My Deepest Awareness

“When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.
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. As Thomas Merton put it, ‘A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.’

The gospel of grace nullifies our adulation of televangelists, charismatic superstars, and local church heroes. It obliterates the two-class citizenship theory operative in many American churches. For grace proclaims the awesome truth that all is gift. All that is good is ours not by right but by the sheer bounty of a gracious God. While there is much we may have earned–our degree and our salary, our home and garden, a Miller Lite and a good night’s sleep–all this is possible only because we have been given so much: life itself, eyes to see and hands to touch, a mind to shape ideas, and a heart to beat with love. We have been given God in our souls and Christ in our flesh. We have the power to believe where others deny, to hope where others despair, to love where others hurt. This and so much more is sheer gift; it is not reward for our faithfulness, our generous disposition, or our heroic life of prayer. Even our fidelity is a gift, ‘If we but turn to God,’ said St. Augustine, ‘that itself is a gift of God.’

My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it” (Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out).

Occasionally, I like to bring in special guest writers. By that, I mean that I am too tired (and/or lazy) to do my own writing and I quote from a writer who expresses my own thoughts better than I ever could ( with the lone exception about having an incredible capacity for beer, which I do not). This is why I named by blog The Ragamuffin Gospel.

John 3:16

“For God expressed His love for the world in this way: He gave His only Son so that whoever believes in Him will not face everlasting destruction, but will have everlasting life” (John 3:16 VOICE).

Life. That’s what it’s all about.

Finding it. Living it. Sharing it.

I’ll be honest. I wouldn’t have chosen to insert all of John 3:16. I’m quite fond of the part about everlasting life. I’m all for that.

It’s the part about everlasting destruction that I would have left out. It’s not my favorite part.

Some have chosen to omit that part from their theology. It makes them uncomfortable. It rubs them the wrong way.

Here’s the thing. If you want the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, you have to take all of it. The good, the bad, and the parts that make you uncomfortable.

Here’s another thing. Those that get everlasting destruction choose it. C. S. Lewis once said that some will say to God, “Thy will be done,” and God will say to some, “Thy will be done.”

In other words, God will respect whatever decision a person makes, whether that is for or against Him. It’s called free will.

I don’t pretend to fully understand why God operates the way He does, but to say that God would never do something because I would never do it is to put myself in a position above God, to be His judge. I know I don’t want that responsibility.

So there it is. If you take anything away from this, it’s that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all about a choice. It’s not your parents’ choice or your friends’ choice. It’s yours.

Decide today whether or not you really want to follow Jesus and surrender everything to Him. I chose Jesus because He chose me first long before I was born. But that’s another topic for another day.

The end.

 

Be Encouraged. B-E Encouraged.

“God didn’t set us up for an angry rejection but for salvation by our Master, Jesus Christ. He died for us, a death that triggered life. Whether we’re awake with the living or asleep with the dead, we’re alive with him! So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you’re already doing this; just keep on doing it” (1 Thessalonians 5:11, The Message).

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to read this verse aloud at least once a day for the next five days. Unless you feel really weird reading it aloud, in which case you may read it in your “inside-your-head” voice. You have my permission.

Remember, Jesus didn’t die to give us a get out of hell free card. It isn’t about something that’s waiting in the bye and bye.

It’s here and now. It’s life– abundant and full and overflowing life– right now.

Some of us are having a hard time remembering that right now. Some feel so weighed down by grief or stress or despair that it’s hard to feel alive. It’s hard to live abundantly when you feel as if all you’ve been doing is treading water to stay afloat in the flood.

That’s why Paul tells us to encourage each other. He didn’t say think good thoughts toward each other and have the best intentions to let them know that their in your prayers. No. He said to actively encourage them through any and all means at your disposal, whether that be pen and paper, face-to-face affirmation, smoke signals, social media, or morse code.

Who needs your encouragement most? Who is God putting on your heart? Your real mission is to encourage that person in a real and tangible way in the next 24 hours. Go!

 

Blog #1,689

“Let nothing disturb thee;
Let nothing dismay thee:
All thing pass;
God never changes.
Patience attains
All that it strives for.
He who has God
Finds he lacks nothing:
God alone suffices.”
“Poem IX,” from the Complete Works St. Teresa of Avila (1963) Vol. 3, edited by E. Allison Peers

I couldn’t think of a better title for this blog, so I went with “Blog #1,689.” Not the most creative title ever, but hopefully the content will make up for it.

