Saints–Rich Mullins

I decided I would write a series of blogs about people who inspire me to move closer to Jesus. I guess we can call these individuals “saints.” Some of these saints are a little old school; others are more contemporary.
I decided to start with a man who, like many saints throughout history, left this earth a little too soon (although I’m sure he isn’t complaining). His name is Rich Mullins. He was a Christian recording artist, a dreamer and a follower of Jesus. His life, his story and his music continue to inspire me. I’ve attached a video that, I believe, captures the beauty of his life.
In the video he shares openly about the nature of sin and temptation as well as a personal struggle he was dealing with on one of his travels. Then, he plays one of my favorite songs of all time, which also happens to be one he wrote, called Hold Me Jesus. I encourage you to take five minutes out of your day and watch this video. Even in this short video, you will notice how remarkably transparent this man was and how deeply he loved Jesus.
I honestly don’t think there is another song that touches my heart the way this tune does. I hope you are blessed by it:

God—A Hopeless Romantic

Have you ever read a part of scripture and thought: “Really, God? That seems a bit over the top, even for you.” Sometimes reading though scripture feels like your watching a Tim Burton movie—constant special effects and weird stuff happening everywhere. There are bushes that catch on fire, the parting of waterways, multitudes of angelic choruses singing together, and dead people rising from the grave. Have you ever read one of God’s miracles and thought God was a bit too theatrical? Or perhaps thought that he likes grand gestures a bit too much? By the time you reach the New Testament you begin to think that maybe God is bragging just a bit, almost as if to say “Look what I can do next!”
Perhaps God is a bit theatrical at times, constantly showcasing his power through signs and wonders, all the while continually reaching out to his creation time and time again. There are moments when God seems too forgiving and too loving. There are moments when he says one thing and then does another. He tells his people he is going to bring calamity upon them and then decides to give them a second chance (well, more like a thousand second chances). Just when you think he has finally done enough, voila! He strikes again, reaching out to touch his creation once more. In fact, we begin to see that God never tires of reaching out to his people.
As God reaches out to his people, he begins to appear as this greater pursuer. He is deliberate, patient and tenacious. But what exactly is he pursuing?
One of the things God seems pretty keen on is getting his people to recognize his love for them. God keeps sending all of these reminders in the scriptures that he is close to his creation, cares for them, and has their best interests at heart. His love is so grand that uniformity alone would not do it justice. God could have chosen to make every person reciprocate this love automatically. He could have made us robots. But forced love, is not really love at all. Love is a choice. God chose to love us and allows us to choose to love him back. However, his love is never contingent on our love. In fact, his love cannot be defined in our own limited understanding of what love should be. His love is infinite, pure and unending. God is a patient lover who has made the first move. He waits for us to return the gesture, all the while showing us that His love is eternal and will never fade out. Brennan Manning puts it this way: “Human love will always be a faint shadow of God’s love. Not because it is too sugary or sentimental, but simply because it can never compare from whence it comes. Human love, with all its passion and emotion, is a thin echo of the passion/emotion love of Yahweh.”
I wonder if that is why the psalmist can cry out “Your love is better than life.” Or why he can pray to God: “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.” Satisfy us with your unfailing love? That is a bold request. Could it be that God’s love is so good and so strong that it can do just that? That it can satisfy us.
That is a word we don’t hear very often. It seems like most of us are very unsatisfied. We keep searching for the next thing, the next love or the next relationship that will finally give us peace. It’s a Never-Ending Story—and not a cool one that has mythical far away places and giant flying dogs.
God’s love is not far away or distant. His love has no contingencies. It is real. It is unfailing. And it is all-satisfying. I wonder if God is really a hopeless romantic at heart and he delights in wooing and awing his creation. Perhaps he is the greatest romantic that exists. And maybe every time we take part in a little romance or choose to show some grand gesture of our affection to someone we love, we are, in fact, acting like our creator. Perhaps romance is a sign that we are partnering with God in an epic love story that has existed since the beginning of time. We are choosing to love and be loved. We are embracing the hopeless romantic inside all of us.

It’s never over

This is a picture of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. On the surface, it looks like an ordinary motel. History, however, tells us this particular motel will be remembered forever. This is the site where Martin Luther King Junior was assassinated so many years ago.
The hotel has been converted into a museum of the Civil Rights Movement, with special emphasis on the events leading up to Dr. King’s assassination. Dr. King was a man with a dream and a plan to see it come to fruition. He was a social justice worker and peacemaker. And we lost him too soon. One thing is certain, though, his legacy lives on.
On the day King was assassinated, two men were with him: Andrew Young and Ralph Abernathy. Tony Campolo tells a story about the words these men exchanged when King was shot. Young was the first to reach King and he began to cry aloud, “It’s over, it’s over, it’s over.” Young cries these words as if to say they’d lost, their progress was for nothing, and things would never change. Abernathy, on the other hand, did not share Young’s sentiments. He grabbed Young in his arms and shouted passionately, “It’s never over. This will never be over!”
It’s never over.
Indeed, King’s work and his dreams are not over. His legacy of resilience, peace and nonviolence lives on in the hearts of men and women who dream of a better world. His incredible amount of patience paved the way forward. His life gave us an supreme example of sacrifice and love. His work will never be over.
Perhaps the same is true for our lives. We can resiliently hold on, even when it feels like everything is falling apart. We can echo Abernathy’s words and live like “It’s never over.”

