Tough Love: The Ragamuffin Gospel, An Excerpt

The Ragamuffin Gospel

 by Brennan Manning

Tough love is a love that won’t let go. Sometimes, it has to be ‘velvet on an iron fist’. It is caring enough not to be manipulated or controlled. The truth must be spoken— and spoken in love. The best thing I could do is to let Mr. Manning speak for himself.  I hope it blesses, and perhaps you’ll purchase his book.  I don’t think it will disappoint. No copyright infringement has been intended. It has been reprinted for ministry purposes only. If this small portion piques your interest, buy the book from your local bookstore. — Bryan

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Excerpt of Chapter 7, by Brennan Manning

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The temptation of the age is to look good without being good. If ‘white lies’ were criminal offenses, we would all be in jail by nightfall…

Impostors in the Spirit always prefer appearances to reality. Rationalization begins with a look in the mirror. We don’t like the sight of ourselves as we really are, so we try cosmetics, makeup, the right light, and the proper accessories to develop an acceptable image of ourselves. We rely on the stylish disguise that has made us look good or at least look away from our true self. Self-deception mortgages our sinfulness and prevents us from seeing ourselves as we really are–ragamuffins.

One of my indelible memories goes back to April 1975 when I was a patient at an alcoholic rehabilitation center in a small town north of Minneapolis . The setting was a large, split-level recreation room on the brow of a hill overlooking an artificial lake. Twenty-five chemically dependent men were assembled. Our leader was a trained counselor, skilled therapist, and senior member of the staff. His name was Sean Murphy-O’Connor, though he normally announced his arrival with the statement: “It’s himself. Let’s get to work.”

Sean directed a patient named Max to sit on “the hot seat” in the center of the U-shaped group. A small, diminutive man, Max was a nominal Christian, married with five children, owner and president of his company, wealthy, affable, and gifted with remarkable poise.

“How long have you been drinking like a pig, Max?” Murphy-O’Connor had begun the interrogation.

Max winced. “That’s quite unfair.”

“We shall see. I want to get into your drinking history. How much booze per day?”

Max relit his corncob pipe. “I have two Marys with the men before lunch and twin Martins after the office closes at five. Then . . .”

“What are Marys and Martins?” Murphy-O’Connor interrupts.

“Bloody Marys–Vodka, tomato juice, a dash of lemon and Worcestershire, a splash of Tabasco; and Martinis, Beefeaters gin, extra dry, straight up, ice cold with an olive and lemon twist.”

“Thank you. Continue.”

“The wife likes a drink before dinner. I got her hooked on Martins several years ago. Of course she calls them ‘pre-prandials.’ ” Max smiled. “Of course you understand the euphemism. Isn’t that right, gentlemen?”

No one responded.

“As I was saying, we have two martinis before dinner and two more before going to bed.”

“A total of eight drinks a day, Max?” Murphy O’Connor inquired.

“Absolutely right. Not a drop more, not a drop less.”

“You’re a liar”‘

Unruffled, Max replied: “I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that. I have been in business for twenty-odd years and built my reputation on veracity not mendacity. People know my word is my bond.”

“Ever hide a bottle in your house?” asked Benjamin, a Navajo Indian from New Mexico .

“Don’t be ridiculous. I’ve got a bar in my living room as big as a horse’s ass. Nothing personal, Mr. Murphy-O’Connor.” Max felt he had regained control. He was smiling again.

“Do you keep any booze in the garage, Max?”

“Naturally. I have to replenish the stock. A man in my profession does a lot of entertaining at home.” The executive swagger had returned.

“How many bottles in the garage?”

“I really don’t know the actual count. Offhand, I would say two cases of Smirnoff Vodka, a case of Beefeater gin, a few bottles of bourbon and scotch, and a bevy of liquors.”

The interrogation continued for another twenty minutes. Max fudged and hedged, minimized, rationalized, and justified his drinking pattern. Finally, hemmed in by relentless cross-examination, he admitted he kept a bottle of vodka in the night stand, a bottle of gin in the suitcase for travel purpose, another in his bathroom cabinet for medicinal purposes, and three more at the office for entertaining clients. He squirmed occasionally but never lost his veneer of confidence.

Max grinned. “Gentlemen, I guess we have all gilded the lily once or twice in our lives,” was the way he put it, implying that only men of large mien can afford the luxury of self-deprecating humor.

“You’re a liar!” another voice boomed.

“No need to get vindictive, Charlie,” Max shot back. “Remember the image in John’s gospel about the speck in your brother’s eye and the two-by-four in your own. And the other one in Matthew about the pot calling the kettle black.”

(I felt constrained to inform Max that the speck and plank comparison were not found in John but in Matthew and the pot and the kettle was a secular proverb found in none of the gospels. But I sensed a spirit of smugness and an air of spiritual superiority had suddenly enveloped me like a thick fog. I decided to forego the opportunity for fraternal correction. After all, I was not at Hazelden doing research on a book. I was just another broken-down drunk like Max.)

