All is Grace

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“This book is by the one who thought he’d be farther along by now, but he’s not . . . the dim-eyed who showed the path to others but kept losing his way . . . the disciple whose cheese slid off his cracker so many times he said ‘to hell with cheese ‘n’ crackers’ . . .”

But, this book is for the gentle ones . . . who’ve been mourning most of their lives, yet they hang on to shall be comforted . . . the younger and elder prodigals who’ve come to their senses again, and again, and again, and again . . . because they’ve been swallowed by Mercy itself . . . [and] dare to whisper the ragamuffin’s rumor—all is grace. (All is Grace, 27)

Have you ever had a book that you’ve been wanting and waiting to read for a long time? I’m finally getting around to reading a book like that. It’s called All is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir.

As you’ve probably figured out by now, my blog derives its name from a Brennan Manning book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, for which he is most famous. But I can vouch for all his other books, which are equally grace-drenched and read-worthy.

All is grace. I love that idea. Everything that’s ever happened to me– the good, the bad, the ugly– is all grace because it has either reaffirmed what I knew about the goodness of God or driven me into a deeper dependence on that same God who works all things together for good. Because of that grace, nothing is ever lost or wasted or useless or in vain. Absolutely nothing.

I believe now that the life of faith works in reverse from the ordinary life. As babies, we’re born totally dependent on others and grow more and more into an independence of being able to stand on our own two feet. In the spiritual life, we start out as independent strangers from God and grow into a complete and total dependence on God.

As of this writing, I’m on page 100. I’ll probably be posting more about this book as I get farther into it, so remember you have been warned.

 

I Almost Forgot

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I can’t believe I’m about to do this, but here I am, confessing that I almost forgot to write my blog for today. You’d think after nearly four years, I’d remember, but apparently, the mind really is the first thing to go.

It’s easy to forget. God’s people forgot time and time again how good He was to them. They chose to bicker and complain. They chose to chase after the idols and gods of the nations around them, even of the very nations they conquered and drove out.

I forget those things, too. I forget how God saved me all those years ago and how He’s blessed me since in so many ways. I, too, bicker and complain and run after other things to fill the needs only God could ever fill.

Thankfully, God is faithful to remind me of His goodness. I think that’s part of why He established His Church. He knew we’d forget and would need reminding from time to time. In fact, He calls us to remind each other, to encourage each other and to not give up the habit of meeting regularly to call to mind with thankful hearts what God has done for us.

“I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness, the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed. I remember it all—oh, how well I remember—the feeling of hitting the bottom. But there’s one other thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope: God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God I say it over and over. He’s all I’ve got left” (Lamentations 3:19-24).

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, and The Weird (A Celebration of Life)

First of all, the good news. I FOUND MY PHONE! WOOHOO!

Can you tell I’m a tad excited? I think so (said in my best Joey Tribbiani voice).

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Apparently, the lady at the Connection Cafe found it after I left it on one of the tables and took it back behind the counter, turning it off to save the battery. Thank you, nice Cafe lady whose name I don’t know but to whom I and Steve Jobs are eternally grateful.

Also, I had a marvelous time in downtown Franklin with a Facebook friend and her daughter, with whom I am also now Facebook friends. They are two of the best people ever. Seriously. Thank you, Carol and Hannah for making this Wednesday one of my best ever.

The bad? It was rainy and I had a sinus headache. The rain passed and so did my headache. End of story.

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The ugly? I may have found my phone but I’m still looking for my mind. If you see it, make sure and put it someplace safe and comfortable and make sure it gets fed twice a day. Preferably cheese and chocolate.

The weird? Me on a daily basis. But I’ve come to love my own particular brand of weird that I prefer to call eccentricity.

I still love that God knows where I am at all times. It’s even better than that Find my iPhone app.  He knows the secret thoughts I carry and the secret scars hidden so deep no one has ever found them.

Hannah, keep writing. Keep telling your story and keep singing the song God has put in your heart. Someone out there needs to hear it.

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To celebrate, I am posting pictures of animals and people celebrating. I am also sitting on the couch with one very non-celebratory cat sleeping in my lap. Yay.

I celebrate being alive and redeemed. I celebrate drawing another breath and breathing in the grace of God in every moment. I celebrate God’s amazing goodness to me who never deserved one iota of it.

Life is good, God is great, I am blessed. The end.