How well do you know the Bible?

Remember all of those Bible verses we used to diligently memorize in Sunday school? I do. I vividly remember my childhood Sunday school room displaying a large banner with the names of every student in the class. Next to each of our names was a blank space for a star. Every time we memorized a verse we received a star. This star also translated into a trip to the candy bucket. I loved that candy bucket and was also quite fond of gold stars. Hence, I became a Bible scholar by the fourth grade.
I’ve heard the term “Bible literate” used quite a bit recently. The question asked is: does your church know Scripture? This question is often used to distinguish between churches that really teach Scripture and others who aren’t as in depth in their preaching and teaching. I’ve been thinking about this lately in regards to my church and many others. How well do we know Scripture?
Since I’m a pastor, I tend to listen to a number of sermons every month. It’s always interesting to hear what other churches are preaching on and what I can learn as a communicator from others in my field. There are a number of preachers around. They have their unique styles. Some are insanely creative; others a tad bit boring. But they have one thing in common—they’re teaching from Scripture. Their congregants are listening to them so they can interact with a text. The preaching moment happens on Sunday morning or Saturday night and people come to listen. It doesn’t matter the size of the church. People are coming to hear. How we teach the Scriptures is important.
I heard someone sing a song the other day that listed all 66 books of the Bible in order. It was an assignment they received in their Christian school. They learned a song, so they could know the order of the books of the Bible. I was asked recently if I could recite every book of the Bible in order on the spot. I could not. I got mixed up somewhere in the Minor Prophets. I forgot about Obadiah. This person was shocked that I couldn’t recite the books of the Bible. “I thought you were a pastor,” they said jokingly.
All of this makes me wonder what knowing the Bible means? What are we really getting at when we ask that?  Jesus certainly knew the Scriptures in his day. He quoted from them, taught from them and applied them to his ministry. He certainly had an understanding of the Scriptures, but it was more than that. He understood the Scriptures to be full of life. He embodied them in a way others didn’t.
I’ve heard it said that knowledge is a gateway to action. The more you know, the more you care. I’ve often wondered, though, if the way we talk about “knowing” Scripture can be misleading. Instead of equipping our churches, we’ve left them believing retention and fill-in-the-blank inserts are the key to knowing the Bible. Perhaps many of our congregants who know so much about the Bible, are missing a fundamental insight: what to do with it. We try so often to interpret Scripture, but how often do we allow Scripture to interpret us? We strive to know more, but do we attempt to live out with what we do know?
Is knowing Scripture the same as being changed by it?
I certainly aspire to know the Scriptures. I study them, take courses on them and engage in conversations about them. I desire that my church knows Scripture too. But I also want them to embrace Scripture. Whenever I preach, I’m not looking to simply transfer information. Rather I desire to invite my church to experience transformation.
I have a few students that I disciple on a monthly basis. Some of them want to know more about Scripture, theology and ministry. I’m happy to teach them and help them study Scripture. But my goal is not for them to be the new day Hank Hanegraaff (the Bible answer man). Instead, I hope that in learning about Scripture they would be prompted to do something with it. Because God’s word comes alive when we live with the text.
Here are some ideas that I’m trying to use in order to help my church move beyond the realm of informative and into the realm of transformative:
-Preach sermon series that are focused on a book of the Bible or a particular genre of biblical literature. This way, we have the chance to get a better understanding of a book’s overall message and context. Instead of simply memorizing individual verses, we have a broader understanding of the book as a whole.
-Promote quality Bible reading over quantity. There is something important about meditation and repetition that many of our modern churches miss out on. Liturgy is powerful. Rather than have our church members read chapter after chapter, challenge them to reflect on a smaller portion of Scripture several times a week.
-Allow creativity to intersect with a Bible study. Scripture can inspire us. Can we allow our church’s to react in creativity to the Scriptures through art, music, video, song, dance and craftsmanship? This way, a passage or book becomes alive to an individual.
-Expand the preaching experience. Sometimes we (myself included) put too much emphasis on what happens Sunday morning or Wednesday evening. Preaching and Bible study, though, are not confined to that hour every week. Find ways to broaden the preaching experience. Allow our churches opportunities to live with a text in their world—events, projects, and outings.