Hero of the Day: Mark Rutland.

Within Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) there is a sub-type known as “scrupulosity” or “religious OCD” – and it is one nasty monster. I’ve been afflicted with it since early childhood and during my early college years I almost dropped out, left the faith, and probably verged on institutionalization due to it.

Photo of Mark Rutland as found on the Global Servants website, a ministry he founded.
Photo of Mark Rutland as found on the Global Servants website, a ministry he founded.

Since then I’ve learned a lot of coping skills, I take medications, and so on – and it isn’t nearly as intrusive (though it is still a regular pain in the butt). One of the major ways in which I experienced relief from these symptoms was through Mark Rutland’s excellent (yet poorly known and under-appreciated) Streams of Mercy which spoke about receiving and reflecting God’s grace.

Seriously, this book revolutionized my life. I’ve read it many times and it continues to make me break down in tears with great regularity. It is an easy read with plenty of personal anecdotes from Rutland’s fascinating life and creative short stories that illustrate his points. A must read.

I’ve written about Streams of Mercy before – but I want to write today about Mark Rutland the man. Sometimes folks write a good book – but what are their lives like? Well, Rutland founded a ministry called Global Servants which has done some impressive work around the world – not least of which is the founding of House of Grace, a refuge for Akha girls who are being drawn into the sex trade. Ahh, here was a man who put his hands and feet where his mouth was!

Rutland continues to run Global Servants, but has also been involved in an amazing array of other endeavors – starting in 1987 he was Associate Pastor at Mount Paran Church of God in Atlanta, Georgia…but he didn’t stay in this potentially comfortable position for too long, moving on in 1990 to Calvary Assembly of God in Orlando Florida in 1990, a church attempting to recover from scandal and financial insolvency. After successfully leading a turnaround of this church he moved on to Southeastern University of the Assemblies of God in Lakeland Florida in 1999, again leading a successful turnaround of the University. He thought he was done with these gigantic endeavors but was called yet again to serve as President of Oral Roberts University (one of the largest and most reputable charismatic higher education institutions), which was on the verge of collapse – and over a several year period again succeeded in turning around the institution.

It seems evident that God’s blessing has been upon Rutland’s work. Somehow he has also managed to preach numerous sermons and write numerous books – which I am grateful for, b/c I want to keep reading and learning from this man. Up to this point I had only read about him, read Streams of Mercy, and listened to one or more of his sermons – but recently I picked up his latest book called reLaunch about turning around an organization (I had no clue this was something he specialized in) and it is again proving to be a magnificent, encouraging, and challenging read! Then I subscribed to his blog and began reading his posts. The first one was “The Antidote for Poison Berries” posted on January 22nd…I think a few choice excerpts and comments concerning this post will give you an idea of why I find Rutland such a fantastic inspiration:

  • Rutland openly shares that he has struggled with depression at times throughout his forty-six years in ministry (this has become more common in smaller ministries, but I still don’t hear a lot about it from bigger, successful personalities within Christianity).
  • He then goes on to state, “I have known dark moments and personal failures. I have been deeply disappointed in myself and struggle at times to stay in the ministry, or even to feel that I should stay in the ministry. In one truly terrible season, only the grace of God through my wife, two friends that refused to let me quite, and the wise anointed help of a trained counselor kept me in the work.” Wow. Again, Rutland is willing to admit significant enough failures in his personal life that have led to his questioning (at times) his qualifications for ministry – and that he would have abandoned ministry altogether except for the moral support he received from others…What an encouragement to ministers who are struggling to keep their heads above water! Further, Rutland admits seeing a “trained counselor” something which is still widely looked down upon in many Christian circles – an admission which normalizes this practice for others – who really need it.
  • He goes on, “Is this shocking you? Are you thinking, why should I listen to this guy? He shouldn’t even be in the ministry. Is that what you’re thinking? Then I submit to you that I cannot think of but a handful of sturdy saints who should be in the ministry.” Thank God! A leader who is willing to admit that we are not qualified, that we do fall short. Yes, there must be accountability and standards within Christian ministry – but this too often occurs at the cost of masks – masks of pretend people who pretend to be things they are not. We hide our sin in a corner (even from ourselves) so we can be “qualified” for the ministry we are undertaking. I’d like to know who these “sturdy saints” are of whom Rutland speaks, b/c he knows more than I – I know of none (including myself).
  • But Rutland, have you ever been so tired you just couldn’t do it any more? Have you felt that battle raging within you that you feel like is going to kill you if you don’t just surrender, give up, give in? “The wrestling match within myself has at times been almost unbearable, but when the sun came up I limped toward whatever shred of victory I could still find.” Wait? What about the victorious Christian life? Shouldn’t you have experienced calm and peace and serenity in the midst of this unbearable suffering? That is what the Apostle Paul had, is it not? Perhaps…but at least there are a few humans in ministry who also “limp” toward a “shred of victory” that must be “found!” Ahh, here is someone more to my level!
  • “You know all the keys to spirituality. Prayer. The Word. Accountability. You can name them and you have preached on them and they are incredibly important…[but] what do I do when I have done all those and deep tissue, immobilizing, paralyzing discouragement settles like inky night upon the parsonage?” Wait! Rutland, are you saying that you have applied the proper methods as taught by Christian circles – derived from Scripture – and at the end of the night there has been no relief? No light at the end of the tunnel? That you have foundered in the cess pool of darkness? God be praised! Christian experience cannot be reduced to a set of rules and formulas by which we experience peace and healing from our struggles (the Book of Job is my favorite book of the Bible currently…Job finds no relief, no answers, and He is not the ‘prim and proper’ individual we like to recommend folks to be when they experience suffering – he is a raging, crying, frenzied maniac who cries out to a God who has abandoned him).
  • He talks about various ways he attempts to restore himself in the midst of these dark times – remembering he is not the first to struggle (see Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, David, Paul, and Jesus he says), avoiding isolation (including seeing a professional counselor), resting, not comparing our ministry/life with others (he says we don’t need to be a Joel Osteen, I’d add, that we don’t need to be a Mark Rutland, though I’d like to be…), and he says that we should not allow failure or fear of failure to stop us: “If you have not failed at anything lately, it’s time to try something new.” Yehaww! (No, I don’t talk like this in real life)

