September 20, 1997 was a sad day. I had only recently turned 7 years old, but I remember well when my mom told what happened the night before: Christian artist Rich Mullins had died in a bad car accident. My mom was especially sad by this news, partially because she was pregnant with my little sister at the time, but also because my mom had followed Rich through most of his career. She actually got to see Rich perform in the living room of one of her church's elders while he was still a student at Cincinnati Bible College (pretty cool, right?). She was only in high school at the time, but she still lights up when she talks about it. It made be sad to find out he had died, because of how much I loved his songs, even at a young age (mostly Awesome God and Sometimes by Step). Although I was a little young to understand all that happened, I sensed that the world had lost a wonderful man.
I don’t think I could have possibly realized how amazing he was until I really got to know the heart behind his music. Fast forwarding to 2006, I was in a Christian school choir as we were deciding what to do for our spring program. Our director decided that we would do a Rich Mullins tribute, and we would write skits that complimented the themes of his songs. We liked the idea, because most of us remembered his music from our childhood, but I don’t think I could have imagined the impact learning his music would have on my life. Aside from all the fun we had making 80’s get-ups and doing our performance barefoot, we learned so much more than we could have imagined.
I had almost forgotten about the love I had for Rich’s music until about the time I had heard about the movie Ragamuffin two years ago. I became so excited to see the portrayal of his life that I went back to his music and fell in love with it all over again. My favorite CD to play in my car right now is Songs, and it has been that way for over a year. There is so much depth and wisdom in his lyrics that stands out above all the rest, even almost 18 years after his death. In honor of his legacy, I want to share some of the life lessons I have learned from his music.
Loving Our Lord and Savior should be #1
When the skies were starless in the void of the night (Our God is an awesome God)
He spoke into the darkness and created the light (Our God is an awesome God)
The judgement and wrath He poured out on Sodom; the mercy and grace He gave us at the cross
I hope that we have not too quickly forgotten that our God is an awesome God
Unfortunately, I think that too many of us have forgotten how amazing our God truly is. Many people forgot that this verse is even part of the song Awesome God. It reminds us that not only is God amazing because of His power, but He is also awesome because of his mercy and grace as demonstrated through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. He has the authority and power to judge us and condemn us, like He did in the days of Noah or what He did at Sodom and Gomorrah. But He chose to give us grace through His Son, giving us the ability to receive His salvation. If we take the time to think about how powerful that is, that is when we are compelled to declare that our God is awesome.
Rich talked about what he believed to be the most theologically profound statement: Jesus loves me. If we truly believe that Jesus died for us on the cross, then we really should be assured beyond the shadow of a doubt that Jesus does love us. You don’t die for something or someone you hate. If you know God is awesome and that Jesus died for you, then living your life in light of this truth should be your first priority in life. You should be able to live your life in the assurance that He will always there for you. These are truths declared in many of his songs, like My One Thing and If I Stand. It really challenged me to think about these things from this perspective. I imagine you can see why.
Jesus is the Answer
When we did the program for my high school choir, I had one of the solos on the song My Deliverer. This is a special song from Rich’s last project, The Jesus Record. About 9 days before he died, he recorded the songs for this project on a cassette tape in an abandon church. These are the only recordings that exist of Rich performing these songs. After he passed away, his Ragamuffin Band (with the help of a few other artists) recorded his album. Rich never had the chance to see the impact this song or any of the other songs on The Jesus Record had. After having to perform this song, I believe this song to be one of his finest. This is his original demo for the song.
It’s a reminder that a deliverer was what the world wanted from the beginning, and that Jesus is that Deliverer. This world sometimes seems like it’s falling apart at the seams, but it is important to us to remember that Jesus has already delivered us and will continue to be there for us because He conquered death to deliver us. A similar hope is reflected in one of my other favorite songs of his, While The Nations Rage.
Where are the nails that pierced his hands?
Well, the nails have turned to rust, but behold the man
He is risen, and He reigns
In the hearts of the children rising up in His name
Where are the thorns that drew His blood
Well the thorns have turned to dust, but no so the love
It is given, no, it remains
In the hearts of the children who will love while the nations rage
Even when it seems like nothing is right in the world, we can find our solace and hope in the love demonstrated in the sacrifice of Jesus. He can hold on to this hope while the world wages war all around us. When we don’t know how to carry on or we don’t have the answers, we do know that we have a deliverer that gives us hope while the nations rage. What a powerful truth.
