The Ragamuffin Gospel

I’m a big fan of Rich Mullins’ music and enjoyed watching his biography, entitled Ragamuffin. Through this movie, I learned about Brennan Manning’s book, The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out, which I am currently reading. I’m blown away by the wisdom in this book and find myself wanting to yell out, “Yes! Yes!” Considering I’m reading this book at the gym while working out on an elliptical machine, I might get some puzzled looks if I do this!

A ragamuffin is someone who knows he’s nothing but a pauper who has been invited into the presence of the King solely by grace. He has nothing to offer but his brokenness. I am a ragamuffin. I’m acutely aware of my brokenness and how inadequate I am. I’m so grateful that God does not treat me like I deserve. I’m a beggar kissing the feet of the King and simply grateful that He let me in the door.

I just finished a chapter on the “tilted halo,” which will be the focus of my blog this week. The chapter opens with a story – A man goes to the doctor for a headache. The doctor asks if he drinks alcohol, smokes, or parties. The patient indignantly responds that he would never do such things. The doctor diagnoses him with wearing his halo too tightly. In other words, the man is so focused on “being righteous” that he has choked out all the grace. Some of the most miserable people I know are Christians who fixate on doing everything “right” while also demanding this from others.

Manning says that ragamuffins wear a tilted halo:

The saved sinner with the tilted halo has been converted from mistrust to trust, has arrived at an inner poverty of spirit, and lives as best he or she can in rigorous honesty with self, others, and God.”

I’ll be discussing these three aspects of the ragamuffin this week.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out. Courtesy Amazon.]

 

God is not a Spiritual Santa Claus

presentsContinued from here.

Many years ago, a Youth Leader made a profound statement: he said that God is not a spiritual Santa Claus. This imagery helped me see how selfish I was being in my prayer life as I rattled off my “wish list” to God every morning, telling Him all of the things He needed to change in my life for me to be happy. I am happy in my life today, even though God’s answer to most of those wish list items was no. The more I mature spiritually, the less I experience God changing my circumstances and, instead, experience God changing ME. As I grow and change, the way I react to my circumstances changes.

One of the greatest misnomers I hear Christians say is that God never gives us more than we can handle. That’s simply not biblical. The cross was more than Jesus could handle. The lion’s den was more than Daniel could handle. The fiery furnace was more than the Hebrew boys could handle. Goliath was more than David could handle. The Mideonites were more than Gideon could handle. I could go on and on, and I’ll include myself in this list: being repeatedly raped as a child was more than I could handle, as was the grueling healing process from all of the childhood abuse.

In fact, every day, I face more than I can handle, but I am nevertheless joyful. God hasn’t made my life easy. Instead, He has taught me the secret to being content even as I’m facing more than I can handle:

I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13).

Why does God allow us to experience more than we can handle? Because it drives us into His arms. As long as I stay connected to God, I don’t have to worry about what happens – not that I’m comfortable in challenging circumstances, but I can be content. As I choose to be uncomfortable in doing whatever God says to do (humble myself in my marriage, obey laws I don’t like, forgive my enemies, etc.), God moves in my life by CHANGING ME. As I change, my circumstances change in response. This process takes effort and sacrifice, but it’s worth it … not only to bear fruit that bless others, but I get to experience intimacy with the Creator of the Universe!

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace carrying lots of presents. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

What Role does Prayer Serve in the Naaman Principle?

prayerContinued from here.

Please don’t take from the last blog entry that I am anti-prayer. Just the opposite! I have a rich prayer life in which I “hear” from the Creator of the Universe every day (and often throughout the day). This is not an audible voice that booms out of the ceiling. Instead, it’s a still, small “voice” – or, more accurately, and “inner knowing” — that is very personal and intimate. Jesus said that his sheep know and listen to his voice, and this is something I experience every day. I achieved this level of intimacy with God largely through developing a rich prayer life, which includes bringing my concerns to Him, seeking His perspective on the situation, poring over the Scriptures for guidance on what my part is in the situation, and obeying whatever God leads me to do, even when it makes no sense and I, frankly, don’t want to do it. I do it, anyhow, because I love and trust God.

