Rich Mullins

Rich Mullins

The movie Ragamuffin begins with a raspy voice declaring, “I am utterly convinced that on judgment day, the Lord Jesus will ask one question and only one question:  Did you believe that I loved you?”  The movie is about Rich Mullins, the Christian songwriter and artist who called himself a “ragamuffin.”

Perhaps you are familiar with some of these songs composed by Mullins: “Awesome God,” “Sing Your Praise to the Lord,” “Step By Step,” “Verge of a Miracle.”  You might suppose that the writer of these insightful pieces would be a person unscarred by the hardships of life.  Not so.

Mullins carried some heavy baggage, not unlike the rest of us. His hurts stemmed from feeling unloved and abandoned by people near him.  These wounds affected his ability to accept love, even from God.  Yet he relentlessly pursued a relationship with Jesus, with as many pained steps backward as strained steps forward.

He was driving in Kansas when a friend asked to play him a tape. In a few minutes, Mullins was so moved that he pulled over to weep.  It was Brennan Manning, the raspy voice.  He portrayed Jesus saying, “I know your whole life story.  I know every skeleton in your closet.  I know every moment of sin and shame, dishonesty, degraded love that’s darkened your past.  I know your shallow faith, your feeble prayer life, your inconsistent discipleship.  My word to you is I dare you to trust that I love you just are you are, not as you should be.”  Because none of us are as we should be.

Mullins later met Manning, who explained that ragamuffins “are the unsung assembly of saved sinners who are little in their own sight, aware of their brokenness, and powerless before God. A ragamuffin knows he’s only a beggar at the door of God’s mercy.”  Manning later captured his thoughts on grace in The Ragamuffin Gospel.  Mullins added the foreword to the book.

Mullins’ lyrics for “Hold Me Jesus” are his honest, but hopeful testimony: Well, sometimes my life just don’t make sense at all, when the mountains look so big and my faith just seems so small. So hold me Jesus, ’cause I’m shaking like a leaf!  You have been King of my glory, won’t You be my Prince of Peace?

Jesus Christ wants you to receive his unconditional love, even if you carry around pain and loneliness that can block your way to Him. He bore great pain to offer you his life-changing love.  Manning wrote, “Jesus is so unbearably forgiving, so infinitely patient, and so unendingly loving that he provides us with the resources we need to live lives of gracious response.”  So is Paul’s prayer that you “know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:19).

Mullins passed away in a tragic accident in 1997. Manning died in 2013 at the age of 78.  But their message resonates that Jesus even loves ragamuffins.  The movie is on Netflix.

Science and Faith


At a recent international trade event in London, a BBC reporter asked Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, “Are you comfortable with the idea of evolution…do you believe in it?” Walker ‘punted’ the question, a thinly veiled attempt at ridicule. Perhaps he could have been more prepared. 

The question arises from the belief that science has settled the ultimate questions of life, so there is no need for answers from faith. And in the extreme, science is the means to explain away the existence of a Creator. Some in the faith community are too eager to accommodate, and in doing so render its doctrines incoherent, and dismiss its texts as metaphor. 

Science should not be so confident that its present ‘conclusions’ on a subject will not change, if for no other reason than the scientific method requires hypotheses to be challenged by new data. 

In the early half of the 20th century, the common scientific position was that the universe had no beginning. Philosopher Bertrand Russell defended this conclusion as sufficient to end any further debate about God’s existence. 

In the 1960’s a new hypothesis gained support in the scientific community, but met resistance from the atheists. New data suggested that the universe began at a point in time. That in itself does not prove the existence of God, but it does realign a scientific conclusion to allow that possibility. Kings College Professor (and former atheist) Alister McGrath wrote, “This fundamental shift in the scientific consensus has changed the tone of the debate about God. It reminds us how science changes its mind about very important things.” 

In 1998, philosophers William Lane Craig and Anthony Flew re-debated the issue that Russell ‘settled’ decades prior. In light of the Big Bang Theory (not the TV show!), Craig applied this logic: Whatever begins has a cause; the universe began to exist; therefore, the universe has a cause. Flew found it difficult to argue otherwise. 

Not long after, Flew renounced atheism. He may not have embraced Christianity, but he at least admitted that science cannot answer ultimate questions. Regarding the origin of the universe, he wrote, “If you had an equation detailing the probability of something emerging from a vacuum, you would still have to ask why that equation applies.”  It seems quite unreasonable to think that the universe caused itself, and for no reason. 

It is more reasonable to consider an outside cause, such as the Christian doctrine of creation, which speaks to the act and the reasons for it. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1). In Fatherly love, God created a world that makes Himself known to created people. 

