Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Jesus Record

One record that I could have included in my list of music for Lent and Easter is the one that has had the biggest impact on me: The Jesus Record by Rich Mullins and a ragamuffin band. He meditated on the very nature of Christ and out of that came this album. Central to his life and his music was Jesus. Christ permeated how he approached everything. Unlike many, the cross was not just a symbol for him and grace was not just a sentiment. "Faith is a matter of the will as much as it is of the intellect," he once said, "I wanted to believe in Jesus."

He understood that others would not be drawn to Christ through arguments and presentation, but in living out the gospel. He knew this because that's what he responded to. ". . .I am a Christian because I have seen the love of God lived out in the lives of people who knew Him."

At times, Rich was a poet and psalmist, at other times, a prophet.  He believed in speaking the truth unconcerned that it might make many (mostly the religious) uncomfortable. He was unconcerned with comfort but only in following Jesus.  His ultimate message was about a God who loves us in a "reckless, raging fury" that He would give His only Son. "If there is any meaning in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, it is this: that there is a God who created us, and who loves us so much that He would stop at nothing to bring us to Him. And I really suspect that of all the things we think we want to know, the only thing we really want to know is that we are loved. And if Jesus means anything, He means that you are loved."

One of the biggest influences on Rich was Brennan Manning and his book The Ragamuffin Gospel. It was from the book that he got the name of his band The Ragamuffins. Here's a brief sample of Brennan's teaching (of whom I was fortunate to attend one of his workshops):

Like Christ, Rich was drawn to the poor and to those who often went unnoticed. He once said, "I take comfort in knowing that it was the shepherds to whom the angels appeared when they announced Christ's birth. Invariably throughout the course of history, God has appeared to people on the fringes." It was this very notion of Jesus identifying so much with the poor of this world that inspired the song "You Did Not Have A Home." One of my favorite parts of this song is:

So I guess You had to get sold
'Cause the world can't stand what it can't own
And it can't own You
'Cause You did not have a home 

Another song off the album that took up this message was written by Rick Elias entitled "Man of No Reputation." A song Rich couldn't get through without crying. 

But this man of no reputation
Loved the weak with relentless affection
And He loved all those poor in spirit just as they were
He was a man of no reputation

He himself followed the model Jesus and Saint Francis of Assisi gave and lived among the poor and poor in spirit (teaching music to kids on a Navajo reservation) and, despite being worth millions, chose to live only on the income of the average American; giving away much of his earnings. Many found him odd or crazy, but Rich Mullins didn't care. He was never interested in pleasing man but in pleasing God. It was this that made him have a far greater impact than most musicians, even long after he died.

This album confronts both the mistakes the disciples made and our own about who they thought Christ came here to be. No better example of this comes from the lines in the song "All The Way To Kingdom Come":

We were looking for heroes
He came looking for the lost
We were searching for glory and He showed us a cross
Now we know what love is 'cause He loves us all the way to kingdom come  

Best known for his anthem "Awesome God" and for the songs he wrote for Amy Grant ("Sing Your Praise To The Lord" among them), his music became so much complexer as he, like a psalmist, wrote songs about his struggles (including loneliness) as well as his ardent love for a Savior who loved him passionately first. His music transcended his pain as it always offered hope: hope in a loving God and a compassionate Christ. One of the best examples of this was in his song "Hard To Get." In this song, he wrote:

You who live in heaven
hear the prayers of us who live on earth
Who are afraid of being left by those we love  
and who get hardened by the hurt
Do you remember when you lived down here
where we all scrape to find the faith to ask for daily bread
Did you forget about us after you had flown away
Well, I memorized every word you said
Still, I'm so scared I'm holding my breath
while you're up there playing hard to get

Words that are brutally honest. Uncomfortably so. Many would not even dare speak those words out loud, even if we thought them. It's about doubt and fear. Later in the song he admits he's lashing out at the One who loves him the most, like a child wanting to know from his parent, "Are you listening to me?"

By the end of the song, he admits:

I can't see how You're leading me unless You've led me here
Where I'm lost enough to let myself be led
And so You've been here all along I guess
It's just Your ways and You are just plain hard to get

This hearkens back to what Rich once said about closeness to God:

Rich also understood that Jesus knew our loneliness, our sorrow, and our suffering because he, too, went through them here on earth. As he wrote in his song "Heaven In His Eyes":

But why is a man as wise as He
Weeping alone in Gethsemane
Could it be because He's afraid we'd never see
The heaven in His eyes

Jesus died on the cross because he knew that was the only way we would see heaven in his eyes. 

The album was made posthumously after Rich Mullins' death in a car accident. Recorded by his band the ragamuffins, Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Ashley Cleveland, and Phil Keaggy. 

"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," he once said. Just as Jesus loved him with wild abandon, so, too, did Rich love Christ that way. His life showed that he thought himself only a sojourner here on earth. 

His music, his writing, his witness, and his life had a profound influence on my own and I have been forever changed by the honesty, vulnerability, the depth and beauty of what he had to offer. 

"One day it won't make any difference how many albums I've sold, but I will give account of my life to God. What I think He'll be most pleased with is to see that we truly lived, that we were the person He created us to be." - Rich Mullins

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