The role of prayer is to connect you with the Father. Prayer is how we remain or abide in God. It’s how we stay connected to God. Prayer is about relationship. It’s about getting to know God well enough to follow His direction so you know where He is going. As you follow Him, you put forth effort. In other words, I pray for God to show me where He is going. I follow Him, which requires effort and sacrifice as I lay down my own desires and replace them with a desire to follow God. And then God moves in my life, producing fruit that blesses the people around me. While I may enjoy the fruit, it’s not produced for me – it’s to bless other people. I have already received my blessing – a close, deep, personal, and intimate walk with God. I truly need nothing else – not that I wouldn’t like comfort, but I’m OK whether I’m comfortable or not because a close, deep, personal, and intimate walk with God is worth the effort and sacrifice.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace praying next to large praying hands. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Praying is Not Enough

prayer2Continued from here.

I know yesterday’s blog entry was harsh, but I’m trying to wake the Church up. As I said yesterday, while I probably stepped on your toes, God absolutely clobbered me with this truth. I know it’s a hard truth, but if you want that breakthrough you have been praying for, you need to WAKE UP. You need to pore over Scripture to find out what your part of the equation is and DO IT. God is waiting on you to do your part before He will supernaturally intervene with His part.

So, where does prayer come into all of this? I know Christians who use prayer as an excuse not to put forth effort, which is simply not Biblical but can sound spiritual. After all, the Bible does tell us to cast our cares on God and not to be anxious. The thinking is that simply praying for a breakthrough and then sitting around waiting for it to come about demonstrates faith while putting forth effort runs counter to faith. However, that’s simply not a biblical perspective, nor has it been my personal experience.

Let’s say you need a crop of pumpkins. You can pray for pumpkins over a field for years, but no pumpkins are going to grow if you don’t plant pumpkin seeds first, which takes effort (labor of planting the seeds) as well as sacrifice (parting with the seeds). This seems pretty basic in farming, but many Christians don’t seem to see that the same principle applies in the spiritual realm. The principle of sowing and reaping is prevalent in the Bible, with the most basic example being tithing. If you need money, plant seeds by giving some of your money away. Here are a few other examples:

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:37-38).

Whatever you need, you must first give, which requires effort and sacrifice. Prayer is not enough. You can pray for decades and never experience a breakthrough if you are unwilling to plant the seeds. If you have been “stuck” for a long period of time, pray for wisdom and discernment. Perhaps God is ready to act and bring a miracle, but He’s waiting on you to the plant the seeds before He will produce a harvest.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace praying. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Spiritual Laziness

lazyContinued from here.

Let me forewarn you that I might step on your toes today. To quote a pastor I respect, before I step on your toes through something I write, God has already clobbered me with it!

Many Christians – myself included until 2013 – are spiritually lazy. Salvation is so easy – simply receive Jesus into your heart, and then you get to go to Heaven and avoid Hell. Perhaps because little effort is required on our part to receive salvation, spiritual laziness has become widespread throughout the American Church with people wanting to simply “pray away” their struggles rather than put forth effort to become a disciple of Christ.

And yet Jesus told us that there’s a cost to being his disciple. He encouraged us to decide in advance whether it’s a cost we are willing to pay. And that cost is our entire lives! We can only be Jesus’ disciples if we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. Where does he lead us as we follow him? Into suffering. Pain. Humility. Rejection. After all, he was a man of suffering! He didn’t “pray away” his challenges. He walked right into them, carrying all of our pain to the cross to bring us victory. Considering the suffering he endured and the fact that all but one of his disciples were martyred, why do we believe that Christianity is supposed to be comfortable and require little effort beyond going to Church on Sunday or perhaps being spoon fed through a Bible study?

I am living proof that God still performs miracles, but they don’t generally happen by simply “praying away” the issue and then living your life however you feel like it. I have found that God waits for me to do my part before He will do His, and I generally find my part to be distasteful. I didn’t want to forgive my childhood abusers – I was much more comfortable with carrying around bitterness. I didn’t want to humble myself in my marriage – after all, I believed my husband was “the problem.” I didn’t want to obey the speed limit (obey laws I don’t like) … or apologize when someone else was in the wrong … or defer my preferences to people who are routinely selfish. And yet those are the very things the Bible calls us to do … and the very things that Jesus did. How can we call ourselves disciples of Christ when we are unwilling to do what God tells us to do?

