Part One: Rich Mullins
About a year ago I heard Phil Wickham’s “Hymn of Heaven” at a Church Camp meeting. And it was one of those experiences hearing a song for the first time that you never really forget. I immediately knew this would be my church’s “Easter Song” for 2023, as every year we learn a new song about the Resurrection of Jesus in the weeks leading up to Easter and then sing it boisterously on that Sunday1.
The third verse about joining the 1,000-generation choir to sing praises around the throne truly moves me. Because it compels me to think of all the people I’m going to see in Heaven. From Biblical giants like Job and Ruth to my own grandparents, all four of which are already there.
And the singing is going to be glorious no doubt. I often use that word far too flippantly in my writings but “glorious” is one of the best ways to describe worship in Heaven. Yet there is another aspect to Heaven that all Christians long for, and even TV shows like LOST have attempted to imagine. It’s going to be the mother of all family reunions. And even people who never met each other in this life are going to greet each other like long-lost siblings.
This has me using my imagination (though I hope it is a real thing) and wondering who the Christians are I never got to meet but I really want to hug when I get to Heaven. So, I decided to make a list not of the most obvious ones, but of the most meaningful ones. Those who impacted my life in such a way, that I as a non-hugger want to embrace them.
Today I’ll begin this journey of about 20 saints who fit this description with a man whose life ended at such a young age: Rich Mullins.
Thanks to the Rambling Ever On staff2, and our Twitter account’s interactions with other passionate fans of CCM, I have learned a lot about Rich Mullins. His life seemed as countercultural and raw and real as you would expect a genuine follower of Jesus to be. Still, he stood out because too few have lived that way. There was character and holiness behind his music, and I am privileged to know even a few basic things about him.
I’ve also had the chance from the same influences to discover his more obscure discography. And this helps me appreciate Rich Mullins even more deeply because his lyrics are so biblical. “We Are Not As Strong As We Think We Are,” which I did not know until Phill quoted it a couple of times on this site, causes me to think of passages like 1 Corinthians 10.
But I would be disingenuous if I said it wasn’t the Rich Mullins popular stuff that I listen to on repeat for weeks on end, and that causes me to want to find him and hug him in Heaven. And even in that group, there is a vast amount of material to love. If you’d have asked me even six months ago what my two favorite Rich Mullins songs are, I’d have said “Awesome God” and “Hold Me, Jesus” without batting an eye.
“Awesome God” is the kind of anthem on the most fundamental of God’s attributes that is rare in music from any era. And it’s musically sublime. “Hold Me, Jesus” is a song I put on repeat for three straight hours one morning when I was going through the most Hellish week of my life. I adore these songs with my whole heart.
Yet in these last two or three months, two other Rich Mullins songs have spoken to me poignantly and have been a perfect fit for this season in my life. “Sometimes By Step” has become my Romans 9-11 song, as I preached through this section of that book in a yearlong series just recently.
Those who know me best or have read my Facebook posts carefully know that I have been shaken to my core over how woefully I have underestimated the Jewish roots of my faith. And how I had never put the line “Sometimes I think of Abraham, How one star he saw had been lit for me” together with Romans 11:25-26 before. I’m not just a Christian, I am “Israel” because I am a son of Father Abraham. This absolutely matters in the Christian faith to me.
I also love Rich Mullins following that up with “He was a stranger in this land, and I no less than he” because it dynamically reminds us that saving faith isn’t the end of Christianity. If my faith doesn’t change how I live and take me to places where I have to expect God to show up or I’m sunk, then I think I miss the point of much of the 13 chapters or so of Abraham’s story and Jesus’s mandate to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him.
I could write an article just on those two pieces of theology, but for now, that suffices. Rich Mullins gave me and countless others an “Old Testament meets New Testament meets the 20th Century” gift with that one verse. I know who I am in the kingdom of God better now because of that lyric. I’m so sad to think of how many people only know the chorus to this song because of Friday Youth Nights in the 90s, where that was all that was sung.
Additionally, the other song that I can’t escape right now is “If I Stand”. Way back in 2003 a young man at the Chicago church where I was the youth pastor sang this for a denominational competition. It was fantastic. He sang it beautifully and majestically.
But 20 years later it has come back to me more powerfully than ever. I am especially drawn to “And if I weep let it be as a man who is longing for his home”. In the last 5 years or so, I have lost count of how many close friends and family of Kayla and I who have endured unspeakable tragedies. And in truth, there are no fixes to grief in Christianity. There are meals to cook and shoulders to cry on, but there are no fixes. There’s only hope in resurrection. And as I mourn with those who mourn, Rich Mullins comes back to me every time.
There are others, like “Creed” and “Hope to Carry On”. And while I’m no Rich Mullins expert, if you take all the time I’ve spent listening to his music in my life, it adds up to days. Probably weeks. And for that reason, primarily among many, I can’t wait to meet him one day.
And to hug him in Heaven.
- So far I have been here for four years and the songs are: “The Creed” (This I Believe) in 2020, “O Praise The Name” in 2021, “King of Kings” in 2022, and “Hymn of Heaven” in 2023. ↩
- I especially was blown away by Phill’s illustration in this article of Rich Mullins being Elijah and Andrew Peterson being Elisha. That is the kind of writing that makes me proud of Rambling Ever On, because it’s the kind of thing I have never thought of, but as soon as I read it I was like “That’s brilliant”. ↩