Glorious Failure

Life is a long series of failures. Here's to failing gloriously!

Category: Faith and Culture

What is (not) the gospel?

sapling tree

“THAT’S NOT THE GOSPEL!” I burst out, yelling at the dash housing my car’s radio.

Late one evening recently I heard a radio spot on XM radio’s “The Message” — a Christian music station. Between songs, the announcer asked if I were having a bad day. He said, “Cheer up! Better days are ahead.” (I’ve paraphrased here.)

That’s what irked me. That’s what sparked my ire. The announcer said nothing else — nothing of Christ. Christian hope does not lie in circumstance. It lies in redemption and the hope of the resurrection. That’s the hope of the gospel.

In effect the radio announcer said that we should hope because things will get better. They may. But that’s beside the point. The announcer’s statement predicates hope on circumstance. That’s a dangerous place to affix hope. Circumstances change.

Further, as a Christian response to this admonishment, what would you say then to Coptic Christians in Iraq right now being tortured, imprisoned, and beheaded for their faith by ISIS? Would this advice tell them to cheer up because better days are ahead? Somehow that just seems hollow. Maybe callous is better. No.

Cruel.

Look, the hope of the gospel is that Christ died to atone for the brokenness of the whole world. He fulfilled God’s righteousness required by the law. He died the death we deserve so we can live the life He earned. That’s the power of grace. By Christ’s sufficient sacrifice we are God’s ministers of reconciliation and redemption.

In Christ God is redeeming sin. Not by circumstance.

It’s not like sin doesn’t matter. It’s not that sin can be ignored. Why else would Jesus have to die? No, God is building His glory on the redemption of the world. And He is more glorious for it, not less.

Our hope as Christians is not in our circumstances. Our hope is firm. And it is fixed. Our hope is in Christ.

Forgiveness: How Can it Be?–Reflections on a Song by Lauren Daigle

“How can it be?” Performed here beautifully by Lauren Daigle is a song I can’t get out of my head. I am compelled by this song.

Why?

Not sure. But in this post I’m going to give it a go. I want to uncover what makes this song so compelling and discover why I am so compelled by it.

Resonance. That’s what it always comes down to. Doesn’t it? I resonate with the message of the song: wonder–wonder at God’s gift of grace. To start with the title, “How can it be” is a question. The title itself calls into question the very possibility of forgiveness. It’s too wonderful to be true. The song’s starting point is the obvious state of our hearts: imperfection and brokenness–what the Bible calls sin. We are dirty, unclean in our sin. Could anything be more obvious about the human condition? To contemplate God then, in His goodness and perfection further contrasts our character with His. The more I contemplate God, my sin becomes more apparent, not less.

Beautiful.

It’s from this starting point the song begins. The title: recognizing our broken and sinful state wonders at the possibility of forgiveness and freedom from slavery to sin. I love that. It begins with disbelief–disbelief that something so wonderful could possibly exist. And if I’m honest with myself, that’s where my heart begins each day, not with belief but with disbelief. To conceive of something so wonderful as freedom–freedom from the slavery to sin and death is almost too wonderful to comprehend. How can that be?

Everyday it seems my heart has to be converted from disbelief to belief. And that is the power of God.

The melody of this song is gorgeous and versatile. Daigle’s unique almost gritty vocal timbre makes her distinct from other Christian artists today. She sounds like the Adele of Christian music. In this studio recording she demonstrates a wide range of vocal control, not just showing off the beautiful versatility of this melody, but also the breath-taking range, control, styling, and dynamics of her vocal chops.

My wife introduced me to this song a few weeks ago. The past week this song has been my heart’s meditation each day. I have yet to get through an encounter of this song without crying and becoming nearly overwhelmed by emotion. God’s grace is powerful. To contemplate it nearly overwhelms me each time. My prayer this morning is that I never get over it.

This morning that’s my prayer for you too. May we never lose our wonder for God and His never-stopping, never-giving up, absolutely crazy, absurd, and outrageous love for us.

