A Ragamuffin Prayer

The Ragamuffin Gospel
Brennan Manning

Lord Jesus, we are silly sheep who have dared to stand before You and try to bribe You with our preposterous portfolios.  Suddenly we have come to our senses.  We are sorry and ask You to forgive us.  Give us the grace to admit we are ragamuffins, to embrace our brokenness, to celebrate Your mercy when we are at our weakest, to rely on Your mercy no matter what we may do.  Dear Jesus, gift us to stop grandstanding and trying to get attention, to do the truth quietly without display, to let the dishonesties in our lives fade away, to accept our limitations, to cling to the gospel of grace, and to delight in Your love.  Amen.

Love Alone

Caedmon’s Call

The prince of despair’s been beaten
But the loser still fights
Death’s on a long leash
Stealing my friends to the night

And everyone cries for the innocent
You say to love the guilty, too
And I’m surrounded by suffering and sickness
So I’m working tearing back the roof

The Hope of Sovereign Grace

The Problem of Repentance and Relapse as a Unifying Theme in the Book of the Twelve
Gary E. Yates

Beginning with the book of Joel, a pattern emerges that is repeated three times in the Book of the Twelve. An episode of repentance is followed by a relapse into sin. In the first instance, Israel’s repentance in Joel 2:12–27 is followed by a relapse into sin that leads to the judgment of exile for Israel (Amos) and for Judah (Micah, Habakkuk, Zephaniah). The book of Jonah tells the story of Nineveh’s repentance, but the announcement in Nahum is that Yahweh is prepared to destroy Nineveh for its violence and bloodshed. In the postexilic period, the books of Haggai and Zechariah document the repentance of the people in response to the prophets’ calls to rebuild the temple and return to the Lord, but the message of Malachi indicates another relapse into disobedience and rebellion. This pattern that emerges in the Twelve reflects Israel’s persistent disobedience and refusal to return to Yahweh. The postexilic community is as guilty of unfaithfulness toward Yahweh as Israel and Judah before the exile. The inclusion of the Nineveh narrative in this pattern reflects that the story of the nations is essentially the same as that of Israel in terms of their persistent rebellion against Yahweh as the one true God.

The significance of this literary pattern is seen in three specific ways. First, the pattern of repentance and relapse reflects the pervasiveness of Israel’s unbelief and attributes the “day of the Lord” judgments associated with exile in large part to improper response to the prophetic word. In the three centuries of prophetic activity reflected in the Twelve, there are only limited examples of turning to Yahweh, and one of those examples comes from the pagan Ninevites.

Second, the problems of partial repentance or repentance and then relapse also explain why the conditions of exile and alienation from Yahweh persist for Israel even after the return from exile. The people would only fully enjoy the blessings of return when they had truly turned back to Yahweh. Geographical return to the land without a spiritual turning back to Yahweh was inadequate. Thus, the calls for repentance in the Book of the Twelve and especially in the postexilic prophets serve as a call for successive generations reading these books to always be returning to the Lord.

Finally, in light of Israel’s persistent inability to return to Yahweh, the Book of the Twelve reflects the reality that the only hope for Israel’s future lies in Yahweh’s work of sovereign grace that would internally transform the people so that they would be able to faithfully follow and obey him.

Link: Complete Article

We go to sleep, and God begins his work.

Working the Angles
Eugene Peterson

Sometimes, still in a stupor, I blunder into the middle of something that is nearly done, and go to work thinking that I am starting it.  But when I do I interfere with what is already far along on its way to completion.  My sincere intentions and cheerful whistle while I work make it no less a blunder and an aggravation.  The sensible thing is to ask, “Where do I fit?  Where do you need an extra hand?  What still needs to be done?”

The Hebrew evening/morning sequence conditions us to the rhythms of grace.  We go to sleep, and God begins his work.  As we sleep he develops his covenant.  We wake and are called out to participate in God’s creative action.  We respond in faith, in work.  But always grace is previous.  Grace is primary.  We wake into a world we didn’t make, into a salvation we didn’t earn.  Evening: God begins, without our help, his creative day.  Morning: God calls us to enjoy and share and develop the work he initiated.

As this biblical genesis rhythm works in me, I also discover something else: when I quit my day’s work, nothing essential stops.  I prepare for sleep not with a feeling of exhausted frustration because there is so much yet undone and unfinished, but with expectancy.  The day is about to begin!  God’s genesis words are about to be spoken again.

I go to sleep to get out of the way for awhile.

