Rich Mullins and my personal Cloud of Witnesses

Rich Mullins "I hope that I would leave a legacy of joy, a legacy of real compassion"

I remember when I was given a copy of A Liturgy, A Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band for Christmas in 1993. I couldn’t wait to pop it into my cassette player. To be honest, I didn’t really know what a liturgy was. And I had no idea what a ragamuffin was. But I knew who Rich Mullins was. So I was pretty excited.

The album did not disappoint. The instruments were amazing. And the lyrics had a beauty and depth that was absent from so much music in the early 90s. I’ll readily admit that I didn’t exactly understand some of the songs like How to Grow Up Big and Strong at first. But entries like Hold Me Jesus, and Creed, and Land of My Sojourn – they spoke to me.

They still speak to me.

I mean, listen to these lyrics from Hold Me Jesus. Rich had a way of voicing what your heart was crying out.

I saw Rich Mullins in concert a few years later at the now-infamous “She’s not my girlfriend!” installment of the Ichthus Music Festival  of 1996. I don’t remember many details from the concert, other than a few “postcard memories”* He was barefoot. I remember being amazed at the sound that came out of his dulcimer as he played. He told engaging, sometimes funny, always poignant stories.** He sang Sing Your Praise to the Lord, which he wrote. It was originally made popular by Amy Grant, although Rich smirked and said that she had messed it up when she recorded it.

He sang the song because he had just made a new recording of the song for his greatest hits album called Songs. So, of course, he promoted this upcoming album while he was on stage at Ichthus. So this concert was a greatest hits concert. And that was pretty awesome.

Fast forward three months…

Crater Lake Cabin at Philmont Scout Ranch 1996

During the waning days of my Summer on staff at Crater Lake Camp at Philmont Scout Ranch, I took a day to hike through the ranch, visiting some of the unstaffed camps that I had never visited. While I was sitting in a beautiful meadow, I sat down and soaked in the beauty of the creation around me. It was a powerful, memorable moment of worship.

When it was finally time to return to my cabin at Crater Lake, I popped my Rich Mullins Liturgy cassette into my Walkman and started to hike through the meadow. I found myself marching to Creed‘s memorable dulcimer opening, in awe at the creation around me and the amazing talent I was listening to.

Ever since leaving marching band, I’ve fought the urge to walk to the beat of the music I’m listening to. During high school commencement, I intentionally walked off the beat when we walked in to Pomp and Circumstance. But when I heard the driving beat of Creed while I was caught up in the beauty of the creation that surrounded me, I couldn’t help myself. I marched right out of that meadow. It was such a powerful, memorable moment for me. One that’s almost impossible to fully explain.

“Man,” I said to myself. “I need to buy that greatest hits albums as soon as I get back home.”

And I did.

I was not disappointed. I knew most of the songs. A few of them were new to me, though. But I instantly loved every song that was on it.

My “Cloud of Witnesses”

He was no Saint. He was a sinner redeemed by grace. Like an arrow pointed towards heaven, he continually reminded us of God’s unfathomable, unending, undefeatable love. His message has helped shape me into who I am. He is part of my “cloud of witnesses,” challenging and encouraging me to carry on.

Cloud of Witnesses
I have lost track of who created this work of art depicting a cloud of witnesses. Once I find it, I’ll properly cite it here.

On days like today, the twentieth anniversary of the crash that took Rich’s earthly life and ushered him into the presence of the Almighty, our songs sound a little hollow. The light seems a little dimmer. Because a man like Rich Mullins only comes around once in a while. And he left some pretty big shoes to fill. He also left a legacy of joy and compassion and praise. I am part of that legacy. So are countless others.

So I weep as I remember what was. I weep as I dream about what could have been. But in the same moment, I smile and long for the day when my Deliverer comes. Because I know that my Deliverer is standing by. And as Rich so beautifully said, “It won’t break my heart to say goodbye.” Because we’ll be where we’ve been longing for:

Home.