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Dar Williams and the Song in Your Heart

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According to Foursquare (an app on my iPhone), I hadn’t been to any concerts or movies at the Franklin Theatre since April. Until tonight.

I was in row D, seat 3 to hear one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Dar Williams, put on a great show. Even her opening act, Angel Snow, was fantastic. It was a good night.

Dar performed my two favorite songs of hers, “The One Who Knows” and “The Beauty of the Rain,” as well as several other gems. Her music always takes me to a peaceful place and her songs are most definitely an integral part of the ever-changing and ever-growing soundtrack to my life.

Jesus has been reminding me of the song in my own heart that I had begun to forget. Joy and thanksgiving, or eucharisteo, is my song and I’m thankful for friends and family who periodically remind me when I’ve forgotten the words or lost the melody.

I am one note in a living symphony of God’s love for the world He made. I may be only one small part, but without me, the symphony loses something. The same with you. The world around you needs to hear your own unique song and your small but vital part in God’s overture.

Let your life be the biggest hymn of praise that you sing. A hymn of thanksgiving, of hope restored, of dreams reborn, and of grace. Especially grace.

I will help to remind you of your song when you forget the words and root for you when your part in the Grand Symphony arrives. That’s what Church is for– to remind each other of the goodness of God and to love each other and God well. That’s a song the world around us has been dying to hear.

Things I Love 6: The Neverending Story of God’s Goodness to Me

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The list of things I love continues because daily I am reminded again and again of the goodness of God in his gifts to me everywhere I go. So I start again with #102.

123) Finally being comfortable in my own skin and having a lot of fun being me, quirks and all.

124) A lovely evening spent hitting the volleyball around and having life-changing conversations.

125) When a line from a song or a book jumps off the page at me and almost begs me to quote it on facebook.

126) Having air conditioning in my car on a really hot and muggy day.

127) The unpredictability of life itself.

128) That God’s ways are not my ways and his thoughts aren’t my thoughts. His ways and thoughts are so much bigger and grander and wilder and more beautiful than mine could ever hope to be.

129) That God still blows my mind to smithereens.

130) Good musicals starring Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman.

131) Anytime the good guy wins and the nice guy gets the girl.

132) That the righteous are never forsaken and God sees where I am and feels all of what I feel.

133) All the lights and decorations in and around Opryland Hotel during the holiday season.

134) Breakfast for dinner.

135) Eating dessert first.

136) An unexpected bargain find at a thrift store.

137) An absurdly long but captivatingly written biography of a life well lived.

138) Watching fireworks on the 4th of July.

139) Watching classic movies at the Franklin Theatre (where the price is always $5. Beat that, Carmike.

140) That God’s no really is paving the way for a much bigger and better yes to come.

141) The good tired I feel after a good run at Crockett Park.

142) Amazing grace that saved a wretch like me.

143) Those random songs that pop up in my head periodically and make my life a kind of musical.

144) A day rummaging through antique shops and used bookstores with lots of dusty old books.

145) That I’m not even close to bringing these blogs about things I love to a close. There are many more to come yet.

Jay Gatsby and the Great Hope

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Right now, I am overwhelmed by the scent in the spring breeze. It’s at once both sweet and sad, like the memories of a past that won’t ever return. It’s also hopeful, like  the promise of better days to come. I’m feeling both right now.

I’m letting go of a friendship because it’s not working. She doesn’t want to be friends, or at least doesn’t appear to want to, so I am bowing out gracefully. I will still pray for her and wish her the best and be pleasant, but it’s time to step aside. I will be one less guy friend in her life. But I’m still thankful for the time we were friends. And hopeful for the future.

There’s a quote in the movie The Great Gatsby that I love. The narrator, Nick Carraway, describes Jay Gatsby as the most hopeful man he’s ever known. He goes on to say that he will likely never meet someone again with that rare gift of hope.

That’s what I want said about me. That I never gave up hope in anyone, but kept on believing the best in everyone. Because that’s what God did for me. He’s never given up hope in me that I will become what he made me to be. He’s never given up working on me, slowly and steadily.

So I’m still hopeful. My hope isn’t in a predetermined future but in the God who’s already there. To him, tomorrow is now. He’ll still be there when I get there. So I can let today be enough and not let tomorrow’s concerns worry my mind.

I wish I could bottle the scent of the night air. But that would spoil it. Part of the joy is the surprise. I’m sure someone somewhere could figure out a way to make a perfume or a air freshener that reminded me of tonight, but it wouldn’t be the same.