Gov. Walker later issued a clarifying statement, “Both science and my faith dictate my belief that we are created by God.” He wasn’t prevaricating, but was stating a hopeful thought that science and faith can sincerely coexist. 

Missional Living

I have a friend who once patted his ample belly and pointed to his waist-line. “This ain’t a belt. It’s a leather fence around a chicken graveyard!” I share his taste for the most common species of bird in the world, so I welcome the news of Chick-Fil-A coming to our town.

 chikfila But it’s not just their recipe (other eateries have good chicken, too!) that’s attractive. Their founder, Truett Cathy, adopted a corporate purpose statement that includes this: “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us.” The business environment he created attracts dedicated people who must not check their faith at the door of their workplace.

 A Facebook meme reports that the manager of a Chick-Fil-A in Birmingham noticed a homeless man that came in to escape the cold. He found warmth from the manager who gave him his gloves and a free meal, inspiring the patrons who witnessed the kindness.

 This simple act, not meant to be noticed or published, captures more about the latest churchy buzzword ‘missional’ than many books that try to explain it. ‘Missional’ is a new attempt to explain old ideas about faithful living.

 Christians are a sent people. As Christ was sent to us, he sends his followers on mission to a world darkened by the absence of Truth. He said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden…Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

 Authentic faith roams freely and acts unexpectedly, not displayed behind stained glass, illuminated by chandeliers. It notices and addresses people, their hurts and needs. If the totality of religion is to attend a service or volunteer for an activity, is that a life that exists to glorify God with all that is entrusted to it? Is that a life that serves others in a way that makes them wonder ‘why would you do this?’

 We live in a world that is increasingly post-modern and post-Christian (i.e. everyone can have their own truth except Christians). Yet if Jesus gives us the ability to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, then a kind act, generous gift, encouraging word shouldn’t be too hard to muster. It lights the world when an affected life displays the love of God to the human condition.

 We say we want to be like Christ. Well, consider that his ministry was incarnational, (he touched people personally), and sacrificial (it cost him). Missional living can be no less, can it?

Enduring Faith

I first noticed his British accent. Later I learned that what he had to say was even more impressive than the way he said it. I was at a conference a few months ago, and sat down to enjoy breakfast with my fellow attendees. It was providential that I sat next to Rob Gifford, the China Editor for the Economist magazine.China

 He is certainly credentialed for the job: Harvard-educated, fluent in Mandarin, well traveled as documented in his book “China Road.” Our conversation quickly turned from polite aquainting to my persistent questioning. He recently completed an article, “Cracks in the Atheist Edifice,” and I was anxious to hear the details.

 He spoke of a city, amazingly nick-named ‘China’s Jerusalem’ due to its population of Christians. Many churches there that do not meet in homes have had their buildings demolished recently. This sad destruction notwithstanding, the communists are gradually allowing more religious freedom in China. Some members of the ruling party are now Christians, and many believers are emerging from the shadows to active roles in the community. Many demographic experts agree that there are now more Christians than communist party members.

 China has a long history of Christian missionary work. Robert Morrison translated the Bible to Mandarin by 1819. Coming later were Hudson Taylor, Lottie Moon, Eric Liddell, Bill Wallace, and Bertha Smith. Many missionaries to China, including some of these, were ignored, arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and murdered without seeing much fruit from their labor. If they could only witness the growing tribe of Christ-followers in China today!

 They knew our God is not restrained by time. We tend to look for results now if we sacrifice or serve, but sometimes the check is cashed after we are gone. Endurance is a trait of the faithful, regardless of results seen in this life. We cannot faint from past failures nor rest on past successes.

 Where does this endurance for faith and life come from? It comes as believers from Georgia and England share news of the faithful in China. It comes from an awareness of those who have gone before and who finished well. We are a community that spans time and geography, bound by our common heavenward gaze upon the One who authored our faith.

 “Since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…” (Heb 12:1-2).

 It is a difficult world we live in, but we are not without hope. We know Who to trust, and how to have an enduring faith.

