Thirteen years ago this month, I lost a dear friend. Although seldom a week goes by that I don’t think of him, I haven’t written anything about him since he died. I woke up this morning thinking it was time to change that.
He challenged me in so many areas of my life, it’s difficult to think of them all.
He challenged me theologically, but in very subtle ways. He was very well-read, but did not beat you over the head with what he’d learned, but instead weaved it into his conversations so adroitly that you sometimes didn’t realize the depth of what he said until days or weeks later. He understood better than most that theology is meant to tell us how to live, not how to think.
He challenged me relationally. He was truthful in his dealings, sometimes painfully so. But the pain was almost always on his side, not ours. When the truth was for us, he did not harm when he shared it, but instead couched it in such a way that you welcomed it. When the truth was about him, he did not shy away from things that hurt him, or things that did not paint him in the best light. He was an example of how to live life authentically.
He challenged me financially. He was very successful at what he did in many ways, including money-wise, but he never saw money as the end, but merely the means. He understood that to whom much is given, much is expected, and he used his money accordingly. He lived on far less than he made, and gave the rest to those that needed it more than he did.
He challenged me judicially (this one could also fit under theologically). He understood God’s justice, and how we are called to live that out on a daily basis. He devoted the last years of his life to indigenous people in his native country, living among them, teach them, loving them. His heart was broken by the things of this world that breaks God’s heart — injustice, ignoring the poor, taking advantage of those over whom you hold an advantage.
He challenged me eschatologically (I’m pretty sure that’s not a real word, but we can’t break the -ly streak). “Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die” is generally true, but not about him. He yearned for heaven. He didn’t care as much about the means, but he was intently focused on the result — he wanted to be with Jesus.
The word is overused today, but he was a truly extraordinary man. He had faults — he struggled with pride, he could be very stubborn, sometimes his honesty was painful to those on the receiving end — but at the end of the day, it was the above qualities that you remembered. The sum of the whole made for a man you could not forget. And I haven’t.
His name was Rich Mullins, and I never met him.