It’s a bitterly cold New England winter morning. It’s 6:30am and our family piles into our worn out Jeep Cherokee for our weekly drive to the Vermont mountains. The car has been running for about 10 minutes. So while it’s unbearably cold outside, my brothers and I are delighted to slide into the back seat still rubbing the sleep out of eyes. The car is packed to the brim. Winter clothes and ski equipment are piled high all around us. Every item is strategically placed in order to fit all of our stuff and all of us in the car. Driving out of the neighborhood, the light from the street lamps begin to lose their effect as the sun just begins to make its way over the horizon. The last piece to this weekly road trip? The music.
That year, the winter of 1996, the one album that the entire family could agree on was DC Talk’s Jesus Freak. A month or so prior, my older brother received it as a Christmas gift from my parents and it quickly became the most listened to album by everyone in our family. So every weekend, when we hit the road to go skiing, it naturally made its way into the cassette player. (That’s right, cassette player.)
The reason I share this brief story is my humble attempt to honor Brennan Manning. This past Friday, April 12th, Brennan Manning went to be with the Lord, his beloved Abba. And while I haven’t read many of his books, my fondest memory of Brennan came from the Jesus Freak album we listened to in the car every time my family went skiing. Not realizing it at the time, and actually just discovering it this week while reading other stories and blog posts on his life and passing, it was his spoken words accompanying the beginning of the song What if I Stumble. The song begins with his voice saying,
The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”
Every week, just about the time we crossed over the New Hampshire/Vermont border made up by the Connecticut River, these words would fill the air of whatever space was left in our tightly packed-out Jeep. I remember staring down at the river with my chin resting in the palm of my hand as these words would enter deep into my soul challenging me in my feeble claim to faith in Jesus.
At that time, I had no idea who Brennan Manning was. All I knew was that every weekend these words were coming to convict me in the areas of my life that didn’t measure up. And while the above words, at times, were incredibly convicting, coming to know the larger story and struggles of Manning’s life have infused these words with the grace in which they were intended.
As he closes out the opening chapter of his book Ragamuffin Gospel, he writes…
Salvation is by grace through faith. I believe that among the countless number of people standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands (Rev. 7:9), I shall see the prostitute from the Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City Nevada, who tearfully told me she could find no other employment to support her two-year old son. I shall see the woman who had an abortion and is haunted by the guilt and remorse but did the best she could faced with the grueling alternative; the businessman besieged with debt who sold his integrity in a series of desperate transactions; the insecure clergyman addicted to being liked, who never challenged his people from the pulpit and longed for unconditional love; the sexually abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last ‘trick’ whispers the name of the unknown God he learned about in Sunday school; the deathbed convert who for decades had his cake and ate it, broke every law of God and man, wallowed in lust and raped the earth.
“But How?” we ask. Then the voice says, “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
There they are. There we are – the multitudes who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life’s tribulations, but through it all clung to the faith.
My friends, if this is not good news to you, you have never understood the gospel of grace.
Even though Brennan’s life on this earth has come to a close, his legacy of sharing the gospel of grace lives on.