Reflections on Brennan Manning: A Teacher of God’s Love and Grace

Today 4/13/2013 news that Brennan Manning left this life on 4/12/2013. He was a man of God, a disciple who now has moved on. Yet, he was a teacher of much controversy. The top of the controversy was that he taught “contemplative prayer” with use of things like emptying thoughts and repeating words. This controversy exists and is out there, yet, I have no question that in He was a true follower of Jesus the Messiah. His teaching and from what I understand even his life was fractured and flawed. He knew fully what it was to experience God’s grace. Yet, he is really know different than any other disciple of Jesus. He tought things wrong, he did things wrong, he was flawed. Yet, he knew what it was to be loved by God. He was a teacher and preacher of God’s love. His messages focused on deepening the understanding of God and His love. This is true for me.
I heard Brennan Manning speak at Church of the Open Door in Minnesota two or maybe three times. When he spoke his words and presence displayed and shown the love of God. His words touched to the very core. I do not remember his words or his teaching at that time. I do know what he taught and spoke of on those days changed me. He gave words that brought closer awareness to the love of God. He taught in such a way that got beyond the fractured images I had of God the Father and God used to touch hurt and pain and let God’s love in. God used this man. And for that I am grateful. He served and was used by God and he touch my life and many others. There are a great many quotes out there that demonstrate the truth he taught. It is important to note in God’s economy the words of Love and truth have far greater impact than the things we speak that are flawed, dangerous, or destructive. Truth and love always have greater effect. In closing this article I am posting some Brennan Manning quotes that demonstrate the Truth and Love that he taught that impacted so many.

“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.”

“In every encounter we either give life or we drain it; there is no neutral exchange.”

“God is love. In human beings, love is a quality, a high-prized virtue; in God, love is His identity.“

“God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be.”

“My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ, & I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.”

“Christianity was not some moral code; it was a love affair, & I experienced it first hand.”

“If we conceal our wounds out of fear & shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.”

Personal Musing: When God stirs the soul…

God stirring my soul is a apt description for where I am currently. There have been many a trial in my life and in the lives of those around me. There are trials that are right down to the question of whether the answer is “to live is Christ or die is gain” as with Janie. There are other struggles with the ongoing facing of pain and change and struggle. Each of these struggles ultimately bring us face to face with self. For me personally such is this time. Yes, I have withdrawn and gone quiet. An action of retreat and self and even hiding in trial. Perhaps it comes from feeling a life long level of isolation and disconnect. Oh, don’t get me wrong God has brought plenty of people into my life at key moments. Yet, my healing and struggles have often come down to me and God. By and large it has been a trial of one form or another that has ultimately precipitated pressing in on what God is changing and generating stirring within. I still recall to this day when God really sat me down to listen to Him about no longer acting out of compulsion and duty but being driven by his love. He allowed me to have an viral infection that made it difficult to function and He really hit me with the message of “Christ loves compels us.” Breaking down my defensiveness and fears of connecting with women had several trials and stirrings involved and a long process with frequent feedback from God guiding. All I know is right now God is stirring. The stirring starts around my initial sense of feeling stuck to now seeing and grasping the deep seat roots of reluctance and retreat. God before taught me to depend on him for defense, to be a city without walls. His lesson now is taking that even deeper to levels I don’t yet grasp. I do plan and intend on sharing parts of whatever journey God has me on in the course of this blog through such posts. Any feedback or sharing of how God is stirring in your own life is greatly appreciated. I also know I am where God wants me, even though I could have written more and not retreated. The further articles on repentance could have been written, but these posts and focus do in essence relate to the nature of repentance, sanctification, and going deeper. So, God is stirring in my life, how about yours? Care to share?

