You Are Not the God We Would Have Chosen

Sometimes, it’s good to pray scripted prayers. Not all the time, but some times.

Sometimes, you have no words and need to borrow the words of those who have been where you are and voiced your words to God.

I think this prayer may soon qualify as one of my borrowed prayers:

We would as soon you were stable and reliable.
We would as soon you were predictable
and always the same toward us.
We would like to take the hammer of doctrine
and take the nails of piety
and nail your feet to the floor
and have you stay in one place.

And then we find you moving,
always surprising us,
always coming at us from new directions.
Always planting us
and uprooting us
and tearing all things down
and making all things new.
You are not the God we would have chosen
had we done the choosing,
but we are your people
and you have chosen us in freedom.
We pray for the great gift of freedom
that we may be free toward you
as you are in your world.
Give us that gift of freedom
that we may move in new places
in obedience and in gratitude.

Thank you for Jesus
who embodied your freedom for all of us. Amen” (Walter Brueggemann, Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth: Prayers by Walter Brueggemann).

Does God Want Us To Be Happy?

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” (C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses).

Tonight at Kairos, Chris Brooks asked the age-old question, “Does God really want us to be happy?”

I admit that for years the answer has always been a knee-jerk version of “No, God doesn’t want us to be happy. He wants us to be holy.”

Maybe happiness and holiness aren’t mutually exclusive. Maybe holiness doesn’t have to mean a dour demeanor and grumpy face. Perhaps there is happiness in enjoying God and His good gifts.

The problem isn’t in seeking happiness but that we seek for it in the wrong places. We seek to find fulfillment and joy in the created rather than in the Creator, and in the gifts rather than in the Giver.

It’s not that we desire too much but that we desire too little. We can glorify and make an idol out of just about anything (or anyone). Careers, possessions, relationships, children, morality, and even worship (more accurately, the worship of worship and the adrenaline rush it brings).

We can’t seek happiness and joy outside of God because it doesn’t really exist. At least not true happiness and joy. We often end up over-stimulated and under-satisfied. Nothing apart from God brings a lasting gratification.

That’s why there’s always the push to do more, buy more, consume more, and be more. It will never be enough.

God is enough and in Him are joys and pleasures and happiness that will never end.

 

The Love of God

“Could we with ink the ocean fill, And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill, And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole, Though stretched from sky to sky”

I had several ideas of what to write about for tonight’s post, but when I read this stanza that I posted back on this day in 2011, I knew what I had to write about.

This, the love of God, supersedes any political debate or doctrinal questions. The love of God is stronger than our doubts and deeper than our fears.

The love of God will last longer than the earth and  sky and all of human history. Nothing that the worst of humanity could ever devise will ever put and end to it or stop it from achieving its end.

I’m thankful tonight that this love of God sought me out relentlessly and wouldn’t let go until I finally relented. I’m more thankful that this love of God has never stopped pursuing me through seasons of selfishness and self-doubt.

According to what I read, this last stanza in the great hymn The Love of God was a revision of an ancient Jewish writing from over 1,000 years ago. The person wrote it on the walls of the insane asylum where he lived and was found after he died. Apparently, this was during one of his moments of lucidity.

The rest of the hymn was added around it later, but these are the words that haunt me tonight and have given my soul great rest and peace. May they do the same to you and may you remember them in the days to come when life gets hard and hectic.

 

Secret Battles

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I’ve learned a few things over the course of my life.

One of the most important lessons I’ve picked up is this: you can be around people on a regular, sometimes daily, basis and never know the secret battles they face.

People who put on a brave face and wear a smile can be fighting all sorts of demons– anxiety, insecurity, eating disorders, depression, self-loathing, self-harm.

Sometimes, a person will trust you enough to let you in a little. Often, you will never see all the cracks and broken places.

The beauty is that God sees. When you don’t know how to pray for someone you suspect is going through hard times, you can visualize leading that person to Jesus and letting Him envelop that person, His love filling all the broken places and wounds that person is carrying.

Christmas is all about Emmanuel who didn’t come from above to rescue us from on high, but came from beneath us to lift us up with Him. He became the lowliest of the low, born in a barn in a redneck little town to two nobodies.

The Bible says that as our High Priest, Jesus is able to sympathize with all our weaknesses. He knows all those secret battles you face.

I was reminded of an old favorite song of mine by Julie Miller. She was sexually abused as a child and was able to turn that great pain into great art in the form of some incredible songs. Here’s one:

“I have seen the night of a million tears,
I have seen an angel’s smile,
I have come of age and remained, these years, with the longings of a child.

Nobody but you can find my heart,
Nobody but you sees in the dark,
Nobody but you can call my name and scatter all my pain.

I have had the fears of an orphaned heart,
I have had a homeless soul,
I have been embraced in the arms of grace,
You have brought my spirit home.

Nobody but you can find my heart,
Nobody but you sees in the dark,
Nobody but you can call my name and scatter all my pain.

