Glorious Failure

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

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.

The Purpose of the Law

Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned. (1 Timothy 1.5 KJV)

I am in an ongoing discussion with my friends on the purpose of the law. Recently I began reading 1 Timothy and this verse screamed to me from off the page. In it, Paul explains the purpose of the law to his young pastor protégé, Timothy, to begin his letter.

Discussions with my friends can get complicated quickly, not to mention heated! So, what I love about this verse, is that Paul cuts through the complexity and offers us something easy to understand.

According to Paul, the purpose of the law, or “the end of the commandment” is love. The KJV renders that word as “charity.” Love is the purpose of the law. The purpose is a good conscience and faith.

In a conservative Hebrew sense, the law includes hundreds of commands. To consider their implications, hundreds more! This is where the discussion gets complicated. What was God’s purpose for instituting them? Morality? National purity? There are a myriad of reasons, to be sure. But, Paul writing to Timothy explains clearly one purpose for the law: love, a good conscience, and faith. He has a way of cutting through the complexity to give my small mind one thing it can wrap itself around.

The beauty of this verse is the insight offered by the modifiers that describe love, faith, and conscience. This love is “pure”, the conscience is “good”, and the faith is “unfeigned.” When love comes from a pure heart, it is genuine. It seeks the best for others for their own sake. When our conscience is good it is clean. It has integrity. It’s not hiding or harboring secrets, things it fears others will find out. When faith is unfeigned it’s not fake. It’s ingenuous. It’s not malicious or manipulative.

This text does not say that we become loving when we obey the commandments. Romans clears that issue. We know that no one is good and able to obey the commands (3.23). Further, it is not the law that makes us good. “For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God.” The law is the mirror God holds up to us, so we can see ourselves by His standard, marred, broken, and disobedient. But the better hope ushered in by the law, Jesus, does make us perfect through His blood. That is why we have hope.

1 Timothy 1.5 paints a portrait of faith that is genuine. It’s the real deal. It’s trustworthy—the “real McCoy” as my fifth grade teacher would say. When we reach the end of the commandment we love.

Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5.17) Jesus fulfilled the law, every commandment (Hebrews 4.15). What better portrait have we than Christ loving with a pure heart, a good conscience, and a faith unfeigned?

When we reach the end of the commandment we love. We participate in and with the One who is love. And in so doing, we become more like Christ.

Christian Consumerism

Happy girl shopping


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

World Peace: An Eventuality–Just Not Like You Might Think

World Peace from

I’m sitting in a coffee shop. On the bulletin board a poster encourages recycling to eradicate poverty. Just the other day, I was at a different coffee shop dedicated to the mission of global peace.

When I encounter such posters or missions, I find myself overtly skeptical, and I wonder at myself. “Why am I so dismissive of projects like recycling to eradicate poverty, or global peace?” I have to ask myself  if I’m somehow opposed to recycling, or unconcerned for the poor, or even the idea of global peace. And the honest answer is that I’m not. I do recycle. I give to the poor. I want global peace. At the same time, why do I find myself instantly skeptical?

The central issue for me is over-simplification of the problem. What is the problem? Well, the impression I gather from posters, essays, and people with whom I dialogue regarding this, see the world not getting along–in tension or turmoil. That’s the issue. At it’s core, the world, nation-states, cultures, people groups, etc.–they just don’t get along. The solution: get along–peace. It seems the movements answer to global conflict, is peace. And I don’t see it that way. I don’t think peace is the answer.

To view peace as the solution, is to say that we all really just need is just to get along. Now, I’m not accusing advocates of world peace as seeing the world like PolyAnna. No, they understand that conflict is complicated. The Middle East hasn’t seen peace in centuries. They can’t deny it, and I don’t think they do. But I see the problem not so much as one of actions–getting along, as much as a problem of the heart.

The Bible says that mankind is not perfect. In fact, one translation describes mankind as “desperately wicked,” and another “beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17.9 KJV, NIV). Ick! As a believer in Christ, I see the primary obstacle to global peace not so much as our actions, but as our very selves. The problem is inside us. Put another way, we are the problem.

If the obstacle to global peace is conflict and fighting, and those fights begin in our own hearts, I’m sorry to say, but that means it’s not going to change. Being wicked, sick, or deceitful in our core, is how Scripture describes our very nature. It’s not something that can change, at least not by our effort.

How’s that for irony? We are the very obstacle between us and the solution. Just thinking about that gets me down.

Is world peace even possible then? Yes. But it won’t happen by getting along, increasing tolerance, raising awareness, or even education.

But Lo! There is a remedy. And that’s the good news. There is a solution to the problem. The world can live in harmony with one another. It’s just that we are not part of the solution. Clearly we cannot be part of the solution. We are the problem.

The answer is Christ. He can purify our hearts and make us clean (1 John 1.9). Scripture also discusses how He is the only one who can fix the problem. And just in case you’re wondering, “Maybe it’s Him plus me”, Scripture is quite clear to point out that we can in no way accomplish this of our own effort (Ephesians 2:9).