Musing on the limits of our own understanding of God

Tonight thoughts came to mind about Jesus being unable to perform Miracles in Nazareth, his “hometown.”  My thoughts focused on one possible reason as to why that was the case.  Why is it that a prophet is without honor in his own town?  It comes down to a simple matter.  They think they know him.  They saw him day to day.  They had an idea of who he was and readily dismissed that He could be anything “special” for they saw Him grow up.  They thought they knew him. They had an idea of who this Jesus was, a son of a carpenter, someone who helped them roof their house, or other things a carpenter does before he became known.  So part of the reason that Jesus was not able to perform miracles in Nazareth is that no one sought any?  They thought they knew Jesus. 

Now take that concept and apply it to our own lives and theology and understanding.  It is real easy to reach a point where we think we “know Jesus.”   There are choices and decisions and conversations engaged in because of the understandings and knowledge that we have and it is based on our own teaching and experience.  We fail to fully grasp that our own experience only pertains to a part of who Jesus is.  We fall to fully even accept that our knowledge is always at best “in part” this side of eternity.  Take whatever theological construct and presentation of who Jesus is and there will be much that is accurate but also much that is missing.  So do not settle for your own understanding.  Do not think you have it all “grasped” for in so doing you limit any further growth and settle for a caricature.  

Personally, I am one that can easily fall into the trap of thinking I understand it all. My freshman year in college my mindset was such, there was much I thought I knew.  For me it even, it is easy to communicate in a way of lacking love where my tone or words can come off as arrogant or condescending because it is emphasizing what I ‘think I know” and trying to prove it, rather than sharing simply openly what God has helped me to understand.  So giving a foothold to pride and limiting growth is one trap that can come from what we know. There is another trap as well. We can miss out on some blessing because it did not fit what we know.  Personally there have been moments when reading God’s Word where come across a verse or passage of scripture and respond “has that verse always been there, never noticed it before.”   God has a way of opening our eyes, ears, and hearts to things we have not noticed.  He has a way of deepening our understanding, but we need to not settle for what we think we know.  We need to be willing to test always what we think we know.

Now in saying all this, it is important to know that God has made certain things clear and there are things that are simple to say and write, but yet we fail to grasp the depth and shades of meaning.  Part of the gaining understanding is grasping the deeper levels of things we already know.  God is continually drawing us to deeper understanding of Him, if we continue to engage in fellowship with Him. So, please, do not settle for what you think you know.  Seek God and ask Him to reveal Himself to you in deeper ways.  As the Bible says, “Lean not on your own understanding.”

Now there is another amazing thing God has shown us in the word and given us evidence of.  It is possible to overcome what we think we know and set it aside. We can grow in knowledge and truth and learn who God is more deeply.  The biggest evidence of this is Jesus half-brother James.  He was able to set aside his own knowledge of Jesus as brother and accepted Jesus as redeemer and followed Him.  The result is James had a deeper and broader understanding Jesus and the Father used James to pen words that we acknowledge as God’s words today.  So do not settle for what you think you understand, always seek and ask God to broaden the depth and breadth of understanding, for we can always grow, all of our understanding is in part.  Each of us can do a simple act, ask God to expand our understanding.  Ask God to teach and reveal that which we hold that is partial or faulty.  We can ask God for further wisdom.  If we do so God gives us this promise,  James 1:5 (ESV)  If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

Question of Week 9-9-9: Do you focus on God or something else?

This question comes from the very fact of todays date. In the man made calendar today is 9/9/9.  It is the kind of thing people can focus on and come up with all sorts of thoughts and ideas about.  It is but numbers and mankind created numbers.  Yet, it can be read to have a lot more meaning.  It is something else people can focus on outside of God and Jesus.  Other things that people can focus on include politics, family, prophecy, healing, pain, entertainment, work, and so on.  We easily can get sidetracked from that which is most important.  These other things can be good things to focus on and attend to, the problem is when it becomes the primary focus and actually supplants the pursuit of relationship with God and making disciples.  So where is your focus?

Question of Week: Sept 2-How are you defining your relationship with Jesus?