That’s what I believe. So that’s how I live. Hopefully I’m living as an arrow pointed towards heaven, following Rich’s example. Because, as Rich so beautifully stated, “I believe what I believe. It’s what makes me what I am. I did not make it. No, it is making me.”

Every day. It’s making me.

Thank you, Rich. Thank you.


*That’s what my dad has always called them. Little flashes of memories, kind of like the front of a postcard. Kind of like a brief snapshot.

**Andrew Peterson carries on this legacy today. And he does an amazing job.

Some of my thoughts in the wake of Charlottesville, Virginia

The events in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend have brought to light the deep-seeded hatred that has lurked beneath the surface of our society for generations. It’s been our nation’s dirty little secret. Some say it’s America’s Original Sin.

Many have thought that if we ignored it, it would just go away. If we stopped giving it any credence, it would wither on the vine and die of starvation. Maybe those tiny pockets of crazy KKK folk would eventually disappear due to lack of interest. That’s the easy response. Because admitting we have a societal problem is uncomfortable. It’s embarrassing. And it’s shameful.

But we cannot pretend it isn’t happening anymore. In all honesty, we shouldn’t have been pretending in the first place. But many of us have been. And although it’s been a long time coming, it appears that Charlottesville has served as a wake up call.

I would hope that if you’ve spent any time with me at all or if you’ve read any of my writings at all, it should go without saying that I deplore racism, white supremacy, and any other form of hate-filled rhetoric that these misguided characters might espouse. Let me say it again so there is no doubt in anyone’s mind: I reject racism and I repudiate white supremacy.  This a poison that will only lead to destruction. There is no room for such hatred in our society.  Period.

And there’s even less room for this type of venom in our churches.

Somehow along the way, people have tried to connect the Church with racist, white supremacist views. I assume some of this goes back to the time leading up to the Civil War, when church leaders who were sympathetic to the cause of slavery desperately needed some proof texts from Scripture to prove that the enslavement of an entire race was somehow divinely appointed. So they ripped verses out of context, twisted the meanings of different verses, and did the little song and dance that many of us do when we try to make the Bible say what we want it to say instead of what it really says.

If you’ve come here thinking that Jesus encouraged and supported some kind of hate-driven agenda, you can go ahead and put away your proof texts and your mental gymnastics because I want to take a few minutes to remind you* of what Jesus has to say on this matter:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. – John 13:34 (emphasis mine)

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.‘ There is no command greater than these.” – Mark 12:30-31 (emphasis mine)

You’ve probably heard the story of the Good Samaritan. If you haven’t, you should read it. Right now. Go ahead. Read it. I’ll wait. If you don’t want to read it, you can watch this video. Jesus makes it pretty clear who our neighbors are. He makes it pretty clear how to show love. And he made it very clear what we’re supposed to do in response to this story.

“Go and do likewise.”

And just in case you haven’t gotten the hint yet, let’s look at what the Apostle Paul and see what he has to say.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:28 (emphasis mine)

You think one race is cursed while another is elevated? You think one is inferior while another is superior? No way. Not in God’s community. There is no distinction. We should all be united. That’s our call. It’s what we’re meant to be when the love of Christ transforms us. Love your neighbor. Show mercy. Love one another.

And that’s the same thing that John tells us in his first letter to believers.

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. – 1 John 4:8

You might as well go ahead and read the rest of that chapter. Shoot, read the whole letter. If you have any doubt about how we should live in a world full of hate, 1 John has the answer. Spoiler alert: It ain’t hate.

It’s that simple.

And it’s that difficult. Holy cow, it’s hard.

Because when I see images of people gathering to spewing  hate and breathing violent threats, my first reaction is to respond with hate. In fact, I want to punch them in the throat.

Indiana Jones punching a Nazi, much like many people want to do after Charlottesville
Image via Nazis Gettin’ Punched

That’s what I want to do. But that’s not what I’m supposed to do. “Love your neighbor,” remember? One could argue that a white supremacist Nazi type of person is hardly a neighbor. So maybe it’s all OK to simply respond to hate with hate.