So I’m reminding you to keep hoping in the goodness of God. Just as surely as day follows night, so you will see the goodness of God in the land of the living.

Simplicity of Heart

“Simplicity of heart is its own ticket of admission” (F. Scott Fitzgerald)

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Jesus).

Blessed are those who believe the best in others even when they get hurt. They know they will need someone to believe in them when they don’t deserve it someday.

Blessed are the ones who forgive because they know what it’s like to need and receive forgiveness. And they know what it’s like to need it and not get it.

Blessed are those who trust in the goodness of God even when things happen they didn’t expect and don’t understand. They see that God’s plan is bigger than what they can understand or feel or know.

Blessed are the ones who don’t give up on their friends, even when their friends give up on them. They know that God doesn’t give up on anyone.

Blessed are the ones who fall down and keep getting back up, who fail repeatedly and keep persevering. Theirs is the victory in Christ.

Blessed are the ones in darkness who refuse to give up on the sun that never seems to come, who keep waiting for it and hoping for it, even with weak and faltering faith, because they’ve seen it come up before and know it will again.

Blessed are the ones whose hearts are hurting from loving and losing, because they know that the only alternative to hurting is not to feel at all and to have a heart of stone. They know that weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.

Blessed are you when everything and everyone tells you to give up and go home, but you won’t quit because you know that God is on your side.

Blessed are the pure in heart.

Something Good to Remember on a Monday

Matthew 5:1 says, “Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.”

I’ve read past that a thousand or more times. I’ve rushed past those words to get to the Sermon on the Mount, the good stuff. But I think I’ve done myself a disservice by not paying attention to this verse, particularly the first three words: “Seeing the crowds.”

Did you catch that? He saw the people who came to see him. He didn’t see bodies. He saw faces lined with pain. He saw heartaches and anxieties and unrest. He saw people just trying to get through the day.

Just as he sees you and he sees me.

Do you ever feel unnoticed? Do you ever post on facebook and no one responds? Do you ever comment on someone else’s post and he or she responds to everyone else but you?

Do you often feel invisible in a crowd? Has the thought ever crossed your mind that no one would miss you if you were suddenly not there? Or like George Bailey, do you think the world would be better off if you’d never been born?

You may not feel like anyone knows you or the secret shame and pain you carry. Jesus does.

You may think that you don’t matter to anyone. You matter to Jesus.

You are not alone. You have an advocate, someone who is on your side, who fights for you, who roots for you, who won’t abandon you in the dark or in the storms. His name is Jesus.

I didn’t come up with this, but it’s still true: if you had been the only one lost and in need of a Savior, Jesus still would have gone through every bit of the cross just for you. He loves you that much.

If your Monday’s been awesome, that’s great. God rejoices with you. But if your Monday was horrible and couldn’t end soon enough, this promise still holds true.

This is from a ragamuffin who needs daily reminders of the goodness of God as much as anyone else. God is faithful, even when it seems he is absent. He is good, always.

 

Revisiting the Classics

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I may lose my man-card permanently for this, but I love the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I’ve actually lost count of how many times I’ve seen it, and it still has the same impact on me every single time.

Both Paul Varjak and Holly Golightly start the movie a bit dazed and confused. And lost. Neither one has a direction or purpose. Until they find each other.

I think life’s a lot like that. We help each other find the way. We help each other find God in the times where it seems God is nowhere to be found. We are Jesus to each other in countless ways day in and day out.

I still like to think I have a Holly Golightly out there. If she looks like Audrey Hepburn, it wouldn’t hurt.

We all get lost and lose our way. We occasionally forget who we are and what we’re here for. We lose our purpose and get trapped in some bad choices. We look up and wonder how we got where we are and wonder how we can ever make it back.

I think that’s where you and I come in. We remind each other of who we really are, not the sum of bad choices or a past history, but children of God, Abba’s beloved. We root for each other, cheering over victories and encouraging in the face of defeats.

That all may sound like a mighty heap of cliches. Maybe it is. But isn’t it comforting to know in the times when you’ve felt most alone and lost and confused that familiar voice that calls you back? Maybe it’s a phone call or an email or a text or a kind word spoken.

It’s good to go back to the classics. Most of all, it’s good to go back to the promises of God that never change, despite all the upheaval and uncertainty of our times.

May we remind each other of these promises and of the goodness of God every single day while we’re here.