Marriage and Tooth Paste

tube of tootpaste

A tube of toothpaste taught me a real lesson about my marriage and myself.

As a single man I prepared myself for matrimony. I studied God’s word to define marriage and learn what my role as a husband would be if I got married. When my fiancée and I began marriage counseling we talked through our expectations about important things and even small things like toothpaste-whether to squeeze from the middle or roll from the bottom up. To which I thought either way is fine. These preparations all taken together bless my marriage to this day. I’m glad I did it. But I’m afraid I let my preparedness go to my head.

I wasn’t married long before the discovery began. I learned that squeezing the toothpaste from the middle is actually inefficient. VERY inefficient. I learned that squeezing from the middle is in fact NOT acceptable. In fact it’s downright inconsiderate!

I learned that I really DO have a problem with squeezing, and squeezers. And that now includes my wife. This was quite a change from my pre-marital position on these topics when I thought I was so laid back that either was fine. Clearly I did not know myself.

Regrettably, I allowed the toothpaste issue to fester for several weeks before addressing it with my sweet wife. What’s worse is that as the irritant continued, my sinful heart gave in to resentment. I began to believe things about my wife–awful things against her character. They were untrue, but still I believed them.

I fed my sense of entitlement–my sense of self-righteousness. After all I wasn’t the one being inefficient or inconsiderate–I reasoned with myself. But that’s where I went wrong. I forfeited the covenant I made to my wife. I promised to love her as Christ loves the Church. From the gospel of Mark we know the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many (10:45).

I was not loving my bride as Christ loves His.

God convicted me. I knew I was in the wrong to make such a big deal in my heart over something so trivial as a tube of tooth cream. When I did finally come clean with my wife, she responded very sweetly and graciously forgave me for harboring resentment against her.

What I discovered about myself by getting married: I am selfish.

“What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you?” (James 4:1 NLT) I discovered through the toothpaste test that my problem is not inside a tube of toothpaste. It’s inside me. To be more specific, the problem is the sin that dwells within me. (cf. Romans 7:14-20)

Before I got married I thought of myself as quite selfless. I served people all the time. I frequently gave up my rights to prefer others’ choices ahead of my own. Yes. I thought I was quite a giving person–until I got married.

When faced with a choice to get my own way, in the above instance, I chose the selfish path.

I’m learning that marriage really is an institution God uses to make me more holy. [Hat tip to Gary Thomas and Martin Luther]

For more on this principle of marriage making us more holy check out Gary Thomas’ excellent book, Sacred Marriage

For an excellent (and relatively new) blog on marriage check out http://www.scottkedersha.com/ He’s my marriage mentor.

Thank you, God for loving me enough to humble me–even if You use something as trivial as toothpaste to do it.

Who Needs the Gospel?

WARNING: Explicit lyrics and adult content. Please exercise discernment when viewing, especially younger viewers.

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are Seattle-based musicians. Neither are believers, as far as I know. This dark video samples “Otherside” by Red Hot Chili Peppers, and outlines the deleterious effects of illicit substances and its abuse. Its redemptive theme is that this duo has discovered their need for the gospel. What I find interesting, is that they may not know it.

Consider the lyrics in the above video. They’re intimate and revealing. They’re honest about very real issues like pain and hurt. I love how he doesn’t shy away from the significance of it.

It has been my experience when sharing pain or hurt with friends that they are quick to dismiss it, quick to point out the bright side. I know they’re trying to help. But most of the time I just feel invalidated, like my pain doesn’t matter. That’s one thing this song gets very right. Our hurts do, in fact, matter. They matter greatly to God.

In one line he explains the motivation to use illicit drugs. “Purple rain coated in the throat/Just so healin'” This is the key to the whole experience he’s trying to communicate. Healing is what he desires–healing from hurt, frustration, and devastation. But Macklemore goes on to explain another layer of frustration. A few lines later he explains that he’s, “trying to escape the skin that barely fit him.”