Wrong.

(Jesus said:) “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” – Matthew 5:44

Jesus wasn’t merely talking in theory. While we were still sinners, while we had set up residence in the Enemy’s camp, Jesus put “love your enemies” into practice when he spread out his arms and died for all of humanity – even the ones who beat him, hurled insults at him, and executed him.

If I’m being honest, that’s a pretty tough example to follow. And I also have no idea how to put that into practice. Because I’m outraged at the fact that people think it’s OK to treat other people like they’re less than human. I will not let their trash gain legitimacy in our society. And I will not allow them to hijack my faith.

But where is the line between responding in holy anger (yes, there is such a thing) and responding in hate? I don’t know. But I do know this: I know in the end even after everything else has passed away, only love will remain.

And now these three remain: Faith, Hope, and Love. But the greatest, the most excellent way is love.

It’s all about love. It will always be about love. Love will remain. That’s the answer to the ugliness that was displayed in Charlottesville. It is the answer to any ugliness we encounter, honestly. That’s what it boils down to.

Love.

So I’m learning how to choose love in the midst of hate. I’m learning how to stare Satan’s minions in the face and respond in love. Because these all of us desperately need Jesus.

I know what the answer is. But I don’t know how to do it. I don’t know what it looks like in real life. How do we flesh this out? I don’t have all the answers, but I know where to start.

So I’m learning to stand with love. That should be my default setting: love. But since we’re being honest here, I can tell you that it isn’t my “go-to” response most of the time. But I’m doing my best. I’m learning to love the way Jesus loves me.

I hope you’ll learn with me.

*Do I really think that sharing these verses is going to change the mind of a devoted white supremacist? No. I don’t think they really care about the words of Jesus. Or Paul. Or John. I doubt they really care about anything other than statements that promote their own twisted, hate-filled, repugnant views. This post is really for people who might be on the fence, although I don’t see how you can be on the fence. It’s also for people who are looking at these white folks, connecting the dots, and thinking that this is what the American church is all about.  

Then I watched God move a mountain. Again.

A “moved mountain” in Durame, Ethiopia

This adoption journey has been quite an emotional roller coaster with many unforeseen twists and turns. There might have even been a corkscrew or two thrown in there for good measure.

And it ain’t over yet.

But that’s OK. It’s kind of par for the course when it comes to international adoption. I’d imagine domestic adoption is a similar roller coaster ride.

Christy finally met “W” face-to-face. It’s been great for the soul and I hope that it will continue to warm his heart after she returns to the States.

Jeremiah 29:11. I’m sorry you had to wait so long…but I am so thankful God blessed us with you.

A photo posted by Christy Ooley Todd (@ooleytodd) on

Two more trips are required before he comes home with us. Sometime in the Fall, I hope to be able to meet “W” for the first time. During my stay in Ethiopia, I will appear before a judge and declare that yes, he is the child we’ve been trying to adopt. If all goes according to plan, “W” will then be declared our son in the eyes of the Ethiopian government. Then I’ll return home shortly after that court date. A few weeks later, we should have an appointment with the US Embassy in Addis. Christy and I will fly to Ethiopia, meet with the Embassy, and bring “W” home after that. Hopefully that will happen before Christmas of this year.

That’s the way things are supposed to happen. That’s the way the timeline generally goes. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s how it happens for us. But I also wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t happen that way, either. Because here’s what we’ve learned during this journey: God is writing this story. We are not. And the Author is going to weave this story together in whatever way He sees fit.

In high school, I wanted to do something “big” for God. I never knew exactly what it was, but I was going to shock the world with the gospel. So I kept searching for that big thing I could “do” for Jesus. I don’t think I was wrong in my desire. I might have been a little misguided in my approach. But hey, I was a teenager. I think we all were a little misguided as teenagers, weren’t we?