Define the Terms

On February 6, 2014, President Obama addressed the National Prayer Breakfast. As an evangelical Christian, I find many of his actions while in office objectionable. But in his NPB comments, he touched on several themes that I appreciate, such as specific calls for the release of Kenneth Bae and Saeed Abedini, American Christians being imprisoned for their faith in North Korea and Iran. On the other hand, some of his remarks seem misleading. I think it’s wrong to try to impart motive or unstated meaning to someone’s words or deeds, without justification. So at the risk of violating my own prohibition, I offer some reasons to consider more carefully what the President said in these three excerpts:

1) “And here we give thanks for His guidance in our own individual faith journeys. In my life, He directed my path to Chicago and my work with churches who(sic) were intent on breaking the cycle of poverty in hard-hit communities there. And I’m grateful not only because I was broke and the church fed me, but because it led to everything else. It led me to embrace Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. “

Without naming him, Obama is speaking of Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, a controversial figure to say the least. (Remember “God d*** America,” and “America’s chickens have come home to roost”?) Wright was described by the Chicago Sun-Times as a “close confidant” of Obama, who described Wright as “like family to me. [Wright] strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children” and was the one who “introduce[d] me to my Christian faith.” Based on his writings and sermons, Wright’s religion could well be described as anti-American, Afrocentric liberation theology. At the risk of over-simplification, if Wright said that he “embraced Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior,” it seems that he would mean that since Jesus’ mission was to set his fellow black African Jews free from the historic oppression of the white race, Wright embraces that mission and hopes to save others who are oppressed by rich white people. At the very least, the Biblical concept of Jesus as God the Son who died on the cross for the forgiveness of sins for all who believe in Him as Messiah or Savior, seems a stretch for Wright. So what exactly does Obama mean by these words? Might he agree with his close confidant and pastor for 20 years?

2) “Now, here, as Americans, we affirm the freedoms endowed by our Creator, among them freedom of religion. And, yes, this freedom safeguards religion, allowing us to flourish as one of the most religious countries on Earth, but it works the other way, too — because religion strengthens America.”

But not if you’re the Little Sisters of the Poor. This is the Catholic order struggling in court to get relief from Obama’s health insurance law that forces them to violate their closely-held religious beliefs. If they lose, their choice will be to either capitulate and violate their conscience, or cease to “strengthen America” by serving the poor. How could Obama make this and other religious freedom statements at the NPB, knowing that the Little Sisters, the Green family of Hobby Lobby, and Liberty University are all seeking relief from his administration’s violation of their previously-protected religious freedom, unless he believes that not all religion strengthens America? This encroachment on religious freedom is not to prohibit some extreme ritual. It forces Christians to act in a way they consider immoral and ungodly. So what does he mean by religious freedom?

3) “We see governments engaging in discrimination and violence against the faithful. We sometimes see religion twisted in an attempt to justify hatred and persecution against other people just because of who they are, or how they pray or who they love. Old tensions are stoked, fueling conflicts along religious lines, as we’ve seen in the Central African Republic recently, even though to harm anyone in the name of faith is to diminish our own relationship with God. Extremists succumb to an ignorant nihilism that shows they don’t understand the faiths they claim to profess — for the killing of the innocent is never fulfilling God’s will; in fact, it’s the ultimate betrayal of God’s will.”

It sounds like Obama is talking about Islamic terrorists, but did you see what he did there? He mentions “hatred” against people because of “who they love.” This is not just a veiled jab at Russia’s Putin and the flap over gays and the Olympics. Apparently, anyone who believes in the sanctity of marriage as ordered by God is part of a twisted religion. Look, there are all kinds of perversions of the human condition. Perversion of speech is lying; perversion of trust is infidelity; perverted view of life or possessions is murder or theft. Yet no one accuses folks holding to these standards of morality as having a twisted religion. When Christians help each other, and their neighbors who suffer from any perversion, it is an act of compassion, not hatred and twisted religion.

As to “conflicts along religious lines,” there are plenty of examples of Islamists killing and driving out ‘infidels’ that Obama could have cited. But do you know what recently happened in the Central African Republic? Muslims are being driven out, because the people in self defense can no longer tolerate the Islamists murdering and destroying their people and homes. Why choose this example of religious conflict, one of the few where the Muslims are on the receiving end? I’m not defending what’s happening there, I’m just asking exactly what was the message with this example?

As for the “killing of the innocent,” it’s enough to recall Mother Teresa’s words from the 1994 NPB event: “But I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself. And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another? How do we persuade a woman not to have an abortion? As always, we must persuade her with love and we remind ourselves that love means to be willing to give until it hurts. Jesus gave even His life to love us. So, the mother who is thinking of abortion should be helped to love, that is, to give until it hurts her plans, or her free time, to respect the life of her child…Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.” So, just who does Obama think are the innocent that should be protected?

I hear the President’s words, like faith, Jesus, Savior, freedom, love, innocent. At first they seem good, especially in looking for something, anything, encouraging from this White House. But on closer examination, I’m reminded of why I continue to be driven to prayer over the direction of our country. You see, the truth is found in how you define the terms.