“Get me a phone,” said Murphy-O’Connor.

A telephone was wheeled into the room. Murphy-O’Connor consulted a memo pad and dialed a number in a distant city. It was Max’s hometown. Our receiver was rigged electronically so that the party dialed could be heard loud and clear throughout the living room on the lake.

“Hank Shea?”

“Yeah, who’s this?”

“My name is Sean Murphy-O’Connor. I am a counselor at an alcohol and drug rehabilitation center in the Midwest . Do you remember a customer named Max? (Pause) Good. With his family’s permission I am researching his drinking history. You tend bar in that tavern every afternoon, so I am wondering if you could tell me approximately how much Max drinks each day?”

“I know Max well, but are you sure you have his permission to question me?”

“I have a signed affidavit. Shoot.”

“He’s a helluva guy. I really like him. He drops thirty bucks in here every afternoon. Max has his standard six martinis, buys a few drinks, and always leaves me a fin. Good man.”

Max leapt to his feet. Raising his right hand defiantly, he unleashed a stream of profanity worthy of a stevedore. He attacked Murphy-O’Connor’s ancestry, impugned Charlie’s legitimacy and the whole unit’s integrity. He clawed at the sofa and spat on the rug.

Then, in an incredible coup de main he immediately regained his composure. Max reseated himself and remarked matter-of-factly that even Jesus lost his temper in the temple when he saw the Sadducees hawking pigeons and pastries. After an extemporaneous homily to the group on justifiable anger, he stoved his pipe and presumed that the interrogation was over.

“Have you ever been unkind to one of your kids?” Fred asked.

“Glad you brought that up, Fred. I have a fantastic rapport with my four boys. Last Thanksgiving I took them on a fishing expedition to the Rockies . Four days of roughing it in the wilderness. A great time! Two of my sons graduated from Harvard, you know, and Max Jr. is in his third year at . . . ”

“I didn’t ask you that. At least once in his life every father has been unkind to one of his kids. I’m sixty-two years old and I can vouch for it. Now give us one specific example.”

A long pause ensued. Finally, “Well, I was a little thoughtless with my nine-year-old daughter last Christmas Eve.”

“What happened?”

“I don’t remember. I just get this heavy feeling whenever I think about it.”

“Where did it happen? What were the circumstances?”

“Wait one minute!” Max’s voice rose in anger. “I told you I don’t remember. Just can’t shake this bad feeling.”

Unobtrusively, Murphy-O’Connor dialed Max’s hometown once more and spoke with his wife.

“Sean Murphy-O’Connor calling, ma’am. We are in the middle of a group therapy session, and your husband just told us that he was unkind to your daughter last Christmas Eve. Can you give me the details, please?”

A soft voice filled the room. “Yes, I can tell you the whole thing. It seems like it just happened yesterday. Our daughter Debbie wanted a pair of earth shoes for her Christmas present. On the afternoon of December 24, my husband drove her downtown, gave her sixty dollars, and told her to buy the best pair of shoes in the store. That is exactly what she did. When she climbed back into the pickup truck her father was driving, she kissed him on the cheek and told him he was the best daddy in the whole world. Max was preening himself like a peacock and decided to celebrate on the way home. He stopped at the Cork ‘n’ Bottle–that’s a tavern a few miles from our house and told Debbie he would be right out. It was a clear and extremely cold day, about twelve degrees above zero, so Max left the motor running and locked both doors from the outside so no one could get in. It was a little after three in the afternoon and . . .

Silence.

“Yes?”

The sound of heavy breathing crossed the recreation room. Her voice grew faint. She was crying. “My husband met some old Army buddies in the tavern. Swept up in euphoria over the reunion, he lost track of time, purpose, and everything else. He came out of the Cork ‘n’ Bottle at midnight . He was drunk. The motor had stopped running and the car windows were frozen shut. Debbie was badly frostbitten on both ears and on her fingers. When we got her to the hospital, the doctors had to operate. They amputated the thumb and forefinger on her right hand. She will be deaf for the rest of her life.”

brennanmanning
Brennan Manning, 1934-2013

Max appeared to be having a coronary. He struggled to his feet making jerky, uncoordinated movements. His glasses flew to the right and his pipe to the left. He collapsed on all fours and sobbed hysterically.

Murphy-O’Connor stood up and said softly, “Let’s split.”

Twenty-four recovering alcoholics and addicts climbed the eight-step stairwell. We turned left, gathered along the railing on the upper split level and looked down. No man will ever forget what he saw that day, the twenty-fourth of April at exactly high noon. Max was still in the doggie position. His sobs had soared to shrieks. Murphy-O’Connor approached him, pressed his foot against Max’s rib cage and pushed. Max rolled over on his back.