Sitting and trying to think of a good question and this is eventually what comes do mind.  It really comes down to thinking about how we view ourselves and our identify in Jesus as Christians.  For those that do not know Jesus as Messiah, the question is also relevant.  Who is Jesus to them?  It is our own self-perceptions that often play a role in how we react in that relationship.  The barriers we have to intimacy with Jesus come from our own thoughts and subsequent actions.   So how do you define your relationship with Jesus for in the answer to that question do you find where your heart is at.  Are you an enemy, are you a friend, are you a servant?  At times one can probably have multiple answers.   Once you get done examining yourself, than ask how does God define your relationship with Jesus?

Question of Week August 26: How do you pray?

This question for me is one that is key.  How do you pray?  Do you take the approach of giving God a laundry list?  Do you just do a quick hi, how is it, goodbye drive by prayer? Do you treat prayer as trying to get God to do for you? Is it something you feel you have to do?  Or do you treat prayer as relating to God including taking time to listen?

Prayer I find is something misused, mistreated, and ignored.  Do you realize that prayer is something common in world religions?  So it really comes down to your focus and who you communicate with.  So stop and think about how you pray and examine how you can alter your approach. Take time to study the Lord’s prayer and learn what it shows us about approaching and relating to God in prayer.

August 19th, 2009 Question of Week: Do you follow Jesus?

This question is related to last weeks question.  Last weeks question encouraged you to examine the importance of Jesus in your life.  Does your life and choice reflect the importance?  This weeks question is related.  Do you follow Jesus?  Now this may seem a simple question but there are all sorts of things we can follow that appear to be about Jesus but is really another agenda.   In thinking about the question consider the people in your life, in your Church fellowship, in your community?  Are you simply following their lead and the ways of man or are you walking the steps and the path as Jesus leads?   A related aspect of this question is are you trying to lead Jesus and tell Him where you are to go?   The reality of this question is whose will is important.  Do you follow your will, do you follow the will of someone else, or do you follow the will of God?  Now with the question being asked, the purpose of these questions is not to give you an answer, but to encourage reflection and perchance possible discussion as God leads.  So the question this week is Do you follow Jesus?

Again feel free to leave comments or engage in dicussion here: http://www.peacebringer.net/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=1937&start=0

Question of the week: How important is your relationship with Jesus?

In an attempt to increase content consistency on this blog am going to give assurances of some quick posts on the same day per week. The first such posting series is a weekly question. The plan is to post a question each week with the intent of challenging where you are in your walk with Jesus. A good starting point for this series is to challenge you to think about your relationship and how important it is to you.

The reason this question comes to mind is because very often in the lives of professing Christians the relationship is not engaged. Personally, I struggle with spending time just being with Jesus versus operating from my knowledge of Him. I easily set time with Jesus aside for other distractions. Recently I have spending more time having things related to Jesus going on the background. Yet, the important note is that it is in the background. Now while it helps shape the mind with what is being put in, it is not the concerted time that equals the priority I saw I place Jesus in my life. My actions often do not match up to words.

Now I know the whys and sources, strengths and weaknesses that lead up to a bunch of excuses as to why I don’t spend more time just interacting with Jesus. On this blog you will find mentioned over and over again that the source of peace and joy is found in surrender to Jesus. In order to surrender to Jesus, there needs to be time put into the relationship that is beyond the background. On this blog you will find references of moving from Kingdom of self versus the Kingdom of God. Yet, our own little kingdoms is often what takes priority. Very often it is our very self that is really most important in spite of what we say is important. So the starting question this is week is to ask you to think about how important is your relationship with Jesus, really. Take time to reflect on it. Feel free to offer comments here or at this discussion on the forum: http://www.peacebringer.net/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=1917#p6132.

Helpful Articles: The Best Decision I made this year by Mark Batterson

The Best Decision I Made This Year

By Mark Batterson

Bible

If you asked me: what is the best decision you made this year?  The answer is easy. The hands-down best decision was the decision to read through a one-year Bible. 