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace lying on a pillow over the words, “Lazy Day.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

The Naaman Principle

forgive_youLately, I have been pondering what I have dubbed the “Naaman Principle,” which is a concept I have blogged about before. You can read about Naaman in the Bible here. In a nutshell, Naaman had leprosy and wanted to be healed, but he didn’t want to do it God’s way (by bathing 7 times in the “dirty” Jordan River). His servant convinced him to do it God’s way. He did and was fully healed.

While most of us cannot relate the specific situation of having leprosy, all of us can relate to having something — some area in our lives – in which we really, really, really want God to move, but He isn’t moving. If this issue goes unresolved long enough, we can wind up questioning our faith and doubting whether God really loves us or cares about our situation.

Sadly, in many of these situations (but certainly not all), God isn’t moving because we are not moving. To quote Joyce Meyer,

God won’t do our part, and we can’t do His part.”

The example I wrote about previously was regarding forgiveness. I prayed for years for emotional healing from my childhood abuse, but it eluded me. Even enlisting numerous women to pray for my emotional healing yielded little fruit. The problem was that, like Naaman, I wanted healing, but not God’s way. God’s way to heal emotional wounds is through forgiveness. As I chose to let go of my bitterness and pray blessings over my childhood abusers, my spirit pulled in His healing power. God began healing my emotional pain (the part I could not do) as I did my part of praying for my enemies, and He completed the healing process after a little over a year. For all the years I was wanting on Him to act, He was waiting on me to obey.

Lately, I’m noticing this Naaman Principle all around me, which is why I’ve decided to blog about the topic this week. It applies to so much more than leprosy and emotional pain.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with an halo and angel’s wings, saying, “I forgive you.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Winter is a Season of Rest

rest_upContinued from here.

In his book, In Season: Embracing the Father’s Process of Fruitfulness, Wayne Jacobsen says that Winter is a season of rest. Spring is a season of rapid growth. Summer is filled with challenges as we endure through many obstacles to bearing fruit. Fall is a season of harvest. Only in Winter does the vine rest.

Western culture, and Americans in particular, have lost sight of the value of rest. We feel guilty if we are not constantly producing, and then we are surprised when we find ourselves burning out, dependent upon our next cup of coffee to find the energy to keep pressing through.

I just went through a period of burnout. For a four-week period, I had little breathing room in my life. God revealed to me that I was in a season of Winter, but there was no rest. I had built my schedule with little wiggle room. As a result, I had a flareup of acid reflux that caused a sinus infection, and there was simply no room in my life to recuperate, much less rest. Some of the scheduling commitments ended on Thursday last week, and I had Friday (my Sabbath day) completely off – no plans whatsoever. I slept for 14 straight hours. I had a quick bite to eat, watched a movie in bed, and then napped for 2.5 hours. I had another quick bite to eat, watched a second movie in bed, visited with my husband briefly when he got home from work, went to bed at 8:00 p.m., and slept for 9 more hours. I felt like a different person on Saturday morning because I finally experienced rest, which is what I should have been doing all along.

God then placed on my heart that it’s time to prune. He led me to step down from some areas of ministry – areas that are near and dear to my heart – to make room for the “new thing” He is planning. He wants me resting so I will have the energy needed when Spring comes. I don’t think it’s coincidence that I’ll be traveling to Ireland soon, where my cell phone will not have reception and where I’ll be completely disconnected from everyone and everything other than my tour group. I expect to return well-rested and ready for the next season of harvest, as the days gradually stretch longer and new life begins to grow.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding a pillow & blanket while saying, “Rest up!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Winter is a Season of Pruning

crutchesContinued from here.

Jesus told us,

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (John 15:1-2).

In his book, In Season: Embracing the Father’s Process of Fruitfulness, Wayne Jacobsen says that pruning the grapevine takes place in the Winter. Because the vine is at rest during the Winter months, pruning causes the least amount of pain during this season. However, even during the time of rest, pruning is still painful – there’s no way for it not to be. Buds that the branch has been investing in are suddenly removed with a sharp cut. Pruning is loss, and our human nature is to fight anything being taken away from us, even when it’s for our own good.

I don’t like to be pruned. I only invest my time in things I care about, so there’s nothing to prune other than things that I love – things that I have invested my energy into over a period of time. Sometimes the pruning is activities – often fruitful activities, such as ministries. Other times, the pruning is relationships, which are doubly difficult for me to say goodbye to. When I invest in someone, I care deeply. The sting of the gardener’s knife severing the relationship hurts. My results-driven, Type A personality balks at seeing the pruned parts of myself lying lifeless on the ground after all of the energy I poured into those parts throughout the last season. I grieve the losses.