“You unspeakable slime,” Murphy-O’Connor roared. “There’s the door on your right and the window on your left. Take whichever is fastest. Get out of here before I throw up. I am not running a rehab for liars!”

The philosophy of tough love is based on the conviction that no effective recovery can be initiated until a man admits that he is powerless over alcohol and that his life has become unmanageable. The alternative to confronting the truth is always some form of self-destruction. For Max there were three options: eventual insanity, premature death, or sobriety. In order to free the captive, one must name the captivity. Max’s denial had to be identified through merciless interaction with his peers. His self-deception had to be unmasked in its absurdity.

Later that same day Max pleaded for and obtained permission to continue treatment. He proceeded to undergo the most striking personality change I have ever witnessed. He got honest and became more open, sincere, vulnerable, and affectionate than any man in the group. Tough love had made him real and the truth had set him free.

The denouement to his story: The night before Max completed treatment, Fred passed by his room. The door was ajar. Max was sitting at his desk reading a novel entitled Watersbip Down. Fred knocked and entered. For several moments Max sat staring at the book. When he looked up, his cheeks were streaked with tears. “Fred, he said hoarsely, “I just prayed for the first time in my life.” Max was on the road to knowing God.

An intimate connection exists between the quest for honesty and a transparent personality. Max could not encounter the truth of the living God until he faced his alcoholism. From a biblical perspective, Max was a liar. In philosophy, the opposite of truth is error: in Scripture, the opposite of truth is a lie. Max’s lie consisted in appearing to be something he wasn’t–a social drinker. Truth for him meant acknowledging reality–his alcoholic drinking.

The Evil One is the great illusionist. He varnishes the truth and encourages dishonesty. “If we say we have no sin in us, we are deceiving ourselves and refusing to admit the truth” (1 John 1:8). Satan prompts us to give importance to what has no importance. He clothes trivia with glitter and seduces us away from what is real. He causes us to live in a world of delusion, unreality, and shadows.

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Try this link: Christianity Today Magazine interviews Brennan Manning: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2002/decemberweb-only/12-9-21.0.html


Our Salvation Is Quite Sure

My favorite of all the apostles is John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” I love his Gospel, the three epistles that he wrote, and of course,  Revelation.

There are a couple of things I love about John’s writings:

  1. He reminds his readers that he was an eyewitness to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
  2. He clearly sets out the evidence for Jesus’ divinity.
  3. He focuses, particularly in the epistles, on the love of God.
  4. He reveals the power and purpose of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers.
  5. He provides believers with an assurance of salvation.

It is this last point that I want to write about today. Early in the history of the Christian faith, deceivers had come into the church who taught that one had to achieve sinless perfection to be saved. John wrote his first epistle to combat this heresy. The same type of heresy has crept into many legalistic denominations even today. By outwardly following the rules, such people claim to be without sin. But as John writes:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

1 John 1:8-10 (NIV).

John here provides assurance that the fact that the believer sometimes sins does not negate their salvation, because Jesus is faithful and forgives our sin. One of the definitions of assurance on Dictionary.com is “full confidence; freedom from doubt; certainty.” Throughout this epistle, John provides further assurance that those who trust in Jesus can be assured of their salvation even though they are not sinless and perfect.

The word “know” appears 42 times in this short epistle because John wants to make sure believers know that God loves them and that they can rely on His promise of salvation. In each of the chapters of the epistle, John includes his assurance:

I am writing to you, dear children,
   because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.
I am writing to you, fathers,
   because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
   because you have overcome the evil one.

1 John 2:12-13 (NIV).

“Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.”

1 John 3:21-24 (NIV).

“If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.”

1 John 4:15-16 (NIV).

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”

1 John 5:13-14 (NIV).

None of us is perfect and completely sinless. If we were, we would not need a Savior. But we do need Him, and we thrive best knowing that He is faithful in His promise of salvation for those who believe.

John does not advocate living a life in which we sin ‘willy-nilly’ simply because we know we can be forgiven.

Now don’t get me wrong. Those who truly believe in Jesus, and trust in Him for salvation, will desire to keep God’s commands. His Spirit living in our hearts will help us to overcome the temptations of the world and to love as He has commanded.

You may be struggling today with worries that you are not good enough, or that God will give up on you and you will lose your salvation. But remember – God is faithful in His promises and He has promised eternal life to all who believe in Jesus and allow His love to live in them. He has not hidden the truth from us but has made Himself known through His Son and the witness of the apostles so that we can be assured of our place in His Kingdom. Your salvation is sure.

aasignLinda

When You Need to Cover Nakedness

“And don’t build an altar that requires steps; you might expose yourself when you climb up”.

Exodus 20:26

“Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.”