There’s A Cost To Genuinely Follow Jesus
One of his best quote was: “Never forget what Jesus did for you. Never take lightly what it cost Him. And never assume that if it cost Him His very life, that it won't also cost you yours.”
Rich was one to remind Christians constantly that Christianity is not about being comfortable. Being a real disciple of Jesus is a serious challenge and not for the apathetic. We are not just to hear the word; we are supposed to do the word. Rich reminded people of this in both serious and humorous ways. One of my favorites was his song Screen Door.
My school choir performed this song as well, although we tapped the rhythm on our legs (more like the studio recording) rather than using the cups. Not only does this song illustrate his creative genius, but it also makes a valuable point. An inactive or passive faith isn’t just a bad idea; it’s pointless and stupid. There is no reason to have a screen door on a submarine. We need to have an active faith and to do what the word tells us to do when we recognize its instructions.
This is often easier said than done. Rich pointed out that our closeness to God is determined by our obedience to Him, not our feelings. But obedience isn’t usually easy and is often sacrificial. Three of Rich’s song come to mind: Alrightokuhhuhamen, Hold Me Jesus, and Sometimes By Step. All these songs have great messages. Alright illustrates that it is always better to do what God asks and just be willing to say yes than to fight him. Hold Me Jesus says a line that has proven to be true at many times in my life: “Surrender don’t come naturally to me.” A little later, the songs says “Your grace rings out so deep, it makes my resistance seem so thin.”
Of all the songs Rich wrote, Sometimes by Step is probably my favorite, mostly because I have carried its message with me the longest. The chorus was written by his friend “Beaker” and is still commonly sung as a worship chorus of its own. I loved that chorus when I was a girl. But the verses Rich wrote are just as powerful. My favorite is the second verse.
Sometimes I think of Abraham, how one star he saw had been lit for me
He was a stranger in this land, and I am that no less than he
And on this road to righteousness, sometimes when life can seem so steep
I may falter in my steps, but never beyond Your reach
This verse compliments the chorus Beaker wrote perfectly.
Oh God, you are my God
And I will ever praise You
I will seek you in the morning
And I will learn to walk in Your ways
Step by step you’ll lead me
And I will follow You all of my days
This song is such a powerful declaration of what we should do with our daily Christian walk. The verse reminds us that others have struggled on this path before us and that we will also struggle, but never fall out of His reach. So beautiful. I hope and pray that I never forget it.
A Legacy of Joy
Rich said that he hoped to leave behind a legacy of joy, and I believe that he did. There was darkness in his past and sin that he struggled with throughout his life, but Rich found joy in the hope in his salvation that he wanted to share with everyone. He was totally in love with his Savior and he couldn't wait to meet Jesus. Many of his songs spoke of his longing for heaven, and Rich often struggled with “fitting in” within the context of Christian community. He knew better than most people I know that this world was not his home. I am glad to know that Rich no longer has that struggle and that he is now in the presence of his Savior. One of the only reasons it makes me sad that he is no longer with us is because I wish I could have met him! It’s amazing to see the impact his life and music left, and that it continues to speak to us today. I hope that by sharing about what I learned from Rich’s testimony, you will be encouraged to learn more about this incredible man, listen to his music, and learn how to pursue the love of Christ every day, step by step.
[If you are interested in reading my review of the movie about Rich Mullins, Ragamuffin, click here]
We loved to be entertained. I suppose it’s part of human nature to desire to be amused and not be bored. People have been finding ways to entertain themselves for most of human history in some way, shape, or form, but our world today is more influenced by our entertainment choices than ever before. Movies, music, books, and even the internet have become the dominant forms of both amusement and knowledge. With more options than ever available to our immediately access, it can be difficult to discern what we should entertain ourselves with, and the things we should avoid. If we are trying to live our lives in light of eternity, then how does our entertainment choices fit into the equation?
I believe we have freedom to choose. God gave all of us free will, Christians and non-Christians alike. But with the privilege of this freedom comes great responsibility, a responsibility that we are made aware of as Christians. Just as Scripture points out: “‘Everything is permissible for me’ – but not everything is beneficial.” (1 Cor. 6:12a NIV84) A lot of our entertainment options are simply not to our benefit, but my responsible to be sure that everything that I watch, read, or listen does three things: honors God, challenges me, and proclaims truth. These are the three main principles I’m going to explore.