World peace? Yes. Eventually, just not yet. One day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Christ is Lord. That’s gonna happen. Bank on it. That is what world peace will look like–when every living soul submits to the sovereign authority of Jesus Christ (Romans 14.11).

I don’t think it’s going to look like heads of state laying aside their differences while the people they represent put down their RPG’s to take up hand-holding. I believe the world will one day be at peace. It just won’t look like that.

Why am I skeptical about world peace organizations? It’s not that I’m not on board with the vision. It’s more that I disagree with the means. Where the means constitutes right action, that method is fundamentally flawed. Unless we seek peace by furthering the gospel–that nations of people make peace with God first, peace between persons or nations by extension won’t happen. Can’t even.

Is world peace worth pursuing? Yes. Scripture also says believers are to live at peace among men, as far as possible (Romans 12.18). Conflict resolution, especially between nations, is absolutely wonderful. We should pursue it. As an American, I want my country to pursue it. At the same time, I don’t want to delude myself about the ends of those means–that we can accomplish it by any effort of our own.

I want a world at peace. I look forward to it. I just don’t want to dupe myself into believing that I can bring that about by my efforts, or the efforts of anyone else. That would deny the complexity of the problem and the solution God has provided through Jesus Christ. That’s the gospel. And I’m not about to deny that.

Boston vs. Dallas [warning: tongue-in-cheek]

Massachusetts Capitol

My bride and I went to Boston!

I celebrated a year of marital bliss last month with my bride. God has blessed me beyond what I deserve, yet God in His graciousness gives me life. And He gives it abundantly!

To celebrate our one-year anniversary, we planned a trip. And for a winter celebration we chose a sensible location whose climate would be more agreeable than might be otherwise. So we chose a destination that any Southerner might choose: Boston.

I jest. Our trip was, in fact, a double celebration of matrimony for while in Boston, we celebrated the marriage of my college roommate to a terrific young lady in ceremony and mirth. We are blessed men, my college roommate and I, for marriage is a tremendous gift.

It’s funny how traveling teaches me more about my own home. Here is one thing I learned about Dallas while visiting Boston.

Dallas is bigger (read: better) than Boston. Boston may have historically significant places like the Old North Church, world renowned universities like Harvard and MIT, or even bragging rights to the birthplace of Christian Science, but it has downsides too. It’s small. That’s right Boston is small. According to wikipedia, Boston proper is a mere 90 miles square. Dallas, on the bigger hand, is over 380 miles square! And I learned that with every step I took through Bostonian streets.

To authenticate the genuineness of my Boston experience, I had to forego the rental car, and pick up my metro card (Charlie Cards as they’re known). When in Rome. . . you know. Ironically, I didn’t use mass transit all that much. I found myself walking most places. There are plenty of bus and train stops, don’t get me wrong, and they’re close together (Did I mention Boston’s small?). But the stops are so close together, that I could frequently walk to my destination and arrive before mass transit arrives considering all the time required to find the proper station, wait for the next bus/train, ride, then alight. Frustrating – having to walk everywhere. No wonder Bostonians are so skinny!

What can I learn from this situation? What could God, perhaps, be trying to teach me? Well, given the universally acknowledged truth that bigger is always better (think Christmas presents, automobiles, and houses), I’m not certain. Perhaps He’s warning me not to leave Texas because anywhere else I go will just be smaller, and therefore  not as satisfying.

What is Atonement?

The past few months I’ve been reading through a systematic theology with an older, wiser, and better educated friend of mine (Christian Theology by Millard Erickson). Recently, we discussed atonement. He asked me a question I had never stopped to ask myself before – not for very long at least. What is atonement? How does it atone? For whom? For what purpose?

Growing up in Christian home and going to church often, atonement was part of my vocabulary like furniture in the office. It’s there. I know I’ve seen it before, but I just couldn’t tell you a precisely what it looks like. Or in the case of atonement, answer some of the questions above.

So I want here to explore answers to those questions. The first is answered easily by our friend Webster 1998. Atonement: the reconciliation of God and man through the death of Jesus Christ 2. reparation for an offense: satisfaction. This is a good start. The definition answers my first question directly. What is atonement? Reconciliation. Ok great. My Sunday school answer could have gotten us that far. But what is meant by reconciliation? Are you saying that God and I aren’t on good terms? Is there something wrong between us? Are we not speaking to one another?

Yes. The answer to those questions is, yes. And the reason is sin. I have fallen short of God’s glory, His standard (which happens to be perfection, by the way). Scripture teaches that every person finds himself in this position (Rom 3.23), which shows us everyone is in need of atonement then, right? If everyone has problems in their relationship with God, then everyone needs a remedy – reconciliation. Who needs atonement? Everyone. But how?

Our working definition states that reconciliation comes through the death of Christ. But I have difficulty accepting this at face value. Someone else dying for my wrong makes no sense to me whatsoever. How exactly does His death atone – reconcile- my sin to God? It seems to me that if I’ve wronged God, then I need to do something to make it right. I could offer to fix what I broke, or perhaps get him a gift – you know a peace offering – to make Him happy. “It’s my mess. I’ll clean it up.” I reason. That makes sense to me. That’s what I do in human relationships.