While I doubt I’ll ever enjoy the pruning process, Jacobsen has given me two important reasons to be grateful as I am pruned. The first is that pruning has a purpose: so I will become even more fruitful. Jacobsen explains that a vine can only support so much fruit. If it’s never pruned, the weight of the overabundance of fruit will break the branch. A branch can support a few bunches of grapes well, but if too many bunches grow, then the branch will be unable to support them. In other words, nobody benefits from us being spread too thin. The pruning season sharpens my focus so I can pour all of my energy into the one or two tasks that God wants me doing very well.

The other extremely important reason to be grateful for pruning is that bring me into close contact with the Gardener. To prune a branch, the Gardener must lean in closely. God is never closer to me than when He is pruning me. Winter is a season to draw closer to Him – to sense His presence in a way that is deeper and richer than in any other season.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace on crutches in a full body cast. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Winter Prepares Us for a New Harvest

new_year_new_meContinued from here.

In his book, In Season: Embracing the Father’s Process of Fruitfulness, Wayne Jacobsen says that Winter is an important time of preparation for the next Fall’s harvest. That’s hard to recognize because it doesn’t look like anything is happening beyond the current harvest’s death. As Paul pointed out, “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.” Death of the current dream must take place to make way for the new one. And note that just because I move on doesn’t mean what I left behind dies. If God wants it to continue to bear fruit, God will bring along an Apollos to water the seed that I have planted. I was never the one who made anything grow: only God has the power to do that. When I presume that a ministry cannot continue in my absence, I erroneously take on the role of God. If God wants the ministry to continue, He will bring along the next leader – one who can grow the harvest better than I ever could. I must not waste my time in Winter pining for the preceding Fall. Winter is a time to focus on what’s ahead, not what’s behind.

Jacobsen says that Winter is a season of pruning and rest, and I’m resistant to both. As I stated previously, I have a results-oriented, Type A personality. I’m in my element when I am working tireless toward the goal, pressing on with all that I have. It feels unnatural for me to stop, breathe, and rest. I’m not good at it, but I need it, just as everyone does. Someone once pointed out to me that am a human BEing, not a human DOing. My therapist told me that in the Continental U.S., people say, “Don’t just sit there – do something!,” but in other cultures, the saying is actually, “Don’t just do something – sit there!” That’s the essence of Winter – ceasing the activity and busyness as we prepare for the next harvest that God has planned.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace placing her hand on her heart and saying, “New Year, New Me!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Saying Goodbye to the Harvest of Fall

loggin_offContinued from here.

If I were a character in a novel, my fatal flaw would be my tendency to be overly loyal. What I mean by this is that I never want to let go of anything that has been meaningful to me. I tear up as I work through the last page of a Bible study. I want to continue hanging out with the parents of my kid’s friends from elementary school, even though he has transferred elsewhere. I want the friendship to stay close when the other person moves away. I do not easily adapt to the transition from a bountiful Fall to a pared down Winter.

And yet if we never step down, nobody else will have the opportunity to step up. If we don’t cease investing our time here, then there won’t be time available to invest there. My natural tendency is to hang on too long and too tightly, and my heart breaks as the people and fruit I deeply valued slip through my fingers. Holding on too tightly spoils the fruit.

Back when I was in therapy, my therapist told me a painful truth – seasons end. I didn’t want to hear this, but I was only hurting myself by fighting the inevitable. He said that few relationships last a lifetime. Most are seasonal, and just because they end doesn’t take away their value. I received the ending of a season – and particularly a relationship – as a rejection, but I learned that it’s not. Recognizing that most of where (and in whom) we invest our time will come to an end can actually help us better appreciate what we have while we have it. We learn to savor it because we know it’s temporary.

I am an “all in” or “all out” kind of person. Once I’m “all in,” I don’t ever want to be “out.” However, that mindset is harmful because it goes against God, who says, “See, I am doing a new thing!” I cannot go with God to the “new thing” if I’m still clinging to the “old thing.” The harvest must come to an end, and Winter is an important season of preparation for the “new thing” that God is planning.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace resting in a recliner over the words, “Loggin’ off.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]