Scandalous Grace Transforms Broken Lives like Mine

What does a cup of coffee have to do with grace? Well, the Bible mentions numerous occasions when Jesus was found engaging with some rather questionable characters. For example, he recruited Matthew, a greedy tax collector to be a disciple, and the hot-tempered and outspoken Peter to lead His rather motley crew. Then at a public supper, the Messiah allowed a woman referred to as an “especially wicked sinner” to wash his feet with her tears. You can bet that this caused quite a stir.

Also intriguing are the messy circumstances when we find Jesus assisting in the midst of some crisis like sparing the life of an adulterous woman from an angry mob, or healing blind Bartimaeus as he cried out for mercy. So, why should it be of any surprise that Jesus took time out for a heart-to-heart chat with a woman of Samaria? The rather infamous “Woman at the Well” can be found in the fourth chapter of St. John’s  Gospel. This narrative paints a vivid portrait of a socially outcast Samaritan female who was from the proverbial wrong side of the tracks.

Besides, Jesus was born Jewish, and the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans. Yet, Jesus asked the woman of ill-repute to draw him a drink from Jacob’s well where he had come to rest. Then He prophetically told her that she had had five husbands and the man she was living with was not her husband, while explaining that the living water that only He could provide would satisfy the thirst in her soul.

Some speculate that the Samaritan woman’s infamous reputation probably forced her to visit the well in the noon day heat when no other women were there in order to avoid their scornful stares. This lost lady’s encounter with Jesus changed her so profoundly that she became the first female Evangelist by proclaiming the Good News of the savior to all who would listen. As a Christian speaker, I have shared her story on many occasions to portray the shockingly scandalous nature of God’s grace that often touches the most unlikely of candidates.

For example, it is the same grace that reached out to the woman of Samaria who found acclaimed author, Brennan Manning in a gutter struggling with alcoholism. The former Catholic priest found his own sobriety, and then went on to become a sought-after interdenominational speaker who penned countless books. The Jesuit scholar’s testimony and writings are particularly healing to those wounded by life’s circumstances. In his book The Ragamuffin Gospel, he writes, “When you have made a slobbering mess of your life, as many of us recovering alcoholics have, compassion becomes a tad easier…”

I think it was reading Manning’s works that made me realize about the scandalous nature of God’s grace in a personal way. After all, like the famous scholar, I, too, am a Ragamuffin since Christ’s grace came to me in 1986 while I was a young patient on a psychiatric ward battling substance abuse and depression. In those days, I had a college friend that I will refer to as “Jennifer” who tried to rescue me by faithfully taking me to her church, because she had also struggled with addiction. More than two decades ago, it was Jennifer’s pastor who stood at my hospital bedside on the psychiatric floor praying that God would heal my broken life.

A couple of summers ago, my path crossed with Jennifer again after years of separation. I saw her when I was passing through the small town where we both once lived while stopping in the local coffeehouse. Through the shop’s window, I spotted a woman who looked vaguely familiar. Although her heavily lined face, thinning hair, and emaciated body had little resemblance to the vibrant Jennifer I once knew. But through the transparent glass when I looked deeply into the eyes of the female passing by, I saw my old friend Jennifer trapped inside that decaying body. It wasn’t just age that had taken its toll. Rather it was addiction that had ravaged her so greatly.

Recognizing me, Jennifer ran inside the shop and we hugged each other tightly. Then for the next few hours over coffee, I listened as Jennifer’s tragic tale of relapsing into addiction tumbled out of her like smoldering lava creeping down a volcano’s surface. That night, the woman who had once helped me was in desperate need of God’s grace herself. She said that seeing my transformed life was a reminder to her that His grace is still available.

“The gospel of grace continues to scandalize,” writes Brennan Manning in The Ragamuffin Gospel. After all, Jesus can always be found by hurting people; whether it is at a deserted well, a street gutter, on a psychiatric ward, or in a coffee shop. If you are in need of the healing power that only God’s grace can provide, remember all you have to do is ask. Like Blind Bartimaeus let your heart cry out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” I know firsthand that Jesus always answers our heartfelt prayers requesting His help to transform our broken lives.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy Award winning freelance journalist and Christian speaker, who has been featured on CBN’s 700 Club and Joyce Meyer Ministries. Contact her though her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com 

How not to Help a Thief

Would you like to help someone rip you off? If not, you might want to keep reading. To explain, about a decade ago, I was employed as a TV producer/reporter for a daily magazine show in west central Ohio. One of my jobs was to create, “How To,” segments for the program. I have to admit these vignettes weren’t worthy of much professional acclaim, but I hope they helped folks with their daily dilemmas.

