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No, Not One…

January 14, 2014

Back in the early 90’s, I was in the very early stages of learning about the contemporary Christian music scene. I had been raised in a very small traditional worship setting my entire life (and there’s nothing  wrong with that), and didn’t get into leading worship until I was invited to attend a youth group function at a fairly large church in my hometown.  They were headed out on busses to see a group I had never heard of called the Newsboys.  The first note of that concert opened up a whole new musical genre to me.

I bought all kinds of tapes (yes, tapes!) to listen to in my truck, and my mom always knew when I was home because the sounds of Petra, Michael W. Smith, Newsboys, DC Talk, Jars of Clay, Carmen, etc… would waft through the air before my vehicle ever hit the driveway. Even so, if I am really honest with myself, I really listened to most of those groups because I felt it was the “Christian” thing to do. Kinda like putting the obligatory fish symbol or witty Christian bumper sticker on your car or wearing the flashy Christian t-shirt made to look like your favorite soda brand. Gotta do this stuff because you love Jesus!

My senior year flipped the script on all of that, as I traded Petra for Pearl Jam and Newsboys for Nirvana while combat boots, jeans, and various open flannel shirts with white t-shirts became the outfit of choice. Oh, I still said I loved Jesus. I still led the choir at my home church, still led youth worship at the large church, and still talked the talk. My walk, however, was not exactly straight. See, Christian music, bumperstickers, and t-shirts hadn’t fulfilled the aching hole in my soul.

That’s when God introduced my ears to Rich Mullins. His music wasn’t poppy. It wasn’t sappy. It wasn’t blatantly filled with cliché sayings, Christian battle cries, or happy people with happy endings. It was real. It was honest. It was heartbreaking and heart-cleansing at the same time. It was exactly what I needed to hear at exactly the right time.

This past Sunday, my wife and I had an opportunity to view a film based on the life of Rich Mullins, and it shed some new light on the life of the man whose music touched me so deeply. Rich was a smoker and an alcoholic. Rich was deeply scarred by his relationship with his father and that caused him to constantly question his place in this world. He had a difficult time holding onto friendships, didn’t want to be told what to do by the record company, and would have much rather been teaching kids on an Arizona Native American reservation than sitting in the studio recording music. He questioned his faith, questioned how God could love him, questioned his very existence.

Not exactly how most would picture a Christian recording and performing artist, eh? It certainly wasn’t for me. It does, however, bring an important truth to light: he was human just like you and I. For some reason, there’s a thought that those to whom God has given a platform to share the gospel  are somehow more righteous or holy than “ordinary people”.  In reality, the truth looks much more like Rich Mullins than Billy Graham.

God’s Word speaks to this truth in Ecclesiastes 7:20 – Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.

Paul speaks to this same passage in Romans 3:9-18 when he says, “What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one;  there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Ruin and misery marked Rich Mullins’ life on more occasions than he probably would have preferred them to. Rich had a father he couldn’t relate with. The woman he was in love with pushed him away because God had called him to Nashville and she wanted to stay in Cincinnati. He experienced the death of his best friend’s father firsthand. He was never able to completely reconcile with his father before he died, and his life ended tragically in a vehicle accident in which the cause has never been discovered. Even so, through the word of God in his life, the example of his best friends’ father, and the help of pastor Brennan Manning, Rich found a place where He and God were one.

The new “American Way” says you have to be perfect. It says you have to have it all together, and if you don’t, never let it show. God’s Word says the exact opposite.

Matthew 11:28-29 – Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

1 Peter 5:6-11 – Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that he family of believers throughout the world undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.

The fact of the matter is that we have to admit we are not perfect before God can begin to perfect our faith. Brennan Manning once said, “To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my show side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means.” If we are to live in and by God’s grace rather than by man’s rules of perfection, we must admit and accept the fact we are not perfect. We must be real, open, and honest.

As I sit in my office today and write this, I am listening to the songs of Rich Mullins for the first time in several years. In light of what I learned through viewing the film on his life, these songs take on a whole new meaning to me. I am reminded that beauty and freedom can come from the deepest places of despair and hurt. I am reminded that truth and wisdom flow forth from what we believe in the depths of our very soul rather than out of the experiences we pack on the outside. I am reminded that scars carry powerful stories. I am also reminded of my imperfections and how God has used every one of them to grow me into who I am today.

Oh God, that we would all allow you to remind us of our unrighteousness, our uncleanliness, our imperfections… not that you would use them to hold us down, but that we would surrender them to you in order for you to build us up and continue the process of refining, shaping, and molding us into who we are to be in you. May we respond to you, not out of our own ambition, but simply out of awe, wonder, and gratitude for how much you truly love us. Amen.

“My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.” – Brennan Manning: The Ragamuffin Gospel

Find this book and more from Brennan Manning here.

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