Curbside Service

There used to be a show on HGTV called Junk Brothers. Steve and Jim Kelley were two men on a mission. Each night they would go out in search of items destined for the trash, but which they believed had the potential to be fixed up, redone and made over into stunning pieces of furniture worthy of a showroom floor. Unbeknownst to the family, the brothers took the curbside castoff, transformed it and returned the piece on the eve of the following garbage day. The families couldn’t believe the transformation. What they once saw as worthless now had purpose and beauty.

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“Abba, I Belong to You.”

Brennan Manning 1934 - 2013

Brennan Manning 1934 – 2013

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook or read this blog regularly, you know that I often quote Brennan Manning. Apart from my parents, no one has had more impact on my life as a follower of Jesus Christ than Brennan. I will forever be grateful for his transparency and his passionate witness to God’s crazy, reckless and extravagant love for all of us ragamuffins. I actually started this blog post last Thursday and Brennan went home to Jesus on Friday. It seems fitting to post it today as a thank you to Brennan but more importantly, as a testimony to our Loving Abba. In the same manner in which he lived, Brennan would not want to be the focus of his own death. I think He would prefer his death point us to God.

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Abba, I belong to You.

Brennan Manning prayed this centering pray each morning and each night for many years. He taught it to others. You breath in as you say “Abba” and you breath out as you say “I belong to You.” You repeat it as you center yourself and think about God, our Abba, our Daddy, and the truth that you are His beloved child. It is based on Song of Solomon 7:12 which reads, “I am my beloved’s and his desire is for me.” Manning’s book The Furious Longing of God is based on the premise that God’s furious longing is for us, His beloved. Actually, most of Manning’s books fall under this premise and is a testament to just how difficult it is for us to get it, believe it and live it. Manning wrote,

In my forty-four years of ministry, the furious love of God has been the dominant theme of my life. I’ve varied with titles such as Ragamuffin Gospel, Abba’s Child and The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus, but they are all facets of the same gem: that the shattering truth of the transcendent God seeking intimacy with us is not well served by gauzy sentimentality, schmaltz, or a naked appeal to emotion, but rather in the boiling bouillabaisse of shock bordering on disbelief, wonder akin to incredulity, and the affectionate awe tinged by doubt.

God passionately desires us. God is outrageously jealous for us. God is extravagantly wasteful in His love for us.

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If Church was like an AA Meeting

From The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning:

On a sweltering summer night in New Orleans, sixteen recovering alcoholics and drug addicts gather for their weekly AA meeting.  Although several members attend other meetings during the week, this is their home group. They have been meeting on Tuesday nights for several years and know each other well.  Some talk to each other daily on the telephone; others socialize outside the meetings.  The personal investment in one another’s sobriety is sizable. Nobody fools anybody else. Everyone is there because he or she made a slobbering mess of his or her life and is trying to put the pieces back together. Each meeting is marked by levity and seriousness. Some members are wealthy, others middle class or poor. Some smoke, others don’t. Most drink coffee. Some have graduate degrees, others have not finished high school. For one small hour, the high and the mighty descend and the lowly rise. The result is fellowship.

aa meetingThe meeting opened with the Serenity Prayer followed by a moment of silence. The prologue to Alcoholics Anonymous was read from the Big Book by Harry, followed by the Twelve Steps of the program from Michelle.  That night, Jack was the appointed leader.  “The theme I would like to talk about tonight is gratitude,” he began, “But if anyone wants to talk about something else, let’s hear it.”

Immediately Phil’s hand shot up. “As you know, last week I went up to Pennsylvania to visit family and missed the meeting. You also know I have been sober for seven years. Last Monday I got drunk and stayed drunk for five days.”

The only sound in the room was the drip of Mr. Coffee in the corner.

“You all know the buzz word, H.A.L.T., in this program.” he continued.  “Don’t let yourself get hungry, angry, lonely, or tired or you will be very vulnerable for the first drink. The last three got to me. I unplugged the jug and . . . ”

Phil’s voice choked and he lowered his head. I glanced around the table – moist eyes, tears of compassion, soft sobbing the only sound in the room.

“The same thing happened to me, Phil, but I stayed drunk for a year.”

“Thank God you’re back.”

“Boy, that took a lot of guts.”

“Relapse spells relief, Phil,” said a substance abuse counselor. “Let’s get together tomorrow and figure out what you needed relief from and why.”

“I’m so proud of you.”

“Hell, I never made even close to seven years.”

As the meeting ended, Phil stood up. He felt a hand on his shoulder, another on his face. Then kisses on his eyes, forehead, neck and cheek.  “You old ragamuffin,” said Denise. “Let’s go. I’m treating you to a banana split at Tastee Freeze.”

If only our churches and communities of faith were more like this AA meeting. Humility breaks down walls. Honesty builds bridges. Compassion nurtures love. Our Loving Father changes lives and uses our brokenness and our wounds to do it.

Why are we quick to judge and slow to extend grace when our God is completely opposite? Why do we fear being honest and transparent in churches? Don’t worry – I am asking this of myself, too.