1) Entertainment That Honors God
Unfortunately, we are living in the world that as a whole is not usually in the business of honoring its Creator. In fact, many will do anything and everything they can to discredit Him. Perhaps the greatest culprits are those in Hollywood. Songs with an excessive usage of the Lord’s name in vain, movies that glorify things that the Bible is blatantly against, and books that intend to indoctrinate their audience with their beliefs are the realities we face when we are trying to select wholesome entertainment. This does not mean that we can’t watch, read, or listen to any of these things, but it means that we have to use extreme caution and be aware of what we are doing. These are some questions to consider:
- Does this story honor God?
Anything from continually using the Lord’s name in vain to discrediting God by claiming He didn't create the world, these sort of things should be red flags to a Christian. Now, some media, even Christian media, will use characters that discredit God to illustrate a point. And there is a lot of media that falls neutral in this category (neither crediting nor discrediting God). You should learn how to tell these apart. But in the end, another way to think about this point is to ask this: if God was watching, listening, or reading with you, would He be honored, or would He be embarrassed and upset by what is (or isn't) being said about Him? If it obvious that it is not honoring to the Lord, then you should probably reconsider it.
- Does the writer honor God?
Screenplay writers, directors, producers, music artists, and authors all have personal beliefs that affect their work. They all have messages they want to convey through their medium. If these people aren't Christians, we have to use extra caution when discerning what we agree and disagree with in the messages they send. If they don’t believe in God, you should disagree with many of their personal beliefs, the same beliefs that permeates through the media you are consuming. Whether or not you realize it, you are allowing these messages into your minds, and often doing nothing to filter them. Really think about if the messages they are trying to convey are true and noble. If you can tell it doesn't honor the Lord, then you should probably reconsider it.
2) Entertainment that Challenges Me
This is the point where my views on this matter receive resistance. The main reason is that most people don’t like to process their entertainment. Many people use entertainment as a way to escape from reality. They want to be pacified (like a baby with a pacifier) by their entertainment, and not have to think about watch they are putting things into their minds. However, that is when we open ourselves up for deception by corrupt views. Pretty soon, the line between what is right to watch and what is wrong to watch becomes blurred, and by the time we realize it, we are so hooked on the story that we don’t want to give it up.
As Christians, we should not be that passive about anything. We need to be aware of the messages these entertainment choices are portraying and if we know they are wrong, we need to tell others that do not know the truth.
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5 NIV84)
As far as entertainment is concerned, I believe that when we watch a movie that tries to convince us that something is OK that isn't, we need to look at it and say “This isn't right! This is what’s wrong and this is what’s right.” We can’t make that judgment if we are being passive about it, only judging it by how much it amused us.
I will never forget one of the classes I took my senior year of high school. The class was called “Worldviews” and was based off of David Noebel’s “Understanding the Times” curriculum from Summit Ministries. I learned so much in that class about maintaining a biblical worldview, things that I will possibly share in other posts. But the point I want to share today was from a video lecture about entertainment. The lecturer, named John Stonestreet, told us so many things about discerning our entertainment choices that I still use today. One quote stood out from all the rest:
I believe this idea is a good gauge for this category. If the themes and storyline of your entertainment makes you think about something from a new perspective or challenges you to make a change, then it a good source of entertainment. However, if the themes and storylines influence you with deceitful views that aren’t biblical or become a means to escape or reject reality, then it is bad entertainment and should be avoided.
What makes this interesting is that sometimes, the conviction of what is good or bad can fall in different places for different people. Something that is challenging to me may be a distraction to someone else and vice versa. However, this is where we do have to remember the responsibilities we have with our freedom of our free will. Although we do have freedom in Christ, we also must remember not to allow our freedom to become a stumbling block to those who are weak (1 Cor. 8:9). If conviction of what is good or bad falls in different places for different people, especially in the case that they struggle with drawing the line, don’t contradict them. Respect their conviction as your brother or sister in Christ.
3) Entertainment that Proclaims Truth
This view also receives resistance, but it cannot be understated. The things that we choose to entertain ourselves with should proclaim the truth, especially the truth affirmed in God’s word. But maybe more important in a world that doesn’t know the Lord is making sure that the things we entertain ourselves with do not contradict the truth affirmed in God’s word. Let me give an example.