I’m thinking some of you out there are hanging onto faith by a thread. You’re like the father of the possessed boy who cried out to Jesus, “I believe. Help my unbelief (Mark 9:24).” You have a faith that barely qualifies as mustard seed-sized. But that is enough.

It’s not about how big and grand your faith is but about how big and grand God is. It’s not the size of your faith but the size of the object of your faith that counts, and God is plenty big. As in bigger than your problems, bigger than your doubts, bigger than your sometime unbelief, bigger than you. God has been, is, and will continue to be enough.

So I’m praying for you that you will see what God can do with just the tiniest bit of faith and consent. I’m praying you will be dazzled and amazed at how God comes through for you, almost never in the way or place or time you expected but always with perfect timing in the perfect place in the perfect way.

“Almighty, eternal and merciful God, whose Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path, open and illuminate our minds, that we may purely and perfectly understand your Word and that our lives may be conformed to what we have rightly understood, that in nothing we may be displeasing unto your majesty, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen” – (the daily morning prayer of Ulrich Zwingli, from Gregg Alison’s “Introduction to Historical Theology).

 

For the Fourth Sunday of Advent

“Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”

This is it, folks. 5 days left until Christmas.

Hopefully you’ve got all of your presents bought and wrapped, unlike me who has half bought and none wrapped. Sadly, that’s good for me. Last year at this point, I had no presents bought or wrapped. And next year, despite all my best intentions to do better, I’ll likely be in a similar fix.

But all you need to do to be ready for Christmas is to open your heart to the coming King. That’s all. Make room in your heart to receive the King.

Not buy and wrap presents. Not make your house spotless for all those family members who will be coming over. Not have the most awesomely decorated yard in the neighborhood. Not have that sumptuous feast prepared. Not outdo what you did last year.

Just be ready for Jesus.

It’s not as easy as it sounds. So many things distract us from Jesus, so many ads for new products that they say we need, so many news stories that are mostly depressing and tragic. There’s so much noise that keeps us from hearing the silence of the silent night.

But Christmas is a reminder, as C. S. Lewis put it, that the rightful King has landed and has invited us to take part in His campaign of sabotage against all the powers of the world that seek to lie to us and to destroy all that is good and beautiful in the world.

Jesus is here. That means your peace is here. That means the victory is here.

A Beautiful Worship Prayer

musician-at-cross

“God, deliver us from the professionalizers! Deliver us from the ‘low, managing, contriving, maneuvering temper of mind among us.’ God, give us tears for our sins.

Forgive us for being so shallow in prayer, so thin in our grasp of holy verities, so content amid perishing neighbors, so empty of passion and earnestness in all our conversation. Restore to us the childlike joy of our salvation.

Frighten us with the awesome holiness and power of Him who can cast both soul and body into hell (Matt. 10:28).

Cause us to hold to the cross with fear and trembling as our hope-filled and offensive tree of life. Grant us nothing, absolutely nothing, the way the world views it. May Christ be all in all (Col. 3:11).

Banish professionalism from our midst, Oh God, and in its place put passionate prayer, poverty of spirit, hunger for God, rigorous study of holy things, white-hot devotion to Jesus Christ, utter indifference to all material gain, and unremitting labor to rescue the perishing, perfect the saints, and glorify our sovereign Lord.

Humble us, O God, under Your mighty hand, and let us rise, not as professionals, but as witnesses and partakers of the sufferings of Christ. In His awesome name. Amen” (John Piper).

God, help us always to worship in spirit and in truth, whether that be in a setting with hymns and an organ or with a band and modern worship songs or in the midst of our daily lives in how we reflect the glory of God in our actions and words.

Forgive us yet again for reducing worship to singing songs on certain days of the week. Help us to remember that every day we worship by laying down our lives as an offering, holy and acceptable to God (Romans 12:1-2).

Help us always to remember that the sweetest sound in God’s ear is a joyful noise and a grateful heart.

Amen.

 

Easter Sunday 2014

Empty-Tomb1

“Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen”

It’s Easter.

I celebrated with about 130 or so others at the future location of The Church at Avenue South. Though the building has been gutted and won’t be ready for official use for another two months, still the real church got together to proclaim to anyone and everyone that this is Resurrection Day.

The resurrection DOES change everything. It means no more fear of death because Jesus overcame that last enemy when he walked out of the tomb with the sunrise on that first Easter Sunday. It means that whatever I’m afraid of has already been defeated and overcome by this same resurrection power that brought Jesus from death to life.

