to live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God's grace means."
Well, in my life, I do have sins. Major ones. About 7 years ago I went through a really tough time and made some really horrible choices. And I have said many times that I wish I could take it back. I'm very sorry for the sin, but at the same time, I am not sorry for what God did with it. He worked with what I gave Him, even if what I gave Him was a total mess. Through that rough time and those horrible decisions, He took the next few years to strengthen me, to change me. And today, my strength of conviction, the strength of my marriage, the conviction in my parenting, the grace with which I am able to love others who are hurting or making terrible choices, are all attributed to that horrible time and those horrible decisions. So while I am sorry for the sin, I am not sorry for the need it produced to depend on God and allow Him to work through my life radically.
Now the problem is that I have worked through the things I've done and I'm left with a struggle because of who I am. I'll never be the quiet woman that I feel like the church feels women should be. I feel like my personality gets in the way of my ability to live as God wants me to live. But reading this chapter, I felt challenged in that. Maybe that isn't true.
You are accepted. Never confuse your perception of yourself with the mystery that you really are accepted...Whatever our failings may be, we need not lower our eyes in the presence of Jesus.
Maybe, just maybe, God created me the way I am for a reason. Maybe even my personality was crafted by Him for a purpose. Even if it wasn't and He still has work to do on it (which really, He will always have work to do on me), I still need not lower my eyes in His presence. I have nothing to be ashamed of.
And neither do you.
Have you read Ragamuffin Gospel? Read it with me!
I'm also going to start memorizing scripture. This is a practice I have not done since high school, and it's about time I start. I'm going to pick a verse from Ragamuffin Chapter 1.
2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.