1 Corinthians 6:18 tells us to flee from sexual immorality. If we are supposed to flee from sexual immorality, why should we entertain ourselves with media that portrays or glorifies sexually immoral behavior, especially if it shows or describes more than we should see or imagine? When we do see it, we should at least be thinking That’s not God’s plan for our sexuality!
Now there are times when a contradiction to truth is presented in such a way that it challenges us positively, but we have to learn to discern the difference between what challenges us and what merely pacifies us. We must take every thought the media gives us, examine it against Scripture, discern if it’s right or wrong, and make our choices based on these examinations.
I believe that when the message and the purpose of a movie are in question that it is wise to do research. Look up what the writers, director, and producers are saying about their movies. Read into the backstory behind the album you love. Learn about the biography of your favorite author to see what events in their life may be affecting their message. If what they say contradicts truth, then you may want to reconsider your entertainment choices.
Why Does This Matter?
Why Does This Matter?
What does this have to do with eternity? A lot! The things we put into our minds influence our thoughts and our actions. The primary thing we should be putting into our minds is the truth of God’s word. If the other things we put into our minds contradict that truth, it can influence us in negative ways, whether we realize it or not. Although movies and other media won’t be with us in heaven, we will be held accountable for not using discernment in this life. Since we only have one life on this earth, I want to spend my entertainment choices on media that takes me deeper into life not distracts me from the life and person God wants me to be.
This has become a subject too many Christian are passive about, usually going to one extreme or the other: embracing all entertainment or completely rejecting what isn’t “Christian.” I don’t think either path is a wise one. What we should be doing is engaging the culture by searching for the truth and then proclaiming it to those that need to hear it. Part of my desire for this blog is to do this by writing media reviews. I want to review movies, music, books, and even some Broadways musicals. My hope is to make you aware of the presence both the truth and the deception that is prevalent in the media today. If you are interested in learning more, stay tuned!
Those of you that may be checking out this blog and saw my last post might be thinking “What’s wrong with ‘seize the day’? Aren’t we supposed to enjoy life? Shouldn’t we take hold of every opportunity?" Well, I would answer both yes and no. I want to challenge the traditional view of this phrase from a Christian perspective, because I think it means more than we realize.
I heard the phrase “carpe deim” and “seize the day” a lot as a kid, and thinking that it sounded like a reasonable idea. After all, we shouldn't waste our lives wishing and hoping, but never doing. A lot of attention was brought to this phrase by the recent death of Robin Williams, because of his famous speech in the movie Dead Poets Society. Unfortunately, I believe both Williams and his character had the concept of "seize the day" from the wrong angle.
According to this scene, the reason we should make our lives extraordinary is so that people will remember us after we die, because our memory will be all that’s left of us. We will be fertilizer and nothing more. That is the sad reality for those that do not have the hope of salvation. “Living it up” merely because life is all we have is too small a thing to live for. “Let up eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” is a reality of too many people today. Paul warns the Corinthians not to associate with people that live this way, because bad company corrupts good character (1 Corinthians 15:33). This would imply that this is not the life philosophy that a Christian should adapt either, because we have hope in life after death. Although our bodies do decompose, our souls are bound to spend eternity with Him. We know that the things we do in this life will have consequences, either good or bad, that will follow us into eternity, so we can’t just do whatever we want.
However, I do think there is a connection between “carpe deim” and “carpe aeternatatum.” Just because we should live our lives in light of what matters eternally does not mean that we should lose sight of the opportunities that this life will bring us. I think that there is a difference between living life the way you want and choosing to seize the opportunities life brings your way. The latter is the wiser way to live, especially for the Christian. We should be seeking every opportunity to bring glory to the Lord, and to serve everyone else. “Carpe deim” reminds us that our lives are short, and that's what makes the opportunities we have all the more important. It also reminds us that we have the ability to choose the way our lives go, and that we should be faithful stewards of the free will and talents He gave us.
I want to conclude by sharing a song that my sister sang in church when we were kids called “Seize the Day.” This song has much more biblical approach to the idea of seizing the day. For myself, I personally pray that I am faithful with the gifts He has given me, and that I will be able to make the best of my short time on this earth, so that my eternity will be all the better. That’s what it really means to seize the day.