His frustration is not merely conflict between him and the world. It’s his conflict within himself. He wrestles with his very identity. He’s struggling with who he is. I love that. Yet, at the same time, how disturbing is the notion that he attempts to escape his own skin? How can a man despise his own person? He goes on, “Friendship cease, no peace in the mind/Stealin and takin’ anything to fix the pieces inside.”  The turmoil he experiences over who he is, spills out onto others, into behaviors, and into relationships. I identify with that.

We can all identify with struggling with our identity. Anyone who doesn’t has either no clue who he is, or is lying to himself. It is in our nature to struggle against ourselves. The apostle Paul wrestles with this very thing. “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do. But what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15 NIV)

The beauty of this video is that it illustrates what the apostle Paul said would happen elsewhere in Scripture. “[T]hat which is known about God is evident within them [those who don’t know God]; for God made it evident to them.” This is to say that even those who don’t believe in God can still understand that there is a God. A Hebrew prophet famously wrote, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” (Psalm 19:1)

The apostle Paul goes on to clarify. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made.” Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are not declaring there is a God, not directly. They are however, declaring one of the first truths revealed to us from Scripture about the nature of man: we’re fallen.

The second story told in the Bible, the one following the story of creation, is about God’s command to Adam – His creation – not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam disobeys. Sin enters the world and mankind is changed forever, and not for the better. By sin we marred the very image God stamped on us. By sin we broke our right-standing with God, we broke fellowship with our fellow man, and as this song so succinctly depicts, we broke our own selves.

We are not whole. We are not the way we were meant to be. We need healing.

This profound truth, the brokenness of mankind is one of the first revealed truths from Scripture. It is also a truth discovered by Macklemore, and he shares that vulnerable process of discovery with us through this song. It’s beautiful because it’s true, and I appreciate it because so few people are willing to face this glaring reality. I’m refreshed that he accepts reality in a culture so eager to deny our brokenness.

Macklemore may not believe in God. But, when he’s right about something, he is certainly declaring the truth of God because God is all truth. Macklemore is not just a talented writer and performer. He’s an artist I greatly admire. But the best part, is that Macklemore even without knowing it or intending to, is declaring the glory of God.

Christian Consumerism

Happy girl shopping

From 123rf.com

Surveys* show a significant percentage of Christians don’t behave consistently with their beliefs. Surprise, surprise, huh? For Christians whose beliefs are in line with Scripture, that discrepancy is generally called sin. So, this is no big surprise.

But, this survey done quite recently, went further. It asked these believers if they had a problem with this inconsistency between their convictions and their actions. A significant percentage said no. They were not bothered by the fact that they did not live according to their beliefs. It’s as if they just don’t care.

I mentioned this to some of my co-workers and we began to wonder. What is a day in the life like, for an individual Christian described by this survey? We know she is faithful enough to go church and calls herself a Christian, but when it comes to things like giving in to self-centeredness, lying, or not keeping promises her actions don’t seem to bother her. According to this survey about half of those folks who struggle with this sin, don’t feel guilty about it.

How could she be okay with that? Self-centeredness and lying are not like making meals, going to work or school, or keeping oneself clean.  The Bible calls lying and self-centeredness sin. And sin is a big deal. Jesus died to deal with that.

The question I come back to, is what about this individual Christian’s experience, allows her to encounter sin, not realize it, or not think it’s a big deal? One possible answer is consumerism.

In a culture where appearance is everything and whoever dies with the most toys wins, then matters of holiness have little to no value, unless they make me look better. When my mind spends most of its time focused on my things: my work, my car, my house, my money, my investments, I just don’t spend any time considering whether I look more like Christ today than I did last week.

The scariest part of consumerism is not that I fear I might face the devil one night on a deserted highway and make the wrong decision to trade my soul for a million dollars, it’s that I’ve already sold it. And I already have my reward.

—-

*Culturally Captive Christian Study 2010, research commissioned by Probe Ministries and conducted by Barna Group, 2010, 57-63.

For more on this issue, consider a work by a colleague of mine Kerby Anderson.

Paul Rutherford

Glorious Failure

Life is a long series of failures. Here's to failing gloriously!

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