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.

A Love Story


 I stepped from the evening cold into a room warmed by the stove in the corner, and by the welcome of a pastor for over 50 years. I sought writing insights from Danny, who is my predecessor in writing a column for the local paper. As we sat by his wall of well-used books, I listened to his heart for people as he shared his story. 

 I finally asked about the subject at hand, love and marriage. “Well, marriage is of God, instituted before the church,” he started. I injected, “Tell me about you and Regina?” 

 “I asked God to give me someone to love, and to be loved by.” Danny doubts the notion of ‘falling in love,’ but believes that God chose Regina for him. Perhaps evidence for that was their first outing together, a double date when he thought he was paired with the other girl! But it was Regina that sat next to him in the car, and the rest is history. 

 “Well, marriage is about leaving, cleaving, and weaving.” What a wordsmith! Actually that comes from Scripture: “A man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Stories from his life unpack that idea. 

 He and his young family left parents, church, and Fannin County in a U-Haul and VW after church one Sunday night, moving to New Orleans so he could attend seminary. Leaving means starting a new life together, finding your own way. 

 “Everything we have done, we have done together.” Cleaving is having Regina as his partner in life and ministry, so she is always close by. In a service, they usually sit together until sermon time. A friend dubbed their pew ‘the love seat!’ Stepping into the pulpit, he will “look for God, then Regina” before he starts. 

 Sometimes hardship weaves lives into one. It was hard to hear of his nearly tragic crash in a ’52 Ford with his expectant wife and son. But through it, God firmly called them into their life’s work. “I can see the hand of God at work in difficulties, learning the lessons of life.” Good times and bad weave lives into one. 

 Please don’t let this example of a long, loving marriage cause you regrets. Danny has seen “so many people thrown on the scrapheap of life.” No, this example of a faithful relationship gives hope that the love of God is real, and can reach into our world and even touch you. The New Testament uses marriage to teach about Christ’s love for his church. You are included in that great love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall…have eternal life.” 

 Pondering 55 years of marriage, Danny declares, “I love her far more today than when we first married.” Still weaving, I suppose. Happy Valentine’s Day! 

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.