You know, “tough” questions like, “How do you get spaghetti sauce out of a favorite blouse?” Or, “How to avoid burning up your kitchen pans when you cook dinner.” Admittedly, most of the features I produced concerned areas where I had my own practical problems. Therefore, I went in search of experts who could answer my questions.

If I were still producing these TV packages, I think a few local individuals could provide material for a, “How to help a thief,” feature. For example, in the last couple of weeks, I’ve seen some potentially dangerous scenarios that could invite the attention of an unscrupulous crook. But then have you ever met a robber with any scruples?

First, while driving in my neighborhood the other day, I saw a huge cardboard box that had contained a new TV at the curb, fully assembled and waiting for trash collection. Then while parking in a public lot, I spied an empty automobile with a tempting purse and cell phone in visible sight.

That’s when I decided to ask Sheriff John Lenhart for some advice on how to keep ourselves and our possessions safe. The Ohio Shelby County sheriff says that robberies statistically increase with warmer weather simply because it’s “easier [for criminals] to move around.”

According to the law enforcement official who is currently serving his sixth term, there are, “Three parts to a crime including: 1) the intent of the individual, 2) the opportunity which you give those persons, and 3) the skill level” [of the perpetrator.]

When it comes to opportunity, “We allow ourselves to be vulnerable,” he said. Referring to my above examples, Sheriff Lenhart cautioned that it is not wise to leave “valuable items in eyesight,” in a car. In addition, when discarding an electronics box, you should “turn it inside out.” If not, he says, “That’s almost like a billboard, advertising that you’ve got something new.”

He also encouraged residents to alert neighbors or law enforcement agencies if they are going on vacation and leaving their homes vacant. “If the newspapers pile up, the trash sits out and nobody picks it up, [it becomes] pretty obvious nobody’s home,” said the seasoned sheriff.

Warning folks that today’s crime also involves stealing personal information is important to Sheriff Lenhart. “We live in a pretty technical world…check your credit accounts, keep track of receipts, and watch your debit card transfers,” he urged. “Keep a mindful eye that there are a lot of people out there…trying to take advantage of us.”

When it comes to a scam, the sheriff reminds people of the famous saying, “If it is too good to be true, it’s probably not true” Like the phone caller who reports, “Gee, you’ve won the Mexican lottery.” Some unsuspecting victims have fallen for the scam, even though they’ve never played the lottery.

Sheriff Lenhart has a special concern for the vulnerability of senior citizens who can be taken advantage of by unprincipled business people. “Do not do business with people you don’t know,” he said emphatically.

“We just had two persons pay substantial money…who had pavement put down on their driveways…. [the pavers] had put shoddy work down and [used] lousy material,” said the county officer. Sadly, the residents wrote checks for the work, making financial recovery difficult. The sheriff advises seniors to call the Better Business Bureau, a neighbor, or an adult child to ask advice about utilizing specific businesses for services. Scam artists rely on individuals agreeing to their terms without getting input from outside sources.

It would be wonderful if the world were filled with only trustworthy individuals. But Virginia, there is no Santa Claus, and there are real life criminals. As responsible consumers, we have to take our rose-tinted glasses off, and protect ourselves from loss. In closing, the Sheriff advises, “A lot of time, [with] these scams everything has to be done in a real hurry…slow the whole process down, so you can check them out…”

Parting advice from the road less traveled, just like the sheriff said, “slow the whole process down,” by turning the stove’s heat down to make your pans last longer to avoid burning them, also. As for the spaghetti sauce, treating the stain with a little Dawn or Palmolive dishwashing detergent prior to washing should do the trick. Sorry, I couldn’t resist sharing my hard-earned knowledge. Until next time….stay safe.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an award winning journalist and Christian speaker. Contact her through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com. This column was originally published in the Sidney Daily News on June 6, 2012.