Let me come clean.  I didn’t read the Bible nearly as much as I could have or should have last year.  This is embarrassing to admit, but Bible reading had become synonymous with sermon prep.  I was reading it professionally instead of devotionally.  I was reading it for what God wanted to say through me instead of reading it for what God wanted to say to me.  And it took its toll. 

Then at the end of last year I stumbled across an interview with J.I. Packer, the renowned author and theologian.  He said, “Any Christian worth his salt ought to read the Bible from cover-to-cover every year.”  It stung at first.  But it made sense, so much sense that I decided to do it.  And it has proved to be the best decision I made this year.  Long story short, I’ve fallen in love with the Bible all over again. 

If you want to grow spiritually, you need a consistent diet of Scripture.  In fact, you will never outgrow your consumption of Scripture. There is no substitute. There is no supplement.  The poet, T.S. Eliot, once observed: “Everything we eat has some effect upon us. It affects us during the process of assimilation and digestion; and I believe exactly the same is true of anything we read.”  In other words, you are what you read.

I have a saying that I repeat to our congregation frequently: reading without meditating is like eating without digesting.  If you want to absorb the nutrients, you can’t just read it. You’ve got to chew on it. You’ve got to digest it. Meditation is the way we metabolize Scripture.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Romans 12:2

A few years ago, researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health did a study that consisted of subjects performing a simple motor task. As subjects engaged in a finger-tapping exercise, the researchers conducted an MRI to identify what part of the brain was being activated. The subjects then practiced the finger-tapping exercise daily for four weeks. At the end of the four-week period, the brain scan was repeated. In each instance, it revealed that the area of the brain involved in the task had expanded. That simple task, a finger-tapping exercise, literally recruited new nerve cells and rewired neuronal connections.

That is what happens when we read Scripture.  We are recruiting new nerve cells and rewiring neuronal connections. In a sense, we are downloading a new operating system that reconfigures the mind.  We stop thinking human thoughts and start thinking God thoughts.  And our minds are literally renewed. 

Enough theory.  Let me get personal and practical.  Because I have a goal-oriented personality, I knew I needed to turn this spiritual discipline of reading, studying, and meditating Scripture into a spiritual goal.  So I made one New Year’s Resolution: read through a one-year Bible.  For what it’s worth, I choose The Daily Message.  Then I asked my son, Parker, if he would do it with me.  Honestly, I wasn’t sure if he was old enough to handle some of the real and raw passages.  You don’t have to read very far into Genesis before you encounter some kinky and unconscionable stories.  But I’d much rather discuss the dark side of human nature after reading the Bible than watching a random R-rated movie.  I also have to admit that I had ulterior motives.  I knew that if my son was doing it with me, it would help keep me accountable!

Permission to speak frankly? 

One of the common complaints people make when leaving a church is this: I’m not being fed.  As a preacher, my goal is to nourish our congregation via a well-rounded diet of sermons. And I try to preach every sermon like it’s my last, but let me push back.  My kids learned to feed themselves when they were toddlers.  If you’re not being fed, that’s your fault.  I’m afraid we’ve unintentionally fostered a subtle form of spiritual codependency in our churches.  It is so easy to let others take responsibility for what should be our responsibility. So we let our pastors study the Bible for us.  Here’s a news flash: the Bible was unchained from the pulpit nearly five hundred years ago during an era of history called the Middle Ages. 

If you are relying on a preacher to be fed, I fear for you.  Listening to a sermon is second-hand knowledge.  It is learning based on someone else’s words or experiences. A sermon is no replacement for first-hand knowledge.  You’ve got to see it and hear it and experience it for yourself.  It’s not enough to hear the truth. You have to own it. Or more accurately, it has to own you. Honestly, I’d rather have people hear one word from the Lord than a thousand of my sermons.  And that happens when you open your Bible and start reading.

Mark Batterson is the pastor of National Community Church in Washington DC. He also the author of Wild Goose Chase, and In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day. Check-out his blog at www.evotional.com.