The trouble here, is that I am incapable of making right my sin against God. Scripture teaches the penalty for sin is death (Rom 6.23). So I’m going to die because I sinned. How can I fix or do anything at all for that matter, if I’m dead? Let’s say I could, just for fun. What then? Do I still have a shot at reconciling myself to God in the face of my sin? No, unfortunately. There is nothing good in me that can please God, nor can it ever (Rom 7:18). So I’m completely shut down in any attempt to reconcile myself. So is it still possible to fix? Can the wrongs still be made right? Yes. Just not by me.

Enter: Jesus Christ. This is why he’s called the Savior because He’s come to our rescue! The reason I can’t make things right before God is because of my sin, because I’m dead. Even then there’s nothing good in me which can please Him, anyhow. This is the beauty of Jesus. Jesus is both alive and fully pleasing to God (Matt 3.17). The penalty for sin is still death, so Jesus has to die.

But the thing is, because the penalty has been paid, I get to live. This is where we get the phrase vicarious atonement – simply because the reconciliation isn’t made by us. It’s made vicariously – through someone else – Jesus Christ. And this is where the latter half of Webster’s second definition comes into play: satisfaction. Because Jesus offered himself to die on the cross to pay the penalty for the wrong I committed against the Lord, the Lord’s justice is satisfied. Fascinating. God is absolutely amazing that He would pay the price for my sin – that he would clean up my mess. He picked up my tab.

I know this won’t be new for most of you, more likely a theological refresher. But I wanted to share this moment with y’all – wondering at atonement, at the amazing act that took place on the cross. Such an enormous spiritual transaction occurred there. I am convinced I will never fully comprehend it, but it sure is fun to try. And my admiration for the Lord grows every time I do. May we never lose our wonder for the cross.

People Are Not Distractions

I was at work yesterday when my brother called. I was busily trying to finish before day end, and it was late afternoon. However, my brother never calls. I pick up. He says he wants to visit – drop by my office. Acknowledging I was at work and therefore likely busy, he would have been satisfied to visit even if only for ten minutes. I happily oblige and he sets course for my place of work.

I flit about my tasks the next few minutes excitedly looking forward to this most welcome of surprises. When my brother arrived I discerned why he called. He had purchased a new car only hours before, and wanted to share it. I am glad he did, for nice it was, indeed. It was shiny – like new cars should be – and had every bell and whistle imaginable. I was stoked for his happy purchase.

Having heard the story of his automotive enterprises, extracted the details of the bargaining dance, and thoroughly shared in his rejoicing, I savored a lingering moment between my brother and I – one that arises all too infrequently. My mind began to wander back to my workday tasks yet complete. The Sun had fallen and evening beset us. My gut sank for thought of all the work ahead and a late night at the office.

My brother asked me a question. “Would you like to grab a bite to eat?” My mind darted between the possibilities. Stay or go? I was hungry. It had been a long day. And my instinct said, “Go.” Carpe Diem – as they say. However, my responsible side piped up. “You have work to do – more in fact, than you can finish tonight even if you remain.” I weighed my options. My mind raced. Stay or go?

Which do you think I chose?

Last night I was feeling romantic. Yes. I accepted his offer, threw caution to the wind – well responsibility perhaps – and abandoned my post for fraternal flights of frivolity. Dinner was good and the company better. I enjoyed every minute of it.

Within the course of two hours I returned to my post and parted ways with my brother. Now well into the evening, I turned to my task at hand and did the best I could fighting fatigue at every step. My mood however, was markedly improved, and before long I retired for the day heading home.

I lie in bed reflecting on my day. “Should I have gone out for dinner with my brother?” I questioned. “Should I have stayed and gotten more done?” My mind would not find rest. Then what came next could only have been revealed by the Spirit: People are not distractions.

Subsequently, other thoughts began to follow in a rush. People don’t get in the way of life, they are life. I remembered that Jesus didn’t just hang out with homeless people. He talked with the diseased and outcast. Jesus didn’t demonstrate his egalitarianism by condescending those who were socially awkward, he shared meals with tax collectors – downright scoundrels. And in the short time frame in which Christ walked the Earth, I’m sure most days it wasn’t exactly on the agenda to fraternize with the help. Rather, He loved people and instructed them as He went along.

Reflecting in bed, I felt a smile well up from inside. I had made the right decision. I seized an opportunity to love my brother and share life. How often does that happen? How often does my brother offer to come visit me at my work? And honestly, my work was still there this morning. No really. It didn’t go anywhere.

I think I rediscovered something yesterday I hadn’t seen in quite a while. A phone call out of the blue, an unexpected drive-by, a lingering moment savored – these distractions from life – well maybe sometimes. . .they are life.

“A day wasted on others is not wasted on one’s self.” – Charles Dickens


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Glorious Failure

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

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