Okay, I’ve quoted huge portions of his post – but there are some really excellent other nuggets that I didn’t include – simply b/c I didn’t want to include the entirety of his post. Go read the original here.

[Some may wonder, “Is Dave a Charismatic?” The answer would be no. I’m a non-cessationist. I do not believe that the spiritual gifts have ceased to operate – but I also see many expressions of the spiritual gifts which are questionable at best and downright hypocrisy and blasphemy at worst. I will accept the proper expression of a spiritual gift but I will also demand that any expression of spiritual gifts meet a high level of accountability and integrity. I have great respect for individuals like Mark Rutland, Wayne Grudem, and John White who fall into more charismatic circles – and I want to learn from them. I think both Charismatics and non-Charismatics have some truth in their hands – and that we find ourselves strongest when we sharpen each other as iron sharpens iron – challenging in love and humility the authenticity and validity of our beliefs in such a way as encourages the upbuilding rather than the dismantling of Christ’s body.]

Book Review: Streams of Mercy (Author: Mark Rutland)

At Philadelphia Biblical University, in the school bookstore, there is a section for used books. I don’t know who the suppliers are (a few folks who sell used books I think) but they keep several hundred volumes stacked on the shelves at low prices all year round.

As an undergrad student (and to this day) I loved walking into the bookstore and browsing through the shelves – looking for some gem to take home. So many of the books are priced between $1 and $3 it is just a beautiful opportunity to buy books.[1]

In any case, as I was perusing the shelves so many years ago I stumbled upon a small blue paperback entitled Streams of Mercy and subtitled “Receiving and Reflecting God’s Grace.” I’d never heard of the book or the author before – but I was struggling horribly with scrupulosity and so I picked up the book and went home.

I’m not sure when I actually began reading the book. It is not unusual for me to acquire a book and for it to sit on a shelf for a year or two before I actually crack it open (or even longer), but when I did, God used it as part of some major renovations He was doing in my heart and life.

Rutland’s book is not a complex theological treatise, rather it is a humble, passionate, and logical discussion of humanity’s need for mercy, God’s provision of mercy, the many ways in which we deny and ignore mercy within and without the church, and a discussion of how receiving mercy allows us to be completely changed and minister to others from the overflow we have received.

Rutland doesn’t attempt to tease out every theological complexity – instead he allows paradoxes to stand and instead focuses on what we do know and understand about the nature of God. He carefully attempts to balance his portrayal of God so as not to diminish God to a you-can’t-do-anything-wrong Grandpa in the sky.

Rutland’s book is filled with personal experiences, anecdotes, and thoughtful stories that bring me to tears. I’m reading the book again – for a third or fourth time. For anyone who knows me – you know this is astounding. I do not read books more than once. There are a very few I might read twice…and I absolutely do not read books three or four times!…and when I finish it, I have every intention of starting at the first page and reading it again and again and again.

Rutland’s book is balm for the soul and he does it in such a way as is sure to upset all forms of Christians equally and soothe all forms as well. Rutland is a charismatic Christian, but he does not emphasize or even acknowledge this within his work – instead focusing on a common truth that all Christian’s share about the grace and mercy of God.

Every once in a while I look into where this Rutland guy is and what he is up to…and always I’m impressed. Now, all glory belongs to God for the work of grace He has performed in Rutland’s life – and I am sure that he would be the first to state this…but for those who are interested, take a look at the Wikipedia article describing Rutland’s life and ministry thus far.

Dear Father, Might you extend to us grace and mercy in abundance that we might reflect your grace and mercy to others in an overwhelming manner. In Christ we pray, Amen.

  1. [1]Yes, I struggle with not buying books like the stereotypical member of the female gender struggles with not buying more shoes. :)