Adaptation from Rich Mullins by James Bryan Smith
Adapted from Chapter 3, “The Love of God”
THE MESSENGER AND HIS MESSAGE
Coming to grips with the idea that God is “crazy about us” is a radical step for most people, and that is precisely why Rich Mullins began preaching it so much. He had a keen sense of his audience, and he knew that many people who came to his concerts did not think that God loved them. That is why he spent the last five years of his life talking almost exclusively about God’s love. He had wrestled with God’s unconditional love and at times had doubted it for himself. Old, inner voices of condemnation are hard to put to death. Rich himself knew, in his clearest moments, that God really did love him, and that understanding was so powerful that he wanted the whole world to know it.
Rich knew that most of the people who came to listen to him play in concert were people like him: they wanted to serve God, and be used of God, and yet had never settled into the blessed assurance of being loved. He liked to tell a story about his own realization of this truth: “When I was in Thailand, I met this missionary. And I was talking to her and I said, ‘You know, I just want the Lord to use me.’ And she said, ‘Well, forget it. God doesn’t need you for anything. God doesn’t want to use you, He wants you to love him.’”1
Sensing this same misunderstanding in his audiences, Rich was relentless in sharing the good news of God’s love between songs. “I preach the love of God a good bit because it’s a very powerful message to me,” he once said. It became the focal point of his concerts because it was the focal point of his own spiritual journey. Discovering God’s love gave him peace and meaning and joy, and he could not help but to share it. He said:
For me the greatest joy that I have is knowing that I do have a Father who loves me, and that He doesn’t love me in a passive way. He loves me so much that He sent Christ to take away the guilt of my sin, and that it is a real thing, that it really did happen. If I will experience joy in this life, it will be when I let other people know that there is a God who loves them, and He has taken away the sin that separates them. There is no greater joy than just that proclamation.2
Ragamuffin member Jimmy Abegg remembers, “Toward the end of his life he found the center of his work, which was the love of God.”
Rich’s message affected both audiences and the people who played in his band over the years. As his longtime friend and Zion partner, Beth Lutz, says, “Rich put a face on grace.” Her husband, Mark, was also affected: “I was never sure where I stood with God. I watched God use Rich in a powerful way, and he didn’t do the things I thought you had to do to have God like you. And then I thought, God loves Rich, and then it dawned on me that God loved me. That was Rich’s greatest gift to me.”
Studio musician Phil Madeira played in Rich’s band during one of his tours. Though Phil was not well acquainted with Rich’s music, he joined the tour because there was something about Rich that he wanted to know better. He says, “Every night of the ’94 tour, I recall Rich’s statement, ‘There is nothing you can do to make God love you more, and nothing you can do to make Him love you less.’ Little did I know that in my own struggles a year later, these words would see me through.”
To Rich, communicating God’s love was a responsibility. Though he was a fan of all kinds of music, he believed that a Christian concert should have a message: “You know what? The world is full of musicians. What the world is starving for is Christ. If I wanna just go to a concert, I’ll go see [the Irish band] the Chieftains, or a symphony, or a jazz concert, or a rock concert. But if I go to a Christian concert, I want to be reminded that He is a loving God, and that He has forgiven me, and there is hope.”3
Songwriter and Christian musician, Billy Sprague and Rich worked together many times, and Rich’s impact on him was considerable. He says, “God’s love was the spark where flesh was welded to Spirit. It was the driving hot point for Rich. Every time I see Billy Graham he says the same thing—God loves you. For Rich, no matter what else you say about politics or justice or obedience, it all comes back to that. Rich taught me there is a delight in the love of God in the face of all that will happen. His message was, ‘At the end of the line, it will all be well.’ Rich affirmed that God is good and loving without denying that the dark parts are there.”
GLAD TO HAVE BEEN CAUGHT
Rich had been caught in the reckless, raging fury of the love of God, and it had transformed him. He spent the last part of his life sharing that message with others with a depth and authenticity that made audiences know that what he said was true and sprang from the depths of his soul. Kid Brother and band member Eric Hauck describes it this way: “Rich was a man who knew the joy of simply being a child of an indescribable and incomprehensible God—forgiven and loved by a loving Father. This . . . brought forth tears and a deep groaning at how much he had done that God must pierce through to love him, and yet Christ still fought through it all to love him.”
This was a truth that changed Rich, and through Rich, it is changing us.
1 Rich Mullins, “A Message to the Media,” Creation Festival Radio Special, Mt. Union, PA, June 27, 1996.
2 CCM magazine tribute issue, November 1997.
3 Interview by Thom Granger, “Hope to Carry On,” CCM magazine, May 1990.
Adapted from Rich Mullins: An Arrow Pointing to Heaven by James Bryan Smith. ©2000 by James Bryan Smith. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press. www.ivpress.com.