For I know the plans I have for you bracelets

This desire to “do” something big for God continued into my preaching years more than a decade later. I firmly believe that God can work miracles. I’ve seen them happen. It was my hope and prayer that I could somehow put God on stage and allow the congregation to see what God had done. It was almost as if I was expecting Him to perform some great act so I could shine the spotlight on Him.

Again, not a bad desire. But maybe the wrong approach. After all, God is God. He doesn’t have to perform a miracle in order for us to shine the spotlight on Him. He is worthy of worship because He Is who He Is. And that’s enough.

Then we saw God move a mountain.

God orchestrated things in such a way that He provided for Mihret’s adoption in exactly the right way at exactly the right time.

So when we started pursuing “W,” I kind of expected things to work out in a similar way. I mean, that was a pretty cool story the way everything was woven together so perfectly.

But that organization didn’t award us a grant this time. No worries, I thought. There are other opportunities. So we applied for more grants. And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

We had the yard sale that was hugely successful. But it wasn’t enough to cover the rest of the fees.

So we waited some more.

And waited.

And waited.

Then things started to get a little…oh, what’s the word?….tense…around here. If Christy was really going to make this trip before the courts closed in Addis and school started here, we were going to have to figure out a way to cover the rest of the fees and travel costs. Maybe we were going to have to make this thing work on our own.

Then it happened. God moved mountains.

Not only did God move the mountains, He obliterated them. He caused them to melt like wax.

The mountains melt like wax before the Lord Psalm 975

We were confident that God was going to use the matching grant from Hand in Hand to make a big dent in the need. But we didn’t know how much was actually going to be donated. There was still a lot of uncertainty. And maybe some doubt.

But the donations that were contributed to the matching grant were over the amount necessary.

Then we started getting notifications of approval for grants that I had totally forgotten about. And I’d definitely forgotten that we’d applied for their assistance. But they started sending in money.

And the next thing I knew, everything was paid for. The agency fees. Christy’s plane ticket. Even the in-country travel fees. Everything was covered within a matter of days.

Yes, God is in the mountain moving business.

As I sat and watched the whole thing unfold, I started to realize something. Sometimes “doing” something big for God simply means being obedient and stepping out in faith. You do what you’re supposed to, planting seeds as you go along the way. But in the end, you sit back and watch God do what you couldn’t even possibly imagine what would be done.

All week, I’ve been humming this song. It makes sense when you look back on the events of the last few weeks. It starts at the 5:58 mark…

God is writing a story, friends. And it is bigger than any of us even realize.

If you get a sense that God is calling you to “do” something, then go do it. By all means, do.it. But if you think God is calling you to go and watch and listen, then do that. Watch how He works. He’ll let you know when it’s time for you to do your part. Because He’s already at work. He’s already telling the story.

 

We’ve been awarded a matching funds grant for our adoption!

Family of Six

I posted this announcement on twitter a couple of nights ago…

And quickly followed it up with this…

Like I said, that was a few days ago. The details were never posted. I’m sorry about that. I had to make sure all our ducks were in a row before making it public. But now? Everything’s a go and I am beyond excited to share this news with you!

Let me catch you up on our story.

It isn’t a secret that there are many joys that come with adoption. But there are many challenges, too. One of the greatest immediate challenges is financial. With updating our home study, all the agency and country fees, and the expected costs related to travel, this adoption journey will add up to thousands of dollars in expenses.

Due to some unforeseen circumstances and some changes in the way Ethiopia handles adoptions, this adoption journey is going to wind up costing significantly more than our first.  When all is said and done, the final cost will be around $32,000.

When we announced that we had started the process for a second adoption, we only had enough money available to cover our home study expenses. That was it. We moved forward in faith, though, trusting that God was going to provide.

And God has provided every step of the way.