It means that there is no such thing as TOO LATE, that there’s always time for a do-over and a second chance and a fresh start, that as long as we’re alive we have a purpose and a God willing to bring out that purpose in us.

So I revisit an old Easter toast that I blogged about three years ago today: “We lift our glasses and drink to a Love that never gave up.”

https://oneragamuffin.wordpress.com/2011/04/20/an-easter-toast-stolen-from-someone-on-facebook/

I’ve posted a link so you can read the original post if you want.

Regardless, I’m glad that Easter has come. I’m glad that it isn’t just one day a year, but something that I can celebrate all 365 days (and 366 on those leap years). I’m thankful that just because the holiday ends doesn’t mean the power of that resurrection or its effects do.

 

Easter Season Liturgy Part III

ko1

“Your light is the only light we need
as we travel through life’s mystery
Your word the only voice we hear
that still small voice that leads us
to the place where we should be
Your presence is the only company we need
as we walk this narrow road
Your fellowship the warmth we crave
to help us on our way
May the truth of Easter
The joy of Easter
And the blessings of Easter
Be with us this day and all days
AMEN”

“Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever. Amen.”

It is Maundy Thursday, the night before Good Friday, when Jesus endured the sufferings and torture of the cross. It is on this night that He instituted the Lord’s Supper, also referred to as Communion or Eucharist.

On this night, He foreshadowed the brokenness of His own body with the bread and the pouring out of His blood with the wine. He gave the single command to “Do this in remembrance of me.

Regardless of whether you believe the elements are symbols or actually become the body and blood of Jesus, do this in remembrance of Me.

Not because you are sinless, but because you are forgiven, do this in remembrance of Me.

Not because we hope for victory, but because the victory has already been won, do this in remembrance of Me.

Come to the table, with hands open in a posture of submission, dependence, and obedience, and take these elements.

Do this in remembrance of Me.”

 

Palm Sunday

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“Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen” (from The Book of Common Prayer).

We celebrate Palm Sunday today.

On this day, Jesus rode into Jerusalem a hero. The crowds greeted Him with palm branches and shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”

I doubt anyone could have guessed at that point that a week later those very same people would be shouting again, but this time for Him to be crucified as a common criminal.

Jesus knew. He alone knew what was really in their hearts. He wept over Jerusalem, the city who had the very Messiah they had so longed for in their very midst, but refused to recognize Him. The very ones who murdered the prophets sent by God Himself.

Jesus knew that not too long after that, Jerusalem would hardly be recognizable. In fact, it would be a ruin. The Romans, true to the prophecy, would not leave one stone standing on top of another.

I wonder when was the last time I wept for Nashville? Or my neighbors. Or the people around me who don’t know this Jesus, who don’t know that there’s a hope of a better life and a better future awaiting them?

Lord, break my heart for what breaks Yours. And then spur me to do something about it.

Paying it Forward Again

pay-it-forward

I had an idea. Maybe the next time you see a homeless person, instead of giving them money, maybe you should offer to buy them a meal.

I had that opportunity once and it blessed me as much as it blessed the homeless man who got a free meal. I know for certain it was a divine appointment and I knew in that moment the joy of being obedient.

When you get the chance to buy someone a meal and they ask why you are doing it, just  tell them, “I’m doing this in the name of Christ,” for the Bible says when you give someone a cup of cold water in the name of Christ, it’s Christ you’re serving.

Maybe you’ll get the chance to pay for the person behind you at Wendy’s or McDonald’s or Starbucks.

Maybe it you’ll be able to pay someone’s electric bill. Or water bill. Or phone bill.

Or maybe it will be an act of service like cutting someone’s lawn or cleaning up their gutters. You never know.

But meeting someone’s physical needs is only meeting them halfway. Jesus didn’t just heal people’s bodies; He healed their souls, too.

We’re called not just to bandage wounds, but to offer the ultimate healing found in Jesus Christ. We have the opportunity not just to offer a cup of cold water but to point to the Living Water that never runs dry. We can offer not just a sandwich to someone but the Bread of Life that eternally satisfies.

My prayer for you (and for me) is that we keep our eyes open for such opportunities. If you see someone selling those newspapers, buy at least one and give that person a bottled water or something warm to drink. Be willing to talk to them and listen to their stories. Be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading and be open to sharing your own story.

On Valentine’s Day, remember Who first love you and me.