1 Peter 4:8

While I lived in the SOS Ministry house in the Mission District of San Francisco a dear brother taught me this principle.  Living in Christian community is a really wonderful thing.  But it also could be a challenge at times.  What Michael shared, allowed my understanding to grow to meet the need of the moment.

The principle is this:  

We are called to cover up our brother’s nakedness.

 Throughout the scripture “being naked, or nakedness” is always a shame.  It comes welded to the concept of being vulnerable or exposed to the sight of everyone else.  It also carries the idea of sin; it is sin that everyone can see; it is very obvious.

For those of us who often sin, we evolve the idea of keeping a lid on it, and being secretive with it.  There will be people who will never know.  Often sex sin, drug and alcohol sin, both are kept hidden from view of family and friends, and the Church.

Noah and His Nakedness, Genesis 9

“Noah became a farmer and planted a vineyard. When he drank wine made from his grapes, he became drunk and lay naked in his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, looked at his naked father and told his brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth got a coat and, carrying it on both their shoulders, they walked backwards into the tent and covered their father.”

“They turned their faces away so that they did not see their father’s nakedness.”  

Genesis 9:20-24

It’s hard to process this patriarch’s gross sin. 

However in all fairness Noah had lost everything in the flood, so perhaps we should be gentle with him. On the other hand, people who cover up the nakedness of others seem to be gentle and humble.  They would never, ever dream of making a scandal.  They are trustworthy and understand to a great degree the things that make a man or woman of God.

Leviticus 18 is the “magnum opus” of nakedness.

We are pretty much told over and over in this chapter, not to ever uncover another. Actually is pretty emphatic and somewhat redundant. But I think the Lord wanted it repeated this way.

Our vulnerabilities are there for all to see.  But there are also men and women who go out of their way to protect and shield.  They are safe people, in the classic sense of the word.  They cover-up, but never in negative or criminal way, but in love and blessing. (If it is a serious crime, the police should be involved.)

Mature believers will step forward and protect the open areas of others. 

Quite often we are exposed, open to attack on our weaknesses.  Mature believers will step forward and protect the open areas of others.  They will refuse to judge or point out sins.  But they will stand in the gap, shielding and protecting.

God’s final word on nakedness is in Revelation 3:18, and this is a good place to conclude this post,

“My advice to you is to buy pure gold from me, gold purified by fire—only then will you truly be rich. And to purchase from me white garments, clean and pure, so you won’t be naked and ashamed; and to get medicine from me to heal your eyes and give you back your sight.”

*bry-signat (1)

God Loves Misfits

They were a motley collection of misfits.

A tiny purple alyssum and a scraggly white alyssum. Two mini daisies. A wee snapdragon with a single bloom. Each had volunteered in various annual pots left on our deck over the winter. As spring sprung, so did these tenacious sprouts.

We wanted to plant new, healthy flowers in the old pots. But I couldn’t bear to toss my little band of misfits. Somehow I knew they held such promise. They were of hearty stock, small though they were. So I replanted them all in what I dubbed my planter of misfits.

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Kind of pitiful, isn’t it? Still, this silly planter grew dear to my heart.

Jesus’s Band of Misfits

The disciples that Jesus called to follow him were a lot like the sprouts in this planter. They were a motley collection of misfits. A few fishermen. A tax collector. A zealot and a thief. None were learned men. Not quite what we would expect the God of the Universe to choose for his followers.

But choose them, he did. And at times they were quite pitiful. They misunderstood his teachings. They jockeyed among themselves for position. They doubted—oh, how they doubted. Then they all scattered when he was arrested.

Still, Jesus knew somehow that they held promise. They had potential. With a little training, some time with the Master, and an infusion of the Holy Spirit, they would become a great band of disciples. Pointing others directly to God and his Messiah, they would start the Church—his Church—that would still exist 2,000 years later.

My Lovely Band of Misfits

I doubt my little planter will still be in existence in 2,000 years, or even two. But with a little care and watering, an infusion of fertilizer and sunshine, it has grown into a beautiful planter of flowers.

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The purple, yellow, and white overflow the pot and provide beauty to my deck railing. I am delighted that I had faith in the ability of these sprouts to blossom into something extraordinary.

We Are All Misfits

Have you felt like a misfit, too? I know I have on many occasions. I struggle to fit in and I doubt—oh, how I doubt—my own potential. When depression threatens, I even doubt God’s love and my own worth in this world.

But God knows our potential. We who follow Jesus are his people, called to bring him glory. We are called to sprout and grow in beauty and faith. We may be a motley band of misfits, but we are his misfits. And we are dear to his heart.

Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God. Each exclamation is a trigger to prayer. I find myself praying for you with a glad heart. I am so pleased that you have continued on in this with us, believing and proclaiming God’s Message, from the day you heard it right up to the present.

There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.

Philippians 1:3–6, Message

Your Sister in Christ,

Linda K. 

 

Linda K.

Linda’s Blog

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