Thursday, November 17, 2011

Straight with crooked sticks.

     Just a follow-up on the blog from yesterday.  I started the autobiography of Brennan Manning last night, reading through the recommendations at the very first of the bookt. It's been my experience that the publisher does not include lengthy recommendations at the front unless they feel the positive referrals are needed:)  In other words, there is something about the story that may cause readers to back off so they try to warn the readers in advance and encourage them to continue reading.  By the time I had finished the reviews of Manning's new book, frankly, I was wishing I had not mentioned it in yesterday's blog. The reviews were pretty poignant and alarm bells were going off in my mind as I started the first chapter with some trepidation.
   I knew that Manning struggled with alcoholism and that he had relapsed big time at one point in his life. I did not know that, apparently, he has struggled off and on with alcoholism throughout his whole life and has paid a big price for it - the death of his marriage and now, severe health problems in his old age.
   I prefer the Corrie ten Boom, Elizabeth Elliot testimonies of life.  Straight stories that don't have crooked, messy detours.  Something in me is indignant at the thought that a man could hold Christian conferences (I've been to one and talked to Mr. Manning afterwards -he was very gracious), and then go back to his hotel room and drink himself into a stupor.
   When I first read the reviews, it made me want to backtrack and sort of delete yesterday's  blog but then I realized that would mean  basically denying the incredible impact that ABba's Child had on me at a difficult time in my life.  Which would be to deny the truth.  And I don't like ingrates any more than I like lapsed big-time sinners...myself included:) (And, no, I'm not an alcoholic...)
   How can God use someone who experiences grace, helps others experience grace, and then turns around and falls off the wagon? Over and over?
  I thought about that and then I realized maybe a better question is: how can God use a person who experiences His grace, loves Him, and then falls off the wagon.. by repeating vicious gossip? Or even starting vicious gossip? Or by losing his temper? Or by... You get the picture...
   In my 57 years, I've been in church from cradle roll until now.  Mostly I've gone to large churches with multiple staff members.  Over the years, I've known of two pastors who wiped out due to sexual temptation. In one of those cases, the marriage was salvaged. In the other, it was not.  I've known of a staff member who embezzled church funds and another who, while counseling people professionally, became addicted to prescription pain meds. IN both cases, those two  men have been restored and are leading active Christian lives now, helping others, probably more effective than they were before.
  Brennan's life (and again, I've just started the story) is the first case that I've read of where his ministry was an on-going series of great highs and lows, successes and failures.  And I just don't like that, frankly.  I want Christian leaders to either walk a steady line, or if they fall, to submit to counseling and accountability and then go on to walk the straight and narrow again without blemish.
   But then I remembered a couple of other things I've heard throughout my life:
   1. God writes straight with crooked sticks. And that would be us.
   2. If the Christian life is a spiritual battle between good and evil, then Christians are the only ones who shoot their own wounded soldiers.
  In other words, I'll love you today as long as you walk the walk and talk the talk. But if you mess up big time - especially if you are a leader - I'm going to  avoid you, judge you and, there it is again, gossip about you... self-righteously.
  Do I think it's a good thing to lead a conference one minute and climb into a bottle the next? No, definitely not.
  What I think is that Christian leaders are in the forefront of a huge battle.
  What I think is something that was written by one of the reviewer's of Brennan's new book - namely that a book is easier to edit than a life.  And an edited biography, even a Christian biography, can lead people to glance at Jesus and worship the writer. (Even a blog can do that...)
     What I think is that Brennan, by revealing his flaws, wanted to high light the grace of God, not himself.
     What I know is that God used Brennan's book, Abba's Child, in my life at a critical time and for that I'm grateful.
  And maybe the words "God used..." says it all.
  As in, if God has used this man in spite of his struggles with addiction, then really, the opinions of mere humans, myself included,   is, um,  pretty.. superfluous...
  Looking forward to finishing his biography. Believing God will use this book as He has used Brennan's other books. And honestly, pretty sure that  even though this may be a modern-day version of Augustine's Confessions, without the  happy ending, the book will still resonate with the life-note of Manning's entire life story:
 God's Grace!
 Or as the title says, All Is Grace.

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