Genesis 21

[1] The LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did to Sarah as he had promised. [2] And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him. [3] Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac. [4] And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. [5] Abraham was a hundred years old when his isaac3son Isaac was born to him. [6] And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” [7] And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”

– Genesis 21:1-7

In Genesis 18, the Lord promised Abraham that Sarah would bear him a son. At 89 years old, Sarah found the whole idea ridiculous and laughed to herself. In remembrance of this incident, Abraham and Sarah name their miraculous child, Isaac, which means “he laughs.” Sarah declares that God has made laughter for her and all who hear of it will laugh as well. The goodness of God to his people is ridiculous. His promises are beyond too good to be true.  May we consider how many times He has been better to us than we would ever have imagined.

A Muddy Hand

What is the Gospel?
Bryan Chapell

We may not like the idea of someone identifying us as “sinners,” especially if we use that term to refer only to ax murderers and child molesters. But the Bible says that God is absolutely holy and that all who do not match his perfection are “sinners,” a term that simply means missing God’s standard. If we sin to any degree, we become something other than what God intended (Rom. 3:23; James 2:10). He made us to reflect his holy nature (1 Pet. 1:16). So our faults not only hurt us but also mar our relationship with God (Eph. 4:30).

Our relational problems with God began when our human nature was corrupted by our first parents’ sin (Rom. 5:12). Since Adam and Eve, every human knows what it means to fail loved ones, hurt others, and abandon one’s own ideals. All of us know shame and remorse. These actually reflect a spiritual reality we may not have recognized: we feel guilt because we were made to be like God, but we fail to live so (Rom. 3:10).

We were made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27). He designed us to be like him so that we could love him and others made in his image. When we sin, we are going against our original nature, and something deep inside of us winces. The guilt we feel is an echo of the pain our heart registers any time sin distances us from the relationship we were designed to have with our God.

God requires holiness for us to have a close relationship with God, but both our nature and our actions distance us from him. How can we fix this? We can’t. We are imperfect creatures and can’t make ourselves holy any more than a muddy hand can wipe a white shirt clean.

God is the only one who can fix our relationship with him, and he does so by providing the holiness he requires. God takes the initiative (1 John 4:19). Through Jesus, our God rescues us from the consequences of our sin. He provides what we cannot, and that’s why we sometimes refer to his provision as “the gospel of grace.” Grace means “gift” – something given to those who cannot provide what they need – like a clean shirt given to those who have muddied their own.

Link: Complete Booklet

Genesis 18

[20] Then the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, [21] I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.” [22] So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD. [23] 18.2.1Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? [24] Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? [25] Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” [26] And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” [27] Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. [28] Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” [29] Again he spoke to him and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” [30] Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” [31] He said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” [32] Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” [33] And the LORD went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.

– Genesis 18:20-33

The Lord reveals to Abraham that He will go down to Sodom and Gomorrah to see if their wickedness is as great as He has heard.  Abraham pleads with the Lord to spare the city, first on behalf of fifty righteous persons, but ultimately for the sake of ten.  Abraham’s intercession is both compassionate and wrongheaded.

As the reader of Genesis soon finds, not even ten righteous people are to be found in these large cities, and God rains judgment on them.  This is tragic, disappointing, and unsurprising.  On the objective scale of a Holy God, “none is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Romans 3:10-11).

We cannot ask that God would spare the world for the sake of ten righteous people; they will not be found.  But, thankfully, we can plead that God would spare the world for the sake of His glory and for the sake of His Son.  We can call on God to be who He is: gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.  We can plead the precious blood of Christ, which is powerful enough to wash away sin and redeem a lost world.

Matthew the Publican

The Ragamuffin Gospel
Brennan Manning

It is interesting that whenever the evangelists Mark, Luke, or John mention the apostles, they call the author of the first Gospel either Levi or Matthew.  But in his own Gospel, he always refers to himself as ‘Matthew the publican,’ never wanting to forget who he was and always wanting to remember how low Jesus stooped to pick him up.

Genesis 7

[19] And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. [20] The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep. [21] And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. [22] Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died.

– Genesis 7:19-22

The scale of the judgment flood is shocking, heartbreaking, even outrageous.  What could humanity have done to deserve this?

noahsfloodThe flood is certainly a tragedy, but we tend to forget two things.  First, a God who does not judge sin is appalling.  What kind of God doesn’t care about child sex slavery or genocide?  How could a good and holy God ignore the oppression of the weak or the violence of the wicked?  In such cases, judgment is good and right.

Second, we forget the personal nature of sin.  If I steal from a friend (or parent), I have not simply broken a rule.  This is a personal betrayal.  In our sin, God, the giver of life and all good things, is betrayed.  We, in fact, tell Him that He is not particularly good or wise, and life would be much better if we were to be in charge instead of Him.  In this way, sin begins to look more like a violent coup than a harmless mistake.

As it turns out, grace not judgment is outrageous and scandalous.  How could God pardon a rebel?  How can there be mercy for a despot, or a terrorist, or a sinner?