Through grants, sponsored blog posts, and successful fundraising efforts, God has provided in unexpected ways. And the funds have been there every time they were needed. After watching God move time and time and time again, I have no doubt that He has had a hand in this. He has moved on His own timetable. And His timing is perfect. And through His guiding hand, He has provided an opportunity to cover the rest of the expenses.

Thanks to Hand in Hand Christian Adoption, Inc., we are close to having the final expenses of this adoption journey covered! But we’re going to need your help.Hand in Hand Christian Adoption INC

We have been awarded a fund-matching grant from Hand in Hand Christian Adoption, Inc.!

What does that mean? 
It means that Hand in Hand Christian Adoption, Inc. a non-profit private operating foundation, will match any funds that are donated for the expenses of our adoption. All funds received through our friends and family will be matched dollar for dollar by Hand in Hand up to our awarded grant amount. That means that every gift will essentially be doubled. And all donations are tax-deductible.

We’ve had a lot of people who, for one reason or another, could not participate in any of the fund raisers we held during the last year and a half. They’ve asked if there was another way they could financially support our adoption efforts. We’ve asked them to wait until a later time. Well, it’s later.

Now is the time!

If you have a gift, no matter the size, that you would like to give to help us with this journey, please send a check made payable to “Hand in Hand Christian Adoption,” postmarked by July 2, to:

Hand in Hand Christian Adoption, Inc.
Matt and Christy Todd
18318 Mimosa Court
Gardner, KS 66030

For tax purposes, please include our name on the envelope only…do not put our name on the check itself!

If you have any questions about the Hand in Hand matching grant program, please feel free to email me. You may also contact Hand in Hand Christian Adoption, Inc. with any questions you may have. They can be reached via email or phone (913-248-5015) .

If the full amount available from this matching grant is reached, we will have seen God provide, through grants and fundraising, $26,000 of the $32,000 necessary to complete this adoption. How amazing is that?

Thank you for your prayerful consideration in helping a child find a “forever” family. We are so close to completing this leg of our journey!

Egyptian Christians, St. Bartholomew, and counting the cost

In light of recent news of the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians from Egypt because of their faith, I was reminded of something that I had written 10 years ago for a church history class while in seminary. It was a meditation based on the painting of St. Bartholomew. Christian tradition says that Bartholomew the Apostle was martyred for his faith. It was a brutal execution.

St. Bartholomew

You can read the whole devotional thought here, if you’re really interested. It’s OK if you aren’t. That’s not really the reason I’m writing today.

I really want to share one of the meditation’s final paragraphs. Because the point is just as important today as it was when I wrote it ten years ago.

The image of St. Bartholomew calls upon us to pray for the persecuted church around the world.  It tells us the story of the millions of Christians who have given their lives for the sake of Christ and His kingdom.  It is a startling reminder that the price of following Jesus Christ is not cheap.  It is not a road that will be traveled lightly.  There will be trials and persecution of all kinds.  In the end, it could cost the believer everything – including the loss of life.  It is the example of St. Bartholomew that encourages the believer to press on towards the prize, knowing full well the costs involved.  It is with that same confidence that we face the perils of following the Lord of all things.

I think these martyred Egyptian Christians do the exact same thing. While the nations rage and come up with a fitting response to these barbaric acts, let us count the cost and take up the cross with reckless abandon. Let us live in boldness, full of hope, joy, and love, as we press on towards Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith.

I know it’s not easy. I’m not pretending it is. But this is how we are going to change the world, my friends.

“My life is but a weaving…”

Ever look back on a series of events and see that all the pieces were coming together perfectly? Ever look back and realize that the hand of God had to be orchestrating things because there’s no way that you could make things happen the way they did? Ever stand back and say, “Wow. Everything that has happened, the good and the bad, has led my life to this moment“? It leaves you awestruck and breathless. Well, it leaves me awestruck and breathless, anyway.

While I cannot share many details right now, I promise I will in the very near future. In the meantime, let me say this, friends:

God has been at work. He is still at work.