Nobody but you can find my heart,
Nobody but you sees in the dark,
Nobody but you can call my name and scatter all my pain.

Nobody but you, nobody but you,
Nobody but you, nobody but you,
Nobody but you, nobody but you,
Nobody but you.”

 

Thoughts On Mr./Mrs. Jenner

I’ve been thinking about the former Bruce Jenner, now known as Caitlyn Jenner. There are a lot of people applauding how brave he/she is and there are other’s villifying him/her.

Here’s what I think.

I think that if Bruce wasn’t happy with who he was, then I doubt Caitlyn will be. I think that once all the media hoopla has died down, once Caitlyn returns to whatever semblance of normalcy that she can manage, she will find out that changing the outside won’t fix what’s wrong on the inside.

Here’s what I’ve learned in my own life. Actually, it’s something that I keep coming back to again and again because I’m so forgetful.

It’s only in Jesus that you can have enough or be enough because Jesus in and of Himself is enough.

Those who chase after fame or wealth or status will eventually find that it doesn’t quite fill the vacuum inside. Nothing fills that God-shaped hole except God.

I have enough because I have Jesus. I am enough because Jesus is enough and He has me. It’s really that simple. No matter what happens from this point forward, it will always be that simple and true.

I truly hope that Caitlyn Jenner finds for herself that Jesus is enough.

I hope that I keep finding out and keep being reminded that Jesus is enough, because chasing after the Joneses and the brass rings and climbing the ladders are all so very exhausting.

Jesus is enough.

I can feel my heart-rate slowing as I read those words. I remember that it’s really not up to me to make my life work, to give my own life meaning. I remember that Jesus promised He would meet me where I was, love me as I am, and take me where I need to be.

That is enough because Jesus is enough.

 

RIght Living and Right Speaking

Occasionally, the creative well runs dry and I end up “borrowing” from other great writers. One of my favorites that I’ve quoted many times in the past is Henri Nouwen (who along with Brennan Manning are probably my two favorite authors).

Here’s what he wrote that again struck me so powerfully:

“To be a witness for God is to be a living sign of God’s presence in the world.  What we live is more important than what we say, because the right way of living always leads to the right way of speaking.   When we forgive our neighbours from our hearts, our hearts will speak forgiving words.  When we are grateful, we will speak grateful words, and when we are hopeful and joyful, we will speak hopeful and joyful words.

When our words come too soon and we are not yet living what we are saying, we easily give double messages.  Giving double messages – one with our words and another with our actions – makes us hypocrites.   May our lives give us the right words and may our words lead us to the right life.”

Right speaking comes out of right living. People will sense the authenticity of your words when they see what you say lived out. Your faith will be more caught than taught, and if your words don’t match your actions, then people will dismiss the words and not the actions.

If I speak and act out of a need to be liked or thought well of, then what I say and do won’t be as effective as if I speak and act as one who knows who he is and who knows that he is the Beloved of God. My identity informs my authenticity.

I hope and pray that from this point on I will speak only what I live, and I will live only what God has already spoken about me.

 

Happy Birthday, Mr. Manning

I realize that this is the third day in a row that I’ve blogged about Brennan Manning, but I also understand that this blog is called Ragamuffin Gospel Fan for a reason.

Today would have been Mr. Manning’s 81st birthday. He passed away over two years ago on April 12, 2013, at the age of 78.

I can think of no one who wrote about grace and the love of God better than he did. Perhaps it took someone who had wrecked his life through alcoholism and had hit rock bottom more than once to fully appreciate the grandness of the grace of God, but if anybody did, Brennan did.

I always think of this quote when I think of him and I want to share it with you again. It’s lengthy but worth the extra time it takes to read it:

“Because salvation is by grace through faith, I believe that among the countless number of people standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands (see Revelation 7:9), I shall see the prostitute from the Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City, Nevada, who tearfully told me that she could find no other employment to support her two-year-old son. I shall see the woman who had an abortion and is haunted by guilt and remorse but did the best she could faced with grueling alternatives; the businessman besieged with debt who sold his integrity in a series of desperate transactions; the insecure clergyman addicted to being liked, who never challenged his people from the pulpit and longed for unconditional love; the sexually abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last ‘trick’, whispers the name of the unknown God he learned about in Sunday school.

‘But how?’ we ask.

Then the voice says, ‘They have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’

There they are. There *we* are – the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life’s tribulations, but through it all clung to faith.

My friends, if this is not good news to you, you have never understood the gospel of grace.'”
Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out

 

The Ragamuffin Blog

As you know, the reason for the name of this blog is the very famous book The Ragamuffin Gospel by one Mr. Brennan Manning. I thought I’d share one of his quotes that I love, one of the reasons why I write these blogs:

““The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creation. Not to make people with better morals but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within, who would live in ever greater fidelity to the omnipresent Word of God, who would enter into the center of it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the center of the flame that consumes, purifies, and sets everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love. This, my friend, is what it really means to be a Christian” (Brennan Manning, The Furious Longing of God).

That truly is what it means to be a Christian.