He hasn’t put all of the pieces into place yet, but I can see how He has already brought so many threads together. He’s weaving an incredible work of art. It’s been pretty amazing to stand back and watch it all start coming together as He slowly reveals His handiwork.

I can’t wait to share the story He is telling. But for now, I’m going to watch Him work in the amazing ways that only He can.

It leaves me in awe.

It takes my breath away.

My life is but a weaving - Corrie ten Boom

Life is but a Weaving
(the Tapestry Poem)

My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaveth steadily.

Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.

Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why.

The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned

He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.

Corrie ten Boom

Why I Cried in Church Today

baptism water

I cried in church today. And I’m OK with that.

It happens every time there’s a baptism service. Of course, part of the reason the tears start to fall is because I’m reminded in a very powerful way about how deep and wide God’s love is for me. And then I remember two of the most amazing moments of my life: baptizing Aiden and then baptizing Aly a year later. Then I think of how I hope and pray that Mihret will choose to be baptized one day, which makes the tears flow even more freely.

baptism water

And then I think of other people I’ve had the honor of baptizing. People like David, Ginny, Peter, Jerry, Tom, and Jim.

This inevitably leads me to thinking about the people who had such an impact on my own story while I was growing up. Now, some may argue that I haven’t grown up. They’d probably be right. But that’s not the point. I’m talking about people who stepped in and made a difference in my life during my formative years.

I grew up in a God-fearing home. Some of my earliest memories revolve around church and being scared of the Preacher’s Wife because I thought she was mean to me when I had to sit by her during Sunday evening service. How dare she expect me to sit still and be quiet while the service was going on? Even with that legacy of faith that my parents established for me, I still had to take this faith I had inherited and make it my own story. I came to that realization because of people who surrounded me and encouraged me to make that faith my own.

So while I witnessed the baptisms today, I couldn’t help but think of the people outside my family that God has used in ways they can’t even imagine.

Cheryl Stroud led some pretty amazing children’s choirs and challenged me to be more than I thought I could be.

Todd Bussey baptized me, married me, and ordained me. I think you could say he’s a pretty special guy.

Dr. Gerhart (we always referred to him as “Mr. G.” in Scouting circles) has always encouraged me and challenged me to continue to work at becoming a better man as a leader and as a disciple. He has been a shining example for me, reminding me that scholarship and faith are not mutually exclusive. He also taught me how to worship God when surrounded by His creation.

Scott and Corri Brooks were like second parents to me during high school. A small group of us met in their house every Wednesday for the better part of four years. Their shared desire to follow Jesus at home and in the workplace couldn’t help but rub off on me.

There are other faces that show up in my mind’s eye, too. People like the Teskes, Nova Conner, Judy Taylor, Jack Arney, the Hedwalls, Jack Bruce, the Gowers, the Linges, Pam Jordan, the list can go on and on…

cloud of witnessesI guess you could say they are my own personal cloud of witnesses. God used them to shape my faith. God used them to shape my story. So I thanked God for them again today. I prayed for them again.

And yeah, I cried for them, too.

Who has had an impact on your faith? Who is in your cloud of witnesses?

baptism water

It’s an honor to be nominated

Life in the Fishbowl has been named to a Top-50 list. It’s number 19 right here.

Notice that one little problem?

Yeah. I’m not Lutheran. Never have been. This cracks me up. 😀

Something tells me this is a random link generator. But that’s OK. I’ll just go ahead and state for the record that it’s an honor just to be nominated. If I get any hardware for this distinction, I’ll place my trophy right next to my Father of the Year Award.

Faith

“The power of faith is not the amount of faith you actually have, but in whom that faith is placed.” ~ Dr. Hull

OK – so I don’t think this is a direct quote from today, but it’s pretty close. This is why I enjoy going to Greek. It’s not the translation and it’s definitely not the prospect of being called upon in class. I’m getting a lot from the class, and it has little to do with the actual mastery of the language.

Of course, knowing the vocabulary would probably help me get more out of the class, but I really can’t complain.